Saturday, 12 November 2016

A matter of values.

There was another minor retro-bolting debacle at Ratho Quarry. Ho hum. I didn't even notice it until B pointed it out during a mutual sieging session on the notoriously addictive grey stamina circuit at TCA, and once I did, I didn't feel it enriched my life in any way. Basically Buz put up a new 7b or c or something up an old Robbie Philips / Lincoln / Small project that included two bolts in an old, starred E3, and an "enhanced" hold. There are many things to say about this of varying lack of interest, such as Smally popping his head out of his dark horse's stable to condemn the matter, Buz once again thinking he could get away with it by not having any public consultation and present it as a fait d'accompli, and the usual myopic morons (and an off-target McGeek) throwing a spanner into the works with such red herrings as dismissing anti-retro-bolting concerns because apparently approving a lower-off on Pettifar's Wall to avoid the grim and created-by-the-M8 extension earth cornice is "hypocritical". What, as hypocritical as abseil points at the Cromlech, Martin Crocker suggesting pre-placed belay ropes in the Rhinnogs, an abseil chain at Sharpnose, recommended pre-placed belay ropes at Carn Gowla, bolt lowers before the unclimbable shale band at Anglezarke?? It takes a special kind of fucking imbecile to think that lower-offs are incompatible with trad climbing, but the Scottish sport climbing scene seems to attracts such idiots like flies around dogshit.

The upshot of it all is that - ignoring the chipped hold / heavily cleaned break for now, something probably quite similar to the ""heavily cleaned"" holds on John McCain F6b (I'm quite proud of my UKC factual analysis "If you want man-made routes, the ones inside the arena are usually better") - it boils down to one bolt that should have been placed 2' to one side, making the 7c a bit more run out on 6b ground and the bolt suitably off-route for the E3, something which is quite bloody obvious and would have avoided all the fuss if Buz had actually bothered to consult a selection of the climbing public rather than just Ratho Wall regulars. SIGH.

What is of more interest is discussing this with Craig on a trip over to inspect the nonsense, get rained off, and enjoy those man-made routes inside the arena (a particularly nice red 7a with slopers). He - possibly with his mind addled by the ominous and imminent onset of "Scottish Winter Season" - whilst not supporting retro-bolting, expressed a more relaxed attitude to the ethics of the situation because (forgive me Craig if I paraphrase this wrong) "they are just grotty quarries and local training crags". Obviously this is fallacious reasoning as a reductio ad absurdum would see Master's Edge etc bolted, but his further explanation was that size, grandeur and the beauty of the mountain environment are what he truly values in rock climbing, and even I am forced to admit that for all their 3 star qualities, Shear Fear and Wally 1 don't really have those.

This highlights an interesting difference in values. The ethical side isn't of much debate - good trad climbs are good trad climbs and shouldn't be fucked with without a lot of due consideration and consultation. But what makes climbs really mean something to someone?? Ben Moon or was it Malc "didn't climb to be in beautiful places", and I don't either. I climb to have beautiful trad experiences and that can be finally committing above the skyhooks and RPs on crisp dolerite edges in the mid-December sun on Wally 2, despite being sandwiched in by the monstrous fire escape, the EICA arena, and the distant hum of the M8, or it can be slotting in the next satisfying jam (#16 in a series of 40) on the soaring Whispering Crack, alone with PJ, the mid-summer sun and the endless serenity of the ocean and distant Hebrides. Of course, I like beautiful places, but the main value of my rock-climbing doesn't depend on that, it depends on the intrinsic quality of the climbs themselves, and the surroundings are an enhancement.

Similarly, for me size isn't everything. According to some people you "can't have 3 star boulder problems". Funny that, I thought I'd done hundreds of them (including a couple of national class problems in a grotty local training quarry). At once extreme, climbing is still just Training For The Greater Ranges, the bigger and grander the better, irrespective of the actual climbing qualities of the climb. At the other extreme, climbing is now just cross-training for the Beastmaker and it all boils down to the move, the challenge, the incremental progression. I'm somewhere in-between, but I do errrr towards the joy of movement and technicality and the quality of the climb rather than the setting, context, history etc. So yes, Wally 1 is brilliant whether it's in Ratho or Reiff, the laybacking on Shear Fear is great 10m above a quarry floor or 100m above a mountain hillside, Nijinski is as unjustifiable to ruin by top-roping adjacent to a carpark as it would be high on a Yorkshire moor - these experiences all have value.

Of course, by Craig's values, stricter ethics should apply to the mountains and wilderness and presumably Tunnel Wall and Creag Nan Cadhag and the wee crag beyond Ardmair should be de-bolted. Coel already advocated that for Creag Nan Cadhag, and they may have a point - not necessarily one I agree with, but it's always nice to have people taking stronger ethical stances, maybe doing so will keep the Ratho-style nonsense at bay.

 A very trad climb with a bolted lower-off in a grotty quarry.
A convenient bolted sport climb in a wild beautiful environment.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Bristol Calling.

Training - the way I do it, only semi-structured, bouldering and routes indoors, but pushing myself and my limits hard, listening to my body, working some weaknesses, keeping some awareness of relevance - is fun. The pleasure of playing with movement, piecing together puzzles, crushing challenges. But it's also training for something. Sometimes that's something specific, upcoming trips, particular plans or route inspirations. Sometimes it's just keeping strong and fit, which is a worthy goal in itself. My mate PK, a semi-recent convert to not training and not pushing himself at all, sometimes berates me "yeah wot u training for tho?". Well not being weak and unfit and useless for a start!! 

