About Me

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Manchester, United Kingdom
My name is Jake Oughton, I'm seventeen and a very keen climber. My main passion is trad climbing, but I enjoy all aspects of the sport, including sport climbing, bouldering and competitions. I am currently pushing into E5 onsight, as well as redpointing 7c+ sport routes, V7 boulder problems, and competing at a national level. I have climbed all over the world, from sea-side sport routes in Spain to the towering granite walls of Squamish, Canada. I train up to five days a week, with the goal of becoming the best all-round climber I can be, and this blog gives an insight into my climbing life, my training and my ambitions.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Summery Summary

In what has been a disappointingly busy summer so far, for once climbing has not been the main objective. The focus has mainly been taken over by the many stresses that accompany applying for university, and the even greater stresses of applying for medicine. I've also (for once) had a non-climbing trip abroad this summer, although it wasn't your typical relaxing on the beach holiday. So here's a round up of what I've been up to these past few months.

This move was the scene of many a slip-up
My first big event of the summer was the national final of this year's Youth Climbing Series. (If you're totally uninterested in the idea of reading about other people climbing on plastic, I totally understand, just scroll down a bit to some more outdoorsy stuff). I'd been a bit preoccupied in the weeks leading up to the comp with revising for my AS summer exams, so I hadn't really had the time to put much training in, but I managed to keep fit on a couple of sessions per week, and in some ways not having heavily prepared for a competition helps relieve some of the pressure to perform at your best. So my plan was to keep calm, try my hardest, and just treat it like any other session at the wall. Just with lots of other people there too. And a crowd of people watching you climb. The competition is split into three routes, and three boulder problems. Bouldering had always been my weakness, so I spent what few sessions I had in the run up purely bouldering. This left me a little less fit than usual, but a lot stronger, and I felt much more confident than the previous year. The first couple of routes went without too much fuss, with almost every one topping the first, a nice 6c to warm up on, and just a few people slipping off the tricky finish of the second route, which was probably closer to 7a. The boulders, looking from the ground, looked outrageously hard. Every hold seemed to be sloping, every move looked to be a desperate slap, but slowly I managed to piece together a few tricks in my head which would (hopefully) compensate for my lacking in the raw power department. The first problem felt about V4, but there were plenty of features available for the feet, and the holds were more positive than they looked from below. The second problem did not look so friendly. From the other group (each of the categories - I'm in Youth A - were split in half to prevent big queuing) only two had managed to flash it, so I didn't fancy my chances. Nevertheless, when I pulled on, where everyone else was slapping wildly between the sloping sidepulls, I used heel-hooks and drop-knees to allow me to move in a more static, controlled style, up to a scary last move to match the final hold (another sloper, of course), and I was the only person in my group to flash it. Unfortunately the final problem brought my ego crashing back down to earth, it being simply hideous. I couldn't make it quite as far as some of the strongest in the group, but I gave it a good go and kept myself in the running for a good postition - it would all come down to the final route, just the way I like it.

So very close
Rumour had it that the route was pushing for 7c+, and it certainly looked impressive. I'd seen a lot of people I know to be very good climbers suddenly slip off without warning. Surprisingly some of the strongest boulderers couldn't make it very far, quickly eliminating what I was worried would be my toughest competition. I was one of the last people to climb, so I had seen 30 competitors fail to reach the top. Instead of finding this intimidating, instead I used this to motivate me - it meant I could beat them. So I set off confidently, climbing quickly and efficiently up to a roof about a third the way up. Moving around this was awkward and strenuous, and after pulling round the lip I started to feel the pump, but without an opportunity to shake out, I pushed on. Elbows sticking out, arms shaking, slapping from hold to hold, each clip a struggle to fight the pump and hold on, I move further and further up. I reach the move where so many had fallen simply through not really going for it, and my tenacity is rewarded with the first decent hold for a long while. I give each arm a quick shape, and then sprint for the top. Pressing into an egde, matching, slapping out to the next, feet up, and my face is level with the next clip. I quickly decide I am too pumped to clip it, and too pumped to reach the top, so I slap for the next hold with my left hand. I barely hit it, my fingers are peeling off, every muscle is tensed to keep me on the wall, but I hold on. But the next move is too far, I hit the hold, but unable to stick this one, I fall - both disappointed and proud of my effort. At this point I was convinced I hadn't done enough to reach the podium, 5th at best. I knew only one climber had actually made it further than me, by just one hold, and that he had made it one further on the problem too. But I also knew that several people had gotten several holds further on the problem, and I had no idea who came off where on the route. I decided to ignore everything until the results came up, and went to have a quick boulder when my friend walked behind me, and said "well Jake, you've got your podium place". I didn't believe it at the time, but I managed to place second, and only a few points off first place. Luck would have it (for me at least) that those who placed best on the boulders didn't do so well on the routes, and vice versa, and I was one of the few who performed equally on both. (Interestingly, the winner was the same - he didn't top the last problem either). I was quietly confident to begin with, but I'd never expected to do that well at a national competition, and so it took a while for it too register, but now thinking about it, it's up there with my proudest achievements in climbing, equal to scary trad onsights and stressful redpoints.
Me looking very pleased on the podium (on the left...)

Next on my summer itinerary was possibly one of the most memorable trips in my life, and certainly the best non-climbing experience I've ever had. The organisation Operation Wallacea is a conservation charity, which has opened up several projects across the world. Me and a few others from my college went on an expedition to Romania, to study the ecology in Transylvania, which is unique in Europe (and before you ask, we saw no vampires). Incredible scenery, amazing wildlife, interesting culture (I'm running out of superlatives here!) all added up to make this a brilliant experience, but what really made this trip what it was, were the people. Not only were there the scientists and organisers from Britain, but also translators and guides from Romania, as well as another school group from America. Everyone got on really well, the different cultures in the group overlapped really nicely and everyone seemed to have a great time. I suppose what it made me realise is that I don't necessarily have to be out climbing to have a great time - what's more important is the people I'm with.

After the Romania trip, I spent a week home alone, before flying out to meet my parents in Italy, where we planned to climb for a week in the Alps around the borders of France, Italy and Switzerland. This left my poor phone very confused, and I recieved about fifteen 'Welcome to....' texts from T-Mobile. Unfortunately, due to a month-long lay off, my return to climbing was less than spectacular. On the first day climbing I managed a 7a onsight, but it felt really at my limit. I assumed it was a sandbag at the time, but now I realise it was actually a soft-touch - I was just really really unfit! So I had to make do with becoming almost instantaneously pumped on every route I tried.

 The second day climbing was a short half day at a crag called Tournoux, where everything was polished and sandbaggy. This is where I truly realised how out of shape I was. After warming up I barely scraped myself up a 6c, and then attempted a 7a a few routes to the right. I can honestly say I have rarely put quite so much effort and determination into a single sport route, but it was all to no avail as I pumped out a few metres from the chains. I fell off extremely frustrated with myself, and sulked for the next half an hour, before realising I'd have to alter my ambitions for the trip more than slightly. The next day was no more successful, although possibly even more frustrating, falling off above the last bolt at the end of an epic onsight attempt of a long, pumpy, technical 7b - the kind I would have cruised up just a few months ago. Again, I couldn't understand how all that effort, all that energy, could all come to nothing, and once more I lowered off extremely disappointed.

