Saturday, 5 December 2015

Northern Thunderland

I've forgotten the beauty of this line, but then it thunders into my dreams. The crystals crisscross to masterpiece a new line of flow. I'm psyched! YES! The more the wind blows. The more the cold penetrates. The more the moor soaks: I'm ready.

I'm ready to slip on the warm shoes in the ambient breeze. I'm ready to twirl a brittle twist that neigh-on snaps the gristle in my back. haha ha! YES! Two aretes play together; each a form that compliments the other perfectly; to have one would be a luxury, but to have two, so elegantly juxtaposed, is to strike a line of perfection through the soul.

YES! YES! YES! The heather now blows flat in the wind to breeze a tormented path of recalcitrance. With every gust the breathing part of me sinks and wains to ether. The essence of Moor floats into me. It is not the first, nor second, nor third time this unconquerable wave of psyche powers to lift light, drifting faintness of my mind. It is the last: it tells me in playful illegibility.

You pickle and twist, pickle and twist; every perfect form till it scours a new hell of the mind. In the Key Heugh however, the line remains the divinity of insurmountable genius. Lest cognition in the mire outspews, take the challis double-gripped and join your arms with violent chest-fired clasps. We are here! The drenched monks of the southern moors on the scarce-bountied Northumberland slopes. Plod, plod till I climb the line.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

The Waiting Game

November has been a strange month this year. I find it very hard to remember what past Novembers were like, but I seem to remember having climbed at least a little in years gone by. This one though has been a particularly rancid one. High winds, cold, warm, wet: very wet.

It has only yielded a couple of half-decent sessions. The cold brought the promise of better conditions and there was a moment where I saw the future of the Key Heugh project in the bounding glory of completion. This quickly flitted away however and I was left with a pile of ming I really haven't wanted to get on for risk of damaging it.

The finest outcome has been my increments on the upper section. This was not my style, sketchy and I found it really hard. I'm confident that I can solo that piece of climbing now and that by itself would equal any piece of climbing I have ever done before (in both difficulty and quality); It's a mesmerising rise of beauty.

The aspect of the route troubling me the most at the moment is the fact that I haven't linked it. I keep telling myself to stop chasing arbitrary goals (such as the link) and focus on a genuine and heartfelt understanding of the climb. In the past this has always eventually bore fruits, but the lack of a link does really start to set the insecurities flowing.

So it's swings and twirling roundabouts at the moment, with hope and despair performing a canny duel. I'm kind of scared and a little bit excited.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Slog: The Full-Time Job Of A Trad Project.

Man, it's hard. Work, work, work and then your weekend is a pile of rain. The evening sessions have begun, but I'm determined only to get on the route if it's bone dry -  I really don't want to damage this climb and the holds are small. This doesn't leave a lot of time.

It's been great to get out and about in Northumberland. It's a fantastic place and I've bumped into lots of nice people - even a couple at Sandy Crag - determined! I've even been going up to Sandy on rainy days to check gear, keep the route chalked and just generally meditate in the crag's aura. That last one is really important at a place like Sandy (Key Heugh). There is a tremendous energy from unknown sources. They need to be friends, not something you're afraid of.
 Most new psyche for the route has come from Mark Savage. He tried the route years ago and was blown away with the quality of the line. We went up to Sandy together so he could watch my sequence and get some photos. It was great to get such motivation from one of Sandy's adventurers. Other people's words do have effects on you and seeing someone else so keen for this thing getting climbed fans the flames just that little bit more. I'm going to need that this winter.
 There's still been a little time for the wonderful lake district.
I'm getting to the point now where the link is inevitable and all I have to worry about is looking after the route and getting moves to feel secure. There's only one move now that I'm not happy with. Just got to put the hours in I suppose...

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Turning Into A Monk

I'm starting to feel like I'm there. I can see the moves conveyoring through my mind. I'm starting to see the spans that fit to my body and the holds that graze at my finger tips. The hours are being put in and the progress is not always linear, but it comes of sort and brings me closer to the lead.

Dreams are destiny in climbing and it is only recently that I have been able to dream of the route in its entirety. It ticks through my mind, with both hands and feet, move after move, until every hold is groped. I don't know how many times I'm going to have to go over this route in my head before I can do it, but it's going to have to be a lot.

For the first time though, I can actually see myself climbing this thing. The 3rd crux, which is easier than the 2nd, was the one I really couldn't see myself soloing. I was finding it impossibly sketchy and just generally hard for someone of my dimensions and weaknesses. I've put in around four sessions on this move, which has given me a piano-chord caterpillar movement solution and presumably some new muscles. This has suddenly turned this spiral of anguish into something I'm quite comfortable with. Added to this, I've found a potential skyhook placement just below the start of the hard climbing that will hopefully protect the 1st and 2nd hard moves somewhat. Alas, the 3rd and 4th hard moves are still going to be a complete horror show..

Despite these little things going in my favour, there are 3 obstacles that I am still nowhere near surmounting. First is the transition between crux 2 and 3. By itself it's fine and I've even linked both cruxes together, but it's tenuous. Although a lot of the time I can do the overall crux statically, it is pretty spanned out and the transition move relies on getting the hold just right. If you only have the span in mind, you will certainly fall off the transition move. Obviously getting the hand twisted for the transition is hard when you're so spanned out and the footholds on this section are abominable.

The 2nd problem is the last hard move on the route, which I can do more or less every time, but that is very sketchy, blind and slopey. At this point you've already been in the death zone for quite a while and that extra last slippy move is going to be absolutely minging.

Obstacle 3 is connected to this - the endurance part of the route. A chum of mine I showed the route laughed at the idea of endurance being a difficult part of this climb; rightly declaring that anyone who was good enough to do this line would have no problems with endurance. Perhaps he's right, but there is certainly something hard about putting all these moves together. It might be simply the difficulty in climbing repeated hard moves without the ability to chalk up that is going to leave you very high, sweaty and having to pull off horror slope and smears.

So there is definite progress. I'm only managing to get out once or twice a week at the moment, which is not ideal, but that's life I suppose. I'm feeling very inspired by the line and kind of still can't believe it's possible at all. I need to keep an eye on that as the rain and cold sets in, forget about 'scalps' such as the link and get the headtorch out! These routes respect effort.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Closer to the link..

The Sandy Crag project has really captured my ambitions. After 4 months of hard work, it's starting to feel like I might be able to climb this line.

Never before have I had this level of sustained doubt on a route. Setting off up the slog to shunt the route has been getting harder and harder, as the expected break-through just hasn't come. Added to this, I've had doubts as to whether the project even suits me and whether it's really a viable solo. When you have practised something for nearly half a year and still sometimes can't do the moves, I suppose that's a valid question.

This self-doubt culminated in a couple of rancid sessions in high humidity, without chalk. Low point. I think 'despair' is the word. I suppose the only thing pushing me through the dark nights, bewinded Ronhills and general sogginess has been the lessons I've learnt previously. On Psykovsky's Sequins I found that things that you never thought possible could become so. The difference with Psykovsky's Sequins was that I wasn't so intensely invested in the route from the outset - I tried it over a number of years, whilst involved in other things. There was of course an element of doubt in Sky Burial and Divine Moments of Truth, but this only lasted as long as I grappled with the single crux move. On the Sandy Crag arête there are several hard moves; many of which don't suit me.

