Friday, 20 May 2011

Caroline Ciavaldini - E8 ground-up!

With all the commotion after the Muy Caliente/Pembroke raid, followed by Melloblocco, and finally the wonderful Quello Che Non C'e - I almost completely forgot to write about Caroline’s own amazing trad achievement...

The World Cup season is on its way and so training for Caro is getting heavy, but she managed to find a little spare time to fly to England to support me. After I finished with Muy Caliente and the good weather remained, she decided it was time for her to take the lead, and have her own Pembroke Traditional adventure.

Her first trad experience was the classic E3, Pleasure Dome. The climbing was easy and so she could concentrate on spending time to figure out the correct protection. She waltzed along the route, her appearance of complete control only disrupted from time to time when pull-testing gear and a nut would pop out and hit her in the face. E3 is not cutting edge, but it far above the level of the average English climber and almost unimaginable by most as a first trad route - a good sign of things to come.

The next day she wanted to try something harder, and decided to take things to the top, choosing an E8 called Point Blank, that I had climbed earlier in the trip. E8 is the highest level ever been climbed by a Woman in the UK, and on the 3 or 4 times it has been achieved, it has come after the common “headpoint” style of prolonged top-rope practice.

Random, but what better way to celebrate than a birthday game of Paintball - note the orange jumpsuit for our aiming pleasure!

Not only did Caro plan to climb an E8 as her second ever trad route, but she wanted to try it "flash" - first try without any pre-practice - something never before done by a Woman, and only on rare occasion by a few men. Most people would probably think me crazy for letting her do this, but after climbing with Caro every day for the last year, I knew her style, her ability, and how strong her mental control; I was confident she could do it.

She prepared herself at the bottom, and calmly set off to tackle the 40m of hard and scary climbing above. Climbing perfectly; calm and controlled, powerful when needed, relaxed when not, she placed her protection well, and soon was committed to the final hard movements. Fr8a climbing, a long way above her last protection... she looked solid, perfect, but at the final moment just one move before a good hold she slipped from her feet and screamed!

15m in the air before the ropes held her secure. As she spun around suspended in space I was happy she was OK and lowered her to the ground to tell her well done on an amazing effort. The "french proudness" is still something that I don’t fully understand, and rather than be content with an incredible attempt which was so close to success, all Caro did was pull the ropes down and begin climbing again. Even with the adrenalin of the fall making her shake, even with the fatigue in her muscles making her arms feel heavy, all she knew was that she had failed, that she should not have failed, and there was only one thing she was going to do about it.

Another Random - Festa della Placca

She finished the climb about 20min later, having stripped and re-placed all the gear on lead! Her 2nd ever trad route and the first (AFAIK) ever female E8 without practice! Amazing! I was so proud. Sorry for lack of relevant photos, I was too busy belaying, but Dave managed to snap a few. Check out next months Climb for some crackers - I wonder if the lob-shot will make it in...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

5.10 Quantum

My skin is dead after 3 days in Val Di Mello but all is not lost as for the first time in almost 1 week, I have solid, reliable internet access. Many emails need to be read and written, but as I am lazy and have a short attention span, I decided on a break in the shape of this mini review of my favourite shoe, the FiveTen Quantum

So what shall I say, apart from the obvious point of being purple and downturned... Hmmm, maybe this picture can explain a little... my Quantum collection, 3 sizes, boulder, routes, and big wall – these days they are all I wear.

Out of the box the shoes are already good. A little “clumpiness” is expected for the first few sessions, but I was surprised by how quickly these shoes felt “broken in”. The fit is snug, downturned but not too aggressive, and reasonably wide across the front.

The heel feels a little low-cut at first and I was worried to have my usual “heel slip” issues, but actually they have turned out to be more than secure – great in fact. Im not really that gifted with using my heels, especially on really technical placements, and whilst these heels will not work miracles, they have succeeded in surprising me on several occasions, by staying put in awkward and difficult hooks.

Now on to the business end! The toe feels to me the most precise 5.10 toe I have used, and popping off holds unexpectedly is very unusual. The shoe is a medium stiffness, a little too soft for me if I am honest, but stiffer than 5.10’s other recent offerings and so I am making them work. At least with the downturn, the shape shoe holds your foot in place and so the lack of stiffness is not overly noticeable. I mentioned before that I have several sizes of Quantums and that these are now (pretty much) the only shoes I use for all my climbing styles. That last statement should give you an idea of precisely how much I rate these shoes.

