11 December 2014

A mountain not made of rock

No crag in this blog post. No routes, no problems. No bouldering mats, no belays. Plenty of climbers though - a very lucky 13 or so, so dramatis personae...

Ellen, Cosmo, Bryn, Giovanni, Rob, Dave, James (+Laura), Kirsty, Pete, Louis (+Liz). And me.

So, where the heck were we? What was our challenge?

The Cheeful Chilli, on The Chevin. Their banquet meal. Halloumi cheese, nachos, goats cheese tartlets, pizzas, enchiladas, curry, cheesecakes, ice cream. Mountains of food.

As we do when we take on the crags, we went at it with gusto, and as a team. As we share spotting duties and beta, so we shared stories - of how we started climbing, of how we met - and of course the food. Wonderful to see everyone catch up with each other. And that's the beauty of it. We're all in it together, helping each other through, bringing each other along. We use what we share on the rock and we turn it to cementing friendships and camaraderie. We might be a bit leaden - weighed down by so much vegetaria - the next time we hit the rock (or plastic), but there will be springs in our steps that only climbing kinsmanship can bring.

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6 December 2014

Deer Gallows - might as well be hung for a sheep than behave like a lamb

I knew it would be mint, the forecast was bluebirds, cold and clear. A grit day. Pete said Deer Gallows, I fronted up but the weather barely showed. Everywhere frozen at the sailing club. A muddle headed Kirsty talking of too many cocktails and being pulled from her bed. We start the trudge up to the ridge. You could see the crag a way off, a stiff little guidebook "20 minutes".

I'm soon sweating up my down jacket, too hot. The occasional burst of sunlight making me overheat even more. We get to the crag and the noose is round our necks. Any thoughts of being too warm evaporate in a bitter winter wind that is chilling to the core. Nice crag, but harsh day for these games. Pete won't be beaten, he racks up for a VS, as the cold seeps in it becomes a V Diff and finally a Diff on to the pinnacle's top is what he sets off up, in all the clothes he has brought.

In big boots gloves hats and jackets we follow Pete. Up the sombre frozen grit as the weather changes from icy cold to a light driving rain.  The view goes from the other side of the valley to fifty feet in fifty seconds. We manage a few quick summit pics and then we are climbing back down as fast as we can. Pete abs off.  Then we are throwing gear in bags and making a swift exit as the rain gathers pace, laughing at what we will do for fun. A beer makes everything right and we are soon warming through. At home I am exhausted, good clean fun.
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30 November 2014

Taking a chance.

Planning a climbing trip in advance always seems like a rash decision given that it rains pretty much half of the year in the UK. When you figure in that the higher up you go, the higher the chance of it raining gets, then picking a date out of the air is probably even worse than flipping a coin. And so it was that I found myself last week sitting at home constantly checking the Metoffice forecast, whilst outside a seemingly neverending mix of mist, drizzle, and full-on rain set in. Planning to get my annual trip to Northumberland in November might have seemed a bit optimistic, but previous experience had taught me that you never knew what to expect up there no matter the time of year. As it was the Gods looked like they might be throwing me the crumbs from their plates- the mist looked like it might be breaking this weekend!

We headed up to our base for the weekend- the delightful and luxurious Tillmouth Cottages (disclaimer: I'm one of the owners and might be slightly biased)- on a Friday afternoon, hugging the A697 as the sun went down and the mist closed further in. Wooler appeared to be keeping some of the mist at bay, however, looking as quaint as ever when we stopped off for supplies and a curry. Boardgames and beer carried us gently off to bed, and I rose eager on the Saturday morning to draw back the curtains and see... more mist. At least it meant we were in no rush and I spent some time sawing up wood and doing some chores, before we eventually headed out into the gloom.

