Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Finest Bimbling The World Has To Offer

Las Vegas baby. Sin city. Home of gambling, opulence, gluttony, madness and world class mid grade climbing. No, really. Just 20 miles west of the strip lies Red Rocks, a 3000ft thick bed of multicoloured sandstone forming 10 canyons, with 1000s of routes from 30' to 1500' long. The climbing is hugely varied, but tends to be slightly off vertical and even though many routes follow cracks, these tend to be used for gear while face holds provide relief for those not keen on the dark arts of jamming. 
Not bad for a single pitch, roadside crag.
Simon, Claire, Daniel P Money and I headed out there for the last two weeks in October, which is the perfect time for a visit. The weather is stable (being a desert and that), you can climb in the sun on the cooler days and in the shade on the warmer days (if you're organised). Most of the routes are accessed from a loop road which is only open from 6am-7pm (closing time comes down to 5pm come the start of November), which ties in rather neatly with daylight hours. Walk ins vary from 5 minutes to 3 hours, but are usually around 30-60 minutes. Most of the longer routes have bolted belays and abseil descents (often back down the route for maximum clusterfuck potential), although some have scrambly descents through cactus and prickly brush. Lovely.
Fold Out on The Necromancer - great route, great name for a crag
The rock is almost always excellent, although a lot of the holds make slightly perturbing noises if you hit them. The best approach is just not to hit them, we found. The different colours of rock offer generally different climbing styles, but the character of even the same colour rock can vary significantly from pitch to pitch. Dream of Wild Turkeys on the aptly named Black Velvet Wall offers 6 consecutive pitches of HVS-E1 climbing with each one having a very distinct character from crimping on tiny holds to squirming up wide cracks via delicate smearing. Perhaps the weirdest rock we found was on the second pitch of a brilliant 5.8 called Lotta Balls, which was an otherwise smooth wall covered in stuck-on marbles. Progress was made (excitingly) by standing on these balls, crimping the same balls, and generally thinking non-snappy thoughts.
Lotta Balls' eponymous balls. Fnar.
DanDanDan had cunningly sprained his ankle a week or so before we arrived, which made both walking in and climbing rather more taxing than usual, although a winning combination of ibuprofen and strategic rest days meant it didn't impact too severely on his climbing. Other than a rest day on the middle Sunday of the trip I found a willing victim/partner to climb with every day, which was great. Over the 2 weeks I climbed 27 routes, 77 pitches and almost 3km. Yay.
More top quality nomenclature - this is Rainbow Mountain
So, what did we actually climb? Well Red Rocks is home to some of the finest multipitch 5.7/5.8 climbing anywhere. That's about VS in real money. In 2 visits there I've now climbed Group Therapy, Tunnel Vision, Birdland, Dark Shadows, Johnny Vegas, Frogland, Crimson Chrysalis, Olive Oil and Black Magic all of which offer over 100m of outstanding VS climbing in beautiful surroundings. And there's plenty more routes to go back for. We spent the first week climbing lots of these as well as a number of outstanding shorter routes - Sensuous Mortician at 5.9 and the aforementioned Lotta Balls 5.8 were particular highlights, but it was all awesome. The only down side was on the Saturday when we tried to avoid the crowds by hiking up to a relatively remote spot to do a route called Black Dagger. Unfortunately being far away from the road and at the end of a rather scrambly path we had to abandon the approach once we realised that we were moving so slowly that we'd never have time to do the route and get back to the car. Whilst this was a shame, because the route and the location looked stunning, being Red Rocks we managed to find ourselves a brilliant little 4 pitch Severe as a consolation prize. And I saw a Golden Eagle. Go me.

After a rest day of hardcore gambling (I lost a whole $2...), the second week was all about getting up before dawn to go and do big cool stuff. Unfortunately the weather on the Monday was very windy and pretty chilly, so we had to postpone our assault on Crimson Chrysalis until the Tuesday. The wind had died down overnight, but it was still baltic in the shade. At least that meant we had the route to ourselves. This is something of a rarity apparently as it has a reputation for being the best 5.8 route at Red Rocks, which is full of brilliant 5.8s. With 9 pitches of brilliant sustained climbing up a very cool bit of rock it's easy to see why.
Warm Claire, happy Claire - chilling out on the belay near the top of Crimson Chrysalis
After 2 days of freezing in the shade, I was keen to seek out some sunshine. Linking Johnny Vegas, Going Nuts and Solar Slab offered us 1500' of three star climbing in the sun. So Dan and I did that. It was ace. Sarah and I had bailed from the top of the 6th pitch last time after starting a bit late and generally not moving fast enough, but this time we were early and ruthlessly efficient, so we made it up 11 pitches and back down again before it got dark. And we met some charming if utterly mental Californians, one of whom was called Elsworth. Who knew that was even a name?

The next day was our last opportunity for a big route and there was one route which I'd wanted to climb more than any other during the trip. Being 10 pitches of 5.10a (that's about E1 folks) it was a significant step up in terms of difficulty from anything else we'd climbed, so I'd had my worries that nobody else would want to climb it. Luckily for me Claire was psyched, which was impressive given her previous total number of E1 leads stood at 0. Another pre-dawn start got us to the base of the route with the whole canyon to ourselves. Claire led up the easy first pitch before I got a bit of a rude awakening on the second. With a grade of 5.9 I was expecting something HVS-ish, but this was 40m of proper hard climbing. Brilliant though. I was a bit concerned about the 5.10 pitches above, but after a bit of a wobble on a steep little crack Claire waltzed across the traverse that was supposedly the first crux. The second crux came at the very end of my next pitch, with 40-odd metres of rope out. The crack I'd been climbing petered out and a couple of thin, smeary moves led past a pair of bolts to the belay. I clipped the first bolt and got a quickdraw in the second, but the holds all pointed to wrong way to allow me to pull the rope up to clip it. Then my foot started to slough around inside my shoe on the first thin smears. Eventually I realised that neither of these things was going to improve any time soon, so I tried to put them to the back of my mind and got on with it...

My luck was in and a few seconds later I clipped the belay with a sense of some relief. I'd brought a spare pair of tighter shoes just in case I needed to stand on anything small, so I deployed these. Even with the 2 5.10a pitches out of the way there was no place for relaxing as the next 3 pitches were all pretty full-on. After getting to the ledge at the top of the 7th pitch from which most people abseil off I was a bit unsure how much I wanted to carry on. My feet were sore and another 2 pitches of 5.9 sounded a lot like hard work, but the day was still fairly young and Claire was keen so we got on with it. I'm glad we did as the top pitches were both great and considerably easier than what had gone before. 1000' of abseiling later and we were back on the ground full of win (and in my case some demented fluorescent seaweed snacks). What a route.
Pitch n of Dream of Wild Turkeys (for some large n)
So, another brilliant trip. America is still utterly nuts and eating healthily is essentially impossible. At one point I almost fell into a diabetic coma in the face of a cheesecake/brownie/chocolate cake confection and my digestive system has only just recovered from all the processed nonsense. Totally worth it though.

