Thursday 29 May 2008

Climbing One Handed

A little piece from current TV about Kev Shields and his climbs, made by the Hot Aches team.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Step forward?

Echo Wall - the arĂȘte dry at last after the demise of the snowpatch of truth

In my last post I talked about taking one step back to make two forward. Climbing hard new routes is like this – a rollercoaster of progress and setbacks. You never know how things will turn out when you get to the next stage.

Yesterday I feel like I made three steps forward (superb!) but one large step back (doh!). This time Claire belayed me on the route on a massive top rope (100 metre rope) so I could begin making some big links now that I’ve had a good few sessions sussing the moves. The result was better than I expected with a link of the route with one hang (at the roof). Up to the roof does indeed feel like 8a+ (a scary E9 for a lead) and after the roof is 8b in itself, just to climb without placing the gear. But the problem is that it will be sick hard to stop and place the protection in the roof, especially the most crucial two wires. So overall linking plus placing the gear is looking physically harder than Rhapsody (8c or 8c+ish).

Looking back into the north face on the walk out

Unfortunately though, it gets worse. On my second attempt to link the wall above the roof, I fell at the final crux. A fall that would mean certain death on the lead. Oh dear.

I wasn’t sure if a shake out before this would allow good recovery so I could be confident I could get through the death crux every go. It seems not. So the route overall will be a bit like doing Rhapsody but the equivalent fall from the last move would be terminal.

But it’s not all doom and gloom – The up side is that my sequence is good and I feel strong enough for the route. All I need now is a vast improvement in endurance and to carry on with the constant mental preparations in the background.

Another fine sunset, the last in the present series, as it happens.

Separate from the climbing, we are also finding out that filming this climb is very far from easy. Much thought remains on adjusting our logistics…somehow??

It was almost a relief to see the return of the long lost Scottish rain, not seen in about a month! I have a couple of days work now before me next opportunity to do battle. Today was time for sheltering from the rain at the natural umbrella of Sky Pilot, trying to extend Cubby’s famous V9 traverse Beatle Back. Many days on this type of terrain are what is required now.

Normal service is resumed – rain clouds sweep in across the Lochaber mountains (from Sky Pilot).

Monday 26 May 2008

Waiting for the body

Emulating the wisdom of Pusspuss. That cat knows how to do rest days.

You could see in my last post I was attempting to make myself feel a little less beaten with a bit of positive talk. Thanks for your comments on the post. It’s hard to explain, but feeling really beaten and slapped by a project is actually a great and essential thing to happen. It’s a strange feeling to be depressed from retrograde progress on the route, but pleased about this happening, all at the same time.

I guess the best way to describe it is to think of it as taking one step back to make two forward. Psychologically, it’s the real, in your face symptoms and prospect of failure, fatigue and pain that are the strongest calls to action. They make you get up and fight back like nothing else. That’s the mental aspect – so everything is good there. After a rest day, the ‘fire’ is back. That sounds cheesy, but that’s the best way to describe the return of a burning, impatient drive to run back up the mountain and rejoin the battle.

Physically, things are a bit different. I have to wait for my body to catch up. Because I am training properly for a single goal again, short term performance is removed from the priority list. Many climbers at a medium level fail to see off their ‘career best’ project because of this issue. Climbers want to their bodies to perform at their personal best level, every session, all year long. At an amateur level this is fine, but when the demands get heavier, some short term sacrifices have to be made.

To make real progress in physical training, you have to really work yourself. If you have been training long enough to handle it, this means daily work and feeling pretty wasted all the time. Feeling a little down in the dumps is totally normal during this time. When the time draws close to cash in on all this heavy work, we do something called ‘tapering’. Basically this means just going easy on yourself for a few weeks and allowing your body to fully recover and refuel from the effort. If you get all of this just right, the result is that you feel utterly bionic and destroy performance goals that were unimaginable before.

The really interesting stuff for me is to judge the intensity just right over the months of heavy work. Too little and it won’t be enough to do the route. Too much and I get injured. It’s a pretty fine line to walk and the messages from the body that inform you of which side you are veering on are not so easy to measure.

Tapering time for me begins whenever I can link Echo Wall on a toprope. If that happens some time this summer, things will get exciting. Until then, it’s time to go and put in some more hours at Sky Pilot.

Saturday 24 May 2008

introspection aloud

Today was my first day of feeling totally beaten by the Echo Wall project. I'm just not fit enough to deal with working it quickly. I keep telling myself all these days on the trot either on the route or training hard will be getting me in shape. But possibly it won't be enough. This thing is just not the same as something like Rhapsody - the climbing on that was quite tricky (at the time it was my limit) but it was right there - easy to sling a rope down in a few minutes and get climbing on it with nothing in the way. I've done the hard mountain routes like Birkett's and Dunne's too, but they were [relative to this] easy climbing - you just turn up, put in a day or two's work and crush it. This is different - the mix of 8c or harder climbing, the prospect of a groundfall on the lead, and the logistical challenge of climbing this so high on the north face of the Ben. That is why it will be another level beyond any of the other routes. That is what I am after on the whole.

