Thursday, 20 March 2008

Cedars Birthday

I had planned for my last full day to be a very relaxing affair, wandering the streets of Yangshuo. It was Cedar’s birthday and when he and Tim raised plans to climb one of the easier multi-pitch climbs I found it hard to say no, even with the wet misty weather outside. At the base of the crag, I felt pretty excited at the thought of climbing some trad routes. The small group simul-climbed a cool but very damp route to a ledge at 200ft. Everything seemed pretty great, even with the wet but things soon went downhill when we pushed higher up the wall. The idea was for Cedar and I to climb a mixture of sport and trad pitches whilst Tim took photos of our adventure. Great in theory, not so in practice. Wet and loose rock is a bad combination and on my first trad exploration I came incredibly close to pulling a big-screen TV sized block off on top of me. As I climbed past it, I knew it was loose, and so made sure 95% of my weight was on my feet. All seemed to be going well until I was almost on top of it. I pulled outwards with about as much force as needed to open a quick draw and the whole thing came away. I threw my weight in over my feet and miraculously the block stopped. Sheepishly, I carefully traversed left before pulling my self together and getting on with the job in hand. If the block had fallen, I don’t think it would have killed me but it wouldn’t have been pretty. Thankfully the pics looked great, and that’s all that matters, right? ;) Next it Was Cedars turn. What we thought was an existing 5.10, turned out to be a very bold first ascent. Lose rock came flying past the belay at regular intervals and after seconding the pitch, I can honestly say it may be the worst route I have ever done. The taxi home was a very welcome sight. We all got ready and headed out to for Cedars Birthday. It was a really fun evening, complete with an amazingly intricate cake. Sadly, the stripper we had tried to organise through the Chinese Mafia never arrived, although on second thoughts, maybe that was a good thing. Well that’s pretty much it. I leave tomorrow for a day in Guilin before heading on the long road back to England. It has been a cool trip and I have had a great time. Here’s to the next one…

Banyan Tree

Saturday was rain free but really misty. The tem split into three to try to complete various projects and arranged to meet up later. I headed to Banyan Tree to look at an 8b+ (5.14a) by Steve McClure and John Dunne as well as the classic 8b (5.13d) Nine Deep, One Shallow. Conditions were pretty awful and the crag was extremely greasy, wet in places. I decided to leave Nine Deep for a future trip with better conditions as it looks like a good candidate for an on-sight attempt and set to work on the Steve’s route. It was a fairly short route and really crimpy. Conditions were far from ideal for this type of climbing but after a reasonable on-sight attempt, and working the remaining moves I took my first red-point, greasing off on the last hard move. After cleaning the route and drying the holds as best as I could I rested for my next attempt. Reaching the same point as before, I pulled hard with my left hand which subsequently fired off the greasy side-pull with such force I punched myself in the face. Safe to say I didn’t red-point on that attempt and I took it as a sign to call it a day.

After meeting up with the rest of the group at Lei pi Shan, I tied on at the base of a very wet Single Life and using my newly found crimp, managed to climb to the top. I felt tired clipping the chains but pushed on anyway for a shot at the extension. I had briefly felt the holds a few days before at the end of a session and remembered them feeling pretty small bad. I hoped they would feel better than I remembered but I was out of luck, falling with about four hard moves still to go. Maybe next time…

Wet, Wet ,Wet

On Friday, just like England, the forecast turned out not entirely correct. The rain stayed in the clouds so the team headed back to Lei pi Shan with high hopes. Unfortunately, the previous days rain was badly seeping through and my project was wetter than ever. I dogged my way up the route and if anything, it looked harder than I remembered. I find it hard to put a number on it because a major section of the route was wet but it felt like the hardest thing I have tried in China. Time will tell and hopefully one of the visiting or local super-heroes will be able to red-point the route once the holds dry out. If not, I’m sure I will return at some point in the not too distant future.

