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.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Keeping it dry.

Long time no blog, been too busy climbing. Edited highlights: The Maw (FA), Extreme Walks, Mean Feet, Breaking Point, A Far Cry From Squamish, Mirage, Tricky Dicky, Life And Times, Call To Arms, False Gods, Dawn, Grande Plage var, Sunny Corner Lane, Pass The Pigs, Demolition. Most if not all of which helped by good conditions and reasonable skin, all down to that lovely delicious and nutritious anti-hydral cream. A few people have been asking me about it so here's how I use the stuff:

Method for anti-hydral??

Carefully peel the foreskin back (or wrap carefully in clingfilm if circumcised), apply a copious coping, re-cover, and let marinate overnight. Guaranteed like leather after a week of this.
Errrr okay. Right this isn't a scientific post about the composition methodology and risks of anti-hydral. You know it's an extreme skin-drying cream from Germany, you know excessive use could lead to peeling, cracking, flappers etc, and you know how to google to buy a tube. This is about application because googling for how to apply it brings up loads of dodgy methods. Below is my method and the principle is simple:

Apply a small amount to the actual areas you're going to sweat, keep away from already dry / hard skin areas, and build it up over time if you need to. If you take time off climbing after regular anti-hydral usage, watch out for hard skin and sand/moisturise if needed. 

I.e. put it on the middle of the tips because that's what sweats and is most critical for grip, avoid the edges and any creases in the finger joints. I apply a little bit before bed and leave it on overnight. This seems to work well.


Yes - thumb is correct, a small amount in the middle, no excess at edges. If this is not enough then it can be built up over time.

No 1 - nope, too much rubbed away from crucial middle of tip, too much on edges which will give excess hard skin,

No 2 - nope, you're not laying bloody cement down, this will take ages to dry and possibly give a damagingly strong effect.

No 3 - nope, rubbed down into creases which will produce hard skin there which will crack and peel.

No 4 - nope, rubbed too far down whole finger including creases, if you're concerned about a2 tendon area sweating, what sort of monster jugs are you using?? Jeez. May very rarely be useful for horrendous vertical grit slopers.

Yes too all. This is what I do and it has a small but noticeable drying effect for the next day, without building up hard skin in problematic places. If I need to I can add a bit more - including applying to the thumb and softer pads on the palm. If I'm not climbing for a bit, I will sand and moisturise these areas to avoid hard skin build up in the days after the anti-hydral usage.

Hope that helps :)

Monday, 24 April 2017

A Brimham Triptych

The grit season that never was keeps on giving. Fresh WNW-erlies and plenty of cloud cover were providing conditions far better than still sunshine would in half the temperature, so Tris and I hit Lancashire and Yorkshire. Various potterings were done, the highlight of which by far was the following combination of contrasts from the bewildering yet sometimes brilliant Brimham:

MMS. The full name is bollox so that will do. I backed off this on New Year's Eve with Spraggs a few years back. The slopers over this bulge are particularly gritty and confusing, I was just more determined this time. It turns out this crux is fairly naff as the holds lead you almost into Desperation Crack before rocking back out. However the rest of the slab is quite a voyage and makes the route worthwhile - never that hard but committing with some pretty fiddly gear (shallow keylock wires, folded hexes, etc).

Rotifer. I backed off this once on the same NYE as it started drizzling, and again last spring with Hobby as the breeze dropped and there was a shower of insects instead of rain and equally bad conditions. I've remembered that gritstone is 70% conditions, 20% reach, and 10% willingness to break limbs. This time the conditions were great, the willingness to break limbs was alleviated by good micro cams in the seam (not even the smallest old alien / camalot size, so this has been a feasible option for 20 years, I suppose you could highball it if you were weird and overendowed with pads, but I preferred the lead), and the reach.....was just enough - fingertips on the top after the 3rd 5c crux. A very cool wee proper grit route.

Beatnik. In a change from tradition, I've never backed off this. It was only vaguely on my radar as a potential option being at least protectable. It turns out the protectable bit is probably the crux, placing the gear at my feet and baws in the photo being pretty brutal, whilst the climbing was good honest grating fun. Bonus star for the perfect Friend 6 on the skyline.

So there we go. An OCD-sating 3x3 of 3 wholesomely varied styles. I nearly made it 4x3 with a long overdue solo of Acme Wall but the 20% reach 10% limb-breaking were far too prominent so that will have to wait. Unfortunately I managed to put myself out of action in a much tamer but much stupider way than groundfalling - in the hostel after this day I sliced my finger pad peeling back a half-open food tin, after looking directly at it and thinking "This is stupid, I should wrap a towel around it" and then somehow doing it with my fingers anyway. COMPLETE FUCKING BELLEND. Still, it should heal within the week and I was training back 3 and core etc at TCA yesterday.