Saturday 30 October 2010

More adventures like this...

Thanks to everyone (there was a LOT) who sent me a message to say you really enjoyed the 5 Climbs, 5 Islands programmes. Episode 2 is still on BBC iPlayer for a few days. If you miss it, it’ll be on DVD soon so don’t worry.
Watching it myself reminded me how much this type of adventure is really what I like and hope I can keep doing them as long as I’m still around. A lot of folk commented about how I did like to try as hard routes as possible on this type of thing - that’s totally true. I totally need to feel that I might not be able to do it, or even more that I actually can’t do it, but learn along the way how to figure out how to make it work. 
That process of focusing in and getting really absorbed in the task in hand seems to be hardwired in me. I don’t know exactly where it comes from. I get very frustrated and wrestless when there is a barrier between me and focusing properly on the task. I find it pretty hard to accept that things upset progress and take that in my stride. I tend to respond by going even deeper into the obsessive zone. Climbing yields really well under this approach, which is pretty much the core reason why I got better at it slowly. Up to a point it works really well in other fields too, but at a big cost.
It leads to a funny situation in that as a climbing coach I spend most of my time trying to encourage people to adopt this approach, but a lot of my adult life has been spent trying to blunt it myself. The Triple 5 programmes and The Great Climb I hope gave a decent insight into how these things work out in climbing. On that day my normal focus was totally destroyed every time I put my mashed up ankle on a foothold. Half of me wanted to give up and half of me wanted to shut it out and keep climbing. So ‘machine’ mode won out and I just went a bit quiet and kept grabbing holds til we were on top. It seemed to me that Tim had pretty much the same experience on the soaking wet finishing pitch. It would have been very very easy to admit defeat then.
The experiences of this summer made me think again about the big one - my project of freeing the original aid line of the Longhope Route on Orkney. If ever there was a climb that demanded and would reward the obsessive approach it’s that one. Perfect really. After this year’s shortlived trips up there I realised I probably wasn’t good enough to do it last year, or this. But I’m still learning a lot about the tactics and training needed to make it work. Looking forward to standing underneath it again next summer with fresh energy to throw at it.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

5 Climbs, 5 Islands part 2

Stac Lee, St Kilda looking amazing

Quick reminder to tune into the second part of our 5 Climbs, 5 Islands adventure tonight, 7pm, BBC2 Scotland, Sky 990, Freesat 970 and iPlayer for streaming or downloading later if you miss it. There seems to have been a wee delay before the download comes online on iplayer after the scheduled showing ends so don’t fret if you can’t get it immediately.
Tonight we are on Lewis, Great Bernera and on a mission out to St Kilda.

Heading into no man’s land on St Kilda

Monday 25 October 2010

Thought provoking afternoon

Just in from a shivery afternoon under black skies and gales in Glenfinnan. Kev couldn’t make it out for sessions on the slab so I took the shunt and worked more on the harder of the two projects there. When I originally looked at it I could see that it was possible but it looked like an E11 slab (!) Can you imagine how nails that would have to be?
But after some hours of deciphering I decoded a sequence and with much wild slapping for various tiny things, got it linked on the top rope. Oh dear. There is also one microwire placement. A poor one, but enough to make it seem like it could be the coming down towards the top of the E10 band, and something I would at least think about leading.
Most of the hard trad routes I’ve done are much better protected than this, and a LOT easier. The only harder route I’ve done is Echo Wall probably, but that suited my style being steep and technical. I’m a crap slab climber on the whole. Having said that, I’ve tried to climb some harder slabs to get better at them. Comparing this line to other slabs like Indian Face or The Walk of Life in my mind - they are easy warm-ups against this line, and a lot better protected. A lot of much better microwires would have to rip on Indian Face before you’d be in trouble on a fall. This route only has one, shallow, flared and in quite soft rock.
Unfortunately there’s no way I could lead this slab with any kind of margin. It’s a full on, all out desperate slap, scream and wobble fest to get through the crux. And that’s on a top rope. The landing looks like it might only dish out broken legs. It’s only a 40 foot route. But the chances of a scary tumble would be high. 
Thought provoking… 
I can’t decide if it’s a good thing that the forecast looks rubbish until I go to Spain.

