Monday, 16 August 2010

Big One

Since the last post the siege engines have been well and truly wheeled out on Monumental. I’ve been happy to do this because it’s without doubt one of the Peak’s great lines. Much as I love it, sporty limestone of the Peak variety rarely has much of a line, climbs tend to join together the bitty features, or more often just blast up in a straight line a given distance from the neighbouring ‘line’. Even when a strong feature does exist, those on Revelations or Mecca for example, these often fizzle out halfway up the crag. Not so the mighty Monumental, this is a great big slash across the whole face of the Cornice, overhung in all dimensions – this thing has more line than Network Rail. Yorkshire lime has the Big Three, the Triple Crown, a triplet of peerless 8a+ routes on the Dales’ big three limestone crags. The Peak has only one 8a+ (grade debate aside) of this calibre, as such Monumental is surely the Peak’s Single Crown, this is our Big One.
I’ve passed by this feature many many times and it’s always intrigued me a lot. It just looked so unattainable, as much because on almost all occasions it was festering under gallons of alien death slime and peppered with half buried rust blobs for bolts. The crown had slipped, the Big One was long in the wilderness, unclimbed and unclimbable for over a decade. Years have come and gone and all attempts to resurrect it have been vain. Reviving this route would clearly take an exceptionally dry year and several determined climbers several days of misery. 2010 looked like it might just be the year. Simon Davies and myself both spent a day tunnelling through years of accreted slime crust, one man saviour of Peak sport climbing Jon Clark put in two days of bolting and cleaning, then Kris Clemmow finished the job by removing the old bolts. This was a month or two ago and with subsequent traffic (at least eight ascents to date) the route is now in fantastic condition, bone dry, super clean and re-equipped with shiny new 12mm resin bolts. Standing beneath it today it’s hard to picture just how horrendous it was at the start of the season. For a brief while the Big One is back in all its glory. Long may it hold out, though in the end the slime will always win.
The window of opportunity being brief and unpredictable, I really wanted to take the chance while it lasted. The only problem was that it didn’t seem to want me to get up it. Despite having lots of knees and weirdness it just didn’t suit me, the reputedly ok crux section felt like the world’s hardest move to me(a persistent left wrist injury didn’t help) and the final lurch into the groove hurt my dupytren’s afflicted hand, as well as being a notorious sting in the tail from hell. Progress was slow and sessions on it left me feeling beasted for days. Gradually though the pieces were coming together. The fettling of kneepads became a minor obsession for me and Nige. The ultimate pad arrangement involved one on the left knee stiffened with a plastic insert and a thinner one for the right with a grippy rubber top layer, both held in place with a combo of gaffer tape, lacing and double sided sticky tape. Each use incurs a price in kneepit chaffing and hairloss on removal, though I never quite stooped to shaving the knees.
An uncounted number of sessions later (I’d guess at about nine!), the war of attrition was won, second redpoint on a Thursday afternoon session with back two Dan. I was lucky it went down that go too, as I acquired a split tip and a tweaked shoulder on route. Nige turned up shortly after and finished off his (somewhat shorter) Monumental battle.
All in all I really enjoyed the whole thing and I’m happy to add to the hype around the route. It’s a superb climb, with brilliant satisfying moves and not a single glued hold throughout ( a rare thing on a Peak route of this grade). Get on it people, it’ll soon be gone again and for who knows how long this time.

I haven't got any pics of Monumental, so here's one of Roy Mosley on nearby jug Jockey. This pic was taken in 2005, the last time the crag dried out. MA is the (dirty)left to right groove left some way left of Roy.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Giving it away

Back in August 08 I wrote about a project found and bolted at the Cornice . It’s essentially a direct start to Love Among the Butterflies, breaking right from the initial bulge of R’n’P. Unfortunately since that date it got wet almost straight away and remained so for the rest of that year then the whole of the next. So except for a bit of fettling in poor conditions I never gave it a proper go. Along comes summer 2010 and exceptional conditions at the Cornice to find me critically short of the time, power and fitness needed to have a decent hope of getting the thing done. So a dilemma, do I wade into a no doubt protracted siege with low hopes for success, do I sit on it until some future confluence of conditions and fitness, or do I pass it on to a better man then sit back and let them do the hard work? From the way I just phrased this dilemma it’s probably obvious that I opted to call in the big guns. In truth the project was beyond the level of my best sport climbing efforts and would have required a serious step up and I just can’t be arsed with big sieges, never could be. I’m more a middle distance redpointer. One to three days is fun, four to six is just about tolerable if the route is amazing, more than that and it feels like time ill spent. On top of this, had I thrown my eggs into the project basket I would have missed out on a rare opportunity to climb some of the countries best sport routes.
So I told Bransby the project was now open and he gave it a go. He then suggested Caff have a go as he had just done Love Among the Butterflies so already had half the route in the bank. I was fortunate enough to be at the crag some days later when he succeeded on the route. Now this guy’s a well oiled carbon fibre crush machine and the route plays to his strengths, but he still managed to make it look hard, so I think it’s safe to say it was a good idea for me to give the thing up. Subsequent attention from Steve McClure and Jon Clark has confirmed Caff’s suggestion of 8b+.
Being a proper nice guy/machine Caff suggested that as equipper I name the route on his behalf. The name Barney Ragin’ refers to Caffisms which might be familiar to belayers, typically after a ten second shake out before a mind pulping runout - “Sorry guys I’m just being a total ragin’, I’ll be off for a barney in a sec” – proceed to casually dispatch. His on route apologising is legendary.
The only condition for giving away the proj was that whoever did it must go to Thor’s and get on one of my 7c+s. So finally after endless exhortations to all and sundry and an arm made sore from beating the same drum for five years I had finally managed to bribe someone to get on Escape to Valhalla, hoo-fuckin-ray! I was glad to see it didn’t go down without a fight (to be fair he had just climbed Thormen’s and had done Monumental Armblaster the day before, plus the crux has two reachy moves, but nevertheless….), taking a couple of redpoints. What’s even better is that he thought it was “amazing”, “totally bonkers” and “8a”. Going back on it myself I was surprised how hard the crux was and bemused as to why I’d not given it 8a in the first place, I mean everyone knows no one gets out of bed for 7c+s these days, even three star ones, so by undergrading it I’d ensured a lack of repeats. For the tick hungry 8a.noodler 7c+ is just too much like an 8’s worth of effort without the number to show for it. I’m sure it sounds mighty hubristic being so bothered about people repeating my route, but to me it feels more like a wish to share an amazing thing, rather than a chance to trumpet my own merit. The best bit about climbing is surely enthusing about a climb with someone who’s experienced the same and this is especially so when the route in question is treasure you’ve personally unearthed.
As it turned out I got a bit more crag time than expected and the time not spent seiging the project was put to good use reeling in a pair of splendid 8a+s in K3 and R’n’P. Now I’ve gone and got myself embroiled in a potential siege on Monumental, which is surely 8b and feels like a big undertaking for me, but it’s one of those rare mega routes where I don’t mind putting in the extra sessions. At least I think I’ll manage a few more before I get bored. Or maybe it’s just the technical challenge of making the perfect kneepad that’s keeping me interested.

