Sunday, 28 December 2008

Reasons to be cheerful #1.

In 3 hours time I will be driving out of Sheffield.
In 8 hours time I will be checking in at Dover.
In 15 hours time I will be stuck in traffic around Paris.
In 18 hours time I will be climbing Font.
The forecast is dry, mostly sunny, and very cold.
The ferry cost £41 return.
We've got a spare (nice, spacious) gite due to someone pulling out.
I'm going with a two friends, one of them my best friend.
It should be cold enough so I can climb well without stressing my elbow.
I've eaten plenty enough over Xmas to insulate me from the cold.

That's 10 pretty good reasons :). Right, time to unpack from London, pack for Font, go for a run, eat dinner, and chill for a bit. Word.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Chrimbo Limbo.

Kinda what I'm in at the moment. I feel somewhat like a headless turkey in both life and climbing....but a slow-motion headless turkey.

The Sulky Little Boys debacle perhaps being symptomatic of that. Having spent many good grit days AND many rainy wall evenings doing little of my own climbing and a lot of hanging out with climbing friends old and new - not a bad thing in itself - I summoned enough inspiration to try really hard at something. Immediately after I though "Well I won't bother going back". Now I'm almost tempted to. Foolish whims!

I guess I'm not really sure what I want at the moment. I'd intended to go down the micro-route-solo, err, route for a while, but never really got started with that (and I know enough friends and acquaintances breaking bits already this winter, which has struck a due note of wariness and caution within my skull...). Then I got a bit stronger and a little bit healed and have been quite keen on bouldering, but without any particular purpose. So in the meantime it's all turned a bit pottery and I'm feeling perhaps I should be a bit more SYKED for stuff. I'm never a big fan of "shoulds" in climbing....but I do think a bit more focus would be good for me, within reason of course. And then there's the Lleyn Mission and a one month deadline for that, hmmmm...

Apart from SLB (I think I'm learning something there about how much effort I can put into a project - although not quite sure WHAT I'm learning), there have been few events of note. Perhaps the most pleasing one being going out clubbing for the first time in ages: Captain Buttttters and I got SYKED up to go to see the mighty Surgeon in Sheffield a few weeks back, for a two hour examination and healthy medicinal dose of thumping beats and industrial tinkerings...


Drum'n'bass is still my main love, but good techno is pretty damn awesome too, as was this night. Definitely up for more of that in the new year.

Also in the new year, hopefully a skiing trip soon - well keen for that, even more so than a climbing trip!! Maybe other plans too, will post soon.

Edit: apologies for using the word "Chrimbo" - one of those ghastly popular Radio1-DJ style bits of irritating idiot-speak - but the title took precedence.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008


Today I drove back to the Slipstones to attempt Sulky Little Boys again, exactly a month after my previous session on it.

3+ hours driving
£20 in fuel
3+ hours attempting that one problem
5 tender fingers
2 bleeding tips
1 month setback on my elbow healing

Was it worth it?


I didn't do the problem, I didn't particularly enjoy the process of trying, and I learnt very little about climbing nor myself. However, apart from a few briefly very fustrating moments getting extremely close to the finishing pocket, I didn't particularly dislike trying it, nor am I particularly upset about not doing it despite the vast amounts of effort put in. I am a bit upset about how much my elbow hurts afterwards, given on the last session it was okay - although this session was considerably longer and harder on me.

Other than that, it is what it is, i.e. very hard for me and I didn't do it this time... Although I got a much better sequence, albeit too late - I finished trying well into it being pitch black! Which incidentally gave one issue of note: on the final night time attempts, with holds scarcely visible, I managed to get most limbs smoothly into the desired position without being able to see them, clearly a function of intimate familiarity with how it feels. Which was interesting.

Overall....I just feel tired after this. Tired and neutral. I might not have done it, but at least was a hollow defeat...

Friday, 12 December 2008

Uplifting update!

I have a friend who is a good, strong, dedicated grit boulderer with a particular penchant for hidden gems and new lines. In his honour and occasionally in his company, I sometimes scout out for new projects and problems in the Peak district, and surprisingly, despite the popularity of the area and the predatory teams that lurk around with similar intent, most of the time I (or we) find something fresh and worthwhile. Most of these are too hard for me, but not always.

On one such scouting mission in the rainy summer we found this neat little wall at Chasecliffe crag near Cromford. The lack of any chalk in the overhung slots indicated it's virginity, ripe for the taking. It was left for one side I'd planned to go out with the chirpy Shauna, but early clag and general mizzle promised very little. A hunch that the Cratcliffe area might be drier than the main peak was soon de-hunched as it was just as dank there, as it was at Chasecliffe itself.

However! The wall itself was just dry enough, and some judicious heavy chalking (soon to be washed off with tonight's forecast) made it climbable. A brisk bit of warming up and on with the action... The lines turned out to be much easier than they'd looked before - reassuring for me and my elbow - and a few attempts saw the problems below dispatched. Only an obvious eliminate remained, but proper drizzle encouraged a tactical retreat to Wirksworth's excellent Le Mistral cafe/bar (good croque monsieur and fine cappucino - strong enough and plenty of froth). Not bad for a pissy day!

^^^ above photos are on Mistral V3 6a, up the centre of the wall. The left arete is Geek Passion V2 5c/6a ( Video here ), an eliminate line just right of Mistral will go at V4/5, and the right arete is a steady V1 5b (no bridging), traverse V2 5c-ish. All from obvious sitters off jugs.
Directions: Approach Chasecliffe from the parking at the first bend on Chadwick Nick Lane, the wall is just above the Chasecliffe boulder.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Tick tock tick tock.

I am still alive.

I am still lazy.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Winter Weekend...

Prior to the weekend.

Duncan Disorderly, whom some of you may recognise from hanging off the 5th bolt of Body Machine, has come with the cunning plan of a boys own climbing weekend in North Yorkshire, involving Brimham on the Saturday, beer and camping at Masham Saturday night, and Slipstones on the Sunday.

The only slight spanner in the works being it's forecast to be -2'c on Saturday night and then sleet and snow on Sunday (oh and a bit of wind too). And out of the posse going I don't know of any of them whom regular camp out in summer let alone in winter.

None of which would be much of a problem except he's invited me...

Well at the last minute the forecast changed to sleet over Saturday night and dry with sun and cloud on Sunday. Thus there were no excuses, well apart from the accomadation issue, but that was solved as you'll see.

Saturday at Brimham - possibly the worst bouldering venue available at the moment for my injured elbow, given that everything seems to be a steep rounded prow. So I stayed in full on loafing mode for most of the day, the only thing I climbed was a tree to get some photos. Right at the end I put some effort in and did a couple of problems to earn my half of ale.

This was a fun little problem.

Saturday evening had a pretty interesting revelation. The posse (henceforth known as the Shackleton Posse, so named because Dunc has been reading too much of Shackleton's biography recently) was not lacking in strong climbers. In fact those who regularly tick Font 7b-c and/or F7b-c at points outnumbered those who don't. These boys aren't weak, particularly not Tom aka KnitwearMassive (woolly vests and cardigans also being in fully effect). Anyway Tom had a grip strength meter to do some research for something or other, so naturally we all had to test it out:

First go, most of the posse got around 90-120, with Tom on 130-ish. I came in at 145. We all did two more goes to get a consistent reading, again most people stayed around 90-120, Tom on 141....I got 151 and 158. This is on dominant arms i.e. uninjured ones in my case. Most of us tried the other arm and got comparable scores to the dominant one, I was wary at first due to my elbow, but it didn't seem to produce any pain at all, so gave it a decent go. Started around 130s, and on my third go got 142 - higher than anyone on either arm :S. There was speculation that this was all due to me climbing very little during the day. So the next day when I'd well beasted myself just before dusk, I had a brief go again, and got 155 straight off on my right...

The obvious conclusion - given these boys are "not weak" - being that pure pinching grip strength plays a very small role in climbing strength compared to the many other forms of hand/arm strength, and an even smaller role in overall ability...!!

Saturday night and the predicted big freeze had come along, but also SLOPAAAARRRRRRR had come along and despite being well insulated with years of port and foie gras consumption, he had no patience for this Boys' Own Arctic Survival Camping nonsense. Thus armed with a cunning plan, Sloper, Butters, and myself ended up in a B&B room above the evening pub we retired to. Not cheap but also not freezing cold and snowing either. The only slight drawback being a worrying risk of bummage from those two disreputable chaps - I took the bed next to the wall and slept with one eye on the nearest escape route, and I'm pretty sure my own "escape route" remained unsullied...

Sunday dawned to snow, sure enough, but also to rapidly improving clear skies. Stuffed with hot meat (errr....full English from the pub I mean), Shackleton Posse braved the Slipstones. As is always the case with the Slippys on a winter's day, it was baltic in the wind and balmy in the shelter - I alternated between 'skins' and 4 layers including downie. There's much more choice for me there so I pottered along nicely until realising that for once Sulky Little Boys might be in (suitably Arctic) condition. Sure enough it was and despite it involving a fair amount of hanging on hard with both arms, I had an instinct that it wouldn't pull too much on my elbow. Bizarrely enough I think I was right as it only got a bit tender and feels okay today. It's a nemesis of mine, mostly because I never find it in condition (too sheltered), and because I have to do a desperate series of very frictional moves that other climbers lank past. This time....soooooooooooooooooooooooooooo close. I finally got the upper gaston, and was unexpectedly faced with the quick left foot up before getting the pocket. I dithered "heel...toe...heel...toe??", dropped off, and never managed to get the sodding gaston again. Gave up when I could hardly pull on and two tips were bleeding.

