30 May 2012

The price of progress - Brimham

A beautiful warm, mellow, bluebell carpeted evening at Brimham last night. I was soon losing skin leaping around on that arete by the Blacksmith, hitting the top but sliding back down on warm abrasive grit. Onward to a wall Bryn fancied why I don't know? It would be nice if you power washed it and fixed the landing.

We headed down beyond the Druid's Idol and found a new boulder to play on. It was crimpy, rippled and fun. Down to Fag Slab for the solo but my head couldn't imagine me easing up it. So with a head that can't commit stay on the ground. Stuart's head space was more focused on success and he padded his way up it in some style, good effort.

I had a few pulls on Whisky Galore and I'm getting my leg up to the high foothold now, which is progress, still a good bit to do before it succumbs but I it will.

We finished off on the Trackside Boulder pulling and and padding as the light ebbed. I left feeling like I had wasted the evening but I suspect success is built on firm foundations of failure. Stuart I'm sure was walking on air.
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28 May 2012

Ganglion -Gone Climbing Injuries

So too much crimping had left my punter's body with a growing lump on the left wrist on the outside edge. It was about the size of a grape and quite hard to the touch. It was getting sore and making writing hard. I went to see my Gp who diagnosed a Ganglion, chronic but not anything to get excited about. Its all to do with an inflamed tendon sheath and if my experience of fell running in my youth is anything to go by, to be expected of my less than robust joints. 

Her prescription was "hit it with a bible" although she said it was in a difficult place to get a good aim at. Anyway as we are a fairly Godless house I had to make do with Mrs Time Tick's address book. Quite off putting smacking yourself in the wrist with a heavy book as hard as you can especially when you are in some kind of yoga contortion to enable easy access. 

I can report that the "faith healing" worked a charm. I  had to have a couple of swings but it popped on the second thrash and all is now normal shaped and Bristol fashion. I love a happy ending.
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22 May 2012

Top of the known world - Bouldering on Simonside Northumberland

Day two of the Northumberland odyssey started predictably with a few sore heads. For me one of the effects of having young children is that what little recreational drinking you do happens between the last child's bedtime, lets say 8 O'clock and your bedtime more like 10.30 if you want to be up and with the programme when the little darlings declare the day to have begun. About 7'ish in our house.

This is fine but if you then get a rare opportunity to drink all evening you have lost any of your former ability to pace yourself. You then drink at great speed, with real determination and in the case of Saturday night for about seven hours. I knew I was in trouble when I woke up with one of those motion sensitive headaches were the slightest movement induces waves of nausea.

I shambled into the kitchen and Bryn offered coffee. Others stumbled in. Turns out I was one of the first to bed at about half one. A few souls made of sterner stuff than I, had been going until the dawn chorus started once more. Suddenly I felt better about the state of the inside of my head as I looked at the outside of theirs. Tea, toast and bacon left me feeling more human. By 11'ish myself and Matt were heading out for Simonside with the remainder of the party to follow on.

Simonisde sits above the charming town of Rothbury in southern Northumberland. Its the highest point in the County and it has a long craggy ridge top. You get a great view of it as you drive over the long straight road from Wooler, its sits up high on the horizon and looks regal.

We parked in the forest and walked in, Matt was keeping up a quick fire tempo and we soon hit the final steep 100m climb to the summit crag. My head was clearing further as the toxins sweated out. A cuckoo providing a melody to the baseline of the thumping of my heart. Ten minutes slogging up an indistinct track and we were at the base of a buttress. This first area was disappointing, scrittly and with a scary looking bilberry crust on top. We had a go but our hearts weren't in it.

We walked on round past a lovely jet black pool with a rock leaning wall rising out of it, to the sheltered amphitheatre of Potts Buttress. Here were wonderful wind-eroded sandstone pinnacles covered in chicken's heads demanding to be climbed. A few problems were sorted out after the initial shock of the first one where yesterday's exercise and the nights over indulgences ganged up to make an epic out of a steady warm up, memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.

The obvious flaky wall was a lovely problem, highball but friendly with the surprise of an Adam and Eve style jump off its pinnacle top.

That leap -  Photo Louis Bortoli

We ticked a few more easier problems off and then got into seige mode on the bulge, where the clue was in the name. It had us both scratching our heads for a the best part of half an hour. It sucumbed in the end to an undercut and press approach. With an unlikely wide bridge thrown in, strange moves indeed. Matt's weekend was improved no end by him getting this, he had been horrified by his performance on Saturday. I think he was a little hard on himself, he hadn't climbed for four months and it takes a while to get your eye in again.

