Monday, 22 September 2014

Two classic boulder problems from Kyloe woods - video

We spent a couple of days in the County this weekend - time to recuperate. The sea air, fish and chips, Bamburgh castle, beautiful countryside… it all makes for a rather relaxing place to stay for a couple of days.

Of course, I can't go to Northumberland without a little climbing as well, and so I indulged. As with everywhere in the country, Saturday was a bit of a write off. It rained until around 2pm and then the sun came out and the humidity really set in. Trying to walk around was like wading through treacle.

Sunday was much improved, so we set off to Kyloe in the Woods bright and early. I had wanted to return to Kyloe for a couple of classics for a long time. They are two of the County's best boulder problems - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (7A+) and The Yorkshireman (7B+).

Working the moves on Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Of course, the Kyloe woods crag has some of the best problems of every grade range in the country, in my view, which made warming up great fun. Before I got onto the two aforementioned problems, I needed to get the tendons and muscles warm. Bad Company (6A), Badfinger (6A) and the sit start (6B) all did nicely. Brilliant boulder problems and really worth the visit if you're operating in the 6s. 

Anyway, onto the main meal for me, and I had hoped to knock Hitchhiker's on the head pretty sharpish. The boulder problem is over in two moves, really, and those two moves are a subtle combination of power and balance. This made it a little trickier than I was expecting, and therefore it took me a little longer too. What a brilliant couple of moves though and a thoroughly enjoyable climb - easy to see why it's a classic.

Then it was onto The Yorkshireman, which also proved troublesome in it's own way. For a while I was trying beta that wasn't working for me, and then eventually I realised if I turned my left hand in the crack I could reach the crimp above with my right. I then had to hang this crimp so I could match… and it's a touch sharp. I crushed a nerve ending in my right hand middle finger, but eventually I reached the top.

I then set to work on the sit start, after a short break, but we didn't take any food with us and I was starting to tire. Definitely one to return to when my legs aren't wobbling like Elvis Presley's. 

There's some footage below of both problems. Apologies for the letterbox filming. I'd recommend watching it on YouTube rather than here - click the little logo.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The hardest 7A+ in Britain… the video

Following my last post about "the hardest 7A+ in Britain", I thought I'd follow that up with the actual send footage. 

It's horribly edited and there's no music. I've learned never to use iMovie stabilisation software again, and that my torso is so pasty the iPhone camera can't cope with the glare. 

Having said all that, Ousal Low is probably the best traverse I've ever done, if absolutely nails. The moves are as brilliant and varied as the holds. Without waffling on too much… here's the footage… for what it's worth.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The hardest 7A+ in Britain… in my humble opinion

A rather bold statement to make, but the internet allows me to do that. I haven't climbed every 7A+ in Britain, obviously, but I have climbed a fair few and this, Ousal Low, felt the hardest of the lot to me. As a matter of fact, it felt harder than quite a few 7Bs I've done as well.

Located near Alton Towers, in Staffordshire, Churnet Valley is a beautiful little climbing and walking destination. Two paths lead away from the Ramblers Retreat cafe, the left and the right. If you take the latter of the two, you'll soon end up at Ousal Crag, which has two main lines, both traverses. 

If you're a fan of traverses, you're in for a treat, as both stand out as some of the best of their grade - again, I can only speak for myself. The high traverse is graded 6B+ and the low is apparently 7A+. There are several "up problems" as well, but they're hardly worth the visit. Other areas of Churnet Valley have much better up problems - go to Gentleman's or Wright's for examples.

Anyway, the low traverse has thwarted me on a number of trips. Around 6 months or so ago (it might have been sooner, but I'm taking a guess), I had another go and failed once again at the end… the very last hard move. The last six feet of climbing on the traverse would weigh in at 7B in my book. Maybe it's the way I climbed it, but I wasn't able to figure out any other good methods… at least, not with my big, fat hands.

