Thursday, 18 December 2008

New Fontainbleau guidebook in the shop

We just got our stock of the new Fontainbleau guideook from Stone Country. It's the first guide to Font under a tenner and it's a collection of the 350 best problems at each grade in the forest. John has done a superb job as usual creating a beautiful little book full of colour shots and well designed maps to get you in front of the problems with no hassles. Good effort John!

You can get hold of a copy of Essential Fontainbleau from the shop here.

PS: We are still dispatching orders in time for Christmas until tomorrow afternoon. And after that give us an email and we can send items next day special delivery for extra charge (which depends on the wight of the item).

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

I miss the pressure

My climbing right now is going through a mixed up time of stored up energy with few outlets. Why? I did Echo Wall already, and my current projects are not in condition yet.

So, for now I train for when they are. This is fine, although it’s not the way I normally do it (normally, I train for the projects by trying the projects).

I miss the pressure of being under the shadow of a huge redpoint project like Echo Wall. I can’t wait to be under it again. Without it I am a pretty mediocre climber. With it I can drag myself up by the bootstraps for brief moments into surprising myself. There is nothing like the pressure of something really big to gain (or lose) to transform the level of your effort.

What does it mean?

Committing yourself to climbing a route you cannot touch at present is a special experience that can change your life. Sure you, can dismiss this potential for an adventure because ‘it’s not an onsight’ or whatever you like. Some people will do this because they respond differently to the stimulus climbing gives, others because they are actually frightened they do not have the commitment but won’t admit this to themselves (note: this is not something to be frightened of – it’s actually an essential ingredient of the reward) and others because they don’t follow the two rules of this type of adventure.

The two rules are

1. The chosen challenge has to be genuinely impossible at the time of choosing. If it’s too easy, it will leave you cold. Need numbers? Add four grades to your onsight level.

2. Committing yourself means committing yourself. Not trying it and seeing how you get on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for quitting when it’s the correct conditions for doing so (see The Dip by S. Godin for advice on this), but most people just quit because they gave up. To underline this, feeling like you might not be able to do it is a necessary part of the plan, not the reason to abandon it. You must do the route, whatever it takes (bar cheating).

Can you tell I need a project yet?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Something on the winter scorecard

Nice zebra stripes on Mullach nan Coirean.

After the dry tooling comp in Glen Coe, it was time to get home and swing into action to get ready for some mixed action out in the real world the next morning.

Home, Metallica on, dishes washed, tools resharpened, bag packed, lunch made (a sport climbers hill food day of five biscuits and a wee bag of nuts).

The next morning a bleary eyed stagger into the quiet coires of the Mamores with Malcolm Kent brought us to the foot of a project Donald told me about. Donald, with Mike Pescod and Andy Turner had developed a granite cliff on the ridge of Mullach nan Coirean. It looked great! Nice to climb granite in the west of Scotland, and very different to the big plates and blocks of Cairngorm granite.

Donald had spoken of an overhanging groove with an undercut start that looked hard and bold, with potential for a large grade. It was both. It took me nearly an hour to make 20 feet of progress off the ground, and get two dubious runners in, too low to be of any use. The climbing was harder than the final of the dry tooling comp the night before, but without the luxury of nice bolts and brightly coloured blobs to go for next.

The key getting up Scottish mixed climbs at a high level is largely your ability to be more tenacious than the will to live, but not letting your determination slide into careless frustration. If you’ve been pumped solid for two or three hours and every move feels like your last before you fall or back off, it’s kinda hard not to either just give in, or lose your cool and rush it. But a super cool head is the only thing that will save you from making a rash move and popping off thin hooks.

After nearly three hours, my arms were almost spent, but I found myself wobbling into undercut torques on a block (that moves!), but staring out a big turf ledge right above. It was nice to be back in fully committed land again. It’s been a wee while since I have with all the sport climbing I’ve done this autumn. Not enough energy to reverse, not enough to stay put and think about things, only one option – swallow hard, trust my ability and press on.

So after two failed days so far this season, we got our first top-out, in the wispy pre-dusk light on the Mamore ridge. God knows what grade it was, it’s been ages since I repeated any hard winter routes. Certainly it was similar to, but harder than the Duel in Glen Coe. Malc (with more of a sport-mixed background) rated it M8+. But you would hit the ground from the hardest moves. Ermm.. I’ll give it something for now and work it out later after repeating some more stuff. Malcolm blogged about the day here.

