Wednesday 22 October 2008

Awards for Echo Wall!

The premiere of Echo Wall passed in a blur for Claire and I on Sunday, with our first ever film picking up two awards, for Best Climbing Film and Best Film at the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival. It was very overwhelming to sit with 500 of you and watch the film we've worked night and day on flat out since the end of July.

Our feet still haven't touched the ground as I left Glasgow early the next morning for lectures in England and Claire has been busy sending out all our pre-orders of the DVD from Fort William. Thanks to everyone who ordered their copy in advance - I hope you enjoy the film!

If you would like to order a copy, you can get one here. Maybe I'll catch some of you in Preston on Friday night, Cotswolds at 7.

Friday 17 October 2008

Many new articles on my site!

I have been a busy man. I’ve had a list of articles I wanted to write for this site for absolutely ages, but the great black hole of Echo Wall (the climb, then the film) blocked out everything else for so long. But I’ve been furiously preparing the articles all this week and uploaded them. They cover quite a range of subjects.

How to be a sponsored climber

How to get good at climbing, in one email

Prevention and management of split tips

Prevention and treatment of elbow injuries for climbers

Updated supporting article on cold treatment for finger injuries answering all your questions on it after my videocast.

Scottish climbing 101 – how to beat the rain and midges on a Scottish climbing trip

A list of the perma-dry crags in Scotland so you can keep climbing on those rare days when the sun doesn’t shine here.

Some suggestions for crag itineraries for those of you how haven’t visited Scotland before and want to know the best spot to take in.

A text, image and video topo of the newly developed (and rather good) Skeleton boulders in Glen Nevis, with seven youtubes to whet the appetite.

And that’s just my site…

I’ve also just built the website for our production company Rare Breed Productions, that we started for making films and other creative things. It has the full credits for Echo Wall including all the places to get hold of some of the tracks from the soundtrack, which I’ve already been getting asked about a lot.

Finally, I’ve just added the new Onsight DVD just out today to the shop. Many of you were emailing to ask if I’d be selling it because you were keen to get it along with my e-book How to Climb Hard Trad which I’m still giving away with all DVD and book orders.

Phew! Between Echo Wall, this lot and a pile of other stuff, I’ve been spending some quite silly hours in front of the screen since July. But tomorrow is my last day in front of a computer screen for 6 weeks! Yeehaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Maybe I’ll catch some of you at EMFF or my lectures in Harrogate, Manchester and Preston next week. And I should have some copies of the Echo Wall DVD too. Exciting stuff, but it’s fair to say I’ll be a tad jumpy until the delivery man comes with the DVDs.

Enjoy the articles…

Thursday 16 October 2008

Relax, while you can

Resting in between circuits at Fort William bouldering wall tonight

Training is going reasonably well right now although I’ve had to skip a day again because of work. Now I’m feeling better and stronger in my sessions when I’m climbing every day than if I take more rest days. Five years ago doing these kinds of sessions every day would have floored me.

Another small advance in PB on the campus board tonight. The body is responding in the right direction, and a climbing trip is looming in the future. It’s great to be excited about completely new projects again.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Echo Wall DVD - the full route list

A lot of folk have been asking us which other routes are on the Echo Wall DVD. Here is the full list:


Bear Trap Prow V12
Frontal System V12
Saturn Crack V9
Big Long Now V13

All these problems are in Glen Nevis

Winter mixed

Don’t Die of Ignorance XI,11 Ben Nevis


Echo Wall
Sublime E8 6c, Glen Coe
Jahu E6 6a (solo), Glen Nevis
Sweet Little Mystery E4 6a (Kev Shields soloing), Glen Nevis

Sport climbing

Darwin Dixit 8c (solo)
Los Ultimo Hippies 8c
Alzheimer Bros 8b+
Malapel 8b
Sativa Patatica 8a flash

All of those are in Margalef, Spain

We’ve also been getting asked about wholesale of the Echo Wall DVD for those of you that run your own shops. For wholesale copies, just get in touch and we’ll give you the lowdown.

Monday 13 October 2008

Echo Wall premiere is nearly sold out

The Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival have just reported that Alien Rock have about 20 tickets left, with a few more at Tiso for the sunday night session which includes the premiere of Echo Wall. Better get on that phone. If you miss out, we are sending out the pre-ordered DVDs right after the premiere. You can get your order in here.