The traverse, being fairly long, breaks down into three parts:
  1. Six feet of 3+  climbing, where you basically walk along a big ledge
  2. Around 10 feet of 6A/+ climbing to a semi decent rest
  3. Then another 10 feet of climbing weighing in at 7B (IMO)
The moves are brilliant, they flow really nicely on good, sculpted holds. The real difficulty of the whole traverse is that the hardest move is, practically, right at the end. There's a cluster of pebbles you need to squeeze with the left hand to move the right hand to a pocket, meanwhile maintaining body tension to keep the feet on. In itself it's a hard move. But you have to maintain core tension and keep the pump at bay following 15-20 feet of climbing to stand a chance. Sport climbers will waltz it, I'm sure. A sport climber I aint.

Anyway, there was an attempt at editing some footage of me climbing the thing, but it all went awry during the upload process. So you'll have to sit there and imagine me climbing it. Took two minutes, so you shouldn't be there long. Close your eyes. Good. See you in two minutes.


I was good, wasn't I? Thanks for watching.

If you have any other contenders for hardest of their grades in the country, please do comment below.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Finished Quine (7C) at Rowtor, Peak District

This evening I shot back out to Rowtor to finish Quine (7C), the little blighter of a dyno that had thwarted my efforts the other day and left me with a gaping hole in my palm. I mentioned that gory detail, and even gave you a lovely picture, in my last blog

The evening of the palm shredding, we went to a friend's birthday BBQ and I was regaled with the advice Alex Megos had given to a friend of mine. When looking down at a hand full of split tips, blood dripping from your knuckles, and red, gaping flesh, don't give up; just get back on the wall and ignore the pain.

So, with those words firmly in mind, I went back the next day to finish Quine (this was Sunday). Unfortunately, just as I was getting the measure of the dyno, it started raining. In a mad panic, I had a flurry of six quick attempts, barely resting between them, rain hitting me in the eyeballs, but got progressively worse on each go. I threw my shoe at the wall. I look back at that little episode with a pinch of embarrassment.

However, having come so close, before the weather decided enough was enough on progress, I was determined to get Quine in the bag before we left for Spain on Friday. And this evening, Wednesday, I did it. Not only once, but twice. After warming up and getting the measure of the problem yet again, I managed to dispatch the dyno without too much difficultly. Thankfully, I arrived just AFTER a lovely rainstorm on this occasion. And also, mercifully, it was short enough that the top out wasn't too wet - nothing a dab of the jumper and a little chalk didn't fix. The starting holds are too far under the roof to get touched by water falling from the sky, and only the worst of precipitation would touch the sloping pinches. 

Suitably stoked, I did Yoghurt Hypnotist (7A+) next, for the first time, in only a couple of goes. And then departed a happy boy, a couple more minor holes in my right hand. 

Psyched for a non-climbing trip to Spain now, to repair my aching body. A little dip in the pool, good eating and a wedding in the sunshine. Sounds like a good holiday to me.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Flapper disaster - be warned... gory

Well that was a disaster... not a total disaster, I suppose, as I did make progress, but progress on a dyno is hardly consoling. Grit stone 1 - Sam 0

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Finishing a project at Bowden Doors, Northumberland

We found ourselves in Northumberland over the weekend. I say that like we were lost and all of a sudden, there we were, in Northumberland. No… it was planned. We were there to spend the weekend with my parents, specifically at a special dining experience on the Farne Islands, held in a tiny chapel with only 16 other diners. Unfortunately, the meal was called off due to rough seas, which turned out to be not so rough in the end, as the impending ex-hurricane that was supposed to be buffeting the country didn't materialise until a day later.

Despite having spent many a happy childhood holiday in Seahouses and Bamburgh, racing my brother along the sea front, running up and down sand dunes, exploring amazing castles and fortifications of other varieties, one of the key draws for my continued pilgrimage to this part of the world is the world class bouldering. Fantastic, powerful boulder problems litter the inland section of the county. It is a different style of climbing to gritstone, and so it comes as a welcome change of pace every now and then. I must have been on three or four occasions just for the bouldering now. This latest trip was not entirely for climbing, but we managed to squeeze some in all the same.

