Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Fail Train.

Dunira or Die, Dunira - failed - did the lower wall fine, got to the crux roof, discovered it's a full grade under-graded and a massively reachy and blind slap, and pretty much gave up in disinterest. Not much I could have done and not much I particularly care about.

The Hard Shoulder, Goat Crag - attempted - wanted to try this for years, and had a very prolonged play around on it recently. A great line but the route doesn't quite do it justice, swinging around to within easy reach of a corner before lurching back onto the line. We tried direct and I got very syked until realising which way it went, at which point the syke diminished but the groundfall potential didn't and eventually I lost the committment. Maybe I will be back, maybe not.

Juggernaut, Goat Crag - failed - got on this late in the day after spotting surprisingly good gear. Got engaged with the crux, realised I needed a different sequence. Came down and rested, went back up ignored my revised sequence, got over-optimistic with my feet and all out of balance and fell off. "Doh" being the technical term. Should have been steadier and more methodical with trying to work out the best sequence.

Master Blaster, Rothley - failed - very cold rock and not perfectly clean. Got my partner to abseil down chalk and brush it. Climbed up easy ground to the break. Climbed up tricky moves to the crucial cam pocket and placed it. Downclimbed and rested until I could feel my hands again. Climbed up past the cam and furtled towards the arete. Too damn cold. Downclimbed past the cam and my foot slipped off and so did I. Fuck. Was going to back off anyway due to conditions, and maybe that's the crux of the day. With warmer drier weather and I might just have pressed on and engaged the crux, or might not have slipped off a hold. Too much inspiration and too little consideration trying it when the last sun it got was probably September and the last ascent god knows when.

Getting home from Rothley with both wing mirrors attached - failed - narrow two lane road en-route to Otterburn. Going down into a dip, another car comes over the brow 1/2 a mile away with snazzy halogen fullbeam on into the same dip. I'm slowing down to try to pass safely but as I get close the last thing I think is "Fuck ME that is bright, that's still full beam, I can't see the verge" and then there's wing mirror flying everywhere. We both pull in, I go to the other car and check straight away to confirm the full beam is still on...

Me: You had your full beam on all the time, I was blinded and couldn't see how far to pull over.

(This is even assuming that it was partly my positioning to blame, which isn't certain)

Other driver: You were going too fast.

Me: I was slowing right down to pass you, I was braking all the way down the hill.

OD: Slowing down to 50 or 60 maybe... Anyway it's only a wing mirror, we can just accept it's an accident.

Me: Yes I will accept that. But did you turn your full beam off when you passed me??

OD: *flaps around evasively* I turned it on just now...

(Fiend thinks: If you're going to lie, at least do a better job than that. Did you turn it on as the obvious first reaction to hitting a wing mirror, or did you turn it on as the standard procedure for pulling in on the side of the road?? Uh HUH.)

Me: *shakes head* You had it on all the time. That makes it hard to pull over safely.

OD: You were still going too fast, you need to slow down more so we can pass each other like gentlemen.

(Fiend thinks: Surely a gentleman would admit to his mistakes and not lie to pretend he didn't do anything wrong.)

Me: And you need to turn your full beam off, as it says in the Highway Code *walks away*.

And then it was just a few more hours of relentless bumbling on the A68 Traffic Jam Road Of Ultimate Shit, going through an entire tank of screenwash with the dirt spray, and getting a sore neck checking to overtake safely on the motorway. Not the most successful climbing day ever.


Update: Lying awake in the middle of the night still thinking about Master Blaster. I'm actually quite upset about messing this one up, because it's one of very few climbs in the County, or indeed North of the grit, that is both at a level of challenge I can just about aspire too, AND is very bold but just about safe. The perfect style of climbing waaaay out from good gear and committing to tricky moves that could result in a massive scraping swing rather than a massive breaking groundfall (as is more often the case in the County!).  The others I can think of are Endless Flight @ Great Wanney (which definitely has to be left for drier weather) and Greenford Road @ Sandy Crag (which is a fucking hike so well off the radar).

Master Blaster could have been the perfect one and I could have done things so much better. Even aside from leaving it for a better day, I could have downclimbed earlier to see just how reasonable the gear situation is (and then maybe committed anyway), I could have marked the foothold so I got my foot in better and didn't slip off, I could have taken the cam out and had a much easier downclimb (a new tactic I really need to keep in mind!!). I could have got the day's plans organised a damn sight earlier and had more time to deal with it. A lot of little things I didn't do right and one little footslip and that's a brilliant potential climb lost for now - I'll have to wait a while for "the onsight to grow back" with this one.

