Friday, 15 November 2013

RRG - extra photos (not necessarily about climbing)

So, the masses (Mark, John and Eddie) have spoken and they want less climbing in my blog; so here it is, a photographic essay of the non-climbing days in Kentucky.

Why is it that every trip has a catch-phrase? It's the one-liner uttered near the start of a trip that becomes a catch-all smile inducer, and red-point stress dissipator.

Kranko-the-klown came up with the perfect catch-phrase this time 
"I like Turtles!"
(say it with a squeaky American twang to get the right "Pooch" effect).
Steak - umm, steak....
Steak was cheaper and more widely available than beer in Red River Gorge.
$13/£9 for these 5 Fillet Mignon. Tasty too - must be all the growth hormone the feed the cows in the US?
What hick US town would be complete without a love of all things firearm? On a rest day visit to WalMart John sought out the hunting and fishing counter to buy some more lubes lures and stumbled across a man buying his 8 year old daughter her first shotgun! Strange people; perhaps you shouldn't mock them...
Don't mock the hick hunting headware - it's a legal requirement to wear hi-vis when you go hunting in the US so that your fellow hunter doesn't accidentally shoot you!
Locals truck outside the sole source of beer in RRG - I guess he's packing heat then?
The magazine shelf in the local supermarket says a lot about the local population.
We meant to immerse ourselves in the gun culture and go to a shooting range on a rest day, but we got distracted by all the high quality puzzling available at Lago Linda's campsite!
This 1000 piece epic took 3 rest days to complete - look at all those similar textures and colours - a puzzling nightmare.
[As it took the combined forces of four seasoned sport climbers 3 days to complete, we figured it was probably about 8b+ equivalent? ;-) ]. 
(Actually, it was only 998 pieces; you can see the two that missing above)

"Pray out the gay!"
The little corner of Kentucky we were in has a god bothering problem; below is a quick montage of just a small selection of the dozen or so churches/missions/bible school etc that we drove past each day between our campsite and the Motherlode parking.
A novelty phrase pinned up outside one of the churches read "Just because the state says it's legal, doesn't stop it being sin!". Howver, it wasn't clear if this referred to gay love, or the issuing of liquor licenses in Lee County?

Chocolate covered crack? AKA Milk Duds - the most addictive confectionery known to man!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

RRG - Rad River Gorge

Well, work has been fairly manic since I got home so time to write bloggage has been limited – running to stand still would be an appropriate analogy for the first 10 days after i got home, but becoming single last week has given me some more free time...

Alex “kranko-the-klown” Barrows and I flew out to Kentucky and met Eddie and John there. I was full of chesty cough and recently prescribed antibiotics; not the most auspicious start to the trip, but after 5 hours of driving in our “Snoop-dawg” style white SUV we found our accommodation and crashed out. 

The home for a fortnight - Lago Linda's bunk-house - recommended
Kranko the klown
Our first day took us to Drive-By crag; temperatures were surprisingly warm for what the local climbers call the normally cooler month of “Send-tober” with 28° C and 90% humidity. After a 3 month lay-off John struggled with 12a/7a+’s and I got on the supposed soft touch 13b/8a “Dirty Smelly Hippies”.  A slopey, greasy crux felt far from soft in the sweaty conditions, but it was heartening to finish it off on my second go; things weren’t looking too shabby for the first day. (Naturally Alex and Eddie casually flashed where John and I had failed and flailed).

Thus begun a run of nearly-but-not-quite on-sight efforts, and skin-of-the-teeth 2nd go 13a/7c+ redpoints.  After a week of this, a double rest day was had to coincide with the Roctober festival and the busiest crags any of us had ever seen.

Feeling fresher from all the sitting around and playing basketball I had my closest encounter with a 13a/7c+ on-sight at The Darkside. “The Force” is slightly more bouldery than a typical RRG stamina fest, having a few tough moves low down on pockets before a more typical keep-on-trucking finish. My own effort ended oh so close to the chains, with a sting-in-the-tail (English 5c!?!) move spitting me off with forearm stamina gauge pointing at empty.