The humbling power of headpointing is the way it exposes your weaknesses. On the Sandy Crag arête I've been confronted full-pelt with my fear of compression moves. There is an almost masochistic rite that has to be traversed for you to succeed in a hard headpoint. On the Sandy arête, I've had to not only attempt moves that are disproportionately hard for me, but try these before any other move and force myself to engage positively with them.

The result has been a mini voyage of discovery that has finally began to bare fruits. On Tuesday of this week, I bombed up past Elsdon after work and had my most successful session on the climb so far. I built on the past couple of weeks' work surrounding a certain hold transition, which enabled me to link all the hard moves of the climb together.

That is massive progress. If I can start to be able to link the crux most times, then I could potentially look at being able to do if after the energetic little F7a start. That's going to be really exciting. Once the crux is comfortably linked there are few boundaries to attempting the lead.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Horse (H7 6c)

Best Finishing Move Ever?
I've finally managed to climb a decent line outside of the Moors! It's become a bit of an area of worry that I never climb anything outside of the Moors. Can I do it? Is the North York Moors merely a figment of my imagination? Maybe this was me proving to myself that I can climb even without spirit of the Moors - or maybe the spirit of the Moors is here as well?

It's been a really nice past few months in Northumberland. After a little bit of a scout and some beta from Si, I went for a waddle around the rocks behind Sandy Crag. It's a magic place up there, with little hanging valleys and forgotten swamplands. It's just that little bit wilder than anywhere else I know, which makes for a fantastic trip out. I've been warming up for the Sandy Arete by shunting bits and bobs in an undocumented area dubbed 'The Land Of Milk And Honey'. It's a funny crag, as the rock (as with much of the Simonside range) is pretty scrittly and the lines are deceptively hard.

I had a good bash at the central wall, which I linked at roughly H8 7a. The climbing was fantastic and the line perfect. Alas, all the holds ripped off straight after I had linked it. There must have been over 10 holds that ripped - I'm used to the odd one breaking, but that many just makes the whole thing a joke. It's in a stable condition now, but the top is high and I can't even do the move on a shunt - slopey!!! 

So I turned my attentions to The Horse - looked about E4, turned out to be font 7b. There was a similar experience of holds snapping, until the fairly stable position we're in now. Bits and bobs of painful shunting resulted in me having it fairly dialled a few weeks ago.

Fast forward to Saturday Morning 10am.. I'm jogging down from Sandy after a dawn session with no chalk and I bump into Psychedellic Si Litchfield. He's got 1.3 mats and is stoked for The Land Of Milk And Honey. Not having been to the crag for a while, I'm keen to get back and have a ganda at The Horse. It needs a clean, but it's on crimps, so It doesn't take long to get dialled again. The lone pad looks slightly disconcerting - 6 pads would still be bold, but I was excited at the prospect of doing it  and justified that I would probably only fall off the bottom if at all.

Class route - weird! Easy start, then a rancid undercut lank and sloper move to a small crimp. The crux is holding this crimp and then popping into chord of features that pretends to be a hold. You then get into a really nice fiddly, smeary boss climb, culminating in a wild mounting of the top of the prow, thence safety.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

No Turn Unstoned (E6 6b)

It's been a long time since I properly climbed at Ingleby Incline. It's a great cliff and extends for about a mile across prime grouse moor. I'm always keen to go back to the old haunts on a rest day and Anna was keen to check out the large number of starred HVSs & E1s, so off we went. Nowt better than a good bit of sun and a calm breeze. Ingleby can be pretty vicious in a wind, but suddenly turns into paradise in the lulls.

We spent most of the day on Hunters Buttress, climbing 6 really good slab climbs. I'd forgotten just quite how good these are. Compared to Northumberland, they're very clean and noticeably bomber rock. It's just great to spend so long in a position of such safety and warmth - you've got to enjoy these last warm days.

After a couple of hours of boshing up and down these climbs (rekindling my passion for the heather belay), I started to get new-route fever. I'm largely free of wanting to just climb new routes for the sake of it these days, but perhaps reliving the old times brought this to the fore? Who knows? Anyway, we ended up on the next buttress along, with Anna having a right good time on TOny Marr's Geronimo (E2 6a) and me having a look at the left arête.

There are a large number of unclimbed things on Ingleby, which are all strangely tricky and quite unlike all the rest of the climbing on the crag.  The hardest thing on the crag to date is Physical Graffiti (E5 6c), which is basically a gap-fill highball climb of no real note. A touch easier than that is a sole climb that gets technical 6b - the far better Love or Confusion that was put up by the formidable duo of Monty and Parker. The arête left of Geronimo looked to be around E6 6b, so I was pretty excited by the  prospect of shaking up the harder routes at Ingleby. For such a great crag, the harder lines are painfully under-developed.

To cut a long story short, I set out with a fair idea from abseil on how to do the climbing and a bit of a belief that a fall could potentially be rolled out without broken bones. That latter bit I'm not too sure about. I had no pads and I reckon you'd want four before even contemplating a slip - hard to know.

One of the invaluable tricks I've learnt from ground-up Moorlanding is to spy your landing twice. Check it REALLY well before you set off. Look for rocks to dodge and where to roll - look at the camber. Then, at the last second, before entering the crux, look down again; reacquaint yourself with that camber and look up at the crux - get to know where you are in relation to this. By the time you slip off, you won't be able to do any of this. Maybe it sounds common sense, but I'm consistently amazed by how rubbish people are at rolling off things.

Luckily my feet stuck, which was really nice. It was good to get that quick buzz of having just rocked up to the crag and claimed a 'scalp'. I don't get many pure egoey days anymore and that kind of reminded me of the old times. I'm having to fight off the urge to just give up on the long term projects and take this nice easy path - it sure feels good when it goes well!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Hitting The Wall - Harvest Time

Projects are hard. Just when I was thinking that everything was coming together nicely, I have a really crap session on it, where everything feels impossible.

It's a big deal when a day doesn't go well. There aren't that many days now before winter and just getting to the crag is a mini-expedition. It's an hour-long drive and then a substantial slog up to the crag. Sandy crag itself almost has a mountain feel to it. The wind is nearly always blowing up there and, depending on where it's coming from, you can either have a sweaty slip-fest or a neigh-on arctic experience.  If you can juggle these various elements (as well as managing to get on it before the sun hits it), then there are invariably good conditions to be had. Sometimes though, you can just be having a naff day.

I find my main motivation with routes is the feeling that they are outrageously hard and dangerous, but that I am good enough to climb them. Being able to realistically set off on something that you have built up as more-or-less impossible is something I never tire of. This is great at the beginning of a project, but there inevitably comes a time when the moves don't really seem that extreme any more, but you just don't seem to always climb them. If you have a bad session and you struggle to do links you did before, or you feel way more sketchy on crux moves, then that is a real hit to the euphoric mania that drives much of new-routing.

I suppose this is a very important time in a project. You naturally want to run away and forget all about it, but what makes the difference between doing these incredible things and not managing to do them is how you respond when hit with the terrifying obstacle of being shite. I find a sound tactic at this stage is to get a friend on the route who doesn't know it at all. Hopefully they won't flash it on a top rope and they will make some noise about how mad it is. This rekindles the original love you had for the line and makes you realise that you were just being a bit mopey. You can also meditate: try and feel the spirit of the route and how that interacts with your desires and core being.

