Sunday, 17 March 2013

Moving house = new rock !

View from outside my house. 100m high crag in the background.
 Still feeling lazy so i've quickly put up some pics of where i live now. These pics don't show even 1/10 of the rock that is within a 10min drive of my house. Mostly un touched and boulders, sport crags and trad lines are everywhere. Single pitch to lots of mountain multi pitch an an awesome ridge that has been done as a 12 hr day.
View the other way. 1 of 3 mountains that are 150m high

New sport crag - once i get a drill

The orange section is about 40m high. The boulders in front are up to 20m high. AND it's 3 min from my house

The all weather gym. Overhanging, dry, heavily featured and solid. The useable bit is about 4 m wide and 3m high

recent attempt to escape rain led us into a cave. A cave full of goats, and shit. Yes that is steam coming off the shit and yes we did climb there.

Gino climbing the shit out of the cave

Brilliant roof. About 10m wide and 5m deep. 3 really good obvious lines but a load of nettles and thistles for a landing.

The orange wall. Dyno from the obvious hold at the top of the orange section.

My first ever problem here. Monkey arete V1

Grinning like a kiddy in a sweetshop

Not tried anything on this one yet.

Or this one. It was higher than it looked. Good landings though.

Trad line up crack in centre

Boulder project. The lip is about 6m off the floor.

Another trad line up the middle but comes in from bottom right of orange rock using the rising traverse crack

January Morocco trip

Ages ago i went to Morocco. I've not got around to writing it up and a picture is supposed to say a thousand words.

So using that as a convenient excuse here's a load of pictures from what was the best climbing trip i've been on. New continent climbed on, new places, new cultures, new friends and a whole load of good feelings.

The 3 amigos !

Not a bad place to spend the night

I hate eliminate lines

Me wondering where the route goes next ?

Ryanair cancelling out flight home meant we had to stay in Marrakech for a night. We kipped here for 10 euros each. Amazing night: dodgy beers and dodgy kebab at 3a.m.

Me panicking on my first E2 for 2 yrs

Golden Compass E1 5b 200m. AWESOME !

This is where we waited while Gino and Simon were stuck on a mountain in the dark.

This is what we ate while we waited - looks gross but i would say it was the best kebab i've ever had.

The boys come home - only 4 hrs after dark. Half an hour late and JJ and i had decided we were going to warm their kebabs with the heater and eat them ourselves.

Health and safety ?

JJ is on the left

Camels !

Friday, 14 December 2012

Steep learning curve

Andy falling off having made his project harder by throwing the crux hold at my head from 20 m up

Last Tuesday was officially the 2nd day out of the climbing season after last week's outing in Marbella.

The bad news is i didn't do well. The good news is i remembered my camera this time.

I went off to El Chorro with Luis to meet up with Andy Tapper. You can keep up with his adventures here:

and Patrick Pearce ( award winning photographer ):

What we weren't expecting were temperatures probably up into the 30's. I had a fleece, long sleeve thermal, short sleeve top and long trousers on,. Wooly hat in my bag along with gloves and a belay jacket. I also had a pair of shorts tucked away in there. By the time we reached Poema de Roca cave it was roasting. and i was down to t-shirt and shorts. Apologies to everyone who had to witness the legs. It's fair to say the weather has been a bit high or low of late.

The day started well with Tapper throwing a rock down on top of me from his project route, Via de Rudolf ( 8a+). I am guessing he's picked this because it's Christmassy. Quite an interesting discussion ensued where Patrick asked me why i didn't look up to see where the rock was and dodge out of the way. Being an experienced mountaineer i recognised the difference between " below " and " BELOW " screamed like a teenager at a Justin Bieber concert. Sorry Andy but it was quite high pitched. Anyway, the scream told me that whatever was coming wasn't your usual " Oops i've kicked a small pebble off the edge of a ledge " and it was heading towards us. I didn't have time to look up without risking a rock into my beautiful face. I put my arms over my head, stood still and stood straight. This minimises the target area for the falling projectile and makes you look cool as if you're all James Dean staring death in the face as you sneer with contempt. The rock smashed down a couple of feet to my left and was pretty big. It was certainly big enough to put a dent in my day and my head.OK in reality it was enough to kill me for sure. Was i wearing a helmet whilst sport climbing in my own time. Of course i....wasn't. Personal decisions, personal acceptable levels of risk. Closest i've come to getting whacked whilst climbing outside the Alps.

