Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Vlog #13 Hangboards - what to measure?

"What gets measured, gets managed". Measuring aspects of performance in sport is a good thing, but only if you are measuring the right things and interpreting the data correctly. In this vlog, I draw attention to potential problems with performance metrics in climbing, especially related to basic finger strength, both at an individual level and with normative group data. In the video I talk a lot about fingerboarding. The fingerboard I designed and I'm using in the video is this one, The Edge.

Nevis Faces - Helen Rennard

Nevis Faces is a 6 part series of short films Claire and I have made for the Nevis Landscape Partnership that explores the faces of those who work and live around the Nevis area. Helen Rennard is an accomplished winter climber living in Fort William. When not helping the local community through her job as a social worker, Helen spends all her time either training for her climbing or out in the mountains climbing hard mixed routes. Helen has been involved in many first ascents of hard mixed routes on Ben Nevis and around the Scottish highlands.

I actually can't believe I managed to get this one made given the crazy winter we've had.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Vlog #12 Physical versus Desk Jobs and Your Training

A comment after Vlog #11 prompted me to do a whole episode exploring the pros and cons of physical versus sedentary jobs and their interaction with your training for climbing. Folk in physically demanding jobs are often strong and resilient, but can be overtired if they don't stay on top of their routine. In sedentary jobs, climbers can need extra work to keep on top of basic physical conditioning so that they can actually handle the physicality of hard climbing.
I go through some practical as well as general ideas and perspectives on how to make the most of your current situation, as well as encouraging anyone to at least consider changing it altogether if it isn't right. Not an easy thing to do, but what is?

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Nevis Faces part 2 - Dave Cuthbertson

The second in our 6-part series about interesting folk in the Nevis Area is out. This time about Dave Cuthbertson. I spent most of my youth trying to repeat Cubby’s desperate rock climbs all over Scotland. In recent years, I’ve been in front of Cubby’s lens while he takes his amazing climbing shots. I may be slightly biased but I do think he is the best landscape photographer I’ve seen and in this film we explore that a little. I think it’s clear that his life as a climber gives not only an awareness of locations and conditions that would be hard to get otherwise, but also a highly tuned in eye for the detail and structure of the mountains.

We spent a fantastic but very cold night on the summit of Carn Mor Dearg and were rewarded with a sinner of a sunrise.

Al of the rest of the films will be published over the next week or two on the Nevis Landscape Partnership youtube channel.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Vlog #11 Training/Injury Rehab Wreckers

People are busy, including me. This post goes through how I manage busy work periods from a training point of view. I also discuss a common theme related to failure to recover from climbing injuries which I've discovered through the many thousands of messages I've had from climbers worldwide since I published Make or Break. In the video I'm signing some books and talking about how I do this for all the books I sell from my site. Of course you can get my books via Amazon But I sign all the books I sell from my own shop.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Vlog #10 Three strategies for a stronger new year

Here are three strategies I use in my own climbing to reflect on the previous year and plan for better results in the coming year, with some examples of how to implement them. Near the end of this video, I discuss some supplementation I do while recovering from tendon/ligament injuries. The paper I reference is this one by Keith Baar and colleagues.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Mr Fahrenheit

Iain Small starting out on the bold lower half of Mr Fahrenheit E7 6b on the Comb, Ben Nevis. The prow on the right is my own route Anubis (E8) from 2005.

This summer is ridiculous. Anyone who reads my blog a lot will know I hate climbing in the heat, and so you wouldn’t need to be Sherlock to deduce that my recent location has been among the shady recesses above 1000m on Ben Nevis. There was a brief interlude of far cooler temps and so I was on my projects on Binnien Shuas. Unfortunately Iain’s car broke down on the way to meet me so the easier one did not get led on the cool day. Instead I shunted on the harder one and have now done the moves and some short links. Its going to be a hard one. It could be as hard as 8c, and out of range of the gear on the last couple of moves of the crux section. It will have to wait until I have more sessions on it in good conditions. 
Iain going around the corner on Don't Die of Ignorance

Back to this heatwave. When Iain got his car fixed we walked up the Ben. At least the inside of the CIC hut was coolish. We decided on checking out a brilliant looking finger crack I’d seen on The Comb while abseiling down ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ years ago to retrieve some gear after my FFA in winter (a long story). To access the pitch to clean it, we reclimbed the crux pitch of Don’t Die which was weird to see it in summer conditions. Particularly odd to go back to the belay with no t-shirt on, where I’d previously spent 4 hours in a hypothermic state getting frost-nip in my fingers.

