15 July 2016

Cliff... hanger

First up, I've got to make some acknowledgement of our recent tardiness. Bryn and I are currently the only writers, and we're hugely busy a lot of the time. Admittedly, a lot of this business is with climbing, or mountain biking, or hiking, or scrambling, or other activities that wouldn't be so out of place here, but while it's possible to get a blog going on smartphone, it's hardly ideal. And it's difficult to fit typing in around all of this.

So, to try to pick up the pace again, something that is none of these things and all of them at once - Cliffhanger Outdoor Festival. Not my first time in attendance, 2011's event with camping at Limb Lane has very positive place in my memory. Less so the rained off event of 2012, which some among our climbing group managed to get t-shirts from... And then the event fell off my radar for a while, presumably due to being otherwise occupied. Not so this year... Well, there were other options, but Cliffhanger 2016 took the honours by a nose.

For the first time, Cliffhanger would take place in and around the city - 'The Outdoor City' - of Sheffield itself. This seemed like a good opportunity for some urban unicycling to take place (where Limb Lane had been essentially my first ever bit of mountain unicycling, Muni, thanks to Robin sharing his larger wheel at the time) so warmed up with a ride to Leeds station, and took a train south...

(this was all on the Sunday, I was out on the bike at Swinsty Reservoir skills loop with Bryn on the Saturday, having a delightful little dabble and circuit of the forest)

...and rocked up in Sheffield exceedingly early. The station is at the bottom of Sheffield, so I gently slogged my way up through the streets and plazas, checking out the lie of the land, getting free coconut drinks, grabbing an event map, before chilling out for a little while in Weston Park, a green space at the top of the city, untouched by the event, but still a very pleasant taste of the urban outdoors.

Back down to the crucible (not The Crucible) that was Devonshire Green's climbing area, and to meet up with Geoff, who I'd not seen since... Font last year? Goodness. Well, he's a quality gent, so it was good to catch up however long it had been. We scoped out some of the stalls, including signing up with the BMC, buying a slew of outdoor books from a publisher, and admiring arts and climbing equipment based crafts. With all this, the semi-finals of the British Bouldering Championships - BBCs, awkwardly, #BBCs2016 slightly less so - had kicked off, so we did the competitors the favour of allowing ourselves to watch, I'm sure they felt sufficiently grateful...

I'd spotted a pizza stall earlier on, near the bike area in Peace Gardens, so Geoff and I made our way there for vittles. I shouldn't have been surprised to find that Geoff had starters with him, in the shape of some tomato bread and dips. How cultured! We partook of that on the steps while we waited first for pizza, and then for more climbers - Sarah, Theo and Clare arriving shortly after we'd eaten. This led to a delightful time promenading around the sites and the city, trying things out - Clare and Theo through a plastic cave demo - watching demonstrations - bikes, diving - before making our way to the climbing area, for the headline act.

Outdoor city indoors-outdoors vibe.

The British Bouldering Championship Finals.

Now, I'm not going to give a blow by blow account of every competitor on every problem - you can find that elsewhere, and it's not really what this blog is for. I'm going to give you my experience. And that was one of disappointment and awe. Much of my awareness of competitions has seen the name Dave Barrans feature heavily. Going into this, he'd won the last competition I'd seen (The Depot Manchester opening competition) and the first I'd seen (one of The Depot Leeds Battles of Britain), and he does a great deal of setting at my local walls. He had a shocker here though, with poor form or just not suiting the problems. Watching the men's became a matter of figuring out which of the other climbers was going to outdo him the most. This was swingy in nature, with lowest qualifier Orrin Coley looking in with a shout, ultimately outdone by both Nathan Phillips in second and Matt Cousins taking the win.

Meanwhile, the Shauna Coxsey show dazzled in the women's. There was much grit from the other climbers, particularly on a high slopey hold on an overhanging volume, with climbers getting up this through what must have been a hefty portion of pain, sheer grit, and the will of the crowd. And then Shauna breezed up it in short order, not straining in any particular way, and missing out a knee move that the others had all used. As was foreseen, Shauna took the win, with Tara Hayes and Leah Crane flanking her on the podium.

Worth filming.

And of course, having watched with Geoff, Clare and Sarah from our climbing gang, as well as Sheffield-based Kathy, enriched the experience greatly. I'm sure watching it solo would have been just fine, but sharing such moments can surely only enhance. So long - for now - Cliffhanger, so long Sheffield, you were gold.
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5 March 2016

Lamp Sessions

As evenings got dark last year talk led to lumens and battery life to keep the evening sessions going. Cheap and powerful work lamps were mulled over and purchased. Then it rained for abut 3 months. However, at any given dry night parts of Almscliff  were illuminated by a variety of folk. Dave Barber got some nice footage of a few good ticks up there, and over the valley at Caley. 

Climbing in the dark. albeit partly floodlit, offers a unique focus on the moves and an amazing atmosphere, as well as a few challenges. I find scrambling with my headtorch or just the light of the moon works pretty well for me but I'm hoping to give our communal lamp a go as well.
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2 March 2016

The Hokey Cokey

Louis rising out of the heather.
In, out, shake it all about. Or rather, out then in as things went this weekend with regards climbing venues. Things kicked off on Saturday with a trip out into the wilds of Nidderdale to check out one of the discoveries made by the Unknown Stones crew, Gatehouse Crag. Louis made the shout, tempting me away from a day of domestic bliss and household chores. However, we do both have a habit of getting lost on the way to the crag- our escapades in Lancashire when we tried to drive across a reservoir being a great example- and true to form we ended up spending a good 45 minutes driving around in circles on the edge of Dallowgill Moor (in my defence the map on the guide does have a misleading arrow on it). A few directions from farmers later we parked up and started the gentle walk, coming across fellow climber Richard and his young son heading the opposite way having succumbed to the cold weather. A shame as it turned out Gatehouse would be ideal for the smaller boulderer. In fact it seemed ideal for anyone really, having consistently good problems in the Font 3-5+ range. It also turned out not to be that cold either, with the south facing rocks and nearby woods providing some pleasant shelter. We made a start on the far left of the main wall and the hours flew by as we worked along to the right, ticking off a lovely spread of aretes, walls, sitters, jugs and smears. By the time we reached the final bay we were ready for a sarnie, and nearly out of time. We hadn't even got to the tempting looking boulders by the boundary wall, nor delved into the adjacent woods where further delights lay waiting. These would have to wait for another day.

