Tuesday, December 27, 2011

First Blood

Recently my job as a climbing magazine editor has been particularly frustrating. Despite a rather late start to the winter season it seemed everyone was making up for lost time with a string of very tough sounding new routes and repeats of several of last years hardest routes. Finally just before Christmas I was able to stop reading about everyone else's fun and get some action myself. I hooked up with Greg Boswell and James Dunn hoping for a few days high standard adventure, unfortunately as soon as I arrived temperatures began to soar. We got out early on the first day realising it could be our only chance and managed a fine first winter ascent. I had an inkling the E2 Jumping Jupiter could be promising and so it turned out with a committing and steep start followed by thinner technical climbing with a slightly bold feel. Greg led this first pitch and after both of us had tried the summer second pitch, Greg led through a lefthand detour to finish. I reckon it's worth 2 stars and Greg reckoned VIII,8 (it certainly felt a good grade harder than the neighbouring Time Traveller).
After that rain stopped play apart from a quick visit to Birnam and a chance to do my back in on Fast and Furious, followed by a training session in Greg's cave. Despite the rain it did feel great to give the winter rat a decent tit bit. Here's hoping there's plenty more to come.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The long and winding road ahead

Interesting day at White Goods today with Andy Turner - Shock Horror! there were other people at the crag, in fact so busy it felt like the catwalk at Malham on a bank holiday. Well perhaps the only similarity was that everyone was hanging off their respective routes 'sur le chien' so to speak.Learnt a few things today. I've been using my fig fours to traverse round the Edge bouldering wall and with three of the four sides overhanging it's not easy. In fact going by today's routes it is somewhere between M8 and M9. So I wasn't totally and utterly crap - managing to do the moves on an M9 called 'Tumble'. However despite that training I was still fairly crap with the locals Dave, Si (above on an M9/M9+) and non local Andy showing me how far I have to go.
Still whilst I am a long way off the pace I can at least still glimpse the rest of the field and know now how far I have to go.

Friday, November 11, 2011

It's that time again

The Foundry are starting their indoor dry tooling routes tonight. They've set 8 routes this year - so I'll report back whats the score. In the mean time here is a vid of me on the first set of routes they put up 2 years ago.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Adventure Time part 2

Part 2 of my 'adventure break' was something of mixed success or rather a mixed disaster. Things started well with a return to Ladram Bay with Jon and a mighty new route on the Lost World stack.Realistically it's probably not the best route in the world. In fact it's probably the second worst.It did have a nice finishing mud arete thoughAnd some entertaining gear - this is part of the belay - there was no crack before I placed the warthog.How we laughed...Then after a very long drive we arrived at Beachy Head which amongst the memorials for jumpers is one of the UK's greatest lines - Monster Crack.Having climbed Monster Crack and most of Sunday Sport (Beachy Head's hardest route) I thought I had the hang of the place. But trying to be cautious I thought I'd do the shorter Albino or Vaginof - the two grooves on the far right of this shot (Monster Crack is far left).
After a long time and lots of collapsing brain cells and chalk I failed on both lines - I wasn't happy!
We then failed on the mile long walk out, as the tide was in. To escape we climbed the world's worst route (so bad there are no photos) - 450ft of 70 degree grass topped by 15ft of mud. At least I thought things couldn't possibly get worse...
...unfortunately they could when our planned third day of adventure ended shortly after breakfast when I filled Jon's diesel car up with petrol. It was time to give up before I really got us into trouble.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Adventure Time part 1

Having managed to get a precious slot of free time I'd hoped to go to the Alps but somehow despite planning 4 months in advance I failed to convince anyone to commit to a climb with me! But never fear there are adventures aplenty within our own shores. So I'm halfway through a two-part 'UK choss-odyssey'.

For Part One I linked up with my fellow Climb editor Dave Pickford. First for a 1000ft plus traverse of Avon Gorge's main wall. The Equator is a 12 pitch historical classic which we managed in 7 pitches.Whilst the choss count was relatively low, it made up for it with some typically 'robust' Avon insitu gear.
A great quest though - finishing with plenty of time left for a slice of Bristol Cafe action.
This is about 3/4 of the route. For those interested in record breaking - a capable team could simul-climb this in an hour/hour and a half I reckon.
The following day we headed south... to the extraordinary lost world of Ladram Bay.This place has half a dozen sea stacks composed of some of the softest 'rock' I've ever encountered.The most famous stack is the Big Picket first scaled by Pete Biven and team in 1971.
We quickly began to realise what we were getting into when on pitch 2 Dave squirmed past insitu 6 inch nails (projecting 4 inches) and then had to take on the crux free move.
This is Dave after his first attempt - holding the crux hold in his hand - his second successful attempt involved a jump to a sloping mud block which he then manteled. Dave rated it the most disgusting move he'd ever done.
The third and final pitch bore little resemblance to the guide description - we presume most of its fallen down or Nick (the guidebook author) meant left instead of right! After a pathetic attempt at free climbing I resorted to aid climbing. Which proved to be very time consuming (1 1/2 hours for 20ft of progress? This culminated in an aid mantel over the summit cornice which at first bounce test promptly collapsed before a final terrifying belly flop in slings. Jim Beyer would have been in heaven.
Happy boys - Dave particular excited about the swim awaiting.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Keswick Lecture

