Tuesday, 15 July 2014

White Hill Arete - New Project Brewing

Not a hold for summer - crux left on Herring Gull
I had a bit of idea that the rest of my summer would be spent mopping up the last few really good routes I know of in the Moors, but I'd forgotten how warm summer is. A lot of the mid-grade stuff left over is hard and safe and really thin. There are things like The Futuristic Herring Gull project at Maiden's that I had dialed and quite fancied spending my free afternoons on, but I've been utterly thwarted in my attempts to even do the individual moves in this heat.
The crux right-hand on Herring Gull

So I was having my relaxed vision disassembled rather quickly before my very eyes. There's a moor full of great lines, their little heads out-poking like mushrooms, and most of them aren't going to go pleasantly. What's a hedonistic afternoon if it can't even be enjoyed?! It was at this point that I tried to think back to what I really want. What is going to make me content and what is really going to make the Moors the most cutting edge area on the planet?

It's strange how different lines come to prominence at different times. In the Moors, there are so many projects and you tend to have little plays on loads of different things at the same time. You end up with a brain full of rock features, moves and relationships with the crags. You're quite often in a state of not really knowing what the next thing to capitulate is going to be and this can lead to droughts and floods of new routes coming into existence, with all the anxiety and ecstasy associated with that. Post-project this only becomes more the case, which is the position I'm in now after The Unhinged at Maiden's.  This heat though has made me really think about what I want to do and I've decided that I should really be following my dreams and not day-to-day pleasures. This dream is a Moors full of hard routes and the number of suitable projects known to me at the moment is limited.

I have limited resources. At the vast majority of moves, I'm distinctly average. I'm weak. Most stuff I've inspected has turned out to be unfeasibly hard for me and some of the stuff that suits my style is either rubbish or too easy. When you're going after a particular window of difficulty, with only a very small selection of tools, you really have to get lucky. It's like trying to fashion a canoe out of a redwood with penknife.

There's only really one thing at the moment that is at about the right standard and that I reckon I could do. This route also has positive holds and is north east facing - ideal for the conditions at the moment. This route is the arete at White Hill (Landslip). We're talking pockets, small ones. The moves are big, full arm-flappers. Heels are high and wrestling with vague ripples. It's a stonking line and the gear is fairly good. I reckon, just maybe, it might be getting to the point of being possible. It'll be a great project for me, as it's going to make me get some strength back.

This route has been in my head for years, longer than the Mono Wall - much longer. I used to see it on my first trips to the Wainstones, in fact it might have been the first rock I saw as a climber. It's in the historic centre of Moors climbing, in my mind holding the whole area together with its pristine line from Hasty top to bottom. It was always talked about as an impossible feature at a terrifying crag. As with most things, the myth isn't real (except in the mind) and White Hill isn't actually that scary-a-place. The arete is fairly inviting and I couldn't see you getting a really serious injury from fluffing the crux up, unless you were unlucky and the gear didn't hold.

One of the main battles with a project is to be motivated. With the Hypocrisy of Moose or Psykovsky's Sequins this was never a problem, as at the time I couldn't believe how hard I was climbing. With the recent The Unhinged, the climbing was alright, so it was only the danger that was keeping you on-task. It would have been sad to die on something that easy, which isn't the kind of thing you want to be thinking. With this White Hill Arete, the line is good enough and the gear bomber enough to not have to worry about either of these aspects of it. I want to climb it.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Agony Of Choice!

So, there are still moors. Loads of moors in the Moors. A pile of rock. You end up doing nothing there is so much to do - it's really warm today. I've not done a list for a while and I think I'm in a really good position now to make a list of the best things left to do in the Moors. These lists always seem massively out of date very quickly, so be warned! - That's sort of the main reason for doing them. There's a great feeling of progress when you look at what you thought was impossible 3 months ago. Anyway.... I'm going to put these in quality order. quality of experience over route maybe... The ones I want to do first...

1) Sunrise Wall
Alright, I don't actually want to do this anytime soon, but it is probably the only real new wave route I know of that is likely to be possible. If Snap Back wasn't new wave, then this thing definitely is. There's no point trying to describe that headwall to you. Just ab it! The moves are hard and there's no gear. Certain death.