Stripping the draws left me with mixed feelings. It’s always difficult to accept that you cant to something and walk away, even if factors out of your control (wet streak) are to blame. Yet at the same time I felt like I had done what I came to do – to leave something behind for other people to enjoy. Even thought I didn’t free the route, the bolts, hangers and anchors will be there for years to come for anyone to use. Thinking a little deeper, the fact I didn’t free the route means the prize of the first ascent, of what could potentially be the hardest route in China, has also been left for anyone up to the challenge.

After pulling my draws, I tried to flash an 8a+ (5.13c) called Single Life. Like my project a few of the holds were wet but I made it to the last hard move before running out of steam. I tried twice more, falling on the same move before pulling on the rope to look at the holds finding I had missed a good crimp, just left of what I had been trying to use. Emily then dropped the clutch and got in sending mode, smoothly dispatching the 8b+ (5.14a) extension to Single Life. Tired and hungry, we all headed back to base.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Rain, Rain go away

Well, crossing my fingers didn’t work. We have had almost torrential rain all day combined with a thick damp mist. Out of desperation we took a taxi to White Mountain but even this (supposedly) perma-dry crag was sopping. Before we walked in, we had arranged with our driver for him to pick us up in four hours time and so with a wet crag, in the middle of nowhere, with no phone, we were faced with either a long wait or walk back to Yangshuo. We chose the walk and it was fairly pleasant, getting to see up close a lot of the local comings and goings. After a short while we managed to flag down a van and once a price had been agreed, hopped in and rode back to town. The forecast for tomorrow does not look good, nor does it look great for the rest of the week. At some point I need to return to Lei pi Shen to retrieve my remaining 14 draws from my project which, judging by the amount of water that has com from the sky, probably won’t be the best experience of the trip.

If the rain has continued to fall, I think the plan is for a bit of wet-aineering up some of the multi-pitch towers around town. Sure its not sun-kissed, overhanging, tufa covered sport climbing, but a little bit of adventure never hurts ;)


It’s amazing just how wrong you can be. After spending 2 days bolting and cleaning the route, I figured I had a good Idea of how hard it would be as most of the holds seemed good and it didn’t seem so steep. 8a/+ (5.13b/c) was the armchair guess but when the time came to finally give it a go, I just about managed to haul my self to the anchors going bolt to bolt.

It felt really tough and there were two sections I couldn’t climb (one due to wet holds, the other was just damn hard). I think I could climb the bottom section (to the good rest) with a little work, but the top section, with its unclimbed crux, into a massive four point off dyno, into the unclimbed wet section, to some pumpy jugs and final boulder problem seems a little beyond me at this moment in time. Reaching the anchors, I felt defeated and couldn’t see myself climbing the route with my limited time left. I decided to strip the draws but was convinced by my friends to leave them in and try another day.

I hope that I was just tired from bolting etc and that it will seem much more amenable when I next get back on it. I just need to hope for some good weather to dry out the wet streaks, fingers crossed…

Thursday, 13 March 2008

China here I come

Thanks to the wonders of modern medication, my journey seemed to pass fairly quickly and I found myself in Yangshuo without too much hassle. After finding my hotel, I met up with the rest of the team and had a relaxed evening, eating great food and sharing travel stories.

The next day found us at Odin’s Den which is a large, steep cave that used to pose as a kind of fortress during the Japanese invasion. The crag was a tough introduction back into sport climbing and most of my time was spent hanging off bolts, wondering why easy moves were making me so tired. I soon felt completely fatigued and after a slog to the top of the mountain to see the beautiful Moon Hill it was time to call it a day and return to base.

Ordering food in a foreign language is always tricky but in Asia it seems especially hit and miss. Most of the dishes turn out to be great but sometimes, they just don’t quite do it for me. When our “braised whole chicken” turned out to be a chicken carcass (minus the breast and drumsticks???) clavered into small pieces, it was clear that everyone was a little disappointed. At least there were some other tasty dishes, and the whole meal, for seven people, cost about the same as a cheap meal for one back home.

