Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Festive Frodsham Fix.

I have finally bucked the winter trend of warming up and getting chased back to the car by horizontal precipitation.  For the first time in four outings I have managed to get a full and satisfying session on a silica-rich, natural climbing medium. Where did I find a location that would be kind and cater for my complex climbing needs? Well, Frodsham of course; a feast of dry holds in the festive season.

I always seem to climb at Frodsham between Christmas and New Year. A session on the familiar holds that decorate Frodsham's buttresses can be a therapeutic experience, helping a climber to work through the angst developed at dinner in the festive season. Once all those chocolates have been digested and a spare tyre deposited, desperation and disappointment kicks in. You ask yourself how this could have happened, knowing full well that basic gluttony was the root cause. You feel heavy, slow, ambitions blunted by the thought that you will have to try twice as hard to lift all that lard up the project you had previously been training for. This is where Frodsham soothes. Working your way along its crimps and slopers helps to convince that all is not lost, you can still pull down, send the problems you did before gluttony blinded you, and even aspire to great things in the year to come. Convinced that the worst of the seasonal excesses are behind you, the walk down the hill from Frodsham's self-help circuit can be a positive affair! But don't worry New Year's Eve will knock that out of you.

Frodsham, like other venues in Merseyside, lends itself well to eliminate climbing, enabling the climber to progressively work their way up the difficulty scale, building confidence in a time of physical excess and mental frailty. If you want to find out more about Frodsham and what it has to offer then read my previous post on its majestic buttresses here. 

Thanks again to Sam for the video!

Monday, 16 December 2013

A Sense of Adventure.

Perfect Grit conditions, where the adventure begins.
I’ve been looking through old climbing magazines lately and have felt a tinge of nostalgia.  The disappearance of magazines such as, “On the Edge” and “Friction” have definitely left a hole in the scene.  These publications lived their lives on the cutting edge, they hung out with the elite and told us tales that would frustrate and inspire in equal measure.  In the mid 2000’s a few words and a glossy picture could send me scurrying to the far flung corners of the UK to try the new and exciting.  Distance and fuel costs were never a consideration when planning a trip; miles were consumed greedily and the collective carbon footprints of those imprisoned in my car swelled unsustainably, driven by an insatiable appetite for discovery and adventure.  This glut of experience had to come to an end eventually.  Higher fuel prices, guilt and commitments have led my bouldering horizons to edge a little closer to home.  I have traded adventure for focus, distance for difficulty; projects have pulled me along when it was once the joy of travel. This approach is better for the planet and my pocket, however I do feel that I have lost something; constant rounds of projecting can leave you feeling a little stale.

A recent invitation lead me to somewhere new, I had read about this venue and been impressed by pictures of it, but didn’t really had the drive to visit. It took a few well-chosen words from Fatneck to motivate me.   He got me to change my plans and choose to do something a little more adventurous than the usual lock, pull and fail that had become a weekend ritual over the last few months.  It started with an innocent enquiry about what he was up to that Sunday, he texted and simply stated that he would be going to Hunter's Stones with his wife.  That’s all it took.  I do understand that this wasn’t an invitation however it seemed to act as some kind of spark; all I needed was for somebody else to take the first step and I was off - fizzing.  I quickly texted back stating that I would meet him there!  It was at this point that my adventure genes, the part of my character that simply didn’t care about cost, pollution and consequences which had lain dormant, hidden, started to wake and kick start the same frenetic frenzy that once characterised my weekend climbing trips.  Yes I was going to Hunter's Stones.  No, I didn’t know where it was but I was going to try and find it any way!!  Frantic web searches and the judicious use of Google maps would get me close enough, the rest was up to fate. 
Sam sending a 7a at Norwood
Sometimes flying blind really is the best way to travel, making it up as you go along makes you pay attention.  In this state a drive along well-worn roads will lead to multiple discoveries that had previously escaped you.  A good example is the proximity of Halifax to Liverpool! I honestly thought it was hidden deep in the Yorkshire moorland; however it is so close to the border of the red rose county that you can almost taste the Lancastrian vapours that flow over Saddleworth Moor.  Another discovery on my path to nowhere was the Masala Fishery in Bradford (this could be my version of Nirvana – spicy fish and chips). Finally on the sinuous roads of West Yorkshire I came to realise that discovery is necessarily a product of loss! Guess what, I was very lost.

I didn’t find the parking.  I knew I was close, but I couldn’t see any landmarks. There was a trig point and a pylon to guide the way, all I could see was a plantation of pines.  I parked at the edge of a forest, took a deep breath and headed in the direction I thought might yield the best return. I have a beard you see -  like all the best adventurers. I’m no stranger to mud.  I could find my way (or so my Y chromosomes were telling me), no need to ask anyone.  I could live out my outdoorsman fantasies as I went. The dog was in his element as he stalked along forgotten paths discovering bridleways, horses, ramblers, paintball camps, and eventually some boulders. 
Fatneck feeling some vibrations on Wavelength

We had arrived!!
It was eerily silent.  Where was Fatneck? Where was the famous Hunters Roof?  Why were the boulders so small? Where had my ego led me? My sense of adventure disappeared and I just felt a little sad and alone.  It was time to drop the pretence; I’m no man of the wild!!  Like the soft city gentleman I truly have become in my thirties I reached for my mobile phone.  My beard morphed from adventurer’s weather proofing back to hipster chin apparel.  I rang Fatneck.  He gave me instructions, he gave me tips, it didn’t help!!  Eventually he guided me in by bellowing my name (he sounded a bit like a musky bull attracting a mate).  Other countryside users looked scared, the dog looked happy to be saved from a directionless future; I was more than faintly embarrassed.

I may have had my initial enthusiasm blunted slightly that day on the way to Hunter's Stones, however by the end play I had redoubled my desire for adventure, getting lost, being found and eventually having an experience that may have been overlooked in search of numbers.  Hunter's Stones and the neighbouring Norwood were great venues made up of free-standing, naturally sculpted Yorkshire grit, something I had almost forgotten about when questing on the small crimps of the white stuff!!  I’ll accept that grit climbing can be a bit luck-based, but it wasn’t the moves that got my juices flowing that day, it was the devil may care, see what might happen approach to a climbing session.  There may not be much inspiration in climbing magazines nowadays, however instead of stopping the quest we should quest even harder and further for the new and exciting.  Numbers and projects have their place, but there’s nothing quite like getting lost to remind you what’s there to be found.

