Monday, 9 July 2012

The Dolomites

The holiday went 'so well' I didn't have the inclination to write up its failings, a few months later here it is in note form:

June = Too early, huts closed, lifts closed, snow in descent gullies and only Eastern Bloc climbers (i.e. mentalists) climbing.

Do NOT be second on the route. Said Eastern Bloc climbers have no remorse at literally throwing large pieces of rock in your direction. When they're hitting the slabs just above you, its time to bail.

Cinque Torri and Averau

Cinque Torri is crap.

The Marmolada is friggin' huge (~870m).

Abseiling off one single ring peg (about a 4mm ring) with no chance of backing it up is terrifying, even if you weigh as little as I do.

If you can't see the rock, don't try and climb a 600m route.

Rifugio Auronzo

When you DO see the rock, run away as it looks like this:

Its Limestone, but not as I know it.
Driving to Val di Mello in a 1.2 L Panda takes nearer 7 hours than Googles predicted 4.30. With only one person on the insurance and a good forecast for the next day it isn't fun to attempt in an evening.

Val di Mello is incredibly beautiful. The rock is pristine. Coming here to boulder is an insult.

The little lake drawn in the Solo Granito guide is NOT the first lake, it is the second one with the rock (complete with bolt), take the path here to Luna Nascente, do NOT walk out of the valley by mistake on an earlier path. Especially when you've got up early to jump a dodgy forecast.

Luna Nascente is amazing. If its at your limit be prepared to be a tad run out at times.

The famous cracks and corners of Luna Nascente

When you get to the big roof (unlike last time!) you DOWN CLIMB for 6m around the corner, the next bit is easy but there is little pro all the way to the belay. How we got this far previously with an incomplete grit rack I'm not quite sure.

Imagine a perfect corner, got it? The next pitch is it from here upwards:

After the eye of the Falcon, Luna Nascente
The final slab is easy, very easy in fact, but once again there is NO pro for 40m (and no, its not this shallow all the way).

The final easy slab of Luna Nascente
It is also a 60m pitch, by that I mean as I bounced on stretch to clip the tree at the top, all I heard was "climbing". Good to know.

Carrying a headtorch is golden although after the Dolomites descent without, whilst handcuffed would have been a walk in the park by comparison.

Finish at the Luna hut, Pizzocheri (local dish) and finish with an Espresso.

Rain. Watch as your planned router literally forms a waterfall.

Work out how much it has cost you per pitch of climbing. Go to Verona and drown sorrows in Aperol Spritz and complain that the ladies were more attractive last time you where here.

Heed the Spherical Cow!

The End.

ps - the S95 > LX5 for this stuff, and when are we going back?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Tom Crane, Crescent Slab, Stanage Plantation

Since returning from the Verdon I'd had little psych to make the effort to get out on the Grit; the one day I bothered I just wasn't interested (and neither was she).

Spain came around quickly and afterwards there was little time between the Christmas duties to even think about getting out climbing.

Christmas was spent far too close to London; again, no climbing.

So it was nice this weekend to scrape a day out on the Grit, and what a day. Last time we went out the destination was picked by Nat and wasn't the best choice to try and re-inspire some love for the luck-based-scrittle. We settled on Stanage plantation, the best of the best.

Twitter showed a large number of the UKB crowd to be heading that way, and a few phone calls persuaded a good friend that he too wanted to tag along. It was great to see people and served well as a reminder about how good grit days can be. The climbing isn't my favourite in style but the general company and ability to jump between a large number of high quality problems is fantastic.

Thanks to Rob, Nat managed to push her top end grade (as well as flash). Thanks to me the day ended with some shouting after being a little too keen to point her at Crescent arete, although later she did admit that it was mainly a head issue.

James Blay amidst typical gritstone colours on Not To Be Taken Away, Stanage Plantation

I was very happy to notice that my footwork had improved, leading to ticking a couple of slabs. The kind of problems that I'd happily saunter past declaring them 'shit' not so long ago.

