Saturday, 18 November 2017

Three of the decentest.

It's been a long time since proper blogging. Sucktember slipped into Cocktober and then into Knobvember and no-one noticed except the days of rain and sunshine and showers grew shorter, as they invariably do, but not drier. The lack of proper blogging might correspond to the lack of proper climbing, my grand dreams of an autumn cranking to match my spectacular spring in the South West were diluted into homeopathic proportions and washed down the drain. I got South of the border a couple of times, one of them was to Armathwaite with a bone dry forecast and the whole thing was damp and I did some shitty greasy boulder problems in the first bay while Katy's lunatic Jadedog dug a WW1 style trench and turned the highballs left of Time And Motion Man back into proper solos and it was a fucking waste of 3.5 hours driving. As was Berryhill where I failed on an HVS (!) and then out of "sunshine and showers" only one of those came true.

Cheviot from Berryhill. Atmospheric and bollox.


Amongst all this fucking DROSS, there were moments of enlightenment, and by enlightenment I mean doing cool routes that might be a world away from my mega-inspirations but are also a world away from greasy eliminate bouldering (best left to Peak Limestone fans and other perverts who rank only slightly above winter climbers and vegans in the fucking weirdo stakes). Such as:

Counting Out Time, Newtyle Quarry:

Aka proper climbing at Newtyle which has become infamous as the dank hole in the ground where the aforementioned winter perverts gather to slot their tools into grubby slots. It's also got an impressive sheet of slab which no-one climbs because of it's 2 minute access, loads of mid-grade climbs, quick drying, evening sun, scarcely an hour from the Central Belt etc etc so why would anyone actually climb there instead of queuing for chalk-crusted smeg on Marlena wall or polishing Dumby some more?? Anyway it must be said that the slab itself is a bit bold, the E2 warm-up I did had one good cluster of gear in 25m. But on the other hand this gem has a great line and loads of gear (even at the "bold" overlap), it also has a proper slate smearing crux and overall is quite a treat. I loved it.

Whipper Snapper, Ashie Fort:

Another crag in the "hordes of the unwashed polishing the pebbles at Moy while this more accessible, closer to Inverness, equally sunny and infinitely more scenic crag languishes relatively under-used" ilk. I like Ashie. It's tricky, techy, necky, can look a bit mossy (nothing that more traffic wouldn't help), but it is essentially a grit-scaled conglomerate crag in strictly the mellowest of situations. This day, sandwiched in the middle of the dreichness, started badly struggling up a seeping HVS and finished well styling up this elegant and bold route. A vast amount of gear can be faffed in before the crux scoop, at least one or two bits might hold. Thankfully with a bit of composure and commitment it all went smoothly, another little gem.

Duel Variation, Dunkeld:

No photo for this one so here's a picture of an enormous and rather cool caterpillar instead. Due to the weather I had too many visits to Polney (and Upper Cave but I'm not talking about that), none of which involved doing what I really wanted to do. Something about this really steep impending wall with flakey crimps and a tied down sling for gear before eventually getting a distant peg put me off. As usual enough psyche and I eventually crack, one of the visits I had the usual indepth look, then a sit down and a good talk with myself about committing to the process, and then did it. Did it bloody well too, flicked a skyhook on during the steepness, cranked to the peg, tried a cam to back it up, didn't fit but I didn't faff, just ignored it and rocked over the lip to not glory but the satisfaction of snap decisions erring on the side of actually doing the climbing. And yeah another great wee route.

The moral being, good routes are good routes even if they're not quite the good routes I wanted to be doing....

Friday, 17 November 2017

Trajectory Of The Twat

Left foot up smearing, right foot up smearing, step left foot onto high edge, bring right hand over above left hand onto the arete... Something - still unknown - gives way, the compressed posture springs me out, arcing me down, the meticulously planned running belay comes tight, slamming me into the overlap like a soft meat wrecking ball. Thigh on the overlap, calf on the shelf below, knee luckily nestled in-between. Lower to the ground I was nowhere near, a couple of minutes unable to think or speak, but through the haze of pain I am weight-bearing so the bones at least are intact. Half an hour sorting kit, a mile hobble on the rough wet track on my own in the dark. Recompress myself into the car seat, test I can do an emergency stop, drive to Macclesfield A&E, x-ray confirms no breaks, but massive swelling, bruising, and a full length compression stocking for the foreseeable future. Hartington Hall hostel. Drive to Glasgow via almost every services to keep leg moving. Prop box and pillow under desk so I can use computer... And here I am, from that position to this one.