Not Andy's fault. It was the one good hold in the crux and was well used/chalked. Maybe all the recent rain had got behind it and weakened it,

Do i always wear a helmet when instructing and tell people that they should too? Yes i do. Time for an attitude adjustment ? I don't know. I doubt i would have been wearing a helmet whilst walking around a long way from the crag bottom anyway so who knows. I may well be more wary of caves from now on though.

On with the climbing though. Luis and i started off with two of the most god awful routes i think i have ever climbed. Don't EVER do the the 6b and 6c to the right of the cave. Mystifyingly flowstone with the consistency of coral or glass depending on what hold you tried. In order to keep things anywhere near the grade massive detours were needed around the bolts leading to potential swings across the razor sharp coral. You can bet your ass you wouldn't land on the polished stuff.

Too steep for me !

By this time the cave was like an oven and we scooted into the back to look for something in the shade. I spied a 7b that was short and powerful. I was feeling OK about it until i saw the last few metres of the powerful included a horizontal roof. Scuttling away from potential failure on a roof that i should have been able to do i randomly ended up on Swimming Through a Shark Attack, a classic 8a+. The attraction was that it had fixed draws in it and is a pretty much horizontal roof route. No problems if we can't do it, just pull the rope and find something to blame apart from yourself. Simples ! The repulsion was that by the time i got to the 4th bolt i was shitting myself due to the very poor state of the bolts. Coke can ring pull thin hangers, old style bolts that you can move around in the drill hole by hand. Brilliant ! It's worth noting that there are now new bolts next to the old ones, but the fixed gear is in the old ones.

Tappa declared himself fearless and decided to give it a go. He soon discovered his fear and we started to look for something else.

Local knowledge prevailed and Luis pointed us in the direction of the un-promising looking cave directly to the left of Poema that was in the shade. Hooray !

Unfortunately the only route in there was a 7b+ roof climb. AAAARGH ! Fortunately even i have to admit it was pretty damn good, though it doesn't look it. Low bolts to protect the belayer ( you have to scramble about 10 metres up into the cave to start ) and no hard moves. However there were a lot of them and they were disturbingly steep. A steady vertical start led to a hands off rest, braced against a massive Kalymnos stylee tufa, and then you're off into overhanging land. Take a look at the draws on Andy's harness to see how steep it was.

After a first go on lead the old enemy of shitting myself came racing back. I was fine last week but the feeling of falling backwards onto a load of slack just makes my tummy go all rollercoaster. This meant i was hesitant and slow. Not what you need when the endurance clock is ticking. 2/3rds of the way up i flopped on a bolt rather than plough on and see what may be possible.I did pluck up the courage to make the moves that were scaring me though. A reach up to 2 tufa 'stubs' and undercut them to make the clip.

Luis showed the way and got the draws in. Tappa had another go but still peeled off after an amazing display of grit and tenacity just before the finish. I retreated to top rope ( I know, I know ) and was hopeful of blasting through to the finish with this crutch. This time i got through the crux and then failed again just after taking a whopping swing. I pulled/cheated my way up and lowered off with my tail between my legs.

I'm fit enough, i'm strong enough but i'm not brave enough.

Well the fear has come back, but only on really steep routes. That's half good and half bad. I love the look of these routes but they intimidate the shit out of me.

Next time out, fall practice.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Lifestyles of the rich and the famous - climbing in Marbella.

Night time training - board faces South and it can get too hot during the day
 After nearly 2 months of seriously crap weather it looks like we're in for a prolonged dry spell. It's been freezing with Northerly winds driven in by two weather systems sat to the West and East of Spain sucking the cold, wet winds down onto us here in the South. Although it wasn't as bad as in the USA there was severe flash flooding with the dead totalling 16. Villanuevas del Rosario and Trabuco, just 20 mins from our house, were totally devastated but fortunately for us our village didn't flood:

A few weeks later it was the turn of the centre of Malaga to get it. Despite purpose built flash flood channels for the river there was just too much water falling onto already sodden ground. That along with 3 water spouts meant the centre flooded. Most of the parking in Malaga is underground and over 300 cars were trashed when they flooded under department stores.

On with better news though. Finally getting back out again has been great. After a long stint at work i met up with Silvi to go to a new climbing area situated just outside the millionaire's playground of Marbella. I had been togged up in Winter salopettes and my biggest duvet jacket for the last week at work - it had been freezing - but Silvi promised me sun and warmth and it was a lovely day in the low 20's. Perfect for climbing. I want to get on with some 7b's and 7b+'s but with a new crag to play at i wasn't going to hang around on one route all day.