As we head into autumn, psyche is going to be a hard-won thing. The days I look out of the window and see a cold and painful sky, I need to be putting my thick socks on and getting goose-bumpy. Back in time for pie...

Friday, 28 August 2015

Crux linked in 2 halves


Very messily, I managed to scrabble through the moves to do the central 6 metres of the route in 2 halves. Maybe that doesn't sound like very much, but, perhaps just behind doing the individual moves for the first time,  those links are probably the most important step on the way to climbing this thing.

And yet, at this very organised and clinical stage of the route, I've been reinvigorated by the beauty of this route. At every level this project is nothing but beautiful. The massive span of sky and moor breaks only for sweeping dale and yet more moor. The crag stands majestic and omniscient, sheltered, taking pride of place in it's little dale. The line needs no description. And then there are the holds...

Sandstone isn't flat. The hold is not a homogenous mass, with a single smooth surface. When you focus in, you see the crystals sometimes standing 3 crystal-widths out. The holds undulate. To learn to do the moves, is to know how to hold the holds. These micro-features are critical.

So how far am I off being able to do it? MILLLEEESSSSS. Well, perhaps not that far. I'm maybe getting on for halfway there, which considering I've only been working it 3 months, is decent progress. At this rate I may be setting out for the solo in 2016, rather than 2017. Let's not get ahead of ourselves anyway, there is some serious work to do...

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Inspiration County

The View Today
I'm settling in nicely to my new Northumberland life. The heather is purple, the wind is breezing and the sun is shining. I'm feeling massively motivated. I'm fairly consistent with my psyche these days, but there's definitely something a little extra at Sandy Crag.

I'm starting to make some headway with the arête, after throwing more or less everything I have at it. Today, for the first time, I managed to link crux moves together. Considering each of the moves are individually hideously difficult to figure out, I'm beyond pleased with that. It's really well ahead of schedule that this is happening and probably only the result of how much time I've spent up there recently.

One of the things I really like about trad headpointing is that the time you put into it tends to equate to outcomes. It doesn't matter whether you're scouting for new lines, cleaning them, staring at the holds, holding positions, doing moves, training for the moves, getting to know the crag or exploring your mind - it all adds to a sense of intimacy and reciprocal love for and with a route, which ultimately lets you climb it.

There's an excitement now that this thing could actually be linked. That blows my mind - not just because it seemed (and still seems) so hard, but also because it's such a fantastic line. When you look at Sandy, it's the line. It's not only the tallest, it's also pure piercing class. To try and climb such an exquisite line is humbling. Once it's linked, it's only a matter of time before I get to know it well enough to know if I can solo it.  First off though, I have to try and iron-out the transitions between moves.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Dawn of the New Moors

All the time I obsessed as a youth on the huge catalogue of Moors moves, poking my nose into sleepy crags dotted all around, I dreamt of a vibrant Moors like the guidebook seemed to suggest the '80s were. When I read the FA notes of routes like Magic in the Air, Desperate Den, Monty's Variant and The West Face Direct at the Wainstones, there seemed to be a bustle and perhaps competition that was unimaginable in 2007/8/9.

When Dave and I first looked at trying to cram in naff variations at worked-out crags, it seemed like we had been unfortunate with our generation and it seemed unimaginable to have a situation where so many crags lay open books to those with a bit of interest in exploring. It was easy to slip into despondency back then and it was perhaps only total isolation in the heart of the North York Moors that forced us to persevere.

Half by luck and half by slight unhingedness, we happened on new eyes in 2009, during the rebirth of Danby Crag. At that time, the memory of Richard Waterton's ascent of Esmerelda (only 4 years after my birth) was starting to seem a long way in the past of the Moors and it had been more than a decade since anything had been done.

The only other soul to have been about in the noughties was Steve Ramsden and I remember feeling really pleased that there was at least one other person getting out and climbing stuff. From 2009-2014 (if not still now) I was perpetually surprised by how much stuff there was still left to do in the Moors. Even this year I've found that Cringle Crag is going to offer a good selection of exceptionally fine lines in the future. Having Steve around in 2009/10 was a big motivation to get out. He was trying different things to me, so we weren't really stepping on each others' toes and the idea that there was now more than a couple of E7s in the Moors was a huge inspiration.

Fast-forward to 2015 and it blows my mind at how much activity there's been. There are getting on for 10 people trying to develop new lines and repeat the most recent creations. 10 doesn't sound very many, but it's likely larger than the scene that we dreamed of all those years ago and the number of routes on the Moors is swelling and swelling.

People ask me "why the Moors?" all the time and it does indeed seem strange to so doggedly pursue one region's development. The Moors mirrors the experience of the human on earth. The quietest corners and the sunniest coasts flicker an impermanence in opposition to

Friday, 21 August 2015

Video: Summer Round-up 2015

Perhaps rather premature - indeed today has seen a surprising 2nd ascent of Elysian Fields (E7 6a/b) - but let's get some of all that activity written about!

2015 has seemed very long. It started early for me, with a lot of cold and pain in pursuit of the Moors' 2nd H10. Since then I've taken a back seat, watching the hoards of people smashing out new routes all over the shop as well as numerous first repeats and rare ascents.

Maybe start with the names? The usual crowd of Dave, Matt, Steve and I has been met with the returning raiders Mark and Neil. These two, supported by Verity here and there, have repeated an unprecedented number of E7s, including Die by the Sword, Fresh Arete, The White Scoop and Collateral. They've also climbed a trio of top-notch new routes. Ripple (highball E5 slab) would be a classic anywhere; similarly the final moves of Dark Star (E7 6c) are absolute beauts. Never been on the 3rd, Flying Squirrel (E6 6c), but I know the wall it climbs and it's an intimidating line that!

This year has finally seen the Hullista James Oakes open his Moors new-routing account. He's long been active on the Moors, but only this year turned his attentions to the stupendous crack of Walrus Buttress at Stoupe to give 'Eyebrow' (E6 6c). That's a stiff E6 and a line a lot of people have been ey(brow)ing.

Some Shit Climbers in the North Yorkshire Moors from Nan on Vimeo.

Steve Ramsden was climbing with Mr. Oakes and has now done almost everything at Stoupe. This includes ascents of the White Scoop (E7 6b), Panda to the Masses (E6 6c) and Wave of Inspiration (E7 6c), but also new routes such as Panda to the Waves, Wave to the Pandas (E6 6c) and Ram-raid.

Ferrier, as always, seems to beaver his way into proceedings. He's repeated most of all the routes mentioned above. Hopefully he can remain uninjured for long enough to actually climb something at his limit (probably pretty mentally hard).

It'a also worth a mention that Tom Randall popped by to climb 'The art of non-conformity' (E7 6c). This is a real steep line at High Crag. Fab route; so well known as a project that it featured in the old guidebook!

The last spot is for Mr. Wizzy, Chris van der Whitehead. With brash confidence, proclaiming he was going to Danby crag, by himself, having never been to the crag before, to climb the suicidal Elysian Fields (E7 6a). He did just that today. Solo. Hopefully lots more to come from him. Next up is the Hypocrisy of Moose apparently..

Thursday, 30 July 2015

On the Pivot of Obsession

In and out, I pivot on the cusp. Spending a lot of time thinking at the moment. Is this the line? Is my decision inevitable?

