Monday, 2 December 2013

Time Flies 1

Time flies when you're having fun. The first month and a half of Uni has breezed by. Freshers seems a distant memory, though the flu lingers on now and then. The weeks after are a blur. I had my doubts over moving to Sheffield. Even such minute change, for a creature of such repetitive habit, is not often welcome. During a hectic first week I did little but drink and flail in the Works. After Unknown Stones it was good to have a cooling off period, to forget climbing and just enjoy the fun. After fortuitously bumping into Katy and Rob the hunger for the grit soon returned.
Armed with a huge stake and sledgehammer we headed to the rarely dry Burbage South Quarries. The walkers who saw us wandering the moors that day would be forgiven for thinking we were planning some kind of pagan crucifixion. The stake sunk into the heather-clad ground and so the fun could begin. My intention was to try one of Pete's creations, Inspiration Dedication, which climbs a slightly overhung wall on positive crimps. The only thing about this route reminiscent of Gritstone is the potential to deck onto a boulder from 9 metres. After drying the holds and working the moves it was a smooth lead. This really is a rough diamond, perhaps a little better than its older brother French Kiss.
The crux of Inspiration @Rich Sharpe.

Pre and post this day were some nice evenings spent at Millstone. Katy and Rob on form with ascents of The Bad and the Beautiful, whilst I dabbled in some esoterica, climbing two of the least well known E6's in the Peak. Golden sunshine till 7 seems distant now as I glance to the window and see darkness setting in at 4 O'clock. I never remember the downsides of Winter.

One of Gritstone's main faults is its size. The Promontory at Black Rocks has no such problem. If life were fair this 20 metre ships bow would overlook a perfect moorland plateau, miles from civilisation. Luckily for the lazy its sits in a dank, Carlsberg can-filled wood just outside Cromford. Rising up the right-hand side of the Promontory is an enticing line of pockets, some small, some large. Linked they create one of grits most aesthetic sculptures. Seb's psychobabble on Meshuga is one of the lasting legacies of Hard Grit. Coming into the season alot of those I spoke to had this route top of their winter list. It has been top of mine since I did the neighbouring Hard Grit classic Gaia, a year ago.

Last year I could barely link the route. What a nice feeling of progression it was when this year I was linking it steadily. It boils down to two moves. The slap and the rockover. A fall from the first has been taken, all be it with painful consequences. A fall from the rockover is likely to be a messy affair. After two sessions this year I was ready. The next good day I would do it. There followed two weeks of rain and warmth. At the time it seemed an age, a real indication of how much I wanted this route done. On the next dry opportunity we made the regular pilgrimage to Cromford. Dad came out to belay and the lead itself passed without incident or hesitation, full immersion. I have to thank Rob and Katy in particular for helping me to get this done. Without a car Black Rocks is a long way from Sheffield!

"The Move" on Meshuga

What's next? is a question I've heard alot in the past few weeks. I had no idea. One wet day Katy suggested putting a rope on Knockin On Heavens Door. This route had somehow slipped my winter target list, and without her keenness I'm not sure I would have bothered. One time a few years ago I walked up to Curbar with a shunt and tried it. It was around 25c and the backs of my legs got sunburnt, optimism and naivety are rarely a good mix. Two years forward and another gamble was taken on the weather. On a day when the rest of Sheffield sheltered in the wall we headed out to Curbar. It was only for top roping but the few goes we snatched on the route felt like a steal on such a grim day. Sometimes optimism works out. After Katy and Dave's Super Sunday at Black Rocks, we had Majestic Monday.

A day of near perfect Gritstone weather. Not a cloud in the sky, 6c and windy. The kind of day you wait all year for. The history of Knockin is chequered. I choose to use the cams below the lip out left. These "protect" the route though you're still likely to face a nasty fall from the crux moves. The way I did it seems logical to me, I'd be angry with myself for avoiding gear and then breaking myself falling off. The route itself felt like velcro on this perfect Grit afternoon. The lines at Curbar always seem special to me, perhaps as they're the first routes I ever knew existed. Later that evening in the fading light we watched Jake climb another of Curbar's gems; The End of the Affair. A great day. 

Second half coming up.

