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!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Rare Lichen

View from Gribbin
Sat behind the counter in Outside on a quiet Monday I browse through the various guidebooks. Ignorant of Welsh climbing in general I scan through Gogarth North, The Pass, Cloggy and finally, Ogwen. New places hold mysteries, lines catch the eye and a list begins; the lifetime list. Since then this list has grown, routes from countless destinations, of all grades. At home I still have the original scrap of paper that the list grew from. The first scribbled name on that scrap, Rare Lichen - Clogwyn Tarw - Ogwen.

Arête's have and always will hold a special aura for me. There is something about them, they draw the eye, the exposure on such features is hard to parallel; further to this they tend to provide a cruel lesson in technique to the uninitiated. Rare Lichen represents all of the above. The level of danger is also perfect, there is gear there, but how "there" it will be when you fall is another matter. Don't get me wrong its not a total chop route but falling comes ill-advised.

Clogwyn Tarw
The line breaks into three sections -
- Steady ledge climbing leads to bomber cams, then a little sketchy section to place an awkward RP2 in a blind slot.
- Tricky section moving around the arete, don't fall!
- Hard crux section on the top arête after placing a few RP runners.

It was last weekend that me and Oli gambled off up into the hills of Ogwen to check out the Gribbin. With the start being wet we set to work on the top section. Flicking between sidepulls and the arete the top sequence provides superb on-off climbing, with just enough holds to get by! The start gradually dried, awkward placements were found and we made solid links on the top rope. Not returning was out of the question. Then came the Indy Party and the rest of the weekend disappeared into the mist.

Ogwen in all its beauty
So this Thursday I repeated the oddly convoluted and longwinded journey from Sheffield to Bangor. Friday was the day, looking just about dry, perched between days of rain either side. Waking up Friday morning it was clear the forecast hadn't let us down and we again wandered up to the Gribbin.

On top rope the route feels harder than previous, with my old sequence seeming unlikely and on-off. After sorting out a more slappy, yet bizarrely solid seqeunce and learning the nuances of the gear the lead seems on. Selfishly I ask Oli if I can go when I get down.

Pulling on with warm fingers the holds seem better and more positive than on the top rope. Arriving at the awkward RP slot I feel solid. But after placing it it doesn't look right, no time to rearrange, press on. Moving around the arete I'm trying harder than I'd like to be, the RP in the back of my mind. Once round onto the front face you can relax, place the key RP's and enjoy an almost hands-off rest. The only problem is the rest is so good you don't want to leave. You could lower off your gear here. There was no chance of this however (You'd only have to do the sketchy bit again!) and pressing on the arête went like clockwork, tick-tacking up, enjoying the position and some of the best moves about.

Team Chummer
The day wouldn't have been complete without Oli's ascent, which followed soon after. I've been badgering him about these routes for ages so it was great to get the team tick! Also thanks to Mike Hutton for coming over and taking photos, legend! Cheers for the place to stay aswell Henry!

We finished the day with a route march up to the Lily Savage boulders and managed to bag the mega classic 7b Paul O'Grady. Cracking day, may it be the first of many this summer!


Cheers for reading, Nath. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Mid Season Blues

Golden early season grit

So far the "season" has been going great. Coming in I had a couple of routes I'd wanted to do, The Zone was the last one left on the priority list. It could be criticised for being a pretty mediocre line on a wall that harbours some of the best on grit. However the moves are really good and it makes sense to deviate around like it does. Its another route I'd tried last year and failed on. Not that it felt easy this time but its all in the tiny margins. One negative about the route is that it eats your skin, the holds being almost all edges, very unlike your average grit route. Another quirk is the gear. Skyhooks that sit on edges halfway up the wall.

They're alright really

 Whilst hardly bomber they're not too bad and  have been famously tested by both skinny youths Pearson and Grounsell. The day of the lead was a comedy of errors, searching for my keys on Stanage only to find them in the car, getting ridiculously pumped placing the skyhooks and watching my camera fall off a cliff. The lead was not so comical, the kind of boring plod some would say headpointing often produces, oh well, I enjoyed it, even if my fingers didn't. Nick Brown got some stellar footage of both this and Knockin. If you haven't seen the video yet what rock have you been hiding under??

The Grinning Zone
As per usual mid season staleness kicked in around early December, when the weather turned shit and the psyche went through the floor. Resuscitation arrived in the form of a trip. Just after Christmas I had the pleasure of visiting one of the best crags on the globe; Siurana. Arriving in the dark gave us no clues as to the grandeur of the valley, the sight of which left me gobsmacked the next morning. Sport climbing has always been somewhat of a sideshow for me, never drawing much focus away from the boulders or routes of the grit, but Siurana has changed this.

On the flash on Ya Os Vale

 For starters the El Pati is simply ludicrous, I cannot picture myself ever being fit enough to scale the steeper regions, I get the feeling alot of things will have to change in my mentality to make it happen. Watching the eurowads attempting these extra terrestrial routes gave food for thought, the training is probably worth the effort if this is where it leads you. Most of the trip was spent ticking away, resisting the urge to spend all my time on things too hard for me and repeatedly eulogising on how cool this place was. All I can say is that being back in England for the wettest January for years was horribly sobering. The Works must be raking it in.

El Pati! Jack on one of the 7a's