Saturday 13 January 2007

Two week tour

Today I start a bit of a tour of the UK working for a few weeks. First up is a week working for my sponsors Mountain Equipment, out on the hill each day with folk learning winter skills in Lochaber's mountains. The gales have been raging here in Scotland for some time and every night I hear new ominous crashes and bangs of more bits falling off my tenement flat. So I reckon it will be quite hardcore. Either that or we might see a bit of 'Ice Factor' winter skills action (i.e. drinking a lot of tea in between some stints in the fridge).

After that I'm giving lectures about my climbing in Carlisle on Jan 23rd, Birmingham (coaching and lecturing about Scottish climbing) on Jan 24th, showing E11 and talking about Rhapsody at the Birmingham mountain film fest on the 25th and then heading north to Glen Coe again to set routes for the ice and mixed comp on the 26th. Apparently I'll be providing some comment on all yer performances on the comp day (27th) for the TV! So I do hope you are all working off the christmas tyre.

Somewhere in all that lot I have to train. I'm not sure how thats gonna work really. hopefully Alltshellach has some good doorframe edges?

Thursday 11 January 2007

More Blind Vision pics

Diff sent me through a few video stills of the start of Blind Vision.

Note to self: work on body tension.

Wet Grit take III (but this time the rain stopped just in time!)

A bit of relief on the top out of Blind Vision, Froggatt

I’m sitting in Dave Brown’s car heading back up the M6 from grit trip number three. I reckoned I might be ready to lead Blind Vision E10 7b at Froggatt on my next day on, having had about three hours messing about on it between the showers on the previous two washed out trips. So myself, Dave B, Diff and Tony summoned all our optimism and trusted the good forecast and convinced ourselves that we might be able to pull off a day trip send from Scotland.

So I joined the early bird commuters on the first train into Glasgow to start my own commute back to Froggatt Edge. On arrival in the peak we found to our dismay but not surprise that forecast was entirely spurious and it was in fact pissing down.. AGAIN! More gallons of tea followed in Hathersage and then sitting in the car at Froggatt watching hail bouncing off the windows. Dave B kept heading out for peek and pronouncing that the “last shower is coming through now”. Several last showers later. It was after 3pm and time to admit defeat. But only the kind of psyche you get when you drive halfway across the UK to get to the crag made us get out and walk in anyway for a look. As we wandered along the rain faded out and shards of sunshine came through. My pace quickened a bit.

The gale had given the headwall a super fast dry-off and only the last part of slingshot was still soaked. But we were armed with towels. A quick traverse along the crag base and the sun had set. I towelled off the top of the boulder problem and although the light was fading, I went for a crack at soloing up Slingshot. Blind Vision starts up a highball problem called Slingshot which is about Font 7c+ or 8a. The first move is the hardest, but also a beautiful move to leap for a finger edge and hold a slow controlled swing to stay on. After Slingshot there is a wee ledge from which to receive your thrown up harness and ropes and get psyched for the upper wall of E8 6c (F7c+ climbing with dubious but hopefully dependable gear).

After a few minutes I hit the jump and feet amazingly weightless as my feet swung back. After a blur of slaps I was standing on the ledge and all of a sudden the character of the day changed from a write off and a mess around at the crag at dusk, to a harrowing decision to lead an E8 in rapidly fading twilight. 4.30 passed as I got the gear in place and reversed back to the ledge for real decision time. I really questioned my judgement, staring into the already black valley below with street lights twinkling and car headlamps casting their beams clearly. It wasn’t so much my judgement to make the correct decision about whether I could climb the upper wall safely that I doubted. I have many bold leads behind me, and much practice at this type of decision. It was more my two minute window to make the decision, before the light faded beyond any reasonable sense of it not being night time!

Leading the headwall on Blind Vision. The pic is a a bit blurry as Dave B was shooting on iso 1600 at 1/3 sec!

I took my two minutes carefully and the answer was there – I knew I would be safe. So I chalked up and dispatched it.

Anyhow. Time to get back to the writing backlog… Good effort to the Hot Aches guys for driving 2000 miles just to film 15 metres of climbing (they blogged about the day here) and also to Tony for the scary belay with no prior knowledge of the route and no time to explain the plan, just ‘right I’m going for it, stick me on belay mate!’

PS… One thing I can’t understand though after visiting the Climbing Works (well done guys BTW!) during one of the washout days is why routes like Blind Vision haven’t had stacks of ascents. The hardest trad routes in the UK in general really aren’t that hard! There are so many strong lads and lassies kicking around who would mince up the likes of Parthian, Blind Vision, Rhapsody etc etc… At the Climbing Works I saw many many climbers much stronger than me. What has happened to the Mick Fowler attitude of “how hard can it be?”

The top of the route after the lead - it was pretty damn dark!

PPS… I’ve heard people reckon that Blind Vision might not be that good a route because of the ledge in the middle. But I would still recommend it to anyone. The moves on Slingshot and the top wall are very aesthetic and its also not so dangerous which is always nice. The first thing I thought about it was how excellent it was that Adrian Berry managed the first ascent as he doesn’t boulder much – awesome!

Grades grades grades.......

I took the paragraphs below/rant out of the post about Blind Vision and posted it separately so it doesn't bore people and to separate the often negative bullshit that goes along with grade arguments from the enjoyment of the climbing I had.