Friday 22 October 2010

Learning the error of my ways

Circuits @ Halewood‘s
This week has been a week of solid work on Rock ‘til you drop by day and abuse of various plywood boards by night. Good fun and a nice change from travelling too much. I do think I’ve read just a bit too much this week about posture and it’s impact on people who choose to spend large volumes of time hanging from bits of plywood. It’s a strange thing to spend all day reading about how much damage you can do from your sport, and then heading out to go and do some more all evening long!
Seriously though, I’ve learned a LOT about the likely sources of my own elbow problems over the recent years and have sufficiently terrified myself into including an enthusiastic battery of stretches and weird looking calisthenics to sort out my various imbalances. It's brilliant to actually know what the problem was!!!
Researching a book that crosses so many scientific and practical fields of expertise is no overnight task, and next week I’ll no doubt repeat this one and many before it: - buy expensive textbooks (the most expensive so far was £200!), spend the wee small hours tweaking searches through journals with nasty pictures of mangled elbows and then try to fit this with my knowledge of climbing and the elbow, finger and shoulder destroying ways of keen climbers.
But for two days, I have a break. I’m off with Claire to the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival for some good events - first up: Diff’s lecture “Climbers I’ve shot, and some I’d like to shoot” which will be a laugh, then the Premiere of the film he shot of our repeat of the famous ‘Pinnacle’ week on Ben Nevis, 50 years to the day since they did it. Then on Sunday it’s the debate on the ethics of adventure. See you there maybe..

Mountain Equipment’s Chill slackline sets are now in stock in the shop - the 15 metre ‘entry level’ set. A little wider at 40mm…
Also back in stock is the To Hell and Back DVD which some of you have been asking for.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

5 Climbs, 5 Islands part 1

Galta Mor, the Shaints - the location of our first ‘5 Islands’ challenge route; The Puffin Diaries E7 6c,6b
Did you catch it on TV last night? If you missed it, you’ll get it on iPlayer right here and if you are abroad you’ll be able to see it using this website (or wait for the DVD...). Remember to tune in again next Tuesday (26th) at 7pm to catch the second half of the story. If you don’t want to know how we got on in the first two days of the challenge, best stop reading this post here! All pics: by me courtesy of Triple Echo Productions

Cleaning pitch 2 the day before the start of the challenge. 
So first up was the Shiants. We didn’t know of any recorded routes on the islands other than some scary stories of attempts on loose basalt chimneys back in the day. The wave washed basalt in the arch was fantastic stuff. The only problem we had was that all the cliffs with good rock were north facing and the rain was coming down good style until about 12 hours before we were due to start. You saw the result of the damp rock under the roofs - a sudden slip and plummet. Thankfully that arete wasn’t too sharp on the rope! The roofs were about 7c+ but with reasonably good gear. Pitch 2 was a stiff E5 6b finger crack. So the whole route went at hard E7 6c,6b - The Puffin Diaries.

The Shaints have 2% of the worlds Puffin population
The second day was really going to be the toughest of the challenge. As it turned out it didn’t really work out that way, but that’s for next week’s show... The big horizontal roof on Creag Mo was about 7c+ or 8a before the crucial hold came off and possibly 8a+ afterwards. Or maybe I was just getting tired after throwing myself at it several times? On my recce for the production in May I semi-aided/free climbed out to that slot, removing a LOT of loose rock because the roof marks the line of weakness between the Mica Schist below and the bullet hard Lewissian Gneiss above. I dynoed for the slot and had a desperate time trying to get a cam in it along with my fingers and take a rest to clean it. And yet it broke straight off on the crucial lead day! Weird. Anyhow, the result was a harder route and I suppose more entertaining to watch me failing so many times. 

