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!