The grit had been called and I was out of the starting blocs pretty quick. After an abortively mediocre weekend at Crookrise, I'd written the list and summoned the determination - both steps that usually summon the rain gods for several months but maybe they were bored after all their exertions throughout autumn?? In an extravagant convergence of Audi A3 TDIs, Tom had driven from St Austell and I had driven from Glasgow and we met at the crag in glorious weather. I'd spent a few years getting inspired by such grit routes, a few days getting intimidated by this route, and a few hours at the crag analysing, calming down, planning and getting inspired. And then I got on it and then I fell off it and then I was lying on the ground thinking:

 "What the FUCK happened?? I had planned so well, I had climbed well, I had fucking FAITH in the grit and that's the whole point of being able to climb it?? And how the fuck can I try anything challenging if I fell off a 'safe' section and here I am lying on the ground??"

This, in a way, was more upsetting than the fall, than the pain, than the failure, than the prospect of injury and recovery. If I do everything right and it still goes wrong (and this isn't some bullshit like winter climbing where the whole route or climate can fuck you over untoward), how can I trust the rock, how can I trust myself?? Mistakes are easier to learn from than lack of mistakes....

Except they were there, and the dark hobble gave me enough time to think about them: In general, I don't fuck around with maximising the safety system, and I try hard not to fuck around with faffing too much these days (it's a work in progress...). This time:

1. I underestimated the need to faff on that one section of the route. I'd got very focused on the start ("traverse right with care" - implying it was remotely difficult when it wasn't, and is part of a much easier route, which I'd have known if I'd have read the guide more) and the finish (clearly bold). I hadn't got focused on the sequence getting to the finish, because hey it wasn't mentioned and it was right next to the gear, right? When I got there it felt tricky but I still didn't take it that seriously - my mind wasn't in the moment, it was in the future, thinking "I just need to get this done so I can be stood up and work out that bold finish". But of course that section still needed focus and really my trademark faffing would have been much more suitable. Don't underestimate the easy / un-mentioned sections on gritstone.

2. I overestimated the safety system. I'd got so focused on the bold finish and using a running belay to not hit the ground, I hadn't considered other risks in the fall and that the running belay might be unsuitable for other sections (though if I had fallen off the finish, the sort of impact I took would still have been better than a groundfall). DOA - Distance, Objects, Angles. I'd been so fixated on the distance of a fall that I hadn't looked at the objects (the overlap) or the angles. Tom did the running belay plan perfectly, but if I'd actually planned for a softer catch on most of the route, I could have avoided such an impact. Consider all aspects of a fall not just the distance, and consider falls from all possible areas of a route.

If I did this sort of route again.... I'd read the book carefully, I'd know the start should okay (but still pay attention to it). I'd divide my focus up more evenly. I'd plan out the gear and running belay better. I'd look at other aspects of the fall and try to plan for those. I'd anticipate challenge throughout the route. I'd take heed if sections started to feel unduly tricky and treat them with respect. And hopefully I wouldn't fuck it up, or if I did I wouldn't fuck myself up. And understand that, I'm pissed off that I failed but I still have some faith.


Finally the current state of affairs after a week: I can hobble effectively and almost walk normally (slowly!) if I'm warmed up. My leg is still swollen but the bruising is coming along rather nicely. I'm able to go to the gym but only for arm stuff or very light CV using my legs. I'm aiming to do gentle climbing within another week. I have no idea what muscle damage there is or how long it will be to get full strength back, so outside climbing might be several weeks off, but at least I can train reasonably in the meantime. I can probably bash around with RC cars as long as I don't stand in one position too long...

Monday, 28 August 2017

Leftovers from Dartmoor and Wye Valley Sport.

All photos ©®™ Mark Davies / Dark Mavis / Pylon Kunt 2016, 2017, ad infinitum

Leprechaun, Irishman's Wall, Dartmoor. Lovely wee spot that we visited as part of a hectic Dartmoor photoshoot weekend (IW, King's Tor, bivvy, Sheep's Tor, Great Links Tor (approx 200 mile walk-in), Myrtle Turtle Quarry), which turned out to be pretty satisfying as PK got some genuinely great photos for the book. This route above was a merry jaunt after battling on Non Metallic Silver to the left. Non Metallic Metals is a toy soldier painting technique which I particularly dislike as it's only good from set angles and it's usage is mostly driven by fashion and trends. I had to do the route regardless but made sure to huff about it.