Yo Bro VIII, 9 Dave MacLeod, Malcolm Kent Dec 14th 2008
The overhanging groove right of Himalayan Shuffle. The first 20 metres are very sustained and in the first half, serious.
1. 35m Climb the overhanging groove with little respite to the angle change, continue on easier ground to belay on large ledges.
2. 35m Continue easily on the same line to the ridge.

Carrot Cake

Check that bad boy out. Carrot Cake I made last night. Recipe, as ever, on Claire's blog here.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Glen Coe Dry Tooling Masters

Kevin high on the men’s final route

It’s not often I say this, but today I went to a climbing competition. It was the final of the Scottish Dry Tooling Masters at the Ice Factor in Glen Coe. This morning I was not psyched. I had a strange dizzy spell after getting out of bed (no It wasn’t anything to do with alcohol, or an early start). Weird dizziness persisted and I wasn’t even sure if I’d be ok to drive to the Coe, but I got back my level head (sic) after several cups of tea and three breakfasts (two healthy, one not).

Go on... Go on... Go on....!

The leap, on the ‘leap of faith’ route in the ice room.

After feeling ok on the axes in the relaxed qualifiers, things got horribly formal with isolations, finals, and then a superfinal. I puffed my way to the belay of the final route, but the superfinal was a tad different. I lunged for a well sketchy hook and didn’t get it right. I reached for the rope to pull up slack and clip, and got as far as whispering the ‘watch…’ of ‘watch me incase I ping off making this clip’ and next thing I knew I was flying. A good place to end the night and head up the windy Loch Leven road with Nevis Radio’s ‘Take the Floor’ as the tunes of psyche.

Wobbling to a shaky win in the finals.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The Reds are back

We've been waiting a while to get them back in, but our Mountain Equipment red pro-team T-shirts are back in stock again this morning. A lot of you were emailing to ask when we'd have them in again, so I thought I'd let y'all know. Thanks also for sending in your tales of miraculous grade increases while wearing them. It's still working for me too! But rememeber only bring them out for proper redpoints otherwise the effect wears off...

Other Christmas beta - We are delivering orders from the shop right up until the 23rd of December. UK orders before 2pm on the 19th will arrive before Christmas day if Royal Mail keep their promise. If you want to get something in after that, drop us an email - we'll give you a price to send it next day special delivery right up to the 23rd.

Something else that has come up a lot recently (esp. with our Echo Wall film) is that many of you said you wished you'd asked to get the DVD signed but. Just as some folk are too shy to ask, we've been too shy to offer! So here goes; if you would like a DVD signed or a message for whoever you are buying for, just ask in the 'special instructions' box on the paypal checkout page.

Over on Velvet Antlers, Claire is having a bit of a last minute sale with 20% off all her hampers until the 19th.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

At the Christmas Market today

Claire and I are taking Velvet Antlers (Claire's hampers and other rather nice creations and treats) to the Christmas market, Lochaber College, Fort William today (weds). Drop in and say hello if yer passing.


Any Idiot can face a crisis. It’s this day to day living that wears you out.

Anton Chekhov

Emma’s post on a grim train journey made me think of the above aphorism. Give me an E11 project any day compared to a daily commute of the type Emma describes (noisybusycrampedtraininbusycity).

It’s so true that we can turn around and see things in a completely different way if we want to. When dedicated climbs I’ve tried in the past that were hard for me, I’ve felt gut wrenchingly frustrated, exasperated, fatigued, terrified and under immense pressure.

But in a way that makes me smile to think back on those moments and wish I felt like that again, right now.

Do you know what I mean?

The other day someone told me that watching our film of Echo Wall left them feeling a little morbid at the seriousness of the situation on the lead. Sure I had to have a careful think if it was the right moment to climb a route like that. It’s all too easy to lose sight of your fragility when you have walked a long way down the road of confidence. But I felt lighter of step and of heart at the moment of starting up that route than maybe any other time in my life.

The great paradox in climbing is that the apparently uncomfortable journeys it takes you on are the best you’ll ever get. A grim commute can be a means to an end, sure. If the ends include nothing else but the mortgage getting paid, it might not be worth it. Can you tell if it is or not?

