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...