Wednesday, 25 September 2013

NY Moors Trad Report - Summer 2013

Good Rock
And as the lost chalk balls begin to rot and bemushen themselves in the soggy soil of the forgotten corners of the Moors, we look back at what pieces of rock gave themselves to be ravaged by moorland developers.
Sunny Stoupe and its massive pottential

The numbers of people climbing on the Moors increase. The desperate hands clasp in greater numbers. So what happened this year?
I can still feel the cold in this picture. Spring ey, feels long ago..
After a spring of the usual boudlering discoveries, Sam Marks kicked off the new routes with some bilge additions to Duck Crag in April. Duck was discovered last year by Marks and his team of southern Moorers and they've been gradually working things out down there. After this development sloped off, with more bouldering, injuries and everyone being a bit busy.
New routing at its best - onsight on Stuck In The Sky (E7 6c**)
It wasn't untill the end of June really that things started to happen on the trad front. Rare things got repeated, like the Tarn Hole classic 'A reach too far', 'Chocolate Moose' at Danby and 'Rock Bottom' at Raven's Scar. Mixed in with these were a couple of new routes like 'The Breaking Wheel' (E5 6c) and 'Five Years On' (E4 7a). Whilst these were effectively glorified boulder problems, it was an important phase in the Moors, with this style of hard and safe being a rare thing.

It was then that Pyskovsky's sequins was climbed, bringing Danby once again to national attentions. People are getting more and more interested in Danby, but it's still yet to really see a lot of visits. It doesn't even look like it's going to be that long until it's fully worked out with about another 10 lines between E5 and H11. Exciting stuff! The handful of stuff at the lower end of this range didn't quite get climbed, which was a little disappointing and surprising.
New Moves, Ferrier flys high.

Straight after this was the flirtation with the coast. It was almost as if all the pain of the Moors had to be compensated for by a trip to the seaside. A few things got climbed, which has helped to further establish the coast as a prime resort for the mid-extreme climber. Panda to the Masses (E6 6c) was a particular gem, born out of a rock structure that looked a bit naff. Surprises like this are really pleasant.

After the recoup it was back into the heart of the Moors, with Tranmire exploding in a maze of opportunity. New lines on brill rock bubbled up left, right and centre, giving that spectacular climax that so often happens towardes the end of the Moors season.
Nothing Changes
After my own departure, things have continued to evolve. Ferrier, Warburton and Marks have been racing around the high dales finding new crags. Rock that looks superb!
It's become a cliche now, but oway, how did I never find this?
Another ascent worth mentioning is Steve Ramsden's recent addition to Stoupe Brow. His route 'Ram-Raid' takes the proud central scoop of Walrus Buttress, with runners in Central crack. Oft-eyed and a bit of a cracker at E6 6c.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Gear Review: OMM Jirishanca 35

The Last Thing I Stepped On Before Psykovsky's Sequins
The Original Mountain Marathon is a company whose heritage is based in ultra-lightweight running. Their bags are well-known for being good for running, but recently they've been developing a bag designed for climbers. The Jirishanca is 35 litres and according to the spiel "carries skis for ski touring, is tough enough for the ice routes and cleans off for rock routes in summer. Yet it’s just big enough to do short weekend Ultra light backpacking trips and light enough to do the OMM in October".

Well I gave it a proper good testing, smashing it around on the North York Moors, The Frankenjura and a few other places. Number one point is: It's tough, really tough. It's made out of this dynema fabric, which basically means that you can use it as a haul-bag for quite a while before it breaks. I reckon I shunted about 40 times with it, each for about an hour or more and there isn't a single bit of damage.  The only bit that is weak is a small orange toggle used for attaching ice axes. I managed to pull one of these off of another bag, but I think they've improved the strength of these since.
The Jirishanca Fully Loaded Up
Carrying weight? Average. It's a lightweight bag, made for carrying light-weight things. I found it quite uncomfortable when loaded with gear, a boulder mat and a sledge hammer. I think you want to keep the weight below about 10-15kg and it will be alright, but otherwise it's not too good. I found it really comfortable when using it with small weights. A small rope, water, harness and a bit of gear really felt like nothing. I always thought the weight of a bag made very little difference to the feel of it, but this bag showed me that that was obviously wrong.  I forgot it was on a lot of the time - it only weighs 670 grams...

This brings me onto the stability of the bag. It's ludicrous. I did a lot of running, cycling and walking with it and it's without a doubt the most stable bag I've ever used. OMM have developed some strange yolk system designed for running, that actually works very well for basically any high-activity sport. It's brilliant for climbing. As you often have a partially empty bag when climbing, it's necessary to be able to compress it right up and for the bag to not feel like it's flopping around. This did that well Quite impressed there.