Starting the crux sequence on Escape

Final tricky moves to gain the belfry belay

P.S. Having written that bit about folk being 8 obsessed number whores I thought I’d best check my facts. So I did a search for 7c, 7c+ and 8a ascents in the UK, in the last month, registered on There were 47 ascents at 7c, 23 ascents at 7c+ and 55 ascents of 8a. Factoring in five ascents of Lockless Monster, a book graded 8a which has only just been downgraded to 7c+ due to recent ascents, i.e. the five ascents probably went on it as an 8a; it comes to 60 at 8a and only 18 at 7c+! I rinky-dink rest my case.

P.P.S Big thanks to JC and Chris for all the hard work re-bolting! And hiya to Andy C, good to get the old team back in action again. Hope the shoulder recovers quickly

Friday, 18 June 2010

Buried Alive

So far the summer of 2010 is proving to be a good one for peak sport climbing conditions. The Cornice is already as dry as late summer 2005, which was the last time it came into condition, and we aren’t even at longest day yet. Now it could all go horribly wrong and I hate to tempt fate, mid-summer monsoons do seem to be the pattern after all, but you never know this might just turn out to be a mega summer. If the Cornice fully dries and stays dry I predict that it’ll get the re-bolt it needs, loads of things that haven’t been repeated in years (including the legendary Monumental Armblaster), will see some action, second ascents will happen and maybe even the odd new things will get put up.
All this dry climbing at the Cornice reminds me of the year I got involved with another seepage prone peak crag, Thor’s Cave. Yep, I'm going to bang the Thor's drum, again! It’d be nice to think that now we have some dryness that this awesome venue will also see some well deserved attention. I guess part of it’s apparent obscurity is that there aren’t many inspiring pictures of the routes out there, it’s a bit of a drive from Sheffield and it’s just off the collective radar of most sport climbers. This is a damn shame as it’s the nearest you’ll get to Spanish madness without having to get on a plane. The other problem is that people have tended to only think of the place when wracking their brains for somewhere cool and shady to go in the worst muggy days of summer. As the wise will know, cave get goppy in such weather. Conditions wise the crag behaves somewhat like a seacliff and if treated the same way you won’t go wrong. Just like for instance St Govan’s it will suffer condensation on hot still days, especially in the morning. Go late in the day on muggy days, or save it for a fresher day, maybe with a bit of a breeze and it will be fine. Or ask me to assess the forecast and I’ll make an educated guess for you.
I’ll describe the route here and maybe someone will be tempted to check the place out.
Thormen’s is a well known and justly popular 7c+/8a with spectacular upside down climbing in the arch barrel of the front entrance. Further back the cave opens out into a huge vaulted chamber, well lit by the main entrance and the west window. The routes in the body of the cave by the nature of the space tend to finish at the apex of roof as opposed to the top of the crag.


The easiest and most popular of these is Midgard Serpent 7b+, a crazy line up a ridiculously overhanging trench, requiring imagination and proficient use of knees.
Its companion route Fenris is a touch less steep following a line of attractive pods to a boulder problem crux, again at 7b+.

Aussie nice guy Matt Kelly on Midgard Serpent

Next up difficulty wise is Loki the Trickster 7c. Loki initially climbs a flat overhanging wall on spaced pockets to a mini flake, it then makes a desperate move left on a slopey hold that looks like a fossil plum and finishes up a steady groove. You’re then on to the real quality, a pair of long 7c+s taking either side of the internal arch at its highest.
The lefthand one, Spear of Odin, takes a Malhamesque gently overhanging wall on pockets flakes, undercuts, rock ears and a short tufa. It then gets really steep until a swing onto the opposite side of the arch is forced, then some amazing 3D strangeness with bridging, a kneebar, cutlooses and footlocks to gain ‘the belfry’ a hanging chimney hands off rest where the route finishes.