Posting on the "Best of 2011" thread really got me thinking. This year has been by far my most enjoyable year climbing. Early on in the year the stolen evenings on Grit trad were memorable, leading towards High Tor, Chee Tor and then a summer spent ticking away at both of the Cornices. I've never managed to climb so consistently and I put it down to spending THAT much more time on rock this year as well as a new understanding of how to approach sport routes (the fact its not the end of the world if you can't do every move on the first dog, and a tiny sprinkling of tenacity). Monsterosity kick started this and by fluke, the route choices I made hereon built upon this. By the end of the summer I shifted to ploughing repeatedly up the easier Cornice offerings to prepare for the Verdon; a holiday I'd never have imagined not that long ago.
3 weeks was spent with great banter and fantastic routes only bettered by the weather in which we were gifted to climb them. The trip culminated in the best multi-pitch route I've ever done (Gwendal) and left me planning my next trip for a handful of equally amazing looking routes (Alex Punk des Vergon and La Fete du Nerfs).

James Blay, Mono Slab, Stanage Plantation

Shortly after returning to the UK we were planning our final week away at Vilanova de Meia and Riglos. Although it didn't go entirely to plan the climbing was memorable and our speed from the Verdon followed us. Its all part of a bigger plan to have the skills to one day backup a trip to America and the huge granite walls it offers (an experience I'm yet to convince my second of).

So to next year? I must admit to being a little apprehensive. My goals are wide and varied and don't sit well with each other. On the one hand, I raised my base level of sport climbing to a wholly acceptable level this year and it makes sense to build upon that and see what I can claw my way up. However, I'm not interested in Mecca or any of its variants. Sorry, Its just not my thing (although I should probably give it at least a second go, preferably not in the full on sun!). Most of the other amenable offerings are in North Yorkshire and one thing that I think helped me this year was the lack of time away from each project. I'd get on them day on day off, (or evening on evening off) reliably until they were done. Malham/Kilnsey is a weekend raid.

The other part of me wants to continue building on the trad foundation that I started a few years ago and have been slowly building on ever since. It'd be undeniable to claim that this has had anything other than a positive effect on my climbing. I worry that locally I've now done quite a few of the low/mid highly starred trad routes and the reality of after work sessions won't be as rewarding as previous years.

Further afield I wish to spend more time at Gogarth, Flytrap, the Strand T-rex and Positron (or some variant) are all on an older list than this as well as another handful of North Wales routes (not to mention the routes elsewhere, such as Pembroke). Each weekend spent ticking here, is one spent off something hard.

Even further afield, Riglos and Aiglun are polar opposite trips to Buoux and the Fraknejura and holiday is limited not only by finances but sadly work.

Chris on Brad Pit, Stanage Plantation

I guess it all boils down to decisions and priorities, the main problem being I can't seem to make any.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Vilanova de Meia & Riglos

On our return from the Verdon an attempt at bouldering (secret garden) reinforced my lack of psyche for the luck based scrittle. The upside of this was efficient thesis writing, the downside - a distinct lack of climbing psyche.
After working out that Nat had planned for us to be at her folks' place for a double digit number of days over Christmas we both decided that a trip to Spain would be preferable. Other options were on the cards (mainly Aiglun) but with Monarch offering deals from Manchester it just seemed like too good a deal to miss.

Roca del Arcs, Vilanova de Meia, Catalunya

The climbing at Vilanova de Meia (VdM) is highly varied as the rock is banded and each is distinctly different; from sandstone Esq climbing on the bright orange rock with classic style finger cracks, to conglomerate bands and finally limestone jugs and traditional Verdon style compact slabs (usually lacking in bolts but graciously devouring 0.5 cams). Although this is great, the face is hugely stepped meaning that more often than not one pitch is distinctly the crux (i.e. 6a ish for 7 pitches with a crux of 7b+).

El Somni de Quimfer, L1, Vilanova de Meia

Gear is that strange style of engineered trad. Some pitches are equipped fully as sport routes, others have a mix of pegs, large copperheads and other assorted aid relics. This does make things interesting. I've never clipped a giant lead splat with a wire coming from it, nor do I know what they're called?