 If you'd designed a bouldering crag you would struggle to have come with anything quite as perfect as that provided for us by glacial melting at Gatehouse. Odd, then, to spend the following day at an indoor wall specfically designed to do just that, as I headed over the Pennines for the opening competition of the Manchester Depot. Indoor climbing has come on a long way in the last 10 years and the new Depot sets the bar pretty high with a state of the art bouldering behemoth. The comp was a great showcase of what the Depot team have acheived, managing to fit in hundreds of people, 30 qualifying problems, a world class competition wall, and still have plenty of space left over. Plenty of friends had made the trip over, and it was great to cheer on local heroes as they tackled 3 fiendish looking climbs. Another great day out, albeit far removed from the previous day. The sound of pumping house music was about as contrasting as you can get to the call of grouse bursting from the heather, and the industrial estates of Trafford Park certainly hold less romance than the moors of North Yorkshire. However, both have their place in the wonderful world of bouldering, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to returning to both.
Dave Barrans getting horizontal, Men's Finals.

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24 January 2016

4 crags in one day and all in between, and we didn't need rescuing once

There's a chance you'll all know how this goes by now...


We take and we take all year, January is our time to give something back. Boulderers and climbers are a crazy enough lot as it is - in a good way - so we have to do crazy things to draw out the charity money from folk. And sure, there are many crazier things that could be done for charity, but our option made sense for the charity at hand. I'm guessing (and hoping) nobody ever needed rescuing from a bath of baked beans... So, on the 10th of January, we struck out, to link four of our local crags...

Setting out from the Hunters Inn between Huby and Pool, we could see snow on the distant hills. The local h2o was flood water, and we had to make a couple of dashes along the road to avoid being drenched by splashes traffic - good to get the blood flowing early on. Up Pool Bank, we started to fill in the gaps in the landscape - four crags in isolation is all well and good, but joining the dots was a worthwhile and fascinating experience.

The Chevin was in fine fettle, with a dusting of snow to set off its tops, well earned by our ascent. However, our target was lower down - the Sugarloaf boulder, where Bryn planned for us to assemble for a group photo. I had chosen not to carry my climbing boots, but was nevertheless confident I could gain the top. So it proved, as I scampered up the left edge, with several others following. But not all. And then the downclimb proved troublesome, as hiking boots weren't ideal for stepping down from tiny holds. Cosmo had the most trouble with this, but in the end I got on the rock just below him, supported his weight a little, and braced myself to allow him to drop a hold, a maneuver which went off smoothly.

Down through gay Otley, with shop stops and coffee to go, then onward to Hunters. Shortly after leaving the road, Kathryn slipped in some mud and fell. Though she soldiered on bravely with a bit of a headache, it took her half a field to notice she had lost her glasses. I went back for them, giving her a chance to rest. For a jape, I wore the glasses on my way back to her and Cosmo, saying that I couldn't find them. Apparently they were quite a good look for me, though they made me see the world as if I were three feet tall...

Around Lindley Wood, then up through the woods towards Hunter's Stones, with a new perspective across the reservoir, and new trails walked. Once at Hunter's, we had half a lunch and more photos and took in what must have been our widest view - all under the considerate care of the Fell Rescue team (well, except perhaps the power stations on the horizon...). A steady slog through the plantation took us to the Ice-warning-sign car park just along from Little Almscliff, where Support Team Tilly provided us with.... provisions. What were they? I can't remember. Lots of useful stuff, I'm sure! And a place to sit for a bit. Oh, and Sophie's scones, yummy.

Energised, and inspired by Dave abandoning us by stepping up to fell-run mode, we picked a path through woods rutted and waterlogged, across more sodden fields. But the 'cliff, Great Almscliff itself, soon loomed over us, and text messages from Dave informing us of good conditions on the rock inspired us once more - Dave is good like that. We trekked across the middle of the crag, with many scampering up to the top. Bryn led the way to Three Chockstones Chimney in order to get a bit of actual(ish) climbing in, but stayed in his hiking boots out of solidarity when he realised climbing shoes weren't an option for me. Lots of odd jams of various body parts that wouldn't normally get involved... Mr Booth followed us up shortly after, and we shared a moment of victory.

Down from the crag, as light started to fade from the sky. And then finished fading from the sky as we entered the woods just above the pub. The path was reliable enough though, and though fatigue was high by this point, all we could do was keep going. Onwards, onwards... Things were starting to get weird - perhaps it was the exhaust fumes on the road that brought discussions about whether dolphins are more intelligent than humans... (Are they?! I don't even know... Maybe it's time to reread The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy...).

But if we were on the road, then the end was in sight! The Hunters Inn! Our cars! Triumph! (Not the car, the concept. Not a concept car.) Beverages! Well earned carbonated and fermented drinks for all, and a good spell of downtime in this homely house. And then another homely house, Bryn's, where he supplied us with delicious chilli to warm and rejuvenate us, and I lit a fire to... well, mainly to warm Shilo, Bryn and Hebe's cat, up. Like the end of some movie, in which the collection of protagonists silently acknowledge each other before moving on, we gradually took our farewells...

