Thursday, 28 March 2013

Pex Problem of the Week #5

This week we will deviate from the norm into a world where aspirant ascentionists prowl along the base of Pisa Wall  lobster-like, fingers frozen into three finger stacks ready to claw at the wall. The problem described in this post involves a different species of hold which is also commonly found in this habitat; the small crimp.

Small Snick Sit down V5.

This particular problem does not feature in the Pex eliminate section of the Cheshire and Merseyside Sandstone guide (remember you will need the topo on pages 178 and 179) however, whilst off page, this problem is one of the best! Balance, strong fingers and a bit of technique are needed to breathe life into this (at first glance anyway) unlikely creation.

Start sitting with both hands on hold.number 2. The left foot should be in a pock mark down and left, the right on a clean ripple out to the right.  Pull up off the floor and move your weight over your left foot. Flick the left hand to hold 13 and take it as a gaston and pull the hold into your shoulder. Next put the right foot into a good high pock mark just down and left of hold 2.  Now you're set! Shoulder press off the left hand, rock over onto the right foot, finger press with the right hand to gain height and keep in balance. The right hand needs to get to the mono / small crimp which is hold 38; the only way to get there is to stretch and get over that right foot, the left hand and shoulder need to be strong and they need to press it out.  Once you get your right to hold 38 get the left foot up and left onto a good hold and reach up left to the break. Match and jump off with burning fingertips and well worked lats.

Small Snick sit down start V5 from Owen McShane on Vimeo.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Never Forget Frodsham.

Views to the Mersey from Woodhouse Hill.
The southern side of the Mersey Estuary is dominated by a series of high bluffs that bound the river from Runcorn to Helsby. These steep banks have in previous epochs repelled the spread of the river, hemmed it in, corralled its waters and directed them to their destination. In recent times they have stood watch over the march of human progress. On the plain below, mans industrial ambitions have ebbed and flowed with the estuarys' tides. Salt, chemicals and fuel have shaped the shadows cast by these hills and towns; trade and transport have also played their part in this evolution. As the landscape shifted and shaped, the hills looked on impassively, crowned by sandstone crags that burnt red, orange and umber in the fading light of a future that was to be built in smoke, sweat and progress.
Alec climbing through the steepness.
Cheshire's estuarine hills have served as an antidote to its industrial ills for centuries. The crags that populate this ridge have fascinated and frustrated many generations of Merseysiders, providing a welcome distraction from the man-made and mundane. Helsby's crag towers above the valley; its ramparts and flutings mimic those found in the land of castles to the west. This was once a forcing ground for climbing standards, however things are quiet now. Frogsmouth Quarry on Runcorn Heath is the place for Merseysiders to be seen now that its walls have been decorated with shiny bolts and pigtails but, despite being in vogue with its new look, Frogsmouth still doesn't pull in climbing's top models. One other venue far more suited to the tastes of the boulderer sits on the ridge;  yet, overshadowed by the reputation and accessibility of its neighbours, it has become a quiet place. However if you live near the heartlands of North West Sandstone Bouldering you would be crazy to forget Frodsham.

Frodsham's crags sit on the crest of Woodhouse Hill to the west of town. A steep, wooded path leads you up to a series of buttresses that stretch the length of the bluff. In terms of height these red and ochre sandstone outcrops range from three to eight metres, or in other terms, from bouldering to highballing to suicidal stupidity. The common thread that binds all of Frodshams' buttresses is that they are steep- they overhang, majestically shading those who play here from the worst of the Mersey's weather.

Ochre rock and hard eliminates up on the hill.
 Frodsham is a peaceful place, a tapestry of trees, rock and traditions, developed by Banner, Boysen, and Crew. Frodsham sits proud in both its natural and historical landscapes. Climbing a pure line here is like breathing life back into greatness, playing on lines that heroes forged back in the sixties. Each line has a character of its own, super steep and juggy, technical and thin; all personality types are represented. Super hard, pure lines may be hard to find (the majority of the climbs found here are in the sub V5 category) however you'll be glad that the holds are big when you're stretched out, fully horizontal, ten feet above the ground with a heel toe engaged. Those who want their grades big and their fingers tested to destruction should not turn away from the rock on Woodhouse hill; there are plenty of hard eliminates up there on the brow- however I'll talk about them another time.

Frodsham's heyday is far behind it now and, like shipping on the Mersey, the volume of human traffic on the hill has wained. The watery tributary that washes the hills feet once attracted the heavyweights of the shipping world: Blue Funnel, White Star, and Cunard - but these great vessels are long gone, forgotten. The present titans of climbing no longer follow that wooded path up to the buttresses on Woodhouse Hill; however the heroes who developed it can still be seen on a summer's evening swinging through the steepness. Tom Leppert and Martin Boyson are rarely wrong! Frodsham has been good enough for these legends for fifty years now, believe me its good enough for you.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Pex problem of the week #4.

This week's adventures through the numbered holds on pages 178 and 179 of the Cheshire and Merseyside Sandstone guide illustrates that different approaches can lead to the same result when ordering from the eliminate menu.

Silly Boy Direct V5 (Done two ways).

This problem is essentially a harder version of Silly Boy V4, however it is amazing how removing one key ingredient can change the flavour and overall feel of a problem: in this case removing hold 38 (a small crimpy mono) turns Silly Boy into a far more robust dish.

