Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Recalibrate

My new website: francocookson.wordpress.com
Photo: Josh Rawson
I've never known a year like this one in the UK. The weather has never been extreme, but we're now well into April and we've had about 3 sunny days where you could possibly take a coat off. You can tell at the wall and at the crag that people are thoroughly cheesed off with cold, minging dankness. It's a good time to have knackered ankles!

So we're 10 days into my ankle injuries and I've got to be mostly happy with the progress so far. The left ankle is still painful side-to-side, but is pretty bomber straight down. This is lucky, as the right one is quite a bit worse, and I've been dependent on the left one to hop about. I should still be resting I think, as pretty much any movement makes it absolutely knack.

Whenever you get any kind of injury, you get the same old questions whizzing around your head: when should you start strengthening it? Will it ever be back to perfect? Will I ever be able to fall on it again?
Booerang Wall (E7 6c) Photo: Rob Greenwood

That last one is a big deal for me at the moment. Quite a few of the lines I really want to do and that I was very close to being able to do, involve potential or certain groundfalls. There's no way these ankles are going to be taking that kind of force prior to summer and conditions gopping out, so it might be my chance over with those routes for some time. That's quite sad.

There is a positive in this though - and it's a big one. I feel like this injury was inevitable. I've been absolutely winging it at these really mad routes for more than a year now. I've probably taken close to a dozen groundfalls in less than a year - that's ridiculous. Some of them were totally worth it, others less so, but I need a very clear plan on what my ambitions are. This new kind of "Ropeball", where you're using ropes and pads to push the limits of falling, is going to have a bit of a painful toothing process.

There's a conflict between the rat that eats away at you all the time, telling you to get training, get on your projects; and the careful consideration needed for long-term fulfilling goal-setting. I'm not after having the same experience 20 times. If I headpoint a handful of new E8s in an area, I'm not about continuing doing that forever. Maybe try something harder, maybe try a half-highball one, one with brick-hard moves etc.

Experiences should be new. My recent trip to Scotland was exactly what I'm after. New setting, new people, new climbing, new rock. I took a gamble that didn't pay off, but the experience of trying that has unexpectedly lit a fire in me to try more things like that. It's always been about majesty in nature for me, the moment where you feel humble, at the mercy of the gods, naked on the stone. That raw emotion is way stronger when you're in foreign lands in a foreign route. That is it.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Video: Glenfinnan Flash Attempts

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Snap Your Ankles By The Drop (E10 7a)


Most of Dave Macleod's routes always seemed to be impossibly steep and intimidating. In 2010 news spread of two new routes he had climbed that looked very different: Apophenia (E8 7a) and Die By The Drop (E10 7a). Both proper slab climbs on a beautiful piece of rock west of Glen Finnan.
At the time, Macleod reckoned Die By The Drop was harder than the other hard slabs in the UK - most notably The Indian Face (E9 6c). The climbing was bouldery, with some very bad feet above some tiny RPs. With a build up like that, it's got to be on any slab climbers ticklist!
I've always fancied having a look, but have only recently been on form-enough to seriously consider it. A lot of my climbing at the moment is at that 10m mark, with poor gear that takes just a little of the sting out of the fall. In other words, just like these two climbs. If I reckoned to be good on slabs, this was the ultimate test.
Easter weekend came. Here was the chance. Cool, low humidity, dry. I hadn't climbed for about 6 weeks due to a finger niggle, but I was feeling fresh, bendy and ready for Scotland. I think when you are in the right place mentally, the physical shape you're in matters a lot less. Off we went.

