Thursday, 25 June 2015

Climber's assessment report:

Must try harder. A lot harder.

As per the previous update, I've been out a bit, and I've climbed a bit. I can unhappily say that I am getting pretty good at doing E2s competently.

E2 is not a grade, it is an admission of failure. E2 is not climbing, it's just bad beta the crag approach walk. E2s are not routes, they are at best a mundane part of the warm-up procedure, as forgettable as swinging your arms around or traversing the crag base.

I suppose there is something to be said for smooth, fluid competency. That something being that is gets a bit boring after a while. I still miss the spark of trying hard, hence the teacher's report above. Except I'm my own teacher and pupil, I'm giving the lessons but am I learning my lesson? Not so effectively when I'm in the wrong classroom and the most educational subject matter is many hours away. I've got some plans to rectify that, heading South for a bit, then hopefully heading West for a bit. Maybe both at once.

P.S. One thing I have realised, due to recently and still annoying near misses, is that I am, of course, weak. No, genuinely this time. I'd fooled myself that because I'd bouldered quite well over winter, including on some burly stuff, that I was bouldering strong. Actually, I'd spent so much time bouldering that I didn't have the skin to do any bouldering training, therefore I now realise I was bouldering well, but bouldering weak. Technique is no substitute for power and all that....

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Hey, are you....

....the guy who writes that Fiend blog?? 

Errrr....depends who I've offended this time, but, errr, maybe? 

This is the second time I've been accosted at Ratho and recognised like that, AND been told that they quite enjoy reading my blog, which as before comes as a pleasant surprise. I know a few friends read it (which I understand, I'd read their shit if any of them bothered to write it) and apparently a few strangers do too. One of these days I'll find out the other half-dozen readers, hunt them down, and persuade them to stop.

In the meantime I had to apologise because my writing and updating has reflected my climbing - mundane and often shite. I'm trying to rectify that in my climbing so why not here too. The Ratho dude said he liked reading about crags so here are some crags:

Brown Band Crag, Aberdeen
One of many new developments on the coast from the evergreen Rankers who has his overly-strong fingers in the various pies that form the cragging smorgasbord - developing hardcore sport at The Fin whilst putting up VDiff sandbags here and steep power bouldering at the nearby Brown Hole crag (well it was a lot more of a brown hole when the Costa express kicked in and I had to rush off behind the rocks hur hur). Anyway BBC is very typical south coast schist shizzle, steep, breaky, good fun if you slam in the cams and keep yarding, a miserable pumpy nightmare if you stop and think for a second. I mostly got it right apart from sliding off Devo Max with my fingers a mere inch from the crucial break, pretty gutting as I really put some effort in and it would have been an essential confidence boost.

Findon Ness, Aberdeen
Findon Ness is not a new development, but the information has been newly revised in a useful topo on Neil Morrison's flickr. As always a clear topo provides fresh inspiration as much as fresh information and this was no exception. I've ended up having 4 visits there this spring - a couple greasy, a couple immaculately fresh - and I've pretty much climbed it out and enjoyed everything I've done. An very worthwhile crag for the E2-ish bumbly.

Robbie Gow's Prison, Aberdeen
As part of a semi-abortive, semi-mileage trip which included stropping at Meackie Point because the tide was coming in, being too weak to commit to routes at Harper's Wall, and running away from The Outpost, I did end up doing a couple of decent routes here. Both short, steep sandbags, but rather good with a lot of intense climbing packed in. Definitely worth combining with the more classic Hidden Treasure wall.

White Crag, Langdale
We went to Black Crag the day before but obviously you lot know what that's like and if you don't you might as well give up climbing as it is some of the most delightful short cragging on the best rock in Lakes. As part of an accessible Lakes crag easy mileage trip it would have been rude not to go to White Crag too and complete the Yin and Yang of punterdom, especially given how well these minor crags are shown and described in the impeccable new Langdale guide. Anyway I did a few warm-ups, got inspired by this steep E3 that followed a footless rail across a steep wall beneath a crucial peg to a slopey lip encounter. I got onto the rail, stretched up to clip the peg, as soon as the karabiner just touched it the peg fell out and bounced down onto my hoodie. I reversed and lowered onto a cam, we sacked it off and went home via Bramcrag Wall at the ludicrously popular Bramcrag Quarry (add bolts to any olde choss and verily the hordes will come) which I'd been putting off for a while and it turns out it's quite easy but does have some great climbing. The peg is now a doorstop in the lounge.