Now, back to the gritstone. Meh.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Not Straying Far From The B5289

The start of last week marked the annual meeting of great minds that is mine and Oli's annual climbing holiday. Sadly a combination of dissertation work and Oli spending most of the summer swanning around the west coast of America meant that it was curtailed to only 3 days in Borrowdale, but there are worse places in the world to be. The weather forecast was fairly obliging, although it was somewhat vague when it came to predicting the cloud level, unhelpfully suggesting somewhere between 200 and 800m, encompassing almost every crag with a greater or lesser degree of probability. Oli had also broken his little toe in a tragic surfing accident a few weeks previously, with an unknown impact on his ability to climb.

Undeterred by any of this, or a very late start on Monday, we opted for the roadside delights of Shepherd's, the Lakes' answer to Tremadog, where a quick bimble up the surprisingly not totally shit in spite of the polish Brown Slabs Corner confirmed that Oli's toe wasn't too debilitating. So I sent him off up Brown Crag Wall, another ticklist VS, to check he could remember how to lead. Turned out he could. After romping up the actually quite good top pitches, we decided that the other ticklist VS at that end of the crag looked like it was 85% moss, and headed to the CC hut for bangers and mash. And whisky. Far too much whisky.

Would you trust this man?
Apparently drinking most of a bottle of whisky (a very, very nice 12 year old Hibiki in case you were wondering) leads to some kind of epic hangover. At least it does now that we're old men. Fortuitously Oli had forseen this problem and bought bacon and eggs for breakfast, which improved matters significantly. The cloud was still looming ominously on the hillsides above, so we stumbled back to Shepherd's and decided to ease ourselves into the day with some topological non-triviality on Donkey's Ears. It was ace. Two through routes, a very traditional VDiff thrash and the sun even came out briefly at the top. Lovely. A quick tick of Kransic Crack followed before we felt sufficiently recovered to attempt some kind of silly girdle traversey nonsense. My pitch started up a 4b crack that was suspiciously desperate for 4b, followed by some bold moves up suspect rock with no gear, then a bit of a shuffle leftwards for a few metres and a downclimb to a belay. All very daft. The rest of the route linked pitches of other, proper, climbs, so was altogether more sensible, although Oli found the direct finish to Ardus quite exciting. Apparently back-and-footing is quite painful when you're not wearing a t-shirt. Arf. The day's final route was Shepherd's Chimney, which the guide warns is 'noted for its pitch 3'. In fact it wasn't a chimney, pitch 3 was fine and the unheralded pitch 4 was where the stars were at.
Making the prosaic into the EPIC!
After a day of VSs with not substantial toe-related issues, I persuaded Oli that we should head up to Black Crag the next day for a go at The Mortician and Troutdale Pinnacle Superdirect. So obviously the valley was filled with mist the next morning, making everything a bit wet. Bah. So we went to the still very roadside Quayfoot Buttress, which was still damp, but at least a bit less out of the clouds. Eventually it dried out and we had another good day. The Crypt had a filthy looking first pitch, which we avoided, but the top pitch was good. Morceau had a very ferny looking first pitch, which I didn't avoid and which was actually not that bad, and a brilliant second pitch traversing right across the headwall (not one for a busy day). The Mound was a lot better than it looked (just as well) and Mandrake was still as classic as ever. Bo. Then it was home time. Next time, we'll hopefully be allowed to venture further than 100 yards from the main road...
Deutsche leaf

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Banned Crags, Esoteric Rambling & The Joy Of Nostars

I'm never very useful when it comes to deciding which eastern grit crag to go to - I've climbed so much that most of the things I have left to do are either perma-green or will involve trying hard, and I hate going to a crag having tacitly committed to trying hard. Luckily I have a near infinite capacity for having a good time climbing unstarred nonsense eliminates. And so, when J-Rowe, Kyle, Joswald, Stacey, Chris and I headed up to the Popular End of Stanage last weekend, the piratical Mr Rowe and I decided to spend the day climbing obscure no-star VSs (whilst Kyle and Oswald backed off all of the routes. ALL OF THEM). In spite of the midges, occasional greenery and a few cases of having to avoid the obvious holds because they weren't 'in', we had a pretty good day. It's been a long time since I climbed anything on grit, so it was good to ease myself back into things too. It's much knackier than other rock types, and going well on anything else doesn't really translate to any kind of ability on grit. Sadly. Although that is part of its charm. That and the glorious man-eating jams that no other rock does quite so seductively...
Kyle sticking it to Agony Crack
With Friday off and a good forecast, Sophie and I hatched a plan to go and climb some rocks. After some dithering over venue (again) we ended up at Wharncliffe, a crag I often forget exists. It's a funny spot, with it's industrial-feeling outlook, positive holds, often dodgy gear and occasional gigantic loose blocks at the top (and bottom) of the crag. We initially stuck to the good stuff and ticked all the 3-star routes at the crag below E4. Admittedly this was only 3 routes, but they were all good, even if Great Buttress Arete was neither hard nor bold as had been promised. We then went for an explore of the distant southern reaches of the crag, where the buttresses become more shy and retiring among the trees. We found a lot of verdant rock, some good looking (if damp) lines and some funky bouldering, including a pleasant little VS arete that we both soloed. The sun had even come out by then. Marvellous. There's even a few ticklist routes down there to do next time we get a dry spell.
Soph bimbling up some Wharncliffe esoterica
Inspired by this exploratory venture, Adam and I headed south yesterday in search of some adventures in the southern Peak. The first stop was Stone Crag, an obscure buttress just north of the Amber valley, which is hidden in some trees next to the road. The guidebook suggests that it is definitely on private land, so to keep a low profile, and the keep out signs and barbed wire definitely reinforced the feeling that we weren't welcome. The rock was a bit scruffy, but good fun, with the highlight being a very pleasant little E1 called Stoned that we both soloed (the crux being exercising the mental fortitude to avoid the massive crack right next to the crux).
Adam throwing shapes on Stoned
So, after one banned crag, the obvious thing to do next was to visit Eastwood Rocks, 'The best banned crag in the Peak'. Apparently evictions by the landowner are not infrequent, but plenty of people still manage to climb there. We left the gear in the car and went for a flying visit with just our rock shoes and the guide. A lengthy creep through very rustly bracken and brambles we found the crag. It's a beauty. A bit steep like, but the rock's great and there's some cracking lines. Corpse Crack looks a bit like a refugee from Ramshaw and the hard routes through the roofs look very impressive. We tiptoed along to the far end of the crag, where a 2-star Diff girdle and a 3-star through route awaited us. They were both fairly unique, particularly the squeezy through route (beta alert - the crux is avoiding chafing your left nipple on the overlap near the entrance!) and well worth the effort. I'm very keen to go back with a rope, although I doubt that visiting once the leaves are off the trees is a very good idea. Maybe next spring.
The man-eating Nod's Cave
Having had our fill of forbidden crags, but not esoterica with knobs on, we headed down to Chasecliffe, near Crich. A single buttress squirreled away at the bottom of a field, with a ticklist HS and a lovely outlook over the Derwent valley. The routes were good fun and a decent length and it was all very pleasant. It was also a bit of a relief not to be worrying about getting kicked off by a grumpy farmer with a shotgun.
Lazy Groove at Chasecliffe
We finished the day with a visit to the far end of Baslow. Esoteric by normal eastern grit standards, but much more frequented than any of our previous venues. Hell, there were even other people there. I had an appointment with a ticklist VS first put up by a certain Don Whillans. How hard can 6m of climbing be? Quite hard it turns out. No brutal cracks, just some oomph required (and a slightly desperate slap for the top in my case). I then got gripped soloing some slabby VSs I've soloed before, before we found the last ticklist route on the crag, a delightful gopping wet VDiff chimney which was actually quite fun. Another spot to come back to after a dry spell, as there were some pretty good lines (including a terrifying overhanging HVS jamming crack) waiting to dry out.