The Legend Of Pip, Haytor Quarry, Dartmoor. I had to do this route because of my then landlady's whippet, Pip (apparently a bit fat for a whippet, I'm not so sure):
The route itself is a nice little solo, somewhat of a dodgy landing and committing off the deck, but fine quarried granite.

Two Mules For Sister Sara, Woodcroft Quarry, Wye Valley. Woodcroft is a cataclysmic hole to rival the worst of Peak Lime quarries but scattered around the dire F6a-choss-infested walls, there are some fine micro-tiers of good rock and techy climbing despite the aesthetics. Rippled And Toned just left of that groove is a great compression arete.

A Blast From The Past, Woodcroft Quarry, Wye Valley. More decent Horseshoe-esque gems.

 Saudi Air, Woodcroft Quarry, Wye Valley. And more.

Don't Lower The Tone, Woodcroft Quarry, Wye Valley. Tone already well lowered with shorts/stockings combos. PK described my style as "death metal bassist" which is possibly the nicest compliment I've ever had :). Pity this one didn't make it into the book as I rather like the shameless grindr-profile flexing errr I mean the balance of climbing and ivy and tension in the move (the latter being quite genuinely as it was thin and fierce and bloody satisfying even if I only stayed on with a blind toe-scrape mid-move).

Lounge Lizard Leisure Suit, Ban-y-Gor, Wye Valley. I had far too many photoshoots at Sandbag-y-Gor and got increasingly disillusioned in the place. On the first visit it was okay including this tricky wee fucker which I think I knee-barred on.

So Gross, Ban-y-Gor, Wye Valley. The final visit to this hole and one which put me off South West climbing. This slice of bolted Brown & Whillans grimness was the only silver lining and another version of the grotty cleft furtling ended up as the surprise and subversive cover shot (I've already apologised to PK for any massive drops in sales).

One of these days I need the cantankerous old cunt to take some photos of me on routes I'm really psyched by. But that's not happening imminently, bah. Still fun to be part of the process.

Thursday, 24 August 2017


It's personal again! Who the fuck goes to Berdorf? It's not Siurana or Chullila or Kalymnos or  Ceuse or Frankenjura or Lofoten or anywhere. It's one crag, in the woods, in a tranquil and mostly flat area of Luxembourg for God's sake - hardly Catalunya. On the other hand it's bloody lovely. Imagine driving out of one of 3 campsites in the local village (I highly recommend the extra spacious Belle Vue 2000), after a swift half hour cruise from the airport the night before and swanky meal at the local bar (I highly recommend the seared swordfish with caper butter), parking up next to a cornfield, strolling 5 minutes downhill through ancient woodland and a lost world ravine to be greeted by an amphitheatre of fully bolted double-height Bowden+Kyloe buttresses.

Okay so it could be quite humid and gloomy under the trees in the wrong conditions (bring a soft brush to curb chalk build-up), it will be very busy at weekends, the base is annoyingly sandy (bring a rag to keep your starting blocs clean), and the F9a beast might feel rather short-changed with a crag that excels in F6s (although the F8a beastling would have to be particularly miserable to moan about the smaller selection of immaculate F7c-8a+ face climbs that could tempt even me to sit on a bolt). But for what it is - a singular giant bolted Northumberland crag - it is great. One of the nicest places with the nicest rock and routes I've climbed on - possibly even better than Wilton!

The right-hand walk-in, rather nice in itself, leading past some "High Rocks" style corridors. Don't worry the mediocre and climbing-banned choss on the way in is the only similarity with Southern Shitstone.

The other walk-in, even more charmingly, leads you straight to this. Voleur Le Spits F7a+ *** (F7a?). From 0 to 3 stars in an instant, setting the tone for the quality if not the style.

This is unusually steep for the crag, but still great fun despite it's lack of technicality. Quintessential steep yarding and hooking, pretty easy if you can jam and pace yourself, with a brilliant finish.

Luftikus F6b *** - the amount of quality in the F6a-b range here is exceptional, and as such is a great crag for a bumblathon, although you do have to pull hard even on the easies. This one starts with a ramble before a jug-hauling prow and a final balancy arete move - brilliant.

This wall is the second thing you see (partly because it gets a bit more light than the rest of the amphitheatre) and is irresistably inspiring, just a beautiful bit of rock. Willy F6c *** (F6c+?) is possibly THE classic with a better balance than some other routes including a few hard pulls.

