30 August 2014

Smugdale

As we all know by now, when the media get all in a tither about 'the weather' they really mean the weather down South. So when warnings of the August Bank Holiday being a complete wash out hit the News then I thought it would be worth checking the forecast a bit more closely. Sure enough, heavy rain was spreading in from the South but it looked like it might only get as far as the A1. This would mean travelling a bit further afield than or usual gritstone haunts around Harrogate but I'd been eyeing up a few crags in a guidebook I'd got from a car boot sale. Scugdale seemed a good spot, and the addition of a few photos to the descriptions in climbonline got me even more excited.
Purple ripples of the North Yorks Moors.
Driving up the A19 the skies looked grey and foreboding, and I even passed through a few small showers. However, as I pulled into the quaint village of Swainsby to meet Stu things seemed to be cheering up. As we drove up out of the plains into the moorland valley of Scugdale the skies seem to clear and the temperature rose, and pulling into the empty parking bay we knew we had made the right choice. A short hike later we arrived at the crag, and our decision seemed even wiser. For some reason I had imagined Scugdale would be a bit more urban, I guess it's the name, but in reality it is a pleasant and remote valley coloured in swathes of purple heather.
Grade 4 Highball Heaven!
The path arrives at the centre of two separate crags- Scot Crag to the left, and Barker's Crag to the right. From what I could gather Scot is more of an edge, and its height in the guide had suggested route climbing, whereas Barker's is more broken up, and the lower height suggested bouldering. Whether this is the case or not I'll have to go back and check- our original plans of bouldering Barker's got put on one side as we warmed up on the first bit of rock we met and gradually got pulled further and further left. Curtain Slab offered the tempting runnels, pockets, and side pulls that sandstone seems to excel at, and all at a height that seemed to offer just enough adrenaline to excite without scaring you silly.


Up a chimney.
Climbing down we kept spotting new ways up, and all at grades within our grasp, tempting us up again and again. Even seemingly tricky starts, such as Pingers (VS 5a), led to comforting breaks and solid top outs that were a joy to climb. There seemed to be a great mix of pocketed slabs, chimneys, bouldering problems, all waiting to be discovered. It wasn't all plain sailing, however, and on occasion fear (or sanity) gripped us leading to retreat, such as on Pisa Buttress. After a while our bodies began to suffer as well- strenuous moves on Drunken Buttress led Stu to take a controlled fall, and I really began to feel it in my arms. The weather stayed on course, however, and it was running out of time and energy that put paid to the session. Definitely a venue for future trips- so much more to climb, and we didn't even make it over the fence to Barker's!

Peahen and Peachicks.
The apparent end of summer had recently got Stu to thinking of heading back indoors, and we had reflected on the full body workout that you only really get at a bouldering wall. But here we were- outdoors, under the sun, and cream crackered. Plus, we had something no indoor wall can ever give you- big skies, moorland, and peace. It's also pretty unlikely you would have to slow down for families of grouse, peacocks, and kittens on the drive back from the Depot. Dropping Stu back in Swainby, I headed back West and into the Bank Holiday showers. Knowing that we had dodged the wash out I couldn't help feeling just a little bit smug.


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20 August 2014

Ready?

So, we went to Font - go and read the last post, from Bryn, it hasn't had nearly enough hits. Go on, I'll wait.

...

Okay, all Font-ed up? I hope so. So we went to Font, and then I had about a month off with my dodgy shoulder. That sucked. I've started climbing again (though I haven't gone back to see Charlotte, my physiotherapist, since the month off, and the shoulder still twinges. And this all still sucks. That I haven't seen Charlotte sucks, that the shoulder still twinges sucks, and oddly, somehow, the climbing kind of sucks. Why is that? Well, following Font is a toughie - it's a place of wonder, and under Bryn's new-to-Font enthusiastic guidance, we made good sport of it. Also, a month off does indeed take the wind out of your sails - climbing breeds climbing, it seems. And a lot of the gang seem to be away for the summer, or moving house, so while it can be a solitary experience if you want it to be, a thriving social scene doesn't hurt.

All that said, the last couple of sessions have been good for me. Both at Almscliffe, both inspired by recent Communal Climber Mike, in that I've followed him up ticks that I probably wouldn't have thought to do otherwise. I believe Mike got them both in one night, when I was there but doing nothing more than documenting the experience on Twitter. I followed up over two occasions. First, the Postman. Postman Plus, or Postman High, I suppose. I'd found myself up about the Postman for some scrambly reason, and I looked down on the extra few moves and thought it doable (well, Mike had done it, so...). And it was. And it was pretty much fine, possibly just one precarious moment in which a transition was balanced as if on a pommel. But a pleasing tick all the same. Next up was Flying Arete. Wait, no, sorry - it was a rock near Flying Arete, which was just the landmark. Opposite side of the path. Delicate start for all limbs, reachy moves in order to get established, but then some nice meaty holds to progress and polish it off. Both of these climbs were pretty much highballs rather than overtly technical, but very satisfying all the same.

Tonight we're due at Hunter's Stones and Norwood, where I need to revisit a problem that was bread and butter for everyone else last year, but managed to consistently defeat me. I owe it, big time. That I'm wearing the wrong trousers, well, I'll have to do what I can.

