About me:

Originally from Hull, I now live in Llanberis, North Wales. Totally addicted to climbing, I work at the Indy Climbing wall and as a freelance routesetter to fund my dirty habit.

13 May 2012

My last day of climbing as a student.

I wolfed down my Morrisons breakfast buttie because I couldn't wait to get to Gogarth this day.
I was climbing with Martin Haworth, a old friend from when I lived in hull. Last time we climbed together was on the winter route Bowfell Buttress (VI, 6) where Martin had taken over the lead on at least one of the pitches and essentially dragged me up the route (This was, by no coincidence, the last winter route I did). Today was my chance for revenge.
Duncan went off to Yellow Walls to do The Savage (E2 5b) with Martins mate Andy, whilst we were the first ones on the busiest cliff at Gogarth; Castell Helen. The sun hadn't come round yet, the usually grey-white walls were knocking on the door of black, a pretty good idicator of greasy, damp conditions, but we were down now. I looked to Martin for signs of hesitation, I can only get out of this one if he cracks first. Instead he began nonchalantly spooling out the ropes, unphased by the sub-ideal conditions and soon we were tied on beneath the synonymous with the eponymous, Kalahari Highway (E5 6a).

Martin nipped up the first 4b pitch and I was soon on my way. The first half of my pitch is shared with the original Kalahari (E3 5c) providing a bit of a warm-up. By this point my hands were slick with the slippy bacteria that haunt the shady sea cliffs and my chalk laid waste to the old addage by being very much like soft cheese. 'You sure you still wanna do this Martin?' didn't get the answer I was hoping for. Committed.
The crux pull over a small overlap felt committing as you can't make out any holds coming up after, fortunately the move was ok, and it led straight to good holds and an awkward set of resting positions. From here an impressive traverse on undercuts and smears (exactly what you want in damp conditions!) lead out from under the big rooves. Then at the end of the traverse you're left hanging steeply at the edge of everything on jugs with an exciting blind finale. As I got halfway through the final moves rope drag became terminal, I couldn't move. I didn't feel in balance enough to pull at them without peeling off and in a heart-stopping moment I squat-thrusted upwards feeling the full resistance of 40m of friction. Phew!
Martin seconded the damp journey, dissapointingly, without issue to emerge from the labyrinth of rooves pumped and grinning.

We then swapped partners and me and Duncan went over to North Stack Wall to escape the wind and get gripped. By the time we arrived the sun had come off the wall, the wind had changed direction now blowing straight onto the wall and the tides were too far in for The Cad (E6 6a). So Duncan went first on Blue Peter (E4 5c). He seemed more than a little nervous as this would be his biggest lead to date. I laid down on a nicely inclined slab and got progressively colder. Duncans first steps were tentative, but with every metre of height gained, with every runner placed he got more and more confident, and I got colder, and colder. By half height he was flowing and yarding away as if on his local warm-up, and I was fucking freezing. As Duncan topped off a fine effort with a few squeals of delight I began plucking myself, limb by limb, from my ice-pop polymorphic state ready to second. First move, strained bicep. Second move, stubbed toe. Third move, knee pain. The Cad was off the cards.
When I topped out from the 40m of vertical wall climbing I finally regained some feeling in my fingers and the idea of trying The Cad re-gained credibility until I looked down into the zawn and the tide was STILL too high to gain the bottom of the route. I racked up to go do 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (E3 5c) only to encounter a bird-ban sign at the top of the route. All my enthusiasm was lost, I was uninspired to try anything else around and so we set off home. Then it occurred to me, surely it's a good thing that I've done an E5 and it feels like a bad day.

Every cloud.

9 May 2012

Sprechen sie Dorys

For the last few weeks I've been really enjoying the trad, but, it's felt like an uphill struggle trying to get the fitness/competence/confidence back and after reversing away from the crux on Fiendish Beanish on Sunday I was just about to start feeling disheartened. But during a brief session at The Indy Wall on Monday afternoon, I managed the '7a+'! traverse for the first time and with relief I could begin to see some improvement in fitness.

