Friday, 17 August 2012

The Future

For as long as I can remember I have loved to climb in stiff rock shoes.  During my early years I would often hear older, more experienced friends saying things like "my boots feel the best just before they wear through" and as I personally preferred my boots for the glorious few weeks shortly after being broken in, I always wondered if I was a little strange...
The La Sportiva Futura

As the years passed I realised I was more than just a little strange, but not for my rock shoe choice.  This was simply just a product of climbing style, something that develops over years based mainly on your successes and failures, and is not something that can be quantified as good or bad... it just is!

 So hear I am, getting ready for one of the hardest, boldest on-sight attempts of my life, and I am about to slip on one of the softest shoes I have ever worn, what has gone wrong?

 The answer is quite simply nothing... or perhaps more precisely, it is everything! The Futura is the latest development from La Sportiva, and has been getting a lot of attention in the media recently, through advertising campaigns and reviews.  La Sportiva would like you to believe that the shoe is a revolution in climbing shoe technology, that the shoe is the next big step forward, that the shoe is in fact the future!
The Futura is Now!

But dont they say that about every new model?

 That is pretty much what I thought last year when I was first introduced to the concept by its creator, Pietro Dal Pra.  Pietro is a good friend of mine, but I must admit I was sceptical at best when he explained the ideas behind the design, and told me not only would the shoe change the way I position my body and take weight of my arms, but that it would specifically make on-sight climbing easier!

 Pffff, Sure thing... a new funny looking shoe is going to improve my onsighting... nice joke!!!

 But then I tried it, and the world literally flipped upside down!  Everything I thought I knew about climbing shoes was re-arranged, and I was left with a bemused but content look on my face, thinking that those people over at La Sportiva are a pretty clever bunch indeed!

 This is about the time I expect readers to jump out of their seats, crying out in anger (or something a little less dramatic like a slight shake of their head) that this is all fixed, and I have obviously been brainwashed or showered with gold to speak  such lies, because anyone in their right mind knows a climbing shoe needs and edge, just like a bird needs air beneath its wings, or a fish needs the sea.  Ok, ok, take deep breaths, that was a long sentence!

 By doing away with the "edge" you are forced to adapt the way you place your feet, utilising more of the general sole area.  I say adapt, but its not really much of an adaptation as to me it feels more natural than anything I have tried before. By allowing you to use the entire surcace rather than foucus on one small point, you can change the direction of your feet, which does alter the way you put wight through your arms.  In adition, you can be less precise with your foot placements, which allows you to be quicker, and dah da daaaaa makes onsighting easier.

 This might sound like I am saying the Futura makes it possible to climb more  like a pig!  Well... that is pretty much what I am saying in a round about way, but a very happy pig who is getting less tired, climbing faster, and succeeding on more routes!  Correct me if I am wrong but that is a good thing?  No?
The different toe profiles of Edge and No Edge

By eliminating the edge, The Futura also claims to allow the use of smaller micro edges than a traditional shoe, because the toes can get closer to the rock and there is no rubber to "roll".  Again the shoes live up to their bold claims and can perform well on the tiniest of edges, however it is worth pointing out that by their very nature the shoes will focus all the pressure onto the big toe, which can become quite painful after a few moves.

 So what is the catch? As I said before the Futura has become my main climbing shoe but I'm not about to throw away my other shoes just yet.  There are some situations where having an pointy edge that is to opposite shape to your toes is an advantage, and in those situations a traditional edge will still rule the roost.  Steep bouldering is one of these situations as the point at the front of a pair of heavily downturned shoes makes it so much easier to pull into little flakes.

 If I had to put a number on things, I would say I use my Futuras for 90% of my climbing, and for that 90% they feel more comfortable, and I feel more confident, than I would in "traditional" edged shoes.

 If after all of this you still dont believe me, perhaps the following photo will do something to convince you, after all, a picture is worth a thousand words...

On-sighting the bold E8 of My Piano in England wearing Futuras

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Kinabalu Diaries - Part 2

More extracts from the Kinabalu diaries. The difficulties of climbing hard up here are becoming apparent, but we are beginning to find the rythm...

The Amazing Oyayubi Peak

James 16th June

Three days into the trip, well it’s actually more like seven, but today is the third climbing day. Bodies are beaten, but minds are getting stronger. It’s funny how just a few days ago, I would have said the exact opposite, as we arrived at the base of the mountain well rested, but a little apprehensive.

 Climbing and living at 4000m is something new to me, and coming from sea level to the top in just a day made the experience even worse. My head is still aching and my lungs still screaming now, but on the first few nights it was hellish. Walking up through a torrential downpour did little to help the situation, wet clothes that never dry make you cold to your bones. Wind, rain, how can we ever climb in a place like this? But then the clouds clear and the sun shines, you see the most incredible landscape you can imagine. A mountain of granite, twisted and sculpted into formations from your dreams, with overhanging towers and faces as far as you can see, just waiting for their first bolts.

Yuji has been here before and so we know the score. Patience is the name of the game, the weather can never be trusted, meaning a lot of time in the hut, then making the most of the small windows through the mist. He tries to explain us how things work up here, and what our schedule may be like. The 5am wakeup call sounds horrendous at first, but when you realize it is only 7pm and your eyes are starting to close, perhaps it is not so bad.

The Kinabalu Plateau

The first time on top of the mountain, it’s hard to take it all in. It’s so vast, so 3 dimensional, with towers shooting off towards the heavens, and dark gullies seeming to fall away to hell. Yuji explains the location of his existing routes and shares the secret of his projects, we spy a few new things of our owns, all that remains is to start.

I have bolted before and understand the fundamentals, but "really" knowing what to do, and all the little things that make it work well only come with practice. However in comparison to Daniel and Caroline, I am a master and so I do my best live up to their hopes, and teach them what (little) I know.

Within a few days everyone is firmly in the swing of things. Everyone has found their piece of inspiration, thrown in some steel work, and stared trying the moves. Like bolting, climbing at altitude is something that also needs learning. So different from climbing near the sea; not only does the sligh test tricky sequence have you panting for breath, but I also find myself feeling much more intimidated than usual, worrying that my feet and hands unexpectedly slip, despite the amazingly grippy rock.

