Saturday, 31 December 2011

Mandatory Navel-Gazing Retrospective Nonsense

So, it's the end of another year. It's been a bit of a mixed bag from a climbing point of view. Mostly good, but with plenty of scope for improvement next year.

Looking Back:
501 Routes, more than any other year, but almost half of those were solos.
77 Different crags, probably more than any other year.
Average grade of VS with a rope on, higher than any other year.
Didn't get out of England and Wales - boo.
9 Proper E-points. It would have been nice to get to 10, but the weather has been cack for the last few months. Maybe I'll just award myself the second E-point for Lucky Strike.
An almost identical number of HVS and E1 leads to last year, but they've generally felt a bit easier.
I also bouldered substantially more, and harder than ever before, which was nice. I even enjoyed some of it...

Highlights of the year:
Lucky Strike - A route I've been wanting to do for ages. It definitely isn't E2 though.
Altar Crack - At last! Now I never have to go near it again.
Manson's Wall - I'd never have thought I could get up a V5, but I did. Yay me.
Lunakhod - Ace.
Rock Dancer - Felt hard and a bit scary, but I kept it together and managed not to cry.
Great Crack - Well worth the wait for it to dry!

Looking Forwards:
Travel a bit more - hopefully to Lundy, Skye, Lofoten, Font, Fairhead and maybe a few other places.
Get some winter climbing done.
Lead some E2s.
Actually get a bit fitter instead of just thinking about it.
Climb more in the Lake District.
Climb on Cloggy.
Actually solo 100 routes in a day.
Climb more on slate and culm.
Actually get round to doing Tower Face at Stanage and Scavenger at Gogarth.

That'll do for now. I'm off to start my training regime with a pie and plenty of beer. Mmmm.

Thursday, 8 December 2011


Another Friday, another dry day (whoop), but this time with added arctic winds. Hmmm. Jaime and I met at Curbar gap and had a bit of a potter in the small quarries at the Right end of Curbar before our hands and feet froze into uselessness and we headed further along in the hope that the trees might offer some shelter. They did, but only on a short wall covered in hard looking problems. After a particularly chastening experience with a heathery top out and failing to solo a VDiff (oh dear) we retreated to The Trench, home of slopers. Lots of lovely slopers.

The slopers. The horror. THE HORROR.

The easy problems were easy (remarkably), but the V2 took some working out. Eventually i managed it, but Jaime was unable to rock up onto the crucial foothold in spite of my best attempts at heckling. I had a bit of a play on the other, harder problems, but couldn't fathom how to use the baffling array of cack holds, so we decided to wander along to Froggatt.

On the way past I soloed Solomon's Crack, for my 500th route of the year, and then Grey Slab (with it's trivially easy, but quite amusing offwidth) for my 2800th route ever. Whoop. Statistically satisfied we had a look at Tody's Playground, a steep face hidden in the trees and plastered in jugs. The problems were all quite disconcertingly high (although all the top outs were on monster holds) so we only did an easy problem or two before heading back to Joe's Slab. I'd always looked at this, but had never had a mat with me before, so it was good to finally get on it. The starting holds are buffed to a high sheen, but I imagined they weren't and quickly got established on the slab. The crucial hold was tantalisingly out of reach, so after much pondering I tried some daft foot swapping and stepping through, which seemed to work. At V1 5c the onsight isn't that impressive, but it is a classic, so I was pleased with myself.

Tody's Pocket at Froggatt

We were back to being very chilly by this point so we headed back towards the car, stopping back off at The Trench en route so Jaime could settle her score with the V2. There were a few other folk there, so I roped them into heckling duties, but sadly it wasn't to be. They did give me some beta on one of the harder problems (comically overgraded at V5 6b in the BMC guide), so I gave it a proper go and somehow found myself holding the top wondering what to do now. I had a bit of a word with myself about the ground being not very far away and got my smear on. A desperate scrabbling mantel later and I was up. Whoop again. So, a pretty good day, even if it was freezing.

Friday, 25 November 2011

A Chilly Day At Froggatt

Brown's Eliminate looking seductive (but still scary)

The sun was out this morning, but there was a chill wind in the air. Hoping to avoid the worst of it James and I paid a rare (for me at least) visit to Froggatt. The ground was damp on the approach, but the wind had dried the crag off. We warmed up (in a sense) by soloing something easy, before I tested out the coldness situation on Chequers Buttress. I had seconded it some time ago and remembered the crux being a long stretch to the arete. I was somewhat surprised, therefore, to reach the arete easily, but to find some climbing waiting there for me. I reached the top with fingers which were remarkably still warm, good stuff.

For some reason James had convinced himself that Chequers Crack was easier than it's reputation, the guidebook and everybody who's ever climbed it claimed. He was quickly proved wrong and joined the extensive club of people who've tested the gear on the lower crack. After plenty of effort for little reward he found some sequences that worked and reached the midway resting ledge. On second I lost feeling in my fingers rather quickly and managed to quickly reverse to the ground. Twice. At this stage I decided to run away and preserve the onsight (ha ha ha) for another day when it isn't so cold and I'm a much better climber (with somebody else's arms).

Before it all went wrong...

We ran away to the trees to try and escape the baltic wind and I thought I'd tidy up another HVS I'd seconded long ago. A few minutes later I was elegantly applying my knees to overcome the usual grovel onto the block on Tody's Wall. Last time the rock onto the slab had felt like the living end (and I'd had to sacrifice most of the skin of my forearm to ensure success), but it went fairly easily this time and the upper crack was a doddle. Hilariously some people think this is the crux.

James and I both had designs on the adjacent slab of Motorcade, but I was feeling a lot less keen after James had backed off citing hard moves and a potentially long and bouncy fall, so I opted for the hopefully less bold CMC Slab. At HVS you're allowed side runners in the crack of Heather Wall, which came as a welcome relief. Things seemed to be going well, with a little bit of mild smearing, but then I ran into the crux. A bit of self-persuasion was needed, but I managed two whole consecutive thin smears before I lost my bottle and threw my foot far too high onto the nearest proper hold. There then followed a long and painfully slow rockover, before I could desperately snatch at some poor pockets and then the top. Phew.

The sun was getting low in the sky, so James jumped on Strapiombante. Cold hands got in the way of the onsight, but after a short warm he swiftly dispatched the crux. I'm still harbouring the idea that I might lead this one day, so abbed for the gear instead, and finished the day off with a long-overdue solo of Cave Crawl. I'd backed off the start to this several times before, but it felt easy, and the journey into the centre of the crag that followed was well worth the effort. Delightful.

So all in all a successful day (at least for me, James' was less productive), and for the first time in ages I'm keen for a return visit to Froggatt. Who knows, I might even give Three Pebble Slab a go next time...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Altar Crack At Last

Ever since climbing The File 18 months ago Altar Crack at Rivelin has been playing on my mind. Not only is it the nearest 3 star VS to my house, but it's notable for being one of the few routes that Oli and I have gone to do and both flatly refused to lead because it looks to hard. Oh, and it's a layback crack. I've been to Rivelin so many times that I've climbed everything else there at VS and below (pretty much), so when Mr Oswald somehow persuaded me to go there on Friday, I knew the game was up and I'd have to get on it.

Luckily it's at the far end of the crag, so I ignored it in the hope it might go away or fall down, and climbed Kremlin Krack instead. The guidebook bills it as a "dark delight for the lover of fearsome wriggles", but really it's not too bad. There was barely any thrashing around or offwidthing (or even jamming), and a size 4.5 camalot acted as a convenient mobile toprope for the hard bit. Maybe only VS 5a with one of those?

Anyway, that was a good start. James led the rather hard (and slightly worryingly protected) Left Under, which was good, and then I strangely found myself half way up Fringe Benefit fiddling terrible gear in trying to kid myself unsuccessfully that it might keep me off the distant-looking ground if I muffed the next move. Then it started spitting. Luckily I was on a big ledge and it stopped after 5 minutes or so, so I made the moves and didn't test the gear. The rest (including the not very 5b crux) was easy enough once I'd sorted my footwork out. Another E-point to add to the collection. That's 9 this year I think. I wonder if I can find a 10th in the next month...

Gareth making The Brush Off Look pretty easy

James wasn't persuaded by my mutterings about Roof Route, but he gave the neighbouring Groove Route a go (apparently hard for both 5b and HVS, which makes you wonder why it isn't E1). After trying a lot of duff sequences he used some strategic palming and it all came together. With this beta it felt ok, still 5b but not hard for it, and it was a nice sequence of moves.

