Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Ireland Part 1 - Fairhead and the Mournes

The ferry seemed to be taking forever, perhaps it was just the company. This grim Voyage of the Damned from Holyhead to Dublin had been a long time coming. Ever since watching the classic Irish climbing flick Underdeveloped it has been an aim of mine to spend some time in Ireland and sample the contrasting areas it has to offer. I was lucky enough to spend a month there this June and July. This was clearly going to be a less productive trip than the sunny months of last years trip to Ceuse; an early ferry home having rinsed all of our money on cafe cakes and Guiness was almost expected. Shockingly however the weather (mostly..) played ball, allowing us to sample all of Ireland's main jewels, from the enormous granite bastion of Fairhead, to the scrittly secluded beauty of the Mourne Mountains and the remote, unspoilt islands off the coast of Donegal. There are not enough words to describe the month in full so instead I hope these extracts do justice to what a wonderful trip it was.
The man with the orange face. Bob Hickish in a wild position on Rathlin Wall


Mountain quality rock without the walk, twice the height of the Cromlech, the best crag in Ireland (and therefore to this person, the world...) There had been some big chat about Fairhead; expectations were understandably high. Typically fidgety, me and Rob walk in to the crag in a hurry, leaving our more chilled-out partners behind in order to get to the crag a whole two minutes early. Even having been warned, the scale is still impressive. Arriving a week after the crags eponymous "meet" proves to a tactical masterstroke by Rob, as many of the classic lines are chalked and clean. After climbing a superb E4 to warm up attention turns to the classic Cooper frightener Primal Scream. With supposedly limited gear for the first 20m this route holds a reasonably big reputation, though admittedly this was somewhat diminished by the news that a well known southern chummer had onsighted it a few days previously. The route begins with a long leftwards traverse out from a corner. After this the climbing is tricky but broken up by many foot-ledges. This allows you to stand around for hours pondering the next move whilst your belay ages in the background. I really enjoyed this one, milking maximum time on the route whilst Oli shivered in the corner. After this it was straight down to Rathlin Wall. This is probably the most famous bit of cliff at the 'head, standing 70 metres in places and hosting most of the hard classics. Lengthy negotiation had landed me the lead on Primal and it was therefore only right that Oli got the lead on Above and Beyond. After despatching the first pitch of Wall of Prey, perhaps the classic E5 of Fairhead, Oli set off on the rising leftwards traverse of A and B. As the sun set and the crag was cast in golden light I remember thinking that I'd be happy if we got a better day this trip. Not bad for a first day!

The rest of the week flew by in a storm of poorly placed gear, blue tack and sandbag cracks. Quickly the final day of our week in Fairhead was upon us. The last act was an impressive effort from Oli, making an onsight of a highly chalked route that we'd all watched Ed Booth on the day before.

The atmospheric "Idlewild"

The Mournes

The Mourne Mountains are a pretty special place. Surrounded by the sea and flat countryside they rise from nowhere, with many of the rocks sitting on the very top of the hills. These high vantage points give the crags amazing aspects when they aren't smothered by low cloud. The section about the Mournes on the aforementioned film Underdeveloped is brilliant, with some impressively sketchy ascents of necky, smeary slab routes. The film also features a panning shot of crag, Buzzards Roost, home to the Dunne super-route Divided Years. The line of this route, coursing straight up the prow through the finest plummage of the bird is extremely impressive. It has long been a dream of mine to climb this line, but for me, this trip, it would to have wait. For Oli though there was no time to waste. James Machaffie and Ryan Pasquill had just done the deed and the youth was keen to continue his bitter crag rivalry with the former. In hindsight Oli described his ground up go on Divided as "shambolic." A crucial piece of kit for this route is a pecker hook placed before the hard climbing starts, eliminating the need to fiddle in a wire mid crux. This pecker somehow found its way off Oli's harness and into a thin hairline crack on one of the crux holds, rather than the inviting, ticked pocket up and right. Fortunately his attempts from here improved drastically. After a minimal look on abseil Oli proceeded to cruise the route a couple of days later, looking ridiculously smooth in the process. I can honestly say that watching this ascent was one of the highlights of the trip, even though no-one will believe me.

