First Impressions – Evolv Bandit SC and Gogarth

The parents are visiting for the weekend but since the seventies, Saturday evening for them has always been about TV talent shows – New Faces, Opportunity Knocks, Stars in Their Eyes and this evening it’s Strictly and X-Factor. My TV set has never been so abused. I’ve had to look away, despite all the glamorous ladies in gorgeous dresses.

The La Sportiva beginners shoe that I’ve been climbing in this year finally procured a hole in it’s rand, courtesy of the roughly textured paint at the Pinnacle climbing centre, 4×4 training and my flawFUL footwork. A quick scout around the centre and it quickly became apparent that the Bandits are popular, both in the bouldering room and on the competition wall. Nothing’s easy however and I fall between sizes stocked and have to wait a couple of days for Simon’s next delivery. Pinnacle are an Evolv Performance Specialist centre and whilst the Shamen may suit Sharma, I’ve a feeling that the Bandits are more than good enough for the climbing I do.

A couple of boulder problems and it was obvious that they fit – pain. Being maybe 20mm smaller than the Sportivas, my toes are always going to feel cramped. I was liking the stable platform mind, edging felt way easier and in my mind I was dreaming of slate routes again. A few NLMC members were off to the cottage for what looked like a decent weekend weatherwise and I ask Dale if he fancies coming along for a bit of trad. Now Dale climbs way harder than me, even when he had a broken leg last year and he’s been big wall climbing in Yosemite – he’s also seen my poor attempts at Pinnacle. We’ll make a great team obviously. The others decide to head to the Pass with it’s history and mountain routes whilst Dale and I, Team Northampton, head to Gogarth, ignoring possible rain forecasts in return for seacliffs and quartzite. Anglesey isn’t new to me, I’ve climbed on Holyhead Mountain more than once and I actually like the rock, however sea cliff climbing would be new to me. I’d once abbed down to the start of Commando Ridge at Bosigran with my lad but he got nervous and we scrambled back up.

My turn to be nervous as Dale fixed the abseil rope and I stuck the velcro down on the new Bandits. ‘Man, they hurt’ and then it was my turn to follow Dale over the edge. The nerves washed away as the sea came nearer and the odd splashes of rain we’d felt in the car park disappear along with the cliff top. This was Gogarth South Stack and the first climb was to be Lighthouse Arete VS 4c – Dale asked if I wanted to lead the first pitch, a traverse of Severe grade but having never seen a traverse pitched properly, I felt I might learn more from seconding. Soon we were stood at the top, drinking water and having a few bites to eat and I was enjoying Gogarth. Atlantis was next, or rather the first pitch and this was a whole step up in climbing trad for me. HVS 5a, a corner that was vertical and the sea was coming in, utterly oblivious to my existence and it added a touch of spice to the climb. Dale had made it to about halfway and someone decided to abb down the route, no dramas, they couldn’t see him from their position and a few shouts and gestures soon sorted the situation. My turn. I was glad of the Bandits, the footholds seemed small, as did the holds. I had disco leg. A word with myself, sort the foot position and it was gone, crisis over. At the belay ledge I breathed deeply and felt like I’d actually climbed properly for the first time, in control and never wondering what the hell was I doing there. At that moment nothing else mattered, just me, my new shoes, a new climbing partner in Dale and of course the star of the show… Gogarth.

Abbing back down from the halfway belay ledge to do the first pitch of Northwest Passage, I leant out to abb down and realised someone was getting onto the top of the rope – the cliff was getting busier and it was wise to keep your eye on the ball. Down I went, up Dale went and I followed. It was about now that I realised I may have struggled with the climbing if I’d have been using my old shoes, as they were too soft and flexible to grip to the, at times, tiny edges I was trusting my feet on. The Evolvs are meant to be a fairly comfortable shoe in Bandit style and whilst they were causing more pain than I was used to, the gains to be had more than made up for any discomfort. The red matched the zips on my trousers, style to outstrip Westwood.

We sat on the belay ledge holding conversations with randoms and Gogarth captured my heart. I used to surf a few years back, and spent more than a while playing on a jetski and following a motorboat on a ski or two. Water meant a lot to me in those days and here I was, waves crashing, sun shining, chatting climbing. Content? Never more so. I did wonder how little old me, the young lad from Oldham who dreamt of being an astronaut and climbing Everest had ended up here. Content I was. My feet however were not. Ouch.