Each day we were treated to an amazing cloud inversion that stopped at the bottom of the main cliff, it was if you could step out onto it (apart from the fact that'd involve falling off the lower tier and death). The descent was as we'd remembered - lethal, especially when damp/icy "follow obvious path" doesn't really convey many of the 'issues' (and is one of the flaws of this section of the POD guide) it has as one trundled block clearly illustrated (it smashed down to the valley floor). The other descent however "descend rocky gully" is like a walk in the park in comparison and if I ever return (which I won't now) I'll use exclusively.
One thing which we'd managed to get wrong this time was how much scope there was for us as a team. There was enough to hold our interest for the week, just. With Natalie struggling more than I'd expected on the steeper ground the lions share of the leading was once again on me but after a few days we were back to our efficient pace (which after spending about 5 weeks this year doing, we should be!).
I'd always planned on a day out to Riglos, remembering the climbing to be a bit "one pebble after the other" I only really had the desire to do Fiesta de los Biceps. Ironically I found the climbing much more memorable and a reversed holiday (with more time at Riglos) would likely have offered better routes.

El Pison, Los Mallos De Riglos

Arriving at the towers, the Pison (cigar) and Visera (our target) drifted in and out of view from the low cloud. The above photo was taken in the best clearing all night. The small spire on the left is actually joined to the main face with a fixed line, as yet I can't find which route this is.

Loss Mallos de Riglos

We awoke early and set off to the base of the Visera (the RHS curving tower, the line of Fiesta can be seen as a white curving streak, yes, that's the chalk). Pitch one went fine, two etc. until things started to steepen. I looked down at Nat giving it her all latching a crimp and then up at the wildly steepening (yet juggy) head wall. A quick discussion on the stance led to us returning to the floor, me, disappointed, her a little bit angry. We did the nearby Moskitos, an easier line with a crux of around F6b. Despite looking like a dreadful chossy corner it actually climbed like a dream and had the most novel pieces of gear I'd clipped (a seat belt, knotted and jammed in the crack). It only took a few hundred meters for Nat to start smiling again and seeing the French team (who were behind us) huffing and puffing on the final steepness of Fiesta she conceded I may have been correct. 'May'. At the top Nat began complaining she felt rough, I put this down to having not carried any water/food but as the evening progressed it was clear that it was a bit more than that. The next day was lost to 'Spanish Sickness' (I was blaming the Refugio food), but the following was saved by cramming in 500m worth of rock. The final day, (the travelling day) was my turn to endure the sickness and our last hopes of squeezing in one more route soon gave way to vomiting followed by a flight, then a trip over the woodhead pass in snowy conditions.

Fri night was spent celebrating the 5th birthday of my favourite climbing wall; a good scene as ever although the highlight must be Bonjoy identifying a 'French Partridge' despite being slumped in a corner.

Sunday evening all of the people present for the Verdon tripped gathered for food, drinks and photos which was a fantastic evening. I managed to get hold of a shot taken from the Wide is Love stance showing myself (red shirt) on the finish of the middle pitch of Pichenibule.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Verdon 2011

Our 3 week holiday in the Verdon contained far too much to condense into a single meaningful blog post. Suffice to say, we were fast and ticked everything on the list excluding a few aspirational routes. I'll be back for them in a few years time...

I think everything else is hopefully conveyed below. The Verdon isn't in vogue and thats fine by me!

L'Escales 25mm f/0.5 ish

Griffon Vulture

Wide is Love

Les Rideaux du Gwendal

Griffon Vulture

Natalie on the Gollum wall

Vulture above the Verdon River

The Milkyway

Griffon Vulture

Lu, Surveiller et Punir

Route checking

Moonrise over Mt. Ventoux

Friday, 2 September 2011

Epic Slate

Jamie, Old Man River Direct, Cheedale Cornice

Well, I managed to finish off my last project at the Cornice. Truth be told there was probably time for one or two more but I just can't justify the time. Evening sessions are too short and the Verdon is looming on the horizon and I'm yet to be convinced of how transferable any Cornice based climbing is to L'Escales!

Cheedale Cornice, Roof Warrior Area

That said, I can't really complain. Between this Cornice and the currently unloved steeper version I've had a fantastic haul of high quality routes this year. I'm happy. Maybe I'm slightly gutted that I didn't have the forethought to clean up Monumental or invest time into Butterflies but it'll dry again (it will dry again?).