So there came a time recently when my TCA sessions turned into a Ratho session full of surprisingly decent performance and easy falling practise which was confirmation that a planned Bristol trip was inspiring again. This was in theory going to coincide with getting to Cornwall in colder conditions and getting on crisp granite, but it didn't, alas that will have to wait for next spring, hopefully a reasonable grit season will be enough preparation for that. In the meantime I took advantage of much more local climbing and a much cheerier vibe than one would ever find around the Central Belt, as well as splitting the journey up following some inspiration from the shiny new Lancashire Brick (more on that almost excellent volume later). So it went a bit like this:

EKU28 or The Russian at Wilton 4 (since they are essentially the same route in a "use the crimp with your left, or right, hand" sort of way). This was highlighted in the Wilton 4 clean-up film earlier this year and despite a slightly green appearance, it was in the fabled "mint nick". A lovely wee solo, probably E2 5b.

Fiend Alone with Jeanette, Pots And Pans Quarries. An old inspiration from an old photo. Another E2-ish 5b solo in another minor quarry. This one was a bit eliminate avoiding the arete, but smearier and scarier. Reaching the top in the encroaching gloom, whilst actually alone, was quite satisfying.

Whilst I was down in Bristol, PK made good on his long term threat to take me to the Frome Valley sandstone. This is esoteric and specialist even by my perverted tastes, although admittedly the climbing would be quite fun if it was clean. Maybe his imminent guide will replace cobwebs with chalk and moss patches with polish? This wee route for example, was 6m of juggy roof climbing. Not bad for something 20 yards from a busy footpath. That busy footpath saw the farcical scene of PK and I hurtling along it at dusk, trailing gear, rucsacs and 50m of rope, frantically trying to escape the above wasp that was cunningly embedded inside my vest. One emergency disrobing and 8 stings later it met it's well deserved fate. The stings were itching for days, the wee cunt.

Two fun sport routes at The Gap. The first is a groove, the second is an arete. Two sides of the same feature, I like that. Both very nice fun routes that belie an initial slightly flakey and grubby vibe, very typical of the area which has seen minor quarries transformed into worthwhile sport venues. Very soon these will transform into overrated honeypots due to an imminent Rockfax guide. Unfortunately the same PK was due to write a proper independent / local activists guide to the area but other parties didn't get organised in time, so this Rockfax purchase will actually be justifiable for a change.  

Crimpy sandstone sport climbing is quite fair training for crimpy quarried grit trad climbing, as evidenced by a fun start to a glorious Saturday at Lower Montcliffe. Unfortunately this fun turned sour as we were kicked off this delightfully sunny but newly owned quarry, albeit after a conversation that turned from typically bullheaded "git orf my land" to a useful discussion of possible progress, respect, and future access with permission. It turns out the situation is somewhat more complicated and hopefully will get resolved sooner rather than later, as LM is a fine example of hidden gems away from the big Lancashire venues. Big venues such as Anglezarke where we finished off the day with a couple of decent routes although frustratingly a re-failure on Tangerine Trip, approximately 0.5 inches from the finishing handjam after me climbing, and pushing past terminal pump, surprisingly well. At least I'm now experienced enough to know that if this is E3 then Supercrack and Wilton Wall are solid it's not. Still I came away from the weekend with enough inspiration for more Lancs suntraps until it gets cold enough for proper grit (i.e. not long probably!)

Missed off this list was a bit more sport dicking around, and an exciting day at Avon doing Yellow Edge (apparently suitable for ambitious E2 leaders, I think I'm a decade and a half beyond that and it was tough, sustained and dangerous as an E3 thanks) and Last Slip (apparently suitable for people who find grit E4 5cs easy and also ignore guidebook bullshit like "lots of small wires". Yeah, lots. All 2 of them. In the same fucking shallow slot. Well below your feet on the 5c quarryman bridging crux. Thankfully the weather was crisp enough to get it done with a lot of deep breaths and my eyes half-closed). An evening celebrating with Kwak beer and a fantastic amount of in-house cats at the Bag Of Nails pub went down very well.

I also got to Fairy Cave and didn't get halfway up Balch's Slide.....but I know someone who did....

HPI Savage XS Bristol Bash!

Back in the game.

This post is proudly brought to you by...
...slightly compensating for Fiend's fucking awful skin since October 2016. Any products mentioned in this post will be subject to 100% bias on that basis.

Somehow I underestimated the time it took me to get back into training and climbing. Usually due to legs, weight, damp-susceptibility etc, any more than one rest day results in doubling number of days on  (either outdoor climbing or alternating indoor wall with general exercise) to get back to my previous form. 2 days off, 4 days on required. 3 days off, 6 days on required. Approximately. Anyway this time it wasn't so bad. It turns out that while toy soldier painting videos are bloody terrible warm-ups for training, disassembling and reassembling RC cars with constant fiddling and screwing (uhuh) is a pretty decent warm-up for the fingers. I expect to see Dave Mac espousing this pretty soon.

