Tuesday, 26 August 2014



Some sleep, some time relaxing and downloading some top quality dark minimal techno means my thoughts have....shifted on from the trouble of yesterday. They make a bit more sense than before, and I've learnt some stuff:

Taking a beanie for rest ledges is a pretty smart idea.

I can still do one leg squats from cold, sometimes the best warm-up!

My new tiny BD Offset swedges are nice and a bit more inspiring than the brass versions.

I can do an alleged 6b move on lead, probably because it's easy 6a. So that technical grade should be as widely encompassing as 6a is.

I can do an alleged E5 section of climbing well, probably because it's only E4 with a skyhook and common sense.

I can get myself into the state to commit to both of the above even when feeling a bit perturbed and ropey.

I can commit to moves and pull reasonably hard on holds....if there are holds. I was pulling pretty fucking hard yesterday but there weren't holds for 3 of my limbs, and that was the problem - features and friction and gritstone style climbing. I was fully going for the moves and if I'd had any sort of pullable hold I might have got through it. So if I keep wary of grit-style dolerite at the moment, there is hope.

As always I'm doing a lot with logistics and tactics to compensate for being fat and weak. This is good but I need to do it right. I was complacent with the upper part of BR/N because I'd done it before. I was casual and rushed into it because I "knew I could do it". Casual is good for safe easy ground and complacent is good for nothing. Preparing a bit better would have helped - not the gnawing away like I did with the issues of the other cruxes, but at least an acknowledgement that all of a challenging climb requires attention. 

I might feel calm enough to put some of that into action...

Monday, 25 August 2014

Time to try??

I think?? I don't know. I thought I did but maybe I don't.

I've been a good boy this summer. I've realised that my physical ability is waning whilst my trad climbing ability is holding steady, so I've kept training and tried to keep fit. I haven't had many days out but on most of them I've done a challenging route or two. When I've trained in the meantime I've felt I'm holding steady with all physical aspects, rather than regressing. So far, so groundwork.

I've still got many inspirations in Scotland, albeit fewer than before last year's great climbing. As the numbers dwindle, the numbers increase - most of the remaining routes are "hard for me". I haven't wanted to get on them in mid-summer but now the weather is cooling down a bit, the window of sensible attempts has opened....but of course it will shut again in a couple of months.

So maybe now is the right time to try a bit harder, get on some more desirable and incidentally more difficult routes.

Except after this evening's debacle I'm not so sure. I tried something "hard for me", Bladerunner Direct at Auchinstarry. I put a lot of thought and attention and emotional turmoil into this - visits spent just looking and playing around on the bottom wall, visualisations of sequences and logistics, buying a BD Offset Swedge for the one bit of possible gear as my old HB 00 offset looked too soft. I played around more and worked through worries about the lower wall (supposed crux) and the Bladerunner mantle (supposedly serious without the very high BR siderunner). The evening was dry with a cool breeze, my partner was actually the first ascentionist of BR, I'd reassured myself that falling off the lower wall would still give me the option of doing BR itself, so the omens were good enough to get on it.

The supposed lower crux was committing but easy, the mantle was committing but easy. I was thrilled to get those mental hurdles out of the way, although in retrospect they add nothing to the objective difficulty of the original route, but maybe a bit to the quality? Resting for ages and fiddling gear for ages in the "just out of view for the 5'8" climber" micro-slot, I recovered almost all my poise and focus. Now I just had the technical but protectable crux of BR....which turns out to be the overall crux of BRD and it's pretty hard but eventually I cranked through it to the pocket where Nijinski joins the route....I never had any worries about the final moves from there, I'd already done them blind and with distant gear. Except....except....I'm on the pocket, tiny cam in, doing the layback....except I'm not, I'm sliding, my left-hand is slipping one slap up one slap down my foot won't go on the ripple I'm compressing so much I'm surprised my wrists don't crack and I'm OFF.......

I can't believe it - and those are the only words I can say for several minutes. I'm not angry, I can't even describe my feelings, my mind and vocal chords incoherent with shock and disappointment. So much mental wrestling and determination invested into three anticipated cruxes and I somehow fell off the easy bit. Actually, I DO know how. When I did Nijinski it was December and crisp, today was August and although there was a cool breeze it was warm rock from the prow's usual sunbathing - fine for gaston rockovers and positive mantles and square-cut layaways to pockets, but obviously unsuitable for slopey arete layaways when all chalk has been ground off by the previous powerful crux. My friend Tris and I had discussed harder dolerite and concluded to treat it more like quarried grit....and like quarried grit the oft-positivity can fool you into getting involved when warm edges feel okay and suddenly surprise slopers don't. I abseiled down and the arete felt rubbish.

