Thursday, 30 September 2010

A warning.

I got warned the other day. What the warning is about is for me to determine, by writing this post.

After getting back from Skye I had a brief day at Dunkeld with the lovely Lyons and others. They were on the sport but my fingers hurt too much for that, not least because of two cut fingertips: one courtesy of a cat, one courtesy of a razor-spike-half-pad-mono-gaston-flake (ya rly) on a rather tricky route at Neist. Instead, eschewing the obvious choices, I fancied doing something bold but steady, involving myself in the intricacies of schist wall climbing without it being too hard. So that was a good start, proper inspiration was there.

I got on Ratcatcher, the easiest route on a steep wall, up a vague groove system, with a couple of spaced pegs and apparently not much other good gear. I warmed up, climbed steadily past the first low peg and some minor gear. Got established on a ledge in a shallow groove. No obvious gear. A shallow cam slot for a size I'd already used. Hmmmm. I place a skyhook on a deep quartzy incut. It stays on. So far, so not great. I have a look around. There's easier ground a bit higher, but not very easy ground to get there. The groove is a bit shallow and slopey. There's bigger holds out right, chalked but I'm not sure where they go, it's not so obvious a line. Feeling around I find a constricted pocket and fiddly a wire in blindly. Pulling up I find it's very shallow. But it stays in.

The gear feels purely psychological. To use Arno's term, I am in a No Fall situation. But that's okay because I'm not going to fall, I'm just going to move up to easier ground. But the confusion remains - up the sketchy grooves, or deviate right onto bigger holds?? There's an old skool gnarl guy below who did it earlier, hanging out with his wife and motley pair of hounds, but I feel a bit daft asking him. It's not that hard, it should be the obvious line. So I move up....briefly....very briefly as my foot skids off dusty rock....and I slump onto the skyhook and half-in wire....which takes my weight for a second before I hurriedly grab the rock. Having failed on the route I have no intention of going up and less intention of testing the gear again, even to lower off, so I manage to downclimb to the peg and lower off that.

I'm a bit shocked - "No Fall", but I just did. I'm not happy about not doing the route, I was liking the vibe of it. I'm not happy that I was in a risky situation and fell off. Obviously the gear was better than I thought and collectively safe enough. But I'm not a "safe enough" person, I'm a fucking coward and properly fussy about gear. I sometimes do bold climbing but it's carefully planned and controlled. It has to be - I don't want to hurt myself! Thus I'm worried about the risk that occured in this situation.

So what went wrong?? What did I do wrong?? What can I learn from it??

1. Biggest mistake - not asking the guy below about route finding. Why the hell not?? Sure he's a bit stern and seemingly unapproachable, but doing and enjoying the right climb is more important than social niceties. Sure it spoils the journey of discovery a wee bit, but when the situation is confusing and ambiguous and with dodgy gear, that's not as important.

2. Big attitude mistake - not being focused enough, not taking a serious climb seriously enough. I trusted that I could do the climb fine given I'm on good trad form at the moment, but I should have thought more about all the challenge it entails - including checking what routes were nearby and exactly where it might go.

3. Related mistake - underestimating the schist. It's not my speciality and it is blind and confusing. Knowing exactly which path of deceptive bulges, blind knobbles, obtuse pockets, blunt flakes and hidden edges leads to victory is rarely obvious. I should have been more aware of route-finding. Heeding the larger chalked holds and where they might lead would have helped.

4. Other factors - possibly tired after a 6 hour drive from Skye and 5 hours sleep.

So the warning, and the lesson is: Take serious climbs seriously, regardless of how well I'm climbing. Heed the rock type, stay focused on what the challenge requires, and make use of any options that deal with the situation. I guess it is a matter of awareness and adaption. I will remember that!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Swift strike on superb Skye!!

AT LAST!! My 3 main goals for this year were Skye, Lewis, and Caithness, and in the last round, last minute of "summer", I finally managed to get a couple of days exploring the Skye sea-cliffs, and yup I was right they are awesome and well worth visiting, as is the island itself but everyone knows that.