After all this exploratory silliness I'm feeling a lot more positive about gritstone again. I don't think I'll ever forgive it for the fact that it has HVSs that would probably kill me as soon as look at me, but the fact that after the best part of 2,000 routes there are still plenty of undiscovered gems lurking about the place means that it'll be a while yet before I get sick of it and have to learn to love Peak limestone (ugh). I am looking forwards to a few days climbing proper rock with actual holds in the Lakes though.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Questing for Extremes

After returning to the right country (via the Alps, where I cycled up a big hill and saw some marmots), I spent a whole 2 hours at home before setting off westwards in yet another hired Panda. I collected l'Oswald and Julie en route and we made for the vast and slightly baffling Valley of the Rocks campsite near Holyhead, where we met up with Clurrr. The morning was dry and even a bit sunny, so we headed for South Stack and James and I abseiled into Castell Helen while the girls headed for Gogarth on Main Cliff. For a while I'd had this idea that the first pitch of Atlantis (a big 5a corner pitch, mmm) followed by the top pitch of North West Passage would make for a good combination, being rather more direct than most of the actual routes thereabouts. So that was what we did, and it was ace.
Pitch 1 of Atlantis. Not very hard, but very good.
Whilst we had the abseil rope there, we nipped back down so I could lead the big HVS pitch of Lighthouse Arete Direct/Blanco. It was very cool. A bit of slabby bambering, some funky steep bridging through an overlap, then a steep, bold finish pulling round a roof on huge weirdy quartz holds. We celebrated with a cuppa in the cafe, before deciding that it definitely wasn't too late to do a route at the other end of Main Cliff. Oh no. On the way over we passed the girls who had had so much fun on Gogarth that they decided not to do another route. It was both of our first venture beyond the very start of the approach traverse along the bottom of the crag, so it was just as well the tide was out and there was no swell so it all felt very non-serious. The lateness of the hour meant I couldn't stop for much sightseeing on the way, but we passed underneath a lot of impressive looking lines, whatever they were.

Eventually we arrived at a small pedestal that marked the start of Scavenger, our intended route. It had been top of my wishlist for a very long time, but some combination of time, tides and weather had always conspired to keep me away from it, so I wasn't going to let the incipient darkness spoil my fun. Oswald bimbled up the steeper than it looks starting crack and when I joined him I was surprised by just how tricky the start looked. Still, no time for dithering, so I grabbed the gear and got on with it. It turned out that it was quite tricky - thin bridging on small sloping edges - but big holds soon arrived. The really good stuff, however, was the next corner over. A short traverse past some monster pegs led to a steep, imposing corner filled with jugs and awesomeness. Ace. There was still plenty of daylight left when I reached the top, although Oswald did his best to find an epic all the same by eschewing the normal finishing chimney and instead opting for a never-travelled green, snappy offwidth of peril. Classic.

After some overnight rain the next day was dry again, so back to Gogarth we went. With an embarrassment of HVS riches, Wen slab seemed like a good place to go, although when we arrived there were 2 parties somehow managing to fill all of the routes. So we snuck up Dde, on the right side of the slab, which was fun, but too easy to be HVS. When we abseiled back down everybody was engaged in various stages of Dream of White Horses, so Wen, Concrete Chimney and Quartz Icicle were all free. I started off towards Concrete Chimney, having heard it was the best HVS on the slab, but James started heckling me to do Quartz Icicle instead. It did look good, and it was a slab, but having led no E1s all year, jumping on an E2 seemed a bit bold. I eventually resolved to 'have a look' and I was soon committed. Oops. About half way through the pitch the handholds suddenly got bigger and I assumed it was all over. I was wrong. I even managed to get a little bit pumped. On a slab. I got there in the end though. James led the original finish, which was actually quite good.

Sadly after that it was time to go, but I was back again the next day, having swapped Julie and James for young master Hobson. Andy was dead keen for The Moon and for some reason I let him talk me into it in spite of having previously climbed a single E3, and that certainly didn't involve any ultra-committing traversing above overhangs. Andy read John Cox's classic description of how to retreat from the crux pitch (involving many, many abseils, some swimming, and a solo of Lighthouse Arete) to get me more psyched. It didn't work. I spent a long time sitting at the bottom of the abseil in, fettling my prusiks and getting ready to use them in anger. The first, 4c pitch, did little to assuage my fears, with 5a monkeying around on steep ground above a single shonky wire, so I didn't fall off.
Andy spacewalking on The Moon
The belay felt like a very lonely place to be, especially once Andy had disappeared from view. Seeing the ropes dangling into space miles away as Andy flaked them over the next belay once he'd reached it didn't help either. As it happened the crux moves felt fairly steady, but the ground after them felt steep, and Andy laughed as I appeared round the corner, eyes on stalks, grasping desperately for holds. Mercifully they appeared, and I even found a rest, which allowed me to enjoy the ludicrous exposure of the rest of the pitch. The belay was a fairly mind-bending place to be, with roofs in seemingly every direction, as though the whole crag overhung in 4 dimensions. The last pitch traversed out before pulling steeply into a slanting groove and following this to the top in a truly incredible position. I did get quite pumped (again) and was quite grateful for the 3 pegs which I could pretend were good (they weren't) and plough on above, rather than stopping to place a proper runner and getting totally boxed in doing so. There's so much space below your feet by that stage that a fall would be totally safe, albeit it utterly terrifying, even if the pegs failed. The first proper runner after them was a very welcome relief. What a pitch. What a route. Maybe not quite the best one in the world, but not too far away.

