Saturday, 3 February 2018

People Read Climbing Blogs To Be Happy - Let's Go To Scotland!

Photo: Josh Rawson
I always think it's a bit pointless to blog about things not being exciting. I'm blogging now, but I'm definitely back on the up, after a couple of months of wondering where the next step was. I wish I had written something a couple of weeks ago, as it was a very unusual time for me - a stage when I really had no idea where the next challenge was going to come from.

Since Nothing Lasts last spring, I've known that I haven't had a "next level" project on the horizon. I survived on the promise that there were a handful of fantastic and moderately hard routes left to do on the Moors and in Northumberland. They were:

  1. Unami (E6 6c)
  2. I Am You (E7 7b)
  3. Boomerang Wall (E7 6c)
  4. The Aghori (E9 7a)
  5. The Magic Scoop (E8 7a) 
  6. Leonardo (Still Unclimbed - ~ E8 7a)
  7. Pippi Direct (Still Unclimbed ~ E8 6c/7a)
  8. The Holy Grail Wall (Still Unclimbed ~ E8 7b/7c)


It was a strange position to be in, as I had 8 great unclimbed carrots to keep me going, but none of them were going to be "next level" in terms of trad climbing. One of them (The Holy Grail) was going to require a new standard of boulder ability for me and another couple would be interesting as an exercise of introducing a new style of climbing to the NE of England (I am you, The Aghori & The Magic Scoop). I think working up to Christmas, that interest kept my mind off the impending question of "what am I going to be spending my mid/late 20s doing?"

Once the weather crapped out in December, I got more and more time to think about this and whilst I remained very happy in my day-to-day life, my climbing was definitely approaching a big black hole. Only the Holy Grail now provided any kind of experiential journey -  that one is a big unknown, with bouldering well into the Font 8s, for a climber who has always shied away from proper bouldering. Apart from that, the numerous NY Moors testpieces still awaiting an ascent, are much the same as what has gone before. It's strange knowing that you are in the best shape of your life, knowing that the right English 7a/b move could be soloed, but not being able to find the right line. I kinda know it's not going to be in the NY Moors or Northumberland now..

So the answer? SCOTLAND. I love Scotland. I've been trying to get up at least a couple of times a year. South Barra Isles, Torridon, Orkney, Caithness, Glen Nevis, The Cairngorm - all on flying visits. There's not an awful lot of information on unclimbed Scottish routes, but the things I have found look out of this world. I'm quite scared to be honest - Anything above 30m is a bit much for my little moorland head, but I suppose I should get used to it. I will of course continue to develop the Sandstone, but I can't see slabby H12 sandstone presenting itself anytime soon.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

An Unbeatable Year

O no! It's that time of year again.. I never know whether December is a good month or not. The weather is definitely always rubbish and even when it's sunny, nothing seems to dry. The sun is low and it's basically dark all of the time. The crispness may offer some good conditions if dry rock is actually found.

I'm definitely sad to see 2017 slip away. It's been an amazing year, where I became the climber I always dreamed of being. I've always been surprised and very pleased at being able to do any of the routes I've done over the years. I remember the first time I looked up at Lion King (HVS 5b**) and wondered in total awe at how anybody could climb it. A few months later and I was topping out on it, in disbelief that I could have been capable of it. A year later, we were climbing scratty new routes that deep down we knew were a bit pointless. It was still great to be doing this - unimaginable, a gap!

When we eventually climbed The Pasketti Alpinist (E5 6a ***), the pervading sense of irreality made the soul start to float. That feeling of disbelief, of dream state, of the creation of a mythical world of magic lines, where you as author encounter these vibrant personalities for the first time, is such a wildly captivating experience, it no wonder takes over everything.

At the end of last year, I felt as though we could be content with our lot. We had achieved our goal of starting to put the NY Moors on the map for hard and superb climbing. We knew at that point that the best lines were still to be done, even if what had been climbed was already pretty good.
Photo: Russel Lovett
The first route of the year was The Boulby Wall (E8 6c**). A new venue, Boulby Cliffs is a huge place that is right at the beginning of a long development process. This route was on bomber rock and uncharacteristically positive and steep. Cool pop move.

The Futuristic Herring Gull Project was a new genre of climbing in the Moors. Hard slab highballing from bottom to top. This one had taken years of effort. E8 7a*** (font 8a?) .