John low down on The Force, The Darkside.

Me on Elephant Man 13b/8a at The Darkside. I was too tired to finish off either of them that day - perfect excuse for a return trip!

In the dying days of the trip, a cold front came through and suddenly we started to appreciate why the RRG was known for its soft-touches. Come-back king John had gone from failing on 12a/7a+’s to doing Dirty Smelly Hippies second go in the crisper conditions. Alex and Eddie had both on-sighted 13c/8a+ and redpointed 8b+/14a in the massive amphitheatre of The Madness Cave, and I’d gotten stuck into a classic over-hanging arĂȘte called Kaleidoscope.

The day before we flew home I embarked on my first redpoint effort, only to be thwarted by a rogue patch of sunlight peaking through the trees and greasing up the crux scoop handhold. Last day jitters weren't helped by the free RedBull that had been given out during the Roctober fest; I had to go for a walk and give myself a stern talking to before trying again two hours later once the sun had finally relented.

Kaleidoscope - good line, eh?! (Errant patch of sunlight marks the crux - d'oh!)

Tired from the earlier effort and working the route the day before, I was now slapping where I should have been static, body sagging where the moves demanded body tension. Extra heel hooks and a dose of adrenaline from skipping a clip saw me through the crux and up to the chains to tick my third overseas 8a+.

Kranko-the-klown kranking the krux of Kaleidoscope (on-sight, 20min after my redpoint  for his 2nd 8a+ that day – lanky twat).

Friday, 25 October 2013

Catch-up: Summer 2013 Purple Patch

I've just gotten back home after 2.5 weeks climbing at the brilliant Red River Gorge and jet lag is giving me the chance to reflect on what has been a superb year for me. I'll scribble something about the Red shortly, but in the meantime, it would be remiss to not summerise (see what i did there?) what's been going on in my little world for the last 4 months.

After two 6 month training cycles devised by coach Randall, much hard work, sweat and not a little lost skin, I'm happy to report the effort was worth it and I broke through my plateau and climbed two contrasting f8b routes over the summer. No big thing in a world of Ondra 9b+ and Megos 9a onsights, but a personal triumph to regain a standard i had previously only just scraped my way up whilst studying climbing full time during my PhD.

To paraphrase Lord Tennyson, "in the spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of Kilnsey" and for the last 5 years, as soon as the clocks change and the evenings grow longer, I have started weekly after work pilgrimages to the mecca of steep Yorkshire sport climbing. This year the arrival of Kilnsey season coincided with a purple patch in my climbing which had started with an ascent of The Prow, Raven Tor.

On numerous occasions over the last 5 years, I had gotten to the very apex of "the snor", only to be spat from the final roof, cursing blood engorged forearms and anchor like rope drag. Then one cloudy Saturday afternoon in June I sauntered up the lower pitch, shook-out mid-crux of the second (where previously I fought a near terminal pump) and casually arrived at the shake-out below the roof. With mere warm-up pulse and breathing rates, I knew this time they'd be a different outcome.

Cold Steal was also a previous nemesis, but like before, it relented with surprising ease and I set my sights firmly on the f8b extension; "Stolen". My memories of "Stolen" from previous years were of powerful, reachy climbing immediately above "Cold Steal"'s belay, relenting at the sanctuary of a deep break line 20ft above, before a further section of steep, pumpy climbing and a potential heart-break finish just below the chains.

This year it felt different; a tweak from a heel hook to a high toe tamed one of the long moves and a couple of extra foot shuffles reduced the Wattage of a powerful cross-over swung; both swinging the odds in my favour.

Or was it the training?

The day I did Stolen, I hadn't even planned to go on redpoint; a problematic clip posed an age old dilemma; clip and power out, or quest on and take the mega lob?  I set off up Cold Steal with the intention of sampling one of these options; only the answer was neither - tired, but feeling aloof and with a trusted belayer, I skipped the clip, set-up for the BIG move, slouched hesitantly then decided to lay one anyway (more slack for a bigger and softer fall my playful side said) and - BOOSH! Caught it!

