Thursday 14 June 2007

New stuff on

I've put some new photos of Trauma on my main site which you can find here.
Thanks to everyone who's been posting some comments on this and the online climbing coach blog recently - I really appreciate the input! I'll not be able to reply to any more for a few days while I move house and hassle the phone companies to reonnect my digital umbilical cord in the new base.
Might see some of you in Kirkintilloch tomorrow night (well I suppose it's tonight now - better get off to bed!) for my lecture and 'spectacle' of abbing down the church spire in the town afterwards. It should be a laugh. I haven't seen the spire yet but I hope it will 'go' on a top rope and I can persuade the minister to let me climb in first before? I'm no mr Osman, but I'll have to try my best...

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Thoughts about Indian Face

Thinking about moves on Indian Face. Photos: Hot Aches

Neil Gresham emailed with some thoughts about Indian Face last night. Neil repeated the route several years ago and since then It’s had top ropes from other climbers who thought it was too snappy to justify. Neil didn’t find it snappy, I guess because nothing must’ve snapped on him! A part of a hold snapped on me while I was working the moves just before the RP cluster which would’ve been a 80 foot groundfall for me had I been leading at the time. Meaningless death is not cool.

Of course dealing with loose rock is all part of the game of climbing. Part of the normal everyday headpoint process is getting a sequence that allows for more careful use of creaky or thin holds. As routes go I agree with Neil that this one isn’t actually that snappy. There were just two or three holds that were a bit worrying, especially the “brittle spike” that Dawes mentions in his account of the first ascent. Before a lead you could minimise (but unfortunately never eliminate) the risk of them snapping by spreading the force more equally across limbs. The other unfortunate is that if they did snap you would probably die.

Indian Face is an excellent climb overall and the snappyness was a minor issue compared to the aesthetics for me. I wasn’t that psyched to spend another day going back up there to lead it when it wasn’t really that enjoyable moves for me and getting sore feet (I always get foot cramp on big slab trad at the start of the summer season – I should have waited til later maybe). Lovers of this type of climbing will undoubtedly think the moves are excellent (and no climber could mistake the quality of the line). It so happens my taste in moves meant that Trauma was the much better route for me, hence I spent the rest of my few days climbing that instead.

It would be cool to climb the route just for the history attached to it and the awesome experiences the previous climbers have had on this wall. But I’d never climb something you could die on just for the sake of a climbing cv or following others. How stupid would that be! I also like to save the times when I really stick my neck out for climbs that push my limit. I don’t feel the need to go around ticking classics for the sake of it.

I might go back on Cloggy if I’m passing that area again and perhaps fall in love with the moves more slowly? They will silently brew in my head as always. But I doubt it would be an obsession for me – and that’s what I look for in climbing. So I’ll second Neil’s good word for the quality of Indian Face. If you are in the pass – go do it…

after Trauma ; )

New Sponsor! Gore-Tex

Good news this month is that I have a new sponsor! Gore-Tex will be supporting my climbing and I’ll be working with them promoting their new fabrics and testing. This will make such a big difference for me. Over the past year my weekly hours in front of the computer working have varied between 35 and 60 hours except when I’m away on trips. A fair chunk of that time has been spent working for fairly ‘safe’ sources of income.

My ongoing dream is to get as close as possible to spending all my time on directly climbing related and more creative stuff, like going out and doing or training for hard routes and spending the rest of the time on things like writing about and coaching climbing. To be fair a big proportion of my late nights over the past year were spent filling my websites with content to make them interesting. The idea of my business model is a flow of benefit all round; I study the process of climbing very deeply and try to pass on the knowledge and expertise to everyone who comes to my sites, lectures and coaching sessions – My sponsors benefit from the attention of the 20,000 visits my 3 websites get each month and the rest of the media exposure – and I benefit by getting to attempt my dream climbs more often!

I have so many more new ideas and energy available for making a contribution to climbing- sometimes my head wants to burst, but so often it’s constrained to some degree, by the need to pay bills. It’s pretty cool when companies use their marketing money to support athletes in their sports. Of course, some will use the support just to have a good time while they can. But most pro climbers have something to contribute, whether it’s by opening new routes and pushing the standard or communicating their inspiration and expertise in what they do to everyone else. Sponsorship gives them the chance to do that. The alternative for companies is just to take out regular ads instead. If they did, all that creativity couldn’t happen.

Working with Gore-Tex means less time doing uncreative work, more hard new climbs getting done and I’ll be able to write more to help folk with getting better at climbing, or maybe even just getting inspired.