On the other hand it doesn't seem to make a great different to skin quality so that was an immediate frustration down at TCA, resulting in a useful discussion with TCA's High Empress Jackie in which she recommended regular, rather than sporadic Anti-Hydral use. Years ago I got a bit over-excited when fatdoc from UKB started importing AH, and bought 6 tubes of it, which I've probably used a handful of "emergency" times in the intervening decade. I always thought it shouldn't be relied on and was a specialist treatment only for real weirdos with freakishly bad skin.

Of course, I AM that real weirdo with freakishly bad skin.

What an idiot - what the fuck have I been doing for the last decade??

So I've started using it - tiny spots rubbed into my tips before bed - most days a week with a day or two off, and fuck me it works. My skin isn't feeling dry, or leathery, or's feeling fucking NORMAL. N O R M A L. What a revelation. This had the amusing side-effect of going down to TCA, not greasing off the holds, and falling off them cos I couldn't hang on. It's amazing how much WEAKNESS is exposed when it's not masked by excessive sweating. Then pretty soon, since I was pushing the limits of my muscles not the coefficient of damp friction, I started feeling pretty decent pushing myself at the wall - as well as increasingly psyched to see how well normal skin would do on the rock. Of course my own personal damp is not the only moisture around and Saturday's forecast is saying no grit visit this weekend :(. But in the meantime I can keep training okay - at the moment I'm sticking mostly to bouldering to start the winter, and will transition to routes and stamina later on.

Also pushing the limits of friction is this wee beast:

Savage XS Skatepark Smash

This sort of relaxed driving style is why it needs so much maintenance and what keeps my fingers warmed up pre-climbing ;)

Friday, 14 October 2016

Obsession Futile

Of the many carefully cultivated and nurtured personality defects I've accumulated over the decades that are specifically detrimental to climbing (inhibiting aspects from keeping fit to keeping friendly contacts), one would assume that obsessive tendencies would be the least worrying. I certainly obsess about climbing a "little" bit, but as I once said to my good friend Potty, my main problem is I'm not nearly obsessed enough, although perhaps what I mean is that my obsession can be deflected elsewhere, again into the realms of climbing detriments.

This time it's all the fault of another good friend Jo, who I had a couple of nice days out with down in Bristol, and who revealed to me the shocking confession that she was "quite into" painting toy soldiers, but frustrated about not being good enough and could I offer any advice?? Well if I'd had paints and brushes with me I could have done so quite easily, but I didn't....but this still swerved my obsession wildly away from the true path of climbing and into a desire to share the painting geekdom.

So I got back to Glasgow and did fuck all climbing and training and instead did a series of 14 fucking painting tutorial videos (each one taking about 2 hours total painting, filming, and editing) which is great for anyone who wants to know about colour schemes and blending and brush angles and a whole host of tips and tricks picked up from a couple of decades doing this very strictly tangential hobby, but utterly fucking useless for keeping me fit and strong and trying to rectify the uninspired mood I came back with.

What a bellend.

Still I've learnt something. Don't do it again.

In other obsessive news, I've still been enjoying my wee car:

I've actually upped my success rate in that I'm having more full battery runs where I don't break something than those that I do. And I clocked it at 37mph the other day, it should be able to do a bit faster out of the box, but being well over the speed limit is pleasing enough, and it's a bugger to control at that speed with a stopping distance akin to a full size car. I don't feel nearly as.....soiled by this geekout, as it takes less time farting around, gets me out in the fresh air and is more social etc etc. Even if sometimes you just can't get the staff...

Still no excuses now, I've got to get back training. It would help if I knew for what. I've been so scared of still being shite at climbing and not having the confidence to get on the things I want to do, I don't actually know what I *do* want to do... Answers on a postcard to the usual email address.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Three Funerals And A Model Shop

This summer started with a funeral and a model shop, and it finished with a funeral and a model shop. That has a certain circularity, or symmetry, something I generally like. A sort of ontological neatness, of little consequence in the grand scheme of things, but pleasing to certain peculiar individuals. The climb that swallows all your cams but the only one needed for the belay (two left just wouldn't do), the last minute pub that has run out of most dishes except one meat dish for me and one veggie dish for some good-friend-but-dietary-freak I'm with, the road closed detour on the way back from a crag that takes me past a boulder that I've got just enough daylight to do, no more and no less, the Zillertal trip that starts with an evening doing a classic F6a+ at Ewige Jagdgründe, lustily eyeing up the amazing F6c+ next to it, and fuelling my desire in the Gasthof-Restaurant Perauer, and finishes with me fighting up that very same F6c+ as the last route at Ewige Jagdgründe, and celebrating the ascent at the same Gasthof-Restaurant Perauer. Do you see what I mean??

In general I would have preferred there to be less funerals involved in the whole procedure and I am somewhat tired of them - being familiar with the process is not something I'd really aspired to. Too many funerals is symptomatic of too many deaths and there have been a lot around me this year (apparently there have been many celebrity deaths too, however I'd have to calculate some 1/ anti-number to show just how few shits I give about that, and it might break blogspot). Simon's death made me shocked (his funeral being the early outlier of the summer bookends), and I still have moments of wondering when we'll next hook up for climbing before realising....oh fuck, we won't. Rachel's death had a sad sense of inevitability as it unfolded, but still felt strange. Asad Shah's death made me very angry about the sheer pointless stupidity of killing a nice, decent, if quirky man - his shop is less than 100m from my front door and was the regular stop off for soft drinks and emergency chocolate. Uncle Fred's death brought sad but calm acceptance, celebration of a life well lived, and a strengthening of family ties.