2) The Futuristic Herring Gull Project
Brilliant sharp slab climbing. Massive moves, enchanted.  Unlike anything else I know of on the Moors.

3) The Magic Scoop
I love that I nearly have this wired. It's the sort of thing that you don't think is possible when you're starting out. It's a really nice piece of rock.

4) The Landslip Arete
There's quite a good challenge on this one. The rock's not the best low down, but that's being a little mean. The move is one of those that feels a bit too hard, but I'm sure will be possible once the old fingers get a bit stronger - maybe one for spring of next year after a bit of winter training.

5) The Tormented Sole Direct
A lovely line of quite an old-fashioned nature. The crux is fairly stretchy, but it's nowt out of this world. It's going to be one of the best routes around like. 

6) The Wangledoodle Wall
This is really good, but it's going to take a good climber to climb it - one with muscles. There aren't a lot of 'holds' as such, but it is possible. 

6) Kay Nest Arete
This is going to have to wait until winter. Hard moves. Basically a very high boulder problem, but the feature is fantastic.

4 Other things:

7) The Possum
A really big pitch. It would be really good to put something modern up at Whitestone. This line is particularly good as it's seemingly ridiculous and climbs the largest part of the cliff. The protection isn't abysmal, but obviously you don't want to be falling off!

8) Rump De Stump
Bold. No prizes for line, but surely you can see past that and enjoy the climbing? There's something very homely about the way this route climbs.

9)Tranmire Wall
wooohooo! haha, if you catch it dry that top move is a real cool one. Scary.

10) Kay Nest Aid Line
Well, it's got to be on the list. The climbing is pretty nice. It's lost a few bolts now, so it's also fairly serious. Another one with a good last move!

There comes a time when all slots, deep lock feather tails of the dove. The sweeps and troughs of endless stories locked in the sandstone worlds, come to make sense. The Moors now hinge on new unstable walls. The world, the animals seem detached from what hangs. But surely it's not?

When the past is this good and one's not quite sure which way your times a-spinning, then what does the future even matter? What's gone is so great and that's maybe where we're heading. He, who was in the past, I that am now in the present and you, that occupy the future, something strange happened.

Sunrise, isn't really sunrise at all. I start to wonder what that name was about and what there even happened. He spoke such nonsense and did things you and I don't understand. What I do is nothing, for I'm not even a climber. You, the whole world rests on you, all focus in he and I is upon you, but you don't even exist, not yet. Or do you?

We're all living in the future. The past is dead to us, but it's also swamping our present all of the time.  Traumas and joys are nipping at us, steering us away into new things we never wanted to do. The future's stronger though. It drags you around and takes you to do things you don't even want to do.

You end up a vegetable. Everybody does. You end up as I, all the time, if you push the I enough. But then why would you want to? What is even going on?

Starting to look back at the arete at Maiden's Bluff and starting to try and think about what I was doing. I don't get it. I don't get what was going on. You can come out with all the platitudes you like, but you end up just roaring.

Snap Back H9 6c

The route doesn't exist if no one repeats it! Those moves aren't even climbing, but you need a noggin that slipped out through your ear for a bit, before ambling back through the dunes.  It sees the wall and sees you. Cup of tea for two - you and the wall.

It's a funny old world, when you're feeling normal. I'm going to have a really nice breakfast today. A bit of bacon, a fried egg. And when you've been on this route, you stare at your egg. You see a little puddle of oil on the surface of the white and your eyes, they don't stay a-far, they home, they zoom, deeper and deeper, further into the world that no one ever sees. You see, there in the oils, the line of Sunrise, Snap Back. You see the arete and that move. You see the way your body pivots across the air, all the dust in the wind pushing you back in, but the invisible force hauling you back out across to swing, wild into the skies. You see it all there in the egg, the yolk losing its steepness as it gets to the centre, the opposite of that wall. You see the yolk, the egg, your wall and all the other thing's you've seen - that hare at Maiden's Bluff, that one that stands and stares at you with no fear. Inquisitive, it stands. Has it climbed that wall? How do you know? That curve of wall, that arete, the way it dull shines and reflects things that aren't there. The way that smooth turns to sharp, the way it threatens your neck. I come back out of all of this and find myself still on the egg, the knee-deep yolk rich and thick and all over me. A full body cuddle twig says. Yes! Yes! That's just how it is. The egg is there, inside a cuddle and outside the same, but not here. The route roars raw here, but somewhere this isn't so, or so the hunch tells me. The hunch is just as real.

