Monday, 12 November 2012

The Harsh Realities Of A Pie-Based Diet

After Suicide Wall and my recent slabby E-point gathering, it's been feeling like I've actually improved a bit. I've certainly got a lot more confidence in my footwork, especially on smeary grit. This week, however, has proved a timely reminder that I am still essentially fat and weak, and I need to try a bit harder at being less so. 

I've managed to get out bouldering three times, but only for an hour or two each time. A visit to Burbage South in the evening sunshine was promising, with easy flashes of things I'd previously totally failed to commit to, but I was still easily shut down by a few not that difficult problems. The roofs at Gardoms North were a different kettle of fish altogether. My fingers felt weak and my arse very heavy, although I did manage a 5c slab problem one-handed, which was fun. Finally a freezing flying visit to Stanage saw me only just huff and puff my way up a V1 after rather too many attempts, only to discover on checking my guidebook that on a previous visit I'd flashed it.

 So, back down to earth with a bump (in a literal sense when it came to some of yesterday's problems). Still, it's a good shove in the direction of actually doing some training over the winter. Less cakes, more sessions at the wall. Which is a shame, as I really like cake...

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Wrestling The Cratcliffe Bear

With perfect grit conditions forecast, Dan M slacked off work and joined Oswald and I on a quest to Cratcliffe. I don't know how I got persuaded that we should go there, since the only route there I wanted to do, Suicide Wall, sounded a lot like hard work, and I really didn't want to fall off it. I think it was the lure of a rematch with Egg Arete that tipped it for me. It turns out that fitting 3 climbers, all of their gear and 2 bouldering mats into a Ka is a nontrivial matter, but eventually we managed to tessellate the youth into the back and off we went.

The ground was a bit damp when we arrived, and it was a bit windy, so we found some sheltered, sunny boulders to warm up on. I managed a few very nice smeary problems, which would have felt like the living end a while ago, and even a burly V3 (although I did have to try quite hard for that). Feeling keen after this, Dan was psyched for a shot at Kaluza Klein. I wanted to take photos, but in the end my superior heaviness skills were required for belaying, so James was designated chief photographer. Oh dear.
James' best recreation of the classic shot of Dawes on Kaluza Klein. One can barely tell the difference...
 After a fair bit of standing on the ledge obsessively cleaning his shoes, Dan applied some skills and a little bit of tallness, and cruised to the top. This came as a relief to me, since I wasn't super-psyched for any harrowing belaying action. Awesomesauce. With a team tick of basically everything that mattered at the Stride, we sauntered over towards Cratcliffe, with the sense of impending doom growing in my stomach. Maybe Suicide Wall would be wet and I could cry off it...

We stopped en route at the Egg boulder, where I was due a rematch with Egg Arete, a classic font 6a bit of gritstone weirdness. Oswald had offered me £5 if I could get it first go, but his money was never in any danger. After about 50 goes I managed to fall off the top move a few times, but by the 500th go I was back to ignominiously falling off as soon as I had pulled on. Harrumph. Even the power of falafel couldn't propel me up it, so we skulked over (well, I skulked, the others just walked) to the main crag.
Enjoying the post-crux jugs on Fern Hill
James had unfinished business with Fern Hill, having failed on it recently after filling all of the handholds with gear (how very unlike him). This time he learnt from his previous mistakes and laid the smack down on the route. Impressive stuff. He's also recently invested in some lurid fluorescent baselayers, so I even got some half-decent photos of him for once. Whilst I papped away, Dan seconded him, setting up a belay en route at the top of The Groove (yes, that one). Having never worked a route with the intention of headpointing it before, Dan was concerned that he was falling into a bit of an ethical black hole, but after 10 minutes of trying the crux moves on a toprope it was clear that a) it's bloody hard and b) that Pearson bloke can evidently climb a bit.

Once Dan had had enough it was my lead. I'd spent the whole day moaning vociferously about how much I didn't want to climb Suicide Wall because it would be hard and I'd have to try. In my mind the route had turned into 3 Nowandas stacked on top of each other and failure was absolutely guaranteed. But I was outnumbered, so I was going to have to get on it. Stood in the polished niche before the crux of the first guidebook pitch I wondered what I was doing here. I didn't feel like I had the appetite for what I was sure was going to be a massive battle and I just wanted to go home and sulk. Eventually I stopped wallowing in self-defeat and manned up to the jamming crack above, which was a bit frisky, and had a touch of the 5bs about it (at least for one move), but I got to the Bower with some beans left in the tank and began to wonder if perhaps I might actually get to the top.
Chillaxing in The Bower
If we hadn't been climbing in a 3 I might have attempted to wheedle out of leading the second guidebook pitch, but a) that was cheating and b) 3 of us in the Bower would have been a bit cosy, so I ploughed on. Satisfying jams on the traverse led to a crack with a handy in situ cam that I was pleased to clip and jam on past to the sit-down cave rest. I couldn't quite engineer a way to actually sit down, but I did avail myself of a long rest to allow my arms to de-pump. The next crack started well, but suddenly got a bit wide and I was forced into a filthy layback for a move, before I could wedge myself behind a huge flake to contemplate the top out. I knew there were jugs, but they were still a welcome relief and I had a little lie down to recover from the effort of it all before bringing the others up. A brilliant route, well worth all the plaudits. HVS 5b, 5a for my money, as the second 'pitch' wasn't hard, just steep but with good rests. And other than historical reasons it seems a shame to split it into two pitches, it's such a great big (for grit anyway) single pitch. You do need quite a lot of gear though. I got to the top with a single quickdraw and a single cam left on my harness, and I'd started off with far too many of both.

Dan finished the day with another quick burn on The Groove, so I dragged a mat back over to Egg Arete for one final go. I wasn't sure it was a good idea, since failure would just leave a bad taste at the end of a good day, but it wasn't going to either climb itself or go away. In the fading light, but with perfect friction, I got it first go. Whoop. 

Today, a combination of the many, many attempts at the weird palmy/pressing moves on Egg Arete, and the butch jug-hauling of Suicide Wall  have left me with a full-body ache, like I've been wrestling a bear. I feel like I might have won this time though. And perhaps Suicide Wall has made me fall back in love with cracks a little bit again. I'm sure that's nothing that a visit to Curbar can't fix...

Monday, 29 October 2012


I was never really sold on Froggatt. For what was alleged in the old Rockfax guide to be the second best Eastern grit crag it didn't seem that amazing. A few mid-grade classics, the odd sandbag (Triangle Buttress nearly killed me as a VDiffish leader) and lots of manky-looking slabs. Following my recent second coming as some kind of slab-climbing messiah it's suddenly started to look like the great crag it's meant to be. Unfortunately it also has it's fair share of horrible, steep, E1/2 cracks which appeal to the youth for some unfathomable reason.

With proper grit weather forecast for Friday and Saturday I ended up there on both days. On Friday with Oswald is was a lot less sunny than had been promised, and it even pretended to rain for a while, but I still managed to yomp up Motorcade and Brown's Eliminate without too much difficulty. One was smeary, the other crimpy, and both had cruxes with gear below your feet, but they felt steady enough for me to enjoy the climbing rather than being overwhelmed by thoughts of falling off. In between James put in an impressive effort on Synopsis, a renegade peg crack from Millstone. My efforts on second were less impressive. Having given it maximum beans to get through the crux, I was too pumped to get anything to stick in the damp upper crack, so I aided on a wobbly nut. Inglorious. I also nearly fell off seconding an HVS again (albeit it one that's clearly actually E1).

Saturday was much sunnier, but still absolutely baltic when we arrived at the crag with Julie and Andy. The 3 of us excluding One Quiche (that's Oswald by the way) soloed a chilly Sunset Slab as a (not very) warm up, before Julie got on Motorcade and I set off up Ratbag an E2 that can be brought down to HVS with side runners (which I had every intention of availing myself of). The crux slab didn't look too scary, and the gear below it was good and would at least stop you dying if you fell off, so I put my faith in my mad slab skillz and went for it sans side runners. Well, I say went for it. I actually spent about an hour dithering on a big ledge before eventually getting on with it. The moves were great, with decent pockets for your feet, but not much for your hands and culminating in an exciting stretch for a thank-god little crimp just below the top. Great stuff.
Eigenquiche getting his crush on

By this stage Adam and Steve Kirman had turned up, so I palmed Oswald and his Chequers Crack-y intentions off on Steve and tried to coax Adam into giving Brown's Eliminate a go. Unfortunately he got so psyched that he twisted his ankle in excitement and had to take it easy for the rest of the day. Although not before leading the wandering, but fun, Janker's End, which was my 700th VS. I gather the medal's in the post.

