Sunday, 7 February 2016


I went to the seemingly incredibly fashionable Chulilla recently. The UKB OAP massive were raving about it and even the Glasgow Grumpy Geriatric sport climbers have dragged themselves away from Upper Cave to go. That all seemed to happen before or over the festive period so it was pretty quiet when we went out. There's plenty of hype around: 40m mega-pitches, "sport climbing for trad climbers" with endless shake-outs and mini-cruxes, UK-style face climbing, people's best onsights etc etc. It's probably all true, I enjoyed it a lot anyway. All I can add is that it's all rather scenic too and the sinuous sheer-sided gorge is quite a dramatic surprise in otherwise unassuming countryside.

The weather looked like this:
And the wildlife looked like this:

Pro-tips (in addition to the common knowledge online):

  • To get to El Oasis and other nearby sectors, drive around to the dam. It adds 5 mins driving and saves 10+ mins tiring walking. However the upper walk is worth doing just once for the scenic bridges.
  • Don't head down the horrible gully at the town parking to "short cut" to the river below Lamentaciones. Head into town and turn right at the shop to gain the zig-zags.
  • Take heed of sunny vs shady sectors:  El Oasis is perma-shady in winter, Muro des Lamentaciones gets evening shade, La Pared De Enfrente gets it sooner. Your toes will thank you for any shade.
  • Most mid-grade routes aren't steep enough to stay dry if it rains, BUT Sector Cuevas opposite Lamentaciones has decent mid 6s upwards beneath huge roofs.
  • Take a bail biner if you have any doubts about doing / working a route. 30m is a long way to stick-clip up.
  • Take a decent tarp, most crag bases are dusty.
  • A 70m rope will do most mid-grade routes (including all but one listed), harder routes and a few exceptions will require 80m.
  • El Altico is a nice base, comfy beds and sociable vibe. Could be grim if busy but dorms are pretty small, although kitchen is too. Half board gets you a nice evening feed with red wine but breakfasts are minimal.
  • The guide is still trapped between OOP and the unpromising "coming soon", but the topos at: are good enough, and El Altico has a full routes folder to browse.

Routes list / recommendations:

Sector Cuevas & Sector Penata:

La Caida Del Melon F6c - okay, bouldery start (soft).
Sindrome De Corbadia F6c+ - good and burly, neat line, bulge sates underused biceps.
Maquillaje Mental F6b+ - very nice, bloc start and endless pleasant steep slab. Shiney 35m lower off after best climbing.
(Amor Loco P1 F6b - described as a "satchel of wank", polished burly start (not F6a))
Crisis P1 F6b - good, interesting, start is a bit slopey and tricky
Smigol P1 F6c - great, cool veiny rock and continually interesting right to the chain.

Muro des Lamentaciones:

El Muro des Lamentaciones F7a - amazing, steep start then endless enthralling voyage up steep flakey slabs (soft).
Contacto En El Space F6c - great, very direct route, same steep start then continuously interesting but never desperate (not F6c+)
Yorkshire Pudding F6b - decent, varied, sting in the tail.
(Blue Agave F7a - good, mostly steady apart from one slopey pod section and awkward clip, avoid in warm)
El Ramallito F6c - good, steady then steepens up nicely for a great finish.
Nos Sobran Potxolos F7a - good, nice line, short with a fiercely crimpy crux.
Zikrutina Mientras Puedas F7a - decent, bouldery to start then nice short wall above (not F7a+).
(La Costa Nostra F6b+ - nice line, popular, described as good, techy and rounded)

El Oasis & Las Chorerras :

Top Of The Rock F7a - very cool, nice line, 3 boulder cruxes with good rests, steady if you focus (steady).
Richi F6c - decent but a bit unbalanced, grim start then more fun climbing (not F6b+, F6c for start).
(Nazgul F6c - very much the same)
(Olog-Hai F6c+ - good, cranky start into varied climbing and easier finish up nice wall)
Chamarilero F6c+ - very pleasant, steady start then escalates to techy finish past micro-tufa.
Orgia Sado En El Internado F7a? - good, several hard and very fingery cruxes up smooth walls, fierce (probably not F6c+, harder than F7as here)
Magnetorresistor F6b+ - good, worthy warm-up once past the "uk-style" slopey flakes low down, finish is very nice.
Plan Z F7a - very cool, lovely tufa wall, steady with thoughtful weaving moves and a great finish (soft).
Gargola P1 F6b - short but well worthwhile, thoughtful groove moves and not tiring.
Cantina Marina F7a - excellent, bouldery goey start leads to good moves leads to endless F6b into pure Kalymnos finish at 40m (soft, maybe F6c+).