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Possum - Whitestone Cliffe

The line climbs somewhere up the right of the picture.

New phase = new cliff. Moors limestone is largely ignored in this weird little climbing scene, for a variety of reasons. It's big, it's scary, it can be quite loose and it's in the south west, so a fair drive away for most of the mooristas. It's the closest crag to the south of England however and can work out quite well for a quick pop-in on the way back from Leeds. That's exactly what I did today.

Since the traverse was freed a few years ago, there haven't been any new routes climbed at the crag, which is shocking considering how much rock there is. In reality, the number of lines could easily be trebled. There is a bit of a question about why you'd want to climb on most of this cliff though? Left of the stable Nightwatch area, the rock does have the tendency to crumble and gear can't really be trusted.  So it's adventurous. There are however some really good lines, exceptionally situated. The pitches get up to about 40 metres long as well, so you can get a real feeling of having 'an experience'.

So what's left to do? There are a lot of old aid routes still waiting for free ascents. Some of these are just odd moves that no one's quite managed yet and others are bolt ladders that were created through terrain seemingly impossible for free climbing. That great old word 'impossible' always makes my fingers twingle and the less freed the routes are, the dafter the experience is going to be.

Perhaps the most heavily aided pitch at the cliff was 'Possum'.  It takes an outrageous line to the right of the central arete, through several roofs and bulges, culminating in a very lonely and loose slab finale. I've wanted a look for a while and managed to get on a shunt today.

You start very low down, seemingly underground in a wooded alcove surrounded by enormous boulders. From here there's some unprotected moderate wall climbing aiming for a protruding peg at about 8 metres. I wasn't able to swing into this, but it looked somewhere in the English tech 6 category - low enough to be possible anyway. Once at the peg, there's also a small cam in a pocket, before a fairly loose bit of traversing up and left into the first roof. Here you could probably wangle a small nut in - you feel really exposed here, your footholds snap off, the gear isn't very good and if it rips you're already in very serious trouble. Then there's the crux. A big reach through the roof and then pulling through this on suspect small crimps. You're getting higher above the gear (that is now way off down under the roof and out to the right) and then you have to wack your feet onto some smears and try and slap into a sidepull. This would feel pretty exciting on lead. You then get to clip a terrible bolt.

What's great about the route is that when you ab down it, it looks like you'd be able to escape off right at this point (and maybe you could - still not sure about this yet), but it's at least as easy to keep going up a steep crack line directly above, which keeps throwing surprisingly physical moves at you and only the odd shite peg for gear. You'd end up on a loose moon-crack (at curbar) style crux, pumped from the main 6c crux and with only a poor peg and a rubbish bolt between you and a 20 metre ground fall. I reckon it would be a pretty harrowing lead, but a really good one. After this you're at about half-height and there's an E6 6a to the top, with some massive runouts and bad rock.

The old choss thing at Whitestone is an interesting one. This route certainly isn't solid, but it's also not the boring 'pulling so many massive blocks off that you just can't do moves' style choss. You sort of have islands of good rock in seas of filth. It makes you have to climb well, you have to join up the dots. You might be next to a huge jug, but if you pull on it then it will definitely come off, so you have to take the 6b sequence around it. Very complex, rewarding climbing. I'm interested to see how this thing progresses.

Recoup Regroup - Wizard's Ridge

 It's good to have a bit of a break after a project. Climbing-wise, I've been thinking about very little over the past two or three months and now there's obviously nothing left to think about. I could keep on trying to think about what happened on Wednesday, but I don't really think it's that productive and it will probably come back to me organically at some point anyway. I'm keen not to rush into the next big siege and I have a good selection of things I'd like to do before leaving the moors in 6 weeks, so hopefully the hottest months will still be productive.

First up though was a trip down south for an induction day, a party and moving some stuff into Sheffield. It was the perfect contrast to the isolated and unhinged world I've created up in the Moors and I even got out on some peak gritstone!