Being as time was finite, we chose to visit crags we already knew, and projects we had left behind. For me, this materialised in one particular boulder problem. It's a strange addiction, bouldering, and this problem is a perfect example of this. It is an eliminate. A little squashed in. The moves are rather painful. And I had given up on it several times before, largely because I was not enjoying climbing it. The last time I gave up on it turned out to be the day before I actually, finally, completed it, on Saturday, August 9th.

The problem of which I speak is called Transformer LH, which weighs in at 7C. It follows an obvious, overhanging prow feature, with a perfectly sculpted pinch/undercut jug hold in the middle. Unfortunately, there is a back wall within reach the whole way, but this is eliminated at this grade. If you use the back wall, this is called Transformer Direct Start and gets the grade of 7A. Finally, if you start to the right of these two, on huge jugs, and just do the final two moves following an initial set up, you can claim a stiff 6A+ tick with Transformer. Confused? I'm not surprised. 

Anyway, I had done the other two problems on previous trips but had always had difficulty with the hardest of the three. The difficulty revolved around a single "move". You don't actually move anywhere, but turn your hand from a pinch to an undercut on the key hold in the roof. On paper, it sounds easy. In practice, I found it bloody nails. The rest of the problem felt fine. I could set up for the hand switch almost 100% of the time, however after half a dozen goes the core strength starts to wane and the crimps start to cut. More than once have I been left with a deep but small split in my left hand forefinger tip. Every time you go to turn that hand around, you have to excessively weight the crimp and squeeze every muscle in your body to keep you on the wall for that split second longer. It takes .5 of a second to turn your hand, but you'll be on the floor in .3. It was frustrating, to say the least.

After an unsuccessful and brief session on the problem on Friday, I decided to give it a miss and walked over to the cave with Leigh-Anne, where she had her sights set on The Cave RH (6B+). On previous trips, we had noted that a huge jug in the centre of the roof was wobbly - like a biscuit that had been dunked in tea one too many times and was about to crumble. We let the problem be on that occasion, hoping that it would dry and stabilise. However, on our return on the weekend, we saw what we both had predicted, a big, light sandy coloured scar where the jug once was. This was disappointing, to say the least. And what has always been a little stiff at 6B+ had become that much harder. Leigh-Anne was put off, but I wanted to see if it had become loads harder. I repeated it without the aforementioned and now deceased jug, and confirmed it's difficulty is roughly the same, or a little harder. I always thought it stiff at 6B+ anyway. Maybe a 6C upgrade is in order.

Following this, we continued heading left along the crag, until we came to The Crescent Flake, a pleasant looking 6A with a wickedly hard first move. Pull your ass off the floor on thin side pulls and smeary feet and throw for a sloping shelf. If that move was in the middle of a problem, it would get a huge upgrade. My first go resembled someone who was desperately trying to soil themselves, as I grimaced and got no where. I readjusted my feet and did the move second go. Sandbag at 6A, for sure. After a few laughs, Leigh-Anne was keen to see me pull the same expression trying a sloping mantle problem cleverly called The Mantleshelf (7A). After a few stalled attempts, and the loss of some skin on my knees, I finally pulled over onto the top and sighed with relief. 

Next up for me was an appealing wall with scattered sloping crimps up an undulating face. It's name, Scooped Wall (6B). Two goes and I was on the top, having given Leigh-Anne the impetus to follow suit. She dispatched it in two or three tries and we both shared in the conquest of a boulder problem.

Lunch was beckoning so we had a quick stop off in Wooler, at the Terrace Cafe (highly recommend!), where we devoured jacket potatoes with beans and cheese, washed down with coffee. Look up the cafe online and you'll see we're not the only ones who'll speak highly of this lunchtime establishment. Lovely staff, delicious food. What more could you ask for?

