Thursday, 12 February 2015

Climbing Low Rider (7C+) at Stanage North

Checking out Low Rider at Stanage North
Today I climbed one of the Peak District's best boulder problems. That's a great statement to be able to make. And I am able to make it because today I climbed Low Rider - located in an area that I call Far, Far Left Stanage. I believe others call it North Stanage.

After trudging up the hill, you are confronted with an amazing roof. It grabs your attention straight away. Although I suppose I'd be more inclined to call it a horizontal prow, as it's roughly the width of a double fridge, with both sides exposed, and reaches out for 8ft or so, before leading into three upwards movements to a large pocket jug.

Walking up to Stanage North in the sun rise
Low Rider, which is graded 7C+ (or V10 for those of you across "The Pond") climbs in many different ways and finding "your" beta - that is, beta that works best for you - is half the fun. I ended up doing a cross-over to a very bad slopey dish and a lurch to the jug rail at the end of the roof, getting the horizontal bit over in as few moves as possible.

Crossing over to the slopey dish on Low Rider
Reaching for the "jug" at the end of the roof on Low Rider
The crux for me, however, was actually the end. Not because it was the most physically demanding bit, but because my mental ability to calm down and dispatch was rather lacking every time I got there. I must have dropped the last hard move (matching a slopey break just before the jug pocket) about a dozen times. 

However, on my fifth try today I was able climb Low Rider to its conclusion. And let me tell you, that was a great feeling. What a great boulder problem.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Rock climbing & international news - do you want more?

The climbing community coming to grips with the increasing popularity of the sport is a curious thing. While many, including myself, have for years observed the slowly growing numbers of people cramming into climbing centres and littering the countryside with their presence on the weekend, rock climbing popularity has taken a lurch forward over the past few weeks after being thrown into the brightest of limelights.

Anyone who turned on a television, browsed an internet news service, flicked through a newspaper (that archaic practice) or skimmed over their Facebook news feed will be aware of #DawnWall. Therefore, I'm going to assume you know all about it. 

What is curious about #DawnWall (forever prefixed with a hashtag) is the sheer amount of publicity it garnered and the reactions this invoked not only in the climbing community but the wider, world-wide community. Indeed, it did elevate rock climbing into the entirety of this sphere, for once not confined to media catered solely to the lonely few who frequent dusty old factories converted into shiny, brightly coloured playrooms for adults. 

The world finally saw the cutting edge of climbing in a form they could understand. Forever have non-climbers thought vertical movement could only happen with large, jug sized holds, spaced like ladder rungs up a flat or slab cliff face. #DawnWall showed them the difficulty rock climbing can reach at the cutting edge - with TV news casters literally sticking matchsticks and American quarters to a wall to demonstrate the teeny weeny size of some of the holds on the crux traverse pitch of the leviathan of a route that Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson can now proudly declare themselves the first ascensionists.

This clamour to report their three week epic resulted in news channels world-wide carrying daily updates of their efforts. Indeed, the most powerful man on the planet, the President of the United States of America, Barrack Obama himself, took 15 seconds out of his day and got one of his aides to snap a picture of him stood next to an old and wonky oil painting of Yosemite valley and post it on instaweb. If rock climbing never reaches that pinnacle again, we can all die happy.

Seriously, though, rock climbing was well and truly given global attention for those weeks that two men "wasted their time" on the "pointless exercise" of attempting to scale a previously unscaled route up a natural monolith, which has hundreds of established routes on it already. Those quotes are paraphrased from various hilarious comments left on news articles around the internet. They are not my view - I think Tommy and Kevin's achievement was marvellous.

That was the reaction of the aforementioned "wider-world"... but what did the climbing community make of their efforts? It is safe to say the vast majority of the climbing world were proud to see their sport getting so much attention. Many were so enamoured with Tommy and Kevin they watched the live broadcast of them topping out #DawnWall. Here, in Britain, there was a healthy mix of fascination, interest and, as the weeks advanced, a growing sense of "get it over with already!". Indeed, this culminated in many furiously ruminating  on Twitter over the press conference that Tommy and Kevin conducted (probably under duress) and the ongoing TV stints on massive American talk shows that no one knows anything about on this side of the pond. Who is Ellen DeGeneres? Just joking - she's famous for that selfie with all her famous pals, right?