The forecast was glorious and sunny so on 2 out of the 3 days at Neist it was grey bleak and bitterly windy - the wind however keeping occasional light drizzle well away from the rock. The other day at Elgol was generally sheltered and toastily hot in the sun until evening. We managed a good sample of excellent routes at both areas and of course I'm even keener than before to get back and to explore more!!

Things of note:

1. Neist is the furthest West point in the whole of Scotland you can drive to without taking a ferry!

2. The climbing there is really very good, better than Elgol in fact. Big sheer lines on truly superb rock in places.

3. Supercharger (yup it's that pillar) looks just as ace in real life and will be mandatory in warmer weather next year.

4. Seals are waaay too cute and need cuddling whether they like it or not.

5. Skye is pretty much it's own separate country. I'm surprised you don't need passports. I'm also surprised just how populated and civilised it is, albeit in micro-hamles in the arse end of nowhere. It also takes a long time to get anywhere, and I don't think it suits a quick autumn hit, but we did a pretty good job.

6. Skyewalker and Waterfront hostels are both nice.

7. Elgol is very nice and has a great view, the climbing is a bit more "Gogarth" than "Northumberland" in the harder climbs, but still very good.

8. Neist has a better view though, wall to wall Hebrides, awesome.

Errrrr that's it. Roll on the next settled weather spell, I'm syked :D

Monday, 20 September 2010

Dermatological grating in Dumfries and Galloway.

Mixing and matching, I had a couple of wee bouldering sessions recently. Firstly back down to Garheugh Point, where the scenery is lovely, the air is fresh, the rock is aesthetic, and the problems are actually quite good. Apart from Life Is Beautiful which is a great line, a nice piece of rock, a good name, but an utterly foul problem. Truly horrible and uninspiring snatching along a painful finger-break with cramped smearing on awkward footholds. It is actually even worse than The Edge Problem at the Cromlech, which I didn't think was possible. Naturally Scottish Bouldering hails it as a classic, and in other mis-description deception, describes another 3 star classic nearby which doesn't actually exist. Bravo. Needless to say I did neither of those and instead finished off Bowfinger which is pretty cool techy/cranky stuff with thin handholds and blind footholds and a good couple of grades harder if you can't lank it from the first stand-up position:

Note that I am Climbing In A T-shirt gasp shock horror. It was bloody windy down there, I'd forgotten my beanie and forgotten I had a spare beanie in my sac, anyway my sac was rather chilly and after a bit more sloping around I left while I still had some skin intact.

So Garheugh was cold, fine grained, and trashed my skin. Conversely, the Galloway Forest's elusive Rankin Boulder was hot, sharp grained, and trashed my skin. It's actually pretty good for an esoteric boulder, but the inimical conditions prevented a true appreciation of this. I'll go back in winter to sample it's frictional properties, but in the meantime did one pretty decent easy problem:

One thing I have realised is that these videos are a bit shit really - they just show me doing some random problem somewhere. Sometimes I've taken clips of stuff that climbs pretty cool (Spanking The Monkey) or that I'm personally chuffed with (Monkey Spanking). Very occasionally I've got something that looks kinda aesthetic. But mostly it's a punter puntering. Punto, ergo sum. Hmmm. Well, I guess one thing they do show is some hidden gems, some venues that people don't often go to, and problems people don't often do. And maybe that is of vague interest?? A picture says a thousand words, maybe a thousand consecutive pictures in one video says a few words: "Pretty cool boulder, go climb it"...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Attack successful on Aberdeen sea-cliffs.

Last September, I went for a weekend climbing in Aberdeen. We visited both the granite and schistose sea-cliffs, and I climbed a total of 5 HVSs with a fair amount of struggling, of which I rather enjoyed two of them.

This September, I went for a long weekend climbing in Aberdeen. We visited both the granite and schistose sea-cliffs and I climbed a total of 2 E2s, 2 E3s, and 2 E4s, with a fair amount of struggling, of which I enjoyed all of them.

