Thursday, 30 January 2014
So a rare return match for me - but to a fascinating (and frustrating!) area that definitely warrants it, and will warrant more in future... My goal had been to climb in better conditions, and hopefully climb some routes around F6c (most likely) or F7a (my usual comfortable onsight limit). I sort of did that, it was a close thing.
The final score of pure slabs: climbed / failed after proper attempt:
F6b: 3 / 2*
F6b+: 2** / -
F6c: 1 / 2
F6c+: 3 / 3***
F7a: - / 2****
* - one failed route actually F7a
** - one success actually F6c+
*** - one fail partly due to heat, one fail partly due to scrittle
**** - one fail due to missing good hold
(the rest cos they were fucking nails and I wasn't good enough....no excuses)
Not a great success rate but not a bad one either. Being foiled by some circumstances - heat on day 1, icy cold on day 5 - and a few avoidable mistakes - gives me a bit of reassurance that I was starting to do okay. More importantly I was finding it even more interesting than before. So yeah, I plan to go back, quick hit style, not least because one's fingertips only last a maximum of 4 days!!. Later or earlier in winter, last minute flights on a good forecast, camping cabin....who is up for it??
Further to my previous flailings, I have learnt a few more tricks of the trade this time:
1. Be prepared for mind-numbing levels of difficulty. Even around the F6c mark where routes start to be one grade undergraded rather than several, the continuously thin desperation is a real shock to the system. What might form 3-4m of crux climbing between breaks in a gritstone E4 is extended to 20m with no respite on a Pedriza F6b+. Be warned!
2. Conditions are crucial, in particular a light breeze is essential. Given La Pedriza is the foot-mountains of a 2000m range rising above the Madrid plateau, this is usefully likely.
3. Marking footholds is useful in a sea of obtusely homogenous granite crystals, but more importantly marking a wide variety of footholds to give a choice of moves once committed.
4. Feeling around for handholds is essential. One never knows when a useful 1/5 pad ripple might be hiding behind those same dastardly crystals.
5. Tight shoes with a bit of an edge seem to be marginally more useful than soft smearing shoes. The former can work better on the pure friction sections than the latter can work on the tiny crystal / gratton sections.
6. Chalking and drying one's thumbs can be very useful, both for tiny thumb crystals (essentially pinching a blank slab!), and thumb press mantles.
7. A slick rope and an alert belay are really useful. Although most slabs are well bolted, the constant insecurity can make pulling up rope to clip scarier than actual trad climbing!
8. Never relax until the chain is clipped. Even the easier sections are only "less hard" rather than easy, and still entirely fluffable.
9. Physical training for high steps / single leg presses, and flexibilty are the most important. Calf / leg press training seemed less useful - generally my calves didn't get tired although my feet did.
10. Slab training should ideally include very small crystals / grattons (as common a difficulty as the smears), and also side-stepping on slabs as well as high-stepping, as many routes weave a bit to find the least awful non-holds.
Hopefully I can get down to the grit soon and put some of this into practise...
Wednesday, 29 January 2014
All mashed in to one because not a lot happened:
Patones limestone of no real consequence although I did do a really nice route with a proper deep mono crux and a big undercling span finish. I spent most of the day feeling sick because I'd had too much coffee and not enough food, and Antonio twatted his A2 pulley on the 2nd route of the afternoon. Mierda.
F6b - succeeded - F6b+? - tenuous 6a smearing crux
F6b - succeeded - F6b+? - continuous 5c for many metres
The perfect continental winter sun day: climbing at 1200m, in the shade, on frozen rock, with a icy NW wind howling down from snowcapped peaks at 2200m.... ummmmm. For a brief moment, while there was a briefer respite in the gale, the conditions felt like the best friction conditions ever, perfectly dry and perfectly crisp. Which made if all the more galling to have to walk away from a well bolted sheet of F6c-F6c+ slabs after just one "warm-up" route. So we went around to a sunny face on the far side of the massif and did one route in very pleasant temperatures, clipped the first bolt on another route, and then it snowed. Mierda.