It had occurred to me the previous day that I'd never led a 5c move, which seemed like a bit of an oversight. I'd also spotted a pleasant-looking no-star E1 5c which looked quite slabby, so I gave it a whirl. Perhaps unsurprisingly I had to try quite hard not to fall off the tenuous rockover and stretch, but I made it. Whoop. The HDiff up which it finished wasn't that easy though...

Piano-playing rightwards, like a white Thelonius Monk

After cheerleading whilst Andy soloed Great Slab, and failing to convince myself to even have a go at Long John's, I finished the day off with another bold E1, Two-Sided Triangle. Like Three Pebble Slab, only with a harder crux and easier bold padding, it didn't put up much of a fight. So, 7 E-Points in 2 days. Very pleasing. Whether this will continue, or whether I'll go back to falling of non-slabby HVSs remains to be seen. Oswald is certainly keen to go somewhere that isn't Froggatt for a change!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Going Nowhere Fast

Good things about this week:
I got out climbing 3 times mid week
I got a Hard Rock tick (Valkyrie, on my winter list of gritpsyche too)
I got a soft E-point (Easter Rib, also on the gritlist)
I climbed my 250th HVS
We saw a kestrel flying around at Froggatt, and a massive stag on the walk back to the car
I remembered how much I perversely enjoy rubbish eliminates on grit. At one point today I could simultaneously touch two adjacent routes, but enjoyed not using any of the holds from either of them.
Raptors ftw

Bad things about this week:
Being rained off Froggatt after only one route
Leading the second pitch of Valkyrie like a cack-handed buffoon and nearly falling off (until a beautifully elegant solution involving altogether too much of my arse and not enough actual technique was found)
Nearly getting hypothermia belaying James on The Big Crack
Having to use a point of aid whilst seconding aforementioned crack (I blame a combination of very cold hands and extreme uselessness)
Not getting to do Motorcade or Brown's Eliminate, in spite of visiting Froggatt twice. Shakes fist in the general direction of the crag.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Motivating Power Of Lists

After last week's spanking at Almscliff and my realisation that some grit routes just need more fitness, combined with a general post-Lundy gritstone malaise, I decided to make a little list of grit routes I'm inspired to do. I also had a think about what was stopping me from doing them, partly so I can work on those things with a specific goal in mind ('get fitter' is a bit less inspiring than 'get fitter so I can crush Bachelor's Left-Hand' and more likely to actually make me put the effort in), but also to almost prove to myself that there is no reason why I shouldn't be trying some harder things.

I climbed one route off the list, Tower Face, the other day, and yesterday I found myself back at Stanage with the youth standing at the bottom of another - Wall End Slab Direct. I'm not sure what drew me to this route in particular, but it was in the 'Things I could probably do now' section of the list as I couldn't think of any good excuse why not. I warmed up on the original route of the slab, and then the left arete, which is amusingly not independent in the slightest, and not nearly HVS. In between James fell off the Severe crack that Death And Night And Blood starts up (although he had no problem with the E1 bit once he got there), and spent a hilariously long time and an awful lot of effort trying to get off the ground on Fern Crack (he got there eventually).

Flummoxed by a VS. Oh how I laughed.

I'd had a glance over towards my chosen foe and the gear break didn't look as good as I might have hoped. James also pitched in with a helpful anecdote about belaying Jon Stewart on this for an age in the freezing cold before he backed off it. And then my belay plate randomly snapped and fell off the back of my harness for no good reason. So all was auguring well, but it looked as though it wouldn't be too hard to run away from before the crux, so I set off to 'have a look'.

I managed to finoogle (definitely a real word) in a variety of cams of varying degrees of uselessness, which between them might perhaps have held a fall, and moved up to the interesting bit. The move seemed obvious - a high left foot and a committing rockover into a decent, but slightly awkwardly shaped pocket, but it felt hard. After a few wafts at the pocket with my foot James suggested I try some footwork, which helped a bit,  but it still looked hard and scary. I was about to give up when I tried something slightly different with my body positioning and it suddenly felt a lot more feasible. Reassured by the fact that I couldn't see how ropey the ropey cams were I went for it after a couple more false starts, and that was that. A bit of bold but easy padding up the top of the VS and I'd done it. My first E2 in Britain. Yay me. It's easy to see how people get caught up by grade-chasing on bold slabs. As long as you don't fall off they feel easy! It's perhaps for the best that there aren't too many other slabs on my list. Just Telli (which actually has some gear) and Motorcade (which is only 5a, how hard can it be...), and lots of steeper things. Ulp.

On the issue of my auto-destructing belay plate, I emailed DMM, who said that apparently this does happen in very rare cases (something to do with a process called dinking). To their credit they have already sent me a replacement and asked me to send the broken one back for testing, but it is a relief that it didn't happen halfway up a multi-pitch route on a sea cliff. Or mid-abseil. I think I'll be carrying a spare one on my harness next time I go to Gogarth...

Monday, 8 October 2012

Struggles, Ignominy and Autumn Weather

Having been abandoned by my girlfriend for the weekend without a car last Saturday, I found myself negotiating the delights of public transport en route to Chateau Julie and Andy in Leeds. I arrived to find Julie suffering with a cold and Andy bemoaning his own snottyness, a veritable cavalcade of psyche. After several cups of tea, Andy and I decided to see just how windy it was at Almscliff. The answer was very, but Black Wall was out of the worst of it. I took a near-infinite amount of time to lead South Wall Traverse, a VS with an exceptionally polished start (with no gear and a little too high for comfort), before falling off several times trying to follow Andy up the unreasonably steep Black Wall Eliminate.

It looks so benign from afar...
Hoping to claw back some dignity I managed to lead Traditional Climb in polynomial time and with no lapses of style. Things were picking up. As was the wind. Andy then led Demon Wall, whose top out had defeated him previously when he tried to go the wrong way. It turns out that even when you go the right way it's still bloody hard. As if to prove this I fell off then my foot popped whilst I was flailing around uselessly with my pumped arms trying to locate the finishing hold. Very undignified, especially on an HVS .

Not keen for Overhanging Groove (which was directly in the wind and covered in top-ropers, or at least aspiring top-ropers, as their attempts to lower a rope down the route were rather hampered by the wind blowing the rope horizontally along the crag)), I lobbied for running away to somewhere less windy. We ended up at Brimham, where I ran straight for the first slab I could find, which also conveniently had a three-star VS on it. I'd belayed Oswald on his ill-fated cold-fingered attempt on this back in February, so I was expecting a modicum of difficulty. I wasn't disappointed, but a frisky little scuffle past the crux overlap and a teeter for the top saw me alright.

The hardest technical move of the day - getting into the car avoiding the puddle Andy had managed to park in the middle of
Keen to drag me back down into ignominy Andy then insisted on climbing Minion's Way. We'd bouldered out the start before and it was desperate then. Turns out it hasn't grown any less awful, and a combination of general uselessness and some inconveniently wet holds led to me grovelling horrendously along the mid-height ledge on both knees trying not to peel off backwards. On finally reaching the top crack I discovered it was far more awkward than it appeared from below. Only the determination not to fail on yet another HVS kept my going as I was forced into laybacking, shudder. Overall it was a rather inglorious day out, but a good reminder that a lot of grit routes need some actual stamina. I've kind of always known that, but perhaps it's time to do something about it...

