Saturday, 26 November 2016

Why climb hard?

A very unsatisfactorily answered question is why it is important for climbers to push themselves on rock. At one point we all found a VS beyond the realms of our imagination. Maybe that soon changed. Maybe it didn't. 

I was reading a thread on UKclimbing recently where people were talking about the routes they had enjoyed most that year. Unsurprisingly, the majority of these routes were at or just slightly below the maximum grade that each individual was capable of climbing. The excitable and ambitious were perhaps more likely to pick a "best route" nearer their limit. The more mellow (or perhaps falsely modest) keener to pick a slightly easier line.

I've sat opposite climbers who have dedicated their whole lives to the pursuit of hard moves. Sometimes these chaps and chappesses were even going for bold routes to. They grasped for reasons: more interesting moves; better lines; a more finite moment. These are all arguable points for the pursuit of the extreme, but smack a little of justification rather than causation. 

It was as I read this thread that it dawned on me that the question of "why push yourself on rock?" is ultimately the same question as "why climb?". Climbing is rarely about simplifying life and it certainly isn't often about taking the easiest line. Unless we're talking pinnacles, the easiest way to the top is usually up a scrubby path. PLATITUDE ALERT: We chose climbing not for the destination, but for the journey. (If I spoke a little more like that all the time maybe I would be sponsored). But, yes, this is true. The reason we took up climbing is because we'd had our fill of walking. The inane monotony could bring a certain kind of hedonism, but this was dull and without focus.

The first time we were drawn to the vertical was the first time we took a different path. Rather than becoming blanded out into where we were heading, we were forced to engage in the acute physical riddle afore.  To try and climb a harder line is to be halted more abruptly, to be velcroed to that moment and forced to introspection. At the farthest limits of our capabilities there is the purest parallel to what was our first moment of climbing. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Black Knight

The Wainstones swirls in ancient horrors on the sandstone blood alter. Chieftains slain, classics climbed; Tony Marr hanging from Ali Baba. One line pierces insurmountable above all others. A 'proper' E5 6c, tackling the chin of the Sphinx through contortions in the wild.

A thousand shimmering crystals sweat the hot sun. The beads of moisture crumble to rubbing skin; and the fingers pain. I'm hanging under the Sphinx face, blindly pushing micro tricams into deep flared pockets. "That feels about right". Three tricams. I come down for a long rest, trying to tell myself it's getting a little cooler. "Best to go home". "But I want to do it today!" Against my better judgement, I go for it.

I'm up the groove, climbing poorly, thinking about the order of my hands and not knocking the gear out. I don't feel committed yet, but am quickly past the tricams and I know I'm not coming back down. "If I jump off now, I'll be testing the cams anyway". Onto the crux and I'm fingerlocking. "Why am I climbing a greasy crack?!"I fumble positions and slap onto the arete.

"Whaaa! I'm really here now - the most outrageous position at the Wainstones. Yes!" Feet move endlessly, hands make increments. I get my high right pinch and left crimp. "Eeee, that don't feel too good".

"I have to get this foot on first time, or my hands are going to slip off". My foot is thrown, apparently by my own body, towards the hold. It misses. "Damn". My hands slip a little further. The sun burns my back. Second go; it misses again. Time for the grovel - knees and feet; finally it goes on. "My core was too wrecked to do this today!"

I'm now on the lip of the arete, The tricams aren't that far away, but are a haunting presence at the back of the roof. I match the left crimp with my foot. "ahhhhh! Slipping!" My left toe curls like a banana and appears to be the only thing keeping me on. "Come on!" Latch! The hips are back in and suddenly I'm at the break. "Might have been a little close that".

Saturday, 20 August 2016


I've just got back from Torridon. Primarily this was a relax and a seafood trip, but there was inevitably some climbing. I have a bit of an ambition to climb at more Scottish crags and I've always been drawn to the north west coast. Of course being a sandstone man, Glen Torridon has always been a bit of a point of interest.

The trip was all a bit last minute and we ended up nearly without a guidebook at all, which would have been a bit rubbish. We camped in a massive midgey bog on the first night, which was fairly horrid. The sun brought warmth and fewer midges and we made our way up to Seana Mheallan.  We had a lovely day doing the classic extremes there. Nice big routes, traditional moves, loads of gear.