Mia's death made me feel utterly sick. I've been friends with Rosie for a decade and used to hang out regularly around the Peak District, enjoying her feisty banter and Mia's sparky, spirited presence. I found out via Rosie's emergency Facebook post while I was away climbing in Cornwall and it "did my fucking head in" for several days. It's simply the worst thing that could happen to a parent, I couldn't comprehend it and could barely comprehend how Rosie managed to be so communicative and informative. Everyone always says how lovely and wonderful children are and blindly sing their praises in any circumstances. I don't - in general I find breeding repugnant, parenthood an awful concept, and children pointless wee shitebags. But as I said then and say now, Mia really was an ace girl, astute and clever beyond her years, as well as being sharp-witted and gorgeous. Another pointless, stupid killing of someone who least deserved it, and I really don't want to see anyone else I know on the BBC News website for now.

Rosie has many vials of Mia's ashes, at some point I will get one to scatter at a crag in Northumberland where I first hung out with them - I think it's either Back Bowden or Kyloe Out in the first photograph of Mia in my bomber jacket in this article - if anyone can Id it then I can get the right crag, or maybe just a wee bit at both. And several boulder problems in her honour of course.

Mia's memorial service was the end of the summer, Fred's was the first. Fred was the co-founder of Steve Webb Models And Hobbies , where I hung out in my youth and glued balsa to my face and sliced into my fingers (a main finger ridge scar still being an annoying exacerbance to my continual skin problems), but didn't actually get involved in the radio control part of the hobby as my parents (rightly) thought I couldn't be trusted with such complex kits. My tribute to Fred highlighted the importance of hobbies and passions, although of course the shop was closed. It was, however, open when I drove from Llandridod Wells - where I had been nu-routing with Pylon King and Don Sargeant in the Elan Valley as well as fending off Don's relentlessly demented spaniel Cadi - to Wirksworth for the service. So a couple of decades late I treated myself to my first R/C car....

It is a blast, ridiculously fast and agile, although the learning curve is steeper than the skate ramp in that video. I've only broken two suspension ends, an axle, a suspension arm and suspension shaft in as many runs.... But it's all part of the fun even if R/C spare parts stores are swamping my bookmarks. I fully intend to strap an MP3 player and speaker on top and terrorise local quarries with pounding gabber once I've fixed the shocks. Well....maybe ;) Actually one of my main inspirations was getting out into the local limestone quarries near Bristol....vast gravelly wastelands, loads of raised hummocks and easy angled slabs, they'd be absolutely perfect. Pity I'm 400 cunting miles away now. Camby will have to do, but when I head back, I'm bagging the first R/C ascent of stuff like this:

This is Glacial Point at Fairy Cave. Definitive borderline E3/4 5c/6a and rather good fun with a pretty smeary crux. This was a pleasing micro-challenge but fairly indicative of the bumbly depths I had to sink to when my stamina, confidence, and skin dryness disappeared entirely up my arse. The list of inspiring routes I abandoned all hope on in the last month of being down South is probably longer than the list of great routes I did during the first month, so it was a fairly tail-between-legs end to my time down there. More on that later, but in the meantime I'm taking a week or so off climbing, which will then necessitate a full month of fighting hard to get back into it. Such is my climbing fragility.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Zillertal Beta.

Another slightly off-piste destination - in summer at least, in winter I'm sure it's well pisted. Is it worth it?? If you really want to climb amongst endless Alpine scenery of mountains, forests, and hillside cabins, with convenient logistics from the Mayrhofen resort including a hearty diet of - yup again - schnitzel und weissbier, all with the irresistable soundtrack of cowbells, it could be for you.

The climbing:
Is essentially a blend of sport climbing that is essentially "the best of Scottish sport-climbing" i.e. good but sub-world-class climbs on decent inland schistose / granitic gneiss, with more aesthetic and striking bouldering circuits in delightful locations.

Route-wise it wasn't as special in the F6s as Pfalz / Bohuslan / Pedriza, but it was good and varied and would be a novelty for sassenachs who have never visited Creag Nan Luch / Cadhag / Goat Crag etc. The harder grade routes do look more spectacular but given everything is undergraded anyway, expect a tough time.

Boulder-wise the plethora of tumbled blocs (including some very recently tumbled ones at Sundergrund providing some cool new lines) provide more distinct lines in a wild variety of situations from along river beds (and actually in the rivers) to forested hillsides, to charming Alpine meadows. I would suggest the bouldering is slightly more inspiring, combining both is definitely recommended.

The guidebook.
Is fairly hopeless in many ways including having small scale maps that are inconsistent with large scale maps, estimating walk-in times by rolling a random selection of dice, describing approaches as following "the path" but not telling you which one of the 25 available, describing bad parking options, not mentioning road tolls or cable car fees, neglecting information like sun/shade orientation and likely rain-shelter, making up grades with numbers left over from the approach time debacle, and drawing topo lines where the author thinks routes might go if viewed from a distance whilst drunk, rather than actually following the distinct bolt lines. But it has a plentiful selection of crags and boulders.

