Sunday, 7 December 2008

Pete, Ben, and John...  Amazing effort today.  Would love to have been there but am suffering from a particulary harsh dose of American Man Flu (not too dissimilar to African Bum Disease).  Make the most of these good conditions and get on The Groove.

And big up to Belay Ben, he has gone through a lot belaying you over the years!  Thinking about it, I probably didnt do him any favours on Equilibrium either, but at least he got to get you back with the Triathlon scene ;)

An era many moons ago... How very true...  Regardless of all the bullshit, some fun times were had.

Sorry to any other readers if this post seems exclusive and personal.  Maybe it would have been better to post elsewhere, oh well.  Wheres the fun in conforming all the time ;)

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Its amazing at just how much crap can appear in such a short space of time.  After returning from Kendal and then Italy, I started to sift through the reams of(mostly) rubbish on the various forums and got kind of frustrated.  I decided to devote a good amount of my time to sitting at my computer,  trying to make some sort of sense out of this confusion and then turning this sense into words that didnt confuse matters any further, if that makes any sense?  Im a bit confused...

Anyway, then I had an epifany...

“Why dont I just forget about all this and go climbing?”

So I did!


Saturday, 22 November 2008

Oops, I just had to edit this post so dont worry if you think something is missing, your not going crazy.  

It turns out Kevin only climbed the lower part of the The Groove at Cratcliffe so sorry for any confusion from my initial report.  My congratulations still stand, it is a fine pice of hard climbing in its own right, so well done Kevin.

To help out anyone who is unfamiliar with the wall, here is a topo.  The line marked in red pen is The Groove (it follows the groove all the way until it runs out halfway up the upper arete and then climbs the arete).  The line in black is the section of Fernhill Indirect that Kevin took to avoid the upper arete.

Here is a quote from Neil Foster who attempted The Groove whilst it was still a project.

"At the top of the groove section on The Groove is a horizontal break, traversed by Fernhill Indirect and Trick or Treat, John Allen's super reverse girdle.

Above this break, twin cracks lead straight up into a disappearing groove just right of the arete. I always felt this was the natural line as one feature is effectively a continuation of the other, and I was pleased that James apparently agreed (though I hadn't talked to him before he put up the route).

Avoiding this continuation involves hand traversing all the way across to the Ferhill crux, then all the way back left again on Ferhill (as Fernhill direct). That is great fun, but hardly "The True Line"."

Nice one again Kevin, and the rest of "Team America" and sorry to hear about your split from Equilibrium.  That pebble can be cruel, I remember my finger feeling numb for quite some time after my ascent.  I hope to catch up before you leave. If not, I guess I'll see you in San Fran next week :)

P.S ( for the anonymous commentor) I will be in San Fran with The North Face for a few days but unfortunately wont be giving any talks, well, not public ones anyway.  There are however plans for the future, so keep your eyes open.  I'll post on here when one is confirmed.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Since returning from China, which by the way was pretty cool, I have had an intresting and eventful week.  I should probably write about the awesome rock in China or the crazy festival in Yangshou, but time is a commodity I don’t have much of, and the following few paragraphs seemed more important at the current moment.  There are however some pics of the Yangshou Climbing festival online at

Right, down to business

There seems to have been a bit of a storm over repeats of some of my first ascents and I have had some pretty hurtful things written about me by people I have never met.  I understand that by choosing to live my life in the climbing public’s eye, I open myself up to abuse that would not normally be there, and in the past I have done my best to take this on the chin.  This time however, it was different.  The words I read stung, especially the ones questioning and doubting my honesty and integrity.  It upset me how spontaneously cruel people could be but I guess is should come as no surprise in what is often a spontaneously cruel world.

The Promise has been repeated twice by the incredibly talented visiting Americans and as you are all well aware, they proposed a downgrade from E10 to E8.  Whilst at first this came as a bit of a shock, I know that grading trad routes is far from an exact science and that things can change.  I wanted to meet the guys for various reasons, but mainly because I was impressed by the way they had not only climbed, but reported these repeats – honestly, politely and courteously, with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of facts.  They seemed like really sound guys; refreshingly different from the “jump on the band wagon”, “burn the witch” mentality which unfortunately seems prevalent in the UK.

I met up with them at a very windy Curbar, shortly after Alex had made a flash ascent of The End Of The Affair.  In line with what I have said above, he was incredibly modest, and un-phased by this very news worthy ascent and told me, without a hint of snobbery or cockiness, that he felt the route was E6!

We moved to a different part of the crag, and chatted about this and that between ascents of this and that.  Inevitably, like all climbers, we got on to the subject of grades and did our best to put the world to rite. 

I thought of something Leo Houlding had said about how routes with a high historical value have been, and should continue to be, used as benchmarks for grading other routes by.  I asked Alex to assume, from a historical perspective, that TEOTA is E8 (the grade it has been for the last 22 years) and then asked him what grade The Promise would be in relation to this?  His answer was without hesitation – E10

 Quote from Andy Popp on

 just wanted to inject a little historical perspective before everyone runs away with the idea the older routes are dead easy and were (either wilfully or delusionally) overgraded. This is just an example I can draw on from personal experience, and not an attempt at bigging myself up. When I did the third ascent of TEOTA in 92 it had lain unrepeated for 6 years. The floodgates didn't suddenly open afterwards - I don't think it got another repeat for several more years. So, it hasn' always been a trade route. At the time I had a solid track record in onsighting grit E6 (going back to Fistful - mooted by some as E7 - in 1985), had onsighted one route now graded E7 (The Salmon), and headpointed, ususally with v. light practice a bunch of E7s. Basically I think I knew the score and the TEOTA simply felt harder than everything else, E8 in fact. If it goes down to E7 so be it but I think if it does we will require MASS downgrading across grit.

Alex then said that the reason he and Kevin had thought The Promise not E10, is that they were under the impression that E10 and 7a were the limit of our grading scale – simply put, the hardest a traditional route could ever be.  They are not alone in this view; the more I read on the forums or talk to people when out climbing, the more I hear this misconception that E10 and 7a are the absolute limit. 

I don’t know where this idea has come from, the way I have always understood the “E” system is, like any other grading scale, it is open ended.  As standards improve, and people climb harder routes than before, the grade of these routes will increase.  When you take away all the glitz and glam, the magic and the bullshit, and look at routes in very simple terms it becomes very obvious.  If the holds are smaller, or further apart, or the protection is worse, then the route is harder, and so the grade increases.

New grades should be nothing to be scared about, nor should they be scorned, but this appears to be the mentality in the UK, which in my opinion has done incredible damage to the UK trad system, resulting in cries of “the E Grade is broken”.  I don’t think it is broken, but I do think it is being misused and if it is to regain any usefulness there need to be some fundamental refines, starting with the insanity that is the ever widening English tech grade! (more about this in my next post)

It also seems to me that over time, as a route receives more ascents from more people, the perception of how difficult it is goes down.  This seems mainly based on the number of people who are now able to climb at that level and, to me, this seems madness.  Standards move on, people get better, but the routes do not (rarely) change.  Just because a route is further away from the cutting edge, does not make it any easier than the day it was first climbed.