The sun appears, sort of. Bowden Doors
One of fantastic things about Northumberland as a climbing venue is that each year I get to check out new crags, and I'm still only halfway through the list. I'd been to Bowden Doors, and Back Bowden on previous years, and this time thought we should have a look at their neighbour Ravens Crag. As we set off it properly started to rain, but by some magic things were looking a bit clearer by the time we got to Bowden. Well, clear enough to see anyhow. The rock, however, was persisting in remaining damp. Luckily, Ravens Crag itself is a roof, and so a large part of it was dry. Dry enough to sit under and picnic anyhow and look out across the misty hills. The atmosphere was heightened by the distant baning of hounds and the horn of a hunt- we weren't the only ones out searching. The roof itself proved too powerful and the holds too painful, and so we moved along the crag to look for a problem called Juggler. Given that Stu and I had met through juggling, and that juggling continues to compete with climbing as our main hobby, it seemed like we had to give it a pop. Despite the minging nature of the conditions, the positive holds and the nice wide ledge were positive enough for us to get up onto the problem, and whilst the damp/slimy/sandy top was too much for me Stu powered on through and ticked it off. Not much else looked safe enough to try, however, and so we walked along further. At this point the hounds and their followers charged across the fields below us. Whether they were chasing a fox or just a scent we'll never know- it was hard enough seeing the dogs as it was! This brought us up to the end of Bowden Doors, and we walked back under the imposing wave of sandstone as the mist turned pink with the setting sun, reminiscing about our trip there in 2012.

Fine views above Oxen Wood.
Sunday morning brought hope in the shape of a sunrise. Things had indeed turned a corner, though only a small one it turned out. The first part of the plan was to hit up some crags near Alnwick, in particular Oxen Wood in the hope that its elevation would help it dry. It turned that it had indeed helped, though only 2 boulders and only one of those partially. It was enough to give us 6 problems and we savoured every one of them. It was also a fine spot for a tromp around, with fine views across to Wooler and the Cheviots. Definitely not a crag to visit in the summer though, we seemed to pass through a lot of dead bracken. But I would happily return in better conditions and work the other boulders, there looked like some good low to moderate grade problems. Part 2 of the plan was to drive a few minutes down the road and check out Corby's Crag. Photos of this on a fine summer's evening look idyllic and I seemed to had forgotten this when I was dreaming away on ukclimbing's crag map. This was seeping like I had never seen a crag seep before, complete with waterfalls and slime. It also didn't help that some people seem to think the car park at the top is a great place to park up, have a drink whilst admiring the view, then chuck their can or Mcdonald's cup over the edge. Classy. Then it started raining. Still, I'm sure if I was up there in the Summer and passing then it would be worth giving another shot as there was plenty of good looking rock. I guess the main problem is that there are so many other crags I want to see, like Callerhues, or Ravensheugh.
Stu enjoying Summit Block, Oxen Wood.

So was it worth driving all that way to climb 6 and a half problems? Of course! As it was we actually did pretty well to get any climbing at all done given how shite the weather has been for the last 2 weeks. It helped break up my overuse of indoor bouldering, where all the holds are kindly coloured and there are no scary top outs. Yes, some of those holds were sandy or slimy, but the views were great, the company sublime, and we got curry and boardgames. And herbal schnapps in test tube shot glasses (not part of the plan). We'll be back next year, flipping a coin and seeing what we get.
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22 November 2014

Yorkshire Gritstone guide volume 2 verus Yorkshire Grit 2.0

"Ladies and Gentlemen meet the Champion. Representing the YMC and old School guide writers. In The White Corner the undisputed champion of guide books everywhere. It's the Yorkshire Gritstone Guide Volume 2  - Ilkley to Widdop"

I was going climbing today, the kids were at their Nans, but the weather had other plans, it was damp out, proper minging grease, then through the letterbox popped the new guide, what was a boy to do? I put the kettle on a sat down to have a look.

The usual standard of the first excellent volume  is definitely maintained, the photos are top notch. Mike Hutton can drive a camera and there are loads of pics of the the big beasts on the big beasts.
There are  plenty of us mere mortals punting up the classics. Somewhere along the way Adi Gill got me on a rope in Ilkley quarry and you can see the evidence of very cold morning in there somewhere. At least I was shot from above you can't seem my chins.

The novel mix of bouldering and trad routes is maintained and best of all for this lover of the esoteric there are to me "new" crags to go and have a look at.

Why haven't I been to Crookstones it looks mint? Why have  I never bouldered at Ilkley?  I need to go and do more trad at Rhylstone. I still haven't been to Eastby. What is the knack to Trick Arete?

Next years list of places to go and things to try, just filled up, all this I like.

A good guide gets you thinking beyond my usual "I will just go to the Cliff and try the Belly Slap once more. It makes you want to go climbing. I want to go climbing, nice work people.