Pictures from the Huthwaite and McShane collections.  Thanks again to Sam for the video work!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Winter misery.

I have been rained off two weekends in a row, well drizzled rather than rained!! I have been frequenting walls rather than crags on my precious non-work days and it is all a bit depressing.  I have had an epiphany though when it comes to indoor problems, it is this:

The important holds indoors are not the ones you use, rather it’s the ones you miss out that count!!

In an attempt to lift the usual mid-December funk here’s a video from the past which quite clearly shows what sunshine actually looks like.  It also contains a nice cameo from Crouchy looking like the captain of a yacht!!  Enjoy.  Merry Christmas

Hoppo's Warton Takedown from Owen McShane on Vimeo.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Bouldering and pseudo-existential journeys

This week we have another article from Ged Mac-Daddy (daddy of the hanger in Liverpool). This time he tells a tail of trips and projects..............

‘…There is no effort with error and shortcoming…’

Theodore Roosevelt

Climbing stories often dip into the existential.  After 563 attempts to pull onto the problem, I finally hit the pocket, in the fleeting blackness between success or failure, I saw the divine, self-actualised and finally realised the true essence of what it means to try…”  I almost walked this path.  Almost.

For months I’ve been building up to this trip; didn’t drink beer, drank more water, wore a weight vest when climbing and turned down a bacon sandwich.  I determined to try and focus my energies into climbing just a few hard boulders, I was going to climb 8a.  Yesterday, half way through my trip, I decided that I had failed.  The decision was a painful exercise in pop-psychology that I nearly turned into a dithering article, replete with pseudo existentialisms.

I was gearing up to talk about torment, of being stood at a cross-road of identity.  There were two Ged’s; Actual Ged liked high volume, flashing hardish problems and never stayed too long under one boulder.  The Ged I fancied becoming, was patient enough to project, to try and really push himself to discover his ‘true’ ability. The holiday was about ‘the project,’ my vehicle for an inward journey to the Mecca of 8a.

So a week in, virtually no boulders climbed, demoralised, feeling stronger than ever but unable to get my body climbing in harmony, I was torn.  It was maybe possible I could drag an 8a down to my level which hardly felt gracious, or I could re-engage with climbing some blocs and raise my game a bit and return a better climber on another trip.  The crossroad was which choice represented greater weakness?  My old safe ways of lots of climbing or press on with the project of near certain failure? Both felt like a cop out.  Down this road lay the bad article. The exploration of ego driven choices, why I chose 8a, the tired rhetoric of, “it’s not about the grades, man…..”

Let’s not be shy here, it is kinda about the grades isn’t it? Tell me you are not pleased when you do something harder than before or get annoyed like my proper paddy today when I got my ass fully kicked by a beautiful 7a+.  7a+ is well within my grade, a high chance of the flash.  That’s why I had a tantrum when it kept me mercilessly on the ground. 
The 7a+: the scene of my tantrum

I chose 8a because I wanted to climb a new grade.  I was basically chasing the grade, pure and simple. The chase, the blindness, allowed me to mislead myself and ignore what I already knew, what was going on around me and insult people who project well.

Three of the climbers I am with are professional.  Shauna Coxsey (bouldered V13, British Bouldering Champion, Adidas athlete), Alex Johnson (bouldered V12, 2 x world champion, 5 x USA champ, North Face athlete) and Chris Webb Parson, (bouldered V15 and over 200 V11 or above graded problems, Edelrid athlete).  Quite the team to be climbing with and quite the people to be learning from once I pulled my head out of my ‘journey arse.’
Alex despatching: Teamwork 8a, after sub 30 mins of effort. Two days it took me to do The second move in isolation and totally ruin my skin.

The only shocking thing I learnt was that I had the capacity to ignore what I already knew in the hope I could sneak past the grade guards and get away with the 8a jewel.  All of the pros were climbing their projects quickly; resting well between goes, not getting angry, being very curious, experimenting with new beta and quitting before they were trashed, with a view to return fresh.  They were happy to say, nah, don’t like this one and move on.  I watched 8a go down in a few tries followed by 7c+ not getting climbed and people moving on.  I was falling off one move, over and over, trying again and again, getting tired, annoyed, bruised and torn skin.  I was having the least fun, doing the least amount of climbing and getting shut down hard.  Only I was on an inward journey to understand ‘the project’, everyone else was just climbing boulders. 

There is no path traveller; the way must be forged as you walk. 

Antonio Machado

What was I thinking?  That embarking on some self-indulgent inward journey to test out my capacity for patience was somehow going to let me past the gates of 8a?  That there was no specific skill set that those good at projecting possessed?  How arrogant I am!  Did I really think that with the grand total of one 7c+ under my belt that I was prepared for the dizzy heights of 8a?  I have taught the virtues of a good pyramid on which to build your peaks on, illustrated the madness of trying to leap desperately through grades to inexperienced climbers only to find I had rationalised trying to do just that under the guise of a ‘journey.’    I have played myself for a fool, moreover I had done it publicly and justified it with blinkered thinking.
Good climbers climb lots.  Revelatory stuff.  They try hard.  They try things they cannot do.  They sometimes get annoyed when they fail and are often self-critical, they aspire to be better, train and draw a line under things that are not paying out quickly.  Something I used to do.  Like a circular home coming movie, I went away to find something new and discovered that what I was searching for was what I had left behind; climbing.  I will climb an 8a, just not yet.  Why I want to climb one doesn’t need justifying any more than the desire to climb in the first place, but at least I’ve stopped ‘journeying’ and started climbing again. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Pex Problem of the Week #9.

