Monday, 12 August 2013

Great bouldering day on Peak District limestone

Limestone has taken over my rock climbing life over the past couple of weeks. It has crept in, slowly eating away at gritstone's share of my time, but for good reason. It has been warm. Very warm at times. But also humid and frequently wet from rain showers or even the occasional thunderstorm. So the exposed gritstone crags and boulders that litter the Peak District have been wet, from either rain or hand sweat. Climbing on them has been out of the question for me, for almost the past two to three months. I miss them dearly.

Filling this void in my life, I was first exceptionally busy with work, therefore not climbing all that much, and secondly, over the past three weeks or so, took to training once again. A new element to this training - new for me, anyhow - is climbing on limestone. My finger strength when it comes to small holds has never been great. I have big, fat sausage fingers that don't fit well on micro edges and sharp, incut crimps. And so I decided to do something about it. I decided to try my hand at limestone bouldering.

This isn't strictly new for me. I have climbed on limestone before. But not that much. Not that much at all, in fact. When I was a student I made a handful of excursions to Rubicon. Then didn't touch limestone again for years. About two months or so ago I went to Raven Tor for the first time ever and managed to climb Weedkiller Traverse (7B) in a handful of tries. That was a little eye opener. I returned once or twice since then to have a go at Powerband (7C) but still lacked the required finger strength - my hands barely fit in the slots as well, so I blame them a little. Lame excuse, I know.

Finally, over the past two weeks, I have been making regular excursions to Stoney Middleton, for training purposes. It's only 15 minutes from my office (by car) so I've been shooting over there after work and making up traverses on Minus Ten Wall. Despite it being polished and not exactly pretty to look at, I have fallen for this esoteric crag... just a little bit. I can see why some people think it's a grotty little place, but I really like it. That is, I really like it for training finger strength and power. I also really like it for Tom's Roof too.

On these short 90 minute sessions after work, I managed to climb some established problems, but not a great deal. I was mostly making stuff up - largely because I couldn't be bothered to decipher the guide and apply its litany of numbered holds to the walls I was stood under.

When this weekend came around, however, I decided to take Leigh-Anne to try Tom's Original (one of those problems I had done already). I had almost flashed this short, steep and burly 7A the first time I went to Stoney, with just a foot slip on the very last move costing me. Since then I have done it first try every time I have visited. 

On Saturday, we did the usual warm up traverse on Minus Ten Wall, following the middle break to the end and then reversing. Get a nice, warm pump running through the forearms, sit down for a cup of coffee and by the time you're done drinking your body is ready for some more vigorous climbing. I decided to get on Lucian's Undercut (7A) first and managed to climb this pretty quick. I was keen to try the very similar Zippy's Sidepull (7B+) straight away but opted to come back to it later in the day. 

After this we went upstairs, so to speak, to Tom's Roof. It doesn't look like much when you first set your eyes on it, but I think it's great. Nice and secluded, isolated almost from the rest of the crag. This tiny limestone gym holds more than a dozen boulder problems, unbelievably. Quite a few revolve around a good flat crimp in the middle of the roof, which has a little history of its own (get the guide book). As per usual, I climbed Tom's Original first try, for my second 7A tick of the day. Then I did Punker Bunker (7A+) first try. Then came a little more work on Power Allowance (7B) - the video for which is below. Power Allowance is one of those training problems where you do quite a few moves but actually barely move anywhere, reversing back to where you began - strange but also really satisfying. Then I did Swing Thing (7B) in about three goes. And finally, to my surprise, I climbed Figure of 8 (7B+) as well. I say "to my surprise" because I began working this and thought several of the moves either felt really hard or just really weird. The last move, for example, is probably the single strangest move I've ever done on a climb.

Anyway, safe to say, by this point in the day I was pretty happy with myself. 

My arms starting to wane from trying to figure out Figure of 8, we decided to go back down to Minus Ten Wall, to try something a little less steep. More people were here now, but it still wasn't busy, by any stretch. I placed the mat under Zippy's Sidepull, ready to finish what I had started earlier. However, I dry fired off the sidepull and then I lost the heart for giving it too much effort - feeling a little tired and now getting too warm, with the sun having broken through the clouds and the temperature rising. 

We had to be done by 4pm due to other commitments, which, by this point in the day, gave us little more than an hour to finish climbing. I wanted to get on something a little easier, so we went to Raven Tor to try Saline Drip Start (7A) - as it had split my tip on a previous session and I wanted to get revenge by finishing it. I did so first try, in the blazing sunshine. I then did the sit start version (7A+) first try as well. That made eight 7th grade limestone boulders in a single session - a new record for me.

There is something to be said about climbing lots of boulder problems in a session rather than trying a single harder one over and again, looking for that elusive send. There is definitely something to be said... I just don't know what it is. I like climbing lots, I suppose, rather than sitting staring at a single line for an age. That said, I love the feeling of sending something at my limit, after lots of effort, too. 

Either way, I think I'm getting keen on this limestone lark now. I feel like it's helping my finger strength, which was the original reason for going to Stoney, so why not continue it? At least until the temperatures start dropping again and the gritstone ripens, ready for devouring.