Stretched on Knockin.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Unknown Stones

On the way into Sheffield I stare out across the saturated countryside, its a grim day, the first of winter perhaps. With temperatures dropping and leaves gathering in the gutters its not long before the season begins. Of course when thoughts drift to winter I prefer to remember only the days of perfect crisp weather, rather than the many depressing hours spent inside on the plastic, watching the rain. The bus crawls through the villages and past all the great gritstone outcrops, long ago pillaged of their true lines by the key figures of British climbing's history. There are of course new routes to be done, but most are mere sideshows surrounded by the greatness of the past. As Sheffield approaches I again find my mind transfixed on thoughts of a small group of stones, stuck into the cliff-face, perched above the old mill towns of Lancashire.

It had begun on a warm, balmy afternoon in the Chew Valley. The day was progressing in the usual unproductive fashion, try this, try that, "too bold", "too snappy". Wimberry is an unusual crag in its angles and dimensions, its bounded by sharp soaring aretes and walls interspersed by deep dark corners and cracks, almost like the keys on a piano. The jewel in the Chew crown has had a special summer, many of its lines have seen rare attention whilst its true last great problem was claimed in a blaze of bamboo canes and grunting. As the day progressed the thought of leaving without doing something, or at least having a reason to return, made me spur into action. I told Oli that I was going to abb a potential new line, being needlessly coy about its location only 30ft away. I guess I just didn't want to jynx it. On first acquaintance the wall had no holds, aside from a small edge with a thumbcatch and a fat pebble just next to it. However, being just this side of slabby, it gave me enough reason to set up the top rope. Working out the moves proved tenuous and tricky, with several holds coming off in the process. After around an hour of practice the moves were done, the crux revolving around the crucial thumbcatch edge. At least now there was reason for return.

The red line of Unknown Stones on this Gritstone axehead
For just under a month the line occupied my thoughts. We returned only to be warned about clouds of midges on the walk in, and whenever there was another opportunity the weather callously intervened. After starting to feel as if time were running out to try the line again, I was granted a days belay from Dad. In the cold winds we made that familiar trudge up the hillside. First time up the rock felt sticky, I cruised from the resting hold to the top crux move, I was stunned, the climbing felt easy. Then all of a sudden I was on the rope. Something had happened, and the noise on the thumbcatch edge hitting the ground 15m below let me know loud and clear. At that moment there was a mixture of emotions. Anger at the rocks betrayal, relief at the fact it had snapped on toprope. This was the third "crucial" hold to have fallen off the route now, I needed another new sequence. After more working one came to hand, undercutting a pebble to reach the good holds just below the top. The main downside of the new sequence is that its now the crux of the route and relies pulling pretty hard on a pebble. After working out the traverse over to the resting foothold (moves on Dougie Hall's masterpiece Appointment with Fear) I was able to link the route three times, a real coup considering how badly the day had started. Now there was real reason to return, which was both awful and amazing in equal measure.

The traverse on Fear
As the days ticked by I felt more and more nauseous at the idea of returning, at the idea of climbing on that slab. I thought constantly about those tiny stones, each one of them a completely unknown quantity, and for all I knew held in by nothing more than a few square millimetres of coarse moorland grit. The week crawled to its conclusion, Friday was the day, it had been set in stone. There were people keen, the weather forecast was good, this was it. Until it wasn't. It drizzled most of the way there, on arrival the crag was damp in some places and sodden in others. This had not been forecast. In an act of blind and naive optimism we set about chalking and towelling the damp rock, after a few hours of no rain and a strong breeze the route had dried out enough to work the moves again. I was hesitant to try the slab, pebbles pull out of damp rock much more readily, and if I lost another of my confidants the route may cease to exist. Drier and drier the route became, the excuses were slowly dissipating on the breeze. Two more full links and I'd reached the magic number in my mind, five.

Leaving the sanctuary of the foothold
Everything was set up, pads on the ledge and my rope through a siderunner in the crack. Both become redundant as soon as Fear is left, and from the last crux move a 13m deck or slam is obligatory. Pull on, swing out, the crux mantle on Fear runs smoothly on the now dry slab. Stand in balance, tug the rope, its dragging. Commit to the next section of Fear, a balancy step through and rockover. Stood on the resting foothold the situation suddenly becomes all too real. My position, standing on the lip of this great axe of rock slicing clean through any thought of control. The option to doubt yourself there is immense and, like a certain slab in Wales, you have to choose to continue.