Alpine summer. It can be hot or rainy but rarely both at once and the latter seems to rarely last long despite summer months being the slightly wetter ones. The classic European tactic of getting hotter and hotter until a couple of days of clearing storms seems a feasible one. The crags are fairly high up and cover a variety of situations including shade, shelter, exposure etc so even though the weather is not guaranteed dry, it should be manageable.

Flight to wherever. We went to Munich which is about 2 hours away or 3 hours if you're cutting it fine for the flight and don't want a fuckload of delays and roadworks and get them anyway. Mayrhofen is about an hour from Innsbruck and about 30 mins South of the main A12 autobahn. Some car hire companies charge cross border fees and you need a special 8 Euro access sticker to get from .de to .at.

Accommodation etc:
Mayrhofen is the hub of the area and has everything you need. Good price off-season apartments / hostels / hotels etc in or around it, rough river-side camping further up past Ginzling. There may be other campsites.

Other activities:
In winter it's a well-established resort. In summer it's a seemingly equally established hub of fair weather activities, including vast quantities of walking, cycling, downhill scootering, paragliding, cable car touring, spas, summer bobsleighs etc etc. You might even have time to climb too...

The photos:
 View by day.

 View at most times.

 View by night.

 A minor problem amongst major ones, but what a setting!

 Pulling on a pancake. There are some harder mega-lines around Sundergrund.

 Ewige Jagdgründe is probably the coolest crag in the area for all sorts of reasons...

 ....access, setting, scenery, climbing, etc etc.

 £15 cable car round trip to climb up at Knorren. Well worth it.

 I'd happily get cable cars to climb all the time. Cool fresh air at 2100m too.

 Can't see the forest for the trees? Luckily the crags usually stand fairly clear.

 More Ewige Jagdgründe. Very fun juggy warm-up.

 And more! Terrible image quality  as it was actually pitch dark, but this route was the highlight of the trip. There may have even been a couple of power belches.

 Typical evening view after bouldering.

Typical evening view after sport climbing.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

A fine line...

...between success and failure, between love and hate, between good and evil, between evocative personal prose and eyeball-vomitingly self-indulgent flowery drivel. But other bloggers do a far better job of the latter than me and I hopefully retain enough awareness to restrain the drivel a bit.

The fine line I'm referring to is between a climbing challenge that is enthralling and engrossing and a climbing challenge that is draining and demoralising. Despite a respectable veneer of bumbledon and - so I've been told - an illusionary impression of calm competence, I'm often pushing along that line, or at least trying to. And with such fineness, it's the little things that cause you to swerve from one side to the other. Nearly a year ago I was on the former side of the line on the best lead of my life on The Long Run at Gogarth, a few days ago I was on the latter side of the line on the hardest lead of my life on Black Magic at Pentire. The little thing was conditions, perfect on TLR with a fresh cool breeze after all day sun, arduous on BM with a humid breeze after all day haze.

Cathedral is a very good descriptor. It's a very slightly off-vertical cathedral though.

I probably shouldn't have been on it, and it's all Duncan's fault that I was. We were down there with the indefatiguable Cheque Pictures, filming Duncan returning to Eroica for a fully free ascent 37(!) years after his standard aid-point ascent. This all went rather smoothly with the crux dispatched with all the flamboyant power-whooping you'd expect from Mr Critchley, although when I came to follow it (a *very* rare occasion of me following a harder route, mostly because Eroica had never been on my wishlist) I struggled to see how he'd dispatched the greasy, minimally-featured crux and subsequent death-defying teeter on lead. The general difficulty and poor conditions were reassuring - definitely not a day to try anything hard like a lifetime ambition right at my limit or any nonsense like that. 

Relief mixed with sandwiches and general Atlantic coast discussion at the bottom of the crag, but I kept walking down and touching the Black Magic starting holds and looking at the fine line of the horizon which seemed to be a lot clearer and less hazy than previously. I'd been wanting to do this route for decades ever since the triptych photo of Ken Palmer rocking over (unspeakably bad beta of course) but surely I wasn't ready for it now. I went for a power-shit around the corner just in case and came back to this:

Duncan: How are you feeling??

Me: Kinda nauseous and wobbly really...

Duncan: Well, that's natural isn't it, you're bound to feel like that before a big challenging lead.

Me: Oh for fuck's sake, damn you old school climbers who know what it's all about, that's exactly the right thing to say, now I have to try it!!

He could have said some inane shite like "Just man the fuck up and get on it" or some wishy-washy cop-out like "Well you can always leave it till later", but no, he had to say the right thing, the right mixture of sense and understanding (which didn't quite extend to the 20 year old general beta - also unspeakably bad, but that didn't matter ;)). 

So I did it and the haze came back in and by the time I got to the belay the distant headlands were barely visible and although it was climbable it certainly wasn't crisp and this had the experience teetering from the undiluted pleasure of TLR to something darker and deeper and I got mid-way though the crux after half a dozen goes trying to commit to it and just wanted to drop off as my emotions were frayed and decided I might as well drop off doing the move which of course I didn't as climbing isn't usually as hard as committing and then it was just a methodical process of infinite 5c moves and sore toes and spaced RPs up the flake and really that was just fucking ace.