But here's the thing - I think I'm ready to go back inside. I know Mr Prince will make a show of misliking this (and I'll be keeping an archive of this post in case he gets delete-happy), but I need to be able to throw myself at problem after problem after problem. I need tunes blaring in the background. I need free pizza. I need bouldering leagues. I need gangs of climbers to banter and engage with. I need that to get my head back in the game. I need to go back inside so that I can relish getting back outside. This is ever the cycle for me, accentuated by the long shadow cast by Font - and I need something that has a little more distance in the comparison to help me reset.

Hopefully Hunter's tonight will do some good - a slightly bigger crowd than recent weeks, a good sunset with any luck, and revenge on that problem. Beyond that, over the coming weeks and months, I'll see you inside. And once I'm reset, I'll be looking to drag you back out on the rock with me.

From Hetchell, last week, where I didn't do any climbing.

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14 June 2014

Fontaine Bros



It's hard to know where to start when writing about Fontainebleau, especially your first visit. I imagine many people struggle with choosing between the complexities and intracacies of their journeys, the wonder of the circuits, the landscape and geography, the culture and the history, the company and the solitude. However, the first battle has surely got to be choosing a pun-tastic title, there are so many options! 'Font of all knowledge', 'Bleau by blow account', 'Bleau me down', the list goes on... In the end I opted for 'Fontaine Bros' as it summed up our trip quite nicely. It had started off as a planned journey of many 'bros', but one by one they dropped out (largely caused by a spate of house moving) until there was just me, my son Cosmo, and Stuart. Stuart had visited last year, and had gone on about the place so much I felt we really should take his word for it and find out for ourselves what all the fuss was about.

We ended up choosing early June for our visit, the 70th anniversary of D-Day to be exact. This was partly due to April and May being particularly hectic, though it did also seem like an apt time to invade France. Unlike our forefathers, we came to enjoy the freedom of Europe rather than liberate it. June would hopefully give us plenty of daylight, not too much rain, and pleasant but not too hot temperatures. Well, we managed on the first count, arriving just as a big area of high pressure moved into Northern Europe and sent afternoon temperatures up into the high 20s. It also brought a few thunder storms along for the ride as well, but most of those hit at night so we got plenty of dry rock. Personally, I would rather get hot and sweaty than rained off any day.

Back when we were a large party, I had priced up the overnight Hull-Zeebrugge ferry and it seemed a reasonable way of cutting the driving time. However, with a party of 3 this wasn't the case, so I got to have my first encounter with the Eurotunnel instead. The lengthy journey turned out not to be too bad with some tag team driving splitting the 11 hour door-to-door travelling time into manageable chunks. We even managed to make both legs completely different routes, partly thanks to Kate, our stern and disapproving SatNav, and partly due to our rebellious refusal to obey her commands. Top tips to remember- England decides to shutdown key section of its road network after 1am, so plan ahead. Paris may be a nightmare to drive through, but if you get off the main roads it has bags of character and some cheap Boulangeries. And the A104/N104 is a handy way of missing out the nightmare altogether. Lastly, the coastal road just West of Calais is very pretty and has a few nice beaches you can easily access.


At this point I must make a confession. We never actually went to Fontainebleau. That is, we never actually went to the town itself. And although we did go to the Forest of Fontainebleau, in reality we only went to a small part of that, mostly the Noisy sur Ecole area of the Trois Pignons section. I'm sure we are not alone in this, given that Trois Pignons- the westerly section of forest sliced off by the A6- contains so many areas of so many good boulders that you could climb there for weeks. It also contains the main campsite for the forest, La Musardiere (or La Moo as Stuart renamed it). This is where we were heading, and very pleasant it was too. With the temperature literally doubling in the space of 2 days it was going to be warm, but the pool had just opened for the summer, and most of the site is shaded by the trees.
Once we had set up home in the shady snickets of La Moo we started our adventuring at the Chateauveau area, a 10 minute walk away. For the uninitiated, most of the climbing areas have handily been organised into graded circuits, a collection of numbered problems that you can work through at your leisure. However, the circuits are a lot more than this. They are also a way of linking these problems together through down climbs, traverses, leaps of faith, adventures that take you to places and views that you would normally never experience. For me, they represented the youthful play and flow of climbing, paths and movement that you could get absorbed into, searching out the tell tale coloured dots and arrows painted by mysterious benefactors. They also go on for huge distances, often linking up to 50 problems together, and whilst completing a whole circuit of whatever grade would be a huge acheivement, that temptation to follow just one more dot, or peek around just one more boulder is so tempting you can easily lose sense of your limitations.

The first thing we found at Chateauveau was that the Yellow (low grade) circuit was intertwined so closely with the orange (bit harder) circuit that both Stuart and myself got caught up in trying to do both at the same time. Cosmo, meanwhile, was off like a mountain goat, scampering up the gully from rock to rock, occasionally marking his progress by shouting the number of the problem he had just climbed. Much discussions were had about 'finding your inner child', which at 42 I occasionally struggle to do! The 'outer adult' body, however, meant packing in the circuit at around the 22 mark and then scrambling the rest before topping out the top boulder and admiring the extensive views of the forest.