Unfortunately that meant I either had to man up sufficiently to do Roof Route (har har) or go and climb Altar Crack. I had a plan of attack for Altar Crack which involved some strategic climbing up, placing gear, then climbing back down. I put this into action and almost fell off on the way up, and again on the way down, getting quite pumped in between. This didn't bode well. I sat on the sacrificial altar for an age sorting my arms out and went for it. I jammed back up to my top bit of gear, stuffed a toe in the crack, stood up, entertained the idea of bridging on some pebbles, started getting quite pumped, stuffed my feet back in the crack, getting more pumped now, here's the horizontal break and here's a jug. Hooray. Only I still didn't have any footholds and I was really pumped. There was an in situ cam by my face but I didn't have the strength to clip it. I wanted to give up and slink off into the undergrowth, but that would only mean I'd have to come back again some other day to do it. So I dug into my hidden reserves of oomph, told myself that my last piece of gear was less far away than it looked, and pressed on upwards. The crack was too thin to even pretend to jam by this stage, so I was forced into a filthy layback. Snatching wildly at the crack with each successive move I managed to run my foot up into the break and with a truly desperate pull managed to get my weight over it and cram as much of my arms as would fit into the friendly break by my face. I placed considerably more gear than was necessary, stepped up and threw myself inelegantly over the top of the crag.

Altar Crack ate my hands...

Unlike The File, or any number of other routes I've climbed, which have felt like a desperate fight at the time, Altar Crack wasn't even type II fun. Whenever I think about it I'm just filled with an enormous sense of relief that I don't have to go anywhere near that sodding climb ever again. And a slight satisfaction, I guess, that I managed to press on and really go for it when it felt like failure was imminent.

I finished the day by tarnishing things slightly after refusing to second James up Ring Of Roses, an HVS traverse. In my defence though he did make it look like the hardest thing in the world (and this was borne out when I inspected the holds whilst abseiling for gear to discover that they were largely illusory). Bloody good lead that man.

For a change of scenery I spent a few hours on Sunday afternoon at Burbage South with Adam, Kate and the enthusiastic hound, bouldering in the sunshine. Somehow we ended up doing a lot of scrittly mantelshelf problems, including the hilariously desperate Cobra Mantel. But I did manage a pleasing number of 5c and 6a onsights. And I fell off a V0. Whoop.

Holds? You'll not find any of those round here...

Sunday, 13 November 2011

More Stupid Bloody Dampness

Another Friday, another reasonable looking forecast, another day of thoroughly unsuccess. Bah. Things looked reasonably promising at my house, but as soon as I got out into the Peak the cloud was everywhere. I was with Mark, one of these keen youths that seem to proliferate in Sheffield, but after running away from the Trackside boulder at Curbar with frozen fingers things were looking grim. We took a punt on Cratcliffe being an oasis of sunshine and warmth, but it was cloudy and damp instead. We did find a small amount of dry rock and managed a couple of problems, but it was fairly far removed from what one might describe as fun, and we soon ran away.

Luckily the forecast for the weekend was good. Unluckily the weather hates me. Saturday morning was dry, with even the odd touch of sunshine, but the ground was damp. Eventually the sun came out around lunchtime and J-Ro, Simon and I ventured up to the Plantation. Of course when we arrived somebody was about to do Tower Face (I think I might be fated never to climb this route), so we went South and James prevaricated for a bit about how damp August Arete looked. Eventually he got on with it, grumbled a lot about how it was all wet, he couldn't feel his fingers and all the holds were in the wrong place, but made it to the top all the same.

James enjoying himself on August Arete

Some gnarly old dudes were on Namenlos, which was going to be my route of choice, having seconded it a fortnight ago and found it dead easy, so I started gearing up below Billiard Buttress instead. The start looked steep, and on closer acquaintance it was, and the pockets weren't the enormo-jugs I'd imagined they might by, so I stepped right into the start of Milsom's Minion, which looked less steep (this is officially sanctioned in the guide as making the route "more balanced", so I wasn't cheating...). Unfortunately it still appeared to feature a thin 5a move with a groundfall to congratulate you if you get it wrong.

Looking unnaturally stylish on Billiard Buttress...

Obviously I did what any right-thinking person would do in this situation and hung around for ages getting ever so slowly more pumped, until finally I manned up and did the move. Hooray, gear. I shuffled back leftwards, placed some crucial cams blindly by my feet and smeared upwards. The footholds were dry, but the handholds were green and manky, which made things feel quite exciting, especially with the gear receding ever more into the distance below me. Eventually, via a terrible tiny cam and some easy moves I was at the top. Phew. Simon finished the day with a good effort on the rather heightist Paradise Arete (the team next to us even joined in with the heckling, which I'm certain helped him out).

Today it's foggy and gopping wet everywhere. I'm sitting in bed sulking. I hate the winter, why's everything got to be so bloody damp? Harrumph.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Farewell To Dr DanDanDan

As Dr DanDanDan is moving to Kansas (who am I going to sandbag into coming girdle traversing with me now?), it seemed fitting to have one final session at Stanage. After last Friday's general aceness I was psyched for all kinds of things - Tower Face, Fina, Milsom's Minion, Billiard Buttress etc etc. Sadly the weather had other plans and things were looking decidedly wet and minging until the sun came out around 11:30. I convinced Dan (and myself) that the crag would be dry within the hour and was consequently slightly surprised that nobody else was in the Plantation car park when we arrived.

It soon became clear that the crag was dry in places, but also quite wet in places. The path was also doing a passable impression of a river. This was not a world of goodness. Lowering my expectations slightly we wandered up to Lookout Flake, an epic Severe. Half of the flake was dry, unfortunately not the half you actually hold on to, but once I'd got off the ground it was ok. Dan's travails getting off the ground provided me with some light relief too, which was thoughtful of him.

The colour that every gritstone climber loves to see...

As everything else in the area was hard, wet or both, we walked along (nearly slipping to my death on the wet grass several times) to the general vicinity of Paping About Like A Man With No Arms (which looked even more delightful than usual, shudder). After scooping plenty of water out of a big pocket onto a crucial smeary foothold Dan led Poor Pizza, which was better than it sounds (and not even that wet), but a touch bold.

The next route, Scorpion Slab, was even bolder, with only a sideways RP1 protecting most of the route. Luckily it was really easy, although Dan tried to prove otherwise by falling off it somehow. It was nearly dark by this point, but a few chants of "Is it a bird, is it a plane, no it's TURBO-DAN" seemed to provided the required motivation, and Dan hastily racked up and set off up a VS. He quickly managed to get himself committed at a rather worrying height, with no gear in. Whilst I was trying to assess whether I should try and spot him or do my best crash mat impression should he fall off, he got on with it and reached the top, hurrah.

Hopefully things will be a little bit drier next time...

Impressed with my bomber RP1 placement

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Season O'The Grit

Friday promised a perfect forecast and actually delivered for once. Sunshine and perfect temperatures for the gritstone. Young master Oswald and I went to the Plantation for some routes and very nice it was too. James got the ball rolling with a smooth ascent of Left Unconquerable, which was fairly straightforwards, but quite steep. I then got stuck into Wall Buttress, a saucy looking wide crack which is rumoured to be HVS. It turned out to be exactly the width of my fists, so very little struggling was required. I was glad to have a daft number of large cams with me all the same.

Namenlos was next, and felt pretty soft for E1. James did impress me by placing four cams in the crucial break, which puts even my gear profligacy to shame. Good effort. I was dead keen for Billiard Buttress, but there was somebody on it, so I had a bash at a random HVS called Parasite. It was pretty easy, although the moves to the ledge at half height were protected only by two lobes of a cam, with a ground fall in prospect if/when that failed, so HVS felt fair. A quick whiz up Pegasus Rib (nice, but eliminate to stick to the arete near the top instead of following the obvious holds out left) and we were below Valhalla, a ticklist VS which looked like it might involve laybacking. Thankfully it was actually just a jamming crack, so went fairly easily.

Our last route of the day was the well named Nuke The Midges, featuring a short traverse and then some kind of pop for a flat just followed by a stylish mantel. There was only one opportunity to place gear, so James again stuffed four cams next to each other, before styling it out to the top. I seconded with slightly less panache, but then 5c moves can be quite hard. All in all a very good day. Nothing below 5a and only the crux of Nuke The Midges had actually felt hard. A reminder that HVS and E1 on grit can actually be reasonable sometimes. As long as we aren't talking Higgar or Ramshaw of course...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Grades, Grades, Grades

Friday was forecast to be dry, so Jaime and I hatched a plan to climb some rocks. Nobody had told the weather about the forecast, so I awoke to some thoroughly de-psyching dampness. Everywhere. Bah. We arranged to scuttle off to The Works instead, but a last minute reprieve was had when things actually started to dry off. A rendezvous at Apparent North for some bouldering was arranged, where we discovered that everything was a bit windy, so we sought the shelter of the Plantation.

