Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Zillertal Beta.

Another slightly off-piste destination - in summer at least, in winter I'm sure it's well pisted. Is it worth it?? If you really want to climb amongst endless Alpine scenery of mountains, forests, and hillside cabins, with convenient logistics from the Mayrhofen resort including a hearty diet of - yup again - schnitzel und weissbier, all with the irresistable soundtrack of cowbells, it could be for you.

The climbing:
Is essentially a blend of sport climbing that is essentially "the best of Scottish sport-climbing" i.e. good but sub-world-class climbs on decent inland schistose / granitic gneiss, with more aesthetic and striking bouldering circuits in delightful locations.

Route-wise it wasn't as special in the F6s as Pfalz / Bohuslan / Pedriza, but it was good and varied and would be a novelty for sassenachs who have never visited Creag Nan Luch / Cadhag / Goat Crag etc. The harder grade routes do look more spectacular but given everything is undergraded anyway, expect a tough time.

Boulder-wise the plethora of tumbled blocs (including some very recently tumbled ones at Sundergrund providing some cool new lines) provide more distinct lines in a wild variety of situations from along river beds (and actually in the rivers) to forested hillsides, to charming Alpine meadows. I would suggest the bouldering is slightly more inspiring, combining both is definitely recommended.

The guidebook.
Is fairly hopeless in many ways including having small scale maps that are inconsistent with large scale maps, estimating walk-in times by rolling a random selection of dice, describing approaches as following "the path" but not telling you which one of the 25 available, describing bad parking options, not mentioning road tolls or cable car fees, neglecting information like sun/shade orientation and likely rain-shelter, making up grades with numbers left over from the approach time debacle, and drawing topo lines where the author thinks routes might go if viewed from a distance whilst drunk, rather than actually following the distinct bolt lines. But it has a plentiful selection of crags and boulders.

Alpine summer. It can be hot or rainy but rarely both at once and the latter seems to rarely last long despite summer months being the slightly wetter ones. The classic European tactic of getting hotter and hotter until a couple of days of clearing storms seems a feasible one. The crags are fairly high up and cover a variety of situations including shade, shelter, exposure etc so even though the weather is not guaranteed dry, it should be manageable.

Flight to wherever. We went to Munich which is about 2 hours away or 3 hours if you're cutting it fine for the flight and don't want a fuckload of delays and roadworks and get them anyway. Mayrhofen is about an hour from Innsbruck and about 30 mins South of the main A12 autobahn. Some car hire companies charge cross border fees and you need a special 8 Euro access sticker to get from .de to .at.

Accommodation etc:
Mayrhofen is the hub of the area and has everything you need. Good price off-season apartments / hostels / hotels etc in or around it, rough river-side camping further up past Ginzling. There may be other campsites.

Other activities:
In winter it's a well-established resort. In summer it's a seemingly equally established hub of fair weather activities, including vast quantities of walking, cycling, downhill scootering, paragliding, cable car touring, spas, summer bobsleighs etc etc. You might even have time to climb too...

The photos:
 View by day.

 View at most times.

 View by night.

 A minor problem amongst major ones, but what a setting!

 Pulling on a pancake. There are some harder mega-lines around Sundergrund.

 Ewige Jagdgr├╝nde is probably the coolest crag in the area for all sorts of reasons...

 ....access, setting, scenery, climbing, etc etc.

 £15 cable car round trip to climb up at Knorren. Well worth it.

 I'd happily get cable cars to climb all the time. Cool fresh air at 2100m too.

 Can't see the forest for the trees? Luckily the crags usually stand fairly clear.

 More Ewige Jagdgr├╝nde. Very fun juggy warm-up.

 And more! Terrible image quality  as it was actually pitch dark, but this route was the highlight of the trip. There may have even been a couple of power belches.

 Typical evening view after bouldering.

Typical evening view after sport climbing.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

A fine line...

...between success and failure, between love and hate, between good and evil, between evocative personal prose and eyeball-vomitingly self-indulgent flowery drivel. But other bloggers do a far better job of the latter than me and I hopefully retain enough awareness to restrain the drivel a bit.

The fine line I'm referring to is between a climbing challenge that is enthralling and engrossing and a climbing challenge that is draining and demoralising. Despite a respectable veneer of bumbledon and - so I've been told - an illusionary impression of calm competence, I'm often pushing along that line, or at least trying to. And with such fineness, it's the little things that cause you to swerve from one side to the other. Nearly a year ago I was on the former side of the line on the best lead of my life on The Long Run at Gogarth, a few days ago I was on the latter side of the line on the hardest lead of my life on Black Magic at Pentire. The little thing was conditions, perfect on TLR with a fresh cool breeze after all day sun, arduous on BM with a humid breeze after all day haze.