Sam throwing shapes on Pisa Wall.
Not seen one of these for a while have you? (If you've never seen one before, the links to the previous Pex Problems of the Week can be seen below).  It's been some time, so why now I hear you say. Pex Problem of the Week was meant to help prepare you for the grit season, get you ready for the crimps and slopers that sit there just waiting for attention up on the moors. Well it is grit season and we did try to get out on the moors, however it's November and we live in Britain which means the best intentions often lead to naught. The forecast was set fair and the rock was dry but the mist and drizzle rolled menacingly up the Calder valley leaving Pex the only outdoor option on a short winter's day. Pex, and more specifically Pisa Wall at Pex, is a perfect quick hit in the winter; it never gets wet and there is plenty to get on with if you are happy to be creative. This problem of the week is something I came up with to spice up a session that should have been on grit.

Idiotic Man V7.

Remember you will need to refer to pages 178 and 179 of the Cheshire and Merseyside Sandstone guide and the eliminates diagram therein for the holds used in this problem. Essentially this is a stretchy sit into a harder version of Silly Boys Direct. Contrived difficulty? Well yes - it is an eliminate after all, and it will get you strong! Start sitting with both hands on hold number 2, left foot in a deep, low pock mark and right foot on a smeary dink. Drop your left knee and reach up with your left to hold 7. Now move your feet and body weight up and left, flick the right hand up, nestle a three finger stack in hold 21 (the top of the Vitalite constellation of holds) and hold it like a gaston. Move your left foot up to hold 1, lean back, make space and swap feet, bury your left foot into hold 6 and start to rock over. This move will feel like an attempt at contortion (your left knee will feel like it is wrapped around your left ear) however, as you move up and left with you weight being held up by the tension created between you right hand and left foot, it will start to make sense. All that is left to do is go for that bucket in the break with your left hand, match, and victory is yours! Pex saves you yet again from those drizzle-infested moors.

The video shows two problems: the first is the Idiotic Man, the second is Small Snick Sit Down which was Pex Problem of the week #5.

Thanks to Sam from downstairs for the video!!!!

If you are up for following the nine step path of Pisa wall power then the links to the first eight problems can be found below:

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8

Thursday, 14 November 2013

A blast from the past! - El Cogul.

This week I have decided to reprint an article that was published in Friction Magazine in May 2006.  The recent deluge has had me thinking of methods of escape; dry climates and specifically climbing in Spain.  The article below refers to the last time I actually did just that and reminds me exactly how good that experience can be.  A second reason for bringing this article to life is that it works as a neat little snapshot of what bouldering was all about in 2006.  I'll accept that it is a poorly written article and is at times quite naive, however I think it does capture the spirit of adventure and discovery that cheap flights and articles in climbing magazines engendered in the climbing community at that time.  It wasn't so much what you were climbing but rather which exotic new location you were headed to that seemed to count.  I could have spruced this article up, revised or even rewritten it, however I have posted it here, warts and all, more than anything to give an indication of how much I, and  bouldering, seemed to have changed in a very short time.

All Photos in this post are from the Tony Simpson Collection.

El Cogul.

Apparently there was a sixty present chance that we would have a really cold winter.  In my mind cold means dry and we were in for a good season.  So what do we get – snow, mist, fog and clag, injuries distilled from the frustrations of training indoors and an overwhelming feeling of dread every time there is a mention of the weather.  We heard about bouldering in a desert near Barcelona.  “Pardon?  You mean in a desert where you have no moisture, rain, or wetness – winner!”  Tickets were bought, a car was hired and off we went.  We headed out to Spain in mid-February after several weekends of mist and misery.  Bird flu had just hit Europe, so we were under strict instructions not to lick any birds.
El Cogul is dry! Very dry.  However it is nowhere near Barcelona.  The bouldering is found near the Catalan city of Lleida a place best described later.  It is easy to find El Cogul on the tourist maps.  It is actually a world heritage site due to there being some ancient graffiti on one of the boulders (a fact that escaped us until after our visit) so be careful around the caves.

Our trip took the standard format of bouldering trips worldwide, four men driving around in an overly packed car shouting enthusiastic nonsense at each other.  Loud music was blasted around the car, lard based food products were eaten in large quantities, catch phrases were found and overused and we all climbed ourselves into oblivion on a daily basis.  It could be said that this is really living, but the diet alone could seriously challenge your lifespan.

Most of the bouldering is found along a dirt track between the villages of El Cogul and L’Albages.  Like most European venues each sector of climbing corresponds to a car parking space, so walk-ins are minimal.  The climbing encapsulates everything that is good about sandstone.  Slopers, huecos, roofs, palm down mantels and the judicious use of heel and toe hooks.

The boulders are perched on hillsides above terraced olive groves and vineyards.  Some of the sectors are actually on the terraces themselves, giving the feeling of bouldering in someone’s garden.  Don’t worry though you obviously have the right to trespass.  The local farmers did not take any notice of us no matter how loudly we shouted at yet another failed attempt at a project.

The Sectors.
The topo for El Cogul shows twenty one different sectors of bouldering.  Each sector has on average three to five good boulders of varying sizes.  Rock quality can vary.  Generally the higher up the hillside the venue is the better the sandstone.  On our trip we visited all of the sectors bar two.  Five sectors stood out each serviced by a car parking space.

 Sector 1 –L’Universitat.

This is a sector of steep rounded walls on the left, and a long roof with big huecos on the right. At the transition between these two angles there is a magical sit down crack line which goes at a ferocious 7c.  Other stand out problems include a dynamic 7c through the bulge on the left hand end, and any of the longer roof problems emerging from the right.

 Sector 5 – Mestre Mutent.

This is probably the best warm up venue in El Cogul.  The climbing is best described as technical wall climbing on crimps and shallow pockets.  Problems from 5+ to 7a exist and they are all good.  If you like Pex Hill (which obviously everyone does) you’ll love this sector.

 Sector 6 – Beer Action.

This is the most obvious sector from the road and it contains El Cogul’s most famous problem.  Beer Action is the long curving, sloping arĂȘte you can see from the road (7c from standing, 7c+ from sitting if you fancy a go.)  Lots of other problems exist here, however the area is marred slightly by a sloping dusty landing which induces bouts of impromptu mat surfing.

Sector 11 – Pallars.