An unsuccessful attempt on a 7b 
We had to make some progress homewards so we spent the next day driving from France through into Switzerland, where we spent a couple of days climbing. The first destination, called Plagne, was hyped up to be a limestone super-crag by the jingo-wobbly topo, but on arrival it appeared to be a slightly more polished version of Dinbren. The climbing was quite good, but not really worth the hour long walk in. There I managed to onsight another 7a, this one a bit shorted and more powerful, which for once may actually have played in my favour. I also had an attempt at another 7b, just to tell myself I hadn't given up. This was a bit more positive, falling when I didn't quite hit a narrow pocket in the right way. The day after was spent at yet another British-esque limestone crag called Falkenflue, this one more reminiscent of Stoney. As you might expect from such a crag, the routes were strenuous and polished, but satisfyingly so. That day was probably the most successful of the holiday, managing a 6c and two 7a onsights, all of which were painful and hard earned.
Already pumped out of my mind on
Zelot, 7a
 The last route of that day - Zelot - was particularly draining, being 25m of technical climbing, made very pumpy by small, polished footholds. After the steep start, I had a full-on pump going for the entirety of the route, right untill the very last moves. Feet smeared against the flat rock, both hands crimping down on sloping pockets, with one very obvious goal - a huge, flat pocket a foot above my head. My hands were genuinely shaking, I could barely hold on another second, but I was almost certain the moment I took one hand off the go for the pocket, the other would give in and I would fall, once again, after so much effort put in to get so high on such a long route. I thought back to all those times I'd been frustrated in the last week, how upset with myself I'd been that I hadn't given it that little bit extra, and how disappointed I would be to fall. I didn't even decide which hand I was going to go for the pocket with, I just knew I had to get it. I smeared my feet up as high as they could, still barely holding on, and literally exploded for that pocket. One foot slipped, and my hand smacked the back of the big hole. Nothing there. My fingers scraped along the bottom of the pocket as I started to fall, desperately searching for anything positive, until finally, at the very lip of the pocket, they latched onto the tiniest of edges - just enough to stick the move. But my body was still swinging, and all I could do was tense up, and hope it would stop the barn door. After what seemed a very long time, but in reality was probably less than a second, I came to a halt, and I was able to find a more positive edge to the pocket, and use it to stand up and reach the chains, rarely having been more relieved to top out a sport route.

It's like Millstone... With BOLTS!
We had a couple more half-days climbing on the way home, before catching the ferry back to England. Despite not being my most successful holidays in terms of big numbers, I do feel like I learnt something from it. Firstly, that routes a few grades below your old best can still be rewarding, just so long as you know that you put all your effort in, and you've tried your hardest. Secondly, that determination and tenacity will get you up routes that perhaps your arms cannot. And thirdly, that when faced with disappointment and frustration, the best thing to do is not to let it get you down, but to channel it into a more positive energy which can be used to fuel your determination to succeed at whatever you want to try next.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Gogarth can be a scary place to the uninitiated...

One of my earlier trips to Gogarth...
Every year, for as long as I can remember, my parents have held host to the Rucksack Club's summer Gogarth meet. It's always one of the more popular meets, and this year was much the same, with around seventy attendees predicted to turn up. Despite now being often referred to as 'the barbecue meet', for me, the focus was entirely on the climbing on offer. Having missed the last few years due to some shocking prioritising (I chose a boudering competition over a weekend in Gogarth, what was I thinking?!) I was keen to catch up on what I missed out on. My last Gogarth experience had been doing Fantasia on Red Wall with Dad and Andy, then leading The Strand as my first E2 (I can't recommend it enough as a first for the grade). Fantasia is a very serious E3, and the thought of leading one of the pitches never even crossed my mind at the time, but I was back with more experience - excited to go and get scared!

Me aged 10 on my first Gogarth route, Icarus - HVS
The meet officially started on the Saturday, but me and Dad dashed down on Friday lunch time to arrive at Upper Tier at two o'clock. We then played the usual game of 'try and find a decent route that Dad hasn't done yet' and we were left with 5th Avenue, E1 5c (my arse...). If anyone has ever walked past a big, lichen covered chimney, on the way to do the Strand or getting down to Main Cliff, this is 5th Avenue; the route everyone walks past! I shuffled my chalk bag round to the front, squeeked my boots, and put a sling over a spike to stop me rolling down to the sea if I fell off. I could see there wasn't much gear, and I have to admit I was pretty apprehensive to start what was supposed to be the warm up. I put my bum on one side of the chimney, and my feet on the other, and slowly shuffled up and up, further away from the floor, without any sign of gear. The foot-wall blanked out a bit but there was a nice big ledge beneath my knee so I did a rather complex 180 to turn around. "This bit isn't meant to be the hard bit Jake, the hard bit's meant to be higher up" my Dad shouted from below, "if you're finding that bit hard, you're probably on the wrong route". Cheers for that Dad,very encouraging. So I carried on thrutching (my spell-check doesn't know the word 'thrutching'... obviously never climbed on grit) onwards and upwards. I managed to wiggle in a cam behind my head which provided a little peace of mind, but I would've preferred it if all four lobes were in contact with rock. Eventually the chimney came to an end, and some climbing that resemble scrabbling up a vertical football field brought me to a welcome spike belay.

We abbed down off the spike, sorted our stuff, and headed off back to the sacks, but we stopped halfway to do Strike. The debate will go on whether it is E3 or E4 6a (I'm going to call it E4 so no one gets annoyed at me...), and miraculously Dad hadn't done this one either yet, so we re-racked the gear and I set off on the lead. The 6a bit presented itself pretty early on, and was bypassed with some straightforward monkeying along the break, which brought me too the 'poor rest'. Turns out it's a pretty good rest, so I spent a while relaxing and shaking out, before sprinting along the crack. I tried to go direct up into the groove and was a big stumped for ideas before seeing a line of chalked jugs leading off left below me. That'll be the line then. I down-climbed, and then traversed along the undercut break. Now feeling pretty pumped, I was really quite relieved with the 'thank god jugs' leading up to a big clump of threads. I clipped the big mailon, and lowered straight off, thinking it felt strangely like a sport route, and miles less troubling than 5th Avenue. Maybe it is E3 after all... or maybe I'm just a wall bred thug.

By the time we returned to the sacks it was getting on for half past five (I really was a very long time on 5th...), but Main Cliff was looking golden in the evening light and I wasn't sure I'd get the chance to return over the weekend, so we ambled down to do Syringe. You might think starting a three pitch E4 at half five is a little silly, but it looked like we had a few more hours of daylight, and it seemed like the last pitch was more of a scramble off anyway. The initial wall as fairly bold, climbing up sloping groove-lets and pockets. The sun felt extremely hot despite being late in the day, and the sweat from my hands made the rock feel soapy and insecure. Nonetheless I persevered to arrive at a rest, with my back pressed against a hanging flange. I fiddled in some good small gear, then squirmed round into a claustrophobic position into a tight 'sentry box'. It felt much steeper than it looked from below, so I bashed in another solid wire before shuffling up the blank sided, square groove. The top of the groove was blank, and when I tried to use an undercut to move up further, it wobbled unnervingly. I was starting to feel a bit stuck when I saw a spike up on the arete on the left of the groove. I stretched up with my left but couldn't quite reach it, so instead had to make do with pinching a handful of the blunt arete. I took a quick look at my gear to check it hadn't fallen out, smeared my foot on the back wall of the now-hated sentry box, and threw over for the spike with my right, praying it was as good as it looked from below. I (rather embarrassingly) cut loose as my feet slipped off, but fortunately the spike was positive and allowed me to pull round out of the groove, now into a more agoraphobic position, exposed on the arete. After sticking in a good cam, I worked my way up the flakes and spikes into a crumbling corner. Now presented with a new challenge, I bridged, smeared and sketched my way up.

The two specks are me and dad on Syringe, E4
There wasn't a single positive hold to relax on, every thing was sideways, and my toes were starting to ache from being constantly perched on the tiniest of edges. The strain soon got to them and my heels started shaking as I pushed on up the groove, further away from my last decent wire. Every other hold wobbled on touch, my feet felt like they were about to slip off at any minute, and there weren't any hand holds to stop me falling if they did. I was now feeling well and truly gripped, and I realised that, maybe for my first time on Main Cliff, E4 may have been pushing it a bit. That was pretty irrelevant at the time though, because either way I had to not fall off! So I carried on anyway, and my tenacity was rewarded with the a nice solid wire. I could now relax a bit, my legs stopped shaking, and I composed myself to do the last few moves without too much fuss. On a top-rope, that short section would have felt pathetically easy compared to the crux lower down, the hardest move probably being about 5b. But thirty metres above the sea, with dodgy gear beneath your feet, and sweaty, slopey rock, it all feels rather a lot harder. I suppose we can collectively call this 'The Gogarth Factor', which I'd been aware of, but had naively (and possibly arrogantly) underestimated. The next two pitches went without too much hassle apart from a tough 6a move on the second pitch, and we topped out as the sun started to make it's way down to the sea.

