25 July 2012

Scotland, all the way through - Machir Bay, Islay, 24.07.2012

We're not in Yorkshire any more...

A five hour drive; a two hour ferry trip; and a two hour, 9 mile unicycle ride brought me to the Scottish isle of Islay, home of fellow Harrogate based climber Karrie, and still home to her very hospitable parents.

After a couple of days of casual milling around the island, with the trip home on the tomorrow-shaped horizon, we took an evening trip to the beach, with the promise of rocks at the far end. A fine sandy walk-in warmed us up nicely - well, the climbers among us at least, myself and Karrie - and we set about discovering what was on offer.

I first visited Islay just over two years ago. That had followed directly on from a climbing trip out of Bryn's cottages in Northumberland, and was before Karrie took up climbing, so no climb featured on that trip. The prospect was discussed however, and I remember Dean noting that the rock on Islay was somewhat sharp. He was not, as it turned out, wrong.  Some combination of elements led to a hard, cold rock, seemingly reinforced by minerals in the water, yet also laced with cracks - a geologist's perspective would be welcomed. This dissonance led to the sharpness Dean had mentioned - ensuring to avoid any edges that might snap off, there were good holds to be had, but invariably they would have a fair bit of bite to them. No bouldering mats had been brought, but the beach made for a decent landing, and sandy shoes weren't particularly troublesome, as this really wasn't a spot for doing much smearing - there was almost always something for your shoes to get their teeth into. Or rather some rocky teeth to get stuck into your shoes. This is where the title of this post comes from - no steady, calming top-outs here, rather cracked, sharp and erratic shards protruded, like the other kind of rock that one night find at the seaside.

These rocks may have been smashed and shaped by the toffee hammer of the sea, but they still read Scotland all the way through. And whilst they didn't taste of mint or liquorice (not that I actually checked) they did have plenty of flavour. One of the first climbs I did helped me get a feel for the place, as I channelled the spirit of Louis 'The Bleeder' Bortoli with a cut to my little finger. New found respect for Louis and his bleeding ways, though my cut didn't prove too much of a handicap. Our timing perhaps wasn't the best, as the sea rose to fill many of the channels between the rocks, meaning much was off limits to us. Karrie turned this to our advantage though, leading a traverse over the onrushing waves. The closest climb to the kind we are used to was found relatively far back on the beach, along the path of a sandy stream, a solid block with fewer teeth, though still with something of a need to let your hand serve as grappling hook in its top-gaining move. Karrie took a couple of attempts, but once she mastered it she enjoyed a moment where she was able to show her Dad something of the pastime she has taken up. Having done the same with my Dad a couple of years ago, I know how good it can be to give others an understanding of what we do.

Short of nearly being trapped by the sea, as I leapt onto the wrong piece of rock to avoid its advance, that was the session. I'm sure there would be great scope for a more leisurely daytime session at Machir, taking in the full extent of the rocks at a time when the tide was more merciful, and it's certainly a spot that will get a look in for any future visits to Islay.

View photos from this trip here.
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24 July 2012

Perspective Matters - Almscliffe, 18.07.2012

Established readers may remember that my toe was giving me some issues at Crookrise, leading to a semi-barefoot session. I think that worked for me because it was a new crag, and I no basis of comparison for any given of its rocks. Last week at Almscliffe, the toe was troublesome, and it was spoiling many - most - of my regular climbs, and certainly not making me feel like pushing myself. So I rode my unicycle up and down - okay, mainly down - the path along the bottom of the crag. This, along with high winds and biting cold, had us polish the session off pretty quickly.