We then started our wanderings through Kyloe wood, missing the turn off for the crag, and spending around an hour hiking with pads and bags in 20+ degree heat and humidity that only a living, breathing forest can produce. Finally, arriving at the crag, we dropped and sucked in air, trying to cool off while watching some young guns attempt the classics. It was rather busy at the main crag and we were both wiped out from the walk. It felt a little ridiculous to go back to the car straight away, without climbing a single thing, so we headed right, past the main section and into a "new" area. Not new in the sense that no one has ever set foot there with the intention of climbing, as there are loads of established problems, but new for me and seemingly new compared to the main crag, as the walls were not as scarred as its neighbour, and moss grew in abundance across vast swathes of it.

I glanced at a few of the harder problems but I could not bring my skin or energy back into being. Both had left me somewhere on the track, somewhere in the forest we should not have been. And so a long, technical traverse was what I settled on. It was graded 6A - a grade I seemed to have levitated towards on Friday - but again it proved exceptionally hard for the grade. It had some very thin, razor sharp crimps, and the crux section at the start would weigh in at 6C for me. I probably climbed it hideously - I'm not known for my slab/wall technicality - but even so, it was a sharp experience in pain. I managed it… just.

The following day, rain was falling from the heavens in the early part of the morning, and large puddles awaited us as we left the cozy confines of my parents' caravan. Climbing was off… or so I thought. The meal we had travelled to Northumberland for was in the evening, so we had a day to enjoy the countryside in the only other way I know how… walking. A five mile hike to Craster and back. A lovely walk, encompassing roads, fields, woods and beaches. You couldn't pack much more in. When we got back to the car, it was bright, warm and sunny. The puddles had dwindled in number. Climbing was back on!

We only had two hours, however, and it was a half hour drive to and back from the crag. That gave us only one hour of climbing and, despite having written it off, there was only one problem on my mind. Transformer LH, that squashed in eliminate, was calling me. We shot out and went straight to the prow. There was already a dozen or so people out trad climbing, so I assumed all was well and dry. Wind was blowing strong and the rock was sticky like velcro. I repeated the 6A+ variant. Then did the end of the 7C I was there to conquer. I shook my arms and sat down at the start, knowing that I only had a short window in which to find victory. The first go ended as all the others had, with my feet hitting the floor as I tried to turn my hand. I decided to work the move, and a more deft heel placement allowed me to turn my hand and catch the undercut jug for the first time, with my body still on the wall, and I ran through the rest of the problem to the jug before the last two, reachy moves. I knew it was on and tried to keep my calm. 

A short rest precluded that familiar feeling, the one you get when you know you are about to send. It doesn't always present itself and a send, more often than not, seemingly comes out of no where. But on this occasion, I had a good idea that this was the go. The move had felt relatively easy with the slight change in heel placement and I knew I could repeat it, if only I would stick to the crimps as I had done before. Thankfully, it all came together and I reached the jug before the finishing moves with relative ease, wondering what all that fuss was about. For what it's worth, the unedited footage is below.

I said bouldering was a strange addiction before, and I wasn't joking. I had made a one hour round journey to squeeze in 45 seconds worth of climbing. Including warm ups and rests, we were at the crag for no longer than 30 minutes. Was it worth while? Yes it was. Leigh-Anne showed my Mum the footage she took on my phone when we returned to the caravan and her response was "Wouldn't you prefer to read a book or something instead?". I don't know what it is about climbing I find so appealing, but that feeling of completing a problem you battled so hard for is unique. It's exhilarating, in its own way, and I couldn't take the smile off my face for the rest of the evening. If I look in the mirror, I might still be wearing it now.

Monday, 4 August 2014

A potter in the Peak - a few good boulder problems

I caved. On Sunday, I found myself with a free afternoon, nothing immediately pressing to do. It had been a busy morning and, therefore, come 1pm I had barely even glanced outside, let alone breached the cozy confines of my flat. But now, after completing the chores, I stared through the window at clear blue skies. What a stunning day it was.

We racked our brains trying to come up with something to do. I was tired from a good session at The Climbing Works the day before, so I did not want to touch plastic again for at least another 24 hours. A walk? A museum? Cinema? And then I thought, despite my last blog's previous assertions that this time of year is no good for climbing outdoors, a sojourn to the Peak District for a little potter would be the best use of this rare occurrence of a free afternoon. 