Macleod gave us some information on conditions and stuff, which was very helpful. We warmed up on Gemini (E4 5c) and Frustration (E5 5c), which were both good bits of very bold climbing. Before we knew it, we'd abed and cleaned the two hard lines, tied in and were sketching about above some dubious RPs on Apohenia (now given E7 6c). There were meant to be 3 or 4 RPS on offer, but I only found one that was any good. It felt pretty bold reflexing off of the good edge and trying to find some footholds to take your weight, but I just about managed to get into the top groove. This bit's easier, but being a very poor onsight climber and not having had a proper look at these holds, I had a bit of a nightmare finding my way to the top. A great experience, a fab piece of climbing and the first established E7 I've flashed. Chuffed! This looked like the line of the crag to me, but I think this honour actually goes to Frustration, onto which Apophenia can be escaped onto just before the crux.
This was however kind of a sideline in my mind. The big one was Die By The Drop - because it looked great, but let's face it, most of all because it is hard. After an iffy night's sleep, it was time to have a look.
What followed was kind of to be expected, but also a bit of a shock. I'd placed some RPs in the crack on the left, as well as a minute secondary RP by the better one. The plan for the belay was to give a good load of slack on these so that I'd get a baby-bouncer a metre or so off the deck. If the gear then ripped, I'd land gently on the pad, the RPs having taken out most of the force.
Maybe I should have headpointed it, being apparently the hardest trad slab in the country and with conditions now a bit rubbish, but I'd had a good look at the RP that protects the crux and whilst it's a small one, I reckoned it would take a good bit of force out of a fall. This, combined with a thick pad and some other gear I found, should make the crux just about safe. The wall above looked bold and not easy, but there were at least some holds and it looked easier than the moves I'd done the day before on Apophenia.
So off I went, on the flash and about to encounter the hardest slab moves of Dave Macleod's career. "This is it. It doesn't get any better than this", I thought. Such an amazing experience. So liberating. Into the crux, I totally forgot what Macleod's beta even was. I grabbed a great lefthand crimp, already feeling way above the good RP, feet up on rubbish dishes, gaston, another gaston, ready for the crux pop.. I'm off.. The plan for the belay didn't work and I hit the ledge just above the ground on both of my feet, destroying both ankles. Instant pain. damn. Well, at least for that brief moment, I was right there.
A bit of an epic crawling out with two knackered ankles and now on crutches, but I'll be back, with some new beta and belay tactics.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Ocean of Possibilities


My sea’s been somewhat drained of late. The big fish had all been landed in a tidal wave of excitement, floating, and sometimes surprise. The lighthouses are beaming and the analogy’s been overstretched.

The magical moment is when a new project blisters over the horizon in a gargantuan solar flare. That feeling where you go from plodding tedium to raw unadulterated excitement is like no other. I have a line that seems to tingle through every part of my body, every minute of every day and I have moves to dwell, relive and then obsess, obsess. It’s a love I’ve not truly felt for nearly 3 years.

The best thing about a true project in the right place, at the right time, is that it promises to change you. The little niggles in your climbing that you want to change, improve, but that require so much effort to modify, suddenly HAVE TO be adapted. To have a line that you know you HAVE TO climb makes so many other decisions so much easier. Inspired is an understatement; I feel alive again.

Getting stronger is something you see all over climbing media these days and as a personal quest, it is something that is innately exciting. Being able to hang new holds, hang old ones with weight attached, or perform new moves between them is a big attraction in climbing these days and I can understand why people might want to do this as a discipline in its own right. To be then in a position where that strength or power is the ke

y to the door of a masterpiece makes the whole journey start to feel a lot like a pilgrimage.

What’s been great over the past two months is the different projects I’ve found. One is the ultimate – something just out of reach, which is going to require new skills on slopers, as well as substantial reserve mono strength. It’s bold, hard and will be one of the best lines of its kind in the country when climbed. The second line makes the first even better. It is of a very similar nature, but on tiny monos, with huge powerful moves in between, it’s harder and similarly high. This last line is the “pipe dream”, font 8b/c moves back to back at a super highball height. It would be amazing just to do all the moves individually – to link them would be outer space.

The genius of these two projects is that the training is similar for both. The hard one makes the less hard one seem less mad as a solo and the easier one makes the step to climb the harder one seem less extreme. It’s doubtful I’ll climb either to be honest, but it feels like the moors are giving back a series of stepping stones to enlightenment. Reciprocal love – what we always wanted!