18 miles, job well done, good money raised for a good cause, and the chance to raise more is still there - the JustGiving page linked at the top will be open into early February, and of course there is always the Fell Rescue page itself... http://www.uwfra.org.uk/fundraising

Post script: I'm pretty sure a few of us went to The Depot afterwards. Crazy! Good crazy...
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6 January 2016

Charity for Rescuers, Warm-Up Walk - Simon's Seat, Troller's Gill, 03.01.2016

So, in case you didn't know, our bunch of climbers usually do something charitable around the start of each year. More or less. Climbing extreme heights whackily or some such. This year, Bryn's idea was... is... to link up several local crags with a hike that takes them all in. Okay. That's next Sunday, the 10th of January, 17 miles (ish) and the charity we're working for is the Lower Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association. Bryn has charge of the donation page, which can be found here.

But first, we needed a warm-up. The hivemind selected a route full of classic elements - the grounds of Bolton Abbey, by the Strid. The woefully named Valley of Desolation...

...the slow and ultimately foggy climb up to Simon's Seat. Down and across the valley - a fine link I had not done before - to Troller's Gill...

...which was impressive to behold, but clearly impassable. The last landmark of note was the fine pub in Appletreewick, though I was deceived by their defaulting to beef dripping chips - delicious as they were, they weren't accessible to all of the walkers present...

We got back to the cars, about 12 miles done, and darkness descended - we'll have to make a better start next week and keep a livelier pace.

More photos here.

All this, and I still had time for a bimble around The Depot with Rob in the evening. Crazy, eh? Yes, it's all crazy, but it's what we do, and sometimes we need help. So please donate. If we don't need it, someone sometime will.

Oh, and happy 2016! Here's to many ticks in all our activities.
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12 October 2015

The Battle of Queuing and Stiff Upper Lips - The Depot's Battle of Britain 2015

And lo, on the morning and afternoon of the 10th day of the 10th month of the 10th year since 10 years earlier (in which nothing of particular note happened, not for me and climbing at least), the arrayed gladiators of bouldering entered the arena known as 'The Depot', buses long having since been maintained or disposed of, for the annual throwdown that is...


Bouldering-wise, that is. Not the whole Second World War issue of air superiority, though these boulderers would seek to fly the highest...

30 problems, just like the bouldering league, pink, just like the bouldering league, fewer points for a greater number of attempts, a bit like the bouldering league (only three attempts per problem allowed, then you're done), all crammed into a single day, nothing like the bouldering league at all. Boulderers from across the country, phat beats from DJ Notaspotifyplaylist, and tape all over the matting to show where climbers should queue for the problems.

Ah, so that's why it's the Battle of Britain, for that quintessential trope of Britishness, queuing! It just goes to show how different, how communal climbing is though, as these were not queues of awkward (or stoic) silences, but of camaraderie and banter. It started by confirming with those queuing which problem they were queuing for (I'm getting really sick of typing 'queuing' now... Still, soldier on!) and then bloomed into beta and spectatorship - watching some of the kids get the more reachy problems was the highlight. I found that a queue allowed me the chance to rest and pace myself, some found it warmed them down too much. Perhaps a cup of tea immediately before tackling the problem would have helped?

The tension was high, the fear of falling amplified by the embarrassment an early dismount would bring. Number 11 was my first, as I'm sure it was for many, and I could then relax. Except my form went out of the window at that point - 12 was the kind of corner problem I liked, but I fluffed every attempt (and then queued for more, which was how I realised that only 3 attempts were allowed...). 13 had my smack my hand on a white, leading to the fall. We weren't even using whites! 14 just didn't suit my heft, as lighter climbers flowed around an arete that I swung off. 15 though... Back roof, and it looked good. I needed a good effort here. The transition from overhang to face saw me scrape my feet along the ground before making them the platform to finish the last few swings. Was it weight-bearing? I felt I deserved it, needed it, but I turned to the crowd who were queuing behind me for a judges' decision - it was given! No-one behind me challenged it, instead piling credit on me: "Effort mate", "You deserved that" and the like. Better.

But still an ending - a couple more were attempted, but only 17 looked realistic, and I ran out of tries on that. 110 points to me, nothing to make Dave Barrans quake in his boots. Time was called, curry was doled out, and climbers retreated to the mat and cafe area to reflect on what had been. Qualifiers were announced, raffle was called - no prizes for me, at least not more than the satisfaction at having been part of such a fine festival of plastic bouldering, along with my many good friends who had been along for the ride - Bryn, Cosmo, Hebe, Sophie, Xander, Tom and Tom, with Tilly and Francis offering strong moral support.

So then, to the finals. The problems therein were already set, having been covered with paper and tape throughout the day, allowing them to garner attention in hushed tones - the Prana slab men's problem apparently one of the cruelest ever set at The Depot. So it transpired, as all of the men fell - and fell, and fell... - at this first hurdle, with only Dave Barrans even getting a sniff of the top hold. Meanwhile the women made steady progress, with several ascents between them. Problem two vexed the men again - nil points. The women, steady away, and more rousing and entertaining for it. Come on fellas...

Last problem. The women, give or take, marched imperiously through, while the men fell away like scabs scratched from so many wounds. Last year, as I recall, all the men had got both of the first two problems, but only Dave Barrans had got the third, flashing it where the others had broken upon it like waves on a particularly strong sea wall. Anyway, Dave was the force of nature here, finally separating himself from the crowd, only denying himself a flash with a curiously pitiful opening effort.

Full results on The Depot's website, here (pdf).

And so, the sun set on the carnage. It had been a great day for climbers and climbing. Who's for Blocbuster?
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6 October 2015

Crimp the mint dish - Petrohrad Czech Republic

Heading out west from Prague, the waning sun is turning ultra orange and the sky fades to a deep black. This gently rolling landscape could be Australia or an American desert canyon land, yet it is only two hours from Leeds even if it's a millennia from modernity.

Pete and Kirsty have made the massive, improbable 1000 mile overland trip in a oner, but it took them rather longer than we four flyins. As we pitchup at Jesenice they are there pitching up. It will be cold tonight on our all but deserted, newly polished, post communist campsite. It's rusty chain link boundary fence keeping the forest at bay. The gin clear sky is leaking heat to the stars. It drops to near freezing overnight. By dawn it has been a long night, but it is crisp and clear, we head into the forest near Brana where there be dragons.