Arriving in Loch Seaforth to head to Creag Mo, Harris
It wasn’t too entertaining at the time I can tell you. The pressure of the entire project’s success or failure for Tim, the crew and the BBC production resting on me getting across that roof on my last try was kind of thick in the air. I think the relief on my face was obvious. The Realm, E8 6c, 6b is one of the best mountain E8s in Britain (The best E8 in Britain is still The Great Escape on Arran by the way). Did you spot the ‘Indian Face of the future’ project just right of The Realm? 

Boat life
It was funny Tim pointing out in the program that I was psyched to do as hard routes as possible on the challenge. I really should have known that choosing to try and do climbs as hard as E7 and E8 back to back that haven’t been done before so aren’t pre-cleaned and have all the unknowns removed would put the whole project at risk. The reason was that I just got carried away by the quality of the lines! It just seemed like if we were going to climb a new route on a brilliant cliff like Creag Mo, then it was obvious it had to be across the roof. When a lot of people’s time and money is being spent on a big crew of people being there to film us climbing and make a good TV programme, making it work is really high on the priority list. I made a judgement call that super high motivation to take the rare opportunity to nail such remote, good and hard routes would win out against having no margin to absorb setbacks. It worked so far...

Sometimes naming routes is hard, sometimes not.

Seconding Tim on day 3 on Lewis… 7pm next Tuesday for episode 2. Pic: Cubby Images/Triple Echo

Sunday 17 October 2010

Teetering time

Loch Ailort looking like glass in the October sunshine

Since pulling super hard on the tweaky little sidepull crimp on the crux on Muy Caliente the other week, a ligament in my index finger has been complaining. A week or so of doing pretty much no climbing seems to have given it time to calm down a bit, and some careful training has resumed. At least it's been good for making progress on my next book, 'Rock 'til you drop'.
It’s quite scary how a week off makes a real dent in your form. Mind you, if there’s anywhere you need to be firing on all cylinders, it’s my board. I’ve never climbed anywhere so unforgiving of lack of form, energy or confidence. So long as you take it the right way, it’s good for you to be slapped so convincingly. 
As always, when injuries demand a rest for the fingers, slabs are a good idea. I did make one last attempt to climb a nice slab in the mountains. But the unseasonal high temperatures didn’t last long enough to finish the job. 
Instead I headed to another tip off from Donald King. The latest in the King line series is a lovely compact slab near Glenfinnan, with two hardcore projects. Yesterday, in lovely sunshine and the company of Kev, I had a session on the easier one which will be a bold E9 7a. I brushed, fiddled a lot with tiny microwires and tried some very teetery moves. By 4pm, it was time to either lead or go home.
The prospect of the lead meant a very balancy crux, swapping feet on miniscule smears with one hand on an undercut and the other doing not very much at all. Prognosis in case of a fall; two rather dubious microwires that could hold...or not, and a landing on a razor sharp spiky embedded rock 30 feet below.
I opted for going home. On my return, I’ll bring some more tools for the job. Ten minutes with a spade will sort out the guillotine landing. A handplaced pecker should add another runner to the rack, and fresh toes and fingertips should bite into those little ‘holds’ a tad better.

Can't wait...

Kev enjoying the gloaming on the walk out

Friday 8 October 2010

Hot Aches DVDs offers

We are running a couple of offers in the shop for a while on the Hot Aches DVDs collection:
The ‘boxless’ set of all the Hot Aches DVD back catalogue for £50. 5 DVDs, 7 hours of great climbing films and the collection pretty much reads like a history of top end British trad climbing as well as ice, mixed, bouldering and sport and multipitch from all over the world. Contains E11, Committed I and II, Monkey See Monkey Do, All Mixed Up. PAL format only. It’s in the shop now here.
Committed I & II bundle for £20 which they would normally cost each. Committed I has 200 E points of hardcore trad action including Divided Years E8, Blind Vision E10, Trauma E8 and stacks of others. Committed 2 has The Walk of Life E9, The Groove E10, Dynamics of Change E9, If Six Was Nine E9, A’ Muerte 9a, The Hurting XI and on and on. In the shop now, here.