On Tuesday, Tom Livingstone and I went to Craig Dorys. I think the crag is made of sun-baked mud, or shortbread. It persistently exfoliates the outer layer, after fiddling with a bit of rock whilst belaying I realised you could keep picking away at the rock until you're left with just a pile of muddy flakes. Anyhow, it makes for some mightly absorbing climbing.
Tom kicked off with the classic Cripple Creek (E3 5b). Uninitiated to this kind of terrain, the usually gungho Livingstone adapted well, taking his time and employing a more considered approach.
We abbed back down and I scoured the guide for any hint of persuasion towards a particular route. With so many gobsmacking lines to choose from I got overwhelmed and characteristically indecisive. In a moment of haste I opted for a drop of the big, bold, Honeydew (E5 5c/6a).
The first few moves leave you at a ledge with good runners and a junction with the Knowing Her (E2 5b). From here a high rockover commits you to the route. Setting up to get on with it, the internal chatter went into overload, doing this move would lead to success on the next 10m of flaky wall climbing, or, a horrendous, maiming fall. I grabbed myself by the mind balls and thrust into 100% commitment. From here the climbing edged out above the lip of a cave on small flakey edges not beyond suspicion. I was no longer scared like I was on before committing, it felt natural to be there and I had total confidence in success, having said that the return to normality came with a shocking wave of relief as I gained the juggy, cam-gobbling break. I proceeded up the 2nd half of the route with much gusto now I was safe and revelled in the mudstone roulette.
At the top there were loads of loose blocks, we cleared off all the rubble resting on ledges which must have totalled about 4 tons, a new passtime I hope.

After seconding Toms rapid ascent of Byzantium (E4 6a) my arms were feeling weary but it was still light so I went for a go on the phoenomenally well named route; Noble Savage (E5 6b). It takes the proud headland face on up an uncompromisingly steep crackline. We got on to the route's tidal belay plinth, knowing if I didn't manage it, we would be wading back to the beach. The first few metres went in a flash past the best line of the biggest jugs ever, to a hands off rest. From here the most perfect fist jam in the world plonks you at the crux. A big, bouldery slap sees you through it and then it's just precarious blocks to the top and a belay from a decaying spike and an overhanging earth mound on the otherside of the headland. I'd already belayed off a threaded rabbit hole earlier so this felt bomber.
I can't wait to get back there and roll the dice with Dorys.

7 May 2012

Climb Fast, Climb Free

From the familiar racking-up roost, the big cheese, Jon Ratcliffe, and I spied some tasty looking prey. We swooped down past the small fry of Upper Tier to get involved with The Rat Race (E3 5c). The Rat went at The Rat having been deprived of any Gogarthian delights for a year. The sun hadn't come round yet so it was freezing cold and the rock was pretty slippery from the morning moisture.
Jon plugged away steadily all the way passing a particularly wet looking section around the crux. On second I couldn't feel my hands until I got to the end of the pitch after getting pretty pumped from not being able to tell what I was holding onto.
It was my pitch, the pitch. A loose, overhanging chimney! Although technically easier that the first pitch it packs quite a punch, if only visually. At first I tried to climb it straight on pinching some wobbly fins of quartz, but I soon realised this wouldn't go at anything like 5b. Only one thing for it; to get right in the back of this sandy cleft. A long rockover onto a big foothold signified commitment to the traditional approach. Back and footing up, I looked down between my legs at the Atlantic sloshing away at Main Cliff, even the powerful pounding of the ocean can't bring this mother down. Talking of 'ard bastards, Joe Brown, the first ascentionist is one gnarly legend. With all my modern kit, the knowledge of difficulty, and even knowing that it was even passable I was still intimidated. Acknowledging this act of heroism, and feeling dwarfed by my position with respect to both the cliff and my predecessors, I surged on feeling like a determined cartoon mouse.
As I neared the belay I bumped into Duncan and Bubbles on the sight-seeing tour; Cordon Bleu (HVS 5b). We shared a huge belay plinth in the sun, and with only a long 5a pitch to go I felt at one with the Main Cliff.

I mentioned in my last post about going to try Dreams and Screams (E6 6b), well being a notoriously seepy venue, we gave it a miss, but I still wanted to get a pump on. I tried Run Fast, Run Free (E5 6a) early in 2010, but ended up pumping out ripping my highest runner, blasting a chunk of rock of in the process which stoved me in the face. The route has a reputation for being very pumpy and after my last attempt, I felt nervous about this go. Also by the time I got to the base of the route I was cold and tired, but, I was there, so I got on with it. The first few metres were wet but I managed to dodge around the worst bits, moving about as well as I ever have. I made it to my previous high-point feeling fresh. The stopper crux from last time was passed in about 3 minutes, to a slick flattie. Having assumed it was 5b jugs from this point, I got a slap in the face when I was still crimping and the feet were shrinking into greasy, glassy nubbins. The pump came on thick and fast, and all the holds were very blind sidepulls. I wanted to press on up, but everytime I did I could feel my arms wilting immediately. I hung around shaking out my arms and legs, but was barely getting anything back. I figured I would have to go for it and hope I got lucky and hit the good bits on the blind sidepulls. I got lucky twice, making it to the final impasse with about 30cm of rock, covered in jugs,  between me and the top. Blinkers on, I surged up trusting my feet to some poor, anti-directional edges. I grabbed a handful of mud-topped quartz on the top, it offered no purchase and a fleeting moment of panic gripped me. My elbows were ticking upwards, counting down the seconds I had left. I scrabbled out left gaining a, fortunately, juggy pinnacle and heaving over on to the top.
It would definately have been screams.

