Monday 30 August 2010

The Great Climb success

We pulled off The Great Climb.
All 55 of us were just a little ecstatic last night and we partied in Glen Scaladale until we dropped. Every one of the usual suspects on the team of producers, outside broadcast production team, climbers, riggers, runners, presenters, medics, environmental consultants and many more were chosen for this project because they absolutely were THE person to rely on to come up with the goods when everything had to happen.
If you watched the program, you saw some of the problems we dealt with as climbers to get to the top - a painful ankle and wet rock. But you won’t have seen all the equally hard work, good judgement calls and quick thinking that made it all happen behind the camera. I’ve got to admit I felt a bit emotional when we got to the top. It was just so great that everyones hard graft, gambles and input paid off in style.

We’re over the moon that so many of you on here, Twitter (#thegreatclimb) and my Facebook said you enjoyed it. First up, some questions answered:
I think there was a blip for a while, but it’s available for download on iplayer until Sept 4th, right here. It’ll also be on DVD fairly shortly. And when it does, you’ll find it on my shop as soon as it’s out. The triple 5 trip (myself and Tim, 5 new routes, 5 islands, in 5 days) which would would have seen in case of disaster on the live day, will be coming to the BBC TV screens shortly and also DVD. I’ll keep you posted on this.
Tim climbed amazingly yesterday. He’s an amazing athlete in every way. Not only did he cruise pitch 1 and kept it together when things got ‘a bit spicy’ on pitch 3, but his lead of the soaking wet, slimy overhanging wall at the end was an exemplary display of climbing skill and mental composure.
For me it was a tough day. By the sounds of it, it showed on camera too. I took as much analgesic as I could, but my right foot hurt on nearly every move. Adrenaline provided 100% pain relief that lasted through the crucial pitch 2. But after that I was using most or all of my ‘reserve’ to get me through it. It seemed pretty unlikely we’d get to the top without falling off, succumbing to ankle pain, swearing on live TV or generally failing for some other reason. But with 30 seconds to go after 5.5 hours live, I finished seconding the final pitch and the whoops rang back and forth across Glen Uladail.
Getting the chance to be involved in a production like this, no matter what role you play in it, is an unmissable experience. You learn so much, from so many different people about how to up your game. So when it comes around to doing your own bit, you somehow magically end up making a 110% effort yourself. 

Friday 27 August 2010

What do you do when you can’t climb?

Find another way.
Well, I’m partially on my way to full able bodied status again after two days resting up, so I can walk with some pain and stand on footholds no problem so long as the twist doesn’t stretch my stitches too much. And that’s on a half dose of analgesic. Promising.
Today I thought it was a good time to start letting my ankle know it’s going to have a long day on Saturday, as well as get some training in to tick over instead of rapid fitness loss sitting on my bum.
I did this traverse about 7 times until a hold broke and I got really quite soaking in the resultant bog-splat. I went back for another 5 reps later this evening, after a cup of tea.
Even though my ankle was throbbing after this, it’s great progress. Yesterday morning when I got out of bed it was too painful to weight it even for a second.

PS: I wrote the above last night, better again this morning. Check out what the Sun have to say about our live climb!

Thursday 26 August 2010


It’s day 3 of sitting with my foot propped up, ice pack and pill taking regime. On one hand, it’s quite nice to detach myself from the craziness going on around me as the live outside broadcast machine steps up a gear each day. But it’s kind of weird to say the least when for weeks it’s just been me hanging about alone on the Sron, and now I’m the only one left behind!
Excellent to see the whole team of about 55 people all in one room last night. The size of the production really starts to dawn! Whether it works out on the day might, among other things of course, come down to how much I can get my swollen, hurting ankle to calm down in the next 48 hours. Better get another ice pack.
Afterwards, I’m off to find some foot-off bouldering...

