Monday 30 June 2008

Dosage V on the way, new E11 edition...

The fifth in the famous annual DVD series Dosage V is on the way – due out in the UK sometime in July. We’ve ordered our stock of the new film from Big Up. It’s in the shop now and we’re taking pre-orders ready to dispatch as soon as we get hold of it! It looks as good as ever this year with footage of Chris Sharma on his 9as and 9a+s in Spain, Beth Rodden on The Meltdown 14c trad and of course the lastest round of world class bouldering and sport climbing from around the earth. Remember folks it’s the only place you’ll get it on the web with a free ebook (how to climb hard trad).

Also new in the shop is the new edition of the E11 DVD. The special edition has extra sections including the E11 movie with my commentary, thoughts on Rhapsody two years on and Sonnie Trotter’s 2007 attempts on the route. We’ve only got it in PAL format so all orders from PAL countries will get the new edition.

It’s been great to see how popular our Mountain Equipment T-shirts have been, you’ve just sold us out of male medium sizes (again!). But we still have all the other male and female sizes and a fresh batch, this time including black Ts are due in a couple of weeks.

Sunday 29 June 2008

The forecast for July

The forecast for July, more or less. Can you guess which bit of the UK Ben Nevis resides in?

The azores high just isn’t shifting for now…

More bad weather woes have meant more days under the umbrella of Sky Pilot and the uber traverse. My highpoint (sic – really sideways point) advanced two moves, one of them being the first crux. Another move of progress could be the edge of success on it? I’m quite excited to finish it now as a cool trip in it’s own right – def. V13/F8c+ I reckon.

Good times for work too – preparation of material for my lectures in Wyoming and Squamish in a couple of weeks. As usual there is much other stuff to be done too and the Scottish summer can be a good time for making progress – writing new articles on Scottish climbing, climbing injuries etc, setting up our film production enterprise, working on other longer term writing tasks and more development of Velvet Antlers. Claire is editing a short film about the little route I soloed in Spain back in March. It’s cool to see that taking shape.

I also needed to put some work into my flexibility, which I lost a fair bit of after many days running up and down the Ben in May.

All the time one eye on the forecast, waiting for some good news.

Wednesday 25 June 2008

'Summer' time is ticking...

I know it’s still June, but I am seriously getting the fear about the way summer is advancing. It’s something I’m not very good at dealing with - an uneasy feeling of time slipping by with seemingly not much happening.

Autumn is firmly in charge in Lochaber right now. It’s getting close to a month since I’ve even been able to get on Echo Wall. I figured when the bad weather hit that a couple of weeks of time away to train was no bad thing, but now things are getting complicated. With no decent weather on the forecast horizon and less than two weeks before I have to leave for the US for work. It’s looking like the final week in July will be my next opportunity to even get a session on the project. Thats not good.

That leaves five weeks through August to get enough good weather to keep working on the route and have attempts on the lead. The likelihood of it happening was slim to start with, but realistically I think I might have had it. Maybe I just have to accept that it’s not possible to project a route thats so near my physical limit in a place like the Ben. My original estimation was that I could see it off in a season if I was climbing 9a and soloing 8c. Perhaps that was wrong. 

I’ve had about 8 days climbing on the route and done it in overlapping halves (but without placing the gear which adds a fair bit). So nowhere near close basically. Bummer.

Plus points are that my fitness is getting to be not bad, I get closer yet to the monster traverse. Another traverse over at the Skeleton boulder went down the night too. About 8a I think? This time it went first try despite making loads of mistakes. A good buzz.It was really good to complete something, especially after getting sooo close last time

What can I do? Just keep training and hoping for the forecasts to be wrong. Last night I couldn’t even have proper redpoints on the monster traverse at Sky Pilot because my fingers were numb! Sottish weather - arrgghh!!!!

What else do I have up my sleeve? I won’t be able to get much fitter, stronger or more psyched, but one thing that is not good right now is that I am a heady 2kg above my fighting weight. To have the form I do with such a heavy ass is really encouraging. In the month since I have been back to hanging on overhangs every day rather than pounding up the Ben a kg has disappeared already. More work in this area might swing things a little in my direction when I do get my next chance to do battle.

