Sunday 26 June 2011

Getting them in on Orkney

The soaring crack pitch of Mucklehouse Wall, E5 6a

Since completing the Longhope Direct, our trip on Orkney has been light of step but heavy of leg. The team are all feeling a tad fatigued from great efforts of rigging, filming and eating a lot of cake to replace all the calories that you seem to burn here. For me it’s been a lovely slow release and realisation that the route is done and I can wake up a little more to the sights and sounds of Hoy without the blinkering weight of focus on the project that tends to eclipse everything else.
So I’ve had a chance to squeeze in a couple of climbs in between filming the nature of the place a little more. I always felt that if I could manage to complete the route it would be really nice to make a film about it because everything about it - the scenery, nature and character of Hoy, not to mention the climb itself leaves quite an impression. Filmmaking is hard work to do well, so now the climb is done, the hard work begins again.
Myself and Guy nipped up the Old Man of Hoy the other morning before some rather more arduous filming. Andy and I also had a great evening on the 4 pitch E5 Mucklehouse Wall. You can see in the little clip below from my compact, you have to clean most of the sandy breaks as you go, and the top pitch was rather seepy but the climbing and exposure was just amazing. Once again the difference between new routing and just going cragging is massive. It’s just so much easier on the head to know that there are holds up there somewhere to go for because someone has passed before.
The nature of the movement here, and the approach to climbing generally couldn’t be more different from what I’m used to. On hard rock I’m just so used to pulling super hard on small holds. On a good bit of the sandstone here, if you are really cranking on a small hold, then you’re probably doing it wrong, or about to break the rock. It’s very steep, but you can’t really sprint - go to fast and a sandy hold will catch you off guard. A steady, confident pace yields the most reliable upward progress. 
I must admit to feeling a little sleepy from a combination of fatigue from the big effort of Tuesday, and the knock on effects of teething. It’s too bad as the coming days are filled to the brim with plans of filming, rigging, derigging, climbing, and walking with heavy equipment through the sponge bogs of of the Hoy hills.

Andy Turner, new route, Rora Head

Airy traverse pitch on Mucklehouse Wall

Perfect rock on Mucklehouse pitch 4

Guy Heaton starts up the Old Man of Hoy

Hungry mouths

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Longhope Direct

Approaching the guillotine flake before the crux pitch or the Longhope Direct. Photo: LW Images

Starting into the crux Photo: LW Images

Bringing Andy Turner up to the Guillotine belay. Photo: LW Images

The Longhope route was first climbed as an aid route by Ed Drummond and Oliver Hill in 1970. After climbing it yesterday I have a doubly renewed respect for the boldness of climbers of that period. To venture up that cliff without cams, taking the steepest line possible was a hardcore effort. They spent 7 days climbing the route, sleeping in hammocks or in the big sandstone breaks with the fulmars. Dawes and Dunne both had a look at freeing it, albeit briefly. It was the adventure trad master John Arran, and sea cliff guru Dave Turnbull who really went for the free ascent. Over two days, they freed the lower pitches with a bivi in between and then bailed off left. A few months later, they returned, abseiling from the summit of the stack to their highpoint and climbing four more pitches to the top across another two days.
But they considered Drummond’s A2 crack pitch up the centre of the overhanging headwall too hard for free climbing, which it really was given that they were climbing ground up and the pitch was going to be in the region of E10 in itself. So they climbed the big grooves to the left, traversing back in after a couple of pitches to climb the last 8 metres of the crack, which was the crux of their version which went at E7 6c after lots of tries.
Oliver Hill emailed me in 2006 pointing out that the crack pitch of the original line was still there to be freed and would make a super hard trad route that seemed like a logical progression from the single pitch E10s and E11s of the past few years. Most of the world’s hardest multipitch routes with climbing of 8b or above are essentially sport routes, protected by bolts, insitu pegs or trad with bolts wherever there isn’t good gear available. Oliver thought I should bolt the Longhope route, to make it realistic. But I wasn’t really worried about having a drawn out epic trying to climb it. My idea was to have a super hard long route that was bold, loose, birdy, hard to climb in a day - as pure as possible. That’s absolutely what Scottish sea cliff climbing is about.
So a drawn out epic was exactly what I had. Lots of driving back and forth to Orkney, many days of cleaning the headwall pitch and trying the moves and a two attempts from the ground, climbing the lower pitches on sight with Michael Tweedley and Donald King.
This time, I took the full weight of pressure and organised a proper trip with Andy Turner to climb it with, and a team to help us capture it on film and photos (Claire MacLeod, Paul Diffley, Lukasz Warzecha, Matt Pycroft, Guy Heaton and Mariam Pousa). It’s quite scary bringing a team of people to watch you fall off a large rock for two weeks. I’m super appreciative of the help that was offered from Mountain Equipment, Black Diamond, and Stoats with the trip.