Speaking of the rock… The best quality granite, formed into every shape you can imagine, offer a seemingly endless playground for the (slightly) adventurous. We are essentially running around, cherry picking the best, hardest, most inspiring lines from the whole plateau, and there is more than we could ever hope to blot. If you extent things to the easier grades or the more difficult to reach areas, the potential is there for several life times.

After a few days we all become more accustomed to living at altitude. No longer are we out of breath during evenings in the hut, and we start to become aware, some more painfully than others, about the importance of Sun cream and moisturizer! Of all the routes we have bolted, the majority have been freed, leaving some of the hardest routes in the area. The difficulty when bolting is not just to choose a beautiful line, but to find something close to your limit, but still climbable. The difference between possible and impossible is something very small!

Life in the hut is easy and enjoyable, thanks in a big part to the involvement of Mountain Tork – a Malaysian Adventure Tourism operator, and our guides on the mountain. They have taken care of everything, leaving us free to focus only on the climbing. The amount of planning and preparation on their part is simply outstanding and it is safe to say without their help, this expedition may not be possible, certainly not in the same way.

Caro, 17th of June

The Double Arete

Yesterday was a great day… I had bolted a short route on the first day. It turned out to have quite incredible mouves, very precise footwork and… a double dyno!

I didn’t expect it. And figuring out the methods, I knew I couldn’t do it. So I gave it to James, who made it first try after working the methods. I was so happy! My first route ever was a success, 8b, Apuri Manan. It means sensations. But then Daniel and James pushed me to keep on trying the moves… And 3rd day, I found the precise footwork to do the jump. And I made it! I was so surprised. I always give up when I can’t do a move of a route. Interesting to discover the land of projecting.

Today was a good day as well because James found his project. The Double Arête. While he was bolting, after a precarious trad approach to the top, he really wasn’t sure that the route would work. But the in the day he made all the mouves.

You should have seen his smile when he came down.


Friday, 18 May 2012

Let the Odyssey begin...

Day 4 of the Hotaches Oydssey and there is a definite theme developing… COLD.  We began in Bowden and it was cold, moved to Great Whanney and it was really cold, then south west to Gogarth where, guess what… cold!  I realise we are in the UK so my expectations are low, but it’s May for goodness sake, ou est le soleil?


I signed up for this trip because of the opportunity of visiting lots and lots of cliffs I have never (but really should have) visited before, in a pretty short time frame, and so far we have been doing just that.  The only problem seems to be the weather, which was always to be expected yet somehow slipped my mind until the last moment.  We have been scanning the forecast and driving accordingly in the hope of maximizing our dry climbing time, yet by the laws of the sod, we have more managed the opposite.  Still, some great climbing has been done, and some even greater falls taken – for an example you can check out the little video below.

The highlight for me so far has been Crisis Zone, a magnificent E7 at Great Whanney.  In stark comparison to the routes of Bowden the day before, you can actually fall off this route (from certain points) and so can allow yourself to try hard and go close to your limit.  The route finishes in a crazy position, with a steep boulder problem around an arête and thank god flutings to the top.  After cleaning the thick green lichen from an ab-rope, I was able to climb the route on my first attempt, battling a horrible flash pump in the process, the result of poor warming up in the arctic conditions.  With the gear left in-place, the rest of the team took turns to play.  It was interesting to see how different people utilize their different strengths, and how once the gear is set and tested, “BIG” routes like this become just another sport climb.


On the whole I think Caro and Hansjorg are still quite unsure about what exactly “the point” is with UK Trad, but from time to time, just for a moment, I see their eyes light up and smiles spread across their face as something clicks into place.  Tomorrow is a new day, and the whole country is waiting.  I’m excited for so many possibilities, my only hope is everyone stays safe!


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Road To Kalymnos

Wednesday 26th September will see the start of the first annual The North Face Kalymnos Climbing Festival, an event that has been in preperation for a long, long time, and one that I have been lucky enough to play a (very small) part in.

The festival runs for 5 days, over the course of which participants can enjoy competitions, presentations, and of course parties.  With its stable climate and KM's of unclimbed rock, Kalymnos is a great place to hold a festival of this kind, and I am sure it will be a blast.

Take a look below for the official flyer from the event, and check out the full program over at the official website.  Looking forward to see you all there...

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Aria - The Clue Is In The Name!

Guest post from Caro!

Merci x First meeting with Aria - love at first sight on wet tufas

An unusual approach!

Aria, the 3rd target of our Sardinian holiday dedicated to multipitch (and to days waiting in the rain), is presented to us by Pietro Dal Pra. For who doesn't know the character, Pietro is now the "shoe tester" La Sportiva, to whom I say thank you for the best climbing shoes in the world. He is also the 5 stars belayer of Adam in his mad lines, Wogu and Tough Enough; finally, he is the one who first freed Hotel Supramonte, and also repeated Silbergeier more than 10 years ago. A legend of climbing indeed. Well, Pietro decided to take us to his baby, ARIA, and play the role of "climber-sitter" as he says himself.

Aria, therefore, in theory, is quite a normal route: 7c / 7a / 6c+ / 6c+ / 6c+ / 8a+ / 8a+ / 7a+ / 7b+ / 7a. 10 pitches, 350m, and seriously overhanging – with just 2 pitches in the 8’s, we could do in the day if we fight well... Except that, after further clarification, Aria has a small a-typical side : it can be done with 6 quickdraws!!!!! AAAAAARRRRGGGGG

6 quickdraws, in pitches of 45m, do your calculus - it's at least 7 m between two points! Minimum, I mean, because if the first two spits are a little closer (and I am glad, nothing worse than the climber falling on the belayer), it means of course that the other spits will be spaced more than 7m!

No fear (well, for James maybe, me, at my very best, I will do one or two pitch leading eh), here we go! 1 hour by boat, half an hour walking through a forgotten path, there it is. WOW, Aria is the only way up the whole face of Monte Plumare, directly above the sea. First class!

 I confirm I am terrified, as even in the very first 7c you can fall 20m to the ground, but as Pietro says, "When it's easy, you're not supposed to fall." Pietro climbs with us – partly for support and encouragement, partly because he is worried we may need to be rescued. I take my first lead of the day in the 4th pitch - 6c +. Oh my god, it is terrifying and feels like the hardest 6c+ I ever made! So yes, exposure adds a bit to the grade, especially when it's wet AND breaky!!