Indeed, on this, the 11th hour of climbing's short-lived (and everyone knew it was going to be short-lived) stint in the psyche of the world, climbers took to Twitter to sarcastically belittle that popularity. Like the jealous kid in the corner of the canteen watching the popular kid get the attention of the pretty girl. In the weeks, months and years previous, for almost as long as I've been climbing myself, I've listened and joined in conversations about rock climbing's lack of funding and wages for top athletes. Why o' why can't professional climbers get enough money to support themselves to train and compete internationally? 

The kind of publicity and interest #DawnWall brought to the sport is  what is needed to ensure climbers eventually get similar remuneration to other sportsmen and women who spend hours and hours toiling away in a gym, sculpting themselves into athletes. The kind of publicity that joining the Olympics would bring. The kind of publicity that some climbers are attempting to generate by themselves - through their efforts on social media. Social media, that channel giving many an outlet when the TV crews pack up their stuff, turn their backs on climbing and head off into the sunset, towards the next shiny subject to catch their attention. 

Top climbers need to work hard to get themselves in front of that camera - metaphorically and, hopefully one day, literally. And I'm not just talking about working hard in the gym. They need to put themselves out there, write blogs, interact on social media, start a vlog... whatever it takes. If they want to be able to support themselves climbing, they need to make it a full-time occupation and work at it. Don't expect a few hours in the gym each day, the odd hard ascent and a single obscure, blurry photo posted online each week is going to ensure you don't need a 9-5.

I read an interesting blog from a very talented American writer called Andrew Bisharat this morning. He wrote about Sierra Blair-Coyle. Who, you ask? Don't kid yourself... you know who. Indeed, that article sparked this blog, as it got me thinking about how some climbers get themselves into the public eye. On the one hand you've got two of the world's best climbers completing the world's hardest multi-pitch in the world's most famous big-wall arena and on the other a blonde bombshell with a fanbase to rival Justin Bieber. OK, her fanbase is not quite that big, but for the climbing community it's HUGE. 205,000 Likes of her Facebook athlete page. In comparison, Tommy has 74,000 (still impressive - no doubt given a boost by #DawnWall) and Kevin has 37,000.

Of course, measuring fame via Facebook Likes is a little nonsensical - I mean, has Sierra ever had a congratulations from Mr.President? No (I'm guessing). And a large proportion of those Likes are likely from individuals who just want to ogle the 20-year-old in her hot pants. But does that matter? The fact that people are looking at those photos in their thousands means she is a walking, talking billboard - and, therefore, she can make money and will likely be making money off climbing for a long time yet.

These two examples are extremes and maybe, for the average athlete climber, especially British athlete climbers, they need to find a middle ground. Mix the climbing achievements with a healthy dose of self-publicity. 

The British proclivity for understating our own achievements - much happier to play the humility card than shout from the roof tops - is a natural barrier for self-aggrandisment. Therefore, maybe we are happy working our 9-5 jobs and climbing on the weekend, at whatever level we currently call ours. But if you want investment in climbing and athletes and training and the British junior and senior teams then be prepared for climbing and climbers to be taking their turn in the limelight more frequently, even if that limelight is self-generated via the internet or thrust forward because of Olympic inclusion. And make sure you fully support whoever is front and centre when it happens.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Exposure Volume 2 - review

Rock climbing is forever becoming more specialised. Bouldering, sport climbing, competitions, winter climbing, alpinism and the list goes on. As boundaries are pushed in one discipline, it becomes harder to bridge across several at the very highest level. Each niche has its peculiarities, its training requirements and mental aspects and, therefore, demands dedication to not only reach the top but go beyond it, into new territory. 

Exposure Vol. II takes a close look at three of those disciplines and the climbers who are pushing the limits to new heights by focussing, training hard and dedicating their lives to the task. Split into four segments, or chapters, the film is able to tell their stories succinctly, with each having a distinct feel and tone.