The crawl traverse on pitch 2.
Climbing it in a day was the big deal for the difficulty of the route. I knew the crux pitch,65 metres long and around 8b+ish with some long runouts would feel about 90% of my limit. But could I climb the 400 odd metres below without losing 10% of the strength in my arms. When I got to the guillotine belay before the big pitch, the answer felt like most definitely NO! I was knackered. If the pitch was 8a+ or even 8b on trad, it would be fine. But I knew it was hard enough that it just wouldn’t work if I didn’t have the energy to pull down on those wee edges. 
As I brought Andy up I could feel a sinking sense of failure on the route and the huge waste of opportunity. I started to wonder if the odd missed training session here and there would have made the difference? Should I not have eaten this or that? The chance to be on this route, in good conditions, with a good partner is so special. As I get older I sense more and more strongly all the time that life moves on, opportunities pass - for good. Just to have opportunity is such a gift. Wasting half chances is just not on. 
With this in mind and swallowing a lot of nerves, I launched up the pitch for an all out fight with no inhibitions or hesitation. On the final crux before joining John Arran’s E7 section,  All I could see was the outline of the jug above me. I grabbed it and screamed with utter relief. All that was needed was to use a bit of experience to hold it together and scrap my way through The E7 part, the final roofs and the final fulmars to the summit.
Today I’m eating cake in Stromness. Time to take Freida for a walk along the high street.

Looking down the Vile Crack pitch

Andy approaching the fulmar puke ledge ledge after pitch 1. Note the vomit splat bottom left, which went via my trousers.

More photos and video to be had on Matt Pycroft and Hot Aches pages.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Rain, drizzle, mist, clag

Lukasz’ mobile wifi service

The team slog it

It was nice when we got here

Freida enjoyed the beach
I’m writing this post which means our trip  on Orkney is not going according to plan. Just now I should be uncoiling ropes at the foot of my project. Instead we are drinking tea, watching drizzle settle on the road outside and looking at ferry times to Kirkwall. 
On Hoy it seems very easy for a lot of time to pass. Day 1 was great, I had a session on the crux and felt fit and rigged about 400m of rope for the guys filming (pics on Lukasz’ blog). Yesterday I rested tired arms after that and took Freida to see the sea. Today was time to get down to business. Nevermind.
I’m not sure whether this type of this should make you highly impatient, or cleanse you of impatience? Actually I don’t mind waiting too much, even though the forecast isn’t exactly great. But a 45 board would come in handy right now.

Thursday 16 June 2011

North again

I’m off up tomorrow (Ha! Today actually - another late night typing…) with Claire, Freida, Andy Turner, Diff, Lukasz and others for a good trip to Orkney. We’ll either be dodging fulmars on the cliffs or dodging showers and eating Stoats bars all day back at basecamp. Fingers crossed for the former.
It’s going to be cool to go for a proper trip, so long as we get some weather of course. I’ve mostly been there with Claire or just by myself and for short trips, so I’m interested to see how things go if we can get really involved with the route this time. Claire has been filming all my work on this project for the past two summers. This year we are teaming up with Diff from Hot Aches to help us keep filming. Mountain Equipment have really helped out a lot with organising this trip too. Lukasz is coming to take pictures. I think he’ll be impressed with the cliff. As will Andy. He sounds a little apprehensive on his blog, which seems funny to me, him being a machine and all. I’m quite sure Andy is a lot stronger than the Hoy sandstone. Oh, hang on, that’s the problem isn’t it!
Stoats is supporting us on Orkney with Stoats porridge and porridge bars! I’ve been munching Stoats bars on Scottish mountains for some time and thought it would a good time to get in touch with Tony for a chat about some oats. Many a crux pitch has previously fallen to the power of a good breakfast of oats. Let’s keep up the tradition..
Right I’m off to bed, to worry.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