We eventually find their eggs in the medieval oak forest, round monoliths that look like stone boulders, a little like the sharpest greyest granite with huge quartzite crystals and rare fingertip shredding edges you can almost crimp.  We know better, we proceed with caution dragons sleep lightly. You may climb a dragon's egg if you have steel fingers, rhino hide for finger skin and can squirm and thrutch over their rounded apex using nothing save belief.

We do well on the our first morning full of enthusiam and dark rye bread. After a grading misunderstanding all our imagined 7B waddage become 5 or 6, but still they are good problems, a few are great. Our mood is light, we grin and relax, it has been worth the trip.

Soon though skin thins alarmingly, fingertips glisten and lunch is declared as the sun warms us enough to dispense with our downcoats. By after noon we are throwing for what Pete claims is The Mint Dish from a gynaecological slot. But you must crimp the dish hard if you want to hang the mega rail beyond, legendary stuff. Stu trys harder than all of us and gets the least reward, their is no justice in this ancient feudal wood.

Back in town for beer and dinner at prices that are too good to be true, perhaps I made it up. We manage to end up in a dingy bar where fat locals ring their glasses in a haze of fag smoke to persuade the barman to refill them, too lazy to get up to the bar. Dinner is memorable for the house speciality of boiled white sausage stuffed with pickled peppers that cannot be eaten with chips we are told. All this in a language we do not speak, translated by an app that provides yet more confusion.

Next dawn and we are in the forest searching for more small stones. Up a hill to a deserted chapel and a hidden staircase of a ruin that has sunlit views over endless trees on forever.

We drop down into the shade trees and a 3D jigsaw of problems. An arĂȘte stops me as I try the wrong sequence again and again defining stupidity. Pete shows the way with a bit of thought and a drive to climb it all that still will not fade. We fill our souls with aretes, rounded easy climbers, sharp and steep ones, overhanging prows with big holds, rounded slabby noses, all are good. Kirsty spending all day it seems overhead snapping away. By four we are spent but we have climbed like loons as we drop down to our final area. More sharp aretes that give in if you pull hard enough. I am spent, everyone else wears the look of the newly shattered battler. Pete throws in a few more and one big fridge hugger, we wander away tired, heads full of movement.

The evening ends early after pool in a bar which is a tin shed with a back wall made of beer kegs slightly menacing but we are tolerated, maybe welcome who can say. Perhaps we provided amusement?

Third dawn, I am deep in my bones tired, we make the forest again and find some more quality. The highlight the last problem a barrel rock over with only four holds. The perfect problem a haiku of a thing, everyone climbs it the same whatever their height or shape. Helen in her trainers. Pete finally declares himself broken and joins the rest of us. Now we head our separate ways. The plane team try tourism in Prague but we are beyond mere fun and culture, we fought the granite dragon in the forest and won. We were there.

That was the thing it was a trip about the we, the country, the uncompromising granite and the wonderful Czech countryside and people. It had a whiff of smoke and magic about it, It won't get much better than that.

I will be bouldering a little less now I think, but I will no more stop climbing or being in the mountains than I hope breathing. As to blogging about my escapades on here, no more I have no words, quit while you are ahead.
Crimping the Mint Dish

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21 August 2015

Meanwhile, over at Almscliff...

Our merry band of climbers often discusses and arranges our trips on Facebook, and lately it seems to be that we find ourselves talking about a week's worth of climbs at a time. So, The Depot last night and tomorrow, and a group at Shipley Glen tonight. Sounds like matters went well at the Glen, perhaps Mr Prince will have something to say about that sometime.

Meanwhile, over at the 'cliff... I arrived early, ahead of projected arrivals of Ellen, Dave B and more. I like to get started near the Teaspoon area, right next to the wall, as the problems there are good, high workouts which are still bread and butter technically. A nearby belayer noted that I had a good landing, to which I observed that I'd not needed it yet. Me and my big mouth... I couldn't get started at the left edge, and popped off several times. Strike one for loss of mojo, possibly due to that Depot session wearing me out and softening me up. But eventually I found the move I needed and topped out. To prove it to myself, I descended into a circuit and back up again. Mojo regained.

And then lost again! I took to the highball body-scoop next-door, the erstwhile 'Project'. I made it up and over, but my last move and top-out were sketchier than I would have liked, a rare seal style top-out actually. Again, the reaction was to kick back - I couldn't circuit this one (could I? Will check next time...) but I took it on again and cleaned up that top, finishing calmly and smoothly. Mojo fully under control.

But I was warm, so I mooched back towards the front of the crag, hoping for more of a breeze. As I approached the path, Xander and Tom arrived, with Ellen and Emma, Dave, and then Ed and James in quickfire pursuit. As it was Xander and Tom's first visit to the 'cliff, I was trying to figure out something for them to warm up on, and I went for the early nose that is a favourite of mine. All climbed no bother, several of the others then proceeded to climb through the nearby hole in the rock. This not being a valid part of my repertoire, I once more climbed the nose with my eyes closed (with hat covering them to be sure). Next, we played on the small polished ledges that traverse into the same top-out, and the overhang opposite, which I found to be easy tonight - pleasing, as it had eluded me last time, despite having been done before. Sit-start next...

Dave scampered off to do Flying Arete without a mat - hopefully more on Dave and mats to come - while the rest of us had some Postman play, low and high. When Dave joined in and topped out the top of the Postman we pondered getting on Morrell's Wall, but ended up distracted by the sit-start overhang near the fork in the path that leads down to Morrell's. Previously fearful of not being able to get off the ground - and still finding that an issue 4 times out of 5 - I made steady progress, getting as far as my right hand reaching the high arete. Next move could be delicate, but I'm glad to have discovered a new project that hadn't grabbed me previously.

