Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Back to Trad

Getting back from Orpierre I felt fit and psyched for the real game of UK onsight trad. The 1st weekend we were back, it was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend which meant a double bank holiday. My good friend Ged was having is 30th birthday celebrations up in the Lake District and small team of us gathered up there to get involved with some of the classics.
As luck would have it, the whole of the south of the UK was drenched with torrential rain but unusually the Lakes were getting some of the best weather around.

Day one saw a visit to Reecastle, a good communual crag and a good place for getting lots done as its single pitch and close to the road. The routes here have a reputation for being steep and hard, but I’ve got to say having been sport climbing for a while, the angle seemed pretty tame. Its one of the only crags in the Lakes that I’d been to before and having done a few of the classics previously I was keen to up the ante slightly.

I started off with an E4 6a warm up called Inquisition and then after belaying Gilly on her 1st trad lead in a year and a half (which she cruised) I decided to go for the onsight on Daylight Robbery E6 6b. Irritatingly my foot slipped off on an easy move low down, but I sent it next go.  It’s a  really enjoyable and intense little number consisting of a safe and pumpy crack in the lower half to a peg at it’s close and then a runout wall on little crimps. Classic Reecastle.

Local lad Leo Houlding had come out to join us for the day, and had set about working on one of the few routes there he’d not done before. A fierce diagonal seam called Burnt At The Stake E7 7a. After top roping it and preplacing the gear (a practice that is apparently standard for the harder routes here) he sent it without too much trouble. I then asked him to leave the gear in so that I could have a go at the flash with his beta. I went for it getting through the bold start to the peg and even through the supposed crux but dropped it getting to the wire. It would’ve been good to do it next go but time was short and we had to bail.

Next day was a more chilled affair. I teamed up with Dave Pickford and had a great day at Goat Crag in Borrowdale doing the ultra classic Bitter Oasis E4 5c, 5c. It didn’t disappoint. 2 pitches of wild moves steeped in climbing history. Fun times.

Day 3 was a stunningly beautiful day. Hazel Findlay had been on at me for a few days about how awesome Impact Day on Pavey Ark was. She had had a couple of days on it already and was psyched to do it. With the weather so good it seemed like a good idea to go to a mountain crag and get stuck in, so Pavey was the destination of choice.

Local legend Dave Birkett joined us for the day, and so Gilly, Dave, DMM’s Dave ‘Noddy’ Noddings and myself 1st went off to climb the classic Golden Slipper HVS 5a. One of the best slabs of its kind in the UK.

Noddy enjoying a casual flex on Golden Slipper HVS

After a lazy ascent and a lot of chatting and catching up, it was time o go and see how Hazel was getting on and jpoin the fun. Needless to say none of us actually got around to getting on Impact Day until quite late. Myself, Hazel and Neil Mawson were all keen to do it and top roped it a couple of times each. 1st up for the lead was Neil who sent it pretty much fine. I then went next and annoyingly fell off whilst trying to match the top of the crag. This is actually a pretty hard move, but it was still a bit of a heart breaker to blow it that close to the top. A rematch beckons.

Finally after my go, Hazel went last. She had been having trouble with the bottom moves due to her height. They’re by no mean the hardest move on the route but they are the boldest. The route itself isn’t particularly bold overall but the 1st 3 move are quite necky. Its advisable not to blow it on these moves, and suddenly out of the blue, that is exactly what Hazel did. She took a spectacular tumble down several ledges, ripping the starting cam in the process and going passed Neil who was belaying. After the initial shock and fear that she was seriously hurt, she brushed herself off and even walked down to the pub. She was pretty shaken up and had a little bruising and whip lash, but all in all was fine. She tells me she’s keen to go back for a rematch too, believe it or not. She doesn’t give up easily that lass.

Since then the weather has been appalling. Much indoor training has been going on with the occasional visit to Anstey’s Cove  but not much more. A day at Cheddar in between the showers I onsighted the splendid E5 6a Schizoid at Freaky Wall. And another rare day of sunshine I got out to Uphill Quarry and did Jimi Hendrix Experience E6 6b (F7c). Luckily good friend Mark Campbell was on hand to snap some great shots, which basically tell a far better story than i can ever waffle in words.....

Jimi Hendrix Experience E6 6b at Uphill Quarry
Photo: Mark Campbell

Jimi Hendrix Experience E6 6b at Uphill Quarry
Photo: Mark Campbell

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


Back now from 3 weeks in Orpierre and it was a great trip. In my last post i said I'd on sighted a 7c+ called Trop Pure amongst a few other things. Since then the weather went a bit rubbish and we had to bide our time avoiding rain and then seepage. As such we didn't get to try some of the things we had been hoping for. That said Gilly continued her rapid post pregnancy come back with some cool headed onsights and determined redpoints.

