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.

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