Sunday, 30 September 2007

Committed DVD is here

Hot Aches have just completed this year’s film Committed Volume 1 which is on sale on October 15th. I’m taking pre-orders for it now from my webshop which I’ll dispatch on the 13th so it’ll drop through the letterbox on the 15th.

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

Scottish lecture and coaching tour coming up

I’ve put details up on my main site about a week of coaching and lectures I’m doing with Tiso in a couple of week’s time. I’ll be running climbing technique masterclasses by day and lecturing by night. All the dates and details are here.

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!

Chasing dry climbs in the Lakes

Repeating Dawes Rides a Shovelhead E8 6c, Raven Crag. All photos: copyright Claire MacLeod

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?

I left Claire to peruse the papers while I sussed out some moves for an hour. Hmmm, I could still feel Steall and the Anvil in my forearms – I felt tired. But although the holds were small, they were positive and felt some fear would be plenty of incentive to pull through, so as I watched Claire follow me up to the crag, I stripped the toprope and prepared the rack.

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.

Thought stopping…

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

Kevin Shields interview

I asked Kevin some questions for this blog after his solo of Fast & Furious:

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

Scottish climbing gets exciting again

Kevin Shields – a bold soul (Photo: Claire MacLeod)

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

If Six Was Nine

Leading If Six Was Nine, E9 6c, Iron Crag. Photo: copyright Claire MacLeod

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.

If Six Was Nine, E9 6c, Iron Crag. Photo: copyright Claire MacLeod

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…?”

If Six Was Nine, E9 6c, Iron Crag. Photo: copyright Claire MacLeod

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

It wasn't all scary stuff... Claire and me giggling about something or other while looking very 'his n' hers' in the hats there

Dave Brown titled this jpeg file "who nicked my Scarpa shoe?" Can't think why...

Early Inspirations

I wrote the above post in the car on the way up the road from the lakes. Tonight I watched the Set in Stone film again since I was thinking a lot about Dave Birkett, his big trad routes and Lakes climbing in general. Looking at the interviews on the extras section and folk talking about Dave B’s history in climbing and it reminded me of reading the first ‘Climber’ magazine I ever bought as a keen but clueless kid and reading an interview with Dave which left such a big impression. There was a picture of him on Bleed in Hell looking like a real athlete you’d see on the Olympics (i.e. ripped!). It was inspiring – that’s why I still remember it 13 years later. Seeing it as a beginner, the rest of the pictures in the magazine were of chaps in macs with beards and sometimes bellies as well, and it wasn’t hard to see that Birkett was really ahead of his time (this was 1994 or 5 I think?). There was a story in there about Dave eating his tea before going out to lead If Six Was Nine and his mate coming in and asking “What’s this then, the last supper?” It all painted a picture of a life of fear and commitment beyond belief. At the time I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to dread a climb so much because you knew you might die on it, but still feel you needed to go out and make yourself do it. But I sort of like the romance of the idea too (maybe it’s a male thing??).

13 years later and I’ve followed a similar inspiration to climb scary bits of rock that are close to my limits. But the reality of actually doing it was nothing like imagined when I started out. It just shows you how hard it is to put yourself in other people’s shoes and imagine their motivations or perspectives without the benefit of their experience.

For instance, in those interviews in Set in Stone Stephen Reid commented that he wondered why I came to the Lakes for the first time to repeat Breathless (a John Dunne route) and not one of Dave Birkett’s routes. He assumed it was purely because Dunne’s route was higher profile and got more publicity. Actually I was just totally inspired by a photo of Dave Simmonite’s of Dunne on the route with a beautiful line of chalk dabbed edges running up the wall above him, and vowed it would be my first route in the Lake District. Assuming you’ve got people all sussed out is rarely a good idea.

The reality of climbing at my own limits was much more palatable (than I imagined when I first read about Dave Birkett’s experiences as a 16 year old) – unbelievably rewarding, addictive and… well… I was going to say comfortable.

Let me think about that for a second. When I say comfortable, I mean I feel happy taking risks. That doesn’t mean the risks are tiny or not important, because sometimes they are. I think it’s just that my definition of comfortable is different to what it was before or from other peoples might be. I used to imagine feeling ‘comfortable’ would mean secure and relaxed with little to worry about. I thought it would mean feeling more ‘comfortable’ with a scary lead out of the way, rather than impending.

But when I actually tried hard climbing I found I felt least comfortable in myself just after completing a hard route and most comfortable in the early stages of trying one. Why? Because to me (these days anyway), I feel bored and empty in my climbing when I have nothing there to challenge me – simple as that. When I try a really hard route, there are lots of questions, lot of unknowns and lots of hurdles I don’t know if I can get over. That’s exciting and I feel happiest then.

The thought of having no more scary leads ahead of me because I’ve become lost my inspiration to try hard is the scariest thing I can imagine.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Road trip

Working the Underdog Traverse V12 on the Scarpa team meet. All photos: Claire MacLeod. Click on them for a bigger image.

Claire and I are heading back northwards for Scotland after a wee work and climbing tour of the UK. Only a temporary stop with our folks in Glasvegas though before I head back to Cornwall for coaching and then back up for more of the same. Thankfully soon things are calming down for a bit and I can get more focused on things at home.

First off on our trip was the Scarpa team meet at Mountain Boot and then Bowden. I got to meet many of the stars of the team, some I’d met before like Dave Birkett and Mark and others I hadn’t like Lucy, Leah, Tom and many others. I was psyched to see John Dunne looking about half the size he was the last time I saw him and also looking strong on the rock – a comeback? Good on him. Chris did a good job of filming everyone and everything and getting it straight on you tube. The vids are here. I spent an hour working out moves on Underdog traverse (V12) which I’m keen to go back and finish off next time I’m county bound. It was the first time I’d bouldered since the end of April, and my shoulders hurt the next day.

Good footwork is always the solution, Leah shows the way on Transformer LH (V9)

Lucy Creamer on Transformer LH (V9)

After some work we had two days in Wales. One spent pounding the keyboard in Pete’s eats while putting away much tea and watching the rain fall. On the other I did a famous wee problem called Mr Fantastic (V12). I’d wanted to do it ever since I saw the excellent scene in Stick It of Mark Katz eyeballing his way across the roof (my favourite scene was Gaskins head veins and death stare on Isla de Encanta). I still felt in quite good endurance shape on Mr Fantastic. Why I’m not sure since I’ve not been getting sport climbing that much. But it bodes well for the autumn…

The weather crapped out again so it was north and some playing on moves in the lakes for two days. Hmm a return visit must be planned shortly…