Due to tiredness and warm weather, I had no expectations. No pressure to reach the top of anything. I had barely touched real rock in what felt like months, therefore I thought we'd have a potter; I could throw a few moves on the side of a cliff face or boulder. Setting off from Sheffield, I still wasn't sure where in particular I wanted to go.

One of the last full days I had climbing outside was mostly spent at Curbar, repeating, for the Nth time, a number of classics. Following a skin shredding grit session, a friend wanted to show me a small limestone cave near the village of Alport, on the other side of the Chatsworth Estate. When we arrived at this tiny feature, there was one specific line that caught my attention, the full traverse along the lip of the cave. Within the cavity it seemed dirty, white mold growing on the rock, mud and water streaming out of crevasses. However, the line that caught my eye was clean, a little chalk here and there, but it looked great. I had a few half-hearted attempts, but I was too tired from the earlier climbing and pumped out too fast.

On Sunday's warm, sunny afternoon, I thought this would be a good one to go back to. The line in question, if your encyclopedic knowledge of Peak District bouldering hasn't dredged it from the depths of your memory banks, is called Meltdown (7B). When we arrived, it looked as good as before. I touched some of the holds and they all felt positive and relatively large. If it wasn't for the fact that most of the climbing took place in the horizontal plane, it would get a much easier grade - the holds feel like they should belong to a 5+. However, they're practically all razor sharp and moving between them does require a little athletic hocus-pocus because of the steepness.

Having twirled my arms a couple of times, breathed a little deeper than necessary, and fondled a few more holds, I sat down at the start of the boulder problem. My warm up seemed comically lame, but what the heck, my muscles still felt warm from the previous day's Climbing Works session. Off I set and, before I knew it, I was through the crux, about half way along. I contemplated stepping off, for the sake of extending the warm up, but then I thought better of it. Onwards I continued until, before long, I reached the last jug. My forearms throbbed with the familiar feeling of a flash pump, but I had managed to climb Meltdown on my first try.

Having taken all of 10 minutes out of the afternoon, another destination was required to while away a few more hours. Off to Rowtor we went, a shaded, wooded bouldering area, unfortunately usually doubling as a hide-and-seek playground for the offspring of those frequenting the nearby pub. The squawks and squeals of excited, young goblins regularly break the otherwise tranquil silence.

On arrival, there was one particular line I needed to complete. It had thwarted me in my weaker days, when I found every move a bit desperate. That line is called Blood Falls (7A+). If you can't finger jam (like me) the first move is a little throw to a good three finger pocket, followed by a horizontal crack line, into a nice dynamic throw for a rounded top out. The last move had proved the stopper for me, but following a successful training regime (Hah! "training regime"... that's a laugh) over the past few months, I managed to tick Blood Falls off my list in just two goes.

Despite the warmth, I was doing alright at this climbing lark, so I chose something a little harder next... Quine (7C). This has become a one move wonder - a dyno from a sit start, using two semi-decent but sloping pinches, to a sloping top out. It's a low-ball, that's for sure, but the jump is fun. Unfortunately, I took too many goes; first trying to use the huge undercut (the old fashioned, non-dyno way), then using the wrong foot placements and finally, having figured out what works best for me, hitting the top on several occasions but putting my feet down as I did so. I decided to move on, as the pinches that had once felt easy to hold, were getting a little slippery under skin. 

Being as it was just around the corner, I had a peak at Domes stand start (7A+), and managed to dispatch this sloper hopping line in a handful of tries, after figuring out the start position. The lower start will be one to return for, but I've been told connecting it into the stand is harder than it looks, definitely warranting its 7C grade.

With a few climbs under the metaphorical belt, and the afternoon advancing, it was time to make an exit and find some dinner. I don't regret having not climbed outside much recently, because it has been HOT, but having got out yesterday I realise I definitely missed it. I want more now and, warm weather or not, I'm not sure I'll be able to restrain myself. I'm already aching to get back and finish Quine and this weekend we're off to Northumberland.