Moss Crag, Buttermere
Now this was a wee treasure. Umming and ahhhing over where to go in the Lakes, having got punished by the sub-heatwave-but-still-relentless sun at Raven Crag the previous day, I spotted this wee shady, seemingly accessible buttress in the guide, and managed to persuade the beastette I was with that a day of (guess fucking what??) easy mileage would be worthwhile. And indeed it was, as much for the situation as anything. The seeming accessibleness turned out to be a 45° slog that was short enough to be okay and steep enough to be decent leg training, and perched us scenically above Buttermere, the weeness was adequately compensated for by nice rock and nice lines, and the shadiness was an absolute delight of lounging in the sun and climbing in perfect conditions. The easy mileage was perhaps a bit too easy for either of us but it was just nice to be there (God I am getting soft....).

Baildon Bank, Yorkshire
I don't know how many people remember the picture of the sheer blank-looking corner of Anne Of Cleaves in the old Yorkshire Grit guide? I don't remember that clearly - possibly because I've tried to block all memories of the dire old YG guides out of my mind with their prehistoric design, insistence that Almscliff deserved to be deified, and reluctance to be dragged screaming and kicking into the 21st century of guidebooks - but I do remember it looked cool, even at a time that I doubt I would ever climb it. Fast forward a couple of decades and normally it would be a formality, this dire trad season it would be a minor challenge, and either way it would be inspiring. A sunny breezy made the Lower Quarry worth exploring and indeed it continues the quality which Baildon is renowned for, despite being grossly underused. AoC lived up to it's appearance, excellent climbing with a definitive sting-in-the-tail finish. I took faffing to a whole new level before committing to it, but it was good in the end.

I don't know how many people have seen the picture of a bold slabby-looking arete of Hergest Ridge in the new Yorkshire Grit guide? I do remember clearly - possibly because the fantastic new YG guides have firmly etched many inspirations and appealing photos in my mind. After a bit of a warm-up it seemed like a valid option and I was getting on well with the off-vertical crimpy quarried grit. Apparently I have some ability left because despite a "moment" pulling on sweaty micro-crimp sidepulls, I did the whole damn route in less time than it took me dicking around beneath the AoC finish. A small but real victory.

Hebden Gill, Yorkshire   
Another underrated gem which I recced in Autumn and realised it's steep positive climbing wouldn't suit the cold grit winter but could be great on the right sort of spring day. This wasn't the right sort of spring day, but it was almost close enough....almost. A warm-up on Crevasse Wall confirmed my suspicions that the whole wall was understarred and indeed as good as it looked, and then a fight on Performance Management confirmed that it was a bit too sweaty even for this sort of grit. I clearly needed to manage my performance a bit better as I flapped around on the crux until I skidded off a small bit of crusty rock a mere move from the crucial foothold, pretty gutting as I really put some effort in and it would have been an essential confidence boost.

Photos (Findon & Hebden):


Sunday, 24 May 2015

Half-time Score.

Climbing failures : 7 - 1 : Fiend

From my New Year's resolution list:

Have many more trips abroad. - complete fail.
None at all, none planned, feel pretty shit about this. Most of my climbing partners ask me if I've got any trips planned, I mumble a bit about "dunno" "not been organised" and feel like a dick.

Climb South of the border. - partial success.
I've done a bit, in fact most of my trips away, but still not really been to the places I really want to go, nor done the sort of climbing I really want to do. Call it a draw.

Keep training throughout the year - wall, gym, active rest. - partial success.
I've done some of this, and had my best roped successes at Ratho *CRINGE*, but also haven't kept up enough with fitness training nor therapy for my impinged shoulder, another draw.

Do more stretching. - complete fail.
None at all. Really need to do it more than ever, and really suck at motivating myself to do.

Try falling practise on gear outdoors. - complete fail.
None at all. Done some indoors but still feel scared and non-committal outdoors and need to cure that.

Get going earlier in the morning. - complete fail.
Getting even worse at this. Sleeping badly and sluggish. Missed out on entire days due to this let alone just a few hours of extra climbing.

Start more trips in the evening to be ready the next day. - complete fail.
Nope. Rubbish at this too.

Make clearer and firmer plans esp. with disorganised partners. - fail.
Nope. Missed enough days out and really feeling the minimalness of my climbing scene.

You could add "Climb well and really enjoy my climb as I usually do" to that list and get a "complete fail" too, although that's intrinsically linked to most of the above, especially the venues, exploration, and organisation.

So what have I done??

Bouldered overall better than ever over winter - success.
Deadlifting 2XBW personal best - success.
Run 20 mins / 2 miles continually with fuck all venous return - success.
Flashed Ratho F7a+ thrice in a week - success.