First up is Daniel Woods and Jimmy Webb, two climbers from the US who have taken a liking to bouldering, to put it mildly. The pair have been at the forefront of redefining hard climbing moves, repeating and establishing some of the World's highest graded test pieces. While the upper limit has seemingly not progressed in terms of grade in a number of years, the amount of time it now takes to climb an 8C (V15) boulder problem has been reduced to just hours - and that is largely thanks to Daniel and Jimmy. Flashing 8B and former 8B+ boulder problems (downgraded due to flash ascents) is now a seemingly regular occurrence.

Daniel Woods in Bishop - Photo from Sparkshop instagram
This segment of the film is predictably full of hard boulder problems, in North America and Canada, and takes a peek at the development process, as Daniel attempts what could possibly be "the next level" boulder problem. It asks questions as to why there is yet to be a confirmed 8C+ boulder (although there are a few around the world that pose the question: is it 8C+?) and places the duo in the driving seat of trying to find and confirm the answer.

Alongside the hard bouldering, the "bromance" and camaraderie of Daniel and Jimmy has its funny elements too; the pair huddled over a tiny fan attempting to cool their finger tips and Daniel wearing a pair of marigolds when showering, are just two examples. The film then switches gear as it moves into the next segment. It juxtaposes with the solitary Dmitry Sharafutdinov training in Russia for the World Cup competitions.

The first scene of the second segment is Dmitry wandering through an abandoned building. Then we get commentary from both the protagonist and fellow Russian climbing team member Rustam Gelmanov telling us how hard life is in Russia - "if you live in Moscow, you never think about climbing, only making money", we're told. I paraphrase, but you get the gist. As members of the national team, they get no support other than a t-shirt. Their "training gym" appears nothing more than a few ramshackle walls. And Dmitry lives in a teachers' dormitory, where he boasts of having his own room and a bathroom.

Dmitry Sharafutdinov - photo from Sparkshop
Life does indeed appear rather hard for Russian professional rock climbers. And therefore it is a wonder how Dmitry consistently makes podium at World Cup competitions - he's won the overall championship three times, collecting ten gold medals. The film gives us a glimpse into his training, which makes for fascinating viewing for not only the reasons I have already described but also the fact that Dmitry is such a secretive character. Even for those who spend many weeks, if not months, on the road with him, his fellow competitors seemingly know little about the man. Rumours of thousands of pull-ups a week, a diet consisting solely of vast quantities of hard boiled eggs, and exaggerated training routines shroud him in mystery.

This was my favourite segment of the overall Exposure Vol. II film, and it made me want more. Dmitry has been climbing since he was 6 years old, but we never find out how he got into it in the first place. He only ever climbs inside, for logistical and motivational reasons, but I've seen news articles, pictures and videos of trips to Spain, for example. The film gives us a glimpse of the man, but we only learn so much.

After this, we slide from one World Cup competitor to another, Alex Puccio. Alex has been climbing since she was 13 and has focussed a great deal of her career on competitions - to the culmination of being the strongest US female competitor in the World Cup. The pressure that comes with such a responsibility seemingly gets under Alex's skin, as she complains of experiencing massive headaches after competing, having difficulty controlling her nerves and crashing after it's all over. Therefore, due to the struggles of the last season, she makes the decision to switch focus and head outside with a bouldering pad strapped to her back.

Alex Puccio - Photo from Sparkshop Instagram
The film marks the start of Alex's journey towards being the first woman ever to climb two 8B+ (V14) boulder problems. While neither are captured on camera, this groundbreaking news is mentioned at the end of the segment. What we do see is Alex moving from her previous best of 8A+ to 8B, and a demonstration of the power that will carry her even further, onwards to 8B+ and 8C, most likely. As I have done here, this short film focuses on the grades rather than the lines, with most of the commentary revolving around why she hasn't climbed a certain number rather than any particularly inspiring projects that she has up her sleeve. Despite leaving behind the pressure of competitions, it seems the weight of a nation expecting her to ascend the hardest problems ever by a woman replaces it. Which is the worse? Only Alex gets to decide.