V5 - succeeded - slab in 5 goes - classic bloc problem
F6b+ - succeeded - F6b+ - vertical face, sharp
F6c+ - failed - F6c+ - vertical face, jump crux for the short, silly
F7a - failed - F7a - vertical face, mis-read crux
E1 5b - succeeded - E1 5b - offwidth, good fun
F6c+ - failed - F6c+ - did all cruxes but slipped off scrittle at top
The forecast for Pedriza itself so we diverted to a small local area at an outskirt town, a mini-Pedriza....a Pedrizita! This was okay and we climbed most of the day whilst god knows what sort of precipitation hit the main area. The highlight was a beautiful slab boulder problem, with either good handholds (1/3 pad single crystals), or good footholds (1/3 pad micro-smears), but never both. The F7a failure was disappointing as it was a good climb and a simple mistake, the F6c+ was also disappointing as I'd done some proper Pedriza desperation on it and just got too casual on the top - it would have been a good punctuation to the trip. Mierda.
Today would have been Day 7 and the current weather is cool cloudy and fresh, just a pity about the big dump of snow on Pedriza last night. Skiing down the slabs would be more feasible than climbing up so that is the end of that. Mierda....but it's still been a good trip...
Saturday, 25 January 2014
A bit of this (shocking success), a bit of that (merciless failure)...
F6a - succeeded -F6a+? - by the skin of my teeth, felt like solid 5c for several metres.
F6b+ - succeeded - F6b+ - fierce 6a start, delicate above.
F6c+ - succeeded - F6c+ - vertical bouldering with rests, not the usual weirdness.
F6c+ - failed - F6c+/7a - pure desperation on non-existent micro-holds
F7a - failed - F7a - hard but missed hold in break, doh.
F6c+ - succeeded - F6c+/c - maybe even soft touch? Bouldery but brief.
F6c - failed - ungradeable - 8m of pure friction with every move English 6a.
The successes were sometimes not pure slab stuff but still good fun. Some of these were not pure failures due to pure mierda de las cabras grading, and thus some of them were a bit annoying. The F6c+ was ridiculously hard moves so that's that. The F7a was very close and I think I would have done it if I'd looked around more (maybe easier said that done when your eyes are on stalks from all the slab desperation), and the abominable F6c, well it was a surreally desperate experience but I only slipped off randomly a few moves from salvation. BLEH.
Learnings today included that: I really like griffon vultures and goats, breeze is crucial for optimum friction, Balvennie Double Wood tastes pretty nice at the crag, I am a bit hampered by my inflexible right ankle from an old break, very subtle variances in angle make a huge difference on friction slabs, and some of Pedriza is still as fucking random as ever.
Tomorrow....will I have any skin left??
Friday, 24 January 2014
....kinda went like this:
F6a - succeeded - F6a-ish - 5c start then padding
F6b - succeeded - F6b-ish - 6a start then padding.
F6c - fell off thin start - F6c bloc - not inspiring
F6a+ - succeeded - F6b/+ - scary friction
F6b+ - succeeded - F6c+, 10m of sustained 6a/5c, mentally draining
F6c+ - succeeded - F6c+ - hard but fair
F6c+ - succeeded - F6c+ - thinly crimpy but fair
F7a - fell off hard crux - F7a - similar but stretchier crux
So I did the sort of thing I have been aspiring to do. It helped a bit that conditions were amazing later on - proper grit friction style - the F6b+ was mind-warpingly hard and "warmed me up" (i.e. I had to sit down and shake a bit afterwards), and both F6c+s were really very good, the first one being perfectly balanced immaculate slab desperation. The main conclusion I can draw from this and previous experiences, so far, is that the Pedriza grade reality goes something like:
F6a = F6b
F6a+ = F6b+
F6b+ = F6c
F6c = F6c
F6c+ = F6c+
F7a = F7a??
Below F6c is such bollox that I might as well not try "easier" routes apart from token warm-ups as they are just as hard as the harder routes?? Too tired to draw any more conclusions for now....dunno what will happen tomorrow but I will try to keep an open beginner's mind.
Thursday, 23 January 2014
2011. Easter. 20+°C temps every day. No slab practise. No training. Completely unprepared. Pedriza slabs were unbelievably hard, F6a was desperate, F6b was my limit (compared to F6c/7a elsewhere).
2014. Mid-winter. 5-10°C forecast daily. Some very reassuring slab mileage on grit and in Scotland. Specific gym training for calves and leg presses. Very aware of the challenges. Pedriza slabs ARE unbelievably hard....
F6a+ slab - succeeded - F6b? Sustained English 5c
F6b slab - failed - F6b+/c? Sustained 5c/6a - slipped off by making a slight foot mistake near the top.
F6c slab - failed - F6c? 6a crux - fell off trying a slightly wrong line, could have done it
F6c+ slab - failed - ??? - fell off a very hard crux with a hidden hold.