Somewhat of an improvement in quality of experience, pleasure of climbing, and living up to challenges! My experiences with the diverse, accessible, and useful wet weather retreat cliffs of the Aberdeen coastline are quite variable and alternate between climbing okay and getting my arse utterly kicked with frustrating regularity. However the balance seems be tipping towards climbing okay and making the most out of the area. This time I managed to commit myself (even more crucial here than elsewhere, it seems) on the rounded and blind granite and the super-steep and confusing schistose stuff, and reaped the rewards of fun and satisfaction. I also continued my trend of methodically dismantling the Scottish coastline by pulling a breezeblock-sized block off one of the routes "...a wall of the finest pink Longhaven granite..." hmmm!! No damage done apart from a grazed hand, but I think I need to start checking the rock on easy ground, while there's some rock left!!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Usual nice stuff up North.

Northern Scotland cragging is simply brilliant. Great rock, great choice, great scenery, great weath....oh no wait the weather is fucking shite most of the time. Thankfully I managed to make some use of the week's respite from the monsoon aeon, and got to explore both North East and North West.

Caithness culture:

Latheronwheel was yet another lovely Caithness crag, combining the typical qualities of funky rock, delightful cragging, easy access, and tranquil scenery. Perhaps the highlight was sitting belaying in a wave-worn cave basking in the warm sun just above the sparkling sea - it seemed almost a pity to spoil it by moving to climb. Although getting moving was pretty important....challenging redpointing being no preparation at all for Easy Trad!

Sarclet is rapidly becoming one of my favourite Scottish crags. The rock is fascinating, the architecture dramatic, and the climbing intrisically thrilling. As with a previous trip, my tickedlist grew but my ticklist outgrew it. I will be back - and also to Mid-Clyth where storm winds prevented access to the ace climbing there.

Ullapool culture:

Reiff is very popular and pretty cool, rather than pretty popular and very cool. Well, the Leaning Block area is very cool but also a very long way from the car! Ah well, needs must, it was worth the Tardis-esque stomp. Although not a patch on inland sandstone like Ardmair and Torridon, the fine choice of climbing and diverse aspects will keep me revisiting - especially as a winter suntrap.

Loch Tollaidh IS perhaps my favourite crag in Scotland. Maybe. Probably. All I know is I always enjoy climbing there and each time see more and more routes that look good. The amount of choice a mere 10 mins from the road is entirely enticing, as is the obligatory nice gneiss, and also on this trip the westerly aspect which provided essential shelter from easterly gales - "90 mph gusts on high ground will make walking almost impossible"....but a light breeze curling around the domes will make climbing just fine :)

Okay so now I'm warmed back into trad, I want to get on with it some more....if someone can just turn the shower off...

Sunday, 5 September 2010


Doing a hard redpoint was an interesting experience. Doing an interesting redpoint to a deadline was a hard experience - often hard to keep going, and sometimes only the pleasure of the moves kept me going. In this context I like to see what I've learnt from it...

1. I'm not climbing to a deadline ever again.
Too much stress, too much focus on the goal rather than the process. I'll happily do more redpointing though, over a more relaxed period.

2. Hard redpointing is not "true to self" for me.
Easy Trad™ IS, exploring IS. Redpointing is good fun and a good compliment but it's not a core aspect for me. I enjoy it most as "dicking around on a rope", rather than being obssessed with it.

3. The issues I find hardest on a redpoint are similar to those I find hardest on Easy Trad™.
I.e. confidence, fear of falling, stamina, fitness. I can work out moves and memorise them well, and am not too weak. But the mental and fitness sides, as with trad, are still hard for me.

4. Quality is everything.
As with any aspect of climbing, the quality of the climb has to be inspiring enough to be worth the effort. I couldn't have done it unless it was a cool climb as well as a challenge.

5. External factors are crucial as usual.
I got I made a sensible decision. Choosing something that was cool, shadey, semi-perma-dry, at a popular crag that it's easy to find people to climb with and mix and match plans. Weather and people....often elusive, always crucial.

Nothing really new there, I guess more of a confirmation of my path in climbing and what I need to follow and deal with along it.

Friday, 3 September 2010

6a to 8a in 365 days.