Most of the development has taken place in the last 3 yrs and a guidebook has been produced a few months ago. It's always a great feeling to go to a new area, see new crags and get some totally new routes under your belt. The guidebook is one of the best i've seen for a local effort. Very clear access info, excellent full colour photo topos, graded well on the whole and in Spanish and ( well translated ) English.

We went to the El Grito and El Gato Negro areas, which are really just a single buttress shaped around a corner. The crag can be seen from the parking and looks quite striking with a beautiful vivid orange colour. It soon transpired that the routes were about 20m long but the first 5 metres were very slabby and the top 5 metres were very sharp and slabby/vertical. This still left 10m of beautiful flowing climbing in the middle. We didn't do a bad route all day. It did however highlight a weakness ( literally ) i've been ignoring for a while. I am quite weak. I've not done any strength training in a year. So a 6c+ was effectively a 10 metre 6c+ due to the easy ground around the middle section. Some bouldery moves for sure, but they were nice moves not just thuggy or boning down on next to nothing. Steep but you had to be good with feet too. However they felt much harder than they used to. Time to get some bouldering in i think.

I got a 6c+ on-sight, 2 6c+ flashes ( one on a top rope )  and a few other 6b+'s and 6b's. A good work out.

I'd definitely go back with over 360 routes, 320 days of sunshine, views over the sea and the odd Ferrari to spot on the way there it's a nice place to be.

Unfortunately i forgot to take my camera, which is why you get a picture of me on my training board instead - doh !

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Costa Blanca

Nik was so lost in the hardcore techno on his I pod he momentarily forgot where he was and started dancing

A week or so after my big breakthrough i was lucky enough to meet up with Nik Jennings. He had been running a coaching course in the Costa Blanca and had a few days after to climb. A 6.30 am start saw me arrive in Alicante about 12, I keep forgetting how big Spain is. I was knackered after driving through thick fog, rain and even hail at one point. Not just now and then but pretty much for 300kms of the journey.

It was wet there too so the planned trip to Forada was not on. The only dry place we could find was Ibi. It looked OK and was in a very nice setting tucked away behind an old water mill.

 The only dry route in the village

Unfortunately there were only 2 dry routes on the whole crag in the central section. We got there just in time to see a group lowering off La Chica yeye. When i say lowering off they were lowering off a maillon from the bolt below the chains. Not always a good sign. Nik reckoned that 7a+ that people have bailed from is a great warm up grade and told me to go for it, thanks Nik. I fell at the 2nd bolt on a dynamic lunge for a pocket. I hit it, but didn't hold it as it was blind, i got it on a bad part and i have a saggy arse. My words not Niks.I am not holding my tension when i hit a hold and as a result i may touch the hold but often fall away from it meaning failure. I managed the rest of it up to the final bolt.

It's worth mentioning here that the route was about 10 moves long and all of them were strong, reachy and most were using bolt on bits of rock filed down.Very bizarre, even for Spain.

 Spot the bolt ons. There are 3 in this picture alone.

The last section had a yellow resin mono hold and a small blue crimper up and right. It appeared you had to somehow reach the miles away mono and then yard up on it. Nik mentioned something about using my feet and pushing up but i went for the yard up on one finger tactic, and failed. Cut a long story short i had 3 rp goes and everytime got to the mono and fell. Even Nik didn't manage to get it in one. He was finding the reachy move low down really hard but eventually cheated on the mono move by using technique and going again for the crimp.

The finishing holds. You can see the massive holes in the roof above and a breeze block nailed on for good measure. Subtle !

My mono finger was feeling tweaky so after another attempt failing at the mono we quickly decided to move on to the other dry route hoping it would be just as good. At least this one had no holds bolted on it. Shame really as a couple of them could have really improved it and would have meant we didn't need to use the razor blades disguised as holds. Imaginatively named Route 10 it wasn't what we'd come to climb on really. I didn't get it in the end but with comments about the crag saying it's sandbag heaven i wasn't too upset. It salvaged something out of a very wet day and i still wasn't scared of falling. I took more falls that day than in the whole of last year.

The view from the crag - not bad i guess
Next day we were going to Forada. Nik had told me it's the best crag in the Costa Blanca with no bad routes on it. The weather decided otherwise again, and as we couldn't even see the crag due to the cloud we diverted again. Heading North until we could see the sun meant we ended up in the Xalo valley at Las Pinturas in the Los Pinos area. It was a cool looking place. A long, short, open cave of orange rock with some cave paintings and some climbs with very steep starts before rounding the lip to what looked easy slabby ground above.

