29 March 2012

The time of your lives - First Almscliff trip 2012

Winter as the wildlife documentary cliche goes  "Unfurls its Icy fingers early" and the superheated Cliff is like Harrogate Climbing Centre with the lid off. All the faces from the winter hibernation look better in a early evening glow.

Enthusiasm gets the better of me and I'm a spent force in 40 minutes. At least Pork Chop Slab finally gets straightened out. Rob takes the bit between his teeth and with his heart in his mouth, pulls over onto the slab at the top of Flying Arete, good effort.

Jordan's a dark horse, who can always pull harder, further and once more and then be supremely modest about it. Giovanni takes his first baby steps outside and notices the difference when the holds aren't coloured, then he gets a few to start his collection.

Bryn rocks up and rocks up to the crimps on Morrells Wall but then gravity bites.

Floodlit dynamism in the dusk provides an ego trip for those that can fling and leap. Many are called and a few latch the top as Jupiter and Venus light up the southern sky.

Then there are all those stories that I don't know as you were doing your own thing on other stones. Whether you did or did not, I hope like me, you had the time of your life.

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27 March 2012


As one of our members, Bryn, has the honour of living in the shadow of the esteemed Almscliffe Crag, so it was that he, 2012 tick list doubtless in mind, observed that shadow receding later into the evening week on week. Of course, the switch to British Summertime gives things a handy nudge in the right direction at this time of year, so all that was really needed to kick the new climbing season off was a bit of coordination. Bryn was again the man with a finger on the pulse, setting up a Facebook event for Sunday, the day of 'spring forward'.

Let's climb this shit.

Several parties converged on the crag from around half past five - myself, Rob and John from Harrogate; Bryn and Cosmo from Huby, with a unicycling Robin in anything but tow; Louis and - a surprisingly short while later - a bicycling Mat from Leeds. Congregating initially around 'End Boulder' (according to Boulder Britain, a brilliant birthday gift from Bryn and family), we set about remembering the rock, freeing ourselves from the coloured plastic mindset, and generally just stretching our legs. A wide spread of skill and experience saw us drop in and out of contact with each other from time to time, with a tendency towards a Rob-Mat-Louis/Bryn-Cosmo-Stu-John split, and Robin skittering around between the two with his Go Pro camera...

Under a perfect sky, it was an eventful evening. Three Swings Traverse fell to Mat's determined effort. John's first trip to the crag - to any crag - served up some fine problems in the Low Man area, as well as following Cosmo up a highball next to the Postman. More than I did on my first real trip to the crag, suggesting to me that I really should try things more, and that being in a large group makes for good progress...

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24 March 2012

Horns, Heroes and Psycho's

Back to Caley having arranged to meet Craig of ProBalm fame via twitter. Mrs Time Ticks was convinced that meeting someone off the web was tantamount to self harm. When I got there Craig seemed far from a Psycho and was accompanied by Kate. Most Psychos don't bring others with them I figured.

We were also it had transpired, going to be watching the suspiciously underfed and strong looking James Ibberttson. Who was having a go at the high, thin and blank slab of Psycho amongst other things. Boreal were with him filming, Craig and I had offered to spot.

James warmed up on Forked Lightening Crack myself and Craig declaring it too wet in the mist. He lapped it three time once off a sitter. Meanwhile I straightened out Chicken Heads with both a direct start and finish and Craig demolished Otley Wall. I got across the smeary traverse but jumped off at the move up due to "grease" and a short neck, Should go next session with a little more belief.

James on The Great Flake
Craig re-bothered New Jerusalem and was getting close but gravity was winning as the sloper wouldn't stick. He took solace in a now drying Forked Lightening Crack which he now got easy and which I still can't get anywhere on.

James then made short work of highballing the scary looking Pyscho which is a good thirty foot high at the top. He even  down-climbed the last few moves again for the camera. Next up he cruised The Great Flake above a monster stack of pads whilst we all looked on, spotting in awed silence. He looked rock solid as he almost sprinted up the flake, bottom to top in maybe 40 seconds. It  looked every bit its E6 6B with some huge spans, little for the feet and an awkward landing to say the least, if you blew it near the top.

Having watched the God's at play the Mortals shuffled off to bother the Horn, which was in pretty good condition by this point. Craig was complaining of a sore elbow and I took him for spent, until he sorted The Horn out with a dynamic looking sequence. I had a few flails and made some good progress, nearly latching what looks like the crucial pocket. After grabbing the sloper on the lip one too many times though my fingers were uncurling and it was time to head home. A good day in less than perfect conditions, nice to meet some new people and great to see some good climbers showing how it can be made to look easy with enough practise and belief.