Spear of Odin

The other 7c+ Escape to Valhalla is my favourite route in the cave with totally unique climbing from start to finish on brilliant rock. It gains the same finishing moves as Spear but this time via a line of huecos up the cave’s central grey pillar. The moves to get in and out of the crux hueco are truly bonkers and bound to put a smile on your face. The crux involves quite a span and the only repeat ascent so far was by a shorty who was forced to make an inferior leftward deviation here, which is a shame as this misses out the best climbing. The extended finish along the lower of the two roof faults is a thrutchy 8a called Ragnarok, but it makes more sense to do this section as part of the next route.

Escape goes up the pillar on the left into a huge hole in the roof, the continuation along the roof is Ragnarok

Most recently Dan Varian upped the cave ante with his Muoguo 8b+. Which take the theme of super steep technical roofwork to a whole different level. And there are still a few lines to go.
As well as the single pitch stuff the crag has one exceedingly weird outing that has yet to be repeated, or indeed completed without falls in a single push. You will not find anything even remotely similar anywhere else in the Peak. It’s more akin to seacave oddities like Preposterous Tales than anything else in the peak, but being an old aid route is very well protected with bolts. Buried Alive is a six pitch outing which frees the aid route Osiris in its entirety, starting in the cave’s darkest eastern recess, following a twisting line of weakness in the roof and eventually emerging to finish at the top of the crag via the classic HVS West Window Groove.

Looking back at the start of Buried Alive. Spear goes up the LH sidewall, Escape goes up the right.

Kristian on pitch one of Buried Alive

Here’s the description:
Buried Alive 7c+ ***
A very weird journey freeing the old aid route Osiris. Starting in the deepest recesses of the cave and finishing on top of the hill. Could probably be done in fewer pitches with careful ropework.

Pitch 1: E3 5c/6b+ - From almost the far end of the west passage climb a muddy ramp (bold) on the right to gain the line of bolts in the roof. Chimney along the rift past lots of aid bolts and spiders to an awkward about turn move to gain a subsidiary chimney on the North wall. Headtorchs essential!
Pitch 2: 6c+ - Traverse from the sub-chimney along the north wall up into the high rift. Continue along this clipping what bolts you can reach beneath you. Where the rift closes off make a tricky dropdown onto a muddy jug and swing down onto the south wall where a hanging belay can be arranged.
Pitch 3: 7c+ - Traverse the south wall into Ragnarok and follow this passing the crux moves around a corner into a hanging slab/ramp, belay.
Pitch 4: 7b+ - The thrutchy bunched traverse section of Ragnarok followed to where this ends at a hands off position in a small chimney, belay.
Pitch 5: 6a – A short pitch dropping down and through the west window to attain the outside world. The second may wish to use a back rope.
Pitch 6: HVS – Finish up West Window Groove for the summit experience.

The forecast for the weekend looks ideal, sunny with a breeze. Someone for god sake go and do some of these route, then there'll be two of us banging on about how good they are rather than just me!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Almost a tweet

Whilst on my lunchtime stroll to Tesco a few weeks back I spotted a four leaf clover beside the road. I hurried back to the office, sprig in hand and quickly laminated it to trap the luck! I’m still waiting for some hard evidence of its power, though I did find a tenner on the street yesterday.

Here’s why I haven’t blogged in a while. Mr Spike J Fullwood.

Here’s a Spider Crab and a Brown Crab I foraged in Cornwall last week.

I’m building up to writing something interesting from the doings of the last six months or so, but one step at time eh, don’t want to rush into anything!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Last of the Summer Lime

There goes another block of six days off (soz Dobbin). The weather was a right mixed bag and the climbing was much the same with only three good days of climbing possible and a varied hodgepodge of climbing being squeezed into the good bits.

Thurs – A very lack lustre day out at Gardom’s on very damp scrittly green rock with Mr Heason. Not really the best choice of crag but I dare say most places would have been a bit gack. Warmed up doing a new line up the RHS of the Moyer’s Buttress arete. The damp, scrittle and lack of easier warm up meant I got super pumped and the guess of E3 5c might turn out to be over generous. It’s called Imperfect Way, starting up Perfect Day then bearing left to the arete and staying on the RHS till almost the top where a big footer on the arete makes it contrived not to finish up the front. We then spent effort throwing ourselves at a very wet Mickey Finn. Should have saved it for a dry day as it’s felt like it would normally be pretty steady for E6, but we were there and nothing better to do. Water and slopers do not go well together.

Fri – Friday was a better day. Warmed up with some bouldering at Millstone with Caff and Ryan, both of whom are living local now which is good news for the midweek scene. They both did an even more direct version of Green Death super direct, which avoided the lurch left with some more tenuous smearing. It looked a grade harder than the normal which would make it 7b+ I guess. Ryan also managed (after I’d left) to do a project I spied on the Embankment slab, about 4m left of Time for Tea, up a deadend line of peg scars to a big throw for a two finger pocket then a ledge. I think 7b+ was mentioned but no name as yet.

Not wanting to get involved in the Scritto’s scene I quickly legged it over to meet Cofe at Bamford. Did some more warmy up stuff then went to have a go at a lovely little project I’d spotted a week back, up the steep rippled wall left of Jasmin. It turned out to be as good as it looked giving a weird crimpy sequence with a kneescum, a cross under and a bit of a pop. I’m very pleased with this one. It’s called Rocky and is I think low end 7b. Here’s a couple of the pics Cofe got:

Sat – We were up at Fi’s mum’s in Holmfirth for the weekend so decided to head out on some Yorkshire Grit. It had been raining heavily in the night and Heptonstall looked like a good bet for quick drying rock, with not too big a drive. After forgetting to bring the guide we eventually found the crag and warmed up on the classic Thin Red Line. Then did the even more classic Willan’s monster Forked Lightning Crack, which was no pushover but not as hard as it looked. Next up was a peg protected E6 called A Step in the Light Green. This turned out to be pretty steady and really excellent. Managed to flash it after checking the pegs on abseil (they look fairly good). It’s a great route and well worth the visit. Finished off with a tricky Fawcett E4 finger crack Demerara. Top day out.