Wednesday, 3 February 2016


So apparently the month of January for a UKB-following punter goes a bit like this:

1 - 0
2 - indoor bouldering + short run
3 - indoor routes + short run
4 - 1.5 hours gym
5 - indoor bouldering
6 - 0
7 - indoor bouldering + short run
8 - 2 hours gym
9 - indoor bouldering
10 - 1.5 hours gym
11 - 20 min run
12 - 0
13 - indoor bouldering + 1 hour / 4 miles walk
14 - indoor routes + 35 mins / 2 mile walk
15 - 0
16 - 1.45 hours gym
17 - indoor auto-belay and bouldering
18 - 1.45 hours gym
19 - indoor bouldering
20 - 2.5 hours gym
21 - indoor routes
22 - 20 mins run
23 - 1+ hours gym
24 - indoor routes
25 - indoor routes
26 - 2 hours gym
27 - indoor routes
28 - 0
29 - 1+ hours gym
30 - 1 hour sport climbing
31 - several hours sport climbing + 2 x 20 mins tiring walking

Yup it's the sharkathon, in which the aim is to do at least 30 mins of exercise everyday, cut down on the booze, and ideally eat a bit healthier too. A well-meaning post-Xmas boost sort of thing. I'm taking the tick for it, for the few days I missed, there were enough double days to compensate. And yes I'm counting 20 min runs with DVTs as 30+ mins (conservative, they're actually more equivalent to 40 mins previously).

TBH this month wasn't exceptional for me this winter, I've been doing plenty of training, the week before Xmas was back2back indoor wall + run days with long gym sessions (pre-empting festive food and also training for my brother and I's traditional Xmas run - it worked, I did new PBs of 2.5 miles continuously twice this time!). But the sharkathon did encourage me to be a bit more consistent and aware of my exercise. I found that anything after a inactive day felt desperate, whilst most things after a lighter gym or wall session felt good (and obviously doms / sore fingers after a heavier session). By the end I managed to beat or equal all my gym / weights PBs, and do indoor routes and bouldering close to normal.

Weight-wise I started *before* Xmas at a repugnant 79-ish kg and was so appalled that I haven't dared look since then. I think the sharkathon definitely required a lot of burying-head-in-sand denial of current circumstances and lack of any short term gains whatsoever in the blissful hope that it will all be useful in the future, whenever that might be.

As a bonus I've got quite into 0,0% beers as a way to maximise the refreshment vs. indulgence balance. Most are too bland or too sweetly malted, but San Miguel 0,0 and Erdinger Wiessbeir low alcohol are good, whilst my favourite Sainsbury's Czech 0.5% clocks in at 87 calories / 500ml bottle compared to 5 times that amount for many normal lagers which is pretty reassuring.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Ashes to Ashes.

I went to Simon Davidson's funeral yesterday. It's very strange when people ask "how was it?", as if there is any sensible or appropriate answer to that question. "Yes, it was great, top funeral, would heartily recommend". Hmmm. I guess it was good insofar as saying goodbye and mourning the dead can be good. A lot of people came and several of them offered very appropriate and heartfelt tributes to his life - the introduction about his climbing skills in face of the inherent risk in the mountains was particularly well put. It was poignant for me personally seeing his coffin arrive in his latest dodgy van (a transporter, last seen when he and I were sitting together in the VW dealer in Llandudno Junction, discussing the imminent £800 repair bill), and his rope brought along (I was quite familiar being tied into that rope).

Simon wasn't a close friend, and it was more shocking then upsetting to hear he'd died, but we did do quite a lot of climbing together including several memorable trips, and looking over these has made me grateful and appreciative of what we did together...

