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. 

Boiling Bollox and Sterile Strengths.

I went out roped climbing. It was all a bit difficult.

Easter 2013: After a winter of exploratory bouldering, I started my best trad year with my best Easter, perfect North West cragging in perfect weather, and I was climbing very well.

Easter 2014: After one trip to Pedriza and two months recovering from a tweaked wrist, I started a very good trad year with a very good Easter, exploring around the Duddon Valley, and I was climbing pretty well despite two months of weakness.

Easter 2015: After a winter of continuous bouldering, a reasonable amount of general conditioning, and a few reassuring stamina sessions at the wall, I start.....I don't know but it better be a damn sight better than a pretty mediocre Easter struggling to get back into roped climbing.

I had two days climbing at Giggleswick - not the most inspiring choice but it did offer a good amount of mileage and a mixture of trad and sport (the latter being my potential partner's preference). I did a bit of both although not quite enough of the former and a bit too much failing on the latter. Things perked up on a single day at Buckbarrow, again not a major crag but worth a visit for reassuringly traditional Lakes climbing in a nice and fairly accessible setting, where I managed a few perkier routes and got some psyche back.

On reflection it seems although I am physically not too weak, my general form is based on the sterile strengths of the gym, wall, and highly controlled bouldering with optimum resting, preparation, conditions etc. Thus I am currently emotionally weak at coping with all the usual adversities of trad climbing: Sore feet, sweaty fingers, obscure route-finding, and dodgy grades. Cue being hot and bothered and generally stroppy at it all - first tantrum of the year is not the milestone I was aiming for.

Still it gives me stuff to work on: Get my feet used to regular tight shoes, milk rests to cool down as well as de-pump, choose my conditions well, get better at route-reading, and generally get a bit more focused.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Final Conflict.

Right, I've got to stop focusing on this bouldering malarkey. I went to do some trad the other day and got pumped putting my rack on. Horrible. I hate having no stamina, so I better start working on that. I could also do with letting my skin recover for a few days or 9 months or so. It's been fun but now it's warming up a bit (no doubt a pre-cursor to the monsoon season), the urge for trad exploration is increasing as the biting crispness is decreasing. There's still some blocs I'll throw in the mix for cooler / showery / partnerless days: the County 6C roof tryptich (Bechstein @ Back Bowden, Roof LH @ Kyloe, Neb Roof @ Shaftoe - all 3 in a day would be thematically exciting if hugely ambitious), Timmy Tiptoes @ Shaftoe if there's a freezing day, Cave Arete and Homo Horizontalis @ Edlingham if I'm feeling strong. Notice there's a theme here of steep problems that should benefit warm muscles more than freezing friction. Nameless Pimp Toy @ Stronlachar is also unfinished business and rematches with both St Bees and Cammachmore might be nice. BUT other than that it's on with the trad and training as a focus. Mileage at first then getting further afield and south of the wall once I'm back into it.

The final few trips out onto mico-pad-shuffling have been as fun and rewarding as previous visits:

Gillercombe bouldering.

Gillercombe is a magical place. Once you've slogged around the ridge from Honister (accurately upgraded to 40 mins in the Lakesbloc guide), the cwm is a haven of hidden isolation, with only a couple of dry stone walls hinting at the human world beyond the hillsides. The boulders are attractive and aesthetically scattered and climbing on them is varied and as good as any Lakes bouldering. Definitely worth a visit. Take a friend and a picnic, take a bunch of mates and stay in the Honister YHA, take just yourself and a meditative appreciation.

Fiend Carrock etc

Carrock Fell is obviously a firm favourite. It's a wonderful bouldering arena in the right conditions (and a skin-shredding nightmare of impossibilities in the wrong ones). There's always so much to go at, and even with 4 fairly successful visits this winter, I can see myself returning regularly. I had a lightning quick visits with 3 similarly graded problems to aim for, with very different outcomes: Canada Dry - felt spot on, fierce and fingery but went okay. Boardman's RH - got shown some different beta by a local and it was complete piss. High Flyer - spent an hour trying to make any sense of the start and couldn't get off the ground, complete nonsense.

