27 January 2012

Save our outdoor centres - Education is more than bits of paper

Mark Reeves posted this on his blog. I think we should all publicise this. As a kid I spent a lot of time in these centres, particularly Whitehall near Buxton.
I hope kids today have the same chances that I had. If we let public sector cuts close these places we may never get them back. Education is about more than passing exams. I have signed the petition to get a debate in parliment and I ask if you will do the same?

One in three Local Authority outdoor education centres are facing closure (some have already closed) which could mean large numbers of young people are denied potentially life-changing experiences, at a time when health, physical activity and contact with nature are all declining. Some children from poorer and disadvantaged groups may not have another opportunity to share a night away from home and visit places they would not otherwise see.
The sad fact is that closure need not happen, in many cases given extra time these centres could become self sufficient. If centres close they may not reopen again.
You can help by signing our petition, set up by the FSC with the support of Association for Heads of Outdoor Education Centres, English Outdoor Council, Institute for Outdoor Learning and National Association of Field Studies Officers. If we reach 100,000 signatures this year the issue will be considered for debate in the House of Commons.

To sign the petition visit http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/26661
To raise awareness of the campaign we have created a short piece of video which you can watch below.

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19 January 2012


I propose that this year we go to Widdop it looks brilliant. I want to go. Er... thats it.

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iCoach - Revelation and progress

Rather wonderfully I  found out last week that I have been mantling if not wrong, at least in a way that is less than ideal, for the last 27 years. I found out last Friday. I always assumed that finishing off a route or a problem, one where you were topping out on  an edge, with no holds set back from the lip, was bound  to involve a "see-saw of terror" moment. Until that is your weight finally came over your foot and you could stand up.

Turns out it 'ain't necessarily so. Turning one of your hands  palm down at the end of the process will throw your weight foward and makes the whole thing rather more fun. Saturday at Almcliff was spent grinning stupidly and effortlessly mantling up anything I could find. While I blabbed inanely to anyone in earshot. This gem from Mark's book was worth the purchase price on its own. How come I never knew? WHY DID NO-ONE TELL ME? Actually why did I never ask?

Aside from the technique change I feel I have improved this week. Saturday saw me finally getting up a long standing problem at the Cliff in the form of South Cave arete. It sucumbed to some determination and a new sequence. More to the point it took fewer sessions than my projects have in the past.

Last night at the depot with a new set of  hopefully still sticky purple problems from  Dave Barrans. I was bouldering with more focus and most importantly better outcomes. I am putting this progress down to an attitude that is considering success possible or even probable. Rather than one that sees failure on a problem as the end of the process. I was also taking things on I would normally have not risked trying.

So whilst  I probably climbed no harder. I did a lot more at my top level than I have in the past. Where previously I would have been happy strugling up a couple of problems I got 10 and some of them really flowed.  After an hour I was still operating well, when uusally I am becoming fatigued,  I didn't really want to go home. I can't be sure that any of this is down to a more positive  mental approach but I felt I was giving myself a chance and  I got a load more out the session than I expected.

On to week three

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14 January 2012

Other crags are available

Honestly though Almscliff is pretty great on a still, sunny, winter-belter and today was one of those. At 12.20 I could wait for it to warm the ice no more and I drove up to the Cliff. There were no clouds in the sky, I checked twice. First I ran into Dean and a couple of his mates who were bothering Hanging Rib it warmed me up but didn't massage my ego, I was finding crimping tough.

Bryn and Stu arrived with Cosmo and they warmed through on Low Man Slab. After that I persuaded them to spot me on South Cave Arete this year's first project. Three goes and no progress and then Rachael arrived with the boys.

I walked down and back with two excited children and we had a little bimble around. Stu and Bryn getting up the Wall of the cave via that big jug, the boys commando crawling under barbed wire fences. I had another go at SCA and this time progress by slapping further up the runnel, where I managed to get a pinch of sorts due to cold weather super friction. One mighty press and heave later and it was in the bag and a good start to the campaign for this year.

The boys did a few problems  and Bryn bothered MK wall, but it bothered him back. Then we wandered off to claim a geocache as Rachael returned from her run. As the temperature dropped back below zero we retreated but I have got that deep golden sun in my head as I write this. Maybe February won't beat me up mentally this year.

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12 January 2012

iCoach Mind Games - overcoming fear

I have just got hold of Mark Reeves's book How to climb harder and I am using it along side his online iCoach tool to try and improve my climbing  performance. It highlighted what I already suspected, namely  I need to work on my pyschological skills to improve my climbing the most.