Two main methods can be used on this problem; these methods will appeal to very different palates.  The first is the way I originally climbed Silly Boy- it is a brash, flash-fried affair, fleeting, fresh and bursting with big flavours. The second is a slower, more controlled dish that allows flavour to mingle, develop and yet still allows a bit a spice to come through at the end. This second method is my preferred preparation for this problem; it is subtle, delivering a more rounded, fuller experience of the Pex eliminate!

Method 1 - The Dyno.
Start matched on hold 7 with feet in low pock marks, move the right hand up to a three finger stack in hold 21, put the left foot up on hold 1 for balance and move the left hand to a stack in hold 20. Now place the right food high on the ledge next to hold 3, lean your body weight to the right so it almost feels like you're laybacking the hand holds, dip down once and dyno to the break.

Boy Direct V5 (method 1) from Owen McShane on Vimeo.

Method 2 - The Rock Over.
As for method 1 however, once you've gained the stacks in holds 20 and 21, swap feet on hold 1, lean to the right and place your left foot deep into hold 6 making sure it is square to the wall.  Now slowly move your weight over to the left until you have gained as much height as you can. You'll end up short but a small pop to the jug in the break will release the complex flavours you've been seeking.

Silly Boy Direct V5 (method 2) from Owen McShane on Vimeo.

So there you have it, slow cooked and complex, or flash fried and fresh! When it comes to Pex eliminates you really can indulge yourself with the dishes that suit your particular tastes.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Pex Problem of the week #3

Remember the Pex eliminate topo which nestles inside the New Cheshire and Merseyside Sandstone guide is needed to make sense of this post
Red Flash - V5.

For me this is one of the quintessential problems of Pisa wall; it is what slightly overhanging walls with big holds were invented for - flight (dynos to you and me!).  Red Flash is used as a staging post for many on their journey along the sinuous path that leads to the Seven Foot Dyno which also inhabits this section of wall, however it can stand on its own as a dyno of merit and quality.
This week's problem gained its name from a legendary vehicle that taxied Liverpool's bouldering scene around the motorways of the UK in the mid naughties.  Red was a feisty 1.4 Astra that  could accommodate five willing (or at times unwilling) passengers, their pads, their kit and their psyche! This vehicle was a veritable tardis whose mystical qualities extended to its acoustic abilities; if you wound the front windows down an inch and cranked the Jungle up, it metamorphosised into a living, breathing bass cannon; an organic speaker unit of which you were an integral component.  Flash would often be spotted undertaking in the slow lane at breakneck speeds, those interred on the back seat holding up handwritten notes for other motorists. "Help me I've been Kidnapped" would regularly be read by those who actually adhere to the highway code.  Flash blew up twice whilst out on duty serving the climbing needs of Merseyside's bouldering lieutenants.  He is missed by many- brave in the face of adversity, decorated for deeds beyond the means of his motorised peers.  I will apologise now if this eulogy has opened old wounds for some- Flash is gone, but not forgotten!

Right, back to the problem. This one is obviously hard to describe but I will try my utmost to get you through its complex technical moves as efficiently as I can. Take hold 6 with the left hand and hold 7 with the right, put your left foot in a pock mark and put you right foot high on hold 1.  From this position sway down once and leap to the next break with the right, on the way up stay close to the wall, then it's a matter of latch, match, and dispatch.

Red Flash V5 from Owen McShane on Vimeo.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Pex Problem of the week # 2

The pathway to eliminate heaven.

Remember you will need to refer to pages 178 and 179 of the new Cheshire and Merseyside Sandstone guide for this adventure into the world of elimination to make sense!

Week 2 - Stretch V4.

I must admit I had not done this problem before starting the filming of this series. I had done all the individual moves in other eliminates, but not strung them together in this choreographed way. This problem is a Farley guidebook special, a shining example of what brilliance and balance can produce! Needless to say this feels hard for its grade and is a definite step up from Silly Boy.

A playground of possibilities?
Three elements will lead an aspiring ascentionist along the pathway to success on this problem:
1. Use the power of the three finger stack. Excluding the start hold, all holds on this problem were made for stacking, this problem embodies all that is good in a world defined by this strange art.
2. Clean the holds. It's amazing what a soft bristled brush can do to the frictional properties of these dish like holds! Removing the layer of chalk and grime that inevitably builds up on them over time can turn a marginal, frictionless mess into a skin rasping lockable hold.
3. Use those feet to gain height; your biceps won't help you here. Pisa wall is all about foot work. Dance your feet along its pockets and ledges and victory will be yours- pull too hard on those dishes and all that will be left on the wall will be your hard earned skin.

The problem starts sitting matched on hold 2. Move your weight to the left and reach up with your left hand to the first three finger stack in hold 11. Kick your right leg through to the left to create a funky flag and reach up over the top with the right to stack number two in hold 20. Now the magic starts; move your bodyweight way over to the left by dancing across the dimples lurking at the bottom of the wall. With your left foot high and right hand securely locked onto hold 20, reach up with the left to hold 27, keep reaching, reach some more and when you think you've extended to your limit reach that little bit extra into the hold. At this point you will wish that you had spent some time cleaning: the dish (27) which forces the third successive stack on this problem is good but feels terrible if overly chalky. Once latched use your feet to gain the necessary height and go for the break like you mean it!

Stretch embodies all of the subtle elements that make Pisa Bouldering such an addictive activity; its balancey, technical, reachy and involves stacks! This is a must do problem for the aspiring Pex hill Warrior!

Stretch V4 from Owen McShane on Vimeo.