I got a bonus in at Scratchmere Scar too. This was supposed to be a trad warm-up trip, I did a bit and got sweaty and scared. The bouldering sector was in the shade so with a bit of furtling around and a brave tied-in spotter I did The Aspirant, quite a hidden gem of good edges for the feet and bad smears for the hands.

That makes this season's tally of my harder problems look a bit like this:


Iceberg V6/7 - brilliant moves
A Northern Soul V6/7 - very aesthetic
Titanic Arete V6 - good line but burly
Cave Central LH V6 - varied and complex
Smooth Wall V6 - delightful grit
Old Spice V6 - good sloper action
Little Pixies V6 - good crimper action
Rheumatology V5 (not V6) - lovely rock, fun
Surprising Solution V5 (not V6) - steady fun
Duvel 8.5% V5 (not V6) - minor but okay
Smooth Operator V5  (not V6) - fun mantle
Dog Eat Dog V5  (not V6) - neat wall climbing
Zero Kelvin SS V5 (not V6) - very cool moves
Absinthe V5  (post-breakage) - good crimping
Arete LH Stand V5 - good line but burly
The Long Reach V5 - nice power climbing
Sitting Arete V5 - cool hooking fun
Apprentice Wall V5 - fantastic highball
Howff Roof V5 - steady fun
The Aspirant V5 - techy hidden gem
Canada Dry V5 - razors but satisfying
Cave RH V5  (not V4) - great techy roof
Left Wall V5  (not V4) - thin morpho but cool

Which is nice.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Life as a boulderer.

God it's so fucking easy.

Don't worry about about actually finding trad climbers in Scotland to get out and do routes with.

Don't worry about iffy weather almost certainly ruining the routing prospects.

Don't worry about driving for hours and slogging through a bog to find out the time just isn't right.

Don't worry about whether the 3 star classic you're going for has any ascents this decade and how much moss you'll have to excavate off it.

Don't worry about seepage or lichen or having to get your mate to ab down and clean the route.

Don't worry about whether the grades and description of stuff at your limit is safely correct.

Don't worry about warming up just right and feeling fresh enough.

Don't worry about logistics of juggling your partner's climbing and still staying warmed-up and warm.

Don't worry about being mentally calm and in the right mindset.

Don't worry about getting pumped and scared.

Don't worry about being on the right line and avoiding off-route disasters.

Don't worry about whether it's right to get on that route right then for the onsight success.

Just worry about whether the skin will hold up and heal in time for the next trip (answer: it won't)
Is it really that simple? Surely there's some catch that makes bouldering not the most easy, comfy climbing option?

Apparently not. This last few months I have lived as a boulderer. Not an exploratory esoteric boulderer seeking bog and moss jumbles around Scotland, but a bouldering boulderer, just going out and getting it done by seeking out reliable accessible blocs and decent conditions. A novel idea but it might just work, and what do you know, it did. I went out, I climbed lots of stuff, it was physically hard but otherwise so easy. Mostly the County, a bit in the Lakes, the weather was very good in the former and sometimes good in the latter. Wandering around the grass Bowden in rock shoes and barely having to wipe them was a highlight - it makes a change from the 6 visits it took to get Mungisdale in the right nick for my desires. 

The usual logistical, climatic, social and mental battles get replaced by simple answers:

Where do we go? Wherever's dry. Usually the County. What if it's blowy as fuck man? Go somewhere sheltered. What if it's really cold? Do frictional problems. What if it's too warm? Get on steeper juggier stuff? What if I'm climbing crap? Put the effort into some projects for next time. What if I'm tired? Do an easy circuit it's all good training. What if my skin's fucked? Okay....that last one I don't really have an answer to...