By night I have been learning the world of post production video editing. Video formats are a barrel of laughs I must say. This has given some very late nights and frustration, but excitement too as Claire and I are pleased with the footage we have so far for our film.

Tuesday 17 June 2008

Endurance training youtube

Here is a clip from yesterday's training session. Another 30 moves to add onto the start yet to make a monster link - work in progress!

Monday 16 June 2008

Work hard

Blair spies the foot sequence at Sky Pilot last week

Last week I found it hard not to get impatient with the poor weather – too cold or wet for Echo Wall sessions and trying to remind myself that a couple of weeks of hard endurance training is exactly what the doctor ordered anyway.

Nice rainbow from my window, but when will those clouds clear off the Ben again??

I’ve sussed out the sequence for the mammoth 30 metre traverse of Sky Pilot and feeling close to doing it in overlapping halves right now. It could hardly be more perfect endurance training for the big one – steep, powerful and totally sustained for 60 moves to a kneebar rest (I need to train knee endurance in the same knee for the kneebar on Echo wall too!) and then another 20 or so the end. The big link will probably be F8c+ or V13ish.

But some aches and pains coming from a tricep tendon have called for two much needed days off. I’ll be back up for there in the morning to get to work again after some TLC for my tricep in the gym and sauna. By night I have been working on this website to add more of the content I am frequently asked for in the articles pages. Right now I’m writing on everything to elbows to how to find good climbing in Scotland when it’s raining or when the mighty midge reigns proud. I should have all of this ready this week.

Dave Brown told me Steve McClure returned to complete the second repeat of Rhapsody at Dumbarton Rock today. Great to see the place getting some attention from the world’s best! I’m glad to see that Steve, like Sonnie, managed to avoid taking the bad fall (from the last couple of moves), only taking their falls from lower down which is more of a ‘bungy jump’ than wall slammer. I don’t like to dwell too much on routes from the past, but it has been a pleasure to watch two of my climbing heroes travel to and climb a route that I made. That’s cool.

Tuesday 10 June 2008

Great news!

Last night Sonnie Trotter managed to climb Rhapsody at Dumbarton Rock. If you have been following his trip in Scotland you’ll see that the route held out Sonnie’s siege through 23 falls, 2 changed flights and many weeks of effort. But I knew as long as he was still here trying it, it would go down.

This is the difference between good athletes and world class athletes. Good athletes have talent, maybe training too and do impressive things. But when it comes to the big one – whatever it may be, they either quietly fold in the face of the obstacles, or keep on going right through them.

It’s obvious if you read Sonnie’s blog that he could go anywhere and repeat this performance on some other totally different hard route. It’s nothing to do with whether he did enough campusing, or whether a route suits his build or other such details. It’s because he was inspired to give himself a good challenge and because he can make himself fight harder than an armoured tank.

Not many people can do that. Good effort!

Saturday 7 June 2008

Riding the rollercoaster

Some company watching the action on Echo Wall today.

The project is still giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Today I failed again to link the lower overhang up to the roof. Three tries and my fingertips were through. One up for echo wall. But my homemade kneebarring pad worked a treat! One up Dave. The rest of the points were from Echo Wall. The crux felt nails today, I got the big link from the roof again but only on my last go. Also I bodyweight tested a runner placement I found below the final crux – the rock broke and the runner is no more. Damn shame! That top crux is scaring me now. A nut with 0% chance of holding and a poor skyhook are your only chance of survival in a fall from here. Fitness seems to be getting me through this move more often, but I’m not accounting for how different it’s going to feel on the lead there. I can’t deal with that thought yet (shiver runs down spine…).

The forecast looks dire for Echo Wall this week; cold and windy, so it’s a good week for more endurance training. A good week for ticking low lying routes ; )

Friday 6 June 2008

How clear, how lovely bright

To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
I never kept before.

From How clear, how lovely bright. Housman.

Nice Feeling

Normally I get accustomed to actually getting to the top of climbs from time to time. It doesn’t matter very much at all to me, but as a slightly shallow but nonetheless pleasant feeling of completion and satisfaction, it’s a nice feeling to have. When training hard, like now, I get to the top of nothing. All climbs become ‘links’ or ‘sets’, subordinate to the big goal that really matters. And all days on the real project consist of getting slapped over and over again. Most of the time I try to train for hard projects by trying hard projects. It’s not always possible to access the ‘ultimate’ project every day, but it really helps if your training sessions are on real projects at closeby crags and they really matter too.