Then came the big one. This wasn't in the Moors and as such was a huge personal step, slightly removed from the collective development of the Moors. Nothing Lasts (H10 7a /E11?) - an actual last great problem from another area, climbed with the Moors' approach to boldness, meditation and flare. It was strange being back on Divine Moments Of Truth later in the year and seeing how Nothing Lasts compared. At the time of the FA of Nothing Lasts, I'd built Divine Moments of Truth up as being of a similar difficulty due to it's boldness. Now this has been made a couple of touches safer, Nothing Lasts is the standout hard line that I've climbed. Some climbing approaching hard above an exciting roller-coaster if you slip!
Photo: R Lovett
In a slightly dazed state, Si and I then developed Coquet View. Two great routes: Umami (E6 6c**) and I Am You (E7 7b**). There was a bit of sadness here, as I felt we didn't quite show this crag the reverence it deserved. We were emotionally shattered from Sandy Crag and these ascents became a chore rather than a passion. The joy we'd had working these routes previously shows the true majesty of this forgotten place.
Photo: Rob Greenwood
Boomerang Wall (E7 6c**) then came at a time when Sandy Crag seemed alive with activity. A decent line that is properly my style of climbing. Loved it.
August saw the birth of a climb that I have coveted over all others. The Aghori (H8 7a ** / E9?) AKA The Landslip Arete, is a superb line, visible from miles around. It had everything that a project should have - historic attempts, prominent positioning, locally known. It was the ultimate in flexible madness; throwing limbs and breaking free. Crazed and exciting. This was it. This climb, along with Fly Agaric, Sky Burial, Divine Moments of Truth and The Futuristic Herring Gull are the climbs that feel most like me. It is as if I was always destined to climb them. They fit my body so well and ooze at every juncture with raw style.
Photo: R Lovett
The cherry on the top was the Magic Scoop at Highcliffe (E8 7a ***/ ~font 7c+?). Another line I'd been trying for ages. It's a fantastic feature and provides great climbing. The way in which that ascent looked so improbable, only to totally chance into existence, is perhaps what is most magical about that grove - and life!
Photo: R Lovett
The future is this.. There are routes in the Moors left to do. There are plenty of starred routes left to be climbed at most grades, but the standout lines are now exceptionally hard. They are without exception well into the font 8s, many with disastrous or likely fatal falls. Some may yield, but many are for the next generation. I'm more than happy with my lot!

My climbing will be split between the The Moors, Northumberland and The Lakes.  I'm even keen for some European stuff this year.. 

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

The Magic Of The Moors - E8 7a ***


The big three this winter are putting up quite a fight! Conditions are very up and down, but mostly on our side. Cold! There have been some very cold and exciting days out - more exciting in retrospect than at the time that is..

Of the three Moors routes I had on my list this winter, one has given itself up and agreed to join this world. The Magic Scoop at Highcliffe Nab is one of those routes that I've been trying for years and years. The actual scoop part and the upper arete quickly presented itself as a superb off-balance challenge. When I first unpicked that sequence several years ago, I had no idea that it would take so long to be able to start the thing.

One always seems to think that it is going to be improved strength and boulder ability that makes these "next step" problems possible, but in the end it was using my brain a bit more and unpicking a very devious line around the left arete.

The last year has seen a dawn of a new kind of highballing for me: immensely pre-practised, sketchy, high, and difficult. The Futuristic Herring Gull Project and The Magic Scoop both have goey climbing in a position where you have to be very conscious of your height. Things like MYXOMOP may be higher, but in reality you're soloing from about the halfway point on that - if you don't have the top of that dialled, you're knackered.

As always, the void created from ticking a line off is quickly filled with other interests. A couple of new contenders in Northumberland have shown their face. Leonardo direct at Sandy Crag I've been trying for a little over a year, on and off. I've been in the position where I thought I "had it" a couple of times, but the beast seems to keep changing its faces with snapped holds, exploded gear etc. I still haven't linked the whole thing, but I'm getting a bit more convinced about the gear and I know on the sharp end, the climbing will come together. It's just a matter of time.. As always..

More recently we've rediscovered the Land of Milk And Honey (AKA The Real Sandy Crag). The direct finish to Steve Blake's boulder problem looks like it's going to provide some great slab movement at a not-too-outrageous-a-grade. There are a handful of other highballs and short routes there that are well on the radar too. So things are looking up after worrying that Northumberland was getting a bit boring.