After yet another cup of tea in the cafe, we ventured over to Red Walls, where I had an appointment with Anarchist, apparently a kind of 'Red Wall light' experience. The gear for the lower section was a bit sub-optimal, but the climbing was easy (once I'd stopped arsing up the sequence for the initial traverse), and I soon had the gigantic shiny peg clipped. I nearly fell off above this after muffing another sequence, but held it together and was soon desperately shovelling myself onto the belay ledge with no elegance but a big grin on my face. A very cool route, and we got a great view of some guys on Redshift, which looked like a whole different kettle of (very cool but quite exciting) fish.
An anarchist on Anarchist
Keen to climb some more weird red nonsense we headed to Rhoscolyn the next day. Conditions were a bit greasy when we first arrived, but they soon improved. The Savage Sunbird was pretty sustained and required a cool head from Andy to deal with the slightly uninspiring gear. By contrast Wild Rover was steady and pretty soft for the grade. Really pleasant slabby crimping up hidden holds all the way. Probably best not to fall off the start though. We finished the day with The Sun (well, after The Moon yesterday we had to really). It looked steep and Andy took a long time to lead it, even downclimbing the crux at one point, which was a pretty good effort. A tricky pull into the groove itself led immediately to a pumpy section, then a good rest before the crux, which looked innocuous enough, but felt hard and steep enough when I was on it. Another cracking route and my arms were feeling pretty battered by this stage

We woke up the next day to rain and an uninspiring forecast, so we drove South. Slowly. Very slowly. It seems they're digging up all of the roads in Wales. Bah. Eventually we reached Carreg-y-Barcud, where it had stopped raining and looked to be brightening up a bit. I decided to test out some new shoes on an E1, which was a terrible idea. It turns out I can't stand on anything small with the toes of them, so it was very fortunate that all the holds were quite wide (if very small) so I could stick the edge of my foot on them instead. Not a very enjoyable experience. I switched back to some sensible shoes after that and the next couple of routes (including the oddly named Be Brave, which boasts more runners than most of the other routes on the slab) were a whole lot easier. Then Andy manned up for a go at Kitten Claws, the classic E3 of the crag. There was some serious crimping required on some spectacularly small holds. Painful.
Generic awesome crimpy Barcud slab
The following day was rainy again. After an abortive morning attempt to climb we headed back to St Govan's in the late afternoon. I'd realised that neither of us had led anything sub extreme all week, so felt compelled to keep this up. I was under the impression that The Arrow was dead soft as long as you didn't fall off the start, so gave that a whirl. Conditions were awful, so the greasy start felt very hard indeed, but I assumed things would ease up once I reached the crack. I felt quite aggrieved when it didn't and I had to try quite hard not to fall off. It's probably a nice route if the holds aren't covered in butter and you aren't expecting a ladder of jugs...

Sunshine the next day brought slightly better conditions, although it was really a bit warm for comfort. I kicked things off with a romp up Cool For Cats, which wasn't as steep as I'd feared, but was really good, with interest maintained right to the top. Next up was a rematch for Andy with First Blood, which didn't end well, so I bimbled up a very soft E1 next to it, before falling my way up The Butcher on second. A good reminder that no amount of technical chicanery can make steep routes feel easy. And that I need to acquire some better arms from somewhere. I rounded things off by heading back to St Govan's East and wombling up Whispering Wind, which had a fiercer crux than I was expecting.

Another day of rain blew over and we were gifted with absolutely glorious conditions on our final day. With quite a swell running, and an incoming tide we headed for the not-very-tidal delights of the Keelhaul slab. Andy led the eponymous route, which was very nice before I set off up Baker's Door, a route Andy had backed off a few years ago. Conditions were much better this time, so it went fairly smoothly, although it nearly went a bit wrong near the top when a large foothold decided to part company with the crag whilst I was stood on it.  We finished our trip with Andy cruising his way up Pleasure Dome, which was a lot more than can be said for my inglorious failure to second it with any modicum of style. Or not falling off.

So, a very successful week all told. 15 E-points and a load of routes I've wanted to do for ages. I'm really psyched for a return to Barcud, and maybe the rest of Pembroke once I've got some proper arms. Hmm.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Pfalzing Around

A few weeks ago I found myself heading to Manchester airport to meet Mr Fiendypops for a trip to the Pfalz in western Germany. Normally before I go anywhere I spend hours poring over the guidebook, but I didn't have a guide to pore over. In fact I'd never even seen the guidebook, or met anybody who'd been there and the internet wasn't much help. All I knew was this it was made of sandstone, there were some bolts, and Matt was syked. Oh, and the use of chalk was banned on routes below UIAA grade 7 (about E2/F6bish). And it was going to be hot. Like 35 degrees hot. Hmmm.

It turns out that the Pfalz is an area of beautiful wooded hills covered in weird collections of sandstone towers and ridges. The routes are between 15 and 70m long and vary from entirely trad to slightly sparsely bolted sport (although not dangerously so, as long as you don't fall off making the first clip), with most routes falling somewhere in between. The rock is good, with lots of enormous gear-swallowing cracks, massive open book corners, mega-chimneys, giganto-bunter pebbles, cool honeycombed pockets and enormo-roofs.
A 40m gently overhanging honeycombed wall with F6c-ish sport routes next to a 50m HVS mega-corner. Something for all the family.
So, the crags are cool, and there are loads of them. We visited 21 separate crags over 10 days and they were all pretty ace. The weather was mostly baking, but it was relatively easy to find shade with a bit of strategic crag selection. Most days it was still baking in the shade, but a little cunning application of midday lazing around, mini golf and the air-conditioning in our amazing Panda of win saw us through. There were relatively few other climbers around, but those that were climbing appeared to be paying scant regard to the chalk ban, and almost every route across the grades had some evidence of chalk on it.
Laemmerfelsen - just your common or garden craglet...
Climbing on this was rather worrying...
Other than the temperature, the whole trip was pretty awesome. I climbed loads of classic routes, across the grades from Mod - E1ish. Particular highlights were the massive 50m VS/HVS corners and the Hen Cloud-esque E0 cracks, as well as a spectacular 3 pitch VDiff which involved burrowing through 2 separate holes and graunching along a 20m stomach traverse half way up the crag, and a Namenlos-like slab which featured a funky cross-through move onto a mono behind a pebble. Mentile. Bonus interest was added by the fact that several of the crags used to house castles. This manifested itself in random staircases in unexpected places (in chimneys, part way up routes...) which you don't get at Stanage. And climbing on crags with otherwise inaccessible summits (especially ones which overhang their base on all sides) is very cool.
So, it's amazing, you should go there. Perhaps not in the middle of a heatwave though. Some of the harder crags stay dry in the rain, so you should be able to get something done even if the weather's cack. One crag even has a classic perma-dry VS girdle traverse. If you like climbing striking lines up funky towers, then it's for you. It probably helps to like climbing cracks (and chimneys in the lower grades), but even the crackophobic could find plenty to amuse themselves I'm sure.