From the selective guide we had, there was an obvious gap, which I had an ab down and decided against trying. After a bit of a look on the internet, this appears to be Dave Macleod's Present Tense. Could be wrong on that one. It's a really decent line. Quite a big feel to it, steep and the protection looks pretty spaced. Quite a strange route in a way, as it is like E3 rock architecture, but devoid of footholds. Good effort to Mr. Macleod if that is it - top line.

After various swims in rivers and seas, we went to Daibaig and climbed on the slabs there. Again, world class lines that are beyond criticism. There were even some bats on route.

The unclimbed line situation in a place like Torridon is very interesting. There is unclimbed stuff everywhere and there is stuff not worth doing that people would be falling over each other to climb in basically anywhere in England. There were lines at Daibaig in particular that would easily be 3 stars in the peak, but seem kind of out of kilter with the whole ethos of Torridon. With such a massive drive required to get there, there's a decent argument that any climbing there needs to be fairly fundamentally different to climbing elsewhere, but I suppose if a route is decent and a good challenge then why not? This was my justification for climbing what is probably the worst route in Torridon,

The weather gradually got hotter and hotter, until we elected for a beach and cragging day on an undocumented crag near the campsite. A bit like a mini Reecastle. Some might say our new offering was a bit short for Torridon. Perhaps! Very handy if you have a spare hour in Shieldaig though.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Nearing The End.....Maybe....

It's so good being able to climb all the time. Since I've been on holiday, I've been getting out stacks. I'm fitter, stronger, lighter and I'm getting a lot more hours on the rock. A considerable part of this time has been spent in the Moors, which has been class for trying old projects and trying new things. It's interesting to see that Dave is also starting to try some of the harder things more seriously, which I think he's actually feeling more solid on than me. 

Additionally to Dave, there's obviously been the Randall, Rankine and Furniss hits, which are producing meaty pitches and new testpieces all over the shop. Everyone agrees that the best climber in the Moors is still Matt Ferrier though and we all await his moment of genius that becruddens us all. 

But yes, my attentions (although not always physically) have mostly been on the Sandy arete still. I've not blogged about it for a while now, as progress had been so infinitesimally gradual. It still moves on very slowly; I can link it now about half the time,  perhaps more if I full on go for it. The problem lies in the nature of the climbing, which is just sketchy as hell. On all the crux moves, you have to latch the holds just perfectly in order to stand a chance on the next one. If you fudge a slap, then you stand little chance of repositioning and the next move is guaranteed to be an all-out screamer. If I manage to climb the route, it will have to be a moment of utter sequence perfection.

On top of the physical and mental sides of the route, there is all the logistics. I've managed to ratchet down the hook, which makes it quite bomber. The only problem then lies in placing it and whether it's just going to snap if I fall 10 metres onto it. I did consider not using a hook for protection of the rock, but the placement is really good and I really don't think it will break. Pretty sure the hooks will though!

So, definitely closer and feeling like it's not that far away. Often at this point things go very quickly and you're on the lead before you know it, but I think with a line of this magnitude, which poses a couple of challenges I've not encountered before, I need to take a little bit of time. Someone else has been on it recently, so we'll see if I do it first!

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The link has come!

Every ounce of my body bows in disgust as I arch my way through the crux. The side of my index finger screams in rage, as it is forcibly squeezed and pressed into the crystal. Throwing my toe onto the crux smear, my stomach and legs threaten pure mutiny. My fingers sear. My back arches. I am approaching the sky below. The link has come!

To find and hold the crux moves of the Key Heugh arête was a quest into the psychedelic. To string them into the concept of a move was to uncurl the mind to fit perfectly into my body. At this point I thought the line was mine; If I could do the moves, regardless of whether I could link them, then the route was mine. I was wrong. It has been many months now to even link the central crux section together. No move is seemingly that taxing, but somehow it doesn't work.

To the outside world, not a lot is happening and life gently plods on through the interminable tedium. I've been trying to focus on training for the last few months. This is my biggest weakness. I can really enjoy the pain of effort, but I have to be feeling good and after work this is rarely the case. Luckily, I'm so close to being solid on the arête now that I only need to make little inroads in order to be able to lead it.

I've been visiting the crag far less, on the justification that I have the moves dialled, but that I just need to get fitter. It is easy to forget the line whilst training, which is saddening when I think about it. On the few little trips I have up to Key Heugh, the psyche just comes roaring back. I'm fortunate that the route is so beautiful.

