Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Near hits.

I'm all too familiar with the concept with near misses. While I may not have them a lot - preferring to fail by wimping out due to dismaying cowardice, rather than pushing to nearer my limit - occasionally I try really hard, get really close, and only THEN fuck it up spectacularly. And the nearness of the miss provides even more angst than the other failures and thus lingers longer in the memory. Lying awake at night, still not quite believing that you didn't do something you so nearly did... "If I'd just caught the right bit of the hold"...."If I'd just got my foot a fraction higher"...."If I'd just held the barndoor a second longer". It's quite surreal, you can almost believe you DID do it, because you so almost did. And then you wake up from the daydream and FFS no you failed even though it was that close.

The other day I had a near hit, and that was *very* confusing. This was back in Pfalz, when there was dry weather and where there was dry rock, on a route called Man Spricht Teutsch at (wait for it) Schindharder Kuckucksfelsen. Yes really, that crag. This was graded 8-/8 and as such is the hardest route I've done in the Pfalz, the challenge highlight of the trip, and a very good multi-crux epic up an impressive wall. It wasn't, however, my favourite climb of the trip, not even the top 3, despite it's quality. Why not, when I usually relish tackling such challenges and succeeding on them??

Well in this case, it was very, very nearly not succeeding. I got through a tricky bit, then cranked and slapped through the apparent crux, rested my way up an easier headwall, wary of the final bulge that of course turned out to be the real hard bit. Sweating and cranking through sloping pockets, high foot rockover with the rope in the way, slap into a dish, start falling off, micro-thought about grabbing the draw, slap past it regardless, somehow fall on and stay on and get to the obligatory single ring bolt lower off. So close yet....so near?? I did it, yes, woohoo, etc. Except the nearness had me not quite believing I did. I stumbled around for a bit before being able to belay, almost believing I didn't do it, because I so almost didn't. And whilst I relish the challenge and the fight, it was too close for comfort to fully enjoy. Not that I want comfort, but maybe a bit less luck involved... Still I guess it makes up for some near misses.

Correlation is not Causation.

So they say. I am rather suspicious of the correlation between me enthusiastically exhorting to my climbing friends "This autumn and winter I want to climb lots of gritstone", and the weather getting incomprehensibly and relentlessly fucking atrocious. It happens most recent years, but this year has been by far the worst. We have now hit DAY 14 of rain in Glasgow, easily beating the 11 days of rain record when I moved up in 2009 (this is likely to reach 17 according to the forecast), and from all reports the grit and even the county sandstone have been little better. Apparently, scientifically, this is correlation and coincidence, not causation. My ARSE. Posting specific climbing desires angers the Weather Gods and they crush such dreams under their merciless storm fists.

So calling of the grit is wisely still up in the air, getting wet along with anything else out there. Calling of the plastic it is for the moment, andI've been training surprisingly enjoyably. Day 14 of rain may be a significantly repugnant record, Day 7 of training at TCA (spread over a few weeks) without getting pissed off, demoralised, weaker, injured, or having no skin left, is a more consolidatory record. I've tended to accept that coming out of a summer where I ended up climbing pretty damn well, I will be rubbish and weak indoors. Embracing this, I've been pottering around on weak problems for weak people, not worrying about pushing too hard, and generally felt okay. My main goals have been simple: Do fun problems so I enjoy training, and don't push too long so I trash my skin and soft tissue. Lower expectations, higher exceedence, and I've ended up feeling a bit of progression after a few sessions.

Now then, Calling Of The Spanish Limestone, anyone????

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Zwei Grosse Weissbiers Bitte!

Lightning visit to the wonderful Pfalzer Felsenlands to meet PJ who was collecting a caravan from Cologne. Once again a great place to explore, but although being 25°C cooler  than my previous visit, there was almost no breeze so I didn't get to crank as hard as I hoped - feeling semi-strong is of little use when I'm simply sliding off slopers. I need to do some average windspeed research for next time. In the meantime...

Walking in through a forest. Like every single approach there. I don't know why I'm using the guidebook for directions as it's entirely in German and I understand about 10 words, 4 of which are the title of this blog post.

What it's all about. Autumn in the Pfalz could be very good for 'shrooming, maybe.

Triffels. One of the typically impressive bows of rock sailing out into the forest. Atypically this one starts with a rare proper slab with some rare proper slab climbing, with a much harder prow towering above. All of this is commanded from the bridge of the Burg Triffels castle further back along the ridge. Scenic...?
...yes indeed. This is further around to the left of the previous photo, at the join of the slab and the headwall. Unfortunately I failed on a semi-impressive route on the headwall when I reached a slopey break and could scarcely hang on let along do a massive reach to the next holds. Hmph.