The last evening session on lime came and went last thursday and I opted for mileage, packing as many routes as I could into the two hour window before darkness. Its a good crag for that with everything from Martial to Bored on offer. I left suitably pumped.

Beyond pure fitness (50m to at least 150m anybody?) there are a few other factors playing on my mind. Firstly, exposure, its not something you get a lot of on Peak Lime and there are few places that I've been with quite the breathtaking expanse of nothingness below a belay than L'Escales. Secondly, ropework. Between the pair of us (bitching a lot) we've ended up with knots in ropes, ropes stuck around tree's and generally a sphagetti junction type affair whenever we've tried to 'move fast'. In order for us to get things done on this trip it needs to stop.

What better place to cure it than a day on the slate romping up some 4 pitch (at a mere 75m) fully bolted MP routes?

Pull my Daisy, Rainbow Slab, Dinorwig Slate Quarries

It was epic. Walking in we noticed some bright folks (from London town) had pitched tents adjacent to the main path, fools. Following the directions we were given we soon found ourselves balancing our way to the Golgotha area and the mouth of the skull. I love the tunnels in the quarries, this one emerges giving you a grand view of Twll Mawr and the intimidation beings. Descending a large scree slope is entertaining when dry, deadly when wet yet we made it to the base of the route without incident, just in time to see the showers blow in.

Golgotha, Dinorwig

Moments later the strange silence was broken by the instantly recognizable terror inducing noise of rockfall as people rained down rock from the upper track, the both of us huddled at the base, screaming rude words until it stopped.

Twll Mawr, Dinorwig

The route was fully wet by now and I began exploring the quarries, sheep in bags and old mine equipment litter the floor as well as alarmingly large blocks sporting a Petzl hanger! The slippy floor. I went arse over tit grabbing the nearest thing for support however it turns out this convenient handle was actually crafted from a slate razor which gashed my palm like a papercut on steroids. Ouch. As the route clearly needed to dry off I balanced my way back up to the bags at the top of the scree (very slippery when wet) to find the 'streamlining' of my bag (by my other half) consisted of removing the finger tape. I slithered back down.

Scree, Twll Mawr, Dinorwig

By now it had dried off enough to have a go (even if my palm was still pissing blood), but not for long. Mid crux and the slate was once again dripping. I lowered off and we walked back up the scree sulking.

The base of Twll Mawr North Wall

The other mouth of the tunnel leads to roughly the first stance and after returning to this level we could see it had dried off once again. We rejoined at the first belay and lowered down to get the first pitch done. Nat made it look far easier than I felt she should. Pitch 2 and predictably it began raining again. Nat suggested we give up and I ended up downclimbing the majority of the pitch as it progressively became wetter so we could walk off through the tunnels (which we did).

Not an anchor

By now we were both a little grumpy and went to wait it out at the top level. After discussions with a few very local locals (think Royston Vasey), the other route of interest dried out. Back down we went and this went without a hiccup (and oddly felt a fair bit easier?).

Twll Mawr, Cart Wheel.

Supermassive Blackhole, Twll Mawr North Wall (final pitch)

Supermassive still looked fairly wet from above but then I couldn't work out how black the dolerite slab looked that morning. I convinced myself it was always that black and off we trotted once more, the slate was dry, the dolerite wasn't. Thankfully the wet pitch, was the easy pitch.

Supermassive Blackhole, Twll Mawr North Wall (final pitch)

As I said, EPIC. I hope this isn't a sign of things to come... Next time I go back its Dark Half or Spong, lets keep things simple!

ps - apologies for getting blood on the route.

Monday, 22 August 2011


I should be content. In all reality this has probably been my best year so far. From shifting focus from the steep Cornice (WCJ) to the less steep Cornice (Cheedale) I've been able to get on routes that I thought, technically would have had me over a barrel. Kneebars, heel toe's, thigh scums, extended draws, skipped bolts, the list of 'cheating' (laughable really) tactics I've employed this summer is huge.