Wot a gaylord!!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Elbow #2359

I had some vaguely thought-provoking experiences with my elbow recently. In general it's been feeling okay and progressing slowly but steadily. It's definitely held up to regular usage and a gradual increase in standards.

Last Tuesday: routes indoors at MCC, massaged elbow well beforehand, warmed up reasonably well but got flash pumped. Thus found the routes quite hard so floundered a bit. But my elbow felt at the end of the session like it usually does halfway through such a session, despite having to do some left arm pulls. Elbow felt okay the next day, better than usual after a wall session. Celebrated by having two good rest days.

Last Friday: bouldering indoors at The Works, ran down thus well warmed up, didn't warm up much climbing, got on some orange problems and probably had the hardest (but not the longest) indoor bouldering session since spring. Elbow felt a mild and "usual" level of tenderness afterwards, but the next morning felt the best it has after a wall session since spring.

Last Saturday: bouldering at Almscliff, massaged elbow well beforehand, didn't warm at all well, did a couple of warm-up problems but not enough to warm into things. Did a few easy problems but was pulling pretty casually at the end of the session. Elbow as tender as normal afterwards and similarly the next morning.

Here's a couple of Almscliff pics (by Will):

Easy little rib thing that I'd never managed to work out before Sat.

Easy other side of Flying Arete, a nice warm up/down.

Last Sunday: bouldering indoors at The Works, didn't warm up, another relatively hard session on purples & pinks, elbow felt a tiny bit sore during it and more sore than normal afterwards and at night. Definitely worse than recent sessions (although not worse than a couple of months ago).

So basically I screwed up a bit in the last session. Not badly - I didn't need to take painkillers, it wasn't sore at rest, and only a bit more tender to touch, and felt okay by the next afternoon. But after some promising sessions beforehand, it was a small step back. Basically due to the main cause of re-injury: Not being diligent.

What I did wrong:
1. 3rd climbing session in a row - I should have recognised the increase strain on my elbow due to overuse.
2. Not warming up on the 2nd and particularly 3rd session. What a knobber!! I should have warmed up well like in previous sessions, absolutely crucial.
3. Not massaging my elbow beforehand - this definitely helps with warming up and readying it for action.
4. Pushing myself a bit too hard. I was getting carried away on Sunday, almost climbing with the, errr, gay abandon I usually would indoors, which is still too much at the moment. This would have been okay if I'd been properly rested and warmed up - but I should have been more careful.

So a lesson re-learnt and a timely reminder before I get too carried away. I sentence myself to the easy green circuit, the very easy salmon circuit, and more swimming!

Monday, 10 November 2008


Warning: shameless arrogance ahead :).

Edit: make that monstrous arrogance, even worse because I'm probably right ;).

So. I speculate, ponder, discuss, muse, and debate on many things within climbing. Possibly due to liking climbing a lot and being heavily involved with it, probably due to having a restless mind. Some of which pondering and indeed discussing involves strong views on the state of climbing, issues of the day, and a status quo that may or may not change. It seems to me quite often that I argue issues (or merely think on them in private), and later see those issues be recognised, or changed so that my way of thinking matches them, or come to pass in a way I could have predicted. Obviously coincidence but it makes me wonder if I'm actually quite often "on the mark" when it comes to climbing issues...

< pauses and neatly side-steps the torrent of bilious contempt and eye-rolling disbelief as it flows through the virtual ether >

...thus I've decided to write down a few issues that I seem to have predicted, and a few predictions of trends that may come to pass in the future. Just for the record, just in case.

Have happened:

Bouldering mats & grades.
When bouldering mats started to become common and people started to use them to vastly reduce the danger and grade of solo routes, I argued continually and vocally (in the face of plentiful disagreement) that grades should be re-assessed to take into account this new protection type...
...and in recent years BMC guidebooks have now got a dual grade system for such routes, and many more solos are being re-evaluated as highball boulder problems.

Onsighting being revalued.
From the time I started debating on the internet, I've always argued in favour of onsighting and against wide-spread headpointing being de-rigeur, again in the face of plentiful disagreement...
...and in recent years, there seems to be a movement across highlighting stylistic progressions, and favouring onsighting and against wide-spread headpointing.

Hard Grit sequel: Hard Onsighting.
Following the excitement of Hard Grit, mates and I would commonly chat about what would be next and would there be a sequel etc etc. I said that there should definitely be a Hard Onsighting film, with the same drama and glamour, but showing the onsighting side of climbing...
...and this year OnSight has been released.

Slate revival.
When I started climbing regularly on slate, it was a well regarded rock type, but still seemed like a bit of a covert rainy day option sort of rock. However I loved the stuff and would actively go to climb on slate alone (i.e. in the Lakes, I had pure slate weekends)...
...and recently it seems to have become increasingly popular, with people valuing it in the same way, in it's own right.

Lancs quarries revival.
A few years ago, similar to slate, I took to the Lancashire Quarries like a duck to (slightly green) water. Again they were used in a "local" sort of way, but online at least I seemed to be one of the few people promoting them to the whole "day-trippable" area, and started getting involved with the clean-ups...
...and now it seems they have more general acceptance and respect.

Rock Warrior's Way acclaim.
A while ago I was recommended this book by a couple of people. It was hard to find and going out of print at the time. I got a copy, was hugely impressed by the issues it tackled and the attitudes it highlighted and started, well, preaching about it to many people...
...and since then more people seem to have noticed it, it's been reprinted, and seems more popular.

Slate re-bolting concerns.
When the recent slate re-bolting / retro-bolting become prominent, I started a thread on UKClimbing asking what sort of consensus process was going on and what the reasoning and planning was for the retro-bolting. This turned into a pretty bitter debate between other people, in particularly the slate activists, not least Mark Reeves decrying it as a "puerile thread"...
...and about a year later, Mark Reeves starts his own thread expressing clear worries about the amount of retro-bolting and new sport routing that has gone on, exactly proving my initial concerns about the way the process was going.

Are happening:

Concerns over gear and safety.
A while ago I was involved in a couple of scary and traumatic accidents that should never have happened in the normal climbing procedure. Following this, and following looking on the Mountain Rescue websites to see just how many unreasonable accidents were occurring, especially due to gear ripping on safe routes, I personally took a stance of getting people to get it right rather than keeping quiet for the sake of tact. And I could see that this would likely become and increasing issue in the future...
...and it seems to becoming so. Many such accidents are still being reported, and people seem to be waking up to the issue and questioning why this is all happening and what can be done about it.

Brushing holds at The Works.
When The Climbing Works first opened, I was impressed with, and praised, the quality of the wall, but pretty soon pointed out that it had a big problem with how dirty the holds were getting. When I posted this online I was pretty much shouted down by people who didn't think I should be criticising an otherwise excellent facility...
...and these days there are signs up to encourage people to brush, brushes lying around everywhere, many people I know see it as a problem (albeit minor), and whenever Graeme catches me scrubbing away he expresses his approval.

May (will?) happen in future:

Culm Coast / Greywacke.
This stuff is the business. I predict it will become increasingly popular, both along mighty Culm Coast and also the South West Scotland sea-cliffs. Why?? Ever-popular crimpy slabs, people already love Carreg-Y-Barcud which is the same stuff, delightful locations, top quality climbing once people realise it's there.

Quarried Limestone.
Lots of limestone around but to be honest a lot of inland stuff is bollox. But surprisingly amongst the lime quarries there are some really good bits of rock and really fine climbing. I predict this will start to become recognised more. Why?? More retro-bolting of it, more information, and a trend towards pure technical climbing rather than the full mountain experience. I think people will catch on.

Hidden local gems.
I've found there have been great hidden gems all over the country, and made it my mission to seek them out. I predict, given the inherently good climbing quality, people will start paying more attention to them and actually travelling to do them. Why?? Improved guidebook information, improved publicity, it's mostly a knowledge thing and once that's out there...

Last minute flexible plans.
It's something I've always done: made plans at the last minute and made them flexible to cope with the rigours of the vengeful British weather. Sure, sometimes I'm left high and dry, but other times I'm able to be climbing high in the dry, rather than sticking with an unsuitable plan. I predict this will start to become more common. Why?? Partly increased information and communication, but partly people waking up and realising that just because you've arranged to go on a weekend in North Wales doesn't mean you should stick to that if it's forecast to piss down there and be bone dry in North Yorkshire.

Seeking esoterica when travelling is hard.
Again, something I do a lot of, and end up finding great climbing that's just off the radar or below the popularity threshold. I predict people will start doing more and more of this and esoterica will become more mainstream. Why?? Because weather, finance, and travelling constraints will make trips away harder and less reliable, and in the meantime people will start to run lower on local options. Once they're force to diversify to get their fix, they'll realise what quality is lurking around, and word will spread...