I watched a climber head out on an E2 traverse, sketchy it looked and Dale said he fancied climbing that one day as he’d not been on that route. Quickly, now the climber had moved off, we set the belay up and Dale lead cleanly across and then up the E1 5b pitch of NW Passage. Now, I’ve been on and followed on E1 before but this was vertical and had a bit of a traverse, in other words it wasn’t a soft touch with me not being the stongest of climbers. In my head I repeated over and over to myself ‘trust the feet and climb with them’. Some of the gear took an age and an effort to remove, DMM offsets are not a second’s best friends. but I never sat on the rope, pulled on the gear, slipped or felt out of my depth. The hand traverse was dispatched without fear and tiny foot placements felt as secure as a step. Thank you Evolv, my new Bandits cut the mustard.

Dale was happy enough, happy with the weather, the climbing and me I guess. Enough to ask if I fancied seconding the E2 and whilst I knew I was climbing well enough, we’d climbed maybe 180m of mostly vertical quartzite and I was pushing my limits, not knackered yet but I couldn’t be far off. The offer was declined but it won’t be forgotten. We wandered round to have a look at Dream of White Horses, a classic climb if ever there was and it looked every bit a 3* route.

My Bandits? They’re still a torture instrument but are wearing well at the wall despite my shoddy footwork and even tho I’ve had the Sportivas resoled, I won’t be going backwards. More on the Evolvs as the time passes.

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So many new shinys…

This ultra race I’ve entered has caused a fair bit of kit purchasing, new sport means new gear and I’m still having to purchase the odd bit of climbing gear. So what’s come through the front door?

Firstly – the OMM i-drate, a 12ltr backpack that’s just about the right size for the run. It’ll make a perfect daysack for summer, the colour is garish and will go with my yellow Berghaus perfectly. The 80s fashion for colour is back in yeh? They won’t miss me on the hill. It’s not ideal, I’d have liked two bigger zipped pockets on the hip belt but it will serve my needs. I’ve had to buy a Source Wide bladder thingy to go in it… this is great for a bladder but I really do prefer bottles, the OMM sack is designed for both and the race will necessitate both too. I’ve ran 17 miles with it on (in one go!) and not a bit of rubbing from the harness. Yep, OMM harnesses fit me like my skin.  Compressport Calf Guards in the Ultra Silicone variety, oh er mrs, have been used a couple of times now in training and I think without them I’d be looking at a far more torturous trip to Gateshead. I’m happy with them so far but I do think they have something of the school kid about them – I bought white, in the hope they will reflect all the glorious sunshine we’re going to enjoy this summer. There’s Ron Hill shorts, Nike short (very!) shorts, Hilly socks that are twin skin and amazing, plus a host of products that will hopefully stop my arse crack from chaffing if it’s a hot and sweaty race. I really, really, really hope they work.

On the climbing front, there came to be in my possession a fine pair of Edelrid Merlin Half ropes. Dry treated and 8mm in size, they’re light, well made and go well with my living room. I’ve had to pay for mine, unlike my mate Joe from South Africa who’s sponsored by them but it was having a good look at his gear that made me purchase these, rather than going for Beal or one of the other more common names in the UK. Now at 8mm, there may be an issue of compatibility with some belay plates and having just lobbed my Buggette of Main Wall on Cyrn Glas, I’ve purchased a Reverso 4, the latest incarnation no less. It’s a joy to behold, it really is. Why is my van not that colour eh? I’ve bought another Buggettte too, they’re so light at 26g, there’s no excuse for not carrying one as a spare and if I’m climbing on my ropes, who’s to say my partner will have a small enough belay plate? See, thinking ahead. Another DMM Dragon cam brings the collection up to four and just for completeness, I purchased a set of matching DMM Phantom krabs – climbing gear can make me a little OCD.

All that’s left is to use and abuse, then report back but so far, so good.

Canon S95 – A fresh start.

Point and shoot baby. 110 cassette films made me happier than faffing with a 35mm film and auto everything made me a lazy lad when it come to taking a picture. Times change and the ability to take a million shots with digital means most will shoot a ‘wooow’ frame or two at some point in their lifetime. It’s those photos, the ones that are framed well and the light’s just so, that make photography a frustrating challenge for me personally. I’d like them all to have the ‘wooow’ factor, however, I know that’s never going to happen without a decent camera and an altered attitude from the person pressing the buttons – me.