We woke the next day refreshed and ready for a full day out. Well, that's not totally true. I woke at 2am when a group of Germans decided to set up camp right next to us, complete with about 8 very efficient head torches. Arriving on a Friday morning, the campsite had been quite peaceful, but over the next 2 days it turned into something akin to a small festival. Lots of French families were out for their Whit weekend, and a large contingent of serious climbers from all over Europe appeared. The average BMI of the campsite shot rapidly down, and I started to feel like a pale, lardy Englishman. It was a nice atmosphere though, with slack lines, bouldering mats, and tasty camper vans all over the place. Up and armed with a pack-up we headed off to Roche aux Sabots, where a harder Yellow circuit offered some shaded climbing under the trees, as the heat was due to peak at about 28'C. It was also a few minutes walk from the car park so we could quite quickly get stuck in. The boulders here were spaced apart, giving it a more airy feel than the ramble of Chateaveau, and the problems of a higher quality.

Whilst we had lots of fun tackling the first 12, we soon ran out of energy, and retired to the nearby village of Milly-la-Foret for ice cream and provisions before heading home to plunge into the chill of the campsite pool. Fed, watered, and cooled we returned to Sabots for another bash at #12-22, by which point we were definitely starting to flag. Undeterred, Cosmo made some great dynamic moves, whilst Stuart finished off with a peaky highball. The sun was starting to set, so we carried on up the path to the landlocked beach of Cul de Chien to take in the views. A very pleasant stroll back through the woods brought back memories of hiking Himachal Pradesh, and a lovely finish to the day.


I woke early again that night, this time at 2am, willing some drunken voice to pipe down when my prayers were answered by the arrival of a thunder storm. Restless sleep is far more enjoyable to a soundtrack of rumbling thunder and the patter of rain. And whilst the rain carried on and off into the morning it helpfully delayed the departure of our aching bodies, prompting a game of Citadels and some lunch before hiking off in the midday heat to the nearby 95.2 area. The uphill yellow circuit brought a smile to our face, where I seem to remember enjoying the links more than the problems, with great leaps and delicate traverses making the most of the rock. The heat was beating us down, however, so it was back to La Moo for a quick dip and a feed. We decided to finish our last evening back where we started at Chateauveau, hoping to catch the sunset from the top. Wearing regular footwear and travelling light, we were mostly out for a hike but I couldn't resist getting back on the circuit where we had finished it at #22 for a blast in my trainers. There were fine views again from the top, but the setting sun disappeared into the clouds, and instead we decided to follow a hiking circuit off into the woods as dusk fell.

For a while there was serious risk that we were getting lost, but got on the right track thanks to Google Maps (and Cosmo pointing out that the sun set in the West, no app required here). I wondered at the beauty of the woods, with its beaches, mossy groves, and boulders, and we chatted about the philosophy of paths, and all seemed right with the world. Things got even righter as we found ourselves back at the campsite just in time for last orders at the bijoux chip van.

Sunday night brought more thunder at dawn, and we figured we had a few last cheeky hours to catch a last climb before heading off on the road again. It dried out as we packed up, and the guide suggested the Gorges d'Apremont offered climbing right by the car park. It also offered climbing outside of the Trois Pignons, and a drive through the wealthy looking Art Village of Barbizon. Unfortunately, vehicle access stopped us short at the Bas Breau crossroads, and we opted for a walk to the quieter Envers d'Apremont area instead. So quiet in fact that deer crossed our pathway on the walk in, and we didn't see a soul once we were off the path. It felt humid and lush and I half expected to see an Ewok pop out from behind a boulder. Envers obviously had much less traffic, and we struggled to even find the circuit, hunting for the tell tale yellow dots and arrows on the rock. We eventually joined it at #42, and spent a pleasant hour working the last 8. The circuit finishes by traversing around a rock into a highball that reminded me of Rabbit Paw Wall at Caley, taking you higher and higher til the finale. The jugs were positive, but hidden by moss and pine needles, and the moist air turned to rain as thunder rumbled again in the air. It seemed a dramatic and soulful last climb for me, and we left buoyed again by the beauty of the forest.


As we drove out into the wide open fields surrounding the forest, thoughts turned to how we would sum up our expedition. Was it the bouldering mecca that I had been promised? Absolutely, for we had but skimmed the surface of the opportunities on offer. Was it the cultural experience that I had promised Cosmo's school? Mais oui, for not only was it experiencing France but also the French outdoors and their particular take on it. I remember thinking as we walked through the 95.2 car parks that in the UK you would be battling through National Trust volunteers in hi-vis and ice cream vans just to get past the queue at the ticket machine. But the lasting feeling I have of Fontainebleau was that it had been a great adventure, from the flow of the circuits to getting lost in the forest footpaths, and I think that is what will take me back there again and again.





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5 June 2014

Fontaineblow-out

Bound for Font this evening. I'll leave Bryn to do the reporting post-trip - he's the Font virgin, after all.