Sun – Manky weather so rested and went for a walk in some gale force winds.

Mon – Took someone out for a ‘guided’ mushroom hunting walk. Not a bad way to earn some extra pennies.

Tues – Met up with Caff and Ryan, with the rather optimist plan of heading to the Roaches. After a fair bit of driving around wet venues we eventually ended up at the Tor of all places. Not what I’d hoped for having pretty much written Lime off for the year. It was cold and hard to keep fingers warm but otherwise great nick. Al Murray(?) was doing everyone a favour and bolting Obscene Gesture, a good effort and long overdue IMO (many of the holds and one of the gear placements having broken meaning it never got done as a trad route). Caff and Ryan did Hot Flushings in a few goes after both putting in a good stab at the onsight. I was surprised to get up Call of Nature having not pulled on any lime since probably August. Bonus!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Hooked on Classics

Elgar's Bell Jar's - E4 6b with handy tree runner

The days are shortening and once more it has reached climbing wall evenings time of year. Bouldering will soon become the main focus again but for now the weather is still warm enough for routes and I intend to drag out the route season as far as I can. This summer has been a time for magnificent traditional climbing, mostly of a local flavour. It’s been a while since the last blogging and in that time I’ve done loads of classic, amazing routes, some of great personal significance. This has felt like a liberating experience. Regardless of how good some UK sport routes are they are concentrated on a small number of crags and I think perhaps I had got bored with the whole repetitive redpoint process on the same old crags. And of course numerous years seeking out the best sport routes has inevitably led to diminishing returns in terms of quality objectives. Suddenly having multiple guidebooks worth of quality routes at numerous crags to go at is a real breath of fresh air and has kept me constantly motivated despite the annoying ongoing wrist injury. So much variety of rock and movement. The whole intricate of protection game. The mental toing and froing of the bold and the cerebral and physical challenge of the safe and hard. It has also been a liberation from ego. Finally soloing Downhill Racer after years of avoidance will never sound as impressive as doing an 8b even if the 8b might only represents a couple of weeks intense effort, whilst DR has been a goal and a nemesis since the age of 16 and the reward is purely personal. Here are a few standouts from a lot of recent climbing:
Downhill Racer, Oedipus – Two long time nemeses done on the same day. Stepping off the ground was indeed the crux on DR and one that took years to execute.
Gigglin’ Crack, Left wall – A great day out at Brimham with the Rocketman. Extreme chicken winging on Gigglin’ and my first proper tricky offwidth. A good consulation prize for not being able to get my dupuytrens kinked hand into the first jam on Ray’s Roof.
Death Knell, Up the Swanee – A couple of the Roaches finest not so well travelled routes. The former a perfect solo which felt a joy once commited, the later done by mistake thinking I was on The Swan!
Elgar’s Bell Jars – A new route at Stanton-in-the-Woods. A couple of perfect moves on very shapely slopers.
Good Clean Fun – Just as the name suggests. Nice landing, pristine rock and each move easier than the last.
Space Shuffle – Not so clean but just as fun. Made a complete meal of it but got there in the end. Great to do anything vaguely tricky at the foreboding bastion that is Wimberry and good to see Miles and Ben in action.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Autumn Gold

Since doing The Great Tribulation I’ve been only going out on the grit. Funny really, I spend all summer hanging on for bits of limestone to dry, then after repeated disappointment I give up and turn elsewhere only for the buggers to go and dry out! I wonder if anyone’s looked at the bastard Cheedale Cornice lately. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the stuff there is bone dry. Typical.
It’s been great making the most of the decent weather at Higgar, Stanage, Curbar, both Burbages, Hen Cloud and Baldstones. Finished off Snug as a Thug (crafty trademark kneebar came in handy), got beasted trying Ray’s Roof, had an excellent day ticking classics at Hen Cloud (8 routes, 16 E points, 23 stars) such a good crag and a remarkably productive lazy Sunday at Burbage S, doing Pebble Mill, The Knock, Above and Beyond all of which I’d managed to avoid the issue on before.
I love this time of year. Either it rains and you get to pick loads of mushrooms or it doesn’t and the crags are mint. It’s a win win situation. Soon enough winter will arrive and it’ll be bouldering and indoors of an evening, at which point the consequences of a summer/autumn of pottering will become painfully apparent, but for now I’m just happy to float with the current and leave the fighting up waterfalls for other fish and another day.
I haven't got any of my own pics to go with the post, so here's one of someone elses I found on Flickr. Interesting angle on the Cioch at Burb S, looks a bit like a huge dragon's head.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Great Tribulation