Just after this the others arrived after their epic approach. Some half complaining about the walk, some loving the challenge and the all-round endless views from the summit. Lunch was taken, shoes were changed, more tape was applied,  the bouldering circus was in town. They threw thmeselves into the problems with equal relish and had just as much fun as we did. I glanced down at my watch and it was 3 o'clock how did that happen?

We packed up to leave and I found I was missing an approach shoe, search as I might I couldn't find it anywhere. I resigned myself to walking out in one shoe and one painfully tight performance 5.10 rock shoe. We headed down, me walking like I had just had ankle surgery, the others hanging on for a bit to finish the last few problems and try another area.

As we wandred back to to the steep descent my rock shoe clad foot went in a puddle up to the knee. There I was now looking at a one footed descent with a very wet lower leg. I cursed the gods and my own stupidity. As we passed the first buttress we had started on, I had a good look round and the shoe was found hidden under a bilberry bush, which improved my mood no end.

We were back at the car in half an hour I was feeling pretty shattered but I don't think I have had a better two days bouldering in as a long as I can remember.
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21 May 2012

Wide open spaces - A first bouldering trip to Northumberland - Day One

Scandalous really but until Saturday  I had never bouldered in Northumberland. Its just that I had been meaning to go for 25 years and never got round to it. To put this travesty to bed and I'm sure for reasons of their own, a big team were meeting up in what turned out to be the wonderful Tillmouth Cottages near Coldstream. Myself and Matt had taken the stupidly early Saturday morning start option and we were rolling by 7. Weather conditions as we left Harrogate could be easily described as minging. Driving rain all the way to Newcastle left us with a sombre mood as we stopped again to get Matt another coffee. I think he single handedly keeps Costa in profit.

We arrived at the cottages to meet the rest of the loose collective of misfits and cynics that make up our happy band. I as ever was worried they would all  be up and on the crag by the time we got there at half ten. Many were still breakfasting and a few still sleeping after celebrating the joys of living, the night before until the birds had started singing the dawn.

We stumbled into a forward gear applying tea to hangovers, tape to finger ends, gathering pasties and trying to work out where the crag was, you  know the form. We headed out into the now merely grey but thankfully drying morning.

Five up in my MPV the keen team committed predictable navigational suicide in our haste and got a better view of Bamburgh Castle than Bowden Doors. By the time we got to the crag the laid back no stress team were walking smugly in.

Bowden Doors is quite a thing, sat up on a ridge with fields of yellow rapeseed running down to a distant view of the  sprawling mass of the Cheviots. It reminded me more of northern Montana than Britain. This was Northumberland's Premier crag and we had it to ourselves. The hordes that descend onto Stanage and the Cliff were not insight, maybe, whisper it, maybe they weren't even coming.
The main crag was still pretty wet, the massive breaking wave of Tube Wall looking even more like a statue of a Tsunami than it does in the pictures. It was eerie and magnificent, as the water dripped down and we looked up open-mouthed with awe. Moving away we walked on with hope in our hearts and got to the more human scaled boulders over the wall they were much dryer. Warm ups, on Warm Up Wall, warmed us up. They also pointed out a few things:

Thing One Its called Sandstone because its made of sand and this makes the experience a little less secure for the feet than when climbing on Gods own Grit. Clean your boots, towel the holds, clean your boots again, then have a go.

Thing Two Its quite rounded and there isn't nearly as much friction as Grit. You have to try and pull with your whole hand not just your tips if you want to get anywhere. Lots of open handed pulls and palming seemed to be in order.

Thing Three Compared to Cliff and Caley the grading seemed friendly, a few of us soon had a 6a sitter in the bag. This is good as Things One and Thing Two were giving us something to think about.

We found a boulder with great flakes on it the wonderfully named Left and Right Flakes. They were both good and responded to a dynamic approach Louis going for a double handed dyno for the hell of it. He caught it well, good job as it would have been a face scrapper if he hadn't.

I had come for Scooped Wall 12 foot of scalloped sandstone with a few faint breaks for the hands and a few smears for the feet. It starts overhanging and just makes it into slab territory at the top. It looked hard but the landing was good. I had a look, piled up the mats, cleaned my boots and had a go. I started working my feet up the smears, hands not pulling, just letting me get my feet in a wide but stable bridge, then smeary foothold by smeary foothold  I moved myself slowly up, until I could get the top and belly flop over. Wow flashed it, didn't see that coming, deep joy it had only gone on my list last week and there it was done. Rob had a few goes, he had more work to do than me, I out reach him by the best part of a foot,  but he persevered and nailed it, topped it out better too. Many others had a go but they will need to come back again.