Hot chocolate was made, the bats came out, and the sky lowered into airy gloom. Barely half-past nine! Still, a good three hours for me, and though we hadn't moved very far along the crag, it had been a packed session, the friction had been good, and I felt like the work I've been doing at The Depot - which is to say, playing more - was starting to pay off. Onwards and upwards...

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9 August 2015

4 Crags and a Wedding

Climbing has given me as much, if not more, in friendship than it has in the actual activity itself. Whilst I love rocks and the challenges and achievements they bring, I love the people I climb them with as well. It's what I love about juggling and circus skills as well, a parallel universe that often seems to merge with my climbing world. One man stands at the centre of both- a key figure in the Venn diagram as it were- my mate Louis. So when Stuart and I found out earlier this year, by text in Font of all places, that Louis was to wed the love of his life, we were suitably stoked. You see, Stu and I would never have met without Louis, nor have had our many subsequent adventures, juggling and climbing alike . So it seemed only apt that we tag on a climbing trip as a precursor to the main event, especially given they had chosen a venue on the edge of the Peak District. Cosmo was also on board as a wedding guest, and so the planning began.

Well to be fair we got as far as booking a Youth Hostel, and figured the rest would sort itself out. Having been down to Stanage a couple of times I had a fair idea of the amount of gritstone they have down there, so we booked in at YHA Eyam and took our pick. Day 1 was looking a bit miserable and after a slow and damp start we arrived at Curbar Edge carpark to grey skies but a dry road. We quickly slipped into the holiday mood by visiting the ice cream van, then crossed the road to check out Baslow as our first stop. Whilst an impressive edge with great views across to our destination for the night, and a great place to blow off the cobwebs, there wasn't a huge amount to go at in terms of boulders, and the wind didn't encourage me to check out the easier routes. We were drawn, as many are and doubtlessly always have been, to the Eagle Stone- a behemoth of a boulder that grows dramatically as your approach it. It also looked suitably nails, with slopey breaks that wouldn't look out of place at Brimham. We settled on the easiest problem, an alleged Font 3 (!), and after much struggling and thrutching Stu finally got up the bugger. No such luck for me, and a bit of a disheartening start to the trip. However, Stu looked happy as Larry up the top, so much so that he did it about 3 times. Turns out the problem is called Men Only, and it certainly seemed to be giving Stu a testosterone boost.

Given we had a few hours til check in at the YHA we reckoned on time to walk back and have a peek at Curbar, especially as the clouds seemed to be clearing. In fact by the time we arrived at the Trackside boulder we had blue skies and sunshine. Added to that was the quality of the boulder itself- it seemed to have everything you could ever want from a boulder in terms of grades, height, styles and grit. Needless to say I was much happier, and a good hour was spent working the lower grade problems, culminating in Stu expending his last reserves of testosterone from earlier by working and ticking a great looking Font 5 crack. Time was also ticking though, so we scrambled Vietnam style through the bracken up to the Edge then headed across the valley towards Eyam and our bed for the night. Turned out we had picked a cracking hostel, and Stony Middleton down below had a cracking curry house, or rather Curry Cottage, which all helped top off a great start to the trip.

For Day 2 we decided to leave the Eastern grit and drive over to the Roaches, given that it wasn't that far off and that Stu had never been. Cosmo and I had visited as part of a Learn to Lead weekend a few years back so we knew what a great place it was, though we had only bouldered as a warm up before getting laden down with rope and metal. The Lower Tier was much as I remembered, a magical glade with some quality slabs, and gave us a good morning of climbing before Jetboiling up some noodles, with the guide offering us suggestions and plenty of scope for a few more problems as well. However, I was encountering a problem the other boys weren't, on account of their long trousers- midges! Given the Roaches location above a boggy moor it seemed the midges had no accounting for the time of day and were loving the warm temperatures and lack of breeze. Heading up the stone staircase to the Upper Tier I hoped moving out of the trees might shake them off but there was no such luck. The boulders there looked amazing though, and so we decided to crack on. However, it seems that plenty of other people had thought the same thing, for many years and with bigger boots I reckon, and as a result it seemed al the best holds had been polished up a treat. I carried on regardless but was halfway up one boulder worrying about slippy smears when a midge flew up my shorts and bit me on my inner thigh. That kind of sealed the deal for me, there's a time and a place for that kind of thing and this wasn't it! Stu was flagging and needing some pop (his life blood) and so we decided to call it and head off to a midge free zone.

This led us to Crag 4, by which time we were seriously starting to flag. Luckily Robin Hoods Stride is the sort of place you'd go to even if you had no idea climbing even existed. A crazy jumble of rocks that appear to have been dropped in a pile in the middle of pleasant rolling hills, many of the rocks seem to have rolled off to create some great bouldering spots. We managed a couple of these as we dug deep, Cosmo in particular getting a second wind as he discovered the art of traversing slabs by running at them as fast as possible. However, the chips in Stony Middleton were starting to smell pretty good and so we headed back for sustinence, a power nap, then a pleasant walk up onto the hills above Eyam to end the day.

Saturday arrived, the day of the wedding, and although we had a good few hours til the reception that could have been filled with more climbing we reckoned it would be best to save getting hot and sweaty for the wedding dance. It would have been rude to leave the Peaks straight away though so we chose to park up on Curbar Edge again and a mosey along it, taking in the views. We picnicked by Smiling Buttress, wondering at the tiny size of the holds and the horrendous landing. Just watch Tyler Landman swinging out on the last move and try not to catch your breath at the drop below. Then go and have a look at the landing for yourself and try not to swear just a little. All that remained for us was to change into our finest garbs in Chesterfield Tesco toilets before heading for a wedding.

I'll save you a blow by blow account of the wedding, save to say that Louis is now an honest man, and future trips with many buddies were planned and discussed over many an ale. I feel like I've only tickled the belly of the beast that is Peak Grit, and am thoroughly looking forward to heading back down soon as I can. Or rather, as soon as we can.