My feeling from climbing has been that hardship feels pretty grim, but only some of the time. The rest of the time, you turn round surprised at what hardship washed right over you, and you didn’t even notice (you were too busy thinking about where you were going with it). If it’s worth it, you will recognise this feeling. If not, hardship will always feel grim, but perhaps in numb way. Western living is good anaesthetic.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Another false start to the winter

Early morning light hits the hills above Loch Linnhe

Yesterday I was able to climb a difficult pitch of unclimbedness on the north face of Ben Nevis. It was a nice wake up call to winter climbing – starting waay too early in the morning, feeling pretty chilly, feeling like I’m about to take a fall I’d really rather not, and fighting hard for two solid hours to get up a pitch. But it wasn’t possible for us to start the next pitch, so I had to abseil off. The route will have to wait till next time.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Filming winter

Claire sees off another slice of fruit loaf, Coire an Lochain, Cairngorm

I was home from Spain about 5 hours when it was time to leave again to film Kev on a winter climb on Cairngorm. I didn’t work out on the winter climb, but it was good for us to go and learn some more beta about filming in this environment.
Claire did really well moving across icy slopes and learning to move with spikes on, especially in the gloom of a November night on Coire an Lochain’s headwall.

A chilly dangle in the mist for me. Remind me not to use my sport climbing harness for this again.

I must admit I struggled slightly with carrying camera equipment, a very long rope and climbing gear too. Hardcore. Must think on about how this might work in the future… More pics and thoughts on this from Claire on her blog.

Home in the winter wonderland

The highlands have given me a nice welcome home with much snow covering everything in sight. Hopefully I can go out and play in it later this week after the great catch up from my travels. Thanks to everyone who came out to see my talk in Dundee the other night.

Tonight I am kind of relieved after having my second training session since I’ve been back - I was kind of worried that a nasty elbow tweak I picked up in Spain was getting worse. But instead it seems to be getting better. I must not take my eye off the ball for a month or so, but fingers crossed it will calm down and allow full training to resume. I am very very psyched to train right now. I want to do 9a+!

This week I’m also going to be doing some marketing work on Claire’s Velvet Antlers site, buying some ads and helping her sort out all the last minute stuff with the hampers. In my shop we’ve got Committed 2 in as Claire said before - I was really excited to see it for the first time and get a look at the latest crop of nails hard trad routes from this year. It was brilliant. Got me well keen for a visit to the Peak to try Peter Whittaker’s E9. The most eye popping moment for me though was seeing Steve McClure on Rhapsody - going left to the jugs on the left arête two moves before the redpoint crux, a link I did in August 2005 and considered finishing the route this way and making an E10. It was contrived to carry on direct following the crack right to the top, probably daft on my part, but that’s what all the fuss was about, and for me what made it scrape into E11. I thought hard about it and eventually felt it would a shame to take the escape just before the culmination of the route, and also saw when I tried to link it going direct that this route had the opportunity to make a really tough route – that’s what I was after. I paid for that decision with several more falls from the final move, a winter of worry and many nights of training, all the time knowing I could just traverse left from the sidepull for an easy option and still get an E10 tick.

Only two last moves; but those are the moves that make you fall, as is obvious if you watch the film E11. It’s a shame that arête is there, and so the route I took has to have an eliminate rule. But at least the rule is super simple - don’t go to the left arête. I was glad Sonnie saw the significance of that. I got past that escape point on my second redpoint, same as Steve. I could have gone left, only had one small fall from the same place as Steve, and finished the project in 2005. But I wanted to make a hard route, so I went direct. All this is no problem in my mind, folk can and should climb whatever way they want on a cliff.

Pumkin Pie, the hard way

Michael makes a fine job of the pastry, Dave reads Desnivel and looks on.

Many of you are aware of Claire's fine selection of killer recipies on her blog. Consider this an 'anti recipie'. Actually, it wasn't the recipie that was the problem, only our control over out 'oven'. In our flat in Spain, Alicia was determined to make Pumpkin Pie for thanksgiving, but the lack of any oven was causing us some considerable head stress. Michael had the smart idea of using 'embers' in our open fire to bake the pie. Cool!

Michael, perhaps was a touch keen with the coals and built an impressive fire.

Everything looked fine though, Pie looking good going into out terracotta oven.

We put the lid on and waited. After not too long we were shedding jumpers and feeling the heat a little. One of us piped up 'Do you think it could be a little hot in there?' Alicia looked worried. After 15 minutes we felt a visual check might be in order, if we could actually get near it.

Upon removing the lid our creation looked damn fine for about three seconds, before spontaneously combusting before our eyes. Oh Well. Moral? When one finds oneself without an oven, stick to the microwave! Our microwave produced quite exquisite apple and pear crumble and chocolate brownies. Who would have thought...