Hmmmm. There may be more. Be thankful I've forgotten them ;).

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


Hmmmm. While I was musing on this very Novembery update, I had a cool Drum'n'Bass track going around my head, by Norwegian hotshots Future Prophecies - Norway being the home of a couple of top class electronic acts i.e. Teebee and Biosphere, both of which I am a big fan of, in fact maybe it is time for a Norway-themed listening phase which would fit pretty well with the November vibe which was supposed to be the whole point of this rambling intro. Anyway the Future Prophecies track which I thought was called November is actually called September - two months out but have a listen anyway...

Future Prophecies - September

...because it kinda sums up the vibe at the moment, maybe a bit too cheerfully* but there's a hint of melancholy and wistfulness which is certainly relevant.

With curious precision, the exciting wintry end to October has abruptly shifted to a grim, damp start to November. Looking outside, it's very dull, very drizzly, very....devoid of meteorological distraction. Thus it forms a grey mirror of personal reflection, an empty canvas for one's the same way that the neutral grey/brown of gritstone radically changes personality with the weather around it, hostilely bleak on a grey day, warmly welcoming in the autumn evening sun...

My thoughts - the low cloud and mist shows back to me - are fairly turbulent, as often happens: An overactive and underexercised mind reacting to turbulent times. Reacting....fighting....rather than accepting?? I have always said that climbing is a metaphor to life, that climbing reflects and accentuates life - what you have in your life, you bring to your climbing. God knows how I've ever managed to climb at all well!! - but that's not the point. The point is more about the challenge and learning and that the lessons presumably go both ways. The fact is, I have climbed at all well (something I value during these times too, as well as during the pleasurable and thrilling and intriguing experience of when it happened - having done something of personal significance, I still have a certain (surprising) level of relaxation and lack of pressure about what I do now - as long as I keep going and keep experiencing, that is), and although it was a long, drawn-out battle, obviously something worked!! So what will work the other way?? Well, that's for me to work out and deal with...

(* perhaps, continuing the theme of suitable music prefixed with the letters No-, I should put on some of the mighty and utterly dark Nordvargr instead?? Maybe...)

Monday, 3 November 2008

For Dob.

Time for a bit of blog cross-pollination on the state of belay trousers:

I too used to wear a pair of similarly hideous trousers, back in the mid-90s, before urban style Moon trousers were popular, but after lycra was de-rigeur. Thankfully I missed out on the latter era, although I do believe it's long over-due for a comeback especially for UK sport climbing (i.e. not for me).

Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Grit Conditions Light.

My car has a little orange warning light that comes on when the temperature reaches 2°C or less. Supposedly the frost/ice warning light, it is no such thing. It is The Grit Conditions Light. When that light comes on, one knows it is properly cold and the grit is likely to be properly frictional. A cause for much celebration during the season.

That light has come on quite often during the last few days :).

Bloody hell it's got cold hasn't it?? I've been out a a few times recently (including a cool "crack of dawn" start at Curbar), mostly bouldering or soloing, and some of those times have been pretty baltic!! With a bit of breeze in particular there's been some superb grit conditions and it's not even November yet....shocking. Of course, during the 5 following months of grit season (which of course is Lleyn Season really but that's not always feasible), anything can happen and that anything will almost certainly include long periods of rain and warm moist Southwesterly SHITE, but even so, proper winter this early shows some promise.

Stanage late Monday afternoon:
Curbar early Tuesday morning:

(I recently downloaded Microsoft ICE and used it for these panoramas - well chuffed with the quality)

Does my climbing show promise?? A bit, I've mostly been pottering, but I'm liking the style, feeling the grit love. And the elbow ain't too bad, although I might buy a handwarmer and strap it to it... Hanging out with mates a lot too, which is nice.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Training again.

So the other week I went down The Edge climbing wall. Two sessions, each session I led a few F6cs, the second session those were all on the steeper wall. My elbow was naturally a bit tender to touch afterwards, but felt less tender, particularly the next morning, than when I'd been leading F6b+s a month ago. As is current, it was quickly alleviated by massage and hot/cold treatment.

This is promising, progress is still slow, but it has felt like progress for a good month or so now. Now it finally feels like I am able to train i.e. regain some fitness, strength, and physical confidence. Training is good in the following ways:

1. Improves the physical side of my climbing and allows me to feel more confident about being physically challenged en route.

2. Is a good general workout and usage of my body.

3. Gets me climbing and hanging out with my closer friends and having a good time with them.

4. Is fun full stop!

The training I'm starting doing is simple, flexible, and above all about continuing at a very steadily increasing level (subject to elbow allowance). It's not about pushing myself to my limits (or, in fact, beyond!!) as I did in my pre-injury training. It's more about using my body, improving the physical side, and slowly easing back into it. E.g.:

1. Bouldering/pottering on grit for technique and confidence.

2. Sport or trad climbing in limestone quarries as good stamina and rock-reading training - useful for the Lleyn Mission.

3. Steady leading sessions indoors, climbing at a level which gets me pumped a bit, and doubling up routes if needed.

4. Indoor circuits, focusing on easier problems, flashing, and mileage - mostly an all-round workout. well as a bit of running of course, which I should keep doing and do some more of, even. As morally reprehensible as it is, I can't deny it has a good effect - I may still be WEAK but I'm not quite as FAT.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Staffordshire Obscurist!

This actually happened a while ago but I didn't get round to ranting about it here.

Ticklists: Generally bollox. Arbitrary, over-popular, so-called "essential" classics and all that nonsense. Fuck Classic Rock, Hard Rock, and Extreme Rock. Essential my arse. I can't think of anything less essential than ticking a route just because it's on a list in a book.

So, anyway, the other week, I went out ticking routes just because they're on a list in a book :D.

This list however, is different. It is a list of character and quality, of distinctiveness and purpose. It is the Staffordshire Obscurist ticklist. As mentioned before, Staffordshire grit's fine blend of the utterly classic and utterly obscure is a significant highlight of the area, and this ticklist celebrates the significant highlights of the obscure areas, with 12 fine and diverse routes from "just left of centre" to "totally off the radar". You can tell it might appeal to me ;).

Anyway, the other week, I managed to tick the list. The last two routes were fairly impressive: Atlas @ Ina's Rock, a striking and brutal crackline including a meaty roof - it took some determination and the grazes to my left armpit are finally scarring over; and Kneewrecker Chimney @ Belmont Hall, the clue is in the name, a bestial cleft that I thrashed up with a head-torch in the pitch dark. A speciality Belgian beer at the Den Engel in Leek was rarely more deserved.

So: I *am* a Staffordshire Obscurist. And I'm rather chuffed in an esoteric and arbitrary sort of way, not least because I don't know many other people, none by name anyway, who are. I think I need some decorative medal to wear when I'm in the area ;).

The list, for those who are interested:

Rubberneck HVS 5a The Clouds
- shouldn't really be on the list as although it's great it is far too mainstream.

Hangingstone Crack HVS 5b Hangingstone
- done ages ago, can't remember much about it but it had both delicacy and burl and good rock.

Kaleidoscope E1 5a Sharpcliffe
- hard for the grade but a good route and an intriguing "must try" bit of rock, classic esoterica. Get kicked off the crag for the full tick.

Kneewrecker Chimney HVS 4c Belmont Hall
- a classic of the genre, bloody hell it is too. The clue, amazingly, is in the name. Done last night via headtorch.

The Helix HVS 5a Harston
- only seconded this but a fine adventure.

Atlas E2 5c Ina's Rock
- well hopefully some day the scars to my hands, arms, and left armpit will heal, but today is not that day. A fine battle at a great crag.

Hot Tin Roof E1 5a Bosley Cloud
- brilliant route, delightful climbing, a hidden gem.

Top Brick E2 5c Dimming's Dale
- similarly, just a great route. A fun wall climbing voyage with pleasingly good gear. One of the Churnet's very best.

The Yawn V0- 5a Gradbach Hill
- good juggy highballing.

Baldstone's Arete HVS 4c Baldstones
- should have been one of the "not very esoteric but gets you started routes". A nice, varied, fun route.

Don't Go Down To The Woods Today VS 4b Skyline
- as above. As esoteric as The Roaches gets, you don't know you're on the right route until you're literally on the route. Easy but pleasant.

Kipling Arete E2 5c Rudyard Pinnacle
- great route on brilliant rock when clean and dry. As good as this is the E1 5a left arete is even better, more balanced and lovely ripples.

Go to it!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The cleaning dilemma...

I mentioned in a previous post about some recent routes that inspired me being green and lichenous. In fact I might have mentioned it in other posts too. It can be a common theme with my more exploratory climbing - dealing with distinctly suboptimal conditions. On many rock types this can be easily tolerated: positive holds, good gear, space beneath your feet. On sandstone (e.g. Ravensheugh) and gritstone (e.g. Brimham) with their bold, smeary, rounded, frictional demands, it can be considerably more problematic. Do I really want to swing around into a committing rounded pod when it's bright green? Or teeter up a bold slab when it's covered with lichen?