Passing underneath Crescent Arete (every time I walk past this it looks harder and higher) we found a nice spot with a bunch of V0s which we duly crushed. I even managed a ridiculously eliminate V3 with a spot of high stepping and some heinous mantelling. Grrr. The easier problems all felt very easy, except for a thuggy little number which involved monkeying along a jug rail with your feet dangling in space. I managed this, although not without accidentally fly-kicking Jaime in the process.

Jaime pulling some shapes

We stopped by the Lone Boulder where Jaime finally defeated her nemesis 6a slab and I managed to haul myself up some overhanging bollocks V0 5a which I've failed on before. It still felt desperate, but at least I don't have to do it again. Jaime didn't help by somehow making it look very easy. Boo to that sort of thing. I got my own back with some ridiculous mantling (and a small amount of chin-rock-interface) from the start of the Green Traverse.

We finished off with a little play on the ironically named Pebble. I scared myself going up the descent, which didn't bode well, but managed to man up enough to get to the top of a few other easy problems before the line of Delivarete caught my eye. V1 5c from standing, which looked ok, or a hard sounding V4 6b from sitting. Now I can't haul my ass off the ground for toffee, so this felt ambitious, but I had a go anyway. A few seconds later I seemed to have achieved a standing position without trying very hard. Another few seconds and I was at the top. Hmm. V4 6b you say? This would make it only my second ever 6b move, and my first V4 onsight. If only it hadn't felt several orders of magnitude easier I'd be really chuffed. Instead I'm just annoyed that it's so over-graded. Grumble grumble. Still, it was a nice problem I suppose.

Jaime figuring out the start to Delivarete

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Man + Limestone = Win (for once)

This weekend was the 3rd annual mid-late October Pembroke adventure spectacular. Just the thing to help me get over the fact that Autumn is depressing and wet and windy. I headed down on Thursday with Julie and Andy and, thanks to some excellent planning, we arrived just in time for it to get dark. Hmmm. We celebrated our skills with dinner in the St Govan's Inn, which made everything a bit more ace.

In the middle of the night DrDanDanDan arrived, so he joined in the communal psyche in the morning when everything looked grey and wet. My insistence that the crags would be dry and sunny was roundly ignored and we skulked around for ages until we ran out of skulk and had to head to the crag just to see if I was right. It turned out I was (I ALWAYS AM) so we abbed into St Govan's and wandered around looking for some inspiration. The start of The Arrow looked a bit damp, so I opted for Tactician instead, which was a good call. The crux was tricky, but I used my mad bridging skills to get a rest in the middle of it, and the remainder was great. Proper, chunky corner climbing with lots of gear (21 bits to be precise). Oddly it's given E1 in the new CC guide, which gave me a dilemma, as it was clearly only HVS. I do like E points though...

Julie on Tactician at St Govan's

Next up, determined to shun all of the good looking, clean, inspiring lines, Dan chose a filthy looking unstarred VS. It turned out to be filthy, hard and polished, but he seemed to enjoy himself all the same. I finished the day off with a brief tussle with Front Line's rather unreasonably imposing first move, which ended with some very elegant ledge-beaching antics. The brilliant exposed upper groove made it very worthwhile (and a touch harder than Tactician, but still definitely HVS).

Simon and Frank (who was a surrogate Claire for the weekend as she's busy being broken at the moment, sadface) had joined us by the time we found ourselves marching over to The Castle in the sunshine on Saturday morning. We spent a good few hours having fun on Spink wall (except for on the eponymous VS, when I unreasonably had to lay one some distance above gear, bah) before Dan stepped it up with a pleasant little HVS and I thought that maybe it was time to stop prevaricating and actually climb Lucky Strike.

Dan was incredibly psyched about the idea of abseiling into a ledge from which the easiest escape was given E2 in the CC guide, a grade neither of us had led, and which involved an awful lot of traversing. Still, to his credit he followed me down the ab rope instead of running away. To say I was a little apprehensive would be an understatement, but these routes don't climb themselves, so I took a deep breath and set off across the initial traverse. A hop, skip and a 5b move later and I had the start of the juggy flake line in my hands. It was in the bag. Except I was quite pumped and this next move didn't look very easy...

A quick word with myself and a little bit of trying rather hard and I flailed elegantly upwards at what I hoped was a good sidepull. A few more pushy feeling moves and I had a sort of rest. Phew. I celebrated by placing 4 bits of gear. Just in case. The sea did look quite unfriendly after all. Some easier moves led up past a series of incrementally better rests to an actual jam. Whoop. Not much further to the top. Up the crack, cram some gear in, sling a dubious, but obviously well furtled little spike, getting a bit pumped again now, juggy undercut, feet up, grab the top, gurn like an idiot, slap around desperately for some bigger holds, paste my feet around aimlessly, for the love of god don't fall off now, more desperate slapping, these holds feel good enough, feet up and lo, I was at the top. What a route. Another Littlejohn wunder-route. Dan managed to make it all look a bit easier on second than I'd have liked, which was a bit unreasonable. Bastard. Sadly I don't think it was really an E2's worth of effort, so I'm inclined to agree with everybody else I know who's done it, all of whom agree it's E1. Shame, I'd like an E2 tick...

I'm alive!

The evening brought a celebratory steak and a fair amount of beer back in the St Govan's. Mmm.

It rained overnight, but it was dry and sunny in the morning, so Dan and I abseiled into Trevellan to humour me and my desire to climb The Hole (how could you not?). I'd been put off the direct start by rumours in the Rockfax guide of 5c moves, so I took the pansy left-hand option (at a mere 5b). After a little bit of trying hard again and about 13 runners in 10 metres I reached the fabled hole. Like some kind of jug-infested chimney of win inside the crag, it was totally brilliant. A pretty unique route. Why can't all climbs be topologically non-trivial?

It was now definitely Dan's lead, so we moseyed across to St Govan's East and he romped up the very pleasant corner cracks of Ganymede. At this point we both fancied a go at the very aesthetic arete of Rear Wind (fnar fnar), so Dan borrowed Frank as a sacrificial belayer and I set off up the neigbouring HVS with Simon. I had failed to notice quite how steep the route was until I was half-way up it, which was exciting. Luckily there was a sit-down rest on which to compose myself, and all of the jugs in the world, so it was all ok. The top out was a bit harrowing, mind. As was constructing the belay out of small rocks, grass and optimism.

Frank looking unusually uptight on Rear Wind...

Dan soon joined me at the top of the crag and proclaimed his route to have been very good and not too hard. A very satisfactory combination. Sadly the appointed hour of our departure had arrived, so I had to confine it to my ever-growing list of Pembroke psyche. Normally I go to Pembroke with a list of routes I want to do as long as my arm, climb none of them because they're all a bit hard, and end up coming home with an even longer list. This time I actually manned up and climbed some of them, but saw at least twice as many new inspiring routes. Oh dear. I really need to learn to climb E2 properly and then come back. It all looks so ace...

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

50, 900 And The Grandest Line On Grit

So, somehow I've managed to whitter on enough to reach 50 blog posts. Yay me.

Anyway, today I escaped the wind at Turning Stone Edge with Dan (who was preparing for his imminent viva by working hard). We had a pretty productive day, which included some minimal faff leading of Overton Arete by Dan, a rather nice VS featuring an abundance of silly rockovers. He also managed to make pretty short work of an HVS slab (eek).

Sadly I didn't take up the challenge as all the other HVSs looked steep and frightening, but I did manage my 900th ticklist route, Amber Arete, which was very nice. I also lead the rather wonderful Vee Chimney, which Dan particularly enjoyed seconding. A proper classic of its type, and somehow denied the three stars it clearly deserves. Outrageous.

We finished our day out with a visit to the nearby Cocking Tor (fnar fnar) for a quick new crag point hit. The crag features only one sub-extreme route, the unstarred and inspiringly named Short Corner. When we fought our way through the bracken to the base of the crag we found a line of untold majesty rising from the greenery.


