Sunday, 10 November 2013

'The Red'

I cruise past Miguel's. I can almost hear the tires crunching through the carpet of leaves that covers the landscape from head to toe and the last signs of the cliffs disappear in the rear view mirror. Another angsty Country song comes on the radio, one I've learnt from my time here, and I can't help but smile. There's something different inside me when I'm on a trip. A contentment and happyness that makes everything feel more alive. The grey stresses of home morph into vivid golden leaves falling to the floor whilst we try not to do the same. I turn onto the Mountain Parkway and grin to myself again. God I love trips. A few hours later and I'm sitting in the airport, the feeling fading already. I could turn and walk out the door. Sack it all off. I could be back for an afternoon session. But I've not got the balls. Maybe one day...?

The Motherlode, a.k.a. Heaven. Spot the climber.

Right. Enough self-indulgent introspective bollocks. I'll try to keep the rest of this post as useful as possible for anyone thinking of a trip to red river.

The sandstone at RRG is basically gritstone with holds. But way longer. And way steeper. And WAY better. As a downside, this does mean it can be a bit conditionsy. Arriving to unseasonably warm temps and high humidity the gameplan for the start of the trip quickly switched from hard redpoints to mileage onsighting. With a relentless stream of amazing routes to try on highly onsightable rock it never went back!

There are 2 main camping spots in the red - Miguel's and Lago Linda's.The dream team - Eddie, Ally, John and myself - checked into Linda's, the quieter of the two. This place was damn good - for the first 2 weeks we had the bunkhouse ($44 per night for 4 people) and then when Ally and John left it was into a tent. Unfortunately this coincided with a major drop in temps. Fortunately this made for amazing conditions! Some were complaining about the difficulty of avoiding numbing out, but if you're used to the tactics required for Malham in February you'll be fine and can reap the rewards of perfect friction. Plus, for a mere $5 a night for camping you've got a covered cooking area with picnic tables and lighting and a nice warm chill-out rooms for the cold evening! You also get to hang out with a bunch of super friendly people, although you may be disappointed about how few of them own guns.

Home sweet home
The style there is pretty fitness orientated. Generally good holds (particularly for the feet), fairly steep and power endurance or stamina based. I was in heaven. If you're training for onsighting there then foot-on-campus aerocap should be high your to-do list.

It's hard to pick out highlights - I barely did a bad route in 4 weeks of climbing! Anyway, a few favourite memories include:
Onsighting The Madness, 8a+ doesn't come more 'edge paddling' than this. Pure stamina, pure quality, pure fun.
Falling off the last hard move of Last of the Bohicans (8b) on my onsighting attempt. Ed even offered to get me beta and I said no. Idiot! So close. So angry. So much fun anyway.
Everything else in the madness cave too. I just wish there were 5 more of these caves next door! Sure, you could accuse the climbing of being formulaic, but I'm not one to get bored climbing, I was having too much fun!
Onsighting 2 8a+s in a day was pretty damn cool, and the first time I've done that. It was even better when Ed fell off one of them. He claimed to be tired from having done 8b+ earlier that day but I think he's just a weak punter.

It's not really a gorge, and there's not really a red river. Welcome to The Forest, sport climber style.

Watching John's comeback-king display was awesome too - from falling off 7a to nearly flashing 8a in the space of 2 weeks! It was also really cool to have my good friend Eddie Barbour psyched again. I've climbed with Ed for a long time now, and over the last few years it's seemed like he's drifted in and out of psyche a bit, but the last couple of trips we've been on he's been back on the waggon and you can hear the excitement when he talks about a route or a trip. Feeding off the psyche your friends have is inspiring and it's good to have my arch-nemesis back in the game. Even if he's a punter nowadays.

The perfect conditions came to an abrupt stop at the start of my final week. Whilst the crags there are remarkably free from seepage and run-off (a damn useful trait!), they do know how to condense in a way that would make the cornice proud.

A couple of rather damp days were spent on the testpiece Lucifer at a sector called Purgatory. I'd heard this 8c+ was supposed to be one of the more finger strength intensive and less stamina orientated of the hard routes, and thus not so much 'my bag', but hey, it was dry. Actually on the second day it wasn't dry at all, it was totally soaked, but trying was much more fun than sitting around at camp! Plus the route is brilliant climbing, mainly on small but positive back 3 pockets and edges, and is a joy to try even if it can tear the skin a little.