I think not.

The issue being: I still want to do the routes. They still inspire me - great lines, great looking climbing. But they need cleaning. I.e. really need cleaning - bear in mind these are in areas somewhat distant from my home turf where I would hope the true locals might look after them a bit - although, grumbling aside, that's not really the point

The dilemma is: Do I bother to abseil down myself and clean them??

My previous initial reaction was: No. I don't want to blow the on-sight. I want to lead them ground-up, on-sight, no inspection, at the full level of challenge. Fair enough, I just have to wait to see if they get cleaned.

After return visits and routes getting dirtier not cleaner, my second reaction was: Yes, fuck it, fuck the on-sight, I've done enough, tackled enough challenges in recent years, I don't have anything to prove to myself, so clean and inspect away just to get them done. Fair enough, a pragmatic view.

But, as soon as I think that, my current reaction is: No, the challenge and the tick might not matter and can be easily sacrificed, but the experience can't: THAT is what it boils down to, that is what matters, and why ethics matter. On-sight describes a certain experience, a voyage of discovery, a journey into the unknown, and all the joys and pleasure and intrigue and fun and satisfaction that brings. Sure I can clean routes and do them, but I'm inspired by the routes because of what an on-sight would offer, and I'd lose that.


As interesting as it was to have personal ethics confirmed by the importance of the experience and the pleasure it brings, the routes are still green and I'm still not climbing them. Arse!


After a bit of musing, I think I have a solution. I go on a normal climbing day out, alternate routes and leads with a partner, but I sacrifice one of my leads for them abseiling and cleaning a route for me. E.g. they lead a route, I forfeit my lead and they clean a route, they lead a route, I lead the cleaned route. Seems like it would be fair enough with an open-minded partner....I'll get some stiff brushes in stock then...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Guidebook purchase.

I bought my first Rockfax guide in a long while recently.

I'm not the biggest Rockfax fan mostly because they have a habit of releasing select guides that tend to focus on the honeypots (and anywhere with a load of so-so Chris Craggs & co new routes...) and ignore or even disparage other areas, thus concentrating the load and the crowds whilst allowing good climbing to fall into neglect by lack of attention. I also wasn't impressed with their focus on popularist guides to the Peak District, already well covered by BMC definitive AND select guides.

However I do approve of their guides to some areas that didn't have a good (English) guide already (e.g. Clwyd Limestone, my previous Rockfax purchase, or the Spanish guidebooks), and of course their general increase in guide quality and design which has had a great knock-on effect on the now-supreme quality of BMC guides. That "upping the ante" alone gets respect from me.

However, that effect hasn't knocked onto all guides, including Yorkshire Gritstone (very crude and old-skool and too local-feeling) and North East England and Northumberland (both improved design quality but patchy in accuracy and reliability (e.g. grades). Thus I bought the Rockfax Northern England guide which covers those areas. Fuck it, if other teams can't produce guides that feel trustworthy enough for me, then Rockfax will get more of my cash. Not that they're always reliable but the guide does feel like they've put the effort in - in particular presenting Yorkshire properly, and ironing out the obscurity of Northumberland. It's got me more syked for the areas too, which is always a good thing. Good photo-topos really help....the ball's in your court eh YMC!!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Welcome to punterdom...

...Dictator Supreme and El Presidente For Life: Me!

It's been one of those times. I've done a fair amount of climbing recently, pottering around on grit, but it's all been a bit "treading water" at the lower tolerable limit of Easy Trad(tm) - which often isn't as much FUN. Partly due to weather conditions (dry, windy, and sunny, but lacking in the crispness that was around a little while ago) and rock conditions (mostly green and lichenous on what I wanted to do, it seems), partly due to maybe a bit of tiredness, and partly due to unsykedness.

Also, I think, climbing too much easy stuff gets you too used to easy stuff. Firstly you expect it to be easy, get complacent, and get your arse bitten a bit, and secondly due to general ease you stop putting the effort in, you get used to not summoning the oft-important determination. That's how it can be for me anyway.

I don't like feeling such a bumbly, I know it's not really me (a heady and tumultuous blend of ups and downs, soaring successes and flattening failures). I tend to feel a bit weighed down by trad punterdom and do have the free and easy uninhibited pleasure that I usually get. I'd like to deal with this better - I'd like to use the easy end of Easy Trad(tm) as good practise for good style and good habits. But I tend to climb better on the harder end with more inspiration, syke and all the old bad habits.... Hmmm, a current challenge I guess: do a good job of climbing even when it's not as inspiring and I'm not as syked. Okay - noted.

Anyway, got to a new Matlock-area venue since my last post, that was pretty cool:

Bauston Tor (n.b.b.) - a solitary buttress and pretty damn impressive one, did a couple of cool mid-grade routes and the hard stuff looks class.

Might be it for Matlock exploration for a while....until it gets a bit crisper anyway.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Local inspiration... something I rarely have. That's for a very simple reason: I have climbed A LOT in the Peak District over the years, so I'm starting to run out of routes to do. I.e. I've already climbed many of the better - or more inspiring - routes at my standard, so what I have left to do is either routes that are too hard (which I can't do), or not so good (which I don't want to do), or repeating routes (which doesn't appeal).

Or, preferably, explore ;).

No mystery there, no weirdness, no dubiously seeking out obscurity for the sake of it (although sometimes I do a bit of that too...). Just a simple need for choice and fresh climbing.

Which is what I've been finding a bit of recently. I've been regularly getting scripts for the BMC Chatsworth guide (which will be awesome in keeping with their current tradition), presumably because I'm a thoroughly over-opinionated bugger and guaranteed to rise to the bait and rant on about grades and star quality in what passes for useful feedback from me. Which I have done for most of the conventional (read: climbed out) areas, but elsewhere in the deepest darkest depths of the Matlock grit maze (read: still got routes and even whole crags to explore) I've actually been climbing and checking stuff out properly.

Me checking something out properly @ Turningstone Edge. Photo: Cofe.

So far this autumn I've been to and climbed at:

Ravensnest Tor (never been before) - big bad and profoundly adventurous, surprisingly good climbing, unique in the Peak.

Bank Quarry & Jackson Tor (n.b.b.) - little routes, some of them with a big impact. Minor but fun and worthwhile.

Turningstone Edge - great as always particularly with recent rhododendron clearance. Many quality routes.

Chasecliffe (n.b.b.) - a singular buttress but with a cool hidden gem.

Shining Cliff - another reliable quality crag and suntrap, haven't really touched on the best here yet.

Alport Stone - a perfect pinnacle, a lovely little experience, great views too.

Leashaw Brow (n.b.b.) - another minor crag with routes that pack a punch. Good grit too.

Stone Edge (n.b.b.) - even more minor but was worth a look.

Eastwood Rocks - banned and brilliant, some really cool climbing on lovely sculpted rock.

Harthill Quarry (n.b.b. and never bloody going back) - ummm. I did one cool HVS jamming crack that was topped by 8m of loose rubble and grass and had to clip into gear and get a hanging rope dropped to pull out on. Still....I've been there....once ;).

Visiting American friend/victim Alicia @ Alport Stone. Photo: Me.

All of this exploration has given me the choice to climb reasonably graded stuff that doesn't hurt my elbow, and have a bit of fun and interest checking stuff out for the new guide and finding what it's all about. I'll probably have one last checking trip soon....and I've also found some pretty damn inspiring harder routes for winter grit conditions...

Lazy Day E3 6a ***, Shining Cliff
Marathon Man E3 6a **, Shining Cliff
Streets Ahead E3 6a *, Bauston Tor
Tour De Nudsville E3 6a **, Leashaw Brow
Both Sides Now E3 6a **, Cocking Tor
Dark Horse E3 6a **, Bank Quarry

...I only mention the grades (errr, grade) because I like the neatness of them all being the same :). Oh I suppose I could also add Dickon E3 6a * @ The Secret Garden, Second Chance E3 6a * @ TurningStone Edge and Hands Up E3 6a ** @ Eastwood Rocks, hmmm!! We shall see what I can manage...

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Progress and plans

So. Been a bit slack with the blogging recently, but less slack with the climbing which is a fair balance I think. More climbing less ranting?? Nah fuck that, more climbing more ranting!!

The elbow....which of course governs my climbing entirely. Almost the entirety of one's climbing involves some force through one's arms and almost the entirety of that force passes through the elbow tendon. Thus it dictates my climbing but at the moment it's dictates seem to....have a certain amount of leeway. I.e. it seems to be holding up fairly well to the average-physio-recommended level of steady use, with mild and proportional tenderness after use which recedes reasonably and responds well to massage and hot and cold treatment. It feels like there is a little bit of slow progress, and certainly it is at a manageable state where I'm managed to climb some pretty decent things without it feeling like I've fucking it up.