Last night (slow writing, almost a week later, distorting the timeframe slightly...), although I still took my unicycle with me, I determined to beat the toe into submission. I picked Bryn up from his house and we headed up the hill, meeting Dave at Morrell's Wall. I took a quick warm-up on the side wall, and then decided to have a crack at Morrell's. Or, more pointedly, decided not to go and tackle a selection of easier climbs that I'd already done - if I only had limited mileage on my toe, then I would try to make it count toward some progress on a notable problem. And progress there was - Dave had already climbed it, and was lauding the friction for the night, a brisk but not overpowering wind blowing any moisture off the holds. I had a crack at the problem, and over several attempts I tidied up my start and got somewhat further with my efforts to get past the first crimp. I didn't quite get hands on the second crimp, but was nevertheless very happy with how I was getting on. I predicted that this would be Louis's night to put Morrell's to bed, and so it proved not long after his arrival.

Next in our sights was the Crucifix and Pebble Wall, though we took in a number of smaller problems en route to keep our eyes in. As we settled below the Crucifix, my toe started to play up, and I was concerned that I might not get another climb. I flexed it for a while and took my time before making any attempts at the problem, but once I got going the flexing proved to have done enough. The Crucifix hadn't given much up prior to this attempt, but I found myself more comfortable with the starting moves, taking only a couple of goes to get my hands in a spot that suited. Unfortunately it also suited a fair bit of rock rash for my right wrist, so I look forward to developing a tough spot there. Still, I got my hand up past the break for the first time - and found it to be almost worthless. And I'd been looking forward to that moment as well. The fault was my own more than the rock's - can we ever really blame the rock? - and I found that a shift in weight allowed me to get myself a little higher. Bryn demoed the climb for me and then seemed to get himself a little stuck with the downclimb - perhaps I was projecting my worry onto him, but his foot looked awfully contorted as he tried to set himself for the descent and I didn't want home to break a leg just before his upcoming holiday. Or ever, for that matter. To try and help him, I climbed up the down, something of a satisfying problem in itself, and then, after a brief chill at the top, down again, finding a leg-break free solution which Bryn then followed, with some personalisation of his own, of course. I gave The Crucifix a few more goes, not getting any further, but still managing to get consistently further than I had in any previous session. I had a bit of a look at Pebble Wall as well, a cursory effort just to get it started for future efforts.

And that was the defining quality of the night for me, a good sense of progression, rather than completion, on what felt like next-level problems. The only tick of the night may have been the unbidden crucifix descent-ascent, but the progress made elsewhere was for one thing enjoyable enough, and, for another, gave me a great sense of having much to look forward to.
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19 July 2012

Pull harder, Slap further Almscliff in July

The forecast had flicked around all week so I had low expectations, especially as the rain seems to be making me eat like Mr Creosote. Then it came good and I was walking up to the Cliff in a stiff breeze, thinking nothing much would be in the lee of the wind. Oddly most things were, the wind had dryed the rock and the conditions were good.

I got straight onto that pig of thing below Low Man that breaks the wall. A one move wonder, not much higher than you are, at Almscliff 6a+ whatever that is in font grades. A slap off two small crimps and one decent foothold for a sloper, that then peels unless you hit it just right on a good day. I slapped and missed, slapped and missed. Craig's beta from last week giving me a chance but no certain outcome. Than I stuck it and it peeled, then I stuck it and it was done. July already written off due to weather finally delivered a small prize, I'll take it and take the smallest of bows.

Morrell's Wall gave in for the first time this year. The first broken crimp feels thin for this punter now, so the friction must have been good. Bryn and Stu crimped and huffed and got a little further but didn't blow the house down. The sun streamed in from the edge of a cloud. I could hear Jerusalem being played by a brass band maybe the others heard it too? It was that kind of night. Louis arrived with the laid back swagger of a  mafia crime boss. Jersulam stopped and the Godfather theme tune started, played quietly, mainly strings. Then the Capo tutti Capi showed Morrell's who was the boss and the English Grit slept with the fishes.

