Friday, 14 October 2016

Obsession Futile

Of the many carefully cultivated and nurtured personality defects I've accumulated over the decades that are specifically detrimental to climbing (inhibiting aspects from keeping fit to keeping friendly contacts), one would assume that obsessive tendencies would be the least worrying. I certainly obsess about climbing a "little" bit, but as I once said to my good friend Potty, my main problem is I'm not nearly obsessed enough, although perhaps what I mean is that my obsession can be deflected elsewhere, again into the realms of climbing detriments.

This time it's all the fault of another good friend Jo, who I had a couple of nice days out with down in Bristol, and who revealed to me the shocking confession that she was "quite into" painting toy soldiers, but frustrated about not being good enough and could I offer any advice?? Well if I'd had paints and brushes with me I could have done so quite easily, but I didn't....but this still swerved my obsession wildly away from the true path of climbing and into a desire to share the painting geekdom.

So I got back to Glasgow and did fuck all climbing and training and instead did a series of 14 fucking painting tutorial videos (each one taking about 2 hours total painting, filming, and editing) which is great for anyone who wants to know about colour schemes and blending and brush angles and a whole host of tips and tricks picked up from a couple of decades doing this very strictly tangential hobby, but utterly fucking useless for keeping me fit and strong and trying to rectify the uninspired mood I came back with.

What a bellend.

Still I've learnt something. Don't do it again.

In other obsessive news, I've still been enjoying my wee car:

I've actually upped my success rate in that I'm having more full battery runs where I don't break something than those that I do. And I clocked it at 37mph the other day, it should be able to do a bit faster out of the box, but being well over the speed limit is pleasing enough, and it's a bugger to control at that speed with a stopping distance akin to a full size car. I don't feel nearly as.....soiled by this geekout, as it takes less time farting around, gets me out in the fresh air and is more social etc etc. Even if sometimes you just can't get the staff...

Still no excuses now, I've got to get back training. It would help if I knew for what. I've been so scared of still being shite at climbing and not having the confidence to get on the things I want to do, I don't actually know what I *do* want to do... Answers on a postcard to the usual email address.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Three Funerals And A Model Shop

This summer started with a funeral and a model shop, and it finished with a funeral and a model shop. That has a certain circularity, or symmetry, something I generally like. A sort of ontological neatness, of little consequence in the grand scheme of things, but pleasing to certain peculiar individuals. The climb that swallows all your cams but the only one needed for the belay (two left just wouldn't do), the last minute pub that has run out of most dishes except one meat dish for me and one veggie dish for some good-friend-but-dietary-freak I'm with, the road closed detour on the way back from a crag that takes me past a boulder that I've got just enough daylight to do, no more and no less, the Zillertal trip that starts with an evening doing a classic F6a+ at Ewige Jagdgründe, lustily eyeing up the amazing F6c+ next to it, and fuelling my desire in the Gasthof-Restaurant Perauer, and finishes with me fighting up that very same F6c+ as the last route at Ewige Jagdgründe, and celebrating the ascent at the same Gasthof-Restaurant Perauer. Do you see what I mean??

In general I would have preferred there to be less funerals involved in the whole procedure and I am somewhat tired of them - being familiar with the process is not something I'd really aspired to. Too many funerals is symptomatic of too many deaths and there have been a lot around me this year (apparently there have been many celebrity deaths too, however I'd have to calculate some 1/ anti-number to show just how few shits I give about that, and it might break blogspot). Simon's death made me shocked (his funeral being the early outlier of the summer bookends), and I still have moments of wondering when we'll next hook up for climbing before realising....oh fuck, we won't. Rachel's death had a sad sense of inevitability as it unfolded, but still felt strange. Asad Shah's death made me very angry about the sheer pointless stupidity of killing a nice, decent, if quirky man - his shop is less than 100m from my front door and was the regular stop off for soft drinks and emergency chocolate. Uncle Fred's death brought sad but calm acceptance, celebration of a life well lived, and a strengthening of family ties.

Mia's death made me feel utterly sick. I've been friends with Rosie for a decade and used to hang out regularly around the Peak District, enjoying her feisty banter and Mia's sparky, spirited presence. I found out via Rosie's emergency Facebook post while I was away climbing in Cornwall and it "did my fucking head in" for several days. It's simply the worst thing that could happen to a parent, I couldn't comprehend it and could barely comprehend how Rosie managed to be so communicative and informative. Everyone always says how lovely and wonderful children are and blindly sing their praises in any circumstances. I don't - in general I find breeding repugnant, parenthood an awful concept, and children pointless wee shitebags. But as I said then and say now, Mia really was an ace girl, astute and clever beyond her years, as well as being sharp-witted and gorgeous. Another pointless, stupid killing of someone who least deserved it, and I really don't want to see anyone else I know on the BBC News website for now.

Rosie has many vials of Mia's ashes, at some point I will get one to scatter at a crag in Northumberland where I first hung out with them - I think it's either Back Bowden or Kyloe Out in the first photograph of Mia in my bomber jacket in this article - if anyone can Id it then I can get the right crag, or maybe just a wee bit at both. And several boulder problems in her honour of course.

Mia's memorial service was the end of the summer, Fred's was the first. Fred was the co-founder of Steve Webb Models And Hobbies , where I hung out in my youth and glued balsa to my face and sliced into my fingers (a main finger ridge scar still being an annoying exacerbance to my continual skin problems), but didn't actually get involved in the radio control part of the hobby as my parents (rightly) thought I couldn't be trusted with such complex kits. My tribute to Fred highlighted the importance of hobbies and passions, although of course the shop was closed. It was, however, open when I drove from Llandridod Wells - where I had been nu-routing with Pylon King and Don Sargeant in the Elan Valley as well as fending off Don's relentlessly demented spaniel Cadi - to Wirksworth for the service. So a couple of decades late I treated myself to my first R/C car....

It is a blast, ridiculously fast and agile, although the learning curve is steeper than the skate ramp in that video. I've only broken two suspension ends, an axle, a suspension arm and suspension shaft in as many runs.... But it's all part of the fun even if R/C spare parts stores are swamping my bookmarks. I fully intend to strap an MP3 player and speaker on top and terrorise local quarries with pounding gabber once I've fixed the shocks. Well....maybe ;) Actually one of my main inspirations was getting out into the local limestone quarries near Bristol....vast gravelly wastelands, loads of raised hummocks and easy angled slabs, they'd be absolutely perfect. Pity I'm 400 cunting miles away now. Camby will have to do, but when I head back, I'm bagging the first R/C ascent of stuff like this:

This is Glacial Point at Fairy Cave. Definitive borderline E3/4 5c/6a and rather good fun with a pretty smeary crux. This was a pleasing micro-challenge but fairly indicative of the bumbly depths I had to sink to when my stamina, confidence, and skin dryness disappeared entirely up my arse. The list of inspiring routes I abandoned all hope on in the last month of being down South is probably longer than the list of great routes I did during the first month, so it was a fairly tail-between-legs end to my time down there. More on that later, but in the meantime I'm taking a week or so off climbing, which will then necessitate a full month of fighting hard to get back into it. Such is my climbing fragility.

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 Jagdgründe 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 Jagdgründe. 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