One of these I have tried for a couple of sessions is an extension to Cubby’s Beatle Back traverse (V9) at Sky Pilot. You might remember this problem if you saw the film ‘Stick It’ with footage of Cubby looking his usual graceful self on the crux, with just a brief moment at the end to see he is human after all with some shaking and a fall from the final move. The exit problem is about V4ish in it’s own right. But to it’s right I did a new problem years ago called Burning the Candle (V8ish). The obvious challenge (and handy endurance circuit for Echo Wall) was to extend Beatle Back into this little number.

Tonight, in excellent conditions, it went first try with some strength to spare. It was a very strong confidence booster, and a real spur on to keep working hard on my endurance in the coming few weeks. I am starting to get excited. In the morning, it’s Echo Wall time again.

It’s really worth knowing about Sky Pilot if you visit Glen Nevis – you can boulder there in the pouring rain and it often catches a midge defeating breeze when it’s midge death everywhere else in the Glen. The topo is in John’s bouldering guide to Scotland.

Flying visits all round

Dumbarton Rock this evening

Following on from my thinking in my last blog post, I decided to take a day to go back south and visit my parents. The old boy racer was still blowing up his pipes at 83, a fine sight! After wrestling with my mums overgrown hedges for an afternoon with much carnage with the trimmers I decided to stop off at Dumbarton Rock on the way home for a stint on my old black wall circuits for the daily pump.

Norman MacLeod terrorises the neighbours again

What a strange experience it was being back again. I was hoping I might catch up with the Canadians Sonnie Trotter (almost at the end of his month there working on my climb Rhapsody) and Cory. But as it was pouring with rain and thunder clouds rumbled, there was noone there but me. That was kind of nice in a way because it was exactly the same as when I lived there and hung out among the boulders in the morning, really late in the evening, or in the depth of winter when folks headed for the warmth of the climbing wall.

I’d deliberately forgotten the sequences for my old endurance circuits on the everdry wall, so I didn’t try to rescue them from my memory – my body remembered them instinctively and I just climbed. That was nice, it must be like that often for people who are naturally good at climbing. What a thought. It was also nice to feel the reference against old markers of fitness. I have improved. The improvement is down to lots of things to do with my training, but cannot be completely attributed to this. The other part is due to the flatter smoother walls of Lochaber rock and less opportunity to apply technique. After many years studying in the movement technique laboratory of the Dumbarton walls, I felt this is what my climbing needed to move to the next level. At Dumbarton, the routes do not tend to yield to raw power, even in some abundance. But they do yield (after serious application) to devious, subtle and high quality movement technique.

After this apprenticeship of 13 years, I can find as good a sequence as any man on a climb, but I’m still ‘weak as’. The rather more ‘basic’ and powerful moves I’ve been doing since then, on limestone and on the slaty flat walls of Glen Nevis have made a marked difference to my strength level. Happy days. So I have good energy to return to my project with.

I hope Sonnie and Cory have a good final day in Scotland. It’s been great to see them over here again enjoying the basalt. People get a little too hung up about the fact that Dumbarton is not visually representative of what Scotland has to offer. Sure, it’s setting is not the finest in a country of beauty. But they forget that the beauty of the place is in the moves on the basalt, it’s not a visual thing.

Talking of which, I read that folk have been disappointed that Rhapsody has an escape line at a couple of points. I was disappointed with this also when I was working on it, but hey sometimes you can’t have everything. It’s got good moves, good rock, good difficulty and good situation even if the line is not 100% perfect. What it really is, is a wee gem for locals with nice moves. It’s not important anyway – if it appeals to the climber, they will climb it or otherwise…

I guess my hope is that if people end up climbing the other lines, they see that they are different routes, not the climb I made; Rhapsody. The redpoint crux on my route is the last move. It’s possible even at the very end to traverse off to the left arête and avoid this. What a shame! I decided to climb the crack all the way to the end which for me was logical, and the most difficult option on the wall. But at least Rhapsody’s documentation in the film E11 makes it obvious where the route goes and that the very last moves are what provides the difficulty in ultimately getting to the top on the lead.