A great venue which is a short drive up a bumpy farm track.  This sector has rounded boulders plucked from Font and deposited on the terraces. One of these boulders has a 7a arĂȘte (7b from sitting) which begs to be climbed.  Around the corner is a huge boulder steep roof.  Problems range from 7a through to 8a+, with what looks like more to go for the keen and the strong.  Believe me when I say this boulder is world class.

Area L’Albages – Sectors 16 to 19.

To get this area you need to drive towards the village of L’Albages, and at the end of the dirt track turn left up the hill on the paved road.  Follow the s – bends passing the indoor poultry farm.  Remember, no licking the birds, you’ll be shot at customs on the way home if you do.  Park on the outside of the last s – bend near the brow of the hill.

 The bouldering overlooks the cultivated vineyards and is obvious.  This area has the highest concentration of good problems in El Cogul, and if you only have time for one day of bouldering this is the area to come to.  From sector 16 to 19 there are walls, traverses, mantels, roofs and huecos.  The grades cross the spectrum and the good problems are to numerous to highlight one or two.  Just go for them and enjoy.

The Weather.

It was snowing in Blighty.  I got a nice tan!  It was dry enough to make my lips peel, and some in our group took the opportunity to run around in just a pair of shorts, rude not to in February. Conditions were excellent, it tried to rain one day but failed miserably.  The best times to boulder were early in the morning and late afternoon when it was pretty cool; but to be honest you could climb as hard as you liked all day.


According to some people, topos for the area can be found on www.nice-climb.com. However information about El Cogul like other Spanish bouldering spots is very hard to find, many frustrated web searches have proved this.  (Update - I think El Cogul has been included in the bouldering guide book E - bloc you should find it here just click on link for Boulder Guidebooks when you get to the page).

Flights, Accommodation, and Food.
Ryan air flies to Reus airport which is an hour’s drive from the bouldering.  The airport has the usual array of car hire establishments, and we found car hire very reasonable indeed.

Lleida is the nearest big town / city to the bouldering and you’ll rely on this place for your day to day living.  Lieida is best described as a place to send your enemies to teach them a lesson.  The road system is difficult to navigate; there is nowhere to park, and virtually nowhere to eat out.  We stayed in a Formula 1 budget hotel on the outside of Lleida, my advice is - don’t.  There are camp sites, use the excellent supermarkets (the food you buy in these actually taste of something, unlike at home)  cook your own food on a camping stove whilst sitting under a huge hueco – it will give you piece of mind.  Foraging for food on the streets of Lleida may give you an ulcer.


Friday, 8 November 2013

The Process

This week have another contribution from a guest writer.  This man needs no real introduction, as he is a legend.  May I introduce to you the words of the one, the only...... Fatneck!

Disclaimer - the following event may or may not have actually occurred as described. I think it did but am not entirely sure.

                                                                     The Forest

I follow Ben through a new (to me) part of the Forest. Tantalising splotches of grey highlighted by the dappled sunlight peep through the foliage on either side of the vague path. A cuckoo cuckoos in the distance and before long we’re beneath one of the splotches and Ben is excited. Due to recent rains and the fact that we are somewhat off the beaten track, the bloc is un-chalked and so begins the process…
“Looks piss”
“It’s desperate!”
“Have you tried this?”
“How are you supposed to hold that!?!”
“What about that foothold?”
“Ah…! Maybe I need to…”
We spend maybe half an hour trying this, trying that and trying the other. Trying different combinations of holds, body positions and foot placements and piece by piece the dream starts to become reality…
I stand back and look at the bloc and it’s changed. In fact, everything has changed…
Holds are chalked, highlighted and the sequence seems obvious. Faint hand mark show the progress made, each one slightly higher than the last. Also, our mood has changed: we started off excited, ebullient even; we have experienced exasperation, disappointment, confusion and discouragement; but also hope, wonder, joy and now expectation.
We have a sequence and the bloc is on…
Ben cleans and squeaks his boots, adjusts the mats, checks his shoes again, chalks hands, moves towards the bloc, stops, chalks again turns slightly and offers a wry smile before…

                                                              Ben looking happy…

Later, as we walk back through the Forest chatting amiably about the problem, discussing why it wouldn’t go and what we’d try next time, it suddenly occurs to me that this whole wondrous experience has unfolded with out me even putting on my shoes! I have enjoyed, participated and revelled in the experience vicariously and am left reeling with the thought of what a simply brilliant thing climbing is.  
I think the mystery and solving the problem is all; sending is secondary to me. I think this is why the Lleyn venues like Porth’s Ysgo, Talfarach etc are my favourites. The unstoppable forces of time and tide conspiring to remove all traces of previous bouldering activity leave the visitor with a sense of being ”the first” to experience these problems and situations. I love arriving at a “chalk free” Ysgo but even more than this, I love walking back along the beach at Porth Ysgo at the end of the day and seeing the now-chalked holds. Each chalked mark tells a tale of failure or success, of a struggle or a walk in the park, of fun or of fear. Tangible and enigmatic but at the same time transient and almost futile...

                                                    Fatneck highballin’ on his stag do…

Back to the Forest and I spot an unchalked splotch of grey to our left, am inexplicably drawn towards it and the process begins again. Maybe this time I will even don my shoes…

                                 The unstoppable forces at end of another day at the Ysgo…

Saturday, 2 November 2013

All for the Love of Wood and Plastic.

I have a confession to make. There is something dark lurking in the recesses of my mind. I don’t want to divulge any details. I don’t want to admit that I am capable of such sordid thoughts.

The October Monsson engulfs the Neath Valley
The rain is back;, temperatures are high and the Indian summer some had whispered about seems to have morphed into a sub-continental monsoon; puddles have depth. The rhythm of the rain on the rooves seems to sing songs of yet another season lost. There are problems in the Peak and the Pass that are just waiting to be finished. Final holds fumbled in the summer months have been waiting for the cool of autumn and the attention they so richly deserve. I should be out there; an outdoor weekend- warrior battling grit, dolerite and limestone; fighting the good fight, seeking adventure in wild places. However I'm not, I'm inside.