Next stop Demon Wall and environs  for games of skill and guile. Pebble Wall reared its magnificent head and asked for challengers. Many were called, few chosen, none actually. Louis got the closest with his incredible extending arms latching the pebble, but foot position is all and neither of us could commit to the crucial hop off an undercut. I tried a foot change Cajun two-step that may yet unlock the problem but that is for another splendid evening.
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9 July 2012

5.10 Anasazi Rock Shoes - Other rock shoes are available


Two years ago I bought my first pair of technical rock shoes. I asked a few people what to get and every one said "Get 5.10 velcros." Turns out they are called Anasazi's now but that's what they were on about. I shopped around and stumped up about £80 quid for a pair from Bananafingers. I  had to go from a 7 1/2 to an 8 until I got some I could get my feet in, even then they were pretty tight. Here are my views and why I have just bought a second pair.

What are they like?

They have 5.10's top spec Onyx rubber on them. Its half a mm thicker than the competition and its very sticky. There is also a weird heel cup which doesn't really snug up to your foot and gives you almost a hook on your foot to use on roofs and when heel and toe camming in large slots. They have a twin strap padded velcro closure which means. You can get them on and off quickly good if you are bouldering. They are pretty comfortable with socks if you ignore your toes. You can adjust how tight they hold your feet and you can nip them up when they stretch a bit. Your toe gets forced into the front of the shoe quite aggressively which can make wearing them for long periods of time quite uncomfortable, I wouldn't be trad multi-pitching in them for example, at least if I was I would be taking them off between pitches. I have a pair of something a bit bigger for those kind of shenanigans.

These are my new pair after maybe 3 sessions

The uppers are a synthetic leather substitute and claim not to stretch, but I found that they probably actually go half a size over a year. By the end of my first pairs life, I could get socks on with them in the depths of a British winter which was actually a bonus. They have a couple of tags on the heel for dragging them onto your feet and you need them as the heel cup stretches over your heel to get it on and then snugs up to the back of your ankle.

Vaguely interesting History Lesson

I have climbed in all sorts of rockshoes over the last 25 years. I started in a pair of baseball boots in 1982. they were pretty rubbish. I remember sticky rubber appearing on the scene in the mid to late 80's it led to a leap of standards and a greater sense of security on marginal smears not to mention the absence of marginal smears in your trousers.

At the time rockshoes were boots, over the ankle and lace up. They used to stretch at least a whole size over their life so before the rubber wore through most of sensitivity had gone. Then you started getting lined boots, then "slippers" came out which were great if you crammed your feet into then and weighed 7 stone. Now we have super sticky rubber and specialist rockshoes for all manner of rock and climbing types.

How do they perform?

Firstly a warning. I climb on grit around the font 6B mark, other rock types and performance levels are not unknown. If you a limestone nut or a Wad or a raw beginner this review is going to be no help to you.
On grit they are really good. I find them too stiff and "edgy" for the first few weeks, I get no feel on a smear or on a really small toe edge. They need to bed in and become supple. Once this happens after maybe a months light use, they are really good. Loads of sensitivity you can gets lots of control on really small holds right on the ends of your big toe and they don't need much rubber in contact either. I found I could stand on things that  I just wouldn't have considered before using them, to the point where you can look round for really small bits and pieces if you are desperate. Inner and outer edging is good although it fades away as the boot ages and they then become really good at smearing. Their stickiness means that if you can get some rubber on the rock you will probably get the move, although clean them really well before you start, they are swines for picking up grit, dust and scrittle. The weird heel is pretty good for hooking and camming of your feet but I guess as I don't do that many outrageous heel hooks given the grade I operate at, it probably comes into its own at higher grades.

First pair -  two years old

My verdict

Compared to the other boots I  have used recently The Evolv Defy (too flexible for me, not as sticky and smelled terrible after a bit) and the Mad Rock Flash (weird heel cup with ridges and heel cut into my achilles) they are head and shoulders above. Yes they are expensive but you can usually find them with 20 quid off if you shop around on the web, you should pick them up for about £85. I think all things considered they are worth the money. They are the best shoes I have worn yet. The only other shoe I keep hearing reccomended is the La Sportiva Katana and I haven't had a go with a pair of those yet.