We arrive at the foot of the first 8a + ... completely wet! Not a single colo is dry, it rained hard five days ago and you can see the results! That said James has not had his last word, and as a good (crazy) trad climber, he goes for it. Despite the flowing water, he almost makes the pitch, only forced to stop at a high spit due to wet shoes / hands / chalk – perhaps all the wet weather in England is good practice for something! Pietro is in charge of the belaying, as providing a dynamic belay whilst clipped in direct is not just an easy job, yet vital to avoid serious injury with such big fall potential! My turn... it's really a frog party, absolutely soaked! Damn, it will not even be possible today ...

James still carries on in the 2nd 8a +, that he ticks on sight, then we all lower back down to the floor via a complicated series of steep rappels.
Content Caroline
No tick, but tea and chocolate in the evening bivouac at the foot of the wall makes up for it. Pietro tells the mythical stories from the opening of the route: gound up of course, he took 25m falls, then wincing on hooks to place a spit 8m above the other, with a field of tuffas for landing! A huge wild pig comes to eat just next to us... I fall asleep dreaming of wet tuffas falling on my head ...

Too bad, we'll be back, promise!!

Aria, second round!

After a few weeks of crossing my fingers to scare the God of rain (it seems that if I concentrate well, I'm getting there), we are back to Aria, again with Pietro who will perfectly repeat his “climber-sitter” role. Thanks to him I now know how to haul if James has a problem, and make a prussic to protect me on the rappels – its not much, but its a good base, especially considering I went in five routes already without knowing it!!

This time we are also joined by Riky Felderer and Pietro Porro, fresh in from Italy with hopes of capturing Aria in all her glory. Minor detail ... we do not even see Aria on the approach! A thick fog soaking everything it touches is hanging above the ocean. I begin to fear the worst... But at 6am the next morning ... the sun appears above a sea of ​​clouds! It looks like something from another, far forgotten world.

James seems in a bad shape (perhaps the pressure, or the 800kg of 5 star meat we ate in Sardinia?)! He gratifys us with 5 trips into the bushes before finally embarking on the first 7c, ultra expo - 45m, 6 points, and a little breaky rock at the top... The fog has made the rock uncomfortably slippery, in case the pitch was not already hard enough, but he makes it!

I pull myself together to lead the easy pitches, 7a, 6c +, 6c +, but when you squeeze the holds as in an 8 to anticipate a rock break and a 20m fall they feel anything but easy, and when I get to the top of the first 5 lengths I am destroyed! Ricky and Pietro jumar before us, lost in the air. I am surprised how a simple presence on top of you can be reassuring, when lost in the methods, 200m above the ground!
The End of the 2nd 8a+

Coming up, a big 8a+, a second 8a+, then 7a+, 7b+, 7a. James won't make a single mistake, with still a big fight, a zip and catch in extremis in the first 8a+, a perfect pitch that finishes in a magic chimney between two colos. Unfortunately, I break a hold just after the crux, so it is back to the belay, 5 minutes rest, and a great big fight to the top.

The second 8a+ goes more according to plan but we are really starting to feel the hours of effort behind us. The three last pitches will require more fighting. The first 7a+ is especially tough, reminding us that even the easy pitches should not be underestimated. 5 years since its last visit, all traces of chalk have gone, and the once clean holds are just a memory. With the last spit below your feet, and the next one too far away to even see, you must tread very carefully, searching out the best options to avoid any traps.

James will lead the hard pitches, and I will second on top rope. Every pitch brings a good fight, more fatigue, but more excitement as we creep closer to our goal. The top of Aria is definitely a highlight, with stunning views East into the wild, untouched Supramonte, and North along the beautiful Azure coast. Pietro follows us all the way and its evident from the smile on his face how special this place is to him, and how happy he is for someone to enjoy one of his proudest creations.
Aria has given us so much more that I ever expected - superb climbing, incredible stories, two days that will forever remain in my memory!

Hats off to Pietro for his commitment setting up Aria, just thinking about him drilling that far above the last spit, I'm still terrified for him.

Thank you Pietro for giving us the key.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Oh and it's raining again!

Loud on your car like bullets on tin, open the door and pulling me in.

Rain is good for catchy songs, not for multi-pitch on giant collonets!

The last two weeks in Sardinia have felt more like climbing in England than the Med! We have had rain more often than not, usually only a little each day, but all those littles add up to a lot, and with the addition of two recent days of torrential downpours, every tufa on the island now seems to be wet!

At first we got pretty lucky, climbing 2 of our projects in surprisingly quick time (you can read more about them at ). Both Mezzogiorno di Fuoco and Amico Fragile rely heavily on collonets in their hard pitches, with Mezzogiorno’s crux pitch being a full 55m of humungus tufa fun. There were a few wet holds here and there, but the weeks of great weather prior to our visit meant the initial downpours had little effect. In fact, we climbed the crux pitches of Mezzogiorno in a violent rainstorm, fortunately sheltered by the overhanging wall above, listening to the rush from the curtain of water just 10m from our backs.

Caro looking up at the imposing Amico Fragile (230m 8b max)

As the days went on, things became slowly worse. Firstly we found El Viaje de los Locos (250m, 8b+) pretty damp, but being stuck in the ever shady Gorropu, I wasn’t so surprised. The hard low pitches were climbable in their current condition, and I managed to free the 3rd (crux) pitch on my first redpoint try. However, the wind in the upper wall was un-real – never have I climbed in anything like it, and we were forced down from the route before making it to the top. The wind was so strong it would literally knock you off the wall! Ok when close to a bolt, but becoming dangerous when 4 – 5m above your last gear, on the ballancy and technical 8a+ slab!

Aria was a route on our list from the beginning, thanks to the glowing testimonial of its loving creater Pietro Dal Pra. The numbers of Aria all add up to make a tough challenge, but it was the photos and description of the crux pitch tufas that made us desperate to give it a bash. Aria is located on Punta Plumare, a giant overhanging cliff directly out of the ocean, a little down the coast from Cala Gonone. Access to the cliff is via either a 2 hour overland hike or a 30min boat ride, and as a result feels rather exposed and isolated even before you start climbing.

Punta Plumare. Aria is the only route up the overhanging central section!

