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...