Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Final Conflict.

Right, I've got to stop focusing on this bouldering malarkey. I went to do some trad the other day and got pumped putting my rack on. Horrible. I hate having no stamina, so I better start working on that. I could also do with letting my skin recover for a few days or 9 months or so. It's been fun but now it's warming up a bit (no doubt a pre-cursor to the monsoon season), the urge for trad exploration is increasing as the biting crispness is decreasing. There's still some blocs I'll throw in the mix for cooler / showery / partnerless days: the County 6C roof tryptich (Bechstein @ Back Bowden, Roof LH @ Kyloe, Neb Roof @ Shaftoe - all 3 in a day would be thematically exciting if hugely ambitious), Timmy Tiptoes @ Shaftoe if there's a freezing day, Cave Arete and Homo Horizontalis @ Edlingham if I'm feeling strong. Notice there's a theme here of steep problems that should benefit warm muscles more than freezing friction. Nameless Pimp Toy @ Stronlachar is also unfinished business and rematches with both St Bees and Cammachmore might be nice. BUT other than that it's on with the trad and training as a focus. Mileage at first then getting further afield and south of the wall once I'm back into it.

The final few trips out onto mico-pad-shuffling have been as fun and rewarding as previous visits:

Gillercombe bouldering.

Gillercombe is a magical place. Once you've slogged around the ridge from Honister (accurately upgraded to 40 mins in the Lakesbloc guide), the cwm is a haven of hidden isolation, with only a couple of dry stone walls hinting at the human world beyond the hillsides. The boulders are attractive and aesthetically scattered and climbing on them is varied and as good as any Lakes bouldering. Definitely worth a visit. Take a friend and a picnic, take a bunch of mates and stay in the Honister YHA, take just yourself and a meditative appreciation.

Fiend Carrock etc

Carrock Fell is obviously a firm favourite. It's a wonderful bouldering arena in the right conditions (and a skin-shredding nightmare of impossibilities in the wrong ones). There's always so much to go at, and even with 4 fairly successful visits this winter, I can see myself returning regularly. I had a lightning quick visits with 3 similarly graded problems to aim for, with very different outcomes: Canada Dry - felt spot on, fierce and fingery but went okay. Boardman's RH - got shown some different beta by a local and it was complete piss. High Flyer - spent an hour trying to make any sense of the start and couldn't get off the ground, complete nonsense.

I got a bonus in at Scratchmere Scar too. This was supposed to be a trad warm-up trip, I did a bit and got sweaty and scared. The bouldering sector was in the shade so with a bit of furtling around and a brave tied-in spotter I did The Aspirant, quite a hidden gem of good edges for the feet and bad smears for the hands.

That makes this season's tally of my harder problems look a bit like this:


Iceberg V6/7 - brilliant moves
A Northern Soul V6/7 - very aesthetic
Titanic Arete V6 - good line but burly
Cave Central LH V6 - varied and complex
Smooth Wall V6 - delightful grit
Old Spice V6 - good sloper action
Little Pixies V6 - good crimper action
Rheumatology V5 (not V6) - lovely rock, fun
Surprising Solution V5 (not V6) - steady fun
Duvel 8.5% V5 (not V6) - minor but okay
Smooth Operator V5  (not V6) - fun mantle
Dog Eat Dog V5  (not V6) - neat wall climbing
Zero Kelvin SS V5 (not V6) - very cool moves
Absinthe V5  (post-breakage) - good crimping
Arete LH Stand V5 - good line but burly
The Long Reach V5 - nice power climbing
Sitting Arete V5 - cool hooking fun
Apprentice Wall V5 - fantastic highball
Howff Roof V5 - steady fun
The Aspirant V5 - techy hidden gem
Canada Dry V5 - razors but satisfying
Cave RH V5  (not V4) - great techy roof
Left Wall V5  (not V4) - thin morpho but cool

Which is nice.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Life as a boulderer.

God it's so fucking easy.

Don't worry about about actually finding trad climbers in Scotland to get out and do routes with.

Don't worry about iffy weather almost certainly ruining the routing prospects.

Don't worry about driving for hours and slogging through a bog to find out the time just isn't right.

Don't worry about whether the 3 star classic you're going for has any ascents this decade and how much moss you'll have to excavate off it.

Don't worry about seepage or lichen or having to get your mate to ab down and clean the route.

Don't worry about whether the grades and description of stuff at your limit is safely correct.

Don't worry about warming up just right and feeling fresh enough.

Don't worry about logistics of juggling your partner's climbing and still staying warmed-up and warm.

Don't worry about being mentally calm and in the right mindset.

Don't worry about getting pumped and scared.

Don't worry about being on the right line and avoiding off-route disasters.

Don't worry about whether it's right to get on that route right then for the onsight success.