Pietro seemed keen to repeatedly inform us this would not be sport climbing, and that we should approach the route with an alpine mentality. In short, this meant we needed to be prepared for an adventure, and know how to rescue ourselves should any mishaps occur. The reason for this is Pietros strong ethics and even stronger courage when it comes to opening a new multi-pitch. He only equips from the ground up, preferring to run it out to the next obvious clipping point, than place awkward, difficult to clip bolts. As a result, you can climb Aria with only 6 quick draws, which when you do the math, means for a few rather large runouts. For example, the two crux pitches are both around 45m, each containing 6 bolts. With equal spacing, the bolts will be 6 to 7m apart, yet when you take into account the closer spacing of the first few (nobody enjoys falling on their belayer) you have a recipe for some BIG air should you botch the upper sections.

After a refresher lesson on rescuing an unconscious/hanging second, and some very useful other tips from Pietro, we all set off for Aria in a little rubber boat. Pietro wanted to accompany for a number of reasons, including friendship, a wish to revisit a special place, and a desire to keep Caro and I as safe. As we racked up for the first pitch, he told me not to worry, as it was 7c, but with good holds you can really hang on to – in other words, steep, and most likely pumpy. He also told me that the bolting was not too bad, but that I must not fall whilst clipping the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th bolts as he wasn’t sure he could keep me off the floor – great!

Spot the local...

The first 5 pitches passed as expected – no major drama as long as you kept a cool head. After a few hours we arrived at the start of the first 8a+, ahead of schedule and full of energy, things were looking good for a 1 day ascent, possibly even on-sight. Well they would have been, had the pitch not been a waterfall!
From the floor Pietro had checked out the collo’s through his binoculars and warned us that one or two could be a little wet. What we actually found was a dripping, slimey mess, with almost every inch of rock running with water. Hopes faded in an instant as did my desires to go any higher, yet as Caroline and Pietro joked that they were happy it was my turn to lead, it was clear that I was expected to!

With pride winning out over fear, I pulled on my shoes and searched for the first bolt. Every point of contact was soaking, morphing what would usually be a steady traverse towards juggy tufas, into a sketchy, slippery battle against a fall onto the belay. Each new bolt found me breathing a sigh of release. Each new bolt found me struggling to dry ever wetter hands, feet and clothes. Each new bolt found the anxiety growing as I searched for the next and the methods to climb to it.

As I arrived at, and made it through the first crux above a scarily big run-out, I started to think I might actually be able to make it after all. However, the hardest moves lay just above, and as I struggled to rest on the damp holds, chalk now a little better than paste, it came as little surprise when I slipped off just 2 moves higher.

The last section of the route is the piece of climbing that makes Aria so special. Two parallel tufas one meter apart, beginning from almost nothing, becoming deeper and deeper the higher you climb. You start slapping up either side until the pint when you can switch to the inside, literally chimneying up between the two until you reach the belay. Words can not describe the wildness of this final section, wedged between two bottomless tufas, your ropes disappearing to the last distant quickdraw, with nothing but air between your ass and the ocean 200m below!

Sunrise from the base. Just one of the many magical things about this route!

The next 8a+ was significantly dryer and I was able to on-sight it with a giant fight to reach the chain. With almost all the route in the bag, it was tempting to go back to try the first 8a+, as it was probably possible to climb it in those conditions. Yet, despite the possibility of success, the certainty of it being a horrible, uncomfortable, disgusting experience outweighed everything else and we decided to lower off, and come back another day. With routes as beautiful as Aria, they deserve to be treated well. I would rather return to climb the route in the dry, enjoying the pleasured of each pitch, than bear the thing into submission, only to arrive on the summit. Sometimes, the experience is worth way more than the tick!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Food, my favourite thing!

Moving on from my last blog, I wanted to talk very quickly about one of the most important aspects of big days on the rock - nutrition. The first thing to say is don’t underestimate it – good nutrition is vital and can make the difference between success and failure. Whilst it may work to go to the sport cliff with just water and a pack of cookies, this approach simply doesn’t cut it on a big wall Secondly, this is not a science (well technically it is, but let me try to explain what I mean). Every body is different, and therefore each person will react differently to different foods. Whilst one person may feel the benefits of munching on dried nuts and fruit, the next may love pouring down powergell, and another may swear that jellybabies and chocolate milk is THE solution. Placebos can be just as strong as the real thing and if something works for you and makes you feel good, stick with it! I don’t mean to start preaching about the rights and wrong, the good and bad. I would just like to share some of the things I do that seem to work for me, in the hope someone else my find the information helpful.

The Stash!

The basic principle behind multi-pitch food is small and light. Whatever you take needs to be packed into your bag or pockets and carried up the wall. Small and light is not technically correct, a better choice of words would be nutritionally dense – to pack a big punch in a small packet. A great example of this would be a Power Bar – scientifically engineered to provide you with lots of fast acting, long lasting energy, all from a bar half the size of a Snickers. Power Bars come in lots of different types and flavours and so you can custom design your supply to work through the day – perhaps some fast acting Power Gell before beginning the crux pitch, with longer lasting slow release bar for the final upper pitches.

Power Bar has come a long way in the last few years and most of their products taste reasonably good. However, there is no getting away from the fact they are designed in a lab, and after a few hard pitches, I often find myself craving for something, well, a little more natural.

Eat Natural is a little company from the South of England, and they pride themselves on making great tasting snacks and cereals full of natural ingredients. “Packed with good wholesome stuff and nothing dodgy” is how the company describes its products - something I would have to agree with wholeheartedly. Eat Natural has been supporting my climbing with their bars and cereals for a few years now and they are something I enjoy every day, both at the cliff and at home. However, it is on long multi-pitch routes where the bars are truly worth their weight in gold.

As I said above, it is hard to argue with the scientific way Power Bar has designed its products to efficiently deliver the nutrients your body needs, but science is not everything, and the power of great quality comfort food should not be underestimated. Eating something healthy wholesome and tasty will not only give your body some of the fuel it needs, but will also make you happy – and the power of a smile can be very strong indeed! I tend to take a ratio of around 2 – 1 Eat Natural to PowerBar with me on a route, eating roughly 1 bar every 2 pitches, which seems to keep me going for most of the day.

The perfect Bivy meal... I wish!