Pausing Mid-Crux
After a few tricky set up moves the long crux section is reached. Thumb down on one pebble, pull hard on pebbly crimp, reach over for a tiny pebble. Then its another tiny pebble, then a good pebble, undercut this to the good holds. Halfway through this sequence and I pause, the rope is dragging. I experience a feeling new to me within the realms of hard grit climbing, a complete lack of control. In that instant there is no choice to be made, instinct kicks in and you keep pulling, no matter how fragile the little quartz stumps. The good holds are reached about two metres below the top, and so begins the victory march. When the jug is reached I'm in no rush to top out. This route has dominated my thoughts for weeks, and now I let the relief wash over me. Even after topping out its a few seconds before the inevitable release of anguish. Lent on my knees at the top I wasn't sure that I had climbed the route with the respect it deserves, but perhaps it had let me off.

Reaching salvation

In the past few weeks I've had time to consider everything about this route. I think I'll get the boring stuff out the way first. The route is physically harder and more dangerous than its neighbour Appointment With Death. On this basis and comparing it to the other E7-8s I've done Unknown Stones is likely to be at least E9 6c.

I think I'll finish with these thoughts. Why do I and some people obsess over these kind of routes? My motivation to do this route came from several sources. Firstly it always stuck out to me as an obvious gap, I appreciate it may look slightly contrived to some, but I can assure you that were the line escapable into either of its neighbouring routes I wouldn't have bothered doing it. It is only the direction and location of the holds that make it possible, yet also inescapable. Secondly the moves on it are great, its a good example of minimalist climbing, with only just enough holds to link the wall. Lose one of the crucial ones and it would be far, far harder. So, as far as the climbing and the line go, its a great addition. Of course there is also the mental aspect. Routes like this captivate my mind in a way that no boulder or sport route ever could. You really have to question your motivation and then back yourself to the hilt when climbing on the lead. Second thoughts are not welcome, and its the challenge of controlling this gathering doubt that is so interesting.

Further interest came from establishing a new line on what is arguably (sorry b-south) the most hardcore grit crag in the country. Every line has a level of distinction. The "easy" routes being known for their sandbag difficulty and almost all of the harder lines characterised by their utter seriousness and complete lack of meaningful gear. Finally, climbing a new route means leaving your mark, you're writing a piece of history, on something that had been and will be there long after you've gone. I deny anyone to claim that this has no bearing on their thoughts when considering a new route, even if they're primarily climbing for the line or themselves. I think that is enough of that, you've done very well to read to here.

Thanks alot to Neil, Steve and the ever-patient Mike Hutton for waiting around on the day, belaying and helping me to dry the route!

In the end, when I weighed everything up this route just seemed worth it. In hindsight perhaps it wasn't. Clear cut as ever. 
Happy eejit.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Deep Water and Lime Failure

Being a weak swimmer and having a general dislike for all things watery made me apprehensive going into my first deep water soloing trip. Luckily Jon and Emlyn had expressed similar doubts and were both relatively new to the style. It usually takes very hot weather to get me in the drink and funnily enough thats what we had. The temperature dictated the venue for the weekend, go climb some sweaty slab on cloggy, or go jump in the sea, easy choice...