You get bouldering circuits if that is your thing and interviews with a few of the super wads. John Dunne is as modest as ever, but then the routes still stand up 30 years later, perhaps modesty wouldn't have got him off the ground? Lord Fawcett of Embsay and Bamford tells a nice tale, all quiet understatement about things I still dream about when they aren't giving me nightmares. Ron probably fits the term legend as well as anyone I have ever seen climb.

All the routes are described well, the lines on the photos are clear, if there is stuff missing it is beyond me to comment. You can't get all the boulder problems in, there are simply to many, but they have the overwhelming majority and the grading seems fair.

As paper guides go this one is a winner, when I have finished greedily reading it. I will try and get a few more ticks in it, I just need some decent conditions and I reckon I can pull those crimps on Manson's Wall.

"Now meet the challenger representing crowd sourced, online route databases and rising from the ashes phoenix like, to build an online record of climbing on small Yorkshire stones it is.... 

Yorkshire grit on Peakbouldering.Info or Yorkshire Grit 2.0, if like me you still bemoan the loss of version 1.0

Good news indeed. A version of Yorkshire Grit is back online and this time it is a community project. If Jon Pearson's last version dwindled and died because it was too much for one man. This one looks likely to be built by more souls, so should have more longevity. At the moment there is not much there. Just the main crags and a few hundred problems, but it is open source, you can contribute, it will grow. Good as a paper guide is an online database can crowd source it's content and so maybe in exchange for the occasional inaccuracy and omission you get a different view of the climbing we do.

For now the project needs pictures, if you have pics of any of Gods own bouldering however obscure, you can drop them here. I have put my crap ones on, the elves will put them where they need to be, what is not to like. That should give it a good quick start. Well done everyone who has made this happen.

"And the winner is.."

Well it is a bit like comparing apples and Orang Utans, I am glad we have both. Good on the YMC for all the effort that has gone into producing an excellent set of guides. Well done the online climbing community for getting Yorkshire Grit back in the world. I will be doing my own small bit no doubt, recording some small esoteric crag that few people care about. Because if we share the fun we have climbing, maybe more people will go to more places and have nice days out.

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19 October 2014

Dam Fools

Every climber gets to have an 'epic' now and again. They generally involve heading off with good intentions, making one or two bad choices, then ending up on a hairy but ultimately successful adventure. Sometimes bad beta plays a role, sometimes people pull through for you, but you always end up smiling. When we were invited over the border to taste some Lancashire gritstone with the author of the new Lancashire Bouldering Guide, little did I expect that the journey itself would be an epic.

Robin had supplied us with the postcode for Cow's Mouth quarry, and so Louis and I typed it into Google Maps and headed up onto the rather blustery Pennines. Things were looking good as we left the M62 and began winding our way down the delightfully Lancastrian road Back of th'Height towards a reservoir. Little did we (or Google Maps) know but a team of engineers were in the middle of Rebuilding th'Bridge, and we hit a dead end. Gutted at facing a huge round trip, we headed back up the road only to see a Diversion sign facing down a farm track. In retrospect it was too good to be true, or rather the track was too bad to be a diversion, but it seemed to lead to what looked like a road across the dam. Our suspicions should have been further raised when we had to open a gate and head down a muddy track, but I guess we were getting a bit giddy by now. Things looked even more dodgy as the road across the dam turned out to be just wide enough for a car, and even Google Maps got worried when it thought we were underwater. But we could see a car park at the end, and the A58 just beyond. Our rational voices were being drowned out by cheers right up to the point where we came to the locked gate at the end of the dam, and stopped. Further inspection showed the final metres of our epic journey were barred by a single padlock. It was then that the rational voice "What are you doing driving across a dam!" started to get a bit clearer in my head. There was only one thing for it, a tricky reverse back from whence we came, though the comeuppance for our escapade was just getting started. It turned out the muddy track worked better with Land Rovers than Clios, and after a few frantic wheel spins we realised the awful truth- we were stuck in a field in the middle of nowhere. What was even worse was that the local farmer was heading our way and I braced myself for a well-justified tirade of abuse. Instead what we got was a smiling old boy who thought this was the funniest thing in a long time. I'm sure my orange climbing pants just added to the ridiculousness of the scenario. We tried backing up, getting Louis to weigh down the wheels by sitting on the bonnet, but all to no avail. "Ah'll go get machine", and 10 minutes later we were being pulled up the track by our saviour in tweed trousers in his trusty tractor. Miraculously we found ourselves back on Back of th'Height and heading off towards our destination. A thank you card is in the post, and anything negative I've ever said about farmers is revoked.
Louis getting poetic

Amd so it was that a bit later than planned we finally ended up at Cow's Mouth. Memories of our epic journey faded as we met Robin and his crew and got to work on the Rainstone. We even had to time to follow them off across the moor to the aptly named Hidden Boulders. If you want to find them, buy his guidebook. Just don't follow Google Maps...