If I am on the wall for more than one day, in the evening I try to eat as much “real food” as possible, often in the form of rehydrated soups, usually followed by a few bars for desert. In the morning, I usually take cereal and coffee. One useful little tip for saving weight and volume is to pack some cereal and some powdered milk together into a zip-lock bag - simply add water and you are good to go, no need to mess around with extra bags and bowls.

Ok, cool... Now its off to Sardinia to test out if any of this actually works!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Turn The Volume Up!

The 2nd part of our multi-pitch training I wanted to talk about revolves around volume. Not the volume of your music on the crux pitch, but the number of routes you can do in a day before your body says “no no no!” This can be split into a further 2 parts, muscle and skin. Luckily, both can be trained by one remarkably simple method... go forth and climb, climb as many routes in the day as possible, going past your usual stopping point, to the place you really need to dig deep to complete the routes.

The difficulty of the routes should be dependent on your personal level, and the level of the multipitch you want to attempt. The closer together these two numbers are, the more training you will need to do. Try to imagine the route you would like to climb andre-create it from pitches at the cliff. Dont just choose hard pitch after hard pitch, try to mix up the level, as well as the style, including some easier pitches for the rests, and don’t forget to include something tricky at the end of the day, to simulate that heart breaking sting in the tail.

After a few weeks of this you will notice significant improvements. The routes will not only begin to feel easier as your general fitness increases, but you will find your decrease in ability as the day drags on becoming less and less. The one thing this method wont prepare you for however, is the hours spent sitting in a harness. Being able to lower off and walk around makes an incredible difference to your recovery rate between pitches. Apart from getting up in the air on some easier longer routes, there is not much you can do to work this aspect – I think we would all agree spending your day clipped into the first bolt at the sport cliff would look a little strange. I suggest you invest a little money in a very comfortable harness, or even better, a belay seat.

Before I sign off, there is one last thing I would like to point out. Dont take things to destruction, it is not as beneficial as you might think. If you continue climbing (and manage not to split your skin) there will come a point where your muscles glycogen supplies run empty. You will know when this happens, it is the point when even pulling on the biggest jugs feels close to impossible, when even after resting on a bolt, you feel completely pumped after 2 moves.

When you deplete the glycogen in such a way, it takes the body much longer to recover than if you had stopped earlier, perhaps only one route before. Try to learn your body’s signals, to know the difference between working hard, and doing too much. Finally, after each session, try to eat a good supply of carbohydrates as soon as possible. There is a small period of around 2 hours where your muscles re-uptake of glycogen is twice as efficient as normal – take advantage of this time to give your body the best chance to recover for the next session.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

France – its just a better version of Spain!

Morning light at St Guilhem le Desert

This was the quote of the evening from Andy Mann during our farewell dinner last night. Whilst the few bottles of red may have helped to elevate his mood, I like to think he was genuinely high on the French life, sharing a feeling I have had for some time.

We met up with Andy by chance in Margalef and arranged to all meet up again in France once our respective work commitments had finished. This was Andys first time in Europe and he had taken the brave step of travelling alone, just a start and a finish planned, with everything free in between. Caro and I wanted to share with him a little bit of our heaven, and we tried to cram in as many special things as possible into too few short days.

Sunset over St Guilhem

The best bakery in the world, buttery golden light at St Leger, laughing with friends over great food and wine in a language you don’t understand, secret waterfalls on the way to the cliff, hanging hundreds of meters up from old rusty pitons, Souvenir du Pic! The result was exhaustion but was totally worthwhile, and based on the above quote, I feel like we did France proud.

End of the day in St Leger

You might have noticed the reference to old pitons in the last paragraph. Old pitons are certainly not the norm in these parts of the world, nor does their presence guarantee a great experience. However, the old pitions in question happen to be part of La Cadaire, a 4 pitch mixed multipitch in our local area of St Guilhem, and when combined with everything else the route throws at you, they offer a day out you won’t forget.

After finishing our projects in Spain last month, Caroline and I began preparing for out next trip to Sardinia. We have our eyes set on a few hard multi-pitch on the island (no, not that one!) and to give ourselves the best chance, wanted to practice a few little things before jumping in to the deep end.

I had on-sighted La Cadaire the year before and felt like it would be a great route for Caroline to practice dealing with exposure and her fear. The route is around 150m tall, and gently overhangs for its entire length, culminating with the crux pitch at the very top, a boulder 8a through a roof. From the base of the wall, the ground falls away steeply to the valley floor a further few 100m below, and as a result, you feel pretty out there as you cut lose at the lip of the roof, especially as the only gear is rusty downwards pointing pins! I wouldn’t say the route is ever dangerous, as there are a lot of pitons that despite their sketchy appearance actually hold weight. It is however far far away from your average day at a sport cliff – a great way to practice for the long runouts we are sure to find next month.

The amazing gorge of St Guilhem

Caroline dealt perfectly with the challenge, climbing smoothly and keeping a cool head for the entire route. Andy was swinging around on the static the whole time, capturing amazing pictures and video that we hope to be able to share soon. As we approached the top of the wall, the day finished better than we could have ever dreamed as two bas jumpers lined up and dived out over our heads!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The End... for now!

Time for a little update, but unfortunately, it brings bad news. Actually, it contains quite a lot of good news, but also a temporary setback that whilst small, forces attention over everything else.

Esclatamasters has become my main goal, with rest and climbing days all planned around it. The top of the route and crux section (final 15m) is not very overhanging and subsequently has rather small holds. Whilst I wouldn’t call them sharp, like a knife, by their very nature they can be quite abrasive for the skin. The bottom of the route (first 25m) could not be more different. Steep and athletic, with long moves of generally good holds, the bottom is a joy to climb and leaves you rather pumped before the aforementioned finale... fortunately there is a very good knee bar in the middle, phew!

Slow and steady progress was being made, and on my 5th redpoint I found myself holding the last of the really small holds, eyeing up the first good (3/4 pad incut) edge marking the end of the crux. Dont get me wrong, the route is far from over! There are still 6 tricky moves to go before the giant jug, but latch this hold and I feel there is a good chance to go to the top.

Perhaps from nerves, or just plain old fatigue, I hesitated a little on the move, coming up perhaps 2 or 3 mm short. The hold was almost in my hand, I felt the edge bite into my skin, but it was not quite enough.