I began to get the jet lag jitters and decided a rest day was in order. My forearms ached from the previous day and so I joined the rest of the team for a full body massage. The masseuse was really skilled and strong and even though it often hurt like hell I found it hard not to drift off into a relaxed sleep. I wandered around town for a little while, exploring the various shops that line the narrow streets and practicing my bartering skills. I feel like they are coming along quite nicely but in reality, the final price, which is normally around 20% of what was first asked, is probably still 10 x what it is worth. C’est la vie!

Dinner was fantastic, a feast of Pizza and spring rolls really hit the spot but for some unknown reason, I woke the next morning feeling pretty ill.

After eating breakfast and forcing down a load of coffee and water in the hope that either might make me feel less woozy we packed into a mini bus and headed to White Mountain. As the crag came into view for the first time, I was overwhelmed at its scale and as the psyche washed over me, I began to feel much better. After a steady warm up, I moved onto something harder. I chose a relatively short, steep route that looked like it might suit my bouldering strengths. After getting the beta from my friend Nick, I tried to flash it and made it to the 5th bolt before falling on a wild slap to the mid height rest jug. After pulling back on, I climbed bolt to bolt to the top, managing the moves on my first try but feeling unable to link many together. On lowering to the floor I felt a little frustrated, so far I have not found any of the climbing particularly difficult, but I get tired all too quickly to stand any chance of completing a route. I guess this is only my second day sport climbing in over a year; hopefully I should have a little fitness by the end of the trip.

Later on I surprised my self by managing to flash a route that Nick had climbed on his last day at the crag. It was a long battle but thanks to Nick’s ever present beta I managed to clip the chains. Emily tried the route after me and also flashed it. Being quite a bit shorter than me she had to make a few wild slaps in the middle section but stuck them with no problems and cruised to the top, inspiring.

There are a few lines on the cliff that really inspire me and I would love to be able to think I have the stamina to do them. It is still early in the trip and all I can do is work hard, let time do its thing and hope for the best. Ill keep you posted…

No rest for the wicked

Sunday dawned dry and cold so I wasted no time packing my days kit and headed um the M62 towards Ilkley. On arriving at the crag, the wind was furious and it was a real struggle to warm up. My skin was a little sore from the day before, especially the large hole in my middle finger, and I felt quite heavy.

After nearly getting blown off the top of the crag, I abed down into position and started to try the moves. Diff (from HotAches) was hanging motionless beside me doing his very best to keep the camera steady in the howling gale. I didn’t envy him; at least I was climbing which kept me a little warm. I managed all the moves and a few links but it was just too cold to keep my body warm and retreated after roughly 45 minutes to the relative warmth of my car.

The rest of the week was a hectic blur of emails and phone conversations between myself, sponsors, editors and photographers. By the time Friday came, I was ready for a break and headed off to Chamonix, France with Emily and her family. Eight days of clear blue skies and good snow was just what I needed. I boarded for the first few days but spent the latter half of the week learning to Ski. I really enjoy learning new skills and all the process you go through. I found it really interesting to be on the receiving end of a “masterclass” and I think it will help improve and refine my skills as a teacher.

On returning from France, I suddenly remembered about my upcoming sport climbing trip to China. I had originally planned to train for one whole month to guarantee optimum fitness but worked out that by the time I had completed my next shift of work, I only had three climbing days left. I bit the bullet and headed to the wall with high hopes but low expectations. I got pumped out of my mind on far too easy climbs, China was not looking great!

After a week at work, trying desperately to gain some fitness by hanging off the fireplace in the front room, I headed down to Hell on Earth (London) with Emily for her interview. Whilst there, we went out for a very fun, but expensive night on the town, accompanied by my friend Johnny Dawes who is now living in London. It was great to see Johnny again and we had many drunken talks about plans to take over the world, it will be interesting to see if any materialise in the future.

Monday 3rd arrived and my bags were packed. After saying goodbye to Emily, and having an epic with my baggage allowance at the airport (thanks Jim for saving me) I headed off on my long journey to the land of the rising sun.