My first pair of Anasazi's went through on the toe last month. I have bought the same again and sent the first pair off for a resole at the excellent feet first. They will do on the wall over the winter and when I need socks on in February.

So if you want performance and durability there are worse choices than a pair of these.


Just got my Anasazi's back from Feet First a really good resole that ending up costing £52 becuase I had worn through the toe rands. However at a little over half the price of a new pair and already worn in it seems like a good deal.
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7 July 2012

The Crook Climber Rises - Barefoot at Crookrise Crag

With the Cliffhanger outdoor festival in Sheffield cancelled due to a spot or two of rain, our merry band determined that something must be done to make up for this setback. Striking out into a somewhat drier Saturday gloom, Crookrise in the Barden Fell area was the crag of choice - new to most of us, and with a decent walk-in to contribute to the adventure.

Meeting with Bryn and Cosmo, the weather had already started to take a turn for the brighter, and by the time we were chasing the Prince party up to the crag conditions were positively Mediterranean. Things got off to a flyer when Bryn and I attempted a walking shoe scramble on the boulder that Dave had set up camp on. We both fell, our clumsy boots lacking the requisite bite, but Bryn fell worse, pivoting under the edge of the rock, landing on a smaller rock next to the mat, and getting healthy scrapes to shin, forearm and love-handle in the process. Dave called lunch time and we settled beneath the next set of boulders.

Bloody Bryn

Once we'd eaten our fill, the boulders we'd been leaning on beckoned. I instantly discovered that I had a toenail issue - you don't want to know more than that - on my right foot, and couldn't operate with my right shoe on, as it pinched constantly and bit sharply when I landed on it. The alternative was plain to see - I would need to go barefoot. I removed my right shoe and - yes - sock, but found myself stopping at that - I would go half and half, getting the feel of the rock with my right and the solid grip of 5.10 rubber with my left.

The first boulder, tricky mantle top, was climbed with little trouble. The second, a cracky layaway, with a hint more interest, and the third, shallow slab with a naughty no-arete challenge, in a most satisfying manner, as my toes scrambled for purchase and I bridged my arms between a variety of flakes and small breaks.

Moving on, the next area, just below the top of the fell, was centred around a large slabby boulder. I scampered up that one with ease, and the top-out revealed a monolithic column further back. I managed to get off the ground, but was finding that my bare foot made the second move troublesome - I couldn't smear well enough to send my weight through my foot. Dave arrived to make short work of the problem and inspire me to further attempts. The limitation provided by being half shoeless forced me to be a little more creative and consider my technique further - never let it be said that a limitation is automatically a bad thing. Putting a mantle in the break above the smear allowed my right arm to bear some of my load, and I got my left foot up to where the break met the arete - the key starting move. Rocking over into a standing position, it was just a case of gaining the top (with chalk - a hint damp, and not amazingly positive) and carefully bringing my feet into a position to support the top-out - again, harder due to the lack of right shoe. I was very pleased with this climb, which apparently is harder than Almscliffe's crucifix. Taking the vagaries of the grading system with a pinch of salt, I feel that this climb probably just suits me more than the crucifix, but I'm still delighted with my achievement.

Left side. The angle probably makes it look easier than it was...

