Sunday, 19 October 2014

6th time lucky...

Mungasdale. Thelonious. Typical North West gneiss 15° overhanging thuggery, albeit on a much underused crag. A slightly off-piste inspiration, but that's nothing new for me I guess.

Visit 1, Spring 2012 - First visit, neat little crag, not strong enough nor accustomed enough to Scottish thuggery. Didn't even do Walking On Water.

Visit 2, Spring 2013 - Starting to climb quite well, did do Walking On Water, but too tired / too warm to try Thelo.

Visit 3, Spring 2014 - Far too muggy and midgey. Didn't climb at all, unless backing off Monkey Tribe counts.

Visit 4, Summer 2014 - Far too boiling hot. Tried to get morning shade under the illusion that the "south-west" facing was accurate. SSSW more like so no shade and no chance. Walked straight out.

Visit 5, Autumn 2014 - Perfect cool fresh conditions and the main wall was entirely seeping on every route. Did Monkey Tribe and then sacked it off yet again.

Visit 6, Autumn 2014 - Scarcely a week later and brief Indian Autumn and crisp fresh Easterlies gave a bone dry crag and perfect Gneiss conditions. 5 layers on to belay and one power vest on to climb, and finally...

A ridiculous amount of effort and dedication to a 2 star, split grade, 15m route that no-one's climbed, hardly anyone has heard of, at a crag few people have visited?? Yes. But a ridiculous amount of satisfaction unlocking the desperate boulder problem start and a ridiculous amount of pleasure pushing past the pump and yarding up steep jugs all the way to the top.

This was one of the highlights of what is probably the final reliable jaunt to the North West holy grail for this year - although I am still hoping for some technical trad suntrap action on the pseudo-grit of Ardmair and Diabeg if conditions allow - and once again the area was stunning in the autumn sun:

Unbeatable :)

Edit: Eagle-eyed readers might notice these photos are over-saturated. This is because Google / Blogger has a shitty "Auto-Enhance" feature specifically implemented to give you less control over what you upload and fuck up your photos. After a bit of searching, it's not possible to disable this without joining googleplus and thus no doubt opening up another world of bullshit and social media herding. In short, Google can suck my fucking balls until they choke and I'm sorry on their behalf the photos don't look quite right.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Souter Syke!

One visit in two decades, then two visits in one month. This is based on the sudden realisation / rememberance that it's really a rather nice spot and there's loads to do in the mid-extremes and the sneakily gruelling walk out is good training for my puny legs without being tiring before climbing and it's a good 45 mins closer than The County. There's even been a few new routes added since the guide albeit some of those have been grossly overrated by the FAs so aren't as big a draw as the established greywacke mini-gems and micro-testpieces. I've worked my way through several of these but still have many to go, depending on tides and conditions of course. This last visit the tides were decent and the conditions were perfect, a brisk westerly blowing any moisture back into the depths from whence it came. Thus allowing a satisfying ascent of the distinctly non-mini-testpiece Fast Bleeder, admittedly the bulk of the challenge of this climb is packed into the last 8m but those 8m are relentless enough to preclude any complaints about brevity...

Other days out have included Creag Dubh's Barrier Wall to which I've had two visits and two cancelled visits previously, all of which were because it was too hot / sunny / still to climb the harder stuff. This time the rock was in perfect condition and the howling gale raking across the crag prevented even thinking about harder stuff. FFS. A retreat to Farrletter confirmed that idiot bolters and idiot de-bolters have left the crag in a pointless mess, although a few of the routes are still fairly climbable, albeit not when it's getting dark as it happened on Too Farr For The Bear. FFS. The brisk winds were as good for conditions at Ratho as they were at The Souter, so I managed to keep working my way through the quarry's classic trad (in addition to belaying Smally on some distinctly nu-skool trad with his likely E8 first ascent of the blank wall where the Strongarm/Wally protection pillar used to be), specifically Diverticultis which plays nicely to my weaknesses of struggling like a stuck pig on blank bridging corners. Somehow the struggling went upwards enough to deposit me on the rest ledge and easier finish, after I'd rested a good couple of minutes for the pain in my left foot to ease off. Now the weather is pish of course and as much as I'd like to train (too much trad is making me even weaker!) I've slightly strained my forearm dicking around doing a first joint pinky mono pull rockover seconding at The Souter (my own stupid fault) so I best rest for a bit. FFS.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

This, and that.