If you can climb UIAA 8 then the centre of this buttress is a bit of a line to aspire to. It's rather aptly named Superlative and apparently some chap called Gullich thought it was quite good.
Reassuringly chunky, but rather antiquated feeling, most of the older bolts (on the easier routes) looked like this.

Useful Stuff
  • We flew to Basel, which was 2 1/2 hours drive away. Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Strasbourg and Cologne would all be reasonable alternatives to fly to.
  • We stayed at the improbably named Buttelwoog campsite just south of Dahn, which was well-appointed, including a restaurant that served really good pizza, schnitzels and beer until 10pm every evening. It cost about 9 Euros per person per night. 
  • There's a good climbing shop at the Baerenbrunnerhof (as well as a cheaper, more basic campsite) where you can buy the guide and anything you might have forgotten (including chalk).
  • Take a full rack of quickdraws (including some slingdraws), a single set of nuts, a full set of cams including doubles in the larger sizes (camalot 1 upwards) if you can. Some large hexes would be useful too. Oh, and plenty of skinny slings for weird little threads.
  • A 50m single rope would be fine for most routes, although getting off some of the larger towers could be quite faffy. We took a skinny single and a half rope (both 50m), which worked really well.
  • Most of the crags are really close to the road (under 10 minutes walk on generally good paths). A vague understanding of German would be useful for locating the crags, but following your nose would probably work well enough most of the time.
  • The guide gives advice on crucial gear where needed, particularly on the more sport-style routes where you might want to bring a cam or two with you to supplement the bolts.
  • Some crags may be bird banned from February-July, although I'm not sure how you find out whether the bans are actually in force.
  • There are several supermarkets in Dahn, all closed on Sunday, although the bakery next to the one on the west side of town is open on Sunday morning. It also sells the tastiest pastries and is staffed by a higher calibre of pretzel wenches than other bakeries.
The mega-chimney. About 50 yards from the campsite. Yasss.

Monday, 8 July 2013


Ever since visiting Fairhead a few years ago, Cloggy has been top of my unrequited craglust list. Given the length of time I’ve been climbing, it was an obvious glaring omission, but every opportunity I had to go there, it was wet, and every time it was dry I was busy doing something else unavoidable. Perhaps I should have just taken the Dai Lampard approach and phoned work to say “I’m sorry, I can’t come in, I just have to climb on Cloggy today”. Anyway, this weekend the stars finally aligned, and at 5am on Saturday I crawled out of bed and headed west, stopping only to pick up LJ from Stockport.

It was lunchtime by the time we’d driven over, stomped up the Llanberis path in the baking heat and had out first eyeful of the crag. I’d only ever seen it before from afar and in pictures, but wow, what a crag. More great lines than you can shake a stick at, with enough dark, dank crevices to maintain an air of silent menace. There were 5 or 6 other parties at the crag, all of whom seemed to be on the Great Slab/Bow-Shaped Slab link up, so we left them to their devices and scrambled round to the start of Longland’s Climb, a three star VS. after a hard, bold and slightly damp start, 3 pitches of pleasant slabby climbing deposited us below “The Overhang”, the aptly-named crux. Good but spaced holds were promised, so after some faffery I applied a bit of faith and groped inelegantly upward for jugs and glory. The temperature on the crag had been pleasantly cool, so it was a bit of a shock to scramble up to the ridge and suddenly be struck by the heat. Glad we weren’t climbing in the sunshine (and it’s not often you can say that in the UK).

By the time we scrambled down Eastern Terrace the crowds had dispersed, so we jumped straight on Great/Bow and were rewarded with 5 pitches of outstanding climbing. Every pitch was better than any of the pitches on Longland’s (and that had been far from bad). The crux is a traverse which is either a safe but tough swing along a break with little for your feet, or a bold but easier teeter along the same break. I was all for teetering, but James had led the hard way, so I had to follow the gear. It felt pretty stout to me, especially when I misjudged the length of one of the moves and failed to take out one of the runners until I’d climbed too far past it to reach it. After much huffing, puffing and sketchy reversing I managed to flick it out and scuttle back left. Whew. The sun came round onto the slab by the 4th pitch, which was quite pleasant, but it brought the midges with it, which was less so. Not enough to detract from the climbing though. Totes amazeballs.
We win at life
It was pretty late by this stage, so we wandered down to the lake below the crag where we planned to bivvy. My last bivvying experience was in a motorway service station near Stuttgart, so these were altogether more impressive surroundings. Some creative use of a nutkey was required when it became apparent that I’d neglected to bring one, but our pasta, spicy pesto, salmon, sweetcorn and brie conflagration was worth the effort. A spot of celebratory whisky was imbibed and I soon fell into a very well-earned slumber.

I was awoken at 8 by the youth complaining that the sun was up. I’d actually woken up just after sunrise to see the crag bathed in an amazing orange glow, but was too tired/lazy to get my camera to record the occasion. After a leisurely breakfast and a morning cuppa we wandered back up to the crag just as the shade had come round onto the East Buttress and I led the easy approach pitch to Silhouette, one of the crag’s many classic E2s. As I wasn’t psyched for failing to lead any 5c moves, James set off with a monster rack for a 45m adventure pitch. He slipped off downclimbing early on, which was a shame, but he managed all of the actual upwards climbing, although he certainly took his time and made the top crux look desperate. When I got on it I found out that was because the whole route was hard, from start to finish. Other than the two 5c cruxes there was barely a move below 5a, and plenty of tricky 5b, compounded by a few greasy patches in the crack just where you didn’t want them. I reached the non-rest below the upper crux feeling very low on beans and when I went for the moves I was convinced I was off, but somehow I managed to rearrange my feet as I was about to fall and one desperate final application of try brought a just-good-enough hold into reach. The route was brilliant, but definitely at the E3 end of the grade and not one I’ll be rushing to lead in the near future.

