Sunday, 23 January 2011


So I am back. It was a great trip. Greatness of note including:

9 days climbing in a row. I think that's the most in a row I've done, not hampered by pissy weather or gaylord gf climbing partners "waaah I need a rest day can we do something different for a change?!?" etc etc. I was still as SYKED as ever on the last day, still just loving the climbing. It was important that we kept mixing it up: steep routes, slabs, sport, trad, adventurous routes, rough rock, smooth rock. This kept it FRESH and FUNKY and kept motivation and inspiration high whilst alternating limbs and skin to allow things to heal. Scratches aside I felt invigorated rather than tired by the end of it. I'd be quite interested to base myself in a similarly dry and varied climbing area and see how many....WEEKS I could climb in a row :D.

Did I mention the weather?? OMFG. I'd forgotten what such dryness was like. The forecast kept predicting 20% chance of rain (itself not a huge worry with sunny quick drying crags), which invariably turned into 20% of light cloud of 80% chance of awesomeness. There was a grand total of 1 light shower and one thunderstorm, both overnight. Some good luck at last.

I think I did okay climbing. I kept a fair level of challenge although didn't push that hard, with only a handful of routes that made me go "woah, that was tough". By the end I was keen to ramp up the grade a bit, but there was still too much to explore. I guess I was actually doing pretty well as it was a trip during the "off-season" for trad....but I also think the rock often suited me well, with a good choice of reassuringly positive holds and pretty good gear when you got it (apart from the slabs, which just felt nice in general regardless). It's all good mileage anyway.

Malta was cool for the reasons mentioned before: exotic and intriguing yet fairly convenient and cheap, cool architecture and churches, nice coastlines, a manageable size, and entertainingly lawless driving - the latter I survived more by fitting well into it rather than taking suitable care ;).

Climbing-wise I'd definitely recommend it for a typical British climber. If you want to sit at the bottom of a mega-classic mega-chalked mega-polished 7c rotpunkt for a whole week, or want some epic dolomotic suffer-fests, then forget it. But if you want plentiful mid-grade trad, mixed and sport limestone with a good varied blend of steep accessible outcrops, proper slabs, and proper UK-style sea-cliff face climbing, all with a decent guidebook on a fun island with very good winter temperatures, then it's got to be worth a try.

Next up: Plans for April, plans for the year, Scottish bouldering, sun-trap trad, gym and general climbing training. Woohoo!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Malteser 10.

Today....we....climbed!! The last day: In a pleasingly circular crag choice we finished as we started, at Wieb Badu (I think it might be Wied Babu actually?). But instead of the somewhat average valley slabs, we sampled hot pumping sea-cliff action in the altogether more dramatic surrounds of the Blue Wall (grey coloured) and Red Wall (orange coloured). The former provided a fine committing trad climb in the calm shade, and the latter a fine long sport climb in the breezy sun...

...and a rather "traditional" big old corner as an escape route. The routes I led were class, but belaying on an expansive ledge in a cosy nook in the warm sun was perhaps the highlight. We rounded off the day and indeed the entire climbing week at the sunny side of W.B. where I pleasingly punctuated the trip not with a full stop but an exclamation mark, battling up a fine bulging crack we had "looked" at on the first day. 3 contrasting routes and a great finale.

All that remains is a quick dinner, the last bit of mad Maltese driving (regrettably, I'll miss it) to the airport, and braving the possible crux of flying home with Ryanair. Ciao!

Friday, 21 January 2011

Malteser 9.

Today we climbed errr slabs and white pockety walls. Again. But this time on Gozo! Which is nice. A bit more scenic and a bit less manic than Malta. We got to see more of the island in an action-packed day. Got the ferry over, drove across to see the "Inland Sea" (more like Inland Puddle, but pretty) and the Azure Window...

...then found a cool roadside slab and did a couple of routes...

...then had a wandering circumnavigation of the scenic Citadel in Victoria, then drove back to M-thingy I-thingy X-thingy to finish with a couple of cool sport climbs and retrieving some misplaced trousers. Not the wrong trousers, more like the right trousers in the wrong place. Thence back on the ferry and back to the hostel by 7. Good stuff. 4 more good routes woohoo.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Malteser 8.

Today we climbed slabs AND white pocketed walls. OMG the sheer insolence of it all. Two contrasting rocktypes in one brief winter day (well, afternoon - see below)?? Truly a cutting edge plan.