Las Pinturas
Starting off with a bang i went for Route 5 and found wet pockets followed by bloody sharp holds on the slab above the bulge. Failed again ! I got a good pump on though so it did it's job as a warm up. Next up was Paprika. As Nik won't allow people to take it easy he made me have a bash at on-sighting it. This quickly turned into a bolt to bolt to work the moves out. It was fierce steep to start. Having rested a while i thought about having another go to get it wired. I was quickly dispossessed of that idea by Nik who told me to get on it and crush it. 1st bolt clipped, sneaky foot faggotry to get through the hard bit foot popped off. Lack of concentration. Bugger ! The good news is it went next go and felt easy. I wasn't even pumped. How does that happen ? Once through the crux there was a shake point and i had to stop myself leaving too early as i felt like i was flying. Normally you can't get me away from rests.

Even better news is that it's thought to be a hard 7b :0)

So what to do for the rest of the day, apart from belaying Nik trying 8a on-sights of course ? Well i could go for a 7b+, a 7c or a 7c+. Of course i went for the 7c+.

7c+ mentalness.
 It actually looked the most do-able option with a fairly obvious sequence.It is called The Reaper and is described as having a hard start leading to a very hard move. I should say. Using my new found extra appendages ( my feet ) i surprised myself by making fairly decent progress. I ended the day one move off from the easy ground. After only a couple of hours on it i was pretty happy with that. If it was local i'd have it as a project and i don't think it would take too long. I've never pulled off moves that hard before, not even when bouldering, and the amount of  weight i could get through my feet was wicked,

Next day saw us a bit battered but finally at Forada. I summoned up all my psyche and warmed up on something sensible this time - a nice steady away 6b+. Target for the day was a 7a on-sight and a 7b RP.

I ended up with a 7a flash of Starman and a pretty miserable fail on Muscleman. It's a great route but i just didn't have anything left in the tank after 2 hard days. It was pretty frustrating as i felt if i was fresh it'd go down quite easy. I was faffiing about at the steep bit and had no energy left for subsequent goes.

So it was off for another 6 hr drive back home. I'd got some successes, some failures but most importantly i'd learned a hell of a lot.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The comeback kid !

Well it's been nearly 6 mths to the day without a blog. Basically it's gone like this:
  • Lack of psyche following breaking through into a new grade
  • elbow tendonitis = 6 weeks off any hard climbing
  • Summer = 6 weeks of too hot to climb anything hard
  • Broken ribs = 6 weeks of no hard climbing
Taking these one at a time.

Lack of psyche was confusing to me, until recently. I'd just broken a new grade and physically it didn't feel that hard. Mentally however was another story. Being scared to death of falling and trying to climb as hard as i thought i could meant i was likely to fall. I just wasn't enjoying the process. It was only recently that i acknowledged that this happened when chatting to Steve at Loja. We talked about how he is scared of falling on on-sight and i am scared of falling on red-point. Steve is a red-point machine and brilliant to watch. He sorts out sequences very quickly, focuses and goes 100% on his attempts. This often gets results. I get more scared on red-point because i am much more likely to fall. I then hesitate, get tired and fail. The whole build up to it and mental pressure was just not floating my boat at the time.

I took the chance to go to physio for my elbows and whilst she didn't say stop climbing i was told to keep it at a low level for a while or she might have to repeat the really painful massage she had done on me. 'Nuff said and i was a good boy. What i found helped a lot were all the little things you do that aggravate it. I changed how i belayed in particular ( straight brake arm and no tension in it ), how i drove, how i carried my rucksack and loads of other little things that were stopping it recovering fully. It hasn't come back so fingers crossed.

Summer was just hot and everyone went away on road trips and left me partner less and sweaty, so not much done there.

The broken ribs was one of those things i couldn't do much about. A bit silly really but i got involved in a bar fight in a friend's bar. I grabbed the big fat fella who was causing all the grief and took him down to the ground from behind in true ex policeman style. Unfortunately i was a slightly drunk ex policeman and got it a bit wrong and he ended up falling on top of me and we hit the corner of a table on the way down. To add insult to injury i got whacked around the head with an ashtray that someone was trying to hit someone else with. Owch ! It wasn't all that bad after. I am sure i cracked a couple of ribs under my right armpit and did something round the back near my shoulder blade but it could have been worse. You should have seen the other guy :0) After a month i was able to pull hard again, but it still hurts when i sneeze.