Finally, Exposure Vol. II takes a leap, after three bouldering shorts, into the heady heights of sport climbing with Alex Megos. This quietly spoken, young German burst into the international limelight when he became the first ever to onsight 9a. Since then he has made short work of almost every 9a and 9a+ he's touched. The segment takes a closer look at Alex's home crags, around the Frankenjura, overlaid with interviews with his father and others, including his trainer, who explain's his single-mindedness towards getting stronger, fitter and better at rock climbing, giving the impression that we've only begun to see the depths of his capabilities.

This film has overtones of Adam Ondra running throughout it, despite being about Alex. Arguably, the pair possess the most potential to push sport climbing to the limits, 9b+ and beyond, and comparisons between the two are bound to be drawn. Alex's apparent meteoric entrance into the climbing world was indeed born of a media-whipped public humiliation of having the world's first 9a onsight pulled from under Adam's feet by the new kid on the block. Humiliation is too strong a word, but everyone expected Adam to be the first to achieve the previously thought impossible feat, having onsighted several 8c+ routes by this point in his career.

Alex Megos - photo from Sparkshop Instagram
While Adam is never featured physically, there is a showdown of sorts, when Alex travels to Adam's backyard to attempt one of his unrepeated 15m 9a sandstone routes. Having already made the world's most famous 9a, Action Direct, look as simple as walking up a flight of stairs earlier in the film, expectations are set to watch Alex make extremely short work of Adam's creation. However, the route gives him some trouble and repels a one-day ascent, instead taking him a little more time and effort. He completes it eventually, of course, and that feat also concludes the film.

I enjoyed watching Exposure Vol. II but I would like to have seen more depth to many of the individual segments. More insight into the climbers themselves, rather than solely focussing on grades and pushing boundaries. Why are they the best at what they do? Where did they come from and how did they go from there to where they are today? This absence is most apparent in the first segment, with Daniel and Jimmy, as, except for the production values, it is similar to other films of them crushing V14 after V14. The Dmitry film is more of a documentary and, therefore, all the more interesting. Whereas we learn very little about Alex and her history in competitions, with the subject glanced at for just a few short moments. With German Alex we do get some insight, but he is equally skilled at bouldering, which is never mentioned, and, with Cafe Kraft taking the training world by storm, it would have been interesting to get a better look at his training routine and how it differs from others.

For 80 minutes of pure, unadulterated rock climbing action, look no further. Exposure Vol. II is packed with it. Paired with a great soundtrack, it will be a good addition to your collection of psyche inducing films. Check out the trailer.

The full film will be available for digital download from November 21st. Visit the website to find out more.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Taming the Storm at Burbage South

Burbage valley, before logging commenced
I'm no geologist. When I hear climbers waxing lyrical about the origin, history and general makeup of a climbing area's stone, I lean towards an equal measure of scepticism and jealousy of their apparent encyclopaedic knowledge. Said scepticism usually results in a retort: "Where the hell did you read that?", with their response more enlightening than the initial diagnoses of the stone.

If someone has done their homework and their knowledge appears sound, with appropriate references to reading materials and learning, I do find the history of a climbing area fascinating. And I'm not talking about some Joe climbing a crack in his walking boots in the fifties (although that holds its own fascination), but the complete geological makeover of the area, through glacial shift, tectonic movement and whatever else Mother Earth once deemed appropriate behaviour during an age that makes Methuselah look like a whipper snapper.

What I find even more fascinating is the difference between stone that is geographically very close together, referred to under the same banner and widely regarded in my part of the world as "God's Own". Yes, I am referring to the Grit Stone found in numerous areas across Yorkshire and Staffordshire (those I am most familiar with). It is an acquired taste, but once you have spent time fondling its surface, you eventually see past the veil of a singular name. You don't even need eyes to grasp the difference between Burbage grit and that of Rowtor, as an example.