An early visit to Weem where I started to master the walk-in and got to grips with the excellent slabs...

A great visit to Skye on his birthday doing some superb sea-cliff routes...

A long day out seeking some dry Northumberlad rock in an otherwise dismal summer...

A lovely long weekend on Mull with lots of varied climbing and superb scenery...

An excellent Jubilee weekend which was rescued from an earlier van disaster and turned into a great trip...

The usual semi-local dicking around at Balgone HeughsNorth Aberdeen and Weem again...

A memorable big walk-in big crack attack day out at Binnean Shuas (last paragraph)...

A superb day doing my best routes at the mighty Creag Dubh (and a quick hit to Gairloch after)...

And finally the last summer in Wales, we had a few great days spread out at Gogarth (he came to North Stack, lead some easier routes, belayed me on the route of my life The Long Run, and we celebrated with a curry in Bangor afterwards), The Moelwyns with Coel, and an action packed evening visit to Pen Trwyn after the van debacle. And finally the obligatory Pizza And Pint in Llanberis before I left.

 RIP Simon, cheers for all the days out.

Monday, 4 January 2016

New Year 2016

New Year's Goals / Resolutions:

1. Go climbing as much as possible outside of Scotland and outside of the UK.

That's it.

Nothing else to blog about as the weather has been permanently wet for over 2 months now. I've been doing a lot of training indoors, at the gym, and micro-runs when it's been merely damp. Despite this I'd put on 4kg weight before Xmas (after losing 2kg in Wales), and am now the heaviest I've ever been despite training 5+ days a week, the tightness of my harness yesterday indicates this is more fat than muscle. I'm not sure about my actual indoor climbing benchmarking though, I think it is maybe 1 grade below previous for bouldering and 2 grades below for routes (the latter might be being out of practice though).

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Near hits.

I'm all too familiar with the concept with near misses. While I may not have them a lot - preferring to fail by wimping out due to dismaying cowardice, rather than pushing to nearer my limit - occasionally I try really hard, get really close, and only THEN fuck it up spectacularly. And the nearness of the miss provides even more angst than the other failures and thus lingers longer in the memory. Lying awake at night, still not quite believing that you didn't do something you so nearly did... "If I'd just caught the right bit of the hold"...."If I'd just got my foot a fraction higher"...."If I'd just held the barndoor a second longer". It's quite surreal, you can almost believe you DID do it, because you so almost did. And then you wake up from the daydream and FFS no you failed even though it was that close.

The other day I had a near hit, and that was *very* confusing. This was back in Pfalz, when there was dry weather and where there was dry rock, on a route called Man Spricht Teutsch at (wait for it) Schindharder Kuckucksfelsen. Yes really, that crag. This was graded 8-/8 and as such is the hardest route I've done in the Pfalz, the challenge highlight of the trip, and a very good multi-crux epic up an impressive wall. It wasn't, however, my favourite climb of the trip, not even the top 3, despite it's quality. Why not, when I usually relish tackling such challenges and succeeding on them??

Well in this case, it was very, very nearly not succeeding. I got through a tricky bit, then cranked and slapped through the apparent crux, rested my way up an easier headwall, wary of the final bulge that of course turned out to be the real hard bit. Sweating and cranking through sloping pockets, high foot rockover with the rope in the way, slap into a dish, start falling off, micro-thought about grabbing the draw, slap past it regardless, somehow fall on and stay on and get to the obligatory single ring bolt lower off. So close near?? I did it, yes, woohoo, etc. Except the nearness had me not quite believing I did. I stumbled around for a bit before being able to belay, almost believing I didn't do it, because I so almost didn't. And whilst I relish the challenge and the fight, it was too close for comfort to fully enjoy. Not that I want comfort, but maybe a bit less luck involved... Still I guess it makes up for some near misses.

Correlation is not Causation.