Yesterday, Duncan and I headed for the Orme for some sport action. In Llandudno we got stuck in an hour and a halfs worth of traffic because of some ridiculous parading of steam engines. It never cleared and the mechanical monsters kept steaming on by. We gave up in the end and tried another approach going the wrong way down a one-way. When we got there, evidently other people had tried and some officious penis had taken it upon himself to stop us passing through. I was already pissed at the delay so I grabbed him by his jacket and pulled his head in through the window, rolled the window up, trapping his head and set off at a considerable pace. Once he'd stopped screaming I dropped the window sending him spinning off into the roadside railings. We'll I wish I'd have done that, instead I just did as he said and turned around.
Then we remembered you can't even climb on the upper Orme on bank holidays anyway, so saved by the bellend, we drove straight over the top to try Red Meat (7b). Met with further adversity in the shape of a bird-ban we left the Orme after wasting nearly 3 hours and made a bee-line for Noticeboard Crag.

Noticeboard Crag from the caravan site. Duncan Campbell Collection

I'd driven past hundreds of times and always fancied going to try the line of the crag; Fiendish Beanish (7b) which takes the line straight up the middle though the sheet of perfect orange, pocketed rock. We did the airy Leaning Jowler (6b) to warm-up, then I went for the onsight. I made it to just beneath the 5th bolt giaing an isolated pocket with my right, but couldn't figure out what to do. Feeling run-out and pumped I reversed to the deck to let Duncan have a burn. He surged up to my high point, matching the lone pocket and throwing out right for another pocket. He pulled up a load of slack to clip the bolt, but had to drop it and grab the draw as he began to peel off the rock. After a quick rest he climbed to the top ticking some hidden holds on the way.
I went for it again, armed with knowledge. This time I got the isolated pocket and rocked straight up to a flattie. After a couple more steep and brilliant moves I was at the chains. Almost seconds later Duncan had knocked it out 2nd go for his hardest ever sport route. It's an absolute gem of a route and well worth seeking out. There's also some old trad routes on the cliff which I think should be retro-bolted up to give a fine set of steep routes perched above gypsy heaven.

On both these ascents I think I could have moved quicker, as soon as I was pumped I became very hesitant. I need to climb faster and with less care about falling off. So a bit of falling practice is in order, but perhaps first I will get a new harness.

1 May 2012

Bring the Pump

The suffocating smog of deadline pressure has lifted and with just one assignment and one exam left, visibility is at 99% giving almost perfect climbing conditions. This has come with some relief as the last few weeks have been very slow on the climbing front.
Four weeks ago, I was down in Dorset for Easter eating heartily and plugging away at my dissertation. Me and Laura made it out to Portland for the day for a spot of bouldering at The Cuttings and despite the perpetual eating of late it turned out to be a pretty good day.
We had a quick warm-up on some greasy classic called Nu-Breed (V4) then I spotted this steep looking wall coming out of a pit with a perfectly spaced set of edges. It wasn't in the guidebook but it looked really cool. I couldn't really tell how hard it was from skegging it. It could have been anything from V4 to V10 but I managed to crank through it nicely first go after spending the time figuring it out, so it could only be V6 at the most.
We moved on and I got frustrated at a bunch of poor quality problems with horrible holds and unpleasant moves Then it started raining and my brush snapped punctuating the mood. I realised this had been my only day out in ages and I wasn't enjoying it. Then I realised this had been my only day out in ages and I should start enjoying it. It worked. I flashed Petty Thief (V6), Neil Armstrong (V6) and Death of Kings (V6). We went over to the Relativity block and I managed the eponymous V6 3rd or 4th go, but only just as I was getting pretty powered-out.
We bumped into a group of locals who told me the unidentified problem I'd done earlier was Terminator (V7), and off the back of this confidence boost I scraped my boxed carcass up Lightning Strike for my second V7 flash of the day! I wonder if I'd have flashed either, if 'd known the first one was a V7?
A week later, after much pleading for a partner on UKC, I went to Swanage with Luke Tickle. We planned to go to The Promenade for some sport climbing, but with really rough seas we were confined to a small, frequently wave-splashed platform. We knocked out Flail Trail (6a) next to the abseil, then I tried the bouldery Violent Breed (7b+). Needless to say it was a poor warm-up and after managing to onsight the roof problem crux, I pumped out on finger jugs above. By this point the sea was tickling at Luke so we decided to bail out for somewhere less tidal. Luke led Eskimo Nell (E1 5b), a rather fine scooped wall reminiscent of an easier Wall of the Worlds (E5 6a) just along the coast.
Then I looked at doing Zoolookologie (E5 6a). I'd read that it was hard and pumpy for the grade so had no idea how I'd get on as my fitness had been long neglected. I'd also read that you should preplace a rope to escape up past the top band of mud/rubble. It took a while to locate the stakes to hang the rope off, then a hail storm came.
I'd been dying for this day for ages and after getting two buses to be here, I was relucant to turn away despite the hail, the thunder, the abiguity of access and the explosive seas. Fair play to Luke abbing in with me as it was harder than anything he'd been on before, the route was frikking steep and the atmosphere was wild. I was pretty nervous at the bottom with Zoolookologie looming out over me and the sea, but through a bit of  re-thinking and whooping I channelled the nerves into excitement.
The route was pretty goey with less places to hang around than I expected. I managed to sprint it well though and pulled through the top bulge with only just enough juice left in the tank. I do love Swanage.