Saturday, 3 February 2018

People Read Climbing Blogs To Be Happy - Let's Go To Scotland!

Photo: Josh Rawson
I always think it's a bit pointless to blog about things not being exciting. I'm blogging now, but I'm definitely back on the up, after a couple of months of wondering where the next step was. I wish I had written something a couple of weeks ago, as it was a very unusual time for me - a stage when I really had no idea where the next challenge was going to come from.

Since Nothing Lasts last spring, I've known that I haven't had a "next level" project on the horizon. I survived on the promise that there were a handful of fantastic and moderately hard routes left to do on the Moors and in Northumberland. They were:

  1. Unami (E6 6c)
  2. I Am You (E7 7b)
  3. Boomerang Wall (E7 6c)
  4. The Aghori (E9 7a)
  5. The Magic Scoop (E8 7a) 
  6. Leonardo (Still Unclimbed - ~ E8 7a)
  7. Pippi Direct (Still Unclimbed ~ E8 6c/7a)
  8. The Holy Grail Wall (Still Unclimbed ~ E8 7b/7c)


It was a strange position to be in, as I had 8 great unclimbed carrots to keep me going, but none of them were going to be "next level" in terms of trad climbing. One of them (The Holy Grail) was going to require a new standard of boulder ability for me and another couple would be interesting as an exercise of introducing a new style of climbing to the NE of England (I am you, The Aghori & The Magic Scoop). I think working up to Christmas, that interest kept my mind off the impending question of "what am I going to be spending my mid/late 20s doing?"

Once the weather crapped out in December, I got more and more time to think about this and whilst I remained very happy in my day-to-day life, my climbing was definitely approaching a big black hole. Only the Holy Grail now provided any kind of experiential journey -  that one is a big unknown, with bouldering well into the Font 8s, for a climber who has always shied away from proper bouldering. Apart from that, the numerous NY Moors testpieces still awaiting an ascent, are much the same as what has gone before. It's strange knowing that you are in the best shape of your life, knowing that the right English 7a/b move could be soloed, but not being able to find the right line. I kinda know it's not going to be in the NY Moors or Northumberland now..

So the answer? SCOTLAND. I love Scotland. I've been trying to get up at least a couple of times a year. South Barra Isles, Torridon, Orkney, Caithness, Glen Nevis, The Cairngorm - all on flying visits. There's not an awful lot of information on unclimbed Scottish routes, but the things I have found look out of this world. I'm quite scared to be honest - Anything above 30m is a bit much for my little moorland head, but I suppose I should get used to it. I will of course continue to develop the Sandstone, but I can't see slabby H12 sandstone presenting itself anytime soon.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

An Unbeatable Year

O no! It's that time of year again.. I never know whether December is a good month or not. The weather is definitely always rubbish and even when it's sunny, nothing seems to dry. The sun is low and it's basically dark all of the time. The crispness may offer some good conditions if dry rock is actually found.

I'm definitely sad to see 2017 slip away. It's been an amazing year, where I became the climber I always dreamed of being. I've always been surprised and very pleased at being able to do any of the routes I've done over the years. I remember the first time I looked up at Lion King (HVS 5b**) and wondered in total awe at how anybody could climb it. A few months later and I was topping out on it, in disbelief that I could have been capable of it. A year later, we were climbing scratty new routes that deep down we knew were a bit pointless. It was still great to be doing this - unimaginable, a gap!

When we eventually climbed The Pasketti Alpinist (E5 6a ***), the pervading sense of irreality made the soul start to float. That feeling of disbelief, of dream state, of the creation of a mythical world of magic lines, where you as author encounter these vibrant personalities for the first time, is such a wildly captivating experience, it no wonder takes over everything.

