Monday, 28 April 2008

Font again!

Just back from a flying visit to Font :). Was in email contact with amusing veteran curmudgeon JCM off UKC, he was heading over for a weekend trip with JCM Junior, and invited me along. Obviously I had to meditate long and hard about my elbow injury, including deciding and changing my mind several times... But in the end the ease of joining in on the trip, the lure of La Foret, the unlimited easy bouldering potential, and the welcoming enthusiasm for my presence on the trip (something which I value highly), won me over.


Friday: Leave Sheffield mid afternoon Friday. Arrive at JCM headquarters just before rush hour. Leave in JCM mobile in the middle of rush hour. Get delayed on M25 car park and end up in mad rush for ferry. Arrive 10 minutes after last check-in and board immediately. Breath sigh of relief. Arrive in Etap motel hours later and listen to techno to fall asleep.

Saturday: Wake up and ensure JCM Jr is adequately fed. Go to Apremont and climb easy reds. Fail to flash La Science Friction and decide to sulk instead of any serious further attempts. Laze in the sun instead (and realise later how well cooked I'm getting). Potter some more then retire to cafe and France's largest hot-dog for late lunch. Head over to Canche Aux Merciers in evening. Feel appreciative of the amenable forest vibe there. Feel less impressed with with tiredness, painful fingers, and draining heat. Any serious exhertion seems to result in a general throbbing sauna-like feeling. Find a good looking red roof traverse and do that. Retreat exhausted to swank dinner of magret de canard aux sauce poivre and a pleasingly large amount of JCM Jr's scarcely touched boeuf carpaccio. Yum. Admire sunburn and listen to techno to fall asleep.

Sunday: Wake up and steal as many fruit compotes from motel breakfast bar as pockets will allow. Decided finger skin might dictate an easy mileage day and shoulder skin might dictate a lot of shade/suncream. Go to 91.1 and get rather giddy about the number of great looking red problems. Spend entire day within 30seconds walk of initial drop-off point and do lots of good problems. Fun! Get photos of JCM Jr on a quality micro slab that looked amazing if you're 6 years old and 3 feet tall. Leave feeling well battered. Attempted mad rush to ferry slightly spoilt by clear fast roads North of Paris - arrive in plenty of time. Eventually get back to chez Fiend at 3:45am zzzZZZzzz...

Here's a photo of something or other:

Kinda cool really. The elbow dictated a gentler trip than before - but not as much as the heat dictated a gentler trip than before!! Lovely weather but too warm and next time I go I want it below 0'c ;).

One thing to rant about: Font slab grades are utter toss. It's always been obvious they are toss, when a Font 5 slab is clearly way harder than a Font 6b wall and not much easier than a Font 6c arete, but I hadn't really had a way to put the pomposity of such non-grading in clear perspective, until JCM said about La Science Friction "you wouldn't really want to find this part way up Downhill Racer". The same was said about La Gratitude and Ingratitude at 91.1 - comparable propositions.

The point - well put across by JCM - being: Font 5 = V1 = English 5b/c. Which clearly these slabs bloody well aren't.

Now I haven't done Downhill Racer but I've done enough slabs from the Culm Coast to Caley, I know what they're like. I have done, say, Poetry Pink E4 6a and the crux of Grips Of Wrath E4 6a which would seem fair comparisons, both in the style being safe but hard slab cruxes on small holds, and more importantly in the difficulty. Both of these I think are solid 6a.

Solid English 6a = V3 = Font 6b. Which these slabs bloody well are.

Personally, I'm not interested in the historic so-called grading scale that has the sole purpose of allowing a bunch of geriatic old Bleausards to sneer at the donkey footwork of les Anglais before dousing the place in poff and dancing up some faux-easy slab that they've got more wired than Adam Long has the Plantation. I'm interested in grades that describe the actual relative difficulty of the problems and I see no reason for Font to be exempt just because they invented one bouldering grade scale.

Still, climbing is bloody good, irrespective of toss grades :).

Wednesday, 23 April 2008


More Fiend....more bollox.

Well that's the plan anyway.

Actually it's not a new blog, I've just moved it over from the Rockfax blog site. I think I wanted to go somewhere more neutral and naturally bloggy. As well as joining in with the cool kids although there's no chance of it making me a cool kid let's be honest.

It's partly inspired by being banned from (I'm now unbanned - not through my choice, I didn't ask to be!) and the irony of being able to ramble on on the Rockfax main site with no-one able to argue back with me, and partly inspired by other climber's blogs I've been reading (some of which contain entertaining climbing philosophy from sometimes-unexpected directions). But mostly inspired by an incessant urge to witter endlessly about climbing - and occasionally other things.

Oh well, you have been warned ;).

Incidentally, the best climbing I can do at the moment is not climbing. Best for my elbow, anyway.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Noise annoys...