Talking to Matt today:

"It's a bit like soloing the crux of die by the sword, followed by fly agaric, followed by infinity in a grain of sand, followed by the landslip arête, followed by a harder version of sky burial, followed by a harder version of tormented sole."

The sweet taste of liquorice takes a while to hit after the hot tea. "So sweet it tastes like 3 sugars". I can smell the peppermint, but I can't taste it. Or maybe that is the taste?

That list of cruxes should scare me. If I had imagined this as those routes were still projects, it would have seemed the most insane conception. The routes individually, as projects, seemed insane. But now, after climbing them, it seems less so. So by doing the mad, the really mad becomes less mad.

When to cut your losses; count your winnings and leave. "You're only safe till your 25th birthday". Moors H9 exists. Moors H10 probably does too. That's enough isn't it? Maybe when you're honest, this stops being about the Moors. It's now about me. It's about doing something truly new. Something so outrageous it could only ever be repeated by somebody just like you - an impression left by your being.

Rock is no longer a static unresponsive mass. It becomes a climb that is as much an impression of you as when you stick your head in a vat of jelly. The perfect project, which this is becoming, mirrors the limits of your finger strength; the extremes of your flexibilities; and the borderline of your madness. Even if you fall off, the act of realistic departure signifies a masterpiece of self-portrait.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Sandy Arete

I'm feeling far from the Moors. It's fantastic how much stuff is going on down there at the moment, but my centre of focus seems to be shifting.

Sandy Crag arête is an absolute belter of a line, with a pair of arêtes firing straight up for 20 metres into the Northumberland sky. I think I've been hypnotised half by class and half by the spirit of the place. I think a good place makes you feel like you know it already. I feel an intimate connection with the hills around Sandy Crag. I feel like I know it as well as any other and the arête allures.

The quality and boldness of this piece of rock is blindingly obvious. What has been less obvious is whether it is going to be that project that fits my strengths so well as to mirror the maximum abilities of my body. I was looking for Monos and wild finger moves, which this thing didn't quite seem to be. As I had told myself that my next project has to certainly be 'the one', this uncertainty wasn't what I was really after. Nevertheless, I persevered for 5 or 6 sessions just to really get to know the line.

What I have found is that it may actually be more fitting to my strengths than a route that I would have designed myself. I'm deep in this realm of thought at the moment - do we create our new routes, or merely find them? Would being able to design them make them better? Realism V. Romanticism I suppose.. Anyway..  The arête fits me a lot better than I had thought.

There are around 8 hard moves, which start just out of highball distance and continue for 9 metres. The first couple are intensely fingery and have surprisingly proven to be some of the hardest. Move no.2 in particular is a finger pull harder than Fly Agaric or Divine Moments of Truth. You have a very incut 2.5 finger 12th pad thing with the right and a knobbly, more conventional 8th padder on the arête with the left. You're lunging for a rounded quarter pad two finger dish off of an okay right edge, but it's tricky to latch just right. You need to get that dish right, because it quickly becomes your only decent hold for the psycho-crux. Probably H10 to the dish?

From the dish you'd be lucky to get away with a couple of broken legs. But what's fantastic about the line is that each of these moves is an absolute masterpiece of flow; leading seamlessly into the next. So, after this finger pull, you're straight into a compression slappy sequence and then a ridiculously corey- high foot. It's fantastic! I'm pretty flexible, but the foot you have to paste onto the arête involves a couple of intermediate smears and slaps, which are all incredibly unnerving. So after 4 hard moves on solo, you end up perched on your toes, with sidepulls holding you on. At that point you're over the bulge and the physical climbing is over, which is kind of a relief, but also disconcerting. The next 4/5 moves are all fluffable and the 1st one you have to do is probably the trad crux. You're now at well over 10 metres and you have to pull on all your insecure limbs to slap into a left sidepull/undercut at the limit of your reach. If you tire or sink just a little on that move you'll be whizzing off to emptiness. After that it's a dialable 6c path.

It's taken a real long time to get a feel of all the intro and exit moves, never mind all these crux moves. There were just real issues with getting into the finger move, which only resolved themselves after an hour of moving my hips to different points around the aretes. Now though, I'm feeling like ever move is fairly dialled. I could potentially start to link sections together in time for Autumn, which is where I need to be if I'm going to get it wired enough for next spring. See how it goes, if it takes ages to get from the link to total-dial stage it might be a two-yearer. My 25th birthday is in April though, which was always an end point for dangerous routes in my mind. I'm surprised that it is becoming a reality of sorts..

Friday, 17 July 2015

Moors Summer 2015

Dark Star (E7 6c**)
Mass of action this season.

First up, Tom Randall: "I headed to the North York Moors to see if Franco Cookson is as mad as they say he is and whether he’s talking absolute nonsense about the UK’s best lines being up there. Well... it is pretty flipping good!"  He had a day up at High Crag, climbing the 'Australia Crack' project to give 'The Art of Non-conformity" (E7 6c **). He has another harder line wired and is keen to get back apparently..

Another Sheffield-based climber, Mark Rankine, has climbed before in the Moors and has turned his attentions this summer on Danby. He'd mopped up a couple of things, one of which chucked me off a couple of times - Dark Star (E7 6c**). Dark Star comprises 3 boulder problems in a row, with bits and bobs of funny gear. Somewhere just out of reach of boulder mats, it's a real new-age kind of route. He also climbed the beautiful project slab now called 'Ripple' (E5 6c***). These two lines were absolute prizes and are sure to be future esoteric classics.

Mark met up with Matt Ferrier this week to make the second and third ascents of the 2011 route 'Die By The Sword', with a higher runner in the adjacent crack than had been used on the FA, which he reckoned made it E6 6c **, rather than E7 6c **. This kind of makes sense. Above you can see a video of Mark shunting Nick Dixon's testpiece 'Scut di Scun ai' (E6-E8 6b). There are quite a lot of people keen for this, which would be likely the 3rd ascent.

Meanwhile on the coast, James Oakes has been battling with the crack at Stoupe Brow, which he called 'Eyebrow' (tough E6 6b*). That one was a real obvious line that had repelled quite a few inspections. Judging by the video he's going pretty well - that start is hard! Hopefully more will come from Stoupe...

Pastures New

I've moved to Northumberland!

Getting to grips with a different style of unclimbed line
Over the last few years I've moved to various places to try and get better for the NY Moors. Manchester, Innsbruck, Munich, Sheffield. I've learnt bits and bobs all over, never climbing much in the areas around about, but meeting a lot of new climbers and having a feel of the types of climbing there. I've always gone to these spots awaiting a climbing region that outclasses the Moors, but have always been pleasantly surprised by how well the Moors holds its own against the Peak/Zillertal usw..

With the Moors now being well on it's way, I've been thinking about where to draw my semi-nomadic life to a close. It was always going to be either the Lakes or Northumberland and due to various factors, Northumberland was decided upon. I'm still near enough to the Moors for a quick hit and reasonably well located for the Lakes and Scotland, but more importantly have access to an enormous pile of partially explored crags within an hour.

I'm already well into the groove, with several things now cleaned and shunted and a fair grasp of the area (well at least the Simonside range). I wanted to move somewhere with a magical feel to it, where the crags and lines meant more to me than just numbers. Part of the reason I haven't felt inclined to set out on any of the things I've shunted in other places is that I've felt no affinity with the area. How can you risk injuring yourself in a place that means so little to you?