I've just had a gruelling fortnight of university hell, handing in my dissertation and giving a 10 minute end of year talk consisting mostly of opaque bullshit. I was supposed to sit and listen to my peers talk's for the next 6 hours after, but the sun was shining and I am, at least a little hedonistic. With a face saying 'ill be back' and a gait projecting purpose I walked out the door and jumped in the air for a fist-pump freeze-frame with the equally bored and disrespectful Tommy Cole.
This signalled the termination of 'the thick of it'. To the slate!

Riding a high from 'winging it ' through the talk and then escaping, I went to go try The Rainbow of Recalcitrance (E6 6b) with Jim McCormack. It was all wet so I tried what I thought was Splitstream (E5 6b) instead. I was revelling in the movement on rock and couldn't stop exhuberating about the quality of the moves and the hair-raising run-outs. I popped off the crux first go but got straight back on and did it getting sucked into a sustained and exciting run-out, which I was pleased about as usually I lose my bottle once I've come off.
From the halfway point on the rainbow the line became totally ambiguous and I felt like I was doing some scary moves which felt harder than what was supposed to be the crux. Fairly mentally spent and in fear of being on one of the E7s hereabouts I backed-off. It turns out I was on The top of Cystitis by Proxy (E5 6b) so maybe I should have ploughed on. I really, really, really enjoyed it though. Bring on the summer of trad.
The next day I went to Gogarth with Bubbles. I led up Park Lane/Doomsville Connection (E2 5b/c) in one big pitch then Tom tried his nemesis; The Strand (E2 5b). At half way it looked like it was in the bag for him, moving well and and not pumped. He got above his high point and I think expectation got the better of him. Next time Tom! I led it with pretty much all the gear in place as a clip-up. Fantastic. Might as well bolt it up as its got a lower-off at the top already!
Then I tried Energy Crisis (E5 6a). I'd had a go about a year ago and gone up and down three times from half height to preserve my arms and the onsight. This time armed with the crucial cam (3.5. You could also get a bomber 5 even higher) I was glad to have not committed before. Some unique moves got me through the crux and led me into a spectacular monkey-up-a-stick sequence with a solitary rock 3 on the last 5-6 metres. We did the recently cleaned Crowbar (E1 5b) to round off the day and on the top crux pitch I got struck my an ironic energy crisis. I felt like I was falling upwards, like I was going to faint, scrabbling through the moves desparate for the horizontal. I made it onto the top slab and managed to paste a rainbow of seagull fluids all over myself by building the belay in an unfortunate position. Crowbar was great and certainly deserves attention along with Fifteen Men on a Dead Mans Chest (E5 6a) since Rob Greenwoods cleaning escapades. We made it back to the bags and refuelled just in time to wait for an hour and a half for a lift home.

 Yesterday I had a brief window between handing in an assignment at 1 and working at indy at 6 so me and an on-form Gwen Lancashire bombed over to Gogarth to go for a high-speed, top-down burn along the Kalahari Highway (E5 6a).  We abbed in to see the route's imposing, stacked rooves... and Tim Neill already halfway up it. After waiting a while to follow them up it Tim had to take an intermediate belay because of savage rope drag, and time pressed it's smug, governing thumb into my face like a bully with the upper hand. We did Kalahari (E3 5c) instead, but it was still awesome with great climbing and a summery atmosphere.
I've got two rest days ahead now, after which I intend to try Dreams and Screams (E6 6b). With a 75% chance of the latter, I'm gonna give it absolutely everything. Can't Wait.