More on MRTs

I’m back home from a couple of good days with the Mountain Equipment team in Manchester. I was speaking in lecture at the ME store talking about trying to arrive at a confident state for heading back up to Orkney again for sessions on my project. To help with that I finally got a nice day to head out with Anna and do some tradding. This is the difficulty in Scotland sometimes - Although I feel quite fit now from Steall and board sessions, there’s no substitute for going out and leading a lot of long routes (if your training for a long trad route). So I made the most of it and did some of the lovely multipitch E5s on Dirc Mhor while watching the Golden Eagle soaring about at the other end of the glen. Wet holds at Steall defeated another new route from happening, but the main thing was that workouts were had...
My post on mountain rescue a few days ago attracted some attention as I thought it might. Most seemed to welcome or share my thoughts. I had one long comment that was rejected by blogger because of it’s length (addressed below) suggesting many of my suggestions for raising funds had been adopted, at least by some teams. Thats great. I hope it’s working well. My feeling is that it certainly could be given the strength of the resource. My underlying point with my post was that I hope the temptation to blame the outside world for not offering as much support as they could or noticing the products etc that teams produce for them is resisted. 
The difference between a campaign to raise funds that either falls short of a good result or does spectacularly well can be so subtle and dependent on countless aspects of how it’s presented, timed and mediated. In the case of mountain rescue the challenge seems clear to me which is to reach the vast majority who despite being very interested in climbing, are not interested in supporting mountain rescue, as harsh as that sounds. That majority are very unlikely to find themselves on an MRT site unless there’s a very interesting article or video taking them there. 
Some of the comments focused on my idea about books. If the book produced by the MRT isn’t on Amazon and that’s the only place you go to shop for books, then it doesn’t exist. And just being there is not enough, it needs to pop up beside those books you are searching for. Have you seen how popular the dramatic tales of climbing epics are on Amazon? It needs to be a ‘book’ not a ‘booklet’ (I’ve never bought anyone a booklet for Christmas) and the fact that the proceeds go to mountain rescue needs to be more in the background so as not to raise a question in the mind of the buyer about the quality of what they are going to get. And does the cover ‘work’ at 150 pixels high?
Here was Judy’s comments below in italics, with some responses to each point from me:
"Hi Dave
Great to see you talking about mountain rescue and coming up with some thoughts. Entirely agree with you on the tweeting and retweeting!
Just a few points though in response to your points.
The safety angle: both at team level and nationally, we spend a great deal of our time spreading the message about what to take with you (map, compass, correct kit etc,) what to do before you go (weather checking, training in appropriate skills etc) and how to stay safe whilst out there. You'll find info like this on any team's website and it's certainly contained on the Mountain Rescue England and Wales site. Team members spend a deal of time, every week, giving talks and slide shows about their work, including the safety aspect.
We also write and publish books on the subject. 'Call Out Mountain Rescue?' is available for £9.99 from - all proceeds to MREW.”
Its great that MRTs spread the word on safety. If MRTs could act as a catalyst for climbers at large to spread the word about safety, rather than having to shoulder the effort so directly, it might increase the reach greatly. What video or writing do you have or can get that climbers will want to show eachother? 
“Re the topos idea - although we DO count several MIs in our ranks, we're not instructors. Our job is to pick up the pieces, if you will, not be prescriptive to people about which routes they take or how they rope themselves.”
That’s unfortunate. Prescriptive maybe not, but advisory on where and how the accidents happen on specific spots would be most welcome. How else are you going to get that vast majority who aren’t interested in what you do onto your site?
