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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21 May 2015

Palleys Crag

4 pm I'm leaving the madness of central Leeds on my bike, pedalling away from all that  humanity and towards the trees and the green.

By the time I get to Blubberhouses people are few and even the trees are thinning out. I wander up though the moss and the bog to Palley's Crag, a few bits of Moorland grit, tonight covered in sun and a wind with still a hint of chill on a micro moor near nowhere much. The only sign of humanity as I chuck my mat down are a bit of Paul Clarke' s chalk in a slot under a low steep wall and a farmhouse down the hill. I can see for miles around me.

I pull on a few of the sit start roof/wall problems, they are lovely, pockets and slots to rounded tops. The big throw number beats me at the mantel and press move,  I cheat a reachy finish on the left but I know it will not do and now you know.

Stu wanders up with drier feet than I bought and we sort out a few of the easier problems which are still steep but good, pockets and flakes with bowls at the top.

Another block has less holds and more roundness from the wind, it is different climbing but it is still good. I'm cold now. As we head out a curlew flapping like a UKIP candidate under questioning struggles to make progress against the wind as the sun starts to leave us. 

A mini adventure, a city break. How lucky am I?
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10 May 2015


Nice weather, let's head over the hill. Meet Ali at the cars, wander into Sharphaw. Quite a long way up the track.

The boulders look down on the A65, it's quite a view. The first buttress Airedale Wall looks rubbish. It is not. Undercut at the base, rough, with thin breaks it is good. It gets my arms burning as we work our way though a few problems and finish on some sitter at an alleged 4+, odd that it takes three goes. We wander on to Geronweeit and Estafonit. Great names for quality problems, undercut ribs on lovely wind eroded breaks, sublime. A low wall has some thin crimps to slappy tops.

Ali shows me the way on undercut rib, I can only flail and cheat my way up it but get to pull on the best pocket on grit. I find some silly dyno for a distant lip and it sticks after a few throws, more fun. Rough slab is that and more, again quality and we finish on a techy slab where you can climb on just your finger ends if you believe enough.

Wind is up now and skin is thin, there is a burn in my arms, time to head off. A change is as good as a rest. Good session 20 problems, all new ground, mint.
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22 April 2015

Crackin' sesh - Caley Roadside, 22.04.2015

Caley Roadside. Two Daves, an Oli and a Bryn were warming the place up, and a Louis soon followed. The crag was smooth and clear of bracken, an open playground. We dabbled here and there, with quite a lot of steady slab work going on, and a lot of basking in the evening sun.

As the light started to fade, we found ourselves below (not on) Otley Wall. Here, in fact...

A high-ball crack with a chipped problem just off to the left, Bryn and I last looked at this in, I think, 2010. I hoped that I would have improved in that interval, so I stepped up for a turn. I tried to keep my feet left, and once I took them right I stalled. Bryn shouted encouragement, wondering if I could gain the top. Not from where I was, but it inspired me to spot the move that could. Left hand first, not amazing, but enough to send home the right hand, which found a glorious hold, and let me skip my feet over the top. I was pretty pleased with this, and returned to the bottom to encourage Louis in his attempt... And it wouldn't go. What? Bryn stepped up. Same story, he couldn't send it. Dave P had done it years ago, but was happy with that. Dave B appeared from round the corner and took a look... Once more, it didn't click for him. I demonstrated it - okay, twice... - but still, no-one else sent it.

Now, okay, I felt like the proverbial cat with the cream, and Bryn did compare me to certain children who may be smug about getting a climb... But I took no pleasure in my comrades having to wait till another day to see it home. I would have liked nothing more to help them through it, but it wasn't to be. To be fair, it's good that they knew where to stop.

And, for myself, not against anyone else, I needed this. I needed the boost. A few climbs recently had not felt so good, so this was not about lording it over anyone else, it was about recharging my own enthusiasm batteries. Mission accomplished, in that respect. Now, just to complement that with better food, more exercise, more training - then I may actually notice improvement in a period shorter than 5 years...
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15 March 2015

What the Fock?