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29 July 2015

Thorn in our side

Shall we have another scramble on the 25th of July? Yes, let's. No, wait - all well and good, but it's been too long since a full day of bouldering, let's do that instead.

What a horrible dilemma to have to endure! For whatever various reasons, we swung toward the bouldering option. Bryn picked Thorn Crag from the multitude available. This would take us into Lancashire, and various names lined themselves up to attend, and various of those then dropped out due to illness or logistical challenges. My own travels, given the proximity of the crag to the route to my brother's house, would see me meeting most of the rest of the gang there, and parking considerations would make getting up on the Saturday morning challenging... How best to cope with all of this and make the most of the time and space available?

With a bivvy.

I put the word out in the group to see who might fancy it, but, again, logistics and illness ruled all but one out - Xander. Relatively new to climbing, Xander was unsure what he would get out of the trip to the crag, but felt that a bivvy would make something of the trip either way. For me, it would be good not to have to worry about getting out of the house at home and get to the parking spot in good time.

Xander met me from work and we headed west. I would have made this trip alone, though I was pleased to have the company. We caught the sunset as we finished the drive, twilight as we took on the long walk-in, and dusk as we settled down, having found some small boulders to call home for night.

And good morning! It hadn't been too cold, though the stars did manage to come out at one point, and the morning was bright and breezy. We awoke in plenty of time before anyone else was due to arrive, and had as much of a lie-in as one can have on a hill. I had a bit of a warm-up scramble on and around the rocks that had been home, then we packed up and walked back to the cusp of the hill, to watch for our companions - Bryn, Hebe and Ellen in the first instance.

They're down there somewhere.

Once we teamed up, we consulted our guides and chose some rock to play with, the imaginatively named 'The Crag Boulders'. And what rock! It had looked good in twilight, but here in the bright morning it shone and sparkled. As we tickled the group of stately stones, Craig appeared to bring us to our full complement for the day. We proceeded to work The Crag Boulders well, with highball aretes, technical slabs, cracks both jug-like positive and sweetly crimpy, lay-offs, rockovers, hard-pulling and delicate swaps. A grand start.

It has been noted, on social media channels, that it appears that Bryn - who had unleashed the power of the vest - is sitting on a big fish in that last photo. Well, it wouldn't be a fish out of water for long - as we moved on for the Trackside Boulders, the rains came. Slow at first, harder as we settled down for lunch by, and soon under, 2001 A Grit Odyssey. Once lunch was done, it became a battle of optimism vs elements, as Bryn scouted around for rock that might play while he waited the half-hour it would obviously take to clear up and dry off. He found a breaky, juggy block; I found a small sharp, slabby pinnacle; Ellen and Craig worked 2001, with its beautiful seam of geological rail. But shelter was the main order of this area, and we elected to put it behind us as the weather cleared a little.

The walk to the next area - Sea View Boulders - gave things a chance to dry off properly, and a sharp breeze was the most the elements could muster for the remainder of the day. Guess what? We could see the sea from these rocks! Guess what else! We could actually see the sea from all of the rocks! Though these offered a view down to Jubilee Tower and Heysham power station, so that obviously improved matters. As for the rocks themselves, an interesting circuit of slabs and flakes surrounded a dominating, Matterhorn(Almscliffe)-esque obelisk. Only Ellen and Craig gave that any serious attention, but there was plenty for all of us to stretch our limbs on. Craig sloped off first, cats to be fed, but the rest of us weren't far behind, as the session degenerated into failed attempts and rock-top posturing. In a good way.

Fulfilled, we packed up and moseyed down, taking in again the array of boulders around the path, acknowledging their hospitality as we passed. At the cars, we went our separate ways, as I made onwards into Lancashire to visit my brother - a mere stone's throw away in Lancaster - while everyone else headed home to Yorkshire. Not that these boulders hadn't felt like home, and not that we're really too far apart in spirit, united by the rocks as we had been.
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26 July 2015

Night and Day at Almscliffe

Last Sunday night, and Bryn and I had heard tell, from Dean, of a group of climbers at Almscliffe, so up we went. Dean, and Martin, and Paco, and Joey, and Ellie - performing telescopic yoga atop High Man - and Max, and a few more, were sessioning hard. Bryn and I had a bit of a play on some chimneys. I was without head-torch (spontaneous session, you see) and in the wrong trousers (well, not THE Wrong Trousers), but I made the usual traverse and then darted up to the top, to Ellie's alarm. Bryn followed, and we soaked up the night. It had been a good call to go up there.

We were back there the next day, straight from work. I made it there first, and I fancied the teaspoon area. Matless, I tackled the problem next to the wall, and enjoyed getting reacquainted with it. I headed upwards from there, for a play around in a green and pigeon-infested gully. Back to ground, and the next problem along, the old project, the one with the body-sized scoop. This had also been a while since an ascent, and I was a little unsure about finding the moves again. With good reason, it turned out - I completed the problem, but with a lower, smaller and less positive hold to take me to the finish. Well, okay. I guess that's progress. Of course, I had to then do it the original way...

Bryn rocked up, then Ed, and we took it to the outlying boulder, left traverse to be specific. Ed took it on and made it look like the rock was moving under him, his limbs delicately prompting the inertia-less rock along. I took a punt on the same line, and got it, but somewhat more clunkily. Ellen joined us, despite illness, figuring if she was going to be ill she may as well be on the crag. I like the cut of her gib. We made our way over the top of the crag's lower half and its esoteric boulders...

...and ended up at the back of the Virgin. There, we threw ourselves at and off the direct and the cave opposite, while Ed scampered around various alternative lines. One of my throws involved a decent fall, in which Bryn saved me from tumbling down the crag, though I still took a knock on my knee. Still, the evening had been a good one, even if much of it was familiar territory, and it made for a very satisfactory companion piece to the previous night's adventures in the dark.