Me, I'll be keeping my head down for a bit once we get back. My left shoulder has been feeling the strain for the last few months - in all honesty, I blame the attempts at handstands - and my physiotherapist, Charlotte, can only roll her eyes so much. She taped my shoulder up this morning, knowing full well that I was headed for a trip of uber-bouldering, so now I feel I owe her something. My appointment with her is open for the next six weeks, so post-Font I'm ducking out of the game for a while. Morrell's Wall will have to wait. I'll take at least a month off and then see Charlotte again, at which point I'll either climb on a healed shoulder or climb on a dodgy one. But I have to give resting it a go. The most I'll be willing to do in that time is some scrambling - we've got eyes on several scrambles in the Lake District. And I suppose I'll probably still turn up at the crag to do some spotting for you, and to watch the sunsets.

So, if I don't see you there, I'll see you on the other side. In the meantime, pull hard.


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29 May 2014

The other side of the hill - Wimberry


There was I in Manchester and it seemed rude not to pop out to Wimberry for a look. Drying trend as I drive out through the suburbs of Manc, but a mile from the reservoir as the city ends and its drizzling. I park up, debate a trip out on my  mountain bike as it looks like a nice ride up to the skyline, but the lure of some decent moorland grit wins.

Wimberry boulders, a slopey, hillside boulder field of slightly highball rocks. Not a soul is about and skeins of rain sweep down the valley with just the glimmer of some blue to keep hope alive. As I plod up I can see Baron Greenback, Pete Whittaker's meister work from this year on the crag proper. A huge soaring prow like a sythe but bigger and with more power to hurt. Pete must have checked his brain in before he got on that, proper respect.

I get to the blocs. A wet wind barrels in. In the wind's lee the problems are dry but the humidity must be 110%, the friction just a rumour spread around by slate climbers. I make do with some easier cracks and slabs which are quality as it happens, even if none to taxing. Problem of the night is Hornli Ridge at the seldom seen grade of font 2. It crams a lot into its few short metres, a rockover, a layaway and a lip traverse on wonderful holds, with a view straight down the valley. Never done a boulder problem that felt like a multi pitch route before, quality.

Trouble was my mat and socks kept blowing away.  So I trudged out damp but grinning. I may have come to have a look at the classic Fish Arete but look was about all I did. Pity it looks like a nice problem. I was last here 10 years ago. I wonder if I will be back before I draw my pension?
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21 May 2014

Harms' Way

We normally climb of a Wednesday evening, but a disruptive schedule this week meant that I took in an Almscliffe shaped detour on my way home from work on Monday night.

I posted in our Facebook group that I was heading out, but no-one else took the bait, so I headed up on my lonesome for the first time in a long time. A session of steady re-ticks was on the cards, possibly with a throw at uber-project Morrell's as a bonus. I figured a nice, steady start was in order, so I set up camp at Low Man Slab. It was a gorgeous evening, and I spent a few minutes just sitting resting.


I rattled off the slab's groove and crack, and went straight up the side wall and also up the arĂȘte, no bother. Then, I freaked myself out on the right end of the slab - only ticked once or twice before, and without a spotter to stop me from tumbling down the hill should I fall, I found myself swinging into an escape to the left. My heart was pounding, and I calmed myself down by chilling on the mat for a while and having a drink. I would have felt pretty annoyed with myself if that had gone differently.

Obviously I then tried it again, but didn't get as far as where I got into trouble. Really, I should have known better throughout. I look forward to another look with a spotter around.

Then, my reverie was shattered by a sound, from around the corner of Low Man itself. My memory gets blurry, but there was an anguished cry followed swiftly by a sickening crunch. I headed down to the path - carefully, in climbing shoes on grass - and around the low end of the Matterhorn. There, below the Fluted Columns route, lay a climber - named Max, it turned out. His bleeding head was supported by a friend, and another friend was already on the phone to the emergency services. Max was conscious, and could move all of his limbs, so things looked surprisingly hopeful. The crag had come to a standstill, and climbers crowded round to do what they could, even just to be there for him. One climber was a doctor, which certainly helped matters. Max recognised me from Harrogate Climbing Centre, which seemed to be a good sign, and remained coherent throughout, though he occasionally repeated certain requests - to phone his Mum, for photos to be taken. That, and the suggestion that we all buy helmets.

Ambulances arrived - car, van, and helicopter, which first attempted to land near the drystone wall below Low Man. The pilot thought better of it and instead landed on the grass between the top of Low Man and Demon Wall. Max was loaded up and taken to Harrogate Hospital, while the rest of us dispersed, reflecting on what had happened.

It was sobering business. The word on social media is that Max is okay, but I've not heard exactly how he fell, so it's difficult to know what to take from this - sure, we should all give consideration to helmets and other appropriate gear, but what if the fall itself had been avoidable? I don't want to speculate more, but merely encourage anyone - whatever type of climb they're doing - to make sure. Sure, push yourself, but make sure you've got an escape route, or spotters, or a helmet, or enough mats, whichever is appropriate.

With the best will in the world, it - obviously - doesn't always work out. When it doesn't, we need someone to rescue us. And they - I'm talking about the Yorkshire Air Ambulance here - need our help to do it. So perhaps donate sometime. Even if you don't end up being thankful that you did, someone will.