Northumberland does mean something to me though. It's the same region as the Moors, with not dissimilar rock and that same high moorland feel.  I've been up at Sandy Crag a lot recently and when you look out across to the Cheviots and beyond, there's a warmth of beauty I've rarely experienced away from the Moors. It's quiet and it inspires.

Once you get down to the nitty gritty of lines on rock, the Simonside range is up there with the Moors I'd say. There are quite a few unclimbed gems highlighted by the guidebook and some of these are flabbergastingly class. I've had 3 sessions on the arête at Sandy Crag now and it's up there as one of the best lines on sandstone.  After 6 metres of easy climbing you're hit by a 10 metre crux section where basically each of the 8 moves are 7a. Move number 4, at about 10 metres, is fantastic - insecure and wild and probably the hardest move. This may turn out to be my lifetime project as there is definitely no gear and I'm starting to link bits of climbing together now. There will be some serious hours put in before this is linked, never mind ready for the solo.

These really hard lines (well, bold and hard) seem fairly rare however. The majority of the class seems to lie in the E6-E8 kind of grades, with a lot of hard-looking stuff being plainly impossible and a lot of the nicely featured stuff turning out to be quite hard.

I was fortunate enough to be taken out by Si Litchfield yesterday, to explore the other end of the Simonside range. Despite this being the most popular bit, there is still a fair amount of potential. I'm finding it very hard to climb the sandstone in the county, as it's everything that I'm not very good it - a lot of slopers and steepness.  I never was any good at this kind of thing, but since I deliberately lost a lot of muscle for Divine Moments Of Truth, I've become even worse. It was class to have a feel of different things, get to know the area, talk to Si about what was what and pencil some things in to try in the future. This is the summer of chilling and getting to know the area - very keen not to rush this. New routes will certainly come, but for now it's time to enjoy the sun!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Danby Dreaming

There are different kinds of dreams. Firstly, you have the abstract visual dream, usually asleep, which is fed by the subconscious. Secondly there is the hope for a future that manifests itself as a day dream, where a wanted outcome is possible. This can take over your life and repeat itself over and over again. This is the kind of dreaming that feeds an obsession. The third kind of dream genisises the vision of the second kind of dreaming, but without a real hope for that future state to ever exist. Through perceived impossibility this quickly turns into something that does not harang and torment, but stays a distant torch of future possibility. There is no pressure on you to create the world where this dream is reality, because you see it as something so totally unlikely.
I have several of these kinds of dreams. They often bring a very deep sense of peace. One of these could have been the idea of a developed Moors, where crags are well documented and many of the harder routes climbed. This obviously still isn’t quite reality, but a dream that is nearing this world is that of Danby Crag.

When I first looked at potential new bits and bobs at Danby in 2008, the idea of putting up 1 new HVS on one of the bits of rock there excited me. When I later managed to climb the Hypocrisy of Moose on what I thought was one of the only unclimbed pieces of rock at the crag, my perception of the crag (and world) span into a new space. Still to this day, the feeling I get from thinking about the first time I swung onto the double gastons of the Moose gives me hard jagged hairs on my arms.

The phase after the Moose gave me a catalogue of routes that could one day exist at Danby. It was the kind of wishlist that a kid makes at school detailing the international footballers he'd have in his perfect football team. At that stage it was never something that I thought would one day become a reality and as such it didn't haunt me like the individual projects I had.
Me trying it 5 years ago
Yesterday I was at Danby Crag watching Mark Rankine, belayed by Verity, climb the 'Arete Project left of Vulcan'. It's a project that I tried now and then in between things, but never quite managed due to skin, seepage and just having so much on. In a sense it became a real nemesis for me and is the only thing I've tried to lead and not managed to do. Mark cleaned it up properly and found a sensible way of doing the middle bit, which was the bit I fell off.

So it's fantastic to see that last little tesserae fit into place. It's a beautiful line, with the last sequence being particularly amazing. There now remains only 1 good line out of the original 20 or so left to do at Danby - the Wangledoodle Wall...

Monday, 22 June 2015

Cringle: The Oracle

Jesus. Sometimes I wonder whether I'm actually dead and all of this is just a dream. With every new route I climb, a pile of new crags seem to present themselves. This week: Cringle Crag.

The lip traverse above is pure class. It's about 9 metres of full-on roof mania. There are bits and bobs of gear, but nothing that bomber after the tree. Every move is gunning for it, with a crux right on the final fin. I can't get over how well the whole thing fits together. It's just class. It almost makes me want to get better at climbing overhangs...
More typically Moorsish, but also very good is the Red Wall. Cringle is big for a Moors crag and this wall is about 14m. The super-highball start to this wall is pretty tricky, but would be just about in reach of pads. It's about 20degs overhanging, with a lot of heel locks and power-moves.  Kind of psyched - also kind of scared!
Perhaps superficially worst-looking in this little thing below. I always thought that it might be surprisingly decent. It is indeed fairly good. Bold, very bold. There's some intricate climbing off the ledge (don't fall onto this!!). Some big moves up the right arête of the scoop, before some 3-D bridging and sportesque moves reaching left onto the top wall. It takes you straight up the front of the bulge, with the crux being the last move. There's a little gear slot right in the top wall, which might be worth stopping for(?). Bloody bold anyway, with a good wodge of 6c climbing. Nice!
Another reminder that the Moors is never going to run out of new routes.... (Many unclimbed lines at Cringle were not mentioned in this post)

Monday, 15 June 2015

My World

I love the feeling of success. With every climb I (or anybody else) climbs in the Moors, it feels that little bit more worked out. There's a sadness to that, as there's one less thing to explore and uncover, but it's like making a new friend. Every climb that I think back to - say "The Currents Of Change" (E6 6c) at Duck Crag- I of course remember my own experience, but also I think of the cliff, the line, the animals and the concept of a climb that takes pride of place in that architecture. That idea brings me a great warmth. Even the imagining of a line climbed by someone else - say "Sanctuary" (E6 6b) at Eskdale Crag - anchors a point of apparent reality into my mental canvass of the blank map of the Moors. I take great pleasure in looking at or the crags map on UKC, looking at all the new buttresses that have sprong from nowt - it feels like a new spring of vibrant life has struck the Moors.

Stoupe Brow - The Face of Barry Project from Dave Warburton on Vimeo.

The more I climb in other areas, the happier I am with what has happened in the Moors. The natural reaction would be to have a sense of loss for the next generation in the Moors, with all those class lines that are now climbed, but we're still nowhere near the halfway point of what the Moors has to offer.

It's possible that within the next decade most of the very good sub H10 stuff will have been climbed, but there's still loads of stuff worth doing at all grades and of course the next generation should be climbing harder than this anyway. As I've explored other areas, I've realised how blessed the Moors is with absolutely nails lines. There are things in the Moors that I know are physically possible, but that I know I will never touch. The miraculous thing here is that the breaks often afford no gear, so what would be an E7 7b in the peak has potential to be ridiculously hard.