Just worry about whether the skin will hold up and heal in time for the next trip (answer: it won't)
Is it really that simple? Surely there's some catch that makes bouldering not the most easy, comfy climbing option?

Apparently not. This last few months I have lived as a boulderer. Not an exploratory esoteric boulderer seeking bog and moss jumbles around Scotland, but a bouldering boulderer, just going out and getting it done by seeking out reliable accessible blocs and decent conditions. A novel idea but it might just work, and what do you know, it did. I went out, I climbed lots of stuff, it was physically hard but otherwise so easy. Mostly the County, a bit in the Lakes, the weather was very good in the former and sometimes good in the latter. Wandering around the grass Bowden in rock shoes and barely having to wipe them was a highlight - it makes a change from the 6 visits it took to get Mungisdale in the right nick for my desires. 

The usual logistical, climatic, social and mental battles get replaced by simple answers:

Where do we go? Wherever's dry. Usually the County. What if it's blowy as fuck man? Go somewhere sheltered. What if it's really cold? Do frictional problems. What if it's too warm? Get on steeper juggier stuff? What if I'm climbing crap? Put the effort into some projects for next time. What if I'm tired? Do an easy circuit it's all good training. What if my skin's fucked? Okay....that last one I don't really have an answer to...

Also, it's quite fun.

....I'm not sure that justifies it, though ;)

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Best Bouldering Day Ever.

I wake up in the morning, reluctant to go out. Another 2 hour drive down to the County, cruising along the M8 and A720, then watching the invariable spectacle of terrible overtaking on the A1. Blind bends, junctions, and waiting on long straights until there's oncoming traffic are all de-rigeur. The best being someone overtaking a truck and a few cars right before a dual carriageway section, and being so reluctant to move back in to avoid the oncoming cars flashing and tooting them that I thought they were actually going to continue on the wrong side of the dual carriageway. Very soon I pass them on the dual as somehow they are doing below 70 despite all that excitement, and I have to toot salute in honour of such appalling driving. Well done.

Anyway today I'm not so sure about braving all that, because at the end of it I have to brave the top of Northern Soul. Not the sort of "obligatory" "essential" crowd-pleasing trade problem I'm usually aiming for, but I got suckered in on a previous session, and then on another previous session worked out how to do the crux, but was too tired to do it reliably to continue. Now syke outweighs social networking and the opportunity is to head down on my own rather than with the obligatory crowd. My two soggy anti-pads and Tris's proper pad aren't enough, my cunning plan is a thin Thermarest and a thick camping air-mattress. At best I'd be shuffling back hauling all that lot on my back, demoralised after wasting my time realising it wasn't enough. At worst I'd be crawling back dragging that lot behind me, crippled after breaking my ankle realising it wasn't enough.

But then again...

Fiend Hepburn 2015

So it went a little bit like this:

A Northern Soul: Windy, very windy. I got quite annoyed with the doormat blowing away every time I stepped off it, but somehow the pads and mattress stayed in one place. 3 goes to get stood up in the break, and a practise jump to test that one place is THE place. The mattress seems to work but it might be a one shot weapon if I fall off the top and burst it. So I don't. I've watched a few videos showing the default methods for doing the top, I do something different and it works fine - gritstone engrams and immaculate friction haul me over the top. What was I worrying about again?

Titanic Arete: I've tried this twice previously too, but actually of my own volition and with the intention of doing it, until I found it was hard, brutal, and not nearly as nice as the beautiful feature it climbs. Having got the day's inspiration done in a quick hour, I might as well have a play on this too. 50m right and it's a lot less windy so I spend more time waiting for my skin to cool down than actually climbing. A few goes, a realisation to subtly switch hand positions on the starting jug from pulling to laybacking, and I'm up the next go. What now?

Iceberg: Certainly not this. It's a new problem, it looks lichenous, it gets V8 on UKC, the landing is an angled rock and a sapling, and I can't get off the ground. Until I do get off the ground, try to smear up the next move, slip off the only proper foothold on the problem and bash my thumb on the way down. Whilst waiting for the sulk to subside, I use the remaining 9 digits to look up UKC, apparently it could be V6 not V8, taking everything with a pinch of salt it's probably neither but it's possibly doable for me. I start putting the effort in and am rewarded by one of the best moves I've done this year: Rocking over onto a smear via a tiny sloping undercut gaston and falling into a half first joint mono gaston pocket. The tension twangs from that fingertip through my arms and shoulders like a divining rod, and it's brilliant, the slabby angle and friction making the improbable feasible and then the feasible successful. How did that happen?

The Prow: Finally a digestif, a line I spied on a few previous occasions and never got round to. Shorter in stature and easier in challenge, it hides it's quality away around left of the main Hepburn starting arena, but once on the problem it's undeniable. A natural sit start jug leads into a slap for a ledge and fun combination of hooks, underclings and slopers to hug the prow up to the top. Nothing particularly radical, just genuinely good prow bouldering. It's too dark for a video so I just do the problem and sit and listen to an owl hooting instead.