Also, it's quite fun.

....I'm not sure that justifies it, though ;)

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Best Bouldering Day Ever.

I wake up in the morning, reluctant to go out. Another 2 hour drive down to the County, cruising along the M8 and A720, then watching the invariable spectacle of terrible overtaking on the A1. Blind bends, junctions, and waiting on long straights until there's oncoming traffic are all de-rigeur. The best being someone overtaking a truck and a few cars right before a dual carriageway section, and being so reluctant to move back in to avoid the oncoming cars flashing and tooting them that I thought they were actually going to continue on the wrong side of the dual carriageway. Very soon I pass them on the dual as somehow they are doing below 70 despite all that excitement, and I have to toot salute in honour of such appalling driving. Well done.

Anyway today I'm not so sure about braving all that, because at the end of it I have to brave the top of Northern Soul. Not the sort of "obligatory" "essential" crowd-pleasing trade problem I'm usually aiming for, but I got suckered in on a previous session, and then on another previous session worked out how to do the crux, but was too tired to do it reliably to continue. Now syke outweighs social networking and the opportunity is to head down on my own rather than with the obligatory crowd. My two soggy anti-pads and Tris's proper pad aren't enough, my cunning plan is a thin Thermarest and a thick camping air-mattress. At best I'd be shuffling back hauling all that lot on my back, demoralised after wasting my time realising it wasn't enough. At worst I'd be crawling back dragging that lot behind me, crippled after breaking my ankle realising it wasn't enough.

But then again...

Fiend Hepburn 2015

So it went a little bit like this:

A Northern Soul: Windy, very windy. I got quite annoyed with the doormat blowing away every time I stepped off it, but somehow the pads and mattress stayed in one place. 3 goes to get stood up in the break, and a practise jump to test that one place is THE place. The mattress seems to work but it might be a one shot weapon if I fall off the top and burst it. So I don't. I've watched a few videos showing the default methods for doing the top, I do something different and it works fine - gritstone engrams and immaculate friction haul me over the top. What was I worrying about again?

Titanic Arete: I've tried this twice previously too, but actually of my own volition and with the intention of doing it, until I found it was hard, brutal, and not nearly as nice as the beautiful feature it climbs. Having got the day's inspiration done in a quick hour, I might as well have a play on this too. 50m right and it's a lot less windy so I spend more time waiting for my skin to cool down than actually climbing. A few goes, a realisation to subtly switch hand positions on the starting jug from pulling to laybacking, and I'm up the next go. What now?

Iceberg: Certainly not this. It's a new problem, it looks lichenous, it gets V8 on UKC, the landing is an angled rock and a sapling, and I can't get off the ground. Until I do get off the ground, try to smear up the next move, slip off the only proper foothold on the problem and bash my thumb on the way down. Whilst waiting for the sulk to subside, I use the remaining 9 digits to look up UKC, apparently it could be V6 not V8, taking everything with a pinch of salt it's probably neither but it's possibly doable for me. I start putting the effort in and am rewarded by one of the best moves I've done this year: Rocking over onto a smear via a tiny sloping undercut gaston and falling into a half first joint mono gaston pocket. The tension twangs from that fingertip through my arms and shoulders like a divining rod, and it's brilliant, the slabby angle and friction making the improbable feasible and then the feasible successful. How did that happen?

The Prow: Finally a digestif, a line I spied on a few previous occasions and never got round to. Shorter in stature and easier in challenge, it hides it's quality away around left of the main Hepburn starting arena, but once on the problem it's undeniable. A natural sit start jug leads into a slap for a ledge and fun combination of hooks, underclings and slopers to hug the prow up to the top. Nothing particularly radical, just genuinely good prow bouldering. It's too dark for a video so I just do the problem and sit and listen to an owl hooting instead.

So that was the day. Very high quality climbing, high quality challenge, high quality solitary vibes. I'll take it.