The following day I indulged in more train-related fuckwittery, before racing out to Burbage with Oswald just in time to get to the crag, rack up, then run away again when it started raining. We tried again on Monday afternoon at Stanage and this time I actually managed to climb a route, an HVS, even, without falling off or nearly dying. I'd been trying to do Tower Face for about 2 years, but it was always covered in rain or people, so it was good to finally get it ticked (and it was a cracking route). James then started up Fern Groove, and had just placed the crucial runner when it started to rain and we ran away again. Well, I say runner, what I mean is 5 cams within a metre of each other, but you catch my drift...
Five shalt be the number of runners thou shalt place, and the number of thy runners shall be Five. 
More successful adventures were had yesterday at Millstone with Adam. We arrived to find Kyle and the youth about to do Plexity, so I racked up to take advantage of the fact that Estremo didn't have an in situ owl for once. It took me far, far too long to finally work out how to use the awkwardly wide crack (too wide for fist jams, too narrow to get in), but once I did it wasn't actually too bad, and the worrying layback at the top turned out to be avoidable by sexy wide bridging. Whoop.

After Adam had made short work of Great Portland Street, which he'd unaccountably never done before, I toyed with the idea of doing one of the Embankment E1s, but decided instead to take advantage of having brought my big cams with me, and get involved with the "Salivating fissure" of Crew Cut. After a false start involving a very painful and near-terminal knee-jam, I managed the necessary medieval thrutching to reach the ledge of loin-girding. I found some sneaky bonus wires here which was pleasing, since the top required an actual proper layback. Against a green sidewall. Bleurk. Somehow I didn't die, and ended up, panting, at the top, glad to be alive. All very type II fun.

From here the guide recommends doing a further pitch, rather than skulking off rightwards, so Adam quested off up into the undergrowth. A heathery crack led, via some very green looking footholds, to a few runners, some more heather, and a tiny sapling. A delicate teeter leftwards past some more heather led to the arete and a proper hold (but no more gear) and then an exciting move or two in a position where falling off would have been ill-advised at best, led to a nasty, sloping topout. I don't recall seeing Adam look so chastened before. According to the UKC logbooks it's only had 3 ascents, and the last one of those was in 1984, so I'm not surprised it was so vegetated. At least it's been upgraded from VS though, that would have been a nasty shock!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Summer's Last Hurrah

In spite of the utterly diabolical weather in Britain this summer, my Faustian pact has come good and I've been blessed with some unreasonably dry conditions for my various summer holidays. Last week was no exception, and for the first time I spent a whole week on Lundy without either getting rained on, or spending any time sitting in the pub playing darts badly and sulking. Aces. The youth, Gwilym major, Oli and I had 8 days of climbing lovely granite, with only a few minor adventures along the way.

It was Gwilym and James' first visit to Lundy, so we headed straight for the Devil's Slide off the boat, but it was covered in people, so we carried on to the Fortress. Oli and Gwilym had a fun time climbing a great-looking, but rather wet E1, whilst I tried to run a 2 pitch VS into 1 pitch, before deciding that was a bad idea, so I belayed on a nice grassy ledge and sent James up the second pitch. It turns out that not reading the guide and just following your nose isn't a totally infallible method of routefinding, so I managed to inadvertently sandbag him with one of the worst pitches I've ever had the misfortune to climb. It was hard, vegetated, not overly well-protected, and the crux involved much use of a very temporary flake. Not the finest introduction to the delights of the island.
Carol Anne Butler Corner and The Fortress
That night the Tavern was rammed with more climbers than I've ever seen before, including Pembroke's own Trevor Massiah, so we got up early(ish) the next day to beat them all to the Slide. It was worth the effort, as shortly after we arrived, a further 12 people appeared and started queueing for the routes. What an outrage. After romping up the eponymous route I talked myself into having a go at Satan's Slip, a route I'm fairly certain I told somebody once to shoot me if I ever contemplated going near. My apprehension was furthered when the leader in front of me placed but one runner on the main pitch, which fell out. I managed to find a fair few more than that, including some that might even have held a fall, but it's well described in the guide as a lonely lead, and it was definitely more of an emotional than a technical challenge.
A busy day on the Slide
After a day climbing pleasant HVS 5bs in Landing Craft Bay, and an excursion to Needle Rock, I found myself half way up Admiral's Arete, a bold E1 5a which I'd previously seconded Dr Money up. My memory was that it was desperate and that the gear was all placed blind, but even in excitingly strong winds it felt easy this time, and the gear was just fine. Either I've learnt how to smear a bit, or some holds have fallen onto the route. I'm not sure which of those seems less improbable.
Road Runner
The next day Oli and Gwilym made short work of American Beauty, whilst Oswald and I faffed a bit and did the wonderfully named (and also quite good) Nonexpectis Jugsimisius. We then met up, abseiled down a tottering grass slope of death, and marvelled at the falling-downy appearance of the Devil's Chimney (which isn't a chimney at all, but a sea stack). The thing even has a huge hole through the middle of it. As a bonus for us, the boulders which moved a few years ago, rendering the scrambly start into a tough 5b pitch, seemed to have moved back, making things a whole lot easier than expected. Oli then led a very underwhelming and loose pitch, which left me wondering about the wisdom of our endeavours. The top pitch made up for it, with fun moves on clean (solid) rock, although it was stout for VS, and led to a very accommodating summit where one could lounge around and gawp at the amazingness of The Promised Land and the terror of Overlord. I had been expecting a desperate scramble back to the mainland to avoid getting cut off by the tide, but the sea was still miles away after we'd abseiled off, so we had a little explore of a very impressive cave and avoided the horrific prusik back up the deathslope by climbing out up a tricky VS on Punchbowl Cliff.
The Devil's Chimney
Buoyed with my 2 E-points it seemed like a good idea the following morning to try Fifth Appendage, after a previous epic failure to even reach the start of the route on my last visit. Cleverly I managed to make exactly the same mistake as last time and the belay at the base of the route was being lapped by the sea, so we had to bail up a nearby HVS. Luckily for me this was Oswald's lead, as it turned out to have next to no gear, and some borderline 5b/c moves, what fun. I tried to atone for this error by leading Headline, an E1 I've been after for ages, but after some to-ing and fro-ing I decided the greasiness was too much to commit to. The youth obviously has stickier hands as he just ignored the slick holds and got his crush on. A cracking route, with a superbly atmospheric mid-height belay above the crashing waves.

Gwilym was keen for Satan's Slip, so we all headed back to the Slide and I manned up enough to lead the bristly-looking, but very cool line of Shark. The route climbs a prominent arete, with exposure and interest increasing with height and culminating in an exciting sequence laybacking a hidden crack in a superb position. Certainly deserving of more than its single star, and just about tickling its way into E1. After nearly a week of climbing I felt quite battered after that, so I generously let Gwilym follow James up a hard E2, and Oli and I headed back to Arch Zawn, where we climbed a neat little E1 each.
Gwilym hunting for the elusive runners on Satan's Slip
The trip finished with a morning climbing in glorious sunshine at Beef Buttress, before we had to get back on the MS Oldenburg and head home. Leaving was made slightly easier by the knowledge that after a week of dry weather the forecast suggested it might rain solidly for the rest of the year. All in all a cracking trip, including my 20th extreme lead of the year and my 3000th trad route. There's still plenty to go back for though. Who knows, maybe one day I'll even make it to the start of Fifth Appendage...

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Curbary Unpsyche

James getting stuck in
What is it about Curbar. Why is everything there so hard? I went there on Sunday with Adam, Kate, Hazel, J-Ro and a man called Neil, and in spite of the very amenable weather I was massively uninspired by everything. I belayed James up Cioch Crack, although at one point it looked like he might have to be abandoned to the offwidth gods after taking my advice to "Be at one with the crack" a little over-literally and getting stuck. It turned out he was just ignoring all of the holds.

Maybe it's because I haven't had a really good day out on grit since March, or maybe it was just because Curbar gives me the willies, but I wasn't really feeling the love for leading anything. All of the VSs looked like they would need more fight than I was prepared to give up for an unstarred VS tick, and as for the HVSs, well, only a hero would tackle one of those... Or James. I channelled my enthusiasm into belaying him up Tree Wall, which looked nice, but steep. It turned out to be nice, but steep. I nearly fell off. Oh dear.
My, this looks like a whole bucketful of fun...
After belaying Neil on an exciting (but ultimately successful) foray up Black Nix Wall I did lead the VS next to it just because I felt like I ought to lead something. And then it was home time. 3 routes in 5 hours. Not impressive. The moral of the story is to be more psyched. Or remember how grit works, or just stay the hell away from Curbar.

