Thursday 31 August 2017

Feeding the Capybara

In his wonderful book Feeding The Rat, Al Alvarez talks about the titular phrase being "the need to get out, to test yourself, to flush out the system, and, above all, to have some fun". Well, on that basis, having climbed basically the square root of fuck all for several years, my rat was more of a ravenous capybara (the world's biggest rodent, fact fans). Or maybe it had died and I wasn't even a climber any more, just someone with a few good tales and a cupboard full of too many expensively acquired shiny things.

We were on a family holiday near Land's End, so I decided to throw the capybara a few crumbs to test its aliveness (Schroedinger's capybara?). The weather had been quite mediocre, but I had a few hours spare one evening, so I raced up to the Count House and walked down towards Bosigran - a path I've trodden many times before. Only this time I turned right and wandered round a beautiful little bay to the top of a crag - Halldrine Cove. This has a reputation as a fine beginners crag, being non-tidal and having a clutch of slabby, low-grade routes and an easy scramble down to the base.
Halldrine Cove - magic
I made my way down to the sea and traversed over to the start of a Diff. My arms vaguely remembered what to do, even if it all felt rather alien, and I was soon back at the top of the crag. Half an hour or so later and I was back there again with 3 more routes and over 100m of lovely easy climbing under my belt. I scrambled up to the little rocky summit of the buttress, watched the sun set into the sea and felt like I'd scratched an itch that I'd almost forgotten I had. All felt right with the world - it was a slightly hippy experience. Sadly this was punctured by me remembering that the car was half a mile away and significantly uphill, and it was about to get dark. Bah.

Roll on a couple of weeks and I had a 5 day climbing date with Oli. It had been a long time since we'd had a climbing adventure and the whole country was our oyster. So obviously the weather was utterly miserable. EVERYWHERE. It was even forecast to rain in Pembroke. The only place that looked vaguely dry was Swanage. Possible the biggest climbing area in the UK that I've never been to, and with good reason. Received wisdom being that it is steep, limestone and fally-downy. 3 of my least favourite things (yes yes yes, I know Pembroke is also limestone, but it's uniquely the good kind of limestone that proves the rule that all limestone is shit (the other exception being Jack Scout Crag, obvs)).

But before we had to go anywhere near the place, there was a day of dry weather in the Peak. Unfortunately I've climbed most of the routes in the Peak, but some judicious poring over guidebooks identified that there were unclimbed low grade routes, some of which had stars, at Gardoms. So we went there. The first order of business was to climb my 1,000th ticklist route, since I'd been marooned on 999 for ages. For those of you not keeping up, the ticklist is a list of every route at VS and below in the UK with at least 2 stars. There are about 3,400 of them and I'm determined to climb them all, however ridiculously unachieveable that goal may be.
Route number 1,000 and some daft bastard
 Anyway, Elliott's Crack, at the lofty grade of Severe, was the route accorded this mighty honour. It looked quite steep, although safe, and I was a bit scared racking up that I might fall off. Which would have been a bit anticlimactic. Luckily there was a lot of jamming and I can still evidently remember how to jam. There was also some glorious inelegant beaching onto a ledge below the top, and some hefty application of knees, before I arrived at the top of the crag, victorious, if a little bloody and out of breath. I could still remember how to climb 4a. And place gear. Ace. Some top bambering up Apple Arete from Oli, some weirdness up an HVDiff next door, and seconding Oli up NMC Crack in the pouring rain followed, whence we decided to call it a day and head south-west.

After a cracking night in the Old Spot in Dursley with Gordon, Katie, Paul and Becca, we set off to try and find some esoteric sandstone buttress under a flyover on the outskirts of Bristol, which Oli had spotted contained a 2 star VDiff in the recently-published Frome Valley Sandstone guide (sure to become an instant classic). Unfortunately access was blocked by some building works, so we asked a bloke in a high vis jacket and a Cambodia cap (nice) if we might get past. Through his debilitatingly thick Brizzle accent he seemed to be saying that this was his land and we should get off it. So we ran away. To Dartmoor. Where it was dry, but windy. Very windy.
 We started at Haytor, where we had once spent a night bivvying under constant fear of being trampled to death in our sleep by rogue cows. I wombled up a nice VDiff and we wandered round to the Low Man with a view to climbing Raven Wing, a fun sounding VS. It had an in situ team who were in the middle of a bizarre domestic argument. The leader had climbed too high to make the committing swing round an arete which gained access to the main part of the route, and was loudly blaming her belayer for this. She then ploughed on upwards, placing several massively underextended runners, before finding a way onto the top part of the route. At this stage she began to reap the rewards of those short extenders and seemed to have a near infinite amount of rope drag to contend with. As an added bonus, she was totally unable to hear anything her belayer said to her due to the wind. Their dog was also making a concerted effort to get kicked in the head by a skittish Dartmoor pony. Fun times. (I should add that they were very nice, just not overburdened with competence).