In this particular instance, I am going to dwell on Burbage South, which feels different to me than the stone just a few hundred metres up the path, at Burbage North or West. I'm sure someone will tell me this difference is nothing to do with Mother Earth and her destructive powers, but more likely the much more recent destructive powers of man. For the south, quite obviously, was quarried at one time, and the boulders strewn adjacent to the main edge no doubt resulted from said quarrying. It feels harsh, heavy grained and pebble strewn. The surface is much rougher than Rowtor, which is very fine grained, soft, velvety even.

The superb 7 Ball (6C) at Burbage South - credit: Leigh-Anne Lambert
Burbage South grit has pores like a golf ball, and I'm not referring to those created by rifle wielding soldiers from another but much more recent bygone era. They are large, obvious pores that, to my hand, create a surface much less grippy than the finer grit found elsewhere. In fact, compared to other areas around the Peak District, I find the Burbage South grit boasts the least cohesive surface of the lot. Again, please, if anyone believes different I implore you to leave comments, as maybe I have always embarked on a Burbage South bouldering session in mild and humid conditions. Maybe my hands are just not suited to the surfaces provided in this area. I have had many trips to Burbage South over the years and each one I have found difficult.

My "bogey problem" from last year was called Violence, a mere 7A in the bowels of the second of Burbage South's two main quarries. I don't say "mere" as a derogatory term, I'm simply attempting to sarcastically imply that I thought it was much harder than the grade assigned to it in the guide. My fat hands struggled with the small crimps at the start of the problem, the body position put me off balance before I could even get my butt off the floor and the sloping shelf in the middle of the wall always felt slippery, slimy even. Each of the four key moves required for me to top the problem felt hard in their own right, and stringing them together before I split my right forefinger tip was as much a physical effort as mental, as I'd be required to remember the subtle movements quickly, dredging them from the memory banks of the last session, which was usually some months previous as after each failure I'd swear never to return.

However, I eventually climbed the problem, on a bitterly cold day, when even the enormous walls of the cavernous quarry could not keep the wind at bay; swirling, howling air rushing in and out of the gaping scar on the landscape. The friction finally felt halfway decent. This level of natural intervention is seemingly what I require on every trip to Burbage South, if I want to reach the summit of any long standing blot on my tick list. Blot is an offensive word to use towards an inanimate boulder problem - I'm sure some people love these lines and problems. I, however, find them extremely frustrating.

The thing about bouldering: the most frustrating lines can be some of the most rewarding when you finally do finish them. And it is not since Violence that I have found a line so rewarding to finally complete, knowing the struggles I had with it. That is, until I finished Electrical Storm (7B), also at Burbage South, on this most recent weekend. I have had some battles with this boulder problem. While I'd say it falls into the mid-length category, it is really over after the first three moves - the final traverse being no harder than 6B. It is with the first three moves I have always had the trouble, and I knew the first time I completed them I would finish the boulder problem. And the trouble I had with these moves all came down to friction. I have felt strong enough to do them for a long while, but my hands would slide from the sloper in the middle of the lightning strike feature no matter how hard I squeezed. The friction on this sloper has always felt heinous, and no matter how much stronger I felt I could not make my hands stick. Simply matching it was a task in itself.

Electrical Storm is line 27. Photo from the excellent Peak District Bouldering guide from Vertebrate Publishing
I returned on Sunday, October 26th, with the sole purpose of conquering this nemesis. In an effort to keep perspiration to a minimum, I opted for shorts, and immediately regretted that decision upon embarking on the trudge across the moor. It was windy… and I was freezing. Upon reaching Electrical Storm, I threw the pads down and started doing laps on the finishing traverse to warm my hands and muscles. After ten minutes, I began yet another siege on the first three moves from the sitter. Pulling myself off the floor, I reach my right hand through to sit on invisible dimples on the edge of the offending sloper. I push hard with my left foot to bring my left hand to join the party and then, contrary to many people's solutions, I all-out throw for the sloping rail above with my right hand. For each of these moves, I find my hands in a constant battle for friction, and the real crux is remaining attached to the wall, rather than completing the movements in themselves. They are not massive and they are not immensely powerful, they are just finicky and slippery.