At the end of last year, I felt as though we could be content with our lot. We had achieved our goal of starting to put the NY Moors on the map for hard and superb climbing. We knew at that point that the best lines were still to be done, even if what had been climbed was already pretty good.
Photo: Russel Lovett
The first route of the year was The Boulby Wall (E8 6c**). A new venue, Boulby Cliffs is a huge place that is right at the beginning of a long development process. This route was on bomber rock and uncharacteristically positive and steep. Cool pop move.

The Futuristic Herring Gull Project was a new genre of climbing in the Moors. Hard slab highballing from bottom to top. This one had taken years of effort. E8 7a*** (font 8a?) .

Then came the big one. This wasn't in the Moors and as such was a huge personal step, slightly removed from the collective development of the Moors. Nothing Lasts (H10 7a /E11?) - an actual last great problem from another area, climbed with the Moors' approach to boldness, meditation and flare. It was strange being back on Divine Moments Of Truth later in the year and seeing how Nothing Lasts compared. At the time of the FA of Nothing Lasts, I'd built Divine Moments of Truth up as being of a similar difficulty due to it's boldness. Now this has been made a couple of touches safer, Nothing Lasts is the standout hard line that I've climbed. Some climbing approaching hard above an exciting roller-coaster if you slip!
Photo: R Lovett
In a slightly dazed state, Si and I then developed Coquet View. Two great routes: Umami (E6 6c**) and I Am You (E7 7b**). There was a bit of sadness here, as I felt we didn't quite show this crag the reverence it deserved. We were emotionally shattered from Sandy Crag and these ascents became a chore rather than a passion. The joy we'd had working these routes previously shows the true majesty of this forgotten place.
Photo: Rob Greenwood
Boomerang Wall (E7 6c**) then came at a time when Sandy Crag seemed alive with activity. A decent line that is properly my style of climbing. Loved it.
August saw the birth of a climb that I have coveted over all others. The Aghori (H8 7a ** / E9?) AKA The Landslip Arete, is a superb line, visible from miles around. It had everything that a project should have - historic attempts, prominent positioning, locally known. It was the ultimate in flexible madness; throwing limbs and breaking free. Crazed and exciting. This was it. This climb, along with Fly Agaric, Sky Burial, Divine Moments of Truth and The Futuristic Herring Gull are the climbs that feel most like me. It is as if I was always destined to climb them. They fit my body so well and ooze at every juncture with raw style.
Photo: R Lovett
The cherry on the top was the Magic Scoop at Highcliffe (E8 7a ***/ ~font 7c+?). Another line I'd been trying for ages. It's a fantastic feature and provides great climbing. The way in which that ascent looked so improbable, only to totally chance into existence, is perhaps what is most magical about that grove - and life!
Photo: R Lovett
The future is this.. There are routes in the Moors left to do. There are plenty of starred routes left to be climbed at most grades, but the standout lines are now exceptionally hard. They are without exception well into the font 8s, many with disastrous or likely fatal falls. Some may yield, but many are for the next generation. I'm more than happy with my lot!

My climbing will be split between the The Moors, Northumberland and The Lakes.  I'm even keen for some European stuff this year.. 

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

The Magic Of The Moors - E8 7a ***


The big three this winter are putting up quite a fight! Conditions are very up and down, but mostly on our side. Cold! There have been some very cold and exciting days out - more exciting in retrospect than at the time that is..

Of the three Moors routes I had on my list this winter, one has given itself up and agreed to join this world. The Magic Scoop at Highcliffe Nab is one of those routes that I've been trying for years and years. The actual scoop part and the upper arete quickly presented itself as a superb off-balance challenge. When I first unpicked that sequence several years ago, I had no idea that it would take so long to be able to start the thing.

One always seems to think that it is going to be improved strength and boulder ability that makes these "next step" problems possible, but in the end it was using my brain a bit more and unpicking a very devious line around the left arete.

The last year has seen a dawn of a new kind of highballing for me: immensely pre-practised, sketchy, high, and difficult. The Futuristic Herring Gull Project and The Magic Scoop both have goey climbing in a position where you have to be very conscious of your height. Things like MYXOMOP may be higher, but in reality you're soloing from about the halfway point on that - if you don't have the top of that dialled, you're knackered.