Cathedral is a very good descriptor. It's a very slightly off-vertical cathedral though.

I probably shouldn't have been on it, and it's all Duncan's fault that I was. We were down there with the indefatiguable Cheque Pictures, filming Duncan returning to Eroica for a fully free ascent 37(!) years after his standard aid-point ascent. This all went rather smoothly with the crux dispatched with all the flamboyant power-whooping you'd expect from Mr Critchley, although when I came to follow it (a *very* rare occasion of me following a harder route, mostly because Eroica had never been on my wishlist) I struggled to see how he'd dispatched the greasy, minimally-featured crux and subsequent death-defying teeter on lead. The general difficulty and poor conditions were reassuring - definitely not a day to try anything hard like a lifetime ambition right at my limit or any nonsense like that. 

Relief mixed with sandwiches and general Atlantic coast discussion at the bottom of the crag, but I kept walking down and touching the Black Magic starting holds and looking at the fine line of the horizon which seemed to be a lot clearer and less hazy than previously. I'd been wanting to do this route for decades ever since the triptych photo of Ken Palmer rocking over (unspeakably bad beta of course) but surely I wasn't ready for it now. I went for a power-shit around the corner just in case and came back to this:

Duncan: How are you feeling??

Me: Kinda nauseous and wobbly really...

Duncan: Well, that's natural isn't it, you're bound to feel like that before a big challenging lead.

Me: Oh for fuck's sake, damn you old school climbers who know what it's all about, that's exactly the right thing to say, now I have to try it!!

He could have said some inane shite like "Just man the fuck up and get on it" or some wishy-washy cop-out like "Well you can always leave it till later", but no, he had to say the right thing, the right mixture of sense and understanding (which didn't quite extend to the 20 year old general beta - also unspeakably bad, but that didn't matter ;)). 

So I did it and the haze came back in and by the time I got to the belay the distant headlands were barely visible and although it was climbable it certainly wasn't crisp and this had the experience teetering from the undiluted pleasure of TLR to something darker and deeper and I got mid-way though the crux after half a dozen goes trying to commit to it and just wanted to drop off as my emotions were frayed and decided I might as well drop off doing the move which of course I didn't as climbing isn't usually as hard as committing and then it was just a methodical process of infinite 5c moves and sore toes and spaced RPs up the flake and really that was just fucking ace.

White magic.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Curious Holes and Horrible Vistas.

So yeah I'm down in Bristol for a bit, specifically to climb in Cornwall, Devon, and North Pembroke. Have I got out to those majestic and diverse sea-cliff paradises?? Have I fuck. I've got sucked into the local limestone choss bollox. I blame the Pylon King, but I also blame the weather, the shambolic organisation of PK's 2nd in command Sgt Stannerz, and myself. Oh and that actually with a fresh perspective and recent renovations, some of that local bollox is actually quite good. I mean limestone is shit, UK limestone is particularly shit, UK inland limestone is the ultimate in shit. But fuck me I've even enjoyed Cheddar sport climbing in the last week - as well as a host of other venues from the mighty Avon to the mighty Woodlane Quarry....

Funnily enough this is a very old stomping ground for me. Learning to climb at school, and later on regularly visiting a mate at Bath uni, I'd semi-regularly potter around these curious holes with their horrible vistas, although a combination of inexperience and inexplicable issues meant I ended up leading a few HVS/E1s and soloing too many 1 star VSes on too many big limestone crags. An early teenage foray saw me attempting Le Poudin Noir at Sandford Quarry, with youthful enthusiasm and it's old sandbag grade. I backed off to the wise words of my young mentor Pete Rigby "Sensible idea Matt, my old man says 'the climb will still be here tomorrow, just make sure you are'". A couple of decades later and I laid that old ghost to rest, and I'm bloody glad my teenage self didn't commit past the start as the whole route is pretty sketchy and intense, and very good for a limestone quarry. Alas we ended up too late to get any battered poudin noir in the local chippy, but a pint of cider for dinner sufficed.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Climbers with tops off at indoors wall...

...and how you can cope with it.

To start, this is not an indoor wall, but it is NED:

Ned is climbing outside, at night, in December (this is likely to be a lot cooler than a typical indoor wall in summer)....with his shirt off. Why is Ned doing this?? To provoke a bunch of punters on UKC into a debate about the fiction of friction?? To bait a jobsworth Fontainbleausard into banning him from La Foret if he persists with such indecent attire??