Neil on The Bear Hunter
On a more positive note, I'm off to Lundy on Saturday week. I've been regaining my psyche via perusing the guidebook this evening and making a little list of routes I want to do. At 30, there are far too many to actually do in a week, but it's good to be ambitious. I've made sure to include a winning combination of chimneys, girdle traverses, vertical gardens and E1 corners. And Satan's Slip for some reason. Bring it on.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Questing In The Midge-Ridden Wilderness - Part II

After the sunshine at Reiff the forecast was a bit dodgier, with gale force winds promised, but we reasoned that might keep the midges at bay at least and headed for Diabaig. I'd heard nothing but good things about the place, and once we'd negotiated the tortuous windy road from Torridon we were rewarded with a view of The Pillar looking all ace. We were both dead keen to lead this, but there was somebody on it so we wandered past to the Main Wall, where there was a four star HVS to warm up on. There were no gales, but there was just enough breeze rolling around to keep us safe, and the climbing was outstanding; long pitches on beautiful rough Gneiss, with brilliant gear and cool moves. Route Two was amazing, as was The Black Streak, so we wandered back down to the foot of The Pillar, which looked even acer at close quarters. James ran off to get some water from the car, and the second he left the breeze dropped and the midges swarmed. I spent some of the least pleasant minutes of my life lying in the long grass with my trousers tucked into my socks and a waterproof on, sweating like I was in a Turkish bath and feeling generally miserable about the unfairness of it all. Guttingly the wind didn't return, so as soon as James got back we ran away.

Contemplating the crux of The Black Streak
 We had plans to meet Matt (the erstwhile Mr Fiend) in Gairloch that evening, so we managed a quick evening hit on a weird little crag of partially-metamorphosed sandstone (kind of conglomerate-y) called Aztec Tower. We tossed a coin again for the rights to the crag classic HVS, which I won, but was let down by the route being a) not very hard b) not very good and c) not very well protected. James' neighbouring VS was altogether more enjoyable.

After rendezvousing with Matt and spending a night in the ridiculously expensive campsite in Poolewe we had a slow start and needed some caffeine and a giant scone in the frankly awesome Mountain Cafe in Gairloch to get us going. We then decided to brave the gales and pay the craglets around Loch Tollaidh a visit. They were ace (actually I'd been before, but I'd forgotten my rock shoes that time and had to lead a couple of VDiffs in Alistair's giant clown shoes) and much fun was had by all. James in particular had a good day, leading Buena Vista a brilliant E2 slab.

Some pleasant HVS at Loch Tollaidh
That evening we drove down to Skye and set up base camp at Sligachan for a few days. The forecast was still windy and a bit showery, but we took a punt in the morning on Kilt Rock, and we arrived to find it sunny and lapped by a gentle breeze. Perfect. There were a few other climbers around, so I thought it best to get on with the main event as soon as possible before I had time to talk myself out of it, or somebody else got on it. Grey Panther is the easiest route in Extreme Rock, so it was a possibly unique chance for me to get a tick in the book. It had also been top of my mental wishlist for a long time, so I was a bit apprehensive, but a peer down the line from the top reassured me that it looked totally awesome. The route didn't disappoint, with 45m of continuously great climbing, bridging between two jamming cracks. None of the moves felt particularly tricky, and the crux for me was probably trying to conserve my hand-width cams for when I would really need them. I managed this so successfully that I got to the top with them all still on my harness. I even only placed 16 runners, which was very sparing by my usual standards (I'd taken 21 quickdraws). The climbing was actually very reminiscent of routes on The Prow at Fairhead. Mmm, must go back there some time soon.

Afterwards, whilst bathing in the warm glow of self-awesomeness, I tried to egg Oswald into tackling one of the other major E1/2 cracks, but he was afraid. Instead we ticked off a pair of three star routes in the descent gully, an HVS and a VS, which were both pretty stout at their respective grades. This wasn't the spur that the youth needed to get on harder things, so we left and paid a visit to Flodigarry. After hacking over the tedious heather for an age we reached the top of the crag. James had idea that he might try an E2, but we couldn't pick out the line, so we agreed that he should lead the three star HVS I'd been keen on, and then we could run away for a cup of tea, dinner, and the pint that he owed me. The route, Lucy In The Sky, was a little gem, taking a slabby crack with sustained mild interest right to the top.

The forecast the next day seemed more stable, with clear skies in prospect, so we took a gamble on being able to find something out of the wind in Coire Lagan. Our first objective, The Klondyker, seemed to be just about out of the gusts, so we set off. James lucked out and got the two good pitches, whilst I had the easy link pitches, but the route was ace. The crux pitch was a long, sustained 5a wall, with a touch of rather 5b-ish spice thrown in pulling round a small roof. The gear was excellent, but it felt worthy of an E-point. This was later confirmed when we bumped into Mike Lates, who literally wrote the guide but admitted to never having done the route, and he told us he'd heard from reliable sources it was worth an upgrade. The route wasn't over after the second pitch though, with the fourth offering "Space walking on buckets". We had harboured ideas of climbing Vulcan Wall afterwards, but by the time we'd made it back to our bags we were pooped, so we scuttled off to the Sligachan in time for a few (very incompetent) games of pool.
The spacewalk on The Klondyker
The next day brought another dodgy forecast, but I put my faith in the magical microclimate of Neist, and lo, we were rewarded with more sunshine. I led a lovely VS called Midas Touch, and silly E1 direct start to a classic HVS which involved a couple of sketchy moves with only one good RP2 between me and the ground. James led the classic E0 Security Risk, and then set off up a really good looking E2 - Wall Street. He took ages, which was unfortunate as the base of the route was out of the wind, so I started to get quite badly midged. I had a windproof and a midge net, but my ankles were taking a beating, so I improvised some socks by coiling the rope around my legs. I can't recommend this as a course of action. I ended up with slightly numb, but still midge-destroyed feet. Boo. Anyway, the route was brilliant, up until the capping roof, where things went all wrong and overhanging. I managed to get as far as lurching at a jug, but then couldn't find the arms to pull up into the final groove. So I rested on the rope. Except I was in an awkward position whereby I couldn't actually take much weight off my arms without taking a swing and smacking into a wall. Fail. Eventually I got sufficiently uncomfortable that I laid one on and pulled some heinous manoeuvres to reach the finishing holds. A fine lead by Mr Oswald.

After that I couldn't take any more, and it was getting on a bit, so we jumped in the car and motored over to the CC hut in Roybridge, where we availed ourselves of the delights of an oven, and comfy beds. Whoop. The next day was showery, so we took a punt on the "Lethal when wet" but allegedly quick drying Creag Dubh (also known, ominously, as Crag Death). Sitting at the bottom of it eating our lunch it was clearly going to need a bit more time to dry off, so I persuaded James that a visit to the distillery at Dalwhinnie was in order. On our return to the crag it was actually dry, so I racked up to have a bash at Inbred, a steep HVS and apparently Dougal Haston's finest new route. It didn't take too many brief ventures onto the holds to decide that there was the potential to get myself into a dangerous position, as the moves were steep and the gear fiddly, so I handed the baton over and belayed James. He made it look fairly easy, and the moves were OK on second. Not that I regretted backing off for a second, especially since as I was part way up the pitch a rain shower started looming ominously. I just managed to beach myself on the belay ledge when the heavens opened and the rock turned to soap. So we sacrificed my sling of irritating shortness and beat a hasty retreat.