I suppose the copper lining is yet more learning. Learning about complacency. Learning to keep up with my usual dilligence and planning. Learning that there's a reason I wake in the night thinking about these things, because they are meaningful and matter to me, and deserve respect and attention to detail.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

NOT backing off at Back Bowden.

Back this, Bowden that, whatever. Suffice to say I've redeemed myself from my previous punterage and shoddy strategies, and went back and did a couple of fine routes:

On The Verge has inspired me for 10 years or so. It just looked cool. Very much a grit-style bold slabby arete, but I've never been routing there in grit-style weather. Well the other day was a perfect grit-style winter's day: Below zero at dusk, snow on the roads, frozen ground, searingly crisp air and soothingly warm sunshine. Gentle slabby bouldering got my feet warmed up and faffing with gear got my mind warmed up. Stepping into the slab was a bit of a child-bearing-hip manouvre, above that it just flowed smoothly to the top.

The Tube has inspired me for 10 days or so - from the last visit. It just looked so weird and sketchy previously - crabwise shuffling along a break that's bound to be alarmingly shallow and inconvenient, otherwise it would be an HVS shuffle, which it isn't. But closer inspection on the last visit showed a lone foothold partway along and a very obvious slit to aim for that the finish. Suddenly I had to do it! Taking advantage of the low sunlight caressing the break, I was able to pump my way along without getting too cold or scared and ended up in a fit of giggles using knees, elbows, chin and tongue to grovel over the lip. I can now see why it is such a classic County experience :).

Now, on to the grade geekery. Yay! The Tube is spot on. A bit bold, a bit pumpy, a few quite tricky moves. On The Verge seems to be following the bizarre trend in the latest definitive guide, along with Outward Bound, by going up a grade when it's one of the few County routes that should go down a grade. E2 5c move to get stood in the crescent + E3 5b move to place the cam by the good hold + E1 5b/c to finish, all on a restful slab = E3 5c. It's science, motherfuckers. In fact it's such obvious, clear-cut science that it makes me wonder if the blindingly obvious cam placement you go for "isn't in". Except:

1. The guidebook says "bold and committing moves lead up the arete until a crack is gained which provides an easy finish". There is only one crack to gain and although you don't actually use it to climb (the arete slants away so it would be harder to fall into it than to keep laybacking the arete!), it's a crack that can be used for gear.

2. The crack is right next to a crucial arete hand-hold:
This is not off-route, the route is climbing the left arete of that crack when you reach this point. I'm a short wee stunty and while it felt precarious to stretch the cam in, if I can manage it it's hardly an obscure manouvre. Ignoring the gear 6" from your hand would be like climbing The Executioner at Reiff but not placing any gear in the crack the arete forms part of! (Conversely, the side-runner on Auto Da Fe at Berrymuir requires traversing a metre or so away from good holds and into another route to place...).

So what does it all mean?? Either OTV follows the true line and is a steady E3 5c **, or it's an inferior eliminate at E4 5c *. The way I did it was very nice anyway :).

Monday, 18 November 2013

Backing off at Bowden AGAIN.

This weekend I went back to Bowden (but not Back Bowden). Hazy cloud and light winds after a previously dry day promised good conditions without being too bitter, which was about right. I'd hoped to try The Gauletier and maybe Posiedon Adventure, but came away empty handed. Warmed up gently on easy solos and going up and down routes. No dicking around trashing my skin bouldering - I'd already done enough of that the previous day, training on slabs at TCA, just for these routes.

Got on TG, went up and down working out the first crux getting stood on the low gear break. Committed to that, and thin crimps above. stood one move up nibbling foot edges, and wondered why all I could reach was a slopey seam below the main break. I pondered smearing and slapping for the break, and I pondered breaking my ankles with the ground too close for comfort, and I jumped off in control instead. A sensible but disappointing decision - I just didn't know if I was going to hit the ground or not, even with Brian running to take in rope, and I shouldn't do a slappy move with that uncertainty.

Then it got a bit still and humid and my fingers were dripping sweat after hanging on crimping and even looking at PA terrified me slightly, so all that was left to do before the drizzle came in to season a 2+ hour journey of incompetent twats hogging the overtaking lane at 60-fucking-mph was: What could I have done differently to get up the route?? I could have risked the move, I could have fallen off, I could have hit the ground. The problem was simply: I didn't know whether I was in a groundfall situation or not - without a running belayer I definitely was, with a running belayer I "might" be okay.

