Back in the game.

A busy winter that started with the hot aches on Wen Zawn one cold November’s day. It was nice to get on my first E2 and feel comfortable, with just a fall when my hands had gone so numb that I couldn’t feel the rock.

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Aladdin’s Mirror Direct was dispatched by Chiz in lean conditions before a trip to the west coast of Scotland for new year. A play on some Torridan sandstone cliffs resulted in my best ‘lead’ to date – a HS 4c solo.

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Only last weekend, a trip to Wales for winter fun appeared without warning and some classics were ticked but for me, a dream was fulfilled. Trinity Face has loomed large on many a walk and I finally wandered up there with George. Our first climb together and Right Hand Trinity was negotiated without drama… well, I fell on the crux.

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Winter is coming…

No foreign trips this winter, unless crossing the borders of both Scotland and Wales count but I’m starting to get just a little excited. This was me last January, nearing the top of an 800m climb up Biguinoussene, the top here being part of an existing route but it was an amazing day, the best of last winter.

 

The lad I climbed with that day has just won UCT Sportsperson of the Year over in South Africa – Joe’s a top geezer and the award is well deserved, he’s seriously pushing the boundaries of trad climbing and   this link shows you some of what he managed during their summer.

Strangely, when he won the award, the 800m route we pottered up seemed to get more attention. Big hills eh? Far more dramatic in pictures? Needless to say, I had a chuckle to myself as what I consider perhaps the best mountain day I’ve ever had compares not a whit to Joe’ trad adventures. I’ve been reflecting on what an amazing year it’s been since I heard he’d won the award and I’m pretty confident that it’s been the most amazing of my life. The route we took is in red and the green line is our descent route, a D+ in the upper part. I’m hoping for some similar adventures this year but a little closer to home.

 

Turn that heating up and let the winter come!

Elidir Fawr – a grand day out.

Anyone who’s done the Welsh 3000s and started from Snowdon or Crib Goch will understand why many gaze upon Elidir Fawr with disdain.  It’s a lump, a great big lump with less interest to it than a lump of coal. Strolling up from Nant Peris, it’s diagonal path rises to the summit. It alters little and apart from the small bridge that’s crossed not long after leaving the village, the only cure to the monotony can often be just keeping your feet dry or long glances back at the Snowdon massive.

George and myself once managed to spot an otter as we rested at the aforementioned bridge but seeing as we were headed north to south – it didn’t count. It was a thing to behold as it flowed downstream, blissfully unaware of the excitement it generated in two weary travellers. For the last couple of years, myself, Omar, Chris and James have been slowly walking the biggest mountains Wales has to offer and it was now the turn of Elidir Fawr and I’d been pondering how to make it interesting and not commit them to the long slog.

We dumped a vehicle down at Bus Stop Quarry in the end and drove round to Ogwen Cottage to start the day’s journey. None of the lads having stepped upon Y Garn before, we hooked right as we hit Llyn Ogwen and started our ascent up the man made path that’s slowly being placed there. I’d only walked up this side of the peak in winter before, in what was really a powder fest and it was nice to be able to make good haste as everyone checked their altimeters. Boys and their toys. I managed to get a little running in as we ascended but the strength in the legs is starting to wane now, the early summer’s exertions becoming a dim memory.

Summit ticked and it was onto Elidir Fawr – a gentle meander from this direction for the other three and a gentle jog at times for the old man of the troop. The wind was something else however, straight into the face as we crossed the col. Happy memories flooded back from May, I’d had the phone call from my daughter to say West Ham had been promoted as George and I came down from the summit of Y Garn. Aye, happy memories. On the summit of Elidir Fawr, we hunkered down in the shelter, glad to be out of the wind. A quick look at the map, it was down to Elidir Fach (a first for me) and then leftwards to find a way into the upper reaches of slate quarries that rise above Llanberis.

The lads loved it, I find it the most amazing of spaces. Abandoned many, many moons ago and dangerous in parts – it’s an adults playground these days. Access rights are vague but climbers head there most days in search of technical slabs, terrifying trad and genuine adventure. Well, it feels like an adventure every time I go. It’s a place for people to discover themselves however, thoroughly recommended. Down to Bus Stop Quarry and away to the pub. Elidir Fawr can be enjoyable, it just took a little thought and the blood, sweat and tears of a thousand quarrymen. One can only leave the quarries humbled, asking oneself if you really know what hard work is…

*Cheers James for the pictures.

The New Forest

We decided to fit in a quick camping weekend in the New Forest before the weather turned too cold for Martyn, Martin and Matt. There’s a fair few campsites to choose from and we picked one not too far from Brockenhurst, slap bang in the middle of the cycle routes. There’s not a lot to say about the mountain biking – it’s easy trails for the most part with some tarmac travelling to negotiate. Adrenalin plays no part other than when the passing cars zip past a little too closely.

There’s a plethora of cafes and pubs to choose from – cream teas abound and a lunchtime pint is definitely the order of the day. My rear derailleur broke on the second day, so I limped back to the site and read for a few hours whilst the others enjoyed fine weather on two wheels.

Can’t say I’d bother heading back there, it seemed a ‘nothingy’ sort of place to cycle but I suppose if we’d have planned our day better, we could have hacked to the coast and enjoyed an ice cream with sea views… oh, did I mention the horses?

 

Attitude, approach and effort.

Three words stolen from a UKC article, written by Dave MacLeod some five years back.