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18 May 2014

Scone, not forgotten

I'm a little behind on a few sessions, and while some of them went by without notable incident - or indeed with poor form - there were a couple of decent efforts here and there, and all were good sessions with the gang. My reasons for blogging are as much about keeping the memory of the overall experience alive as mere tick-tick-tick, so a catch-up is in order.

First, there was a Tuesday night at Caley. I joined late, having been working till some ungodly hour (but then, aren't they all?), and the hardcore of Louis, Rob and Dave were throwing themselves at some pinchy technical nightmare. My arrival urged Bryn and Cosmo to head down to the Flapjack, where Cosmo impressed by ticking the scoop, and inspired by suggesting I miss out that problem's pebble. First, I did so by applying pressure elsewhere - my right hand pushing down on my right knee, arguably the most legitimate patella move. Next, I proceeded to miss out the starting handholds and anything on the right until the top (which was admittedly a bit of a stretch).

My left shoulder had been giving me gip, and the day after Caley I was due a physiotherapy appointment. I was up front about my climbing, and the physiotherapist was pragmatic about the fact that I might not stop climbing. She gave me some exercises to do (which I should be doing more than I am) and, for my part, I said I would try to take it easy, though the follow up appointment we arranged fell right next to the Fontainbleau trip that will be happening, no matter what!

The first climb after this appointment was Brimham, where we were doing a session with a young photographer working on his university studies. The models were Bryn, Cosmo, Dave and his boys, Louis, Ellen, Rob, new girl Emma, and myself. We climbed casual, not being too posey, though I admit it amused me to play to the crowd a little when Emma phoned me to find us, and I was half-way up a solo at the time. But then, the only photo of that was taken by Bryn. Once the photoshoot was over - including some rock-top juggling from Bryn and unicycling from yours truly - Louis, Rob and I remained behind for some last efforts. I got the top half of the - very chossy - problem next to cubic block, but really need to put together the transition from the sit-start to make it count. So half a tick there.

There was a session at Almscliffe on Wednesday night. A hot day turned into just a hint too cold to be comfortable night, and I wasn't on great form, but still good to get out under the sky.

And yesterday was a glorious summery day, on which we - just me, Bryn and Cosmo this time - elected for the shady glades of Caley. The usual warm-up slab became an impromptu deck-chair for some extended baking in the sun, before we descended once more to the Flapjack, again blitzing the scoop, and this time several of the problems to the left.

Next, the Scone. Hadn't been down this way in some time, and we eyed up the rock thinking back to previous efforts - I recalled taking on the sides, and seeing Dave go straight up the middle. I couldn't remember the details of Dave's climb, so all we had to go on was the look of the rock. I locked the middle fingers of my right hand into a tiny pocket, shored up with the left and angled my feet left of centre, making for a smeary subtle layaway. Established on the rock, my left hand went up and worked with what little was there. Right hand went from the pocket to a mini-mantle, soon to be replaced by the right foot. Now both hands were high, with little to play with. Little, but enough to allow weight to go through the right foot, in turn allowing a less than 100% confident left hand to gain the top. The right hand joined in, finding a better hold, and the feet padded up behind. Very pleasing that it went on essentially the first attempt. We played with the sides, and the huge rockover round the corner - one for another day, a day further away from physiotherapy appointments - and then moved on. We aimed for the Creme Egg, but when we got there we realised we were done, and we moseyed on out of the woods, back to the car, and on to a quest for well earned ice lollies.



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6 May 2014

Throng

Brimham again, same crag, same weekend as my last post, different time of day. Bank holiday Monday 2pm. The cars are queuing onto the road, We park in a soft verge. In we walk, Brimham is infested by humans. There is an amiable  group of us by the pommel boulders. Somewhere along the way via the miracle of social media a photographer and assistant have appeared. Pictures are taken and a few problems are sent on their way.

My kid wanders under some bloke trying to finish Black Dog Arete. The bloke gets a strop on, but it's the busiest day at Brimham since records began. Surely kids running round the rocks is on the list of things to expect today? I have a few words he sort of agrees, but you get the feeling he is the loner zen type, no kids, all internal dialogue. Odd choice of venue today then when Round Hill, Sypeland and Guiselcliffe will be empty.

We head round to Acme Wall. Louis fancies a pull on it. 7 metres of highball 6A, E3 5c in old money. You wouldn't want to drop the last move, although you would probably walk away. He has a look and gets to the crux than backs down. It is warm now and the crucial crimp is more sloper than in cut. A crowd forms as he heads back up. The camera snaps away, breaths is held. He steps up and pulls through, then he is in the break and finishing off to a round of applause and exhalation. A rockstar is born.

Myself and the boys head out, it's been more circus than woodland, no worse an experience but completely different to Saturday.



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3 May 2014

Solitude



First in the car park at Brimham, the hordes are coming but not for an hour, until then I'm alone. There is just the merest hint of cold in the air. It's not summer just yet and it's dry, you can feel the lack of moisture in the air. I dance across my warm up traverse in my shoes and stick that crimpy 6b+ wall first go, these are good omens, maybe enough offerings have been made?

Cubic is  a long steep throw for a distant hold, brute force and belief will do it, I have little of either. I get on it and it shrugs me off. I try some cunning and manage to drop a knee. It rolls over and lets me pass, a good start.