As always, the void created from ticking a line off is quickly filled with other interests. A couple of new contenders in Northumberland have shown their face. Leonardo direct at Sandy Crag I've been trying for a little over a year, on and off. I've been in the position where I thought I "had it" a couple of times, but the beast seems to keep changing its faces with snapped holds, exploded gear etc. I still haven't linked the whole thing, but I'm getting a bit more convinced about the gear and I know on the sharp end, the climbing will come together. It's just a matter of time.. As always..

More recently we've rediscovered the Land of Milk And Honey (AKA The Real Sandy Crag). The direct finish to Steve Blake's boulder problem looks like it's going to provide some great slab movement at a not-too-outrageous-a-grade. There are a handful of other highballs and short routes there that are well on the radar too. So things are looking up after worrying that Northumberland was getting a bit boring.

At the moment it's all about quick-drying crags that take no drainage. Pippi Longstocking Direct at Round Crag is on a windy pinnacle - so that fits the bill. Much of The Real Sandy Crag is on a pinnacle as well, so that's ideal.

The big one - and by that I mean the hard one - is The Holy Grail Wall. This too is quick-drying, but mega hard. In the recent cold spell I convinced myself it was too cold for it. Previously it had been too warm. Then too humid. etc. etc. The bottom line is it's probably still too hard for me. I thought the key point was turning the arete. I've now managed to do this above pads, but pull on the horrendously spanned sidepull? Nope.. It feels astronomically harder than anything I've done. I'd love to know what font grade it would get.. Keep hammering home with the big days and we'll hopefully see our reward soon.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Stalemate


It's been a fun autumn. I've been getting out loads and keeping that summer psyche going. Each year you seem to get it a little more sussed: go wild in spring, pace yourself in the heat and moist summer, then go wild for those last few decent weeks of the year. We've not got many weekends between now and December, but the forecast is looking dry and temperatures are certainly not high.

Since The Aghori, I seem to have spent most of my time getting shut down on things. I've got three big projects: The Holy Grail Wall at Kay Nest, The Magic Scoop at Highcliffe, and Pippi Longstocking Direct at Round Crag. The last of these is easier than the other two and they're all either highballs or safish routes. These things are a very logical and good next step whilst we're still in the fallout from Nothing Lasts in April and it's a good excuse to try and get stronger at climbing.

I've been trying the Magic Scoop for several years now and on a good few occasions, I've thought that I've had it sussed, only to then find that I couldn't actually link the moves together to get established in the groove. At last the other day, I unpicked some foot beta that allows a sensible entry into the highball scoop. Unfortunately the consequent pad party proved unfruitful, as the line started to seep with water. This thing really hangs in the balance for this year - if the weather stays dry, we might just have another chance.

Of a different style is the Holy Grail Wall. This thing doesn't seep, but owns one of the most rancid, disjointing sequences I've ever encountered. It's outrageously spanned and poorly furnished with holds. One of the holds that starts to feel like a jug is a 3 finger sidepull, around which the problem pivots. You can get onto this and start to come around the corner on it, but to then engage on it at full reach is pure ming.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Landslip Arete H8 7a

It's 10 days ago that I climbed the arete at Landlsip. Funny really - something that seems so impossible and so unlikely, now feels like it has always been there. My ascent of that line feels as if it always has been, as if it was beyond even predetermined. I can't imagine my life without it.

I used the word "privilege" at the time. This is a word that is thrown around a lot these days, but with this line I really meant it. It's a feature that forms the backdrop of so many people's lives in the Moors and that it was unclimbed for so long is rather mental. Whether it is just there as locals walk their dog, or as  rangers repair the path, or that looming line for all of us that walk into the Wainstones along the low path, the Landlslip Arete means so much to so many of us. 