F6b slab - failed - F7a? Sustained 6a/b(!) - fell off after 5m of the hardest slab climbing I have ever done on lead.
F6c+ face - failed - ??? - fell off a desperate (6b?) rockover at start.
F6c steep wall - cruised - F6b/+ Easy.
But maybe I'm not good at slabs? Maybe I haven't done enough slabs recently? Except in my 2013 Of Climbing The Best I Ever Had, I did plenty of good varied slabs in the autumn and winter. According to the Rockfax conversion for bold routes (which gives relatively lower sport grades), some recent ascents look like this:
DIY E3 6a - F6b+ - English 6a solo crux at 4m
Stanleyville E4 5c - F6b+ - 5c cruxes before and next to poor cam
The Beautician E3/4 5c - F6b - 5c crux runout from good fear
Hunky Dory E3 5c - F6b - 5b/c finish with gear by feet
4 Pebble Slab E3 5c - F6a+/b - 5b friction moves 5m above gear
Nijinski E5 6a - F6c/+ - 5c/6a rockover and swing with distant side-gear
On The Verge E3/4 5c - F6b - one 5c crux next to gear, a bit of bold 5b
Risque Grapefruit E4 5c - F6b+ - blind 5c crux with 10m groundfall
Triode E5 6a - F6c - a couple of steady 6a moves with distant side-gear
On The Beach E5 6a - F6c+ - 6m runout of sustained 5c/6a
Wall Of Flame E4 6a - F6c/+ - 5m runout of continuous 5c
Rosehearty route E3 5c - F6b/+ - a few positive 5c moves
Riders On The Storm E3 5c - F6b - 5b/c with bad gear
Scimitar route E3 5c - F6b - a few fiddly 5b/c moves with okay gear
In short, I have been cruising runout F6b and regularly doing bold F6c with enough determination. So actual F6b / F6c sport slabs should be okay??.......Hmmmmm!!
So that's day one and I the one thing I am now fully confident of is that Pedriza grades are pure mierda de las cabras.
Not sure what will happen in subsequent days but I am trying to treat it as a learning process....even if I have to do small numbers, it should be great training for slabs back home.
Further updates as I learn enough Spanish swearing to describe it!
Friday, 17 January 2014
Facebook could do an awful lot to sort their shit out: Cut into their quadrillion dollar profits and reduce the advert spam a little, make photo album organisation less vomitously awful, either stop treating their users like cattle or at least stop the facetious pretence that they aren't, make the world's biggest site even the slightest bit user-friendly (although I bet if you're an advertiser spunking money down their throat it's set up as slickly and smoothly as an oiled seal). But the one thing I'd really like is to have some auto-filter for posted photographs that immediately blocks winter climbing photos. Plenty of my Facebook friends I'm sure are lovely people and I've found them great fun to be with for 8 months of the year, but winter climbing is a repugnant turd of an activity and I don't really need to see photos of it any more than I need to see photos of over-priced bike parts or baby's first potty success or what it looks like sharing a pint with some other people I don't know, or any other paint-drying visual sleeping pills. Hang on a sec, let me email Dulux and see what they have in their "Extra Slow Drying With No Colour Nor Texture Change" range. I know what a snowy cliff looks like, it looks like a cliff that is too fucked up with snow and ice to be worth climbing, gods winter in Scotland is bad enough without hammering it home every 5 posts. At least there is still Professor Tristram Brubaker keeping me up to date with current affairs and the Lyons posting some proper sport climbing videos, but then again Tris has been slacking off with the Daily Mash links and Lyons has started posting vegan propaganda too, something that is even more evil than winter climbing, although still some way below the instant-defriend spam of Yes Scotland hysteria posts. Still, at least there are still cat videos, can't ever get bored of cat videos.
Anyway, where was I?? Of yes, bouldering. I'm not sure it's even been a good winter for that yet, although I don't really know as I haven't been doing any until recently. It was good enough for snatch trad days before the year rolled over, and that was good enough for me. But now there is a certain grey, sapping bleakness in the air and it feels more suitable to lounge on a mat than dangle on a rope - well until I can get back down to the grit, anyway. Having done quite a lot of the most inspiring problems I can do in Scotland in recent years, I've not got that much I'm keen for without going completely off piste (a relative term given that even 3 star classics away from Dumby/Porty can fee like unclimbed problems) or commuting up to Torridon on a regular basis. So I've just been dicking around in the County a bit, or trying to at least:
Shaftoe: a fuck of a long drive as always although for once the A68 was mercifully quiet. Problems of interest were: Classic Arete, very cool and involved for an easier problem with a proper mollusc grovel to finish as the top-out was slimey (possibly more so after I'd been on it), Mini Power (above) which is an ace problem, I'd tried this before but with a full on slap off razor crimps high above a sloping landing had backed off. This time team syke and 4 pads helped although it still took a few goes and a few mm off my finger skin. Finally tried Smooth Wall again, redialled the sequence nicely but ran out of skin / daylight / will to live. I'm sure I will get it although I've realised of course it is quite morpho as lanky fucks can keep their left foot on whilst slapping again for the top, I actually have to properly rock over crimping on a low smear for my left and an even worse high smear for my right. Still maybe 3rd time lucky....
