Friday 30 November 2007

Every day, a little more ‘A Muerte’

Climbing A Muerte 9a, Siurana. All photos: Hot Aches Productions

So Dave Graham said. Here’s to that. The Spanish phrase ‘a muerte’ translates as ‘to the death’. So where the Scots shout ‘Gaun big man!’ at people wobbling on routes, in England it’s ‘ave itttttt-ah’, in France it’s ‘allezallezallezallez!’ (If you haven’t experienced this, it’s a little off putting) and in Spain they shout ‘Benga! A muerte!’ Basically it means go for it. Graham’s attitude of going for it a little more every day is kind of infectious.

Back in March I spent some days trying the famous 9a ‘A Muerte’. It had already been given the name before Richard Simpson muscled his way up the first ascent a couple of years ago. After I did the neighbouring L’odi Social 8c+ earlier this year, Richard emailed me to suggest I try a ‘real’ hard route, like his one. So I did.

Since I am not so strong, I made a three-and-a-half- week space in my diary to travel back to Siurana and get a good spell trying the climb. Unfortunately, attempts to clear all my necessary work before I left meant I had almost two weeks of detraining before I left.

I had dismissed the standard sequence for the crux as being two ‘body strength’ dependent for my frame, slapping at nearly full span for two finger pockets out to each side. Bad tactics, MacLeod. After wasting nearly two weeks trying a crazy alternative sequence matching a finger slicing sharp pocket and waiting for my torn fingers to heal, I reverted. Once I gave the standard sequence a chance (like for 10 minutes!), I found it was actually quite easy (for a 9a crux you understand). Immediately I could redpoint to the last move.

The daily routine was to warm up with a 7c-8a, climb to the 5th bolt on A Muerte (an 8b link) and reverse to the ground. Then, wait…

Once the bitter evening winds blew and the sun dropped low, I blasted onto my redpoint - 20 moves in 30 seconds of bang, bang, bang from hold to hold before my strength gave out in spitting distance of the finishing jug.

All that was needed was another moves’ worth of juice in my arms to make it happen. Two days complete rest while working in Torello was just the ticket, and on our return I arrived back at the rockover and had the strength leftover to grab that big undercut and scream from the top of my lungs “COME ONNNNNN!!!”

It was kind of nerve wracking to hang on that undercut and shake out, just a formality 8a crux to go… or would it be? I passed Diff, hanging beside me filming. Him silent and motionless, me panting and shaking – strange. So, the first step of my preparation for Echo Wall is complete.

On my last day, after Patxi had dispatched Le Rambla 9a+ 3rd go (my head shakes in disbelief), I did the moves on La Rambla. Hmmmm…

Velvet Antlers is online!!

For the last couple of months I’ve been working silly hours helping Claire prepare to launch her new venture Velvet Antlers. The business is Claire’s and she’s been working mega hard on it herself. My part in the effort has been to build her site and try and kick off a bit of marketing.

So what is she selling then? Hampers! (pretty cool ones at that). Claire has been really into food for years and more so all the time. Last Christmas Claire and I were wandering around the shops and happened to be looking at some really nice looking food. At the time we were stuck for what to get some folks in our families for their Xmas, and Claire hit on the idea of choosing some of the different lovely looking foods and making up a hamper full of cool and very luxurious looking stuff. Problem solved! Claire really enjoyed choosing and buying all the nice food and putting together, and our recipients seemed pretty psyched to get something they would really like.

Lets face it, these days getting people gifts can be pretty hard going. Why? Everyone has everything they need! We’re all just looking for something kinda nice and stylish to give people. And it’s way more satisfying if you know they will definitely like it and use it.

So, naturally the pleasure for Claire, turned into business idea, and now turned into a business, just launched yesterday! You’ve got to admit hampers are a stonking good idea if you’re getting someone a gift. But it’s not so often thought of because they are mostly jam packed full of old school twee style (Tartan and shortbread overload for the Scottish ones). Claire’s tried to make them cool again…

And succeeded (I reckon)!

Take a look at the site. The roof o’er our heeds depends on this new venture working out, so we’d really appreciate if you could tell us what you think of the hampers. Would you part with cash to buy one for your mate/mum/girlfriend etc xmas, birthday or new sprog? If so, why? Please tell us. If not, why not? Do they need changed in some way d’ya reckon?

