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.