Saturday 2 October 2010

5 climbs, 5 islands scheduled on BBC2

The 5 climbs, 5 islands film has a provisional slot on BBC2 Scotland! Originally filmed as a back up for the Great Climb programme in case of atrocious weather, injuries etc (we got both but still managed it!), we had a great adventure and I think you’ll like the film.
We travelled about the Hebrides on a big boat, attempting some really hard new routes back to back over 5 days. You’ll have to watch the programmes to see the outcome but I can tell you it was the best trip I’ve had new routing in the Hebrides, certainly one of the hardest and definitely with the most falls!
The culmination of the trip trying a brilliant 2 pitch line of perfect black Gabbro on St Kilda was unbelievable.
It will be shown in two x 1 hour shows, BBC2 Scotland, Sky, iplayer October 19th and 26th at 19.00. Enjoy!

Some pics from St Kilda on the 5 climbs, 5 islands trip. Photos: Triple Echo

My previous blog about the trip is here.

Muy Caliente

In the ‘no fall zone’ on Muy Caliente E10 6c, Pembroke
I’d never been to Pembroke before, so obviously I’ve been a bit of a headless chicken over the past week spent there. There’s a lot to do! First up I met up with Harry and the team to shoot for a couple of days with them for their documentary ‘Mastering the Matrix’. We talked a lot on camera about my perspectives on finding success in sport or tasks in general, the differences between success and happiness and misconceptions about risk taking. I’d been invited to take part in part because I discussed a lot of this in the practical context in my book. The lessons from sport for the wider world are fascinating and it was a good discussion.
After talking for ages, it was time to put it into practice. So we went to the cliffs and took some falls. We practised falling, taking 30 footers off ‘Test Case’ E3, in St Govan’s. It totally reminded me how often you have to practice falling. I was actually a little nervous before the first one. A couple of months of no trad falls and the unfamiliarity of falling plays absolute havoc with your leading confidence and climbing efficiency. If you don’t believe me you’re either a nutter, operating way below your potential, or more likely kidding yourself. After this I took the opportunity to have a quick play on Tim Emmett’s E10 ‘Muy Caliente’. Moves done first try, link done first try. Game on.

Setting up for the technical crux, the crucial nut clipped
I asked the guys if they wanted to stay an extra day and film me putting my money where my mouth is and blasting up that runout. I must say that my knowledge of Tim’s lead attempts really spurred me on to get on the lead myself. I think Linford Christie would struggle to prevent a boulder splat from 50 feet up if you fell off the end of the runout. Tim’s  lead attempts despite not having linked it on a top rope are an exemplar of taking it right to the limit. A fine effort of boldness. I linked it second go and still felt it was a serious proposition, especially while nervously fiddling in the wire at the end of the runout, all too aware of the long stretch of rope below me.
Once past the runout it’s just a matter of unleashing every bit of power in your fingers on the technical crux. You don’t want to have to do that runout again! E10? Maybe just, because of that runout. It’s certainly easier than To Hell and Back, but maybe a slightly bigger undertaking than Achemine.

Mid-technical crux on Muy Caliente

With that in the bag, I headed to the pub with Pickford and rendezvoused with the gang for the next shoot! Next up our plan was to shoot some nice climbs for a few days for Black Diamond Equipment. Myself and Tim climbing, Diff, Katie and Dave Pickford shooting. 
The next hardest route to get on was Pickford’s line ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ Originally given E9 but later downgraded to E8. However, Dave pointed out that the line hadn’t been done in one big pitch. The second pitch is E7 and was led on a separate day from the main pitch by Pickford, Birkett and Mawson (as far as I know). Dave reckoned that cleaning up this niggle would make it definitely E9.
On day 1 we had a go but sea spray stopped both of us in our tracks. Instead we wandered up some nice E5s which were lovely. Next day we got thoroughly soaked by rain and opted to just to Pleasure Dome E3 and Manzuku E1 in the wet. Once we discovered that climbing soaking limestone in gloves was easier than soggy chalk we got on fine and had a nice day.
But ‘The Brothers’ (needs to be said in a Welsh accent for full effect) needed doing to round things off. So next day after the rain stopped we were there again, this time with both of us feeling like going for it. In the end, by the time conditions were right and we were ready, the sun was low in the sky, the waves were getting closer and there was time for only one lead. So we drew straws. I won and Tim graciously let me go for a good scrap on the wall, struggling at first with warm slippy slopers on the crux, and then rope drag just where I didn’t need it on the upper E7 half. But just after sunset, I topped out with a big pitch behind me and a big smile. Video and pics from all this will be on BDs site sometime soon.
Great trip!
PS: 600 mile drive home, as always, was the most dangerous part of the trip. As I pulled up at a traffic jam I looked in my rear view mirror to see the guy behind driving along looking down (presumably at his iphone) and not braking. So today I have some minor whiplash and a smashed up car to deal with.