The day started as the previous day had, as we were guided on our tranquil journey towards awakeness by the soothing encouragement of A FUCKING CAR ALARM RIGHT OUTSIDE THE SODDING HOSTEL. Nevertheless a prompt start was underway, which became rapidly less prompt when we came out to a flat tyre. "No problem", I thought, "I'm a big strong MAN and will simply change this tyre for the spare and drive to a garage to fix the main tyre". Unfortunately this plan depended on the spare tyre not being flat too....2 minutes later we were sat by the side of the road awaiting Europcar tyre rescue... Eventually we got to the SLAB at Ix Xaqqa (I think I got this one right), where the sheets of smooth rock contrasted nicely with the rabbit-carcass-filled gully the route started from. A few routes were rattled off including the pointlessly retrobolted, overgraded, but jolly pleasant Motorpsycho. I sneered at the bolts, fiddled in some RPs, and it was still soft touch.

Spurning the bolts in true artificial risk elitist snobbery style ;)

Having ticked all worth ticking we rounded the evening off with a couple of funky white pocketed trad routes at some crag with lots of GHs, Is, and possibly Xs in the name. 4 good routes and good variety.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Malteser 7.

Today we climbed white pocketed walls. We went over to Gozo and a crag called something vaguely like Mraargh Ix Xiari, Malta's deservedly premier sport crag. There seemed to be a lot of classic F6b+ white pocketed walls, so I just climbed classic F6b+ white pocketed walls. It made route choice pretty simple. Oh such routes....there was the one with the pockets....and the other one with the pockets....and the white one, that had a lot of pockets too. All jolly good fun and by far the most holes I've fingered in a day. We had grand plans to stay in Gozo and save travelling back and forth, but driving back and forth past the elusive hostel several times eventually revealed it was closed, so back on the ferry it was, and back in our regular basecamp at 7:30. Not bad at all. I think we will go back and explore a bit more of this subsidiary island. After all there's a couple more classic F6b+ white pocketed walls further down the valley...

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Malteser 6.

Today we climbed jugs and pockets and overhangs. The day started well when we were gentle eased from our slumber by the peaceful lullaby of A PNEUMATIC FUCKING DRILL RIGHT OUTSIDE THE HOSTEL. I lay there dozing to this for some time - I think I've listened too many industrial noise CDs. The sluggish start was compounded by the after effects of the 2nd Maltese food tick last night - Pastizzis, oily and semi-tasty gunk filled pastries. I suspect one has one or two as a snack or starter, rather than 5 of them as dinner along with a big wodge of pizza. So it took a while to roll my lardy arse out of the scratchy bedsheets this morning. Eventually some momentum was gained towards Fomm Ir Rih, and we started at the Lush Boulder which was as steep as yesterday was slabby...

What's wrong with this photo?? Oh yeah, the prospect of placing trad gear at this angle.

A couple of routes on here took a fair amount of time and energy, leaving only enough time to do one route on the headland sea-cliffs. This brought the full sea-cliff flavour of abbing into a semi-hanging stance above an impenetrably navy ocean, and a fully British flavour of committing face climbing to get out, albeit on distinctly foreign knobbly pockety coralline limestone. It felt like a lonely but lovely lead, bringing the day's total to a small but intense 3 good routes.

Since I wasn't allow to buy this tiny concrete shed, I consoled myself by stealing some spring onions from the fields. Off to cook them now...

Monday, 17 January 2011

Malteser 5.

Today we climbed slabs. Lots of slabs. Very slabby proper slabs. 30m with good gear at 15m and then a 15m runout full of 1/3 first joint razor rugosity slabs. Yup, those sort of slabs, well to start anyway. The warm up for the 15/15 runout route was an 18/12 runout route, with a crucial wire slot that crucial 3m higher. I placed a wire in this slot and tried to back it up with another one. I peered into the slot. A beady and belligerent eye peered back at me. Gulp. For some reason I panicked thinking it might be a giant spider, despite being a beady slit eye not a beady compound eye. This got me moving fast on the runout, but abseiling back down confirmed it was a firmly entrenched lizard. Hurrah. We also saw a turtle in the sea which was totally super-awesome and did not interfere with any gear placements.