Should be a good night, see y'all there.

New V12 at Sky Pilot

After a day’s rest I felt really strong, but pretty spaced out from the usual late night working and not really chilling out. I headed up the glen at 3pm after work and knew I might have a chance on a straight up project at Sky Pilot I’ve tried a few times in the past. All I needed to do was wake up!

I sat about in the car for a bit and listened to the radio, and then walked in, stumbling about on the wet rocks and feeling decidedly un-athletic. My warm-up was no different, although I could certainly feel the strength in the background from the past few weeks intense training.

After a 90 minute (!) warm-up I finally felt myself and moved onto the project. After a couple of chilled out starting moves you have a hard match in a very slopey break with a toe-hook. If you can get your left hand seated just right on a nasty little pinch in the break, you are ready for an amazing deadpoint to a perfect finger sloper on the lip of Sky Pilot’s 45 degree overhanging wall.

I’d done the move last session and was revelling in the anticipation of catching this highly satisfying move on the link. 15 tries later I must have spent a total of ten seconds hanging the sloper but every time dropping off on the swing back. A rainstorm signalled hometime and with everything packed up and leaving the crag I spotted some evening glow at the end of the shower. Better just hang around.

Sure enough, a stunning evening glow on the glen's orange and yellow autumn hues, was enough to dry the sloper and allow another five tries. I counted them down, muscles getting tired and skin wearing off. Last try – breath in, relax, it doesn’t matter any more, you’re not going to do it today.

Then I hit every hold perfectly and hung the sloper with a smile on my face before my feet even swung back. Another brilliant line in the glen, V12 this time I reckon. I’ll try and get some pics or video of it to show it off next time I’m up there with some company

It had to go...

Sometimes you need to make sacrifices, to meet your goals in life. This means some hard choices. But you know deep down when it’s the right thing to do.

Hard training

In between the work preparing to release the Echo Wall film, I have been training, hard. With the Lochaber monsoon in full swing, this has been entirely indoors at Fort William bouldering wall, and occasional trips to The Ice Factor's, brilliant bouldering wall.

My body has been responding well to daily campus boarding, and I did briefly break a couple of strength PBs on crimps. I have some superb circuits on the go at both walls also and I’ve bee really happy with my gains in endurance too. I seem to be able to manage more training volume than in past years. Happy days! The feeling of impending fitness stored up ready for unleashing on the rock is one of the most exciting in climbing. More work days are on the immediate horizon, but after that, a climbing trip. It’ll be my first climbing trip since a week in Spain back in April. I can’t wait.

One of the best things about training at Lochaber’s climbing walls is a pretty focused environment for training. No distractions, just the training, thankyou. Ice factor sessions are usually done with a group of like minded train-a-holics. Sessions at Fort William right now are often done late and therefore alone, with just my iPod for encouragement. I like it this way. It’s not entirely the focused solitude that encourages me to train late. I just feel better late in the evening and recovered from the previous day’s training. With slightly more time available since we finished editing the film, we have also been eating well too, which is a real delight. Today’s recipe of kings is Claire’s Lentil and Ham soup, (the formula is over on Claire’s blog here).

Another project at Sky Pilot is in danger if tonight’s rain isn’t too heavy.

Friday 10 October 2008

Echo Wall review - Stone Country

Stone Country Press have reviewed the Echo Wall DVD here

We have just heard from our manufacturers that the DVDs should still be with us in time for the Premiere at EMFF on Sunday 19th. I hear from EMFF that the majority of the tickets for the premiere night have sold, so if you want to be there, get a ticket asap. If you can't make it to that we'll be posting out all our pre-orders as soon as the DVDs arrive.

Echo Wall falling rocks clip

Here is another wee clip of soloing about on some right choss to get back to the top of Echo Wall and dislodging a couple of hefty rocks. Ouch!

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Jimmy Marshall interview

As part of our film about Echo Wall we really hoped to get an interview with the ice climbing legend Jimmy Marshall, who was perhaps the finest ice climber ever in the step cutting generation which ended during the late 1960's when people started using two ice axes and frontpoint crampons to climb ice. 