It's not that it’s evil (the thing plaguing my thoughts), I'm just not sure that it’s right. I really don’t want you to judge me, but I've got to tell someone; I need to share this burden.

I hate loose ends; unfinished outdoor problems nag away, eating my psyche, until they become members of the ever-increasing mental list of 'must go back to visit' problems. This list hangs around in the background haunting you. Should you train for them in case the weather takes a turn for the better, or would your time indoors be better spent toiling towards greater long term goals: trips abroad or harder problems? Your focus can become blurred, however any climbing is better than no climbing at all.

My eyes have started to wander. There’s something shapely, curvaceous and engaging invading my consciousness, turning my head (and not in a good way).

Indoor problems don’t have the same hold over me as their outdoor equivalents. I seem to be able to frame them as transient training apparatus. Failure does not consign these problems to a future must-do list that revolves on continuous play in my head; I simply don’t have any emotional attachment to those coloured plastic lines that decorate plywood at the wall. I know plenty of other climbers who can articulate with the indoor climbing experience fully. Each new set of problems precipitates a new campaign; problems are individually wrestled and vanquished. This leads to conversations of beta, moves, style and quality. I wish I could change my frames of reference and see indoor problems as ends in themselves. It would lead to less disappointment with the British weather; I would get stronger as well - I just don’t seem to be able to do it.

She's there every time I go to the wall. She does nothing special to grab my attention, but I simply can’t take my eyes off her. How do I broach this incendiary topic with my wife?

The indoor climbing wall for me is a social space. Somewhere I catch up with friends, drink coffee and seek asylum from my work space. It is the place where I generally unwind; rid myself of the daily baggage placed into my irresponsible hands by modern social and economic interactions. It’s also a training space for me where I work on the deficiencies in my climbing repertoire. Repetition, isolation of move, intensity and volume marshal my sessions at the wall, all to one end - to lessen the burden of failure in my mind. I train for outdoor excellence that I rarely attain.

I'm just going to admit it; life in a world of denial is no life at all. I have feelings, an emotional attachment to the cellar board at the Hangar. I know it’s wrong, but is it really?

Mills working those holds baby!
Ok, it’s out there. I should focus on problems made of minerals, sculpted by the elements that exist in a natural landscape, but I just can’t help it, the draw of the board is so strong. I can ignore those circuit problems, they do nothing for me, but the board.....? I'm no fool; I know this is an uneven relationship, unrequited if you will. The board has more time for the stronger climber; her attentions are lavished on Dan, Psyche or Crouch and their abilities to use holds that most of us can only dream of locking down. However I can kid myself, believe that one day I might reign supreme in the world of the board and monopolise the attention of this inanimate object. Yes its wrong, yes I should be obsessing around real boulder problems, of course I should be looking at the skies for a break in the rain; but I just can’t help it, that 50 degree angle is just too good.

I need help.

The first step to dealing with a problem like this is to acknowledge you have a problem. I told my wife - I admitted that I had strayed and looked at another! I told her how sorry I was. I was looking for forgiveness, redemption. She looked deep into my soul and said without fuss or irony “Hmm, that’s nice dear."

Oooh just look at the steepness
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, then please contact your local wall where fellow board-lovers may help you. Intensively attempting problems created by others, sitting on mats in the shadow cast by the board and endlessly waxing lyrical about the best hold on impressively steep angles will eventually allow you to kick this terrible affliction.


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

I’m rubbish because my mate is sometimes better than me.

This weeks post comes from Ged Mac - gourmand, raconteur, and proprietor of Liverpool's Climbing Hangar.

The heavy bass massaged the dance floor of Chibuku as Nick played a DJ set supporting Disclosure in Liverpool last month. This was his most high profile set ever. I ‘danced’ away to his mix feeling a warm glow of pride. That’s my mate Nick I thought, look at all these people dancing, enjoying themselves, I was happy for him. A dark thought about my climbing life surfaced suddenly, how often am I envious instead of proud of my friends success? How often does a friends’ success actually spoil my climbing session? More often than I would like to admit actually.

I assume we all compare ourselves to other people, in all walks of life. At the wall this means you have put yourself in an ability league relative to other people. I am also assuming that, like me, you expect to outperform some and be outperformed by others. But when this order is upset, unbidden thoughts, presumably made by demons, appear in my mind and interfere with my climbing session. Here are three scenarios:

Scenario 1: I climb a boulder problem first time, I fight hard and get it first try (called a flash). While basking in glory, Dan, who climbs V14 strolls up and attempts to climb it. He struggles and falls! Wow! Dan fell off it? Well ain’t that just the icing on the cake? It must be harder than I thought! I must be on form tonight!

Scenario 1.1: Dan cruises a problem I am working. I am inspired and pay close attention to his movement, looking for tips. I feel indifferent about his ascent as Dan’s is basically a machine anyway with hydraulics for fingers. I expect him to crush it easily.

Scenario 2: I’m climbing with Mark, our finance man, Mark climbs V9ish like me. I climb a boulder problem first time, I fight hard and get it first try. While basking in glory, Mark glides effortlessly to the top. I didn’t find that one too bad actually, he says, looking surprised after my horror show. This triggers dark, envious thoughts. I invent reasons why he found it easy and I didn’t. I find reasons why I’m tired. I mutter, ‘well you’ve always been good at slopers, I’m rubbish at them. I’m climbing terribly– maybe I’ll wrap up and go home early…. I need to train more/eat less/pull my finger out etc

Scenario 2.2: Mark saunters up a problem that I am working, yep I feel bad about that. OMG, I am rubbish, I’m quitting climbing etc… self-esteem/cliff edge/dive dive dive…

Scenario 3: I climb a boulder problem first time, I fight hard and get it first try. N one’s around, I move on. Nice. Next problem Ged….

Hypothetically, the above takes place in five parallel universes, I climb the same boulder problem in the same style in each universe, but each leads into one of the scenarios above and a very different feeling about my performance based on factors beyond my control. Typically the suggested circuit grade is the classic session killer, normally that it’s harder than you think it should be. Amazingly, very few people complain if they think something is too easy (go figure), but anyway.