Somehow I mustered the courage to confront the magnificent corner head on, and against the odds I succeeded. As if enraged by my effrontery the heavens opened immediately, but too late, I had won. Whoop.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Some Things What I Did Yesterday

1) Ached like a bastard
2) Spent the better part of an hour trying to heckle Dan up the awkward start to Martello Buttress (to no avail)
3) Led The Nose (no, not that one), it was pumpy and bloody hard work
4) Had an amazing ginger beer/lemon and lime toffee flapjack combo from the van in the Plantation car park
5) Had some old school chimney fun in Tower Gully
6) Laughed at Jaime's amazing ropework skills
7) Finally tried Helfenstein's Struggle and didn't get stuck. It was almost disappointingly easy
8) Climbed some things I'd found hard a long time ago and found them easy. Hurrah.
9) Watched Pete & The Pirates at the Leadmill, they were ace, but it seems about 75% of all of their fans are total fucknuts. There should be some kind of embargo on bad people liking good bands. And I should be in charge of administrating it. With a big stick.

So, not a bad day :)

Jaime's ropework 101

Friday, 30 September 2011

Summer's Here Kids

Now it's almost October and summer has finally poked its head above the parapet for a few days, it seemed rude not to make use of it and do some climbing. Unfortunately Dan was suffering a bout of sport-climbing induced man-flu, so I set off on my own on a quest for some esoteric low-grade bouldering.

After wandering across some beautiful moorland in glorious sunshine I arrived at Rabbit Warren. The crag was small, but appealing, and there was even an alluring offwidth. I spent a pleasant few hours climbing most of the easy problems and managing not to bottle out of some of the slightly highball finishes. Whoop. I had a quick bite to eat and turned my attentions to the appealing undercut prow of The Tomb. Depending which guide I believed this was either well within my abilities (V1 5c) or far too hard for me (font 6b+). In the end I managed to climb it in two sections, but failed to link them into each other. It was a nice problem though, maybe even justifying a return visit with some motivational hecklers.

The esoteric delights of Rabbit Warren

On returning to the car I was disappointed at the lack of the promised ice cream van, but once I'd got over this I drove up the road and struck out through some man-eating bracken and shin-destroying heather towards Harland Edge. The guide had warned of an arduous approach in summer and they weren't wrong. Eventually I reached some rock, and promptly got totally spanked by a V0 fist-jamming crack. After the loss of much blood and much cursing I finally hauled myself up it. Grrr.

A bit more bracken-wrestling took me to the main event, an impressive little buttress which could have escaped from Slipstones. Unfortunately it didn't appear to have many holds and I was sweltering in the heat, so I could only summon the beans for one problem, but it would definitely be worth another visit with spotters and better conditions.

Harland Edge

After a recuperative drink in the Robin Hood, and a brief wander down to Stump Hole Cavern (which was damp and a bit spooky, but the eponymous problem looked good), I huffed and puffed my way up to Birchen. After an hour or so of soloing and easy bouldering (that still felt very hard) Adam, Kate and the hound arrived. Adam provided the necessary motivation and heckling to persuade myself up some of the problems on Copenhagen Wall which have always evaded me. In return I tried to persuade him up the comically graded VS 5c right-hand version of Camperdown Crawl. He got as far as furtling the crucial holds before deciding better of it and bravely running away.

So, by this stage I ached a lot and had absolutely no skin left on my fingers. So obviously we went to the Works for a couple of hours. Surprisingly I actually managed to do a few problems, but I'm paying for it now. I feel like I've been in a fight. With a bear. Made of grit.

So obviously I'm just off out climbing again (well, it is sunny...).

Monday, 26 September 2011

Leeds, Home Of Rain

Availing myself of my new-found part-time working status (and before the part-time studying kicks in properly) I moseyed on up to Yorkshire on Friday. My attempts to locate a random internet belayer had failed, so I headed to Brimham for a spot of bouldering. Within about 10 minutes I was pumped, had no skin left on the backs of my hands and had already backed off the top out of a V0-. Twice. On the plus side I met a random old dude who was quite cool, and who confirmed that Thunder Crack at Ash Head Crag is going to be HVS in the upcoming Yorkshire Grit guide (see previous whinging on this blog if you need to know why that matters).

I wandered over to the cubic block where the winning continued when I fell of a 4c traverse. Twice. I got it in the end, but it felt about 5b. Deary me. I lowered my expectations and soloed a Severe and a Diff and moved on. I cast a fearful glance at Acme Wall on the way past, before happening upon a very low roof with a V3 6a through the middle of it. The whole problem was less than 6ft high, which seemed ideal for my massive height-induced lameness which afflicts me whenever I go bouldering on my own, so I thought I'd see if I could still climb 6a. After a number of inglorious failures I promised myself a cup of tea if I could haul my talentless arse up the problem. This did the trick, and lo, a V3 tick for me.

The V3 roof of enormo-win

After a very enjoyable cup of tea and some soup from the deserted cafe I soloed a few more easy routes (including a delightful thrutchy chimney) and bottled the top out of another V0 before deciding it was time to move on.

Ilkley seemed like a suitable choice of venue, since I'd never climbed there and it was vaguely on the way to Leeds. After the shock of finding the crag swarming with Americans I soloed a couple of VDiffs in the quarry and a couple of ticklist routes over at Rocky Valley, including the delightful Long Chimney from the Yorkshire 3 star list of justice. Everything else was a bit green, so I drove to Caley, where I wrestled with some man-eating bracken and marvelled at the size of the so-called boulders. I also ticked a couple of easy boulder problems to ensure I could claim another new crag point, before pootling to Julie and Andy's in Leeds for some marvellous soup.

The wondrous Horsehold Scout

The forecast was indecisive for Saturday, so Andy and I decided it was definitely the right weather for Pen-Y-Ghent. We drove to the car park, got as far as sticking our noses out of the car and decided that the rain and wind were not conducive to a mountain crag. So we drove to Hebden Bridge via Kilnsey and Skipton and spent a while bashing aimlessly around in the woods looking for the mythical Horsehold Scout. Eventually we found it, and it was dry. Unfortunately it was also very lichenous, but this didn't stop Andy, who soloed the "classic" of the crag, Greensleeves (another list of justice route). He seemed to have survived so I followed him up it and we promptly ran away, not fancying any more esoteric nonsense.

Widdop was our next target, specifically Artificial Route, yet another route from the list of justice. We arrived to find a gang of invading OAPs from Lancashire, but we scared them off and struck out towards the glaring luminosity that was apparently the crag. The route takes an ethically dubious line of chipped holds up an otherwise very difficult slab, before sneaking off round the side at the top. It was slightly damp and a little bit green, so I had no problem with Andy racking up and leading the thing. He climbed quickly until the last move when he decried the finishing chips as insufficient and was punished with some rain. After he manned up I bravely followed, and we ran away. Again. In the rain on the way back we decided to check out the slightly esoteric Mytholm Steep Quarry. It was a less than overwhelming spot, but did contain an awesome looking HVS corner crack, Revolution, which definitely warrants a return visit after a dry spell.

Not all Yorkshire esoterica is shit, see...

In spite of a more promising forecast it rained on Sunday. It always rains in Leeds. We went to The Depot and I was mostly a weakling with sore hands. Yay me.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

An Eventful Day Off

I had one day's holiday to take before the end of the month, so with a sunny forecast and Dan being an unemployed dole-scrounger, I arranged to meet him at Stanage this morning with a plan. The plan was to try and solo 100 routes, and/or 1 vertical kilometer. I had prepared myself well, by running around a football pitch last night and giving myself huge blisters on both feet, but I was keen to have a go and see what happened.

We started at Apparent North, where we quickly established that there were midges. Everywhere. Bah. Anyway, we soloed 3 routes and wandered on to the start of the Popular End, where Dan remembered he'd left his lunch in the car. Whilst he was retrieving it I got going, and had reached nearly 20 routes by the time he got back. The midges were pretty insufferable, but at least the top of the crag was mostly bearable. This did, however, lead me to spend rather too much time sitting at the top of the crag, and not enough time climbing. This was made evident when I reached 34 routes and stopped for a ginger beer break and a bit of food, only to notice that it was actually lunch time. Before then, though, I managed to extract a stuck cam from one of the Black Hawk routes. Booty for me - whoop.

By lunchtime my feet were starting to hurt, but I soldiered on like the hero that I am. The midges were a bit more manageable, although still lurking in the odd crack. The crag was actually fairly busy, which sometimes meant not being able to solo the routes I wanted. At one point I volunteered to solo a Diff after the elderly second was unable to follow it, and take out the leader's gear. By was of reward he donated me the hex he'd found buried in the route. Doppelbounty.