In praise of bouldering

I’ve had two and a half intense days at home since returning from work in Milton Keynes and leaving for more work in Wales this morning. Too much driving!
Last night, after a marathon office stint, attempting to finally catch up with all my work at home, I enjoyed a session on my board immensely. That might not seem surprising. But to me, the extent of my enjoyment of bouldering surprises me nearly every time I do it.
As I was saying in a recent post, I’m looking for lots of things in climbing - adventure, partnerships, big challenges. Seen as ‘higher order’ pleasures compared to the physical enjoyment of climbing. Except ‘higher order’ is totally the wrong way to see it.
In actual fact, there is nothing ‘lower order’ about the physical side of climbing. Firstly, because there’s no such thing as a purely physical pleasure. All enjoyment is psychological. Sometimes it’s convenient to separate ‘basic physical’ and more complicated feelings. However, when it comes down to it, there is no difference along these lines and that is not sufficiently recognised in modern discussions of climbing or other types of enjoyment.
A complicating factor in how physical and mental pleasures have become separate is our natural tendency to become either arrogant, ignorant or just a bit unimaginative. Lots of climbers got into climbing to have adventures, see nice places, gain respect or acceptance and other things like this. It’s still fairly common that some climbers either simply don’t understand sport climbing and bouldering, or think they do understand it and look down upon it as a ‘lower order’ pleasure.
Their loss! And I don’t mean that in a dismissive way. This post is a direct appeal to those people to make another effort to understand it and realise the whole world of deep enjoyment they are missing out on! 
Sometimes, it’s purely the fear of the status quo changing and their connection with climbing changing that stops people giving it any effort. Maybe your view of what you value in your climbing might change forever and that feels risky. But much more often it’s a purely practical problem - people don’t know how to boulder. They don’t know what to do on a bouldering wall. It feels boring to them. Their mistake is to deduce therefore it is boring. Rather, they just haven’t figured it out yet.
It’s a skill in itself and it takes time and application to master. It’s not love at first acquaintance for everyone as I’m sure some of you could testify. Think about a skill you know well such as your favourite branch of climbing, your job or some other activity. Have you ever seen people make some basic mistakes and fail to connect with it? You find yourself thinking “if you just did it this way, you’d get so much more out of it!”. Well maybe you are in the same position with bouldering.
I’ll put my money where my mouth is and write a simple guide to how to boulder and enjoy it for those who have tried and don’t. I’ll do this shortly and post on my other blog. But for now here is a quick thought:
We call boulder problems ‘problems’ because it is primarily a problem solving activity (that idea of it being all about the physical is dissolving already!). So you have to come to it with the willingness to grapple with the problem - experiment, learn incrementally and then reach the solution. If you do it indoors then you inevitably run out of problems and need to set more yourself. So it’s also a problem setting discipline. A massive area of skill with lots of areas to go wrong. Learn it piece by piece. 
And what about the physical connection? First, you have to open yourself to the pleasure of movement. Not everyone is. They are too focused on getting to the top - the result, the task completion mentality. There is more to it. If the objective is not just to climb it but to climb it well, with minimum force. The experience has more dimensions this way.  The application of strength and momentum is enjoyable too. But not just for the force - for the timing of the force and also the sparing of it.
It’s possible to get so much enjoyment from an hour on a plywood board. Crazy thought.