Update 7/5/12

Here is the video Boreal released as part of their true grip series.

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20 March 2012

If you go down to the woods today...

When I got a free hour this morning on my way to York I grabbed the chance to head off into Hetchell Woods and see for myself. I decided to go with the easy walk in as described in Yorkshire Gritstone, rather than the longer one on ukclimbing.com. This meant a scoot round some pleasant country lanes, and parking up in an ample car park on Milner Lane. Obviously a popular destination for local dog walkers, I also noted that the Wildlife Trust had been busy looking after the place as there was a handy map by the path, and coppicing going on by the bridlepath. A pleasant walk down the path led me past several impressive looking rope swings, ancient trees, and lots of exposed roots. Mental note: next time allow at least another 30 minutes to play on the swings! There was lots of wild garlic coming up, and I reckon in a week or two the place will be humming with its pungent aroma. Very soon I came round a bend and headed up to the obvious crag at the top of the hill.
As part of my ongoing exploration of local rocks, Hetchell Crag had been on my list for a while after reading about it in Yorkshire Gritstone. Up until then I hadn't heard of it, probably as most of my introduction to climbing had come through bouldering and Hetchell seemed to be routes. Upon asking a learned colleague about Hetchell he replied "Oh yeah, that was an 80's crag" and didn't seem to know any more about it. I asked around and it seemed Hetchell was pretty much off everyone's radar. But if Almscliffe is a stones throw from Ilkley for the Devil (see folklore), then Hetchell was not much further for him (or her) to lob another rock, being situated just south of Wetherby off the A58. Intrigued I determined to find out more.

My first impression with Hetchell was that it's deceptively long. Although the first face you come to looks quite short it does carry on and there is plenty to be keeping you busy. In fact ukclimbing logs 83 climbs there, and I reckon you could easily make up a few more. The other big impression was how interesting the rock is. I'm no geologist but this is clearly not Wharfedale gritstone I'm used to.There are all sorts of weird pockets, jugs, cracks, chimneys, and undercuts going on, and mostly in pretty good condition (though a bit green given the time of year). There's even a tree trunk growing out of the left hand end! Lastly, the height of the crag varies from bouldering height at either end, to scary height in the middle. That gives scope for a lot of playing around if you don't have a rope or the confidence to head too high. Although the path under the crag gives mostly good landings, if you miss the path you're heading off downhill into the trees. And that leads to the last important thing for me- the woods, no surprise given that you're in a nature reserve. The woodland setting lends a tranquil air to the crag, giving shelter from the wind and sun-dappled leaves creating a delightful canopy. If you ever got tired of the rock, the trees would no doubt add an alternative climbing option.

As to the climbing, well I got enough done to get a good pump. Nothing of note, bar Zig Zag (a safe VD) and some traversing, but I was on my own and lacking confidence and
encouragement. However, next time I'm sure I won't be alone as I reckon this place could be magical with good friends on a summer's eve.

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Where there's Blame There's a claim

Climbing seems about personal responsibility as much as anything. Very much the "You got yourself into this mess now you get yourself out of it." type of risk sport beloved of the self reliant. Bit of a shock then for this careful risk taker to see a forty something climbing wall first timer suing and winning against a climbing wall. This after she fell off and badly and broke an ankle whilst bouldering. She won her case on the basis that she wasn't properly briefed on the risks and correct procedure for using a bouldering wall. I suspect she wasn't but here's the rub. The Climbing wall's insurance pays out so the climbing wall stays in business. Except next year their premium's go up, as do premiums across the country, I imagine. Worse still it looks like the judge interpreted the existing legislation correctly in this case and this is arguably justice being done.

Climbing  walls which are mainly but not exclusivlely used by climbers, not first timers on some bizarre corporate "bonding activity" have to put their prices up. Punters have to subsidise compensation to someone who won't go on to get anything out of the past time and probably wasn't that interested in it anyway. Lawyers make a few bob and we keep some of the insurance industry in second homes in Cornwall.
So dear climbing wall industry how about this; Please offer me the use of your facilities on a "I'm big enough and ugly enough to look after myself basis" with the caveat that when I do something stupid and something goes pop or crack, I can't sue you and its all my fault. In exchange I will sign a paper to that effect and I would like to pay a little less or at least pay no more, please?  If this fails and the compensation culture wins and prices go up, we all lose and people that probably weren't in a position to benefit from what climbing had to offer get a few quid to compensate for their righteous anger at "someone else's negligence".
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15 March 2012

Time Ticks Yorkshire Picks

Here's the first Time Ticks Yorkshire Picks some quality Punter level problems on God's very own Rock. If you did all of these in a weekend you would have a great time, loose lots of skin and earn a few beers.