Later we moved on to the slightly more conventional HT Gully slabs, which were even better. Shorter but more gear and a steeper, holdier angle. Truly a gem for girls who like crimpy slabs, and me. We basked, padded, and rocked over until our feet were aching. I attempted to round out the evening with a funky and bizarre roof climb, to give my feet a rest. It was all going swimmingly until cranking on a spikey jug round the final roof, when my heelhook slipped. "No problem", I thought, "I'll just swing free on the jug, chalk up, blow my fingers, and place heel better". Alas this cunning plan depended on the jug staying attached. It didn't, and neither did I. Was this punishment from the Slab Gods for attempting such a heretical angle of climb on The Day Of Slabbiness?? Or a reward from the Beef Olive Gods for completing last night's feast and increasing my mass even more??

Anyway, 5 great slab routes. Woohoo.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Malteser 4.

Today, we climbed. AND, we did culture. But not too much culture, and only after a plentiful day swinging around on pocketed overhangs. First up was the escarpment of Victoria Lines (I'm pretty sure I've spelt this one right ;)), an ancient Hadrians-esque fortified ridge. Like Wieb Badu it is an undulating pockety white limestone, but somehow more fun despite it's relatively diminutive size. Route scale was gritstone-like, but skin-friendly knobbly pockets up wee bulging faces provided a jolly good jape. We were hosting an English lass for the day so mixed and matched and a good time was had by all. Although I finished on a slightly bum note, failing on a roofy prow thing due to an obdurately ill-fitting nut and subsequent terminal pump, and then bashed my thumbnail on the ground during the ensuing micro-tantrum. Ah well, another 3 good routes.

After dropping said lass off at the airport and using the impending flight departure as an excuse to further my Malta driving apprenticeship (which is coming on rather well except for my persistence in actually indicating), we headed to the fortified cathedral town on Mdida. This is indeed quite splendid, the creamy sandstone walls reflecting a delightful evening sun through the maze of narrow streets, and the ostentatious extravagance of the cathedral contrasting ironically with the relatively low-key status of the rest of the island. After all God expects nothing but the finest decor in his name... Here are a couple of photos I liked:

Finally we finished with a touristy but pleasant meal adjacent to Mdida, and I ticked the first of my 3 Malta food ticks - beef olives (the others being rabbit stew and ricotta & pea filled pastry nibbles). This however was no ordinary beef olive, it was colossal sauce-drenched LOG of a beef olive that would have Baldrick ineptly scribbling odes to it's girth. I am still burping up the taste.

And today, in honour of having a 3rd person to take photos, I broke out my £1.99 sports vest from Decathlon, as part of trying to get clothes that I don't overheat in but still stand out in photos. I'm sure you'll agree it's a winning combination with the tights...

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Malteser 3.

Today, we climbed some more. Ghar Lapsia (sp!). It was good. Better than yesterday. Sunnier, windier, better views, more dramatic routes - mostly short but action packed. The rock was more familiar Euro-lime, but also with a crimpy slab thrown in. OMG. Girls love crimpy slabs and so do I. As I've found out, Scotland doesn't really specialise in accessible slabs. Neither does Malta but it does have a few highly reputed areas, and while today's slabby section wasn't highly reputed, it provided plenty of stimulation on a delectable pitch with one bit of good gear half way up the initial 18m section... The steeper stuff was equally fun, with some sport, thready pseudo-sport, and good trad. All in all a fine day, with 6 more varied routes.

I saw two shedded snake skins, but no snakes. Also two oil rigs, but still no sense to the local driving.

I'm on the local soft drink, Kinnie. Waaay nicer than the beer. It tastes like 40% coke, 40% root beer, 20% angastora bitters. Unlike 100% stale ass-sweat.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Malteser 2.

Today, we climbed. We went to Wieb Badu (sp!) which is a well reputed area. It was cool in the shade and warm in the sun. The giant India shaped fallen block was a cool feature. The crag itself was not as good as it looked from the long distance topo-shots, which turned had turned vaguely rambling slabs into sheer faces. Slightly dusty pockety rock made for odd gear but reasonable climbing. The sport routes were better fun, and some of the easier routes looked good too, but easy climbing is a waste of precious grade chasing time so I didn't bother ;). The sunnier side was shorter, steeper, oranger, juggier, more properly trad, and slightly more fun, and made for a good evening finale. It was warm enough for me to break out the stockings/shorts combo early ;).