I'd stupidly left my shoes with the sacks, and my rock shoes were too tight to walk in, so I was faced with an incredibly painful walk back to the sacks. I spent the next half an hour plucking spines and splinters out of my foot, always uttering the mantra 'I am a hobbit, I am a hobbit...', to fool myself into thinking it wasn't hurting like crazy. It didn't work, the low point being stepping right onto a gauze bush: "F***!! I'm not a hobbit!". Eventually, we made it back to the sacks. The feeling of slipping on some soft socks and comfy shoes is one I shall never forget, it brought to light how truly underrated a pair of shoes really are.

We arrived back at the campsite at about 10, and I felt absolutely starved - I hadn't eaten properly since I'd left the house almost ten hours ago. I got impatient waiting for dad to finish making pasta so I quickly wolfed down a can of baked beans - cold - as a starter. Me and dad then hatched a daring plan to wake up at 6 a.m to do a pre-breakfast ascent of The Moon, a classic Gogarth E3 on Yellow Wall. We'd then arrive at the South Stack Cafe at 10 a.m, as planned, as if everything was normal, and meet the other half of the family, as well as the rest of the club, before spending the day climbing at Castle Helen.

The alarm rang pretty harshly, and I groggily opened my eyes, instantly regretting the decision made late last night. All psyche had faded, and I really didn't want to get out of bed. My shoulders were sore from yesterday, my legs were covered in scratches, and my feet ached from a day spent stood on my toes. Luckily dad was motivated enough to drag me out of bed and we drove off at 6.30, probably waking up half the campsite in the process. If you were one of those who were woken, you have my apologies, and now you know why. It was already pretty light, and that early morning feel, when you know you're awake before everyone else, felt great, and the cool breeze helped to wake me up. That being said, I was still in a bit of a daze as dad set up the ab rope, but I can tell you now there is nothing which will do a better job of jolting you awake, as the abseil in to Yellow Wall at 7 a.m. At the bottom, now feeling fully alert, I belayed dad up the easier first pitch, before following on the lead the main pitch. All I can say is that I don't climb at my smoothest before I've had my breakfast, but I slowly got into the flow of things and started to really appreciate the amazing position this pitch takes you in. Literally space walking with just air beneath your feet, tip-toeing through a line of amazing exposure, with just enough to gear to keep you happy, but not enough to take all the excitement away. The final traverse had me a little gripped as the gear went further and further away to my left, but the holds get better and soon some more gear appeared before the down-climb to the belay. Dad didn't look so happy with the situation, as the pitch is arguably just as serious for the second as for the leader, it be mostly a traverse, but I think I put enough protection in to keep him happy... Dad topped out of the final pitch at nine a.m, and we arrived back at the cafe for 9.30. A three pitch, mega classic E3, before breakfast - it doesn't get much better than that.

The stance on Rap
We spent an hour eating victory breakfast and saying hello to lots of people I don't see very often,and  most of them greeted me with the classic "I remember you when you were this *indicates with hand the rough size of me at the our last encounter* big". But there were some new faces, making the Rucksack Club look younger everyday! (Sort of...) After some more mingling, I was ready to get climbing again, although the rest of the day was set to be more relaxed. This was the first time I was going to be the more experienced member of a climbing team (I was climbing with my sister who, despite being older, has only just started being keen to climb again), and I was a little nervous about being 'in charge'. It was also Tash's first sea-cliff experience, but we still managed to have a great day doing Lighthouse Arete and Rap, two of the classic VSs at Gogarth, getting very sun-burnt in the process.

That evening the beach was invaded by a seventy-strong team of Rucksackers, armed with barbecues, burgers and ridiculous amounts of beer, and everyone seemed to be having a nice time chatting, catching up with old friends, and discussing the day's climbing. We even befriended some locals, who were very surprised to hear that their hometown played host to a world-class climbing venue."Here, in our Holyhead? No way, I don't believe it!" which sounds really quite amusing in a strong welsh accent. Go on, try it saying it, out loud, in your best Rob Brydon accent. I told you in was funny. A few of us decided it would be easier to sleep on the beach than walk back to the campsite, so there was a line of sleeping bags across the length of the beach that night. I'm sure I'd never seen a shooting star before, but that night I fell asleep watching them.

 A great turn-out for the barbecue 
That morning I woke up even groggier than the morning before, awoken at a similar time by a similar sounding alarm - only this time it was the screeching of seagulls. I drifted off back to sleep before being re-awoken by a very bright sun shining, and I mooched back up to the van for a brew. Back at the Cafe, I ordered four slices of toast and a load of bacon, and me and dad planned our 'big day'. The Cow was going to be our main objective, an E5 on Yellow Wall which quite literally 'jumps over the moon', and we abseiled down for the second time. I couldn't really warm up properly so, after some enthusiastic arm-wafting, I started climbing the initial chossy section up to the main crack. It soon became very obvious that this route was not nearly as well travelled as it's easier neighbour, with holds which creaked a little when you pulled on them, al covered in a fine layer of dust and grease. The sun was hot but it hadn't quite reached the wall yet, it's steepness keeping the majority of the pitch in the shade. When I reached it, I was disappointed to find the bottom of the crux crack to be damp, and filled with slimey sand. I tried to get a secure jam in to pull around the roof, but everything I tried just slipped out again. I knew once I'd made it into the steep, slanting groove, that things would feel easier, but try as I might, I couldn't commit to the slippery crack. It wasn't to be my day, and I retreated, taking the gear out as I down-climbed. Although I felt a little ashamed to have backed out without really giving it a go, in hindsight I can see it was the right decision, and I'm pleased I've still got the onsight to go back for when I feel more confident. To escape, we climbed an E2 called The Savage, which was actually very good, and a much more friendly warm-up, before retreating to the cafe with our tails between our legs for an ice cream.

We spent the next hour trying to find a route which would escape the burning hot sun. My shoulders and back were now well and truly scorched, and I was in desperate need of shade. Easter Island Gully provided the perfect solution, with two classic E3s facing opposite sides of the shady gully, keeping each other sheltered. I decided to do Wonderwall, on the left hand side, and it provided me with a perfect pitch. Starting with sustained, parallel twin cracks, a committing sequence led into and out of a hanging groove. It finished with some strenuous pulls in an exposed position before finding a way moving through some thick lichen, around the arete, to the belay. The crux for me was finding the right way to get out of the groove, as I nearly went up the E5 direct finish accidentally, but it was genuinely one of the best routes I've ever done, and I was pleased to find something hidden from the brutal sun. We'd spent quite a lot of time working out which gully was the right one, and I'd spent about an hour on the 35m long pitch, so by the time we topped out it was too late to do the twin E3, Supercrack, but it's one I'll definitely come back to.

As we walked back, dad summed up Gogarth climbing perfectly: "This walk back from the crag always feels a bit special - if you managed to do the route you hoped to, then you're really pleased because you had a great day climbing, and you achieved what you set out to do. If you didn't, then you're really pleased because you managed to survive not doing it, and relieved to be walking back at all!" Even though we only got two routes done that day, and I bailed off The Cow, and I was aching and sore and sun burnt, I was still happy to be walking back, because Gogarth can be a scary place to the unintiated.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Relaxing in the south of France...

It wouldn't be Easter without our family's trip down to the sunny south of France - it's just something we've always done. Leaving on Thursday night, we drive up to Hull in our little camper van (note I say camper van, not caravan, there's a difference - ours is way cooler) and board the ferry down to Rotterdam, from where we make a incredibly tedious journey, which eventually brings us to the perfect relaxed climbing destination, La sud de la France!
Failing massively at Orgon

We began our climbing at the ex-centre of the sport climbing universe - Orgon. If you've been, it's likely you've climbed on the bullet-hard grey limestone outcrops dotted around the valley, but next to the canal is a sector containing routes which, not very long ago, were among the hardest in the world - Sector Cannalisme. However, we decided we'd be better off warming up on something easier before getting cracking on the 9a's, so we headed to some of the easier-angled sectors. After attempting to warm up, I set off up a 6c only for a short rain shower to arrive mid-crux. I'm not making excuses - it probably would've happened anyway - but I slipped off! Safe to say I was disappointed, and immediately declared the trip a disaster before going off and sulking. I decided that it mustn't be the actual grades that are hard, it must be the style of climbing; after all I'd been climbing on plastic for the last six months, slabs are bound to feel hard. So I jumped on a roof instead, but that was even harder. The rain started again, and we retreated back to the campsite. Rain, hard grades, and falling off - this wasn't the holiday I was hoping for.
My one success at Orgon, this 7a+ onsight

The next day I woke up with a new motivation to beat the crag, to get a hard tick. I persuaded Dad to do a few routes at the Canal Sector, and sure enough with my new found determination I fought my way up a horrendously pumpy 7a+. The climbing was hard and steep, but fortunately the holds were pretty positive, so whenever I was on the verge of giving up, a new jug would present itself as a chance to keep on going. Feeling buoyed by my success, I decided to step it up onto a 7b. Big mistake, it was nails. So once again we retreated back to the grey stuff, and we both got burnt off - the crimpy, vertical, technical style just didn't suit me. I even tried lowering my expectations considerably, but once again I was spat off a horrifically fingery crux move. Feeling deflated, I gave up, and looked forward to leaving Orgon for crag.

