Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Recent Round Up

Since Director's Cut I've been over to Wales a couple more times with ticks including The Wire in Parisella's Cave and Chris Doyle's cool traverse of Pill Box Wall Drink Driving. These are both power endurance 8A+s, though on DD I could keep my feet low on better holds than the previous ascentionists so I don't think it's more than 8A for me.

Last winter my friends and I started to spend quite a bit of time climbing at Anston Stones, a nice set of small limestone buttresses lying to the east of Sheffield. Once again this year it's turning out to be a saviour for those of us who aren't so fond of 'luck based scrittle' as it stays largely dry through the winter months when  the Peak lime is dripping. Whilst the kneebar potential here might be somewhat more limited than in Parisella's, my quest to trick my way through everything continues unabated...
Magnum, 7C+ (Photo: Chris Lockyer)
Be like Jerry Dave Graham (Photo: Chris Lockyer)
After a Christmas week getting fat it's off to Font for 2 weeks. I've not been on a bouldering trip for 3 years now and I'm getting pretty excited!

Here's a pic I got sent by a chap I met at Parisella's when I was trying Director's. Beautiful rainbow, beautiful van...
Photo: James O'Neil

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Director's Cut

Since returning from France I've engaged bouldering mode. If I want to stand a chance on routes like Abyss next year then I need to get a whole lot stronger (and better at kneebaring, more on that later). Ropes were put away for the winter, power endurance training thrown out the window and - with a little help from an elbow injury which doesn't like high volume - my diet of aerobic capacity and capillarising has been stripped down to a minimum in favour of bouldering, bouldering, more bouldering and some hardcore anaerobic capacity work.

Over the last few weeks I've started to feel the effects of all this come through on rock. Problems which have previously kicked my ass were efficiently dispatched - Tsunami, Dancing Fish and Press Low Right (all at Rubicon, all around 7C+/8A) along with Andronicus (an 8A near Stoney) made a good start to bouldering season. (Andronicus, whilst in a pretty minging venue, has some really cool climbing on it, especially if you like knees - don't be put off by the location, it's well worth a visit.)

So, onto the knees... In Loup this summer I realised that (1) I want to try to climb 9a next year, (2) If I'm going to do that it's going to be on steep tufas since these suit me and (3) Steep tufas = knee central. Conclusion: I need to do some training on steepness and kneebar trickery this winter. With that in mind I made a list of suitable problems to try. You know what they say, work your strengths. I think that's what they say anyway. I wasn't listening, I was trying to cheat my way past another crux, probably by lanking, kneebaring or toehooking (or occasionally all 3 at the same time).

With that in mind the last two weekends I've headed over to Wales to climb in Parisella's cave. I had it in the back of my mind that at some point in the distant future I'd like to try Director's Cut, the classic 8B linking Lou Ferrino into Trigger cut. I knew that my use of knee bars on TC would bring the difficulty down but it would still be hard. Fortunately I managed to 'ruin' the problem by finding a double kneebar no hander on Ferrino, bringing the difficulty down to something I could do reasonably quickly, and on Saturday I managed not to punt the end and grabbed the finishing jug a happy man. It's pretty cool to have got up this bit of rock - something I thought would be way out of league for the moment. OK, so it's not 8B any more (soft 8A+ or hard 8A?) but it's still the same bit of rock and I'm psyched to have done it. I did a few other problems and links too - Daisy from Concrete (8A?), Greenheart (formerly supposed to be solid 8A+, now 8A with all my cheating?), Broken Heart and Broken Trigger (7C+ and 8A?), and a bunch of cool easier things.

Rumour has it some people are upset that I ruined the cave with all these knees. Oh well.