It was however, enough to rip a hole the size of Andorra in my middle finger. The dream is dead, and I lowered to the floor feeling numb – which in hindsight, I much preferred to the slightly later feeling of throbbing pain. A very big disappointment, but one has to try to look on the Brightside. Skin will heal, bodies will be stronger after a rest, and motivation will be sky high.

The Wound!

Instead of wait around in Spain, Caro and I decided to head back to France for a few days to take care of some necessary jobs. Hopefully I will be healed in time to get back before the end of next week, but at the very worst, it should be the week after. With a little bit of unexpected free time, I thought it might be interesting to take a few pictures of the several stages I use to care for a big split, perhaps somebody will find it useful in the future, and perhaps someone will just enjoy the gore...

To read more and see the pictures, head over to

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Birthday Presents

Yesterday, just one day before her birthday, Caroline managed to fight her way to the top of Mind Control at the Spanish super cliff of Oliana. Having climbed the route a few days before, I had a pretty good idea of the difficulties involved, and decided to devote my rest day to being the perfect little Gri-Gri girl (boy) to give her the best chance of success.

My brand new 9.1mm Beal Joker was pulled out to help with the rope drag. We also worked out a nice method of climbing the first section with 2 ropes, clipping the first 5 or 6 QD's on one line then dropping it at the rest to allow the other line to run freely through the remainder of the route. This is also the first time I have used a 100m rope! I remember back to my early days on the grit where a 50m would seem excessive - now, 80m seem short and on cliffs like Oliana, often leaving the climber dangling in space whilst the belayer works out how to get them down!

She clipped the belay on her second try of the day, 3rd red-point in total, with another inspirational display of grit and determination - there was no way she was letting go of the final tricky tufa.

Caroline in the first crux of Mind Control

With another project in the bag, there is nothing else to do today but lay happily in the sun, watch the beautiful view, and enjoy the company of good friends - what more could you wish for on your birthday. Perhaps some good food and wine... tonight?

Congratulations Caro, and happy birthday x

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Un Petit Update... Mind Control and Esclatamasters

2 blog posts in 2 days... this makes a pleasant change. This one will be pretty short but I just wanted to share a few excellent pictures from my friend Francisco Taranto Jr, who is here in Spain with Caro and I.

Approaching the rest on Esclatamasters 9a

Francisco is a freelance photographer who is living a lot "on the road" with his girlfriend Sandra, 2 beautiful children, and his cheeky dog Filipo! Home for them is wherever some interesting action might be, so if you happen to see them at the cliff, or their giant 80's Mercedes Westfalia, make sure you say hi! You can check out his website and blog at

The last few days have been spent trying a cople of harder routes, one of which got sent, others still a work in progress... Topping out on Mind Control, one of the longer routes up the centre of Oliana was a nice moment indeed. Mind Controll is famous for being one of the 8c+'s onsighted by Adam Ondra last year, and so it was interesting to finally see the route in person, and try to comprehend what onsighting something like that entails, especially in the wet.

The top tufa in Mind Control

With Mind Control in the bag, I moved on to my planned "long term project" in the form of Esclatamasters at the little visited cliff of Perles...

To read more and see the pics, check out

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Asia, England, France, Germany, Spain... Dont stop movin' even if the world stops turnin'

So many things, so many places, and so little time sat in a coffee shop in Spain... Time is running thin so I will do my best to keep things short and sweet.

Banff European Tour Premier in Munich

We returned from Asia a little earlier than planned to a cold and snowy England. Training was to be the name of the game, that was until we found some luck in the shape of a white 2001 VW Transporter. Owning a van has been something I had considered for a long time, but a lack of funds and time has always stopped me from pulling the trigger.

Training took a back seat, squeezed in as an afterthought at the end of each day as time was devoted to converting the back into the perfect little home on wheels. Perhaps not perfect, but good enough for a winter and spring in Spain and Italy - Insulation, Heater, Electrics, Stove, Grill, Oven... Bed... and a few other little bits and pieces. With the Van on its way to be finished, we caught the slow boat across the channel and after 2 days were back home in the sunny south. Training at out local gym, the super steep Altisimo in Grabels, began again in the hope we would miraculously find some of our lost endurance before the imminent departure to Spain.

Oliana is to long what Altissimo is to steep and I was a little intimidated to say the least. Suddenly the 3 routes a day we had been doing in Asia seemed rather poor groundwork, and dreams of floating up the never-ending tufa began to float away on the breeze. We warmed up, which is actually an odd act in Oliana as the few routes in the 7’s tend to be less than 15m long – not perfect when the hard routes are all closet to 50m.

Despite my fears, Caroline seemed to be coping pretty well...

To read more, go to

Monday, 13 February 2012

Postcards from Paradise - Truly Asia

I said the adventure would continue, and boy, what an adventure it was!

We crossed the border to Malaysia, unbeknown to us too late for the last bus or taxi south. We were stranded, stuck, and generally felt a bit stupid – thankfully, we would soon fall on one of the most helpful people of the trip, a local policeman who would drive us around and organise everything for our unexpected stay in this sleepy little town.

It turns out this kindness is not uncommon in this part of the world (except in taxi drivers) and the next morning we made the short trip to Bukit Keteri, still clueless but forever hopeful that fate, or luck would see us right. Stopping at a small “cafe” just opposite the impressive Cliff, the locals greet us with a smile and a wave as we drop our heavy packs and sit down.

“Hello, 2 kopi ice please. Oh and do you know a place we can sleep?”

It is as simple as that! Food, lodgings, and new friends – I am starting to like life in Malaysia. The cafe is run by Liza, who along with her husband, brother, mother and children, makes us feel completely at home. Lisa and the kids prepare us a perfect little nest in the shape of a mosquito net on a raised, covered gazebo, and after call us back to the Cafe for the first of many amazing meals. Food at the front, sleeping out the back, and an amazing cliff just across the road – what more can you ask for?

Mmmmmmmmm... Me Gureng

The climbing at Bukit Keteri is world class and very unique. Bulging blank bellies of white limestone occasionally dotted with giant pockets and melting tufas make for very powerful and dynamic climbing. Routes are often bouldery revolving around one specific crux section but there are a few slightly more pumpy offerings, although they are the minority.