Stretched out on Les Frontiers du Neant
The next day we woke up to rain, so we (to my very subtly masked joy) left Orgon. In need of a rain shadow, we headed to Chateauverte with the plan to stay for a few days. On arrival, the rain hadn't improved, but the main sector of the crag - Sector Grande Face - was steep enough to keep some of it's routes dry. Unfortunately to warm up I had to start on one of the less steep routes, Arielle, so I got the occasional spatter of rain when the wind blew, but the pitch was worth it! The next route I tried was the classic 7a of the crag, Les Frontiers du Neant. The route followed a dot-to-dot line of pockets, each of which with the frictional properties of glass, until a final thin section where the pockets shrank and became further apart - just as I was starting to get pumped! Fortunately I figured a funky sequence with a heel-toe cam thing in one of the larger pockets to pull through to the chains. I was now a little limited in terms of route availability, with the number of waterfalls forming down the crag increasing. The best looking dry line was the right-hand variant to the previous route, going at 7b+. To onsight a route of this grade was my goal of the trip, so I gave it a go.
I think this is the 7a+ I onsighted later:
Le Magicien d'Oz
I was totally destroyed by the sustained nature of the route - hard move after hard move, always pulling of sloping pockets, never really being sure which one to go for next. I eventually ground to a halt about halfway up when my arms literally gave in, and my fingers uncurled from the rock. At first I was frustrated - I thought I was close - but the climbing got no easier. I dogged and frigged my way up to the lower off, and lowered back down, feeling once again dejected. But that pitch was a learning experience for my time at the crag; I learnt that it's better to commit to a move instead faffing about deciding which pocket to go for, I learnt that high feet are essentially the solution to every hard move, I learnt to climbed in a relaxed style, with my arms straight, breathing easily, and moving steadily. When I applied these lessons to the neighboring 7a+, it felt much more comfortable, and I managed to get the onsight without too much fuss. I finished the day off onsighting another 7a, Chmatex, which literally had a stream running down the final section. Fortunately the the last few moves were on very positive holds, but I came very close to slipping off several times, and it really wasn't a pleasant experience.

The next day, the weather had improved massively. The ground around our tents was no longer flooded, and the pockets on the rock no longer had puddles in them. The climbing that day kicked off with a good start and just got better. Last year Dad was at Chateauverte without me and had tried a mega-classic 6c called Nueromeditation, but had to bail because it moved sideways a lot and had no one to follow to strip the draws, so it was nice for him to be able to come back and finish it off. The day took a slight turn for the worse when I failed to make the crux stretch of a reachy 7a+ after doing a lot of faffing and energy wasting, which was a bit frustrating, but the next route made up for it - Le Signe de Taureau. Described in the guide as a sustained classic, I knew this was my route, but at 7b+, I also knew the onsight would be a bit of a battle.
The last few moves of Signe de Taureau
It started steadily enough, working it's way up the steep wall through a line of good pockets, up until a rest point at two-thirds height. From my resting place, I sketched a sequence it my head, and went for it: left foot high, rock up to side pull, slap to pocket, SHIT THE POCKET IS SHIT! Reverse back to rest. After a few more forages upwards a new sequence revealed itself, jabbing up to an inverted two finger pocket from the sidepull. It was a committing move, with no chance of recovery if the pocket turned out to be as bad as the last one. It turned out to be pretty positive, and from there I could press on to another resting place. I was to spend the next twenty minutes of my life moving around this metre of rock, searching desperately for a way to clip the chains after all the effort. Eventually it came down to a very simple, but brutal slap. The hold could have been terrible, but as far as I could see there was no other way. 1, 2, 3 ARRGGHHHHH! I always scream when I try hard, and I scream even louder if I'm scared of falling off. I need to stop - it's embarrassing. I've never put so much effort into a single move as that one - I think I tore something in abdomen I was that tensed up - but it paid off. The hold wasn't great, but it was a flattish crimp which allowed me to finally bring my feet above onto the shallower angled rock, and clip the chains. I screamed again. Very bad habit. After that siege ascent I had to repay Dad for a very patient belay so I rested for a while belaying him on a few routes before finishing up on Caphorn, an excellent, weird route, with pockets in pockets in pockets!
Okay so I'm posing a bit...
Post crux on Caldoquie

Our final day at Chateauverte had come, and I wanted to make the most of it. Having spent most of our time on the Grande Face, I was keen to try somewhere new, so we started off this time at Sector Technogene, and did the excellent double of Canaquie and Caldoquie, a 6b+ and 7a duo up a perfectly pocketed burnt orange wall. Both had pretty fierce cruxes low down (admittedly the polished crimps felt somewhat reminiscent of the Tor), but settled into really good flowing sequences higher up the wall. I spent the next hour psyching myself up for a 7c which I was going to try and onsight, but it was nastily crimpy and technical so I bailed low down, and relaxed in the sun for a couple of hours when it was too hot to climb. Once it had gone into the shade, the final route I wanted to tick at Chateauverte was Transmutation. It had a crazy line weaving in and out of caves and roofs, linked by huge tufa systems. The crux was what I called the 'Grit 6b' move - working the feet high up into an egyptian to stretch up to a poor sloping edge, then throwing a toe hook round the blunt arete to stay in balance whilst slapping up the side to find anything with an edge to it - good, technical friction climbing, on french limestone! From there, a line of pockets traversed across the lip of a roof into a mad position, where some beefy pulls brought bigger jugs and the topout. It was one of the best routes of the trip, and a great way to leave Chateauverte.
The 'grit 6b' move on Transmutation

It felt a bit of a shame to be leaving Chateauverte having only just started to get the hang of things there, bu it was time to move on, to possibly my favourite sport crag in the world - Seynes. For those who don't know it, it's major sector - Le Nouveau Monde - is a stunning hanging wall draped in tufas of all kinds of shape and size. It's the kind of climbing you'd expect at Rodellar or Margalef, yet the crag seems to escape the limelight, which I really count as a good thing!

Shaking out halfway up Monocle
To kick of my Seynes account I got started on the classic 'Ca Chauffe', which roughly translates to 'the warm up'. Hard laybacking up a polished flake crack system after slogging up the hill certainly left me feeling as if I'd fully earned the 6b grade, but on the plus side it meant I was warm enough to feel confident in putting the clips in the neighbouring route, Monocle. At 7b+ this was one of my big aims of the trip, and it looked fantastic. A single, wide, shallow tufa worked it's way up to a thin looking slab, delicately traversing right to another tufa on the steeper wall above. From below I could already see the top tufa was dripping, but I decided to give it a go anyway in the hope that the holds would be big up there. When I felt a drip of water on my back as I tied my shoes on beneath the route I did admittedly have my doubts, but I'd regret not giving it a go. The bottom half went sketchily, balancing up the tufa, laying off it with my left hand whilst crimping tiny features on the wall with my right to prevent the dreaded barn-door. Thankfully as the rock became steeper the tufa became more positive, and a big move brought the large jug on top. After mantelling precariously onto a standing position on the tufa-top, I was somewhat dismayed with the choice of holds available to me. I hold it on principle to strictly avoid mono crimps but it was all that was available to make the stand up to move up and right to the next tufa. After balancing my way up the thin slab, the tufa was disappointingly soggy. I pinched as hard as I could, squeezing each side with my knees, desperately inching my way up the tufa 'a cheval' until a large jug (puddle) became reachable. After some splashing, lots of chalking up, and some failed attempts to dry my hands, a few stiff pulls on pockets brought me to the chains.
Not a great picture but it shows how wet the top tufa is!
Next up were two completely different routes, a 7a and 7a+ over to the right on the slabbier, grey section of rock. The crux of the 7a+, Brigand d'amour, again involve a tear jerking (tendon jerking?) pull on yet another nastly mono to rock up onto a poor foothold - more classically 'French' limestone climbing. I finished off by doing the first pitch of Dinosaure, another 7a+. After a polished boulder problem start, the rest of the route flowed nicely through some good positive tufas. I was tempted to have a play on the 8a+ extension - the line of the crag - but I decided to leave it for a stronger day.