We found the Sheep Pen next, a little walled garden of bouldering brilliance that was the perfect spot for a pic-a-nic on the well trimmed lawn at the bottom. There have not been lawns at the bottom of the Cliff whilst I have been going, I may buy some turf. Then we got into the high quality lower grade problems on offer. My pick was Dreaming of Hueco a well named bucket pulling fest with a hard top out, until you found the monster hold.

Round the corner was the oddly shaped and aptly named Lightbulb. A slightly overhanging prow with a vey slabby top and not many holds. You could slap your way up the sides and get to a point where you were almost rocking over, but the crucial move was a high step onto a small and damp edge for the right foot. I got up to this fine first go but couldn't commit and headed down, it was quite a way down from here and I upset my ankle bottoming out on the mat so  we stacked a few more on the pile. A few of us were having a go and all getting to the same point. I shinned up a gully to the side and managed to lean out at full stretch and dry the crucial foot hold.

I had another go, a spotting team this big doesn't come along very often and it might be another twenty five year before I'm back I reasoned. This time I rocked onto the hold and as I let go of the side pulls holding me on I expected the foot to peel and be heading backwards to the mats but it held, I palmed down and its was job done. I think I liked this more than Scooped Wall maybe as I had to work for it. Rob got it next go he had to use some smaller holds, again for reach reasons so good effort.

We played a round on Y-Front a crimpy 6A+ back down the other end of the crag but even though the sun was now out I was out of crimp and feeling pretty tired. Rob and Louis got the closest but its one to try as you walk past on the way in rather than the way out, I think.

We headed back to the cottage. Nominally to have an early tea and hit another crag but by 6 the beers  were open the wine was flowing and the course of the evening like the day, was set in stone. Great day, thanks team, I had a ball. To be continued...
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14 May 2012

nearly nearly Bouldering on Almscliff

Caley, Saturday, fuzzy headed, early. Visions of finishing off Otley Wall and finally getting somewhere on New Jerusalem but the Gods had other plans. I should have known when the ABS was firing off machine gun warning shots as I slid in vague control onto the muddy verge by the gate. The bracken was knee high and there was a strange mix of muggy high humidity and cold underfoot wet, I slithered in. I had the place to myself and after a greasy warm up near Blockbuster it became clear that conditions were officially crap.
Almscliff was on the way home, that should deliver some better weather I reasoned. I half surfed, half waded through the first field and had the whole of High Man to myself too. Here things were a different story. The friction was fantastic as a gentle breeze and a wide open aspect carried the water somewhere else, Caley maybe?
I 'd come to try the "hand in the break-traverse" of pebble wall, the long one, that's been throwing me off  half way along for 18 months now. There is a hard move down just after the mid-point and by the time I get there I have usually lost all the shape from my climbing. I become a pathetic, panting wretch-thing. Today was different I arrived at the halfway arm bar rest, breathless but with something left.
I forced myself to wait until my breathing was back to normal by which time my elbow in its vice like jam was numb through lack of blood, then I set off for the harder half. I got the first powerful move and the next three or four in a weird mix of accuracy and flailing vigour, only one more move to the wall and salvation, suddenly it looked on. Then my concentration slipped as I started living for a time 10 seconds in the future, rather than just living. Like a mug I tried to thug my way through the last delicate flag move where only a little grace was required and it shrugged me off once more. As I landed one foot fully in the cowshit you could faintly hear the crag chuckle.

Nearly though, nearly, next time.
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10 May 2012

Hand cream for active types - ProBalm

I am not really a new man. Oh I may do a bit of yoga, have a liking for pinot grigio and be somewhat partial to quiche but that's about as far as being in touch with my feminine side goes. When it comes to cleanse, tone and moisturise I'm out. Imagine then my surprise recently to find myself using hand cream and not just tolerating it but actually liking it.

These unlikely shenanigans started when I was trying a particular problem at Almscliffe. Pretty much every time I went I was getting a lump of skin torn out of one of my finger pads as the hardened skin calluses there came adrift. Turns out this is called a flapper. Anyway the upshot was I was waiting a few weeks between attempts rather than being able to get back on the problem in a few days as I wanted.
Gritstone is fantastic stuff, I hardly climb on anything else these days. God's own Rock it may be but it is a mighty abrasive medium. Bouldering with the endless repetitions of problems on often small or sloping holds wages a terrible toll on your hands. More often then not I was finding my hands were worn through before my body was worn out and the salt from the crisps in the pub was really stinging.