No, Ned is doing it for the same reason many of us climb with minimal attire: Because he wants to minimise any possible sweating and maximise any possible friction (and maybe reduce a tiny bit of weight and inhibition from a t-shirt) - yes, even at night, in December - and thus climb more effectively right at his limit.

Because Ned knows exactly what the fuck he is doing. If you DON'T know exactly what the fuck you are doing, fair enough, but don't spout your opinions or make knee-jerk rules based on ignorance.

Instead, try the following to deal with the so-called "issue"...

For wall managers / staff:

If people are climbing at your wall with their shirt off, it's for the same reason that they would be climbing in vest tops or sports bras or shorts - because the wall is warm, they are sweaty, and then are trying to reduce that to train more effectively. It is an athletic training environment with a high emphasis on grip and contact strength, and minimal clothing reflects that.

Those people are paying customers who are wanting to train. Obviously you can't provide perfect conditions with immaculate air con in summer and infallible heaters in winter, but you CAN accept that people might need a bit of leeway with climbing attire to make the most out of conditions.

If other customers complain that they feel "uncomfortable" with someone else climbing with their top off, ask them WHY they feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in itself isn't a reason, there must be something behind it. Eroticism? Jealousy? Disgust at sweaty torsos? General prudishness? Most of these are fairly shallow reasons, not as weighty as a genuine physical reason of sweating off holds, and thus not worth impinging on a climber's use of your facility. If there's an actual genuine reason, it's likely due to behaviour, thus...

If you have a problem with macho and boisterous behaviour from people with their shirts off, then you have a problem with macho and boisterous behaviour - tackle THAT. People can act like dicks in just a pair of shorts or in a full £800 Arcteryx outer shell. Don't pin the blame on clothing, tackle people's attitudes instead - ask people to reduce shouting and swearing, to be courteous to other people climbing and hanging out, to avoid getting in peoples' ways etc, and you'll find that people can be polite and respectful irrespective of what they're wearing.

In short, COMMUNICATE with customers on both sides. And remember that a rule without reasons is an unreasonable rule.

If parents complain that it offends the perceived delicate and fragile sensibilities of their children, refer them to the advice in the section below (feel free to print it out).

For critics on internet forums:

If you don't understand why people are climbing with their shirts off at a wall, ASK. People will often give good explanations of conditions-related questions (e.g. climbing grit in winter, shoe friction, reduced sweating etc) and they are likely to give the correct explanation as above.

If you want to try any of the following non-arguments, think a bit more about them:

"But you don't really need to, it's not that warm"
Hey here's some fucking news for you: People sweat when they exert themselves, and some people sweat a lot more than others. Sweating reduces friction and grip on holds and makes training less effective (and less enjoyable). If you don't sweat that much and can climb through summer in a downie, good for you. Medal is in the post / bin. But try to use your fucking brain and realise that other people might sweat a lot more than you, and might need to reduce that sweating a lot more than you do. If you're too ignorant to understand that, turn your computer off and throw your keyboard away.

"But you wouldn't have your shirt off at a gym" 
No shit, that's because firstly at a gym you are sitting / lying on lots of equipment and thus would get sweat all over it, and secondly almost no exercises at the gym rely on hand friction (even deadlifts or lat pull downs are on rungs) so there is no need to go shirtless.

"But girls aren't allowed to climb with their tops off"
No shit, that's just the way the current status quo on general public decency is. Boobs are still regarded as somewhat private / taboo / sexual / whatever, and first world social norms are that they are generally covered in public, along with genitalia and buttocks. Sobeit. If you have any socio-philosophical issues that boobs should be entirely public or male torsos should be equally private, sort it out elsewhere, change the whole society's views, then get back to the climbing community only when that's done. Also note that girls can wear sports bras as minimal decent upper torso attire, going along with the minimal sweating purpose.

Oh fuck off.

For parents complaining that shirtless climbers are intimidating their offspring:

Get a fucking grip. If you've failed so dismally in raising your little shits that they somehow view a male torso as indecent, then you never should have spawned in the first place. Unfortunately it's too late now, but at least you can shut the fuck up and not whine to wall staff about it. Instead, take a long hard look at yourself and your parenting skills - and try to work out how the hell you're going to cope when your grubs go to a swimming pool.


Finally, some anecdotes.