The next day found us climbing at Dunkeld. I did a spot of VS bambering and James led another E2 through some roofs. The climbing wasn't too hard, but the gear for the first roof was pumpy to place, and for the second was a bit weird and uninspiring, so it was just about worth E2. After enjoying my Aunt's hospitality we spent the last day of the holiday climbing at Auchinstarry - Scotland's answer to a Lancashire quarry. It wasn't actually that bad, although my three star VS was a bit underwhelming, and the 2 star VS 4b arete I soloed was quite terrifyingly sandy. And then after one more route it was over and we had to drive back south again. In the rain. Bah. Still, it was an awesome fortnight, we got loads done, and saw loads more that I want to go back for (especially The Pillar). Next on the agenda is Lundy in September. Bring it on...
Promontory Direct at Auchinstarry - A refugee from Wilton in the central belt

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Questing In The Midge-Ridden Wilderness - Part I

After a hard week visiting the many and varied distillery-shaped delights of Islay and Jura (and a bonus brewery for good measure) I needed some kind of holiday. Fortuitously the youth had secured the use of his parents' car, and I had a fortnight off work. So we did the only sensible thing and drove 500 miles north (via a couple of quick routes at Loudoun Hill, including the spectacular but bold The Edge) to near Wick. After wild camping by the beach at Latheronwheel we had planned to climb a few routes before catching the lunchtime ferry over to Orkney, but it was raining, so we checked out the sea stack and cool arch at Wick and went shopping in Tesco instead.

I hadn't realised how close to the mainland Orkney is - you can see the Old Man from the ferry port at Scrabster, but the ferry still takes an hour and a half to pootle its way round Hoy (passing the Old Man and the impressive precipitous vegetation of St John's Head) and into Stromness. Confusingly the main island on Orkney is called Mainland, as is the case on Shetland, so it is possible to get a ferry from Mainland to Mainland without going anywhere near the actual mainland. Strange. Anyway, we hung around on the quayside for an hour or so until the little passenger ferry chugged us over to Hoy, where we walked the 5 miles past the northernmost woods in Britain (more of a copse really) to the well-appointed and beautifully situated bothy at Rackwick. There we spent an entertaining evening in the company of an elderly Australian who was en route from The Hague to London via Bergen on his bike, a Canadian magician, a Czech artist who lived on Shetland (and hat the comedy red woollen hat to prove it), a drug-dealing farmer from Portstmouth and an Orcadian fisherman.

We got up unreasonably early the next morning and trekked up to the cliffs opposite the Old Man, then picked our way delicately down the Gogarthian approach path to the base of the stack. The crux pitch looked hard and wide and pitches 3 and 4 looked very green. I was suitably intimidated. I nearly just ceded the crux to James, but managed to man up enough to toss a coin for it. I was secretly slightly relieved to lose, racked up and bambered up the first pitch. James led through, traversing over into the main crack and was soon out of sight round an overhang, leaving me to guess how he was getting on. He took quite a while, but eventually I heard some muffled shouts and the rope came tight, so I set off. I had heard that the rock was softer than the Torridonian sandstone on the west coast, so I was expecting scrittly rock. I was rather surprised, therefore, to find perfectly good, solid rock that somebody had tipped a sandpit down. Excavating the holds took a while, but the climbing was amenable up to a large roof, where James had abandoned his belay jacket on the understanding that he would buy me a pint by way of recompense for my bringing it up with me. Getting through the roof involved a hilarious sequence of contortions (including spending a long time waving a foot at a crucial ledge that I couldn't see but knew was somewhere behind me) and some quality udging, but the sand wasn't really an issue.

James starting up the crux pitch of the Old Man
Pitch 3 was easy until I ran into the fulmars. I had naively hoped they might have buggered off by August, but they hadn't, and they had lovely smelling fishy vomit saved up especially to project at my face. Words cannot express how unpleasant the experience of racing past the fat little bastards, with each new ledge bringing a new feathery bag of stink, was, but I made it (although I was certain I would have to burn my clothes once we'd got down). Pitch 4 was wandering but ledgier than it had looked from below, and mercifully fulmar-free, and pitch 5 was 30m of brilliant, steep VS jug-hauling up a corner to deposit you on the summit. On joining me the youth complained that the summit wasn't as flat and grassy as he'd imagined (there's no pleasing some people), but there was a bottle of beer and a logbook to sign. The abseil back down was faffy, but we took an ethical decision not to add any tat to the huge quantity already there (I'd neglected to bring a knife to clean it up) and just ran the gauntlet of trusting 5 vintage krabs and 15 bits of fraying old rope for each anchor. The final 60m free-hanging abseil back to the ground was exciting (especially for James who wasn't sure whether the ropes would reach or not), and we got back to the bags just in time to race back to the bothy, and then speed back over the hill to catch the last ferry back to Stromness. Sadly this conveniently just missed the last ferry back to the (real) mainland, but we befriended a cheery local on the ferry who we joined for a pint in the pub later. It turned out he had been friends with Mr Crofton of Cumming-Crofton route fame, and had some good tales to tell.

The next morning we high-tailed it off Orkney on the 6:30am ferry and paid the conglomerate weirdness of Sarclet a visit. It was pretty awesome. I led a brilliant VS called Groove Armada, which must be up there with the best single pitch routes at its grade in the country, and then the wonderfully titled Sarclet Pimpernel, a classic E0 romp. James' 3 star E1 lead then turned out to be a bit midgy and not very hard, so we ran away, but I'd be keen for a return visit. The first time I've climbed on conglomerate without spending the whole time worrying about the temporaryness of all of the holds.

Sarclet - The Sarclet Pimpernel takes the right arete
After a long drive south and west, we awoke in the campsite at Ardmair and decided to pay Stac Pollaidh a visit. A certain Jon Stewart had raved about the aceness of Jack The Ripper, an E1 on the west buttress, although he also claimed the walk in to be a mere 20 minutes. Given that you start at basically sea level and the buttress is at 550m that seemed improbable, and it was. A very steep and sweaty hour later we collapsed in a heap at the bottom of the route. It was James' lead, so he raced up the first pitch, and I did the same up the slightly trickier second, but the route is really all about the beautiful groove line on the top pitch. It's a sensational pitch, and well worth the walk up to it, especially when you have the crag to yourselves, top out directly on the summit of the mountain, and have incredible views. Bo. After lunch we nipped up another route before midges drove us to run away. We still had some beans left, so we found some midge-repelling breeze and went to check out the slightly obscure sea cliffs at Rhue. They were quite cool, especially in the evening light. Oswald managed to make a hash of leading an E1 through a roof, resulting in some entertaining diagonal abseils and horizontal dynoing to retrieve the gear, before I led us out up a smart little Hard Severe.

The marvellous top pitch of Jack The Ripper
The next day was sunny and breezy so we went west to check out the Stanage-by-the-sea ambiance of Reiff. I had a little solo-fest and led a VS arete that Oli and I hadn't fancied the look of on my only previous visit. I then took a shine to the E1 next to it, a fun looking crack in a slab. It turned out to be less slabby where it mattered, but after much upping and downing between the crux and a good rest ledge I gave it the beans and managed to reach the top in a state of only mild panic. After that we decided to move on and wandered past a beautiful white sandy beach which looked very appealing in the heat, so we had a quick restorative swim in the sea. The youth the got ideas above his station and set off up a disgustingly overhanging E2 corner. I decided to punish him for this stupidity by making him abseil for his gear. We finished the day with some pootling around on a few weird routes including a bizarre sandbaggy VS and a butch HVS on which I managed to place, but not actually clip, a crucial runner. Oops.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


Klubbruta on Eidetind. Check out that shadow...
Good things about Lofoten:
1) It's the most ludicrously beautiful place I've ever been to. It's almost impossible to find a direction to look that isn't utterly stunning. Spiky mountains, beautiful clear lakes, clear blue sea everywhere, and rock everywhere else.
2) The rock is perfect. Fine-grained granite which from afar looks blank except for the cracks, but on closer acquaintance is covered in tiny edges and dimples, allowing apparently improbable lines to be climbed at amenable grades.
3) The cracks. Bloody hell. The cracks. Perfect sinker cracks abound; from thin snaking cracks which only just give up a finger-lock every few feet, through incredible parallel hand-cracks that go on forever, to seductively beautiful offwidths (OK, maybe that last one is just me).
4) The gear is amazing. Except for the terrifying bold slabs of doom (and you can see those coming), gear is almost entirely of the on-demand variety.
5) Almost everything is the right side of vertical.
6) The pitches are rarely below 35-40, long. Maximum bang for your buck.
7) Some of the routes go on for ever. Pitch after pitch of brilliant climbing.
8) Norwegians are all super-friendly.
9) They have really nice bread.
10) They also have amazing bizarro caramel cheese.
11) Given how totally ace it is, there's basically nobody else there.
12) Norwegian wildlife >> British wildlife (they have sea eagles and elk and shit).