In the last week or two with the bracken starting to die back and enough wind to keep the midges away I’ve been mostly drawn toward the grit. You can’t beat going out picking off quality midgrade trad routes, recent the highlights include Sentinel and Emerald Cracks at Chatsworth; Moribund and Fern Groove at Stanage; Mighty Atom and Rasp Direct at Higgar; and Insanity and Apollo at Curbar. The best one that got away was Snug as a Thug on a Jug at the Cowper Stone, the green flared jams chewed me up and spat me out, but I’ll be back for more tonight and this time I’ll tape up!
Enjoying the grit so much it almost seemed a wrench to go back on my lime project, especially after a visit with Ted saw it wet with condensation. But return I did on Sat with Fi and this time the rock was perfectly dry and quickly remembered how brilliant it is.
Being now familiar with the route, having cleaned it and dogged it in bits, it was just a question of putting them together. On with the homemade kneepad and start the climb. Big move on angular features to a dinosaur’s mouth of a jug, clip some gear, jab in a big cam at full stretch. Lurch up to an undercut pinch, feet swing left into a kneebar and up to the slanting pod. Legs swing back right and fiddle in a wire. All well so far, now for the low crux. Stretch from the pod and a poor kneebar, way up a broad sloping pinch, powerfully work feet up into and Egyptian and reach to a good hold, clip a good peg and move left to a strenuous rest on the shoulder. Still feeling fairly fresh but this ‘rest’ is no place to linger. Reach back to a gaston, feet up and a barndoory crossover to a layaway pinch above, then full stretch to a rough blocky hold layaway, cutloose and swing feet over the cave to the point of a big hanging fang on the lip. Burl up quickly to the roof and another imperfect rest. At this point I’m wishing I’d clean more of the loose mud off the holds in the break. A decent pump has now set in as I make repeated forays over the little roof to arrange cams for the second crux up the finger cracked headwall, but more kneebaring helps to claw back some reserves for the finishing push. The final crack is steep and not as positive as it looks, I won’t spoil your already blown onsight further with too much beta but keep an eye out for holds on the right. It’s an excellent sequence and it’s a bit of a fight but goes well and all that remains is some yarding up finishing jugs to the chain. Lowering off and stripping the gear is epic due to the steepness. We pack up, head to Cromford for a chip butty and a can of D+B. Chuffed.
There you go, a blow by blow account and I don’t usually go in for those. It’s E6 6b, easily worth three stars (do I always say that?) and about 7c in sport grade money. I’ve called it The Great Tribulation, a reference from the religious dogma of my young upbringing, but mostly because I like the sound of it as a name and I think it well describes the grand struggle on offer.
I suppose there wasn't an excessive amount of ethical purity in my top down approach, but for me the dirt, loose rock and ancient fixed gear dictated this, I don't think I could have done it any other way and it was massively fun, so I'm glad I did. It was certainly more fun that making another 7c sport route of it. Now it’s clean and chalked it’s ripe for all you trad heroes to come along and do it ground-up. An onsight would be a bloody good effort, but a flash would be very attainable for plenty. I’m happy to give full beta if anyone is keen. Go and do it you freaks!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Back on the new route bus

So far summer 09 hasn’t been much of a new routing season for me on the lime. Partly because I’ve been putting more time into cleaning/re-bolting existing routes and partly because I’ve been holding out for my Cornice project to dry out, which has yet to happen. To be honest, I think the ongoing tweaky wrist and the subsequent lack of proper hard climbing means that I’ll be in no shape to try that project even if it did end up drying. But all that’s by-the-by now as I have a very inspiring and amenable project on the go. What’s even more exciting is that it is that rarest of things a high quality, well protected, hard-but-not-too-hard, peak limestone trad route. I can’t even remember the last time I heard/read about a new trad route on peak lime (actually come to think of it I think Tom Randall did one of his roof crack specials at Harborough, but other than that….).
I’d been meaning to check out this line for a long time and when I couldn’t find anyone to go tradding with on Monday I decided to go take a look. I’d noticed some old looking threads and pegs in it on a previous occasion and a bit of background research had revealed that it had been tried but never completed (mostly due to it being partly wet at the time) about ten years ago.
Getting to the top was pretty hideous, involving trail blazing through chest high vegetation, on a steep hillside, in the rain and then a fair bit of abseiling down slope between trees. I was soaked by the time I’d got to the top and set up a rope. The route line is about 20m high, 8m overhanging, up stepped grooves to a small roof then finishing with an overhanging finger crack. The old insitu gear consisted of six pegs, three threads and one stuck microwire, there were also the empty sleeves of five or six bolts suggesting that maybe someone had envisaged it as a sport route at some point before or after the known attempt at climbing it trad. I didn’t have a full rack of gear with me so the steepness meant I couldn’t get close enough to clean/inspect the route, so I decided to return with a rack and cleaning gear the next day.
One thing I’d noticed on day one was the horrific nature of the topout where the rock deteriorates into overhanging blocks held together with mud and grass. The topout looked bad enough to spoil a great route somewhat and would prevent it from being completable in rainy conditions, which is a shame on an otherwise weatherproof line. Topping out would also involve venturing into the species rich slope for which the area is designated a SSSI. For these reasons the first thing I did on day two was to install a lower off. I then abbed the line to clean it up and check the insitu kit, placing gear as I went to hold me in. Two of the threads I re-threaded with new tape and one I removed without replacing. One peg broke off in my hand, the rest were in varying states of decay but have been left in for the time being. Some will certainly be useful on lead as they’ll provide an instant clip whilst fiddly trad gear is placed to back them up, but I’m not mad keen on testing any of them on their own. The line would be purer without them but would be a much more intimidating prospect to attempt ground up. For now they’ll stay but I may remove some or all of them in future and possibly replace one.
The rock took a bit of cleaning but nothing like the all over scrub down that some of the recent Cheedale things have required and looseness was confined mostly to small stuff. Now all I have to do is go back and give it a go. Fingers crossed for next week (away in N Wales for BH weekend).