It’s pretty embarrassing admitting the above. It isn’t like I choose these thoughts. But up they pop, like little bubbles in my mind, often with terrible effects on how much I enjoy my session. What’s worse is the occasional mood swings and stupid comments that follow, yeah I didn’t sleep much last night or I’ve climbed too much or not enough. Crazy. Obviously the problem is internal, Mark and Dan are two climbers I respect and learn huge amounts from. So what is the difference? I don’t know to be sure, but I presume that the proximity of Mark to me in terms of ability/time climbing/training/build/height/age, occasionally triggers a very negative self-analysis that totally ignores logic and obvious objective analysis like style of climb, that Mark and I have different preferences/strengths weaknesses and so on.

Obviously I’m going to climb with my friends so, if Mark continues to cruise stuff I can’t do, well, dry your eyes Ged and get on with it. But the real question here is why and how do certain things get under our skin with enough force to inhibit performance? Listen Mark, it’s not you, it’s me. Maybe there are areas of my motivation and self-esteem that I don’t yet understand, invisible mental currents that wield influence over my climbing.

I know I climb my best when I’m happy. I also know that sometimes I get annoyed when I judge my climbing to be poor and struggle to reverse the feeling, my climbing always worsens when this happens, even if the judgement is wrong or unfair. Yet I think I climb for pleasure, for the challenge, for how good it makes me feel, for time shared with others.
The million dollar question is then, can I (we) improve the climbing experience by altering my emotional response to things beyond our control, to stay happy and motivated? I’m working on the answer, but so far my top three for staying positive is:

Forget ‘I did it’ = / ‘I fell off’ = try, be motivated by making progress no matter how tiny.
Never, ever make an excuse for falling off, analyse why it may have happened, but don’t excuse it.

Spend a session failing on hard stuff – I say in my head after every fall, ‘this one has something to teach you then, best pay attention…’ failing can be fun!
If you have any experiences of other factors influencing your climbing, positive or negative or you have any wisdom to share from climbing or from other disciplines, please do get in touch so I can explore the subject further with case studies other than me!


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Game of Bests - Revistited

New game, new game! Best problem you have ever climbed - think about it?

(If you are unsure of the game of bests I wrote a post about it some time ago, you can catch up by reading it here.)

When writing about Angel bay I happened across a photograph; a photograph I had long since forgotten, a photograph that encapsulates why I climb. This photograph was taken by Crouch and first appeared on his blog (see it here). It was taken at a time when I was going well; in my head I was even keeping up with Crouchy! I've never actually kept up with Crouchy and that's why he's my hero. He sends 8a on any rock type, he has an ambition to herd cats in the future and he can eat caustic curries with a smile on his face. However I digress; being delusional about your ability is an old tradition in sport, it can really help with motivation and achievement. In bouldering it can lead to problems being climbed that, on balance, you really shouldn't be able to touch. The problem in the photograph, my favourite problem ever, is a case in point.

The brilliant Lizard King, Llanberis Pass. Picture Crouchy Collection.
The photo was taken by Crouch himself on a crisp winter's day when the pass was enveloped by powder blue skies and a soft, low light enlivened the shadows that lingered in the lea of the boulders. We met with the Dinas crew: Kev and Liam, dragons from the South, strong in the crimp and the lock. Kev chose to join us as we quested after this mythical reptile in the pass. I had spotted Fathanded Tom as he dispatched the problem in question with ease many years before. I had a go on two of the moves a week previously and knew that I could climb it, despite myself!

The description of Lizard King (simply the best problem out there for me) in the old North Wales Bouldering Guide is confusing. It states that it has a range of grades depending on the methods used to climb it. This would normally put most off the scent and would lead them to quest up other hillsides, however the description also contains stars; a hint of quality that cannot be ignored. If the stars lead you over to Craig y Llwyfan you will see there is no real confusion; this problem is no eliminate, it just encapsulates quality of movement on rock. The confusion comes from the fact that three problems share a similar start on this boulder but take different lines through its steepness. However it all makes sense when you get there.

You may ask what all the fuss is about. Why is this fool waxing lyrical about a single line flung far from the honey-pot problems of the Cromlech and Wavelength hillside? How can this be 'best'? Well, it starts with the location, away from the hustle and bustle of trad climbers and tourists that inhabit the laybys of the pass. The boulder itself looks like a little bit of Switzerland dropped by the Bouldering Gods into the Land of Dragons. The lines of holds that festoon the front face of the block look like they have been laser cut: two near perfect rails that produce the strong visual line those obsessed with aesthetics covert. Finally the angle of climbing is steep, around 30 degrees overhanging - proper climbing if you ask me.

Lizard king, neither high nor low version, is the problem that I would put in my back garden if I had to choose one! It's my 'best' because of its line, the company on the day and its location. Its my best because I sent it, even though I had no real right to do so (Crouchy got the send with minimum fuss about an hour before I did!). Its my 'best' because, as the discovery of this once forgotten photo demonstrates, it can still motivate me now years past both its ascent and the peak of my climbing powers. I look at this image, the only one I've seen that flatters my ego, and it makes me want to try hard, seek out the reason why I hang round small bits of rock rather than pubs at the weekend. 'Bests' motivate, that's why they are the best!

If you don't have a problem that motivates you like this one motivates me, leave the plasic and wood of the wall alone, go out, meet people, and find your best in the shadows cast by boulders on a crisp, powder blue day.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Found and lost.

Have you ever been to the bay of Angels? Have you ever stumbled along its shingled shores to sample the smooth, steep bounty held within? Time slides lazily here; cormorants skim across the still waters and lead your eye to a horizon stippled with windmills attempting to stem the inevitable rise of our warming seas. It's amazing to think that this tranquil little beach, looking out onto a calm sea of renewable rotations, is only a breath away from the bus tours and hotels of Llandudno and the now-faded ice cream parlours of Colwyn Bay. Calmness pervades, waves ripple rather than break, and the problems engage in such a way that hours pass without weariness, ache or need of rest. If you have never experienced the stillness beyond the bungalows in the bay, you need to, and soon.