Later that day, as promised to my belayer, we climbed in the sun on the right-wing of Malham and made a beeline for the Listers Arms when the midge became too much to bear; even these little blighters, nor the terrifyingly and dirty first pitch of Carnage couldn't dent the euphoria of my successful ascent.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Badger badger badger - drawing motivation from dark places

I heard over the weekend that a new route I did the first ascent of last year has had its first repeats; Pete Robins and Ben Bransby thankfully confirmed the accuracy of my grade-ometer, though they did comment that if you aren't tall you’ll struggle with the loooong reach on the Font 7B crux. Pete and Ben aren't tall; but then they aren't your average 8a+ climbers either. Given the choice of being tall, or having 4 grades in hand - I know which I’d choose!

Badger Badger Badger 8a+ climbs the direct start to Dive Dive Dive on Upper Pen Trwyn. It was first bolted and attempted by Perry Hawkins in the 90s.

The first ascent process wasn't your normal tale of hard graft; working out the moves, slowly building up to bigger links until day upon day of red-point efforts grind the route down until that perfect day arrives where conditions, form and psyche all combine and the route succumbs. No, this came down to ONE SINGLE MOVE.

The Dive Dive Dive buttress at Pen Trwyn; Route 1 is actually the start to a banned E5 6b crack climb. Badger Badger Badger climbs further right than depicted. Taken from the Rockfax (A.K.A. wrongfax) press release for their shamefully parasitic new guide to North Wales

Day 1:
I dabbled briefly with the direct start after doing Dive Dive Dive for the first time; barely making any meaningful shapes and cursing the location of the bolts. I left it and thought no more about it. Or so I thought. But at some point during that one-day-stand it must have made an impression on me.

Day 2:
A year later, something clicked, and armed with gri-gri, jumar, drill & static rope set about replacing the two in-situ bolts with three in better positions. My work done, I played again with the moves, the new bolt placement making it much easier to try the difficult starting section with a shunt.

I was shut down - HARD!

Arse, at this point I felt like it I'd wasted the time and energy replacing the bolts. I should have gone bouldering instead; that would have been much more productive use of my Chester-climbing commute. Dejected, I wound some finger tape around the first bolt, more to show that it had been re-geared than any statement of ownership, probably… and scuttled round the corner to Pillbox Wall; where the shutdown was equally hard. I hate the box. (No, not that box Doylo; get your mind out of the gutter.)

Day 3:
"How-dare-you!" I screamed from within my head at the computer monitor - you can't declare my route! an open project.

Pete Harrison, guidebook man of the moment, had sent out a tentative graded list to a small number of locals for input to his forth-coming magnus opus (see and had provocatively listed a bunch of routes as open projects.

Tommy's project on the Diamond was the most obvious example; he'd climbed from 2 bolts to the top to create a superb 8a "The Empire State" but not linked in the V10/11 start. Yes, the original "yellow scoop project" had been originally equipped by someone else's hand, but it was Tommy that had put in the effort to re-install some proper stainless steel gear it and complete the 8a version. In everyone's mind but Pete’s, it was Tommy's project; don't touch.

Sitting half way up the 8a+ section of the graded was "Dive Dive Dive direct (open project)" - 3 months after my aborted attempt on the line my interest was suddenly piqued again. After the initial chimp response, the internal dialogue switched back to the human "Better-pull-your-finger-out-lad-if-you-want-your-name-in-that-shiney-new-guidebook-you've-been-hearing-so-much-about". After all, there is an ego that needs stroking in all of us.

Snap shot of Pete's old graded list - red rag to a fragile ego...

A few weeks later I was back, partnered by the ever-reliable shunt.

The section above the boulder problem start was worked out; some cunning hip swinging and a "nothing" pinch negate the need for a powerful lay-back move. The entree was dialled too; a sharp undercut flake allowing a direct entry instead of stepping off the DDD ramp.

THE move still felt impossible though. The most likely solution seemed to be a long reach up left to a distant edge, taken as a backhand, feet set high whilst wrenching the shoulder trying to span an almost insurmountable gap to the obvious flat hold.

