Two more days for getting in orders in time for Christmas from my webshop. Any orders placed before about lunchtime on Thursday will make the last posting to arrive by Christmas.
Thanks to everyone who's ordered so far : )
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
After several slices of Claire’s freshly baked gingerbread (so far responsible for several of the hardest rock climbs in Scotland) A John Watson led team scraped ice from cars and headed from my wee hoose up a frosty Glen Nevis. Pete Murray is making a wee film of Scottish bouldering, and John finishing off his selected guide for Scottish bouldering and wanted some film and shots of a recent problem of mine; Deep Breath Font 8a.
The fantastic Egyptian move on Deep Breath. Photo: Stone Country
I did it back in October and I’ve been trying a direct version since then which is probably too hard. Si O’conor once claimed a line somewhere on this lovely little overhang called The Morrighan.
The Mamores from Sky Pilot yesterday
After another repeat so Pete had the shot, we chased the sun uphill to Sky Pilot, but it had left behind Stob Ban by the time we got there, leaving a bitter wind and attempts on a sick project in my biggest Duvet jacket BRRRR!
Tweedley was on hand to provide a much needed foothold to artificially get a feel of the finishing sloper. Nice line.
Thanks to John Watson for the photos. His book on bouldering philosophy is here
Saturday, 15 December 2007
Initially I was giving copies away with the Committed DVD. But I’ve just extended the offer to include the e-book free with any DVD or book purchases from my webshop. I’ve just added King Lines and Psyche DVDs and the new Stone Play book to the shop so there are more titles to choose from. Enjoy.
It’s worth knowing that we are dispatching DVDs first class in time for Christmas right up until the last UK posting day on Dec 20th. That goes for Claire’s site Velvet Antlers too.
I am definitely feeling that next year I want to really focus on a few special projects. So I think It’s time to venture indoors for a few weeks (after the current lovely dry weather ends – I’m sure it won’t take long!!). Training time.
Of course, at this time of year you tend to think back on the year and also towards the next.
2007 was good for many reasons. I worked my ass off and broke some good barriers. I moved to the Highlands, climbed some routes I didn’t think I could climb and did much fun work that I really enjoyed. 2007 was also bad for a couple of reasons. The main one being the same as the good reasons – I worked my ass off, a bit too hard at times. Sometimes I as a touch frayed at the edges and spread a little too thinly. I love being able to give my full focus to things.
So that leads me nicely to my plan for 2008. With my climbing, I’m planning to work super hard on a few special projects. Just a few, but if they go... well, let’s say I’d be quite overwhelmingly happy. With my work, the hard/over work from 2007 should hopefully have set up the conditions to focus on some exciting projects. For me 2008 will be a year of writing, film and some more online mini businesses that I really enjoy working on.
There may be some very long days and nights, but I certainly can’t say my work is dull. Here’s to that for 2008. Anyway, here were my favourite climbs from 2007:
January: Blind Vision E9 7a, L’Odi Social 8c+
February: Sanction Font 8b, Isami VIII,8
March: Darwin Dixit 8c
April: Fell off Metalcore
May: Metalcore 8c+
June: moved house, fed midges at Steall crag
July: Steall midges got fatter
August: Ring of Steall 8c+, Hell and Back E10
September: If Six Was Nine E9, Dawes Rides E8, Caution E8, Impact Day E8
October: Fell off the Anvil project, wrote my e-book on the bus home, built velvetantlers.co.uk
November: A Muerte 9a (yes it did take the whole month!)
December: it ain’t over yet!
It must pose a very big discussion point (understatement) for anyone who runs a climbing magazine. I don’t know the numbers, but from what I hear, things are getting more and more difficult for climbing magazines. Less readers, and the problem of not being able to break news anymore. What else could go wrong? Advertisers realising that their chances of getting their message across might be easier and at the very least a lot more measurable online.
So what is there left for print climbing mags to offer? It seems to me all there is, is super high quality writing and photography. Alpinist does pretty well at this. One thing is for certain, a modest change in response to online media will not be enough to prevent extinction for print mags in a very short time. Only a pretty radical change will do.
I certainly couldn’t think of a bombproof solution. But I guess a big part of it must be ditching legacies of the past, like esoteric news (for instance leave BMC news to the BMC website!) and columns by commentators who are obviously struggling to find something to say. The biggest thing I don’t get about the British mags is the aversion to interviews. I love someone to explain why they don’t run them so much now! You only need to look at the mag racks in WH Smiths to see that interviews with interesting folk shift magazines.
In the summer I spent a wet day in Pete’s Eats in Llanberis. If you’ve been there you’ll know upstairs they have a monster archive of climbing magazines right back to the 60’s. Most of it was pretty uninteresting stuff that held my attention for nothing more than seconds. Right at the end I came across a copy of Rock & Ice from the early nineties. In one issue, they had in depth interviews with Ben Moon, Wolfgang Gullich and Patrick Edlinger. That one kept me going for about half an hour – about 2000% of average time I spent flicking through the others!