Bad things about Lofoten:
1) Everything is really expensive. Really, really expensive.
2) Norwegian's can't work car parks at all. Perhaps it's their only form of rebellion against a very punitive legal system, but they don't seem to be happy unless they're parked across at least 2, preferably 3 bays.
3) There are motorhomes everywhere. Boo.
4) Cafes appear not to understand the concept of tea, beyond the wrongness of Earl Grey.
5) Norwegian climbing grades take no account of protection (or lack thereof), which is sometimes a bit unhelpful when you can't see the 8th pitch of your route from the ground and want to know if it's HVS 5b or E3 5b.
5) Erm, that's about it.

So, what did I do in the 2 weeks I was there?...

Day 1:  Flew in to Bodo, via Oslo, picked up our hire car and drove up the coast, our eyes bulging more with each new incredible looking probably unclimbed enormo-crag that we passed (and there were a lot of those). After a few hours we reached Bognes, hopped over the ferry to Skaberget and drove the last few miles to the foot of Stetind. Which looked incredible. And quite snowy.
Stetind. Mmmmm.
Day 2:  After some friendly Swedes confirmed that they had been turned back the day before by snow high on the ridge, we sacked our plans for Sydpillaren (alas) and headed instead for Eidetind, another nearby beautiful mountain, with a few 4/5 pitch routes around HS-HVS. We arrived at the base of the crag just ahead of aforementioned friendly Swedes, and managed to successfully monopolise the route they had come there to climb. Oops. Klubbruta turned out to be a very pleasant 5 pitches to get us into the swing of things though. After bog-hopping our way back to the car we ferried ourselves over to Lodingen and drove along the Lofoten islands to the free campsite by the beach at Kalle. Fully equipped with all of the luxuries a traveller could need (i.e. a tap and a very aromatic toilet) as well as a beautiful view we made ourselves at home.
Our campsite at Kalle
Day 3: After shopping for supplies in Svolvaer we got into the swing of things with the 5 pitch easy classic Pianohandler Lunds Rute on the amusingly named Pianokrakken. Then Si, Claire and I puntered up Applecake Arete, which confusingly went nowhere near any aretes, but did have a nice VS 5a crack at the top. As we packed our stuff away and waited for Julie and Andy to finish climbing we spotted a party climbing an attractive looking buttress on the other side of the fjord which intriguingly wasn't in the guidebook.

Day 4: Claire had cunningly lost her passport in the airport at Bodo, so whilst her and Si went into town to investigate the Police station the rest of us went to the well named Paradiset, which was like a good version of Sennen. We had a pleasant potter around and I won a free quickdraw. Whoop.

Day 5: After yesterday's single pitchings we were keen for something on a slightly larger scale, so we investigated the roadside delights of Gandalf, a 100m high chunk of granitey loveliness covered in cracks glorious cracks. The eponymous Gandalf and Gollum were excellent VSs, and Guns 'n' Roses a very nice HVS with a nice little burly tussle to get established in a crack on the second pitch. Our day was also  enlivened by some mysterious Americans who may or may not have been squaddies shouting things like "Dude, you're facing a groundfall, set some pro. Duuuuuude!", and generally being utterly incompetent.

Day 6: We decided to bite the bullet and join the reputedly eternal queues on Bare Blabaer. We arrived to find a party of 5 climbing on one rope (managing to be both sensible and considerate all at the same time, lovely), and another pair waiting to start, but once we got going things sped up. The route was incredible, with 3 of the best pitches of 4b crack climbing it's possible to imagine. And a bonus in situ no. 10 nut for me. Yay.
Crackgasms on Bare Blabaer
Day 7: The forecast was for rain the following day, so with Si and Claire heading back into Svolvaer for some more passport-related faffery, Julie, Andy and I got up unreasonably early and prepared for battle with Vestpillaren, the mega-classic 12 pitch E2 up the incredible slab of Presten. Conveniently there were 3 crux pitches, which we had split between us with Andy getting the technical crux on pitch 3, Julie getting the sustained (and I thought still bloody hard) groove/crack thing on pitch 7 and me getting the 'Slanting Corner' on pitch 9. After finding the first couple of pitches pretty easy I was feeling confident, and Andy's technical crux was over fairly quickly, but pitch 6 had some hidden challenging delights, and I found pitch 7 hard, and pitch 8 was laybacking (urgh), so I wasn't feeling at my very freshest when my big lead came round. Andy helpfully pointed out that it was the most famous pitch on the most famous route in Norway, which was exactly what I wanted to hear, and I couldn't see any holds for the first 10m or so, but I stuffed my face with lovely gelatinous Mega-Roulette sweets and decided that I would probably aid it when I inevitably fell off.
To my great surprise there were actually a few holds, and none of the moves were too hard, although none of them were that easy either, so when I reached the belay ledge and could take my shoes to liberate my entombed heels I was feeling pretty good about life the universe and everything. Psychologically we all felt like the route was in the bag now, with only easy climbing left, but after 400m of climbing and almost 10 hours on the route, Andy found some bonus amusement on a 5a traverse with his last gear a distant memory and the promised peg nowhere to be seen. Oh how we laughed. Thankfully nobody fell off and we all reached the top and managed to negotiate the scrambly ridge of peril which took us to the descent path. So, my first E2, probably the longest route I've ever climbed, and certainly the best. Not a bad day out really.
Presten in all its glory.

Day 8: Rain. I didn't mind as I needed a rest after 46 pitches and 1500m of climbing in 6 days. We treated ourselves to a shower in Svolvaer and dinner in the climber's cafe in Henningsvaer. I went so far as to buy a beer. At £8 I didn't feel the need for more than one.

Day 9: More rain. A bit annoying, but I was still aching, so it wasn't too bad.

Day 10: More rain. OK, fed up of not climbing. We plumbed new depths of entertainment by wandering round new supermarkets with no intention of buying anything. What fun. It did stop raining for a bit so we went to check out a little sport-climbing crag by the sea, but we didn't climb anything.

Day 11: After more rain overnight we headed for Finnvika, the sport crag by the sea. It was quite pleasant (although maybe I was just delusional after 3 days of not climbing). The crag classic Drommen Om Michaela was actually really rather good, with plenty of secret tiny crimps allowing the route to cover some improbably blank-looking ground. Convinced that the proper crags would now have dried out a bit we relocated back to Gandalf, where Simon and I got on Tromso Ekspressen, which Claire and Andy had recommended. It looked hard from below, but turned out to be fairly steady and pretty low in the grade at E1. Aceness.

Day 12: Having identified the mysterious route we'd seen people climbing on day 3 as Fish Restaurant, a 3 star, 11 pitch VS/HVS with a topo, but no description, in the Rockfax update to the guide, Si, Claire and I were keen for an adventure. We got an adventure. Of the 11 pitches one was a walk, 2 (both my leads) were Gogarthian travails up slightly off-vertical moss and heather, and one involved laybacking up a huge, booming, wafer-thin flake with your only gear behind said flake. Claire got that pitch, the lucky thing. That said the climbing was actually quite nice in places, and the fact that we were just following a dotted line on a topo rather than a proper description made it all feel quite entertaining. Unfortunately the entertainment coefficient took a nose-dive on the descent, which was dismissed as "Scramble down the grassy gully" or something similarly trivial in the guide. A more accurate description would be "Scramble down the gully, not the first or second gullies of precipitous death, but the third gully. The one full of loose boulders, mud and mosquitoes. Make 3 abseils, the first off a collection of scrawny trees, the second of a collection of scrawny trees and the third off a single, very wobbly tree (which you can back up with another wobbly tree) passing the ominous remains of a previous party's rope flayed against the rock. Try not to get too wet or muddy, kill any of your friends by dislodging rocks on their heads, die of blood loss from too many insect bites or break your ankles falling down any holes and for the love of god don't slip and fall".
Claire and the temporary flake of infinite terror
Day 13: Feeling a little battered after the descent of peril Si, Claire and I visited the conventional delights of the Svolvaer goat, whilst Julie and Andy went questing for adventures (and found them) on Trollfestingen. We climbed the very classic 5 pitch VS to the horns, before I nipped up the equally classic 1910 Ruta with Claire whilst Simon sunbathed. On returning to the campsite we discovered that a coach party of 50 or so Czech cyclists had camped in a large circle around our tents, and were hellbent on making as much noise as possible (aided and abetted by a mandolin, a guitar and a trumpet), seeing if they could make the toilets overflow with the combined volume of their effluent and generally being selfish arseholes. So we spent the evening drinking whisky, sitting in the car and thought malevolent thoughts.