Garleigh: a 2:20 hour drive in glorious sunshine to an open and exposed craglet....to discover it is wetter than a cod's cunt?? Oh yes please that sounds fun. On the other hand it does look like a very nice gentle-heighted mileage venue, so I will be back later in the spring.
Back Bowden: by this time the glorious sunlight had faded and there wasn't long before all the light faded too. Unfortunately Mantel Misery and Mantel Masterclass were gopping too (WTF is it with the County at the moment?? Too windy in a westerly, too damp in anything that isn't a westerly...), I pottered around on some easier warm-ups, and tried: B4 Traverse - seems quite cool but needs colder conditions and I couldn't be arsed working it, Pick Pocket - absolutely laughable at V4, I could barely work out a V6 sequence that might involve a smeary dyno off a 1/5th pad 3 finger crimp, let alone anything sensible, and finally Flying Leap - which is more complete bullshit in both description and grade (positive holds? V2 dyno? Uh....HUH) but on the other hand I did work out a very cool natural V4/5 wall problem climbing up on tiny holds and tenous bridging. Ran out of daylight but I will be back for that. The roofs were too cold so will be back for those too.
Tuesday, 7 January 2014
Yes it's numbers. UGH. How coarse, how oafish, how uncouth. Well I spend 95% of the year avoiding them other than as a useful guide to a likely challenge, so forgive me if I spend a solitary post amusing myself. As the half dozen regular readers might spot I have done a lot of good climbing this year - not in terms of quantity but in terms of quality and pleasure and personal difficulty. I've not got any philosophical musings this time, just a simple list of the hardest trad routes I did, in rough order of grade band difficulty, and with a few possible corrections.
Of course I've included a more relevant and significant number - a rating out of 10 as to how much I was enjoying the climb at the time, being on the route, going through the process (even if it was hard). For most of these, it's really rather high, in fact some of them I'd have to crank the rating up to 11 to summarise how enjoyable they were ;). And that's all the justification I needed...
Lady Charlotte E5 6a ***, Dunkeld - 8/10
On The Beach E5 6a ***, Glen Nevis - 9/10
The Final Solution E5 6a ***, Creag Dubh - 9/10
The Purr-Blind Doomster E5 6a ***, Cambusbarron - 10/10+
Neart Nan Gaidheal E5 6a ***, Ardmair - 9/10
Triode E5 6a **, Glen Nevis - 10/10+
Colder Thank A Hooker's Heart E5 5c **, Creag Dubh - 10/10+
Cleopatra's Asp E5 6a **, Reiff - 10/10
Smith's Arete E5 6a *** (E4), Pass Of Ballater - 9/10
Nijinski E5 6a *** (E4), Auchinstarry - 9/10
The Prow E5 6a ** (E4), Cummingston - 9/10
Breaking Strain E4 6a *** (E5), Morocco - 10/10
Risque Grapefruit E4 5c **, Glen Nevis - 7/10
Wall Of Flame E4 6a ***, Diabeg - 10/10+
Bratach Uaine E4 6a ***, Creag Dubh - 8/10
Macdonald E4 6a **, Loch Tollaidh - 9/10
Cocaine E4 6a ***, Rosehearty - 10/10
Aesthetic Ape E4 6a **, Cummingston - 10/10
Timpani Wall E4 6a ***, Little O Wall - 9/10
Downies Syndrome E4 6a ***, Berrymuir Head - 9/10
Constipation E4 6a **, Stanage - 9/10
The Tube E4 5c ***, Back Bowden - 10/10+
Aussie Rules E4 6a ***, Ardmair - 10/10
Wally 2 E4 5c **, Ratho - 9/10
Exasperated Escapologist E4 6a ***, Ardmair - 10/10
Awesome E4 6a **, Reiff - 8/10
Deep Wells route E4 5c ***, Morocco - 9/10
Infinity E4 5c ***, Morocco - 9/10
Black September E4 6a **, Glen Lednock - 8/10
Pettifar's Wall E4 6a **, Ratho - 10/10
Stanleyville E4 5c **, Stanage - 9/10
The Beautician E4 5c ** (E3), Stanage - 9/10
On The Verge E4 5c ** (E3), Back Bowden - 9/10
Dark Island E4 6a *** (E3), Orkney - 10/10+
Public Spirited Individual E3 5c ** (E4 6a), Cambusbarron - 8/10
Economy Drive E3 6a ** (E4), Cambusbarron - 10/10
Reccoco E3/4 5c **, Little O Wall - 8/10
+ 40 odd E3s
What will happen in 2014, god only knows. I've got some ideas - Pedriza, Berdorf, Pfalz all in colder weather, more grit, more slabs, travelling or moving back down to the UK to do more Welsh and SW esoterica - but nothing particularly pressing other than doing some more great climbing if I can.