About to come unstuck. Next frame I'm almost off screen!

 Perhaps one of the best bits of footage on Underdeveloped is the scary, skiddy fall that Ricky Bell takes off the top of the classic Irish Si slab, Mushroom Boyz. Another of the routes featured on the film, Tolerance, had submitted to my top roping a few days previous and a new challenge was required. Thrill Issues of the Jellyman seemed a good option and after a brief inspection the lead was on. Headpointing is a funny one, in the past there have been occasions when even if I've felt sketchy on something I'll lead it, usually based on the logic that I've not fallen off many yet. This flawed approach was in full force this day as I climbed up, threaded a monster pocket and walked rightwards to where the meat of the route begins. The crimps feel warm, but its cold up here even when the sun is out. The route is two moves, stand up on the left foot, put the right high, stand up on the right, get in balance, walk to the arete. Pretty minimal. As the first stand is committed to all is not well, but all has been not well before and then it worked out OK. As the high right foot lands the left goes. Surreal scenes form as I fly past several ledges towards the ground, luckily coming up about a metre short, bashing my hip on rope stretch. Liam, dragged in during the fall, looks sick. I can't stop laughing. A few hours after and the comedown from the adrenalin leaves me feeling annoyed with myself. Invincibility is a good tool when headpointing but mine feels completely shattered. Luckily Liam's sickness is only temporary and that afternoon he makes Tolerance look very easy, a well deserved first of the grade for the Chorley Powerhouse.
Part 2 soonish

Saturday, 13 June 2015

The Lull and Pembroke

The past couple of months have represented something of a lull for me. With some pretty mediocre weather and mounting uni work I ended up having a few weeks off climbing, mainly running during the time I had out of the library.

Predictably this break did not last long and after a few weekends away the psyche has definitely returned. Pembroke Bank Holidays seem to have become a mini institution of late, with tons of people making the long journey down. At one stage Huntsman's Leap was reminiscent of a busy evening at the Tor. Route of the weekend was probably the "One-Eyed Man" at Blind Bay; perhaps most famous for the photo of Jules Deep Water Soloing it. Having done the route this is something I'd love to re-enact!

One Eyed Man! Exposure!

In the past few months a couple of people have asked me why the winter has been so quiet for Grit ascents. To be honest I'm not sure why. The apparent danger involved in most of the hard routes means that you can't go at the them half-heartedly. Following the last winter its probably natural that there was a bit of a hangover period. Obviously I only speak for myself in this, this lack of psyche has clearly not been felt by everyone. Perhaps the best ticks of this grit season for me have come in the past few weeks. Firstly, capitalising on the dry, hot weather of April, Oli and I managed ascents of the rarely dry, and even more rarely climbed, Dharma in Dukes Quarry near Matlock. This route, effectively a spicy, runout 7b+ on pegs is almost an anomaly on grit; being 30m high its probably twice as long as most routes on the brown stuff.

Another long awaited tick came in the form of Crypt Trip at High Neb on Stanage. Having been shut down on this previously it was great to finish it off, all be it in a relatively poor style.

In a few days I'll be heading to the Emerald Isle for a month of tradding, Murphy's and sitting in cafes waiting for cliffs to dry. Ireland has been top of the trip-list for as long as I can remember, god I hope the weathers good.


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Knockin On Heathers Door

It was this time last year that I first discovered North Wales in its prime. For some reason I was totally blown away by it, I think my expectations were oddly low. We spent some early spring days wandering round the Pass, Ogwen and the coast, everything to do. Throughout the rest of the Summer a few more fleeting visits were made, steadily moving through the rights of passage. Kind Wad, Positron, Lord...