On Friday evening I managed to pull, swing, hook and push my way up a V3 boulder problem for the first time at Pinnacle. I came away full of beans, really chuffed with the accomplishment and thankful for the great bunch of climbers who had offered advice, compliments and criticism in equal measure and shouted encouragement when needed.

It wasn’t a hard problem in the end, I guess once you can do them they never are but Dave Mac’s three key words drove me to the finish line. Dale told me a few months back to work on small crimps and this was easy enough at the time on the 15deg boulder wall – lots of options for movement and it was going well until… a reset. I looked around and the 30deg panel had the right holds moving across it down low on a V3, way beyond my level but I was happy to practice getting sideways.

Now, I struggle with V2 problems and when I started hanging from the lowest of the V3 holds, I wasn’t managing half of the V1s, including the one on the same panel that had massive jugs. As such, I didn’t ever dare to imagine that the V3 would be doable for me before the room was reset. After a couple of weeks I had the bottom sequence quite neat and decided to make a slap for the hideous looking three tiered terminator of a hold that held residence above a volume, a volume that looked likely to bash a man where it hurts. It felt awful, I felt weak and it was apparent that I needed to be able to pull up with my right arm better, then hold that position for a split second.

Approach.

I went away and worked on what was needed for me to be able to make the big lunge upwards. I did some 4x4s, got on the fingerboard and held the holds with my elbows at 90deg and it was about this time that I managed my first ever pull-up! An overhand one from what I’ve been reading this evening. A few days later and I managed five, next evening I managed to touch the hold before dropping to the floor. A few times. Finally I held it but I was out of balance and couldn’t hold on long enough to sort my feet. Back to the fingerboard after a session on the wall and work the fingers till I couldn’t hold on any longer. This approach to a problem was new for me, normally I’d have just kept trying the problem but that hasn’t been getting me anywhere.

Effort

On Monday evening, everyone mentioned how tired I looked. I’d worked all day after a couple of hours sleep and a working weekend but Alex (the route setter at Pinnacle) had mentioned that day, that the boulder room would be reset on the 11th Nov. If I wanted to do the V3, I had to get my butt in gear and engage effort unlike before. Tired or not, it was time to apply myself and by the end of the evening I was managing to hold the three tiered terminator but it felt fragile and I was out of balance. Tom offered some advice and showed me a way to get to it that he said “looks unlikely, it does work tho”. I had one go and whilst it did feel better for me, I was far too pumped and tired by that point to pursue it.

Approach

Tuesday, I rested after work and ate well. I even went to bed early enough to get some decent sleep. Err, not true as it happens and I went to my lad’s to help him with his decorating till 10pm but when I finally made home, it was decent grub and sleep. Diet and rest is a major part of any training program and this V3 deserved some respect. Wednesday evening I decided to try it just twice using Tom’s tactic and it felt good. My left foot was already in the right position before I even made a grab for ‘that’ hold and I stood for a while just looking at the final three holds for the first time, picturing where my feet would have to be to make use of them properly. I then walked away and tried some other stuff, the reason being that my mind that evening was firmly with my daughter many miles away. I rested properly on Thursday evening, a night out with Tony, a decent curry and just two pints of lager. I was on a mission.

Attitude

In the end, it was a matter of just going for the last holds and forgetting about the fall risk. I fell. It went and Tom, who was there watching, said it looked comfortable and in control. It was but only because I’d put in the effort, sorted my approach and had a change of attitude. No longer was I looking at the problem and dismissing it as too hard – I’d spent most of the afternoon shopping for trousers, a bow tie and some evening style for the NLMC dinner, yet, I’d been psyching myself up for nailing ‘that damned V3’ as it had become known. ‘The hold’ wasn’t an issue. On my first go past it, I’d gotten scared due to faffing around with my feet and dropped off the panel. Sort the attitude, up again and go for the hold. Second go and oops, too far and I grabbed the hold too far left and off I peeled. Next go I held it but got scared, feet again. Then I managed to cross my right hand over my left and there was only the last hold to go, my arms pumped and I dropped down.

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Rest a while, chat to Stuart who was in the boulder room for his first ever indoor climb and watch some geezer playing on a V8. Straight up to the top I went, focused on the final hold and went for it… I made it and instantly peeled off! Hahaha. Funny as it was, I was gutted but everyone was encouraging as usual. So I rested a while, longer this time and watched Tom, who’d come in to work on the V8 I’d just seen blitzed.

When the V3 went down, only Tom and the chap who’d done the V8 were there but the small words of encouragement to “sort feet” and “go on” were enough to get me to the top and in control. It felt good.

Dave MacLeod had a point – Attitude, approach and effort.

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.

Time to sit down…

It’s been a crazy few weeks since the alpine trip, three months as it happens and whilst in my head it’s been ‘climb, climb, climb’ – the reality has been far more varied and there’s been more than a couple of walking weekends. A trip down the Thames accompanied by Twisted Tim and some progressive beats added some culture, drunkenness and a headache worthy of altitude.

 

Far too many weekends away, busy evenings, we all know what that’s like and I just needed to regroup, to spend some time at home, to catch up with chores and reflect on what’s been a most amazing year so far. There’s lots to tell and I’ll get round to it soon – Gogarth, Edale, Llanberis and I’ll finally tell my thoughts on the Hitec boots I received back in February as they’ve been abused a fair bit now. I’ll enjoy casting my mind back and tapping the keys… it’s been a grand summer.