Now to the negatives. There's no rope-holding strap. This is daft on a climbing bag and when the bag is not fully loaded, carrying a rope is annoying. Similarly, the whole concept of 'lean-weight' means that the bag has no compression straps or basically anything for gear to be attached to. I'm lead to believe that when you buy the bag, then you get a set of elastic and toggles to customise it yourself and there are copious attachment points there already. They leave it like this so that the OMM-produced MSC can be attached, that compresses and enables a helmet to be attached to the exterior.  I'm not sure if I'm convinced by this. I like the idea that I can have a completely stripped-down bag to use, but I also like a built-in compression strap here and there. Maybe I just need to get with the times?
Looking For Boulders
What's really great about this bag then? Well, there are a few things. The easy-access pockets for water bottles are great. I used these a lot and I think people will like that. Other bags have exterior pockets for water bottles, but these are highly accessible. It doesn't matter if you're not running an ultra, sometimes you just want a drink without taking off your pack. It also means that a bottle doesn't have to be shoved in your bag. I thought this was great. Similarly the OMM-style zip pocket on the waist belt. Great for keys and nuggets of food - you could probably get away with just one, rather than two, though.

Another ingenious design is the opening system, it's bloody fantastic. You'd think that quick-release opening would be a needless faff, but it actually works really well, especially when on a cliff when you don't want to open your bag fully for everything to drop out. For shunting and multi-pitching this is a great feature. 

As touched on before, the back system is lightweight, but nevertheless integrates a small sleeping mat, that would be an absolute bonus for alpine climbing. It's not a thermarest, but it certainly would make a massive difference in an epic or in alpine climbing.

Verdict? A bag full of ideas and tough as nails. You can see that the guys producing this really care about making a clever bag. Some of the inventions are questionable and it's down to personal preference a lot of the time whether you'll like them, but some of the ideas are just down-right brilliant. It's so adaptable that it doesn't actually matter if you don't like a feature, you can just chop it off and change it.

Gear Review: The Alpine Up

Now and then people give me bits of gear to test. I climb quite a lot, so it gets a good bit of abuse. The chaps at CT climbing gave me their new belay plate at ISPO 2013 back in winter and since then I've messed about with it. My verdict in short: a great plate that does everything and is going to revolutionise certain styles of climbing, but is a bit on the pricey side.
In long:

What it does: Imagine a black diamond guide mixed with a gri-gri, and that's effectively the alpine up! It's an 'assisted'-locking plate with no moving parts. It works on double as well as single ropes, although it can't really be used on fat singles (more than 10.5mm), as feeding rope out becomes really hard. As an auto-locking double rope device, it's a pretty rare thing, similar to the Mammut Smart alpine, but with a few subtle differences.

It works in guide-plate mode, for bringing up seconds hands-free. It auto-locks on abseil, eliminating the need for prussics. It works like a gri-gri, with automatically locking on a single rope. Although they don't recommend this use, it locks up on double rope lead belaying, meaning you can run back hands free if the climber is going to deck out otherwise. It also has a setting for traditional non-locking belaying, which is far smoother than a normal plate, as the plate stays in one place, rather than bobbing up and down on the carabiner. This is best used when someone's leading something on shite gear when dynamic belaying is a must. In my eyes, this is the best plate in the world for this.

So, as you can see, it's pretty damn complicated. This is draw-back number one. You really need to get used to this plate, it's not the sort of thing you'd give your kid and let them go off climbing with it. There's no way that you could set it up dangerously I don't think, but even so, you want to know what you're doing with it.

Draw-back number two is the cost. You'll be lucky to get it for under £70, which is a stack of cash for a belay plate. With this you do get a free carabiner, which is essential for the plate (other crabs don't work so well with it. Even so, it's £30 more than it's competitor the Mammut smart alpine.  So, the real question is, is it better? The short answer is yes. It's a better shape and does more stuff better, crucially taking a broader-range of ropes, thus being usable for sport redpointing as well as alpine climbing. This could easily be your only belay plate, which would save you money.

There's a question whether either of these modern plates are really necessary however, considering the weight. Yes, they remove prussics and the associated faff when alpine climbing, but they're also a lot heavier and bulkier than a normal plate. You can now eat your cake whilst you lead belay, but you have to decide for yourself whether these plates are worth taking for that privilege.

Is it better than a gri-gri? Definitely. The Gri-Gri is heavier, requires a thumb on it to stop the locking mechanism from deploying  and only works on single ropes. The Alpine Up works just like a normal belay device, meaning the traditional and potentially dangerous practices associated with a Gri-Gri are not required.

The reason I really love this plate we'll come to now: trad headpoints. Some may have seen how belay devices effected the perceived grade of 'the Groove' at Cratcliffe. An auto-locking plate meant that the fall was safe. That was with a Gri-Gri on a single rope - imagine the same situation but on halves. With that you're going to get the same quick take-in rate, but with added equalisation. This is almost an accidental design from the guys at CT, but it's going to really change a few routes.

So, there we go: The Alpine Up. A great piece of kit, ingeniously designed and very useful when used properly.

Here's a more lengthy video if you want to see it in action: