Monday, 25 August 2008


Saturday was my birthday.

(Last year's birthday was pretty amazing - Pavey Ark ... glorious sunshine ... stinking cold ... scarcely less stinking Pylon King ... sitting on the belay of the classic Cruel Sister with my throat burning, staring out at the amazingly expansive view ... rushing round to Bright Beck crag after the rest of the team had gone back down ... ordering food from the New Dungeon Gyll pub by mobile phone from the crag and rushing back down to collect it well after last food orders ... spending 3 days afterwards hardly able to move after burning up all my cold-healing energy on that one day out... )

This year, I felt little like celebrating, mostly due to my elbow, and a hint of general malaise. However, surprisingly and against my better (bah humbug) judgement, it was still a good fun day, in fact one of the better "days out" I've had recently. After a rather plethoric quantity of (good) presents, we headed up to Simon's Seat in Yorkshire, somewhere that had been on my wishlist (for Easy Trad(tm)) for a while. A long, tedious drive, and a long-ish, tiring hike gave an important feeling of "being away from it all".

The crag was in great condition, almost all clean and bone dry. We climbed several routes, I pissed up an E2 5b and had an epic fight on a HVS 5b, hmmm such is the nature of things (those things being rubbish grading in both Yorkshire Grit and Rockfax Northern England!). The rock quality is excellent up there, it's rough, but not in a nasty crystally sort of way (which I usually don't like with harsher grit), but in a compact pitted sort of way. And liberally splattered with a smattering of pebbles, and more unusually, vast herds of millipedes. For future reference there are some amazing looking highball ankle-snapping solo micro route things...

Finally, we yomped down well in the dark and well after pub-food-o'clock, and decided a quick, simple curry in Skipton would suffice and restore moral fibre for the journey home. However this quick, simple curry was not to be as we stumbled across a branch of the acclaimed Aagrah and had one of the best curries I've had for ages. Tasty, consistently good, very clear ingredients so the dishes were all distinctive, all served smoothly and promptly. This rounded things off rather nicely :).

So happy birthday me, I guess...

Friday, 22 August 2008


(Last weekend, but still relevant...).

17th August 2007 - the dismal sodding 2007 summer ends, as I start off an excellent Indian Autumn of high quality inspiring climbing throughout the whole of the UK for a few great and reassuring months. A significant date as the start of a period that confirmed that I can climb what truly inspires me (2006 started that, 2007 eventually confirmed it).

17th August 2008 - the dismal sodding of 2008 summer continues unabated, as I visit a minor Lancs quarry with the intention of continuing getting some mileage in to try to retain some climbing fitness and compensate for still being utterly fucking crippled by my elbow injury, only to find it's seeping and despite the forecast being better than the previous day, there's showers coming in already. Retreat to even more minor Peak limestone crag to try to salvage something out of the day and fail on piss-easy route that I would have considered an trivial warm-up last year.

Failure, dismal fucking failure, how much do I hate it?? This time I had the decency to descend into a proper swearathon temper tantrum (something which I'd sort of grown out of....but needs must...). Unlike previous "dismal fucking failures on piss-easy routes that would have been trivial warm-ups before", this was not a case of laziness and not being bothered - I'd actually set a firm intention to climb this route and climb it well. This was the familiar (and despised): cowardice, lack of commitment, inability to deal with stress, spiralling negativity, etc etc. Which always drives me almost speechless with anger and upset, and this time is no exception. Although the route was insignificant compared to others, the whole purpose of this "mileage" time is to get into good practise, good habits, to climb well in preparation for an eventual return to fitness. The whole point of THIS ROUTE was to climb it well (which I didn't), deal with the stress (which I didn't), and to get into a habit of positive climbing (which I didn't).

So an un-auspicious continuation of the debacle...

(For reference, going back in the years: 17th August 2006: pissing around in the summer heat, although sandwiched between a trip to Ceuse and some cool exploration in the South-West; 17th August 2005: broken foot, still unable to walk properly, okay THAT was more shit! albeit after a great trip to South Africa; 17th August 2004: general depression following accidents and stuff, another fairly poor pottering summer; 17th August 2003: general good climbing for the time; 17th August 2002: pretty cool exploration around North Wales and elsewhere; 17th August 2001: just getting back into climbing....mileage on summer grit would you believe it.)