The bizarre Green Roof is fun. It's a roll onto an overhanging lip but there is a trick. All the holds are there and it takes me 20 minutes to find them. I would tell you where they are but you should find them yourself, recommended if you like crosswords.

Onto Whiskey Galore a classic bit of 7A and the reason I'm here if I'm honest. A steep shallow groove with small holds and even they run out at half height. Today somehow I can make the right shapes and unlike the last few sessions I'm established in the groove quickly with my hands maybe a foot from the top. I fiddle with feet placements and test the landing a few times. It's good even with my mat that doubles as a paving slab.

Finally I manage some weird foot spin move for my right that makes my hip hurt, but means I am maybe 3 inches from the lip. If I let go and pop will my feet  hold? I let go  and pop they hold and the lip is in reach. All good, trebles all round. Best session this season and it's been a vintage 15 year old Malt of a season. Maybe one more day this good before the bracken is over head height and everything greases up?



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19 April 2014

Under the Shadow of the Cross - A new Jerusalem was built

Cold this morning a first good sign, dry for the last week, better sign. Off to Caley with my boys. They are grumbling I didn't bring them gloves as we head up the track, the cross on the ridge near the Royalty is visible in the distance.



We meet James by the sugarloaf and get on the crimpy scoop of Luna. It succumbs first go as a warm up. I'm happy with that it has been throwing me off for ages. The kids get to bum sliding down the back of it. I try and persuade them not to, gritstone has taken the arse out of too many of their trousers their mother will skin me alive if they sacrifice another pair, and her at work too. We play on the classic, steep Pine Tree Arete, but it looks like it needs a few sessions and some real belief before it will give you the time of day. The kids find a problem where they have to think a bit, they think a bit, they get up it.

Chicken Run gets a look, it has potential, even at 7b I reckon, but boy does it need a brush. I haven't seem moss like it at Caley, it's been really wet this winter. We play on the impeccable Flapjack Scoop, still a beautiful thing and a visit to Caley is less if you don't have a go on it.

James says he fancies a go on New Jersualem. I don't fancy it. I'm feeling tired and weak but why not, he has danced to my tune for an hour? We walk down taking a higher shortcut which takes ages and has a Lost World feel to it. We get there. NJ is bone dry, no seepage and the bottom crimp feels good. First pull and I'm past the gaston and on to the first of the slopers, progress. Bugger better have a proper go then. James is pulling on but he is struggling to get through to the gaston.

Third go it's nearly there, I hit both slopers but my feet spin off as they come under me. I tear the obligatory flapper on my little finger and think that might have to do, but it tapes up nicely.

Next and I reckon final go so I'm throwing off weight like a crashing air ballon. Big wee, hat off, chalk bag off, most of my clothes in a heap, deep breathing before I set off. Ludicrous but you never know, it might be the difference.

All feels good, hang the crimp, reach through for the gaston, arm over for the first sloper, sort your feet, both hands on the slopers, feet come under and stick, pop for the edge, feet up, keep pulling, top, done. Splendid, first bit of softish 7A, Happy Easter.

James has a few pulls on Forked Lightening, it might only be 6B+ but it's dead hard. We give it best, I float down to the car as the kids chuck moss around and stuff themselves with pringles.





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18 April 2014

Easter, no egg

Eggmen


Back in the Peak again it's looking like my local area the moment. We are braving the April frosts in a tipi at Kniveton.

Wednesday and we are back at Cratcliffe for it's family friendliness and it's beautiful wind eroded boulders that need firm hands if they are to be beaten. It's Easter I want to climb the Egg. The Egg has other ideas. A polished elephants arse with maybe two proper holds and otherwise just slight changes in steepness on which to ply your trade.

My brother sorts out the central scoop at 5+, I flail on the arete (6b'ish) I'm off the ground but wide of the mark and gawd help us it's too hot for the first time this year. The crucial sloper is a grease fest and won't provide me with enough friction to move my feet. I pull till it peels, again and again and again.

We head up to the top boulders. The classic one move wonder on the rib succumbs without the arete at V3'ish the pinch is greasing up in the bright sun but somehow I hold on. We play tunes on Pink Slab eliminating the chips but really wanting to eliminate the chippers.  Time was these were really nice problems now they have become eliminates so some arsehole can make them easy enough for them to do, rather than improve. I skin a knee on Last Arete as it shrugs me off. After that it's kick the can as we all catch some rays. Then off to Tissington to paddle and eat cake. It felt like summer today, All good.
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3 April 2014

We are all in this together


This week the GB bouldering team via  Mina Leslie-Wujastyk asked for crowd funding so they can travel round the World Cup circuit as a sponsor had pulled out at the last minute. Most pro climbers don't have pots of cash.

24 hours later the required 8 grand was in place and they were back on track. 
Well done GB climbing community you played a blinder, here is what I hope happens:

You see last week they were climbing for themselves, the sponsors and the "country" thing is nobody really knew what national pride meant.

They know now, people care enough to stick their hands in their pockets, they stood up and implicitly said "we believe in you, you're worth a few quid". Now when their funding expectations were exceeded so quickly maybe something extraordinary became more likely? When you are one of the best climbers in the world and you know that lots of people believe you can win, maybe it becomes 1% easier? At the very highest levels of elite sport winning margins are often this or less.