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Minor surgery

On Monday, while descending the lines after a session on the Sron, a breeze block sized flake at the belay 10 feet above me was levered off by an unusual direction of pull. It dropped straight onto my bare ankle, splitting it open in a 3cm gash down to the bone. 
After making the most of the rare opportunity to inspect my own skeleton, I abseiled down and started to hurt. 5 stitches later, I’m in less than perfect shape for climbing, or indeed anything right now.

Iain Peter wraps me up for the long walk out to the medical centre.
Less than ideal. Nevertheless, it’s just a flesh wound as they say. A few stitches in one’s ankle shouldn’t bother one’s ability to climb a five pitch E8 on live telly, should it? So I’m doing nothing new but storing up energy (and ibuprofens) for the big day on Saturday.

Harris sunshine

Improving conditions here on Harris. Waterfalls on the cliff are drying out a bit, and a bit of sunshine always lifts the spirits. However, there are no shortage of problems to deal with, for every part of the team. 

Old reel of film we found at the foot of the cliff. Presumably belonging to Alun Hughes when he filmed his Strone Ulladale film in 1989 which is now on the 80’s DVD.

Sheep with it’s heid stuck in a gate, near Rhenigidale. I helped it out.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Great climb trailer

Trailer for The Great Climb us up on the BBC site here. Mostly shots of me falling off on the Triple 5 film (I fell off a lot on that trip). Thing have been kicking off here at Sron Ulladale, more on that later. Also, here is an interview by Peter Ross in last weekend's Scotland on Sunday related to the Great Climb.

Sunday 22 August 2010

The Great Climb team get going

Brian Hall and the team thrash out the rigging logistics
I’m just sitting in the Scaladale Centre on Harris listening to Brian Hall briefing the rigging team on the full horror of their task for the week ahead; rigging a km of rope on grossly overhanging ground on the Sron. They are going to have a mega adventure this week! Today though, is a tea drinking day. Nothing happens on Harris on a Sunday!
The forecast, as ever, is diabolical. Yesterday, I was on the line myself. The upper two pitches had waterfalls coming down them and Brian and Rory were almost blown off their feet in the unseasonal storm force wind on the top of the wall. A helicopter is due to take all the outside broadcast equipment into the broadcast base camp. But the chances of the chopper being able to fly in the next two days is about big fat 0%. So it’ll all need to be carried instead. Ouch!

The plumb line of the rope with haul bag tied to the end illustrate the angle of the route

Looking out from the foot of our proposed new route. The bag is hanging at least 80 feet out from the base!
The team have no option but to rig tomorrow even though they’ll have to do it in a waterfall. All the ropes have to be in place by Wednesday for the 5 climbing cameramen to get on the ropes and start sussing their shots for Saturday.
No doubt there will be some sore legs and stressed heads by tomorrow night. 

Saturday 21 August 2010

See you on the box, next week

In a couple of hours, I’m leaving for Sron Uladail once more to begin the final prep leading up to our live climb. I haven’t been to bed yet, and that is looking a more distant possibility by the minute - too much work to try and finish before I go! I can’t do it all. So it’ll be a sleepy shift on the cliff tomorrow. I do hope the weather gods will provide us with a friendly day and myself and Tim can provide you with an entertaining adventure to watch on Saturday 28th.
I have an update on the broadcast times, they are:
Saturday 28th August:
BBC2 Scotland and Sky channel 990 1.30pm-7pm
BBC HD channel 5pm-7pm
Streamed live on the BBC website
Available for viewing on BBC iplayer
I wouldn’t say my preparation has gone perfectly, the wettest July in Scotland for a decade hasn’t helped get the hours in on rock in recent weeks. But I did have an amazing session on my climbing board last night, managing nearly all my hardest links and completing a long term project with ease. It’s nothing new that a mixed bag of training ends up producing great results. The variety might not be in the schedule, but is often better than a synthetic training plan. I have been bitten by a staggering amount of midges in recent weeks, which could be good training also, perhaps?
Trying to keep up work on my injuries book and other work has been a right balancing act as well. To be honest, I think I need a week of hardcore battling with The Big Stone on Harris to stop me from going quite mad!
See y’all on the 28th to watch the fight with the roofs of Sron.

A load of new shop products added

We’ve just added several new products to the shop. Most of them are to complete my selection of the best climbing performance skills books you can get hold of anywhere, but with one interesting and slightly different new title just out: Racing weight.
‘Racing Weight: How to get lean for peak performance’ is the first book on the market covering weight optimisation for athletes, and hence is of great interest to climbers! It's actually aimed primarily at triathletes and other endurance athletes, but many of the nutritional concepts and tactics are directly applicable to climbing.
It was just published last December and summarises the latest research in sports nutritional science relevant to weight dependent sports. However, although it refers directly to the science underpinning the advice, Matt Fitzgerald's experience as a serial author and magazine columnist in several running and triathlon magazines has helped him present the advice in an accessible format. Fascinating reading for any climber who needs to pay attention to weight optimisation (i.e. all of us!). I read it in a sitting - a more detailed review on the OCC blog coming sometime soon(ish).

Winter Skills and Rock climbing skills are the two definitive technical reference books for all the fundamental skills for moving safely and effectively on walls, crags and mountains. They were published a few years ago by the Mountain Leader Training Board UK and are pretty much essential reading for anyone who plans on a life of moving above big drops or under potential avalanches etc…

In the icy-mixed department, I’ve added two of the most worshipped texts in this area - Will Gadd’s book Ice and Mixed Climbing and Mark Twight’s Extreme Alpinism. I say worshipped because so many budding winter warriors have not just learned the raw skills to hone their winter hardman credentials, but both have sealed the inspiration of many into the bargain.

In the performance rock department I’ve added Adrian Berry and Steve McClure’s Sport Climbing Plus which is a nice accessible walk through all the fundamentals of sport climbing. You may find yourself walking up the odd 8a afterwards?

We also have the hard-to-get Mountain Equipment black beanies back in stock. Get em in before someone else buys them all before winter…
In case you're wondering how your orders arrive at your door so soon after ordering despite me being off filming on Harris, it's because Claire dispatches orders each day, apart from Sunday, when the post office is shut. More of you have been using the Euro and US Dollar versions of my shop recently - Thanks, it’s made it worth the effort of constructing it (I’m a much better climber than a coder!). You'll find all of these in the shop here.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Stressed about stress

Being stressed about stress is a modern privilege, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't pay attention. I was just looking at an interesting article on Wired about stress and where the research is at right now. The idea in the article about vaccinating against it sometime in the future will certainly raise eyebrows for lots of reasons, but aside from that it’s an interesting toe dip in a field that’s pertinent for just about who wants to live and live long (or indeed for those who don’t!).
Interesting to note that the field has moved on from seeing stress as directly causative of many health problems and more as an agent that amplifies their effects. The article is worth reading for the interesting points about linking social conditions to your sensitivity to stress. But I just wanted to highlight the section on the research supported stress reducers that concur quite well with the data coming from the field (see Richard Layard’s great book for a similar discussion, but focused on happiness).
The more general or background stress buffers like having a good social network, getting good quality sleep and not piling on physiological stress with an alcohol habit (thought it was a stress reducer? - it aint!) seem fairly straightforward. But some of the others are less so. The ability to detach from frustration and anger is an important stress reducer, as is confronting particular aspects of your tasks that cause fear.
This illuminates the rather complex nature of some of the stress influencing variables. So called ‘high-powered’ executives with full-on jobs complain of a lot of stress from their occupations, but only sometimes show the physiological evidence of it. The feeling of having some control over your task outcomes seems to be one of the crucial elements here. The feeling of the solutions being out of your hands, and worst of all, in someone else's, is one of the biggest stressors. It’s a state of mind that seems to come from our backgrounds, and sadly is very hard to shake.
As always I look with an interested eye for applications in sport psychology and behavioural aspects that determine sport success or progress. My own failures in climbing are largely down to a flawed ability to let go of things and also to get some sleep. The sleep thing is fairly simple, a combination of a tendency to feel awake and motivated when my body should be winding down (like now, writing at 2am) and too many interests and a poor ability to sacrifice some for the benefit of others. 
While I’m good at detaching from anger and frustration when I sense a lost cause, I’m terrible at it when I have a hunch that it’s not. There are lots of paradoxes here. Both attributes are absolutely my key strengths in my various interests. They get things done where it would be easy to run out of steam. This was what the film E11 was about. But in the longer term they are also my key weaknesses and caps to building ability in something such as climbing to a really high level.
While these problems have caused me some quite serious issues at times, on the whole I’m talking the more gentle depressive effects of avoidable stressors on maximising response to training, psychological or physical. Just the very fact that you are able to sit at a computer reading these words, on this blog which is often focused on leisure pastimes shows that a lot of us are privileged enough to be concerning ourselves with maximising the fulfillment in life, as opposed to just surviving. In this game we often have a lot of the basics in place. The difference in how far we get in our climbing or whatever endeavor is likely to come down to the cumulative effect over years of small errors made by habit. Another complicating factor is that eustress and distress can exist fairly close together - just being a difference of amplitude on the same axis. Do something a little bit too much or to little and the benefit transforms into a menace.
Trying to raise your sporting level above amateur into competent or above is concerned with energetically teasing out these errors which are so hard to stand back and see. Your friends will often know what they are, but they’d never tell you. They are your friends after all. And even if you asked them to hit you with it straight they might give you an insight. But to break habits you need reminding, over and over.
A lot of our society is geared up to get us in the habit of following behaviours of surprising diversity that end up stressing us. This area is the battle ground for sports psychology over the coming years.