I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening cleaning the 55m pitch on the wall below. It looked absolutely amazing on immaculate rock. Ben Nevis at its best. It was however a pitch of contrast, the lower slab was something straight out of Cloggy, albeit on better rock. 6a climbing on edges but with one real runner in 20m. The upper half was well protected but sustained and physical.

We stayed in the hut and I got sunburned just drinking a cup of tea outside in the morning. Time to get into the shade of the cliffs. After spending some time with my feet in the snow (lovely!) I tied in and climbed the slab quickly to get it out of the way. My feet were hot and sore already and I couldn’t get settled for the hard half of the pitch above. So I just had to carry on, unsettled. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the scrap with the wall cracks since the climbing was just so good and abseiled off to give Iain his turn.

Ian told me he had listened to my comment about sweat running out of my helmet at the top and so paced himself a bit on the rests. Whether that made a difference or not I don’t know, but he looked like he enjoyed the pitch as well.

Iain getting racked up for the lead.

Iain at the top of the slab section, where you reach some welcome runners.

We called the climb Mr Fahrenheit. The first route on the buttress, Don’t Die of Ignorance, was first aid climbed by Andy Cave and Simon Yates in 1987 (and freed in winter by myself in 2008). That name was the slogan for the widely seen scary public health ads for the feared AIDS crisis in the late eighties. I remember clearly seeing those ads as an 8-year old even though I had no idea what they were on about. Anyway it made me think of Freddy Mercury and so we thought of something from Queen’s songs that related to the unprecedented heat right now.

Every time I climb on Ben Nevis in summer, I think ‘I should do this more, the rock is so good’. And of course, you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere cooler in the UK. As we trotted about the Coire en route to this line, we eyed up the endless potential for other new routes that still exists on Ben Nevis.

Reaching the end of the wall cracks section.

Aerial shot of the Comb. Mr Fahrenheit takes the obvious brown streak.

Aside from various gloves, goggles and very new and very old Nevis bits of gear lying about the screes, we found lots of other odd things folks carry up the Ben.

Monday, 11 June 2018

24/8 film

Back in March I had a great day out climbing a link-up I’d thought about for many years: Font 8A boulder, E8 trad, 8a sport, VIII,8 winter route and 8 Munros in 24 hours. I blogged about it at the time here, but now the film is ready. Enjoy. 

I think its a nice reminder of why people make such a big deal about Scottish climbing. Thanks to Kevin Woods for making the film and Mountain Equipment for supporting it.

Friday, 25 May 2018


On the lower quarter of Hyperlipid 8c, common to my other route Testify 8b. Photo: Chris Prescott/Dark Sky Media

Last October I bolted two 50m new routes, sharing the same start, at Loch Maree Crag. I knew they would be among the best sport routes I’ve been on anywhere. The variety of climbing, quality of the rock and moves, length, exposure and setting are all pretty hard to beat.

The easier one ended up being a soft 8b and a nice introduction back to climbing after separating my shoulder in July. The left hand line looked much harder. After the 8b lower section, although there are good rests, there is a further 8a+ section leading to a brilliant but tough boulder crux, right below the last bolt. The holds on the crux are amazing but tiny edges. I couldn’t really imagine them feeling like actual holds after nearly 50m of climbing to get to them.

I’ve visited Loch Maree crag as often as I could during the last month. First I completed another nice 8b first ascent called Rainbow Warrior, and an escape left from my project just below the boulder crux to give Spring Voyage 8b/8b+. These were really great climbs but also useful to build a little fitness.

I was feeling low on power though, after getting a bout of food poisoning on holiday at Easter that took a little while to recover from. However, every time I went on the project I seemed to chip away at the beta, finding several big improvements that lowered my initial estimation of hard 8c+ to more like hard 8c.

I felt I’d left it too late though. The crag is very sheltered and so its best just to avoid it in midge season, not just for the midge, but because of the difficulty in getting a good breeze for the hardest routes. The season there is really March-May and late Sept-early Nov. I had one more visit booked with Murdo yesterday before I leave for 10 days on Shetland. When I return, it will be time to hit the trad for the summer.

At the car park there was little wind and strong May sunshine even at 9am. Maybe I’m just not used to warmth on my face after a long cold winter shivering under boulders or icicles? But as we entered the shade of the crag, the air was actually surprisingly cold and dry and there was a fair breeze. On my warm-up I found another wee tweak on the crux that took the edge off it, and the intimidation of that crux, so high on the route, waned just a little more.