So that was the day. Very high quality climbing, high quality challenge, high quality solitary vibes. I'll take it.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Horridly Torrid Torridon

I've done quite well bouldering this Winter Season - including doing more personally challenging problems in a few months than in any previous season (including pre-DVT grit seasons when world class bouldering was 10 mins drive away and I weighed 1.5 stones lighter), and all in a variety of styles as long as it's Northumberland sandstone ;).

How have I done so well? Thus: 5% skill, 15% tactics, 80% conditions. It's been amazingly dry over there and often amazingly cool. Notice all the videos where I am wearing a long sleeve t-shirt, bodywarmer, beanie and snood, and that's just for the 45 seconds I've escaped from the hoodie and downie to try the problem. So yeah, that's it. 

This was proven this last weekend with a well-tested reverse hypothesis (is that the right term?). PJ and I went up to Torridon in seemingly amazing weather - light breeze, bone dry, below zero at night and very cold and crisp in the shade. Unfortunately 95% of the main Torridon bouldering is NOT in the shade and was thus boiling to the point of being scarcely climbable. Climbing with a shirt off and still greasing off coarse slopers after the months of good conditions was a shock to the system and initally to the comprehension not to mention one's sense of honour and fair play. I did find a very neat problem in the shade and in a mini wind tunnel, after several goes working out the funky techy so-called crux sequence, I got shut down by the entirely morpho lank lunge finish and then tore a tip trying to work this. Sitting on a rock watching warfarin-infused blood dripping out of my finger and making pretty patterns on the stone below was not the most encouraging start to a trip.

In the end though, it was okay. I mummified my finger in tape and actually managed to climb on it, it turned out to be a more reliable finger than the non-shredded ones which felt thoroughly tenderised by the start of day 2. Despite all the potential it was one of the least productive bouldering outings this season and I've learnt my lesson about conditions once more. On the other hand it was considerably more productive for hanging out, recceing (the area is now fairly epic in the new definitive guide), vitamin D absorption, and eventually (after a fair bit of demoralising) doing some nice easy mileage. Muir's Masterpiece below being the highlight, one of the best fingery slabs around:

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Some recent stuff...


Two 5s from Rothley.

Once again it was blowing a gale at Rothley. I've been there twice previously to boulder, once with B when I managed to jump the car on a humpback bridge just before the crag, and it was too warm to do The Long Reach - it looked quite hard to me then. Once on my own when it was blowing the obligatory gale and I couldn't even get warmed up to climb. This time I didn't jump the car and I did put up with the wind, for a while anyway. It was satisying to do The Long Reach, the crux is a very short slap to the jug but it took some working out with the feet, especially not using any of the cleaned footholds other people use. Sitting Arete was also great, the trick being a little swing before moving up to the jug. Going right out on the prow with bad hands and good double heels was really nice.


fiend shaftoe2015

Once again it was both boiling hot and blowing a gale at Shaftoe. I've been there several times to boulder previously and it's either boiling in the shelter, freezing in the wind, or both. This time I started at the sweltering South sector, had a look at the previously appealing Butch Catch-Me, but decided that an impending line of relentless razor crimps on gritty, snappy rock with a landing consisting of 1m of flat ground and then a 45° ski slope of dirt and rocks made it less appealing for a solitary project. Little And Often went fine, as did Duvel 8.5 (I had to wait till the next night to get a bottle though), sticking to the Shaftoe theme of being ridiculously graded. Pocket Rocket at the Cave area was a bit warm and seemed ridiculously hard and unpleasant. Conversely, after exploring the baltic Summit area, Little Font was cool but tolerable as the wind dropped, and the previously offputting Surprising Solution went surprisingly easily. A few grades easier than PR? Obviously *rolls eyes*


fiend edlingham2

More good weather and bad information characterised a return trip to the underrated Edlingham. I went to Bob's Cave area armed with 3 pads, 1 rope, 1 harness and a lot of brushes - everything there gets the (H)ighball rating and looked to be dirty and unclimbed at the finishes. It turns out that yes it did need a good scrub, and no nothing warrants the (H). I'm pretty sure anyone who can do V4-7 off the deck can cope with with VS climbing at 5m above a good landing. I'm also pretty sure that anyone who can do V4-7 off the deck will be as confused by the grades as I was, they're all screwy one way or the other, although the climbing is fun. Osathingy also had a delusional description but good moves. Finally the arete at the end - pictured in the book, captioned as something else, and not actually described. Ho hum. 

Eagle-eyed views might notice an ongoing theme of Northumberland bouldering. This is entirely correct. More waffle about that when I can be bothered to write it.