Approaching the first crux on Silhouette
After that we were both feeling pretty physically and emotionally drained, so we contemplated doing Sheaf, a 2/3 star VS/HVS depending on which guide you believe, but Ripley told us not to bother as the 3rd pitch was unlocatable. After a bit of umming and aahing we decided to follow him and his dad up the 1st two pitches and then finish up White Slab, that way avoiding the terrifying looking entry traverse of that route. I led the first pitch, which had some nice climbing in spite of being a bit dirty, but I was constantly unsure that I was on the right line and couldn’t find a sensible belay, so ended up in an awkward semi-hanging stance some way above where I wanted to be. The next pitch, down, round the arĂȘte and then making a descending traverse of a slab was pretty cool, but my feet were in agony and I felt like I was climbing like a particularly punter punter, so I made Oswald lead the next pitch, which was brilliant; slabby cracks with just enough gear, and a cool steep juggy traverse at the end. The next pitch was the crux of White Slab, involving either a 5c traverse, or a pendulum at 5bish. It seemed that even if you wanted to do it free, failure to lasso the spike was a scary option, since falling off the smeary 5c moves would then have you scraping across the slab, before swinging round the arĂȘte and off into space below the belay (if you were lucky enough not to hit anything else). I sat in the corner and sulked about my uselessness and general all-pervading tiredness whilst James spent 40-odd minutes fruitlessly throwing armfuls of rope at the distant spike. A cowboy he ain’t. Eventually, not fancying the necessary manning-up to lead it free we decided to escape, which involved an entertaining abseil round a blind rib. I was very pleased to round it and find the ropes running back down into the descent gully rather than hanging off into oblivion.

Ripley pulling some shapes on White Slab
I was a bit grumpy about our failure, particularly my general exhaustion, so I decided to see if a swim in the lake would sort me out. The water was a touch nippy, but very refreshing and mill-pond still, so I decided to swim out into the middle and wait until the ripples had settled down. I had to abandon this plan 2/3 of the way out when I suddenly realised that I was so battered that there was a very real chance I might not have enough strength to swim back to shore if I went much further. After I was safely back on dry land this made me feel a little vindicated about running away. I’ll just have to come back when I’m harder, better, faster and stronger. Or at least a little less puntertastic. Not that I need encouragement to make a return visit. It’s an amazing crag, well worth it’s semi-mythical status. Now if I can just man up enough to do Shrike next time round that would be nice…

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Stanage Ton

A couple of years ago, after a remarkably productive day soloing at Harborough and Windgather with a stinking hangover and a sprained ankle, I decided that soloing 100 routes in a day was the kind of thing that I ought to do at some point. I also quite fancied soloing a vertical kilometer in a day, which might be harder at obvious soloing haunts like Birchen, Windgather and Burbage, but should come for free with 100 routes at Stanage. As an added bonus, this would also avoid the rather unaesthetic faffery of driving between crags. A previous effort was aborted due to midges and broken feet, but it seemed like a challenge worthy of my current level of climbing skill. After a failed effort to drum up any willing companions, I found myself sitting at the far right of the Popular End at 10am on Monday, putting my rock shoes on.

I followed the same pattern as my previous attempt, soloing all the Mods and Diffs, including a few in descent which I knew were reasonable propositions, with a few VDiffs (and the odd Severe), especially on the taller buttresses to keep the average route length up.After 19 routes I was already feeling tired and not overly optimistic about my prospects, but I got on with it. After 40 routes a well timed spot of drizzle forced me to have a rest and a spot of lunch (a particularly fine goats cheese and chorizo quiche). I'd resolved to bring a pen and paper with me so I could record the routes as I did them to make sure I didn't miscount and end up on 99, which was a great plan, since it forced me to take short breaks every 10 routes or so to write everything down, which I think saved me from any kind of mental fatigue. It was also nice to have a regular excuse to take my rock shoes off.

Beyond Mississippi Buttress the crag loses a bit of height and there are plenty of easy routes at around the 10m mark to get the total ticking upwards. I was starting to think it might actually be possible, and when I passed Dover's Wall, where I'd given up before on 68, and could still walk, I had a celebratory handful of Haribo to spur myself on. The next, scrappy, section of the crag has a good number of short easy routes, so I was up to 80 by the time I reached the Unconquerables. Here the Diffs and Mods start to thin out and the VDiffs all seem to be proper thrashy chimneys. I tested one of these out - ODG's Chimney. That was a bad move. Some time later I emerged from its verdant bowels substantially chastened and boasting considerably less skin than before. I vowed to stick to the Diffs, even if that meant I had to walk all the way to the far end of the crag.

Eventually, after a lot of wandering around, I found a cluster of insignificant Diffs that took me to 100. I found the energy to solo one more route (with a star no less) just in case, totted up the total height of all the routes to check it was over 1000m, and hobbled back along the top of the crag towards the now rather distant car.

So, 101 routes, 1023m of climbing, 22 chimneys, 20 cracks, 2 clefts and 49 stars. Not a bad day out. I could do more, I think. Next time I might be tempted to ignore the height and just see how many routes I can manage in a day. Or try and collect stars. That could be fun, and would probably involve a fair bit less greenery...

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Bimbling At Stanage, Spanked At Curbar

Another month, still haven't remembered how to climb. I have had lots of fun bimbling around. Much like all of Tremadog, climbing obscure unstarred low-grade routes at Stanage is one of my great guilty pleasures. I've been 3 times since my last post and climbed all sorts of mildly esoteric gems, including Birthday Buttress (a bit of a voyage at VS 4b), Elliott's Eliminate (a great route to do on a busy day, crossing 3 2/3-star routes at the Popular End) and The Real 20-Foot Crack (pocket-sized jamming loveliness). I've also found a fair few sandbags, including an HVS arete called Scary Canary that Adam led, which involved some very unlikely moves off uninspiring jams and a rounder-than-you-like arete.

Bimbler's Paradise
I've also been to Bell Hagg. Twice in a week. On the first visit I mostly just got pumped and made tremendously hard work of the easy low traverse. On the return, Soph and I sheltered from the rain and made up some amusing eliminates. Oswald and I spent a frustrating day at Rivelin, where I soloed a bold HVS between the showers. And yesterday Adam and I went to Curbar with predictable results. 

My natural reflex when anyone suggests going to Curbar is to shout "Noooooooo" with a despairing look on my face, but Adam overcame this by using the lure of unclimbed ticklist routes. So we went. Potter's Wall was very pleasant, then Adam led an unfrequented HVS with a stout little crack and a breezy top-out that was much easier once he'd found the holds. Not feeling like leading an HVS at Curbar was a good idea given my current levels of ineptitude I thought I'd punter up a nearby HS. After a long time pansying around on a ledge I escaped into the neighbouring HVDiff grovel, not fancying the baffling moves and uninspiring gear. Ignominious.

Adam then led another HVS with similar hold-missing faffery at the top, before we wandered left a bit to The Brain. It starts with an unprotected slabby teeter, which felt rather more soul-searching then it should, and finishes with brilliant exposed moves on mega-jugs up an arete. A VS at Curbar that wasn't a terrifying sandbag. Perhaps it really isn't a crag full of sandbags? 

No, it is. Adam proved this by being repelled by the pain of a frankly horrible looking fist jam on a VS crack (which is disappointingly on the ticklist, so I'll be back at some point, hopefully with an idiot to lead it for me). He followed this by sketching his way up the scrittliest slab I've ever had the misfortune to venture onto.