Sunset off Holyhead

A perfect forecast guaranteed a return last weekend. There wasn't a cloud in the sky on Saturday or Monday and Sunday wasn't bad either! On the Saturday we trudged up to Cwm Glas Bach, a shady crag on the "dark" side of the Pass. Oh the sense of superiority as you look across the valley at the inferior Grochan, busy with people, the sun causing the already frictionless rock to turn into a sweaty nightmare. However, this smug state of mind lasted the mere five minutes it took for the warmth from the walk in to wear off, the "light" side suddenly looking rather appealing. After a brief (arm waving) warm-up I racked up to try a route I'd been meaning to try all last summer and had conveniently avoided. Pretty Girls Make Graves follows a steep crackline, there's loads of kit but that's not the issue! I find it really pumpy to get the kit in, climbing above a blind wire that I'm pretty sure is shit. After fighting really hard and resting for ages halfway up I commit to a sequence knowing its wrong and promptly fall off. I thought I'd stopped doing stupid things like this but obviously not, maybe that will be the last time, but I doubt it. Second time up I engage both brain and brawn (ha) and it goes fine, still pumpy, but fine. After an ab and strip a freezing Oli races up it, looking only slightly jaded, surprising given his efforts the previous day!

Golden Rhoscolyn

The forecast for Sunday looked a bit chilly for the mountains and therefore it was a choice between Gogarth and the slightly more friendly Rhoscolyn. Rhossy was chosen on that basis and the first route lived up to this mantra. The classic E5 Warpath was ace, loads of good kit and a nice level of flashpump! The second however did not as Jack headed up Godzilla, an intimidating cornerline with some holds not long for this world. In hot, greasy connies it was a good lead (nice one maaattte) and on the top we decide to chill out, shamefully lazy behaviour. Though this laziness is perhaps negated by....


The weekend wouldn't have been complete without a trip to Gogarth. The tides were perfect for a chilled start and it was middayish by the time the first route had been climbed, Katy throwing an entire rack into The Strand on Upper Tier. After some lunch, Main Cliff was calling. Dinosaur seemed a good bet being the next in line on the "Main Cliff E5" hitlist. There was also a good breeze blowing, surely that would eradicate some of the smeggy sea grease. I reach melting point under the overlap. Halfway up the pitch having already used an entire chalkbag in 15m climbing, there is no sign of the wind that chilled me belaying on Upper Tier. Resting is reducing the pump but also my hands to pulp and with barely any chalk left already it seems important that moves are made soon. Wild moves using greasy jams and typically unhelpful fins lead me leftwards round the overlap, puffing away in a way that only trad can make you. Once round the overlap you're on E1 terrain. But the rope drag is awful and the pump totally unshakeable. Reaching the belay is a huge relief, the 4c moves below feeling pretty touch and go.
The Grease!

The second pitch, which I thought would be E1, not sure why, actually turns out to be a pretty hairy, loose E2/3 which Katy negotiates with minimal puffing. The top pitch is the usual Gogarth topout, treading carefully on beardy footholds and pulling as lightly as possible on grim blocks. Anyone who has climbed at Gogarth will know its a bit more "interesting" at the top than other sea cliff areas such as Pembroke or the Burren. You don't just pull over the top to find a bomber stake with your lunch and extra jackets nearby. Nope. Instead there is a wee section of bushwhacking up a fairly gradual, heather-covered slope. If you've climbed the routes below that lead to this point its a given that you'd be fine on this terrain. At least you'd think so. Perhaps not. Definitely not. Long story short after a certain tradlord backed off said Grade 1 scramble it was left to me to do some soul searching, embrace the heather and summon up the courage to walk (!) up the bank above. Ridiculous... We eventually topped out at 8.30, having aimed for an early finish...

Death heather!

Those were three amazing days out, hopefully the first of many. I cant wait to get back!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Slow Season

Its been a pretty slow grit season this year, hence the lack of writing.

Aside from a few days in November its just never really got going, well for me anyways...

Those few days were great though, using some of the new confidence from a summer of trad and sport to go ground up on some of the grit routes that have been burning a hole in my ticklist for the past few years.

Perplexity, Linden and Defying Destiny stand out. All climbed in better-than-usual style for me and mostly in control! It really is all about momentum on the grit, get one thing done and belief flies up, giving you a real advantage in a type of climbing based almost entirely on confidence.

The main enjoyment of the last few months however has come in the form of sport climbing. A few years ago I had a nice but somewhat frustrating trip to El Chorro, having climbed some hard boulders on the grit I thought it would be a breeze out there. Oh dear, what a chump.

Anyways, it was nice to return a bit fitter and despatch some of the routes I could only belay Dad on last time, the best of these being the ultra classic Lourdes.

Jack immersed in the steepness

Monday, 20 October 2014

10 of the Best - Part 2

This is the second half of a blog about ten days climbing in Pembroke and North Wales.
Day six,


"What did you guys get on to today?" At Easter Duncan and Guy had been on the Fascist and Me. They regaled a story of prussiking, falling on pegs and very greasy connies. I'm not sure how I failed to take their story into account when deciding what to do on the 6th morning. Neap tides meant that at high tide we were able to get to the bottom of the route, but only just and the swell made belaying a touch stressful. The first groove is described as "awkward" in the guide. In the ten days it was by far the closest I came to falling without actually taking flight; greasy (read wet) laybacking and tricky gear, its hard work. Jack followed fine and despatched the top pitch in fine fashion. Someone even stopping to take a picture. We were a bit pooped after this, but after some food I was revived, and the range would be open soon. We didn't have time to do  another route but had time to climb something. I ran over to Govan's with my boots, if there's an ab rope in place I'll go down, if not its a sign. But of course there's one there. The Arrow is the aim. Flowing up it proves to be one of the highlights of the week, pulling through the roof on buckets at 20m was life affirming.


After a quick conversation with the guard he waves us in and we head into the Leap. Jack fights his way up the incredibly greasy Just Another Day/Scorch the Earth, a great effort in those connies. Back in Easter on my first day in Pembroke I threw myself at a route with a reputation, Luke Skywalker. This line has an impressive scalp list for a mere E5 and I soon found out why, taking two falls from the top crux crack. I remembered it vaguely and therefore it seemed the obvious next route. The route was a massive fight, slapping into finger jams at the top and yarding on detached fins fighting the clock. As jack topped out in the fading light we were grinning ear to ear, not much beats a top trad day.


Day seven,


Our last day in Pembroke, wilted arms necessitate a change in tact and angle of rock. Ships That Pass in the Night fits the bill, slabby and delicate is all I'm up to. Its cliche but you run out of words to describe routes like these. Jack then puts in a strong effort of Barbarella only to agonisingly blow the top. I prevaricate about doing Yellow Pearls and choose against it, escaping up the ace E1 the Hole. And with that our time in Pembroke closes.


Day eight,


Its a muggy day in Bangor, the mountains are cloaked by low cloud and the humidity is high. Its Oli's birthday. A decision to head up to the Gravestones is eventually reached. The idea being to try the diminutive but also intriguing shallow groove of King of Rumpy. Its more in the vein of grit than of welsh mountain trad, similar in undertaking to things like Thin Air at the Roaches. After a few ups and downs I commit to the groove, where a rockover enables a no hands rest to be gained. A period of time goes by, probably at least 20 minutes, where I fanny around trying to work out whether its worth committing. We have a couple of pads but the landing is poor and rocky; falling didn't feel like an option. Eventually a sequence involving an irreversible foot cross threw is committed to, and the gamble pays off as the juggy break is gained. "That looked horrible" comments Grounsell. Afterwards we indulge in some greasy birthday bouldering followed by a great swim across lyn padarn with Soph.


Day nine,


Sport Climbing! Despite humidity being off the scale and no sun we head to the Diamond; a very much in vogue venue. Despite poor conditions it stilled lived up to the hype, the classic 7a Rub a dub dub providing a perfect warm up. Next was Non-Tidal Screamer, a truly fantastic route with a bit of a reputation for being runout. To me it felt like the Femme Noire of the Diamond. Bouldery low down, to a good rest, then a sustained middle with a scary top. Definitely keen to get back to this crag in future, hopefully without the grease!