Practising Pfalz hanging belays. Soon after this we decided to give up on using the giant archaic ringbolts and just use the protection above. Actually pebbles were pleasingly common on this trip, along with....

...beetles. A fuckload of beetles, every day. Most of them seemed to aim unerringly for the approach tracks and bag-dumping basecamps, so I spend as much time rescuing the cute wee buggers as I did climbing. Although there was some good climbing...

One of many excellent grade 7s, which as usual features multiple and varied cruxes with good rests in between. This was at Burghaldefels, before sliding off a heinous slab on pebbles that I was far too sweaty to hold onto and left black with damp, but also before doing another excellent 7 that finished surfing along the crest of a concave wave overhanging 5m at the top of the crag. Once we walked out of the forest we realised it had been drizzling steadily most of the afternoon so no wonder the conditions were a bit flange.

More pebbles, more excellent 7s, more cool crags. This is the crux of Geierwally on the Ostwand of Geierkopf und Geierschnabel, and involved an off balance slap off a pebble and hidden smear to a sloper. Sweaty as usual but holdable. And in case you're wondering what sort of rock feature this took place on....

...yup, that one. Can you see why I like this place??

Walking around again. Forest, lots of forest. Very vibey place. If you like forest.

Zwei grosse Weissbier bitte! How every day finished: Walk out in the dusk avoiding wolves and trolls, go back to the Buttelwoog campsite, crank the caravan's heater to max, go to the campsite bar, order Wiessbier und Schnitzel or similar, eat with gusto, head back to the now-sweltering caravan, chill out and crash out. A nice routine although not one for watching the waistline, not least because of the universally gentle crag approaches. I'm not sure how much of the good fitness work from Wales I've undone with these decadent dinners, but I'll need to hit the training harder again...

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Calling

From Welsh Grit to Yorkshire Grit, but when will The Calling take place?? I went down this weekend for a pre-season friendly, well I use "friendly" in a loose sense as none of the 100+ climbers I have on two Facebook profiles (most of whom live very near either the grit or myself) nor anyone on UKC/B/A/Z seemed keen to join me for some routes despite it being such a bustly area. So a friendless recce mission it was, although as it turned out Rylstone was heaving with climbers and I probably could have tagged on to an odd numbered group. I didn't, instead I sulked a bit, walked a lot, lost some skin and didn't climb that much. Still it was useful recceing: Rylstone has plenty to go at in fairly decent conditions, Widdop is festering on the North faces but has a few appealing routes on the West faces, Simon's Seat solos are still too hard for me at this stage but should stay in nick for a while.

As for the calling....I'm glad it is in the hands of the frictional guru rather than the slippery paws of the egg-dropping lime thugs. This trip highlighted how difficult and sensitive the call is: The air was hazy but not humid, the wind was fresh but fickle, the rock was cool but not crisp. Lord's Seat was perfect in a perky breeze, Simon's Seat was unclimbable in the shelter and later sun. I reckon you could change 1 technical grade per 45° of relocation around the blocks. So we shall see what happens. I've got a surprising amount of grit psyche so am planning to start on the bleaker moorland crags before the weather gets too grim, then lower the altitude and swing sunwards as the winter draws in...

Here's some pottering and pondering:

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Wales again.

I went back, the weather was glorious this time, I didn't climb on any mountainy crags and I didn't do any really challenging trad. I did however, do a lot of walking in the Rhinnogs and got my final photo tick...

And finally got involved with some definitive Lleyn guide climbing at the charming Wylfa area (after meeting and chatting with The Crook)...

And did my hardest sport route (and hardest moves) on slate...

And took my best ever photo of a bee...

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

I found myself in Wales...

...and I found myself in Wales.

Hippy bollox, but entirely true. I just had an extended spell in Wales and rediscovered the joy of climbing and therefore the joy of existing. I pushed myself harder, and my tweaks and aches felt better. I ate worse, and got fitter and lost weight. I had only sporadic friends around, and felt more sociable and affable. I stayed in a slightly dingy, barren room, and felt more comfortable and slept better. The weather was generally rubbish to mediocre, and I managed to get more climbing done than previously in the year.