A couple of weeks after Divine Moments Of Truth, I'm feeling kind of similar to the way I always feel. There is something harder and bolder coming, there is great joy in what has past and there are dreams even beyond what I will achieve. With every route I climb, the more content I am with the Moors.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Swan Song

It's weird being free again and I'm fighting the urge to rush straight back to the Moors and find another project. Sometimes in climbing you get a real sense of what the correct thing to do is at that moment. Currently I have a very strong feeling that I need to take time. The last winter has been really hard on me - both body and mind. It's been cold and lonely. I feel content in Divine Moments Of Truth, but I'm not buzzing off of it. It was a valuable experience that defines me as much as any other climb I've done, but it is only one part of a fantastic and building picture.

I feel now like the North York Moors is where I want it to be. It has a good range of routes from E5- H10 and although there are many more routes to climb at these grades, the framework that is now there, in the form of the routes that are already climbed,  makes the eventual large-scale development inevitable.  I suppose you could ask what the point of all this is? Why do hard routes matter? A fair question, but I think the filling out of the Moors map is important in the psyche of the area - hard routes do define climbing regions to some extent. As I look east from Ingleby now, I see a land of memories and waiting opportunity.

This feeling of success allows me to be selfish. I can think about exactly what I want to achieve in what is now likely to be my last bold-phase of climbing. what I've been dreaming about for a while  is the idea of creating an unrepeatable climb. I'm fascinated by the experience of headpointing routes and the incredibly personal journey that accompanies long-term projects. I think the experience of being the first to climb a line allows for a deeper connection with the route than is possible on subsequent ascents. For this reason I reckon it would be possible to put up a route that is impossible to repeat.

Obviously, in order to achieve this, I need to find something that is right on my limit. I've had some misfortune over the years, with projects that I thought were at my limit being made easier by protection or by different sequences. It's part of the game of new routing and it might actually have saved my life on a couple of occasions. Having said this, I now feel that the time is right to try and find that perfect project right on the edge.

Because the choice of project is so important, it's going to take a long time to decide on one. I have a fair few ideas of lines I've seen that could fit the bill. There are some issues though - too easy/too hard/too safe/ not quite my style. For this adventure, I don't think I'm going to limit myself to the Moors. There are only a couple of places where a project like this could exist in the Moors now and I think it's unlikely they do.

Something positive, stretchy, lanky and fingery.... A solo...

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Divine Moments of Truth H10 7a

I stand empty-bellied; starved for the last day to try and make the razor holds feel bigger. Where the dentist drilled out my root yesterday throbs an enormous-feeling chasm and as I bite down on the chocolate eclairs a throb of pain tares through my upper jaw, across my cheek and into my eye-socket. I wince - my head leaning back to gaze once more on the line that has occupied thelast year of my life. I see the beautiful swathes of stone that have now become a barrier to an other form of existence. I have to climb it.

I'm at Kay Nest - the most beautiful dale in a pleasant little corner of the Moors. One of the largest pieces of rock around stands here and has been the subject to some occasional interest. Some time in the middle of the last century someone decided to drill a line of bolts up the wall. Judging by the snaking nature of the line, it seemed to be searching for the blankest and steepest way up the wall and presumable made for a long pitch by Moorland standards.

Notice the toothbrush hair for scale

The challenge for me was to take this aid line and turn it into a free one. In the 80s and 90s a few people tried to work the line, with the idea that they could use the bolts for protection. Most notable here is the Monty-Parker contingent who were climbing very well at the time and had already produced the hardest route around (Magic in the Air E7 6b), as well as a lot of hard and sketchy English 6c climbs. For whatever reason they didn't manage to do this and as such, in 2009 as I started climbing, there was a heritage in the Moors with a  big black hole around Kay Nest. It's the closest thing to a last great problem really and as such I was keen to have a bash.

So in 2011ish I had my first abseil down, which was followed by a bit of a go circa 2012/3. I managed to do it via a wild dyno and thought it would be roughly E8 7a with the bolts. As such, being interested in producing very bold climbs at the time, I decided against making sustained efforts to working it. It was only in my most recent phase in the back end of last year that I realised the potential for taking the bolts out and soloing it. And that's basically what I did. My hopes of producing a mind-bendingly difficult route were quashed when I found some alright gear low down, but it remains a formidable challenge and still fairly dangerous.

After asking around 30 people to come belay me, I was blessed by the presence of Olli and Jake who I hadn't seen for years, but drove up to make the Moors happen. I'm indebted to them.

The lead went clinically most of the way and as I reached into the crux I felt light and balanced. The sketchy feet stuck and the massive spans went okay. On the crux itself I had a tangible jarring of time. Motions repeated themselves, hung on eternities and reversed in direction. I balanced interminably on the edge of losing my cool with the calm aura around me telling me to stay in. It will take a while to fully interpret the crux experience, but it was positive and I felt like I learnt a lot.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Death of the Moors

The Kay Nest Aid Wall is there. It's pretty-much as dialed as it's going to be and the fingers are twitching to curl onto those fingernail crimps. Alas, there is no bugger to belay me. Finding gear on this route has been a double-whammy. Not only is it easier and less of the edge-of-the-mind experience I'd hoped for, but it also means I need to actually have a friend to come to the crag.

Unfortunately over the years I've managed to alienate most folk - through being weird, only talking about the Moors or just being daft. Now that no one actually lives in the Moors any more, a belay means persuading someone to drive 2 hours for the vague possibility of creating a weird line no one quite knows exists in a place that doesn't actually register in most people's realities. I fear this is a trait of the Moors that is hard to shake.

Before you climb in an area, it seems like a pretty wacky and completely-in-the-mind-rooted concept that is gradually bludgeoned into interpretability by raw delusions of apparent realness. Alas, once again, no bugger climbs in the Moors - so this never happens.

I need a bloody partner!

My next project is going to be full chocks-away mind-splitting soloing. Task number 1: make sure there is no gear. It needs to be a proper death route, for soon I will be old and will not dare to set out. In the mean time though, I am really feeling a bond with this climb. It has that legend of Moors past and Moors future and I am happy to be on there soon, regardless of outcome.

Come of partners, do your stuff!

Monday, 4 May 2015

Does Place Matter?

Not quite as dangerous as I first thought
It's a commonly-held view that the amount of progress made on a route is pretty much dependent on how much time you spend on it. This seems to make sense - to practise something you need to grapple, chew-upon and mull-over. But wait a segundo- that last bit - What does that mean?

Also a better route now the bolts are out
To mull, to think, to ponder. This is important with sport climbing and bouldering, but with bold Trad surely it's an even greater part?

3 star boulder problem start.
The photos above are of Luke Hunt - my old pal who I like to stay away from, as most of the times I climb with him I nearly get killed. So it was with some trepidation that I plodded up to Kay Nest with him. After fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone, he's now living in a van and proudly refers to his nomadic lifestyle as "the dream". Sipping coffee (no sugar though) on his sofas after a days climbing, with the new lambs bleating their heads off nearby, you can sort of see where he's coming from. Anyway...

He was his usual encouraging-self and was Tim Emmetesque in his " 'ave it Franks" attitude. "Get on it man, you have it wired". Tempting as it was and now with the crucial skyhook (see above photo), I decided I was a bit ill and would leave it for another day.

What I found particularly interesting over this bank holiday weekend though was that I felt no need to get on the shunt again on Monday. I drove straight back to Sheffield to do some work, reasoning that any progress I made from visiting the cliff, I could make back in Sheffield in my head. It got me thinking again about how much of these routes are manifestations of the mind. Indeed, the routes themselves do not exist at all without interpretation, simply being a collection of rock features without.