The most striking route of the cliff is the amazing 7b+ Belly Button Window. In addition to being fantastic climbing it is also the most obvious line I have seen in Asia – from the road it stands out like someone has marked it with a highlighter. Obviously, we made a beeline for it on day one and its quality didn’t disappoint.

Read more and see some pics at JPClimbing

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Postcards from Paradise - Ton Sai... too bad!

I guess the good luck and permanent smiles could not last forever! This week’s Postcard from Paradise is sadly a little more negative than the last few weeks offerings. Perhaps we are difficult and ungrateful, perhaps the excellent places we have seen over the last 3 weeks have set our expectations too high? Either way, if you don’t want to hear about the darker side of travelling, it might be best to skip this and wait until next week. For easy laughs and a good feeling inside, click here instead...

This trip to South East Asia was always going to be more about exploration, but after a few weeks of jungle bashing and bolting, the idea of plentiful convenient cragging, and the chance to try some harder routes started to appeal.

We left Bangkok early one morning on a flight to Krabi, and by 10am were searching out a place to stay on a very crowded and smelly Ton Sai beach. I had spent a few weeks here in 2007 during my first SEA trips, and I was sad to see how rapidly things have changed, and not for the better.

Hectic (usual) scenes at the Ton Sai Roof

Ton Sai was never going to win any hygiene awards, but now things are getting grim, with piles of garbage and raw sewage everywhere - there are just too many people for the area to handle. Terrible stories of contaminated water from neighbouring waste systems, and ugly infections from the dirty sea are common place. It’s such a shame as the views and situation are breathtaking, truly magnificent – another sad case of paradise lost?

To read the rest of the post, along with more pictures, go to

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Postcards from Paradise - Monty Pythons Flying Circus

Ben Grasser (mentioned in my last postcard) had recently escaped from Bangkok to open a climbing/adventure camp in the nearby jungle. Located at Kaeng Koi, the Nam Pha Pa Yai camp is a haven for travellers, climbers, and adventurers, and would soon play host to a New-Year/1 year birthday party for a local climbing group. The nearby climbing looked great, especially in the easier grades, and so, with a few days spare before flying to the south, and not being ones to turn down a good party, we decided to pay Ben a visit.

The "nerve center" of the opperation...

Arriving late in the evening, we followed a rough dirt track to a dark and deserted camp. Whilst wondering if we were in the wrong place, a head-torch appears through the black, and introduces himself as Ben. He gives us the quick tour and explains a few necessary precautions, including what to do for a snakebite, and how to check for scorpions in the toilet block. After showing us to our tent, Ben disappears back into the darkness and I start to wonder where it is exactly that we have come. Whilst falling to sleep, my mind is busy... not with thoughts of whether will we enjoy the next few days, but whether we will survive!

The next morning we join Ben for a visit to the Cliff. Along the way he explains a little about his ideas for the place and the work he has already done – it is clear how passionate he is, and the amount of hard work and energy he is putting in to make it a success

After a few minutes’ walk, we arrive at a wide river, with the cliff on the other side and no bridge for miles around. Bens solution is as crazy and exciting as the rest of his project – two giant zip-lines allowing visitors to quickly and easily fly back and forth. We race across, giddy from the excitement, only to be stopped dead in our tracks by the sight of several huge, very hard looking, unclimbed overhangs.

After climbing the best existing lines on the cliff during the morning, the place begins to fill up with guests of the party, including a national Thai TV crew! Seeking a little tranquillity among the madness, I hike to the top of the cliff in search of potential new lines to bolt through one of the main overhangs. Moving around on this big cliff is hard work, but by the end of the day a few new bolts are in place – everything must have a beginning.

Its a tough job, but somebody has to do it!

The next day would prove to be long... especially after the late night shenanigans of the party before. Caroline had a crash course in bolting, and she helped me to finish our new line and project for the day. On first impressions, the route looked easy, then after a little cleaning and a closer look, really really hard. I was not overly confident of my chance of success, but fortunately managed to find several good kneebars, allowing me to shuffle my way through the overhanging madness, flashing the first ascent with a big fight.

Caroline in the beginnings of the upside down madness... Photo - Richard Eden

Caroline followed with the second in a much more relaxed manner – I am always amazed about how comfortable she looks on overhanging collo’s. I called the route Monty Pythons Flying Circus, and at 8b, is one of the hardest rotes in Thailand, outside of Krabi. The name is not only a reference to the upside down acrobatics, but also the giant python who watched me whilst I drilled, cosily curled up in a hole just a few meters away. You don’t see that every day!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Postcards from Paradise - Ban Nam None

Finally I find the way... With the rope bag between my legs, and my backpack on my front, I can take a “comfy” position lay flat out of the wind, as I gun my little 50cc moped, full throttle towards the unknown. The ease and tranquillity of Green Climbers home has been left behind; we are in search of adventure in the East.

The road is long...

After 150km and 3 hours aboard my “hair-dryer”, my ass is numb, but spirits high as we enter the incredible cavern of Kong Lor. A 7km long watercave, navigated in almost pitch black with a tiny longtail boat is an experience in itself – the incredible stalactites in a central chamber being the icing on the cake. We leave the cave at just before nightfall with a new friend. Our guide from the cave offered for us to sleep at his house and eat dinner with his family, which was quite a humbling and eye opening experience.

The next morning we are back on our bikes in search of the small climbing area we had come all this way for. Ban Name None was opened a few years ago by a small team from France, who over a few weeks opened three new cliffs with around 30 routes up to 8b. Arriving at the base of the cliff was surprisingly easy, as the thick jungle we had expected had been recently cut back by the local villages – we could drive our bikes directly to the cliff!

The reason for our good fortune turned out to be the local government, whom have recently decided to make the area an Eco-Park. Climbing is one of the many activities they hope to offer to attract tourists, and work is well underway to make the area as accessible and safe as possible. Its a good plan, and one I hope works – the next step will be to convince the villages to stop stealing the hangers off the first and second bolts, all of which are currently missing.

Wow! Not so ugly... Photo - James Pearson

Steep routes on giant tuffas is the order of the day. Some of the rock is very sharp, and almost all of it is dirty due to lack of visitors. We would often have to aid the routes first with a big sweeping brush to clean off the spider webs, but after this little bit of effort, we were left with great routes with not a polished hold in sight.