Wednesday night at Harrogte Wall was my standard bouldering/climbing  session with the loose collective of suspects that gather. We had a good time and I bouldered pretty well. I was trying to use a technique from the book "self talk" -  no more than telling yourself things are going well and being positive.  I found it really hard to do whilst I was concentrating on the moves, but I will perservere with this one. Frame of mind is clearly important. I got a couple of problems I hadn't managed on Saturday and I did think I was prepared to try a few things that I wouldn't have tried normally including a  long roof problem that was really not my style.

After a brew I worked on what is definately one of my pet hates, falling off whilst leading. This had got so bad a year or so ago when I was on an autobelay, I found letting go at the top really difficult, comically so for my mates. There are clearly some confidence issues here. I managed to take a couple of planned leader falls though on Wednesday. I wasn't very far above the quickdraws and I didn't go very far at all, but I  felt no fear and I was able to feel pretty emotionally detached from the whole process so that felt like progress. Interstingly my mate took his first leader fall whilst going for the top clip on a 6a and managed a 20 footer down the wall. He seemed to enjoy the whole process imensely. I figure my fear of falling is a learned behaviour and so it can be un-learned.

My target for the next wall session is to try and close the gap between my bouldering performace where I operate at about font 6B/6C and my sport leading grade where I am operating at about 5+. I'm planning to concentrate next session on the idea of  scripts. A visualisation technique where you think in detail about the outcome you are hoping for in a positive way and mentally rehearse as much of the route as possible before you get on it. I think short term success here will be about getting up something 6a or harder or perhaps being able to take a leader fall whilst trying.

So far I am feeling pretty positive about the whole self improvement idea and am enjoying focusing on just one or two areas of my climbing. In the past my approach has been, lets try and be better at everything all at once

...More next week.

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9 January 2012

1.27 Hours

Ever since my halcyon days on the beaches of Goa, the full moon has been special to me (as is to many, especially lunatics and werewolves). Last winter we managed to climb under it- very briefly, though, given that Almscliff was covered in snow, and it was -8. It was a magical experience and although repeating the experience made it onto my 2011 tick list, but weather and circumstance got in the way. Then, after a window in both the clouds and my diary opened, I managed to get up the crag again for the first full moon of 2012.

Now I've not managed to watch '127 Hours' yet, but I believe one of its main themes (apart from the pros and cons of self-dismemberment) is how Aron Ralston comes to realise that he's being living a pretty irresponsible lifestyle. As I set off on my bike wearing my headtorch, wearing my 5.10 daescents, no mat, and no mates, I thought about him and hoped I didn't manage to get stuck on the top of a rock. Unlike Aron though, I had remembered my mobile, and told people where I was going. No penknife though.

I was not the only one to have the idea- I spotted two headtorches bobbing around at the bottom of the Matterhorn as I cycled up to the crag. However, they had the decency to depart as I arrived, giving me sole occupancy. The moonlight gave the crag a beautiful pale blue light, easy enough to walk around with my headtorch despite it being 9pm. I started off with some easy scrambling- even that becomes a challenge when you can't see properly. Having climbed Almscliff in my daescents before I had an idea of what I could safely climb, and, after a bit of traversing, got myself up the rock over in the middle of the warm-up wall. I then played around on the big face next to it to get my head sorted, and strode off to get up The Menhir (the boulder below The Egg). I spent many happy sunsets sitting on that rock- a relatively safe way of getting high, with a freaky dismount- and had climbed it at dusk before, so had set that as my goal. Dave had suggested the Crucifix, but there was no way I was going to try without matt or spotters, and was happy to settle for a lower grade. However, I didn't hang about too long on the top just in case I lost my mojo, and decided to quit while I was ahead.

It turned out the hairiest bit was heading back down a very muddy field on my bike and nearly skidding out of control. I then had a wonderful descent back into Huby, as all the mud sprayed off my tyres and speckled me all over while I bombed the hill. One of those truly life-affirming climbs, and a great way to start what should hopefully be a great 2012.

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6 January 2012

Run, Forest, run!

This isn't technically a climbing post, but relates back to my resolution to start running in order to climb better. Barely a week has passed, and already I've managed to get 2 runs in, turning my regular dog walk into a dog jog.