Crouchy on Dirt Box
Angel bay used be a regular haunt of the Merseyside Bouldering Scene, a real after-work treat when the tide was right. I did my first font 7a here, and I'm sure that Dolph's second ascent of Manchester Dogs was the beginning of his, now marathon, eighth-grade journey. Showtime, Fathanded Tom, Crouchy, Cassidy, Angry and the Silverback all visited in their time and danced on the wave-sculpted rock below the hill and between the tides.
Crouchy doing battle with the Locker
The bay was the sight of one of the most memorable nights of my climbing life. It involved an incident that entertained and horrified in equal measure. It was just a 'Tuesday night after work' session at the bay like any other! Showtime and Caryl were going and I'm sure Fatneck put in one of his influential cameos. Skinny dog was with me and everything was shaping up for a very pleasant evening of summer Bouldering.

I fed the dog and let him mooch around the bay as is his want, chasing the occasional pebble, his feet beating out a staccato rhythm as he searched for momentum and purchase amongst the rock and shingle. On one of these runs something grabbed his attention. A galaxy of starfish had been washed up on the shore; they sat there desiccated by the late-afternoon summer rays. These salty, crunchy fruits of the sea proved too much for the Skinny one to resist! He devoured them in the same way a child eats sweets when they have been told to share. We noticed his activities too late, but thought little of it!

Fatneck showing his class on HP direct.
An hour passed, problems were sent and insults were exchanged as tokens of friendship. It was at this point the dog was sick. It was dismissed as nothing to worry about, we gave him fresh water and returned to banter and Bouldering. What happened next will be etched in my mind until the rising tides engulf the bay indefinitely! My quiet little companion stopped running. He stopped moving. He simply opened up, morphed into a double-ended, biological Roman candle. Fountains metres in length eruped from his orifices, providing a show that was truly multisensory! Showtime laughed. I cried, hit by the sensation that this beautiful beach in its newly defiled state would be my home until the dog hit empty. Skinny looked miserable and began to waddle around, dragging his posterior along the pebbles in search of something cool to ease his pain! The curious incident of a dog in the bay amused Showtime so much he named a problem after it! The dog never looked at seafood in quite the same way again.

Angel bay has been the scene of so many chapters in the Mersyside Bouldering story.  Inspired by nostalgia I went back and visited after a break of some years this summer. It was as calm and tranquil as ever, but something had changed. It took me a while to isolate what variables had shifted, and then it hit me; this place, a former hot bed of Scouse climbing energy, activity and bile, had become a backwater- overlooked, ignored in favour of a famous cleft in the next headland. Have we all been blinded by the allure of arm-busting link ups and the sinuous pathway to big grades mapped out for only those with the patience and dedication for the journey?

Angry Jones on Bridey Arete
Angel bay, once a jewel in the coastal crown of North Wales Bouldering, is being lost as quickly as it was found. A lack of interest has allowed the quiet and constant creep of barnacles across the bay to continue unabated. Proud, smooth, clean lines are slowly being re-colonized by the creatures of the shore. Sonic Boom, a boulder problem of some note, was once adorned with stars; now crustaceans decorate its slopers. Angel bay needs to be found again before it is lost to the sea: Jonesy's Locker, Dirt Box, Ren Arrete, Muscle Bound, Chaos Emerald Crack, The Holding Principal, Spectrum, The Limpet, Limp Wrist, The Letter Box and Sonic Boom are all good reasons to go! So people of Merseyside, Flintshire and Conway, let's not wait for a new guide to spark our interest, let us repopulate the bay with climbers. We can match those limpets and barnacles with our own efforts. Let us fight them on the beaches! So much can be achieved by so few! There is a battle to be fought and, by our will, we can return this tranquil spot to its former climbing glory and you too can experience the agony and ecstasy of climbing here.

Thanks to Crouchy and Fatneck for all of the photo's- there's more to see on bouldr.net.Here!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Very Tall and the Very Small.

Skinny Dog turning to run from a good argument
Debate has always been the lifeblood of climbing. Grades, sandbagging, ethics, mistrust and sheer pig-headedness have driven us on, motivated us to try harder, and led us onto the path of discovery and perceived achievements. It could be argued that this discord has had more influence on the increase in climbing standards than either the invention of the campus board or climbing's flirtations with the status of being a "sport" and the aroma of measurement and science that follow it! Every bar brawl, every tall tale told on Malham's catwalk, every wall and edge claimed by a Master; the unstemable torrent of doubt pouring over the achievements of others have motivated us to "prove em wrong."

These dialogues and discourses were traditionally presented and explored in the vicinity of warm beer and salty snacks. Fleshy fists would often support salient points mooted on the style of ascents made on the moors and mountains that fan out from the pub's front door. Today the rhythmical tapping of letter embossed plastic cubes, or the creation of codes which resemble language on illuminated screens, underscore the discordant melody that is contemporary climbing culture. Forums, posts, blogs and tweets now burn with the passion once stoked by fists, whisky and ale. We are now driven by what is written. We may not punctuate our points with blood and sweat, but the passion, drive and consequences are the same.

One debate that echoes around the Bouldering sphere is that of 'aesthetics' vs 'the move'. Is the strength of the line more important than the feel of the moves that make it? This argument often morphs into one that can encompass locations, environments, rock types; even the use of holds. Whilst not particularly contentious, these debates fill the bellies of those involved with fire. It leads to derisory comments about Parisella's Cave with its fragrant carpet of goat shit and the primacy of granulated, sedimentary rock types on one hand, and the idea that gritstone is a "luck-based rock type for punters who can't be bothered training", (a moment of brilliance from Crouch 2010) on the other. I have no desire to delve into this particular dialectic other than to be utterly entertained by the rhetoric it creates. What it shows us though is that, where aesthetics are concerned, passion can lead us to irrational positions that stop us from experiencing things that could be really rather good.