In spite of the rain I on sighted an 8a called Le Poisse and came flying off the last move of another because of a soaking wet hold. Redpointing something hard though was never gonna happen due to the seepage.

The Crag, The Wheels & The Wife

Gilly on Diedre Sud

Gilly on Diedre Sud with Orpierre behind

Coffee Mornings
Onsighting Trop Pure 7c+
Armed with an 80m Nano

Going for the onsight on Game Over 8a

Onsighting something i cant remember (brilliant though)

Business time

Sky art

Monday, 21 May 2012

Changing Times - Charlie

It was John Lennon who said "Life's that thing that happens to you whilst you're making other plans". An aphorism indeed. In early February the bottom fell out of mine and Gilly's world and climbing stopped altogether.

Its been an intensely painful few months of late, but climbing is now back on the agenda with a bang.

In spite of not climbing inside or outside at all, i had been messing about with a finger board and keeping the muscles ticking over.

In April i had a stolen day out at Swanage dodging the torrential showers with Dave Pickford & Gav Symmonds. We all ticked the classic 8a Solid State Logic which undercuts its way under a 30 foot horizontal roof. Good times indeed and great to be out on the rock again with friends.

Since then i have had a few trips down to Anstey's Cove. Reclimbing the classics and trying something harder. No cigar yet but hopefully its in the post.

Gilly and i are now on a 3 week trip to France in the van. We're at Orpierre and have been in full onsight mode. Gilly is climbing exceptionally well considering she gave birth just over 3 months ago. I have onsighted some astonishingly good routes such as Meme Pas Mal 7c, Reste Avec Moi 7c, and Trop Pure 7c+.

Some of the routes here are pretty long and the 80m Sterling Nano has come into its own. Trop Pure is 40m long with the crux at the top and the rope weight was hardly noticeable.

Gav on Solid State Logic 8a

Dave on Solid State Logic 8a

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Ramp Challenge (Charlie)

The latter part of last year was primarily spent training for a new route which i had hoped to complete before the end of the season. By December things had got a little frantic, since i was very close to it and just needed the right conditions and enough time to get it done amongst a plethora of other commitments.
As is often the case, events involving a huge spate of work in London together with short wintery daylight and anti phased tides conspired to force my hand and make me leave this one until the spring. The imminent prospect of fatherhood too being a strong distracting force from the focus needed for such new routes.

In the place of the discipline of training came sloth and gluttony, and it felt good. Putting on a few pounds i reasoned was acceptable considering the imminent arrival of Christmas. I stopped climbing for around 5 or 6 weeks and concentrated on work, looking after Gilly, reading and contemplating low maintenance parenthood.

By early January though i was ready to get back into shape and start climbing again. The weather was unseasonally dry and mild and Avon beckoned. The Ramp in the Unknown area is a great winter venue, being similar to the grit in that it climbs so much better with crisp cold conditions lending a bit of friction and bight to the holds. Most of the routes were reclimbs for me although i hadn't previously done the excellent Street Life E5 6b, which oddly doesn't get any stars in the current CC guide and is a contender for the best E5 on the wall.

More recently i went over to Main Wall with Mike Coles and did Magic Theatre E5 6a. The opposite can be said of this route as it gets 2 stars in the book but is frankly loose dirty and fragile. The fixed gear is in comically poor shape and the fridge sized block after the crux which i had to lever over and put cams behind is enough to get the mind racing into the prospect of all sorts of unpleasant outcomes. Not recommended.

However, a day to remember for a long while will be 28 january 2012. A couple of years ago Ged Desforges and Woody were enjoying the merits of the classic Tour De France at the top of the Ramp. A tough E6 6b with a magnificent final move off an undercut mono. The idea occured to Woody that if TDF was the final pitch of a big multi pitch route with the mono move at the top it would be a fine climb indeed. The obvious conclusion to this idea was to fabricate such a climb by stringing together all the stared routes on the Ramp finishing with TDF. 12 pitches in all ranging from E2 to E6....The Ramp Challenge.

It breaks down like this:

Banshee E2
Us E2
Low Profile E5
Arms Race E4
Mirage E3
Bold As Love E6
Lost Illusions E5
New Horizons II E3
Solar Power E5
Already Gone E6
Them E3
Tour De France E6

Woody was never able to complete the challenge, but Ged and I had been talking about doing it in his honour for a little while and with the run of fine weather it seemed like a good idea to try it now. At the very least it'd be a good way to get some fitness!