Although I’m moving house on Friday and there’s a bit of stress with laywers and uncertainty about the details of these things, I’m feeling more psyched about the coming months than I did since I started making progress on Rhapsody (then ‘the Requiem direct project’) back in 2005.

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Northern Highlands South Guidebook out

Yet another of Scotland’s climbing heartlands gets the new SMC guidebook series treatment. For sure there is no going back for the SMC guidebooks, the photo topos just bring the guides alive to another level.

A photo-topo window into the remoteness of Scotland’s North West, all in one book is like being told a thousand secrets in one go! It almost feels like cheating. So now all the NW area have up to date guidebooks, and I’m sure it’ll breathe life into these climbing areas. There’s really no need to analyse the content – its an SMC guidebook so you know you are getting lovingly written and scrutinised information by the minister of route recording detail, Andy Nisbet. Nuff said.

This book will be a must for lovers of Torridon (whether its roadside Diabeg or big days on Ben Eighe), Applecross (Beinn Bhan ice heaven) and the mystical winter world of Fuar Tholl.

I’m still not sure if new guidebooks are a peculiar fascination of trad climbers, but no printed material about climbing gets me quite so psyched to call up my friends and say “no more delays, lets just get in the car and go to the North West – NOW”.

Sunday 10 June 2007

E9 but no major Traumas

Trauma E9 7a, Dinas Mot. Click on it for a bigger view. Photo: Claire MacLeod

Claire, Kev and me headed to North Wales for a few days to meet up with some of the Edinburgh massive staying in Nant Peris. I was keen to check out the historic route Indian Face. This route is a massive slab climb with really bad RPs for protection, although I knew the climbing on it was meant to be not too bad physically (F7b+). After the huge hype about this route in films, books and the magazines, I was expecting some really awesome climbing.

When we clapped eyes on the cliff it did indeed look very idyllic above the mountain loch, although not as big I expected (I guess I’m used to the Ben though). I toproped the route a few times cleanly and thought about going for a lead the next day. But unusually for me I didn’t feel my usual all encompassing psyche to lead the route I’m working on. The climbing wasn’t very technical, just standing up on many very small toe edges for 100 feet. You can take both your hands off on any move on the whole thing, but it’s still super thin on the toes. My feet hurt! Foot cramp was putting me off at first, but then later when I thought about leading the route, I realised that the only thing that would make me fall off would be the snappy nature of the some of the footholds or one of my feet randomly skidding. Both were relatively likely and although the RP protection was not nearly as bad as I had read, there is still the possibility to die in a fall from the end of the hard part. So I sacked it and went in search of something more motivating to climb. It was a good experience – really reinforcing that the reason I like to climb bold routes is to exercise skill and judgement to control risk - and therein lies the enjoyment. When your chances of survival come down to whether a crystal decides to snap at that given moment, I’m not really that interested. The only bones I have ever broken so far happened in this way – when a pebble decided to snap when I was soloing Doug (E8) on Gritstone, after staying firm while I toproped it minutes before. 9 years on, I still have to walk or run uphill on my toes with that foot because I can’t bend it. Good call I think.

Ray Wood’s inspiring picture of Leo on the first ascent of Trauma

It’s nice to be able to go and experience it yourself! Photo: Claire MacLeod

Next up was Wales’ non-slabby E9; Trauma (E9 7a) in the Llanberis pass. The iconic photo of Leo Houlding on it would get anyone psyched and I wanted to be in the same place as Leo in that photo. So after coming down from Cloggy I ran up quickly to get a couple of hours on it before dark. That was enough time to suss the (exquisite) moves and gear. Next day, I got it in the bag. Conditions were a bit on the warm side for a Scot, but that psyche was back again, a good feeling. Just before I was going to pull the top rope, the quite amazing climber James McCaffie and his friend Jack raced up the slabs below us to say hello. Caff tied on and had a blast too – he’ll have it led in a day or two I reckon. After they nimbly hopped off up the grooves on their speed soloing mission, The Hot Aches guys arrived, sweating, having just belted across the valley from the Cromlech.

They’d been filming Jude Spanken cruising Lord of the Flies (E6) onsight for their new film, and got themselves sorted to film me lead Trauma. No need for recce-ing camera positions; they already filmed James Pearson making the second ascent earlier this spring! Probably the hardest part of Trauma is to blindly place a crucial wire in the middle of a 6c cross-through move, and then downclimb half the route to the ground. Setting up for the move, I had a proper faff, getting my feet tangled in the previous piece of gear (a small pecker). So by the time I got the wire in, strength was no longer in abundance, and I had some impressive all-over Elvis on the downclimb. The Elvis shake returned with a vengeance on the lead through the crux. I made it through, but very (VERY) nearly dropped the final piece of gear which would have left me stranded near the top of the wall in a sticky situation. A great evening’s climbing, and rewarding to make a very fast ascent.