At the moment it's all about quick-drying crags that take no drainage. Pippi Longstocking Direct at Round Crag is on a windy pinnacle - so that fits the bill. Much of The Real Sandy Crag is on a pinnacle as well, so that's ideal.

The big one - and by that I mean the hard one - is The Holy Grail Wall. This too is quick-drying, but mega hard. In the recent cold spell I convinced myself it was too cold for it. Previously it had been too warm. Then too humid. etc. etc. The bottom line is it's probably still too hard for me. I thought the key point was turning the arete. I've now managed to do this above pads, but pull on the horrendously spanned sidepull? Nope.. It feels astronomically harder than anything I've done. I'd love to know what font grade it would get.. Keep hammering home with the big days and we'll hopefully see our reward soon.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Stalemate


It's been a fun autumn. I've been getting out loads and keeping that summer psyche going. Each year you seem to get it a little more sussed: go wild in spring, pace yourself in the heat and moist summer, then go wild for those last few decent weeks of the year. We've not got many weekends between now and December, but the forecast is looking dry and temperatures are certainly not high.

Since The Aghori, I seem to have spent most of my time getting shut down on things. I've got three big projects: The Holy Grail Wall at Kay Nest, The Magic Scoop at Highcliffe, and Pippi Longstocking Direct at Round Crag. The last of these is easier than the other two and they're all either highballs or safish routes. These things are a very logical and good next step whilst we're still in the fallout from Nothing Lasts in April and it's a good excuse to try and get stronger at climbing.

I've been trying the Magic Scoop for several years now and on a good few occasions, I've thought that I've had it sussed, only to then find that I couldn't actually link the moves together to get established in the groove. At last the other day, I unpicked some foot beta that allows a sensible entry into the highball scoop. Unfortunately the consequent pad party proved unfruitful, as the line started to seep with water. This thing really hangs in the balance for this year - if the weather stays dry, we might just have another chance.

Of a different style is the Holy Grail Wall. This thing doesn't seep, but owns one of the most rancid, disjointing sequences I've ever encountered. It's outrageously spanned and poorly furnished with holds. One of the holds that starts to feel like a jug is a 3 finger sidepull, around which the problem pivots. You can get onto this and start to come around the corner on it, but to then engage on it at full reach is pure ming.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Landslip Arete H8 7a

It's 10 days ago that I climbed the arete at Landlsip. Funny really - something that seems so impossible and so unlikely, now feels like it has always been there. My ascent of that line feels as if it always has been, as if it was beyond even predetermined. I can't imagine my life without it.

I used the word "privilege" at the time. This is a word that is thrown around a lot these days, but with this line I really meant it. It's a feature that forms the backdrop of so many people's lives in the Moors and that it was unclimbed for so long is rather mental. Whether it is just there as locals walk their dog, or as  rangers repair the path, or that looming line for all of us that walk into the Wainstones along the low path, the Landlslip Arete means so much to so many of us. 

Working it has been a great time in my life. I walked past it for many years before I eventually tried it on a rope. Those first few times I dangled from the stake, it was totally unfathomable - which side? Which holds? Where? How? After this I was up there with friends - all boggled, all excited. It was tantalising. There were some beautiful days up there by myself - generally in between other projects and often on sunny mornings, when the dawn sun blazes across the face. It's a special place up there - made all the more special by the total lack of other climbers up there. 

The day of the ascent was suitably relaxed and enjoyable. We'd had all our gear nicked in Italy, but what remained was everything I needed to protect the climb. I dusted off my old Ecrin Rock helmet that hadn't been nicked and which I hadn't worn since a kid. I went up and down a few times to place the gear and with a couple of last goes on the moves I was ready.

The groove feature is followed to a good hold right of the gear that allows a span onto a pocket on the right side of the arete. This feels like a natural resting point, but on the headpoint I just blasted through. I didn't stop at any point - with liquid chalk on my fingers, calm determination tingling my body and the moves engraved on my mind, there was no need to. Within 4 moves of the ground I started to position myself for the crux. I turned from the right side of the hanging arete to the left, with my feet still on the lower wall. I was below the roof, with my right hand on the arete and my left fingers locked in the pocket further out left. From here you're in a strong position, with a sharp arete and a decent pocket.