So they say. I am rather suspicious of the correlation between me enthusiastically exhorting to my climbing friends "This autumn and winter I want to climb lots of gritstone", and the weather getting incomprehensibly and relentlessly fucking atrocious. It happens most recent years, but this year has been by far the worst. We have now hit DAY 14 of rain in Glasgow, easily beating the 11 days of rain record when I moved up in 2009 (this is likely to reach 17 according to the forecast), and from all reports the grit and even the county sandstone have been little better. Apparently, scientifically, this is correlation and coincidence, not causation. My ARSE. Posting specific climbing desires angers the Weather Gods and they crush such dreams under their merciless storm fists.

So calling of the grit is wisely still up in the air, getting wet along with anything else out there. Calling of the plastic it is for the moment, andI've been training surprisingly enjoyably. Day 14 of rain may be a significantly repugnant record, Day 7 of training at TCA (spread over a few weeks) without getting pissed off, demoralised, weaker, injured, or having no skin left, is a more consolidatory record. I've tended to accept that coming out of a summer where I ended up climbing pretty damn well, I will be rubbish and weak indoors. Embracing this, I've been pottering around on weak problems for weak people, not worrying about pushing too hard, and generally felt okay. My main goals have been simple: Do fun problems so I enjoy training, and don't push too long so I trash my skin and soft tissue. Lower expectations, higher exceedence, and I've ended up feeling a bit of progression after a few sessions.

Now then, Calling Of The Spanish Limestone, anyone????

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Zwei Grosse Weissbiers Bitte!

Lightning visit to the wonderful Pfalzer Felsenlands to meet PJ who was collecting a caravan from Cologne. Once again a great place to explore, but although being 25°C cooler  than my previous visit, there was almost no breeze so I didn't get to crank as hard as I hoped - feeling semi-strong is of little use when I'm simply sliding off slopers. I need to do some average windspeed research for next time. In the meantime...

Walking in through a forest. Like every single approach there. I don't know why I'm using the guidebook for directions as it's entirely in German and I understand about 10 words, 4 of which are the title of this blog post.

What it's all about. Autumn in the Pfalz could be very good for 'shrooming, maybe.

Triffels. One of the typically impressive bows of rock sailing out into the forest. Atypically this one starts with a rare proper slab with some rare proper slab climbing, with a much harder prow towering above. All of this is commanded from the bridge of the Burg Triffels castle further back along the ridge. Scenic...?
...yes indeed. This is further around to the left of the previous photo, at the join of the slab and the headwall. Unfortunately I failed on a semi-impressive route on the headwall when I reached a slopey break and could scarcely hang on let along do a massive reach to the next holds. Hmph.

Practising Pfalz hanging belays. Soon after this we decided to give up on using the giant archaic ringbolts and just use the protection above. Actually pebbles were pleasingly common on this trip, along with....

...beetles. A fuckload of beetles, every day. Most of them seemed to aim unerringly for the approach tracks and bag-dumping basecamps, so I spend as much time rescuing the cute wee buggers as I did climbing. Although there was some good climbing...

One of many excellent grade 7s, which as usual features multiple and varied cruxes with good rests in between. This was at Burghaldefels, before sliding off a heinous slab on pebbles that I was far too sweaty to hold onto and left black with damp, but also before doing another excellent 7 that finished surfing along the crest of a concave wave overhanging 5m at the top of the crag. Once we walked out of the forest we realised it had been drizzling steadily most of the afternoon so no wonder the conditions were a bit flange.

More pebbles, more excellent 7s, more cool crags. This is the crux of Geierwally on the Ostwand of Geierkopf und Geierschnabel, and involved an off balance slap off a pebble and hidden smear to a sloper. Sweaty as usual but holdable. And in case you're wondering what sort of rock feature this took place on....

...yup, that one. Can you see why I like this place??

Walking around again. Forest, lots of forest. Very vibey place. If you like forest.

Zwei grosse Weissbier bitte! How every day finished: Walk out in the dusk avoiding wolves and trolls, go back to the Buttelwoog campsite, crank the caravan's heater to max, go to the campsite bar, order Wiessbier und Schnitzel or similar, eat with gusto, head back to the now-sweltering caravan, chill out and crash out. A nice routine although not one for watching the waistline, not least because of the universally gentle crag approaches. I'm not sure how much of the good fitness work from Wales I've undone with these decadent dinners, but I'll need to hit the training harder again...