The only chance the climbing mags have got right now is that the websites still aren’t perfect either. There’s a big opening for someone to do a decent climbing news website. UK Climbing is the daddy right now, but until they start making their news more in depth and use a better site layout there is an opportunity for someone to step in and provide the service. I guess the problem is that publishers of major websites are still figuring out how to make their sites work financially. There’s no getting round the fact that running a major site that is high enough quality to be a ‘must visit’ has got to be a job for someone (but a job I’m sure lots of net savvy climbers wouldn’t mind!). The money to make it work is definitely there for the person who has the time, motivation and imagination. I certainly know that some of my sponsors are planning more and more to spend their advertising budget online. Get there quick though, before UKC take the bull by the horns and launch a new version (I suspect this will be sooner rather than later). The problem will be that it will be down to the site to make it painfully obvious to the advertisers exactly how much they will benefit and to secure the contributions from the climbers to generate the stuff that people want to read about.
Thursday, 6 December 2007
So with all this rain, it’s been indoor action for me. Built a nice model of the La Rambla crux in the Ice Factor last night after work. Tomorrow we leave to journey south again for my lectures in Sheffield on Sunday night and London on Monday night. See you there hopefully!
Claire's job has got a lot more interesting lately! All the pics and story are on Claire's blog
Friday, 30 November 2007
So Dave Graham said. Here’s to that. The Spanish phrase ‘a muerte’ translates as ‘to the death’. So where the Scots shout ‘Gaun big man!’ at people wobbling on routes, in England it’s ‘ave itttttt-ah’, in France it’s ‘allezallezallezallez!’ (If you haven’t experienced this, it’s a little off putting) and in Spain they shout ‘Benga! A muerte!’ Basically it means go for it. Graham’s attitude of going for it a little more every day is kind of infectious.
Since I am not so strong, I made a three-and-a-half- week space in my diary to travel back to Siurana and get a good spell trying the climb. Unfortunately, attempts to clear all my necessary work before I left meant I had almost two weeks of detraining before I left.
The daily routine was to warm up with a 7c-8a, climb to the 5th bolt on A Muerte (an 8b link) and reverse to the ground. Then, wait…
Once the bitter evening winds blew and the sun dropped low, I blasted onto my redpoint - 20 moves in 30 seconds of bang, bang, bang from hold to hold before my strength gave out in spitting distance of the finishing jug.
All that was needed was another moves’ worth of juice in my arms to make it happen. Two days complete rest while working in Torello was just the ticket, and on our return I arrived back at the rockover and had the strength leftover to grab that big undercut and scream from the top of my lungs “COME ONNNNNN!!!”
On my last day, after Patxi had dispatched Le Rambla 9a+ 3rd go (my head shakes in disbelief), I did the moves on La Rambla. Hmmmm…
So what is she selling then? Hampers! (pretty cool ones at that). Claire has been really into food for years and more so all the time. Last Christmas Claire and I were wandering around the shops and happened to be looking at some really nice looking food. At the time we were stuck for what to get some folks in our families for their Xmas, and Claire hit on the idea of choosing some of the different lovely looking foods and making up a hamper full of cool and very luxurious looking stuff. Problem solved! Claire really enjoyed choosing and buying all the nice food and putting together, and our recipients seemed pretty psyched to get something they would really like.
Lets face it, these days getting people gifts can be pretty hard going. Why? Everyone has everything they need! We’re all just looking for something kinda nice and stylish to give people. And it’s way more satisfying if you know they will definitely like it and use it.
So, naturally the pleasure for Claire, turned into business idea, and now turned into a business, just launched yesterday! You’ve got to admit hampers are a stonking good idea if you’re getting someone a gift. But it’s not so often thought of because they are mostly jam packed full of old school twee style (Tartan and shortbread overload for the Scottish ones). Claire’s tried to make them cool again…
And succeeded (I reckon)!
Take a look at the site. The roof o’er our heeds depends on this new venture working out, so we’d really appreciate if you could tell us what you think of the hampers. Would you part with cash to buy one for your mate/mum/girlfriend etc xmas, birthday or new sprog? If so, why? Please tell us. If not, why not? Do they need changed in some way d’ya reckon?
I built the site myself – it was my first effort at building a site and my starting point was “what’s HTML?”. I’d really appreciate if any of you web designers, SEO gurus and the like can find any obvious holes in it or just something obvious we haven’t done.
Claire’s been getting into her blogging on the site as well, mostly about style and highland life in general, but there’s also some wee posts in there about extreme belaying (while spouse sketches up an E10) and Claire’s own climbing adventures.
Claire’s site is here
In the brief about the event I was invited to, the festival told me they would “concrete me when I arrived” about the subject for the stage discussion (aren’t auto translators great?). I was concreted over dinner that we would be discussing the progression of rock climbing over the last 25 years. To a packed theatre minutes after finishing our tea, Adolfo, Silvo, Josune and I were all asked about our personal philosophies of climbing and what we thought were the best things going on in climbing right now.