I didn't get any footage of the send due to rain and the cave being crowded. I also couldn't get footage to stich together as I ran out of battery. I've put together some footage of attempts the weekend before though for anyone who wants beta, to be horrified at my sacreligous behaviour towards this hallowed piece of rock, or simply to tell me that it must be 7B with all those "shenanigans":

Some attempts on Director's Cut (8a+?) in Parisella's, also footage of Broken Heart (7c+) from Alex Barrows on Vimeo.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Last Soul Sacrifice

My time in Loup has drawn to a close, and to be honest I’d begun to feel ready to head home and have a week or two off climbing to recharge the body and the mind. After a couple of (rather hot and humid) days onsighting in Verdon I returned to Loup with my sights set on Last Soul Sacrifice, a long, classic 8c famed for its super resistant style. It breaks down as a tough resistance 8b to the first chain, where you find a disappointingly poor rest (use the good undercuts for your hands or a crappy knee bar?), followed by another cruxy and resistant sequence to the top. Oh, and it’s all amazing climbing on tufas and pockets, barrelling from around 45 degrees overhanging at the bottom to maybe 10 degrees at the top – just how I like it.

Nat Berry on Sika (8a)

After a few days of falling at the top crux it was starting to feel like a bit of a battle. My body was tired. My head was tired. Having a go and trying hard felt like an unwelcome necessity rather than an enjoyable opportunity. The weather was deteriorating, and in the gorge clouds and rain mean that the wind of power – the only thing which really allows you to climb here in summer – doesn’t blow and humidity leads to crappy conditions (the wind is caused by thermal effects due to the sun). 

I awoke on my rest day, however, to sunny skies and nice temps. Shit. A quick trip to the local café told me that the forecast wasn’t too good so I quickly decided I’d better take the opportunity and ditch the rest day. Arriving at the crag something had clicked in my mind. The pressure was gone. The unjustified expectation of success was gone. The thoughts about what route to try next and what to write on my scorecard – all too present and distracting when my head’s not quite there – had evaporated. And the wind had arrived. Unlike the day before, I was excited to have a go and ready to put in a fight. Not for the tick. Not for the points. Not for the achievement. Just because I wanted to do those moves, flow through those sequences, milk those knee bars until my calves felt like they were going to explode, and fight until I couldn’t possibly fight any more. Just for fun.

Sam Hamer on Quossai (8a+) with a busy crag. Deverse is a good place to climb if you need to find partners as there are always a good bunch of locals and visiting climbers to hang out with and get belays from.

Who knows whether it was the improved conditions or the improved attitude, but this time everything worked. It was a fight, even on the easier last few bolts to the chains, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Clipping the chains wasn’t so much a feeling of relief, as it would have been the day before, but an added bonus on a try that I’d really enjoyed. Thank heavens I fell off that previous day, or my experience of the route would have been so much the worse for it. I got some photos taken from a rope as Muriel Sarkany was shooting pictures on Ultimate Sacrifice, which recently became her first 8c+, but haven't been emailed them yet. Stay tuned.

My last few days were spent doing a bit of onsighting and flashing, failing miserably on routes without tufas and sampling Abyss, one of the crag's classic 9as. Wow. What a cool route - relentlessly steep, loads of tufas and blobs, knees/heels/toe hooks galore. I'm planning my return for next year already, and it's top of the list. First there's the little matter of getting 9a strong!

I love my van! 


Monday, 13 August 2012

Quenelle trophy les maux de la fin

The day after my last blog my friend Andy and I decided to check out another of the sectors in Gorge du Loup – Jurassic Park. The approach to this crag involves walking through a number of fairly small tunnels cut for a water pipe. This is fine if you’re a midget, but it turns out that if you’re 6ft 2 then you don’t quite fit, and by the time we arrived at the climbing I was nursing my sore back like an old man. After all that, I then decided that I was more psyched on my project at Deverse, and I was going to rest anyway. Oh well, at least there were some nice views.

The next day we hit Deverse ready to crush. I managed to get through the hard part of the 8c lower pitch of the link I was trying (Quenelle trophy), but screwed up getting into the first knee bar rest, and ended up unable to extract my hand from under my knee and grabbing a draw. Bugger. That wasn’t part of the game plan.  It was our Slovenian friends’ last day, and Isidor was making it count, cruising up Hot Chili X (8c) like it was a warm up. The send train had arrived. Robbie knocked off SataniX (8b), and I got back on QTLMDLF. The first part went well, and this time there were no mistakes with the rest. Reaching the 8c chains I was feeling good, and set about hanging upside down in the kneebars for as long as I possibly could without my head exploding. The upper section all went surprisingly well, and I managed to keep any dangerous thoughts of success at bay until the very last few moves. With a whoop I hopped on the send train and clipped the chains of my first 8c+. (Stu, I believe you owe me a flapjack.)

Where's (the) Wally (in the lime green shorts). Heading into the upper crux on Quenelle trophy les maux de la fin.
Gasper then rounded off team Slovenia's sending with Sika 2 (8b). Not a bad hour or so of climbing! Straight onto the next, I’ve now got stuck into Asai, a short 8c with a rep for being tough at the grade, though thankfully it's mainly burl on pinches which suits me well. The moves have all gone, but it’s an intense 20 move sequence to the first rest and it’ll be a fierce link.  First it’s time for two rest days and a giant celebratory cake!

P.s. Thanks to Gasper and Izidor for the photos from my successful attempt!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Loup tha Loup

So here I am in Gorges du Loup in Southern France, living the trip lifestyle and loving it. Climb, swim, chill, eat, sleep, repeat. Perfect. Though the river is freezing. No rain, OK temps (so long as you don't mind shorts and tops off), and a sea of tufas and chipped pockets to destroy ourselves on. Although I arrived with 5 knee pads, I still found it necessary to make the trip to Nice to pick up another 5.10 one to make a pair - they're a bit uncomfy, but when it comes to tough knees these are the bomb. Despite all the pads my knees are still in ruins, and my thumbs haven't had a full compliment of skin since we arrived around a week ago. Just how I like it. Lordy I love steep tufa climbing.

Climbing has been going well with two 8cs ticked off so far - Quenelle Trophy and Qoussai les maux de la fin. First up was Quenelle, my shortest 8c to date - 20 moves of power endurance on pinches, a good knee and a little end section where you shouldn't really fall but it's not over. With some cunning kneebaring and toe hooking I managed to trick my way through the crux, much to the relief of my biceps.This is a particularly attractive route as it's almost natural, which is a rare thing at Deverse, a sector which features more sika and drilled pockets that I ever thought was possible. Despite all the manufacturing it's still a pretty sweet crag. With that ticked off it was onto the next...

I'm told that ...les maux de la fin translates roughly as "the troubles with the finish", which I found out was rather appropriate. It's an 8a+ to the first chains and an upside down no-hands kneebar, and 8c if you extend it to the top of the crag. Just after the chains there's a resistance section on drilled pockets, another upside down no hander (surely sending this much lactic acid filled blood to your brain can't be good?), another resistance section on tufas, a worse kneebar, and then a final sting in the tail, with a bouldery section on pinches. After this it's 5 ok moves to the chains, but with no real rest possible I discovered to my horror that these moves don't feel so ok. Pumping out I grabbed the draw but couldn't even begin to clip when I was holding this... I think I might have been more pumped than ever before in my life! Next time up I remembered the lessons I've learnt from previous redpoints, and focused on climbing the lower section faster and spending less time hanging on my arms in the lower rests (cue a brutal abb pump in the kneebars). Despite nearly missing the final pocket (pump really screws up my coordination) I just about kept it together to desperately clip the chains.

As well as manufacturing, Deverse is famous for having lots of links, in a Santa Linya or Raven Tor style. Quenelle finishes at the same point as where the 8a+ first part of Qoussai ends, and doing it with the extension warrants the magic 8c+, which I'm psyched to have some tries on. I envisage the most hideous, mind blowing, full body pump imaginable.

Too many routes, too much psyche, too little time and too little strength! ~4 weeks left. Bring it on.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


Since the last blog I've been getting out bouldering a fair bit and going well with ascents including
Black Crow and Black Hoe (7C+ and 8A)
Fine Reservation 7C+
Strict Blueband Reverse 8A
and my glorious addition to Raven Tor link ups : Contraband. This is basically Staminaband in reverse, with the same rules as for the normal version. Surprisingly enough, nobody knows of it having been done before. I guess most people must have better things to do with their time. Anyway, irrespective of the absurdity of this sort of stuff, I was pleased to nearly do it on my first session on it this year, having tried the various parts last autumn. The next week it went down, and it's nice to feel the progress from the last 9 months. James Noble was trying it a bit last year and thought it might be 8A+, but I'm a bit unsure so I've given it 8A for now - we both thought it was probably a bit harder than staminaband. I think the moves are better too, so get to it and let me know what you think!
Here's a video featuring me blowing the last few moves like a idiot. Repeatedly.. 

Tor it up from Guy Van Greuning on Vimeo.

Last weekend it was time to get back in the van and back on a rope with a couple of days in Wales at Dyserth Waterfall, a new crag developed by Mr Orme, Chris Doyle. The main section of the crag is a cool roof above a shallow river, making for a picturesque little spot. Unfortunately, we chose one of the worse warm ups, and after a quick play on the rather condensed bottom of the 8b I was ready to sack it and go home. Luckily that wasn't really an option, so instead I got on a steep 7a+ crack. Some damp holds at the bottom produced and an inordinate amount of whining (something I'm really good at), but a brilliant sequence of undercutting and kneebars later and I was reversing for the gear (the alternative is lowering into the river) in a significantly better mood. The main objective for the day was The Madness Reigns, an 8a traversing an obvious line of holds under the roof before a crux sequence turning the lip. My flash attempt was pretty pathetic, and I couldn't do the crux moves how Mark was doing them, with a bunched up toehook, however I quickly spotted that I could throw my foot out left and hey presto, a kneebar emerged. I struggled to get it to work without a pad, and dangling above the river there wasn't much of an option for getting one thrown up so I wasn't sure how it'd work. 2nd go up and armed with a rubber pad, I worked through the first section of the crux, walked my feet out, slotted the knee in hopefully.... boom. Perfect. For anyone in the market, 5.10 pads are definitely a notch up from the CaVa ones when it comes to friction. Unfortunately I didn't really know what I was then going to do, and although I eventually sorted myself out, a rather ugly cut lose resulted from releasing the knee and I ended up pumping out 1 move from the end of the crux sequence. Next time, knowing what to do, it went down without too much of an issue. After finding a spot with a view to park up the van, and recharging with an omlette containing about 1000kals of goats cheese, we returned the next day and I got stuck into Pete Robbins' direct start to the route, Meaty Madness. Unfortunately this section of rock lost a block shortly before Pete did the link and the scar is pretty wet and muddy, but by stuffing a t-shirt into the worst affected hold, and taping it out of the way of my footholds, the worst of it could almost be avoided. This version of the route is less pumpy but a notch more bouldery, featuring a cut-loose jump move off a toe-hook before you scrabble into the safety of the kneebar I used on TMR. Robins said 8a/+ for this version which seems about right. I logged it as soft 8a+ of course. I'm keen to go back for the 8b, since a play at the end of the day revealed that the easiest sequence was likely to involve inverting to a foot lock round the lip of the roof, in a Randall/P-Widdy style.

Although it was actually a reasonably successful weekend, and I really enjoyed being away and climbing routes again, I was disappointed not to feel stronger after my recent bouldering form. Hopefully this is a question of needing to do a bit of route climbing to get the gains to come through with a rope on. I've certainly noticed before that new bouldering strength doesn't always convert onto routes straight away, and sometimes it takes a bit of time for it to trickle through. The alternative is that I've upped my expectations out of line with my ability, as I do all too often, and I'll have to batter my ego back into line with my finger strength.

Early next week I'm off to France, firstly for a quick onsight hit at the stunning looking crag of La Balme near Chambery, and then onto Gorges du Loup to get stuck into some steep tufa redpointing. I can't wait. Stamina routes, tufas and cakes.... it should be good!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Back in the Game

With an abysmal forecast for the weekend and temperatures on the up there was only one option for outdoor climbing this week: an early morning session. My alarm went off at 6.45, but unlike when it goes off an hour or two later for me to head into uni, this time there was no snooze button. I had unfinished business with Ebola, and short and basic 7C at Anston Stones. In theory this problem should suit me - big moves between good holds on slightly overhanging ground, just my sort of thing. For some reason, however, it doesn't. I find it nails. If you gave it hard 7C+ I wouldn't feel guilty taking the tick. The problem revolves around a hard move off a 2 or 3 finger pockets to a sharp edge and holding a tricky swing, and it's a move that never feels easy for me, even in isolation.

After a slightly slower than expected journey (since I'd forgotten about morning traffic), I arrived at the crag to thankfully find reasonably cool rock and quickly got warmed up before it got too hot. Trying out the moves again I felt good, and with a slight tweak in grip position on the pocket giving me a much needed boost on the crux move I managed to dispatch the problem unexpectedly quickly.

Next up was Quarantine, a crimpy traverse of the buttress given 8A. Given that my finger has only just recovered from its pulley injury I was just intending to try a few of the moves to work back into crimping again (I'd worked out a sequence during a session on it in winter and tried briefly again on the weekend). The sequences went easier than expected and - as ever - psyche soon forced prudence out of my mind leaving me chalking up for a go at the link. Fortunately I got away with it and the finger held firm, allowing me to scuttle my way across to the finishing holds.

All that was left to do was to down a celebratory protein shake before rushing back to uni to get some work done, followed by the obligatory evening training session on the new Foundry campus board.

I've made a little video of these problems, hope you like it:

A Good Morning at Anston Stones from Alex Barrows on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Nearly There...

It's been a while since I last posted anything, largely since due to the injured finger's slow (but steady) progress back to health. A quick multimedia round-up of the last month or so, in rough chronological order:

Grit with Guy and Chris:

curbar heat from Guy Van Greuning on Vimeo.

More gritstone pulley rehab on The Buckstone Dyno:

A few weeks ago Mark 'Danger' Tomlinson and I hit Dorset for 5 days of sun (and toproping 6cs in my case). Through judicious use of sending Mark up things first, I managed to flash a couple of 7cs which avoided left hand crimps and did a 7c+ 2nd go. Despite the lack of hard climbing it was nice to hang out by the sea and potter on easy things for a few days.

Mark abbing into Promenade

DWS active rest

My finger now seems to be improving a lot, and through sticking to pockets and fat pinches indoors I'm back to training properly. I think I've learnt a lot from this injury, and hopefully this will mean I don't make the same mistakes next time:
- The motherboard at the climbing works should be the venue of choice if you have pulley injury due to the amount of pockets and wide pinches on offer
- Despite being easier climbing, circuits are more dangerous than bouldering as far as aggravating a tweaky finger goes: you use the same holds repeatedly, you use more holds (so it's harder to come up with a whole circuit which doesn't tweak at all), and most of all you get pumped and try hard thus torquing into holds and putting a lot of strange forces through your fingers
- There are actually quite a lot of good problems out there than don't involves crimps for one of your hands. Put the work into thinking of these and try to channel your psyche appropriately, rather than endlessly wondering when you'll be able to get back to your previous objectives. This mindset is much easier mentally and less risky for the injury as you wont be tempted back to what hurt it in the first place so soon.
- Ice, ice baby. Plus stretching the fingers.

This last weekend saw my return to (pockety) limestone bouldering, with an unsuccessful hungover day with Toby at Anston on Saturday and a more successful day with Guy at Nuda's on the Sunday:

Nudas Barrows from Guy Van Greuning on Vimeo.
This is actually a really good problem, especially if - like me - you're a fan of funky toe hook sequences. Nicely different from the usual peak lime too. Yesterday a few of us headed over to Churnet to check out somewhere different, with the highlight of the session being burning Bob 'tactics' Hickish off on a campus move on a rather tough 7B. Lordy that '8c' of his in Dorset must be easy.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Lights, Camera, Action

Pulley rehab continues, meaning a rare dose of grit for this lime lover. I've been surprised by how much I've enjoyed it, and it's been nice to climb again at the likes of Stanage and Curbar - places I used to go to a lot when I was at uni but have ignored for the last couple of years in favour of limestone crimping. Getting back to that part of the peak has reminded me how much I like it too, stirring up memories of when I first arrived in Sheffield. Those first few months of impatient excitement, blown away that I could bike to Rivelin for a solo circuit and be back in time for afternoon labs; that I could take a 15 minute bus journey from my halls of residence and find myself at burbage south; that on my way to lectures I would spot the likes of Ben Bransby or Steve McClure walking down the street; that I was finally in England's preeminent climbing city after a year stuck in Oxford. It was all so exciting, a world of climbing opportunity, the promised land. God I love climbing. Nowadays I take it for granted too much, and it's good to be reminded sometimes of just how lucky we Sheffield residents are to have all this on our doorstep.

I've got a camera again for the first time in a while too - just a cheap one, hopefully I wont break it as quickly as I did my previous ones! It means my first entry into the wonderful world of climbing videos, though my framing of shots from a tripod needs some work:

I managed to land right on my tail bone on that fall, a day and a half later and I still can't lie on my back in bed without it hurting!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Climbing in Caves

I've been doing a lot of two things recently - fingerboarding and climbing in grotty caves. I've had sore pulleys on both my middle fingers for a long while now - looking back through my training diary it turns out that the first time I tweaked the one in my left hand was back in November. It got better for a while, then got worse again early in the year, seemed to have largely sorted itself out whilst I was in Spain, and then rapidly went downhill when I launched back into training again too quickly. The strange thing was that once I'd warmed up it seemed mainly ok - I did Mecca Extension a week after the pulleys felt at their worst, despite it involving an awful lot of crimping. After talking to other climbers about it I determined it was probably scar tissue related, with a pulley injury on top of that. My initial method of trying to ignore it meant I could get away with climbing (so long as I warmed up carefully), but that the problem wasn't going to get fixed, so it was time to take a bit of a step back. After a fair amount of finger stretching, ice and being a bit stricter with my climbing, my right hand was pretty much back to full strength, but the left was still causing issues. The silver lining to this cloud has been that the shocking weather has meant all the sport crags in the peak and Yorkshire getting soaked again, so although I've only been able to climb on big holds or a fingerboard I've not really been missing out! Fingerboarding does lose its novelty rather quickly though, so I made a little list of things I should be able to try whilst I nurse them back to health.

First on my list of pulley-friendly problems was The Dark Room, an 8A boulder in Odin's Cave near Castleton. On first acquaintance this problem seems pretty poor quality - it climbs from one fairly arbitrary point in the back of a dark, damp cave to another fairly arbitrary point, still in the back of the dark, damp cave. The cave itself is pretty minging and everything in there except for the groove feature you're climbing is wet.... Oh, and tourists wander in to look at cave and come up with the inevitable questions about what the hell you're doing in there and what the hell your bouldering mats are. Luckily, however, the moves just about make up for all this - spinning round on kneebars and going feet-first on big toe hooks, this is 3D roof climbing of a style that we don't have nearly enough of in the UK, and I bloody love it. It has some pretty nice holds on it too, certainly a welcome change from the usual peak lime crimping! It took a couple of sessions to work out good beta, as I was unable to do the crux move in the middle how previous ascentionists have, using an awkward undercut (see Robin's video below of the first ascent). Instead I chose to gaston it (crimping the hell out of it - not so good for rehab, but luckily it was my right hand) and roll over to the next hold, and thus into the awesome final toe hook sequence. I also found a better method at the start, using a knee bar to make the moves into the crux a bit easier. Anyway, despite the slightly depressing venue, the problem comes recommended for those who like this sort of fun roofy stuff, and luckily it seems to stay dry when everything else is soaked (though it does condense very easily).

Next up was a trip over to Llandulas in North Wales to try Chris Doyle's Temple of Gloom, an 8b route though the main cave at the crag, with most of the holds being big enough not cause my finger too many issues. The route is basically a Parisella's style ~20 move power endurance problem in a roof, with a hard section near the start and a redpoint crux turning the lip to easy ground. I had a couple of goes up it and got a good sequence sorted, but was too tired to make much headway with redpointing - working routes in a roof is tiring! One to go back for anyway - although the line isn't the best (mainly due to the proximity of the floor) there's some really cool climbing on it and it deserves more attention. Bob fared somewhat better, getting close but being thwarted by some damp holds. At least that was his excuse, the rest of us put it down to his gargantuan layers of flab and the fact that he clearly doesn't train hard enough.

Low quality phone pic of some fat guy trying Temple

Unfortunately, by the end of the day my finger was feeling pretty aggravated again. Although it hadn't been painful whilst doing moves, it had clearly been taking more abuse than it was ready for. I think it's now finally time to bite the bullet and accept that it's not something I can just fumble my way though and it'll get better; I'm actually going to have to have a few weeks without aggravating it at all. Time to get myself on jugs, easy mileage, running, and enough core to make Tom Randall feel like a wimp. If it means I can climb and train properly again any time soon it'll be well worth it.

Whilst you're here, check out this video of Tom Bolger trying Catxasa in Santa Linya. Rob filmed this last Spring when I was out there but just uploaded it recently. Watching it makes me realise how much I miss that place and even more how much I miss being a full timer!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The 're-warm-up'

One thing I've noticed recently is just how many climbers don't do any form of getting warmed up again after resting between harder routes. Maybe I'm weird, but for me it's vital to do a short 're-warm-up' before trying any hard redpoint or onsight, and I know many climbers who feel the same. The rest between attempts might be anything from belaying your friend for 30 minutes to taking half a day off before another big burn on a long route, and the optimum length of any re-warm-up will usually be proportional to the rest. This re-warm-up serves to get the fingers and arms ready for hard moves again, to help avoid injuring yourself by trying hard moves from cold and to get some blood flowing to avoid getting flash-pumped - all the same things your inital warm-up is there to achieve.

If it's been an hour or more, I'll usually start with a short walk or jog to wake my body up, especially if it's a cold day. Ideally the crag will have an area where you can do a bit of traversing and a few boulder problems, if possible on the style of hold that your route involves. Unfortunately most crags wont be as perfect as this (unless you spend a lot of time at raven tor or rubicon!), but you can usually find some holds to hang and do chin-ups on, as if you were warming-up on a fingerboard. If this doesn't work, branches in trees can provide a good alternative, and you can always drop a finger or two off on small branches to replicate pockets. Alternatively, climbing the first couple of bolts worth of your chosen route can work well too, presuming they aren't the crux of the route or on tweaky holds.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Onwards Pilgrim (or 'Why Marigolds make you more of a man')

I've been suffering a bit  from a bout of lastmoveitis recently - first Ingravids Extension, then Halfway House in Parisella's, and last Sunday I managed to blow the top of Mecca Extension at Raven tor. I guess for every time you sketch up a route when you deserve to fall off you have to have a time when you blow a route feeling like you should have done it. I sometimes wonder whether the likes of Ondra have this too, or whether part of their skill is always having that killer instinct to seal the deal? Certainly it's something some are better at than others, and I'm hoping my recent last move failures are just down to not being so sharp early in the routes season.

5 days seems like a long time when you're waiting to get back to a route you feel you're close to doing, so when I arrived back at the tor on Friday I was really excited to get back on it. I'd had a good evening at Anston the day before, knocking off a soft 7C+ quickly (though I still can't do Ebola - 7C my ass) so I was feeling good. Going up putting the clips in the conditions felt pretty poor and I wasn't that hopeful about the chances of a successful redpoint, however setting off things seemed to have improved. Mecca went smoothly, as did most of the harder section of the extension, and before long I found myself at the point where I'd blown it the weekend before - an easy move in isolation but a bit harder when you've climbed 8c to get there! This time I knew what I had to do - don't panic and pull hard. It's amazing how just knowing that you need to try hard on an 'easy' move can be the difference between success and failure. Dealing with these unknown and surprising feelings on a redpoint is definitely something I feel I can improve at, though I'm not sure exactly how to train it other than simply redpointing more. Mawson and Pete Whittaker both dispatched Mecca later that day too - the send train was well and truly in the station!