Not entirely sure whether to pollute a mostly climbing blog with non-climbing ramblings. But then again why not. Can't make it much worse!

I went down to London this weekend (non-climbing weekend, resting elbow). Visited family, had some nice meals, did a bit of shopping, bought a new beanie (more on this later)...

...went to a live noise gig. And by noise, I mean noise, howling, pulsing, tearing static noise from 3 acts: The legendary "Godfather Of Japanoise", Merzbow; confrontational power-electronics veterans Sutcliffe Jugend; and low-key dark noise ambient act Satori (side-project of the owner of Coldspring records, who part organised this gig and are pretty much the hub of the dark ambient / industrial / noise / dark experimental scene in the UK).

Now, although I like many genres of electronic music, and extreme music in general, I'm not a real fan of noise music. I don't see any problem with noise per se, it is just another musical tool that can be used, abused, and crafted into something pretty stimulating and ear-catching. And in a few noise pieces, particularly with strong rhythms and a good balance across the tonal range, I find it works and can sound pretty good. In many others, where the noise is abstract and mashed up, I find it purposeless and it leaves me entirely disinterested. Thus I dabble a bit without following the genre.

Nevertheless, Merzbow (below) is effectively the god of noise music, so I felt I had to go to this gig, a once in a lifetime experience through opportunity....or more likely choice :).

And? Well, it was pretty cool. As you'd expect. Not a painfully unlistenable waste of time, and not a transcendentally mind-blowing experience. Just pretty cool.

It was interesting to see the 3 different acts (Satori: no stage show, fairly clean mixture of harsh noise and dark ambient passages, some good rhythms; SJ: strong stage presence with middle-aged man howling obscenities - a bit sad and laughable really - some interesting noise and fairly entertaining; Merzbow: amusingly intense Japanese focus, some strong rhythmic bits and some bewildering ear-splitting bits), interesting to see the usual crowd of goths, metallers, frightening bald blokes with huge beards, worryingly hot goth chicks, worryingly weird goth chicks, a fair proportion of nerds (who doubtless find some deep intellectual meaning in this nonsense that I don't), an appropriately prominent Japanese contingent, and the obligatory middle-aged men in sober dress. All somberly watching the various performances with admirable dedication and civility. As always it gets me wondering: "What do these people actually really like in this racket??"

Perhaps a more pertinent question: What do *I* actually really like in this racket?? Well aside from the performance/crowd interest above, the bits I musically enjoyed were anything with strong pounding rhythms and deep bass, which come across great in the live enviroment, some of the noise when it wasn't too jarring over the top of that, and some of the dedication of the performance. Which is enough for me.

Incidentally I'm listening to a Merzbow CD as I type this (I got into the spirit of things and bought it at the gig), and some of it is pretty cool. The rhythmic bits, as you'd guess ;).

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Impatient patient.

I’m not a good patient, being injured. I’ve managed to take over a week off climbing, attempting to improve my elbow through some total rest (although I’m not sure how much rest non-climbing is anyway, I seem to aggravate the injury in odd ways, sleeping on it funny in particular). But despite that I am not being very good at letting it heal properly…

The problem being, I think I love climbing too much. Sure I like other things too, sure I can take time off it, sure I realise that for the greater good of keeping climbing in the future, resting an injury is crucial. But when I’m out there and there’s quality rock/routes/problems in front of me, how can I resist. It’s just too much FUN, moving over rock.

Actually, the problem being, I think I have no willpower :S.

Take yesterday, for example. I went out with a couple of mates in the evening - quite an incredible evening in fact. It was light until well after 8, but in the breeze and the shade, utterly outrageously cold, equal to the best and bitterest winter days. A real “stick to anything” grit day, except possibly even too cold, my fingers never got past painfully numb. And yes I kept my clothes on.

Anyway I wasn’t really there to climb much, more to hang out, spot, potter around, and feel the grit. I’d spoken to another mate (a veteran of training hard and getting past various tweaks) earlier about my elbow injury and he’d warned me to stay away from anything except slabs. Cool, slabs! So, okay, there was this neat little slab at the crag to play on, and naturally I got sucked into it. Unfortunately there was a slight technical hitch - it was pretty much at my limit, and the steep angle and nature of the holds required one to pull fairly hard, for a slab. Thus, after a couple of times at my highpoint (locked off on tiny pebble and a non-ripple that you wouldn’t even use as a smear yet felt “good” in such baltic conditions, eyeballing the finishing hold but no free limbs to grab it with…), my elbow felt familiarly achey and I felt familiarly regrettful that I’d set the healing process back yet again.

So I need to be more diligent and more disciplined…


Friday, 4 April 2008

Shock of the new.

I climbed a new route on gritstone the other week.

Hmmmm. That doesn’t sound right.

I climbed a two star mid-grade new route on Peak District gritstone, up a completely obvious pure line, on a bit of rock that’s five minutes walk from the road.