If we can come to terms with moving things forward, I feel this issue of “backwards condensing” would no longer be a problem.  We should be proud of where we have come from, but prouder of where we are going.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

I finally fell asleep way too late and was woke by my alarm way too early. After waking up a little and cleaning the sleep from my eyes, I opened up my computer to catch up with life back home. After browsing all my usual sites, I saw the news about The Promise finally getting a repeat on UKB and excitedly clicked the link. E8! Was this some kind of joke? I read down expecting to find a punch-line lurking somewhere but none came and I realised it was for real. The route, that until this year was the culmination of all of my climbing, was now being compared to the likes of Gaia, and End of the Affair! Jumping to conclusions before knowing all the facts is the habit of fools, so I read all of the information I could find on the ascent before going any further.

A team of young American trad stars, including Kevin Jorgeson (solo of The Fly and FA of The Duel) and Alex Honnold (solo ascents of Moonlight Buttress and Regular North West Face, Half Dome) were practically destroying Gritstone, and The Promise was their latest in a long line of top class trophies. After reading the various reports of the ascent, and letting all of the information digest, everything started to make a little more sense.

The Promise in an hour, regardless of anything else, is an amazing bit of work. My hat is well and truly off. It seems like there is a bit of a storm raging on our beloved little island and I am sad that I am not there to witness it in person, but you gotta be where you gotta be. Maybe I will get chance to climb with Kevin when I return from the land of the rising sun, that is if he has not already done everything and gone home.

So The Promise...

When I first climbed this route almost 2 years ago you all knew my thoughts and feelings as my comments were recorded in many mediums for all to read and hear. Surprisingly or not, I still feel exactly the same, and if I was to climb this route again today, using the same style etc, I would grade it exactly the same as my experience and comparisons would be the same. To save both your time and mine, I am not going to go into detail over my reasoning because I have already written lots on the subject (comparing it to Equilibrium etc) that will be easy to find for anyone interested with a little help from their good friend Google.

To quote something I wrote a few weeks ago “When you offer a grade to a first ascent, what you are effectively doing is defining your experience as a point on a scale. Since your experience is deeply personal, this grade is only really relevant to you and may change, up or down, depending on future ascentionists experiences”

Simply put, the “rules” for climbing are very subjective and the overall difficulty will change dramatically depending on the tactics used. There are very few “rights” or “wrongs”, but lots of differences, so I feel it is important to declare exactly how a particular ascent is made.

The difference between mine and Kevin’s view on the route comes down to our experience so I guess we should look at if, how and why they differed? Below is a copy of Kevin’s report of his ascent that was posted in the news section of UKClimbing. As you will notice, I have added in a little superscript and I will make footnotes about these points below. Thanks to Kevin for making it so clear as to exactly what he did.

Today I managed to climb The Promise at Burbage North for its second ascent. On my initial inspection two days ago on rappel, I didn't even try the moves. The original beta just seemed completely out of the question 1.

Returning today, looking at the chalk on the holds, I visualized a new possibility for the beta and gave it a try. This involved turning a right hand pocket to an undercling, which as a result shortened the reach to a bad sloper. I quickly did the moves with the new beta on top rope, rested, and climbed it clean on top rope 1. After figuring out how to place the slider nut, which was surprisingly bomber 2, I was ready to go. I climbed up, placed the piece and returned to the ground. On the lead, there always seems to be some unplanned decision to be made. For me, it was the position of my right foot on a key hold relative to the rope. This unplanned decision resulted in me placing my right foot a little wrong, requiring a readjustment. Once in place, the crux move felt quite a bit harder than I was anticipating. Luckily, there was enough tolerance in the move that I was still able to stick it. The whole process took about an hour.

The obvious question that arose was regarding the grade. After climbing Parthian Shot, The New Statesman, and The Promise and having spent two days on Equilibrium and one on The Groove, my opinion is that the grade falls at E8, 5.13c/d R 4. The reason for this is that a fall from the crux would not result in a ground fall, assuming the gear holds. Regarding the gear, the only way that it would fail is if the cables broke 3. After bounce testing the piece while clipped directly into my harness, I was confident that it would hold 2. It should also be stated that I placed two crashpads at the base of the climb 5. All in all, the route climbs wonderfully and would highly recommend it to anyone 6!

1. The first obvious difference seems to be in the sequence. It is completely possible that I missed an easier method, and if this is the case, then it would affect the overall difficulty. Time, and more repeats will tell if this is the case.

2. It also seems that Kevin found the protection to be much more trustworthy than I did. The slider ripped out during testing, and when I set off on my ascent, it was with a belief that the gear would fail in a fall, but possibly slow me down. Why the protection now seems better than before, I cannot say as I have not seen the placement since making the first ascent.

3. Regarding the only way the gear could fail – I think it is highly more likely the placement would give way before the piece breaks. People that are familiar with sliders know how small and expansion range there is on a No.1, and people that are familiar with gritstone know how easily rock is damaged/worn away in gear placements (just take a peek inside any popular friend placement). It really wouldn’t need that much to crumble under load (even just a crystal) for the slider to expand too far and pop right out.

4. Kevin offers a proposed grade of E8, 13c/d, R based on his experience and comparisons with other routes he has climbed including Parthian Shot which I believe the team regarded as E9, 13b/c, R/X (I hope this is still the current feeling because China won’t let me onto peoples blogs to check if minds have been changed with hindsight). Am I alone in noticing the obvious discrepancy - before we even go into more detail?

If we do compare specifics of each route, Parthian Shot is 8a/+ with a fall (off a 6c crux move) into air onto wires in a flake that has been described as “bomber”. “Bomber” or not, the flake has held well over 50 falls which would suggest to me that it is trustworthy.

The Promise was given 8b+ but may be easier due to a new sequence being discovered? A fall from the 7a crux would be onto a single No.1 Ballnut in a tiny slot that has both held, and failed during body weight tests and has never taken a fall.

There are the facts and figures, make of them what you will.

5. Around 4 years ago I decided to make an ethical stand and not use bouldering pads to protect trad routes. This decision was based on many reasons that I am not going into now as would only dilute the current discussion. There have been times however, where I had wished I had not gone down this road as it has made certain things a lot less attainable and much more dangerous. The Promise was one of these times. On a route so short, with such a bad landing, a few pads would have change things dramatically, turning a dangerous route into something very different. Maybe my approach was foolish, but I chose to take this path, and I will stick with it through good and bad. Please don’t take this as a dig at anyone, because it is most definitely not. Climb what you want, when you want and how you want, just make sure that when it matters, the facts are clear. You should never feel forced to sit in a certain box and conform to people’s expectations. Be a renegade...

6. It sure does, The moves are ace and it is one of my favourite routes :)

Now that The Promise is finished, I guess the question on everybody’s lips is what’s next?

On a bit of a tangent, but very related, I was reading about Kevin’s ascent of The Duel, a 25ft wall at Hueco that he graded V10/E10 and was protected by 17 pads. Using many, many pads to protect short (less than 45ft) solos seems to be the way that things are heading in the US, effectively making great big highballs, with big soft landings (just to confirm, this is not in direct reference to The Duel which from what I can gather has a particularly nasty landing, but US highballing in general). In many ways this makes perfect sense. The technology to make these problems safe(r) is there, so surely it is foolish not to use it.