I'm lecturing in Keswick next Tuesday (4th Oct). I'll be doing a few new things based on beautiful 'failures' plus a fresh look at Annapurna III. All for only £4!
Just to wet the appetite heres a few pics. 7.30 at the Queens Hall at Keswick school more details here www.keswicklecturesociety.co.uk/

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Autumnal Bliss

Today was a perfect blue sky warm autumn day and I had a free day to go ...Yes Climbing! So where did I choose ...Cloggy? Scafell? Gogarth? er, no... the quarried tip-face of White Goods.Rich giving Jazz some beef!Rich lowering off - Jazz having returned the beef with interest

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Something to train for.

I've always needed goals, aims in life, little targets - all very un-zen I know. But I struggle for motivation and get a bit lost without something driving me on. Luckily I've two interesting possibilities on the horizon. The first hopefully a return to Chamonix and the Alps, and a chance to hook up with Jon Bracey, who I climbed the Grand Couloir on the Plan with in the Spring. The ticklist as ever is enormous, it would be great to make it one or two routes shorter.

The other trip is a maybe for January - ice climbing in Japan! Which if it comes off should be very exciting - adventurous as there is little info in the west. Markus Bendler and Albert Leichtfried made a trip a few years back which looked amazing - here's their short film.

As a result of those two goals I've got inspired to start training - and so in the last few days I've had my first White Goods (the Welsh border dry tooling crag) visit and dusted off the 'fig fours' for a spin at the wall. There were a couple of new lines at White Goods - three on the left side of the Apples and Pears area (we did the one just left of the big tree - nice starting moves then horrible - definitely not one to go back for). Much better was the new M8+ in the main area which typically for this crag is 'solid' for the grade. I didn't have the guns or the skills for the roof, but enjoyed working and linking the lower section - which flows superbly on big moves between deep positive hooks - definitely one to go back for.

Talking of getting inspired I'm doing a show at the Covent Garden Snow and Rock Shop on the 14th September. I'm going to be presenting some new images, films and stories - more info here: www.snowandrock.com/pws/UniqueProductKey.ice?ProductID=DUM002000

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Old Magic

'Lets see some of that old magic' was a phrase Matt Dickinson used to me on one of my first ever expeditions - the first ascent of The Thumbnail, a giant sea cliff in Greenland. I was trying to gather my nerves to lead a bold looking blank wall about 15 pitches above the fjord but despite Matt's encouragement I ended up bottling it and handing over the lead. Matt committed and found surprisingly reasonable climbing opening up the way to the upper headwall of the route.
That was back in '99 and whilst the expeditions went from strength to strength it was in inverse proportion to my rock climbing. The good news is having had most of this year off climbing due to injury and an attempt to be a runner I'm back searching for the magic. Whilst I'd love this blog to be about how I've suddenly remembered how to climb E6 again the reality is its going to be a long process. But just that feeling of heading out and getting scared has reminded me that the magic might not be at the end of a big E number but as likely to be found as you take that big gulp of fresh air at the end of a sweaty run out.
Talking of big E numbers the family camping holiday saw Steve McClure and me sneaking off for a couple of early mornings cragging. He catching my lobs off E2s and me holding his ropes on E8 onsights. Both of us searching for the magic, in our own ways!

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Dawn Patrol

It's been almost 2 months since I blogged. Shoddy, but I've had little to report but injuries. Fingers, knuckles, palms and most recently bloody knees. The knee has been particularly frustrating as I think it's a small tear on the cartilage in the same knee as my 2 previous key hole operations. I think I've got to the point where I'm going to have to give up running, or at least to the extent that I want to. I'd set my heart on a marathon next year and was thinking I was cautiously laying a good foundation of training this summer before ratcheting up the volume for this winter. It seems however cautious I am my body can't cope with even relatively modest running training.
So rather than sulking I'm hoping to convert that routine I'd got into of training 5 or 6 times a week for running into training for climbing. As well as rejoining the gym and embarking on a 'cyclists rehab' - not very good for Malham cranking but I hope it will be a stepping stone for proper mountain training in 6 weeks or so. The biggest struggle for me with climbing at the moment is time, so I've started the Dawn Patrol - early morning bouldering sessions, Leave the house at 6am ish and back by 8. I've even managed to recruit another keenie - Adge Last, a much better climber than me but also battling injuries - so a handy partner to whinge about my aches and pains.
I'm a real contender for the most inept boulderer in Sheffield, but despite the struggles it's a great feeling to head back for the 'start' of the day at 8 in the morning, with that gritstone glow in your fingertips setting you up nicely for the busy office/nappy changing hours ahead.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Chee Tor Ch'i