Fucking grades, what a load of toss. The least important motivator, the least important end result, the least important social trophy. Fuck 'em.

On the other hand, the nitty gritty, the nerdish minutae of abstract discussion, comparison and analysis can be quite entertaining. If you're geeky enough - and if you aren't, why do something as obsessive as climbing??

So I did something that challenged me recently. It had a grade that roughly estimated that challenge. That grade is of interest in only 3 ways - as a marker of my improvement in the year since being hospitalised with DVT, as a virtual mooning to Duncan "Fiend you're gay, Easy Trad™‚is gay, sport climbing is where it's at, you're too weak and GAY for it" Eagles (I'll take 7c+ for it in general, but 8a for him :)), and for a geekish analysis in this post, after which it can fuck back off, as I will fuck back off to Easy Trad™.

Anyway, I don't know what grades really correspond to that at that level, but unlike most people who don't know what grades correspond to at any level, I am not a bloody idiot. Thus I have a vague idea about how it fits into the distinctly ungrand scheme of things I have experience of, and that definitely shows how much things can vary when you're pushing your physical limits (unlike trad grades which are a matter of objective fact as to the existence of gear, rests, position, rock quality etc).

From what I've tried / done, in descending order of difficulty.

The Boltest, Long Tor Quarry, F7c (F8a+++) - beyond nails, 7 moves I couldn't do, 3 of which I couldn't imagine ever doing, desperate clips few shakes.
Silk Teddies, Dunkeld, F7c (F7c+?) - brutally hard start and sustained for many metres, had to aid most of it.
Sufferance, Dumbarton, F8a (F7c+?) - bouldery and crimpy but not too desperate, got all moves bar crux quickly in one session, crux next session.
Marlena, Dunkeld, F7c (hard F7c?) - almost as hard as Sufferance, very sustained and lots of finishing cruxes. Might be easier if it ever got cool conditions and a good brush.
Laughing In The Rain, Cowdale, F7c (F7c) - ridiculously hard boulder crux but pretty easy after that.
The Squealer, Lorry Park Quarry, F7c (F7c) - steady, felt closest to benchmark 7c out of the Peak stuff, bouldery but reasonable. Would have gone okay if I hadn't got DVT.
Another Choadside Attraction, Raven Tor, F7c (F7b+?) - pretty soft and would be F7b+ if it was properly bolted.

Make of that what you will.

I think the route suited me (big rockover moves on small crimps), I think it helps that it's often in good condition, I think it is likely a borderline grade. I also think it is a great and classic route with brilliant moves all the way....which is why I did it :)

As a reward for sitting through that drivel, here's a video of an early attempt, up to falling off the crux jump to a jug (I refined my lower sequence after this):

And that's that...

Thanks to Amanda, Andy, Graham, James, Jonnie B, Jonnie B (yes there are two), Liz, Mark (and thanks for the support and encouragement), Peter and Phil for climbing with me while I was working the route.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

My Year.

The timeline...


T -2 Weeks

22/07/09 - Onsight F6c+ at Kilnsey (burning Lord Log off), working F7b+.
23/07/09 - 40min run comfortably.
24/07/09 - Trad puntering.
25/07/09 - 1.5 hours slog up to Kinder, more trad puntering.
26/07/09 - Redpoint first F7c - Another Choadside Attraction at The Tor.
27/07/09 to 02/08/09 - Mild but persistent lower back pain. Go running a few times, but only 25 mins due to 30'c heat in Spain.


03/08/09 - Struggling to walk, can only walk a few yards due to severe hip pain. Doctor initially diagnoses sciatica. Prescribed strong painkillers.
04/08/09 - Painkillers help but right leg swells up (later weight tests indicate 5kg of excess fluid) and has blood rash in evening.
05/08/09 - Revisit doctor who is concerned and sends me to hospital. Admitted to Ward O2, Royal Hallamshire.
06/08/09 - Doppler scan reveals extensive Deep Vein Thrombosis around femoral, iliac and pelvic veins.
07-27/08/09 - Remain in hospital with occasional days out allowed. Struggling to walk, on max dose of coedeine daily, regular injections, blood samples, and tests. Doctors keep trying to find the cause of DVTs.
18/08/09 - Worst point of the illness: hunched over, can hardly walk, difficulty sleeping, left thigh extremely painful, scared to walk 10 yards to hospital toilet. Break down and am given morphine. Things start to improve.
23/08/09 - Go swimming with my dad. I can swim quite well but it's very difficult walking to and from the pool.
26/08/09 - Have MRI Venogram, the last in very many tests I had.
28/08/09 - Discharged from hospital. Can walk a few minutes with difficulty.