White magic.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Curious Holes and Horrible Vistas.

So yeah I'm down in Bristol for a bit, specifically to climb in Cornwall, Devon, and North Pembroke. Have I got out to those majestic and diverse sea-cliff paradises?? Have I fuck. I've got sucked into the local limestone choss bollox. I blame the Pylon King, but I also blame the weather, the shambolic organisation of PK's 2nd in command Sgt Stannerz, and myself. Oh and that actually with a fresh perspective and recent renovations, some of that local bollox is actually quite good. I mean limestone is shit, UK limestone is particularly shit, UK inland limestone is the ultimate in shit. But fuck me I've even enjoyed Cheddar sport climbing in the last week - as well as a host of other venues from the mighty Avon to the mighty Woodlane Quarry....

Funnily enough this is a very old stomping ground for me. Learning to climb at school, and later on regularly visiting a mate at Bath uni, I'd semi-regularly potter around these curious holes with their horrible vistas, although a combination of inexperience and inexplicable issues meant I ended up leading a few HVS/E1s and soloing too many 1 star VSes on too many big limestone crags. An early teenage foray saw me attempting Le Poudin Noir at Sandford Quarry, with youthful enthusiasm and it's old sandbag grade. I backed off to the wise words of my young mentor Pete Rigby "Sensible idea Matt, my old man says 'the climb will still be here tomorrow, just make sure you are'". A couple of decades later and I laid that old ghost to rest, and I'm bloody glad my teenage self didn't commit past the start as the whole route is pretty sketchy and intense, and very good for a limestone quarry. Alas we ended up too late to get any battered poudin noir in the local chippy, but a pint of cider for dinner sufficed.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Climbers with tops off at indoors wall...

...and how you can cope with it.

To start, this is not an indoor wall, but it is NED:

Ned is climbing outside, at night, in December (this is likely to be a lot cooler than a typical indoor wall in summer)....with his shirt off. Why is Ned doing this?? To provoke a bunch of punters on UKC into a debate about the fiction of friction?? To bait a jobsworth Fontainbleausard into banning him from La Foret if he persists with such indecent attire??

No, Ned is doing it for the same reason many of us climb with minimal attire: Because he wants to minimise any possible sweating and maximise any possible friction (and maybe reduce a tiny bit of weight and inhibition from a t-shirt) - yes, even at night, in December - and thus climb more effectively right at his limit.

Because Ned knows exactly what the fuck he is doing. If you DON'T know exactly what the fuck you are doing, fair enough, but don't spout your opinions or make knee-jerk rules based on ignorance.

Instead, try the following to deal with the so-called "issue"...

For wall managers / staff:

If people are climbing at your wall with their shirt off, it's for the same reason that they would be climbing in vest tops or sports bras or shorts - because the wall is warm, they are sweaty, and then are trying to reduce that to train more effectively. It is an athletic training environment with a high emphasis on grip and contact strength, and minimal clothing reflects that.

Those people are paying customers who are wanting to train. Obviously you can't provide perfect conditions with immaculate air con in summer and infallible heaters in winter, but you CAN accept that people might need a bit of leeway with climbing attire to make the most out of conditions.

If other customers complain that they feel "uncomfortable" with someone else climbing with their top off, ask them WHY they feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in itself isn't a reason, there must be something behind it. Eroticism? Jealousy? Disgust at sweaty torsos? General prudishness? Most of these are fairly shallow reasons, not as weighty as a genuine physical reason of sweating off holds, and thus not worth impinging on a climber's use of your facility. If there's an actual genuine reason, it's likely due to behaviour, thus...

If you have a problem with macho and boisterous behaviour from people with their shirts off, then you have a problem with macho and boisterous behaviour - tackle THAT. People can act like dicks in just a pair of shorts or in a full £800 Arcteryx outer shell. Don't pin the blame on clothing, tackle people's attitudes instead - ask people to reduce shouting and swearing, to be courteous to other people climbing and hanging out, to avoid getting in peoples' ways etc, and you'll find that people can be polite and respectful irrespective of what they're wearing.

In short, COMMUNICATE with customers on both sides. And remember that a rule without reasons is an unreasonable rule.

If parents complain that it offends the perceived delicate and fragile sensibilities of their children, refer them to the advice in the section below (feel free to print it out).

For critics on internet forums:

If you don't understand why people are climbing with their shirts off at a wall, ASK. People will often give good explanations of conditions-related questions (e.g. climbing grit in winter, shoe friction, reduced sweating etc) and they are likely to give the correct explanation as above.

If you want to try any of the following non-arguments, think a bit more about them:

"But you don't really need to, it's not that warm"
Hey here's some fucking news for you: People sweat when they exert themselves, and some people sweat a lot more than others. Sweating reduces friction and grip on holds and makes training less effective (and less enjoyable). If you don't sweat that much and can climb through summer in a downie, good for you. Medal is in the post / bin. But try to use your fucking brain and realise that other people might sweat a lot more than you, and might need to reduce that sweating a lot more than you do. If you're too ignorant to understand that, turn your computer off and throw your keyboard away.

"But you wouldn't have your shirt off at a gym" 
No shit, that's because firstly at a gym you are sitting / lying on lots of equipment and thus would get sweat all over it, and secondly almost no exercises at the gym rely on hand friction (even deadlifts or lat pull downs are on rungs) so there is no need to go shirtless.