I'm finding that it's too much for me to train hard to be in rock climbing shape to climb Echo Wall, and walk into the Ben several days a week to work on the route. Right now my body feels pretty worn out. Perhaps after a rest day, it'll all feel different? I guess thats all part of the experience of climbing and training hard. I've had that before too, and I'm looking forward to having the pring return to my step after 36 hours rest.

That I need to remind myself of here is that running into this type of 'wall' is what I'm here for. If I was looking for a route to nail in a couple of days, I could go do some more E9s or repeat some more routes in the Lakes like I did before. But I've done those things - I'm in this to get really worked. So, when it happens I should react well.

Reacting well may involve sleeping... now... goodnight.

PS: for my rest day I'm working at the new Go Outdoors store in Coatbridge Glasgow (Sunday), coaching youngsters and chatting to folk about gear, climbing etc. Maybe see you there?

Some good calls, some bad...

My fitness is obviously not there yet. I found myself completely unable to get my body to take me up the Ben for the third day in a row beasting myself on Echo Wall. Getting out from under the duvet felt like a good E7/8 in fact. It was a good call anyway with the cold winds one would normally expect of a highland spring returning to the glens.
So I went to Sky Pilot to work on a mammoth traverse project. The moves were done - a good feeling to hang from crimps for several hours. Today we we set off to return there, but after five I got the hesitancy and sensed the chilly wind might be cold enough for redpoints on the Skeleton boulder's big traverse instead. So we turned on our heels and headed for that. It was bitter up there in a howling gael!
The traverse there gets steadily harder all the way until some real gut busting tensiony moves on perfect crimpers bring it to a breathtaking culmination. I say breathtaking since I seemed to be unable to breathe for the last two moves (and the foot moves between them). There was so much tension, both physically to will my foot onto a distant foot move, and mentally, soo see if I could manage it - I could only hold my breath. Until, that is, I fell off in a heap and released all that tension in a big scream. People sometimes laugh at climbers who scream when they hit a move or fall off in climbing movies. When you see this one in our film, you will undoubtedly think it's ridiculous! But when you really concentrate hard and give a brutal, grinding physical effort on a climb, it's sometimes hard to make soft noises. The tension just has to come out, and sometimes it spills into your voice on it's way to be delivered at the muscles.
At the very last move I had a moment of intuition to change my sequence and use a different foot position, but stupidly I stuck to my usual way and fell off. Of course I pulled immediately back on to see if this new idea for the move that popped into my head worked - of course it did! A lesson learned. For now I have to wait until the next cold day before I can hang those razors again.
Tomorrow morning, the Allt a' Mhuillin pilgrimage begins again...

Wednesday 21 May 2008

All that way to drop my shunt in a crevasse

After todays pilgrimage to Echo Wall I was well psyched to climb on it properly after last nights freezing conds. It was still below freezing, but I spent another hour finishing off the snowpatch with the shovel to get warm enough to think about climbing. After abbing down and more or less completing the cleaning and searching for gear I got my rock shoes on and proceeded to drop my shunt. It bounced down the slabs below straight into a super deep crevasse in the snow slopes below. Game over.
I could still mess about on single moves on the gri gri, and I did make much progress with figuring out the gear on the route. But still a pretty damn frustrating day. Back again tomorrow after a visit to the climbing shop...

Tuesday 20 May 2008

All that way for 20 minutes...

I'm getting into a good rhythm on Echo Wall now. Today we got a late start after work but got up to the route by 4pm. It was well baltic - around freezing but the wind was bitter. Not a day for sitting still. I knew I only had one burn before my fingers (still suffering from a dose of frostnip) would be frozen. Now with the whole route finally dry I could work on the upper crux (the bit you cannot fall from on the lead) and the rather more chilled but still very poorly protected stuff above. The good news was this part felt much more doable that it did in summer 06. I came back up and was waaay to cold to move the rope and head back down for a shot on the lower crux. Logistics logistics logistics are running through my head - there is so much to think about to plan for a lead of this climb - how to work it, how to get the gear to work, which belayer should run. How can I find two people to belay me for the most serious route I've ever seen? I think I'll need to start off with two ropes, drop one after 50 metres, and the other after 60 and solo the last ten metres of the pitch. But the bigger problem (as I hinted at in Committed) is still maintainence of fitness. Today's cold only allowed 20 minutes of climbing. So now it's after midnight but I have to make up my daily volume of climbing on the fingerboard. I'm not totally sure there is another way around this. I'm glad I've been doing so many long and physical days though - it's really reminded me how much the body can respond to deal with whatever you ask of it. I feel good. So, after another cup of tea, I'll do my hangs, get some sleep and head back into the north face in the morning. Thank god for ipod is all I can say. Otherwise I think all this walking into the same coire would send me over the edge.