I'm starting to think time-frames and gear. Autumn seems like the obvious choice for a lead - cooler and a little more time to work it. We'll see... Gear-wise, I've been giving some real thought as to whether to solo it or do it on hooks. There's a substantial anti-hook movement in Northumberland - for good reason. I respect this and can't think of many places where a hook would be appropriate. The blunt ledge on the arête however is pretty much made for a hook and I'm reluctant to abandon decent gear on the whims of others (when basically I think they're wrong). I'll arrange some tape, hardwood and blutac protection for the hold.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Barry's Deranged Side

You get a feeling sometimes that a day is going to be really special. As the day progresses, you start to get a bit worried that it might not turn out like you wanted. Fortunately yesterday's gamble paid off and through injured fingers and illness we managed to climb some stunning lines.

Anna Healy on Piton Crack (font 6c)
The Barry Boulder at Stoupe is outrageous from every angle. There are brilliant highballs all around the shorter sides of the boulder and then a south-western face that inspires pure horror. For me there are 3 obvious lines on this face: Chuckie Egg (font 7b - the left arête and hanging scoop); The groove; and then the wall in between. I always had the wall pencilled in as impossible, so when Steve Ramsden climbed Chuckie Egg, I knew we had to get our skates on with the scoop.
Dave on (and off) Chuckie Egg (font 7b)
It's a blindingly obvious line and has attracted a huge amount of attention from various parties over the years. Everyone seemed inspired. Moors projects are always open affairs, so with these 'king lines', you have to put the time in If you want to get there first. It's pretty physical and a long boulder problem.
The Last Of The Moorhicans (font 7b+)
This was a new experience for me, as I've only had a couple of sessions on this over the last year, which for me is pretty unprepared. If Tom's visit taught me one thing, it's to go for the link as quickly as possible. This doesn't work with the very hardest things like the Sandy Crag arête, but for stuff that's relatively safe (and of which there is a lot to do in the Moors) this is a sound practise that gets a lot done. It leads to noticeable more nerve-racking climbing however. The top stretch was interesting!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Obstacles and Inspiration

I injured my finger a couple of weeks ago. It wasn't climbing related and I'm hopeful it will heal, but the result has been a break from the Sandy project. I'm not too sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it's annoying not to miss the time of year that usually has best conditions. On the other side, It's been fantastic to have had a break from the usual slog.
A particular highlight has been a visit by Tom Randall. He's been coming up on and off for a few months now and climbed 'The Art of Non-Conformity' (E7 6c) last June. That was an oft-eyed line and an impressive feat during a quick hit. His visit this time has been no less impressive.

In two days I fired him at six lines. One was Sky Burial (H9 6c) and the rest were unclimbed. He got on pretty well!

The second obstacle I've had this Easter has been the weather and Tom's first day was a total washout. The planned Northumberland hit was a no-go, so I took him to a bit of a wildcard choice, hoping with everything that Cringle Crag in the Moors was going to be dry. Somehow, a lot of it was.

We had a nice time playing around on the arête we called 'coffin' arête. It's steady 6b climbing; fairly blind and with one of the worst falls on a route I've ever seen. Something like H8 was the verdict - neither of us were psyched for the lead...
Round two was on 'the lip'. By now I could see the psyche ebb from Tom's immaculate jawline. He made polite noises, but the fire was yet to be lit.
"You're going to love this one Tom", I encouraged.
"Oh my god! This has to be one of the most intimidating grit routes I've ever been on! This is so long!" He was psyched.
For a good hour I watched him make impressive links and explore around the 3D arête. Love of holds, grand plans for massive cleaning sessions, small spaced cam chat, F8a+, talk of massive lobs, obsession with the finish.. It went on for a while and was great to see. I see him getting that one done.
Now, I'm not one to get intimidated by other climbers, but the idea of having a jam-off with Tom was more than a little bit daunting. Surprise, surprise, by the end of the day I was lunging of a rancid jam. Dark red blood poured from my hand, as I lunged for a high sidepull. It was good beta and Tom's inventiveness has unlocked one of the things in the Moors I really didn't know how to do. The Red Wall.
Day two came. Weather: crap. Even people who lived next to the crags were not psyched to come out. We drove for two hours, to a rather damp Maiden's Bluff. Matt Ferrier joined us and between the two of them, I'm fairly sure Matt and Tom formed a black hole of psyche. I was really excited to have them both on Sky Burial though and they both impressively waltzed the moves. Gradually they became excited. YES! Tom flashed it on a top rope, which is probably most impressive for it's bottom 6c move, rather than the trad crux. Easy and massively dangerous was the verdict I think, which is basically what I thought. Doubtful whether this is ever going to be repeated.
Smuggler's Terrace was up next. The Tormented Sole Direct start is one of the best unclimbed lines in the Moors and we all had fun on the heel move. It was pretty wet, otherwise it may have been lead. Consensus: Burbage E9 7a.  We finished the day by unlocking the Smuggler's Wall Project via an enormous tenuous dyno. That last one was particularly cool.
So, despite the rain, we had an enormously productive couple of days. Two things I didn't see myself doing have been fully unlocked and a few fires have been lit for other projects.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Spring! Spring! Spring!