T +1 Month

31/08/09 - First day out climbing! Lead 2 F6as and HVS 5a. Tiring!
01/09/09 - MRI Venogram results reveal I have a sealed vein in my chest (congenital aplaisic IVC) which has slowed the blood flow from my legs and allowed clots to form. Will be on Warfarin for life, climbing not recommended.
07/09/09 - Go swimming with Duncan Choadstable. Swim 1km for the first time ever! Can't walk up steep road out of pool so Dunc has to collect me.
12-14/09/09 - First weekend away climbing! North Wales - Lead 3 E1 5bs and 1 E2 5b, a total of 7 5b pitches. Boulder V3. Very hard walking up hill. Have to rest a lot with legs propped up.
19-20/09/09 - Second weekend away climbing! Mid Wales (Rhinnogs, yay!)- Lead 2 E1 5bs, 2 E2 5bs, 1 E3 5c. Very hard walking up hill, but can walk on flat fine.
21/09/09 - Start moving to Glasgow. Extremely difficult due to sorting out house in Sheffield, finding accomodation in Glasgow, and lots of difficulties with partner.

T +2 Months

05/10/09 - Move to temporary accomodation in Glasgow. Things still very difficult.
??/10/09 - First local climbing in Scotland at Weem. Have to rest on the 5 min walk-in and dog up a F6a+ due to general exhaustion.
20/10/09 - Go to Ratho for the first time. Rest on F6b and feel dizzy and exhausted.
29/10/09 - Finally get settled in a wee flat in Glasgow after a generally traumatic time.

T +3 Months

07/11/09 - Lads Bouldering Weekend at Hepburn. First V5 since illness.

T +4 Months

12-13/12/09 - First weekend away to North West Scotland. Amazing place with perfect winter suntraps. Lead 3 E1s and 2 E2s. T-shirt weather in December!
18/12/09 - Getting better at Ratho. Flash 2 F6cs despite (or because of?) Arctic conditions. Do falling practice.
27/12/09 to 01/01/09 - Climbing in Spain, 5 days continuously no problem, lead several F6cs. Walking uphill still desperate.

T +5 Months

09/01/10 - First time back skiing!! Did fine, cruising reds, legs a bit tired especially on lifts, but manageable.
14-15/01/10 - More skiing, fine.
22-30/01/10 - Climbing in Tenerife, 8 days continuously, 42 routes, many F6cs, a few F6c+s, and maybe 2 F7as.

T +6 Months

03/02/10 - More skiing, fine. Getting stronger at it.
07/02/10 - Attempted hill-walking, 40 mins with rests every few mins, desperate.
13/02/10 - 2nd day out trad of the year, first E3 5c in Scotland. Epic and cold but good.
17/02/10 - After various short running/walking sessions, attempt the longest time I can run. Can only manage 10 mins, down from 40 mins before DVT.
18/02/10 - Have consultation following 2nd MRI Venogram. Confirms the IVC is sealed and unopenable, and the clots are still present in my legs, blocking my pelvic veins. Prognosis is that they will likely stay sealed with minimal blood flow and the surrounding veins will have to take up the work. Will take a long time to get back to any sort of leg fitness. Get cross.
19/02/10 - Still cross. Book skiing holiday out of a mixture of passion and rage.
20/02/10 - Still cross. Do hardest boulder problem ever - first V8 - after 5 days effort. Raaargh.