After maybe 45 minutes, I had to concede, as after a few attempts at throwing for the sloping rail I had started to fail to even match the hold in the middle of the wall. I tried my best to stymy frustration, but one or two expletives may have escaped my lips. We packed up and wandered over to a problem Leigh-Anne wanted to try, called Sitting Duck (6B). She obliged my requests to try the problem with her, after she had given it a few good efforts herself, and I managed to flash it. After several aborted efforts due to fear of slicing large slithers of skin off my unprotected, shorts-clad pins, I then proceeded to complete The Grazer (6C+), a variation of Sitting Duck that requires a deep lock off to a small pocket in the middle of the large slab overhead.

Leigh-Anne also wanted to look at Attitude Inspector (7A), a so-called Dyno I first climbed a couple of years ago. I say "so-called" because I don't dyno it at all, using my span and a heel hook around the arete to reach for the finishing jug. This method is more inline with a 6B grade, in my opinion, and I have never felt the urge to try the double dyno - or "flying dyno", as the guide describes it - to the painful, pebble filled finish. I demonstrated the problem to Leigh-Anne but she decided (rightly) that her span was not sufficient to enable her to use my beta, and the double dyno did not appeal. 

We then got her established under her own nemesis problem, Tiger (6B), on the aptly named Tank boulder, located below the main crag, part of a superb circuit of boulders. This is a single move off two opposing side pulls and poor feet to a flat rail above. It has rightly been upgraded from 6A to 6B in the latest edition of the guide, as due to its short stature the move is actually quite hard. In an effort to keep warm, I repeated Tiger and Panzer (6B+), taking my time on the latter traverse to enable warming lactic acid to pulse through my forearms, pushing blood into the closed capillaries in the ends of my fingers and warding off the fast-approaching Reynards Syndrome I struggle with in cold temperatures. 

Once lunch had been consumed, while we sat stationary under the adjacent block to The Tank, we both felt the cold creeping into our bones, the wind blasting at our faces and eyeballs. We decided to call it a day and began the slog back up the hill towards Fox House. On the trail towards the edge, we walked straight past Electrical Storm and I could not help myself but have another go before we left. Leigh-Anne kindly and surprisingly enthusiastically agreed, despite being cold and fully aware of how frustrated failure on this problem made me.

Once again, I threw the pads beneath the lightning strike feature, squeezed my icy toes into icebox climbing shoes, put my hands under my pits and did the warm dance - which involves jumping from left to right foot, stood stationary and hunched, while muttering something along the lines of "why the hell do I do this to myself?". After a minute, I pulled onto the wall and failed yet again. After ten minutes of this, I found a very subtle change in my body position that allowed me to match the crux sloper consistently and slightly more comfortably, setting me up for the dynamic throw for the rail above. I started getting closer and closer, sliding off the rail with increasingly more palm shredding pain, which meant the necessary surface area to keep me attached to the wall was finally hitting the right spot. It's a good barometer of approaching success, pain, as it is obvious, sharp and hard to ignore or miss. Eventually, I latched it and walked the rest of the traverse with relative ease, an anticlimax to the moves I had found so hard at the beginning.

Attempting the starting moves (the crux) on Electrical Storm (7B) on a previous trip to Burbage South
I am not normally one for letting out great bellows of joy after ascending a boulder problem, usually restraining myself to a simple, throaty "Yes!" if I'm particularly pleased with my efforts. However, after finishing this nemesis, I let myself go just a little, and shouted just a bit louder into the abandoned valley below. There were very few people about, so I indulged. I thought I would feel immense relief, as the problem had repelled me for so long, but relief was only a small part of what I felt. Physically, it is not the hardest boulder I have ever climbed, but the tenacity it required, the constant failure that needed to be overcome, and the lessons it taught me felt extremely rewarding - and, therefore, the usual relief at having finished a project was overwhelmed with glee. I am still smiling after climbing it and, almost 24-hours later, I still whisper to Leigh-Anne: "Guess what… I finally climbed Electrical Storm!" before breaking into another smile.