Anyway I tried a bit harder and found the easy bits can be as hard as the hard bits. Logistics and tactics are often about the planning and pacing and balance of easy and hard bits and god knows how I feel about that now.

Hmmmm. Mostly....tired, I think.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Aberdeen Angles.

Steep, steep or steep?? I did find a nice slab but I was on my own and although it was vaguely soloable the jagged rock-shelf landing sloping straight into the sea with whatever broken limbs would still be attached put me off so I moved swiftly on to the next day with PJ and onto the steepness. The highlight of the day being some good honest Wet Pussy, a route that curiously enough is described (presumably in the Deep Water guide) by Rockfax as "soloable" despite jagged rock-shelves perching below the 8m high off-balance crux as well as a rib to bounce off before you get there. Maybe at a high tide you might have a metre or so of water to not-cushion the fall, but the obvious conclusion is: Rockfax can be fucking idiots and the inability to edit their fallacious descriptions on the UKC database is a fucking farce. Anyway I led the route - if the amount of faffing around and up-and-down-climbing I did can be described as a conventional lead - and it was very good with a fully committing crux.

Since gently overhanging trad is not nearly enough, we retired to Long Slough to attempt Bob's Overhang. I tried to warm-up by traversing around and climbing up and down to the crux a couple of times which resulted in a feeling exactly like trying to warm-up at TCA on Core and Holdz holds - raw hands, sore inner joints, and a rapidly diminishing will to climb anything. I've been training a lot recently, indoor leading, bouldering, and gym-work, just to get strong enough for this sort of malarkey, and lo and behold it still seemed utterly fucking desperate. So I backed off, PJ went for it and fell off, and we concluded it was nails and I'm only coming back after several weeks of prior 30 & 45° board specific training, obviously what I'd expect to have to do to get up a route at a grade I climb every week this summer????

Of course this is the coast and the usual rules don't apply - which keeps the locals happy but does mean that normal climbers have to change their perceptions a bit. I haven't pushed myself in the area for nearly a year (I blame my friends up there for spawning and thus having much less time to climb) so it will take a bit of getting used to again. I'm not sure why I've neglected Scotland's most significant rainshadow but I've got some psyche back now and it goes like this:

Running Wild, Craig Stirling - because I like the style (boulder problem to a rest to a wild finish) and it's an amazing line. I'm still quite worried how desperate the start looks, I've taken a photo of the lower wall to train for it!
The Pugilist dir, Floor's Craig - because despite failing on the original way starting up the MM groove, I never even got the to Pugilist proper so the arete direct start is game on! And it looks cool.
Prehistoric Monster, Earnsheugh - because I really like Earnsheugh climbing, this looks great.
Necromancer, Earnsheugh - Same as above, I've abbed down it many times with my gaze averted, but glimpses across from Death Cap make it look great.
Pow Pow, Pow Kebuck - because I've finally found it on this weekend's recce, and it looks really rather cool, a nice off-piste aim.
Who Dares Wings It / Where Seagulls Dare, Johnsheugh - cos Johnsheugh is good and I want to do more there.
Bob's Overhang, Long Slough - because....I don't really know. It still might be possible. Maybe.
Africa Face, Longhaven - because now I've learnt to slap for holds above gear, this might be possible for me, plus it's a great bit of rock.
Waltzinblack, Red Tower - because I tried before and backed off just because it was too warm, I'm sure it would be fine and a nice bit of rock.

Gah, that's quite a lot (cunningly all non-tidal and mostly quick drying, god knows I'll need all the help I can with the ever-fickle conditions up there). I better keep training then!!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Distilling it down...

If the pleasure of a whole single route is not specific enough, how far can one refine and distill down the experience?? 

Starting...the day...

A quick hit single day trip down to the Lakes, sandwiched between two days of relentless summer showers, the only evidence of which was one tiny 18" long seepage streak on an otherwise bone dry crag in fresh breezy conditions. A clear plan with Adam, easy back up options, a reasonable start and a triple shot of coffee crammed into one Costa Express Regular size cup. Some high quality techno and a relatively lack of Lakes bumbly driver queues got us to Bowderstone Crag in good time.

Distilling it further...the crag...