So here we go once again – another E10 repeat and the same tiresome process of deciding ‘what grade is it in my opinion?’ It would be so nice to sidestep the whole shebang. The primary reason being that it always overshadows the important part; the climbing. However, it is important nonetheless and I must give it thought. If you are interested to hear, I’ll think aloud right now… (if not I don’t blame you!!)

What are the facts I have to go on then?

Blind Vision took me three 1 hour sessions of top roping (curtailed by rain) followed by a lead in less than good visibility. It comprises of a highball (but not exceptionally highball) Font 7c+ or 8a, followed by an E8. But the boulder problem is hard enough to prevent a good proportion of E8 or even a few E9 climbers succeeding on it.

My opinion is that an E10 climber should dispatch Font 8a no problem (if not Font 8b). And anyone who can climb the boulder problem should find the top wall pretty easy unless they have very little experience in headpointing.

Other feelings… Blind Vision is definitely easier than If Six was Nine (which I have done the moves on during a 30 min session on the way home from Breathless). Its also easier than the Scottish E9s and I’d say it felt like 2 grades easier than Rhapsody. However, its harder than Breathless and Divided Years (but then they are E8s!).So these days I am getting more confused about the difference between the grades at E8 and above. My plan (weather and work permitting) is to try to repeat more existing hard trad soon. So I should do that first and then I’ll have a clearer idea of what E9, E10 and E11 mean.

But maybe not… This is why it takes more repeats to get a consensus going. One thing to make clear is that I do not intend to sidestep the process of forming a strong opinion about what grade all of these routes are. But I’m aware that with very few others going around a repeating hard routes, the reputations of these climbs (in the short term at least) are subject to the opinions of a very few climbers. Not a good situation. So it is good plan I think to repeat as many routes as possible before casting an opinion that affects how the sport views the hardest routes and how they relate to one another as achievements. I see from reading Dave Graham’s blog that the same process is happening still at the top level in sport climbing. Dave seems to be battling whether the inflation of early key routes like Action Direct up to 9a when they were never actually given that grade in the first place has caused a knock on effect that continues today. Dave at times seems like a one man mission to downgrade a lot of routes. Some people accuse me of the same thing in trad. Those people don’t know me though and make stupid assumptions about my motivation for climbing. I think that Dave G is only after a more level playing field and credit where credit is due for both his peers and predecessors in sport climbing. I feel the same about trad. What Dave doesn’t really deal with in his blog post is that the actual number is irrelevant. Who cares if Action Direct is 7a or 10a? its just a number. Dave is swimming against a tide by recognising that Action Direct might be ‘old school 8c+’ just like Hubble. Are a world full of sponsored climbers going to listen if he wants all these 9as to come down to 8c? nae chance. So maybe the minority of old school routes will have to have the upgrade in recognition that they are still up there above many other routes masquerading as being cutting edge.

The same themes are being played out in trad exactly. It seems to me that the only ideal situation would be for several climbers to repeat all the hardest trad routes there are and then say with genuine authority which ones are E9s and which are E10 or harder. For my part at least I can say I am out there on the crag working my way through the routes one by one. It may be that I will feel that more routes are in need of losing an E point in order to be fair to their counterparts. If people think I have some other agenda in my efforts other than to enjoy climbing and compete, f**k em. What more can you do than base your opinion on hard won ascents rather than armchair specualtion, and be honest.

Tuesday 9 January 2007

Wet Gritstone take II

Messing about on Ape Drape (V5) Froggatt as the rain came down (Photos by Hot Aches)

Determined to nail at least one gritstone route after the washout trip over new year, we headed back for round two, with a good forecast this time... apparently.

Apparently not! As soon as I got warmed up and ready for a lead, the heavens opened again and the familiar routine of drying gear and sitting in cafes downing gallons of tea commenced once more. After three days of this we rereated back to Scotland again to work some more and keep our ears to the ground for signs of winter high pressures on the way. Depressing stuff.

A small foothold, on a damp gritstone slab

Unfortunately time for climbing is running out and some work for my sponsors and some more lectures are approaching fast. Here's hoping for a break in the rain before then???

Check out my lectures page if you are in Cumbria, I've just put up details of a lecture I'm doing in Carlisle on Jan 23rd. After that I'm speaking and coaching in Birmingham on Jan 24th and 25th before heading back north again to set some gnarlyness at the Ice Factor ice and tooling comp on the 26th/27th.

Tuesday 2 January 2007

Wet Gritstone

Another day, another dump of rain, Burbage, Peak District
My plan was to get a few days of climbing on Gritstone over the new year holiday, since I had to cancel the last planned trip there, I wasn't going to bail out again. So this time, despite an appauling forecast, we just jumped in the hire car (since mine is still pending repair from its recent theft attempt) and went. Nothing ventured and all that...
Most of the trip was spent peering out of my cinched up hood at wet crags, or drying out clothes and ropes at night. However, the rain stopped breifly a few times and allowed 45 minute windows in which to dive onto grit routes and try some moves. There was no time for warming up or resting, just a frantic continuous effort to climb as many moves as possible before the next shower raced in and soaked everything again.
I tried a few lovely routes and the psyche is on for one in particular, so if I can get some more work nailed over the next few days I will try to return.