Now the good news is that I haven't had to turn into a serious runner. In fact, to the untrained observer I merely look like a dog walker in a hurry. No hi-vis, no expensive trainers, and definitely no lycra! Having the dogs with me brings it challenges- they don't do straight lines very well, take breaks to perform ablutions, and grab any opportunity to eat anything foul. However, it's a good feeling running with the pack, and they keep a good pace. The route starts quite tough with a climb up the hill to the crag, but after a while I stopped feeling like someone had punched me in the kidneys. Then the run/ stagger back down across the fields, which currently resemble the Somme. Check out the route here.

One of the reasons I'm posting this, apart from proof that I'm taking this whole resolution thing seriously, is that it will be interesting reviewing how I get on during the year. My first runs were around 44 mins, and I'm hoping that will go down as I get fitter. Also, I'm hoping to extend the distance- this route is 2.7 miles, but I can easily add in a romp around Low Man, or head out towards Stainburn Forest. The real trick, however, is going to be keeping it up, so watch this space!

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Feathers versus Polyfluff

I was born a down lover. The ruling wisdom was down was better than synthetic insulation. Nobody was arguing really, it just cost more. I remember my first down sleeping bag. 600 grammes of Rab's finest joy,  back when they made them in Sheffield. I wore it to dust, and it kept me warm and happy. I even lapped the world in it. On the strength of that when I could afford a down jacket I bought a Mountain Equipment Annapurna. I remember the salesman, more a spotty boy really saying. "What will you mainly be using it for?"

I answered honestly. "Sitting around in cafes drinking tea and eating chips."

Indeed I did. For years that was all I did with it, and a dam fine job it did too. Like being in bed but upright. I have used it for bouldering recently. Its been used for keeping warm between winter problems and it does fine, but it gets grubby and it gets damp. Mrs Time Ticks now doesn't want to be seen in posh cafes with me when I am wearing it. Reader we have a problem here, there is more to life than cafes but not much more.

Worse if you get caught in a shower it wets through and becomes like a big, wet, cold dog. I wanted to wash it, but thats the beginning of a slow death for down products. That first Rab sleeping bag died or at least stopped being toasty after its second wash.

I tried some spray on gunk from Grangers that reckoned to clean the outer fabric without wetting the down, but I think it was snake oil really. It took some grime out, the hood alas was still pretty grim.

So a few days ago I treated myself to a new Rab Photon hooded jacket. Cotswold were knocking them out for £70. Down from a quoted £120. I had heard good things about Primaloft the insulation it contains. I had also been convincing myself I needed a "belay jacket" for six months or so. In theory it could be worn in the rain and then stay dry in all but a deluge. Even better it would be warm if it did get drenched. I could carry it on my annual wild camping trip and if I ever did get to that long mountaineering day I keep plotting. It would be good there too.

So here are my thoughts. Well its pretty warm for the weight at not much over 500g, actually its light. With the hood up and a wool base layer on its warm. I haven't been out in proper winter awfulness yet, but I cycled to the supermarket in a hailstorm the other day and it was surprisingly windproof and I was not cold. It was on me at Shipley Glen, yesterday between problems and it performed really well. The Pertex outer beads nicely and although it hasn't had chance to wet though yet, it will and we will see what happens then. I like the hood which snugs up nicely and would go over a helmet.  There is a pocket inside into which it will all pack away or you could put a map in it.

To be honest unless you do lots of Alpine winter mountaineering. A full on down jacket is over the top. This I think will do me nicely and when its been trod on, and thrown on the deck at the bottom of one too many problems, I will wash it. So on the whole I'm mildly excited and my inner gear Junkie has had its fix for a while. I can wash the down jacket now and wear it for posing down the shops as I always intended. It won't be that warm but it will look cool.

I never  thought I would say this but looks like for me now, like synthetic has finally won over the feathers of a duck.
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5 January 2012

The calm after the storm

It had blown up quite a storm for 36 hours and it was still windy as I got to Caley. That wasn't the worst of it. It was really wet on the ground. Out of a sense of duty more than hope I waded up the muddy track to the Horn. It wasn't wet, but it was damp. I looked around for something to warm up on. Nothing else was dry at all.

Trees had been blown down left and right. Pine tree Arete should now be Birch tree Arete as one had landed at the base. If anyone is fancying a go soon, it needs a bow saw to clean round the base.