Taken out of context, those are pretty enjoyable and quite satisfying things. Taken in the context of myself and my desires they are somewhat overwhelmed by what I haven't done and what I'm not doing...

¿Still not sure of a way out of this rut?

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Wrong place, wrong time

Edit: Yes I know this is a shit blog post. I'm just trying to get it out of my head, God knows it's crowded enough in there already.

So far this is definitely becoming my worst trad season climbing since, well, 2011. Except I was climbing okay then, it was just the weather being almost continuously appalling between the start of May and November. Okay, so worst trad season since 2009. Except I'd only just recovered from an elbow injury then. Okay, 2008. Except that's when I actually had the elbow injury. So the worst for many years then. I've done a lot of good climbs in those intervening years, but not in this one yet. I've perfectly timed a blend of apathy, tiredness, fear and ill-confidence when the weather was good, and a reasonable amount of motivation and determination when it's been bad. I took advantage of the latter by training stamina quite well, now I am bored of that. Training is fun but it's training for something and without that something it loses it's appeal rapidly.

Throw in terrible motivation, worse organisation, utter disinterest in the little remaining local climbing, bad habits and persistent laziness, and stir it in to a vicious circle of low energy, and that's where I am now. Not the best place for a dedicated climber.

There is an inherent sense of wrongness about this for me, I haven't been abroad for over a year, I haven't explored much this year, I haven't got to grips with pushing myself - and I genuinely do miss the experience of being challenged and enjoying the journey of working it all out, and I haven't got any inspiring plans other than a weather-and-driving-scuppered "Go to Wales loads". It all feels like the wrong place at the wrong time. Scotland is great but I miss the vast amount of options available down South, both local and weekendable (God, and I used to think I'd "climbed out" the gritstone when I was down there, I should have been more grateful for 4 guidebooks of local stuff rather than half of one.) and I miss the wider-ranging climbing community and options for climbing partners. I was chatting to someone who is fully immersed in the mid-grade trad scene down there about his success getting a last minute partner....

"Easy when the weather's so good!"
 More like:

"Easy when the weather's so good and you live somewhere within on a few hours drive of loads of climbing areas and on the doorstep to many more and have built up a large circle of enthusiastic climbing partners".
Not to dismiss my good climbing friends up here, but they are quite literally few and far between, and when I sometimes get in a rut and don't communicate and organise well, I rapidly run out of options.

So anyway I am revising the North Wales Rock and Meirionydd and new Langdale guides time after time and even some of the Yorkshire Grit ones too, and not getting anything actually done - the vast amounts of positive inspiration bubbling and seething in the discordant brew that is my mental state, hopefully it will dissolve like a good strong espresso hit and overwhelm the milky blandness of apathy and negativity.

In the meantime, I have quite enjoyed going to Ratho, and I've worked out another cunning plan of trying to be less of a massive gaylord outside - warming up on the occasional local sport route redpointing session (my minimal interest in local climbing) by falling on every single bolt as part of the dogging up. A small idea but anything might help.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Radio Silence.

Not that it ever is actually silent on my radio. Whether it's one of the hundreds of DnB compilation CDs I've made, or that neat Proxima dubstep album, or digging up an old Carcass album, or getting psyched for Twisted's Darkside rave next weekend with some  Hardshock Festival gabber mixes or being thoroughly shocked when the Drum And Bass Confrontation CD I picked up for a joke in the Abington services turns out to be not a risible cheese-fest of Subfocus and Hospital Records drum'n'pop but actually a heavyweight compilation of early 2000 tech-jungle....there's always some noise on there. Sometimes enough to drown out the voices in my head, sometimes not.

Actually the quietitude of my blog is not because I don't have stuff to write about, it's because that stuff is so moany and boring it even bores me. And if I don't want to read my fucking drivel then I probably shouldn't inflict it on others (I can think of a few bloggers who should consider this too ;)). In summary, I went trad climbing, I sucked, I got a bit depressed, I frittered away some of the good weather because I was tired of driving a lot and being scared of routes, I got a bit more motivated just before the weather crapped out, and now I'm doing some focused training to depunterify.

Instead of the moaning, here's some routes I liked doing and some routes I disliked not doing recently:


The Iron Chicken E3 5c ** Buckbarrow - warmed up with sore toes and hot rock on slabbier routes. This was steeper and juggier so less painful on the feet. Went really smoothly with some great "stepping out of an airplane door" moves out left above a bulge.