Leaving the path-side boulders behind, we crossed a stile and found ourselves on the edge of the fell, above the forest, stretching romantically out below us, untamed and alive, unmappable... until the Skipton to Grassington road cut through it in the valley. Still, this seemed to be where the meat of the climbing would tend to take place. We made our way past some impressive slabs - not wanting to linger for fear of overexciting Dave and Rachael's children - and found a niche in which we once again stopped for a cup of tea. The Princes called it a day, while Bryn, Cosmo and myself sat contemplating the landscape with said tea. (Side note: the first four paragraphs of this blog were written on my phone at that point.) Tentative exploration found Bryn in a pit he was unable to escape until Cosmo fetched his climbing shoes, while I found a cyclopean slab to play with. I was getting nowhere without a mat to rely on, but Bryn turned up with it and, switching from shirts to skins in the blistering heat, we started to tackle the slab in earnest. After a couple of efforts each, we both managed to reach the top, but some trickle down from the sodden moor (and, again, my bare foot) meant that the top-out was a poor option compared to the escape to the boulder to the right. Given our collaborative attempts on the rock in question, Bryn and I agreed that we could still take the points, though I'd be happy to give it another try on some future dry-spell day when I'm able to wear both shoes.

Our scramble up off the edge. This shot doesn't really convey the height.

More play on a nearby slab - including a refreshing dip in a wet pocket for my by-now burning bare foot - seemed likely to be the end of proceedings, but as we looked further along the edge for a way back to the top, we found ourselves ascending - in walking boots - a bizarre slabby solo, with water running here and there down it, patches of mud to negotiate, and with me pushing the bouldering mat ahead of me up much of the climb (though I was ready to spin it beneath me, should I have fallen...). We all survived this ordeal, and a cordial walk back to the car followed. The journey back to Huby illustrated that we - at Bryn's suggestion - had picked the perfect spot - we soon hit cloudy areas, and torrential rains followed closer to home. Given that good choice, it's hard to think that a weekend in a park in Sheffield could have been better than a day like this.
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1 July 2012

Wrestling with the Virgin - Almscliff and West Chevin

The weather looked pretty rubbish for a session at Almscliff. Windy with a real threat of rain. I drove in through a light shower with expectations lower than an investment banker's morals. Craig was at Low Man looking equally unimpressed by the weather. We warmed up and agreed there was only one thing for it, we had to prostrate ourselves under the Virgin Traverse. A Cliff classic, 30 odd feet of overhanging roof traverse at font 6C, it's a beast.

We got stuck in, and here is the rub with this problem, every move is possible there are just lots of them. Every time we got a little further, every go sapped power at an alarming rate. You climb like a sloth towing your feet, wedging them in a slot trying to keep the weight off your arms as much as you can.
On about go four I pretty much made the corner at two thirds distance, which is a shuffle in the right direction although word is it gets hard from there. Craig who hasn't paid homage as much as I have was half a move further back. Its a compelling problem we will return.

We cut our Virgin losses and did a few bits more. That wall to the left of Matterhorn Arete went again. We both flashed it, which is good as it took me over a year to work it out. Craig flashed that slappy, quality, one move wonder by the bottom wall, I should have been annoyed, but his beta was good so I have a new sequence to try with fresher arms. The wind rose, our enthusiasm waned so we did a bit more and then gave it best. The friction had been fantastic for June and the progress way better than either of us imagined, a good session.

I headed off to Bingley to pick up the boys from my in-laws, but an idea was gnawing away in my head. I wasn't happy with progress I wanted to send something so work would seem more bearable in the morning. I headed for Otley's West Chevin and the vague promise of a punter's paradise

I found the right walk in this time, although crocs and a cow muck filled swamp made for smelly memories and destroyed a pair of socks. I assumed it would all be drenched from the weeks flood and I was on a fools errand. I got to the boulders and they were bone dry, the wind had whipped through the trees and the friction was spot on.

Barn door is the left arete, Super Central is straight up the middle from the mat
I got to work on Barn Door which I thought I had got last year, it turns out I was climbing the wrong side. Its a lovely little arete problem that is an awkward font 5. It took me a few goes as I barn-doored off gracefully, then the right approach was found, I found a sidepull to work with, a quick slap and it was done. Super Central gave in a little more easily even with my aching arms screaming. I felt a bit happier now and headed off for my tea no longer a West Chevin virgin.
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