I've had a play on most of the hardest peak routes, but I've never had a look at any of the unclimbed things (apart from that highball wall at laurencefield a long time ago).  Wizard's Ridge always looked like a fantastic line, so I had a look.

I think first thing's first - the line has to be celebrated. It's crisp and it's class. Inspiring. The angle is pleasant and as I was sorting out the belay (nightmare and really quite hard to make safe!), I was getting pretty excited that if it turned out to be decent, then it might be the ideal project. The climbing is hard, very similar to the wangledoodle (in fact the whole route is) and the footholds are really small. I didn't do many of the moves, but holding the positions, you could tell that it would hang together as an absorbing sequence. It feels fantastic being on that arete, perched on such small holds.

So, brilliant line and interesting moves, but...... as a route? Crap! You do want to climb the line and with your blinkers on, it's great, but it's escapable in two locations. The holds that were brushed to traverse into the arete from the crack are only a couple of metres from the top of the crag, so you'd have to climb up the entire crag before rather pointlessly traversing right (with significant difficulty) to the arete. This kind of 'traverse needlessly into a decent line' can work, if the line you traverse into becomes pure, but the escapability after this first section just ruins the entire route. I understand now why no one has done it. It would be a hard and relatively safe route (bashing potential, but not too bad with a dynamic belay) and if you were good enough for it to be a couple of sessions' work, then it would be worthwhile climbing. But if you're not that good at this style of climbing, the amount of work involved to produce a route that would be a no star ~H8 7a just isn't worth it.  Perhaps the future lies in a direct start, but that's definitely too hard for me!

What a great pile of rock that bay has though.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Two Days On

Two days later and I'm still trying to unpick what exactly happened. The history I want to create, that I want to believe, is that there was a calm, logical philosophy that led me to set out on the route. All this theory that I was pedaling out before - if you set out with indifference to the possible outcomes, if you truly believe in what you're doing, then you'll be able to calmly climb stuff without zoning out, despite being really scared. If you can believe that, then it's flawless.

The fear surrounding a route peaks shortly before you know you're going to set off.  Particularly when the holds aren't trustworthy and the moves are completely out of balance, it gets to a point where it's really unbearable. You either need to say "I'm not doing this" or have a real belief that enables you to set out with all that risk that surrounds the climb. For the months, days, hours and VERY LONG seconds leading up to me setting off, I expected this to fall into place. I expected (and also believed) that I had the theory dialed and that I was happy with whatever happened. This worked, right until the point of commitment. Then, it became apparent that I just wanted to survive and I really wanted to do anything to avoid climbing it.

As I was climbing myself higher up the arete, further and further into trouble, I still didn't feel that committed. I had lied to myself. When I got on the crux, there was more doubt in my mind than I've ever had. It was wrong being there. I hadn't got to a point where what I was doing made sense. It was a mad thing to do. There's not even a romantic twist to it: it was wrong.

What did surprise me though, was that my brain didn't just abandon me. The moves on this thing are conscious. When things go wrong in dangerous situations, they can escalate and feed on themselves, or negative thoughts can be kind of cauterised, separated and prevented from making you spiral into a fall. This thing was going way wrong - there was no hope of rescue, I didn't know why I was doing it, I didn't even know for sure whether I was really doing it. It was like some kind of terrible nightmare. I say nightmare, but it was at this point that elements of joy did start to appear - or at least there are when I think back to it.

If this can be seen as any kind of positive experience (apart from a victory over rational thought), then it's this element of the climb that's going to provide that. This celebration of 'the outrageous'
did actually appear. There was, at least on one level, a kind of "look how barmy what I'm doing right now is! Look how little I'm attached to the world by! I'm by myself and the only thing that matters is this feeling in this moment!". This was the value of the experience. That one move, which you don't really know whether you're gonna make or not, hangs over you and it's still having effects on me now, even after (seemingly) surviving.  There must be realities where I'm dead though and I'm yet to come to a conclusion about what I think about that. It'll be some time I think before I fully understand that.

Who Owns Your Experience?