Sunday 8 August 2010

A turnaround of fortunes on Harris

My world for the last 5 days - the overhanging landscape of spiky rock on Sron Uladail
Just back from another intense week of preparations for The Great Climb on the 28th on Harris. After the Skye Pipe Band gave us an entertaining ride back across the minch on the Calmac, I drove back to Lochaber like a zombie and crawled into bed.
I have a route to attempt! The most overhanging section of the entire cliff proved the exception to the rule that I’d encountered so far. Every other line I’d looked at worked apart from short sections that were blank, loose or wet. From a previous abseil from the top of the cliff, looking in from a distance I thought a 12 foot section on theses overhangs also looked devoid of holds. But it was so steep I needed to come back with more gear to back-aid across the roofs to get a closer look.
When I did just that on Monday I couldn’t believe my eyes! A line of fingertip flakes and slopers leading out across the big roof to gain the next flake system. The line reminds me of the famous Spanish route Kalea Borroka in Siurana, but even steeper! It’s going to be a mind-boggling adventure climbing this thing. I really can’t wait for the 28th. Pitch 1 looks like the best pitch of E7 I’ve seen anywhere. After a hanging belay, the very first move of pitch 2 is the hardest of the entire route. I could only do the move one out of four tries. But it’s just a very long reach at 50 degrees overhanging. That’s pretty much the same angle as my board so I’ll make a model of the crux section to train on. After that it’s more hard bloc across the roof to get the next flake system and a spectacular climb up these in the most exposed position imaginable. I’m not sure yet but this pitch seems like it will be hard E8 or maybe into E9. After that there are three more E6 and E7 pitches through more spectacular terrain. So it was a turnaround of fortunes compared to the last trip. No doubt it wont be the last. But such is adventure climbing!

Brian Hall begins the highly skilled job of working out logistics to get a sizeable team of climbing cameramen onto the most overhanging cliff in the British Isles.

Brian follows me down my lines. This is one of the least steep parts of the route, but you can see from the other rope hanging free why it’s difficult to clean and remove loose rock from 600 feet of cliff this steep. In other climbing meccas around the world, bolts would be considered the only way to do this without a major epic. Being British, we opt for the major epic.

My rope snaking through the overhangs gives you an idea of the terrain I hope we can climb on the day. 

Old fixed gear I removed from the cliff last week which marks the battles, successes and failures of climbers past. The owners of this gear would read like a who’s who of adventure trad climbers of the past few decades!
...So now I have a week or so to squeeze in more training before the whole team Rendezvous on Harris for the week leading up to the live broadcast. I think it will be a good show.