After the quick 5 hour drive down on Thursday evening we set up camp in Langton Matravers and quickly hit the hay. The first day was to be spent at Stair Hole at Lulworth. Home to many of the classic DWS's such as Mark of the Beast and Horny lil Devil. After a quick lap round the Maypole we set to work on the latter, and it saw the first splash downs of the weekend with both Emlyn and Rees plunging off the middle crux section.
Jon on the Lil Devil 7a
The rest of the day was spent durdling about ticking various other classics including Hornier Than Thou and Animal Magnetism. The plan for Saturday was to head to Conner Cove. This is where I think of when I imagine DWS, as there are so many classics, many of them at pretty amendable grades. The three I'd planned on trying all went smoothly. Freeborn Man, pic below, was as good as the hype, with a scary rockover way up. The Conger, a classic E2 traverse, had great balancy moves never far above the sea and Fathoms was truly stunning, a rising flake to a jug which gives you unwelcome time to think about where you are. Once committed though the moves flow steadily to the top.
Freeborn Man 6c
Our final and hottest day was spent back at Lulworth, it was a fair bit greasier than Friday, and there was more falling in than ticking. Kim took a sideways fall off Mark of the Beast and I dropped off Gates of Greyskull a few times lacking in commitment. After that we headed back to Sheffield, I can't wait to get back down there, it really is the best thing to do in this weather!
Kim off a greasy Mark of the Beast 7c
Aside from this trip the past few months have been pretty quiet, with a few low 8 and high 7 sport routes and some nice easier trad climbing. Having ticked my aim for the year by doing Appointment and then making the second ascent of the mythical Lets Get Killed just a few days later I felt a nice lack of pressure for a couple of weeks. After that wore off (it always does) its been on with lime projecting, and bashing my head against the brick wall of chronic weakness. I'm getting there though, and have some sport projects which should see me break new personal ground in the next few weeks. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Super Saturday

At a bit of a loose end last week, struggling on the limestone and looking for partners for the days of brilliant weather ahead, I gave Tom a text asking what he was up to. He replied with some juicy gossip; he would be around one day, but the other would be spent belaying Pete on his secret project. Of course I interrogated Tom about the project, but being true to Pete he wouldn't reveal its location, only saying that it was probably "his hardest yet". We arranged an appointment to head to the grit crag of Wimberry in the Chew Valley on Thursday. As we headed over I asked Tom what he had his sights on. "You on appointment with fear?" He replied "Nah, Appointment with Death". My stomach dropped. This is one route I never thought would see much attention, as its a whirling mass of dangerous possibilities. Snappy pebbles, no gear, a high crux, all the makings of a real grit horror show. However, he reassured me the pebbles were OK and that he'd done the moves with Pete a few days before. Then it clicked, Pete's project was on Wimberry and it was the big one.

Wimberry, best hard grit crag?
That day I had no idea where to start, Jon Fullwood said that he'd been there when Ben Heason made the second ascent of Order of the Phoenix, so that was on the list, but then again so was everything else.... As I walked round to the top of the crag, I remembered something I'd seen in the guide, an arete that was only climbed on one side, leaving the other side open to exploitation. It was better than I'd imagined, high, well featured and most importantly not done. I set to work cleaning and it became my main focus for the day. We took turns on our projects, Tom looking very solid on Appointment, saying a lead might be soon and reassuring me that its not so bad (hmmm). After dialling my route on top rope I nipped up it in shaky style, at one point staring straight into the sun when reaching a crucial crimp which made me wobble a bit! It feels great to have made an FA at this mecca of hard grit. I named the route Disconsolate as I'm a moody boy (and the arete on the left is called consolation prize...) After this we opted for abbing and cleaning other projects and lines, it was Order of the Phoenix for me and after a good brushing to get the moorland gunk off, I got some of the moves done. Then it was home time, set for a rendezvous on Saturday.

High on the FA of Disconsolate
Saturday dawned dank and grim. On the drive over it was more of the same, showers, wet road and black clouds, not looking promising. Adrian Samarra (hot aches pro) had been drafted in by Wild Country to film Pete and Tom, and he was well assisted by two keen-as students down from Cumbria. As we approached the crag it was surprisingly dry, the rock was with us. Everyone got busy on there routes, Pete working on his down-climbing and inventive gear clipping methods, Tom lapping away on Appointment, and me floundering/nursing a split tip from the key crux pebble on Phoenix.

Order of the Phoenix (Cheers to Pete, great photo!)

Tom's project went first, and he's written a superb account here in two parts. It was a stunning piece of commitment, and one of the biggest repeats on grit in the past few years, no jams on it either interestingly. It was then my turn on the Phoenix. Having stopped top roping it due to thin skin I hadn't managed a full link, but team psyche is more than enough to make for any doubts! The ascent was a bit scratchy down low, but felt steady on the no fall moves, aside from the crux pebble cutting my finger even worse. This must be the most at ease I've felt on/before a hard headpoint, which just goes to show what kind of day it was, steady away on unsteady ground. Here's a video of my ascent.