Day 14: Si and Claire were broken, so I joined Julie and Andy at Festvag for some classic-ticking. After doing the crux of Lundeklubben, a classic E1, I managed to fall off a wet hold, which was tremendously annoying. But I got straight back on it and didn't fall off this time, and it did leave me with some reasonably good scars for my troubles. Julie then led the slightly soggy, but thoroughly amazing Skier, which was totally unlike every other route we did on Lofoten in that it was steep, but covered in enormo-jugs. We rounded the holiday off on Gaukerisset, which offered one of the best pitches of climbing of the whole trip (and therefore ever). 10m of indifferent climbing led to a tricksy little 5b traverse which gained an incredible flake that led the remaining 30m to the top of the crag. Like Heaven Crack if it was harder and 3 times as long. Brilliant.

Day 15: Time to leave Lofoten. Sad times. Julie and Andy got up early for a quick ascent of Gandalf whilst we lazed around, then we headed into Svolvaer for another shower and to catch the ferry over to Skutvik on the mainland. We stayed at a campsite next to a weird river connecting a lake to the sea, which changed direction in the middle of the night when the tide rose. Most odd.

Day 16: Drove back to Bodo, flew home. Heathrow at 11:30pm was a miserable experience. It was dark for the first time in 2 weeks and it was raining. Boo.

So, to paraphrase Sir Chris Bonnington, Lofoten was totes amazeballs. It might be expensive, but it's sure as hell worth it...

As a slight epilogue, I did get to Froggatt on Sunday for DrDanDanDan's homecoming/leaving again shindig, and wandered my way up Three Pebble Slab without any problems, but that really is barely worth a mention in the context of all the Norwegian awesomeness.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Inauspicious Limestonery

After my first trip to Norway this month passed with little climbing interest beyond ogling some incredible looking cliffs from a boat and getting comprehensively shut down by Stavanger's bouldering wall. I failed to get to the top of a single problem. Mostly because all the easy problems were about 10m high, and everything else overhung by about 2m for every 1m of up. Brutal.

So on my temporary return to England I was keen to get some mileage in. Jaime and I paid a visit to Ravensdale one evening, which I'd quite enjoyed last time. This time round I found myself climbing a polished, unprotected crack full of dead birds directly above the belay, then traversing over some massive wobbly blocks to a big ledge. From here the guide helpfully suggested I go up, passing a peg somewhere. The wall above was about 5m wide, with no visible pegs and nothing resembling a line. Bah. I picked a random combination of polished holds and snappy crimps and teetered upwards, with every move blind to what might lie above. After a harrowingly long time I reached a poor nut behind a rattly flake. More blind questing upwards revealed a peg (who knows if it was the right one, it certainly wasn't very good) and some more rattly blocks. Finally I got my hands over the top of the crag and was rewarded for my efforts with a proper gear placement. I was very glad for this whilst scrabbling around in the grass in search of some holds to top out with. A quintessential Peak limestone experience - lineless, rubbish, loose and with uninspiring gear. At least it wasn't too polished.

I spent the weekend in Bristol staying at the Chateau de Gray, so the obvious thing to do was go climbing in the Avon Gorge. Mmm. We arrived to discover that the road was closed for some kind of bike ride, which was a pleasant surprise, making communication between climbers possible for a change. We had selected a couple of single pitch HVSs at the left-hand end of Main Wall for our days entertainment, but having negotiated the approach scramble and flaked out the ropes, Oli discovered he'd left his rock shoes in the car. At the top of the crag. Idiot.

Luckily the sun was out, so I sunned myself whilst Oli abseiled back to the ground, ran around to the top of the crag where the car was parked, and ran back again. Well, he said he ran. He took a very long time and didn't seem that out of breath when I got back, so I'm not entirely convinced. Anyway, after all of this faffage he set off up the charmingly named The Corpse. There was a rather unreasonably bold, tricky section low down, but once through this the rest was reasonable, sustained climbing (at least for quarried limestone). I seconded like an idiot, and I'm not sure if I'll ever get over the unreadability of the rock, but it was a fun little excursion. Sadly we didn't have time for another route, but we did get a lovely roast dinner cooked for us, so it wasn't all bad.

Some lineless limestone bollocks...
So I'm off to Lofoten on Saturday. I'm incredibly psyched, but don't feel as if I'm as prepared as I'd really like. I've only really managed 2 decent climbing trips since March and haven barely been to the wall. Which is not exactly the optimal training for 12 pitch E2s like Vestpillaren. Still, if it worked for Whillans in the Himalayas, maybe it'll work for me...

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Getting The Summer Back On Track

In the face of a confusing forecast and some major indecision, young James, Jon Stewart and I had some plan-faffery on Friday, with all options between Bude and Stranraer considered and discarded at some point, some more than once. Eventually we found a willing 4th man called Dan in Conwy and set off for North Wales. We planned a spot of gritstone action on the way over, but it was freezing at Stanage, so we sacked that in fairly quickly.

When we picked him up Dan seemed rather vague, but it turned out that he hadn't slept for 72 hours, so I think that can be forgiven. After some more plan-changing chicanery and a nice kebab at the Conwy Kebab House, we ended up at Mr. Ripley's house in Bangor for a few beers and a meeting of the great minds of UKC. Or something. Tom let us doss on his floor, and after a refreshing light snack breakfast in Mike's Bites we drove over to Gogarth, where it was freezing. I persuaded the others that the crag would be sheltered so we headed over towards the Upper Tier. I was right as ever, but I made up for this by sandbagging myself like an idiot on the first route of the day. Given free choice of route I opted for Central Park, which has a first pitch described as "mediocre" and "serious". At HVS 5a. Well done me.

Jon on Fail Safe
It turned out to be both mediocre and serious, as well as being a bit damp and vegetated. I was quite pleased to get to the belay in one piece and discover that the second pitch looked ace. It was, although quite steep and tough for the grade. Hoping that it might be damp and I could then bail onto something easier whilst still maintaining an aura of respectability, I racked up for Emulator next. It wasn't wet. It was awesome. Sustained bridging and jamming with impeccable gear, a few good rests and the final move is the crux. Well worth its three stars.

Oswald near the top of Emulator
We finished the day on The Gauntlet, which had a start that looked like an easy slab, but James somehow climbed as an overhanging groove (there must be some kind of physics anomaly going on on that bit of the crag). At the belay James learnt the benefits of rope management after somehow throwing a massive knotted ball of rope back down the pitch. I led through up an improbable looking 4b corner and then a world of that special Gogarth mud/heather/shattered rock stuff that it does so well. All the while having to stop ever few feet whilst James untied another knot in the ropes. What fun.

We dropped Dan back off home and spent the night at Ynys Ettws, before heading down to Tremadog. Jon was labouring under the mistaken impression that it was a rubbish crag, so we were determined to prove him wrong. Since there were three of us we decided to pick a route we each really wanted to do and just get on with it, rather than faff around. Jon went first, leading The Weaver in one huge pitch. The route finds a way up the left hand side of the Vector buttress, with a lot of 5b and a fair amount of 5c for good measure. Eventually after a whole lot of climbing it meets the top pitch of Vector and everything suddenly gets very polished. This helpfully coincides with a really difficult sequence to pass a well chalked undercut. Jon and James used some kind of laybacking tomfoolery whilst I attacked it with sexy wide bridging, but we all agreed that it felt pretty damn hard. A great route though, and nice to have finally done a route on the proper side of such a classic bit of rock.