High point recently was doing Edge Of Insanity at Glen Croe after backing off previously. Looking down at the insta-rip hollow flake RPs at my feet and then the good gear 2m below that had me asking again "how much do I want this?". Obviously enough because I somehow stretched up to the "just out of reach" pocket and swung out onto the arete and glory. Jug-pulling on a short outcrop route doesn't usually feel quite that exposed and scary! Low point was failing on The Screaming Dream at Weem, under the illusion that it's recent downgrade was remotely suitable (it's not, at all, pure bullshit) and that the description of jug-pulling after a crimpy start was accurate (it's not, there's still plenty of burly reachy moves between the jugs). I never really stood a chance. Thankfully I got more fun out of the former than frustration out of the latter.

Bored of words, have some photos:

Friday, 19 September 2014

A change is a good as a rest.

Resting makes you weak of course, as does trad climbing, but exploring makes the spirit stronger. In the words of the guru Simon Panton, extolling the virtuals of straying off the beaten path and sampling a wide array of rock:

 New ground is like cold water to the desert-trapped man - essential.

A motto to live by as a climber if ever there was one. Coincidentally I have something to report for Simon, more on that later. In the last few weeks I have ignored all my oft-intimidating Scottish ambitions and rollercoasted around a collection of new / old / off-piste venues, sometimes with new / old / off-piste friends (including a lucky chance meeting with The Pylon King)...

  • Raven Crag Langdale
  • Wilton One
  • Upper Falcon Crag
  • Gouther Crag
  • The Souter
  • Tyddyn Garreg
  • Barmouth Quarry
  • Sunbeach
  • Ffridd
  • Moelfre
  • Y Foel Penolau

...and done some fascinating and varied routes, from the most classic of classics to overrated micro routes to thrilling hidden gems. Highlights would be hard to pick out, but maybe the zenith was arriving tired and sweaty to the col in front of the Y Foel Penolau summit and letting the stunning location and atmosphere soak over and refresh me. Truly why it is worth driving that 30 minutes south from Tremadog polish and queues to the should-be-irresistable Rhinnogs.

Here's some photos to speak a thousand words:

 Armalite @ Raven Crag. Soft touch and relaxing.

 Master Spy @ Wilton 1. Sandbag and exhausting.

Some F6b+ arete at Barmouth. Quite pleasant. 

 Some F6c at Sunbeach. Minor but fun.

Ogwen Valley from the Menai Straits. You can smell the bumbly even from here.
 Purrfection @ Y Foel Penolau. Recreating the guidebook photo complete with rubbish beta.

Purrfection showing the correct way. Amazing place.

 Brand new 3 star classic arete in the Rhinnogs.

Now all I want to do is get back to Mid Wales. Bloody 5+ hour journey though...

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Yob climbing.

A great phrase coined my old friend and swearing partner The Pylon King, referring obviously to brutish, nearnderthal climbing rather than the rather civilised Ogwen valley VS Yob Route. Something I was reminded of recently, pondering on forthcoming plans in which Diabeg slabs seemed a likely option. Despite fairly graded challenges, I felt little concern about getting on tricky slabs, they might be tricky but at least they are manageable. Unlike yob climbing, which I still feel well out of touch with, but still want to get to grips with. Hooliganic battles, perfect for climbers with biceps bigger than their brains - yet there is a certain pleasure, especially involving pulling off powerful moves in wild positions. It's still a bizarre feeling doing that on trad, but maybe it can become a familiar one?? Clearly this will involve a large amount of steepness, but not all steepnesses are equal. For example:

Steep and wild but not actually steep at all.
E.g. The Moon @ Gogarth, Dreadnought @ Berry Head
Where the whole crag and indeed route overhangs massively, but none of the climbing actually does. Generally fantastic fun and I tend to relish these as I know pretty well when I'm not overhung.

