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.