So Curbar is still terrifying and I still can't climb. At least I've been having fun trying.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Yet More Puntering And A Bit Of Falling Off

Easter seems a long time ago, but other than a slightly damp, windy and generally uninspiring day at Lawrencefield with Oswald and Ripley, where the highlight of the day was an epic onsight crush of an unstarred VS 4b, I've managed to avoid climbing entirely. Curses. Anyway, last weekend found an enthusiastic team of reprobates heading to Gardoms.

I found a horrendous looking Mod with a star, and set about soloing it armed with Adam's oversized brush just in case the going got filthy. Other than some weird dried out slime on the first few holds it was actually quite clean and much better than it looks. I then scared myself silly soloing a couple of VSs I've soloed before, while Adam laid siege to a manky looking Severe crack. After eventually applying more than a Severe's worth of skill, we were all bafflingly possessed by the urge to follow him up it. We all found our own weirdly contorted way of overcoming the crux section - J-Rowe applied a calf-jam, whilst I managed to knee-bar my own knees. After another couple of routes it started to rain. Just as Simon had reached the top crux of Elliott's Buttress Direct. I found a convenient ledge and offered some generous words of advice. Definitely no heckling. Oh no.

Mmm, damp holds...
The following Friday afternoon brought a dry forecast and another team of waifs and strays, this time heading to Stanage. After a brief tussle with an overhang on a VS, and some tomfoolery with Dan on the arete of Topaz (which looked horrendous - Jaime and I stuck with the E1 copout), I fancied a go at some slabby HVS rounded break-hauling on Meiosis. The start was a bit butch, but after a couple of forays to stick a cam in and fettle the holds I went for it. I stretched up for a thin seam, which turned out not to be a hold, and was just wondering how to engineer the extra few inches to reach the break above when my foot popped and I was off. Luckily Jaime was paying attention and other than a slightly mangled finger and a bash on the chin no damage was done.

After a brief moment to gather myself I got back on and gave it the beans to get to the next break. After a rather harrowing few minutes in a very contorted position trying to fiddle some more gear in all was well with the world. The rest of the route was thought-provoking, but altogether less eventful. Huzzah. We finished the day by pootling up a couple more routes whilst Dan engaged in some ethically questionable toproping chicanery in his mad quest to climb all of the routes at the crag.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Standing On The Edge Of Winter

After a month of unproductive cold I was pretty psyched for some kind of climby adventures at Easter, so I hired a car, filled it with enough kit to cover all eventualities, and set off for Andy's parents house in the South Lakes for to meet Julie and Andy for some kind of fun times. Julie is in training for the Fred Whitton  next month, so Good Friday saw the three of us poncing around Coniston in lycra failing to find any hills to cycle up (they were all covered in snow, sad times). We still managed 50 miles, and other than being utterly baltic, it was all quite pleasant.

The next day Andy, Oli and I got up unreasonably early and drove round to Borrowdale, to climb Raven Crag Gully, a classic grade III/IV above Combe Ghyll. There were already 2 parties there before us, but they were out of our way before we'd faffed about at the bottom. We soloed the easy approach pitch, then Andy led up a few nicely technical little steps to a belay, whence it was my lead (Oli was excused leading anything hard as he was in walking crampons). I've not done much winter leading, but it looked ok, and after spending quite a while fannying about trying to work out what to do I managed to get up a couple more tricky steps, to another very accommodating stance. Another interesting icy pitch, then a snowy wander led us to the foot of the much vaunted top pitch. The guidebook made claim that it's the most beautiful in all of the Lakes, which seemed a bit hyperbolic, but it did offer about 30 metres of excellent pure fat ice. Mmm.
The top pitch of Raven Crag Gully
After another day of cycling over Honister, Newlands and Whinlatter (oof) Andy had contracted some kind of faceaids and could barely be coaxed out the house. Eventually we ended up wandering up to see if Low Water Beck was frozen (unsurprisingly it wasn't) before sulking back to the house (via Booths for some consolation food). Eventually the sunshine persuaded us that sitting inside wasn't the best use of our day and we went to explore the bouldering on offer at Dunnerholme. It turned out to be something like Cumbria's answer to Craig y Longridge, only made of limestone and not in a holiday park. The very pleasant setting almost made up for the fact that all of the problem were overhanging, crimpy and had rather frightening top outs (a point emphasised when Andy kicked a head-sized block at my head - sadly for him he missed). My fingers are clearly still weak, but I dragged myself up a few problems and it was nice to be out.
 Another day of cycling, this time a lap of Helvellyn, was followed by a day soloing 3 easy gullies on Tarn Crag, wandering along to the top of Helvellyn, down Swirral Edge and back up Striding Edge in glorious sunshine. Not technically hard at all, but a glorious day out and with some spiffing views.

Looking East along Striding Edge towards St Sunday Crag and High Street
The following day Oli and I managed to find a few hours to sneak off to another local bouldering mecca - Woodwell near Trowbarrow. It was a bit more highball than I was expecting for a bouldering crag, so we stuck to English 5a and below problems, but it was a fun way to give the arms a bit of a work out (as well as the head on some of the top outs) as well as collecting another new crag point.

Oli trying to psyche himself up for another tussle with the overhang on The Teaser at Woodwell

I'd made plans to meet up with Simon and Claire on Friday night at Helyg in Ogwen, but had no plans for the day time until some last-minute logistic chicanery resulted in me meeting up with Mr Ripley and his friend Mr Burrows at Skelwith Bridge, followed by several hours of driving around fruitlessly searching for a crag that wasn't a) covered in snow b) made of slate (we went to Hodge Close just to check, but it's still made of slate) c) bird banned (Stonestar looked great otherwise) d) utterly cack (see Troutal Gorge) or e) unfeasibly far away (see Hare Crags in Eskdale). We did manage a few minutes of amusement at Seathwaite Buttress in the Duddon Valley, where we soloed a nice little (ticklist) Severe, and Ollie led the Profit of Doom-esque groove of Seathwaite Buttress Direct, before deciding that the South crag of Castle Rock was the place for us. By the time we arrived it was nearly sunset, so I soloed a few easier routes whilst the others had fun with cold hands on some bold E1s.

Ollie soloing Crackle at Seathwaite Buttress whilst Tom climbs a tree for some reason...
After an unreasonably long wait for the wrong pizza in Penrith, I hared it down to North Wales, then spent some time staggering around in the dark at midnight trying to find the CC hut. Turns out it's on the other side of the road... We had a little bit of unwelcome excitement the next morning when one of the other occupants of the hut came down with some kind of mysterious inner ear infection that caused him to throw up copiously. I'd love to say that in a triumph of the human spirit over adversity, all the other hut occupants pulled together to look after him, but no, the other bastards all pissed off, leaving us to try and persuade him he wasn't about to die, and get some medical help for him. What fun.