Managed to get out mid week for a cheeky climb. The very wonderful Chee Tor Girdle.I love the slightly lost world atmosphere of Cheedale, you half expect to see a stray Diplodocus wandering down the river.
The route itself is well worth it's 3 stars, in fact it's one of the better VSs I've done
Although the 5 pitches especially the last two might have novice VS leaders (and followers) racks in a twist.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


A couple of thanks in this post. Firstly to everyone who sponsored me in the Manchester 10k, I think in total we managed to raise £300 for the Make a Wish Charity (the exact amount I'm not sure yet as some donations got posted direct).

Secondly thanks to everyone who came to see Ranulph Fiennes interviewed by me at Buxton Opera House. This was Ran and my first attempt at this format and we were pleased with how it went. The main reason it was a success was down to the audience who were on fine form - it makes it so much easier up on stage when you know that everyone listening are up for a good night. We are hoping to see if we can tour this show - perhaps next year? I would be interested if anyone reading was there if you have any feedback - what worked and what could be improved. Also if you would like to see the show in your area let me know if you have a big theatre (700 plus seater).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

London Lecture

Next Thursday, the 26th May, I'm doing a show at the Castle Climbing Centre in London. As well as talking about some of my personal adventures in the Himalaya, Scotland and some of the looser cliffs in England, I'll talk a bit about climbing the Eiger with Sir Ranulph Fiennes and El Cap with Major Phil Packer who couldn't use his legs to climb. I'll also be offering a few thoughts and tips on photography in the mountains. Here's a link for more information http://www.castle-climbing.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=297&Itemid=1

Just to wet the appetite here's a few pics:
Annpurna III, Nepal
Storr on SkyeDover Chalk CliffsPatagonia

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rare and wonderful

Following my route on the Plan almost 2 months ago (?) I developed a nerve pain in my left hand - plunger's palm perhaps? from so much plodding through deep snow on the midi plan traverse. As a result I haven't been able to climb since then. That is until this Wednesday when Jon and I made the lengthy day trip to Lleyn Penninsula to climb the 9 pitch 'mountain by the sea' Avernus. It gets the grade HVS 4c but mild XS might be more appropriate as it's a 50/50 mix of rock and veg, with much of the veg being 80+ degrees. Luckily I like this kind of stuff and it was a fun day out. Although I would caution anyone who might be tempted that it's quite far from your normal HVS. The technically harder climbing has good pro and excellent sound rock but for me the cruxes were the first main pitch (i.e. pitch 2 in North Wales Rock) and the last - both have no technical grade but both it would be easy to have a nasty accident on. still if your heads in gear a fine adventurous outing.Jon approaching the mountain by the seaAvernus takes the skyline buttressPitch 3 4b, the sea campion pitchpitch 4 4c the bluebell pitchdescending down through the quarry in the drizzle to the metropolis of Trefor
The old quarry 'visitors centre'

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why run?

Since my brief trip to the Alps a month or so ago I've been unable to climb due to nerve pain in my left hand. I think it's been brought on by the battering it got holding the hammer head of my axe for 10 hours across the Midi-Plan Traverse so I'm christening it 'plunger's palm'
In the mean time I've been running even more than ever. Running is one of those activities that divides opinion in a love-hate way, so I thought I'd explain a little of why I'm I love it so much.

The first and main reason for me is that it is that it keeps me sane - running is a guaranteed safety valve for surviving modern life. I'm sure there is a complex physiological reason involving various chemicals being released in the brain as to why it works, but the simple act of heading out for even a short run seems to de-clutter the mind. I suspect the rhythm of running helps and of course the fact that you can concentrate on one thing without having to be distracted by the bleeps and buzzes of the daily grind.
Secondly there's the health benefits - my family has a history of genetic heart disease with many of my relatives dying from heart attacks, so anything I can do to delay that is obviously great. You could argue there are health problems from running too - my knees definitely aren't wild about my return to running and most of my mates have opted for road biking as their middle aged fitness escape route. However biking doesn't have that.......direct connection with the land. There is something magical about moving on foot at 'speed' over the land. I'm sure it's a deep rooted memory of the great travels our ancient ancestors must have undertaken. But (particularly as you get fitter) naturally right about sweeping across interesting terrain. As well as the rhythms and contours of the land there's the simple little discoveries I come across my early morning runs. I'm lucky enough to have my local wood within a couple of minutes from my front door. 6.30 runs have brought the glittering crystals of snow highlighted in my head torch, the echoes of woodpeckers, racing squirrels and Spring's carpets of wild garlic and bluebells.
I think most impotantly running more than any other activity gives me a sense of 'freedom' A sensation of release, limitless possibilities and a reminder of the simple joy of being alive.