5 routes, 2 sport and 3 trad, mostly cool. I was going to write about them but I can't be arsed....suffice to say it was a good warm up day.

We met some very cute kitties on the way back, I tried to steal one but they were too shy.

Malta feels pretty exotic compared to other places I've visited - lots of flat roofs, lots of chaotic buildings, lots of archaic churchs and monuments. It's cool.

The roads are still mental. It's lucky the island is small as the road markings and signposts make Spanish roads look informative.

The Maltese are friendly and do good English. They don't do lane discipline and don't seem to do supermarkets either, but the local shops are nice enough.

The local shandy is considerably better than the local beer.

Mmmm dinner was good. I am full of sausage. Sleep soon...

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Malteser 1.

Maltesers in Malta, the obvious combination. This will be a trip diary thing. It doesn't need explaining does it...

On the 5:30 am train to Manchester Airport. I've just snagged a strap on my rudebwoy jeans and torn a huge slit down the side. I might have to buy new jeans at the airport and I bet they only have normal ones BLEEUURGGHH. Also there is no wifi on this train which is bloody barbaric. On the plus side a DNBTV live DJ Trace mix is sounding pretty good through my Sennheiser headphones I liberated from British Airways decades ago when they still gave out good headphones (and when people still travelled by non-budget airlines ;)).

Later....borrowed a stapler at airport and fixed jeans - potential normal-jeans-wearing catastrophe averted. Good flight full - but not very full - of old people and obese people and sometimes both at once. Revised the guidebook thoroughly and feel asleep listening to an old skool hard trance mix from M-Zone.

Now in Malta. The weather is pleasant and warm. The island is reassuringly small. No-one indicates when driving and last minute lane changes are de rigeur. The guy I'm climbing with seems nice. He is Canadian, I am quite used to the accent from SC2 sessions with VULTURE and DRAKE. The hostel is pleasant enough and has wifi. The local beer is foul. It looks like dilute piss and tastes like it's been brewed with dishwater.

I am syked for climbing.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

For fuck's sake, not again.

2nd one in the space of a year (albeit the previous one was much older).

Beastly strong or just a good wanking hand?? Hmmmm.

Credit to Decathlon, they replaced it despite my lack of receipt. Back to my standard warm-ups then.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


2010 felt like returning to some sort of normality - adjusting to life after DVTs, getting back into climbing after that time out, and settling into Scotland after a rough and rocky move to Glasgow. I'm still quite a way from the sort of normality I want to live in, including in climbing exploration, travelling, fitness, pro-activity, action, and social life. I'm intending 2011 to be a year of building determinedly on last year's foundations, and revelling in the pleasure and personal happiness that will bring.

So far I have completely failed to start doing that and have mostly been behaving in the opposite way to how I'd like to and what brings me pleasure. I'm hoping setting out some intentions will encourage me to have more focus...

Climbingwise my intentions are as follows:

1. Keep in touch with friends and partners better and organise myself more proactively.

2. Get to somewhere interesting over Easter (Pedriza? Alscace?), and over summer (Scandinavia? South Africa? Hatun Machay?).

3. Week long trip to Lewis, several days sea-cliffing in Skye, long weekend in Caithness, long weekend in Mull over winter/spring.

4. Get to Merionydd & Lleyn when weather is bolleaux in Scotland.

5. Keep exploring cool places in Scotland.

6. Explore more bouldering over winter: Torridon, Reiff, Skye, Mull, Inverness, Aberdeen, Trossachs, Northumberland, Carrock Fell, Gouther, St Bees.

7. Climb a few E5s.

8. Climb a few F7a+s.

9. Keep fit at gym, pool, and wall.

10. Lose 1 stone via the above.

I'll write more about some of these in following updates.

Critical Addendum

Apparently a few people actually read this blog, because I've had a couple of comments that my last post was unduly focused on negative aspects of my climbing trip. This is neither the intention nor the case, as it was focused on how I can improve, and on that trip there were a couple of things to learn from slightly unusual mistakes. Nevertheless I take the point that it is equally wise to learn from what one did right (I'm sure I've posted as much in the past), so here's some things I did right:

  • Training well for the trip beforehand via gym, routes, and bouldering. This helped me feel good physically.