I ended up in the wrong weather, but in the right place and the right time to work around that, and follow many of my inspirations in many different areas. It helps that being based in Bangor there are approx 10 guidebooks worth of climbing within an hour's drive (Gogarth North, Gogarth South, Limestone, Slate, Llanberis Pass, Ogwen and Carneddau, Tremadog, Meirionydd, Cloggy, Cwm Silyn and Lleyn - I count the last 3 as totalling 2 normal guides are they are individually slim volumes) - compared to approx 1 guidebook living in Glasgow (half of Lowland Outcrops, half of Highland Outcrops). It helps even more that the wet weather options: GN, GS, Lime, Slate, and Lleyn are both plentiful, varied, accessible, and in themselves enthralling and exciting areas. Some of my Pass inspirations had to be put on hold, but one does not really go to Gogarth and grumble that it is a merely a mundane escaping-the-showers option. These venues held plenty of appeal as well as a revelatory quick hit approach, all being within half an hour's easy drive.

Thus, I did my climbing thing, my real climbing thing, of choice and variety and routes that personally appeal to me. Although the overriding feeling from this was happiness, there was also some satisfaction in climbing well, climbing as well on trad as I ever have. As usual this is down to a variety of factors (not just time on the rock, as I started doing reasonably challenging stuff after scarcely a day warming into it):

  • Being somewhere with plenty of choice of inspiring climbing
  • Being somewhere where I don't have to drive for two hours to get that choice.
  • Being somewhere with plenty of wet weather options
  • Being somewhere that lots of climbers go, so I could actually get partners.
  • Persisting with my climbing throughout a generally personally dismal spring and maintaining my psyche and patience.
  • Training hard throughout the spring when I wasn't climbing well outside.
In short: 66% location, 33% lots of effort and preparation and persistence.

I suppose I could do lists n shit, how about a top ten climbing experiences of the time down there:

  • The Long Run, Gogarth - possibly the best climbing experience of my life. Not hard, just wonderful, the perfect route for my style, in perfect conditions. A dream come true.
  • Byzantium, Craig Doris - worth the 8 year wait! Just fantastic, bold, committing, fly-on-the-wall situations, and a superb steady crux.
  • The In Of Sixth Happiness, Arennig Fawr - climbed by surprise after a nausea-and-exhaustion-inducing battle on War Cry, and an appalling walk-in. Once on the route it flowed perfectly, another one "Taylor"-made for me ;).
  • Crimson Cruiser, Moelwyns - another quite steady and utterly brilliant route. The meat of it is merely "good", but the jug-hauling space-walking finish is the best climax to any route, anywhere.
  • Whillan's Crack, Rhinnog Fawr - a surprise FA stolen from a cloud of midges. Not too hard, but has the mark of the man who would have done it. Topped out with grazes all down one arm, and giggles out of my mouth.
  • Killerkranky, Scimitar Ridge - a proper route with a proper crux. Fierce and fighty but not too pumpy. This signalled getting to grips with Wales.
  • Penny, Holyhead Mountain - the earliest challenging route I did in my time down there, easier than I thought and joyfully good holds and good balance.
  • Diamond Eliminate, Craig Aderyn - also worth the 8 year wait! As grand as roadside routes get, and exactly why I stick to my personal inspirations.
  • Brute 33, Carreg Wastad - still picking the scars off 10 days later... A whim inspired by the old guide photo, and joyfully brutal.
  • Men At Leisure, Australia - had to pick something from many days on the slate and this was perhaps the most intruiging with a skyhook start and a super techy crux higher.
(to be fair this list should be 1-11. all The Long Run and then 12-20 everything else, but Ordered Lists don't let me do that ;)).

Finally some random photos I probably didn't post before:

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


I think I've now read all of Martin Crook's "Diaries of A Slatehead" in the fine new(-ish) Slate guide, albeit in sporadic bursts and in the wrong order. I really like the way he refers to the slate gurus and aficiandos simply as "heads", emphasising the cultish dedication to the medium (or The Medium?). Thinking further, heads are not the only cult in the area - away from the hoary old traditionalists and honeypotted classic-baggers of the mountains, the fringes have their own dedicated acolytes and accolades: Slateheads, Ormesmen ritually circling Pen Trwyn, and presumably Coastline Perverts praying at the tottering temples of the Lleyn (the latter has only a passing mention in the definitive guide, but the spirit and idea is strong enough). I think one could add Rhinnogite as a further path to follow, not least because following paths in those broad hills is not an easy task. The addictive nature of the climbing and exploring seems to match nicely other three cults.

I'm not sure the exact qualities one needs to attain those titles, and I suspect it is a matter of spirit rather than box-ticking (just like climbing, then....). Certainly ownership of a North Wales Rockfax would be an immediate preclusion, and choosing such areas merely for convenience or fashion would demonstrate a lack of essential soul. A lasting passion and appreciation of the perculiarities of the rock type, along with varied exploration of the venues would be a good start, and a calm, knowing utterance of: "Yes, This is it" might be a confirmatory finish.