T +7 Months

06-13/03/10 - Skiing in Meribel!! Best ski-trip ever. Hard and fast every day. Legs no problem (apart from a wee walk uphill to the lift in the morning), skiied as good as I ever have, including every black run in Les Trois Vallees (only Grand Couloir is tricky).
14/03/10 - Lads Bouldering Weekend. Flash V4 at St Bees and V5 at Bowderstone.
23/03/10 - Climbing outdoors at Ratho, first E3 6a in Scotland, hardest route since coming out of hospital.
27/03/10 - Out clubbing to Dave Clark and Jeff Mills. 5 hours dancing no problems. Techno, yay.

T +8 Months

??/04/10 - Climbing in Sicily. 21 routes in 4 days. Several F6cs.
??/04/10 - Climbing in Northumberland. First E4 6a since illness, although probably only E3 5c. Amazing moves though.
14-15/04/10 - Climbing in Glen Nevis. Get sunburnt in Highlands in April!! First E4 6a in Scotland, great route. Survive 30 mins walk-in to Wave Buttress.
21/04/10 - Local sport climbing, first F6c in Scotland.
25/04/10 - More sport climbing, two more diverse F6cs.

T +9 Months

01/05/10 - Improving at Ratho, 3 F7as onsight, including possibly the hardest I've climbed indoors.
7-9/05/10 - Another awesome weekend away in North West Scotland. 2 E2s, 2 E3s, 3 E4s, F6c/+, and another V4 flash. Feel great climbing and totally inspired.
15-16/05/10 - Finally get to grips with Aberdeen climbing, 4 E1s, 1 E2, 3 E3s including the hardest moves (6a fisting!) I've done on lead since illness.
22/05/10 - Hill walk in to Ben Ledi. 2 hours. Fairly desperate but lots of rests taken.
24/05/10 - Doing well at Cambussbarron, E3 6a and E4 6a, climbed fairly well.

T +10 Months

??/06/10 - Hardest walk yet - 1.5 hours up to Aonach Dubh (should be 45 minutes). Utterly exhausting. Attempted E4 6a, properly fell off due to terminal pump, total body exhausting.
??/06/10 - Long weekend in North West Scotland, 1 E1, 6 E2s, 1 E3, 2 E4s, some great challenges.
??/06/10 - Good couple of days at Creag Dubh, 2 E2s, 2 E3s, 1 E4. Walk-in possibly the hardest bit.
??/06/10 - Keep doing various good climbing, the highlight being an awesome E3 slab at Rosehearty that I got completely freaked on, pulled it together, and enjoyed a great climb.

T +11 Months

4-5/07/10 - Training at Rob's Reed. First 2 F6c+s in Scotland.
17/07/10 - Back to Weem again. Did the walk-in without resting, although collapsed with exhaustion on reaching the crag. Retro-flashed the F6a+ I dogged (F6b and badly bolted). Lead F6c slab, desperate and sketchy but did it.
24/07/10 - Rob's Reed, first F7a flash in Scotland.

T +12 Months

05/08/10 - Saw a vascular surgeon in London for a 3rd opinion. No change. There is nothing that can be done medically / surgically / chemically to improve my blood flow, my pelvic veins will remain sealed, and any blood flow will be taken up by the surrounding veins....very slowly. However we did discuss useful ideas for exercise...
08/08/10 - Afternoon at Loudon Hill, hadn't climbed trad in ages but managed a cool E3 6a with little problems.
09/08/10 - First gym CV training session - 20 mins on recumbent cycle machine and 20 mins rowing, got a good workout but almost no problems with legs!
21/08/10 - Sport climbing at Strathyre, second F7a flash in Scotland.
29/08/10 - Went for first run for ages. 11 mins with a few walking bits, as crap as ever!
30/08/10 - Redpointed first F8a (soft) - Sufferance at Dumbarton, culmination of many days effort.


That's my year since having DVT. From my first day back climbing after getting out of hospital to my most recent day out. In that time I've led trad as good as before, flashed sport as good as before, redpointed harder than before, bouldered harder than before, and skiied as good as I ever have. I can't walk to the bloody crags but when I get there....I think I'm doing pretty well :).