So it seems to happen all the time these days. Some new route or impressive feat is reported online and straight away there's a barrage of criticism. "Surely it's not that hard?", "How can THIS person have climbed this route?", "That looks rubbish!" "Why's he done it like this?". The quantity of negative comments is thankfully usually outweighed by positive ones, thanking the compiler for the report or even congratulating the person on the ascent. Whilst that's nice, it's not what the report is for. You don't climb really dangerous routes to be thanked - that would be insane, but you also really don't expect to be criticised for it not looking hard or good enough either. I'm not a restaurant, this isn't trip advisor. It may really surprise you, but I didn't climb this route to satisfy your ideas of what a hard route looks like or to roll out the same old cliches.

And whilst we're on the topic of conformity. What is it about "repeating the classics"? Why, why must a climber repeat routes in other areas if he is not to be slandered? What kind of dullardish, retrophillic, prescriptive nonsense is that. The UK trad scene is stuck in a rutt at the moment. Yeh, it might be a rut where great routes are still being climbed every year and there are more glossy photos and videos than ever before whizzing around, but it's not really going in a new direction. Maybe, just maybe, it's exactly that obsession with 'doing things the way we've always done them' that's holding us back. The salient fact is, and this may be a little chilling for you - trad routes up to this point haven't been that bold. There's a lot of trickery still going on in the climbing media, supported by the real actors of our sport, and suddenly everyone seems to believe that we can't go bolder. It's so ingrown into our sport that when people talk about climbing another way they're accused of spewing hyperbole. It's not hyperbole though. These routes, these incredible adventures really are like true love - they make seemingly the most platitudiness statements adopt new levels of the profound. Like it or not - just try the routes!

And then there was cameras. Not only have I climbed my route for the sole purpose of satisfying your ideas about what I should be doing, but I should also be filming it if I want to be believed. Is this some kind of backwards threat so that you have more to watch on your boring days at work, or is there such a level of distrust in climbing today that this is really the way it has to be? It's got to the point now where things are actually not being climbed because the right photographic team isn't there; or you set off on routes a bit prematurely because there is a good camera at the crag. What crack den did you slither out of? What a world away the real climbing experience feels - you know, that place where I stood below my project, the climb I've been working on for months, truly terrified, really not wanting to do it, but then having a moment of very calm direction in which I got on the route and humbly climbed it. That was fantastic, earth-shattering, one of the best things I've ever experienced, but that doesn't seem to count for anything if I can't give you some glossy shots. Maybe those Arabs in Laurence of Arabia were right - maybe the camera does steal the soul.

So why is it that a third party, entirely removed from the action, the climber, the cliff and possibly even the area in which the climb took place, feels the need and as if he has the right to criticise? I think we've forgotten that routes are reported to inform the climbing public of what is going on, excite, ignite passion and spread the interest. It's a fabulously productive, cohesive and interesting roll of the climbing forums that are otherwise just swamped with dross. Attack real foul play - lying, chipping, loutish behaviour, but don't just get upset cause someone can't be bothered to walk up End of the Affair, prior to pandering to ideas of how a real climber sounds and looks.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Mind Zapped - FA of Sky Burial (H9 6c ***)

I finally climbed my project today. In the end I was the only one at the crag, with two tiny pads and a huge catastrophe in front of me. I've had trouble getting into the right frame of mind for this and the experience was really intense. I'll try and work my way through what happened as it comes back to me.

There was a feeling on the crux of 'let me back in the bubble!, I want to zone out, I want to zone out!", but I was thinking loads, super fast and the enormity of everything disappeared in incomprehensibility. At the same time everything felt sharp, really vibrant. I wonder how long it was that I was in that crux. It felt like an eternity: there was no beginning and there was no end in sight. Each move was going backwards as well as forwards, making you feel like you had already done moves, whilst also being in wild terror.

Setting out on it when no one was there has it's benefits. There's a point just below the crux you could be rescued from, which makes committing to the moves even harder. With no pal, you're committed from the off. There's also no one to be scared, which is nice. I spent a long time at the bottom, thinking, justifying and watching. I set out in my own time and climbed it. There was so much rationalising going on, trying to understand why I wanted to do this. In the end I just followed a feeling and knew that this climb wouldn't hurt me. Strange.

 The start was magical and it really drew me in. The climb wants to be climbed! Fully spread out on reflex fingers in a crucifix position with only a finger at either end holding you in. But you feel bomber. When you don't fear the fall, because you're already at your destination, you can climb like you're flying.