Soon I reached 50 routes, but by now could barely walk in my rock shoes, and was beginning to feel pretty tired. I had some more food and ginger beer, which helped for a while, but it seemed inevitable that I wouldn't make anywhere near the 100 target. I made it to the 2 thirds marker, then did another route for luck, but after 68 routes and 715m of climbing, I had to give in and call it a day.

So, what have I learnt? Well, 100 routes is a lot. Stanage is quite big. Ginger beer is ace. Next time (and there will be a next time) I should choose a cooler day with less midges, and not break my feet the evening before. Oh, and crag booty is awesome.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Still More Rain

Sunny Stanage

So, after being rained off Stanage twice in as many weeks (the second of which involved seconding Dan up a route in the rain and a howling gale, mmm) it felt like I was due some good fortune with the weather. Heading to North Wales last weekend for Oli's 30th Birthday festivities, it looked like I might need some. After a strange night in a teepee and no small amount of faff, Oli, Kim, Mark and Tom drove to Ogwen, and bashed our way up through the heather to the foot of Craigiau'r Dena, Milestone Buttress's more rambling little brother. It was damp and windy, 2 of the 5 of us had never climbed before, and this was generally a stupid plan.

Not one to let stupidity be an obstacle to adventures, I set off up the first pitch in damp trainers. I decided to frighten the non-climbers by making it look really hard, so I busted out some extreme bridging and a bit of desperate scrabbling, before hauling myself inelegantly onto a heathery ledge and belaying. Everyone made it up with a depressingly small amount of flailing and a thoroughly disappointing lack of failure, but in the meantime the rain had really started laying it on thick and we were all pretty sodden. Seeing as we were on a big ledge we could easily walk down from, and a party ahead of us (we weren't the only idiots out that day) had just backed off the second pitch citing extreme wetness and general terror, we decided to sack it in and head for the lure of the Alpine Cafe in Betws.

Here we spent several hours drinking tea and eating cake, whilst the sun taunted us by beating down outside. Eventually after a few false starts I mustered a party of intrepid adventurers and we stomped up toward Clogywn Cyrau to try and grab a quick route before dinner. Things didn't go well when we managed to lose each other in the woods below the crag, and then as we were trying to reconvene the heavens opened. We made it to the base of our target route just to check, but it really was soaking, so we ran away to the pub and tried to drink away the trauma.

The forecast for Sunday was possibly even worse, so we went for a wander round Llangollen. After some unfathomably complex lunch bill-division, and some awesome whisky fudge, we managed to negotiate with the women to go to World's End and climb one route (and one route only). Although the weather was dry, I was almost certain that as soon as we reached the crag it would start raining yet again. This wasn't helped when the short drive to get there took ages, and then we had to walk down a big hill only to walk back up it again. Boo.

See, it really was sunny!

Improbably as we approached the crag the sun came out. As Alistair hadn't climbed anything for over a year, we set our sights on a ticklist VDiff appropriately called Incompetence. It looked like a chimney, but other than a classy sit-down rest the climbing was pretty conventional. The holds were pretty polished, but it was still quite fun and it was novel to be on a dry crag (although having to put on damp rock shoes was distinctly unpleasant). Also, and maybe most importantly, not only was this a new crag point, but a new guidebook point. I think that just leaves Jersey, Portland, Swanage, Nescliffe, Cloggy, Cwm Silyn and Arran and Arrochar of the British guides I've not climbed in.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


Other than an abandoned attempt to climb on Stanage in the rain (owing to Dan's optimism in the face of overwhelming forecast-shaped evidence of impending rain), it's been a quiet few weeks. Yesterday I had a free afternoon, and it wasn't raining, so I joined Adam, J-Rowe and Hazel at Stanage End.

Adam approaching the roof of amusement (and no holds)

I soloed a few routes to get back in the swing of things, including The Crab Crawl, which is a slab. With smearing and shit. I nearly died. Impressed with my display of manliness James talked himself up to Incursion. He made short work of it, and it didn't feel too arduous on second. Which was odd for a 5b gritstone slab. I decided to see if this was a fluke, but managed to lead 2 VS slabs with plenty of moaning, but no actual terror.

At this stage Jen, Rich and then Dan turned up, and Rich proceeded to lead Incursion without too much epic terror. So, after a brief interlude enjoying Adam's travails on a rather hard looking roof, I though I perhaps ought to man up and lead Incursion. So I did. It was a little bit scary, but I put my faith in the pebble of justice and it was all good. Whoop.

Rich cruising Incursion

Who knows what this means now. I'm hoping it was a one-off, otherwise I might turn into some kind of slab climbing fairy...

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


The weather recently has been pretty dry, but this seems to have coincided with a spell of no wind. Having already been midged off Stanage once this month, I was a bit apprehensive when Adam and I went to Curbar last week. There didn't seem to be any in the car park, but I was on guard. We wandered along to the Flying Buttress area, where a couple of two-star VS 5a's lay in wait. My limited experience of Curbar VS 5a's is that they're impossible. Like everything else at Curbar. I was afraid.

Adam took the initiative and set off up Calver Wall, a pleasant wall with a top crack requiring 'hard fingerlocking' or 'insecure laybacking'. Oh goody. Although he made a few harassed noises, and put in more than two bits of gear, Adam didn't seem to take too long, but he did seem to do some laybacking. Eek. I followed, and found the top crack steep and unhelpfully wide (you'd have to be some kind of massive-fingered hero to fingerlock it) as well as a bit steep for comfort. Eventually impending pump forced me to actually do something and I tried Adam's laybacking solution. Distressingly it seemed to work. Must have been a one off. It wasn't easy for 5a though. I think I'd have been upset on the sharp end.

Curbar and Baslow in the evening sun

With this in mind I was pretty apprehensive about Wall Climb (inspired naming). I was promised "surprisingly sustained" climbing, with a comment about tired arms. Double whoop. Somehow I had actually found the only soft touch on all of Curbar, and every move was followed by a rest and gear. I got to the top feeling a bit cheated, especially when a cloud of midges tried to eat my face off whilst I was belaying Adam. Once he was at the top I took full evasive action and engaged full midge lockdown. This left me feeling rather warm whilst belaying Adam on the next route, but the slow massacre of the little buggers as they landed on my hands (the only bit of me they could get to) made me feel a little better.

The next route in question was Baron's Wall, a VS 5b with a Joe Brown pedigree. The start looked hard. Even more so when Adam essentially dynoed for a pocket of unknown goodness and made some pleased sounding grunts when it was good and he didn't fall off again. I was unable (or maybe just unwilling) to replicate his dynamism, but found a desperate static sequence and just managed to tickle my hand into the pocket before I peeled off backwards. 5b my arse. The top crack was fun, but would be stiff for VS on its own. It was kind of reassuring to get back to proper Curbar grading. Unfortunately by this stage the midges were unbearable, so we ran away bravely in the style of Sir Robin.

A few days later we were back out again, but this time I lobbied for an exploratory foray to Stoney Middleton (is there any other kind of foray there?) to see if the fabled midge-repelling properties of limestone were really all they're cracked up to be. It turns out that it isn't all a conspiracy, and there really weren't any midges (hooray). I was super-keen to do Evasor, and Adam graciously/foolishly volunteered to lead the 'poor and sparsely protected' (and totally cack looking) first pitch. He climbed slower than I've ever seen him climb, and spent an awful lot of time moaning about the gear being rubbish and the rock being loose, but eventually he reached the stout tree belay. Only it wasn't very stout, being rotten and full of grass. He didn't seem very happy about this.

Around about this point Kate told me she was sure it was going to rain, and then disappeared off with Tammy the enthusiastic hound. Psyche. The first pitch was indeed rubbish, but at least it wasn't polished (at least I don't think there was any polish under all of the dirt). The second pitch started with a traverse which hadn't looked far from the ground but seemed to go on forever when I was actually there. It was relatively easy, but quite exposed and I was wary of running out of quickdraws.

A terrible photo, but proof of Adam climbing on something that isn't grit!

After a lot of sideways scuttling I looked up to see the corner I was aiming for above me. It looked steep. Very steep. The start seemed to be well-blessed with jugs though, so I hauled on them and found some more jugs and then some more jugs. And then I looked down and realised what the guide was on about when it mentioned VS climbing in an E3 position. Wow. Some more jugs and exposure later (with the crux exactly where it should be) I placed my last quickdraw and tiptoed up the slightly dusty exit to the belay. One of those routes where the first pitch is worth -1 stars, but the second is worth 3, so it averages out at 2. Adam appeared mostly to still be too grumpy about the first pitch to really enjoy himself (although perhaps that was just being on more than 15 metres off the ground), but did begrudgingly admit that it had been quite good.

So, another win for Stoney. I'm almost starting to like the place...

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Squeeze Chimneys, Rain And Rather Too Much Limestone Part 3

In the middle of the night, in Eric's field, Simon and I were woken by a rather bold fox, which had taken a shine to the cool box in our porch. Shining a torch in its face had little effect, but shouting at it seemed to have done the trick. We moved all of the food inside the tent and went back to sleep, only to be woken again a few minutes later by the fox trying to eat its way through the tent into the cool box (there wasn't even anything particularly exciting in it). I instinctively lept at the raging beast in my sleeping bag and let out a blood curdling roar. At least that's what I imagined. Simon claims I rolled about a bit and went "Rar" in a slightly camp manner. Either way we eventually persuaded the animal to take its attentions elsewhere.

The next day dawned much wetter than we had been promised. And after extensive forecast consultation we were forced to accept that the only hope for dry rock lay at the other end of Wales in the Wye Valley. We set out driving and about 27 hours later arrived at the top of Wintour's Leap (via a rather tasty steak baguette in Rhaeyadr and an awesome old school gear shop in Crickhowell), where it was gloriously not raining. We high-tailed it down to the base of the crag and yomped up Left-Hand Route (which had a rather unpleasantly shiny crux) and Bacchanalian, with its unique finish in somebody's garden.

The next day it was raining again, so we decided to explore 1km long abandoned railway tunnel under Ban-y-Gor which the guidebook mentioned. After some fun and games trying to locate the entrance to the tunnel, we were in. The tunnel was far from straight, so it wasn't long before we were in total darkness. After what seemed like an eternity we eventually reached the other end and looped back via the majesterial tottering choss of Tintern Quarry for a celebratory pub lunch.

Goodbye daylight...

After this the rain had stopped, so we nipped up Zelda (which was slightly underwhelming for a three star route, but perhaps I just don't like Wintour's and it's shiny quarried nonsense) and then retreated to the campsite for a barbecue.

The next day was forecast to be dry, so we got up early and made a beeline for Shorn Cliff. We both got on with the unquarried, non-shiny, hold and gear infested limestone, and had a thoroughly excellent day. I led the 3 classic HVSs I'd not led on my last visit (although not Tiger's Don't Cry, that looks nails), and managed to persuade/bully/chide/harass Simon into leading The Laughing Cavaliers as his first proper HVS. Bo.

The next day was Saturday, so we decided to head back Sheffieldwards. The Roaches provided a convenient stopping-off point and the forecast rain even stayed away for once. We began with a gentle saunter up the uber-classic VS Valkyrie, which I'd somehow failed to climb on every previous visit. After a slightly damp first pitch, Simon tackled the crux flake with gusto (and some comedy faces and mild hyper-ventilation) and impressed some watching passers-by.

Continuing the general classic theme I led Technical Slab with the excitingly green (but thankfully very easy) Neb Finish, Simon led Brown and Whillans' Aqua and I had fun with juggy flakes on the ironically named Runner Route. We finished the day with a tussle with Calcutta Crack (comically undergraded at Severe in the BMC guide) and another Left-Hand Route, then an epic-pizza-y win.

Simon enjoying the greenery on the Neb Finish

The final day of our trip involved yet more limestone. We were joined by J-Rowe and team Lewis at Ravensdale, where everything is buffed to a high sheen. I did lead a rather delightful jamming crack and a pretty tricky HVS. Simon lost all psyche and ran away back to London, so James and I moved to the main buttress and finished the day with a fun jaunt up the mega-polished Medusa. I had particular fun protecting the second pitch entirely with hexes. Old Skool.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Squeeze Chimneys, Rain And Rather Too Much Limestone Part 2

The next part of my fiendish holiday plan started with meeting Oli and a couple of his friends, Ruth and Tom, in the campsite opposite the Vaynol in Nant Peris. Saturday morning announced its arrival with some rain, so we moseyed down to Llanberis to get some internet reception and see what was going down. After an age sitting in the car as the rain hammered down we found a promising forecast for Tremadog, so we headed South. As we arrived the crag was drying out, so we stopped for a quick cuppa in Eric's and Tom and I started up the alternate start to Merlin. The first few moves were damp, but once above the trees everything was dry and good (except for the large puddle hiding in a jug that got us both). The route was good, and the weather carried on improving, so we nipped up a couple of routes near Yogi after lunch, before a quick romp up Christmas Curry.

We finished the day by climbing Axeover, a VS newly promoted to 2 stars in the latest guide, which many people walk past on the descent, but probably never gets climbed. The description promised a precarious crux near the top, so I was slightly put out at the slap-in-the-face 5a layback near the bottom, and the juggy but foothold free (and also possibly 5a) flake above. When I finally reached the overhang at the crux I was presented with a tree-jug of questionable stability, but reasoning that as my last 3 bits of gear were slings on various branches and roots of the same tree I was pretty well committed to its long term survival, I yarded on it and reached the top rather harassed and ready for a nice lie down.

The tree-jug on Axeover

The next day the forecast guided us back to Eric's, and I managed to talk Oli into the dark delights of Shadrach. Under advisement I abandoned my helmet and squirmed into the inviting cleft. It was a little tighter than I'd been expecting, but whilst this made upwards progress difficult, it also made it impossible to slide back down. After much amusement the chimney above closed up and I began to wonder how I was ever going to get out. After a bit more thrashing around the answer presented itself in the form of a horizontal letterbox in the sidewall. I tried to manouvre myself into a position to crawl out of this, but couldn't turn round, and ended up sliding out of the crag lying on my back. All very amusing.

Oli emerging from Shadrach

The top pitch was a whole lot more conventional, but still very good in an entirely different way. After lunch we decided to do Christmas Curry via the Treemudrock Finish (which I'd looked at the day before and looked a bit vegetated, but it gets 2 stars in the guide, so it had to be done...), but it was rather covered in people, so we ended up at the bottom of The Fang instead. I led the first pitch, which was steep but not too bad, before Oli and I got a little tangled up at the belay. I couldn't get far enough out of the corner to let him past, so things got a little bit friendly for a while, before he managed to escape. I imagine the 5a moves straight afterwards came as blessed relief! After I gave him some slightly duff beta about the line to take, we worked it out, and everything was good.

We had to drop Tom and Ruth off at the station in Bangor at 7 so they could get back to civilisation, but we had time after that to run up to Dinas Cromlech (which is further away than it looks) and nip up Spiral Stairs. Easy enough, but quite pleasant and nice to get a Classic Rock tick.

Yet again we headed to Tremadog the next day, but decided to visit a different crag, and rocked up at the bottom of Creag Dhu Wall Direct with a howling wind blowing. The crux on the first pitch had me bamboozled for a while before I remembered that I'm much better at jamming than footwork and tried a more 'get stuck in' approach to the undercut handholds. The top pitch was fairly easy, which was good as it had started raining by that stage. We hid in Eric's for a bit until the rain died down and then made another attempt on the Treemudrock Finish. Oli led up to it, but declined the option of running the pitches together, so it fell to me to battle with the vegetation. With no small amount of effort I managed to get past this, only to discover that that wasn't the hard bit. Above lay an unhelpful crack too wide for fingers and too thin for hands, with no footholds to be seen. In the end I went for an unconventional combination of laybacking and chimneying, and reached the sanctuary of the top just as it began to rain again. Oli sounded like he really enjoyed seconding the pitch in the rain. Fnar fnar.

After all this rain it was getting on a bit, so we parted company and I drove back over to Sheffield to meet Simon. Our plan was to spend the next 6 days in the Lake District, but the weather had other ideas and so less than 12 hours after leaving, I was back in North Wales. We headed to Carreg Alltrem, which I'd been wanting to visit for ages, but never seemed to get round to. The crag looked steep and a bit green when we arrived, but the first route we did, Lightnin Visit, was excellent. The second pitch was a great carnival of wonderful jugs and bountiful gear placements. The descent was a bit of a tedious scramble down a tottering gully, but we still had the classic of the crag to do. Duly, Simon led up the tricky first pitch of Lavaredo and I followed him and sat at the belay slightly concerned about what was to come. North Wales Rock makes great play of the top pitch being steep and strenuous, but actually there was only one steep move, and loads of jugs and rests (woohoo). It was a totally brilliant route, made even better by the fact that we found an abseil station at the top to avoid having to negotiate the gully of fear again.

Apparently Alltrem means steep. They weren't joking...

We didn't fancy the steep looking HVSs, or incredible, but very very green E1, so we ran away to Clogwyn Cyrau above Betws, and had a pleasant wee evening climb. The forecast for the next day was pretty grim, but offered promise in the South, so we drove over to Eric's yet again and pitched camp in the field at the back.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Squeeze Chimneys, Rain And Rather Too Much Limestone Part 1

So, summer is here (arf), Avril had abandoned me to hone her kung fu skills in Cornwall, so I decided to take a week or so off work and have some adventures. This was initially hampered by nobody else having any time off, but harnessing the power of the internets to my advantage, I arranged to meet up with the talented Mr Ripley (of legend) in Tesco in Bangor. We pooled cars and negotiated the A55 and some barbed wire (though no farmers with shotguns, hurrah) to find ourselves at the start of the Smurf Girdle. A 2 star HVS trip around one of Gogarth's less frequented zawns. We were aided and abetted by a cheeky printout of the forthcoming guide, but it seemed nobody had actually climbed this route to check it's grade, and we were soon sent packing by unreasonable overhangingness. After managing to locate a suitable escape traverse we moved our aims somewhat and I found myself chimneying downwards towards the sea, inside an impressive, but very wet cave.

The Green Light's suppurating orifice

I'd been intrigued by Green Light, as Gogarth's only 3 star VS, but was always put off by the fact that it sounded a little, ahem, adventurous. The water dripping off the walls of the route did little to allay my concerns, but the first pitch turned out to be fairly reasonable, and I was soon perched on a ledge deep in the bowels of the earth. Tom joined me, then disappeared back towards the light, eventually belaying some distance away, apparently out of the darkness. I followed the line of the ropes, with much amusing bridging, chimneying and general inelegance, until I found myself taking the last piece of gear out several metres directly above Tom. I tried not to think about falling off and burrowed downwards, eventually emerging, dazed and confused, into the outside world again. The top pitch was a brief carnival of guano-encrusted juggery, followed by a rather exciting Lundy-esque finale, replete with tottering blocks and lush vegetation. Definitely a three-star route (and not hard for the grade) and a proper adventure all the same.

The second belay is out there somewhere...

Keen for something more prosaic we made for the slate quarries, where I finally got round to leading Combat Rock, which was nice (but I can wholeheartedly recommend taking more than 2 no.2 nuts, and definitely not placing them both in the first 5 metres of the route), and we had a little adventure not climbing a nearby E2 arete.

The next day we reconvened at the Gribin Facet, and Tom somehow agreed to do Monolith Crack. I suspect he didn't really know what he was letting himself in for. The first two pitches were amusing, if slightly ridiculous, but the real fun is in the third pitch. Tom spent some minutes posting himself into, and then back out of, the rather tight chimney before passing the lead over to me. I got stuck in and tried not to think about the impracticalities of being rescued from somewhere inside the mountain. Somehow I made it by a matter of millimetres and found enough space at the back of the chimney to reinflate my chest cavity and contemplate my predicament. I wasn't going back where I'd come from, but up looked equally challenging. At one point I found myself simultaneously offwidthing with both sides of my body in different cracks, which was an odd sensation. Along the way I placed a runner just to offer a little incentive to Tom to follow me, before emerging, in a fit of childish giggles, at the top of the pitch.

No caption required!

Alas, in spite of a few game efforts, Tom was either unwilling or unable (I'm not entirely sure which) to follow, and scuttled off round the outside via De Selincourt's Variation. This left me with the fun task of chimneying back into the dark to retrieve the gear. Fun fun fun. The top pitch was much easier, but still involved a tight squeeze. Lovely. After this we stuck to more sensible climbing, including the rather fun Flake Crack (with it's eponymous giant wobbly flake) and the delectable jamming of Herford's Crack. I rounded the day off with a speedy ascent of Western Slabs on Dinas Mot as the sun set with one of Tom's girlfriend's colleagues. Or something. She was very friendly anyway.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Benightment And Other Misdemeanours

Having got midged off Stanage this evening (grrr), it seems opportune to bring things up to date with my recent mini-adventures.

Bimbling At Birchen:

In spite of a mildly ominous forecast I managed to persuade Adam to chance our arms one evening and pay Birchen a visit. I managed to make amends for an oversight on my last visit and did Nelson's Slab with the correct finish, and Monument Gully Buttress, which looked hard, but was made easier by successive lying down, sitting, kneeling and knee bar rests. Dan, Jen and Rich turned up, and we kept them amused with Adam's, and then my travails on Saltheart Foamfollowed, a short but rather brutal (and terrifying) HVS. Dan then returned the entertainment favour by managing to fall off the route before he'd even left the ground. After soloing a few things it got dark, although not before Dan had almost got himself stuck inside the crag. He's like some kind of dangerous genius, that boy.

Dan making it all look very easy...


After a rather excellent barbecue/party down in Lichfield I woke up with a bit of a hangover, and an ankle that was still feeling a bit sprained from a footballing mishap the previous Wednesday. In spite of this I thought I'd just stop by at Harborough on the way home to get some fresh air. About 90 minutes after parking up I was back at my car having soloed 30 routes in glorious sunshine. My ankle didn't feel particularly sore, so I thought I'd pay a visit to Windgather and see if I could make it up to 50 for the day. I got a little bit carried away and somehow managed 45 more routes to leave me on 75 for the day (as well as one rubbish non-route where I misread the guidebook). I still felt pretty fresh, and could certainly have managed another 25 to push me over into the magical century, but it was late and I was hungry, so I went home and ate cake instead. Oddly, in spite of feeling fine that evening I spent the next 3 days aching like an old man. Oh well. If it doesn't kill you it can only make you stronger...

Gritstone Benightment:

Feeling a bit sluggish after an appointment with Godspeed You! Black Emperor's wall of sexy noise the night before, I needed something unusually silly to persuade me to go out climbing instead of having an early night. After a little deliberation I struck upon the idea of trying to repeat Herford's Girdle Traverse at Castle Naze. Allegedly the original girdle after which all others are but pale imitations I'd always stayed away for fear that it was a bit anti-social, but how many people would there be on a muggy Wednesday evening?

We rocked up at the crag to discover a few other climbers there (as well as all of the midges), but Dan and I didn't let this put us off and duly set off. The guide is somewhat vague about the exact line to take, so we explored a few blind alleys, and had more than a few issues with rope drag. After 3 pitches I could see the end of the crag, but this was getting harder in the gathering gloom. Dan set off towards the reputed crux, and, after trying to force his own route across an overhanging wall, he followed the guidebook and teetered around onto Keep Arete and tiptoed across the eponymous scoop of Scoop Face. There was little in the way of gear (in spite of have some friends on the ground throw some extra small wires at him, I think they quite enjoyed that) so I suspect we were both fairly relieved when Dan found some gear and a belay, with apparently easy ground remaining. I had my headtorch passed up to me, discovered that the batteries needed changing, but thankfully managed to recruit some nearby spotlights holders to point out the holds. Eventually I managed not to fall off, and scrambled across to the finish line. I then spent a few minutes stumbling aimlessly around the top of the crag trying to find a belay before I almost fell over a suitable stake. I brought Dan over and we retreated back to the car feeling a mixture of elation, relief and amusement at having managed to get benighted on a crag less than 15m high.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Almost Teutonic Efficiency

Jaime and I rocked up to High Neb last Tuesday evening at around 6ish with the sky looking rather ominous. There were even a few drops falling out the sky, but thankfully it never got any worse than that. There were some midges though. It's amazing how you easily you forget the horror. I had brought a midge net, so judicious use of that, tucking my trousers into my socks, and generally looking super-cool managed to keep things just the right side of bearable. The blustery wind at the top of the crag helped too.

Jaime in all her finery

I led Inaccessible Crack Direct, Straight Crack, Cent, High Neb Buttress and Sneezy, seconded Jaime up a couple of routes (actually, cunning use of traversing meant I managed to second two entirely different routes to the ones that she'd led), and soloed 3 others (including Inaccessible Slab, which is hard!), for a grand total of 11 routes. We left the crag around 9:30, and I was home before dark. I've no idea how we were so efficient, but it was pretty impressive. More of that please.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A Wide Range Of Ethical Compromises

After nearly a month of attempting to rest my elbows, which seems to have had a negligible effect, I gave up and decided to just avoid steep things. With this in mind, after a late-night weather forecast consultation on Thursday night, I headed down to Oli and Anna's palace of unearthly delights in Keynsham, near Bristol. The forecast was good for Saturday, so we were a little annoyed when we woke up to pouring rain. We were even more annoyed when we checked the met office rain radar to discover that it was raining on every crag within 2 hours drive, and NOWHERE ELSE. Stupid bloody weather.