The downed local watertower

On my penultimate night the Gods decided it was time to give me one last taste of just how good this place can be. A storm swept through (with impressive consequences - see above!) clearing out the air and bringing back the dry rock for one final day. I headed back up to Purgatory with strong Yank Mike Foley  who'd been kicking my ass on Lucifer (although he doesn't own a gun or a pick-up truck, so he's probably a Canadian in disguise). He had some good runs on that whilst I flashed the classic 8a of the cliff and set off adventuring on another one, Paradise Regained. This thing is basically two 7c+/8a routes with a sit down cave in the middle. The bottom is a super-classic on bomber rock, whilst the top is the most fun you've ever had climbing chossy stuck-on crimps and praying all those snacks and burgers haven't made you too fat! A great experience if you don't bust anything off, and a perfect way to round off the trip. After that a quick crag change was in order. Mike dispatched Thanatopsis at the Motherlode and I hit the mileage, climbing until my arms were useless lumps of lead, and then climbing some more. With a final day like that there was no way that I was saying 'goodbye' to the area the next day, just 'see ya later'...

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The 20 most pressing questions in British climbing

Whilst on a rainy rest day we began discussing the topics on the lips of every climber in Britain – How much speed does it take to do Hubble? Have Jonny G and Jesus ever been seen in the same room together? Why are British male climbers so ugly and nerdy? Will Mark ever get a girlfriend? In no particular order here are the top 20 most pressing questions on the British climbing scene today…

1       Just who is the hottest British climbing girl?
2     Is Steve Mac past it?
3     Why doesn’t Ondra do more deadlifting?
4     Will Simon ever climb the Oak?
5     Would the lovechild of Stu and Ru grow to more than 3ft tall?
6     What’s wrong with Doyle?
7     What really happened at the houseparty with Mr Richard Simpson and senor Spanish Kev?
8     Is Bob really seven or better?
9     How did Ryan ever get with Katy?
10.   Just what does Randall do to P Widdy in that basement?
11.   Did Cubby really nail “the Hill”?
12.   Why does JP wear those sunglasses?
13.   How do I stop my facebook feed filling up with fishing photos?
14.   Should I get anorexia?
15.   Will the school boards ever be resurrected?
16.   Is wanking Ancap or Aerocap?
17.   What the fuck is wrong with Pete Robins' arm?
18.   Who would win in a fight between Stevie H and Malc?
19.   Are the new generation of climbers more stupid or just more annoying than the previous generations?
20.   Has a girl ever poked her finger in your bum while you’re having sex?

Today's Menue: Doughnuts, Fried Chicken and Pump

Right now I'm in the Red River Gorge. This is somewhere I've been dreaming of going since seeing the video of the Petzl RocTrip there a few years ago, and the footage from the endless rampage of Ondra, Megos, Lachat et al last year didn't exactly diminish the psyche. With France having a wet year and worries of my intended trip to Loup being a wash out, plans were quickly changed and America was on! I'm playing blog catch up at the moment - here's a quick roundup of pre-America goings on, more on this trip to come, but suffice to say I LOVE ROCK CLIMBING, and RRG is 'not shit'.

Since Kaabah and True North I've not really blogged as things have just been ticking over. Anyway, highlights from the last couple of months include:

A good day down Chee Dale Cornice doing Bob's 8b+ Techno Prisoners (nice name, pity about the first ascentionist) and flashing the classic 8a of the crag, Powerplant. Techno Prisoners is pretty steep and funky for a British route - if roofs and bicycles are your bag then it comes highly recommended.

Flashing Crucifixion (8a) at the tor. I've been saving everything on the left side of the tor for ever and ever, worried about blowing the flash. Turns out the slabbing isn't as bad as you might think and the upper sections are every bit as good as might hope. Tip-top.

Dalliance, 8b+, Kilnsey. Whilst I always thought this didn't look like much from the floor, the climbing is actually superb and the top boulder problem is no push over.

Dalliance Photo: Tim Lowe

Resting before the top crux. Photo: Tim Lowe

 A day of good nick at Pigeon's Cave. Sea cliffs are damn cool, why can't they be in good condition more often?!
Shit gets real on the Orme

James busting out of the steepness at Pigeon's

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Kaabah: Tor, Tor, Glorious Tor

I Got a Feeling
That moment when you realise that a route really is doable for you. I think this might be my favourite part of projecting. Everyone into this aspect of climbing will know it. A shot of pure psyche straight into your bloodstream; uncontainable excitement bubbling up inside you. This is a rare event - the route has to be hard enough that not being able to do it is a real possibility, and has to be something you really want to do. Usually the rest of the day is spent overenthusiastically telling anyone who'll listen that "that's doable man!!". Actually, it doesn't really matter if they'll listen, I'll tell them anyway.

A few weeks ago that rare feeling emerged again. The route in question was Kaabah, Steve McClure's fiendishly crimpy 8c+ direct on Mecca Extension. Even Steve called it "thin". No wonder I've had no fingertips for the last 3 weeks!