Claire has been amazing over the last couple of days. As you can imagine, after 15 years of visiting it, the north face of Ben Nevis and the approach to my project (climbing most of Tower Ridge) doesn't seem quite so big as it did when I was 16. But if you've never done much mountaineering, chain days following a psyched man up the ridge, jumping about ledges with a camera all day, then abseiling into the void for a long slide down the snow slopes below would be more than many a tough guy/girl would deal with. She seems to be dealing extremely well with the near vertical learning curve of big mountain fitness/soloing head/rope logisitcs/shooting film. Inspiring stuff.

Elsewhere on the internet I read that Sonnie Trotter came close to repeating my climb Rhapsody tonight. I hope the fall was not too nasty. I'm sure it'll go down shortly. I wish him good friction for his impending send - gaun yersel!

Monday 19 May 2008

Mountain Equipment Pro Team Ts are here

Our stock of Mountain Equipment Pro Team Ts finally arrived this morning, so they are available right now from the shop. Thanks to everyone that pre-ordered – yours are in the first class post.

Let the forecast decide

With the freezing levels dropped back down to around the same elevation as my project on the Ben, I’ve taken a couple of days out and just gone out climbing in the Glen after work. It’s been a tricky call – the secret to getting stuff done in Scotland is to do whatever the current conditions dictate. And when I say dictate – I mean it really does dictate what you do! If you try to work against the Scottish climate, it can turn into one of the most frustrating and futile exercises you can imagine. I meet a lot of people who visit Scotland to climb and have a frustrating time. 99% of the time it’s because they have a single objective, that turns out to be not in sync with whatever the Scottish weather gods have dished out at the time. Hint: When visiting Scotland to climb, start with the forecast, and then look in the guidebook, not the other way round.

Climbing as much as I do in Scotland then creates a funny situation. Basically It demands a daily routine of forecast checking, for which I receive a frequent ribbing from my (non-climbing) friends and family. At least with the climbers I know it’s different (instead they ask me what the forecast was and where would be the best spot for today’s climbing).

Yesterday I checked in at the Skeleton boulder and sussed the beta for the big traverse. It might be a V11 or 12 if the winds of send get going and give a really cold day. After came down at 8.30pm, I wondered if it might be a good time to go home for my tea. But the training plan for Echo Wall involves spending super long days out. My default approach has got to be to just go for it at any opportunity right now. No holding back – the more work for the body, the better. So I trekked up to another buttress and spent some more hours cleaning a lovely route until darkness and the thought of the chicken in my fridge were too much.

Today I headed for Sky Pilot and checked out another monster traverse project. I started off thinking I’d made a good call with numb fingers. But later, things got warm and the dreaded midge sent me packing for the first time this season. It’s so easy to forget how fierce they are after a long spring of their absence. So the conds have dictated that the Nevis daily pilgrimage starts again in the morning. Some snow showers are forecast. But if so, the spade is still up there!

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Today's psyche level

The extreme snow throwing training paid off – today, the bottom third of Echo Wall was dry enough to abseil down and begin actually climbing!!! In my 2006 sessions I was unable to down-aid through the initial twelve metres of 45 degree overhanging wall. With some acrobatics and more sussed ropework I managed it tonight and for the first time I have a sense of what the whole climb is. The 45 wall looks about 8a+ up to the roof below the crux section. The climbing looks exquisite and there is some gear too. I cannot wait to get working on those holds now they are getting cleaned up. It was a real eye opener to get back on the crux though. In 2006 it felt utterly sick and seemed significantly harder than Rhapsody (my best effort at the time). I figured It would be realistic if I could come back climbing 9a. Hey presto – it felt realistic!

I could do the moves quickly. YEEEEESSSSS! One thing I forgot was how amazing the rock is. It’s quite simply the best piece of rock I’ve ever touched.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to get into the flow of working on these moves over the next few months. I feel that I have got to the basic level of fitness required to begin working on this route now. The approach is taking less effort, I am dealing better with the daily routine of expending a lot of energy, and I am in the flow of the logistics of managing the work.

But now it’s time for a short break. Tomorrow I go to Argyll with Claire to watch my friend get married.
Last light this evening in Coire Leis.

Again and again...and...

I have spent the last four days straight shovelling snow from the top of my project, as hard as I could until wastedness strikes. I've eaten more than 5000 calories every day and fallen asleep instantly as soon as the light went out (the most unusual aspect for an innsomniac such as myself). This morning I simply couldn't face the fingerboard before walking up again. So I just stuck Andrew Marr on the ipod and got walking again, off in a world of thought until time to dance up Tower Ridge again (can you believe I know every move and it's only May!).