So what about the Grit? If 2 pads can make such a difference to a short route like The Promise, then imagine what 17 would do. If 17, why not 18, if 18 why not 20, if 20 why not... I know I am exaggerating a little, but you get the point. For a rock type where the level is often defined by the danger (I know that’s not the whole truth but I’m trying to simplify) how would using a protection device that’s protectional ability is almost unquantifiable work? It would never be black and white, but many shades of grey!

It was for reasons like this that I decided to stop using pads until the murky waters clear. I do not know the answer; in fact I barely understand all the questions. But what I do know is things are getting more and more confusing and blurred for each day that passes.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

I am in China and I can’t sleep, so what better time to write a blog post. Since my last post, not much has gone on, which is good for me as it means I don’t have to write reams, but not so for you, as my precisely planned prose will only entertain you for a tiny part of your lives. Still, you must surely have more important things to do than listen to me warble on about nothing in particular, so in reality, I am doing you all a favour ;)

My week at work was literally hell, so bad that I don’t want to talk about it, so let us say no more. Friday eventually came and along with it brought Richie at the Warehouse Project which was something I had been looking forward to for a long time. Sadly, for reasons mentioned above, I had racked up less than ideal sleep hours the previous week and by 2pm, an hour before Richie even came on, I could take no more and bailed. Thankfully, according to a very knowledgeable and respected source, his set was only average and so my warm comfy bed now seemed like a fairly smart choice.

Once semi recovered it was time for Keith (or Unclesomebody productions if we are being formal) and I to pull some David Blaine shit and make the magic - can you feel it? We directed, starred, filmed, edited and produced. Tirelessly slaving away over hot stoves and on-screen Keyboards for 3 days until Galatea came to be. I am not sure if our creation will ever grace the public domain, and maybe that is a good thing. Your imagination is more entertaining than any film could ever be, and if you try hard enough (and know Keith and I well ;) ), I am sure you can come up with your own ideas...

Thursday found me in London meeting with some well known male magazines, ooohhhh HALAM, which was definitely a new and somewhat strange experience. I really dislike London. The hustle and bustle and attitude of a lot of the people does not agree with me but like a lot of things, once in a while won’t hurt. I think I got a little carried away with the cosmopolitan lifestyle, or maybe it was just from living the good life on company accounts, but on returning home that evening I took Emily out to one of Manchester’s best restaurants for a fancy farewell meal. The food was out of this world, and it was very pleasant to spend some quality time with Em after what has been a crazy few months. When it came to paying the bill, Emily produced some vouchers she had found online for 2 meals for the price of one and a big smile crossed my face. Great company, great food and a great deal, what more could you want.

Just over a day later I was saying goodbye to Emily and begining my long, staggered journey to Yangshou. Manchester - Frankfurt, Frankfurt - Beijing, Beijing - Guilin, Guilin - Yangshou.

I arrived in town in the evening and stumbled aimlessly up and down the streets in search of my hotel. After asking various people and finding the garbled chinglish directions of little use, a nice young man kindly offered to escort me and I gladly followed. Down back alleys and through restaurant kitchens, I began to get a little worried, but suddenly there it was. TNF had been kind to me once again and I wasted no time in collapsing into the luxury bed, shortly followed to a much needed visit to the land of nod.

After a day of chilaxing, I met up with some old friends and who took me rock climbing, which is something I have heard lots of good things about and felt strangely familiar, possibly I did some in a past life? Anyway I had great fun, despite the heat and must remember to try it again sometime. To escape from the sun, we went for a quick swim in a water cave, which was pretty cool, in more ways than one. Here are a few pics

We bailed back to town for a clean and a feed. I asked my friends to take me to the best Szechuan restaurant and arranged to meet them at 6pm. Once everyone had arrived, we all walked to the restaurant of choice, which happened to be right next to my hotel, and a place I had disregarded on a few previous occasions for reasons I don’t actually know. The food was amazing, the best I have had in China so far and I am sure I will be returning tomorrow.

We finished eating at about 6.50pm and I decided to go to my room for some work, a movie and an early night. It is now 01.20 am and I have failed to get to sleep for a second time. It is not fun and I don’t envy insomniacs in the slightest.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Hello again,

There wont be any posts for a while as I will be locked away at work until the 17th, but I just thought I would highlight a tiny edit I made to my last post. I made a joke about Rockfax, which was honestly made with the best of intentions to brighten up peoples days and at the time it felt funny. On reflection and re reading of my post, I realise it was pretty rubbish and brought nothing positive to the table so I have removed it, never to be spoken of again :)

Sorry Rockfax, I hope we can still be friends.

Adios mi amigos

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The Walk Of Life, E12 7a, 48m

Description (very brief and boring, just the facts, little info on anything else)

Tidal – The base will become wet a few hours either side of high tide.

Starting from the centre of the wall, climb the initial overlaps to gain the base of the smooth hanging slab. Move up this via a series of very thin, powerful and precarious moves (passing a possible micro wire placement – psychological only) to good holds and the first reasonable protection (no.1 Ballnut) at 15m.

Continue on spaced thin breaks (micro friend protection) for 10m until the first and only bomber gear (Friend 2 in a rogue, wide slot), climb past this to join the original line of Dyer Straits (all 13 of the original pegs now removed).

Follow the hairline crack to the top off the wall passing several difficult sections. The protection is all marginal and difficult to place on lead with many pieces placed blind. The wall becomes steeper the higher you climb and is almost vertical at the top.

Take care with the rock on the entire route, holds have a tendency to snap, protection has a tendency to fail.

Belay from a stake at the top (back-up with other stakes)

The line of the route almost perfectly follows the rope I am hanging from. At that point, I am just about to join the orignal line of Dyer Straits. Copyright David Simmonite


80’s - Looked at by Johnny Dawes

94 - Attempted and equipped by Andy Donson. “Its been 13 years since I was on it, and the best I managed was with a few rests on the pegs. I recall seeing a poster of Johnny Dawes trying on tr back in the late 80s, but apart from that don’t know who else had played with it. It wouldn’t surprise me if Nick White had been on it while he was new routing in the area. The route had definitely been brushed before I got on it in 94/95. I am the fool who hammered all the pegs in – which was shortsighted but I was a bit blinded by all the excitement when I realized it was climbable”

98 - First ascent of Dyer Straits by Ian Vickers. Climb the arĂȘte of Earth Rim Roamer to just over half height before traversing in and climbing to the top of the wall past 13 pegs. The route was climbed in a redpoint style with preplaced quickdraws in the pegs, and small amounts of pre-placed gear. Felt to be 8a+ as a sport route (Considerably harder now since loss of crucial holds and placing protection on lead)

Late 90’s - Simon Jones, and possibly others try the direct start. As far as I am aware, Simon intends to place pegs in the start and feels the start alone (with pegs) will be E10

04 - I look at the original line and decide to try to repeat it. It feels 8a+ on a top rope but the pegs look un-trustworthy. At first I plan to replace the pegs with either Stainless Steel or Titanium

05 - I struggle to find any suitable pegs and in asking for advice, get chatting to Ben Bransby who attempted Dyer Straits with Ian. He tells me his view on the use of pegs and how they have a massive negative impact on our climbs. I realise I agree with him and decide to either forget about the route, or to remove the pegs and try it on leader placed gear.