This summer, in an attempt to keep myself ticking-over for my winter projects, I went 7b hunting on the moors and mountains of Wales and the Peak. I was drawn to the Wavelength hillside by the problems I had not yet tried or overlooked in the past. One in particular had caught my eye, not because of its sweeping line or its towering reputation; its name attracted me, I mean who could resist doing battle with the "Beef Growler''?  Enquiries made about this problem did nothing to enhance its reputation. It's found on the diminutive roof of the Pie Shop boulder. A low-slung affair with high dab potential and a grinding finish to boot. Conversations with the first ascentionist should have put me off but I was deaf to phrases like "close to the ground" and "utterly crap'': the name alone continued to pull me up the hillside.

The allure of the Wavelength hillside.
On inspection the problem looks poor- close to the ground with a huge pile of sheep shit underneath it to enliven the experience and sharpen the senses. This problem is an aesthetic black hole from which lovers of the line would never return but, my word, it climbed well! I'm a tall man, and I usually laugh at such short walls, but each arse scraping move drew me in. From the heel- toe lock at the start, through the tenuous heel hook in the middle, this problem made me pay attention. I had to think of ways to keep my body high and hold swings. Right up to the final mantel I could not believe the quality of experience afforded me by this low- hulking piece of crap. As I reflected on climbing Beef Growler, bathed by views of one of Britain's most beautiful landscapes, I realised that although the problem I'd ascended was anything but aesthetic- the experience of climbing it certainly was.

The view from the Growler; doesn't get much better than this
So, although debate and strong opinion have driven climbing onward over the years, we should learn a lesson from the Growler experience. If we polarise ourselves into tribes that worship particular rock types, holds, or even climbers, we might miss something really good. The question 'is it the line or is it the move' should not even be asked - It's all climbing. Others may say a move, problem, or venue is rubbish; don't believe them, find out for yourself. You may find your perfect problem. Remember the old adage, "one man's rag is another man's cape"; let's face it, we all want to wear a cape deep down!

Beef Growler 7b from Pavelsky on Vimeo.

Thanks to Paul for the use of his video, you should watch his others, they are really rather good.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Oh I do Like to be Beside the Seaside!

New game! Best venue?

The Sun has appeared.  When I first spotted it emerging from its long slumber behind vast volumes of vapour fear enveloped me and I stood motionless, staring at the sky.  Was this strange burning ball of gas a sign of the oncoming apocalypse?  Could this really be the end of everything? No, it was stranger than that; winter, it appeared, was over and the warmth produced by this heavenly body precipitated a metamorphosis amongst the people: clothes were shed, smiles spread and faces were framed by dark glasses. This sudden change in fortunes has also lead to a change of heart in my answers in the game of Bests! (See my post - "Lists and That" if you're not sure what the game of Bests is)

Best venue? Anywhere coastal when the sun shines.

Ice Cream and Caravans at Clarach - my favourite!
The seaside - a playground for the young: sandcastles, rockpools, 99's with strawberry sauce, paddling, proms and piers. Faded Victoriana rippled with amusement arcades, shops filled with 'Kiss Me Quick' hats and postcards that make grandad laugh like a donkey. Babies wear ice-cream beards of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry; seagulls swoop - stealing your chips, and the salty smell of the sea hangs heavy in the air.  I must admit, when the sun shines there's nowhere I would rather be.
From a Bouldering perspective the coast really makes sense when the temperature tip-toes above the magic twenty degrees celsius mark. Whilst ryolite, dolerite and grit sat in bogs sweat in the sun-shrouded by midges, sea breezes and evaporating tides conspire to cool things down on the coast.  Shady cliff lines and deep sea-caves mean that even on the hottest day there will be something worth working on. I ask you- what could be more statisfying than a cool ice cream when resting, or some post-climb fish and chips? Climbing on the coast in the summer is more than the sum of its problems, it's the whole holiday vibe that makes it the Best.

I revisited Borth and Clarach in Mid Wales during my half term holiday and immersed myself in the special deep-fried world that exists on the coast! I rewalked the sinuous path between land and sea and returned to the places where monster lines of the future live. Again, I didn't try to tame the beasts, just became more certain that someone more capable than myself will bring these Titans to life.  Instead, I wandered through shady places searching for cool rock and a special breed of hold, something that only the sea can conjure - the frictionless sloper.

Slippy slopers ahoy
Slopers have been the mainstay of Bouldering since the beginning of time! To many they are like a drug; once you've learnt how to lower your centre of gravity and hold one more are needed to fulfill the physical urge to hang off things with open hands.  Websites, now sadly extinct, used to devote their entire output to the science of slopers; they invited you into a seedy world of slope coefficients and reader's slopers. When initiated into the cult, sloperism drives you on to find the slopiest of slopes- the harder to hold the better. You learn to negotiate the margins of friction and discover how much can be held by simply dragging skin across rock.

The Mid Wales coastal cliffs are made up of soft shales and sandstone.  The incessant action of the waves on this plyable medium has produced slopers of such rare quality that they deserve a special slopey place in the world of Sloperdom.  These frictionless wonders are hard to hold and keep you begging for more.  In the shade of the Leviathan I found such slopers, ones so slopey that they look like mere ripples in the rock. The line they defined felt improbable and yet impossible to leave.  Working the moves involved the initiation of upward movement whilst slowly yet steadily slipping towards the cushioned embrace of my pads. Decisiveness, body tension and a stubborn streak were the key to success. The problem 'Raspberry Ripple' (7b ish) is a celebration of the tidal sloper; it may not have the grandure of the project lines that lie behind it, it may also be affected by shifting pebble levels, however none of that matters when you match that ripple with a high heel and and a heart full of hope.

The line of "Raspberry Ripple"

The ripple - every problem should have one.

So what of the summer? It's here at last but no one can predict its longevity; however to quote an old adage- we should make hay whilst the sun shines.  The coast is bursting with established cool, shady venues. However the more adventurous looking for pastures new will find plenty to go at between the tides- our coastal Bouldering resources have as yet barely been touched.  Learn about the tides, search out some slick slopers and join the cult of open-handedness; enjoy the fact that even in the hottest weather good conditions can be found! If that's not enough to feed your sloper needs,  I'm sure that a well-appointed ice cream, or a sugary doughnut fresh from the fryer, will go some way to calm the nerves until temperatures drop and the gritty slopers in the hills can be exploited again.

Raspberry Ripple 7b from Owen McShane on Vimeo.