Steep in a gently impending way.
E.g. Wall Of Silence @ Reiff, Lady Charlotte @ Dunkeld
Where the route isn't hugely steep but it's consistently overhanging. Can be home to the dreadful "protection is good if you're strong enough to hang around and place it". A Scottish speciality due to the well featured rock on schist, sandstone and gneiss. Initially quite hard to deal with but fairly easy to train for and get used to. I'm getting there after 4 years.

Steep overhanging ladders.
E.g. Raging Bull @ Floors Craig, The Rasp @ Higgar Tor
When the rock is hugely steep and the holds are hugely huge. Pretty much a matter of being in the right attitude. Feel good and climb quick and they're easy, although again swift protection can be the key. My attitude varies as wildly and so do my successes. 

Steep reassuringly traditional thrashes.
E.g. Walk Like An Egyptian @ Reiff, Space Monkey @ Ardmair
Where everything overhangs in enough dimensions that the battle is partly transferred to the lower body and the imagination of what appendages can be used. All over body pumps likely, but not as likely as swearing and crying. I'm semi-rubbish at these and don't know if I want to get any better.

Steep and wildly flamboyant.
E.g. The Sloth @ The Roaches, Mother's Pride @ Elgol
Where the rock is steeper than steep but the holds, protection and logistics mean the challenge is just a matter of being "out there" and dealing with the wildness. Similar to the overhanging ladders but even more fun when it works. Partly why I do the falling practise, to be able to switch off the phantom fears and switch on the yarding out from gear.

Steep and bouldery.
E.g. Bob's Overhang @ Long Slough, Bratach Uaine @ Creag Dubh
Where there is steepness and powerfulness combined. Again assume the logistics are fairly sensible which is useful as the moves can be bloody hard. Bouldering on a rope, sport climbing with good cams instead of bolts. I want to be able to do this sort of climbing, pulling hard on small holds is good at whatever the angle.

Steep and just plain hard.
E.g. Quietus @ Stanage, Pugilist @ Floors Craig
Where the steepness makes everything desperate, not least because most of the above challenges are combined. Very much a specialist subject for the yobbiest of the yobs. Excess body hair might be the key to success, as well as the ability to climb 2 grades harder than given. I have neither so I'm probably fucked.

So how to get better?? I tend to do plenty of steep bouldering indoor and out, and a fair amount of steep routes indoors to train (I've deliberately increased the angle since moving to Scotland). I guess I just need to do more, and of course more falling practise, always. Placing gear in steep pumpy situations is another factor entirely and I'm not sure how to deal with that apart from doing more of it. Maybe I need to relish slightly easier but still steep routes simply as good training??

Monday, 1 September 2014

"Never save any route"

....the wise words of Britain's top sport climber and seemingly all-round nice bloke Steve McClure. I was lying in half of a fold-down guest bed in Brad's house in Aberdeen - the other half being determinedly occupied by Atlas, one of their fine tabbies and although considerably smaller than me in size, somewhat larger in charisma and bed-hogging ability - and reading through lots of back copies of Climb. Plentiful inspiring articles about legends like the Sharma, the Ondra, the McClure, even an interview with Neil Gresham that was actually interesting. Always great to read about top climbers when they have ideas and inspirations that are as interesting as the big numbers themselves.

Steve's article and comment struck a chord with me as I am very prone to saving many routes for the optimum time, often having many crag visits and delayed attempts before properly trying them. Of course "never save any route" is a fine motto when you're a F9a+ climber, at least F8b+ onsighter, fresh from onsighting Britain's least on-sightable safe E7 Strawberries, weight about 9 stone, are fit as fuck, on a flying visit to Scotland, up the Cobbler in great summer weather and you're trotting up an easy classic like Dalriada which is probably not too far out of the comfort zone. When you're 1. Crap and 2. Actually trying things physically and mentally hard for you, saving routes can seem like a sensible option and indeed the only tactic that gets me up some routes. If I hadn't saved half of my hardest leads last year from at least one previous aborted visit until actually trying them, I doubt I could have done them.