After waiting a while, it became clear that this palaver was not going to resolve itself quickly, so we repeated a nearby Severe that we'd done on our last visit. It was ace, if surprisingly steep. By the time we'd finished this the route was free. It was worth the wait. The swing round the arete was super committing but not too hard once you'd persuaded yourself it was going to be ok, and the arete above was continuously interesting and very pleasant.

Given our slow start to the day we wanted to wring as much value as we could from the remaining daylight, so we headed back to the car and over to Hound Tor, where Oli soloed a Mod and I led a slightly underwhelming VDiff. Followed by some very underwhelming fish and chips in Bovey Tracey and a wild camp under the stars on the moor.
Hound Tor

Soloing at Hound Tor
 The weather wasn't perfect the next morning, but the forecast suggested it might stay mostly dry until lunchtime. So we headed to Sheeps Tor, home to a clutch of decent sounding lower grade routes. It was raining gently when we arrived, but the walk in was short so I insisted we should at least go and look at the crag. The routes faced away from the wind, so the rain was blowing over most of them, although it was utterly baltic. Anyway, it seemed like the only climbing we were likely to get done that day, so Oli led up a mostly dry and actually quite nice Severe, before I laid the smack down on a damp Diff. Grrr. Then it *really* started to rain and we ran away. We spent the rest of the day eating cream teas and playing pool in various venues along the south coast en route to visit my friend Susi who very kindly put us up in her caravan, and even made cake.
Prime conditions at Sheeps Tor

Classic rainy day shennanigans
 The next morning the rain had buggered off and it was finally the day of reckoning - we were going to Swanage. We decided to start with the Swanage-lite of Subluminal - a short walk in, non-tidal, and plenty of lower grade routes to go at. It also meant we didn't have to carry the enormous 80m static abseil rope with us. Whilst the view from the top of the crag was quite pretty:
So much crag. So many climb. So wow.
 my first impressions were that it looked much like I was expecting. Steep, limestoney and a bit fally-downy. Hmmm. Still, at least it was Oli's lead first. We abbed down and he set off up a Severe corner. To my surprise this was actually not shit. The rock was surprisingly grippy. There were some holds. The gear was good (not those awful rattly insecure nut placements you tend to get on limestone). There were even a few jams. And nothing fell off. There were also some cool massive fossils (this is the Jurassic coast after all). I led another route and it was similarly good. This was a bit disorientating. After a third good route the tide had gone out sufficiently for us to get round the corner to the cave of Avernus. The guidebook made this route sound amazing - climbing out of a cave through a blowhole in the roof. Standing at the bottom, it looked scary and wet. Very, very wet. I girded my loins and set off upwards. Good holds kept appearing above me, and the rough rock was grippy in spite of the dampness. Eventually I hit the roof at the back of the cave and had to start bridging, alarmingly, out towards the window above the cave entrance that marked my salvation. The holds kept appearing, but the position, directly above Oli 10m below me, was amazing. Very reminiscent of the excellent (but much harder) Inner Space at Mother Careys (which I wrote about here). Eventually I squeezed out through the skylight and back into the land of the living. Magic. Proper good old fashioned stupid fun. Basking in the sun as I laughed at Oli struggling up after me I almost felt like a proper climber again. *Almost*.

Suitably warmed up (and warming to the crag), we decided we should have a proper Swanage experience. So we drove to the (excellent) campsite at Tom's Field and walked over the hill (lugging the massive ab rope) to the top of Cormorant Buttress. Or at least, somewhere near the top of Cormorant Buttress. I had foolishly left Oli in charge of the guidebook, so we were a bit lost. Eventually we found the spot we were looking for. Probably. I tied the ab rope to the single available stake, backed it up with a dead bush, armed myself with a photo of the route description on my phone and set off down the ab rope.

