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...