So that's progress of a sort. And progress leads to plans. So the plan for this winter is thus, in a vague sort of weather / time / fitness - allowing order:

0. Keep recovering and keep looking after my elbow.
-> Obviously this is the golden rule that other plans are subject to. The priority is to get uninjured, balancing progress out with climbing rather than jeopardising it. Thus any plans must be run through a "will this fuck my elbow?" test first....and what I've listed below is working with the situation.

1. Try to finish off my inspiring but committing Lleyn Mission.
-> This really inspired me last year and still does. It's only in the last month that I've felt enough re-familiarity with climbing to consider it could happen any time soon. I have four routes to go, and I need: plenty of fitness before a Jan 31st bird ban deadline (Path To Rome), some technical competence (Manx Groove and Byzantium), confidence in serious situations (Byzantium and Direct Hit), and plenty of general route confidence (all of the above). Thankfully the cliffs are all winter-suntraps....just need to stay syked, get prepared, and watch the weather.

2. Try to get away to non-grit trad especially Mid-Wales if weather allows.
-> Because it's awesome and inspiring and I love exploring and it will be really useful to get my general route confidence up prior to any Lleyn shenanigans. However the grim dank winter weather probably won't allow this, sobeit, it will still be in the back of my mind.

3. Train what I can train and need to train i.e. get fitter and more stamina.
-> Well I can't train strength, so I have to train what my elbow allows, which thankfully kinda corresponds with what I need to train for trad: general fitness (more running - yuck, but it is useful), stamina (mileage of easy routes indoors - less tweaky more pumpy), also falling practice indoors (scary but I always need it) and technique/footwork (on the grit, for example).

4. Go highballing / micro-routing more in grit this winter.
-> Something I've started to fancy a bit more. Too unfit for hard safe grit routes, too injured to boulder, so why not something in between. Bold little solo routes, not desperate, not too dangerous, but enough of a good "feel" to them. And one of gritstone's specialities - I think I will treat them as short solos rather than highballs above loads of pads. Just my preference.

5. Climb on various different grit crags esp. BMC guidebook stuff and Yorkshire.
-> Why not hey. Looking around and revising guidebooks recently, I've realised there's plenty more to explore and exploration gives me choice and choice gives me fun. I'm kinda syked for random grit as it's climbing therefore good, and also more technical and weird rather than powerful and pully, therefore okay for my elbow.


Get to Lleyn if I'm ready, get to Mid-Wales etc if I can, when weather prevents away trips do some highballing and explore different grit venues, and keep training the right stuff. Simple plans, lots of back-ups, easily fitted in, no real schedule nor pressures. I think that's pretty cool. And if my elbow can't take much climbing, well I can ease off, keep the fitness stuff going, and there's always that list of Easy Trad Plan B venues I had...

Monday, 29 September 2008

Craig Y Mwn...

Early Saturday morning: You are driving up the Rhaeadr valley in Y Berwynion. It is a lovely, fresh autumn morning, sun drenches the gentle rolling hills which gradually steepen as you head further up the valley. Minor rocks and scree start to outcrop, and then in the distance... get closer...
...and see this on the hillside... you think:

1) Fuck yeah, I've gotta climb on that?
2) Fuck yeah, I've gotta climb on that?
3) Fuck yeah, I've gotta climb on that?

Well, I did ;).

Craig Y Mwn is one of the many inspiringly essential crags in the Meirionydd guide. That's essential as in personally essential "wow that sounds/looks so cool I gotta go there" not the mundane socially essential "I must tick this because it's so classic / popular / rite of passage / in a book etc etc". Like last week's Meri visit, I approached it with a certain amount of trepidation: steep climbing, a steep approach, a seemingly shady north-east aspect and an expected lack of traffic lead to many qualms during the cool early morning.

Naturally all of those qualms vanished when I saw that dramatic face, it's beacon-shine an irresistable lure in the morning sun. Those qualms further mellowed when we parked up at a chilled cafe/retreat beneath Pistyll Rhaeadr, the largest waterfall in Wales. Also home to Mr Biggles, the largest dog in Wales:
10+ stone of half-St.Bernard half-ox fluffiness. His stoicism in the serious business of chilling out inspired us to similar stoicism in the short but heinous 50° slog up to the crag. Suitable established I rattled off 3 of the easier classics in fairly swift order, helped by a generous partner - thanks Squirrel. This left us plenty of time to stroll round to the waterfall (it is spectacular) and head up to Snowdonia, via some excitingly lonely moorland driving, at a timely hour.

Aside from the climbing quality, the beauty of the surroundings, and the glorious weather, this crag again was notable for the feeling of....rareness to be climbing on it. Great climbing that few other people do. According to the cafe owner: "Oh, it probably gets two or three visits a year, aye". I like that.

Sunday we started the day with showers, drizzle, and low cloud....Sunday we finished the day with bone dry, crisp sport climbing in the glowing evening sun and fresh breeze! An inauspicious early start was nimbly outwitted by visiting the rather nice Cafe Seren in Bethesda. Well-fuelled with a black pudding roll and a cappucino (with extra froth), we headed to the newly developed and scarcely publicised Penmaen Head to get a mileage day in. If you've ever wondered what this is...
...then this is it. 56 routes mostly from F5+ to F6b+ promised plenty of choice even for those with chronic injuries, and indeed delivered. In the vein of Castle Inn Quarry, an easy access McClimbing crag that manages to combine urban convenience with surprisingly pleasant climbing - the flowstone and concreted rock being particularly nice. Plenty of other teams popping in and out, and the background hum of the A55 provided a good contrast with the previous day - it's a broad church.

So... Another good weekend following inspirations. More great climbs and more great climbing. September might have started dismally but it has finished most pleasantly and reassuringly.


Monday, 22 September 2008


Finally, after this dismal summer of chronic injury and chronically rubbish weather, I have done some good climbing. Finally I have gone on a good weekend to somewhere interesting and exciting. Finally I have got the pure pleasure and fun that comes from following one's personal inspiration.

Within Wales, the Meirionnydd area is a particularly fascinating area, consisting of a bewilderingly epic and varied collection of separate mountain ranges and climbing areas, promising both high quality climbing and a large amount of exploration, adventure, and uncertainty.

Within Meirionnydd, the Rhinogau is a particularly fascinating mountain area, consisting of a substantial and broad area of upland, scattered with vast numbers of crags and craglets and little trace of civilisation, promising hidden gems aplenty and a healthy dose of mystery.

Within the Rhinogau, one route out of many is particularly fascinating, one of the unsung and rarely repeated classics that was so highly regarded it was worth not one but two guidebook photographs showing it's seductive allure. That route is Rock Steady and it seemed to promise an exceptional slab climb - I'm sure any mid-grade leader seeing the photos would add it to their "must do" list. I know I certainly did and was inspired by it for the last couple of years.

(Rubbish photos of guidebook ;))

Finally I have done it! Nothing special nor outstanding in challenge nor progression, but definitely special in both the quality of the climb and the day out (which included a couple of lovely warm-up routes, good company, fine weather, and a good appreciation of the tranquility and peace of the area), and in the relief and reassurance of at last climbing something that genuinely inspires me, after many months of mediocre "treading water". This is what climbing is all about for me - inspiration, exploration, quality - and I'm happy with it.

And my elbow?? It had the usual tenderness afterwards, but the next morning (without any icing nor painkillers), felt the best it had for a couple of weeks. Go figure.


Friday, 19 September 2008


Bloody melting yesterday afternoon. Yomped down and up to Ravenstones to vaguely help out with the Moorland Grit guidebook team. Despite this dark, North-facing, shady crag having a seemingly sensible reputation for being cold, the team cunningly persuaded me to climb on the few routes in the evening sun, AND keep my t-shirt on (both factors to do with "good light and colours for photos" or something like that).

The result: much incompetence, weakness, faffing, fingertips boiling in their own micro-pools of sweat, grinding off rounded holds and jams, dismal failure and a lot of swearing. Not my finest moment. In fact one of my un-finest moments for a long while (and this during a summer that has been consistently devoid of fineness).


Thursday, 18 September 2008


Bloody freezing this morning. Had to crack frost off the duvet to get out of bed. I'm rather shocked by what feels like the onset of dry winter weather. Walking around the streets the other day and everything being dry was like....walking around a foreign country after this dismal non-summer.

Thankfully I have managed to do a bit of reasonably pleasant climbing during it. Which is nice.

Have got some stuff to blog about but am rather busy at the moment. More later.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008


Current status:

Mid-Feb 2008: Tweaked elbow (golfer's elbow, join of the tendon inside my forearm to the bony spur at my elbow) bouldering indoors. Elbow felt fine afterwards and kept climbing.
Feb - March 2008: Continued climbing but a mild pain started to build up. Eased off climbing in proportion to pain, but pain continued and worsened.
April - May 2008: Realised (far too late) that I was getting properly injured and eased off climbing a lot more. Pain stayed at a constant level.
June - July 2008: Mostly rested for six weeks until mid-July, started therapeutic exercises.
July - Sept 2008: Eased back into climbing at up to 50% of my usual physical limit. Pain still present and initially no better than before rest. Slowly pain seems to alleviated a little but still prominent and variable.