I was up next and keen for Grim Wall Direct. I was secretly hoping some morons would abseil down it whilst I was climbing so I could tie their ropes off in a fit of righteous indignation, but I was denied that pleasure and had to console myself with the climbing, which was lovely. A tricky little crack and one of those bold slabs that gets easier as the gear recedes into the distance on pitch one, followed by a few exciting moves up to and round a little roof and a spicy little move right at the top. It'd be worth 3 stars if it wasn't stuck in a grotty gully. James rounded the day off with another very long pitch starting up the tricky groove of Leg Break, across an exciting slab between Grim Wall and Meshach, and through the top roof of Blinkers to the left of Shadrach. A quality pitch with an awful lot of good climbing on it.

After another night at Ynys, Jon fancied a day of easier soloing and scrambling about, so he wandered off up to the Parson's Nose whilst the youth and I made for Dinas Mot. I led Lorraine Direct, which was a classy HVS pitch with plenty of that bold, pockety slab climbing that the crag is famous for. Next we did West Rib, with me leading another long, bold HVS pitch in the middle (featuring an exciting run out above an RP3 again). James finished up the striking E1 finger crack of The Chain, although he spoilt things by placing way too much gear and falling off as a result. It's a brilliant pitch, and wouldn't make a bad first E1, being relatively short, not too strenuous and super safe.

James seconding Lorraine Direct
We finished the trip with a little adventure on Diagonal. James led the first pitch easily enough, but I frightened myself somewhat on the second. It was only about 15 metres long, but other than a good cam right at the start, there was no gear and quite a lot of 5a until quite near the top. Nice climbing though. The third pitch has been billed as the main event, with a reputation for boldness, so I nearly had a heart attack when James fell off it. Somehow he managed to do it above the good runner placement, so crisis was averted. At least temporarily. After doing the hard moves easily enough the second time round he disappeared off above. I was expecting him to scramble up to below the final looming crack (which my tired arms weren't very excited about leading), but he seemed to take an age and I started to get rather chilly sitting on my belay perch in the middle of a sea of slabs. Eventually he re-appeared questing up some dirty looking cracks off to one side. Apparently he'd interpreted the instructions to belay below the headwall as "Carry on to the top and make sure you don't follow all of the polish and chalk". Later consultation with the guidebook revealed it to have been the finish to West Rib, which was in fact the original top pitch of Diagonal. So Oswald was clearly just channelling Arthur Birtwistle. Or being an idiot.

All told it was an awesome trip. I'm very psyched for some more climbing. And it's sunny. But I have an exam to revise for and then a conference in Norway, so it might be a while before I get out on rock again. Bah. Sometimes life can be so very unfair...

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A Light Dose Of Mild Esoterica

It's been a long month since Easter. A month full of rain and no climbing of any sort whatsoever. Oh dear. On the plus side I have booked a trip to Lundy in September and appear to have persuaded Oswald of the merits of some kind of Carnmore/Old Man of Hoy type adventure in August. Anyway, I had last Friday off, but the forecast was hellawindy and showery, so the only logical choice of venue seemed to be Rivelin, in spite of there being precisely no routes there I wanted to climb. I'm still mostly holding a grudge about the Altar Crack fiasco last year.

We started off with James staunchly refusing to recognise the difference between a blunt rib and a slab, but once he'd overcome this he led the pleasant, if rather eliminate Don't Birch The Doc, although he lost man points for a lack of moral fortitude in using the arete near the top. Being the bastion of morality that I am I atoned for his sins with an ethically clean ascent. Then I led a pointless little arete and followed James up another pleasant slabby HVS.

After this we felt inspired for a little bit of adventure, so we headed leftwards into the mythical Rivelin Quarries. They turned out to be a bit less cack than I was expecting, with a fair number of quite impressive lines. Admittedly most of them were E6s, but they did look good. There was also the legendary Rhododendron Crack. It looked awesome, but sadly I'd left the big bro and secateurs at home, so it will have to wait for another day...
Behold the infinite majesty of Rhododendron Crack. Ooooh.
I consoled myself with the prospect of a new crag point, and led off up one of the few dry lower grade lines. Woozle Direct even had a star. It was ill deserved. Pushy, unprotected climbing followed by some hollow holds and then some wetness (I lied about it being dry). Luckily there was some proper gear halfway up. Unluckily there was some vegetable interest on the top out. Boo.
Is this the bit that gets the star?
It started to spit at this stage, but the youth was undeterred and got wrestling with the unprotected start of a nice, but bold looking E1. It turned out to be very nice, but really quite bold. Allegedly it used to be E2 and I can see why. A good lead from young James. I was all set to give the adjacent HVS a go when the heavens opened, so we skulked off back home. Not a bad little sojourn into the undergrowth. I will be back. With big cams. And some agent orange.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

E Is For Easter

Excuse the tardy update. Some bugger gave me some work to do. Outrageous. Anyway, when I last left you I was lying in bed whilst the rain hammered down outside, sulking about the injustices of awful weather. Eventually I managed to coax myself into the real world with the lure of baking and a possibly climbable forecast for the Wednesday afternoon. T'internets came up trumps for a random partner, so 24 hours later I was sitting in a car park in Ambleside with a freshly baked lamb dhansak pie in the passenger seat, waiting for a man called Frith. It had been snowing in the morning, and it was blowing a gale, but the sun was out and I was full of unreasonable optimism.

Man Of Straw

Frith turned out to be a friend of a friend, and a general good egg, which was nice. We decided that White Ghyll might combine the holy trinity of being in the sun, out of the wind, and not covered in snow, and it was. We had the crag to ourselves, and had a brilliant afternoon climbing Moss Wall, Laugh Not, Do Not Direct and Man Of Straw. None of which felt desperate, being well supplied with small, positive holds. Man Of Straw was particularly satisfying, being a proper E1 and everything (although I'm having the E point for the second pitch of Do Not Direct too, as falling off the 5a moves would have been a tremendously poor idea).

I spent the evening in the CC hut in Grange, before meeting my second random internetter, Phil, in the car park below Black Crag. It was chilly, but the sky was blue and we had the crag to ourselves again. We romped up Troutdale Pinnacle Direct and The Coffin (with its rather character building gogarthesque finishing pitch with an added frozen moss cornice for good measure), wrestled with Obituary Grooves (which has quite a lot of very for a VS) and struggled up The Shroud (including a rather lonely and ill-advised rematch with the now-defrosted moss cornice at the very end of the ropes some distance past my last gear, all a little type II fun). A cracking day out in spite of the vegetable interest.

Dan was right - vegetables are evil...

Good Friday was a bit rainy and uninspiring, but luckily team win (comprising Matt, John, Mo, Stacey and Chris) had chosen the super-psychetastic venue of Windmore End. But apparently it was wet, so I met them skulking in an unpronounceable tea shop in Brough and hatched a plan to sample the delights of Jackdaw Scar. Everyone was a bit underwhelmed when we arrived, but after waiting an age for my phone to download the pdf guide we found some reasonable looking stuff and generally had a gay old time.

 The forecast seemed friendly for Saturday, so we got up super-early to secure a car parking spot in Langdale. Turns out everyone else is supremely lazy as we were the 5th car there at about 9 o'clock. There was a little residual dampness when we arrived, so J-Ro and I warmed up with a pleasant little Severe on the top slabs, before an unprecedented bout of manning up saw me setting off up the crux pitch of Forget-Me-Not, an E1 on the same slab. An easy traverse led to a good RP3 placement, before a couple of hard moves and then some sustained 5a crimping for what felt like a very, very long time with the RP becoming ever more of a distant memory, led to the belay. Phew. I soloed the other Severe whilst waiting for James to make his way down the descent rake and we moved down the crag. A quick bamber up Slip Knot left it as my route choice, so I decided to push my luck and get on an E1+, The Palestinians. I placed far too much gear (although in my defence none of it was incredibly confidence inspiring) and it felt quite tricky, but thankfully the looming overhang near the top turned out to be jug-infested, and we were soon hurrying back down to the car, with Masood's mega-curry awaiting us.

Claire having a three star time on Haste Not

Easter Sunday saw J-Ro and I do a bit of pottering at Gouther until some terminal drizzle set in just as we were getting warmed up, and the rain didn't stop all of Monday, so I ended up at the Depot in Leeds feeling weak before an appointment with the mighty Pelican that evening. A rifftastic end to a rather spiffing few days.