Schotte Bob F6b+ ** - a slight eliminate at the top but still good fun on great rock.

The wall to the left is simply world class, a magnificent 25m sheet of perfect impending sandstone. If you climb F7c-8b you will be translating awe into action with much glee.

Petite Trou F6c ** - another semi-eliminate in a "don't use the arete" sort of way (F6a+ with), but it does make sense where the holds lead you. Like many Berdorf routes this is typically cruxy, involving a long crank off small pockets to a good break.

Tempete F6c+ ** (F7a ***?) I missed out on Takla Makan F7a *** by casually muffing the boulder problem starting crux, thus a brief but explosive trainer-throwing tourette-a-thon tantrum. This route was a very worthy consolation prize, less popular, less chalked, better rock, and... less than 5 mono holds / moves. These are monos 4 and 5, the crux was below using a ring-finger mono (#3) near the bolt to match hand and foot in the upper good pocket. Really satisfying and one of my favourite routes (along with Arrete Paulette! later that day which has a steady but sublime finishing crux on the best sandstone you'll touch here).

Sweating and swearing up Bleausard F6c *** (F6c+?). This was before a diversion to 'bleau itself for a few days, but I doubt it would have made much difference, the slab crux on this route is just plain hard, very tenacious moves with a keyhole slot that mangled my pinky.

Lots of people bring dogs to this crag. Most of them are as peaceful as this fluffy little lady, but a few of them are constantly yappy twats. I love dogs more than people, but seriously, an hour of yapping to not get the message that you shouldn't bring the neurotic fucker along??

More crag wildlife. This wee fella (2 inches long) was a bit dopey. Probably highly confused by the weather. Last time I was in this bit of Europe it was 34'C most days. This time 20-ish and showery on a few days. Most of the rock dries fairly quick although obviously fresh breezy conditions are best.

No tears please, it's a waste of good suffering. Luxembourg makes an easy and palatable rainy day excursion, being a mere 30 minutes to the city limits. The Old Quarter and city battlements are cool, although, in general, fuck culture (I still like cool architecture tho).

The end result of this is, errr, more Nesscliffe and Pfalz psyche. Of course it is. Personal reasons you see.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Bad route choices.

Following my successful southern soujorn, and some life-affirming Lakeland larks, I got my wires crossed and my climbing took an inevitable downturn (waxing and waning, ebbing and flowing). I found while I was doing well, I could do both of two things: Get on some pretty fucking weird and sketchy and dubious routes that were at my limit but which I had desired for and prepared for for a while. And get on some fairly challenging but essentially well known and obvious routes on the spur of the moment with little mental preparation or build-up. So far so good. Psyched out of my warped and twisted mind for some full-on horror, and able to cope with most minorly challenging trade routes. And then I got confused and thought that meant I'd be fine on spur of the moment minorly challenging sketchy horrors - wrong conclusion.

So I ended up on This Is Yesterday at Cam Crag getting pumped trying to work out totally blind moves above a cluster of fiddly micro shit, on Scram 79 at Dunkeld getting pumped on irreversible crimping above a wobbly RP shallow C3 and bendy peg, and Star Wars at Falcon Crag trying to pull over a blind crimpy roof above one good wire in a hollow glued on flake and two tiny offsets in crunch. None of these met with success. I rested, lowered off, escaped, sulked and huffed and complained about the grade and eventually realised what had gone wrong. None of these were desperate, but they were all dodgy and all too much with little psyching up - all of them I could have done with much prior meditating on the matter. Or if they'd been those reliable honeypot ticks I claim to disdain. Subtle differences but it's a fine line near your limit.

Monday, 21 August 2017

This time it's personal.

I had a pretty good spring in the South West. And by good I guess I mean bloody great. So great I lost my will to waffle on about it, sorry. I went down with a tolerable forecast, a refreshing amount of potential partners and a short but sweet wishlist. 19 routes that required 11 days climbing or something. Somehow (luck? bloody-mindedness? anti-hydral?) I did most of them. Except Uphill Racer escaped because the weather got too hot, Gold escaped because it was too horrifying for me and a ledge had fallen off (not under my weight I might add although while I was standing on a sort of block rigging a sort of lower-off, Stanners could see daylight up behind the block - I think he was belaying halfway to Dublin), Can You Walk Like You Talk escaped because I never got back. Of the others - Extreme Walks to Mean Feat, Life And Times to Andromeda Strain to False Gods - there were common threads: they were mostly fairly challenging, they were all truly enjoyable experiences, and they were all particular and personal desires.