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12 October 2014

Into the light

Called the grit, had no choice cold and clear Saturday morning, hat was on doing more than just hiding my bald patch.

The Glen again Craig and Kate it's been a while with "The Barn rejects'. It's greasy maybe I called it early? But it dries as it warms and then it is good. A few bits are done, some easy some harder depending where you where starting from. Some of the rejects I would keep in my team, they moved well. Nice session, mellow vibe.

Sunday clear and bright in HG2 so to Caley, but I hit a fog bank as high as the Chevin as I zoom in with breakfast not yet digested. West Chevin is nearly out of the murk, the sun burning through the clag. It's like that Gieger alien space ship in the woods, etherial and brooding.
James finds me, a gorilla in the mist. He talks and climbs, we try Eat the Light but we lack a little grace and power. We dig a problem out the choss, hold by hold, it nearly goes but sticky rubber will not quite float on this sea of green. I have to go now, on on. 

With my boy in tow and his mate and his dad we hit Brimham. The hoardes are here, freshers with fresh mats, new hats and high hopes. We get involved and a few newbies make the grade. We take the full safari tour and end up beyond the tea shed where the quiet lives. It's a nice amble out and back as we head toward a cooling and setting sun. Quite a weekend, thanks if you made the journey, It's grit season get out there.
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21 September 2014

High Nab

A stroll form the overpriced, over packaged theme park of the Cavendish Pavillion at Bolton Abbey is High Nab and if you want it, real micro adventure. Some real family friendly entertainment for the more discerning punter. 25 minutes up the Valley of Desolation and then a steep 10 minutes out the valley floor on the righthand side. We skirt the herd of cows, Rachael loves all other animals more than cows The youngest threatening rebellion as we near the lip and the late season sun sweating us all through.

The grouse boulder delivers fun for all, nothing to taxing, but fun never the less and maybe we could claim second ascents, not many had passed this way for sure. Lunch is eaten and the view over the whole of Barden Moor warms your soul.

We find a route, we climb a route. The wind gains some strength and the summer turns to late autumn in a moment. Youngest bobs off and hangs around until he is re-attached, but he finishes with style. Everyone else has  grins as they finish and we are on our way out 3 hours after we started.

Esoteric crags like this are best discovered for yourself, don't try this one I made it all up. There are plenty more in the guide, check them out.

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16 September 2014

Moonlighting, Day-Outing

A couple of climbs to cover this week, greatly different in character.

Tuesday night, Almscliffe Crag. I was late to arrive, and spotted Bryn, Cosmo and Ellen at the warm-up wall from across the field. I made straight for them, and was pleasantly surprised to find Louis on site as well. He and Bryn had spotted a cheeky eliminate below the diagonal break - to eliminate the diagonal break - and were making good work of it. I joined them in the task, and brought up the rear in terms of its completion. A nice bit of variety, much needed. The sun was setting, and we made our way up the crag to bathe in the burgeoning moonlight. Not much more climbing was done - Louis and Bryn dabbled near the Crucifix, but the rock up above held greater sway. The light was thick across the landscape, making distant glades and hills seemed connected, and lighting up even the shadows. We skirted around the back of the crag, in order to make the most of the light, and then retreated for the evening.

Sunday was for Widdop. Myself, Bryn and Dave daisychained our transport, and met Pete, Kirsty and Paco having already warmed up, including Pete managing somehow to kick Kirsty in the head - such a lovely couple. Dave joined up with the adults group, while Bryn and I made up the junior session. Approaching Widdop, there don't appear to be all that many rocks to play on (though there are high edges looming atop the valley), but all of the rocks have so much on them, and just about all of that is so good.