The next move is the crux and you explode from this position of strength, with a foot thrown right between your hands. You're not so much placing the face-high right foot as pasting it on the lip of the roof. From here you're in the ridiculously position of then walking your foot into the good foothold, which is even further across to the left. At this point, onsight, you'd feel like you were totally trapped and likely be testing the gear in the back of the roof. Fortunately for me, this move was well rehearsed and I knew that if I pulled up just a couple of inches, I could readjust my right arm, which would allow my knee to come round. It's a ludicrous move. 

As soon as you've got past the point equilibrium, the move becomes progressively easier. The climb then becomes a series of bodily expressions - facing down, to the side and up. You point with your toes, gesture to the air - it feels like a real dance. It was and is magical. 

On the headpoint I got an enormously tired right arm, which made the final 'out of the swimming pool' move, at which point you're facing a ground fall, feel a little too spicy. Luckily I didn't fall off and I managed to have a lovely relax on the Merlin's Roost.

A brilliant experience for sure and it feels like a conclusion to summer. It's September now and the weather really feels like it's getting set for winter. I'm enjoying sitting by the fire and pots of tea increasingly more, but perhaps even more than that is the thought of those last 3 big routes. I haven't done this for a while, but these are them and here they are! :

1) Pippi Longstocking Direct
2) The Holy Grail Wall - Kay Nest
3) The Magic Scoop - Highcliffe

I've learnt not to expect to climb any of these in the near future. They each demand something of me that I currently do no have. To climb any of these before Christmas has to be seen as a bonus, but all of them are distinctly possible. I've tried them all on the lead/solo, with varying degrees of success. Each are 3 stars and very bouldery in style. exciting times ahead!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Boomerang Wall E7 6c

Photo: Rob Greenwood
The rolling rubber of a knackered shoe is aggressively stabbed at the smallest of micro nubbins. Facing right, outside edge of a left foot starting to come off the good hold, body-weight moving upwards, pulling harder on the spanned-out holds. Will the right foot hold? Will the nubbin disintegrate? Will my body hit a point of equilibrium; a cul-de-sac in the maze, where upwards is no longer an option?  The aggression in the right foot wains, I take a moment of pause. I might be coming off..

Killer instinct! Think for one millisecond about your position and your slump and resignation is forced to fire out more rage. The waves of disordered anarchy below are vanquished to irrelevance so long as you remain on the wall. Pull!

The move is to keep on this tiny right foot, arms out-spanned in a huge layback, and then bring the inside left foot to groin height and onto a decent blob.  It's a couple of centimetres before the good blob that I feel my hands slipping and the nubbin taking too much of the weight. The fall from here is a heather cartwheel, crushing Anna and Phil along the way. Pull! The fingers stick, the foot is on and I can style my way to the good holds.

Even the less desperate routes offer exciting moments.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Finding My Way In A Post-Truth World

Photo: Russel Lovett - I Am You (E7 7b **)

The world has crumbled! Nothing Lasts is born!

The irreality of it all. It's mad trying to find sense and reason after a moment like Nothing Lasts. Something that was that out there for me just feels in a parallel universe to what else is happening in my climbing.

I've been climbing very well (for me at least) recently and I'm trying to make sense of the very best 3 star lines that I have left - I've even made a list, which I don't often do..

The best thing I've climbed recently is pictured above. I Am You  is a stonker of a line, mentioned in the NMC guide as a prime feature and tried a bit over the years by various people. My forte is groove climbing and, whilst this is a bit of a marginal groove, it did afford some top-quality slapping. The video is absolutely radged!  haRdsAnD! coming soon..

Monday, 10 April 2017

Nothing Lasts H10 7a ***

The name is about our place in space and time. All that we are, will one day cease to be. With the immense sadness that this realisation brings, comes an opportunity to rid oneself of the shackles of the human condition. We can reach a blissful trust that the rawest of our essence is beyond the physical world and at that point abandon fear. To climb this line you have to not only accept that your existence is finite, but want to celebrate that fact. It is the embodiment of that which is most eternal, whilst offering us the most fleeting of moments on this earth. It is out of the blankest of rocks that the holiest realities form.