Monday, 6 January 2014
I had roast beef for Christmas dinner so had to make up the turkey quotient by going to Turkey over New Year. After a great trad year, a decent amount of training, and plenty of syke, I was hoping to focus on pushing myself and tackling some good challenges. However it turned out to be the least worthwhile trip I've been on in years (ever since the ridiculous "perfect below 0'c winter conditions somehow turning into rain that somehow froze to the rocks" Font debacle of NYE 2007). This was due to a few factors:
Firstly the weather was distinctly mixed / fairly bollox (depending on what one expects). Arrive in a torrential storm, one day of torrential rain, one dryish day, 2 sunny and 1 other dry day, one day of torrential rain and leave after another morning of light rain. That makes for 4 1/2 days climbing, out of which 3 days the conditions were suitable for choosing any route rather than only perma-dry ones.
Secondly I was climbing with a couple and a small child - albeit a very dedicated climbing couple, and I had been warned "oh climbing with them will knacker you out, you'll be doing loads of climbing while they alternate childcare". However it didn't work out like that and was actually climbing as a team of 3 with mixed abilities and sometimes a kid to organise. It took me a while to adjust to that.
Thirdly it was the busiest place I can recall climbing at. The Works on a rainy Sunday?? Pffft, nothing compared to the Sarkit caves on a rainy Saturday. Obviously there was queuing for routes, having to jump on what you can whether you're ready or not, moving the family basecamp around etc. Which might have been fine if it wasn't for the fucking Russians and Ukranians, who where generally a bunch of ill-mannered imbeciles whose response to busy crags was to do laps on routes people were waiting for and set up top-ropes spanning two adjacent routes and then mumble "Yes is busy" as if that is an excuse for selfish behaviour rather than a good reason to be more considerate. Fuck off back to your Eastern Bloc shitholes as far as I am concerned.
All of which meant it was hard to warm up (I spent the first two entire days permanently cold), hard to get any momentum going, hard to get on the right routes at the right time, and hard to fit enough good climbing into shorter days. I ended up doing a few days of reasonable easy mileage and some fun face climbing - okay so F6-anything is pretty much a warm-up / descent / active-rest route, but I ended up doing them swiftly and smoothly enough. Also on the plus side, I got plenty of sleep, didn't get any more tweaky, and ate a fair bit of nice Turkish food that was generally hearty and healthy - so although I didn't progress on the trip, I didn't regress either. A good session at TCA (yup I got back and felt I needed to get training ASAP) last night has confirmed that - decent skin and surprisingly "Not Weak".
The highlight of the trip?? This...
MR DRIBBLE! The guesthouse was festooned with both pampered indoor cats and adequately fed outdoor cats, and as well as Mr Fluff, Ms Pretty Cat, and Tiny Black Cat With A Huge Purr, Mr Dribble was a personal favourite. His evening rounds of going from lap to lap alternated with flopping on the floor and displaying a fine pair of ginger marbles for all to see. Most guests were amused, while I was quite happy to have some cat therapy and didn't even mind him "washing" my climbing wounds with a damp nose (hey the showers were often only luke-warm anyway). He even ended up perched on my hire car the day I left to say goodbye. Well goodbye Mr Dribble, goodbye Turkey (not sure I'd go back unless it was perfect conditions at a quiet time - I can get a much easier generic Euro-lime fix in Spain), hello equally rainy Glasgow and hello more training and hopefully some sneaky days out on sandstone and grit??