Jimmy is famously reluctant to give interviews so we were extremely lucky that he agreed to give us an hour of his time to share stories and thoughts on climbing on Ben Nevis. Some of these are in our Echo Wall film as well as an extended edit of the interview in the DVD extras. Here is a short teaser from that, where Jimmy describes a massive factor 2 fall while attempting a new winter route on the Ben in the 60's. Brilliant!

Monday 6 October 2008

Climb Magazine review Echo Wall

Neil Pearsons, editor of Climb Magazine has posted up the first review of the Echo Wall film on his site here.

“...Echo Wall on Ben Nevis is essential viewing for anyone interested not only in the physical and mental aspects of climbing a hard bold traditional route, but also how it has to dominate the climber’s life to become a reality.”

The full review is here.

Sunday 5 October 2008 new stuff

I have been adding some new stuff to my main site just now:

The trailer and full details about the Echo Wall film which is released October 19th.

Lecture dates this autumn – Harrogate Oct 20th, Manchester Oct 21st, Preston Oct 24th, Dundee Nov 28th, Shrewsbury Jan 6th, Fort William March 12th. I’ll be talking about Echo Wall and other climbs on Ben Nevis and elsewhere and showing some footage from the film. Full details on my lectures page.

New photos of Echo Wall in the Gallery.

And I’ve re-arranged my articles section to make the archives of my site and this blog more searchable as well as placing all my youtubes on one page.

Bigfoot project

Glacier polish? or a primeval footprint? You choose. Lovely rock on a V14 project, Glen Nevis, henceforth dubbed the 'Bigfoot project'.

The grade of Echo Wall

Shaking out before the final crux on Echo Wall (video still)

It’s been an interesting experiment, climbing the hardest route of my life but not giving it a grade. Contrary to what some people seem to be thinking, this was not to make any particular point, merely because I didn’t know what to grade it. That said, it always irritated me that the grades of my routes or repeats ended up at the centre of the discussion, rather that at the fringe where they belong. I have noticed people even referring to my climb Rhapsody as ‘E11’ as if that were it’s name rather than an insignificant and rather meaningless number attached to it.

Part of the reason writing this blog is useful is that I can answer question folk commonly ask and hopefully steer the chat back towards what’s important - the climbing - and away from grading (ha! he says, optimistically). Anyway, perhaps some more details will help folk get on with pigeon holing a beautiful climb into a ill fitting picture.

Right now, I still have no idea what to grade Echo Wall, so I’m not going to at the moment. Perhaps at some point I’ll have repeated some more routes given E grades in double figures and have a better idea. Grades evolve. With few references to go on, they are pretty shaky. Once there are more routes and more climber’s opinions on them, they become a bit more useful. Echo Wall is much harder than any trad route I’ve ever done or tried, thats all I know right now.

Quite apart from the line and the mountain, I was really inspired by making a route that had the combination of 8c or harder climbing, an uncompromising level of seriousness (which, if you need it spelled out, means you would die if you fell off it), and a remoteness of situation that would create a logistical challenge of actually working on the climb. Echo Wall was perfect in this respect. None of the Ben’s hardest routes to date have had high standard physical climbing. Why? Because it’s just not practical. It’s covered in snow, rain, mist, lichen or moss 99.9% of the time. Go to somewhere like the lakes and you’ll get nice weather, nice chilled approaches and pretty small and convenient crags. When I first began to think about trying Echo Wall, I figured I would be able to absorb this hurdle and that the climbing would be the main problem. The climbing challenge was be to be able to climb 9a at the same time as spending lots of time in the mountains to have a realistic chance of linking Echo Wall on a top rope. As it turned out, this was the easy bit!

My headache here is how should this be reflected in the grade? We have trad routes given big grades like E9 or E10 that are completely piss on a toprope (like 8a+ or easier) but their grades stand the test of repeats because of either seriousness or mountain situation (often stretched quite a bit!). I actually agree that proper mountain trad routes should have some recognition of their remoteness and awkwardness reflected in the grade. Echo Wall feels like 8c/+ on a top rope, with the real prospect of death from the redpoint crux, on a crag with more logisitcal issues than any other mountain crag in the UK.

Do you see my problem? I am uncomfortable with the feeling of grades advancing too quickly due to overgrading, but on the other hand feel that Echo Wall might well earn a laughable quanta of E points over anything else I’ve done, based on the way the E scale has been used traditionally over the past couple of decades. I just don’t know.