After all this i was ready for trying again. Steve and his friend Paul were coming over for a week and Steve wanted to try Hasta Luego Luca again. It's an amazing twin tufa pipe climb with consecutive knee bars, and Steve had bought a 5.10 knee pad. Despite the fact that it has been universally agreed that this bit of kit takes off half a grade i still failed on it due, yes you guessed it, being scared of falling. I was too hesitant and slow. Steve cracked it off in good style.

Me really dancing while Steve basks like a lizard

We met up again a couple of days later at Cauche where a weird thing happened. Paul was trying Tomohawk, the very same 7b i climbed 6 mths ago that put me off. I got back on and sorted the low down boulder problem ( ish there was still 2 possible sequences for the boulder problem ) and flashed the rest. After a short break i tied on, climbed it decisively ( using the new sequence but going at it 100% ) and cruised it. I had not done anything different in my approach, i had no 'pre-flight' nerves, no fear of falling, just a feeling that it was going to be OK. I have absolutely no idea what happened. All i can say is that if that is how it feels for everyone else then i want more. I have started to worry though as i had not done anything to lose the fear, it could easily come back.

Getting to the steep bit

The crux is slapping for a blind edge over your head from the slopey undercut.

Crux done, just the easy ground to mess up on now

Victory swing

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Real progress at last !

Well i finally climbed a 7b. Tomohawk at my local crag, Villanueva De Cauche, which was nice. I'd been on it on a top rope once before following Ale, a very tall, very dynamic, climbers beta and buggered up my right elbow. I then watched Silvi climb it with technique and vowed to remember the beta.

Steve ( Eagle River from UKC ) has recently got married. What's that got to do with me climbing 7b you may ask ? Well his in laws live less than 1 hr from my house here in Spain. Why couldn't i find a woman like that ? Weirder coincidences are to follow as it turns out he lives about 10 minutes from my Mum's back in Manchester. Anyway i digress, get back to the exciting stuff i hear you cry. He came over for a visit and was allowed out for a few days climbing. I surprised him with freezing cold weather and torrential rain just to prove to all the UKC'ers that it's not always sunny in Spain. We spent a chilly, but mostly dry, day in Archidona cave. I told him not to believe the hype that it's one of the world's premier climbing venues. Yes the routes at 7c and above are awesome ( so i've been told ) but the whole floor - and many holds - are covered in a lovely mixture of bird and goat shit. Anyway we made the best of a bad day and i failed on a 7a on-sight again. Steve got introduced to the world of steep European limestone on Danza Agressiva and then we retreated due to the cold.

Steve had a goal of getting a 7b in a session. He likes bouldery routes and came armed with a clip stick. Tomohawk ( yes i'm back on the story now ) seemed to fit the bill. A couple of metres of easy climbing, a V4 section involving a gaston, guppy, double undercut sidepull off a massive ( but strangely insecure ) tufa with really high feet to dyno for an OK'ish hold. I had 2 more top ropes on it but wasn't feeling like i had the firepower to do the crux slappy move.

Steve showed me how with a very well executed redpoint. As someone who redpoints a lot his experience with that really showed. He figured out, and remembered, sequences much quicker then i can. Most importantly once he knew the moves he climbed them with a lot of confidence and just the right amount of aggression. He cruised the crux, rested and then blasted his way up the 6b+ ish climbing above.

I had half decided ( well more 80% if i am honest ) to just have another top rope but found myself pulling the rope through unexpectedly. Peer pressure kicked in. I reckon if he'd offered me a ciggy i'd have said yes. I quickly found myself entering the crux having scorned princess clipping the 1st 2 bolts ;0) Totally nervous, totally expecting to fail until something clicked and i just thought " Fuck it, i'm here now i may as well just see what happens." There was a pause of about 2 or 3 seconds as i latched the crux move while it sank in that i'd got it. I remember inwardly shouting at myself. " Stop staring at that shit hold you're on and move to the jug next to it." I eventually did and just had the easy climbing ahead after a rest point. Feeling rested, and on a real positive high, i set off into the much easier crux above, totally bolloxed it up, got wrong handed and ended up pulling out some weird, high footed, undercut, gaston thing. I've got to stop trying to mess things up for myself.

Silvi said it'd go next time and it did. She also said i wouldn't be far off Rasca y Pica ( Itchy and Scratchy ) a 7b+ round the corner. So that's my next target.

I've finally updated my goals on here as they were from December so just got to stick to them now.