Pete on the prow...                        
I'll leave Pete to give his account. All I can say is that its now three days on and I'm still buzzing, one of the best leads in grits history no doubt, and what a day it crowned, I won't be forgetting that one in a hurry.

Adrian Samarra supported by Matt and James captured both Tom and Pete's historic ascents for Hot Aches, and Mike Hutton got some cracking shots.

Not much more that can be said about the day really, I've run out of superlatives. Everything went right, the weather, the timing, the big efforts, the filming. I'll be back soon though, another Appointment has been made and its not one I can skip.

Tom in cruise control on Appointment With Death
Thanks alot for reading!

Saturday, 13 April 2013


Several months ago Jon Fullwood kindly informed me of a new route opportunity at Gardoms, saying it was probably too bold for him and that it would be a classic. "Cool, I'll get to it" I said. Two months later Jon was again talking about this line, how he'd found a kneebar on it and that it would probably be E7 or maybe even E8. Again, I said I'd look at it. The grit season passed quickly with trips and many sessions spent falling off boulder projects, until just before my trip to Switerland I got a text from Tom Randall. It read something along to the lines of "how much do you know about the direct on make it snappy? fancy trying it?". My heart sunk, I hadn't tried it and therefore I couldnt even try and play the pathetic "please let me do it first as its my proj" card. It was an open project, and I wouldn't be on it for another two weeks.

During my Swiss trip I forgot about the line, like so many times before. Until near the end I texted Tom asking him if he'd been on it. He had, saying that he'd done it a few days previous and that it was perhaps E8. I was pretty gutted, but quickly shook off the feelings of regret ("You should've gone and done it you idiot!!") Instead I simply had a new E8 to go and try on my return, and looking at the video in the cafe, it looked right up my street. 

First day back in the Peak I headed straight there by myself and set up a top rope. I shunted all the moves in the first hour or so, the crux last move to the break feeling ok at this point. I then linked it in two, then in one,  the last move not feeling so bad, and the rest feeling fine. I rang Dad and asked if he could come give me a belay after work. He agreed, so I stashed the gear and went home, having forgotten to bring food and not wanting to hang about at Gardoms for 4 hours. 

Later we returned, it was a great evening, more sunny and warm than it had been during the day, the golden light shining through the birch and oak trees. After checking the gear out I tried the route from the ground, but fell at the last move to the break, the holds feeling slippery. Perhaps I was tired, perhaps it was the conditions, I was now wondering about the lead, it had felt so sure only an hour earlier. Dad then tried the line as it cooled down and made short work of the slappy compression moves. Conditions must have improved, as I then top roped the route in one with no hitches. Lead time. 

It all went pretty smoothly, with the odd adjustment, to the last move to the break. As I hit the left hand set up sloper the hold seemed sweaty when before it had felt cold and sticky, this made the last move to the break a proper all or nothing slap. I didn't quite hit the hold spot on either, hitting the rock above and dragging onto the hold. Ie, it was a close one.

The final easy moves done and it was in the satchel, "You fucking idiot, why didn't you listen to Jon...."

Dad then swept up the 4th ascent, looking a little slappy on the way, but E8 at 51 can't be bad can it?

Quickly on the subject of the grade; it seems to be unfashionable to talk about grades properly at the moment, so I'll be quick. If I was grading the route as a first ascent, I'd have given it E7, but that means little. The style of the route fits me well and the fall didn't look like it would be horrific. Besides, those who have graded it know alot more than I do on the subject. Whatever it settles down to, its a great piece of rock that should become popular. I predict ascents!

Now its time to crack on with one project in particular, aswell as everything else that comes with summer, wet weather, midges, seepage and humidity.

Moral for the day, listen to Jon.


Friday, 12 April 2013

Spain, Swizzy and the Summer ahead.

Hello. When I wrote my last entry I was training in the wall a little bit (training being lapping 6as...) for my trip to Spain in late Feb. During the trip we visited the classic, yet quiet, Limestone venue of Wild Side in Sella. The last time I had climbed there was two years previous, where I had climbed my first 7a+ (which i was pretty chuffed about at the time!) This time I was there to focus on the classic 8as, with Ergometria and Watermark being the two that were most recomended by friends. I ticked Ergometria on the 2nd day, which was pretty surprising and went on to do the best route of my trip, Mediterraneo, a classy 8a with a very high crux sequence! All in all it was an ace trip, although the rain did ruin my ambitions of ticking Watermark aswell.