I built the site myself – it was my first effort at building a site and my starting point was “what’s HTML?”. I’d really appreciate if any of you web designers, SEO gurus and the like can find any obvious holes in it or just something obvious we haven’t done.

Claire’s been getting into her blogging on the site as well, mostly about style and highland life in general, but there’s also some wee posts in there about extreme belaying (while spouse sketches up an E10) and Claire’s own climbing adventures.

Claire’s site is here

Torello Mountain Festival

Everything in Spain is very chilled out and relaxed. This even goes for big public events, it turns out. We were in a stress (well I was anyway) about arriving kind of late at the Torello festival since I was speaking on stage 40 minutes after we drew up at our hotel. But when I turned up, my fellow speakers were just heading out for dinner, and Josune Bereziartu was even later to arrive than me!

In the brief about the event I was invited to, the festival told me they would “concrete me when I arrived” about the subject for the stage discussion (aren’t auto translators great?). I was concreted over dinner that we would be discussing the progression of rock climbing over the last 25 years. To a packed theatre minutes after finishing our tea, Adolfo, Silvo, Josune and I were all asked about our personal philosophies of climbing and what we thought were the best things going on in climbing right now.

Despite our disparate backgrounds and specialities, it was interesting that we all seemed to be singing from the same hymn sheet. All of us spoke of the importance of minimal impact on the mountains, style of ascent and adventure in climbing. Josune, best known for her sport climbing achievements, cited onsight trad climbing as her favourite branch of climbing and told the audience that her next aspiration in climbing was a route on the Grande Jorasses. That’s not to say any of us were down on sport climbing, far from it. That very morning I was throwing myself at yet more redpoints on the bolted walls of Siurana. Instead, we agreed that sport climbing has a place in the whole sport that should grow alongside, rather than at the expense of the other climbing disciplines.

The next day was one of my best of my 24 day trip in Spain. While the rest of my friends went climbing, I took time out and didn’t think about climbing for most of a whole day. My normal climbing back in Scotland has so much variety, and the climbing activities are punctuated by the very different skills to be learned and practised in working for yourself. Nearly three weeks of just climbing in the same place, on the same rock type and the same routine was a little tiring.

But by evening I was refreshed and we all trooped round to the cinema to introduce the E11 film to the Spanish audience. Their reaction to the film was, once again, most gratifying.

The final day was my main work appointment, to take part in another round table discussion with the same team as before, this time dealing with the sustainability of climbing, ethics in the mountains, and how the whole game of climbing fits together. Some of the stage time was lost to technical problems with the translation equipment, but we all got our messages across. One of the most difficult questions was regarding the overcrowding of popular climbing areas. At what point is it necessary to limit access to these areas or climbs where the volume of traffic is causing damage to climbing destinations or routes? We agreed that this type of regulation was an anathema to climbers and must be a last resort.

The problem as I see it is with the climbing experience becoming a product for many people, rather than an adventure. When you only have 4 weeks holiday a year, you go for the place where you know for sure the routes will be good, the area will be geared up for you to stay, and you won’t waste your precious holiday time on bad routes. It’s natural to have this approach. Perhaps it’s inevitable that ‘good’ climbing areas will be increasingly overused until they are no longer good or are restricted before people are willing to spread out from them. But does it really need to come to that?

For me it’s a question of independent thinking. I remember before I did my first new route. At this time, climbing opportunities existed completely in guidebooks. If it wasn’t in the guidebook, it’s highly unlikely I’d think about climbing it. Today, most of my climbing aspirations lie outside guidebooks and often have never been written about or attempted before. A complete reversal of approach! And I can tell you that it’s much more satisfying.

Sure, if you go for the routes on the ‘top ten’ lists or with the most stars, they are likely to be predictably satisfying. A bit like eating at your favourite chain restaurant. And so the conversation with your climbing friends goes…

“Did you climb [insert lauded classic]?” “Yeah we had to pass three parties on it but we did it” “was it as good as they say?” “Yeah, it was really nice”

There often isn’t much more to say! In other words, classic ticking is predictably pleasant, but often not really memorable.