Daddy Cool, E8 - Photo David Simmonite

Improvements – I have already mentioned that I would personally like to see the shoes a little stiffer, other than that, some rubber on the toe to help with hooks would be a nice little extra. There is not so much that I would change, in general I’m pretty psyched J

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Do You Know Where Your Children Are? E9?

This route escaped my day to day blogging from Pembroke... and so with a little time on my hands thanks to a Mello-enforced rest day, here it is. Pretty good timing actually as the route saw its first repeat courtesy of Neil Mawsons last weekend. Its always nice to see your routes getting attention, I hope more people follow in Neil's footsteps.

Picture from the first ascent - David Simmonite

Before I begin, I want to ask public opinion of the name of the route. Do You Know Where Your Children Are? is quite an in-depth/obscure reference between friends, which I fear will be lost on 99.9% and may end up being thought of as just a bit shit. Its closest contender was The Hangman's Daughter, which will be obvious to most as the prequel to From Dusk Till Dawn. At the time I thought this was perhaps too cliché, but now I am starting to reconsider...

So there it is, Do You Know Where Your Children Are? or The Hangman's Daughter? Where does popular opinion sit?

After the success on Dusk Till Dawn, I was ready to step things up, it was time to try the project. I felt that if I could make it to the pockets at the start of DTD, I could climb to the top even if I was tired. That meant simply being able to climb a wet E6/7 with rotting fixed gear, directly into a run-out fr8a+ - childs play ;)

We arrived in Huntsman’s a few hours after low tide and so the first few meters were almost dry after their last bath. The same could not be said for the next part, which was badly affected by seepage. Low down the protection was ok, which was a welcome relief as the moves were damn hard, at one point involving fingertip monos in both hands! After this, the moves became a little easier and the gear disappeared – the remains of the shaft of a once proud peg looked apologetically back at me.

I arrived at the separation point, marked by a yellow thread. I had been forced to replace this earlier that day after the original had ripped out in my hand. This was a stark reminder of how we should always show caution with fixed gear on Sea Cliffs. This thread is crucial, and without it, you are looking at certain ground fall from the moves above. On first sight, it looked ok, and I could easily see how someone would have clipped it on an on-sight/flash – potentially setting themselves up for a serious accident. This is probably not the right place to discuss the details of these complex issues, but I feel its important they are addressed soon, by the “correct” people, whoever they may be?

Picture from the first ascent - David Simmonite

I recovered quite well on a pair of steep jugs, and after fiddling in the 3 micro-wires (1 good, 2 questionable) felt in with a high chance of sticking the next section. Long move, strange hold, bad feet, long move, strange hold, bad feet... you get the picture. In the middle of this section you slap into a big fat sidepull, which due to being a bit better than the other holds, serves as a rest point before the final hard section. From this sidepull you can also place some gear – a micro-wire threaded over an old rusty peg, and a decorative nut in your previous slopey left hand slot which has a tendency to fall out.

This gear is a bit of an unknown quantity as it was untested even with just body weight. If it holds, you will be ok, it it fails, well, you might still be ok, but it would be a long and scary few seconds before finding out. A few small crimps and more bad feet bring you to the redpoint crux. After matching the footholds of the crux of DTD, you must toe-in on a high left edge and make a LONG rockover to the glorious pockets!

I almost began to relax, but fortunately realised that I was only halfway through the crux of DTD, with only one hand and low shitty feet. A few more seconds of focus brought me to good holds and good gear. I was significantly more tired than before, and as I collected my thoughts and was thankful to have climbed this section before as I now had familiarity with the holds and moves. Knowing that the rest of the route should cause no further problems allowed me to really relax and enjoy the experience. The climbing on the lower wall is superb, some of the best rock and moves I have climbed in a while, and I felt lucky to have been in the right place, at the right time, in the right shape to do it.

As for the grade of the route, which I’m sure will sadly be the first, and in some case only thing people are interested in. My opinion is that the level of climbing is a step up from similar routes in Pembroke, and is a little more “dangerous”. There is a medium run-out through the entire crux to reach the peg, which may or may not hold. After this you climb a further few moves (redpoint crux) to join DTD, where you still have to climb the crux of this route to reach the next good gear. Climb DTD to the top but without the bomber gear in the crack, which is not too much of a concern at this point. If the peg rips, I have no idea what would happen – to be honest, I never thought I would fall so didn’t take the time to check the dimensions out.

I am certain someone could flash the route with relative ease, and if it had been an existing route, I would have given it a good go. The climbing through the crux is complex and a little blind so would make for a difficult on-sight, but as ~8a+ is not exactly the living end, someone fit could hang around for a while to figure things out. The main thing I want to stress is just how cool the climbing is, wouldn’t it be nice if for once people talked about how pretty it looks and how motivated they are to try it? Maybe I spend too much time living on my little pink cloud, oh well, it’s nice up here, I think I’ll stay...