The next day, it rained. It rained for quite a long time without stopping, and no one was very psyched. I eventually persuaded everyone out of bed, and we drove up to the crag. It was still spitting, but I managed to guilt Dad into at least walking up to see if things were dry. When we got up there we were surprised to see a few things had remained in perfect condition, and there was even a warm-up with the clips in for us. I won't try and describe Le Tube Nueral, I'll let the picture do the talking. All I'll say is three things: firstly, it is the only route I've ever done which has genuinely tried to eat me. Secondly, after watch me struggle and squirm up and out (crux) of it, the man who the clips belonged to asked me to take them out as he didn't want to try it after all! Thirdly, grit HVS 5b gives a far better indication of grade than Fr6c+.
Getting eaten by Le Tube Nueral
Next up was another perfect looking tufa I'd seen the day before, La Sophisme a la Base. At 7a+, it went with a bit of a fight, though it made me bleed so maybe I was trying a bit too hard... the rain was slowly coming to a halt, but a lot of the routes I'd hoped to do were now dripping with seepage. Of the few remaining that were dry, there was one perfect tufa line, which really called out to me. Mum had gone off with the guidebook to see what else was dry so I had no idea of the name or the grade of the route, but it looked doable, so I tied on and gave it ago. This became the start of a two day battle to redpoint my first 7c+.

The route starts by climbing awkwardly up a complex system of interconnected tufas, straddling either side of the steep feature, before a big stretch up to the bottom of the tufa proper. This was a thing of beauty, a single drainpipe of crozzly limestone, with just enough incut on it to pinch and layback up the overhanging wall. This continued for 30 feet of strenuous climbing, made pumpy by the lack of footholds, which culminated with a final slap out right for a big, flat hold, just as the tufa became less positive. It was at this point where I fell again and again, missing the hold by just centimetres. At this point the style of the route changed from strenuous to delicate and technical, which accompanied a change in angle. From a standing position on the top of the flattie, a series of balancy moves laying back off a thin groovelet enabled a small, positive hold to be reached in the middle of the face, from where it was possible to rejoin the tufa. It was now much fatter, and much less positive, making the next few moves extremely tenuous, until a small, bobbly crimp on the wall to the left allowed a final throw to the finishing jug.

On my first attempt, putting the clips in, I managed slowly to piece the puzzle together, figuring out the most efficient way to do each move. The tiniest things made the biggest difference - tick marks on the best bits of the tufa, drop knees and heel hooks to take the weight of pumped arms, smearing the foot just an inch higher for that crux slap. Then it was time for a redpoint go. It was only my second time on the route, and I really wasn't expecting much to come of it, so I was surprised to arrive at the crux with a bit left in the tank - clearly psyche and fluke were working together - but I got flustered, pasted my right foot on too low, and fell  just short of the jug. I lowered down mildly grumpy, but pleased to have made it so far on such an early attempt. I was sure that once I'd made it past the crux, the technical upper section would go easily. Dad tried to get me psyched by making me eat a banana, but despite his best efforts, on my next attempt I fell off far lower than the previous go. After Dad gave me some words of encouragement: 'that's the least rubbish I've ever seen you look on a hard route, go for it', I did something I'd never done before - I left the draws in overnight. Having already climbed a few routes that day, I was feeling pretty tired walking down, and I was concerned at the state of my skin. I'd been climbing for a week with just one rest day, and it was starting to wear worryingly thin.

I spent that night obsessing over the moves in my head, making sure I remembered them totally before tomorrow to give me an edge. We woke up early, and hit the crag. At just 10 o'clock the rock was already pretty warm, and I was keen to finish it off before it got too hot. But it was the last day of the holiday, the pressure was on, and I don't deal well with pressure. I warmed up quickly on Ca Chauffe, then got stuck in on the redpoint attempts. The first attempt of the day ended at the same place as the last attempt yesterday - a fairly straightforward move at the start, reaching up to the bottom of the main tufa, but you had to get it just right for it to feel okay. The next go was better, but frustratingly ended at the crux slap again. This time I was tantalisingly close, actually hitting the hold before peeling off. I screamed again, and for that I apologise. I had one more go, falling off the bottom move again, and I was just about ready to give up. The sun was beating down now, the holds felt sweaty, and the skin on my fingers was getting dangerously close to ripping. I had a pump deep in my arms that just wouldn't go, despite my frantic stretching and shaking - this would have to be my last attempt.

You often hear people talking about successful redpoints, saying stuff like "on the day, everything just flowed smoothly... I felt weightless... it was perfect... ect... ect..." That definitely wasn't the case for me. Every move was an intense battle to stay on, I felt like I was ready to peel off time and time again, but somehow I held on. At the top of the tufa, before the crux, there's no time to compose yourself. I knew I had to paste my right foot onto the blank wall, just a little higher than I did last time, and really go for it. I stuck the flat hold, my feet stayed on, and I swung across to a large resting foothold. I spent ages there, shaking out, recovering, contemplating the next ten metres of climbing to the chains. I knew I could do it, I just had to relax enough to make it through the delicate sequences above. On this section, I did actually feel pretty in control, compared to the lower section at least. After a few deep breaths to compose myself, I leaned out from the sloping tufa to reach the perfect little crimp in the face, cranked down on it, and finally slapped the finishing jug. First 7c+ ticked, on my sixth attempt, and I was very happy. I even screamed again, embarrassingly, to ruin the moment. Sorry.

A very happy bunny

So that was my last route of the holiday. We still had a couple of hours of climbing left but my arms and skin just wouldn't take another route, so I contentedly belayed Dad for a while to make up for the time he spent sat on the rope watching me repeatedly falling off my project. Thanks for being so patient with me that day Dad! It must be said, I never usually buy into the whole redpointing malarkey but finally ticking that route (it's called Metaphysique des Tubes by the way, go and do it, it's amazing) on the last day really was a special way to finish the holiday.

Monday, 6 May 2013

A week in the Blanca - I'm Blogging again!

So the first thing I'd like to do is apologise to my readers for slouching off the blogging over winter. I do however, have a pretty good excuse - I haven't done anything very interesting! It's been mostly training all through the winter, rubbish weather and lack of enthusiastic partners meant I couldn't get out much. The only times I have been out, have been bouldering (ugh), and we all know nothing much productive comes of my days out bouldering! Highlights have been through competitions, such as the Youth Open and the Rocfest bouldering competitions which I do actually really enjoy. I also managed to finish fourth in the 'Elite Adult Male' (I didn't come up with the names) category in the Leading Ladder Final which was nice.

So with all this plastic pulling, you can imagine my relief at the chance to get out on rock in the sun - The Rucksack Club SunRock trip was here. My goals for the trip weren't really that focused on hard routes, we were with a big group of friends, and I just wanted to enjoy my holiday in relxation. It didn't really turn out that way! Instead of the usual trip report, I'm just going to give my top five highlights of the holiday:

Number Five: Table Traversing!

So it's the last night of the holiday, everyone's a bit drunk (apart from me, my body is a temple...) and everyone starts getting a bit competitive. The first challenge set is an odd one: whilst holding onto the opposite ear with one hand, and the opposite leg with the other, you must bend down on the free leg and pick up a regular size wine bottle with your teeth. Having met the challenge after a couple of tries, a new one was set - start lay on your belly on a table, then to proceed to climb under the table, keeping feet and hands off the ground at all times, to a position hanging from the edges of the table by the hands and feet. Now for the tricky bit - get back up! The final challenge set was a biggy: we lined up all the tables end on end, reaching about twenty metres across the huge dining room, and they were to be traversed from one end to the other, underneath the tables. At the far end the challenged would have to grovel back up to get back on top of the table. After a lot of puffing and panting, very sore heels, and a fair bit of chin-work to mantel back on to the table, I sent the problem on my first attempt. I reckon it was at least font 8C...