Anyway, we eventually reached Tremadog, where the sun was out and everything was warm and pleasant. I soloed a HS while Claire led Borneo, a one star VS that was reclaimed from the vegetation a few years ago. Both were very pleasant. Si then led an unstarred, but also very nice VS with an unpronounceable Welsh name. I know it isn't very cool, but I love Tremadog. The rock is lovely, there are loads of hidden jugs and generally good gear. It's easy to do a load of multi-pitch routes in one day and there's loads of good stuff to go at. I've done 35 different route on Bwlch y Moch alone, and I can't think of a bad one among them. As if to illustrate how great the place is we finished the day up Kestrel Cracks, an old VS sandbag now upgraded to HVS. Claire led the 4c first pitch, which was brilliant. Funky 3-dimensional climbing up a corner with loads of weird palming moves and daft contortions. Brilliant. The top, 5a, pitch was only hard for a short section, but it needed giving some beans to get past a singularly unhelpfully polished nubbin. A great finish to a really cracking day. It was difficult to believe that there was anything approaching winter conditions to be had anywhere given how warm it was.

Claire on the top pitch of Kestrel Cracks
Back at the hut we were joined by an ever so slightly sunburnt Becky, who'd been out wandering around the Glyderau in the snow. We were plotting a return visit to Tremadog when some of the other folks from the hut started telling us about their great day out winter climbing on Llech Ddu. I had a look in the guide and found a sexy picture of a grade III gully (imaginatively named 'The Gully') in nearby Cwmglas Bach which promised to be "Chock full of fat ice". After a super early start (well, 6am) we stomped in over the frozen bog (which wasn't so frozen on the walk out) and up to the base of the route, which looked exactly as described. Bo. Some of the ice was a bit brittle, but there was so much of it that it hardly mattered. I even got one of Si's mega ice screws all the way in at one point. Whoop. After lounging around in the sun waiting for Si and Claire to join us we had a slightly hairy descent back to the bags, then a long walk back out through the bog with broken feet all round. Another great day out and difficult to believe that we had been climbing in the sunshine only the day before. What a strange place the world is.

Fat ice ftw

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Venturing More Than 6' Off The Ground

I went to Birchen on Friday afternoon with the youth. We ticked most of the easy problems on the three ships as a warm up, although the trivially easy but pumpy traverses were beyond me. Bah. Then we went down to the main edge, climbed an entertaining little V3 arete fairly swiftly, and had a few attempts at Hornblower, a classic V4. Oswald made some good progress and eventually hit the elegant lurch for the decent sidepull, and it was in the bag. I, however, failed repeatedly to make the first move, so I consoled myself by soloing a few of the routes nearby. It's been a while since I was more than 6 feet off the ground, but I managed not to get a nosebleed with the extreme altitude. I finished the day by sandbagging the youth on the start of Powder Monkey Parade and watching some gentlemen make impressively short work of Gritstone Megamix, a highball classic.

You can't beat a good sandbagging...
Yesterday the forecast was glorious, so I made plans to go to Yorkshire with Lizzie. I felt a little cheated when I woke up to a world of fog. I felt more cheated when it still hadn't burnt off by late morning, but eventually around noon the sun managed to break through, so I set off. Driving through Leeds is a bit like punching yourself in the face, only it takes much, much longer and is substantially less fun, so it wasn't until 3 that we actually reached the bottom of Crookrise and racked up. All the jangly gear was a bit confusing, but after a massive attack of uselessness at the start of a VS I pulled myself together and managed my first leads of the year, and even a new ticklist route, whoop. All in all it was a very pleasant afternoon, and it was nice to catch up with Lizzie. It was also a good reminder that I need to get better, so VSs don't feel like quite such hard work...
Getting stuck into some traditional VDiff action

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


A few things have happened since the weekend. I turned 31 (hurrah for prime number ages), I bought a road bike (part of my grand plan to be less fat and puntery) and some new rock shoes, mostly for climbing things where I might want some stiffer soles than my usual flappy Boosters. I also awarded myself the day off yesterday (for being totally awesome) and headed up to Caley with Jaime.

I'd paid a flying visit once before on my own, but I didn't do anything of note, so there was plenty to go at. Although a fair few boulders were looking rather verdantly green and lichenous, there was plenty of dry rock, even if there was quite a chill in the air. Having cunningly chosen a crag on a north-facing slope we were also out of the sun. So we had to try hard in order to keep warm instead of lounging around. To my great surprise this actually worked. Although trying hard currently involves anything above about 5a, I managed to punter up 23 problems, including quite a few V2 flashes. The highlights of the day were probably The Thin Slab, which was a bit of a soul-searching voyage into a smeary world of excitement, and a delightful mantel problem called Bob's Bastard. I was mostly drawn to it because it was a mantelshelf and it sounded like it might be horrendous, so how could I resist?

Jaime finessing her footwork

The initial lip was some distance above my head, so a substantial hoik was required to peer onto the slab above to see what lay in store. There was a mysterious pocket, and not much else, so I gave it some beans and threw for the pocket. I missed it and fell off. Twice. Then I hit it and fell off. Twice. Then I almost made it round the lip, but my hip got snagged and I fell off. On the next attempt I got cramp in my calf, but after a brief rest I gave it the beans and sent it like it had never been sent before. Or something. Anyway, it was fun. First 6a of the year as well. Whoop. May it be the first of many.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Gluttony And Sloth

If it seems like I haven't updated this blog for a long time there are a few good reasons for that. Primarily because, other than a cold and rather scrittly trip to Curbar in late November, I haven't climbed anything. Boo. A combination of University coursework and exams, dodgy weather and being on holiday all the time (oh the hardship) have conspired to keep me away from either any real rock, or even any fake plastic rock. Fortunately I have put the time to good use and have got exceptionally fat and weak. Yay me.

Last weekend I went to The Works. It was a very unedifying experience and I hurt for days afterwards. On Friday I went to Stanage, which was similarly productive and the highlights included failing miserably to climb several V1s I've previously flashed and ripping a hole in my hand. Still, it was nice to be outside.

On Saturday I managed to sneak out for a few hours with Jaime. We went to Apparent North to get some easy mileage in, which suited me just fine. Conditions were great and we knocked off loads of easy problems before heading home (and in my case drinking several times my own bodyweight in whisky).

So, contrary to my good intentions I'm fatter, weaker and punterier than ever before. I feel as though I know how to climb, my body just isn't compliant with my demands. Time to take evasive action. Well, maybe slightly less cake and a few more sessions at the wall. Most importantly - plan some climbing trips to give me something to get inspired for. Places I'm especially keen to go - Font, Red Rocks/Zion, the culm, Pembroke, Gogarth, Cloggy (maybe this year...), the Chew, the Lakes...