Unfortuately despite erring towards those tendencies on a regular basis, I don't think I'm quite deserving to be a head, yet (not that I could ever achieve it via accomplishments, only via dedication - but that's the main quality). I'm close with the slate, having been from the heights of Upper Australia to the depths of Vivian in adjacent visits, and done a 6a rockover next to skyhooks in one of those visits, but slate is so afflicted with hordes that the bar needs to be set higher - more exploration needed. I'm tip-toeing along the Ormesman path but have a long way to go - more routes away from Marine Drive and perhaps climbing at my limit in all 3 disciplines, trad sport and bouldering, would further my steps. On the Lleyn, I have the passion but not the experience, I mean every numpty and his dog has done Byzantium - going off-piste with the definitive guide is the appealing way forward.

I suspect I am a Rhinnogite, even if it's my own suggestion. Visiting several venues all along the ridgeline - yes. Doing multiple hollow star routes and likely second ascents - yes. New-routing with Terry Taylor - yes. Pushing myself on a few routes as good as any short outcrop routes anywhere - yes. Falling in heather, bilberries, and boulder chasms - yes. That must be enough....

Anywhere here are some pictures of that chalky polished trade route Byzantium, it is still fantastic:

This is a boulder below Direct Hit. I thought it was rather pretty. The route was jolly good fun.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Young And Easy And Under The Apple Boughs.

A surprisingly pleasant "breather", this line is not as crumbly as it appears, and is outside of the day's mould, remaining unseen amongst the creations of it's grand neighbours. Left as an oddity and ungrabbed by attention, it seemed to "spring in" when ready, and rang with the pleasure of those promising, blissful days of May.

This John Redhead is a cunt

There is a certain pleasure in doing a route that has, even to a small degree, a mark of the man. A Dawes grit route, a Pritchard Gogarth wobble-fest, a Smith roof or crack (or usually both), a Crocker sea-cliff line, a Fowler chossheap, a Bob Smith heinous highball... Of course I am far too bumbly for almost all of these, but occasionally something "outside of the day's mould" slips through the net of truly big numbers and is accessible to the masses. YAEAUTAB (jeez!) is one of a solitary handful of routes in ...And One For The Crow that I am actually capable of, the second one I have done, and an inspiration that was solely due to the book and photo. It definitely felt outside of the day's mould for slate, being a very trad experience with committing climbing above spaced gear - no bolts, crimps nor rockovers in sight.

Something else very much outside of the day's mould is this (although given the quality and accessibility of the crag, it shouldn't be!):

(photo: Terry Taylor)

Diamond Eliminate, at Bird Rock. One of the finest truly roadside adventures in the whole of Wales. If you can cope with the 1 minute uphill walk in, the Diamond face of The Bastion towers over you, gently overhanging for 45m. Steady juggy bold-ish E2 5b climbing neatly sandwiches a committing E4 5c crux on slopers past a definitive "cluster of bollox" gear selection, and leads to a fine summit experience at the apex. Typically for me this was an 8 year inspiration, following a showery recce in 2007, and typically it turned out to be a highly enjoyable experience under the watchful eye of local guru TT  - alas not one of his routes though, but I'm sure I'll do more of those soon.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Shock Of The New

...again. A trip to Wales without going to Rhinnogs is like a curry without a Cobra, a cappucino without an extra coffee shot - something essential is missing. And I don't mean Rhinnogs in the miserly token-gesture bandwagon-jumping Rockfax micro-coverage. Admittedly Lechau Mawr and Y Grisau are superb crags, but such limited plum-picking and honey-potting is quite contrary to the spirit of exploration in the area as well as a disservice to those developing and documenting it.

The days out I've had recently have been proper Rhinnogs days - hosted by the foremost developer and documentor, the legendary Terry Taylor, and accompanied by fellow enthusiast The Pylon Kunt....and naturally such days include new routing as well as second ascents. The lengths have been short, in keeping with the gritstone stature, but the quality has been high and the potential, around the Cwm Nantcol area, highly impressive. I've ended up doing two of the best new routes I've done:

The Bilberry Hunter E4 6a ** 10m
A good climb with a bold start and bouldery finish, and good cams in-between. Spring onto the first rail just right of (E4 5c), carefully gain the first break and then the second break on satisfying holds. A thoughtful crux on layaways leads to the finishing jug.
(named after the third man, who was easily distracted by local flora)

TT has numerous E5-ish projects at this short steep crag, but hadn't even spotted this line properly until he abbed down while I was repeating a neat new E2. He had a quick play on a top-rope but there were too many sidepulls for his tweaky elbow. I decided to have a quick look, quickly realised it was rather cool, gave it a good scrub, got the top dialled, and shot up it in a flurry of headpoint gaylordness. Not a style I'm familiar so it's hard to judge the grade, but the quality and balance of the pitch were still obvious.