So what I could have done was had better information. I've done plenty of falling practice at the wall, but generally I've tried to go for the longest falls my only-very-slowly-diminishing cowardice will allow, with the more rope out and the softer fall the better. Outside and relatively low above a hard landing is a different matter, and while I've been in running belay situations before - for example, which involved a much easier move, a better move height to gear height ratio, an easier angled slab to take the sting out of the fall, and much more time for the belayer to react - I don't know how much I can get away with to stay safe. So maybe I need to take some practice falls outside (or even inside with a low bolt) to gain that knowledge. Then maybe I could have made a different decision on the climb....or made the same one...

Friday, 15 November 2013


YYFY!  Finally seen them live. Since my UKB sparring partner in death metal discussion, GCW, enjoyed it so much, I think I should celebrate too.

So, Carcass. I first heard them - and recorded them to cassette - on the John Peel show, playing Exhume To Consume I think. Pretty rabid stuff and I didn't follow them so much at the time. Later on I remember buying the first issue of Thrash n Burn magazine in a wee shop in Castle Douglas of all places, and I'm pretty sure it was them who reviewed the legendary Necrotism: Descanting The Insalubrious album, rightly hailing it as a milestone in death metal, and even drawing comparisons to classic music in how complex yet tightly structured the tracks were (a fair point, albeit one that uncultured oafs who dismiss metal as too noisy won't get). Suffice to say Necrotism and it's follow-up Heartwork became firm favourites. I skipped over the much maligned and more accessible Swansong, partly because it came out as I was getting more exclusively into hardcore and gabber, and consigned Carcass to historical legends.

Upon getting back into metal recently I re-purchased some albums and was of course very excited about the release of Surgical Steel, buying the actually rather good Swansong to get me warmed up in advance, and then Symphonies Of Sickness to round of my collection. Having seen my other long-term favourites Bolt Thrower live, it was great to see Carcass too....I'm not really a gig person, but will get tempted by top quality death metal. They were supporting flamboyant Viking battle metal masters Amon Amarth who also played a great set, so didn't play as long as I hoped (and I still can't believe the immediately catchy Master Butcher's Apron is missed out), but aside from that it was a great gig - Class of 85 provides a perfect intro, CJQ was as frantically groovy as expected, Exhume to Consume was pleasingly rabid with backdrop images of diseased penises, Bill Steer was clearly having a great time on guitar, and the catchiness of many of their tracks was firmly hammered home. \m/ enough said \m/

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

How come I can do it??

Bear with me on this one. It involves both grades and comparing myself to other people - two ugly and uncouth aspects of climbing. But there is a purpose and of course it's absolutely nothing to do with ego or willy-waving - it is just trying to understand a bit more about my climbing, my strengths and weaknesses (and thus how to keep progressing and/or keep enjoying it).

So I've climbed with several good climbers through my time in Scotland (yup I eventually managed to find climbing partners, albeit away from the trad climber drought in Glasgow). Some of these people I consider my peers, some of these people I aspire to climb as well at. Almost all of these people I get on well with and have a good time climbing with, so I respect them as well. They are all experienced trad climbers who also do other disciplines and usually train and try hard. When I climb with them down the wall (where I sometimes flash 7a maximum) and outside, I've noticed a trend:

Climber 1: Can do quite a few power problems I can't do despite not focusing on bouldering. When fit climbs similar indoors but slower and smoother. Tallish, light, very hill-fit.
Comparative trad: 1-2 grades lower.

Climber 2: Warms up on 7a indoors, flashes 7b maybe harder. Tall, very mountain fit.
CT: ½ a grade harder usually but similar recently.

Climber 3: Regularly flashes 7b-7c indoors. Very light.
CT: ½ a grade harder usually.

Climber 4: Laps 7b+ upwards indoors. Flashes at least 7c+ outdoors. Very strong.
CT: 1 grade harder usually.

Climber 5: Can do quite a few fingery / cranky problems I can't do despite not focusing on bouldering. Tallish, light, fit.
CT: 1-2 grades lower.
Climber 6: Warms up climbing Teddy's 7b+ clean, flashed top half of Silk Purse after two falls on lower crux i.e. very sport fit.
CT: ½ a grade harder usually, I assume, but similar recently.

So it seems that comparatively, I do better than expected in trad. Or worse than expected indoor sport and bouldering. This is a small sample but my other climbing partners do little to contradict this.

Now bear in mind that I am traditionally a weak trad climber: I'm too slow, I faff around too long, I spend ages backing up gear, I get pumped far too easily, I struggle to commit to moves, I struggle to commit into the unknown, I'm terrified of falling and even getting into a position where I might fall. I've always been better physically rather than mentally, and performed better in bouldering and sport, especially indoors where the holds are obvious so I know what I'm committing too.

So how come I can do it?? How come I can SOMETIMES climb relatively well on trad despite it being my "weaker" discipline?? Well I can think of a couple explanations:

1. Inspiration and determination - I'm so passionate about trad and so inspired by it that I keep pushing hard and keep fighting to do the challenges I enjoy, both in preparation and on the route. Obviously other climbers do....but maybe I do it a little bit more??

2. I'm actually crap indoors - I'd just got the wrong perspective about my climbing. Maybe instead of being strong indoors and scared outdoors, I'm actually kinda weak indoors and kinda skilled enough outdoors. Or maybe just well balanced (in climbing styles not in mental harmony)??

In terms of this pondering being of any use, I guess it works in the context of "play to your strengths, work your weaknesses". Keep determined and inspired, but also realise my weakness might be weakness, and keep training hard...

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Narrowing the focus.

Went to see Gravity the other day, in full Imax 3D. Really good film, tense and thrilling in many parts, beautiful and serene in others, (and obviously a smidgen implausible in a few, but so what), with very palatable and tastefully done 3D. Definitely recommended, the atmosphere stayed with me for a few days after. One strong feature is how tight the focus is on a couple of people and their immediate environment, amongst the grand and expansive scale of works well...

On the subject of narrow focuses, that something I need to do now - hone the focus of my roped climbing down from the vast and varied expanse of Scottish (and Northern English) cragging to what is actually feasible at this time of year. Quick-drying suntraps, preferably with a bit of shelter and technical wee routes rather than arm-busting hand-freezing staminathons. Oh and some routes to inspire me :).

Current list looks a bit like:

Weem (if not seeping)
Rob's Reed
Arbroath (on the sunny bits)
Back Bowden
Kyloe Out
Aberdeen suntraps
Gairloch area (only if glorious)

All sensible stuff I hope. Obviously to be mixed in with bouldering, trips further south, training, gym-work etc etc as appropriate.

I tried one of those today - Back Bowden. Forecast was glorious unbroken sunshine all day. Got to Berwick, it was pissing down. Got to the parking it was dry. Got to the crag it showered on us. Uh HUH. Thankfully that blew over and the crag lived up to it's suntrap potential well, so much so that warming up bouldering wore down my my skin enough that when I got on one route my tips were sweaty and condensed on the cool rock and I had to back off as I was chalking every single bloody hold. Hardly maximising conditions eh. So basically I did fuck all except get very inspired for a couple of routes there and learnt that as well as warming up well I need to keep my skin intact whilst doing so. Lessons lessons.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Older and colder.

Anyone got any Ibuprofen?? Not just for the tender fingers, sore skin, tweaky elbows and aching shoulders - but also for the strained neck from the whiplash of deceleration as the temperature, dryness, and climbing opportunity hurtle to an abrupt stop. From the most beautiful of autumn sunshine in the West one weekend, to the most foul of sodden storms the next weekend, to the most bitter bone-cracking breezes the next.

Emergency stop on weather and climbing, I wasn't wearing my belt and got caught out with a full repetoire of aches and pains. With the shitty weather of course I wanted to train, but then it's even getting out of Ratho season so being indoors is a laborious process. From feeling I can jump on anything a month ago, it now takes longer to warm-up than it does to climb. Even doing so, I'm feeling quite an old man as the niggles are niggling away - generally achey fingers, stiffening shoulders, and a worrying flare up of my 2008 LH golfer's elbow (the 2012 RH golfer's elbow being okay so far). Carefree climbing is having to be replaced by methodical maintenance.

During all of this, I'm not really sure what I'm training for. The last proper time out climbing was brilliant and of course all I wanted was to keep going with that, but now I can't and I'm using the full force of my mental inflexibility and stubborness to resist it being bouldering season - particularly as I got so much done last winter season and can't think of much left for this season. Suntrap trad, where art thou?? I keep hoping and checking the weather and drawing up a list of venues but it's all very limited up here. To give myself the slightest fighting chance I do need to keep fit for that. Otherwise it's scrabbling around for climbing trips abroad - I'm feeling pretty relaxed after some good trips this year and am quite happy to go along with other people's plans....well that would be nice in theory....climbers who actually go away climbing and would invite me along, where art thou??

I do have one kind offer over the Christmas period so maybe that can give my something to focus on. In the meantime, I guess I need to get genuinely inspired for training in it's own sake, and learning to cope with all the tedium and faff of lengthy warming up, warming down, stretching, active rest, blah blah can't I just pull hard on small holds?? Guess I better go back to TCA soon...