And here's a pic from Ireland of some Sea Aster growing on the clifftop beside Mirror wall

Monday, 17 August 2009

Well hello

Haven’t been particularly inspired to blog for a good while. Part of the blog lethargy stems from a feeling that their’s a backlog of blogworthy things which have happened since the last post, hence a feeling of not knowing where to start and what to cover. In hope of purging the backlog in one efficient splodge, here is a bullet point summary of some recentness. Hopefully the resultant clean slate might inspire me to produce something more worthwhile:

  • We are having a baby, due early next year.

  • Did Supercool which was brilliant. Planning to get on The Groove soon in an attempt to complete the famous Big 3.

  • Spent ages cleaning The Ogre (old school vertical 8a on Chee Tor) only for it to get wet the next day and stay wet ever since.

  • Put in a session on Ecstasy then Cold Steel at Kilnsey only to be thwarted in my ambitions on both due to external circumstance, firstly wetness and then everyone wanting to get on ‘my’ route, then holiday. Generally getting royally peeved with the whole UK redpoint interuptus game.

  • Had a great trip to the Burren on the west coast of Ireland. Climbed loads of the classics in the E2-E5 range. Ate good seafood, saw lots of wildlife, had a generally good and relaxing time.

  • Re-bolted a couple of things on the Cornice down Cheedale. One I’ve already done, the other I need to get on, hopefully as a warm up for The Ogre when/if that dries.

  • Further investigations at Central Buttress. Getting a good idea of what routes are in/out of condition and what sorts of actions could be taken. Interestingly various things had already had pegs swapped for bolts.

  • Wanting to climb trad mostly but struggling to find people with interests beyond the pad and the bolt. No change there then!
In case you're wondering the big guy in the picture is The Head and the little guy is The Kernel

Monday, 22 June 2009

Several shades of lime

Not a lot to report since returning from Magic Wood. I’ve been back on five day weeks whilst Nige is away in Scotland so haven’t had as much time to get out and about. Evening sessions have mostly been spent at the Tor where I’ve been trying to boost the finger strength with some bouldering. This hasn’t been very successful, in part because I don’t really enjoy failing dismally on things I’ve already done and also because it’s aggravated an ongoing wrist injury.
Other than the Tor I’ve had a couple of plays on the project I bolted last year at the Cornice, managing all the moves despite some wet holds. Although I can do the moves I’m struggling to string many/any together and it feels a lot too hard for current levels. I’ll give it some more effort if/when it’s properly dry, but at solid 8b+ I might have to give this one away.
Had a fun day at Thor’s, though most stuff was still a bit wet. The only new thing I did was Twilight of Tired Gods, a rather hard E3 (E4 in some guides) in the West Window. Went on it as a warm up but it ended up taking ages and having a bit of an epic, ho hum. As well as getting on (and later completing, see Beastmaker blog) Slavek’s old project, Dan had a go at Spear of Odin, one of the 7c+s I put up in ‘05. It had too many properly wet holds for him to do in a oner but he did do all the climbing nonetheless and reckoned it was one of the best sport routes in the country. The only other person I know who’s been on this route is Zippy who repeated it in ‘06 or ‘07, rating it at the time as an even better route than Thormen’s, high praise indeed! Please excuse me shamelessly plugging my own route, but I do really think this one and nearby Escape to Valhalla are something special and worthy of more attention. The cave may not be as pretty as its Spanish brethren but the climbing is very similar and really unique for this country. Here’s a gallery of old Thor’s pics for anyone interested:

Back at the Tor the other night with a sore wrist I decided to refresh my tick on Indecent now that the tree start is gone. The new version dubbed Half Decent is now 7c and starts up the newly bolted RH start to Body Machine. Managed to redpoint first go despite getting rather pumped. Lowering off in the evening sun high above the river I was reminded how much I prefer getting on a string here rather than scrabbling around among the dust and polish attempting to climb the first 3m!
Saturday was Nettle Buttress down Cheedale to try the newly rebolted Toys for the Boys. What a great route! Immaculate rock and moves throughout. I lacked the finger endurance to complete in a session, but looking forward to a rematch on Tuesday. Third best 7c+ in the peak?
Late start, yesterday then a trip to Stoney Quarry. Having recently done Millionaire Touch I was keen to have a go at Oliver. Warmed up on Jasper which was better and more independent than I’d given it credit for. Oliver was brilliant. The ‘runout’ bit turned out to be fine having a decent RP and sideways wire halfway through, but the stopper move to get on the ledge was very perplexing. Blaring sun, dust filled breaks and a lot of effort trying to mantel the ledge too far right didn’t help. In the end the move wasn’t too bad, but I won’t spoil anyone’s onsight by giving away the details. Every route I’ve done on this wall has been a belter, just a shame about the proximity of the ever buzzing and clicking sub station.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Toot toot!