Day 4:
…was over before it began. After a pleasant warm-up following Curly Chris up String of Pearls, the classic 6b+, I place the clips into the project. That moment the heavens open with a biblical torrent. Drenched in seconds, I aid back up to retrieve the draws and run away with my sodden tail between my legs.

Day 5:
A week later and I was now admitting to myself that this was a serious project. The internal dialogue was sharply focused: "get-through-that-move, and-you-should-have-a-good-chance-of-immortalising-your-minor-contribution-to-North-Wales-Limestone".

But what a sod of a move.

I must have been psyched as I accepted a belay from Dylan; the same lad who'd snorted coke from the screen of his iPhone to rouse himself, during what I then promised myself would be the last time we'd climbed together.

Dylan was thankfully sober and patiently belayed me as, time and again, I threw myself off the boulder problem start. A tiny intermediate for the right hand and a subtle twist of the hips was the new micro-beta and I got close a couple of times; touching but not holding the flattie which signified the end of the crux.

The next day my left shoulder was trashed from repeatedly trying the gaston move; massage got it functioning again ready for the next onslaught. Psyche wearing thin, body battered; this was a battle.

Day 6:
Following a quick repeat after belaying Peteon his new E6 arete, "At the Heart of It All" (, I suggested we retire to the Orme to give me a chance to try "the move" again.

Pete leading his new E6 arete at Llanfairfechan.

1st go: Gaston, digging deep. Micro-beta. The move has boiled down to my hip, occupying a single mm location in the matrix of space and time. Pull-up my trailing shoulder, little intermediate, slap for the good hold. Close!!

2nd go: BANG! "Shit-I-did-THE-move!" I've just a one point of contact, feet swing uselessly in the air but I'm still in with a chance and fighting. I fumble the next clip and drop an easy move above.Success quickly turns to failure and dark brooding.

3rd go: Gloomy now, nearly dark. Last go. It’s not going to happen tonight but I’ll be back; will I be back? Why? I know why.
- Gaston, set the feet, little intermediate, straighten the shoulders and … reach - STATIC!! - to the good hold. Come. On.
- "How-did-that-happen?’’
( almost impossible move made into something I just did statically…)
- Don't think…
- …push on.
- "nothing" pinch..
- more layback move, pumped now.
- Big hold. I’m moving on.
- Relax, shake out and..
- "Don't-cock-it-up-now" is the worst kind of internal dialogue – like staring at the fencepost you don't want to hit as you sweep a moorland bend at 80mph. Concentrate on the positive!
- crimp, reach, outside edge, another crimp and rock-up to the finishing hold,
and, it's all over.

The route is born, and I can finally acknowledge how much time and effort has gone into the process. Since I'd started playing with the route I'd mentally toyed with the idea of naming it "Badger Badger Badger" in keeping with the triplet "Dive Dive Dive" and much more importantly, as a monument to my late partner, Dr. Emily Goodman. 

Emily's PhD and short career had been devoted to wildlife study, and in particular researching the transmission of Bovine TB through badger populations. Emily succumbed to pancreatic cancer, 5 short months after her diagnosis in September 2010. 

Only once I'd completed the process did a dark and previously closed corner of my mind open up, and acknowledge that this is where I'd been drawing motivation to return, time and again, to this windy headland in North Wales. The same dark corner in which I'd repressed bitter anger at the terrible and hideously unlikely card chance had dealt out - in doing so denying Emily and I the future we would not have together. 

Now, standing there as the sun set orange below the sea, all I could think of were the happier times we'd shared together, and the silly flash animation she'd shown me whilst studying for her PhD.

Thanks to Pete Harrison for his input in writing this; even if though he added a bunch of typos to the draft - fingers crossed the new guide will be well proof read?!?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

El Delfin; "one of the hardest routes in the world"...

This post could also have been titled "how the press re-write the news to suit their own agenda"...

What fun I've had over the last week, and what publicity. It's a shame i'm not sponsored, as most outdoor gear manufacturers would love the level of exposure i've gotten in the last week.