Physio recommendations:

Physio 1:
- Any climbing usage is likely to re-damage it and slow down or inhibit healing.
- Taking 3 months total rest would likely be a good way to let it heal.
- Intensity of climbing is not so relevant, even gentle use is damaging.
- Recommends icing after any exercise.
- Recommends regular massage with ibuprofen gel.
- Recommends use of an epiclasp restraint below injury site.
- Therapies listed below are all useful although eccentric exercises should be mild.

Physio 2:
- Climbing at up to 50% will be fine for my elbow and possibly beneficial in conjunction with other therapies.
- It will take several months to regain a good level of strength.
- Total rest is not necessary providing I am disciplined.
- Ibuprofen is not recommended for long-term healing.
- There may be some issues with my shoulder / back that should be treated.
- Therapies listed below are all useful.
- Recommends taping and being cautious with epiclasp usage.

Physio 3:
- Climbing at up to 50% will be fine for my elbow and possibly beneficial in conjunction with other therapies.
- It will take several months to regain a good level of strength.
- Total rest would actually be less recommended due to loss in strength and dangers of building back up from scratch.
- If pain is prominent I should drop the level I'm climbing at rather than stop.
- If iced water feels better than icing, I should stick with ice water.
- Ibuprofen does inhibit the healing process (reduces white blood cells).
- Recommends taping across the injury site.
- Therapies listed below are useful.

Other sources (e.g. Dave Mac's writing etc):
- Iced water recommended.
- Ibuprofen not recommended.
- Therapeutic exercises all recommended.

Current therapeutic practices:

1. Ice water bath 2 x 30 minutes daily.
2. Eccentric wrist curls 2 x 3 sets x 10 reps, 5 days per week.
3. Reverse wrist raises 2 x 2 sets x 20 reps, 5 days per week.
4. Press-ups 2 x 20 reps, 5 days per week and/or after climbing.
5. Massage and stretching 2 x 10 minutes daily.
6. Massage before and after climbing.
7. Ice after climbing (or ice water if ice does not alleviate pain).
8. Climb only up to 50% of physical limit and avoid anything further.

(Note that I probably do half as much of the therapeutic practices as is recommended)

In my actual experience:

Good (i.e. less pain):
- Iced water
- Massage
- Eccentric exercises then massage
- Taping across elbow
- Random days when I wake up and it feels fine

- Climbing steadily (more tender to pressure later in climbing session but reduced to normal within a day)
- Epiclasp below injury site
- Taking ibuprofen when climbing (reduces pain but reduces healing)

Bad (i.e. more pain):
- Sleeping on it funny and waking up with random pain
- Any obviously harder pulling
- Strenuous gardening / DIY
- Regular icing i.e. ice pack


What I've done in the last couple of months is monitor the pain and what I can do on the elbow carefully (those being the only - and vague - indications I have of what is going on), and to seek as much advice as possible from different sources. I take all that advice, mix it all together, see what comes out as the average, and then tally that against my physical instinct and what it actually feels like. That more people have said "keep going" than have said "rest completely", I'm not taking that as gospel nor as a carte blanche to climb lots - I realise that caution and discipline are essential. Based on this I am going to keep climbing at a low level, perhaps reducing the level a bit, but making sure that I rest as much as possible and do the therapeutic practices as much as possible.

Sunday, 7 September 2008


I always thought "IMHO" meant In My Honest Opinion. Then I kept reading that it means In My Humble Opinion. So I stopped using it and reverted back to IMO. There is nothing humble about my opinion :).

This blog is my opinion. Just because my opinion is often objectively correct (although people might not realise it yet), doesn't mean that it's not still MY opinion, and as such people might find it contrary, disagreeable or offensive. In fact I'd be disappointed if people didn't, at least sometimes. However it is still an HONEST if not humble opinion, I post what I mean to write and want to say, and almost invariably I will stand by that.

However, if I've got something wrong, i.e. I've based my opinion on something incorrect, or I've failed to take something into account due to ignorance, feel free to point it out. I've allocated myself an "Admit I'm Wrong" token each year, and I don't think I've used this year's yet ;)

Just FYI ;)

Friday, 5 September 2008


September is usually one of the best months of the year for me. The crags are usually driest even after the usual mediocre summers. The air has usually cooled down to allow decent conditions for quality trad climbing. I'm usually feeling strong and fit after climbing - and the occasional walk-in - for various parts of the summer. I usually go on some good trips and get some great routes done in September.

Anyway it's totally spunking it down outside, the next forecast dry spell is in 2018, my elbow's still fucked, and I'm still fat and weak.

Appropriately September arrived with the most flaccid of whimpers: A rare dry weekend, well most of it anyway, seemed to indicate the validity of a climbing trip away. So I went to Northumberland for the best forecast, quick drying crags, and some good mileage places to explore. And LO!, it was dry. Well, as humid, muggy, and moist as it is possible to be without all the water coagulating into rain and spoiling the illusion of "dryness". Suffice to say it was climbable, but since those "good mileage places" had a certain amount of lichen etc, conditions were rubbish. Thus I did very little and the most fun part of the weekend was the long easy amble into Ravensheugh, surprisingly enough.

And thus time plods onwards... Okay I do have some stuff to ramble and rant about, soonish.

Monday, 25 August 2008


Saturday was my birthday.

(Last year's birthday was pretty amazing - Pavey Ark ... glorious sunshine ... stinking cold ... scarcely less stinking Pylon King ... sitting on the belay of the classic Cruel Sister with my throat burning, staring out at the amazingly expansive view ... rushing round to Bright Beck crag after the rest of the team had gone back down ... ordering food from the New Dungeon Gyll pub by mobile phone from the crag and rushing back down to collect it well after last food orders ... spending 3 days afterwards hardly able to move after burning up all my cold-healing energy on that one day out... )

This year, I felt little like celebrating, mostly due to my elbow, and a hint of general malaise. However, surprisingly and against my better (bah humbug) judgement, it was still a good fun day, in fact one of the better "days out" I've had recently. After a rather plethoric quantity of (good) presents, we headed up to Simon's Seat in Yorkshire, somewhere that had been on my wishlist (for Easy Trad(tm)) for a while. A long, tedious drive, and a long-ish, tiring hike gave an important feeling of "being away from it all".

The crag was in great condition, almost all clean and bone dry. We climbed several routes, I pissed up an E2 5b and had an epic fight on a HVS 5b, hmmm such is the nature of things (those things being rubbish grading in both Yorkshire Grit and Rockfax Northern England!). The rock quality is excellent up there, it's rough, but not in a nasty crystally sort of way (which I usually don't like with harsher grit), but in a compact pitted sort of way. And liberally splattered with a smattering of pebbles, and more unusually, vast herds of millipedes. For future reference there are some amazing looking highball ankle-snapping solo micro route things...

Finally, we yomped down well in the dark and well after pub-food-o'clock, and decided a quick, simple curry in Skipton would suffice and restore moral fibre for the journey home. However this quick, simple curry was not to be as we stumbled across a branch of the acclaimed Aagrah and had one of the best curries I've had for ages. Tasty, consistently good, very clear ingredients so the dishes were all distinctive, all served smoothly and promptly. This rounded things off rather nicely :).

So happy birthday me, I guess...

Friday, 22 August 2008


(Last weekend, but still relevant...).

17th August 2007 - the dismal sodding 2007 summer ends, as I start off an excellent Indian Autumn of high quality inspiring climbing throughout the whole of the UK for a few great and reassuring months. A significant date as the start of a period that confirmed that I can climb what truly inspires me (2006 started that, 2007 eventually confirmed it).

17th August 2008 - the dismal sodding of 2008 summer continues unabated, as I visit a minor Lancs quarry with the intention of continuing getting some mileage in to try to retain some climbing fitness and compensate for still being utterly fucking crippled by my elbow injury, only to find it's seeping and despite the forecast being better than the previous day, there's showers coming in already. Retreat to even more minor Peak limestone crag to try to salvage something out of the day and fail on piss-easy route that I would have considered an trivial warm-up last year.

Failure, dismal fucking failure, how much do I hate it?? This time I had the decency to descend into a proper swearathon temper tantrum (something which I'd sort of grown out of....but needs must...). Unlike previous "dismal fucking failures on piss-easy routes that would have been trivial warm-ups before", this was not a case of laziness and not being bothered - I'd actually set a firm intention to climb this route and climb it well. This was the familiar (and despised): cowardice, lack of commitment, inability to deal with stress, spiralling negativity, etc etc. Which always drives me almost speechless with anger and upset, and this time is no exception. Although the route was insignificant compared to others, the whole purpose of this "mileage" time is to get into good practise, good habits, to climb well in preparation for an eventual return to fitness. The whole point of THIS ROUTE was to climb it well (which I didn't), deal with the stress (which I didn't), and to get into a habit of positive climbing (which I didn't).

So an un-auspicious continuation of the debacle...

(For reference, going back in the years: 17th August 2006: pissing around in the summer heat, although sandwiched between a trip to Ceuse and some cool exploration in the South-West; 17th August 2005: broken foot, still unable to walk properly, okay THAT was more shit! albeit after a great trip to South Africa; 17th August 2004: general depression following accidents and stuff, another fairly poor pottering summer; 17th August 2003: general good climbing for the time; 17th August 2002: pretty cool exploration around North Wales and elsewhere; 17th August 2001: just getting back into climbing....mileage on summer grit would you believe it.)