Number Four: Heaven Can't Wait

The only sport route to make it onto the list, this three star line at Alcalali. Originally given 7b+ (soft) by the first ascentionist, it was regraded to 7a (ridiculous) in the new guide. The general consensus on 8a.nu is 7b (fair). However I knew none of this, so it felt pretty stiff for 7a! The climbing started out up a brilliant featured wall, which gradually became thinner as it closed into a groove. At the top it completely blanked out  in a square cut corner save for the arete and a few 'nobbins', where sketchy climbing led to the chains. At the time I was mostly just relieved not to have fallen off a 7a, and was heartened when I came home to see 'soft 7b+' on the route description.

Number Three: Diedro Edwards, Echo Valley

So now we move onto the trad side of things, with this classic five pitch E3, in the middle of one of the biggest sport climbing areas in the world! It was nearing the end of the day, and me and Dad had promised Mum we'd be down by four, which gave us exactly two hours to get up and down 150 metres of rock. To save time dad ran the first two pitches together giving an excellent, thuggy HVS pitch which really reminded me of being back home. I ran two together as well to give a 50m E1 pitch, but ran out of quickdraws at the top which made the climbing on loose, hollow flakes feel quite adventurous. The final pitch went to Dad, which I think really deserved E3, being a tough 45m 6b protected by just a few bolts and some dodgy wires.
On the fourth pitch I'd found a nice piece of crag swag, a decent sized sling, but I had to give it up at the top when we couldn't find the ab station, so used it to ab off a big pointy rock. In hindsight this might seem a little risky, but we did test it first when dad abbed on it backed up by some better wires. The trouble with abbing on slings it that you run the risk of the end of the rope getting caught in the loop and as you may have guessed, the same happened to us. Luckily dad a had a trick up his sleeve to retrieve it, and the next four abseils went smoothly to bring us down on the dot at four o'clock.

Number Two: Midnight Runner, Echo Valley

Continuing the theme of trad, we're back at Echo Valley, about two hours before our ascent of Diedro Edwards. We'd just warmed up on the an awkward, polished 6b and I was keen to get some trad done. The route I'd had in mind at the start of the holiday was Midnight Runner, given 7a+/E5 in the guide. From below it looked stupidly blank, save for a few big pockets, an overlap, and a couple of bolts to lead the way up the blank start. The climbing was excellent, on surprisingly featured rock, dotted with edges and pockets which seemed impossible to see until they were right in front of your nose. Protection in continental limestone, wires particularly, are often very fiddly to get in, and then fall out far more easily, but there were a few placements to reduce the run-outs between bolts. At the last of the bolts, the next protection seemed a long way off but I wandered my way up regardless, surprised by how straightforward the climbing felt to reach a nice big, threadable pocket. From there came the crux, moving through the overlap, but I had confidence in the thread, so commitment wasn't an issue as I calmly pulled round and continued on up. At this point I began to worry because the rock, despite a favourable change in angle, had now blanked out to compact grey limestone, and I couldn't see a placement for a while. The thread was a long way below me, the midday sun was beating down, and my feet were aching from being stood on the tips of my toes for half an hour. I pushed on through easy, but sketchy and balancey climbing - the worst kind to be runout on - until a bolt surprised me. I'd completely looked over it, and nearly climbed past it, simply because I hadn't expected any more, and clipped it with relief. Another led the way past a tough fingery section where the rock steepened again, and I was onto the easy ground. It wasn't over yet though, as I had no idea where to go! Now a long way above gear again, I wandered about, upwards and sideways until I found the most well hidden lower off ever, kept out of sight by a hollow in the rock, and plants growing on either side. I clipped in, yelled 'safe' down to dad, and was extremely content with having done an E5 in such relaxed style.

As to the grade, I think that firstly, the climbing wasn't actually 7a+, more like easy 7a if you're well suited to long, vertical, and technical endurance pitches. Also there were four bolts on the route, which were very well placed to protect the hard bits which couldn't be protected by natural means. There were however, decent run-outs on the easier sections, dodgy rock (my dad pulled a hold off following) and complex route finding (he also got lost en-route), which I suppose add up to make a pretty soft E5. But who's complaining?
I don't actually have any pictures of Midnight Runner.
So I put this one in so you wouldn't get bored

Number One: Nueva Dimension, nine pitch monster 7b/E5 on the Penon.

Apparently on my first holiday to the Costa Blanca, when I was really young, our family went for a day at the beach in Calpe. It was quite hard to miss the monolith that is the Penon d'Ifach, and so naturally I ran around the beach for a while screaming my head off - I really wanted to walk up to the top. We planned to walk up the next day, but the weather had other ideas, so I had to put my Penon dreams behind me... since then my appetite for the Penon has been somewhat insatiable!

Our first trip up the Penon in 2011 took us up El Navigante, the classic 7a of the crag (yes that's right, at the
My first trip on the Penon
I may have matured slightly since then...
age of fourteen Dad didn't bother introducing me to the Penon with one of the easier classics - not even the slightly easier neighboring classic of 'Costa Blanca', a 6c+). The difficulties slowly escalated, right up to the last pitch. I'd managed it all clean up to here, but at that time leading 6c was really my limit, especially with a few hundred feet of exposure beneath my feet, so I let Dad take the final 7a pitch. Unfortunately on that day, Dad's excellent route reading skills let us down for the first time, and we ended up doing the 7b variant pitch instead. Needless to say my aid skills were thoroughly tested and improved during that 30m of overhanging hell...

The next trip was in 2012, so logically we took the next step up in grade to do Puto Paseo Ecologico, a 7a+. This time, the crux pitch was the first one, and I had become a lot stronger over that year, so I quickly fired up the first pitch, before relaxing into the easier climbing above. The final pitch was my lead again, an incredibly exposed 7a pitch up the dramatically leaning headwall, which started by traversing out off a ledge into scenes of incredible exposure. Fortunately the holds were all massive, and I shakily topped out the route having done it clean onsight.

Our most recent trip up the Penon wasn't nearly as well planned as those - for our first ventures we would wake up at the crack of dawn to make sure we had plenty of time, and that we'd be able to climb the route of our choice without queueing. We'd normally have topped before three o'clock.

This time? A little different.

We originally planned to climb a trad route up the Divino at Sella going at 7a/E5, but upon arrival we realised our little hire car couldn't handle the rough roads leading up. Very frustrated, and perhaps touched with a little bit of sun-madness, we made a new plan. It was twelve o'clock at the time (we'd spent a lot of time faffing), and Calpe was an good hour and a half drive away. Needless to say we'd get to the bottom of the route at two o'clock at the very least, but we planned a mad dash down to the Penon to do our other goal of the trip - Nueva Dimension, 7b. Sure enough, despite breaking speed limits and running to the foot of the crag in the full heat of the midday sun, we arrived at the foot of the route at 2:01. The first pitch looked absolutely horrendous - a steep, tottering, pile of choss, with a vague line of chalked holds finding their way through the rubble. To make matters worse, the line seemed to split halfway, though there was no mention of this in the topo, and each line looked equally punishing. To make matters even worse, this was the 7b pitch. So here I am at two o'clock in the afternoon, not having warmed up at all, but still sweating like mad in the heat, about to set off up a nine pitch 7b, without even knowing which way the route went. Sounds pretty stupid doesn't it? Like I said, I think the Sun got to me,,,
Note the poor state of the rock, and the haunted look in my eyes...

I weaved my way through the rubble, taking extreme care not to pull to hard on anything, tapping each hold before I committed to it. As you can imagine, this was a very tiring way of climbing, but it really was necessary, proved by several holds wobbling at the slightest touch. After 15m of climbing the rock began to improve in quality, and although the sandyness didn't quite disappear (very reminiscent of Gogarth!), I could begin to trust the holds now. Fortunately this coincided nicely with the crux, a few very  pumpy pulls on flat sandy holds through an overlap, and another 10m of dodgy climbing brought me shaking to the top. I barely had a the physical or mental capacity to croak 'safe' down to Dad, before hauling the ropes up. When I got down and had a look at the guidebook I saw that this pitch was given a grade of E5 6b. This may seem like an exaggeration on a sport route, but thinking about it now it was justified: extremely loose rock, combined with rusted-black bolts in dodgy, hollow-sounding placements, and insecure climbing made this sport pitch feel very 'sporty' indeed. Now above all difficulties (well most anyway), the quality of the climbing improved massively. To save time we began linking pitches together, and it was simple one three star sixty metre pitch after another in an incredible position.