Enter ProBalm stage left with its distinctive yellow logo onto twitter and I thought why not? It's a beeswax based balm and you rub a bit in as and when. My wife can't stand the smell which is fairly distinctive, myself I quite like it. Here is the strange bit it works, at least it works for me. The only down side of all of this is mild scorn from Mrs Timeticks but even that is now easing.

My hands heal quicker in about a half of the time taken previously. I don't get flappers, not one since I started using it and the tub I bought nearly a year back hasn't run out yet. I had decided the effect was psychological a few weeks back so I stopped for a while. My finger ends pretty much peeled and flaked away after my next climbing session. So I started again and I'm back to good. Better still when I go for a bouldering session it takes longer to wear through my finger ends and reach  the "this is so painful its time to go home stage."

I am not one for evangelising products but this one seems to be worth going on about. Better still its made in Yorkshire so it's supporting the local economy. If your near Harrogate Climbing centre they stock it in their new shop. Or you can buy direct from Probalm's website.

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6 May 2012

Glen, John, Bonnie and John

Meeting John below "John" again at Shipley Glen seemed like a plan, it was crisp and clear and 5 degrees was showing on the cars temperature gauge as the time ticked over to 9am, conditions looked good. Good it was, I had warmed up on John by the time the other John arrived. He tried Reach for the Sky but renamed it  Heading For The Mat and as he did he twisted an ankle. He was docked 0.5 for the dismount by the judges. Bravely though he got straight back on and finished it off, no surrender.

Glen Arete was now drying off in the sun I got on it before it warmed up too much. Its that awkward height between problem and route, highball is I believe the phrase.  I was quickly back at last months high point before I even knew where I was and then an easy reach up finished it off.  Don't know what I was messing about at last time. It was better with two mats and a spotter though,  It's a quality problem gives Matterhorn Arete a run for its money.

I lurched around on Lurch for a bit but couldn't commit to the jump, needs more spotters as the landing is dodgy. Then back to that overhanging traverse and stone me if that didn't go courtesy of the ultra friction.
I straightened out Bonnie's Wall on the right next and finally John went of a sitter which cheered me up. The best session of the year so far I think.

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3 May 2012

After the flood - Caley in the Spring

The rain subsided, the water that had formed huge lakes under the ancient brooding boulders in the wood slowly seeped away. The bracken waiting for its chance, began its steady, overwhelming crawl up the rocks. There was an overcast, calm punctuated only by the sound of someone shouting "CRIMP harder, CRIMP MORE, go on Louis, pull HARDER." every minute or so. Louis was trying Mr Smooth, it was hard to say whether the relentless shouting was helping him or making things worse, Louis didn't really say either way he just kept pulling.

After one of the wettest droughts I can remember the day had been dry, I wanted to get back to Caley before the bracken got up to knee height but for the best part of a month but the unrelenting deluge had ruled it out. Here we were the Wednesday night team such as it was. Many folk nursing injuries or hampered by commitments elsewhere. Bryn warmed himself through on the Flapjack Scoop finally getting it although he might yet straighten it out a bit more. Louis eased up it in some style. I think we found four different ways of doing it between us, still a great piece of rock.

Attention turned to the Horn Louis nearly flashed it, getting the pockets at the top straight off but his feet wouldn't stay on. I was getting my hand in the pocket but it still won't latch I'm finding the mix of dynamism and control needed for this  hard, I'll keep on keeping on. Six or so goes each and we were feeling the pace and sloped round to Mr Smooth. Usually I find this alright but tonight with plenty of moisture in the air it was worth its V3. I finally got it together and rocked over but my feet were creeping on the holds something terrible. Louis was like a dog with a bone he tried and he rocked and he crimped, each time getting a little further until he was rocking over and getting into balance but the slap up wouldn't stick try as he might.

We tried a few more bits and bobs down on the yule log but the humidity seemed to be getting higher, making anything stick was becoming tough as friction and power ebbed. Bryn greased off and something went twang in his wrist. Facts eventually needed to be faced -  it was dark and we stumbled down. I managed to find a couple of ankle deep muddy puddles in what little light remained. I drove back to Harrogate braking sharply as a duck and two duckling wandered out into the road, I couldn't stop in time. I ran over them but heard no thud and could see nothing but black in my mirror, I hope they were OK, it has been their season they deserved some luck.
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