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19 July 2015

Edge Chronicles

Helvellyn. Striding Edge. Swirral Edge.

Saturday the 11th of July 2015, Tom and I collected Helen from her place, then made for Bryn's. We hopped to his car, and made for the Lakes. The wrong lake, at first, but soon back on track, the track (road) being the epic Kirkstone Pass to Glenridding. Epic by road, but we'd soon learn that on foot was... even more epic. Parked up, on out of the car park, and Helen's navigation skills were soon getting warmed up, taking us by pleasant stream and campsite to Mire's Beck, which would form the first part of our ascent. Steady, not too troublesome, and levelling out onto the common below Helvellyn in good time. We took lunch at the hole in the wall (it's a hole in a wall, not a pub, or a cashpoint) to ready ourselves for Striding Edge.

The edge had loomed long in our vision, zig-zagging across the landscape to meld with the bulk of Helvellyn itself. 'Stay high', I'd heard someone advise - there are a couple of paths along the ridge, and the top was rocky while the lower path was a little more soil based - I'll stick with the rock, thanks. Well, I say 'stick', but there were occasional jumps to make... Overall, it felt like a bridge over the world, and soon led into a more vertical... well, steeper scramble that saw us up to the peak, where trig point antics abounded, obviously.

Helen is on a trig point. I forgot you couldn't see it when I decided this would be the perfect picture.
Onwards and downwards, to Swirral Edge. They say that's where you should watch your footing, but it was no bother for us. Perhaps you should watch your feet when it's wet or icy, but I felt like this advice wasn't written with boulderers in mind. Would have liked my climbing shoes now and then, just to feel more nimble.

Catstye Cam was ahead of us, so it would have been rude not to... Great views from thence. We traversed a sheep trail down to the main path, and took up the descent in earnest. I couldn't help plotting the various routes a unicycle wheel might have taken, and I wouldn't be surprised if Bryn was thinking the two-wheeled equivalent. We levelled out by the stream that would take us to Glenridding, past an old mine and along videogame style paths back to complete the loop near the campsite. To our distress, it turned out there was no chippy in the clearly rather small town, so we hit the road. The journey back was quiet conversation-wise, as everyone breathed deeply to recover, something we had well earned.

A big day out bouldering is on the menu next, but more mountainous scrambles will surely follow before too long...
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3 June 2015

The Fontainebleau Cram, 27-31.05.2015

It's all about cramming when it comes to Fontainebleau.

Into cars, you cram people and things - tents, bouldering mats, snacks. Into people you cram enthusiasm and determination. Into the time you have available you cram sessions at the many spots around the forest, and at each of those you cram as many climbs as you have the energy for. Into any spare time you happen to have available you cram food, drink, banter, merriment, relaxation.

The relaxation part.

Like last year, the drive was shared with Bryn - I'd not be unhappy if I never had to do the whole drive to Font myself again - though I took the UK this time while Bryn took France. Joining the two of us and Cosmo in the car was Ellen, Cosmo's friend and junior climbing superstar in the making (note to selves: next time you happen to travel with a junior, get a letter from their parent, lest you come under the withering gaze of the passport inspectors...). Smooth sailing, as it were, to Folkstone, where we met the rest of the gang - Geoff and Mike were known to us, and Mike brought with him Niomi, John, Amanda, and Ed. We managed to lose them pretty quickly once we got to France (or did they lose us?), and barring a sleeping Geoff at a service station (the peaceful angel, we just couldn't disturb him) we remained disjointed until we landed at La Musardiere.


When I first arrived in Font two years ago, Pete led our group to Chateauveau. When Bryn made his first visit last year, that's where I steered him. As it was then, so it was this most recent trip - it's close, it gives a marvellous taste of the different kind of climbing Font can offer, and it offers a great preview of the wider forest through spectacular views at the top. My highlights were slabs, both delicate and monstrous, and the lowlight was Niomi twisting her ankle thanks to new shoes on a descent. Thankfully it wasn't enough to kill the trip for her, but it clearly took the edge off things for her. Her determined efforts over the next few days are testament to her character.

Geoff trying to split the rock in two so that sleepy Bryn falls down!

It didn't work.

Day two, Gorge Aux Chats. Measured against my visit here in 2014, I must have progressed a little, as more climbs in the opening area fell, in part thanks to good beta and shouting from the team. But not enough of them - I must strive for improvement before returning. By the time we reached the top area, my toes were swelling in the French heat, crammed into my climbing shoes, who bite back hard. Forcing myself through the climbs was arguably the best option (including a fine highball crack at the blue grade) but moving between them was something of a frustrating hobble. So it was again in the evening, as we crammed a bonus visit to a spot in - we had been looking to investigate 91.1, but Roche Aux Sabots caught our eyes and lured us in to revisit a few favourites from last year, as well as to investigate the odd new gem - a highball crack with a top which seemed to actively push you outwards defeated both Bryn and myself, though Ed managed to see it off for us.


Our second morning at the campsite rolled around, our third day out in the forest. To this point, I'd been feeling a bit disconnected and distant, my mind on friends and family at home. I expressed this to Bryn, and that helped. Or maybe it was just a natural turning point, about halfway through the trip, I could relax more and just let it happen. Or how about... new rock. Yes, we made it to 91.1 following the previous night's distraction. More technical slabs stood out, more toe pain after lunch slowed things down (handy excuse though, eh?) and much trekking through the woods led us out to the beach, where we tickled a boulder or two, but mainly loosely played petanque and crashed out in the sun. Or shade.