I realised I'd barely had a lunch, and began to get hungry and thirsty, but there was only time for a five minute break. This may seem a little harsh but when you see what time we topped out, you'll realise what a half-hour break could have lead to! We seemed to have hit another change in rock type again, this time looser but more featured, which signalled the change from sport to trad. The next three pitches were some of the scariest of my life, each thirty metre pitch protected by just two bolts. This, together with the stomach-flipping exposure of the wandering traverses, the rock that crumbled if you stepped on it in the wrong way, and the burning hot sun, meant that these 5+ pitches felt more like E2 5a.

It really was that steep. Promise.
After coming to a bit of a standstill (mentally and physically) after the second trad pitch, the final one went a little more calmly, and by the time we reached the penultimate stance the sun had started to set. We finished the last of the water, allowed ourselves a quick bite to eat, and then Dad led on up unbelievable pitch. When I spoke earlier about exposure on the earlier routes, I don't think I even really understood the word, although I certainly do now! The pitch traversed a 45 degree wall, spacewalking on weird blobs of conglomerate - the picture says it all really. I led the final pitch which was a little more 'up', with a few tough pulls out of the overhang, and onto a more easily angled headwall. The sun had finally set, and I sat at the final stance, shivering, with a wry smile on my face at the irony of being so cold. We topped out at 6:30, and walked down to the car in the dark, the Penon only lit by the lights of Calpe.
We were quite grateful for the lights along the beach!

So the lesson learnt was that you really should plan these things.

But the other lesson learnt was that if you want to start your nine pitch E5 dream-route in the afternoon, then go for it! Just be prepared for a tough time.

Sunday, 2 December 2012


The YECTOYD is a term coined by my family to describe one of those days when everyone else is so demoralised by weather or work that they just can't be bothered going climbing. But you're so keen to get out you'll spend the day doing laps of the Hobby back wall traverse in the pouring rain, or getting Bitterfingers done in between heavy showers (or during one, in Luke's case), because climbing is what you love, and you'll do it whatever the weather.
The original advert...
YECTOYD stands for You Either Climbed Today, Or You Didn't. We stole it from the Nike advert, which shows a dedicated runner, doing what they love best, despite the horrendous weather. Everyone else stayed inside, but this runner got out, and ran, because they love to.

Even if you don't get much done, or you climbed routes too easy for you, or routes that aren't even that good, you still get a satisfyingly sweet feeling at the end of the day when you realise you managed to snatch a victory from the jaws of the oncoming winter, that you managed to get something done against the odds, and that you had a good time doing it. This post is about my last few days out, YECTOYDs indeed.

Stoney Middleton, 18th November
It's colder than it looks!
The day before I'd done my Duke of Edinbirgh practice walk - it wasn't long, but it was long enough for me to feel it in the morning. I groaned in discomfort as I wriggled about in my bed, shoulders stiff and feet sore, wanting to spend the whole day in bed, before I saw the tiniest ray of winter sunlight through by curtains. I jumped out of bed (groaning again) and packed the gear straight away - I had loads of undone homework due in for that week but I needed to climb. With the temperature gauge on Dad's car saying 3C as we left the house, the sunlight offered slight encouragement that we wouldn't spend the day thawing out frozen fingers, but we knew we needed somewhere sheltered and south facing, and where else but my favourite crag in the world - Stoney.

Walking down the busy road, Dad was adamant that the idea of trad climbing today was crazy talk, particularly seeing as we could very clearly see our breath in the air, and we were still chilly despite several layers. Then we got onto Windy Ledge, the sun shone, and everything felt better. Dad warmed up on Inquisitor, an E1 that really should be E2, an worried me slightly by having to hit every handhold and kick every foothold to make sure it wouldn't fall off. Fortunately not one piece of the tottering pile of choss fell on my head, so I survived to second the route, trying to reheat my hands at every opportunity, whilst still being careful to replace any hold I pulled off...

I didn't really fancy leading anything too scary - college is enough stress for me without needing life threatening situations - but I didn't want to leave feeling like I hadn't tried hard. The compromise (seems silly now looking back) was Circe. It had a nice new shiny bolt next to the crux, bomber gear everywhere else and looked brilliant. To be fair most of the climbing was great, but the crux was bloody hard! After teetering rather cautiously up some very polished footholds, with just one wire as far below me as the ground was from the wire, I was pretty grateful to the kind soul who replaced the bolt, but disheartened by the size of the next few holds. I traversed out along the polished rail of tiny crimps, and snatched for the next. It was crap, and I slumped onto the rope in frustration. I tried the move a few times more, got it once then lowered, with the plan to try it again. The next go I fell at the same move, got fed up and did the rest of the route clean, which was brilliantly thuggy and safe, but I couldn't help but feel disappointed at not doing the whole thing clean.

To save the day, I needed an ego boost. It sounds shallow, but I needed something to make my day seem worthwhile. I needed a route that's hard enough for me to feel good about doing it, but not so hard that I'll fall off. Wee Doris seemed like a good option, and after the sketchy start I fired off the crux with a few pumpy pulls. My mistake was hanging around for ages on rubbish holds fiddling in gear, ignoring the jug to the right, but when I found it I recovered, and stormed to the top. Dad followed quickly, eager to do something energetic to warm him up after belaying in the shade, and more eager still to be allowed to go home. I walked back to the car, proud of having stolen a day in the middle of November, and prouder still of getting an Extreme Rock tick in the cold.

Burbage South, 24th November
Having been inspired by Jim Popes recent achievements on the grit (the thirteen year old kid cruised two E6s for his first trad routes, in case you haven't been on UKC for the last month), I was interested to sample the headpointing experience for myself. I've never really been much of a grit climber, but I figured I'd pick it up quickly on an E6. It had rained the day before, and the temperature had dropped to sub-zero overnight. Walking over from the car park, my feet crunched through the ice and frozen mud. Burbage South really is an inspiring crag, with lines such as Parthian Shot, Messiah and Dynamics of Change, all classics concentrated in a very small area, not to mention numerous other nail-hard offerings. But today, everything was wet. Standing under the Cioch Block was like being in a light shower, and the majority of routes were covered in a green slime, so you can imagine my surprise (and relief) to see Nosferatu slightly in condition. Not wanting to jump straight on, I led a HVS to warm up, which looked like a pleasant flake into a solid jamming crack from below. Only when I pulled on did I realise it was overhanging and damp! Some very strenous moves brought me to a couple of decent cams in a soaking wet break, then I threw my hands into the slime-coated crack. The jams had to be perfect because otherwise my hands just slipped out, at one point my foot slipped off it's hold (it had a small stream running down it) and I only scraped through by locking off on jams. Eventually though I made it up, and felt sorry for myself as I belayed Dad up, feeling the cold, wet rock freeze my bum. From there we set our toprope up, and I was ready to go.

The moves surprised me, being powerful rather than the subtle technique I was expecting. The climbing was knacky - once I'd done the moves it felt easy, but it took me a while to get it all wired. Lots of slapping, heel hooks and slopers facing the wrong way joined together in a perfect sequence to bring me to the ledge, from where an exciting dyno brought the top. I lapped it a couple more times on the toprope, but the slightly smeggy conditions and lack of pads meant today wasn't to be the day I did my first E6, but I felt happy to have got all the moves wired on an E6 on rock I wasn't used to. I felt quite tired walking back to the car, and was a little confused because I hadn't done any real climbing. Then I remembered I'd been basically lapping an E6 all day and it started to make sense...

Stanage Apparent North, 1st December

Again, cool temperatures (1C) were barely compensated for by a bright winter sunshine, but today was even colder than the last couple of weekends. We discussed potential trad possibilities but in the end it was inevitable - we had to go bouldering. Andy was keen to introduce us to the crowd-free delights of Apparent North, and I was happy to be given a tour.