There were certain needs – small, sturdy, simple. It’ll be stuffed in a pocket when I’m climbing, hence the need for the three S words. I like a bargain too, so I sought some advice from mates who knew about these things and followed that up with a few cramming sessions on the interweb. Ideally, I wanted a camera I could grow into, yet wasn’t the size of a DSLR. The Panasonic LX5 was almost there but in the end, the Canon won due to its size. Jeans pocket size as opposed to jacket pocket. Purchased a month ago with two spare batteries and a decent memory card for the grand sum of £253 from DigitalRev. Today was the first chance I’ve had to have a play with it, work and training has been my whole life lately and it’s sat on the shelf staring sullenly at me for four weeks now.

I’ll admit I know nothing about photography. Exposure and shutter speed both let in more or less light but what the difference is… well, I’m at a loss. Already the camera is taking pictures that are white or black due to my adjusting the settings, not that I’m too worried about that, as that was the whole point of buying it. Why purchase a camera that shoots in RAW and allows all manner of manual fiddling if you’re just going to leave it on auto? Seriously tho, I need to acquire knowledge and turn it into decent pictures. So these are some of what I took today, some on auto and others with the fancy settings. Eek!

After I get the Alps out of the way, I’ll purchase Lightroom 4 but that will have to wait as I’m sure a couple of weeks in Switzerland will leave me bankrupt. That will be a whole new world of wonder and hopefully the new horizon will be crisp and sharp, a focused frame of wonder. We’ll see.

PHD – Customer Service

PHD manufacture some damn fine down clothing and sleep systems, they hold a sale twice yearly as a norm and one of the discounted deals in September 2009 was a Minimus styled synthetic overbag. Out came the debit card and mine was purchased forthwith. It’s not been used too much since then, in a snow hole that first winter and earlier this year in Morocco. It’s always had a Minim 300 snuggled inside and generally has an easy life. So I was rather surprised when I turned it inside out last week and found the inner coming apart. Small rips all along the stitching and the synthetic lining clearly visible. Hmmm.

I considered taking it round to a tailor mate of mine but if he re-stitched it, then the inside would be slightly smaller and the same thing may happen again. No, ringing PHD seemed the wise thing to do and get them to sort it properly, expensive kit looked after properly can and should last a lifetime. The phone was answered instantly, I explained the problem and within minutes I had an email authorizing repair. Royal Mail charged me £7.50 for insured special delivery last Tuesday afternoon and on Friday, my neighbours took delivery of a freshly fixed overbag. No charge. “PHD guarantees all its products against faults in manufacture and materials for the life of the product, subject to the limitations of normal wear and tear.” I hadn’t taken any notice of that bit when purchasing.

It’s always good to be positive, it’s fantastic when you can be about a UK company, one that produces products that compare well with any from around the world and then back that up with first class customer care. Take a bow PHD.

Spikes for feet… and not for golf.

This year I managed to get a fair few days in wearing crampons, weeks actually. As the years have past, the spikes in my hair have fallen by the wayside, only to be replaced by woolly hats.I bought the daughter an Indianna Jones replica hat once, to go with a replica knife my mate Matty found in Torture Garden. Anyway, I digress…

Crampons.

I now own three pairs of the things, seemingly a little greedy on this wet isle we call home. In my defence however, the Petzl Vasaks did need resharpening this year after the mixed climbing abuses they received in the Atlas and the Hillsounds where a surprise addition from stage right.

I have some Grivel G10s and what’s to say about them? They work well, have a flexible bar that enables them to be used on  flexible boots but it would be remiss of me not to mention – you shouldn’t be doing that folks. Anyway, I have and it worked fine for me on both Meindl Borneos and Asolo Flames. Put them on my B3 boots however, strap them tight and they are rock solid. I’ve happily gone up Grade 2 winter stuff in them and have heard tales told of people using them on tougher technical terrain. Grivel surpassed themselves with the anti-balling plates and snow clumped underfoot has never been an issue. Whilst they’ve not been used much this year, I can’t see me ever getting rid of them. They’ll be loaned to friends, kept as a back up and used when ice and steep snow isn’t in contention for the day’s route. Top kit.