I train with my shirt off regularly indoors (apart from in winter, I wear a skimpy vest then), because I sweat a lot, I find that sweating reduces my training effectiveness and enjoyment a lot, and I need to minimiseit (yes I keep repeating this, but despite being so bloody obvious people still are determined not to get it). I use liquid chalk and normal chalk and brush holds regularly and let my skin recover in between attempts and ask the staff to turn fans on if there are any. I also grunt and strain and occasionally shout with exertion.

I also don't show off and pose and flex and do any macho bullshit - I'm slightly overweight and wearing compression stockings FFS. And I talk politely and affably to people in general. When I've been at TCA climbing shirtless....

I've been chatting to one of the youth girls trying to get beta for a comp wall problem (youth girls is about the level I can manage usually!) and asking politely if I can try the same problem as it had inspired me - NO PROBLEM.

I've been refilling my chalkbag at the end of the wall, and ended up sitting, sweaty and shirtless, chatting to a very elderly lady who was accompanying her grandchildren and was wondering what the chalk was for and didn't seem to care less what I was wearing - NO PROBLEM.

I've been jumping down off a problem when a tiny girl ran around the corner and almost hit me, we both stared a bit shocked, and I smiled down at her and said "Oooops sorry" out of courtesy before she trotted off wide-eyed - NO PROBLEM.

Add in a few hundred casual chats to other climbers and occasional non-climbers - NO PROBLEM.

The moral being: If a provocative arse like myself can both an efficient shirtless climber and a civil human being, then maybe that's another small indication - along with common fucking sense - to not have any draconian restrictions or moronic criticisms of climbing with shirts off indoors.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Saturday, 21 May 2016

A bit like this.

Summer 2015:

Summer 2016:

Both E2 5c, the 2nd one is quite a bit better tho.

Monday, 9 May 2016

A tale of two Thursdays.

Thursday evening.

I'm sitting comfortably in the car, keeping warm with the heater on, relaxing on the way back from Ratho. It's 1'c and snowing gently over the Harthill summit.

Thursday evening.

I'm lying comfortably on the ropebag, keeping cool in the shade, recovering from the dizzying heat at Helsby. It's 20'c and too hot to climb in the afternoon sun.

What a difference a week can make eh. I don't even need to moan about the weather for this one. Except it got too hot, yes too hot. I thought Helsby was a shady crag from my previous visit nearly a decade ago, well I've learnt something useful. I also thought it looked greener than ever, but that fooled me too, close-up it was almost all fine. In fact one of the greenest "good" routes there - Wafer Wall, just above the site of my emergency power-nap - was absolutely fine without any prior cleaning. This was a small, humourous ghost laid to rest as I'd trying to solo it on that prior visit and had to be rescued once standing above the "this break has some fiddly gear in but I won't bother to reverse and get a rope and rack, I'll just press on" section. All fairly silly and it went nicely as a lead. I must confess the previous evening I had a bit of a wobbler on the top of Angel's Face....I think I prefer a rack and rope at Helsby ;)

All of this was inspired by two things. Firstly, a proper new guidebook that I've been long overdue getting - as always with new BMC guides the combination of exhaustive information, rich character and an accessible design provide immediate inspiration to an area that had gone off my radar. Just how proper this is was highlighted to me by going on to UKC to check the databases out of very idle curiosity, to find that the annoyingly uneditable Rockfax grades / descriptions were all-too-commonly wrong. Sigh.

Secondly a somewhat more sombre scenario - I was down in the Helsby area for the funeral of my recently-deceased Uncle Fred, a very decent and honourable man and a near-legendary model-maker, whom along with his son Steve (of Steve Webb Model And Hobbies) inspired me into model-making in my youth and was thus responsible for me getting into painting toy soldiers, which has possibly taken a grade off my climbing but kept me sane during some miserable winters. Funerals are like buses, you (don't) wait a few decades for one and then two come along this year. Hopefully this will be the last for a while. I read a speech in tribute to his model-making hobby and my immediate family seemed to be a positive presence to his immediate family. After this I stuck around for a life-affirming evening at Helsby, got scared:

And witnessed a nice view over Liverpool:

Then there was Thursday of heatstroke and not doing the massive amount of E3 mileage I had planned from browsing the guide, that will have to wait for another time. Then it was a dash over to Meirionydd for the first Rhinnogau session of the year with The Pylon King, and the first new route too:

And finally a sweaty stop-off en-route at Harmer's Wood:

Just waiting for it to cool down a bit and hopefully I can put some of my psyche and mileage into action, preferably as far away from Glasgow as possible.