Whillans Crack "HVS 5b" ***
Precisely named, with a grade as traditional as the line. The magnificent cleft delivers everything it promises, small cams and large nuts protect.

Same valley, same guru, different day, different crag....very different climb. Somewhat tired and somewhat midged to death (I'd got complacent about the relatively tame Welsh midges and left the repellant behind), TT had already retreated, PK was soaking in the atmosphere, but I couldn't resist this fantastic fissure. What one route would Brown and Whillans done if they'd visited? Exactly. I topped out giggling with my left arm covered in cuts and grazes. Hosey, your time!

Also quite a cool line but not in the same class:

Word Of Pain E3 5c **
Likely to be uttered if you fall off. The right side of the sharp arete is serious but steady after a tricky start. From blocks place high tiny RPs, pull onto the arete and make difficult extended moves to good holds up right. More RPs possible, then climb gracefully up the positive arete with no further gear.

This is the right hand side of PK's Dark Orgasm pillar (itself an undeniable classic, visible from literally miles away). Great line, slightly unbalanced climbing, a cool hard crux with 1 HB zero next to your face and a jagged block below. Above that, delightful and easy. Unfortunately the camera decided to stop taking shots and missed the funky final reach with the last proper gear being just above my hand, and only a poor taped on skyhook above.

Incidentally before this we revisited the site of my Careless Orc mini-classic that I'm still bemused why it wasn't considered worthy of a North Wales Bouldering mention, and I'm pleased to say it 1. Hasn't fallen over and 2. Still looks really cool and inspiring.

Finally, here's a second ascent of a TT E4 6a, very much the spiritual twin of The Bilberry Hunter (similar height, similar steepness, also crux at the top, also on the lowest tier of a 3 tier crag system in the Nantcol pass...quite uncanny). Had to fight at the top of this which was nice:
The wall to the right has 3 E2-ish things in a row up obvious flakes, then 2 VS-ish things at the far end. There's another half a dozen routes to the left, a comfy bilberry base, and nice clean tops.

And the Lleyn looks like this from Cwm Nantcol...

Friday, 14 August 2015

Slate Of The Art.

 The next day's target, taken from Cwm Glas Bach.

 Making some Tentative Decisions like "Shall I decide to do this move and risk falling off, ripping 5 bits of shit gear I've got pretty boxed placing, and take a 10m lob past the lone bolt??"


 Wanna fuck with these goats?? Nah, didn't think so.

 You talking to me, motherfucker?!

Keeping busy whilst Coel is threading lower-offs...

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Snowdon Shower-dodging.

I've decided to spend a longer period in North / Mid Wales to try to do some of the many and varied climbs that inspire me down there. This has exactly coincided with a longer period of utterly dire weather and one of the worst "summers" the region has seen.  So for the moment the deeper desires of The Pass, The Rhinnogs, The Moelwyns, and Arennig Fawr have been put on a very reluctant hold, in favour of the mostly inferior but mercifully extensive wet weather options of The Slate, The Lime, and hopefully The Quartzite and The Lleyn. I hadn't fully warmed up for the latter so haven't actually tackled  Rhoscolyn nor South Stack nor Craig Doris yet, but have had a few fun days out and even a couple of hours bouldering squeezed onto the tail end of a showery snowdonia shitfest:

 The classic Dali's Hole hut, as surreal as ever. The room I'm renting in Bangor is a bit more upmarket than this, but only a little bit... This was after a very nice afternoon on the Railtrack Slab, with a total of 183 crimps and 57 rockovers used.

 Bouldering at Drws Y Coed after it had showered most of the day and we'd escaped to some minor sport climbing on Anglesey. After this neat problem I hooned over to Ogwen and just managed to squeeze in Bombshell at the Milestone Boulders, see below.

Sunset from Hornby Crags on the Great Orme. A fairly newly revamped sport sector with a lot of good 6s in an atmospheric and secluded location. We did 6 in an evening which was good mileage.

Video of bouldering:

 Pleased to get Bombshell done as on first acquaintance it seemed I wouldn't be able to do the move to the lip, nor the crux span from the back, and even if I hyopthetically did, I would need more pads and spotters given the weird landing. A bit of dicking around later and I had it all worked out, including using my beanie to plug up a seepage line.