Consequently I've managed to drag my not so steely, not so well trained self up some of the Peaks finest routes due to minor bouts of persistence. On completing each route I went home smiling, with my "enough now, its time work" head on. Then on returning to the crag to allow Nat to tidy up a loose end or two (she's continued ticking ) the quick play on routes have developed into that redpointing yearning feeling that sidetracks me from everythig I ought to be doing and leaves me refining beta in my sleep. Currently that'd be Devonshire Arms. Two sessions ago I refined the upper crux with what can only be described as footwork removing the need to use the overly high glued edge or opt for the Beastmaker attitude of doing a Fnt 8b instead.

Dylan, Roof Warrior, Cheedale Cornice

I've refined the crux and now all that remains is to string it all together (this time without getting the rope over my shoulder). I'm on the edge of my seat on this one as the forecast looks as if it'll rob me of victory before I have the chance to fail.

...and then of course there's Four Door.

Thursday, 28 July 2011


On our little euro-tour, Nat hit her goal of climbing F7a in Rodellar. TBH I think it was the first she actually tried and it went without any redpointing to speak of. First go was on a toprope at which she failed about 5cm from the belay. Second go, well it was done.

Later on in the tour with light fading above L'ermitage in Margalerf I lowered off the last route of the day (F7a+) only for Nat to demand that she wanted a go. I sighed deeply thinking that I'd be doing the route in question 30 mins later but this time with the added fun of being the dark. I was wrong; she promptly flashed it.

But then again, holiday ticks feel just like that (with the exception of 'Old Skool' venues such as Buoux or the 'jura where ticks really ARE ticks) and she was vocal about ticking some F7a routes in the UK.

I've been trying to make the point that really it was well within reach on our return and certainly last season however I was largely ignored up until around a fortnight ago (lingering memories from Kilnsey were getting in the way I feel). Nat conceded the point and finally pulled onto Clarion Call. With her tendency to crimp anything small it seemed like the perfect route and at the end of the first session all of the moves were in the bag (and much skin was lost). Second session a few false starts made way for the inevitable tick and much happiness (despite much use of tape), possibly due to the curry and beer that followed.

Since then I was sucked into WCJ Cornice and obviously knowing I was about to spend a fair amount of time there she jumped onto 'Incapacity benefit' (F7a+), this took a bit longer down to poor (or inexperienced) redpoint tactics but its done and didn't take long (certainly less time than me).

Tonights route 'Quality Control' was another victim of poor tactics, we were there on Sunday and it was hotter than the sun (really I should complain more when the plan is suggested rather than sulking whislt there!. Unsurprisingly tonight (which was... overcast), a quick bolt to bolt was followed by yet another successful tick (I'm glad too as Two Tier is far from ideal for an after work destination).

A discussion sat at the bottom of WCJ (after she'd had a quick bolt-to-bolt of Brachiation Dance [a little too powerful in places but still a taste of whats to come]) we mused how she'd joined me at the various Cornices years before and hadn't ever thought that ticking a route on either, let alone both would be a reality. From my point of view this is brilliant news, UK sport climbing (of quality) starts at F7a and weekend trips to Yorkshire (mainly Malham as I've done very little there) are now completely feasible. On the trip it wasn't 'too' much of an issue as Euro crags generally offer a good spread of quality throughout the grades, even places like the 'jura allow you to visit a number of outcrops in a day and fill your veritable boots. Britain does not and sub-seven climbers are relegated to the wings, often near the 'toilet' area.

Trad, bouldering and easier multi-pitch climbing allow us to climb together quite a lot already, throw in Sport, the best of the lot and I'm psyched. I have to say that I'm almost regretting our choice of holiday this year; 3 weeks in the Verdon late Sept/Early Oct as it requires a completely different skillset to that of which we are both currently implementing. Onsighting consistently at a grade for 350m with an airy feel is very different to yarding on undercuts in roofs, even if you are skipping a couple of clips. Gulp.
Please disregard anything you read on this page. It's all just random thoughts and opinions based on very little. Therefore it's not worth getting upset about. In fact; just don't bother reading it, it'd make life easier for everyone involved.