1. Mr Smooth -  Caley Crag   V3, 6A

Caley is of course one of the best crags in the world and pretty good for Yorkshire too. Mr smooth is a truly great lower grade problem. It takes an undercut slab on fierce crimps. You rockover  and pad up the slab. At least that's the plan. I've seen it shrug off some pretty good boulderers whilst they sort their feet out.  I don't want to give away all the secrets but work your feet placements backwards from where you want them to end up on the slab, then  rockover further than you think, you will come into balance eventually.

While your at it check out the Flapjack scoop at a more reasonable V2, 5+ although that can be just as infuriating if you get the sequence wrong. Bryn has been trying it for two years and he still can't get it.

The compelling flapjack scoop

Also don't miss Smear Arete V2, 5 a beautiful little arete where the clue is in the name and finally The Roof of the World, a wonderfully overhanging prow which goes from both sides at  V0, 4+ from the right and V2, 5+  from the left. You can also attack it straight up the middle at not much harder if you can campus a bit and for heroes its pretty hard off a sitter. Caley can be green in the winter and neck high in bracken in the summer but Mr smooth often stays dry and its free from vegetation at the bottom.

How to get there  Caley is near Otley

View caley in a larger map

2. South Cave Arete -   Almscliffe  V3 6A+

South Cave Arete
You could pick a few great lower grade problems at Almscliff; the classic Morrell's Wall V3 6A (actually pretty steady for the grade). The Crucifix which defines V1 really although some find it hard. As ever sort your feet out and also straight-arm the top crack. The excellent Crucifix Arete V3 6A+ should have been a contender it is good, but its really sequency and unless your strong it goes best with a really painful jam that chews your hand up so you only get a few goes in any session.

The groove Low man Slab
I have plumped for  the little climbed South Cave Arete below Low Man and round a bit. Its a thuggy start followed by a delicate yet powerful finish and its one of those you have to hit just right or your back on the ground scratching your head.

Some do it with a long reach to the break, see the shots of big Fran Holland on Yorkshire Grit. I did it with a side pull in the runnel. Either way its a gem of a problem. It can take some seepage which is unusual for the Cliff where most things dry in moments, when the rain stops. Whilst your there, warm up on Low Man slab because its lovely especially the shallow groove on the left which goes at 3+ . Then dance with the pockets on MK Wall  V1, 5 which seems awkward until you have a good go.
Next up you have to try the Matterhorn Arete V1, 5. Its a bit highball but the holds are all good. Please put a mat under it if your not too steady and don't bin it at the top. Head round the back of the Morell's Wall boulder on your way back and try the lovely little 4/5 problem that starts just over the wall and climbs a short crack which runs out as you head onto the slab, quality.

How to get there Almscliffe is up the Hill from Huby

View Almscliffe in a larger map

3. The Pommel - Brimaham V4, 6b+
The Pommel
Brimham is lovely, the only problem is paying to park and the whole intensive tourist vibe until that is you get below the top pinnacles. The Pommel is a classic problem with a whole  area named after it. An over hanging prow/arete  number with  seemingly not enough holds on it to climb it. The secret for me was a heel/toe jam in the first break and then a big span up for the arete before spanning up again and  right for the sloppey top. Its not over when you get there but I'm not giving the whole game away.

There are some lovely lower grade problems just to the left of the Pommel to warm up, on all at the 3/4 mark. Whilst your in the vicinity check the high quality 4+ arete hidden down an alleyway, then try the thin crimpy 6b wall just to its right which does go if you believe enough. Worth finding is the dynamic break pulling lunge fest at V2, 5+ that is round to the right with a top that seems scary to me. If you still have arms left after that have a go on Black Dog Arete V5, 6C although word is it a step up from the Pommel. All of this two minutes from the car. The area  can get a bit busy as its so convenient.  Take a guide and if its rammed there is more than as much on the rest of the edge, just try not to get lost in the woods. Some routes seep a bit after rain but the Pommel is dry in all but the worst of weather.