Despite our disparate backgrounds and specialities, it was interesting that we all seemed to be singing from the same hymn sheet. All of us spoke of the importance of minimal impact on the mountains, style of ascent and adventure in climbing. Josune, best known for her sport climbing achievements, cited onsight trad climbing as her favourite branch of climbing and told the audience that her next aspiration in climbing was a route on the Grande Jorasses. That’s not to say any of us were down on sport climbing, far from it. That very morning I was throwing myself at yet more redpoints on the bolted walls of Siurana. Instead, we agreed that sport climbing has a place in the whole sport that should grow alongside, rather than at the expense of the other climbing disciplines.
The next day was one of my best of my 24 day trip in Spain. While the rest of my friends went climbing, I took time out and didn’t think about climbing for most of a whole day. My normal climbing back in Scotland has so much variety, and the climbing activities are punctuated by the very different skills to be learned and practised in working for yourself. Nearly three weeks of just climbing in the same place, on the same rock type and the same routine was a little tiring.
But by evening I was refreshed and we all trooped round to the cinema to introduce the E11 film to the Spanish audience. Their reaction to the film was, once again, most gratifying.
The final day was my main work appointment, to take part in another round table discussion with the same team as before, this time dealing with the sustainability of climbing, ethics in the mountains, and how the whole game of climbing fits together. Some of the stage time was lost to technical problems with the translation equipment, but we all got our messages across. One of the most difficult questions was regarding the overcrowding of popular climbing areas. At what point is it necessary to limit access to these areas or climbs where the volume of traffic is causing damage to climbing destinations or routes? We agreed that this type of regulation was an anathema to climbers and must be a last resort.
The problem as I see it is with the climbing experience becoming a product for many people, rather than an adventure. When you only have 4 weeks holiday a year, you go for the place where you know for sure the routes will be good, the area will be geared up for you to stay, and you won’t waste your precious holiday time on bad routes. It’s natural to have this approach. Perhaps it’s inevitable that ‘good’ climbing areas will be increasingly overused until they are no longer good or are restricted before people are willing to spread out from them. But does it really need to come to that?
For me it’s a question of independent thinking. I remember before I did my first new route. At this time, climbing opportunities existed completely in guidebooks. If it wasn’t in the guidebook, it’s highly unlikely I’d think about climbing it. Today, most of my climbing aspirations lie outside guidebooks and often have never been written about or attempted before. A complete reversal of approach! And I can tell you that it’s much more satisfying.
Sure, if you go for the routes on the ‘top ten’ lists or with the most stars, they are likely to be predictably satisfying. A bit like eating at your favourite chain restaurant. And so the conversation with your climbing friends goes…
“Did you climb [insert lauded classic]?” “Yeah we had to pass three parties on it but we did it” “was it as good as they say?” “Yeah, it was really nice”
There often isn’t much more to say! In other words, classic ticking is predictably pleasant, but often not really memorable.
If I could give one recommendation for places to go in the world and climb, based on my 14 years experience in the sport it would be this: If there is a ‘must do classic’, don’t do that route. Never, ever wait in a queue for a route – you can never fondly remember the adventure you had passing three parties on the second pitch. If there is no guidebook, go there. It will be much more fun. For every bad route you do or turbulent trip, you will have many more absolutely brilliant one. And in hindsight, even the apparently bad ones will seem much better than the pleasant (but dull and forgettable) ones you had in the popular areas.
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
I've just confirmed a speaking date in London on December 10th. I'm going to be talking about dangerous trad climbing, E10 and why being safe is actually a risky life strategy. Claire will also be talking a little about sprint belaying. Afterwards I'll be showing the film Committed.
If you'd like to come. All the details and online tickets are here
Other dates coming up are:
Glenmore Lodge Dec 1st - clinics for climbing with tools and seminar aabout training for winter climbing.
Sheffield Climbing Works Dec 9th: Safe is Risky lecture.
details of these are here
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Fading energy yesterday on Afrodita. But I found a new hold on the crux and linked one move higher than before despite nearly falling asleep before my last burn of the day. So progress has been made. I enjoyed watching Keith fight for a long time with a nasty finishing move on a lovely long 7a+. He stuck it out and made it to the chain. Entertaining viewing.
Resting today. How is it possible to spend nearly a whole day making tea and going to the hypermarket? Now I must get a couple of hours work in. Tomorrow it’s back on the small pockets of Campi qui puigi.
Monday, 12 November 2007
Enjoying shade and cool on Un Rato de Cada Postura 8a, Siurana. Photo: Emma Sutton
Another day on the testing wall of Campi qui Puigi in Siurana. First off I climbed a lovely 8a, Un Rato de Cada Postura. I made a tiny, miniscule amount of progress on a hard route for me, finding some beta that might work for short and weak Scotsmen who can’t pull hard on pockets. We’ll see if it helps next week when my skin is better.
Today I was back on Afrodita, a massive 8c+ I had a day on last year. It was nice to feel stronger on the moves than one year ago and on my second try I could climb it with two hangs. Tomorrow I will try to make that one hang??
Thursday, 8 November 2007
Redpointing ‘Luxury’ 8b+, Cova boix, Margalef. Photo: Emma Sutton
Yesterday we travelled over to the lovely valleys of Margalef to climb on the conglomerate waves. Emma, Caroline and Keith climbed route after route in full sun. Impressive. I ate bread and hid behind shady trees. But later we nipped across to the dark side of the valley and a lovely overhanging crag where I was able to climb a stunning 8b+ in the evening. I was a little frustrated to miss the ‘1st redpoint’ by missing a hold right at the top. But three tries is still good for me and it was a good feeling to get pumped and fight hard. I am on the first rung of the return to fitness ladder, or maybe it was just that the campsite shower was hot for the first time in some days.