"But girls aren't allowed to climb with their tops off"
No shit, that's just the way the current status quo on general public decency is. Boobs are still regarded as somewhat private / taboo / sexual / whatever, and first world social norms are that they are generally covered in public, along with genitalia and buttocks. Sobeit. If you have any socio-philosophical issues that boobs should be entirely public or male torsos should be equally private, sort it out elsewhere, change the whole society's views, then get back to the climbing community only when that's done. Also note that girls can wear sports bras as minimal decent upper torso attire, going along with the minimal sweating purpose.

Oh fuck off.

For parents complaining that shirtless climbers are intimidating their offspring:

Get a fucking grip. If you've failed so dismally in raising your little shits that they somehow view a male torso as indecent, then you never should have spawned in the first place. Unfortunately it's too late now, but at least you can shut the fuck up and not whine to wall staff about it. Instead, take a long hard look at yourself and your parenting skills - and try to work out how the hell you're going to cope when your grubs go to a swimming pool.


Finally, some anecdotes.

I train with my shirt off regularly indoors (apart from in winter, I wear a skimpy vest then), because I sweat a lot, I find that sweating reduces my training effectiveness and enjoyment a lot, and I need to minimiseit (yes I keep repeating this, but despite being so bloody obvious people still are determined not to get it). I use liquid chalk and normal chalk and brush holds regularly and let my skin recover in between attempts and ask the staff to turn fans on if there are any. I also grunt and strain and occasionally shout with exertion.

I also don't show off and pose and flex and do any macho bullshit - I'm slightly overweight and wearing compression stockings FFS. And I talk politely and affably to people in general. When I've been at TCA climbing shirtless....

I've been chatting to one of the youth girls trying to get beta for a comp wall problem (youth girls is about the level I can manage usually!) and asking politely if I can try the same problem as it had inspired me - NO PROBLEM.

I've been refilling my chalkbag at the end of the wall, and ended up sitting, sweaty and shirtless, chatting to a very elderly lady who was accompanying her grandchildren and was wondering what the chalk was for and didn't seem to care less what I was wearing - NO PROBLEM.

I've been jumping down off a problem when a tiny girl ran around the corner and almost hit me, we both stared a bit shocked, and I smiled down at her and said "Oooops sorry" out of courtesy before she trotted off wide-eyed - NO PROBLEM.

Add in a few hundred casual chats to other climbers and occasional non-climbers - NO PROBLEM.

The moral being: If a provocative arse like myself can both an efficient shirtless climber and a civil human being, then maybe that's another small indication - along with common fucking sense - to not have any draconian restrictions or moronic criticisms of climbing with shirts off indoors.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Saturday, 21 May 2016

A bit like this.

Summer 2015:

Summer 2016:

Both E2 5c, the 2nd one is quite a bit better tho.

Monday, 9 May 2016

A tale of two Thursdays.

Thursday evening.

I'm sitting comfortably in the car, keeping warm with the heater on, relaxing on the way back from Ratho. It's 1'c and snowing gently over the Harthill summit.

Thursday evening.

I'm lying comfortably on the ropebag, keeping cool in the shade, recovering from the dizzying heat at Helsby. It's 20'c and too hot to climb in the afternoon sun.

What a difference a week can make eh. I don't even need to moan about the weather for this one. Except it got too hot, yes too hot. I thought Helsby was a shady crag from my previous visit nearly a decade ago, well I've learnt something useful. I also thought it looked greener than ever, but that fooled me too, close-up it was almost all fine. In fact one of the greenest "good" routes there - Wafer Wall, just above the site of my emergency power-nap - was absolutely fine without any prior cleaning. This was a small, humourous ghost laid to rest as I'd trying to solo it on that prior visit and had to be rescued once standing above the "this break has some fiddly gear in but I won't bother to reverse and get a rope and rack, I'll just press on" section. All fairly silly and it went nicely as a lead. I must confess the previous evening I had a bit of a wobbler on the top of Angel's Face....I think I prefer a rack and rope at Helsby ;)

All of this was inspired by two things. Firstly, a proper new guidebook that I've been long overdue getting - as always with new BMC guides the combination of exhaustive information, rich character and an accessible design provide immediate inspiration to an area that had gone off my radar. Just how proper this is was highlighted to me by going on to UKC to check the databases out of very idle curiosity, to find that the annoyingly uneditable Rockfax grades / descriptions were all-too-commonly wrong. Sigh.

Secondly a somewhat more sombre scenario - I was down in the Helsby area for the funeral of my recently-deceased Uncle Fred, a very decent and honourable man and a near-legendary model-maker, whom along with his son Steve (of Steve Webb Model And Hobbies) inspired me into model-making in my youth and was thus responsible for me getting into painting toy soldiers, which has possibly taken a grade off my climbing but kept me sane during some miserable winters. Funerals are like buses, you (don't) wait a few decades for one and then two come along this year. Hopefully this will be the last for a while. I read a speech in tribute to his model-making hobby and my immediate family seemed to be a positive presence to his immediate family. After this I stuck around for a life-affirming evening at Helsby, got scared:

And witnessed a nice view over Liverpool:

Then there was Thursday of heatstroke and not doing the massive amount of E3 mileage I had planned from browsing the guide, that will have to wait for another time. Then it was a dash over to Meirionydd for the first Rhinnogau session of the year with The Pylon King, and the first new route too:

And finally a sweaty stop-off en-route at Harmer's Wood:

Just waiting for it to cool down a bit and hopefully I can put some of my psyche and mileage into action, preferably as far away from Glasgow as possible.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Beginner's Mind.