Kevin Shields on the sharp end. Photo: Claire MacLeod

The next morning it was Kev’s turn to feel the pressure of the impending headpoint. With the help of the sounds of psyche from his ipod while tying on, he did the business in style. Claire was also on a learning curve this week, getting used to moving about on big crags on a rope to take photos. I could see she still had to swallow her feeling of exposure abbing over the top of Dinas Mot to photograph Trauma, but once over, she was dangling about happily and snapping furiously as I slapped furiously.

Back home now…time for bed… tomorrow begins the big pack up to move house.

The team (Kev, Diff and Emma) have a kip at Cloggy

Sunday 3 June 2007

Good climbing stuff on the web right now...

Fire above Kinlochleven, by Colin Moody

Colin Moody emailed me to let me know he’d added a lot more to his website. There are some stunning galleries of Scotland and various spot all over the world. To give you an idea of the quality of the photography, take a look at the shot above which is of heather fires above Kinlochleven. Amazing! His site has a blog and an RSS feed so you can keep track of the new stuff on the site.

I see the Hot Aches guys have been editing up the footage of me doing Divided Years last summer for their new film ‘Committed’. Diff has posted up some stills from the footage on his blog.

If you look in the left sidebar of this blog I’ve placed an eBay widget which shows the climbing related gear for sale which is ending soon. Ebay is pretty damn good for finding stuff at stupid prices. But it’s sometimes a hassle to search it regularly to keep track of what stuff is on at any given time. So I figured it would be cool if you could just glance at it when you are reading my blog. If you click the ‘view all’ link at the bottom of the widget, it takes you straight to a search of everything currently for sale in the climbing gear, climbing books and climbing DVDs categories. Hope that’s useful…

Scary conference lecture!

On Thursday I was lecturing at an interesting conference on physical activity and health in Glasgow – it was quite a day! The conference was aimed at professionals mostly involved in promoting physical activity, sport and exercise in one form or another. Below are some quick hits from the speakers that I found quite interesting as someone heavily involved in a ‘niche’ sport and having spent 6 years studying sport science. After I finished my masters in 2004 I actually thought about doing a PhD in this area – it’s one of the few areas in sport science with any support for post grad research. But in the end I decided I’d had enough study for the time being and fancied climbing E11 instead. Hopefully I’ll go back and do it sometime…

It was most amusing to see full on research lectures with screens of data as you would expect at a science conference, interspersed with audience participation sessions of the latest in step aerobics! 150 people jumping up and down in their civvies to banging techno in a conference room at 2pm is and strange sight. My talk was last and ended up being about E9 for fear factor as the tech guy messed up and crashed the AV system, so my nice slides of climbing and clips from E11 disappeared and I had to ad-lib my lecture with no slides. Scary. Everyone still clapped at the end, so I guess I got through it. But it’s not something I want to repeat in a hurry. As I was saying to the audience about risk sports – bold climbers don’t like surprises and like to know in great detail the tasks they face in advance.

The main part of my talk was to try and relate why I turned from an inactive kid who despised school sports to a pro athlete. I told them that I was fairly low confidence as a kid because I’m not a very outgoing and extrovert person, so the competitive and win/lose situations of sport (amplified by the cut throat world of pecking orders among kids) was always a negative experience for me. I felt that a lot of other kids also weren’t ready for this sink or swim world and therefore turned away from sport. When I discovered climbing, it washed all that away because it could be whatever I wanted it to be – individual, team, competitive or not, explorative or light-hearted. So I could move from a gentle break in to maximum commitment as and when I was ready. I told them that I climbed a world class route on the same crag I started climbing on as a timid kid – how cool is that – normally elite level sport takes you far away from the experience of the first steps, not necessarily so in climbing. I also told them I thought they should borrow some ideas from the world of business and internet to help appeal to a broader range of youngsters. Web 2.0 is a remarkable real time worldwide study in behavioural techniques and engaging user attention and motivation. I am certain there is stuff to be learned from that. I also think sport/health promoters need to look at the Long Tail idea that is buzzing in the business world and recognize the power of it’s ideas in reaching diverse groups with their own codes and vales such as teenagers.

I’ve posted up a review of the conference over on my Online Climbing Coach blog, along with my first ever videocast! My videocast is a wee tutorial about the most effective treatment available for finger injuries.