Can someone please fix my elbow and the weather so I have some positive stuff to blog about, ta!!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Sharpcliffe Rocks.

Staffordshire Grit is the best gritstone climbing area in the Pennines. Not for the mega-classic crags of The Roaches, The Skyline, Hen Cloud and Ramshaw, but for the combination of those hallowed grounds with a varied and veritable treasure trove of minor crags, lost esoterica, hidden gems, and secret outcrops which provide much needed nourishment to those who are exploratory, jaded, over-imaginative, or in search of the essential "something completely different".

Crags such as The Nth Cloud, Gibb Tor, Gradbach Hill, The Back Forest, Rudyard Pinnacle, Bosley Cloud, and most intriguing of all, The Churnet Valley - a lost world of bizarrely sculpted pebble-dashed buttresses outcropping along forested glens and perched amongst peaceful fields. One such outcrop is the neo-famous Sharpcliffe Rocks:

This small collection of bouldering outcrops and one proper lead-climbing buttress has been given a full write up in the last two guidebooks, including two colour photos in the latest guide (and one in the previous guide), and has featured on one of the best On The Edge magazine covers: OTE 38 - John Smith onsighting Knossos on the cover, the legendary Ken Wilson interview inside - those were the days, proper, relevant climbing on the cover, proper controversial characters inside, now it's all Rhapsody this that and the other with a break only for the latest Neil Gresham collection of reps and sets and yawn.

Sharpcliffe Rocks is also banned.

It is owned by Sharpcliffe Hall (whereabouts the hall actually is, God only knows, it's certainly nowhere near the crag nor visible from it), on private land, and access is not allowed, or in the words of someone from the house "strictly forbidden". Of course, it has to be strictly, simply being forbidden isn't enough...

Of course it is their right to forbid access and climbing without requiring any reason. We went there, we climbed the three routes we came for, and part way through the third route were accosted by someone from the hall, and told firmly to leave. I politely pointed out that we were being quiet, not leaving litter, disturbing no wildlife nor fences etc, which fell on deaf ears - we knew we were not allowed to climb there, we had to leave immediately after getting off the route, and we were not expected to be seen back, ever. I politely agreed to leave ASAP and apologised for any trouble caused. After all, they have the right, we'd done what we came for, and there was no need, nor any standing on our behalf, to argue.

What there is a need for, obviously, is to RANT ON THE INTERNET. The solution to many problems :)

Actually there's not much to rant about to, just two nuggets of food for thought, a light snack if you will...

Firstly, harm done?? I for one, failed to see any. Two climbers, quietly going about their business. No inconsiderate parking, no damage to fences, walls nor gates, no litter, no loud noise, no graffiti, vandalism nor abuse of the land, no dogs nor bikes nor ghetto-blasters, no interference with hall business nor invasion of privacy. As a pertinent and ironic comparison, the crag is on land which is sometimes used for shooting (obviously we wouldn't have gone near it were any shooting going on). This otherwise idyllic natural area is scattered with clay pigeon paraphernalia, launchers, taped-off areas, and thoroughly littered with clay pigeon debris and shell cases.

Secondly, land ownership?? It does seem, sometimes, that western humans put a lot of stock into the area of planet earth we own - our turf, our "castle". I think for many people in many situations, there is good reason - privacy, a bit of land to do something with, our own patch where others can't interfere (and I would not want to climb where it genuinely interfered!). One might wonder though, if some of us go too far. When someone has a LOT of land, and when areas of that land are well away from any actual residence or regularly used area of land, to what extent is dictating access a matter of dictating for the sake of it??

The question often asked is "What if it was your land??"

Well, what if it was your land, or my land, and small groups of people sporadically visited an area say half a mile from my house, that wasn't in current use, treated the land with respect, engaged in a non-damaging activity that I was unlikely to see or hear, and even if I did they were affable and civil when challenged??


Anyway, the routes were pretty cool - unusual pebbly rock and a funky adventurous feel to them :).

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Status report:

A little update on the state of play.

In the last week or so I've been out climbing Easy Trad(tm) 3 times (2 days and one evening), climbing indoors once, been running twice and had a physio session. Not bad.

Climbing-wise, and therefore elbow-wise, it's been thus:

Day at Willersley - did two long routes, surprisingly enjoyable given the crag looks as gash as most Peak limestone usually does. Elbow a bit tender afterwards but less so the next day.

Evening at The Foundry - did ten routes at a moderate standard, sweaty but a good session, felt okay. Elbow a bit tender but definitely less than previous wall sessions, again better the next day.

Evening at Shaw Quarry - did a few short technical routes, surprisingly enjoyable given the crag looks distinctly minor and unimpressive. Elbow a bit tender but less the next day.

Day at Ravensnest Tor - did a few long and fairly involving routes, surprisingly enjoyable given the crag looks like a tottering pile of choss. Elbow a bit tender, again less so the next day. Routes were a smidgen trickier so that may have increased tenderness, although I didn't feel any tweaks en-route and again, it wasn't quite bad compared to previously.

I also had one day where I hardly had any pain-in-response-to-pressure at all.

So this last week has been a bit more promising. My exploration and esoteric plan has started working, and my elbow has been feeling a tiny bit better than before, most noticeable around the wall session which is the clearest benchmark.

What this means of course is that I've got to keep being extra bloody careful for a while yet!!

Friday, 8 August 2008


I read this morning that young Northern England climber and UKClimbing regular Ian Jackson had died in a sport climbing lower off / abseiling accident in the Alps... This has provoked some thought.

[ To give some context: Firstly I am pretty intolerant of "the youth of UKC". There seems to be a prominent number of kids on there whose naivety, immaturity, and lack of awareness escalates to irritating heights when they are allowed to spout unchecked shite on a public forum. Secondly I am pretty intolerant of many climbing "accidents" - having been involved with, and traumatised by, a few, I have a hard line on the typical avoidable incompetence that leads to climbing accidents (commonly with gear ripping these days - just this last weekend I was witness to a ridiculous near-miss at Willersley - a 16 year old kid attempting his first VS at this entirely unsuitable crag in front of his father and friend....10m up a steep groove/crack, no gear in as 3-4 bits had fallen out as he passed (!!), nearly coming off when testing a loose hold....thankfully he managed to get safe enough to lower off, and we managed to convey, politely, the utter bloody idiocy of the situation). ]

This situation is different though...

I met Ian briefly at Black Crag in Borrowdale (I was, pre-injury, faffing up Grand Alliance, he was fighting up Prana - and had the decency to acknowledge how fearsome the crux is). He seemed like a youthful but decent guy then - a kid, but one who was firmly into climbing, competent, and knew what he was on about. But, more so, when I read his postings online, he was STILL a decent guy on there. He had the familiar youthful enthusiasm, but with much less of the bullshit and none of the naivety that most of his sub-peers displayed. I - and I do not say this retrospectively, this was how I felt at the time - respected him for that, and respected him as a simply good and keen climber.

Further, a good and keen climber with a solid enough grounding in trad climbing and an early maturity that showed a lot of promise for the future - he was not one of the gear-ripping brigade, he was someone I'd have trusted to go climbing with. But, even the most competent people, we all make mistakes, even if we are 99.9% perfect with our safety-according-to-situation, there is still that 0.1%. And most of the time we get away with that 0.1%. We forget once to do up our belay screwgate....but no-one falls and it stays shut. We accidentally tie into just leg-loops....but realise a short way up and lower safely. We backclip a crucial, directional piece of gear....but don't fall off.

Sadly, occasionally, a minor mistake coincides with a situation where the consequences are disastrous. The luck of the draw, Russian Roulette with 10000 chambers and one bullet....climbing can be made safe almost all of the time, but there's still that small possibility. From the brief description "sport climbing accident, whilst threading a chain", it sounds like Ian just had the bad luck of that small possibility. It could happen to anyone, as it happened in the past, but it happened to him, and now he is dead.

Having met him and interacted online, that is quite a shock. Dead is very final - this kid, whom I remember looking up from the crimps of Prana's crux whilst I was looking down sorting out ab ropes, is now gone forever - and a very harsh price to pay for climbing, for someone who shouldn't have paid it. May he rest in peace, and may the other climbers I know stay alive. It could happen to anyone but please don't let it happen to YOU.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Climbing 2008 Plan B



Read it and vicariously despair at the low ambitions and the minor crags I'm scruttling around at, then get in touch and email me and arrange to go out climbing (subject to weather of course) - fiendophobia [at] googlemail [dot] com

Feel free to suggest areas and crags I should add to this (in comments maybe). As long as it's somewhere inspiring (doesn't have to be a mundane honeypot tho), good choices around HVS-E2, not too much of a mission to get to, and most importantly that I haven't done loads at already (which covers most of the Peak and many crags elsewhere).