Can someone please fix my elbow and the weather so I have some positive stuff to blog about, ta!!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Sharpcliffe Rocks.

Staffordshire Grit is the best gritstone climbing area in the Pennines. Not for the mega-classic crags of The Roaches, The Skyline, Hen Cloud and Ramshaw, but for the combination of those hallowed grounds with a varied and veritable treasure trove of minor crags, lost esoterica, hidden gems, and secret outcrops which provide much needed nourishment to those who are exploratory, jaded, over-imaginative, or in search of the essential "something completely different".

Crags such as The Nth Cloud, Gibb Tor, Gradbach Hill, The Back Forest, Rudyard Pinnacle, Bosley Cloud, and most intriguing of all, The Churnet Valley - a lost world of bizarrely sculpted pebble-dashed buttresses outcropping along forested glens and perched amongst peaceful fields. One such outcrop is the neo-famous Sharpcliffe Rocks:

This small collection of bouldering outcrops and one proper lead-climbing buttress has been given a full write up in the last two guidebooks, including two colour photos in the latest guide (and one in the previous guide), and has featured on one of the best On The Edge magazine covers: OTE 38 - John Smith onsighting Knossos on the cover, the legendary Ken Wilson interview inside - those were the days, proper, relevant climbing on the cover, proper controversial characters inside, now it's all Rhapsody this that and the other with a break only for the latest Neil Gresham collection of reps and sets and yawn.

Sharpcliffe Rocks is also banned.

It is owned by Sharpcliffe Hall (whereabouts the hall actually is, God only knows, it's certainly nowhere near the crag nor visible from it), on private land, and access is not allowed, or in the words of someone from the house "strictly forbidden". Of course, it has to be strictly, simply being forbidden isn't enough...

Of course it is their right to forbid access and climbing without requiring any reason. We went there, we climbed the three routes we came for, and part way through the third route were accosted by someone from the hall, and told firmly to leave. I politely pointed out that we were being quiet, not leaving litter, disturbing no wildlife nor fences etc, which fell on deaf ears - we knew we were not allowed to climb there, we had to leave immediately after getting off the route, and we were not expected to be seen back, ever. I politely agreed to leave ASAP and apologised for any trouble caused. After all, they have the right, we'd done what we came for, and there was no need, nor any standing on our behalf, to argue.

What there is a need for, obviously, is to RANT ON THE INTERNET. The solution to many problems :)

Actually there's not much to rant about to, just two nuggets of food for thought, a light snack if you will...

Firstly, harm done?? I for one, failed to see any. Two climbers, quietly going about their business. No inconsiderate parking, no damage to fences, walls nor gates, no litter, no loud noise, no graffiti, vandalism nor abuse of the land, no dogs nor bikes nor ghetto-blasters, no interference with hall business nor invasion of privacy. As a pertinent and ironic comparison, the crag is on land which is sometimes used for shooting (obviously we wouldn't have gone near it were any shooting going on). This otherwise idyllic natural area is scattered with clay pigeon paraphernalia, launchers, taped-off areas, and thoroughly littered with clay pigeon debris and shell cases.

Secondly, land ownership?? It does seem, sometimes, that western humans put a lot of stock into the area of planet earth we own - our turf, our "castle". I think for many people in many situations, there is good reason - privacy, a bit of land to do something with, our own patch where others can't interfere (and I would not want to climb where it genuinely interfered!). One might wonder though, if some of us go too far. When someone has a LOT of land, and when areas of that land are well away from any actual residence or regularly used area of land, to what extent is dictating access a matter of dictating for the sake of it??

The question often asked is "What if it was your land??"

Well, what if it was your land, or my land, and small groups of people sporadically visited an area say half a mile from my house, that wasn't in current use, treated the land with respect, engaged in a non-damaging activity that I was unlikely to see or hear, and even if I did they were affable and civil when challenged??


Anyway, the routes were pretty cool - unusual pebbly rock and a funky adventurous feel to them :).

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Status report:

A little update on the state of play.

In the last week or so I've been out climbing Easy Trad(tm) 3 times (2 days and one evening), climbing indoors once, been running twice and had a physio session. Not bad.