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
It’s the morning after I arrived in Spain. I’d love to have something positive to say, but I reckon it’s the worst I’ve ever felt at the start of a climbing trip. Sleep deficit has well and truly caught up with me. Yesterday I tried to climb by myself on a shunt while the others visited a different sector, but fell asleep putting on my rockshoes and woke up 2 hours later. Today I’m feeling more human after a decent night, but it’s going to take some time to get in better shape for climbing. Thankfully, time is something I do have.
Friday, 2 November 2007
Thursday, 1 November 2007
I finally finished Claire's new website today after some more all nighters. Tried to train at the ice Factor wall tonight, but was in a sleepy haze... zzzzzzzz
I'm certainly relieved to have that one nailed. yesterday was one of the most hardcore keyboard bashing days I've had, finishing after 6 this morning. It'll be a week or two before we can launch it yet. But my part is done.
On Saturday I go to Spain for some limestone, but it still seems a long way away, much more to be done before I leave.
Wednesday, 31 October 2007
I’ve not been posting here for a wee bit because I’ve been on a work mission, 16/17hours a day since I got back from my lecture tour in front of the screen trying to build Claire’s new website for her new business that we’ll be launching shortly (more on that very soon).
Although I’ve built my own sites up into much bigger animals than they were when they started out, at least I had a basic site to start with. This time it’s my first effort building a site from scratch. I’m getting there, but with much abuse of caffeine, less than perfect mood state and depressing loss of fitness.
Apologies if you’ve tried to get in touch with me over the past few days, I’ll get round to replying to all my messages shortly.
From my little perch behind my laptop I saw the first ‘proper’ snows of the autumn hit the Ben yesterday which lifted my spirits. Thankfully, a climbing trip is impending, although I’ll have my work cut out to gain my fitness back…
Lots of people commented that they would like to see the To Hell and Back programme on BBC2 national as they couldn’t get BBC2 Scotland or download it off the BBC iPlayer in time. If that’s you, please add a comment to this post with your name to register your feeling. Maybe you live in Scotland and saw it and feel it was good enough that the rest of the UK folks should get a chance to see it? Again please comment below.
I’ll flag this post up to the BBC in a few weeks and if enough people comment, maybe it’ll swing it?
The programme obviously focused pretty heavily on the danger aspect of the new route I climbed. Here are some reactions from people who watched it:
“I thought it was a great film, but it worried me. It just worries me. The whole thing of someone putting their life at risk... and us all encouraging them to do so, even if we don't mean to, by posting saying how great it is ... it worries me”
“After something like this it's only natural to ponder and if you ever wonder whether you should lift your foot off the accelerator then that is the time to call it a day .. and time to change down a gear and enjoy the ride a bit more. I'm guessing that time has not yet come for you?”
Another comment that folk made was the number of times we were reminded of the consequences of me falling off the route on lead – ‘death’. That word was mentioned many times over. Of course it’s natural that the documentary editors would keep reminding us of this as it creates tension.
‘Climber makes solid and smooth ascent of potentially dangerous climb’
Isn’t really an eye catching documentary premise, compared to:
‘climber attempts death route and nearly doesn’t make it’
Of course the former was what actually happened. If you downloaded or taped the programme, watch the footage with the sound off and look out for any wobbles. It would make quite different viewing. Of course it’s necessary for me to look carefully at the potential consequences of failure and analyse the potential for that occurring. So all I’m doing there is taking a serious route seriously. The bottom line is that there is no way I would have been there if I thought I was going to fall.
I couldn’t eliminate risk of things going wrong, nor would I want it that way. But my preparation and execution of a solid plan for my approach to the climb kept the danger (just) within an acceptable limit.
As the quotes above allude to, films like this make us wonder a lot about risks in life, that’s why they are interesting. To me, it’s simple and clear that some risks in life are utterly essential to get anywhere, whether they are physical, emotional, financial or other types of risk. A live life with no risk at all is not to live – because nothing useful could be accomplished. So the question is not whether to take risks, its whether a given risk is the right risk to take.
What we never see in documentaries like To Hell and Back is the flip side of risk – not taking enough risk, and missing out on doing something amazing with your life. Getting to the end of a long life, never having taken a risk (and never accomplishing things you had the potential for) is a WAY bigger tragedy than coming unstuck while taking a risk that was really worth taking.
So when Dax said “ever wonder whether you should lift your foot off the accelerator?” I say never, ever lift your foot of accelerator, so long as you are accelerating in the direction that is right for you.
As Seth Godin says “safe is risky”
Friday, 19 October 2007
Back in August, a massive team of climbers and production staff including myself gathered on Cairngorm to try and make what would have been an amazing live program of new routing on the cliffs surrounding Loch Avon. But the huge effort did not pay off because of the deeply frustrating (at times) Scottish weather. It chucked it down all weekend long on the broadcast days.