Falling from the redpoint crux of Rhapsody (going for the top of the crag). Unfortunately it’s possible to use the chalked holds to traverse left towards the photographer and some good holds on an arête. But where would be the fun in that!?

Monday 2 June 2008

Squashing the Ben?

As you can see from all these recent blog posts, spending time on Ben Nevis is quite a sublime experience with many a visual delight to be had most days. Here are some shots from today’s session on Echo Wall. You’ll notice they are all quite bonny apart from one. Yes I was feeling a bit knackered after my stint on the route.
I feel that I have worked pretty hard to earn these days on the mountain over the past couple of years. Many a long day and night in front of the screen or travelling the country earned this summer of less work. But I still can’t help feeling a touch of guilt at so much enjoyment! Sitting on Tower Ridge on the way down, just listening to the silence and taking in the play of the light on the mountains reminded me of times when I started climbing, when I did things like that all the time and never felt a rush to get back for work. I feel that I should sit still more often, not for long, just a minute or two. But for sure it can make your day if you take the time just to sit, and to look.

The irony here is that despite my resolve to stop work altogether for the summer to concentrate on this project, I still have been getting a lot done. Maybe 30 or 35 hours a week which is about half my normal work hours. Perhaps I should have done a little less over the past two years and felt a lot more focused and less tired? Who knows, but maybe I can learn from this not to go overboard. I do find it incredibly difficult to let my inbox explode though. I will struggle on with this no doubt.

I felt great today after two days rest – fit and strong. A wonderful feeling! And of course it showed in my efforts on the project. I did a good link though the crux twice in a row, as well as several improvements to my sequence. For sure there are more improvements to the sequence to be had yet. So more days of working myself hard are needed. But soonish (good weather and more progress taken for granted!) it will be time to move to a short phase of more intense endurance training away from the route. I will start making the shift tomorrow and Wednesday with some circuits at Sky Pilot or the climbing wall depending on the midge forecast.

Stage one of preparation is definitely over though. I could call this phase ‘squashing Ben Nevis’. Basically I needed to make the mountain feel small by raising my level of general fitness high enough so that just being up there day after day trying a big, hard, high route was no issue. Today I could skip about no bother and feel like I could do the same every day with several hours working moves on the project. Now I can get to grips with the next stage – a bottom to top link of the moves. Psyched.

Sunday 1 June 2008

Highland Life

Some rain whispers across the mountains of Ardgour. Taken from the Nevis Plateau.

Living in the highlands is proving a most interesting experience, with the differences to life in the city more pronounced than either of us really expected. One of the most interesting aspects is that people much less often have a single working occupation. It seems that there is much interesting work to be had, appearing seemingly out of nowhere and offering opportunities that would be extremely hard to come by elsewhere. This situation fits perfectly with an outdoor sporting regime. Also, it allows you to sample lots of different types of work. If you liked any one more than the others, you could just do that. But more often than not, it’s the actual variety itself that provides the appeal.

Looking down Loch Linnhe from Ben Nevis

I took two days out of my normal occupational spectrum to do some labouring work. But rather interesting labouring work (more on that later). Some friends needed to mix a lot of concrete in a short time, and figured I may be useful. It ended up being three days because Claire ended up double booked as a camera woman and I stood in yesterday for one of the jobs, filming the Ten Under the Ben mountain bike endurance race. While I filmed 900 riders belting around the Lochaber forests under the fierce sunshine, Claire was filming a wheelchair race up Ben Nevis for ITV.

I still tried to go climbing after my labouring shift on Friday, but on arrival at Echo Wall at tea time I judged myself to be too wasted to climb. Instead I went for a vertical wander elsewhere on the mountain and spotted an amazing winter project I am now utterly inspired by. It would also be a 4 star route in summer and maybe E7 or E8. But I decided to leave it alone and try it onsight in winter first.

Coming down that evening I could really feel energy levels were very spent. So I’ve put some time into eating a lot to get back to a point where I can touch a small hold and want to pull on it, rather than groan at the thought of pulling on it!

Winter ice gradually receding to reveal the Lochan in Coire na Ciste.