Climbing-wise, and therefore elbow-wise, it's been thus:

Day at Willersley - did two long routes, surprisingly enjoyable given the crag looks as gash as most Peak limestone usually does. Elbow a bit tender afterwards but less so the next day.

Evening at The Foundry - did ten routes at a moderate standard, sweaty but a good session, felt okay. Elbow a bit tender but definitely less than previous wall sessions, again better the next day.

Evening at Shaw Quarry - did a few short technical routes, surprisingly enjoyable given the crag looks distinctly minor and unimpressive. Elbow a bit tender but less the next day.

Day at Ravensnest Tor - did a few long and fairly involving routes, surprisingly enjoyable given the crag looks like a tottering pile of choss. Elbow a bit tender, again less so the next day. Routes were a smidgen trickier so that may have increased tenderness, although I didn't feel any tweaks en-route and again, it wasn't quite bad compared to previously.

I also had one day where I hardly had any pain-in-response-to-pressure at all.

So this last week has been a bit more promising. My exploration and esoteric plan has started working, and my elbow has been feeling a tiny bit better than before, most noticeable around the wall session which is the clearest benchmark.

What this means of course is that I've got to keep being extra bloody careful for a while yet!!

Friday, 8 August 2008


I read this morning that young Northern England climber and UKClimbing regular Ian Jackson had died in a sport climbing lower off / abseiling accident in the Alps... This has provoked some thought.

[ To give some context: Firstly I am pretty intolerant of "the youth of UKC". There seems to be a prominent number of kids on there whose naivety, immaturity, and lack of awareness escalates to irritating heights when they are allowed to spout unchecked shite on a public forum. Secondly I am pretty intolerant of many climbing "accidents" - having been involved with, and traumatised by, a few, I have a hard line on the typical avoidable incompetence that leads to climbing accidents (commonly with gear ripping these days - just this last weekend I was witness to a ridiculous near-miss at Willersley - a 16 year old kid attempting his first VS at this entirely unsuitable crag in front of his father and friend....10m up a steep groove/crack, no gear in as 3-4 bits had fallen out as he passed (!!), nearly coming off when testing a loose hold....thankfully he managed to get safe enough to lower off, and we managed to convey, politely, the utter bloody idiocy of the situation). ]

This situation is different though...

I met Ian briefly at Black Crag in Borrowdale (I was, pre-injury, faffing up Grand Alliance, he was fighting up Prana - and had the decency to acknowledge how fearsome the crux is). He seemed like a youthful but decent guy then - a kid, but one who was firmly into climbing, competent, and knew what he was on about. But, more so, when I read his postings online, he was STILL a decent guy on there. He had the familiar youthful enthusiasm, but with much less of the bullshit and none of the naivety that most of his sub-peers displayed. I - and I do not say this retrospectively, this was how I felt at the time - respected him for that, and respected him as a simply good and keen climber.

Further, a good and keen climber with a solid enough grounding in trad climbing and an early maturity that showed a lot of promise for the future - he was not one of the gear-ripping brigade, he was someone I'd have trusted to go climbing with. But, even the most competent people, we all make mistakes, even if we are 99.9% perfect with our safety-according-to-situation, there is still that 0.1%. And most of the time we get away with that 0.1%. We forget once to do up our belay screwgate....but no-one falls and it stays shut. We accidentally tie into just leg-loops....but realise a short way up and lower safely. We backclip a crucial, directional piece of gear....but don't fall off.

Sadly, occasionally, a minor mistake coincides with a situation where the consequences are disastrous. The luck of the draw, Russian Roulette with 10000 chambers and one bullet....climbing can be made safe almost all of the time, but there's still that small possibility. From the brief description "sport climbing accident, whilst threading a chain", it sounds like Ian just had the bad luck of that small possibility. It could happen to anyone, as it happened in the past, but it happened to him, and now he is dead.

Having met him and interacted online, that is quite a shock. Dead is very final - this kid, whom I remember looking up from the crimps of Prana's crux whilst I was looking down sorting out ab ropes, is now gone forever - and a very harsh price to pay for climbing, for someone who shouldn't have paid it. May he rest in peace, and may the other climbers I know stay alive. It could happen to anyone but please don't let it happen to YOU.