Everyone say it with me: I Love Rock Climbing.

Friday, 24 October 2014

My experience of the classic boulder problem Deliverance at Stanage Plantation

Deliverance at Stanage Plantation - Credit: Mike Etchells
Standing on smears, you rely on the rubber within which your feet are clad. Good rubber and a decent pair of shoes will make all the difference here and, for me personally, a softer shoe gives more feel, so this is what I opt for. 

It's fine standing there, knowing that your shoes are sticking, as the very fact that you're still on the wall proves this, but when it comes to moving you bring in an unknown, and your mind races with possibilities. The worst of these tend to freeze you in your tracks; you stammer and hesitate, you opt for the body position with the least likelihood of an awkward fall should the rubber fail, but not the best position to make the next move.

While stood there, contemplating the jump, the possibilities leap in and out of your head, making quick and fleeting appearances like a rabbit bobbing out of its hole. Your foot pings, and you skid down the wall. Your hand pings and you fire yourself off at an odd angle. You push out from the wall too hard and completely miss your pads. Anything except actually latching the hold you are launching for.

Almost latching Deliverance at Stanage Plantation - Credit: Mike Etchells
When quick movement is required, a dyno, split seconds count. Pushing off your feet, you overload the rubber now, which does not just have to contend with your bodyweight but also the additional force generated by your legs. And with it being a dyno from a side pull, the entirety of your continued movement up the wall is dependent on your rubber. 

After several attempts, gaining the trust of the rubber, or the rubber gaining your trust, you eventually shut out these thoughts, attempt to keep the rabbit buried underground, and start visualising grabbing the next hold more often than not. Your body position is refined by orders of millimetre shifts, your fingers perfectly fall onto the crystal strewn surface and of the single handhold between you and the top. Your feet are placed perfectly on those smears. In the space of half a second, your movement aligns, the rubber sticks and you latch the top - adrenaline pulses through your veins and is quickly washed away with relief. All that worry, for a single, solitary move that is over in the blink of an eye.

Monday, 13 October 2014

A wet weather Fontainebleau trip - eking out dry boulder problems

The weather is a mercurial thing. And sometimes even more so than usual; switching from rain to sun and back again in the space of an hour, or even several times in a day. It might be glorious sunshine one week, as it was the week before we arrived in Fontainebleau, and pouring with rain the next. It is certainly safe to assume, to the best of my knowledge, our recent trip to the beautiful forest of Fontainebleau endured some of the most atrocious weather I have ever had the displeasure of camping in. 

Our saving grace during a damp Fontainebleau trip
Yes, on this occasion, being as the party consisted of just two, we decided to make use of the area's best campsite, in Grez Sur Loing. I've been camping a fair amount since my youth, when organised adventure such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award gave me the opportunities to trudge through the Welsh countryside in yet more delightful British weather, and since then I have grown to dislike it more and more over the years. However, the daily toil involved in dragging yourself out of a warm sleeping bag into the dim, grey and cold world presented each morning has begun to regain its appeal. Accidentally scraping your back along the inside of the tent porch while trying to put your shoes on generates a stream of icy rainwater to trickle down your back; it is certainly one way to shake the haze of a terrible night's sleep, but it might not attract many. Certainly, I can understand those who choose the comfort of a B&B or a Gite over a sodden campsite, as I have been a member of "those", but the latter  has its rugged charms. Having lived in a tent in terrible wet conditions last week, and now being back home, I can oddly say that I miss it somewhat.

Typical Font rainy day activity - look around the palace
The location and the climbing no doubt play their part in this infant nostalgia; a post holiday blues that defies logic, considering the unpleasantness of camping in persistent rain. And indeed there was some climbing to be had, despite the temperament of the weather. The occasional patch of dry would push its way through the cloud cover, if only for a couple of hours. And then the final 36 hours of our most recent Fontainebleau escapade were as dry as an ancient Egyptian mummy. As if by magic, on our last day, we actually managed to climb all day, and leave the magical forest with the familiar sore, pink fingertips, aching elbows and a handful of good boulder problems under our metaphorical belts.