James Pearson on the incredible tufas of Ca Baille Dur. Photo - Caroline Ciavaldini

The best routes to seek out are Ca Baille Dur - a perfect 7b on glorious jugs and collo’s, and Gross Slame, 8b - one of the rare routes to breach the blank rock between the lines of Tufa (this one was even more memorable as I Flashed it, perhaps making the first ascent in the process?). The rock continues for several hundred meters in either direction, with mega-impressive features just waiting to be climbed. With time and motivation invested from the right people, this area could become something really special...

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Postcards from Paradise - Green Climbers home

Can you see the Katana Lace up hiding in the picture? I promise it is there!

Spot the Shoe... Photo - Caroline Ciavaldini

I am lying on my back, half stuck inside a hole on this giant block of Swiss Cheese, trying to figure where to go next. I squeeze upwards, or is it sideways, limbs twisted and inching slowly... then finally, there it is; the next quickdraw! You would be forgiven I was caving, but no, this is just another strange and funky route in the mega roof of Pha Tam Kam, the newest discovery in Eastern Laos.

Green Climbers Garden is the creation of Uli and Tanja Weidner, a German couple who visited this area during a round the world trip, and never left! Hidden away in the Pho Hin Boun NPA, just 12km from Thakhek, this little paradise holds several bungalows, a dorm, central restaurant/bar, as well as really great climbing.

Uli and Tanja are wonderful hosts, and the whole camp has a very relaxed atmosphere, exactly what you expect from Laos. The best time to visit is November to March, when temperatures actually get quite low. In December and January, it’s not uncommon to need long trousers and a jacket – essentially perfect conditions for climbing.

I never expected to see something like this!

The area in general is Tufa-central, it is quite similar in appearance to some of the cliffs in Southern Thailand, only with some friction, and without the crowds. The main event however is the gigantic roof on the right. 20m of horizontal, gloriously featured Emmental. Huge jugs and slopers, nothing sharp, nothing loose, nothing chipped or glued – this might be the best roof I have climbed in!

James on the finish of Monkey Trail. Photo - Caroline Ciavaldini

The current hardest route is the spectacular Monkey Trail, 7c+ but much harder lines are just waiting to be bolted. Having said that, it is not the hard lines that make this place really special, but the easy ones. It is quite rare for routes in the 6’s to venture into steep terrain, but here you can find 6b’s that tackle almost the entire span, via wonderfully interesting and involved movements – 3D climbing at its best.

The perfect end to a great 1st day! Photo - Caroline Ciavaldini

Green Climbers Home surpassed all my expectations. If the rest of the locations we visit over the next few weeks are half as good as this place, we will be very happy indeed. Tomorrow we will rent a couple of bikes and drive to Kong Lor Cave, where you can float 7km along an underground river, as well as explore some nearby cliffs developed by a French team a few years ago.

Sôhk Dee Deuh

James and Caroline

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Holidays Are Upon Us...

...and where better to spend them than South East Asia. Avoiding the cold and the snow, adventuring in the jungle, and eating mangos on the beach - not forgetting a little climbing.

To make us appreciate the things to come even more, we spent Christmas and New year in a very soggy England, where there are definitely no Mangos - just a LOT of chocolate. Its safe to say that right now I feel like quite the glutton, but luckily Christmas comes but once a year.

In addition to the usual orgy of Tonsai, we plan on visiting a lot of new, relatively unknown areas in Laos and Malaysia which look to hold great potential. Throughout the trip we hope to send little "postcards" about the places we visit, back home to a few special people, including my mum, grandparents, UKClimbing, Caroline's sister, Kairn, and

Here is the first, courtesy of Caroline, about her opening thoughts on the grit. Its all in french, but luckily, Google has your back...

Toucher de Grit avant le grand saut…
Dans la lignée de mes habituelles échappées hivernales vers le soleil, j’ai choisi cette année l’Asie… la belle ! Malaisie, Laos et Thaïlande pour ce mois et demi à voguer avec le courant. Nous avons pris les billets… et c’est tout ! Donc dans 3 jours, Sri Lanka Airlines nous téléporte à Kuala Lumpur depuis Londres. L’occasion de se préparer aux grandes vacances… par de petites vacances. James m’a promis mon premier toucher de Grit dans le Peak District !

Caroline "enjoying" the gritstone classic, Not to be taken away. Photo - David Simmonite

Première virée, Stanage, une grande barre de grit pas bien loin de Chatsworth, le domaine du héro de Jane Austen (un peu de culture britannique voyons, j’ai reçu pour Noel un livre, deux films et trois audio books de l’auteur de « orgueil et préjugés »). Revenons à nos moutons, pour ce premier jour James a choisi un grand classique, des blocs majeurs bien qu’humides et mousseux… avec en hors d’œuvre : Brad pit !!!! Pour votre culture, pit avec un seul t signifie trou profond et sombre !!! Le célébrissime Brad pit est donc un 8B décoté à 7C+ par notre grenouille préférée Marc Le Ménestrel, qui, enfin (!!), a suggéré aux british une alternative à leur bourrinage en no foot : poser un talon dans la rampe de départ ! Quoi qu’il en soit, j ai essayé, pas trop insisté, ca semble chouette, surtout une belle histoire de triomphe français !
Dans un autre registre, facile mais très, très haut, « Crescent Arête », et « Not to be taken away », sont l’occasion de tester mes qualités d’engagement : avec nos pauvres deux crashs pads, et mon pareur auquel je défends de se reculer pour la photo, j’ai bien compris qu’on me faisait faire mes gammes pour le Trad. La journée sera clôturée par un chocolat chaud au camion bar posé sur le parking des grimpeurs. Convenient isn’t it ?

Le lendemain, je continue mon apprentissage avec un footing aux Black rock, maison de "Gaia", La voie où Jean min Trin Thieu s’est cassé la jambe ! Bon… vu du bas… heu… ben …oui, certes, le rocher est pas mal, mais j’ai un peu de mal à saisir le concept du trad extrême, pourquoi n’avoir pas mis de spit si la voie n’est pas protégeable ? Mais parce que c’est la tradition, voyons !!!!

Ok, back to packing, but before I go, here is a video from one of the areas we will visit later on in the trip...