We decided to both lead every pitch. The first placing gear and lowering off and the second 'redpointing' on the pre placed gear before stripping it on the way down and then swapping over. We were joined for the day by Pete Derrett who know how to handle himself behind a lens and supplied generous amounts of psyche into the mix too. We had a pretty casual 9.30 arrival planned and needless to say, neither off us brought a head torch which would prove to be a foolish oversight, but the weather couldn't have been better.

I set off up the 1st route Banshee at 10am and we flew through the routes swiftly. Most of the routes we knew pretty well and so they wern't too taxing, but things slowed down somewhat when we reached Bold As Love E6. I went 1st and retro flashed it, but Ged took a fall from the crux and then after a rest sent it next go. The style had to replicate as close as possible the style of a multi pitch, which meant climbing each pitch in order, with both of us having to complete each pitch before progressing to the next. After Ged's send of Bold As Love, I then went 1st again on Lost Illusions. A hard E5. I hadn't done this route for many years and it showed. Feeling like onsighting again  and starting to get tired from the days events, I took the lob off the crux. Next up Ged battled his way through and retro flashed it it style. I then messed it up for a second time! before getting it next go.

All this extra climbing for both of us had tired us out a bit so it was just as well the next route was a breeze and then Solar Power E5 went by without any trouble for either of us. However....the next route Already Gone E6 neither of us had done before. Ged had looked at it on a rope the day before and stuck a bit of chalk on it, but in was keen for the onsight and so had avoided going near it. As such it was my lead first and after a suitable bit of psyche managed to onsight it. Ged then cruised it.

Banshee E2
Photo Pete Derrett

Ged on Low Profile E5
Photo: Pete Derrett

The Avon and Isambard's Kingdom
Photo: Pete Derrett

The crux of Bold As Love E6
Photo: Pete Derrett

Lost Illusions E5
Photo: Pete Derrett

By now we were beginning to feel like we were really on for this but there was one problem....it was getting seriously dark. The benefit of good conditions earlier in the year meant less daylight, and coupled with our casual start had come back and bitten us on the arse. Undeterred we pushed on. Them E3 passed by without trouble even though it was pretty dark and we were both very tired. Finally we were ready to take on the concluding route. We had a bit of a rest and some food and let it get really pitch black, figuring that once you go passed a certain point, it doesn't matter how dark it is, you basically can't see!

As luck would have it, a small party of people including Ben West, Gaz Parry and Joe Day gathered at the top of the ramp with a bright bike light that they had brought to try a hard sport problem at the base of the Ramp. With Gaz shining the light up on TDF from below we decided that Ged should go first. He had been the one to invent the challenge with Woody and it seemed apt that he should be the first to top out and complete it. As well as that, he had already done TDF, and i had fallen off the crux a few years ago linking it in to a pitch below onsight.

Ged set off, tentatively at first, with tired arms, cold fingers and night blindness he shuffled his way over to the 1st peg and slapped his way up the wall. Constantly expecting to fall off each move he surprised himself by hanging in there. Move after move until he reached the rest before the final crux and THE move. Belief suddenly set in, and a flurry of excitement. Up into the mono....it was wet! push on but no. He fell setting up for the crux. Exhausted and unable to have another go, he pulled back on and battled his way to the top with elbows up, legs shaking but never letting go. A fine performance.

Next up was yours truely. In a similar state i slapped blindly up into the darkness. Gaz's torch illuminating just enough light to grope out poor crimps and spot the pegs. The footholds were a muddle of shadows being uplit from below. Each time i thought i was off, and then i'd stumble across another murky crimp in the darkness and battle on another move. Eventually, unable to see my footholds, i popped off just below Ged's high point. Back on and up to the crux i took another fall, but pulled back on and made it to the top.

Setting off the top of the ramp up Already Gone E6
Photo: Pete Derrett 

Darkness Looms
Photo: Pete Derrett

Ged On Already Gone E6
Photo: Pete Derrett

Blind faith on Tour De France E6
Photo: Pete Derrett

There is a part of me that obviously regrets not quite completing the challenge, after we had got so close. I've gotta say that don't think its really very hard to do if you got a bit more organised, rehearsed the pitches more and crucially started a bit earlier. There's no doubt in my mind that TDF would've been a formality for both Ged and I had the sun actually been up whilst we were trying it, but.......lets be honest, it wouldn't have been nearly so much fun. We attempted this challenge in woody's honour and lateness was Woody's bread and butter. The memory of foolish night time antics high up on one of Avon Gorge's premier test pieces, muddling together with an intoxicating blend of torches, psyche and camaraderie, is not something i'm gonna forget in a hurry. Those kind of experiences are what Woody lived for. They are what I and many many others shared with him and he wouldn't of had it any other way. It was as if, when the sun went down, Woody came back just for a few hours and shared in the excitement of what he, after all, had started.