Day ten,


Now the big one! All year this route has nagged at me. If Ghost Train had burnt a hole in my ticklist Lord Of the Flies had taken a flamethrower to it. There are very few routes in the world with the history it has, everyone who has done it has a story. Alot of the routes that I hold in the highest regard are lines that Dad talked to me about when I knew nothing about climbing, Lord was probably one of the first. The story of his huge lob off the top wall back in the day captivated my imagination, "when you fall so far you realise you're falling and wonder when you might stop." Time and again in the Pass I've chosen against trying it, but this would be my last chance this year. The next day I was due to head back to Sheffield for a week of carnage and knew that a return before it got wet would not be likely. Henry was psyched for Right Wall, it had all the makings of a classic day. Henry led up Left Wall to start, then swiftly moved on to the real business of the day. For a first e5 lead it doesn't really get much better than Right Wall, especially despatched in such a confident and assured fashion. At the top psyche was high, I abbed down with my eyes shut and started getting racked up. The first section went smoothly, fully in soloing mode above a shit hook (probably missed best place) and I was relieved to gain the porthole. From there the kit is ok and the climbing technical and blind, though chalk undoubtedly helped me. From there its mostly a blur until one moment at the top where I briefly saw myself taking THE fall I'd heard so much about. Snatching up the groove with the left and stabbing my feet up, looking down at the void. Yarding on grass to get onto the ledge its a mixture of satisfaction and relief. After abbing and stripping we head down and solo Flying Buttress, grinning all the way.


Now I'm back in Sheffield, ready for the grit (gulp) and training (gulpgulp) If this blog was a little to self indulgent for you then I apologise, but purple patches like that one don't come round to often. Now, back to chumming.

Monday, 29 September 2014

10 of the best - Part 1

Recently I spent a week in Pembroke followed by a few days in North Wales. This was a pretty special time where weather, partners and momentum all came together in perfect sync.

Day one,

"No red flag." A morning of cragging at Trevallen was instantly scrapped in favour of the grander, often closed off, locations on the range. Warming up on Just Another Day/Scorch the Earth  felt fantastic; it almost seems there's nowhere better to climb E5.

Certain lines burn a hole in your wishlist, often for many years. You find excuses not to try them and further build up the pressure on yourself, making the routes into more than they are. After Just Another Day I realise that the time for procrastination had ceased, it was time to head into Stennis. Half of what makes British trad specical can be found in the stories that surround it. Tales of a "thousand yard stare" and heroic belaying after a huge fall enhanced the reputation of Ghost Train no end in my mind. The route itself is perfectly laid out, danger but not death, a glory finish and some wobbly holds thrown in to cast doubt. This doubt varies from day to day, sometimes commitment comes easily and some its nowhere to be found. Thankfully on this occasion it was the former, which made for a perfect experience; even allowing for a pause mid runout to laugh down to Neil.

Day two,

Today Trevallen wouldn't be trumped. I was keen to check out the Sunlover wall, one of the most photogenic and well catalogued faces in Pembroke. Whilst this wall is famous for its classic twin E5's Barbarella and Yellow Pearls I was here on other business, with the bold wall climb of Orange Robe Burning in my sights. After a nervy start above the boulders the route went without a hitch. The top section is superb, ledge fever sets in at the break as you know you could stay there for days. Eventually when committed to it provides a great climax, with a tricky move to a finger bucket, ace.

Day three,

A return visit to Trevallen may have been unadventurous but with limited time it seemed logical. What should have been an easy day quickly became anything but as I made the somewhat appalling decision to try and warm up on Barbarella. After fighting flash pump and scraping through the hard bit my feet let me down and I slipped off some greasy fingerlocks. Hmmm. Oh well, at least I know I'm warm now, next go no worries. But wait, round two is somehow worse, shambolic climbing. After screwing my head back on and putting in another good fight it finally succumbs, whilst the kit is better it feels more of a proposition than ORB to me...

The day is finished by belaying Neil on what became Choronzon. I'm pretty easily impressed by hard routes but this line really did take the biscuit. On this day he fell off the last move of the crux, the season was drawing to a close. Needless to say I was ecstatic when I got the text the following weekend saying he'd done it.

Day four,

The plan is to head to Govans but the men with guns are role playing again. Mother Careys seems a safe second bet. As per though there is a hitch, a somehow unforeseen problem, the sea is crashing into the bottom of Brazen Buttress. This forces a retreat to the non-tidal ledges of the White Tower next door. White Heat, the classic E5 of the crag looks almost to good to be true, a rising thin crack-line forging up the perfect white slab. By this stage in the trip fatigue is setting in and after the palaver of Barbarella I do wonder whether to bother. But it looks like its got loads of kit on it, what's the worst that could happen.