This weekend's saved route was Running Wild. Utterly inspiring and potentially utterly desperate for me - on paper, beyond my current limits, although maybe possible with enough focus. I've now had 4 crag visits without getting on it: first was far too greasy, second was amazing conditions but no-one to climb with, third was good conditions but a brief shower made the access inaccessible and waiting wasn't ideal, fourth started with decent conditions and then got a bit too smeggy to be comfortable. So I walked away again. Sure if I was Ste Mc and I was beneath a greasy E7 6c on a flying visit to Aberdeen, I'd never save any route, get on it, and piss up it. But I'm not so I didn't.

On the other hand, sometimes everything seems right. You don't save the route, you get on it, and then...

Let's rewind a bit. I've recovered from the punter-flu and the shock of BRD. I've started getting motivated and moving again: Day -4: Long bouldering session at Ratho, especially steep stuff on sharp holds. Day -3: Good varied gym session, partly to rest fingers and skin. Day -2: Short trad session with steady pumpy warm-up and then a good steep trad classic (Velvet Glove at Limekilns, which I did dick around on for too long before realising the crux is easy and the whole route is really rather great). Day -1: General Aberdeen mileage - nothing too hard so not getting at all tired, but good exercise throughout, also recced the next day's challenge: Pugilist Direct.

The day itself: Good start with strong coffee and just as strong satanic death metal in the car. Belay Brad for a while, good conditions and nice climbing temps. Warm up well on the brutal Italian Stallion, pull through the steepness confidently and climb extra-slowly to finish to maximise the pump. Rest, then start steeply up PD to the jug and gear, spend a while here getting a mini-pump, checking the sequence, chalking the holds. Reverse down to rest and recovery with my hoody on. Never save any route....and get on with it. Piss up the great moves to the rusty peg. Fiddle in a back-up wire, enough to do more great moves to the slot before the top ledge. I've been warned that placing gear and moving past it is hard....but now I DO have a bit confidence to move past gear, so surely that's okay. Except of course, the cam is fucking annoying to place. Theoretically bomber, but out of view, no footholds to pull up and seat it reliably, hands in the way in the slot. I'd love to slam it in easily and move past but it's the typical "gear is good enough if you're strong enough to hand around and place it" horror. If you don't get it right and fluff the moves, you could easily rip the peg and back-up or even just hit the ground on the rope out. 10m above serrated rock ledges, if you're lucky you'd die quickly, rather than being a crippled vegetable until the doctors pulled the plug. So I DO get it right enough and fire in a super quick back up, just in time for my hands to start clawing up and slap ineffectually for a non-hold. Pulling back on, I scarcely need 10 seconds swearing on the rope to have a good mini-shake, and the move to the ledge is as piss as the rest of the route - the crux of both grades has been placing the damn cam. Fucking specialist coastal bollox.

Even though everything seemed right....maybe I should have just saved that route anyway...

Tuesday, 26 August 2014



Some sleep, some time relaxing and downloading some top quality dark minimal techno means my thoughts have....shifted on from the trouble of yesterday. They make a bit more sense than before, and I've learnt some stuff:

Taking a beanie for rest ledges is a pretty smart idea.

I can still do one leg squats from cold, sometimes the best warm-up!

My new tiny BD Offset swedges are nice and a bit more inspiring than the brass versions.

I can do an alleged 6b move on lead, probably because it's easy 6a. So that technical grade should be as widely encompassing as 6a is.

I can do an alleged E5 section of climbing well, probably because it's only E4 with a skyhook and common sense.

I can get myself into the state to commit to both of the above even when feeling a bit perturbed and ropey.

I can commit to moves and pull reasonably hard on holds....if there are holds. I was pulling pretty fucking hard yesterday but there weren't holds for 3 of my limbs, and that was the problem - features and friction and gritstone style climbing. I was fully going for the moves and if I'd had any sort of pullable hold I might have got through it. So if I keep wary of grit-style dolerite at the moment, there is hope.

As always I'm doing a lot with logistics and tactics to compensate for being fat and weak. This is good but I need to do it right. I was complacent with the upper part of BR/N because I'd done it before. I was casual and rushed into it because I "knew I could do it". Casual is good for safe easy ground and complacent is good for nothing. Preparing a bit better would have helped - not the gnawing away like I did with the issues of the other cruxes, but at least an acknowledgement that all of a challenging climb requires attention. 

I might feel calm enough to put some of that into action...