06 - I realise the line is protectable on trad gear (just) and begin to remove the first of the pegs during regular trips to visit my girlfriend’s family in Devon. During working the route, various holds on the upper wall fall off making the climbing much harder.

07 - I decide that if I am going to put in the effort to climb Dyer Straits on trad gear then I should at least look to see if the direct 20m is possible with the idea of linking it into 1 mega pitch. I find it is hard and unprotected, but possible. My girlfriend and I ab down the wall on Boxing Day and remove the last of the remaining pegs from the upper wall.

08 - I begin to invest some serious time after completing The Groove. I break off a crucial hold on the upper wall making it much, much harder than originally thought. At first it seems impossible, but I work out another sequence and realise that it is still climbable. After a few days of effort I link the upper wall on a toprope which feels way, way harder than the original 8a+. Eventually, by June, I feel almost ready to attempt a lead and I return with David Simmonite and Hotaches Productions. 13 days and 4 trips and one huge fall later, I finally top out.

Copyright David Simmonite

Compared to other routes

As I have said before, The Walk Of Life is harder than anything I have done or tried before. It is easy to compare it to my own repeats and first ascents including Equilibrium, The Promise, and The Groove (which in hindsight and compared to other routes, I feel is worth E11). Earlier this year I spent 1 day on Rhapsody, which I am sure you all know. What you probably don’t know is how I fared, and my feelings about the route. At the time, I kept quiet about my experience, seeing no reason to publicly state my (possibly controversial) opinion, but now it feels like I need to explain my thoughts and feelings about Rhapsody, to enable me to justify my proposed grade for The Walk of Life.

Please do not take the following section to be any sort of a personal attack on a certain gnarly Scotsman. I have massive, massive respect for Dave Macleod. I think he is an absolutely fantastic climber and also a really great guy, who has always been more than happy to help me. He has achieved things that I can only dream about and has climbed things that would make me wet my pants just to look at them. Dave is certainly one of the most knowledgeable climbers I know, when it comes to everything from technical stuff to specifics for training. I have learnt a lot from him and I am sure I will continue to do so. It seems that certain individuals believe there is some great anglo-scottish rift in climbing with us pesky Englishmen prepared to sink to any levels to get one over on our tougher northern brothers. Well I am going to have to disappoint, and say that I consider Dave Macleod a friend. It even says so on Facebook!

It just so happens that the only routes I have to compare The Walk Of Life to are either Dave’s or my own. And as always honesty is the best policy so I will tell you exactly what my thoughts are.

On my first attempt at Rhapsody (on a toprope), I flashed the first half of the headwall, falling due to an incorrect foot placement. I then flashed each individual move to the top. Happy with my performance so far, I investigated Sonnie Trotter’s claim that you could escape onto the left arĂȘte which turned out to be true and it was at this point I lost motivation for the route and became content to spend the next day playing on the boulders below.

It is a real shame there is not a little more space between the features, as from the floor, the headwall screams out to be climbed. However, once you are on the wall, you realise that each proposed way up just does not quite work. It also appears that the choice of belay position is very important and turns a nasty slam into a pleasant fall into air.

Before continuing any further, I feel there is something I need to mention briefly (don’t worry, there will be more to come about this later), and that is the word “experience”. When you offer a grade to a first ascent, what you are effectively doing is defining your experience as a point on a scale. Since your experience is deeply personal, this grade is only really relevant to you and may change, up or down, depending on future ascentionists experiences. Dave obviously put in a massive effort to climb Rhapsody and took what looked like a lot of nasty falls. When he weighed up his experience, he felt it fitted in at a certain place on the scale and gave it a corresponding number

The grade of a route should be an ever evolving and ultimately relate to the most efficient and effective way to climb a certain piece of rock. Soloing a well protected HVS does not make the route E3, nor would climbing the same HVS using only one hand. Sure your experience may have felt E3, but climbing what the rock has offered us, in the best way possible, is what everything should be measured on. Otherwise we will be in an even more confusing place than we are now.

Obviously, you can’t officially suggest a different grade unless you have actually made a successful ascent, but I can compare my experience on Rhapsody to other routes I have done/tried and have a general idea of which is harder.

Coincidentally, shortly after trying Rhapsody, I bumped into Dave and chatted to him about Echo wall. It was very interesting to talk with another person about hard trad climbing in general and to share our thoughts and feelings on various routes. I have since talked further with Dave about Echo wall and it really does sound like a terrific and terrifying route and one that I would like to try in future. Dave managed to quantify specific sections of Echo Wall with equivalent french grades which is something I currently feel unable to do for The Walk Of Life. There are many reasons for this, but mainly, having never climbed a hard, bolted slab, I have nothing to compare it to. Echo Wall breaks down into the following; Steep fr8a+ (E9) climbing protected by a single micro cam leads to the lip, a knee-bar rest and a mixture of protection. The rest of the route is fr8b to the top (V10 boulder problem into a fr7b+ for an even further break down). The crux is protected (as long as the gear holds!), after which you place a good rp3 (placed blind) and then run it out to the top (probable death from easier upper wall).

And quite simply, that is that. I compared my experience on The Walk Of Life with the information above and came to a conclusion.

E12 7a is the point on the scale that I feel best reflects my experience, and what a crazy thing that is to say. Using two very inflexible numbers to try to sum up my thoughts and feelings at the final point of a 4 year journey seems ridiculous, and really takes something magical away from the route. There are so many things about The Walk Of Life that are special to me without even thinking about the grade, and any of these special parts explain the experience infinitely better than those 2 numbers ever could. Like how I learnt to get knocked down time and time again but keep getting up fighting even though the odds seemed stacked against me. Or how my ideas and ethics, about the use of pegs on trad routes were completely flipped upside down and in doing so made for a vastly harder, but infinitely purer challenge. Or even that the constant support of great people can make anything seem possible.

When all is said and done, and our journey has come to an end, it is not just about where we finish, but how we get there and what we learn along the way.

Do the walk...

Copyright David Simmonite

Monday, 6 October 2008

I was beginning to hate the sight of my computer monitor, I never thought this route would cause so much of a fuss but since completing it, or more precisely returning home, it has been utterly manic. For every choice you make, you must be willing to accept both the good and the not so good, and my choice to make climbing my profession should be no different. But having just finished my biggest epic yet, all I want to do is spend time with friends and family, relax and have a whole load of non-climbing fun. The urge to run-away was ever growing and on Saturday, I did just that.

One of my friends was having a little birthday celebration in the form of a chilled meal, a drink and then who knows. It sounded like just what I needed so I made a last minute decision and caught a lift down to Birmingham. The company was great, as was the meal and after too much good food and cheap wine, we found ourselves in the que for a random club. Fair enough I thought, random clubs seem to be the order of the day on spontaneous nights and you usually get exactly what you expect - bearable music, overpriced drinks but fun non the less as long as you don't expect too much.