When is a rock not a rock? When it's a fake rock. Round our house we eat a fair bit of fake meat, soya imitations like fake bacon. We call it 'fakon', and so it only seems right that fake rock, such as the 'boulder park' Enterprise built at Whickham Thorns Outdoor Centre in Gateshead, should be called 'fock'. Hidden away in plain sight, just a few hundred metres from the A1 and the sprawling shopping experience of the Metro Centre, lies an oasis of calm and a strange- looking large piece of fock specifically designed for bouldering. You're immediately struck by its odd sprawling shape that looks more like it would be at home in Alton Towers and painted purple. However, this is largely due to the fact that it is purpose built- it's circular nature means you can climb it at any point inside and out. It also means the designers have been able to provide a good mix of slabs, overhangs, pockets, jugs, cracks, and chimneys. 

A slabby central descent route for some more technical ascents either side
The online guide suggests 68 problems from Font 1 to 7c+, and there are clearly a huge amount of further permutations and eliminates. Certainly enough to keep you happy for an afternoon, and return visits. Whickham Thorns also provides an experience definitely lacking with indoor walls- topping out. In fact, the topping out was one of the more challenging aspects for some of the climbs, especially on one side where the top mushrooms out and requires some high stepping. They have, however, provided a fun descent chute should you get stuck up there. 

So, it's not the real thing but Whickham Thorns does have a number of advantages over an indoor wall. Possibly the biggest of these is that it's totally free to use. It's also one of the few places you can combine a climb and a trip to Ikea, and it definitely made my visit to the Swedish Labyrinth a hell of a lot more enjoyable.

Looking across the A1 towards Gateshead.
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8 March 2015


Some weeks really drag. This week dragged me, kicking off with a proper dose of the flu. From whence it came I do not know but it slapped me upside down and left me pretty much bed ridden for 4 days. 4 days of sickly inertia, whilst work, family, climbing, reunions, and life in general passed me by. However, as I finally emerged out of my onesie I felt like a butterfly breaking out of its chrysalis. The sun shone, birds sang, the wind was actually rather pleasant- Spring had arrived! My limbs started moving again and I, blinking, staggered out into the light. It was Friday night, and the final of the Depot Bouldering League and I started to think I could actually get there. Now I'm not normally a competitive person, but I had set myself a goal of trying to get into the Top Ten this year. As a post-40 year old Veteran, old but not necessarily wise, this was actually looking realistic due to diminishing numbers. Two things stood in my way 1. I still had my last score sheet and as such that round currently stood at zero, and 2. The last round offered a one-night-only deal of double points, a chance to boost me up from my current standing at #12. So, joints creaking, I popped some ibuprofen, grabbed plenty of juice and Lucozade tablets, and headed off to Leeds. Surprisingly I turned out to be climbing pretty well, although there were moments I thought I might need resuscitation. Maybe a week of physical collapse with lots of water and little food is just the preparation you need for a competition. I never did find out if I made Top Ten by the way, but I didn't really care by then.
Spring sunset, standing on a chockstone. Almscliff

Saturday morning offered the chance for some more sedate climbing, as plans were in motion to continue the work on the low-grade Caley Crag circuit. Temperatures were forecast to hit double figures so it would have been rude not to go, and sure enough it was very fine day. We spent a good hour or two cleaning and climbing the slabby and rather mossy face of Yule Log, much improved after the blitz the top got back in January, and had some fun remembering how to smear again by climbing the left arete. Amazing how quickly you forget after a few months indoors. Then it was back over to the Ice Cream slabs where the group grew in numbers, Paul cracking the sit start. Caley at the start of Spring is such a different place, you can feel the vibrancy of the woods coming back to life yet still actually see all the boulders and orientate yourself. I could feel myself coming back to life too, with the moves of the climbs and the laughs that we shared. Back home for some rest and food, then it only felt right to finish the day up at Almscliff. A gentle scramble up around the top revealed a stunning sunset, and as I rested I felt the strong Southern wind blowing through me, rejuvenating. Spring has sprung, have a good one people!
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15 February 2015

Forgotten Flasby, Hellboy's Arse

I think Bryn was going to blog this one - the trip was his suggestion, and felt like his day to stretch the legs of his penmanship (you know what I mean) - but the lack of blog to this point and the fact that Bryn currently has bigger fish (mountains) to fry (slide down) means I'm hopeful that he won't mind me taking up the mantle. I'll try to do his standard justice...

So, we haz dun a clime an' it woz rite gud...