Very glad to see the wild moor horses back at Danby!
Northumberland is a fantastic place. It hums a vibe of difference. I've been visiting and re-visiting some of the crags recently and it's been a very interesting time. There's so much excitement when you visit a new place and Northumberland is one of the more exciting places I've explored.

There's a deep sense here of abandonment and mystery. Talking to local climbers, I get a tangible sense that even they haven't quite got their head around many of the places. For many Sandy Crag or Howlerhurst are adventurous crags that require a powerful motivation to visit. I was talking to the woman who lives in the farm below Howlerhurst the other day and she reckoned I was the first person up there this year!
Howlerhurst Bouldering
On the flip-side, I've been re-visiting a couple of crags I've not been to for 7 or 8 years. I was at Back Bowden yesterday, belaying Anna on some of the classic extreme slabs there. It was really nice to see her grapple and then eventually manage to scrape up them - no mean achievement considering she's only been climbing a year! I also was struck with an enormous wave of awe; It's such a good crag!
Anna on Shine On (E3 5c **)
Back Bowden is one of those places that just oozes class. There are so many cool-looking hard routes there and I just want to climb them all. On and Off the Rocks both look brilliant and Adam Watson's line Purgatory looks like a monster! Even the routes on the dank wall look inspiring. O to be strong!
Best place on earth?
I feel like every year is a lifetime. You come alive in spring; thrash violently at your zenith in the summer; cram as much as possible into autumn; and then slowly die with the winter. I'm a new man this year, trying to pace myself, resting injuries, building the psyche slowly and eating well.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Diets, Links and Inspiration

I've long been wondering about whether I care enough about the Key Heugh arete in order to do it. Yes, it's a cool line. Yes, it's pretty hard. Yes, it's in a fantastic setting on the roof of England. But do I really want it like one of my Moors routes? I've been through this before with routes in Cornwall and the Peak and have always decided that, despite having invested time and energy into something, my heart wasn't really in it. I've been waiting for this moment of abandonment to kick in at Sandy. It hasn't.

I've hit that point in a project where there is no turning back. I don't want to turn back. I've become entranced by the line and the place. I feel it's a part of my life that I will never be able to forget and that I will never be able to forgive myself if I abandon. The path is in a sense now easy, because I have no other option but to continue. There are two types of fear in climbing: the fear of death and the fear that you aren't going to make the correct choice. I no longer have to worry about the latter.

The reason for this clarity of purpose is in a sense the progress that I have made with the route. The session I had last Saturday, whilst being only a subtle improvement on past sessions, was a colossal leap in terms of how secure I felt. Every move now feels like the kind of boulder problem you can do most times. I can link the entire crux section, which is 8 metres long. I'm pretty sure I could link the whole thing if I really got my act together. These artificial targets are of little significance however. What really counts is the way I feel on each hold and move.

The final hard move was one that was really causing me worries. It's not hard at all, but it's sketchy, blind and several metres above the skyhook. I've worked out a different sequence that makes this move a far more attractive proposition. Added to this, I've done some training to improve my (frankly shocking) compression strength. I'm still rubbish at compression sequences, but the result is that I can actually do one of the transitions between holds that before I was getting thrown off over and over again.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

How lonely can you get?

I love climbing people.

There's a man called Leif at Middlesborough wall. His wild hair sweeps a cascading fall. A consuming, cackling madness effuses. He spends most of his life underground. He drives to the lead-filled dales of times gone past, poking and prospecting for hours underground. He has the happy smile of a happy man. What little doubt exists, works but only to fuel his confidence.

There's another chap called Rob; an erect-haired, perma-smiled chuckler. He sports the silkware of the highest end of outdoor fashion. He mingles and bonds, twinkles and listens. His desire spawns from all forms and all places in climbing. He circulates in the hub of our world, in the epicentre of all creation and perpetuation. The clichés are lived with such vigour and passion that a humble and true sense of reality is born.