Crackoholic & Core DVD review

Thanks to this DVD, I will soon be going to Sweden to climb granite. Wow! I live in a place surrounded by brilliant climbing, so although I love seeing film of new climbing venues, it has to really stand out these days to make me sit up and say “I HAVE to go there!”. Crackoholic sold me instantly on it’s stunning looking granite crags, idyllic setting and even more idyllic climbing scene. A lot of climbing DVD’s tend to focus on the single-minded determination of one climber on their project, or the American style bouldering with Hip Hop and very loud spotters. Great, but there is obviously more to climbing than just this. I don’t like much Hip Hop, or very loud spotters (spotters at the places I boulder generally only say ‘baaaa’ once in a while’). So it was great to see a climbing film that drew us back to all the other great things about climbing - mental control, relationships and inspirations flowing between climbers. And somewhere different!
Not limestone, not bolts. A great film about trad climbing. Everything about Crackoholic just made me want to be out cragging. Perhaps it’s something I’ve missed because I’ve spent the last three years dragging myself to remote mountain crags with arduous logistics for long and lonely adventures. This film brought back to me the sheer joy of just going cragging. Stepping out of the car and straight onto the rocks. Maybe it was the idyllic setting, the entertaining characters in the film (the locals of Bohuslan in Sweden, together with footage of Leo Holding on Savage Horse E9 6c, Neil Gresham and other visitors).
Every shot seems to be in a golden sunset with crisp orange granite. Are there really so many sunsets like that? No wonder the climbers in the film look so happy! The tour of the area’s best trad routes and history was surprisingly interesting for a non-local and certainly would show off the routes to climbers not going there for the hardest climbs. Not to mention the cottages right under the cliffs, the barbeques between redpoints, and did I mention the sunsets? 
But I was obviously really interested to see the hard routes. For a start the DVD is a bit of a misnomer, there seems to be more bold face cliimbing and skyhooks in evidence than taped up hands and big cams. Minaret E8 6c looks like one of the finest grit-style aretes anywhere. And the footage of the falls and successes of the two young guys that do it was interesting and dramatic. The ‘main man’ Stefan Wulf looks like he is enjoying Savage Horse E9 for vary different reasons to Leo, who looks in his element of his trademark ‘skin of the teeth’ style, missing edges, falling backwards but staying on. This and various other E8s are all superb stuff and duly noted in my list of ‘must climb that someday soon’.
Need I say more - If you are a trad climber and you didn’t enjoy watching Crackholic, I’d be stumped as to why not. Copies are in the shop here.
Like ‘Progression’ but with more edge. In recent years when it comes to bouldering/sport climbing movies coming out of America (but showcasing the finest destinations for climbing on the globe), there has been ‘Big Up’, and everything else. Big Up do the most famous climbers, the very hardest routes (even if they are still projects) and whatever creates the strongest desire to get out there and ‘send’ in the viewer. In the ‘everything else category, there is great variability. There are have been some awful bouldering films. And I get the feeling folk will be wary of them and stick to ‘Big Up’ or more recently the Sender Films because they have well earned reputation in this genre.
If you like this type of film, but you are one of the ones who might be wary, you would be missing out in not seeing Core. Chuck Fryberger has produced a film with just as high quality shooting, with an edge that Big Up might be getting too ‘mass’ to pull off now. It’s clearly not such a big production as something like Progression and centres around a handful of destinations. But almost all are good. The ‘edge’ goes a bit far for me at times, and it takes a good few minutes into the film to get amongst the action. But the rest of the film was fairly well packed with great climbing.
The stars are mostly world class and certainly look it on the rock as well as being interesting characters. The section with Nalle Hukkataival is fun and impressive to watch his display of ‘next generation’ power. He also has a fine ‘elbows out’ moment of pumping, scared and desperately slapping before lobbing off from 8 metres up. Illuminating. But he had just climbed 8 metres of Font 8c to get there! There are several other well known climbers who it was nice to finally see some footage of. Kilian Fischuber looked every inch the great athlete he is and Michele Caminati was a pleasure to watch of the rock. Born to climb is the word. Fred Nicole was the highlight for me - I’d love to see more of his climbing on film, not to mention the man himself. He always seems to draw the sport of climbing back to its simple, pure and satisfying form. A great person to be able to feel you can relate to if you live ‘off the beaten track’ of the climbing scene.
The contrasts between the simple movement of Fred’s ungraded but obvious nails roof, and the style of the rest of the film with shades, Ferrari’s, foot off dynos and nice beats could have been plain weird. But it works! Definitely on the pile of rest day DVDs for the next sport climbing trip…
Still got some copies left in the shop here.