Some of the desired routes corresponded exactly to "essential" coffee-table-book-ticking Rockfax-Top-50 "should" routes, but I wanted to do them *despite* all of that clutter. Some of them corresponded to "obvious local interest" but not so obviously what one would travel for. Some of them corresponded to "handful of known ascents" and in the shadow of nearby classics. But all of them had something that stood out to me in particular. A climbing style, a distinctive rock type, an alluring photo, a guidebook warning, a mysterious aura, and usually a less tangible element of intrigue. Why those routes in particular??

In the words of Mick Fowler:

"The Urge"

In the slightly more profound words of Calvin:

"I must obey the inscrutable exhortations of my soul"

I sometimes don't know exactly why. But this time I always knew the end result - great experiences that lived up to my expectations. Of course this doesn't make me special, we all live climbing for the same reason (apart from those sat under a F8b for two decades maybe). But it makes me happy that I'm on the right lines for pleasure and satisfaction even if there are a lot of up and downs getting there.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Taking The Grade.

What a ridiculous concept. If I take the grade, what am I going to do with it? Stamp it on a medal? Tattoo it on my bellend (suitably enlarged if the grade is a BIG NUMBER) and wave it around to pick up hot chicks (or hunky blokes)? Superglue it onto my ego and see if it increases my sense of self-worth? Maybe I could make a little hutch for it, feed it kale and quinoa or steak pie and chips and see if it grows into a bigger grade? Do I need to take it on walkies? What about pet insurance? Worming tablets?

Maybe I could just take it as a fair indication of the level of challenge I just tackled, and that was the challenge I anticipated and prepared for and it was enjoyable and satisfying?? Sounds more like it.

Except it doesn't always work like that. Grades can be an unfair indication. Sometimes innocuously so....a bit soft, a bit hard (or is that just the after-effects of the tattooing?). Sometimes plain horseshit. Usually they get ironed out over time with consensus, but not always. Did you get the right level of challenge?? Definitely not. Do you take that grade (if you like taking grades) if it was clearly wrong?? Errrr.....

(How do I know that a grade is "wrong"?? I use common sense, experience, and the fact that, despite appearances, I'm not a bloody idiot. It's a bit easier with trad grades because they're fairly objective and usually correspond to unarguable facts about the climb: whether there is protection, whether there are rests, whether the rock is good, whether there are things to hit, etc etc. Sport grades are a bit less objective, bouldering grades are subjective toss invariably corresponding to reach and skin conditions rather than any actual difficulty. Sure with trad there are some times where one can say "it's a bit soft" or "a bit hard" and could go a bit either way and you wouldn't argue. But there's enough times where one can say "this is simply not the correct grade based on the facts about the climb and comparison with many other similar climbs all of which would have to be regraded" etc etc).

This all came about at Helsby with Coel Hellier Discoverer Of Planets. Lovely crag. Never had a bad day there, never done a duff route. This day went pretty well: The Umbrella, Calcutta Wall, Brandenburg Wall, Flake Wall.... Flake Wall is one of those unfortunate routes that is really rather good but suffers from a duff grade and hordes of bellends finding it all too easy to set-up a top-rope after Flake Crack, failpoint it, and claim some drivel like "FIRST E5 OMGZOR".

"Are you going to take E5 for that, Fiend", says the Discoverer Of Planets.

"Of course bloody not", says I.

As a bog standard onsight, it's not even hard for E4 (okay Coel thought it was hard for that so maybe we can average out at normal E4), it's not the hardest one I did that day (Calcutta just pipped it), and it's certainly going to be nowhere near The Brush Off (eeek!) or CFK (looks morpho nails). There's little doubt about the Flake Crack runner position, and a good cam in the face is more important anyway. The two crux moves are easy and positive 6a and a fall would give a clatter but not anything too serious. Facts, scientific facts. Thus, E4 6a. Quality is more subjective but I would say 2 stars as the crimps are just so nice and the position above good gear is too. Obviously as a failpoint it would get minus two stars for such a pointless non-experience.

So, taking the grade. I take the grade that indicates the challenge. If it's a bit uncertain, the guidebook will do (the latest definitive guide, not the Choadfax comics, which incidentally manages to get all 4 grades of those Helsby routes wrong, good effort). If it's a bit wrong, I'll take the right one. If no-one minds. Now I'm going to take it to the vets and buy some biscuits as a treat for it afterwards.