Get down there and check it out.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Muy Caliente E10 - Flash, so close...

Whilst it might have seemed to many people that I had dropped off the face of the earth (and I would probably include some of my sponsors, friends and family in those people), I was simply taking a step away from what I knew, and wondering how differently things would appear from another viewpoint.

Jacob Schroedel

I knew that things would change, they had to - the trouble was I just didn’t know quite how. I wanted to better myself by training my weaknesses, but knew that since my strengths lay in trad, that is where I should eventually point my focus. In the beginning, time seemed plentiful and I did not concern myself with the finer details of the future, but as weeks turned into months, months into years, I began to wonder what exactly this future would hold…

Then one day, not unlike many others, news reached me of Tim Emmett making the first ascent of “Muy Caliente”, Pembroke’s and Wales’ first E10, and all became clear. I’m not really sure why the idea first came to me, as it was so far above what I had achieved before, so far above what anyone had achieved before, that it should have struck me as ridiculous and been dismissed immediately. But there it was, planted firmly amongst my brain cells, and it began to grow - the idea to attempt to “flash” E10.

I knew I needed to develop many parts of my climbing, not only the obvious ingredient of my fitness, but also things like my mental approach, sequential memory, reactions under pressure etc. Things started slowly and became more structured as the time grew near. It never felt too intense as I was never 100% focused on the goal, which may sound a little blasé, but was something I decided early on because of how improbable the goal was. The chance of failure was so high for many reasons, and as with all flashes, you only ever get one shot! The main goal, I told myself, was to go and climb the route. This would be a big enough achievement, being one of only a few confirmed E10’s and far away from my previously preferred style – anything else would be a big bonus. After all the hard work was finished and all the planning had been made, all that remained was to try.

Before throwing myself in at the deep end, I decided to sharpen my trad skills with a few days of classic cragging. “Ghost Train” (E6), “Hysteria” (E5), “Out of my Mind” (E5), and “From a Distance” (E7) were all ticked and I felt good – time to try something a little harder.

The first of the E8’s to fall on-sight was “Point Blank” (E8), a long and sustained wall climb with good spaced gear and big air potential. The climbing is around Fr8a and so would normally be a fairly comfortable on-sight, but the lack of chalk and confusing nature of the rock made for an exciting time on the top wall.

Point Blank - David Simmonite

Next up was something at the other end of the spectrum, a bold E8 slab on the sandstone of Carreg y Barcud. I flashed “Daddy Cool” (E8) after cleaning the route from my ab line, which I was especially happy with due to the nature of the climb. The climbing is easy, but falling is not an option, and despite the danger I stayed cool and composed, making my 3rd E8 without pre-practice.

Daddy Cool - David Simmonite

“From Dusk Till Dawn” (E8) looked amazing! A beautiful flowy wall of Pink and White Limestone, climbed via fun looking moves with bomber protection. Unfortunately, the bottom 2/3 (Terminal Twilight) was wet, but fortunately, there were enough good holds to make it possible, and after a little fight I got stuck into the main event. The moves were as good as expected, and I flashed the route with a big smile on my face.

Climbing “From Dusk Till Dawn” introduced me to my current favourite route in Pembroke, the project wall that would soon become “Do you know where your children are?” (E9). This smooth white wall would lead from the start of The Black Lagoon, directly into From Dusk Till Dawn via a series of hard reachy moves of exceptional quality. From a good thread at 12m the climbing gets hard and you run it out to an old rusty peg. Thread this with a nut, tell yourself it is solid, and commit to the remaining hard moves (crux) to join the pockets of Dusk Till Dawn, which after the moves below come as a pleasant relief.

I felt fit, I was climbing well, and felt completely happy climbing far above my gear – it was time to get serious. The first stage of the process involved watching my friends climbing on the route and trying to remember as much information as possible.

They told me about the handholds, the footholds, how each move felt, and where they thought I might find hard. I tried to process all their advice, re-arrange it into an understandable order and make it second nature. Once I began climbing, any pause to try to remember a move would cost me valuable energy, any hesitation on a slappy move might break my rhythm, and any incorrect hold might make me fall, making all the hard work go to waste.