I left the route for another day and now every section is dialled, I'm simply waiting for it to become a necessity for me to climb the route. I need to feel like I can't not climb it. That feeling isn't very far away.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Starting To Feel Like A Route

It's a fantastic feeling when your project starts to feel like a route. The crux section is now well and truly dialled. The post-crux bit is cleaned and sorted - a bit interesting that bit and possibly the most scary section. I've managed to find a bit of gear that has taken the route out of "certain death" and into "12m ground-scraper if the gear holds". Most importantly of all however; I've found a way to start it!

I was originally intending on starting the route from the ledge on the right. I was keen not to follow the pointlessly convoluted line out left that the original line of bolts followed and really tried to interpret the features in their most natural way. I struggled with this.

Over the last two weeks I've had holiday and been lucky-enough to be joined by Matt and Dave on the line and they've each brought something to the project. Matt's been really useful in working as an inspiration for climbing the moves. He tried a lot and reckoned it was hard - which was just what was needed for my pondering about the route - I need to feel like I'm doing something outrageous. Dave brought his own little bit of traditionalist bigotry to the line, arguing that it should follow the line of bolts. Whilst I knew Dave was wrong and that he was being a grumpy moron, the centrepiece of his argument was that starting on the ledge was a bit crap.

I wasn't so sure. The line of weakness started on the ledge and although the traverse off it is dirty and vegetated, that's the simplest way to climb it. My underlying issue was that I didn't want to add an arbitrary extra 6c move to the project that would waste time, add danger and just be a general annoyance. Luckily though, spirit of the Moors provided a compromise.

After declaring a move that me and Matt thought around 6c to be "6aish" and saying everything was piss, Dave ordered me to lower him a little on the top rope and he found a flake on the lower wall. This lower wall was fairly dirty and so a lot of the holds couldn't be seen. I'd always wanted to start up it, but it looked like the kind of impossible thing that was just a waste of time. It's an impressively big bit of rock however and Dave found a long flake at the bottom, right below the gear that you use for the upper section. Unfortunately this wall is undercut and between this long flake and the gear is a fair few metres of more or less totally blank wall. There was one tiny crimp and we joked about a future "font 8b" up it.

I decided to have a look and agreed with Dave's prognosis. Blank. Shortly after this though, I found a deep and very good mono/two finger pocket way out right. It looked ludicrously infeasible to get there from the flake, but (to cut a long story short) it ended up working out. It was a class moment in the end, with it not only being possible, but also that rare breed of move that allows seemingly impossible spans to be achieved. The escapability out right after this move actually enables this problem to be one of the best boulder problems in the Moors. I think this has been one of the best discoveries so far on this climb and I'm ecstatic that at the very least, a class new boulder has been born.

It's back to normality for the next 7 weeks now. Hopefully I can lose a bit more weight, carry on with finger strength gains and pop in for the odd session before the next half-term. The only factors that could really hold me back now are temperature or injury. Conditions have been bad over the last few weeks and I've still managed to slip my way though the crux, so a cold spell should sort me right out.

Saturday, 4 April 2015


What's your motive? How do you justify it? This has become such a common question in Trad headpointing that it's almost a bit of a superficial question now. The answer is invariably "I don't really know", or occasionally some platitudinous fun-propaganda. This isn't going to cut the mustard with me though. My climbing is risking actual death, or (what I fear more) paralysis. No UK trad route that I've been on presents anywhere near as much risk of dying for the most able climbers as the line at Kay Nest. To set out on that route, I can't just ignore the risks like I did on O' Gradey's, nor remain reassured by the reasonable landing like with Psykovsky's, nor have a moment of delusional insanity as per Sky Burial.

Perhaps my experience with Sky Burial (H9 6c) is the closest I've been to the frame of mind I need to be in for this line. I had a maturity of purpose on that route - a knowledge that this moment was the most important of life so far. I also had an intimate knowledge of the route and a belief that I could do it. Despite this, Sky Burial was not as hard as The Kay Nest Wall and on much larger holds. The insecurity that 8th pad crimps and high feet bring means that the mental aspect of the climb is brought to the fore. It's no longer good enough to believe I'm better than a route; to rely on a comfort zone. I have to take delight in the risk.

The only time I have felt enough love for a line to not mind the outcome is at Danby. The enormous personal meaning of this crag, twinned with the natural splendour of the venue allowed me to reach depths of passion I've not experienced elsewhere in climbing. On Psykovsky's (H8 7a) and Fly Agaric  (H8 7a) I just wanted to do it: loads. With the drying up of Danby Crag's new routes, perhaps this part of me has dried up as well. I do feel, however, that this love for the line and venue is something perhaps attainable at Kay Nest, with it's very obvious beauty and isolation.

To get down to the barest of motives, you have to ask "why?" over and over again. This process has led me to identify the motives driven by social context. "Would I still want to do this route if no one else in the world existed?" If so, why? What do I think is so fundamentally important about the process of doing these routes, as to take this 'risk'?

It was in the asking of these questions that I realised that this was the wrong way to ask the question. The question assumes a 'risk'. But what is the risk; a threat to what? - "my life" seems the obvious answer. But I realised that the end of my life is not something I particularly fear. I fear the effects my death would have on others and the very real danger of paralysis. I would also miss the every-day ecstasy of good food, nature, friends and family, but these things I assess in quality not quantity. I have already had insurpassable moments in all of these and so with that I can be content.

So at the end of this thinking, I arrive somewhere nearer being able to set out on this route. I have a hold that I love. I have a crag of magnificent spirit. I have a happy life that I am not afraid to leave. Strangely it is only the imagination of future springs that holds me back.

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Breakthrough

How strange that so soon after thinking I was near a breakthrough, it came. power of the subconscious? deluded? It does make you think about how much power the mind has over the body. Either its just a massive coincidence, I was holding myself back, or I really am in tune with some higher force.

Anyway, the most splendid moment of the past 6 months happened in a daze, on the cusp of darkness, Sunday night. The Kay Nest Aid wall has been causing all sorts of difficulties for me. It's not managing to do the individual moves, nor linking them, but finding THE way to do them. The crux is a very complicated web of structures that can provide a passage through via an array of movements. Scraping through one of these would suffice for a safe or reasonably bold climb, but for an absolute solo, you need to make sure you find the best move for you.

The best sequence is not simply the easiest, nor even the most secure. It is the one with the least dodgey foot swaps, the least high foot steps, the least barndoors, the least low percentage moves, the least moves that freak you out, the most holds that allow for readjustment. Ultimately, you never quite know on a complex route, but you can find something that just feels "good". On Sunday evening, in a bath of orange light, I found that move.

It was so simple it was laughable it had taken me this long to find it, but I think it was only really possible to do it in a secure way since I've been strengthening my fingers. I have naturally strong fingers twinned with decent tip skin, but now and then I push them a little more to see what they're really capable of. They're probably close to the strongest they've ever been and, working with new bits and bobs of technique,  I reckon I'm about near peak ability.

The last two remaining factors are head and weight. My head is in a good place right now. Weight is a bit high, but I've been dieting for about 2 weeks now and have lost about half a stone. If I can get my weight down to about a stone or more below what I usually am (not exactly fat), that crimp is going to feel an awful lot bigger. Tendons, span and feather-weight madness.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Spring Melee

So much going on this spring. There are routes pouring out of my ears. There seems to be a chaos every year, with boundless projects and lines waving out of everywhere. Normally it's just the Moors, which is really quite enough, but this year has taken on new levels of complication.