The Team

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Font -Mina

After the joys of a decadent festive season in London I headed out with friends to Fontainebleau to celebrate the New Year and do some bouldering. As we drove there, it was raining; when we got there, it was raining; and for the first four days, it rained. Fontainebleau is an amazing climbing venue, one of the best in the world but the one thing that brings it down is the weather. During our trip of seven days we had two and a half days climbing, which is better than nothing and worth the wait. I was lucky enough to try Irreversible, a high ball 7C at Manoury. It is a great line, a bit scary and brilliant climbing. After taking two falls from the last hard move, I finished the climb with my heart in my mouth and my hands a bit shaky! On the last day of the trip I went back to try again on Big Golden at Cuvier Rempart. I had tried this climb one afternoon earlier in the trip and was astonished to find I could now do some moves on it that I had, on previous trips to Font, never managed. Filled with psyche I tried to piece it together and, after a last change in beta, I found myself topping out. Very happy, I really thought I may never do this problem.
 Big Golden - Photo by Bart van Raaij

Back in the UK, the weather has suddenly turned nice. Blue skies and cold air inspired me to head out to a grit problem I had failed on a year or so ago – Suavito (7B). This problem is fairly high and committing at the top, requiring a big throw and a big span. I was psyched to try it again and this time (after one fall landing flat on my back!) I managed to climb it. Hopefully this weather will continue.....

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Training! (Mina)

The last few months have been training, training, training. I come from a background of not really training at all, just climbing lots and the occasional pull up....so I have been surprised by how much I am enjoying it! I have done bits and bobs – 6 weeks here and there – in the past, but nothing as full on as this. Part of my decision to immerse myself in training was because I am now a student again. I am studying part time for an MSc in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy and it is a lot easier to do training sessions around uni work than it is to go out climbing for the day and the course also means I am at home in Sheffield, not gallivanting around Europe. The other part of the decision came from a desire to do better in the Bouldering World Cup circuit this year. I have done a few events in the last three years but I have always competed in them off the back of long outdoor trips – which isn't necessarily bad – but isn't the perfect preparation..... Thirdly, after the comps are pretty much over (after the Vail event) I am going to stay in Colorado for a couple of months to get my outside climbing fix for 2012. So, all in all, lots of reasons to get psyched and get better.

So the training. Essentially I have been a pupil of David Mason who has been helping me out with a training programme. It all began in September with 8 weeks of conditioning. This was a bit of a trial and error phase and I was a guinea pig for ideas. The guinea pig expired. I overdid it and began to fatigue. I have never experienced real fatigue before and it was an odd experience for me. I was tired all the time but the oddest thing was that I began to cry randomly for no reason (quite often during or after any kind of training). I had nothing to cry about so this began to ring alarm bells and I cut the training down. At this point I began to look more closely at my nutrition. The British Team trainings were just beginning and through the team I received a lot of help from Rebecca Dent (the team nutritionist) who has been brilliant. I also got in touch with Optimum Nutrition and Nick and Sara have been really supportive too, providing me with supplements so that I can recover better and get the most out of my training. The crying stopped! Now I have moved onto my strength phase which is more my kind of thing and I am really enjoying it. At the moment I am doing two fingerboard sessions a week (which are made up of assisted one arm pull ups, weighted pull up pyramids and pull downs), two weights sessions a week (exercises like bench press, bicep curls, squats, roll outs and flies), two or three climbing sessions a week and three runs a week to help my fitness. One thing I can really recommend for training is keeping a diary; it helps you stay organised and (more importantly) keeps you psyched as it shows your progress right there on the page in front of you (even if it's minute).

I'm looking forward to a bit of a break over Christmas in London with a couple of WestWay sessions, New Year in Fontainebleau (!!) and then into a power phase in January......

Saturday, 26 November 2011

A Film Of Do You Know Where You're Children Are? E8 6c (Charlie)

A friend of mine Liam Cook, was on hand last August to record my ascent of 'Do You Know Where You're Children Are?" E8 6c. Its always nice to have some kind of record of an ascent but this is a particularly well made film in my opinion. He opted to do away with the usual format of music and fast edits in favour of a more accurate portrayal of the mood of the day: stillness, birdsong, the echo of Huntsman's Leap and encouragement from Gilly mu wife who did a large portion of the camera work.
I like the pace of the film, again leaning towards showing how these routes take a little while to climb whilst at the same time cutting out most of the long winded shaking out time.

Anyway, here's a link to the film on Vimeo. Many thanks to Liam for taking the time to put this together. And thanks also to Neil and Paul Gresham for the belaying and extra camera work, as well as, of course, Gilly.