Long time no blog. A relief I'm sure. I could pretend that after punting spectacularly in Spain I'd made a sensible tactical decision to let my mind, body, and now-recurring golfer's elbow to heal, ready for a steady and fresh progression up to full fitness and psyche. Well it was half that and half demoralisation and depression which is never the ideal mindstate for a dedicated climber. I don't need to write any more about that and you don't need to read it. Suffice to say I dipped down enough to realise that progression back would be slow and tentative not steady and fresh, but this did come with the realisation to actually take it slow.....some wisdom has been gained from years battling this shit.

Thus, hopefully, beginner's mind. Accepting I will be initially shit but assuming that all the winter's training and last year's mileage will be lurking and give some latent potential. So I went down to TCA and bumbled around on the circuit wall (how come I did the yellow within a couple of sessions, but now can't get past 33-35 no matter how good I feel? Pffft), and then more importantly went down to Yorkshire lime and bumbled around on trad and sport. Amongst other things I cruised Prime Cut which I'd somehow backed off last year in a fit of sore feet and fiddly gear. So apparently I'm better at Giggleswick E2 than I was this time last year - SICK DUDE.

Anyway...5 days mileage at various crags, I felt a bit weak and a bit awkward having to place protection from bad positions, but other than that I felt reassuringly natural, despite it being the first time on UK rock since Oc-fucking-tober. I think I still have a certain "go for it" vibe in my mind following last year's trad, which shows promise as long as the body catches up. I also really enjoyed what I was doing despite UK inland limestone being my least favourite rock. Actually having fun - yup that's a good idea.

Of course this cruisey start to the trad season has skidded to an icy halt - I went down to TCA in a snowstorm yesterday, and I'll be going to Ratho in a snowstorm today. Still, I need to train and if I didn't lose my trad nouse after 5 months I shouldn't lose it after 5....days....weeks?? Let's hope it's not that fucking long.

Also being out and about on UK rock does have some additional benefits:

Monday, 21 March 2016

Summing up the trip... one particular event.

La Riba - new crag, new excitement. A fresh change from Margalef pocket-pulling and loads of choice. This was it, this was the time, the place, to overturn the previous day's debacles, get on and crush. I hit the ground running (well, hobbling, it's a bit uphill and rocky) and got on Directa Reus to start. 15m 6b+ into 15m 6b+, gets 6c for the combo but it's got a comfy rest in the middle. No problemo! I boulder out the start, the pockets are sparser but bigger than Margalef. Good rest on the ledge then up steep jugs that run out so I swerve left via a mono into the crux layback, a bit committing but good stuff. Swing feet over, up to a good spike jug in a pocket by the next bolt, and....





Yes, bees. They start swarming out of the pocket. My mind doesn't think "quick, jump off to the last bolt", it thinks "quick, clip the next bolt and lower off", which of course allows the bees enough time to assume attack formation. I'm shrieking at PJ "LOWER, LOWER, FUCKING QUICKLY!" as I ride to the ground, trailing bees from my vest, swirling arms, goatee, and face... A furious battering dance (thank fuck gabber clubs are good training for this) and several stings later and I'm sat on the ground shaking. I get PJ to pull several stings out and lounge around with a dull ache throbbing around me, before I relax enough to fail on other routes for entirely bee-irrelevant reasons. I still have bruised scabs on my head and shoulders, and now I have an edited guidebook too...

I presume this will be features "as is" in any reprint...

On that subject, more photos:

Other wildlife was more amenable, especially if I was prepared to throw random stones for it. This persistent pooch cheered me up at Oliana after I had a massive strop failing on another F7a there. Furious doesn't even come close. I felt an extra dick afterwards because Sharma, Graham and Woods were further down repeating 9a+s and working on futuristic projects (i.e. the thing just right of La Dura Dura....incidentally it's surprising just how low the crux is on LDD, it's about 1/6th the way up the whole route). These are guys I respect not just for their world class ability but also their seemingly ever-positive and psyched vibes, something I try to have at 15 grades lower - and definitely didn't that day.

Huevo Roca! There were many more huevos going on every morning in the caravan. PJ lives off them and I can see the logic in that. I'm not so used to eggs every single day and did wonder if a slightly different diet affected my performance. Probably not.

Rochas without the huevos. Directly below the left edge of the right hand boulder is an epic 30m 7a I fell off, boxed, after trying my best. Cunts.

Good view from the caravan although the view of the woodburning stove with an entirely unsupported flue pipe soaring about 6m across the campsite bar was also good at this time of night.

The send train. Note that I am not part of it. 

View from Montsant. I'll be back. I've got at least a summer to work out how the fuck to climb.

 Micro-conglomerate at Vilanova De Prades. These pebbles would make rubbish holds as they are just a couple of mm wide...."I had to sprag on a quark" and all that ;)