I was all set to attempt something that really scared me silly – a new E10 rock climb with very little protection, live on telly! In retrospect I’m quite exceptionally glad I didn’t have to climb it live, but I still wanted to climb it very much , and wanted something good to come of all the effort that went into The Great Climb programme. So I went back the following week and did the route, with the crew filming. My route, To Hell and Back, E10, was the scariest lead I’ve done in my climbing life and a pretty full on experience for both myself, Claire who was belaying and everyone else who was there, it seemed.
We all wondered when the footage would finally be shown on TV. Well, it’s going to be on BBC2 Scotland, next Wednesday (Oct 24th) at 8pm – 9pm. I understand that if you can’t get BBC2 Scotland, you can watch it via sky (if anyone can confirm this or knows of other ways to view BBC2 Scotland around the UK and the world – please comment on this post!).
Loch Avon from the top of To Hell and Back; The Cairngorms are a cool place.
I haven’t yet seen the film myself, but I imagine it could be a bit full on?
My post about leading the route is here and the producer’s view of the experience is here.
I was impressed by Aberdeen’s new wall which I’m certain will bring along some fine climbers in years to come. Tiso did an excellent job of hosting the talks and it’s good to see them running lots of events for climbers when all around, other outdoor retailers seem to be struggling or dying off (if unsurprisingly).
After a rendezvous with Dave Brown at Corran Ferry, we finally got our hands on our stock of the Committed film and spent some considerable time stuffing envelopes and packing off the DVDs.
Claire dispatching a pile of Committeds…
We managed a to squeeze in a walk in between the madness
I had a lovely day climbing with Ruaridh and Ellen in Glen Nevis showing them the delights of the bouldering there in crisp autumn sunshine as birch trees around us shed their leaves. We ended the day climbing near a bouldering project of mine beneath pinnacle ridge, looked at for a long time by several aspirant crimping demons. I thought it would be the first Font 8a in the Glen.
They asked if I would be having a go as we were there, but I said no I wasn’t in good shape after the days and nights on the road. But of course, I couldn’t resist and went for a quick shot, if only to confirm why I failed to hold the crux swing so many times before. First shot, not really focused, and my legs almost swung back before my grip gave out. Hmmm, another go was in order with more focus.
This time I felt I had strength in my body for the first time in ages and held the swing and grunted to the top. As with so many projects, they go much easier without the pressure of expectation.
A beautiful little overhanging wall, no longer a project.
Friday, 12 October 2007
Monday: Inverness coaching sessions during the day, lecture 7.30
Tuesday: Aberdeen coaching sessions during the day, lecture 7.30
Wednesday: Glasgow coaching sessions in ice climbing during the day, lecture 7.30
Thursday: lecture 7.30pm
All the info is here
I’ve just heard from Hot Aches Productions that delivery of stock of the Committed DVD is delayed by a few days until the 18th. But I’m emailing out copies of my free E-book to orders right now.
Kev Shields was on the Scottish TV news last night, see the clip here of Kev soloing E4 and training on his board.
Wednesday, 10 October 2007
How To Climb Hard trad is a guide to how to get yourself on a path to improvement in trad climbing. I’m giving it away free with orders of the Committed DVD from my site and it’s not available anywhere else.
The E-book deals with motivation for trad climbing, how to develop and reinforce it and how it affects your ability to deal with bold climbing. I’ve dealt thoroughly with both the strategic and practical aspects of increasing boldness, confidence and safety, as well as exploding a few myths about bold climbers. I’ve looked carefully at tactics and approaches to improve your onsight and headpoint climbing and what to do if things go wrong on the sharp end! If you would like to get a copy, just order the Committed DVD from my site (here) and I’ll email it to you when your order comes through, free. It’s in printable PDF format, 42 pages, A4.
It’s been a crazy few weeks with my laptop taking a hammering at every waking moment to get it all finished in time for the Committed film coming out.
I hope it helps you with your climbing.
Labels: new stuff
After two more sessions on the big project on the Anvil roof with Malc, Is suspect my body is beginning to adapt to overhanging climbing again. Not that it feels it since that project is so damn hard. I can pretty much cruise to the start of the crux, but a major setback was Malc’s steel fingers ripping off the crux edge last week – doh! The crux 4 moves were about Font 7c+, but now they feel more like solid 8a to me and a bit more reachy. Right now I’m totally stumped (unlike Malc who is looking in very good shape on it). But I’ll keep trying. Anvil days are so good for fitness and for making you feel weak and psyched to train.
Labels: The Anvil
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
Two more days of sunshine before the September High slipped away, and two psyched climbing companions to go with. It was an easy decision to get back on the M6 south to the lakes for two more days of getting in the big Birkett routes.
Several deadlines were being stretched as usual though, and after the usual 2am finish in the office (in this case to get all the coding sorted out for handling Committed DVD orders from my webshop – available now!) I hopped on the dawn bus south and met Steven Gordon and man of the moment Kev Shields. The warm sunshine lifted our psyche level although the traffic jams quickly cancelled this out. I think I’m settling a little too quickly into Highland life?!