After a rest I made the long voyage through the lower wall, stood on the rest for an age, attacked the 8a+ power endurance part above and arrived at the pre-crux jug. This is a great place to hang out. I stay here for well over 5 minutes, relaxing, recovering, focusing, letting my body cool down after the work done below and also just enjoying the spectacular position up on that headwall.

Hanging out at the rest before the crux of Hyperlipid 8c. Photo: Chris Prescott/Dark Sky Media

All this, followed by a brilliant explosive boulder crux. The key moment of the route is really taking the first of the two ‘tinies’ with the left hand. If you are even slightly tired, it just doesn’t feel like a hold and your momentum evaporates in an instant. But I got there and thought ‘I can pull on it!’ and so gave it everything to match and then throw for the good edge above. I woke up with a shock when my body, starting to fall, stopped and maintained contact with the good edge. Time to keep the effort level up!

The following moves are easier, but a little delicate for the feet. If you stood a little too hard on the smears, and one slipped, you’d be off. I was acutely aware of my shouts and grunts echoing round the crag, adding to the sense of being super high on the route. What follows is a rest and then just a little 7c+ crux to get to the top. It ought to be easy if you can get to this point, and in the end it was. The north west of Scotland has several excellent sport crags, and it’s nice to finally get an 8c on one of them.

I know I often say it, but I was not expecting this project to go down so quickly, even taking into account that it had started off as an 8c+/9a prospect until I found better beta. I suspect that I am feeling the benefit of being injury free for a sustained stint. I’ve not had more than around 6 months of continuous climbing since 2012! I’ve either just broken ankles/legs/shoulders, or just had surgery on one of those. I managed to climb most of the projects I had lined up for the winter/spring. So now I can turn thoughts towards summer projects with a good vibe of confidence. Top of the summer list is the E9 project on Binnein Shuas I started cleaning the day before I separated my shoulder last summer. 

For now though, I just want to say that Loch Maree Crag is well worth a visit for long, high quality sport routes in a lovely setting, many of which stay dry in the rain. The 6bs are just as good as the 8bs. I would recommend visiting in the spring and autumn ‘windows’ rather than summer though. I will miss day trips up there. I guess I’ll just have to get myself to Carnmore at some point soon - something I’ve been meaning to do for years.

On the FA of Rainbow Warrior 8b. Photo: Chris Prescott/Dark Sky Media

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Ultima Thule

For about 15 years I’ve been exploring the Scottish Islands and opening many trad routes on all sorts of cliffs, big and small. I’ve often focused on the Hebrides and also had a great time visiting Orkney to free the Longhope Route (E9) on St John’s Head on Hoy. But I’ve never been to the Shetland Isles.

Top of the list for the archipelago had to be the huge cliffs on Foula, Shetland’s most remote island. Foula has one of the highest sea cliffs in the UK, Da Kame (370m). However, it is the adjacent and almost as high Nebbifeld (290m) which was the obvious target, since it looked much steeper and harder to climb. I’d seen a small picture of it years ago and it looked quite terrifying - bands of overhanging sandstone, of god only knows what quality, towering for hundreds of metres. It might not be climbable at all, it might be amazing. There is only one way to find out. I’d made a plan with Calum Muskett to make a visit in late May. 

Foula is quite the place. Things in the islands are ‘more relaxed’ in general but Foula definitely takes it to another level. The locals are however not relaxed about helping visitors. Everyone bends over backwards to look after people coming to visit the island. There is no shop on the island and aside from worrying about how to carry 440m of rope and a huge rack of gear, I wondered how we would carry food for an entire trip as well. I asked around if any of the local crofters had any meat or eggs they could sell and in one email there were to be preplaced local lamb and eggs at our accommodation. Eggcellent.

Arriving off the wee ferry, we were met by the locals, offering unexpected lifts, advice and arrangements to sort us out with whatever we needed. By the following morning we were also provided with several iron stakes to make anchors at the top of the cliff. It’s great to see the tradition of being kind to visitors extends to yet another island I hadn’t been to.

On the first evening, we walked round the island and inspected all the cliffs. It was raining and blowy, as you might expect. And so the cliffs looked extra huge, intimidating and rather uninviting. However, the next day, a period of good weather arrived and I used the drone to locate the top of a line we had spied on Nebbifield. The stakes were hammered in with large rocks and we abseiled over the edge, extra 100m static ropes tied to our harnesses to advance further down the cliff.