We started just up from the reservoir edge, notably finding a pebbles and rail combo to stretch the core and get us going. Moving up a rock, we were briefly in sight of the adults, though we merely rattled off a few of the easier - but still challenging and satisfying - problems while they pulled hard on slugfest-style traverses and such. The groups overlapped at Pickpocket's Wall, a mono-fest on a rock reminiscent of Almscliffe's Matterhorn and Caley's Otley Wall. There were some top outs, but not from me - Bryn and I moved on to the adjacent Fagin's Ridge, like the Matterhorn without the nightmare start. Highball top, but solid enough rail-like handholds and a shout of "Keep your feet high!" from Pete were confidence inspiring. The down was a slab, with a special large back-of-flake handhold, that Bryn and I had dabbled on 18 months ago in the snow, and after the second top out moved into a swift descent I realised it would make for a decent circuit. Just two top-outs on the bounce though - fatigue way up there would have been an issue.

Pete and Paco Pondering Pickpocket

Slippy Arete (above, background), then lunch, and on to Red Edge Arete. Right side went easily enough, after a couple of goes, but left side became a big project, and one that put any overlap with the adults to bed, as they scarpered off up the hill. Bryn and I remained, along with three girls who had their own session ongoing. Red Edge Left was a sculpture of a problem - so much rock to (figuratively) chip away, but once the sculpture was revealed it was perfect. First nail the left hand crimp. Then hang the nose. Step up came next. Extra balance on those two moves made the top attainable, and then it was plain sailing. When it went once, duplicating it came easily. Well, smoothly. Blissfully. We dabbled at it a while longer, trying to get Bryn up it, and trying eliminates, but to no further progress.

Taller than it looks...

One last boulder, a monstrous looking slab with a huge green crack to the left, and a sharp, delicate, pinchy sequence to the right. The crack had lots to play with, distance between moves, height, and some awkward angles for the holds being the main issues, along with the aforementioned green. The problem to the right was pain incarnate on the already beaten fingers, and a slippy first foothold causing a fall didn't help. But I came back wiser, finding a less polished point right next to the foothold and weathering the fingertip tempests until I first stretched with my left hand for a half-decent hold near the top, then hooked a huge juggy pocket with my right hand once my feet were better established.

After my fall, Bryn contemplated the guidebook. Perhaps I should have contemplated it first!
Dave's imposing presence makes this rock look smaller in the photo than it did in real life.

I made my way around the back of the rock, where I found the adults changing shoes and packing up, and so the session was called. It had been a great trip out, an intrepid piece of travel to a crag that's more distant than you realise, but just makes you feel like you've earned it. In addition to the geography, this was the biggest group we'd been out with in some time, and it was great to catch up and collaborate. A swift pint (and some cake...) at the local inn, The Packhorse, put a fine cap on the day. Even better, there's plenty to go back for, and plenty more of our fellow climbers who we'd be glad to have along with us.
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8 September 2014

Down by the river

Work had cause to be taking up and down the A1, and I figured I could make the most of my lunch break by getting a sneaky climb in. Thanks to further examination of my car-boot sale guidebook, I had found out there was a crag that claimed to be 5 minutes walk from a car park just off the A1/A690 Durham junction- Kepier Wall.

It sounded to good to be true, but I turned off the A690 to find, sure enough, a tidy little parking area, with a path leading off it. A quick change of shoes and I ventured off down into the woods, past creeping roots and a rising hillside of old quarries and streams. 

The noise of the traffic quickly faded away to be replaced by the babbling of the river and soon found myself at the crag, slap bang on the path. It felt nice and sheltered down in the valley with pleasant views out across the Wear, and I soon found the thoughts of speeding cars and work fading away. And the crag itself? Well, in its defence I only had 30 minutes to get to know it, kind of a speed date, so it might be unfair to cast judgement. It didn't look like it gets much traffic, but it clearly does get a lot of dust and dirt. The smooth sandstone is a slippery customer at the best of times, and this definitely didn't inspire my faith in smearing on it. Add to that a top that seemed to be largely soil and tree, and I found myself struggling to get much done above head height on the main wall. A good brush and it looks there are some good problems to get to grips with. The left hand end, however, was a bit more gentle, and had bonus gnarly root holds to swing off, so I at least managed to tick something.

Time was also ticking unfortunately, and so it was that within about 10 minutes I found myself back in a stream of 70 mph traffic, heading south. Kepier's certainly somewhere I'd return to, largely due to it's convenience, but also for being a beautiful, quiet little spot.

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30 August 2014


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


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


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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