Last weekend, after a Saturday of gin, burgers, chinese food, and general debauchery, I slithered from my pit altogether too early on Sunday morning to meet with Bryn and make for Flasby Fell. The day was glorious, crisp air, bright skies, clear views. Until, that is, we took up the walk-in to the crag... The directions Bryn was working from didn't mention walking up into a cloud...

Our first glimpse of crag, and a couple of nice problems.
Sans guidebook, we gave... erm... desolate tree area? a stern examination. A first look at the lower rock was fruitless, but the upper rock looked to have some potential, with lots of texture on its face. Turned out, after a big swing to a low rail, the move was to miss out all that face - none of it was as good as it looked - and gain the top. Not that the top was a life saver - slopey, and with only a small crimp to work with in order to proceed, I really made sure of my position before topping out.

To give Bryn an idea of the crimp, but he was on the rock by the time I descended.
Bryn topped it smoother for having seen me do it, and we moved back to the boulder near the tree. I'd spotted a problem that needed some spotting, a couple of delicate high steps onto a slab top. I think Bryn had had a look already, but it was the team effort that saw it done - and don't underestimate it, a slip would have led to an awkward landing.

Up and over the ridge, to a spot sadly massively exposed to the winds, being able to see them whirl and eddie thanks to the cloud cover only marginally making up for their bitterness. More of a general play in this area, with a huge easy slab like Cheeseblock+, and a face with a delicate start and ridiculously easy finish. Plus, some climbing with big gloves on, running away from tumbling boulders (note: very small, and more like shifting slightly than tumbling), and playing with ice pools atop the rock.

Just general ambience
Last but by no means least, Rough Slab... Wait, sorry, what? 'Rough Slab'? Really? Is that the best anyone could come up with? (And how did we know this, since we had no guide? I can't even remember...) No, this Lovecraftian horror of a piece of rock, sinewy, arcane, almost designed to tear at a climbers soul as much as their palms, this deserved a finer moniker...


Credit to Bryn for that one! Thankfully, it was actually less windy around these parts...

And here she is. Photo doesn't really do her justice. And why is Hellboy's bottom a she?
Use of the obvious mounting boulder to start served as warm-up, and Bryn found a more subtle traverse in from the right. The key move was to tackle it direct - the two lips on it conspired to create a thorny problem. Right hand on the top lib, left hand just below. Left foot locked under the larger lower lip, right foot then... Where? It took several goes - twice! - to get to a point where I knew what I was doing - locking the right foot out lower and wider meant that I was hanging more off the right hand, and could more comfortably move the left hand (this is starting to sound like Twister...) without dismounting. With both hands on the arse's top lip - ewww! - both feet then found the lower, and onwards and upwards from there. Most rewarding, though some of the chalk in evidence suggested lower starts still...

And there we called it. It doesn't sound like much, just a few areas, but it felt like a good session, substantial enough, with some good unraveling of moves and sequences, and fine philosophical banter throughout. Might be nice to go back in the sunshine someday...
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1 February 2015

The Ice cream Sunday

Pic Matt Rickard
Good forecast, we have Mats and a Matt as we head below the track at Caley. The Yule Log's easier problems climb well once more after their wash and brush up, we even have a few pulls on  Pine Tree Arete, but I can't make sense of it and Matt did no better, we sneak off to the Flapjack. The Scoop is as good as ever even if the descent is sheet ice and more harrowing than the climb. Dave arrives on his bike followed by Louis and we pootle about a bit

Below the scone is a boulder I helped clean a few weeks ago, It has dried out, most of the moss is gone and as far as I can tell it is un-recorded and judging by the state of the rock unclimbed there was plenty of scrittle and no sign of wear.

The "Ice Cream Sunday" gives me a nice little font four mantle up the middle,  a one move wonder but worthwhile. Along with a couple of high stepping rock overs at 5ish on the left that are Dave Booth's work. Louis picks the plum. On the right side is an open handed flared scoop with little for your feet and what there is will be better in a few months, when it has dried out yet more.

He bothers it for ages, we all do but in the end he gets his feet up, throws for the top and latches it. Some sort of 6 today but probably 5+ when the foot "holds" dry out properly. A nice little boulder if you are passing.

If they were all done years ago, so be it but it kept us amused for an hour, thanks for coming gents I had a ball.
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