Shauna has had the potential for two years at least. She was always strong as you like but I thought her tactically raw. In fairness you have to remember how young she was/is. Actually she was performing out of her skin and defining the women's, GB comp role model and all in one season, big ask.  Mina has come on leaps and bounds and the way she kept pulling back onto Careless Torque on that video, before taking another big fall and finally sending it, made me realise she had the kind of tenacity that makes a champion.

The boys oddly may see the most benefit from this, they are outrageously talented climbers. When I told Dave Barran's his setting was a bit hard once, he did a particularly tricky problem in his crocs then just grinned at me whilst he sanded his fingers, after that I STFU. I think he just needs the kind of lift Andy Murray got when he realised that despite coming across as a dour Scots git we all wanted him to win. And that he could be the man.  If Dave delivers a performance that exceeds his own expectations he could tear up the script. Amongst the others in the team who is to say someone else won't put in a performance that could delight us all?

So I'm excited in the way I was excited when I heard Meshuga had gone, or I saw the video of Pete Whittaker on Baron Greenback. GB climbing is in rude good health, I wish them all well. I hope they all end up with enough cash so it means they can concentrate on doing what they do best. Will I be watching and screaming at the screen? Oh yes it's required viewing now, I have bought a ticket.




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26 March 2014

Venture Fourth - Peak District

Derbyshire, Hope Valley, Thorpe Farm Bunkhouse, 21-23 March 2014. 8 climbers, 2 crags, and a cheeky climbing wall as well.

Okay, so there were a couple of things I took from this trip.

The Big Tick

Dave may have found himself back on home turf, but I - notwithstanding laying my hat where I please - call Yorkshire home. Where one friend bid me join him at the site of many a touristy scramble, and where another took me under his wing at a site that had loomed over my landscape yet remained unvisited until climbing came along. Brimham and Almscliffe were followed by Caley, Shipley Glen, Slipstones, Widdop, Crookrise, and clearly show that Yorkshire is a fine venue.

Northumberland followed soon after, as Bryn's holiday cottage provided an excellent base to strike out to Kyloe, Doveholes, Hepburn, Rothley and more. We've made several trips, and will hopefully make many more.

Next up was a geographical jump, over (or under) the Channel, to France, to Fontainebleau. France seemed pretty dull to drive through. Fontainebleau was magical, and felt truly rewarding to even attend.

Curious then that The Peak District took so long to get the big tick of attendance. Why? Can't really say. Things just didn't come together that way. But something about the slow start to this year's season (fair weather style...) saw Louis prompt a trip, and then there we were. Stanage Plantation and Burbage South Boulders were the spots, both scatterings of boulders beneath grand edges of rock, like dystopian walls erected to split societies in two. For my part, glad to fall on the side of the climbers.

The Adventure

Dave has covered the technical side of things in his post, and rightly so, but mine was more of a dive-in kind of experience, and one that heightens life from the mundane that I imagine so many go through. The adventure started on Friday night, as I hooked up with Bryn and Cosmo to take in The Depot's Winter Bouldering League final round (Rob was along, too, but sadly couldn't join us for the whole weekend). A fine atmosphere, and a great warm-up for the weekend, it was the fact that we had decided to cram this in alongside the big trip that made it work. Winding up the plasticy climb with the knowledge that we were striking out in the dark to greater things made for much excitement. A fine drive down and acclimatisation with the bunkhouse - with Geoff welcoming us - finished our preparations for the task at hand.

I'd been to Derbyshire twice before, in touristy fashion. Possibly in 1994 with my parents, and possibly 2004 with my then-girlfriend. Fine times, each, but I hadn't even seen - from Castleton, granted - the ridges of rock that would deliver a true appreciation of the area - I suspect it won't be a decade until the next visit. Getting started, and excitement, adventure and endeavour were key. The joy of piling into the car and targeting the crag, the pleasure of catching up with our climbing buddies, and of more of them catching up with us. For me, a steppy slab and a crimp-to-mantle that Dave B pushed a gram of me up as I gamely clung on following a reach and slip (I then repeated unaided and cleanly). Even being rained off brought its curious rewards, unicycling back to the car, then making the most of things with a pub trip and intrepid walk from the bunkhouse. The less said about how adventurous things drunkenly got in the evening, the better... Though I'll never look at tables in the same way again (because I'll want to climb around them).

Suffice to say, many of us were quite delicate by the time we reached Burbage on Sunday. All self-inflicted, of course, and this led to a hazy atmosphere among the rocks. Some decent problems, but the focus was... blurry. We were there a while, but many of us got closest to the rocks by lying on them, and much of the climbing was fairly genteel. Not Dave P, obviously, but you can read his post for that story.

"How was your weekend?", I was asked at work on Monday morning. It was amazing, I adventured through plastic, rock, beautiful scenery, and alcohol with a group of fine friends. Thanks for asking, but I very much doubt that I'd swap it for your weekend.

Derbyshire told us what was what.
My favourite problem. Doesn't look much, does it?

Burbage, wide.

Burbage, tight.