Finally my turn came at the front of the que, "£14 please mate", shit the bed! 14 quid, he must be having a laugh, there is no way I'm paying that, doesn't he know I'm a tight fisted northerner? Then I remember I am the last of the group and everyone else is all ready inside. Grudgingly I hand over the last of my cash and head inside, probably muttering something rude under my breath.

On the way I pass a poster advertising tonight's line-up. I check to see what amusingly un-originally named local scallys are doing their thing, then choke as I almost swallow my tongue. I check again, looking to see the deliberate spelling mistake that just is not there, and run off inside, full of glee to tell the others.

I dont know how it happened, but headlining on this very night, in this very town, in this very club is none other than Krafty Kuts! Emily and I are both massive fans and have been trying to see him live for time and so cannot believe out luck. As we expect, the music is awesome and he does his amazing reputation and discography more than justice. An early morning taxi ride, far too short a sleep, very lazy day and a tiring return journey sees Em and I falling into bed and off to the land of nod.

Whilst still a little sleepy this morning, my body and mind feel fresher and I am ready to get back on with the task in hand.

Thankfully past the first section. Copyright David Simmonite

I have written a long account of the day of my ascent that will be published in Climb Magazine, along with fantastic pictures from David Simmonite, so if you want the complete low down you will need to be a little patient.

For now I can tell you that the ascent was a very strange experience with a few exciting twists creating massively mixed emotions and feelings. The route did not go without a fight and I honestly had to give it everything I had. At some points it was necessary to forget that I was on a trad route, if I had dithered, or showed too much caution it would have been over, in more sense than one.

As I imagined it would, The Walk Of Life, or more specifically the proposed grade, has caused quite a stir in cyber space, although not half as much of a stir as the wording of the initial press release. It seems that certain people took quite an offence to David Simmonite’s writing and reporting style, with some individuals being quite blunt (to the point of being rude) with their replies. This to me seems crazy and is genuinely upsetting; especially knowing what a good person Dave is. I realise that people have their own opinions and no one should ever try to deny or subdue these; but there are different ways and means to express yourself and I feel that, wherever possible, you should aim to be as civil and constructive as you can. In doing so, the outcome is positive, with both parties gaining something from the experience. The problem, I feel, is it is much easier to be negative than nice, which is a real shame.

Moving on...

The next most common point seems to be “how can James possibly justify giving The Walk Of Life E12?” People have been trying to compare and contrast this route with other routes of varying styles from all around the world and myself with other climbers. They have made predictions based on what they think I may have climbed in the past on trad or on bolts, on Grit or Granite, both pre and post morning poo, hung-over or sober, wearing my girlfriend’s knickers or completely starkers, or whatever else they think they may have once heard from their mate down the pub. I think by now you get the picture - a lot of people stating their two-peneth as fact, quoting numbers and names they could just have easily plucked out of thin air, which if they had, might probably be more accurate.

Hearsay is both a wonderful and wicked thing. Without it, conversations with your mates would be a lot less interesting, but if taken as the gospel, and published in public for all to see, it can have drastic and devastating effects on a person’s life. I am no saint, and I will be the first to admit it. I have made plenty of mistakes and done many stupid things when I was younger, including posting rumours on climbing forums. But, however much of a fool I have been, I feel I have learnt from my mistakes. There is a famous quote involving a fool, mistakes and wise men that seems very fitting. If you don’t know it, try a google.

So, in an attempt to settle any confusion, and to try to sum up my decision on the grade, here are some “facts” about The Walk Of Life, and the other routes I have compared it to. Let me just confirm that all of the following are either my own opinion, or the opinion of other people who have directly tried the routes in question. No third parties have been involved and no children or animals were hurt during the making of this climb.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

At long last I am back home and back into some sort of normality. This morning I have been catching up on loads of house jobs that have been building up for the last month. Whilst you may find it hard to believe, I don’t really like doing housework, in fact it often makes me feel ill. Every now and then, to avoid the piles of things taking over, I have to give myself an ultimatum – “do the jobs, or else!”. This morning I decided there was to be no computer access until it was all done and so finally after almost 2 hours of unpacking bags, folding washing, tidying up and hovering I was finished, or at least finished enough for now.

I am sure you would all be polite enough to listen patiently to me talk about this and that, about how the leaves are almost off the trees outside my window, or how it is not raining in Manchester. Or even that my Down Jacket has been moved from my wardrobe to the coat rack, signifying the grit season is on its way. But secretly, and silently, with wide fake smiles on your faces, you would be thinking “come on James, im not interested in this shit, tell me what I want to hear”

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty...

As you all know by now, on Monday the 29th of September, I finally climbed from the bottom, to the top, of Dyers Lookout without any use of aid, or fixed gear. The Walk Of Life is the culmination of 4 years of effort and comes at what I feel is my current highpoint in terms of strength, fitness, technique, mental control etc. This route has honestly pushed me further than any other rock climb I have been on before and there were many times I questioned whether I would ever complete it. Every day I returned, hoping to make an attempt, the wall seemed to put up new barriers or throw something new at me. As crazy as it sounds, it started to feel like the wall was alive and was enjoying seeing me fail.

Thankfully, with some help and encouragement from my friends and family, I persevered and on my 13th day of attempted leads, sweet success was finally mine. Actually, this is the first time I have worked out the exact number of potential lead days, If I had known that Monday was number 13, I would have thought twice about setting off at all. Ignorance is bliss.


Dont worry, there is much much more to come but before I post it, there are just a few minor details I need to confirm.

Keep checking back, I hope to post again in the next day or so. In the mean time here is another pick to wet your whistle

Copyright David Simmonite

Monday, 29 September 2008

I’m back again in glorious Devon, for the 4th time to try and climb my project. The whole process began so innocently all those years ago but over time has grown into a real monster. During my initial forays onto the route, I could never have guessed just how much of my time would be taken up by, and how big a part of my life this route would become. It has been at the front of my mind for the last few months, ever since I decided (possibly prematurely) that I was ready to lead it and all my plans, my whole life in fact, have been structured to fit around these trips down south.

If I had to choose one feeling that summed up these trips it would be frustration. But there have been little rays of sunshine that make it all bearable and ultimately, these experiences make me a better person. The most important thing I have learnt is how to accept situations for what they are and to be patient. Sometimes, no matter how much you want something, external forces out of your control just will not let it happen and it would be foolish to try to take them on.

Now to anyone reading this, that may sound like a very submissive outlook and to a point I would agree. But when your life is literally on the line, surely the smart money is on waiting until the cards are in your favour, or at least until you are playing on an even field. Whilst there is a certain allure being a hero, fighting against the odds and going out in a blaze of glory, my instincts for self-preservation is strong and I would rather live to fight another day.

Today is day number 4. Day 1 was spent stuck in traffic; Day 2 was cool but very humid making even the individual moves feel impossible. Day 3 was warmer but dryer and the idea of the lead sparked in my head until I heard a weather report for day 4 and decided to cut my losses and save my skin.

After a decent feed to re-fuel my tired body, day 4 dawned clear, cool and crisp. Is this what I have been waiting for?