On Tuesday I got back from a ten day trip to Magic Wood. Nominally justified as Dobbin’s stag do, it turned out to be more of a straight-up climbing trip in the end with Herr stag-egg getting away very lightly on the piss up and ritual humiliation front. I’d like to have seen Dobbin lashed with cling film to the underside of the bridge, but aside from this minor disappointment it was a really good trip.
Me, ‘boiled crab’ Cofield and Jerry Le Sage travelled over in the van which was a pretty epic full day drive on either end of the trip, leaving eight days to climb or rest in the middle.
Having spent the last few months mostly trad climbing I set out with no climbing expectations of the trip other than to have a relaxed time and hopefully give my finger strength a bit of a mid season boost. As it turned out I wasn’t as weak as expected and managed to get loads of good problems done at (magic?) grades above expectations. Generally had good fun running about the woods searching out and picking off the best looking probs and managed to clock up a decent tally of sevens: Du Cote De Szechuan, Supernova, Man of a Cow, Schnee Brett, Jack the Chipper, Hohenrauch, Sudenfall, Iron Butterfly, La Dance, Goldfisch, Grit De Luxe, Slip Slop Slap, Dropzone and Protecktor. Had a good go on Never Ending Story II on the last day whilst sitting out some rain, managing all but move one and got very close to that despite awfully greasy conditions, certainly top of the list of probs to try if I every go to MW again.
The weather was pretty kind with next to no rain and relatively cool temps on most days after a couple of scorchers early on. A bit of midday heat gave a great excuse to lounge about for hours talking shit before heading out for evening crush.
Trip banter was exceptional especially on campsite with Cofe, Sausage, Good King Henry and ‘one trick jet propelled pony’ Rocketman Rob Smith. Many a happy hour was spent talking utter drivel and jibing the comedy manner and stylings of the insitu euros.
Everyone else seemed to have a good trip too (see Dob’s blog for a fuller run down on what folk did). Cofe climbed well bagging up loads of stuff including Supernova, Fool Fighter, Hohenrauch, Goldfisch, Schnee Brett and Jack the Chipper. Rocketman pulled the stops out for an impressive flash of Jack the Chipper, as well as being the only person to get up the very tricky Swizz Beats. Jerry put in a good fight on Octopussy (good luck next trip) as well as finding time to school everyone on Hohenrauch, casually shaking out on a static pull through the ‘slap’ crux – the crowd went wild, just like Leeds ‘89.
Ended up taking even less photos than I usually do, but I think cofe took a good few (no doubt era defining) pics and I’ll post a link to them if I can.
Effort to Dobbin and Dr Pinch for getting the whole thing together and a big toot-toot to all the other hommes!

Trad 2

Here's something I started writing a while ago and never got round to really finishing:

So the last post covered why you might not want to go trad climbing, but what of all the reasons plenty of people love doing it anyway. Why do I do it?
Well it’s not because I’m especially good at it, that’s for sure. Whilst I take some pride in being able to punch a little above my weight in sport climbing, where cunning and doggedness has scraped me up a few 8bs without resorting to extended seiging, in trad climbing, fear of getting on bold stuff and to a lesser extent fear while on routes mean I’m not really pushing the boundaries of my on-paper capability. Rarely, if ever, do I feel actual bona-fide terror, it’s more like the old mental wall preventing me getting into situations where this might be a possibility. My climber’s mind tells me the wall is built too far back from the actual terror threshold, that I can stamp down the creeping fear when the need arises, but moving the wall requires a leap of faith, a trust in gear, rock and ability which can be hard to persuade the self-protective subconscious mind to take. I’ve always admired the apparent pure logical calculation of good trad climbers who can rationalise getting on routes which perhaps have potential for huge but safe falls. While to an outside observer what they do may appear risky, even reckless, in actuality the chance of getting into trouble has been totally thought through by the climber and accepted as the logically small risk it is. Your accomplished tradder has mastered the art of accurately assessing most of the true risk at ground level, then fixing a resolve to proceed in a certain manner and sticking to this plan with a head clear of internal conflict. As with any other aspect of climbing, I think this ability to trust your own rationalisation is half gifted natural propensity and half hard earned through continuous graft. I’ll never be able to go hell for leather on big runout E7s, and to be frank I don’t think I even want to get into a position where I’m comfortable with that sort of risk. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get better and better the more I try and what gains I do make are all the sweeter for being against the grain of some inherent timidity. If my enjoyment were tied up with measuring myself against my peers in trad climbing I’d have packed up my ballnuts a long time ago. The fact I persists in the face of slow gains is for the simple reason that it is brilliant, addictive and endlessly varied. While progress can be slow I enjoy these incremental gains made in the ability to ‘man-up’ and unlike sport or bouldering I have a fair bit of excess strength/stamina to play with in the quest for improvement. It makes a real change to swap a largely physical challenge for a largely mental one. Having done a lot of sport and bouldering I’ve now largely picked and eaten the low hanging fruits of the area. On the other hand the boughs of the trad tree are still heavily laden with fruitsome delights. As a discerning tickaholic it’s obvious to me where the high quality easy fix is to be found.
As discussed in my last rambling, trad is just not physically intense enough to be of much strength training benefit and as such I find myself moving backwards on the get strong/stay strong treadmill. To enjoy trad I have to let go for a while of this endless mission to stay strong. Having spent years on and off said wagon I’ve seen some of the benefits that dedication to the beef can bring, but I’ve also undoubtedly seen other opportunities pass me by. While the rat-race to stay strong opens up one world of potential rock climbing pleasures it can also lead to a narrow ‘progress’ obsessed outlook which effectively closes off another world of experiences.
I guess it boils down to the specialist versus generalist dilemma. Which strategy is going to give the most fun/satisfaction, realising potential in one field, or sacrificing excellence to become a decent all rounder? I think I could still squeeze some improvement in sport/bouldering grades out of my carcass if I really tried, but at 35 it would be a hard fight and ultimately I think the fun/satisfaction I’d get from it would not merit the effort put in, especially when being less narrowly focussed means I can get a lot of fun/satisfaction from biffing about on ledges, fiddling with bits of metal in beautiful places and still do enough sport climbing/bouldering to have fun and get stuff ticked. Still, it’s hard to let go and it takes a degree of humility to accept performing at a level you know to be beneath your best, i.e getting burnt off by your specialist peers in all disciplines. It helps to remember that the same must be true even for the best generalists. Whilst the likes of Bransby may be truly impressive as boulderers, trad climbers and sport climbers, they don’t often climb the very hardest grades of any type. It must have crossed these climber’s minds that they might have been the very best in the world at any one of discipline had they been willing to specialise. It’s probably for this reason that the climbers I have the most respect for are often the generalists, because it is most obviously these who are in the game mainly for the love of climbing. And this I can empathise with, because I've always loved the climbing more than I’ve loved being good at climbing.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Trad musing