  • Resting well when I had gayflu, so although I was still recovering, I had enough energy to climb well.

  • Good choice of warm-up routes. I chose routes to the level I felt happy with that day, and chose ones that would not tire me out too much.

  • Having the right inspiration. I stuck to routes that inspired me the most, so was prepared to put more effort in, rather than just climbing for the sake of it.

  • Resting well between routes at the crag.

  • En-route resting. I made good use out of milking rests and shakeouts.

  • Waiting for the right conditions. A couple of times I waited for shade and took advantage of cooler conditions.

  • Confidence doing moves. I generally felt okay going for it and not too bothered about short slumps on the rope.

  • Pulling quite hard. I noticed myself, when the holds were positive enough, cranking quite hard.

  • Exploring different options when a crux seemed unfeasible. This got me up a couple of routes that could have gone awry otherwise.

There you go :)

Monday, 3 January 2011

Critical Analysis.

4 days... the Costa Blanca. Gosh I do like going away on climbing trips. After a few weeks of training and a very sedate week recovering from gayflu and christmassing, touching down in Spain in a sunnily warm yet expansively fresh evening felt almost like....coming home. Despite the familiar homogenity of the climbing and the lack of any particular loyality for the area, the prospect of a few days guaranteed intense climbing with a wide choice of crags had a sense of inherent rightness. I sometimes forget that while the Costa Blanca has a very "Rockfax-clutching Brits abroad" mundanity to it, it is also very good - including the scenery, the splendour of which transcends the mercifully out-of-season hellholes of Benidorm which it overlooks.

This time I got to explore 4 new crags and do some pretty good climbing in good company. I found that I failed to achieve my hopes but exceeded my expectations.

On the plus side I overcame my gayflu pretty quickly, indeed the first day climbing in the sun I could feel it fading away throughout the day. My finger held up fine, and I felt physically good after a few weeks training. My head wasn't bad either. And I did a few cool and challenging routes.

On the minus side, I failed on a few routes including some that were really inspiring, and I might benefit from pondering more over those. I know what I did right (training, pacing, rest, enthusiasm, route choice), but what could I have done better?

Route 25 F7a, Murla
What went wrong? Foot slipped off boulder problem start.
What could I have done? Not clipped the bolt so I could boulder it out, re-warmed up better, fought harder.
How can I improve that? Accept that a bouldery route really IS bouldery, and prepare better for unduly hard moves.

Ozzie F7a, Echo Valley
What went wrong? Didn't trust tiny polished pinch and slumped onto rope.
What could I have done? Given the move a try anyway as I was by the bolt, slapped my hand to remove chalk and sweat.
How can I improve that? Focus on trying anyway even if I'm sure I won't succeed, as there is nothing to lose.

Muca Muca F7a, Pego
What went wrong? I was midway through doing the crux move and just sagged off due to lack of precision as I was surprised I was actually doing it.
What could I have done? Realised I was climbing quite well and actually stayed focused.
How can I improve that? Have a wee think about how I am climbing at a particular time and adjust my expectations and focus accordingly.

Teto F7a(F7a+/b), Pego
What went wrong? Tried crux but couldn't get comfortable to clip and slumped on rope. Tried crux after and still too hard above.
What could I have done? Not much as I couldn't have flashed the whole crux, but I could have felt around more on the hold.
How can I improve that? Try to get into habit of remembering I can push myself further, and keep feeling around and trying moves.

Sesion De Noche F6c, Barranc L'Avern
What went wrong? Missed a hidden jug and slumped onto rope.
What could I have done? Felt around more, trusted I would have enough strength to keep going, tried move without jug.
How can I improve that? Try to get into habit of remembering I can push myself further especially if a rest is coming up, and keep feeling around and trying moves.

Mitja Via F6c+(F7a), Barranc L'Avern
What went wrong? Fell off one move from easy ground due to utter exhaustion.
What could I have done? Very little, I had pushed very hard through several on/off moves. It was close tho.
How can I improve that? Try to eek out a bit more mental focus, and probably keep breathing as well as chalking/shaking out.

In general: The two main things I can work on improving are realising how well I am climbing and staying focused on climbing well at that level, and trying improbable moves when I feel mentally comfortable doing so. So from this trip I can take the pleasure of what I did, and the potential of what I can do in future...