Monday 2 August 2010

Gorilla T-shirts are here

Ever since my book 9 out of 10 climbers… came out, many of you emailed or commented asking when we were doing a T-shirt of the now famous fed up Gorilla from the cover. It took us some time, as these things do. But now they are here!
We sourced excellent quality and cut T-shirts and hoodies from the American Apparel label. They were a little more expensive, being a quality brand and made in Los Angeles, but worth it we think. The printing was done right here in Lochaber.
We’ve done a Gorilla T-shirt, Gorilla Hoodie and a Rare Breed T-shirt. The T-shirts are £15 and the hoodies are £35. All come in unisex small, medium, large and XL with size charts on their shop pages to make sure you get the correct size, male or female. We produced a fairly limited run, so get them in if you fancy one. If they disappear fast, we might make some more.

They are available in the shop now, here.

News and new stuff

Before I head to Harris in the morning for round 2 with Sron Uladail, here is a wee update from my webshop. 
We’ve just added the Crackoholic DVD which is just out from Sweden. You might not know about it until now, but Sweden has some world class granite trad crags I’d heard a lot about but not seen anything of. This DVD shows off the areas best and hardest routes. I’ll put up a full review shortly, but for now let me say it’s a pretty inspiring piece of climbing footage. Put it this way, it was enough to put it firmly on my hitlist as a place I’m going climbing in the near future. Trailer below and the DVD is here.

Apart from the Gorilla T-shirts and hoodies mentioned in my other post, I’ve also halved the price of The Scottish Climbing Yearbook to £3.50.
My colleagues at Gore are running a comp right now - They are offering places on some pretty nice trips with the various Gore athletes. First up this month is a trip to the spires of Krgystan with Ines Papert. Not bad for a prize I think! Over the next few months there are trips with Robert Jasper and various others up for grabs. The details are on facebook here if that sounds good.
I need to come up with a plan for what my own prize trip will be. Please help me decide - drop me a comment. So far the ideas on the table are new routing in the Scottish North West/Isles or a training camp at home or abroad somewhere. What do you reckon?
It’s been a while since I’ve been on the road lecturing, but two dates in the diary are lectures at the new wall in Milton Keynes on Sept 18th and High Sports in Shrewsbury on January 4th.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Week of progress

The past week has been a frantic effort to catch up on everything before I head back to Harris for round two with the Sron and the Atlantic low pressures. I have trained, mostly after midnight. I have amassed large quantities of research material for my injuries book to add to the already large pile. At least the ‘read’ pile is larger than the ‘unread’! Among other things I have visited family, built a bathroom, oh yeah, and trained some more.
Right now I’m about 95% of my best bouldering strength, which is good news since I haven't been bouldering for months and generally been wobbling about on big mountain crags or dangling about on Sron Uladail in the rain. I’m feeling close to a wee ‘performance peak’ right now. I have that feeling of of everything in my body working as it should, responding to the training and I’m moving with good confidence and momentum.
All that’s needed is an opportunity to unleash this on a Scottish rock project. Always the rate-limiting step. The forecast for next week’s trip to the Sron is dire once again. I’m preying for at least one day of rest from the north-westerlies so I can get the big rope rigged and get a look at the ever-dry lower half of the wall.