The steep grass slope peppered with large loose blocks above the crag looked horrific (very Lundy/Gogarth esque and apparently a bit of a Swanage speciality), so I traversed it gingerly (hoping the line of our route would finish somewhere near the ab rope so we could escape up it) before setting off into the vertical unknown. At some point, half way down a 60m abseil, tied to one rusty stake and a dead shrub, abseiling down to a tidal boulder as the tide came in, very unsure if we were in the right place at all, and facing a very long swim if we weren't, I realised I was a lot less scared than any rational person would be. In fact I wasn't really that bothered at all. This all felt very normal. I think I can pinpoint this as the moment I realised that I was definitely still a climber, just a really bad one. The Capybara lives!
Committed to finding a way out
 After this magnificent epiphany, the route itself wasn't all that. The first pitch was nice enough on some funky rock, but the second pitch was a bit dirty, wandering and generally rubbish. And there was laybacking. Ugh. Not really worth 3 stars (or 2), but worth it for the experience. Probably a bit of a terrifying experience for the budding Severe leader though. At least it did finish next to the ab rope.
Cormorant Buttress West - average climbing, but a worthy adventure
We rounded off our trip the following morning with a quick visit to Cattle Troughs, where Oli led a really good little VS, Isis. There were a lot of roofs, but not much steep climbing, which was nice. I managed to second it in a vaguely competent way (trying my best to be quick since I suspected, correctly, that we were running late).

So what's the moral of this story? Well, for the first time in almost 4 years I actually feel like some kind of rock climber. I'm not sure when I'll next have a chance to climb any rocks, but I'm quite psyched for it to be soon. I might even have to dust down my climbing logbook spreadsheet and give it a makeover...

Monday 24 October 2016

Once Upon A Time...

...I was a climber. Then I became a father and started poncing around on a bike in lycra. Those two things are somewhat correlated, it's much easier to fit in a quick fix on a bike in a spare hour than it is to do any worthwhile climbing. This graph neatly sums up the whole, rather sorry state of affairs:

Anyway, I stopped climbing, pretty much. After getting back from an amazing trip to Red Rocks in the Autumn of 2013, I soloed a Diff in Wales that was more vegetable than mineral and spent a few hours bimbling in Langdale (the subject of my last blog post) in 2014. In 2015, the sum total of my climbing was a day revisiting old classics at Stanage Popular End with Oli. I even onsighted a Hard Severe. Ooh.

2016 has been slightly better, but not much. I spent a couple of hours bouldering at Cratcliffe, while my daughter heckled Oli in amusing fashion - "why do you keep falling off?". Then I had a glorious afternoon at Bamford with my friend Susi. Mostly I entertained myself by placing as many bits of weird gear as I could, but we did actually climb a few routes.

A few weeks ago I caught up with J-Rowe and Adam at Stanage, taking Effie along for the first time. I wasn't climbing, but Effie was fascinated by all of the climbers and their strange noises - "why do they sound like cow bells?". So when we got home I showed her my rather dusty rack, including my unreasonably large selection of jangly hexes. She was suitably impressed, but dragging everything out of its resting place in a distant drawer in the attic made me feel rather melancholy. Like the few times recently when I had instinctively bought new guidebooks only to wonder what I was doing.

Then, out of the blue. Oli asked me if I was free at the weekend, and somehow I actually was. After pointing out the flaw in his initial suggestion of Shepherd's (being a touch far for a day trip from Sheffield), we arranged to meet in a crag somewhere roughly halfway between our houses. Sadly this is deepest darkest Lancashire, where I have mostly only unhappy memories (being sandbagged at Wilton, being sandbagged at Anglezarke, slicing my hand open on a broken bottle whilst in the midst of being sandbagged at Anglezarke, getting rained on at Egerton before having had the opportunity to get sandbagged etc.). But there was a new guidebook, with pretty pictures. I had a root through this and chose Round Barn Quarry as having the perfect combination of a) shelter from the forecast strong winds and b) low grade ticklist routes. Plus, new crag points.

So we went there. It was sheltered and sunny. And a bit scrappy. But Oli and I are no strangers to slightly shit routes, so we didn't let that put us off. As neither of us could remember whose lead it was, we tossed a coin for it and I won the honour. So I racked up and set off up a 6 metre Diff. EPIC
The inimitable Round Barns Quarry
It was actually OK. It even had one nice move on it. Then Oli upped the ante with a Severe. Phew. I matched his feat with another, actually quite good Severe, before Oli went nuts and set off up a VS. The gods punished him for his insolence, and it was really hard. And steep. Probably about E3 in real terms (allowing for the deflation in my arms).