Never content and always looking for the next route to try it was time to move my clips onto Kaabah, McClure's 8c+ direct version of the extension. This version means a worse rest and a new hard section to deal with compared to Mecca Extension, but heading back there today I made good progress and some encouraging links. The only problem is that my sequence, which climbs slightly left of the sequence used on the 3 ascents to date, is notably easier. Steve says he didn't envision it as being an eliminate, but it'll probably end up either having to have rules or needing a downgrade... we'll see. It's just a pity there are so few inspiring 8c+s in the peak, if only we had a Santa Linya or a Ceuse close by!

On a vaguely related note, these Raven Tor routes often have sharp crimps requiring good skin, and high quality skin care can be vital for sending your project. It's thus with great pleasure that I can announce that I am the newest member of 'Team Marigold's Xtreme Athletes and Manliest Men'. Look out for my signature range coming soon:

For those who didn't understand my comment for Mecca Extension:

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Cave of Justice, Rollito Espana...

There are a few similarities between the Spanish Cave of Justice (Santa Linya) and the British one (Parisella's): they both give you big shoulders, they both have lots of hard stuff, they're both a bit dusty and they both have plenty of kneebars and a nice selection of big holds. The Spanish one does have one major characteristic in its favour however: it's huge...
(Photo: Gav Symonds)

Almost as deep as it is tall, standing in the back of the cave and looking out to the lip you can't help but be impressed. That the easiest way to climb from the back to the top is 8c+ should give some idea of the angle and the scale. Fortunately for those of us not blessed with Sharma's guns, there are plenty of intermediate finishes and more amenable route up the wings of the cave (though we're still talking 8b to get to the top!).

I spent a fair bit of time here last year, and was keen for a return visit as I had unfinished business with one of the classic 8cs of the cave, Fabelita. I wont bore you with the details (there's a UKC news report here for those interested) but sufice to say, we went to Santa Linya and I was the best. That might not quite be true, since Tom Bolger, Gaz Parry and Magnus Mitboe (the only man more stacked than Arnie?) were all around, and the girls were all as strong as me, but I managed Fabelita and another 8c called Ingravid Serps within the first week so I was rather chuffed. I spent the next few days falling off the top of the 8c+ extension to Ingravids - a bit gutting but hey, I definitely learnt more about pacing/resting on routes at my limit, I just wish I could've learnt a bit faster! Talking to Tom Bolger (9a machine) he's previously found something very similar to my experience so I thought I'd put it down here...

Resting makes you tired. That's it. The key to climbing hard routes. Be like Ondra - climb fast and skip the shake outs. Unfortunately, resting also makes you less pumped, and this is where it gets confusing, and why it's so easy to mess up the pacing/resting aspect of a redpoint. If the route's not at your limit you can get away with it, but when it's really hard for you it starts to matter a lot. On Ingravids Extension I found (all too late) that the best way to feel fresh at the top crux was to skip as many of the shake-outs as possible on the bottom part. This meant that when I got to the rest at the first chains I was pumped - maybe even more pumped than if I'd taken the shakes - but less fatigued as I'd been on the wall much less time. I've found a similar thing before - on Gemenis - a 40m 8b+ in Rodellar with a crux at the top - the key to success was again to skip all the marginal rests and just use the better ones, sprinting between them as fast as possible (which for me is quite slowly - despite my best efforts I aint no Ondra). It seems obvious - and maybe it is to everybody else? - but I still manage to forget it and get it wrong. The other side of the coin is that sometimes when you get to that final top crux, finding a way to quickly shake each arm before you launch into it - even if the rest is marginal - can sometimes make all the difference. Judging when to rest and when not to (and how long for) is tough, and sometimes I think you can't know until you've tried redpointing the route with a few different resting/pacing strategies, but my general experience so far has been that skipping rests low down (unless they're really good) but making the most of the ones high up seems to pay off.

Some pics...
The rest before the crux (Photo: Robbie Meade)

Shaking out after the crux (Photo: Robbie Meade)

The last hard slap (Photo: Robbie Meade)
 Ingravid Serps:
 (Photo: Robbie Meade)

(Resting at the first chains Photo: Robbie Meade)

(Photo: Robbie Meade)
(Photo: Henning Wang)

(Photo: Henning Wang)

(Photo: Henning Wang)

The one that got away... Ingravids Extension (Photo: Henning Wang)