“The Journey” to climbing this has been a really special one. I’ve been trying it since just before I moved to Northumberland, so it’s linked closely in my thoughts to settling down up here with Anna and feeling at home in a new area. Of course the people I’ve met here have played a huge part in feeling welcomed. The Northumberland scene is quite a stern one at first, but the people are so friendly – We’re all up here doing the same things, delving into the esoteric and generally having a bit of a mad time. I’ve started climbing a lot with Si Litchfield, who’s a bizarre character – filling you with fine-dining tips, ridiculously high-register vocabulary and bags full of psyche. He’s brought a great energy to the whole region – long before I turned up and is central to this new wave of Northumberland, and now North York Moors development. It’s sad to be climbing less with Dave Warburton these days, but I’m sure his injury will heal.

Of course Sandy itself is the focal point of the experience. It’s here that another character looms of supreme significance. The crag is dominated by two aretes – this one and that of Mark Savage’s Greenford Road Direct (E8 6b ***). The whole cliff feels like an amphitheatre, a castle, an out-spanned hawk. These two lines sit as gods at the high alter. It’s strange now to look back at this line and see the clear mentor Mark has been for me at this crag, mirrored in our two routes side-by-side. I think it meant a great deal to both of us when I topped out on Nothing Lasts.  There couldn’t be any greater imagery for me finding my place here. 

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A Good Start To Spring 2017

Boulby Wall E8 6c**
It's been a long time since I posted - I think blogs are kinda going out of fashion...Buying a house, lots of work, guidebook, festival and access stuff is my excuse.. Will this be the last post ever? haha! I'm in one of the most interesting parts of my time climbing so far. Unfortunately most of this interest is internal. The biggest thing that's happening at the moment is the progress on the Sandy Arete. For the first time, I'm seriously thinking about leading it - that blows my mind.

Doesn't quite look as desperate as it feels! 
I was up there the other day and Dan Varian happened to be having a look at the moves. He basically knocked over my last mental obstacle, which was me getting terrified on the final 6c move after a load of hard climbing. Stupidly I'd missed that at the very end of the arete you can step left and do a steadier move and place a decent wire. So that's it! It is going to take a few logistics sessions to practise climbing with lead ropes etc, but we're getting seriously close now. Perhaps Dan may pip me to the post.. Pretty stoked to do it either way to be honest.

In other news, I've done a couple of things I've been trying for ages in the past month- The Boulby Wall (E8 6c **) and The Futuristic Herring Gull Project (font~7+whatever, can't justify harder than H7 as it's not very high, but still rock solid..) Really chuffed with getting them done - particularly Herring Gull. It's routes like these and MYXOMOP that mean the most to me. Such fantastic climbs and such little battles.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Why climb hard?

A very unsatisfactorily answered question is why it is important for climbers to push themselves on rock. At one point we all found a VS beyond the realms of our imagination. Maybe that soon changed. Maybe it didn't. 

I was reading a thread on UKclimbing recently where people were talking about the routes they had enjoyed most that year. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these routes were at or just slightly below the maximum grade that each individual was capable of climbing. The excitable and ambitious were perhaps more likely to pick a "best route" nearer their limit. The more mellow (or perhaps falsely modest) keener to pick a slightly easier line.

I've sat opposite climbers who have dedicated their whole lives to the pursuit of hard moves. Sometimes these chaps and chappesses were even going for bold routes to. They grasped for reasons: more interesting moves; better lines; a more finite moment. These are all arguable points for the pursuit of the extreme, but smack a little of justification rather than causation. 

It was as I read this thread that it dawned on me that the question of "why push yourself on rock?" is ultimately the same question as "why climb?". Climbing is rarely about simplifying life and it certainly isn't often about taking the easiest line. Unless we're talking pinnacles, the easiest way to the top is usually up a scrubby path. PLATITUDE ALERT: We chose climbing not for the destination, but for the journey. (If I spoke a little more like that all the time maybe I would be sponsored). But, yes, this is true. The reason we took up climbing is because we'd had our fill of walking. The inane monotony could bring a certain kind of hedonism, but this was dull and without focus.

The first time we were drawn to the vertical was the first time we took a different path. Rather than becoming blanded out into where we were heading, we were forced to engage in the acute physical riddle afore.  To try and climb a harder line is to be halted more abruptly, to be velcroed to that moment and forced to introspection. At the farthest limits of our capabilities there is the purest parallel to what was our first moment of climbing.