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23 March 2014

Home Turf - Stanage in March


7.06am and I'm knocking on Karrie's door waking her from sleep. I have a 48 hour fully validated pass. I'm full of excitement like I was when as a teenager I could think about nothing from Wednesday except a rainless Sunday on the grit. We were driving for 7.15 my tired car engine screaming as I drive it as hard as I dare towards Stanage Plantation, we must beat the rain, there is much to be done.

If climbing is a church, Stanage is one of it's great cathedrals. Three miles of sweeping grit set above a view of the peak that draws your eye. Time was that I only ever climbed at Stanage, there didn't seem a lot of point going anywhere else. The routes were all fantastic and there were hundreds of them. For two years I worked my way though most things with three stars up to E1. I wanted my ashes scattered there, I was enchanted.

My love affair faded, I moved away but as we pulled into the car park and met up with Pete and a bleary eyed Kirsty the familiarity and the aura flooded in. Today was a mat day. I never really bouldered back in the day it hadn't really been invented, Ben and Jerry were makers of ice cream not boulder gods and Careless Talk cost lives.

No rain yet, we warm up on a few bits and bobs above the causeway, the wind has an edge to it more Siberian winter than last weeks Prague spring. The rock is in good nick, Bryn, Cosmo, Stu and Geoff arrive and we wander down to Crescent Arete. 25 years ago I backed off this highball 5+ it was HVS 5B then. I think it made E1 before mats tamed it a little. The equipment changes, you change, the grit is immutable that's it's charm. Crescent Arete is maybe 30ft high, a soaring, elegant arete the right side of vertical, but there isn't much for your feet so you lay away if you want to play. We ummed and arred it looked high and hard, Pete called it, we got on it. Pete had a quick look jumped off maybe five foot up and then he had another go. He got a high step, a few shuffles of the arms up the arete and he was committed, he flowed up nicely and looked solid. A whoop as he topped it and there it was done. I got on it next, a better climber than last time I tried it in the days before friends. I had a go slipped off like Pete, then back on. A thin step, then a hand shuffle and I had a foot in the lone pocket, grab the notch in the arete and from there it just gets better. The route is a joy it's not even very hard and another one off my long term list, happy with that.

We next found a few unsung gems the Cockscomb being one of many. A hanging fin of rock with a serrated top edge that you hang one armed before you monkey bar up it to glory, great fun. The lone boulder was more fun we ticked the bloc. A mix of paddy slabs and overhanging prows. Louis and Dave arrived and got involved. We were soon down by by the Crozzle boulder Louis and Pete seeing off the thug fest of Bullworker at a scandalously under graded V3 and the three of us getting the crimpy V5 of Bull Flakes. Dave gave skin and blood and his offerings paid off as he sent it too, good effort young man. A no hands slab kept everyone amused, Karrie was seen leaving the ground.Simon Kimber rocked up showed us how to do a few bits with amiable style and grace.

3 hours later the rain hit like a cricket bat to the head. It had a little sleet and hail thrown in to tingle as it wetted. We made a mat bivvy but everything was wet though rapidly. We toughed it out for a bit but soon the call of the pub was loud and urgent. I was soon downing a pint of pedigree in the Scotman's Pack. The last time I had been here was to sit on the floor and hear superstar Ron Fawcett talk in a packed room. I young upstart called Jonny Dawes showed some slides of concrete climbing in Birmingham and a route called Braille Trail he had just put up. I thought he had potential if he calmed down a bit.

The beer soon led to talk of heading back as the sun was out but by the time we had decided to return it was proper raining and it was clearly abort mission. We went on one of Louis beer walks back at the barn and then the evening ascended into an amiable blur of gin, beer, indoor traversing and vomit. I was the first to fade away but word is Dave slept were he passed out, good effort young man.

Burbage South and its only just gone ten. We got up and out in some style, hangovers drowned in grease and we were pulling on grit rougher than any other I have known since Lord's Seat. The Brick was a bloc that needed faith in your feet. If you had that it gave in nicely, if not it brushed you aside. The Tank was memorable for a crimpy throw into a sharp slot on the aptly named Tiger UKC's V4 a fairer grade than Rockfax's 6A.

The Amoured Car had an excellent arete and some horrendously under graded pebble pulls, with sloppy tops that kept us amused as my brother joined us. We had a play on the Sheep the arete of Shearing spitting me off and making me admit my mat is knackered, I bottomed it out as I pinged off. Birthday soon and easy pressy choice. Soon though me and my bro had topped it but it was no path. We finished on Pock bloc which two years after my last go was sent packing. Tiredness was all over me now I was lacking the gumption to get my feet off the ground, it was time to call it. Cracking trip thanks one and all, I made it 37 problems 42 V points and about a months worth of units of alcohol if you like raw statistics. How about the Roaches next time it's as least as good?

I have just put my youngest too bed the stairs were a struggle, I think my quadriceps are relatively unique as they are one of my major muscle groups that don't ache. Thing is my love of Stanage is once again a living thing not fading memories of days gone. My soul is full of images of careful movement, the feel of sharp crystals of grit under my finger ends and those rolling Peak views heading of into the sun and the rain. I will have better weekends climbing but not many.









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