Question Mark E3 6a *** Vat O' Burn - A newish route I think?  PJ told me it was fine and for once the overly strong sandbagging shark was right, it was fine. Boulder problem start was good fun, bolder finish was even more fun. Just a really good route.

Apollo E2 5c ** Curbar - Apparently this is a bit of a testpiece? I must admit there was a tiny bit of matching the handjams where I had to focus and have faith, but it went really fine. Okay I do like jamming and the 3 move crux between rests played to my recent bouldering experience, but still it was nice to do something smoothly.

The Toy + Smoke Ont'Water E2 6a ** Curbar - Not either route per se, but just the experience of doing some Curbar horrors. Both retro-flashes from 10-15 year prior failures, the sole uselessly obvious memory of "those thin cracks were fucking horrible" giving me a clean slate to try again. Thin, rounded, bad fingerjams and worse footholds, hard to place gear and harder to do the cruxes afterwards, a sort of ridiculous but rewarding experience. Neither of them quite as hard as, say, Gouther's Castration Crack E3 6a **, but neither far off.

Violation E3 6a / F6c *** Tilberthwaite - Tight groove placing gear off a bicep wedge into footless cranking to a squatting mono rest into cutting loose on a jug and a jam to rock onto a slab into a blind toe-hook onto the jug and double fin pinching to rock back into balance - sounds like typical slate yes? Pretty bonkers route for it's size and really funky stuff.

Various E2 5c routes Attermire - Again not a particular route, nor a vast amount of unbridled pleasure, but a good trad training experience of local sandbags and lactic acid soreness. Comer was quite pumpy, the grade easier Brutus was both much pumpier and had a much harder crux, and Neon Crack was even more OTT, a Curbar horror with worse gear and a sketchier finish. Battling through that lot has to be good for something, right? Nice sunset too:


Censor E3 5c *** Stanage - fiddled loads of bomber gear in the start, got well psyched, did one move up and foot slipped. Cue massive gear-throwing tantrum and 2 weeks of demoralisation.

Dextrous Hare E3 5c * Millstone - tried to warm-up going part way and downclimbing, then got back on it again. Flash-pump and numb fingers trying to get any suitable gear in before easy moves into easy corner. Lowered off with hands over head in case cams pinged out. Guidebook bullshit about RPs is bullshit, it's small cams and offsets. Crux of both grades placing gear. Fuck off.

Jealous Pensioner E4 5c * Millstone - climbed lower wall to ledge, using up crucial shothole hex in the process. Guidebook bullshit about gear at foot level because it doesn't mention it's shothole gear and nothing else so you can't use up shothole gear on the shothole-covered wall. Spent ages trying to hammer an over-large hex in, didn't like it. Moves were green, massively reachy and in the full sun. Escaped off.

Great West Road E2 5b *** - got 5m up, feet started skidding, no motivation, downclimbed and decided to give up climbing. For at least 2 hours.

Unreachable Star E3 6a * Curbar - committed to gear slot, reached up to bad smear sloper handhold, no way I could hold it let alone pull on it in +ve 'C temperatures, slumped off. Probably should have gone for the fall at least.

The Beer Hunter E3 6a * Curbar - backed off once before because it was far too windy. Backed off this time because it was not windy enough. Did all the usual faff with gear but although there was a fresh breeze on the rest ledge, as soon as I moved onto the sidewall it felt too greasy to trust the holds. Next time...

Woodland Ecology E4 5c ** Hawkcliffe - got to lower solo crux, seemed too dynamic, a bit warm, and target ramp was a bit green. Reversed a bit and jumped off safely. Landing very soft, need to go back with more time, a mate to clean it off, and a better plan of where to be spotted in case of a fall. Still thank fuck at least I didn't headpoint it like some massive UKC gaylords.

Jitterbug E3 6a ** Tilberthwaite - Looked hard, committed into flake crack, slammed in bomber wire, cranked up on a fingertip flake facing the wrong way and slate smears, and fell off inches from the jug. Kinda annoying as I did go for it and was so close.

And now:

5 x 5s on GCC auto-belays.

4 x 4s on GCC routes.

1 x 1s at Ratho.

Loads of falling practise everywhere.

Pissing around on local sport stuff to train my toes and tenacity, when it stops sleeting anyway.

Friday, 10 April 2015


I had a wee jaunt to Aberdeen recently, to sample the very good fish and chips from the Newmachar chippy. Oh, and to climb at Vat O'Burn / Burn O'Vat / Vat Burn / whatever it is, and also at Finedon Ness. So now I can add slightly crumbly rock and inevitably unpredictable sea-smeg to the trad hazards I've forgotten how to cope with. Despite that I did a few nice routes, mostly easy ones I climbed smoothly, and a tricky one I climbed with inspiration, so that's good. Basically that's enough warming up and it's time to stop farting around and actually try some proper climbing.