Grades will always be very shaky and mobile at the cutting edge, but it would be a shame for these grades to lose any credibility they did have just because the standard going through a period of rise. On the other hand, if you really believe a route is a certain grade, it’s important to just be straight up and make the proposal. James Pearson has just done this with a stunning looking new line in Devon. An inspired piece of work from one of the world’s top climbers in the trad and bouldering disciplines right now. And top effort for sticking his neck out and pinning the E12 grade to a climb for the first time.

So what is the solution to all this uncertainty? Like most hard truths, you knew it already - time and repeat ascents. It will take climbers to drag themselves to these corners of our isles and make the time to get these things repeated. Until then, comparison between them is a fools errand.

For that reason, Echo Wall is ungraded, for now. It doesn’t matter, because the interesting part is the story of the ascent, and I’ve not been nearly so cautious in making sure it can be heard!

Even more stats, if you are into number crunching:

Echo Wall took me longer to link on a top rope than A’ Muerte 9a, i.e. Many days, while in Spain I was able to consistently climb 8b+ and 8c in a day.

Echo Wall is 8a+ up to the roof at 12m, with the smallest BD micro cam for gear. This section is comparable with If Six Was Nine E9 in the Lakes. At the roof I could get about 40 seconds rest out of the kneebar.

After the roof is the technical crux. There are three bits of gear protecting this - a poor Camalot in a very shallow slot, a good wire but in a suspect tooth of rock and wire in dubious rock. It’s dubious because there used to be another wire placement right beside it which was the best of the lot, but the placement broke and fell off randomly in between my visits. Scary!

Right after the crux there is an RP3, quite good but blindly placed. Then a runout to a shakeout.

The shakeout isn’t so good, and afterwards there is final hard section and this is where I fell many times when trying to link it. There is an RP and very poor skyhook at the shakeout, but the placement is in a loose flake of rock so I’m pretty sure they would just pull right through if you fell here. You have to do the final boulder problem pumped, knowing if you fall you will die.

Winter is on the way

If you are into winter climbing, the sight of the first autumn snows on the mountains has strange effect on you. Partners, rock climbers, and other groups of sane people find it quite unfathomable why the sight of a few bits of white gets us so excited, but it just does.

Fresh snow in five finger gully, Ben Nevis

It’s a feeling that reminds you of when you first started climbing – everything is a possibility, who knows what the coming season will bring. But either way you know you are going to enjoy it. It was bitter in the glen right through the day and frosty again tonight.

Bring it on.

Thursday 2 October 2008

Echo Wall trailer

Here is a trailer for the Echo Wall film. We are expecting the DVD in late October (I hesitate to say an exact date!!) but if you would like to get your copy in, you can pre-order it from the shop now.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Plans for winter

Although my time recently has been so hectic with our work on the Echo Wall film, things have been more relaxed in my climbing, which makes a nice change really. Relaxed in some senses, but not in others you understand. I have been ruthlessly attacking Kimber’s campus board every night and mixing this with loads of bouldering and endurance training ready for the winter season of valley level rock climbing. I’ve not had enough time for any flexibility work which has been irritating me, but I will have soon.

Since doing Echo Wall I’ve gradually come to enjoy the feeling of not having any particular looming focus of a big project right now. It’s something I obviously had a lot in past years, but have been really focused on big hard redpointing routes over the past couple of years. This winter I’ll be bouldering a lot and onsighting much more too, mainly on mixed. People sometime ask me why I don’t do more onsighting, but I think they forget that I do all year long, just that it’s on winter mixed. I have three big winter lines at the top of my hitlist. One is just so laughable it’s ridiculous, but in a funny sort of way, I could see myself doing it. So the ice axes will be featuring in my training during December too.

My goal here is to do something of the order of Echo Wall, but in the discipline of winter climbing. I have the projects, I have the psyche and some availability of partners (the Shields is particularly psyched this season). So all that’s left is to get amongst it. Looks like some early dustings of winteriness are hitting the highlands over the next few days too. There is nothing like that anticipation if you are into winter climbing!

Kev Shields soloing Sweet Little Mystery E4 6a, Glen Nevis last week (the film of this is in the Echo Wall extras).