By 1.30pm we jumped out of the car on top of the Honister Pass and headed for Gillercombe Buttress and Birkett’s ‘other’ big unrepeated line Caution E8 6c. In Set in Stone, Birkett tells us that “Caution and If Six Was Nine are harder than anything else I’ve done”. Among the shots of the amazing smooth leaning wall of Caution, Dave also tells us that if he was a newcomer to the UK “it would be the route I’d most want to do in England”. Hence motivation levels were ‘high to hyperactive’ to experience the climb for myself.
Last Friday I had my first session on it by myself in a bitter easterly gale. Linking the crux with numb extremities but still wearing my duvet jacket felt encouraging for getting on the lead on the second day. This time a cool light breeze whistled over the Sunkist Lakeland mountains and all felt very positive.
So I led it. Birkett told me that the name came from the Bob Marley tune Caution which was ringing around his head each time he initiated the hard climbing along a break and he couldn’t commit to the somewhat death defying F8a crimpfest above. Eventually he did of course, and as he says “once you commit on this, that’s it…”
On my lead my mind was silent, as I normally choose as my mental strategy. All I felt was the perfect friction of the crimps under my fingers, the flow on an exquisite sequence of moves. It was a ‘pinch yourself’ moment for me in my climbing life – feeling strong, athletic and confident in a situation that I know would previously have scared the living daylights out of me. I want to have as much of that feeling as possible!
The grade – confirmed E8 6c. No harder as has been suggested, but certainly no easier.
After recent tolerance training, I was able to drink two and a half celebratory pints of lager in Keswick afterwards without feeling ill, my best effort in maybe three years. My all time low was the day I did Rhapsody which necessitated staggering home and much tea after just 1.5 pints.
We even managed to rise at 6am the next morning and sweat it up to Pavey Ark to look at Impact day E9 6c. I’d spent an hour dangling on this a couple of weeks back but the bottom half was soaking. A little font was still dribbling water down the lower wall, but a T-shirt bung soon sorted that out and a couple of hours later I was breathing hard on the lead, grunting through the crux moves. Much safer than Caution, this route is about having the juice left at the top to pull on some fairly small holds (E8 rather than E9 I think). The suspense keeps you psyched right to the last until you get past a mono and a big move into the scoop at the end. The silence of the mountain was broken only by my hard breathing, Steven’s shutter firing off just a few feet away and the distant cries of the Langdale farmers gathering the sheep and taking them down off the high fells for winter.
Sunday, 30 September 2007
The film covers a pretty amazing list of the most impressive trad climbing of the last year including James Pearson on Grit’s hardest route, The Promise E10, Sonnie’s visit to Rhapsody E11, myself repeating Divided Years, Blind Vision, Trauma and other E8s and E7’s onsight. There’s Katherine Shirrmacher doing her first E7, Jude Spanken cruising E6 onsight. Oh yeah and what about falls? Alan Cassidy hitting the deck from the crux of Yes Yes, rolling around in eye watering pain afterwards (you’ll see what I mean!), Neil Mawson taking a harrowing groundfall from Meshuga “the route you are not supposed to fall off”, Adam and James throwing themselves off the last move of Angel’s Share E8 and a long list of other impressive stuff that was good enough to make the cut. In short it’s pretty packed and will make your hands sweat.
As you might expect I’m pretty keen for folk to buy a copy from my site rather than from the shops etc since that helps me do what I do. So I was thinking of a way I could add a little extra to the film as an incentive. What I’ve got to offer is my expertise and knowledge of tactics to get better at this type of climbing, so I’ve put together an e-book detailing exactly how to go about climbing that next E-grade (or several!) harder, whatever your current level. The film is about hard trad – the e-book is about how to go out and do it yourself. If you read my online climbing coach site, you’ll know that my attitude to hard climbing is that it’s not rocket science, it’s just application of sound knowledge. Anyone can do it if they want it badly enough. So now you have the knowledge from my e-book and inspiration from the film, you only need to find the application. Sorted then eh?
How to Climb Hard Trad is a 5 chapter printable PDF e-book. I’ll email it to you free with your order receipt when you order Committed. It won’t be available anywhere else.
Enjoy the action
Labels: new stuff
Inverness October 15th - Rock technique masterclasses all day, lecture 7.30pm
Aberdeen October 16th - Rock technique masterclasses all day, lecture 7.30pm
Glasgow October 17th – Ice/winter climbing technique masterclasses on the GOE ice wall all day, lecture 7.30pm
Edinburgh October 18th – lecture 7.30pm
There will be fairly limited spaces in the masterclasses so if your keen to learn some good movement on rock or ice then book a place in advance. Anyone who books a place on the masterclasses gets a free ticket to the evening lecture too.
In the evening lectures I’ll be talking about this summer’s experiences on To Hell and Back E10 and the filming of it for the BBC, my thoughts on climbing dangerous trad routes and I will have some clips from the forthcoming film Committed from Hot Aches as well as thoughts and stories from the climbs. Committed goes on sale on the 14th and I’ll have copies of the film with me at the events if you’d like one.
All the details for booking lecture tickets can be found on my site. Hopefully see some of you there!