On the crimps of the crimpy roof problem
We began at Long Wall, warming up on a couple of easier problems before trying the harder line of the wall, the imaginatively named 'crimpy roof problem'. As you might expect, you span the roof, to some crimps, then finish up the problematic wall above - clever these names... It took me a few goes to get the move to the crimps, but once I'd done that I was sorted. V4 isn't a particularly impressive grade but I'm not the a very strong boulderer (even less so on grit), so I was quite pleased with the start to the day.

Tea Leaf - V4
Next up were 'Three Tiered Cake' and 'Cave Crack', two very dissimalar problems within a few yards of each other. TTC had pleasantly technical climbing but a worryingly high topout (wet and icy are never a good combination four metres above the deck), but Cave Crack was a total contrast. Leaning out of the roof brought you to the roughest sided crack you have ever seen, and the crux involved locking off on a brutally painful finger jam to reach the break. After grimacing my way past this move I threw a heelhook above my head and proceeded to grovel to the next break, slapping and gurning, followed by another damp topout - all very character building stuff.

The penultimate stop on our chilly tour of Stanage's lesser travelled end was Grand Theft Wall - a perfectly angled and featured wall for grit bouldering. I faffed about a bit on eliminates, snatching between crimps in an unnecessarily (but very enjoyably) dynamic way, before doing an actual problem in the book - Tea Leaf, V4 - which followed a rising traverse up the wall on good edges and crimps.

Attempting the V7 start to Skinless Wonder (E6 6c)
The last stop was the most impressive - the Apparent North Buttress. Not really for bouldering - the buttress is one of the biggest on Stanage - not to mention the hardest, it overhangs massively, making it's rounded holds even worse. We bumped into a few familiar faces trying (and repeatedly failing on) an E6 called Skinless Wonder, so I gave the (V7) boulder problem start a go before leaving it to those with a more favourable ape index, and having a go on Hamper's Hang instead. The line looked great, following a rising, sloping lip to a rest then a footless traverse of a juggy break to finish. The traverse took a few goes, messing about with heel hooks, but once I'd figured the sequence out I fired off the rest of the problem, and was pretty pleased with the V6 tick on grit, which isn't too bad for a limestone trad climber. I finished the day off flashing a few easier problems, a technical V3 arete and a burly V4 roof crack, before the sun set and things got seriously chilly.

Ssttrettccccchhhhh! But not quite stretched enough
As I walked down from the crag, I was chuffed to get yet another YECTOYD day in the bag - climbing outside on three consecutive weekends, in November, in Britain, is crazy! Happily listening to the sound of ice crunching beneath my feet and wind whipping around my ears, watching the beautiful sunset, and feeling my whole body ache from exhaustion, I thought to myself - "You either climbed today, or you didn't".

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Gracias, Catalunya! La Segona Part

The next day I felt broken, I could barely lift the milk to put on my cereal that morning, let alone climb. But Luke was desperate to get on something big, so we planned to do a seven pitch, 200m 7a - Papisuca. Planning to be as quick as possible, we decided to string pitches together and travel light. The first pitch started up a loose, sparsely bolted 6a which felt more akin to a serious HVS. Luke was in more danger than me, as several blocks seemed to disintegrate on touch and fall to the ground beneath me. Eventually the rock quality improved and the 6c pitch provided enough difficulty for me to worry about the 7a. The sun went in, and hanging on the stance for an hour bringing Luke up the first two pitches then belaying him on the third had me chilled to the bone. When we had set off the sun was roaring hot, but it had clouded over and a harsh wind had started to blow - my t-shirt and windproof suddenly seemed woefully inadequate. By the time we got to the 7a pitch my fingers were numb and the rock was freezing to touch, so I had to take a rest on the bolt mid-crux to re-heat my hands in my armpits. I then ran it into the next 6a+ pitch, which was no pushover, I was just keen to get off the rock as quickly as possible. Again, I was at that stance for what felt like ages, bringing Luke up two pitches then belaying him on a further two pitches ran together. Rocks occasionally flew down past me, accompanied by a scream of "BELOW", then half an hour later I finally heard a faint cry of "safe!". Thank God. I climbed as quick as possible, desperate to top out onto flat ground. The walk down was horrendous, sliding down steep muddy scree to the road which seemed miles away, agian we were lost. It had taken us an hour since we topped out, and here we were walking down the road in bare feet, freezing cold, with tired bodies. Later that day Luke would say "I don't think we need to do another multipitch this holiday".

The next day I needed a rest day. I felt absolutely battered, and everything felt like hard work. Plus I had loads of homework to do. I spent most of the day wondering whether I made the right decision to sacrifice a day climbing but now I'm sure I did, because the next day I felt fresh as a daisy. Earlier in the week we'd met a British couple in a bar, and they'd strongly recommended we go to Tres Ponts. To be fair to them it looked fantastic, so we put it on the hitlist. Me and Luke were dropped off at the crag, and it was absolutely freezing - the sun was behind the clouds, the rock was cold and river seemed to be creating a cooling effect on the entire crag. We 'warmed up' on a couple of easier routes, then I made the most of the sun coming out by onsighting the highly recommended Graellada. The route, from below, appeared to be an overhanging pumpy tufa-fest, but in reality it was a much more technical affair, balancing between shallow flutings and pockets. The crux was a sting in the tail, the very last move to get established on two soaking wet undercuts to clip the chains. Whilst not being totally straightforward, I remember clipping the chains thinking '7b+ my arse'. It was at that point that the sun went behind the crag and everything went very cold again. The next route on the hitlist was Alt Urgell, a supposedly soft 7c. Frustratingly, after battling through the low crux with numb fingers on polished crimps, I fell off higher up due to a simple route reading error, slapping to a hold which was poorer than it looked from below, and swinging off. By now my hands were seriously cold, and I felt miserable dogging to the top of the route. To cheer myself up, I finished the day doing a fun 7a up the first proper tufa of the holiday, then onsighting what was simply the best single sport pitch ever - an unnamed 7b. Luke had done it earlier that day and had said it was fantastic, but I didn't believe it would be as good as it was - swinging perfectly from jug to jug, with the occasional technical sequence to keep things entertaining, up an otherwise blank piece of steep rock. To top the day off my Dad lead it as well, which I think he was pretty pleased with.

Having accomplished the trips onsighting goals, the next day I decided to try to fulfill my redpointing ambitions too. Luke was keen to redpoint the first section of Frederic Balsara, and I was inspired by a 7c+ up some ridiculously steep ground to the right, so we went back to Perles. Luke got his 7b+ done on the first go of the day, and I spent about two hours faffing about on the 7c+, before realising that the route was way out my league, and way too steep and powerful to suit my strengths. Feeling a little disappointed I trudged back to the easier sector where we finished the day on another three pitch route, which thankfully was good enough to allow me to enjoy the amazing positions and scenery, and to forget about the earlier failure.

The final day of a trip is always a funny one. You want to rush to get as much more stuff done as possible, but you also need to be careful because you're ridiculously tired, and want to go out on a high. In the end you'll probably settle for just getting some good mileage in, and feel a bit disppointed you didn't try anything harder. Or you'll fall off something hard and regret not enjoying your climbing by doing easier stuff.
We figured it would be a shame to go to Catalunya but miss out on Oliana, so we went to see what all the fuss was about. In fairness, the hype is fully justified - the crag is incredible. Soaring lines of tufas and pockets up the huge, fifty metre barrel wall give you a stiff neck as you try to work out how it's even possible to make it to the top of one of Sharma's super-projects. After warming up, I onsighted a 7b which is normally something I'd be pretty pleased with, and I was, until I realised it was just the easiest way to get up to the start of the harder routes. The extensions included two 9a+s. Dad and Luke had been trying a 7a+ together up a huge tufa, the line looked great and it was really quite good, but again it was just the first (pathetically easy in comparison) section to a much harder route. To finish we all did a 7a together, which at least didn't have a ridiculously hard extension, and managed to make its way up 25m of the crag, which was a nice ending to a brilliant trip.

This trip marks the first major step up in sport climbing ability for me in over a year, and I went home happy that I had put in all my strength, effort and tenacity into every climb I tried, which really paid off the majority of the time. Despite still calling myself a trad climber, it can be a relief to be able to push yourself to your physical limit on a route, and not having to worry about the consequences of not being able to match the demands of the route. Nine times out ten this holiday, I had been able to match the demands of the routes I tried, but is was nice not to be scared shitless when I didn't.