Having said that I wasn't sure where to begin this routes season, so it's taken some proper revising to get some inspiration together. After some deliberation, it's all about Wales and the South West, with hints of Lakes, Yorkshire, and the few remaining Scottish plans I haven't finished off:

Pen Trwyn / Marine Drive
Cwm Glas Bach
Clogwyn Gafr
Clogwyn Y Grochan
Scimitar Ridge
Cloggy by train
Clogwyn Y Eryr
Craig Y Clipiau
Carreg Hylldrem
A bit o' slate
Arennig Fawr
Cwn Nantcol
Various other Rhinnogs crags
Bird Rock

South West:
Kellan Head
Brownspear Point
Land's End
Carn Barra
St Loy
Carn Gowla
Avon Gorge
Sanctuary Wall

Dow Crag
Blind Tarn Crag
A bit o' slate
Raven Crag Threshwaite
Raven Crag Thirlmere
Castle Rock
Chapel Head Scar

Blue Scar
Earl Crag

Creag Dubh Barrier Wall
Reiff Leaning Block
Seanna Mheallan
Stac Pollaidh
Aberdeen sea-cliffs

I think that will do for now?? Looking at the immediate forecast Ratho will be the main aim tho - can never have enough stamina...

As always I will be keen to meet up with people who are keen for these sort of places!

Thursday, 9 April 2015


Going back to sterile strengths, it doesn't get much more sterile than focusing on a singular exercise in the bland environment of the gym. Then again when you've been bouldering the previous day, 2 tips are bleeding and the other 6 are progressing well towards the same state, and you're as disillusioned as usual by CV training, and you still want to push your muscles, pushing large lumps of metal around does have a certain appeal. It is something I actually I enjoy down the gym, which probably correlates to the time spent doing it (very little), and the relevance to my fitness issues (very little). It's also quite good fun pushing my body to it's strength/power limits (as opposed to endurance ones), something which happens in very few activities other than bouldering training and weight lifting?

So within 5 heavy weights sessions (my first since winter 2012/13), I managed my goal for the year, the succinct, UKBouldering-inspired 2XBW deadlift. Actually it was 2.06 times body weight, as after weighing myself at 77.5kg, I did 155kg and then 160kg twice (a much more elegant number!). Maybe small numbers for other people but quite a big deal for me, especially since the BW is still far too high and no amount of gym CV sessions, climbing days, micro-runs and diet-watching seems to get it down. It's quite a nice benchmark as it makes it a sort of body-weight exercise and a more personalised goal, a bit like BW benchpresses (on 75, I will do 77.5 soon, I'm not sure about 80), or numbers of pull-ups or something like the splits. On the subject of pull-ups, I felt a bit guilty achieving something so non-climbing-related, so I also did 3 x 2 sets of pull-ups with 30kg added, which makes 107.5kg pullups, I will aim for a neater number there too and I'm sure that can't hurt hauling my weight up a rock face ;).

As for the 2XBW itself, I did it with wrist straps (recommended here, confirmed by gym instructor, and any arguments take it up with this guy - although I think I will try to do more without straps as it will provide a challenge without having to up the weight) but without really heavy gabber or drum and bass, which must average out as a handicap. I've been carefully building up in the last few sessions, warming up with some brisk rowing and then getting into a tapering session. I'd got to 140 previously, 140 this time felt easy with straps, as did 150. Then I had to get serious.... Doing 155 and 160 (both times) was interesting, I rested a few minutes between each time, and got just the same butterflies in my stomach as before attempting an at-my-limit boulder problem, the anticipation of having to try very hard and maybe not succeeding. Getting the 155 and 160 off the ground was the hardest physical thing I've ever done as it's so absolute, either the weight moves or it doesn't. Even something as pure as hanging Beastmaker 45°s (also at my limit) has more variance, sometimes I can do it 0.25 seconds, sometimes 1 second (yup, *that* much).

Still I should probably be focusing a bit more on the Beastmaker from now on. And by Beastmaker I mean Ratho of course. In between weights sessions I had a few reassuring stamina sessions there recently - normal leading, doubled up easier leading, and quadruple auto-belay routes (the latter being by far the pumpiest). Despite weak beginnings the punterdom seems to be decreasing as the pump is increasing so maybe there is hope for me yet.