First off there is THE line. The Kay Nest Aid wall. Long tried, unclimbed, bold and viciously fingery. I am currently on the cusp of a break-through (I can feel it) and it's probably the most important stage. There seem to be a lot of stages in a project: step 1 - find it; step 2 - clean it and find the real path of the holds (this can have to change according to later stages); step 3 - break it down and find the crux (there's only any point in trying the crux at first); step 4 - find a way to do the crux; step 5 - find the best way to do the crux; step 6 - refine this and get it absolutely dialed so that you know it better than anyone ever will; step 7 - wired this in the context of the route; step 8 - lose your mind/rationalise the danger.

The eight step plan - I've only just thought of this. Anyway, I'm on step 5 at the moment. It's a hard stage and a stage that you never really know you've completed. If step 5 proves problematic, then you might have to go back to step 3. Ultimately steps 6&7 take far longer than all the other stages.

So whilst all this is going on and I'm struggling to make this project the most important thing in my life, I also have hundreds of other satellite projects around. I won't go into all the hard and safe routes again, but there are a real handful now that are dominating a lot of my thoughts. The general aim in the Moors is to climb something outrageous before I get old and knackered, but the sheer amount of class lines about is making me want to just spend all my time climbing them.

Lately however, and perhaps surprisingly, I've actually found a decent line in the Peak. I've been turned off by a lot of the natural grit; it's cold and round and you just don't get to be flamboyant enough. A little tip-off from Mark Rankine got me to rivellin quarries though and, although the route he had his eyes on was a bit wack, the wall to the right was way harder and pretty splendid.

I was originally looking at it as a long-term project, with a couple of real horror-show moves up high. These are physical - especially so after the fairly meaty bottom section. Alas, I found the top to be escapable, so the solution: pegs. It's a funny old world trad - if it's going to be dangerous, the line has to be pure. There's nowt worse than an escapable H10. With the bolts though, you're going to have a really cool hard section just above highball height and then get some gear (horror-clipping), before finally making it into a brick-hard sequence to the top. My fave move is definitely the last one though - looking forward to that.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Barry The Boulder

The best boulder in the Moors without a doubt, Barry is massive. The back arete and wall offer a fine font 7a+ and the neo-classic font 8a requiem. The near left arete is font 8b and the right arete E4. Continuing around the boulder on the right there are some really cool font 7 problems. The main challenge though is, of course, that massive face.

Stoupe Brow has been a bit of a bouldering destination for a while now, but it didn't appear in any guides until 2009. Around this time a lot of the problems were written down and a few routes were climbed on the quarry walls. These routes are pretty cool and mostly follow strong features. Ever since we first ventured into the quarry, there was one challenge that stood out more than all others - that of the face. To finally ab down the thing today, 5 1/2 years later, feels like an accomplishment in itself.

The climbing is great - top fun. The whole thing is very physical and a bit 3D, following a sweeping and fading groove line to a precarious shield of rock. There are very few footholds and it's a technical challenge as a result. Luckily the soft rock to the right doesn't affect this climb, as that would be a real dampener. It's a funny old thing, which feels bold even to shunt and takes a fair bit of setting up.

You could break it down into three main sections. First there is a tricky and sandy boulder problem start that is actually some of the easiest climbing on the route. This leads to a large undercut. From here the technical crux revolves around some very small pockets and aggressive foot stabbing. This is really quite hard and requires a committing pop at a serious height for the big layaway. I could imagine at this point you'd be quite drained of energy and the next sequence is physical and pretty bloody scary! It's also probably the best bit though and after this there is just some necky 6b/c stuff to the top.

What a climb though!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Holy Grail Wall - Kay Nest

The start of February is always a hard time in Moors climbing. January is pure rank, but the madness of being out in the quag is enough to keep you psyched. As the nights lengthen, the temperature warms, but the experience remains manky it's hard to keep keen.

For the last few weeks I've had a few short and productive night sessions on my latest project - the kay nest aid wall. I'm feeling good at the moment and it's feeling nice and hard. I've been trying to lose muscle and be nice and slight - the crux of the new route is a matchstick-pulling span on a slab, so you don't need anything apart from ridiculously strong fingers. The crux move is just class, brutally thin and wonderful.

So, psyched off my box, I ran the hour long walk-in over the moor to find my project absolutely soaked, dirty and minging. After my recent concerted effort to keep the south-facing wall in good nick prior to the summer, it looked like no one had ever been on it. Disappointing to say the least - I can only put it down to melt water.

Perhaps by destiny, or desperation, I ended up back on the Holy Grail wall. Even this had big hanging drops of water all over it, but it was dry enough to chalk up and hold some positions. After discounting this as way too hard for me, I feel as if I've unlocked the crux on this now. It's a strange one, it's incredibly reachy, but also not easy if you're tall. I can reach through the crux on my tip toes more or less every time, but I end up just stuck - hugging the arete floating between one finger and one toe. From here I just can't move. To get round this I had a look at some ridiculous undercuts. Luckily the feet are quite good, so you can move your feet into a more advantageous position by using a four finger fingernail undercut with the right and a 1.5 finger 12th pad nubbin with the left. It makes the crux pop harder, but at least you can actually move off the hold when you get it.

So this, the route we dubbed "the holy grail of Moors unclimbed lines" due to the perfection of the line, is looking like it's going to be possible. I think it might end up getting a boulder grade or safe and hard trad grade - I think the danger is minimal, it's just ridiculously hard.  H8 7b? font 8something?

The Moors has changed in my mind in the last year. There are very few things that I feel like I really NEED to do, but this is one of them. Call it legacy, prophecy or destiny - I dunno, but I want to climb this, the Aid Wall, the Magic Scoop at Highcliffe, the Futuristic Herring Gull project, the Landslip Arete and the Tormented Sole Direct. That's where the Moors is going - o and the Wangledoodle would be pretty cool too.

Monday, 26 January 2015


And so it begins once again; the difficulty of the moves strikes a chord, the thinness of the crimps rapes an obsession, the looming of the terror unhinges another step. The Kay Nest Aid Wall becomes a little more real, the plan becomes slightly more apparent. There's going to be no bolts. It's going to be death. The crux move is harder than I thought, but its possible. It's going to take a while to dial enough for a shot at the solo, but I can see that adventure happening and it might be happening sooner than I imagine.

The crux holds are absolutely superb. It's been a long time since I felt so at home on holds, and wanted to be on them so much. Similar to Fly Agaric or Psykovsky's Sequins, the holds themselves are worthy of worship. They're so outrageously thin, so perfectly square. They form themselves in a myriad of puzzlement. I'm still not quite sure which to use at what point throughout the move; I can do the move in a couple of ways, but I know I don't have the best sequence.

Sometimes on a climb you can look at the holds and know from just looking at them that there is a better way of doing the move than the way you are trying. I can see that there is a body position, hanging like it's on balloons, in the middle of that crux. It takes a lot of weight off the hands and that means the freedom to move. On sketchy cruxes the ability to move a digit is like an oasis in an otherwise locked-in mass of absorption.

The route is going to be bold, but it's becoming my friend.