In a couple of sessions we’d done a lot of work to clean and stabilise the top half of the wall, but the lower part, at least in the line of the rope, had a long open wall of pretty soft sandstone. The line to take looked much further right, making a long traverse to gain a corner system, and another 70m traverse back left, above it. The only way to get to it was from the bottom, climbing onsight. 

Spot the climber

I was a little tired after a few days of cleaning, but the forecast was only good for one more day, so off we went down the rope to commit to an attempt. At the base I attempted to pin the static rope to the ground with a wire and a rock, so that it would resist blowing off in the wind (and stranding us, should we fail on the route) but allow us to pull it up from above should we succeed.

A soft traverse on pitch 2 to reach the corner system with relief.

Calum set off up an off width, lobbing loose blocks off at regular intervals. My second pitch got fully into the Foula climbing vibe. I balanced over some huge death flakes and dug out a ledge for an essential runner to justify further progress. I eventually unearthed a crack that took some gear and inspected a horizontal traverse along a honeycomb band of softness with the consistency of stale bread. Just about hard enough to convince you to pull on it, and then snap! But amongst the flakiness there were some fingery pockets that were more solid and I made it to a fine belay ledge at the base of the huge roofed corner. Hurdle one complete.

Calum burled round the roofs above which looked incredible and continued out of sight above. I reached him at a hanging belay with a blank looking section just above. The rock here was really good - washed by a waterfall coming over the top of the cliff, it had hardened and cleaned it perfectly. The blank bit went with one committing rockover and I made it to a fantastic ledge in the middle of the cliff. This made a great spot to relax for a minute and enjoy the setting. Next up was a 70m traverse pitch along a diagonal break, starting with fulmar fighting and ending with a long stretch of pumpy laybacking, using up out large rack of cams. Calum worked steadily along it, running out of cams after 50m and switching to fiddly wires as well as brief stop for some gardening as well.

Although this only took us to the start of the hard pitches, at least we were back in line with our static rope, so we if we failed on the hard climbing, we wouldn’t have a complex abseil back to the foot of the cliff, followed by a 250m jumar! We had a comedy moment with Calum pulling up the lowest 100m static to tie it off and complaining about it feeling heavy or his arms feeling weak. When the end finally appeared, it still had the large rock I’d pinned it with attached!

Kind of hard to fathom that this is a 300m cliff.

I dispatched a short E6 pitch on which I was very glad I’d cleaned it carefully. I think it might feel more like E7 if you didn’t know exactly which holds were strong enough to pull on and every rubbish cam that would fit in the chossy breaks. Calum followed and then asked if I might lead the next pitch as we was feeling the effects of a winter’s skiing in his arms. I’d just been sport climbing for a month and even then I was pumped on the next pitch and had to give a bit of a shout on a fingery snatch at the end of it. Next up was another E6/7 pitch. A sparsely protected wall with long reaches. Calum started up it but felt pumped and it was too dangerous to commit to the crux section, so he lowered down and I tried. I was shivering quite badly in the ever increasing wind and although a serious pitch was not so appealing right at that moment, I was happy to take the opportunity to get some blood flowing. I achieved that goal, and could indeed feel my heart going a bit, right at the end of the pitch, a long way out from the gear and doing a little bit of a ‘move’ to the final hold.

Pitch 7, another 6b pitch, and the hardest ones are still to come.

One more E6 pitch remained, but a long and varied one. First, more of the same bold wall climbing with no runners, then a sandy groove with collapsing footholds, culminating in a fulmar ledge, followed by a stomach crawl leftwards along the break, processing fulmars along the way and avoiding dropping loose stuff directly onto Calum. And then a bouldery 6b section through the capping roofs. I was quite wide eyed on this section, with the wind blasting up into my face and the knowledge that a second try would be highly unlikely at this point in the day. It wasn’t needed.

Calum opted to follow this pitch on the static rope rather than second such a weaving pitch in a very cold and tired state. So he arrived in no time and led off up the final corner, roaring at fulmars and scaring them off very effectively. 

The next day I could hardly move. 

We called our route Ultima Thule; apparently the name the Romans had for Foula, meaning the farthest land. Overall it goes at E7 5c, 5c, 6a, 6b, 6a, 6b, 6b, 6b, 6b, 5a.

The superb Nebbifeld. It's easy to see from this angle why we chose the line we did. The small waterfall coming over the top of the cliff has blown all over the upper part of the wall, hardening the otherwise slightly soft sandstone, and turning it the bright rust colour.

Da Kame and Nebbifeld from my drone.