How to get there

View Pommel area in a larger map

Most of the problems here are recorded on the marvellous  Yorkshire grit.com the brainchild of Jon Pearson but also the work of all those boulderers who contributed photos and descriptions of the routes. Yorkshire grit costs £24 a month to run if you use it a lot you can donate here.

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11 March 2012

Romancing the stones, Cratcliffe and Robinhood's stride

A family bouldering session seemed just the ticket this morning. The boys are just old enough to get something out of it I figured. More to the point on a day like the one they had woke me to at 6.40, not going on some grit seemed very wrong.

Ten years easy must have passed since I last bothered the Cratcliffe/Robin Hood's stride boulders. I used to not rate it as a crag. The routes were mainly too hard for me and often when I went I "just bouldered." that was in the day when I saw bouldering as a waste of a day out.

How wrong can you be? In the sun it's beautiful;  lumps of weird Henry Moore rock everywhere. A mix of in the trees and in the fields for the boulders.  Great variety of grades and it's proper rounded with huge juggy tops. Perhaps it's the best situated bit of grit I know with 360 degree views blending near and far landscapes as you spin around. The light is really special in Spring and Autumn, everything goes deep orange all day. It makes for everyday, real-world magic, if you know where to look.

We checked in at the top boulders, there're like huge Elephant Seals adrift in waves of grass. They just demand that you climb on their backs. The three boys found some font 1+s to clamber on, to sit on and then to bum slide down the spines of the beasts. Mainly though they just ran around, like a session in a hard-softplay really, but with better views. Me and my Bro worked a few bits and pieces out. Enjoying the game again, a game we played as teenagers but one we have not played for too long. Experience, guile and patience replacing the youthful exuberance of ten, no twenty years ago. Back then there was no time to focus, you just pulled and flung yourself from one problem to the next. If it went first go you would take it, if not move on. The world was oceans of unclimbed rock, you needed to press on. In homage to our lost youth we left the mats in the car and made do with the nearest thing we could find to a beer towel.

My mum and dad who bought me first to this place nearly 40 years ago, on what is now a dimly remembered day of Tizer and Opal Fruits, wandered up the hill my dad struggling, but I'm glad he came I'm glad he wanted to try. They joined us to watch and spot, three generations all having a great time, the boys getting spun round by their arms till they were dizzy as the boulders whizzed by in a blur of giggles and my head spun too. We finished by climbing up between the pinnacles of Robin Hood's Stride in expedition style. That's when I saw the picnic spot from the past, from the very depths of my store of memories,  grey and broken but a memory yet. I was suddenly both then and now.

It seemed predictably smaller now a scrubby lawn between tiers of grit but otherwise unchanged. In all the years and all my visits I had somehow not been back. I  recall again the joy I got that day from exploring the warm, rounded rock and how it seemed like a magic place, not like everyday life, somehow other. I taste again Tizer and feel its  oversaturated, sugar rich, Sudan yellow colour fizzing along with the sour, citrus zing of Opal Fruit. I am that boy still as I remember.

I hope the kids loved where they went today, like I will love it now forever. If we managed to give them that gift freely, with no weight or expectation, if they felt a little magic, if they don't yet know they will want to return, maybe they can carry it forward and pass it on.

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9 March 2012

On Women and Angels

Yesterday was International women's day and I got to thinking about a forum thread on UK climbing that was a bit disturbing really.

Katy Walker repeats one of Jonny Dawes' test pieces from a while back The Angel's Share and some people (men I assume) start to belittle what was surely a pretty impressive acheivement for anybody.

We get comments about how she was not really doing the route in the right way as she put pads under it, which is somewhat bizarre. I'm pretty sure Jonny would have used them if they were around at the time.

Having stood under it, I know if I'm ever strong enough to leave the ground on it. I will have a stack of pads and all the spotters I can find before I set off. Next we get comments about how Dawes was over grading at the time and was small so he couldn't grade accurately. Why didn't they just come out and say it "We don't like it when women climb hard it makes us feel weak, so lets demean their achievements." That sounds like shite sexism to me.

I was hoping people would just go for "well done, good effort." Face it gents some of the best climbers are Women. If they participated in the same numbers, I suspect there would be as many great women as men. This game more than many others seems to have no innate gender bias, get over it.

Update 12/3/2012 Here's a nice article by top US climber Alex Johnson talking about sponsorship but touching on the sexism she has encountered.

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