The Vasaks were bought as my winter ambitions increased, leaving the G10s behind. In hindsight, I should have bought a shiny new pair of G12s to start with but that just seemed overkill back then, one never knows where one’s path may take one’s self to use a cliche. I was a fair bit more of a canny lad this time and bought secondhand from someone who had outgrown them himself and purchased something suitable for ice. Just the £40 and I was now a winter warrior, ready in my spikes to battle with mixed Scottish terrain and snow gullies. Hang on… didn’t I do that in my G10s? Aye, I did. The big benefit is the front points being nearer to the horizontal, all the better for kicking people in the shins. Ignore that, I’d forgotten it was climbing post and had sidetracked to a midfield maestro’s footballing nirvana. There were times this year when I was glad to have made the change, tiny cracks that the G10s just couldn’t have found purchase on and there I was, delicately balanced on a few millimeters of Petzl’s finest steel. It could only be referred to as delicate until the disco leg cut in and then all style went out of the proverbial window quite smartly. The trousers are no longer smart, full of holes from when I was daft enough to think I didn’t need a gaiter. A good buy, proof that secondhand can work and work well, provided you do your research and know that the fit will be right for your boots. All hail the interweb!

There’s plenty of folks in the hills that wear those seriously flexible crampons when it’s winter, those a bit like a big rubber band that you step into, with spikes on chains below your sole. ‘Not for me’ I’ve said more than once and heard much the same from people who’s opinions and experience I respect. I’ve also watched as other mates who garner the self same respect from me, head off into the High Andes with homemade, high altitude, insulated gaiters fitted to Inov8s, that were settled on top of baby spikes with that giant rubber band for attachment. Strange how we all differ as to what’s suitable, I reckon we’re all right and wrong as well.

I was given some of the Hillsound Trail Crampons to test in February whilst up in Scotland and can’t say I was thrilled at the idea. Trying to give the appearance of a rebel, I strode upwards on snowy paths with them slung on the pick of my ice axe. No pack for me, just a few Werther’s Originals in my pockets  and with the aim of finding some icy rocks to put the Hillsounds past their limits. How could crampons provide security when they are attached by elastic? I had pictures of them squirming around and me taking a tumble. Fitting them was simple, step in and then secure with the velcro strap. Done. Some people find God and become born again, for once there was no such gore and amniotic fluid in this revelation but I had surely seen the light! No movement, no squirreling about and I was happy to stroll around in them. Happy to stand on an iced up edge, the photo is by ptc* by the way and there’s a link to his site at the side. It best illustrates the complete change in opinion I had over the Hillsounds.

They do have limits, a lack of points at the very rear of the heel being the main one for me. We were scrambling down some shallow chimney-like depression and at times there was no grip where both my Vasaks and G10s would have had plenty but then we were well outside the design profile. What can I say? I ended up buying them. They certainly have a place, maybe not in the High Andes but for walks were there may be an icy path, as a ‘throw in the bag’ solution to the usual spills and thrills that sub zero temperatures and a damp atmosphere provide – they’ve got me hooked. By a spike or twenty.

So I was wrong about crampons with elastic bands. Or was that right? I’d have died if I’d tried to use them on some of the routes I did this year but certainly, they would have gotten me to the top of Toubkal, by the South Cwm on the days I ascended it. Not that I’d suggest you do that, you’d limit your options when it comes to going off track and we all know that’s where the fun starts.

Crampons. Spikes for the feet, not the head.

RIP my Featherlite smock

It’s truly been a life changing and trusty old friend. My Montane Featherlite smock, an original piece in a fetching blue, has finally been resigned to walking history. It may get used on the mountain bike on muddy days but it’s time as THE ‘go to’ garment for outdoor outings has passed. Even at the last however, it hasn’t let me down. Quite stupidly, I forgot to change the temperature setting on the washing machine and the poor old thing had to endure an 80 Celsius wash. An Arcteryx top gave up the ghost, a Saloman shirt disintingrated but the Featherlite came out much the same as it went in… minus a few shades of blue.

 

It was too baggy and flappy, wind noise could be horrendous but it changed the way I approached mountains and clothing massively. I can’t think of a better £16 I’ve ever spent, well done eBay, and it represents perhaps the best value for money item I have, certainly in terms of hours worn. Merino socks just don’t understand value for money.

The newer models pictured above on the right, had a slimmer cut and less wind noise and Pertex has moved on a bit, what with the Quantum fabric, so that hot wash gave me shopping options. What new windshirt to buy?

Found yesterday on the sale rail of the Climbers Shop in Ambleside… a Montane Slipstream Featherlite Smock, specially made for them and in shiny silver Pertex Quantum. The price made me smile, lots. £22.50. Meet my new best friend.

 

Hopefully it will last as well, the material makes me think it won’t but we’ll see. Silver… Buck Rodgers in the 21st Century.