The "top out" on a very hard 7A called Lamentin, at L'Elephant
With regards to climbing successes, I indulged in no illusion as to be returning home with a tick list as long as my arm. I had actually wanted to use this trip very differently to previous trips, and get stuck into a handful of hard boulders at my limit, as opposed to moving around a lot, trying loads of different lines. Unfortunately, like always, nothing goes to plan, and the weather demanded you climb on whatever you could find dry or don't climb at all. And therefore, while I did manage to put in an hour on one project and two on another, this was not nearly sufficient enough time to find the elusive success. Therefore quick ticks were the order of the week - and I managed to make short work of most of those I reached the top of.

Happy having done Magic Bus (7B+) first try
Below is said list, with a few words on each, as much for my own records (as I don't maintain an scorecard) as anyone else's. I hope some find a problem they might want to try themselves next time they're in Fontainebleau.

The Tick List


  • La Moreau (6A) - A brilliant little introduction to Fontainebleau bouldering at a friendly crag.
  • La Voie Michant (6C) - One of those I had failed on in earlier years, but ascended first try this time. Quality.
  • Le Lepreaux Direct (7A) - One big move off two slopers to reach jugs above… soft, but a nice introduction to Font 7A.
  • 24 Black (6A) - A good problem, hard for the grade, and a little tucked away.
  • Lamentin (7A) - Brilliant juggy undercutting climbing with rubbish feet. More like 7A+/B IMO.
  • La Barre Fixe Directe (7B+) - Dynamic and powerful movement on good holds, suiting me to a tee. Took less than 30 minutes. Video below…

Bas Cuvier
  • Charcuterie (7A) - Very much 7A IMO, either way you do it. Big reach, core tension and easy top out. Classic.
  • Unnamed 6A adjacent to L'Abattoir boulder - Nice moves and just enough of them
  • Unknown 7A not far from Marie Rose - toe hook, sloper slapping and oddly pumpy despite being quite short.

Franchard Cuisiniere
  • Unknown 6C - obvious arete visible from the path you walk in on. Really good quality, tenuous arete climbing.
  • A Bras Plat A Bras (6C) - Nice, steep traverse with one tough move followed by an awkward top out. Opposite above arete.
  • Bizarre Bizarre assis (7A+) - did the stand (7A) in a couple of tries and the assis was a whole new kettle of fish, taking a little longer to figure out the connecting moves.
  • 5 Red Traverse (6A) - A really nice, really tough for 6A traverse that leads into big finishing moves. Worth doing.

Franchard Hautes Plaines
  • Surplomb De La Coquille (6C+) - Having failed on this last year, I was keen to finish it off. Did it first try, at the end of a long day.
  • Surplomb De La Coquille assis (7A) - Wanted to add this separately, as I managed it first try, having done the stand first try as well. Shows training is working, as I failed the stand last year.

  • Retour Aux Sources (7A) - Great line, great moves. Had one proper go before it started raining, went back the next day and did it first try. Worth noting, it dries very quickly due to exposure, so it was getting a lot of traffic while we were there, as it was one of the few dry lines in the forest for most of the week.

  • Magic Bus (7B+) - Having failed to lock the crimp last year, I did the problem first try this year, having warmed up on it as well. Another indicator of training working.

Petit Bois
  • Remise A L'Heure (6A+) - Delicate traverse into an arete.
  • Quelle Conque (5+) - Quintessential Font top out in an amenable grade. Classic.
  • Envolage (6C) - Nice rising traverse into a green, mossy top out. Scary, so I was pleased I flashed it.

La Roche Aux Sabots
  • La Porte A Faux (6A) - Having once again failed on the adjacent dyno, Smatch (7B), I did this to make myself feel better… and it worked! Good problem.
  • 14 Red (6B) - The. Hardest. 6B. In Fontainebleau. Last problem of the trip, so bad skin, sweaty, wet conditions and sore muscles all conspired to make it VERY difficult.
Hot cup of tea and a French flan on the night before travelling back to England - doesn't get much better!

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.