A singlularly impressive buttress that does for harder trad what it's fallen sibling The Bowderstone does for harder bouldering. I'd never been before as it's not exactly the Borrowdale venue of choice for the low-extreme leader, but Wheels Of Fire had been inspiring me for a couple of years now, whilst Adam had the monumental choice between an E7 6b with F7a/+ climbing and very spaced gear, or an E6 6c with F7c/+ climbing and no less than 18 (!) pegs. Scary or sporting? At least my choice was simple, although it took a while to get over the badly timed caffeine crash and get on with it.

Distilling it further...the route...

Two pitches, the bounding corner of the lower half of Hell's Wall, and the shield of rock overlooking it above. I'd seen a few comments on UKC about doing the top pitch only, but of course I wanted to do the whole lot in one go. 30 minutes later hanging on badly placed wires in the god-awful steep, slippery, painful groove perched just near enough to the easy slab below to guarantee twatting it on rope stretch from the awkward and exhausting moves, I could see why people only did the top pitch, given it's accessible by 2 minutes of scrambling. Could I deal with the horror and shame of not getting the full tick?? Well why not do the classic top pitch and see how it feels??

Distilling it further...the pitch...

The belay - already tested from Adam warming us up on Vahalla, another miserably awkward thrutch up a steep slippery corner, with possible the worst move in Borrowdale as the crux - offers a good launching pad and a great view along the hanging wall and the gibbering leader i.e. ME. It seems to be steady climbing to a slabbifying lip and then a sheer crux above. Instead it turns out to be continuously technical climbing even to get out there, in retrospect the high standard of climbing (not a move below 5b) is very good, but at the time it feels like I'm in at the deep end and doggy paddling for my life. But I fiddle in enough gear and contrive some sort of shake-out perched above the void.

Distilling it further...the situation...

I guess the shake-out must have been good because I was there for a typically long time. Calming down, cooling down, fiddling in more gear - 5 bits in the seam to the right of me. On photos on UKC I could see the gear some way right of the crux on one rope, and assumed there must be something on the left rope much closer to the crux.... No, no there wasn't. Sure the gear was good but testing it would involve getting a good view of the Hellish crux a long way below. On with the climbing then.

Distilling it further...the set-up...

The crux is a long reach apparently. The other crux is also a long reach. A high bridge and long stretch gains an unmatchable edge still some way off the next good crimp rail. I still don't want to test the fall just yet, so more shaking and teetering and swapping pump in my arms and feet. My brain isn't too pumped yet as I change to a tinier, closer foothold and make the stretch, and extended scrabbling gets me fully committed on the main rail. It's good but there's little time and even less reason to hang around and think about it.

Distilling it further...the move...

I look up....and higher up still and see the next hold. Feet up and out in another high bridge, but this time it's beyond stretching. I coil up for a lunge....without looking sideways, my brain visualises the gear a little bit down and a long way right, my awareness acknowledges the fall potential, my memory recalls 3 days ago at Ratho, doing falling practise as I do almost every session. Bolt beneath my feet, looking down, dropping into space. The familiarity with that situation quietens down most of my concerns about the fall, and the thoughts have passed through my mind in fractions of seconds. I slap upwards.

Distilling it further...the hold...

Even committing, even slapping, I'm not sure that I will make it. Even getting the hold, I'm not sure that I have. It's good, I think, well that's what half a first joint on the sharp lip is telling me. I micro-slap again, am I on or off? Still on. Another micro-slap, I'm pretty sure I'm on? Another adjustment and match and I've held it. Scream up to a good loose jug, slap a sling over it, spend a couple of minutes hyperventilating and trying to remove the flash pump to do one easy 5b finish move in a couple of seconds.

All concerns or queries or regrets about the first pitch or the faff or anything else are gone. All that matters are those moments of catching and re-catching and re-catching the edge until I had it. One move, one hold, one hand, I can still imagine the feeling beneath my fingertips.

Of course, I am really happy with the route because it is brilliant. 15 metres of top quality wall climbing and spacewalking. I'm even happier committing to a slap above gear. Last year I slapped for a hold with a bolt beneath my feet, this year I slapped for a hold with trad gear beneath my feet. That is pretty special to me. 3 years ago I'd have got to the first crux and backed off it, unwilling to commit to even that. 2 years ago I'd have done the first crux and then slumped sideways off that, unwilling to risk the full fall. Last year and this year I'm able to commit to that move - well this time at least, maybe next time I will be a fanny and back off, but then again maybe not, the potential is there and that is reassuring.