10m up I place a perfect rock 6 and climb till its by my feet, up to this stage the route has been unnervingly easy. The next bit looks thin, cant see much more gear but the last one was a bolt. Commit a few metres into the crux, the gear now getting further and further away. A crimp in the face provides some respite, but its a poison chalice, taking me out of the crack and leaving the gear out of sight. My right leg begins to shake, nothing for the left foot, I use up precious reserves trying to peer into the crack, it looks like a rock 2 slot, but my gear to eye coordination is not at its freshest. Try the 2, wont go in, try the 1, pulls straight through. By now the shaking is just comical. The climbing above looks hard, perhaps you should drop off. No. The pump has become terminal as I rag my foot high onto a blind foothold in the crack, stand up. Still no jugs, but wait, this looks more promising, a break a couple of moves away. By now falling is an unappealing prospect, as is continuing. The moves however turn out to be easier than those lower down and the break is reached with a whoop. Anna rinses up it seconding, waddage.

Day five,

Even before I ever visited the place I had a conception that Govans was the easy option of Pembroke, worthwhile but not why you go there, lacking in adventure and risk. This most likely comes from Rob describing it as "just cragging." He has a point no doubt, the routes are more chalked and polished than many of the other crags in Pembroke and there's always people down there. However today I had used up all my adrenaline reserves DWSing at Broadhaven Cove above seals and a rough sea, so an afternoon of cragging fitted the bill nicely. 

Starting up Get Some In I had high expectations, this was one of the routes I'd heard of before I could tell you where Pembroke was on a map. It wasn't a letdown per say and I'm sure climbing it in better conditions would help its cause (Hotter than the face of the sun that day) but it didn't fill me with glee in the way that other routes this week have. John Wayne on the other hand. Cruising up that top crack as it eats your runners one after the other was fantastic, perhaps having lower expectations for routes is the way forward. 

Thats enough for one entry, next five soon.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Trad on the Agenda

Frisbee on Mingulay Beach
I would describe myself as a trad climber; in that I'm weak at bouldering and unfit for sport. Up to a few months ago however I had done little to no climbing in some of the mecca's of trad throughout the UK. Sure enough the grit represents "trad" but in reality it almost deserves its own discipline, many of the routes I've done being essentially dangerous bouldering.

Mingulay's Finest
In the past few months however this has changed. Over several trips I've spent many days climbing on the sea-cliffs and mountains of North Wales and also spent a ludicrous week on the Hebridean islands of Pabbay and Mingulay. These trips, whilst not ideal preparation for a hard sport climbing holiday (gulp) have really opened my eyes to the variety that exists within British climbing. Even further to this though they have helped budge some of the dissatisfaction I feel with climbing when I become to focused on difficulty rather than enjoyment.

the youth loving it

Climbing Welsh classics such as Positron, Right Wall and Midsummer Nights Dream have provided memorable days out and the ridiculous routes on Pabbay and Mingulay were without doubt the best I've ever climbed. Four star lines like Ship Of Fools, In Profundum Lacu and Ancient Mariners all represent the creme de la creme of trad climbing. Massive exposure, perfect gear, surprising holds and beautiful locations. I could write about them all day. Its not just the climbing though; out on the islands time becomes irrelevant, you live almost nocturnally, climbing from afternoon to dark and getting up at lunchtime. If you ever want to escape real life and its sometimes mundane nature this is the place to go.

Robby G on Ship of Fools. Above it blasts straight up the wall to the
grass on some ridiculous holds!

Red Wall, a stunning crag

Soon I'll be departing for Ceuse, a place I've never been and by all accounts another stunning crag. With everything left to do there the aim is to tick as many classics as possible. Following this we head for Cortina and the Dolomites. This area holds special resonance to me, being the place where I first experienced climbing, exposure and the mountains. Returning now, four years after my previous visit, sights are firmly set on some of the big free classics.

The Mingulay Campsite

Dome tent scenes
On the psychebike

Why did we leave the tent??

 Psyche is as high as ever!