Time will tell...

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

My time in Spain has come to an end and as usual, I find myself writing this from an airport. I guess it makes sense... Airports are possibly the most boring, and least enjoyable part of my life and so writing a blog, which is usually fairly low on my list of priorities, suddenly seems like a fantastic idea when the alternatives involve pacing up and down, or watching the information boards to find out how long my flight is delayed by. In fact, today, I have hit the airport blogging jackpot. I have found a place so perfect that all other airport blog sessions will hence forth be measured against this moment.

Firstly, I am in a fairly deserted part of the airport, well away from all the overweight, pink, hung-over Britons on their way back from a fortnight package holiday in beautiful Benidorm. Secondly, I am next to a power socket which I am happily borrowing electricity from to ensure my laptop stays fully charged for today’s in-flight movie. And thirdly, I am right in front of an info board so I can keep track of my epic, without even getting up. In theory, my flight will be departing at 21:00, but in practice, it is 20:45 and there is still not a gate listed.

It took a lot of searching to find this spot but I can assure you it was totally worth it. I would advise anyone else who has to spend time in these wonderful places to do the same and as with most things in life, its all about finding those silver linings.

So where was I... Oh yes, Spain. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plains, at least that’s where it is supposed to fall but today it was falling squarely on the Orange house. I had climbed at the Wild Side at Sella for the last couple of days which is awesome but meant my skin was feeling a little thin. Two weeks of DWS did not do good things for my tips and even the thought of small holds was making me wince.

I had climbed fairly well and was pleased with the routes I had done and so felt that my last day should be something a little different. A few of us drove out to the Mascarat Gorge for another go at the big swing but today I was determined to make it really big, as big as possible in fact. I lowered as far as possible and marked the ropes at the correct point before scrambling back up the side of the gorge to the bridge. Without wasting any time, meaning I had no chance to back out I made my way to the take off point an clipped in. My heart was beating fast and thoughts of escape were at the front of my mind so I picked up my camera and started to record. I forced myself to tell the camera what I planned to do, knowing that once it was on film, I wouldn’t chicken out (its funny how your brain works). As I climbed with shaking legs onto the railing, I knew that everything was 100% safe but that didn’t stop me from imagining terrible things happening. Shouting out loud that I was going meant no turning back and I hurled myself off the top railing, entranced by the wavy slack rope stretched out in front of me.

A second later I was 50 meters below, speeding over boulders 3 meters off the floor. Leaning back in my harness, I smiled. After my friends had jumped, the heavens suddenly opened and down came some of the heaviest rain I have seen since Asia last year. We packed up the soggy gear and set off back to the car, which promptly steamed up, almost causing a few crashes on the way back.

Just to keep you updated, because I have nothing better to do, it is now 21:20 and my flight is now flashing RETRASADO! What fun...

I packed my bags but was very disappointed to find my man-kini was missing! My grand plan of wearing it home to surprise Emily came crashing down around me, what a terrible shame. Someone had obviously taken a bit of a shine to it and pocked it for themselves when I was not looking. The cheeky little rascals, how very dare they. Luckily or unluckily (which depends on your personal outlook), large ladies thongs are fairly prevalent nowadays, so I should not find too many problems in replacing it.

After relaxing for the last few hours, the time came to leave my friends and I grabbed a lift to the airport. I should be back in England at some point today or tomorrow and plans have already started for my return to Devon. To tell you the truth, I am very worried about going back on the route, knowing all too well what could happen and how I felt last time. But I have to try to keep these feelings and thoughts under control if I am to have any chance of completing the route. If I have learnt anything from today, it is that you can do things to change and control irrational fear and I think (hope) the same rules will apply to rational fear.

This route, which started off as a small idea in a mixed up mind, has grown into the biggest and most difficult challenge of my life. I have had to give, and will have to continue to give, more than ever before but if nothing else, this will make the final ascent even more satisfying. If people gave up when the going got tough the world would be a very different place.

Friday, 19 September 2008

What a change from one week to the next! Almost everything is different, the transport, the accommodation, the rock, the water, the people etc etc but there is one constant and that is having fun. It feels a little strange coming from a situation climbing with a group of really talented experienced climbers, where most of the hard projects have already been completed. To climbing in an area where there are still lots of unclimbed lines and you are only one of a few in the group who can climb them. I couldn’t really say if one was better or more enjoyable than the other, they are just different.

I have climbed for three days in the Costa Blanca so far. The first I ran around like a headless chicken, trying and climbing what may be new routes until I ran out of energy and crashed. Maybe I have got used to being able to stimulate my body and mind with Red Bull whenever I feel tired, but since the never ending supply has vanished, and I now have to pay through the nose, I no longer have the luxury. Since then I have tried to be a little more controlled and have relaxed a lot more. There is plenty to keep me entertained when I am not climbing, like wearing Man-kinis...

On one of the mornings, Rich Mayfield shouted “today is man-kini day” which I think was a very spur of the moment decision, but everyone got fully involved. Not wanting to be left out of the fun and games, I too trotted off to Carrefour in search of large ladies pants that would stretch over my shoulders. After a lot of procrastinating over which colour and style would best suit, I settled on a size 46, black thong. Very tasteful I thought.

Once we arrived at the destination for the day, it was time to “man-up” as Rich had taken to calling it. There were some interesting moments when learning where to put my various bits and pieces and the cameras were out to catch all the action. Fortunately my little man, who is actually quite camera shy, somehow managed to avoid the paparazzi and my bluest snapshots only involved a rouge testicle or two.

Once everyone had manned-up, it was man-kini time, and here are the results.

Suprisingly, I found my little black number to be very liberating and am beginning to understand the attraction that certain gentlemen seem to have for them. My only criticism, which I am sure would be rectified if I actually bought one the right size that was designed for men, is that it doesn’t half chafe my arse crack.

My man-kini has played a fairly big role in the rest of my week, even wearing it to throw myself off a very tall bridge. It will also be accompanying me tonight to the “Hugh Heffners Playboy Mansion” end of week party. I think I will fit in a treat with the rest of the bunnys.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Again I find myself writing this from an airport, but this time from the check-in que, which I am in for the second time today due to pea-brained, senseless airport rules regarding credit card security, aye aye aye! Anyway...

Red Bull Psicobloc has come and gone and what an amazing time I have had. Sailing around on a luxury catamaran, rocketing over the waves on jet skis and a wild all night party are experiences I will not forget in a hurry. Oh, and the climbing was pretty good too.

Seriously, good is not the word to describe the DWS in Mallorca, it really is like a heaven. Combine the nicest flame orange limestone you have ever climbed on, with a pleasant air temperature and warm turquoise seas and you will begin to get the picture. Add to that a group of fantastic climbers and great friends, plus a load of awesome perks and you have all the makings of a trip of a life time.

I had heard various people tell of the fantastic sense of care free freedom you get from psicobloc but having only dabbled with it in the past, in less than ideal circumstances, I had yet to experience it myself and to be honest I wasn’t sure they were telling the whole truth. As is often the case, I was mistaken and I can now officially say that psicobloc, or DWS, or whatever you want to call it is pretty damn cool, that’s right, its OFFICIAL ;)

Never before have I been able to completely immerse myself in climbing without the slightest distraction. To go where you want, when you want, how you want, without a care in the world is simply incredible. Pure joy.