Anyway after hope of a warm up was gone, I  ran on the spot to move some blood and had a few goes on the Horn. I was getting off the ground but no real progress. The atmosphere was too dank for inspiration, so I gave it best and headed for the Glen, this time hope was all I had.

The world was nicer at Shipley Glen once I had driven though two pretty impressive floods. The sun was out and there was some dry rock amongst a lot of wet streaks. I warmed up and tried my silly little 6B traverse that no on cares about. Spent an hour unpicking the sequence but in the end either the footholds were to damp or I had one too many pies over Christmas. Either way I ran out of crimp and finger skin and the moved down the edge a bit.
Wedding Present

I found a couple of nice little problems to amuse myself and ended up on the micro arete of Wedding Present.  Which I climbed from lower and lower until it went from a proper sitter and the light was beautiful and it was not a bad start to the year considering.
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3 January 2012


There is a  new online tool out there  for Climbers called iCoach by Mark Reeves @Verticallife. After you register and fill in a climbing profile,  It lets you find out which are the 5 things you should be focusing on in your climbing training. I wasn't surprised to find that my targets are mainly psychological as I know its an area of my climbing I could develop more let me explain...

Today I  put my tick list for 2012  on to the blog. Not too much unexpected on the list. Some boulder problems which represent some challenges and unfinished business from last year.  Also though after some thought I have included arguably the best route on Stanage, Right Unconquerable. Just putting it on the list required some soul searching.

When I was 17, I fell 30 foot or so down Right Unconquerable  and my feet touched the ground on the stretch as the rope came tight. Actually they touched the snowdrift at the bottom as it was late February. In hindsight it was a majestically  stupid decision to attempt it so early in the year and how can you fall that far on one of the most protectable routes on grit? Anyway it has been unfinished business for 25 years  and its time to try and lay some ghost to rest while the mind and body still allow. I also want to see if experience and guile can triumph over  the unfocused enthusiasm of youth.

I have said to Mark that I will use his training tips from his book How to Climb harder and the targets provided by iCoach to try and improve my climbing.  I  will blog about the results weekly if I can. I am not expecting sudden or dramatic results but it will be interesting to see if I can improve  aspects of my performance and more  to the point get up some routes that I certainly wouldn't have considered a year or two ago.

I am just waiting for my copy of the book to arrive and then we will get into it.
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1 January 2012


As we tick tock into 2012 I started thinking of my tick list for the upcoming year. Needless to say there are still enough left on last years to carry over, but what more should I add? However, at the same time as I think of various rocks and routes people all around me are resolving to do all sorts of things in 2012, most of which seem to be a lot less fun than going climbing. Now I've never been of the opinion that I should deprive myself of anything, so resolutions just aren't my bag. But I started to think 'Maybe they might help with my tick list?' In terms of pushing my climbing, what could I resolve to do? So here are a few I settled on

1. Watch my weight. Now I'm no lard arse but I have noticed I can easily fluctuate either end of a stone, dependent on some minor lifestyle choices. And surely getting an extra stone up a crimpy overhang can't be helping. So I'm going to try and make life a bit easier on myself, watch the flapjack intake, and keep up the cardio which brings me onto...

2. Running. I've recently discovered that I can actually run up to the crag from my house, and back, and not die in the process. I've always been suspicious of running as a form of exercise- particularly when you can sit down and exercise on a bike- but apparently it burns off the calories like nobodies business, and it's quite a good laugh.

3. Training. First off, my 11-year old, Cosmo, got a chin-up bar for Christmas (he got hooked on chin-ups at the Depot) and I thought 'I could do a few of those every now and then'. But I remembered reading on forums that chin-ups are great for your upper body, but not so great for your hand and finger strength. So second step was getting some rock rings to dangle off. I started dangling off door frames a few weeks back when I was too occupied to climb, but these look a lot less painful than 90 degree pieces of wood. So plan is to get into some sort of routine with these.

4. Time on rock. My good friend Dean is a great advocate of this theory- the only way you improve is by spending time out there. In particular, at least twice a week, so that is going to be my aim. Frustratingly I live 5 minutes drive from two of the best crags in the UK but spend far too little out there. Hopefully the wife's recovering ankle will mean she gets some more dog walking in and I get more climbing in. Plus, Cosmo is going to be keen as mustard to get out as well, so I'll have to do it in for the sake of the kids.

So those are my resolutions. As for my tick list, that is going to take a bit more thought. But I'm sure I'm pointing in the right direction (ie. up the hill).
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