With the northerlies last week came the first signs of winter. I watched snow flurries turn the top 1000 feet of the Ben pale white while trying to warm my hands as Steall crag. Early doors the next morning I ran for the first bus south and was greeted by a bitter morning with hard frost at the front door.
A day’s climbing with Malc at the Anvil got me fired up for getting strong again and left me wondering how much strength I’ve lost from the summer of trad climbs. I’ve got a long way to go to get back in shape for the season of sport and bouldering. Malc is making moves on the Anvil roof look easy, which always makes projects seem possible. But my project there is the hardest bolted route I’ve ever been on. Many nights of dangling and skipping dessert lie ahead.
Claire and I decided to take advantage of the late September high pressure and see if I could finish some unfinished business in the mountains of the Lake District. But the weather had other ideas. A bitter easterly chilled me to the bone and made me feel like it was time for throwing in the towel for the mountain trad season. I made a good link with my duvet on and numb extremities, so perhaps another look is called for yet.
After the chilling we retreated to Keswick’s warmest pubs to consider the options for the second day. Too cold to go high, but we’d come too far to go home. I suggested a look at another Birkett creation, a comfortable 10 mins from the car and away from that biting easterly. Dawes Rides a Shovel Head (you’ll need to ask the Birkett for an explanation!) looked pretty fierce in Set in Stone at E8 6c. Would it go in an afternoon?
Headpointing is so much about having a routine. My routine for a lead normally starts a few days before the actual lead day. Normally the feeling of two days rest in my forearms as I start up a route gives me a hit of confidence as I pull on the first small holds. The feeling of tired forearms was enough to make me shake a little as I moved up into a no hands rest in the middle in the wall.
After a beautiful sequence of committing crimp and undercut moves I arrived at the jug under the roof and could relax again, and feel like I am starting to get to know, and like Lake District climbing…
…except those busy roads!
Tuesday, 25 September 2007
You are really into soloing – what’s its appeal above roped climbing? Has it changed as you’ve gained experience as a soloist?
The appeal of soloing for me is pretty simple in that I find doing dangerous stuff very cathartic, its all about exorcising the demons.....:) It has changed me a lot for the better, if I hadn't found climbing such a release I dread to think where my life could've went!!
Do you feel that the solo of Fast & Furious is your hardest piece of climbing to date? (if not what was?)
I think technically it is one of the hardest things I've soloed but I've felt way more at risk soloing some of my new routes, also End Game E3 at Longhaven felt quite out there in the conditions we climbed it in.
How do you feel about your disability in your climbing? Do you feel it’s important that the difference is recognised when you climb a given grade or level, or do you prefer that it’s not part of the story?
My disability really annoys me sometimes but I've began to cope better with it now, though it took a long time to accept the limitations. In an ideal world it wouldn't need to be mentioned but I think it helps when people understand that there is a lot of extra effort goes into climbing when you have any digits or limbs missing.
How well does your left tool work for you compared to your right?
It works just well enough to do the job, the guys at Strathclyde Uni prosthetics have been great over the last 8 years in helping to develop and build my axes. I cant do things like swap axes etc and stein pulls hurt like hell and put me at risk of snapping my arm which has nearly happened a couple of times.....
What was going through your mind during the F&F solo?
During solos I try keep my mind as still and empty as possible (which isn't hard) but I find It’s what I try think of before solos which will gets me in the right frame of mind to go for it....
I know some climbers have given you the impression they think your soloing is pretty dangerous. What do you think of that?
I know what I do is dangerous and as one very accomplished Scottish climber told me "it’s a numbers game". Recently I've tried to calm down with the amount of soloing etc that I do but I cant seem to walk away from it just yet, there’s just too much I want to do.
What are your climbing ambitions coming up?
I have my eye on a few things that if I manage them will hopefully make it easier to stop taking as many risks.
More about Kev's climbing on the hotaches site under Kev's tag
The other night I got one of those texts that you can tell was written by someone so excited they could hardly hold a mobile phone in their hand. It was Kevin Shields enthusing to me that he had just soloed Fast & Furious in Birnam Quarry.
It was the most impressive piece of climbing news I’ve heard about in quite a while. In fact it made me blurt out “bloody hell!” out loud with Claire anxiously asking if everything was OK. Why the surprise? Two reasons – firstly, the route is hard enough clipping the bolts and secondly, Kev has a slight disadvantage when it comes to climbing, having only one hand.
Kevin soloing Fast & Furious M10+, Birnam Quarry
If you haven’t heard of it, Fast & Furious is a dry tooling route in Birnam Quarry, climbing a huge slate cave, normally with the aid of about 10 bolts for protection! At M10+ it’s still tough piece of climbing in the field of dry tooling/sport mixed climbing. I climbed the route myself not long after it was opened and have since done it several times for training. Each time its difficulty never seems to diminish and still feels like the equivalent of around 8a rock climbing to me. But to solo a tooling route of this difficulty is quite remarkable.
A few years ago I also soloed a route close to my limit in the same cave, so I could see the draw of soloing something there. I talked at length about my motivation for it here. When I got to the belay at least I could grab the lowering rope with both hands and didn’t have to trail it pointlessly up the route.