After a couple of really humid days where conditions were poor the wind changed direction and I found myself at a slightly damp, but very climbable Diablo. I warmed up a little before having to do a bit of inconvenient but necessary filming work with the rest of the team. Once finished I down climbed a slightly wet 6c to join a growing number of damp climbers on the dry bag ledge and began to prepare myself. Tony Lamprecht, Iker Pou and I decided to try our luck on Loskot and Two Smoking Barrels which was made famous in Dosage 2 and features a huge all points off dyno at 15m. After watching Iker and Tony fall off, it was my turn to give the route a shot and I nervously traversed towards the start. I was unsure of how I would feel about hurling myself uncontrollably off the rock at 15m but once I set off up the wall all nervousness disappeared and I launched for the twin pockets with all I had. My hand went in, but just as quickly ripped out and I squealed like a school girl as I headed towards the drink. Puta.

After drying off on the ledge, it was time for round two. I set up for the jump, and could hardly believe how far away the pockets looked. It seemed really unlikely but I went for it anyway and a second later I was horizontal, holding the swing and letting out a whoop of joy. Screams erupted from above and below, “this is the life” I thought. I was happy and relaxed, before remembering that there were still a few hard moves to go. Tony was screaming the beta at the top of his lungs and I made it to the last move. I tried to static a long reach to a two finger pocket that I should have slapped. My hand hovered 5cm below the hold but I had no more to give, the sea was calling, I picked up speed, splash.

That single moment of catching the jug was one of the best I have had in climbing and epitomised all that psicobloc is about. I didn’t try the route again, getting to the top somehow did not seem so important and I wanted to keep that moment special, at least until the next visit.

Later on that day we sailed the 7 seas to the mighty pontas. In short I was blown away by the difficulty of this line, it is a huge step up from any other DWS I have seen. However, it is possible to climb the route without the crazy dyno, making it a slightly easier proposition but the main meat of the route comes after the dyno so overall, it will still be an insanely difficult route. Maybe the future will see me return to give the line a serious effort, who knows, time will tell.

The final day arrived and a festival had been organised by the Red Bull people to take place at Cala Barques. It was a fine day, with good conditions, routes, friends and music. I tried a line called Snatch which is an awesome short 8b up a smooth concave wall on one and two finger pockets. The moves were awesome and felt highly improbable. On my flash attempt, I made it to 4 moves from the top and on my next try I got two moves further. Close but no cigar. My hands were feeling pretty sore by this point, salt water and rough rock certainly makes your skin drop off. I decided to call it a day and hopefully recover allow my skin to recover a little before beginning the second leg of my journey.

Again, despite not completing the route, I felt really content. This is unusual for me as normally I cannot sleep until a project is in the bag but with psicobloc things seem to be different. I think the real joy of this style of climbing is feeling completely free from the normal constraints that climbing can put on you. This very obviously applies to the issues of rope and gear but why stop there. There is no need to be restrained by existing routes, or lines in a guide book, climb where you want and how you want, do whatever feels the most fun at any particular point in time.

The sun set slowly over the horizon and it was time to party. The Red Bull crew are not known for doing things by halves and tonight was no different. It may have been the atmosphere, or it may have been the never ending supply of vodka redbulls, but the first time I looked at the time it was 4.15am.

We moved to another venue which was surprisingly good for a small little town, good tuned mixed well, what more can you ask for. I finally bailed back to the boat at around 6am for a steady 2 hours sleep and woke fresh as a daisy, well maybe not quite to pack my bags. Just before leaving, I got chance to see the photos from the week, courtesy of Damiano Levati ( and they were amazing. I was blown away by some of the images and found myself feeling sad that it had all come to an end. I said my good byes to friends old and new and headed for the airport. The week has been nothing but a pleasure and has introduced me to the wonders of psicobloc which I can see playing a big part in my future climbing. And the future is now, because for the net week I will be in the Costa Blanca at the Orange House DWS fest.

Now if only there was a little more water under my Devon project...

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Mallorca here I come

Right now I am sitting in the departure gate of Southampton airport after having just returned to the mainland from an insanely muddy Isle of Wight. I had a great time and listened to some fantastic music and got really dirty, but more of that later.

Last time I blogged I told you I would soon be returning to Devon to attempt my project and guess what, I didn’t do it. With the way the internet is now-a-days you would most likely have known about me doing it before I even did, so I guess it must come as no surprise, that due to the radio silence, I failed again. Thankfully, this time was not as terrifying, or as painful as the last which unfortunately for you guys means it in not as exciting to read about. Oh well, I do try my best to keep you entertained one way or another but sometimes things just don’t work out how you had planned.

30+mph winds and heavy rain showers were what met me at the cliff so the chance of a lead attempt was looking thin from the start. I was joined by Nick and Katherine Sellars who were great company and their excitement on seeing the wall for the first time helped to keep my spirits high. In between the gusts and the rain, the rock felt great and I managed to climb all of the sections with relative ease. I still felt sick when I thought of being on the lead but I did my best to control this and by the end of day 1, I was praying for calmer weather the following day.

Unfortunately, after phoning around various people for a weather report all hopes were dashed as I found out the Bristol Channel was due to be blasted by a mega storm the following day. I said good bye to all my friends who had travelled hundreds of miles from all over the country to support me, and drove back to Exeter with the now familiar feeling of unavoidable disappointment. Next time.

I had one day left before Bestival and on the spur of the moment decided to join Nick and Katherine at Ansteys Cove for a spot of bolt clipping. We had no guide to follow and it was incredibly refreshing and enjoyable just climbing for climbing sake. No planning, no pressure. Just pick a route you like the look of, climb it, and pick another until you are too tired to do any more. It is all to easy to get sucked into “playing the game” when you are trying to make money from the sport you love and almost forget why you are doing it in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that to have this wonderful life I need to make sacrifices and earn my keep, but from time to I must remember to “just go climbing”.

Thursday came and Emily and I stuffed the car full of half out worldly possessions and headed east to the Isle of Wight. Bestival has run for the last 5 years and due to is late position in the festival calendar has always enjoyed glorious sunshine thanks to the slightly more stable September weather. Not this time...

It had rained a little on Thursday day and the mud was already thick and slippy for our arrival on Thursday night. Then the heavens opened and by morning the whole site was a quagmire, up to 30cm of sludge in some places.

I had planned on glorious sunshine and so had packed my “comfy” tent, a Trailhead 6, instead of anything a little more substantial. The wind roared and the rain continued to fall but as all other tents lay crumpled on the floor, the Trailhead stood strong and true. I was very, very impressed and stepped out each morning with a slight look of smugness and surveyed the carnage around me. Other people were obviously jealous of the mighty Trailhead as one morning I woke to find margarine had been thrown at it during the night, the miserable dirty bastards.