Between this trip and Switzerland I had two weeks of very little tickage. I played on The Zone at Curbar once, got the moves pretty wired and penciled it in as a post swizzy project. Unfortunately the psyche hasn't materialised yet and I find myself looking to other things.

Anyways, back to the trips. I realised in the week leading up to Switzerland that I wasn't going to be strong enough for the trip, which was a shame, but it was too late to solve it (learn for future...) Despite this it was a pretty fruitful trip ticking wise. Highlights being the stunning Confession of a Crap Artist ("Its Chaos Man!"), the uber classic Dr Crimp (first problem I saw abroad, leah crane vid..) and doing a whole bunch of classic 7as and bs. Waddage to Mr Carmichael and Chris 'Elijah' Smith who both went hard, then went home. I should have a video of this trip up soon. In the meantime check out george's.

The one thing which pained me most in Switzerland was hearing of the amount of snow back home, and looking at the photos of the snowballing in the cafe near the end of the trip left me feeling homesick. So when I arrived home (after toms thing, next post!) the first thing I wanted to do was get to the platforms. As promised they were still there, under all the classics of the Stanage and Burbage snowball circuit. We checked out Black Car and flailed about, then quickly moved to the popular end where we despatched Shine On and Cemetery Waits. Shine On temporarily being the best 7a+ in the Peak! Next up was Burbage North where Mark Rankine had been busy building a platform under Nefertiti. This is usually a highball with pads anyway, and with the snow it was a boulder, which meant it could climbed with fun jumps to holds rather than static locks. Another problem in that vein was Puck, which was climbed via a wild dyno! Cheers to Mark for the effort on Nefertiti and everyone else who has built platforms, I wish I could've been there to help!

Now attention turns to bigger things, I feel like I've not done anything properly hard for months, so hopefully I can take it up a notch soon..... provided the temps don't go through the roof.

Ciao Grazi.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The season so far, and a great weekend

Not posted in a while, so I've got plenty to report on from the last few months. Before christmas when I was still in route mode I had a few great days, highlights being a scary day on Bamford and a headpoint of my long term target Simba's Pride. Having recently watched Ben Cossey walk up it on Committed 1 its got me psyched for getting stronger and fitter, after all, any more control on solo's is always welcome. Couple of videos of these below.

Simbas -
Bamford -

After a "Christmas training regime" which involved not training and eating alot, I headed out to Font with a big group. It was a pretty mixed trip climbing wise, with only a few dry days and warm temperatures, but despite the grim weather some hard lines went down. One day of crushing on Mont Pivot in particular will live long in the memory.

After returning from Font, January has been a predictably unproductive month, spent mostly training for a trip to Spain in late February and staring out at the rain. However when there have been breaks in the cloud they've been put to good use. On one clear, crisp weekend I mananged to gather a couple of good ticks in Spare Rib at Stanton and Bat Out of Hell at Higgar. The latter really highlighted my fitness issues, I look forward to the day when I can climb 10 metres without desperate slapping!

At the moment I'm definatley feeling a transition back into route focus after two months of blocs, and I've got a few trad projects lined up to work on over the next weeks and months. This was hopefully started off at the weekend with a tick of Simon Nadins classic Roaches E7 Paralogism. The route takes a very steep and bouldery line over a large roof. The route boils down to about V6 where you wouldn't want to fall, into glory jugs, with an obligatory cutloose for photos at the lip! I'll stick a video of this on over the weekend!

Thanks alot to Andi Turner for the photos, by the looks of it he'll be ticking this route very soon!

Last but by no means least, we had a great time with the Mammut Pros Jakob Schubert and Anna Stohr on there whistle stop visit. The day at the Foundry was great fun, we spent some time flailing on the Wave, helping out those who'd won a place on the Mammut masterclasses and watching Jakob and Anna crush everything in sight! Thanks alot to Mike Hutton for some brilliant pics of the weekend and of course to the Foundry for putting up with us, especially oli and his bacon obsession.

Below are some photos from the weekend!