I woke up feeling nervous, the first time in a long time. I warmed up feeling nervous, ate lunch feeling nervous and abed in feeling nervous. It wasn’t so much the danger that was getting to me but the fear of failing, blowing my one chance at the thing I have invested so much in. On-sighting and flashing are different to every day climbing as there is only ever one chance. One shot, one opportunity, if you mess up you mess up forever. Say the conditions are bad, the rock is greasy, a hold is wet, your too tired from the route before, your skin is sore, mentally tired... the list goes on, lots of things to think about!

Or is there?

One thing I keep hearing, and keep saying, is when you are truly climbing well, your mind is empty. Almost as if you are temporarily existing on a different plane, you stop thinking and begin to flow. Thinking about not thinking is an obvious contradiction, and so to help me out I called on a little mind and motivation control, some pounding Breakbeats for my ears. I don’t usually climb listening to music, but regularly use it to help with motivation during training and figured it was worth a try. I pressed play, entered a different world, and started moving up.

The lower wall flowed just like I hoped it would, a hard section of moves with small holds and bad feet did not faze me and I arrived at better holds knowing that I could rest a little before making the moves to place the gear. It’s strange to be in such a dangerous place and not even think about the danger; 9m above the gear and 19m above the floor are not comfy numbers, these are the times when you need to be your most relaxed and do what is necessary to make yourself safe.

The nut was unobvious and a little awkward to place. Even when seated well it just didn’t look right and I placed and replaced it several times. When finally I was happy, I made the next awkward sequence to clip the thread and place the cam, and carried on directly towards the final boulder. This is where it all came down to; this is where I had been focused on all along.

Muy Caliente - David Simmonite

The bottom section was generally simple and secure climbing, if you were strong and stated calm things would most likely be ok. But the top, the top was a different story. Technical, balancey climbing on awkward holds was not what I wanted to deal with after all the mental and physical effort below.

I was happy to find the two rest holds comfortable, allowing me to recover and focus on the section above. Things felt good and I was happy, but as I looked down at the future footholds, worry started to grow inside me and I began to feel heavy. The handholds were becoming greasy, recovery had stopped, I forced myself to move.

The left foot was small. I perched on it, reached the left sidepull, and was surprised by how small it was. I tried to take it like Caroline had told me, but couldn’t find the position and decided to push on regardless. The next foot was almost non-existent, but stuck with a little faith allowing me to move my left foot up to a small edge. Here is where my planned sequence failed, I couldn’t find the body position so decided to “feel” instead.

I lifted my right foot to a very bunched position and suddenly realised I was in reaching distance of the finishing hold. I almost couldn’t believe it and excitedly started moving my right hand towards the incut edge, surprised at how solid I felt. As my fingers came close to the hold my body position shifted and I began to tip away, I quickly reached out for the hold, catching the very edge with my fingertips as my left hand exploded off the sidepull. A tiny moment where I half believed I had caught the hold came and went. That empty feeling in my belly told me I was falling. I screamed and swore. The dream was dead.

I felt the little Daemon growing inside of me. I didn’t sleep well, and was distant to say the least during the next morning. My mind was full again of thoughts... What if I had rested longer, why didn’t I take the sidepull correctly, and what if I had slapped faster? Whilst useful from an analytical point of view, these thoughts did nothing to change the fact that the flash had failed. I needed to take the positive things and move forwards, learn from my experience and plan my next attempt. Which is where things get complicated again, as I found the idea of getting back on the lead quite frightening.

I thought about taking a few days of rest to give my mind and body time to relax, but with every hour that passed the little Daemon grew, and I was well aware that he could grow to be quite a size by the time I returned. I needed to get it out of the way, I knew I could do it, I just needed to be even more focused than before. The new knowledge gained would be useful, but it was of the utmost importance not to be blasé. The route would feel hard and needed respect, I expected this and was prepared to give.

My music went on, a different mix from Yesterday, Krafty Kuts – Fresh Kuts volume 2. The first 10m passed as expected, the threads were clipped, I rested, next stop the top…

The run-out was fine, and I arrived at the gear pretty fresh. Conditions were not great, but I compensated by climbing faster, moving quickly from hold to hold, not allowing the grease to build up. The rest holds before the crux were soon in my hands. I would have moved almost straight away but I needed to stay for a few minutes to allow a numb finger to regain feeling. I looked at the holds, looked at the feet, but this time felt light instead of heavy and committed to the moves with fresh enthusiasm.

I took the sidepull as Caroline had suggested, this time my fingers found the correct place and my thumb pinched the vital spot. My feet worked in the same way as before, and in no time at all I was back at the final move. This time there was no hesitation, my body locked in position, my hand reached up to the edge, it was finished!

David Simmonite