There, that sounds better. The honest truth, guv. Well, the churlish might say only one star, but the line is good, the sequence is very good, and the genre - bouldery moves just above bomber gear - is also good.

Two things stick in my mind about this personal event:

Firstly, it’s rather exciting discovering something like this in such a popular area of the country. The Peak is so well-developed and so heavily scoured by prowling, rock-hungry teams, that for a mere mortal to find anything worthwhile seems quite unfeasible. Nevertheless, I went for a walk to this particular venue, and after a bit of scouting around, was shocked at what I found: A clear, independent new line, accessible and logistically simple, on good rock with only a good brush required to clean. This came at a time where a lull in my interest in local grit and my elbow injury had dulled my enthusiasm a bit….and it was instantly rekindled. I’m not a particular new route whore but I was distinctly excited!!

Secondly, I headpointed this route. I cleaned it on abseil - absolutely essential. Then I worked the moves from the top down on abseil. A couple of moves took several goes to work out what to do. Then I attempted it on lead but bailed out due to nerves, darkness, and poor skin. A couple of days later I worked the moves on abseil again, then led it easily. A true worked, pre-practised, headpoint ascent.

[Ethically, of course, there is nothing of interest here. New routes have always been an entirely different genre to repeating existing routes. Without a grade, description, guidebook hints, knowledge that it’s been climbed successfully etc etc, a new route justifies different tactics (even aside from the the necessary cleaning). The sequence on this route is tricky to work out and if I’d attempted this ground up, it could have taken me a dozen or more goes and nearly as many falls, trashing gear, ropes, and my pelvis. Now it’s done, described, and fairly graded, it’s up to others to climb it in the normal style.]

What IS of interest is my experience and what pleasure I gained from this. When I finally led it clean, I felt a little bit of satisfaction from having done it, and I enjoyed the quality of climbing (indeed, repeating it immediately to get a video, I enjoyed the climbing just as much). But I didn’t get the deep, involving thrill that I usually get from good climbing. Having practised it, actually leading it almost felt like a formality. I realised quickly that the most exciting part of the process was first abseiling down, trying the moves, and discovering they were possible, they were good, and I could do them. The joy of discovery - this is what I usually get en-route, on the lead, on normal trad climbing. Here I got it on an abseil inspection, and once it was discovered, actually leading it was rather diluted. No regrets though, just an interesting feeling.

Details “soon”.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Font post match analysis part two.

Font….a lot of people are into it, and with good reason. It really is bloody marvellous, in all ways. The rock is great, the lines are great, the setting is great, the landings are usually great, the sheer amount of choice is great, and the climbing is great. Simple as that. I’m usually a cynic about popular, hyped, areas, but in this case, on my first visit, on my first day, I realised everyone is right and it really is all it’s cracked up to be.

(Though it is worth noting that two other of the “World’s Best Bouldering Venues”, Castle Hill and Rocklands, are very nearly equally marvellous and utterly bloody inspiring).

So, I’ve been a few times now. And I’ve found My Way of doing things out there: A blend of running around like a dog with seven dicks just finding the most beautiful lines at a reasonably doable but thankfully vague standard (all thanks to the circuit colours), and of going along with other peoples’ plans, inspirations and suggestions. I don’t go out with goals and I don’t go out with ticklists. I just look, listen, and climb. This suits me fine: I climb lots of great problems and a few hard problems and some hard and great problems, and usually I don’t know names and grades (which are complete random toss anyway!!), just the quality which is self-evident.

This time I did 3 days of that and mostly had great fun (apart from Elephant, which still doesn’t inspire me - where are the sodding LINES there??). On the last day I went off on my own with the intention of ticking things. I blame the Eagles for that, his bad influence is rubbing off. So, I followed a guide and followed a grade that should be doable but a good challenge and a good “tick”.


Well I did a couple of nice things but rapidly became jaded. Looking at grades instead of lines - *shakes head*. The tail wagged the dog and the dog put it’s tail between it’s legs. Oh I suppose tiredness from 3 days on, sore skin, warm conditions, and swarming hordes of tedious English students with bad haircuts, matching t-shirts and a f*cking guitar didn’t help the vibe. Nevertheless I realised a bit too late that I’d been….well to continue the theme, barking up the wrong tree a bit. By then it was time to go home anyway.

But it was another confirmation (I’ve had many, both ways) of the importance of doing what is True To Oneself (and generally I think it’s good if what that is comes from the deeper pleasures in climbing). Although it did get me thinking about bouldering and what it all could mean - more on that later.

So next time I’ll go to Font, I’ll stick to what is inspiring. I have thought though, it might be useful to know my way around a bit….but equally to still not know too many names and grades. I think what I’d like is a collection of just maps to Font, showing parking, approaches, boulder locations, and rough circuit directions. I suspect the only way to do that will be photocopying and printing though.