If I could give one recommendation for places to go in the world and climb, based on my 14 years experience in the sport it would be this: If there is a ‘must do classic’, don’t do that route. Never, ever wait in a queue for a route – you can never fondly remember the adventure you had passing three parties on the second pitch. If there is no guidebook, go there. It will be much more fun. For every bad route you do or turbulent trip, you will have many more absolutely brilliant one. And in hindsight, even the apparently bad ones will seem much better than the pleasant (but dull and forgettable) ones you had in the popular areas.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

To Hell and Back programme online

The 'To Hell and Back' programme is online now on the BBC site.

You can watch it here

London Lecture Dec 10th

I've just confirmed a speaking date in London on December 10th. I'm going to be talking about dangerous trad climbing, E10 and why being safe is actually a risky life strategy. Claire will also be talking a little about sprint belaying. Afterwards I'll be showing the film Committed.

If you'd like to come. All the details and online tickets are here

Other dates coming up are:

Glenmore Lodge Dec 1st - clinics for climbing with tools and seminar aabout training for winter climbing.

Sheffield Climbing Works Dec 9th: Safe is Risky lecture.

details of these are here

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Spainblog 4

Fading energy yesterday on Afrodita. But I found a new hold on the crux and linked one move higher than before despite nearly falling asleep before my last burn of the day. So progress has been made. I enjoyed watching Keith fight for a long time with a nasty finishing move on a lovely long 7a+. He stuck it out and made it to the chain. Entertaining viewing.

Resting today. How is it possible to spend nearly a whole day making tea and going to the hypermarket? Now I must get a couple of hours work in. Tomorrow it’s back on the small pockets of Campi qui puigi.

Monday 12 November 2007

Spainblog 3

Enjoying shade and cool on Un Rato de Cada Postura 8a, Siurana. Photo: Emma Sutton

Another day on the testing wall of Campi qui Puigi in Siurana. First off I climbed a lovely 8a, Un Rato de Cada Postura. I made a tiny, miniscule amount of progress on a hard route for me, finding some beta that might work for short and weak Scotsmen who can’t pull hard on pockets. We’ll see if it helps next week when my skin is better.

Today I was back on Afrodita, a massive 8c+ I had a day on last year. It was nice to feel stronger on the moves than one year ago and on my second try I could climb it with two hangs. Tomorrow I will try to make that one hang??

Thursday 8 November 2007

Spainblog 2

Redpointing ‘Luxury’ 8b+, Cova boix, Margalef. Photo: Emma Sutton

Yesterday we travelled over to the lovely valleys of Margalef to climb on the conglomerate waves. Emma, Caroline and Keith climbed route after route in full sun. Impressive. I ate bread and hid behind shady trees. But later we nipped across to the dark side of the valley and a lovely overhanging crag where I was able to climb a stunning 8b+ in the evening. I was a little frustrated to miss the ‘1st redpoint’ by missing a hold right at the top. But three tries is still good for me and it was a good feeling to get pumped and fight hard. I am on the first rung of the return to fitness ladder, or maybe it was just that the campsite shower was hot for the first time in some days.

Siurana Ambience

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Spainblog 1

It’s the morning after I arrived in Spain. I’d love to have something positive to say, but I reckon it’s the worst I’ve ever felt at the start of a climbing trip. Sleep deficit has well and truly caught up with me. Yesterday I tried to climb by myself on a shunt while the others visited a different sector, but fell asleep putting on my rockshoes and woke up 2 hours later. Today I’m feeling more human after a decent night, but it’s going to take some time to get in better shape for climbing. Thankfully, time is something I do have.

Friday 2 November 2007

Climbing (US) features some Scottish action

Dougald's interview with me is in this month's Climbing mag is online now - here.

Thursday 1 November 2007

Feeling fatigued

I finally finished Claire's new website today after some more all nighters. Tried to train at the ice Factor wall tonight, but was in a sleepy haze... zzzzzzzz

I'm certainly relieved to have that one nailed. yesterday was one of the most hardcore keyboard bashing days I've had, finishing after 6 this morning. It'll be a week or two before we can launch it yet. But my part is done.

On Saturday I go to Spain for some limestone, but it still seems a long way away, much more to be done before I leave.