Spring has been kind so far, with fairly uninterrupted good weather for weeks now. It’s been getting a bit warm for the usual grit crags, so rather than jump on the limestone bouldering/sport climbing band wagon I’ve decided to continue with the tradding which I’d been getting into in autumn. At this time of year some of the most elusive crags come into condition (Wimberry, Hen Cloud, Kinder, Ramshaw, Black Rocks, plus loads of Yorkshire places). Most of the year crags such as these can be either too cold/green/wet/bleak or too hot/midgy. It’s a window of opportunity that a lot of climbers seem to miss out on, either persevering at grit crags which are too hot to enjoy or assuming the grit season is over and jumping ship to the lime. I guess part of this is down to how few of the serious climbers I come into contact with regularly want to climb trad on anything approaching a regular basis. Why should this be? Looked at objectively, out of trad, sport and bouldering, the UK’s trad resources are easily our greatest treasure in terms of quality, quantity and diversity. At first glance it makes no sense. I’ve often pondered on the subject and will attempt (by the power of bullet points) to outline why I think this situation exists.
In this context I’m primarily referring to traditional (ground up or there-abouts) trad climbing, though to a lesser extent some points hold true for highballing and deep water soloing and some for headpointing. In no particular order:

  • Trad climbing is an increasingly expensive game. At £50 each for a camming device it’s easy to see why new climbers coming out of the walls, looking to do some outdoor stuff might go for cheaper options like bouldering and sport climbing
  • Many new climbers start out climbing at walls. Walls most directly replicate bouldering and sport climbing. There is a skill gap which has to be crossed before a wall strong climber can become a good tradder, a gap which is much smaller for bouldering or sport climbing.
  • Trad climbing has a lot of faff per minute on the rock. Long walk ins, racking up, placing gear, removing gear, belaying trepidatious leaders/seconds, getting back down again, etc. It also generally lacks the weather proof alternatives that are available to the sporter/boulderer, further reducing the climbing to faff ratio.
  • Unless you’re willing and able to stick your neck a long way out it’s a very hard discipline to get ‘impressive’ at quickly. Anyone motivated by a desire for kudos may soon loose heart in the face of slow progress and/or real life fear.
  • The harder it gets the scarier it gets as a general rule, but for most people boldness doesn’t improve at the same rate as finger strength! Different people will accept different levels of real and perceived danger. For some the fear, be it justified or not, is insurmountable and takes any pleasure out of the actual climbing. The reckless/unlucky might also be put off by an accident or near miss.
  • The modern approach to climbing is characterised by a pre-occupation with power/stamina levels. Many climbers are to varying degrees paranoid about letting these slip. Whilst bouldering and sport climbing can be seen as having cross benefits for most other types of climbing, tradding is not likely to improve either bouldering power or sport stamina. A climber shifting seasonally between disciplines is likely to feel relatively week/unfit when moving from a period of trad climbing.
  • For climbers with some level of trad aspiration the above point often leads to the logic of “climb hard while I’m young and mop up the bumbly stuff when I get too old to crank”. From what I see at the crag this is flawed logic. In my experience people tend to get more rather than less risk averse as they grow older, which in turn funnels them into sport climbing. People don’t stop trying to push themselves on relatively hard stuff when they get older, far from it. As often as not the sport crags have a disproportionately high number of veterans. A youth of sport climbing is not, in most cases, a great training for a trad based dotage.
  • For the average money rich (by world standards) but time poor British climber bouldering and sporting perhaps represent a more ‘productive’ use of limited time. Train during weekday evenings then do targeted intense climbing at the weekend. Nothing is worse than spending a week in the office then walking in for miles only to get rained off and getting bugger all done. Maybe tradding only makes sense to people with lots of free time. Unfortunately the time rich are often cash poor, obviously a big problem for someone looking at putting a rack together from scratch.
  • The above factors make for a change in the old traditional progression of a climber. Where once it was standard for a climber to serve a trad apprenticeship, nowadays your strong youth is more likely to follow their peers into bouldering. It’s natural for a beginner to do what other more experienced climbers they meet are doing, which for said buff-youth-down-the-wall is unlikely to be trad. Hence the trend is further perpetuated.
All in all if you agree with my reasoning you’ll also agree that it’s not actually very surprising that more serious effort, I’d even go as far as to say ‘the majority’ of serious effort above a certain difficulty level, is put into bouldering and sport climbing in the UK, despite these being less well resourced at the crag.
Essentially I’m saying that while I think trad is massively rewarding I can see why it’s not everyone’s bag. And while it’d be nice to tempt a few more of my friends to get into it, if only to get a better supply of partners, the likelihood of this happening is slim.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Molly vid

Went back and added the sitter to Molly. These lower moves really add to the problem and make for an excellent 7b/+. More info to follow on other stuff done.
You'll need to log on at to see it BTW.

Molly Moocher sit start 7b/+ from Jon Fullwood on Vimeo.