At this stage we were joined in the quarry by a group of 4 other climbers. They turned out to be local legends Les Ainsworth, Dave Cronshaw and friends, the authors of the new guide and putter uppers of many a new route in the dingy quarries of Lancashire. They seemed slightly bemused that someone from Sheffield and someone from Cumbria had driven all this way to climb at Round Barn. It was fun to hang out with them for a bit though. Dave was repeating a couple of new routes he'd put up the other week with great ease, while the others made them look somewhat harder on second. They provided a handy mixture of heckling and beta while I made extremely hard work of another (rather sandbaggy) Severe, before providing Oli with an ethically dubious but very welcome belayed runner (AKA a mobile toprope) as he quested up the rather bold and scary top half of a VS.
The venerable Dave Cronshaw on Dharma Bums, a new HVS(ish)
All told, it was quite a successful day. We only actually did about 50 metres of climbing, but being old, I ache like an absolute bastard for it today. I climbed my 999th route from the ticklist, so I should probably try and do something good for the 1000th. Who knows when that might be. Maybe some time in 2018...

Friday 11 April 2014

Strange Goings On in Sheffield

Seems like a long time since I posted anything here. Probably something to do with the total dearth of climbing that's been going on in my life since I got back from Red Rocks. This is in return not unrelated to the fact that my girlfriend is pregnant and we're expecting the arrival of a squalling bundle of joy at some point in late June. At the same time, and for reasons which are still not entirely clear to me, I've signed up to do the Fred Whitton (that's 111 miles of very hilly cycling around the Lake District in early May, if you feel like sponsoring me you can do that here). So, what free time I have has been somewhat taken up with poncing around in lycra masochistically cycling up hills. For fun. Oh yes. I am well aware that this is sick and wrong, but it's too late to back out now...

Anyway, I could write a long and rambling blog post about impending fatherhood, or the secret joys of clawing your way up Hardknott on a bike in the pissing rain. But that doesn't really feel appropriate somehow. The good news is that I have actually managed to climb some rocks recently. Huzzah. Twice even. How did this come to pass in between exciting bouts of nursery painting, buggy shopping, shed creosoting and hill reps on Blake Street? Well...

As is fast becoming traditional, Mr Pooler and I had concocted a plan to go to Scotland and climb some mountains, only to be confronted a few days before by an apocalyptic weather forecast. So we made a new plan to go to Wales and finish off Alistair's round of the Welsh Nuttalls (that's a class of hills over 2000ft popular amongst inveterate tedious peak baggers like Mr Pooler and I). As part of this plan we found ourselves nipping up the north ridge of Tryfan for old time's sake. Some years ago Oli and I (and a team of willing idiots) had attempted to climb a Diff called Anniversary Approach on the scrappy ground at the bottom of the north ridge, but had run away in the face of pouring rain and general misery, so this seemed like a good opportunity to both right a wrong and climb some rocks. After some adventurous-feeling questing up a good old fashioned chimney I found myself marooned atop a large flake. The guidebook suggested I wander rightwards for a bit, stride across a gap and scramble to glory. That way lay vertical heather and certain death, so I found myself freestyling into the unknown. Luckily for me there was just enough solid rock amongst the precipitous vegetation and I eventually found my way back to the beaten track, suitably chastened. Who'd have thought an unstarred Diff might not have been that well travelled? Hmmm.

Anyway, fast forward a month or so to the last few days. After a morning spent diligently entertaining his 2 year old son with trains and ducks, Oli and I had built up enough brownie points with our respective partners to sneak out for a few hours. We consulted several guidebooks and eventually decided to eschew the esoteric delights of overgrown and fally-downy Lancashire limestone for some proper rock in Langdale. After a brief examination of a few damp, rubbish-looking, or damp and rubbish-looking routes we found ourselves below the left-hand end of East Raven Crag. Many, many years ago (more than I care to remember), I'd followed my friend Gwilym up a route here, a Severe called Mamba, and it felt like the living end. This time it felt marginally easier, but all of the gear was very confusing and it felt a bit like I was in possession of somebody else's limbs. Still, I got to the top in one piece, so that was a minor victory of sorts. Oli then manned up and tackled the VS direct version, which was good fun. With a narrowing window of opportunity before we had to head back to the girls, I then raced (or at least, attempted to race) up a recently discovered HS at the right-hand end of the main Raven Crag. It showed its youth a bit, with a fair few snappy holds, but it was a good line and it'll clean up to make a really cracking pitch. All in all, a good reminder of what this trad lark is all about. Hopefully I can manage to find time in my life over the rest of the year to keep my eye in a bit. We shall see...

PS Sorry, I was so busy marvelling at the novelty of actually climbing something that I failed entirely to take any pretty pictures. Sadface.

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.