Now, La Musardiere is a campsite of leafy charm, heightened by the visit of a boulanger most mornings, and a pizza van on Saturday nights. Fear of ordering pizza in French had led me to avoid using this van in previous years, but this time I was determined. Plus, we had a couple of better French speakers with us, so, you know. On our way back from 91.1, Geoff checked that the pizza van would be around for a while and we went back to camp to unburden ourselves. When we returned to the pizza van, we found that they weren't taking any more orders - something about the chef's daughter's 'spectacular'... something. Undeterred, we regrouped. Menus from the kiosk, and a scouting party of me (behind the wheel), Geoff, Amanda (the two best linguists), Cosmo and Ellen (the enthusiasm of youth) forayed into Milly. There we found a tiny pizza takeaway, with a kitchen no bigger than a cubicle. The quality of pizza seemed inverse to the size of the kitchen, and once we returned to camp we enjoyed an epic pizza session around the lack-of-campfire (prohibited, you see), missing only Bryn, who had eaten earlier (I think the French may have struggled with 'Sans fromage, s'il vous plait') and gone for a wander. Wine, ale, pop, chocolate, and Bryn's return saw the night out in good style.

I make no apologies.

For the final day, I woke early enough to do the pastry run, Bryn and Geoff having sorted it previously. Heck, I even went back for a sneaky second helping after missing out on the kind of pastry I wanted first time ;) Once that was out of the way, we folded up our camp and slotted it into the cars - yep, pretty much that efficiently - and left La Moo behind us. One last session before facing our journey home, Franchard Isatis would give us our send off, a group of substantial stones only a rock's throw from the car park. We only had a couple of hours to kill, and Bryn gets the finder's fee for the highlight of the day - a blue traverse leftwards along a slab to a top-out from a distant arete. Took some doing - worked by me, Bryn, Geoff, Amanda and John - and it took me the longest, but I got there, fingernails and all, and how rewarding was it? Very. Ellen was off flashing a red problem, but I wouldn't swap that for overcoming my blue nemesis... much.

A team photo to finish off, then the rains came in a timely fashion as we drove out of the car park. The drive back through France was almost as smooth as the way down had been - a misreading of the slow to speak satnav took us on a tour of Charles De Gaulle airport (Concorde!) - whereas Eurotunnel was a nightmare, with huge delays and suggestions of child smuggling. Once back in the UK, the gang (sans Geoff, who had gone to explore more of France with other friends) reconvened at Cambridge services... and then, once home, online to share a raft of photos and related banter... Hopefully we'll share more climbs in future.

For my part, I followed up the trip with a day of recovery and a visit to The Depot, where I signed up for a pass - The Depot will now be part of my journey home (when we're not otherwise at a crag anyway), and in cramming more climbs into my days and weeks, I hope to be able to cram more - quality and quantity - into my next Fontainebleau trip. Time will tell.

More photos here, and hopefully Bryn's take on events will follow shortly.
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26 May 2015

On climbing a mountain?

North-Wales Easter. Words that strike dread into the adventure seeker past thier first flush of youth. Unrelenting drizzle, the musty wet dog smell of gear that won't dry and another afternoon aborting to the cafe as you can't stand a misty, drizzly walk again.

And there we were, mine and my brother families in North Wales looking out over the Rhinogs from our cabins and not a cloud in it. All is crisp blue and brightly lit a proper result, let us make hay.

We scream to Ogwen to get into the Lay-by before the masses. We are a party of eight aged from 4 to 46 with snack food, the north ridge of Tryfan will do for us. Me and my brother figure we will be down for 1 ish, off we plod.

Tryfan's North Ridge is the quality grade one, roadside, mountain experience in the UK. No preamble you get out the car and start climbing. You can keep your hands in your pockets for 20 minutes and after that the craglets start. You can avoid some by slithering up gullies and outflanking where you can, but after an hour the ridge is narrowing from a broad rib to a rocky crest and you are mostly scrambling.

Trying to persuade the youngest two to use their hands becomes a relentless mantra as we watch their backs and lift them up the bigger steps. You can look down now, towards Little Tryfan, a rock slab below with some easy bits of multi pitch on. We watch people playing their games with ropes and runners and apply (whisper it) sun screen, in Wales, in April.

Lunch is eaten with 200 metres still to go where the ridge narrows even more. 12 O' clock and our time up and back looks laughable. Still the sun beats down and there is not a breath of wind, perfect.

We take a route that leads us left along a track that narrows and degenerates. We could go left but I don't like it, we find a dank looking gully and things get all 3d as we stop to help everyone up. A rock bridge blocks the way. I  get a rope out, but we can pass the smallest kids up onto the bridge with out to  much drama, it goes back in the bag. Sister-in-law has by now the look of intense concentration that the worried wear. Mrs Timeticks who is a fear immune, flinty-eyed killer, does the right thing and takes pictures.

We all pop out on the ridge and  scramble the last 100m to the summit where a throng have gathered. All four boys having climbed their first mountain (more on this opinion later).

Summit pics and a rocky, painfully slow descent down to Llyn Bochlwyd which is shaped like Australia but smaller. We dip our toes in, my youngest dipping in to the knees. An hour later we are at Owen Cottage eating Lamb and Mint pasties, a mere 7 hours after setting off, the last food having been eaten four hours ago. Me and my Brother run off for the cars in the lay-bay, as everyone else sunbathes.

All good, a perfect day and yet the autopsy begins. My Eldest won't have it, mountains are apparently 1000m high Tryfan is no mountain says he, just a big hill. My definition has always been rather more generous, if it is pointy and rocky and quite big it is a mountain. I take to social media and the wisdom of the crowd on the book of Face. A couple of Mountain Instructors and a cast of thousands, tell him it is indeed a mountain. Alas like pharaoh he hardens his heart and will not listen.

I switch networks and try twitter. Alan Hinkes is blatantly trawled for help and comes up trumps. Tryfan is indeed a mountain says the first Britain to climb all of the 8000 peaks on the planet. Not interested says stubborn Eldest Pharaoh of Starbeck.

But you can see it in his eyes, he knows and only his 9 year old pride will stop him admitting it. I think he is pleased and maybe he will climb another. He is building a scale model of Mount Olympus at the moment and suddenly it is on his brand new mountain tick list, which bodes well. I hope I will climb many more with my family it was fun.
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