This excercise has been really good for three reasons. First, it's been a brutal wake up call what it's like to properly work your body hard intsead of pissing about like I was before. Second, its taught me the lesson about Nevis new routing once again; estimate how frustrating trying a Nevis project could be. Double it, add a bit more, and you might be getting close. Finally, its reminded me again that it's worth just doing what you need to do to get shit done. If it takes five days to clear the snow just to start climbing, then clear it. It's worth it (see next post).

When it comes down to it, getting stuff done is often about getting out and getting amonst it, again and again...

And again

And again

Until it's time for a cup of tea.

Monday 12 May 2008

crags beware- psyched man let loose on four wheels

blogging from my phone sms so must be brief. Today was a good day, got up, passed my driving test (first time). Then carried more load up the ben and put in another five hours with the spade on the snowpatch of truth. I think after tomorrows session the battle may be mine and I can quit labouring and start climbing on this thing. Today I had my digging method much more sussed, cutting nice igloo blocks and lobbing them fiercely into the void along with the other impressive bits of ice and rock hurtling down from melting ice routes every few minutes. I bet I'm gonna be in pain in the morning but the fingerboard should wake me up for another jog up tower ridge. Dig for victory, n' aw that.

Sunday 11 May 2008

Roll on Sunshine!

The best spring in Scotland in my lifetime rolls on. Every day, the sun keeps shining - what has happened to normal Scotland??? The only problem is, a badass massive snowpatch is still going strong soaking my project. Yesterday I got up trained and then beasted up the Ben again with a shovel and spent the rest of the day digging snow until I could lift my arms no more. I reckon I shifted a good few tonnes, but I laughed at the pitiful dent I had made in it by 9pm! I reckon I got about a tenth of it shifted. The things you have to do...

Friday 9 May 2008

The punishment begins

Michael Tweedley climbing Rocklord E7 6b, Yosemite Wall, Glen Coe. Photo: Claire MacLeod

Well, when I say ‘the punishment begins’ it’s all relative. It has been the most gorgeous week in the Scottish mountains, but legs and arms are in pain today. As soon as I saw the forecast I knew it was time to make an early start on the Ben season. A tad to early perhaps…

I bounced up the Ben path and Tower Ridge to get to my project, super excited at the thought of getting to grips with it again after so much time thinking about it.

The Echo Wall project, still a bit wintery right now despite the warm sunshine! Note Smith’s Route and Indicator Wall still hanging in there to the bitter end.

Sadly, it was not to be – a long bank of snow is still melting slowly straight over the top of the wall. It looks like it will be there for some weeks to come, although there are options (more later) to accelerate things.

Instead we looked at some other new lines to come back to (also being melted onto at present) and generally tired ourselves out carrying big loads all over the mountain.

Claire on the Nevis plateau

For an easy day the following day, Michael and I went to check out Yosemite Wall in Glen Coe – a Malham like overhanging wall of overlapping undercuts, except nae bolts here!

Michael cleaned up Cubby’s route Rocklord E7 6b while I inspected a serious looking new line through a big roof. The crux looked like a rather amusing large dyno blindly around the roof to a very distant edge, followed by some more nastiness on the headwall.

Michael cleaning untouched rock, Ben Nevis

A return raid was deemed necessary and the next morning we both dispatched. Michael reckoned it was the scariest lead he’d held my ropes on. Maybe I should do more training? Claire didn’t seem so phased by filming my jumping around without any useful runners. But perhaps the consecutive days on the Ben and the Coe were a bigger deal. Sublime E8 6c was a lovely way to spend time waiting for snow to melt…or preferably vaporise.

Go away!!!! Large bank of snow I wish would melt faster...

Sunday 4 May 2008

Mountain Equipment Pro Team Tshirts finally available

Some of you may have noticed that I quite often wear a Mountain Equipment red T-shirt? No, really Dave?

I know this because I’ve had loads of emails from folk asking where you can buy them! ME have been giving them out to their sponsored athletes for years, but never made a commercially available version.

Well, now they have. I asked ME if they would make a production run for me to make available from my webshop, and they agreed! So now you can get hold of what has got to be one of the more accomplished climbing T-shirts around, having done E11, 9a, V13 and soloed 8c.

It’s available exclusively from my webshop for £15 and my standard £1.50 postage wherever you are in the world. We’ve gone for it’s most famous colour; red, and made it from organic cotton in male and female size ranges.

Thanks to everyone who got in touch to ask about these over the years.

Friday 2 May 2008

Fort William bouldering wall opening

The team - Scott Muir, climbing wall builder. Alan Kimber, climbing wall owner. And the route setter...
Steven shows the rest how it is done.
Last night we enjoyed a gathering of climbing types at Fort William's new bouldering wall for its opening party. Claire took a pile of shots which are up on her blog here. But I got a couple too...