There are then the calm, stern-faced folks who spend their lives stomping and trudging the county and North York Moors. They are mostly old. Some are young. Their scowl seldom breaks; only when a fantasised line pops into the conversation, but a warming love of contentness exists within. They oft feel in threat from the high-branded centrefolk, but these two groups have but very little difference between their passions.

My favourite is the wild optimism of the impassioned youth. No shackle of reality weighs them down. No distaining comments from an elder breaks their bubble. They rise a crazed optimist; intense and desperate in rushed mousebeats, searching without rest for something of meaning. They scream and slop poor feet on the wall. No pause is long enough for anxiety to permeate and the next thing is done before the last thing is finished. Energy brings out the rawest form of the soul.

To spend a life on the hills, alone, is to occasionally miss all these people.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Maintaining the Myth

I remember being in incredible awe when I started climbing. The North York Moors guidebook was the holy book and every name in it was that of a prophet. I remember reading the notes on the creation of 'Esmerelda' (E7 6c) and trying to put those recorded events together in my head. It was mind-altering. To picture the Tosh team tentatively aiding that blank canvass on improvised gear was one thing. To read of the blinding vision of Paul Smith to try and free the route was quite another. With the prowess and incredible strength of Richard Waterton, it was no surprise that he was the one who eventually managed to whittle the aid to naught. Nevertheless, all these three increments were milestones in Moors climbing and formed an indelible impression on my imagination.

Esmerelda was one route. There were others: Nick Dixon on Scut; Shorter and Redhead on Stratagem; Ingham on Psycho Syndicate; Dave Paul on The West Face. I'd later meet many of these men and be underwhelmed by their modest outlook and their fiercely personal motivations for climbing. Even after this however, I still saw their achievements as exceptional and inspiring.   To join that cannon and add to that myth in even a small way was beyond what I thought possible when I started climbing.  Furthermore, I began to worry whether what I was chasing was even real.

The word 'myth' is riddled with doubt. It speaks of a story that cannot be trusted. To live a myth implies delusion and wasted opportunity. In climbing terms, I see the patronising smile of those who are happy to have shaken the myth. For most, the drive to improve or seek a bolder experience dies with their youth. To continue seeking the myth you've created is to admit defeat in chasing what life is truly about. Or so the story goes.. I think that's wrong.

Every ounce of my Moors experience is a fiction. From the warming of the sun taking me back to my first visit to Park Nab, to the feeling of the tendon tweak on Psykovsky's blasting past talk of the impossible to the fore. It's all created, in some sense at least, out of the mind. There are other things in the world that boast a venire of reality; things that grind such a shackle on the soul that they surely must exist?  But in desperate times, even these crumble.

The greatest question any of us face is 'why climb?' It's easy to speak of egos and grades. It's easy to think of the next line you're grappling with, whilst forgetting all the things you've already done that once seemed so impossible. One's own past never seems as glorious as the future. I feel as I work towards things on the limits of my abilities, I must use what satisfaction I can take from past achievements and transplant them onto my adventures on this project; the highly constrained strengths I have stem entirely from past realities created in my head. To achieve the insane in the physical world, one must remember the mythical realities one has engineered.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Spring falleth on wild ears

The twinkle now shines through the far rocks of key heugh, with the moist steam of winter still lingering in thick haze.

The strife battles between the ears on a question of when the time comes. So much love. So much need for the adventure of a lifetime in painted crystal expression.

I see a line day in day out that roars such a horrid obsession, it scarce allows survival. I see my whole life stretch forth and up-wall upon the time of departure.

The gentle swathe of pain is and shall be the highest legacy of free spirit in me. On the moment of departure I become a demigod - To surrender all earthly treasures in the pursuit of the truest of all brilliance. I become a channel for the genius of the natural lines of sandstone. Of Key Heugh and the tripping dales of scorched heather, I become.

In the fine detailed endless-linking world of man, I rip a single thought to rebare a brand new schema of existence. Here, all that matters is what ripples on the fingertips and throbs in my mind. Here out-pokes the very essence of  my mortality. So much so that it twists to my immortality.   For behold! The finest engraving of my prickled mind takes that jelly-mold of inside-out arete.

What kind of madness is this, that takes a whole winter's rain and deluges fierce the greatest lampoon of horrid gopp? I rise a dry being of promised hope. I rise the next mortal to cross the bounds of endless flight. I am he that sees the terrifying future of selfless expression.