Eventually we decided that the Wye Valley might be slightly less damp than anywhere else, so we drove over the Severn Bridge to Wintour's Leap. It had stopped raining by the time we got there, and the crag even looked dryish, so we took a stab at Central Rib Route I, a 4 pitch Severe. Other than a couple of small patches of seepage the route was dry, and rather pleasant. There was even some weird flowstone stuff on the second pitch. Oli ran the last 2 pitches together in a bid to get to lunch quicker, but miscalculated slightly and ended up finishing up the final 4c pitch of the adjacent VS. Never mind.

Wintour's Leap in the sunshine.

After some crucial quiche sandwiches we scrambled back down to the bottom of the crag. Nibelheim, our intended route, was covered in other people, so we nipped up Joe's Route, another ticklist VS round the corner. I led the first pitch, which was fairly scrappy, but the second pitch was very pleasant if a little bold. Oli did manage to kick off a house brick sized hold at one point, but this was a mere trifle, and we were soon back at the bottom of the crag again. By this time Nibelheim was clear, so we bambered up it, with a brief exciting moment when I tried to take the crux overlap a little too directly. By the time we got back to the car it was time to retire to the pub for victory ginger beer, so we did just that.

We slightly miscalculated how much red wine it was sensible to drink that evening, so Sunday morning was a fairly sedate affair until we eventually got going with the addition of some bacon and eggs. The forecast predicted mid-afternoon showers, but the Mendips looked less showery than elsewhere, so we decided to go end explore the banned Holcombe Quarries before somebody gets round to filling them in. After a bit of aimless wandering around a very pleasant forest, we found ourselves in the middle of Holcombe 2, which was pretty massive and had a fair bit of climbing in it, but it wasn't what we were after. We crossed over the road, through a hole in a fence, past a large number of signs warning us to keep out, and through another hole in another fence into the biggest quarry I think I've ever seen. The walls never reach more than about 30m high, but the base of the quarry must be about 750m x 200m. Unfortunately most of the rock is bobbins, but some of it is actually solid.

The Unbridled Majesty of Holcombe 1.

We started with the principal reason for our visit, an anomalously graded Severe which was actually just a sports climb (with the might grade of F3+), that somebody had given 2 stars to. This meant it qualified for the ticklist in spite of actually being a sports route, so it had to be done. Unsurprisingly it wasn't terribly inspiring, but it was pleasant enough. As we'd made the effort to visit the crag we felt we should do something else, so we both led Fit For The Future a bolted VS which was actually quite fun, but a bit harder than VS would suggest.

This was enough immorality for one morning, so we headed back to Stoke St. Michael for a drink and to take in the splendour of the village duck race. Then we drove a mile or so to Fairy Cave Quarry for some more traditional climbing. The promised showers were threatening to soak us, but I started up the crag's classic VS, Rob's Crack all the same. It was brilliant, engaging, well-protected slabby crack climbing, and by the time I'd got to the top the threatening clouds had wandered off elsewhere. Aceness.

Duck Race! Feel The Excitement.

We tried to up the ante by laying siege to a 2 pitch HVS, but it turned out to be one of the famous Fairy Cave soft touches, and was actually easier than Rob's Crack. In trying to descend back to our bags we found ourselves at the bottom of the crag's other ticklist route, Real Men Do East Quiche (and, as we know, they certainly do), so I nipped up it quickly while we were there. As you lower off from a fixed anchor at the top of the route, before we pulled the rope down, we decided to have a brief play on an E2 5c which took a line directly up to the anchor. The crux was a short, holdless groove near the start, from which a fall on lead would see you coming dangerously close to the ground, so neither of us really fancied trying to lead it. Besides which, we'd already compromised our souls in the morning, so a little more moral turpitude hardly seemed like a big deal. It was quite a fun little problem, which we both flashed. It felt easy enough that I might almost be tempted to lead it if I go back (so perhaps the top-roping can be justified as preparation for a headpoint ascent...).

Monday, 20 June 2011


Nursing a slightly worryingly dodgy elbow (I blame seconding Sophie up too much overhanging nonsense), and with a slightly ropey, but improving, forecast, I hitched a lift with Jaime and Dan to North Wales this weekend. I didn't have too many high hopes for much climbing, but was just keen to get a bit of mileage in, and perhaps tick off a few routes from the grand ticklist.

After a drink or several on Friday night, Saturday morning was hardly a faff-free or early affair, but eventually Jaime and I hatched a plan to nip to Rhoscolyn, climb Symphony Crack (the classic Diff of the crag!) and then head to Holyhead Mountain. This was a sort of compromise, as I didn't want to lead King Bee Crack, and had done everything else at Holyhead I wanted to. Or so I thought.

Anyway, eventually we reached Rhoscolyn at lunchtime, and strolled into the crag in the sunshine. The tide was in, and the sea was wavey, so I was relieved to discover that the crag wasn't underwater, and the traverse in to the route appeared to be above the waves. Jaime, it turns out, fears the sea, so we got the ropes out, and I tied her down to a rock, before leading the route. It was very pleasant, a fun little adventure. I got to experience this for a second time when soloing the route a second time to retrieve a stuck nut.

Symphony Crack and the hungry sea

Next up we moved to Holyhead Mountain, where Jaime led Cursing, and I led the essentially unprotected top pitch of Little Women (4c and a big ledge at the bottom to arrest your fall before the gear came into the equation). Pleasingly I managed not to gibber at any point, although I don't claim there was any style in my bellyflop top-out. I then soloed a couple of easier routes, before Jaime led the corned of Teaser, and I decided to maintain the bold theme by leading Step On The Wild Side, a largely unprotected HVS 4c up the arete to the right of Little Women. Again, there was not wibbling, and I even resisted the urge near the top, to place a runner in a crack I could easily have reached (try explaining the logic of that to a non-climber).

Soloing a Holyhead Mountain

Whilst pondering what to do next, Jaime mentioned a need to lead an HVS, so I suggested a nearby one which was really about HS 4b (hurrah for baffling overgrading). I soloed it to prove that it really was easy, so then after Jaime had led it, I did a bit of chicanery with the ropework and managed to second an unprotected E1 4c slab instead. I had entertained the idea of soloing this earlier, but was put off by the apparent lack of holds. As it was, the holds were good, if small, so i soloed it for the easiest E-point I've yet managed. We finished the day with Jaime leading Tension, still one of my favourite routes at the crag. A really good day.

A night of drinking, cake-eating, play-doh modelling and charades ensued, and didn't contribute to an early start on Sunday. Eventually we made it to Carreg Wasted in the pass shortly before lunchtime, and I set off up Ribstone Crack. The guide claimed it was high in the grade, but it felt fine, and had a particularly fine bridged position high on the headwall. Marvellous. After lunch I got stuck into the promisingly named Overhanging Chimney, which had a rather scary first pitch. Pulling on juggy, but dubious holds, with nothing but a couple of rattly and uninspiring nuts between me and 10 metres of plummet, wasn't particularly fun, but it was character building. Which is more than can be said of the second pitch, the eponymous chimney. Bridging led to more bridging, and then a pull on jugs, and suddenly I was free without having to do a single move of chimneying, overhanging or otherwise. I led to the top in a single 50m pitch with only 5 runners, perhaps some kind of record (for me at least).

Emerging from the Overhanging Chimney

After this we both sat around at the bottom of the crag feeling like we should climb something else, but not particularly inspired by anything. Eventually I decided to lead First Test, a two pitch VS 4c with "good but spaced gear", that old chestnut. The first pitch was bold, but with adequate gear until the crux, by which stage only a sling draped over a dubious spike lay between me and a near groundfall from 15 metres or so, and things only got worse on the second pitch. Direct entry to the corner as suggested (the guide at least said that it was hard) was clearly harder than 4c, and protected only by a poor nut behind a loose looking flake, which also provided the only holds. Feeling this was unreasonable, I engineered a traverse in from the right at a sketchy, and still unprotected 4c ish, to be rewarded with plenty more tricky climbing and rattly holds, but little in the way of gear. Finally after 35m the route bafflingly avoided the obvious direct finish, for a bold (of course), tricky and wholly un-fun, traverse onto a briefly lived arete. And I ran out of rope setting up the belay. All in all, not my favourite ever route, and definitely an HVS kind of experience, but it did seem like a fitting end to a weekend which had involved rather a lot of bold 4c climbing. At no point had I cried like a girl, or thought I might die. So perhaps I'm making some kind of progress after all.