The Plan ("B", you may have noticed) is: trad mileage, choice of routes, keeping my hand in, not re-injuring my elbow, keeping familiar with trad skills, doing easier routes in good style. In general, preparing for progression when my fitness eventually allows it.

I've realised I have much to learn and put into practise in this challenging period of my climbing career... Usually I climb for pure inspiration and desire, not as a means to an end, and definitely not climbing for the sake of it, but climbing routes that I just really want to do. Climbing less-inspiring routes as part of a practise/recovery plan is something I struggle with, unless it's in an amazing area with lots of choice of easier but inspiring routes (i.e. not really England and Wales). With less inspiration I have less interest, less pleasure, and less determination. So the challenge is to summon those up and to make the best use of this time and the best use of the routes I'm now restricted to....for the greater good ;)

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

I went climbing...

...last week. Woohoo. Yeah. In the Wye Valley where I've scarcely visited before.

So would you like to hear a happy tale of escaping the heat in wooded vales, of plentiful choice of mid-grade routes, of getting some good mileage in at new venues, of having a reasonable buffer of confidence from earlier in the year, of relishing being back on the rock again, of being able to climb okay on my elbow after several weeks of rest....??


Well I did a few pleasant routes, and I enjoyed what climbing I did, that much is true. But... It was stinkingly hot, proper sweat-dripping muggy. The area wasn't as inspiring as I'd hoped, especially at bimbly levels. I felt rustier than a very rusty thing and correspondingly deficient in confidence. elbow was still tender, even on easy stuff, so I didn't feel I could start progressing again...

Hell, at one point I struggled and rested on an E1. E1 I tell you!! If I can't even climb something that is really just a descent route, what is the point!!!!

*strops* *stamps feet* *etc etc*

However, the general debacle has made me realise that I need a Cunning Plan. So I'm coming up with one and posting it soon.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008


As promised....easy trad and exploration here we come...

Right....after enough rest and some recuperative exercises, I'm ready to start exploring around and doing some proper climbing hopefully. Hence posting my ticklist (wish list - inspiration list) for the latter half of the year.

This is my climbing ticklist for 2008.

To sum up that page I am keen to go to:

Mid-Wales: Craig Y Aderyn, Craig Y Llam, Craig Y Mwn, Rhinnogs, Nesscliffe

North Wales: Craig Doris, Cilan Head, Pen Y Cil

Devon & Cornwall: Blackchurch, Cow & Calf, Kellan Head, Tintagel, Baggy Point

Scotland: Glen Nevis / Polldubh, Creag Dubh, Caithness, Aberdeen Sea-Cliffs, Central Outcrops

Elsewhere: Anywhere exploratory....or unusual. Lakes is always good...

Not Stanage Popular End :P

Three things:

1. I only have a ticklist because I am senile and tend to forget what I want to climb.

2. If anyone is interested in doing a trip with me to any of these venues, please get in touch. I like having people who are keen to explore.

3. This doesn't include going abroad. I'm often very keen for going abroad, particularly to unusual locations.

Fingers crossed!!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008


This blog might seem a bit negative at the moment. Sorry if that makes it less palatable. To explain, it is mostly a reflection of current events / current status and how I feel about them.

I am not really a negative person, but I'm not specifically a positive one either. I think I am fairly neutral, and fairly prone to both negative and positive moods, often (but not always) dependent on circumstances around and how I deal with and react to them. However, at least I am usually aware of my moods, something I've learnt (and continue learning) and something well worth striving for.

So the current circumstance, particularly in the climbing arena (this a climbing blog....but with reason, climbing is a massive part and pleasure of my life) is a difficult and sometimes unpleasant one - hence my mood in response to that can be negative. Although I try to seek positives (in it....or instead of it), not always successfully.

Thus what I write is a fair reflection of what IS, NOW. But hopefully that will change and improve!!

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Climbing with friends??

There shouldn't be a question in the title, there shouldn't be anything to write about, one climbs with one's friends, amongst other people, as simple as that.

Except, for me, it's not as simple as that, particularly not at the moment. At the moment, my climbing has tended, when it happens, to fall into the category of: getting away and exploring some adventurous trad. My friends tend to be in the follow categories:

1. Keen on sport climbing - well I'd love to do that but my elbow is injured, so I simply can't.

2. Keen on bouldering in general - well I'd love to do that too, particularly to different and burly places like North Wales, but my elbow is injured so I simply can't.

3. Not people I go outside much with but people I have fun hanging out indoors with - again, happy to train when it rains, but elbow injured cannot do.

4. Only available locally (or most keen on that anyway) - well, I can do a bit of this, and indeed I have done, mostly to spend time with them as friends rather than my actual own climbing, because I don't climb on grit outside winter and there's not that much that I actually want to do locally anyway.

Ummmm which leaves....well the odd oddball friend or two (hello Pylon King) whom I can hook up with when they escape family committments, and a few friends further afield whom I like climbing and exploring with but don't tend to hang out much with normally. I'm grateful to any friendly partner I can climb with, particularly further afield, but it's not quite the same as hanging out with day to day mates.

One could say, well, compromise your climbing just to hang out with them - well I can do that to a certain degree, I can do, and have done, easy stuff locally, and I've even had the occasional day just belaying or spotting, but the harder sport / bouldering I simply can't touch. One could also say, "just hang out", and yeah I do that. There's not a problem with friendship here, just this curious discrepancy that I have some close climbing friends that I don't really climb with....hmmmm. Time to convert them to Easy Trad™ you say?? I've tried, believe me I've tried...

Monday, 14 July 2008


Painting toy soldiers doesn't really "go" with climbing, AND it's generally frowned upon as nerdy boring etc etc. Which naturally gives me some encouragement to celebrate my enthusiasm for the hobby out of sheer perverse belligerence if nothing else :). Anyway this is something I've done instead of climbing recently (it really isn't bad for my elbow). It took a long time but I like what I've done. More pics here.

As you can see these things are pretty small.

That's all for now.

Saturday, 12 July 2008


I've decided I really don't like this "being injured" business.

Aside from the obvious issues of being unable to climb properly, unable to push myself, unable to do many of the more physical facets of climbing, unable to train when the weather is poor, of being
hampered in my desires and plans, of struggling to stay fit and physically active, and of not having the FUN that a climbing lifestyle entails... Aside from all that, it is more detrimental than I thought.

Firstly, I feel increasingly distant from the climbing scene and climbing community (I have less to discuss and share as usual and less lure to being involved) and sometimes from some climbing friends and acquaintances too, whose company I'm not sharing because I can't share what we most have in common. It seems strange how quickly one can go from feeling involved to feeling almost forgotten.

Secondly, I find it frustrating just how much a proper injury hampers you. I still keep up with the climbing media, obviously, I read and watch and learn and feel inspiration. But it is all for nothing if you can't actually do it. All discourse on training and progression and psychology and is all irrelevant if you literally cannot get on rock and pull hard.

Thirdly, not climbing is not good for my well-being. It is an activity and lifestyle I find enriching on many levels, from the pleasure of movement to the personal progress of tackling challenges, to the richness of being involved in an intense activity outdoors. Without partaking in it....I feel somewhat diminished.

ON THE PLUS SIDE however, at least the weather is variable enough (it seems the same pattern as last year - very good late spring, poor and showery early summer....will it have the same glorious dry autumn?? I hope!!) that the all-important exploratory away trips would have been a bit tricky anyway. It is as good a time to rest as any (i.e. not really a good time, but a better time now than back in May when Scotland was on the cards). And I've got other stuff to do and some friends around and's okay I guess.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Strengths and strengths.

A curious revelation occured to me earlier this year (when I had any strength to speak of....or at least when my body could take using it :S).

I've always thought that my strength - stylistic strength that is - in climbing was simple: crimpy walls and slabs with sharp positive holds and stiff pulls between them. Sort of slatey quarried-grity culm-coasty stuff, which is what I've tended to do best in on trad. Perish the thought of steep, bulging, roofy stuff, let alone that combined with slopers and friction (although the latters being a pure physiological issue of sweaty hands). Too intimidating, too immediately pumpy, too committing, too blind, too easy to slither off.

Now, bouldering (I like it! When I can actually do it...). My stylistic strength there?? Hmmm, well judging by my hardest problems: Steep, bulging, roofy stuff, combined with slopers and friction (and a fair bit of areteness thrown in too). I guess burly bulging rounded ribs would probably be where it's at for me. As for crimpy walls - ouch!! Just can't seem to crimp hard enough, I tend to lag behind by a grade or so in the genre I *thought* was my strength.

Weakness is strength? Strength is weakness?*

Well, it's not that obtuse: Overall climbing / mental strengths of onsighting trad vs. purely physical strengths of worked boulder problems. Hanging on a trad route on bulging slopey ground is well harsh - blasting through it above a mat is quite different. Alas little mystery there! Chalk and cheese. Mmmm cheese... ...mmmm chalk!!

And little to learn from this for the future either. I always try to progress and improve my confidence, however gradually, anyway, and that includes pushing my naturally lagging stylistic weaknesses. As for bouldering....hmmm. Get uninjured....get strong! LOL.

[* - from a novel I'm reading - anyone reading the same one, tell me about it!]