Tooling at that level is an insecure experience. It feels scary enough just figure-fouring when your leg goes over the rope when it’s clipped to a bolt right beside you. How it would feel to know that if your tool levers a centimetre too high on that hook you are dead, sends shivers down my spine. It implies a degree of physical awareness, mental control and inspired motivation that you don’t see every day, even among the most accomplished climbers.
So even more impressive that Kevin has achieved this level with the disability he has. Having done the route, I would estimate that soloing it would certainly feel like an E9 lead, and I have two hands! Kev’s prosthetic Reactor tool looks like an excellent piece of engineering to be able to even approach the effectiveness of functioning hand for holding onto an ice tool and resisting fatigue.
Hearing Kev’s news got me more excited that any other piece of climbing news coming out of Scotland for ages. It was the first time for a while I felt someone had produced a performance that really demanded that they redefine their own boundaries and climb out of their skin. Talent in sport is nothing but potential unrealised. But when people match their talent pound for pound with raw effort and inspiration they surprise you by managing thing you wouldn’t have expected them to manage. I’ve always felt that is the best feeling in performance sport – when you reach a level you wouldn’t have given yourself the chance of reaching, through sheer determination.
Good effort Kev
Sunday, 16 September 2007
When we returned from our wee roadtrip, Autumn had hit Lochaber with a vengeance. With the rain stoting off the ground and wind howling, I was getting jumpy at the idea of returning to the Lakes to finish what I started last week. With Claire now self employed (partly at taking climbing photos too!) and with no barriers, we donned the Gore-texes (just to get from the front door to the car) and went for it.
With no car, the Lakes has been somewhere I not had the chance to visit until recently. Obviously, the brace of E9s all authored by Dave Birkett have been really high on my climbing wishlist, especially due to the huge reputation and aura they have developed from the lack of repeats and suggestions of undergrading. It’s been really frustrating not to be able to get on them until now.
I wondered which of Dave’s routes to go at first? I decided I might as well get on the one he placed as his hardest lead ever; If Six Was Nine E9 6c. Last year I got a chance to have a brief play on it. On the way home from climbing Breathless on Great Gable, my friend Steve said we could spare an hour to have a look. I pegged it up to the crag, panting, and had time for 20 minutes rushed play before we had to leave. But I nearly managed to link it, so vowed to make it my first priority next chance I had to be in the lakes.
After two days on it last week, I was ready for a lead as soon as a crucial hold dried off, and on our drive back south from the highlands the clouds parted and a fresh autumnal wind was blowing. No excuses.
The route climbs a big overhanging face, broken by a rather evilly placed ledge at 10 metres – finely placed to kill you if you fall from the redpoint crux another 15 metres above that. The climbing is high standard – F8a+ but positive at least, so sport climbing fitness of 8c+ or 9a means at least you can just apply more power to get out of trouble, or reverse out of the death zone near the top if something goes wrong – the only way to justify an ascent so dangerous, for me at least. The gear can be more simply be described; crap.
There are three pegs - the first two look reasonable – I’d lower off on them. It’s irrelevant anyway. If you are good enough to actually lead the route, the only place you’d fall is the second last move, and onto the third and last peg. Naturally this is the worst one – a poor peg in crumbly rock. I tied into the ropes and briefed Claire “If I come off from the top move, the third peg will slow me down and I’ll swing in. Then it will rip and I’ll land on the ledge. Hopefully it’ll slow me down enough so it won’t hurt…erm… too much…?”
I’m happy to say I cruised the route. Anyone who leads If Six Was Nine without cruising it is really gambling with their own life. I would certainly have been disgusted with myself if I’d fooled myself that it would have been OK to sketch it and that the top peg ‘might just hold’. Afterwards, comparisons of sport climbing and trad climbing difficulty came to mind, perhaps because the climbing on this route is really like many sport climbs – steep, physical and pumpy, but positive. Sure you could climb this thing if your limit grade was 8a+, but not without having complete disregard for the value of your own life. To climb it with anything like a safety margin requires at least 8c+ fitness, hence the high regard we give routes like this here in the UK.
The route has lain unrepeated since Dave’s first ascent in 1992 – an ascent a good few years ahead of it’s time. The great thing about climbing is that repeats of these routes always serve as a reminder of the calibre of the first ascentionists. Dave Birkett is indeed a fine athlete, and this combined with his raw enthusiasm for being outside and on rock is inspiration enough on it’s own to repeat his climbs. If Six Was Nine definitely is ‘Nine’ – solid E9 6c and a great benchmark for any climber looking to make a solid entry to the E9 standard. I reckon it’s pretty similar difficulty and character to The Fugue, from 2001.
After filming the climbing, the Hot Aches guys wanted to shoot some talking stuff and we ended the day sitting in the cool evening sunshine among the fields and gentle rolling mountains. I was impressed by the tranquillity of the Lake District, once you get far enough away from the busy roads. The howling wind and rain met us at the Scottish border on the way back north. It’s Anvil time…
Hot Aches emailed me some screen grabs from the footage of If 6 Was 9 below. Some writing from them about the day is here