Working it has been a great time in my life. I walked past it for many years before I eventually tried it on a rope. Those first few times I dangled from the stake, it was totally unfathomable - which side? Which holds? Where? How? After this I was up there with friends - all boggled, all excited. It was tantalising. There were some beautiful days up there by myself - generally in between other projects and often on sunny mornings, when the dawn sun blazes across the face. It's a special place up there - made all the more special by the total lack of other climbers up there. 

The day of the ascent was suitably relaxed and enjoyable. We'd had all our gear nicked in Italy, but what remained was everything I needed to protect the climb. I dusted off my old Ecrin Rock helmet that hadn't been nicked and which I hadn't worn since a kid. I went up and down a few times to place the gear and with a couple of last goes on the moves I was ready.

The groove feature is followed to a good hold right of the gear that allows a span onto a pocket on the right side of the arete. This feels like a natural resting point, but on the headpoint I just blasted through. I didn't stop at any point - with liquid chalk on my fingers, calm determination tingling my body and the moves engraved on my mind, there was no need to. Within 4 moves of the ground I started to position myself for the crux. I turned from the right side of the hanging arete to the left, with my feet still on the lower wall. I was below the roof, with my right hand on the arete and my left fingers locked in the pocket further out left. From here you're in a strong position, with a sharp arete and a decent pocket.

The next move is the crux and you explode from this position of strength, with a foot thrown right between your hands. You're not so much placing the face-high right foot as pasting it on the lip of the roof. From here you're in the ridiculously position of then walking your foot into the good foothold, which is even further across to the left. At this point, onsight, you'd feel like you were totally trapped and likely be testing the gear in the back of the roof. Fortunately for me, this move was well rehearsed and I knew that if I pulled up just a couple of inches, I could readjust my right arm, which would allow my knee to come round. It's a ludicrous move. 

As soon as you've got past the point equilibrium, the move becomes progressively easier. The climb then becomes a series of bodily expressions - facing down, to the side and up. You point with your toes, gesture to the air - it feels like a real dance. It was and is magical. 

On the headpoint I got an enormously tired right arm, which made the final 'out of the swimming pool' move, at which point you're facing a ground fall, feel a little too spicy. Luckily I didn't fall off and I managed to have a lovely relax on the Merlin's Roost.

A brilliant experience for sure and it feels like a conclusion to summer. It's September now and the weather really feels like it's getting set for winter. I'm enjoying sitting by the fire and pots of tea increasingly more, but perhaps even more than that is the thought of those last 3 big routes. I haven't done this for a while, but these are them and here they are! :

1) Pippi Longstocking Direct
2) The Holy Grail Wall - Kay Nest
3) The Magic Scoop - Highcliffe

I've learnt not to expect to climb any of these in the near future. They each demand something of me that I currently do no have. To climb any of these before Christmas has to be seen as a bonus, but all of them are distinctly possible. I've tried them all on the lead/solo, with varying degrees of success. Each are 3 stars and very bouldery in style. exciting times ahead!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Boomerang Wall E7 6c

Photo: Rob Greenwood
The rolling rubber of a knackered shoe is aggressively stabbed at the smallest of micro nubbins. Facing right, outside edge of a left foot starting to come off the good hold, body-weight moving upwards, pulling harder on the spanned-out holds. Will the right foot hold? Will the nubbin disintegrate? Will my body hit a point of equilibrium; a cul-de-sac in the maze, where upwards is no longer an option?  The aggression in the right foot wains, I take a moment of pause. I might be coming off..

Killer instinct! Think for one millisecond about your position and your slump and resignation is forced to fire out more rage. The waves of disordered anarchy below are vanquished to irrelevance so long as you remain on the wall. Pull!

The move is to keep on this tiny right foot, arms out-spanned in a huge layback, and then bring the inside left foot to groin height and onto a decent blob.  It's a couple of centimetres before the good blob that I feel my hands slipping and the nubbin taking too much of the weight. The fall from here is a heather cartwheel, crushing Anna and Phil along the way. Pull! The fingers stick, the foot is on and I can style my way to the good holds.

Even the less desperate routes offer exciting moments.