“That said, we DO work with both the AMI and the BMC to promote safe practice.
Stories: yep we have them in bulk and they're sent to the press/radio and TV by all teams and nationally probably every day of the week. The problem is, we have no control over whether these make it into print.”
Yes you do. Present the stories well enough and the press can’t afford not to follow. Besides, you are the press now anyway. The internet leads the press. The variables limiting reach are the strength of the presentation of the stories and the best use of the channels to present them.
“Local press DO support their local teams but it's not easy to persuade the bigger fish to run stories. Nationally, it's stuff like floods, missing children or smartphone apps that make the papers and TV. That said, the last couple of years have seen an increase in mags and Sunday supplements, and documentary makers showing an interest in our work. It's a constant work-in-progress.”
This gives me two thoughts - are the subset of everyone who you need to reach (the ones who might buy a book about mountain stories, watch a video, read a good article etc) best reached using newspapers or TV? Do those media catch the right people at the right time, and make it easy enough for them to take one of the fund raising clicks you want them to take? I would have my doubts. For example, I’ve never taken my newspaper home and typed in a URL at the end of piece.
"Re the books, there's 'Mountain Rescue', by myself and Bob Sharp, which contains lots of anecdotes, history and details about mountain rescue in the UK. I look forward to your order via the MREW website!!”
I’m never on the MREW website. I didn’t know it was there as I’ve never seen anyone link to it.
“Mechanism for contacting those we rescue? You're working with it. The net. Teams will generally keep in touch with those they have rescued, and those rescued are frequently our best advocates and fundraisers. We also keep in touch with people through Basecamp membership, Facebook pages and in our Mountain Rescue magazine.”
“Many teams use Twitter, although I believe there are inherent problems with this as a medium as there may be circumstances where it is neither sensitive not advisable to post on-going details of rescues, for example in missing persons searches or fatalities, before these have been officially released.”
“And we're not really in the business of posting weather updates - there are Met Office and mountain weather websites and apps set up specifically for this. Many teams and MREW have links to these sites.”
That’s unfortunate. It seems a shame to send users away from your site rather than attract them to it using the one piece of information they need to check every time they go climbing. There’s an emerging massive gap in the web market for carefully aggregated local information for mountain users that’s presented in a useful way. It’s a web design and marketing problem. Someone will take the space, soon. If it’s not you it’ll be a gear retailer, or maybe even just some geek who also likes to climb. That would a shame. It comes back to my original point - MRTs will never be able to raise funds by appealing to fear or responsibility. It will have to deal in something that climbers want to have, do or experience. Chris Anderson’s book has a lot that would be useful for MRT fundraisers I think.
“Bigger business: Again, yes we DO have various sponsors in place as you describe. Not QUITE as easy to get big companies on board as you might think but those we have are very supportive of MR. They include Victorinox, btw. Many companies support teams and many clothing manufacturers work closely with teams and MREW in the ongoing development of kit.
Finally, we are always looking for ambassadors for mountain rescue who can spread the word and help us raise awareness. Fancy a job? The salary is good - £0 - but the satisfaction level is brilliant. Drop me a line if you do!
Judy Whiteside (Mountain Rescue Magazine Editor)”
Great comment. Thanks Judy. I understand my point of view might seem ignorant of the problems. That’s true - I am, because I have an outsiders perspective and it’s not my area. My points are two very general ones - that there is a resource there which could be used to greater advantage, and that there are new opportunities emerging right now because of how media is changing that make it a lot easier to raise funds if the right moves are made.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Fresh visits to Orkney begin