The rain continued to fall and there was talk of closing the festival but everyone persevered and had an amazing time. The highlights for me were listening to HotChip go off in front of 20,000 people on the main stage, and at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, going crazy to an intense, immense Roni Size after party in the tiny, grimy hidden disco.

6.15 am Monday morning came and my alarm screamed in my ear. We stumbled around and packed up camp whilst waiting for a friend who had gone missing the night before and was due to travel home with us. He eventually wandered into camp looking “slightly” worse for wear but in a very giggly mood and proceeded to giggle his way with us up the long muddy walk back to the bus stop.

A Bus, Ferry, Walk, TGI Fridays and Car brings us up to date and to where I will leave you for now. I had a fantastic time at Bestival which I owe in part to having decent kit that kept me warm, dry and smiling. Here’s to the next one, but for now it is on to pastures new.
Adios amigos, for now...

Thursday, 28 August 2008

I am sat at my computer looking out the window at the gently swaying trees and the grey sky just beyond. This situation feels very familiar, and that is because, apart from training, it is almost all I have done since my last post. I wake up, work at the computer, go training, work some more and go to bed. Yes, that is it, and that is why I have not blogged about anything for over a month, because I really have had nothing to write about.

There is method in the madness, and a light at the end of the tunnel. I go to Spain for 3 weeks on the 8th of September, first to Majorca for a RedBull DWS event and then on to the Costa Blanca for some more DWS and some coaching work and this is what has kept me almost sane.

I have written about my dislike of stamina training before, and I still do not like it. However, it does make it seem a little better when you start to feel improvements, all the pain has been worth it. I am still a long way from the fabled reality of not getting pumped, which one of my friends told me he had reached a few years ago, but I am definitely a little fitter than I was and that is only a good thing.

I have done a little DWS before but not for any length of time, nor on anything difficult and whenever I have done it in the past, it has always been with a reserved trad climbing mentality and definitely not gung-ho, dyno and slap till you drop. Add to that the fact that I am not the best of swimmers, and have a deep fear of jelly-fish and seaweed and I am starting to question how successful this trip will be? I think I like the idea and image of DWS, hanging around on gorgeous orange rock, feeling free, getting a suntan etc. But I am not so sure in practice. Oh well, my tickets are booked, and I don’t want to be thought of as some kind of pussy. Time to man up, and throw myself in at the deep end, literally....

But before any of that, I will be back in Devon on my project. I have had a lot of time to gather my thoughts about it over the last month and in short, I have come to realise that I wildly underestimated it. Whilst it is not as physically difficult as some of my gritstone routes, mentally it is in another league. Think of it like this.

Imagine the longest sport route you have ever done.

Now imagine that it is pretty hard, not at your absolute limit of endurance, but fairly close - so there is a good chance you may fall off.

Now make the bolts pretty spaced so you will take a bit of a whipper.

And then take out a few bolts in the crux section so you will take a BIG whipper if you fall here.

Replace all the bolts with micro wires, sliders and other tiny gear, and pray to god that you have placed them in just the right spot or they will be as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

Then just for kicks, imagine that the first bolt (or micro wire) is at 12m, above a terrible bouldery landing, and you have to do the crux of the entire route to get there. This section alone is probably the most psychologically intensive section of climbing you have ever done.

I will be back in The Shire for 3 days in early September. Hopefully the weather will play ball and the Fairies will be watching.

Right then, time to go training.


Saturday, 26 July 2008

Where do I start...

I am sat in Exeter at Emily’s Dads house, drinking tea, having just eaten the most amazing bacon, sausage and egg sandwich. It is all rather surreal, and seems just like any normal day, but occasionally I get a shot of pain from my heels that remind me of the day’s earlier goings on.

My alarm woke Emily and I at 4.15 and we rolled out of our sleeping bags to force down a bowl of oats and raisins, drenched in sour soya milk. Yes, this really is living the dream. Daylight slowly appeared on the horizon as we finished packing the car and headed to the crag. Even at this early hour, the temperature was more than pleasant; I silently hoped that it would not get too much warmer.

Conditions near the top of the wall felt reasonable as I made my final practice attempts and it felt like today could be the day. I racked all my gear in the order I would place it and made my way to the base of the wall to practice the bold start one last time.

The holds felt very greasy and after practicing it a few times my head was in a mess and I started to feel sick when I imagined being on the lead. I tried to convince myself that there was a chance of walking away from a fall, but deep down I knew the truth, even If I didn’t want to accept it.

I wandered off along the beach to try to order my thoughts and instantly felt a little better. I decided to have one final practice then make my decision. All went well, the climbing felt hard, but I managed to switch off my rational brain and calmly keep moving up. As I lowered to the floor, I knew it was on.

I began to slowly prepare myself, probably trying to delay the inevitable, but suddenly realised the tide had crept in to almost half way and if I didn’t start soon, there was a chance Emily may get very wet feet! My earlier worries were replaced with a sudden urgency; I stopped being scared and got on with the job.

The climbing was terrifying, possibly the most harrowing experience of my life. I don’t really want to get drawn into grades for specific sections of the route, but in hindsight, I feel those 15 meters are amongst the hardest I have done, so make of that what you will.

The deadly part was over, but there still remained almost 30m of hard, sustained climbing to go and whilst safer than the start, it relies on tiny gear in soft rock and so the chance of monster falls is pretty high. I slowly made my way up the wall but the higher I got, the worse the conditions became until I was having a real struggle to stay attached to the wall.

I arrived at the beginning of the crux section of the upper wall. The next 15 moves is the most sustained section on the whole route. There is a little bit of gear, but it is difficult to place at the best of times and would be almost impossible in today’s conditions. I decided my best chance was to run it out to the next good hold, hoping that by not placing the gear, I may just be able to make it through. The gear that I hope will catch me if my gamble fails is a Wild Country Zero 3, the smallest cam in the world that is rated for passive protection. Fingers crossed.

I went for it and gave it everything I had. Each move felt desperate with my hands and feet feeling like they would slip at any minute. I arrived at the crux of the section and stretched out my left hand for a flat crimp. My pinky slipped off and fingers opened up, I fought with all my might to hold on. I re-formed the crimp and placed my foot on a high 1mm edge, locked off my left arm and found the distant finger-lock with my right. It hurt, but I didn’t care, as long as it was jammed I wouldn’t fall, which would give me precious more seconds on the wall. I made a strenuous blind foot sequence and moved my left hand to a reasonable gaston but I know I need it in my right hand. With two moves to go to the good hold, the end is in sight but at the same time seems an eternity away.

I need to swap hands and so move my left hand to a poor intermediate. It is a constant battle against all the things that are pulling me earthwards but I won’t give up. I throw my body inwards to generate positive momentum to counteract the negative that I know will happen as soon as I release my right hand. My body moves outwards as my fingers find the hold. I tighten up all my muscles and let out a grunt as my body stops for a split second...

The split second is over, my fingers grease off the hold and I am airborne, I scream.

The fall goes on and on. All I am aware of is I am still screaming, I stop... still falling... and scream some more. Finally the rope takes me and I am back in the world. I quickly check myself and I am not dead, the gear held. 50+ ft onto a Zero 3, not too shabby. Then the disappointment kicks in and I hang my head in self pity. Lower me...