St John’s Head, Hoy, Orkney. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? I am in the picture, but you'll probably not spot me.
I just got back from two days work on my project on Orkney with progress made. Fitness is starting to materialise at last, a finger injury is becoming less and less of a bother, and logistics are ironing out.

Cleaning a new finish
I was keen to see if it was possible to finish the route over a series of roofs right at the top of the wall. So rather than the original finish skirting out right around the roofs for an easy escape, the last pitch is a ~ 70 metre pitch of around 8b+ on the top rope. Although I don’t how it’ll feel with a rack of big camalots for such a long pitch on my harness? I had thought it was going to weigh in around 8c but a miniscule foothold discovery on the crux on this trip might just take the edge off it. It's funny how a foothold about 1mm square will probably determine the overall difficulty of a 500m climb. Pics by John Sutherland.

A long pitch, and there’s 450m of climbing to get here!

John feeling the space

Brushing steeeep rock

It turns out that I should be able to lead this final 15m section through the roofs on three small cams. Since taking a belay instead would have been on two Camalot 4s, I'm actually saving weight on the crux pitch rack by pressing on all the way to the top. Happy days.

A fine rack

1945 bomber wreckage, Cuilags

Shootin the Stromness breeze

Mountain Rescue - how to raise funds?

In the last three days I’ve heard a few things about Mountain Rescue teams and how to raise funds for them. First, I was chatting to a friend about raising funds for a rescue team with a shortfall right now. He was trying to think of ideas to raise funds directly by increasing donations or by generating cash by business activities. Second, I was asked (as I often am) to post on my blog and retweet messages pointing at Mountain Rescue sites, or other charitable organisations.  Third, I was listening to Stephen Fry on Radio 4 today talking about how he is asked continuously to retweet messages of all types (charitable and corporate) and how doing this just doesn’t work for either party in the long run.
Occasionally, it is right to talk about a charitable organisation, when you do some work for them or have a direct personal involvement of some kind. For instance recently when I was at an event for the Linda Norgrove Foundation, a charity I’m hoping to keep a personal involvement with in the future. But Stephen’s point was that the whole idea of a person having a blog or twitter feed is that it’s personal - it’s about you. Distorting that once in a while to promote is OK so long as it has personal meaning for you, but overdo it, and in the long run it’s unsustainable. It just doesn’t work, like spam.
I can see why organisations try to harness the established audience of someone well known in the relevant field in order to get promotional mileage. But if it’s purely a spam exercise it’s destined for an extemely poor success rate. Much better to involve those people directly in some meaningful way if you are going to use them at all. However, in my view, there is a better way, at least in the case of a charity seeking to raise funds. Rather than rely heavily on others to carry the promotional torch down a blind alley, it would be better to utilise the intrinsic value of the organisation itself to generate the necessary reach among the desired audience. So the challenge for the organisation is firstly to figure out what they have that could be of value to their target audience, and then to share it with them in a way that raises funds along the way. Things of value can come in all shapes or sizes. Off the top of my head, if I was running a rescue team, here’s a few things I’d work on:
1. The first thing rescue teams have of value is general knowledge about how to stay safe and move about on mountains, as well as specific local knowledge about the mountains they pull people off day in day out. Mountain guides and centres use this very effectively to fuel their marketing. Rescue teams could do it too, but add a different perspective. Writing online, training events, lectures on mountain safety are all good fundraisers. I’d love to see an article on why you, like so many novice winter climbers are going to get stuck high on Tower Ridge on the Ben and have to call out a team to bail you out. I’d like to see a good annotated topo of the ridge showing where you can move together instead of pitching your way straight into a benightment, how you can escape from the ridge by abseil or ledges and where climbers commonly end up stuck. The URL for that kind of piece will get the retweets without having to ask, as well as maybe even helping to cut the expenditure?!
2. The other obvious aspect of rescue teams’ work that gets people talking is rescue stories. As any new marketer will tell you, marketing revolves around stories, and rescue teams have them in bulk. Whereas many corporate stories are fake and boring, mountain rescue stories are some of the most gripping ever. The ethics and presentation of them are a discussion for another day, but a blog chronicling the activities of a rescue team in the same style (but with more detail) than in the SMC journal would be a very interesting and educational blog. And one which I could envisage getting a lot of incoming links from some highly useful websites (like the BBC!). Some use of Twitter to relate up to date info on hill conditions, especially overnight, would be a very subscribed feed also. And this aspect of a team’s work is exactly the right type of relationship that is needed with potential donors or customers - a regular one with constant reminders. A one off shot, like a piece on the news or a newspaper just pales in comparison in terms of it’s long term value.
3. Marketing fear and responsibility (e.g. “support the rescue team, you might need them someday”) has been shown in so many other fields such as health to have a poor success rate (understatement). Hence, marketing to the majority of the audience who have never used the service and probably don’t even want to think about the day they might need to demands the approach above - a positive one. On the other hand, those who have had to use the rescue services will have a very different attitude. Is there any mechanism in place to keep in contact with these people and make it easy for them to exercise their gratitude for the service, both immediately and down the line (when they are CEOs of big companies etc)?
4. Donations are important, but sell things too. If there was a good book or stories and pictures from dramatic rescues in the mountains I visit, I’d buy it. I bet those who only go to the visitor centre at the bottom would too. Why let some commercial journalist write it and take the revenue? - write and publish it yourself. 
5.Align to bigger business. For certain companies, a badge that says they support, or better still donate a percentage of their profits to mountain rescue is a tool they can use for their own marketing. In other words, it adds value for them, and you. These alliances are there for the taking. Let others sell donations for you. Sponsorship is another way. I saw the ‘Red Devils’ parachute team on the telly tonight, wearing Victorinox logos. 
I know these ideas aren’t new, complete or detailed and have no idea how much they have been tried or would be suitable. My point is that the status quo is far short of ideal. The folk who are involved directly with the problem will need to iron out the details of solutions, as an outsider looking in it seems to me that a different approach could yield some much bigger results. I hope thinking aloud about this is more useful than retweeting a request for donations?

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Lecture next week in Manchester

Next Thursday I’m doing a lecture at the Mountain Equipment store in Manchester. All the details are above. It’s been up on ME’s facebook for a couple of days so there are only about 10-15 tickets left I’ve just heard. So get in there quick. Tickets are free - just ring the store on the number on the poster or register on the facebook page. See you there!

Hoy on the horizon

Now after four weeks of thrashing it out on the circuits I’ve gone from zero stamina to nearly-got-stamina. It’s been almost exclusively on my board since the rain has been incessant in Scotland for the whole of May. Hence the lack of new routes to report. However, the focus has been good for me probably. My 60 move circuit is now extended to 100 moves and the rest between bouts are getting shorter every session.
Still much more work to be done, but with that under my belt and a good forecast at last it’s time to head north to Orkney and get on my project for a few days and try and remember how to trad climb.