Kaabah, 8c+: Screen grab from video footage (Photo: Guy Van Greuning)

On My Mind
Just after doing Mecca Extension this time last year I tried Kaabah. After getting shut down by the original sequence I managed to find a sneaky method using a stuck on hold out left that was part of Mecca Extension but should never really have been there in the first place. This method would have taken the difficulty down a notch, but fortunately before I was able to do it the hold was pulled off ! I say fortunately because Kaabah was now restored to its original, harder, better state. I'm not sure everyone who was working Mecca Ext thought it was fortunate! Anyway, I couldn't work out a way through the crux so I gave up on it. 3 weeks ago I got back on it, and with some ideas for beta from Ryan Pasquil I managed to work out a sequence. After that it all came together quickly and soon my high point was inching its way up the headwall...

Instant Crush
Not a reference to the timeframe it took me to do the route in question, unfortunately, but the name of the song in my head whilst redpointing. I decided to forego my usual cheesy trance warm-up for once. I couldn't be arsed getting too psyched. Conditions were good but I felt tired. Too much training midweek, presuming that Mecca would be wet on the weekend as it had been midweek. I didn't want to be too excited, hugely psyched only to fail miserably. I could feel there was a risk of not enjoying this go, and I needed something in my head to remind me not to worry too much, to focus on enjoying the climbing and having fun trying hard. The Todd Edwards version of one of Daft Punk's latest tunes was perfect. Kneepad locked. Chalkbag loaded. Smile on. Instant Crush. The whole way I wasn't expecting much, sometimes that's what you need.

Kaabah is definitely the hardest thing I've done on a rope. It's easier than Pilgrimage though, which gives me confidence in saying my method for that must be 8c+ in route grades, something I was a little unsure about for a while.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Non-slip Kneepad Beta

A couple of people have asked me for the full on, no holds barred kneepad beta for reducing slippage, so I figured I'd put it up here for anyone interested. None of this is my own invention, it's all shamelessly stolen from the Yanks. Just so you know not to blame me for bringing leg shaving into climbing.

You will need:
1. A razor. I'm assured that ladies ones are rather more luxurious for those who don't mind splashing out or can steal one from their girlfriend.
2. A big fat roll of gaffa tape.
3. Some sports adhesive spray like this
4. A pair of shorts. I like lime green, they make me feel like Jerry. Although Jerry probably never shaved his leg to climb something. The punter. Some people have no dedication.
5. An open mind.

Shave your leg. You'll see why in a second. Don't forget to shave a bit higher than your pad goes, or the following could become rather painful.

At the crag:
Slip on your shorts. Or hotpants. Or mankini (Doyle). Anything other than trousers really. Now spray your freshly hairless thigh with the adhesive spray and position the pad appropriately. For this you ideally need to know how high/low you want it to sit for your chosen route. Then take the gaffa and go once round the top of the pad, once round half on the pad and half on your leg and once just on your leg. Careful if the kneebar comes far up the pad - you might need to do away with the first turn to avoid kneebaring direct onto the slippy tape. This works fine.

If anyone has improved beta then leave a comment.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Spanish Trippin'

First off a big thanks to Scarpa and The Mountain Boot Company for bringing me onto the UK Scarpa team. Since being introduced to the Instincts before my long trip a couple of years ago I’ve been a Scarpa man through and through, and every hard route I’ve done in the last few years has been in the Instinct Laces. It’s great to be onboard, and maybe I can even convince them to enter the kneepad market… 5.10 watch your back.

Now, onto the meat, 3 weeks in Spain with a few mates – including a token Scot to provide amusement/lines from Braveheart – and loads of rock… What could be better? Actually, climbing wise my trip has been mixed. Not because the climbing has been mixed, it hasn’t, it’s been awesome, but because my performance has been mixed. It’s dumb how climbing a little bit worse than you expect can have such a huge effect on how much you enjoy a holiday, but at the same time I’m not sure I’d want it any other way. It shows you care. It shows it matters to you.

Flash Over (8b+)

I wrote a few paragraphs with introspective moaning about the aspects of my performance I was disappointed with, but after reading through it I hated how much I sounded like the whinney little brat I can turn into immediately after falling off, the brat I hate turning into. So let’s focus on the good bits…

Our valiant team of heroes losers

For the first part of the trip we were based in Ulldemolins, midway between Siurana and Margalef, and we divided our time between the two areas. I’d mainly intended to onsight and flash stuff on this trip, but ended up getting involved with a quite a few quick redpoints of some awesome routes. In particular, Flash Over (8b+) at Margalef features by far the best move I’ve ever done on one finger – a big slap from a poor, flat mono to a big, fat jug and the kind of move that makes you feel like a total hero despite actually not being too heinous. On the first go front I managed to flash La cara que no miente at Siurana which I was pretty chuffed with. This short and butch 8a+ features some lovely fat pinches (damn I love pinches!) and is a route I’ve had on my ‘to do’ list since I first saw it a few years ago. After a day of climbing and frying ourselves in the sun the drive home would generally be made with a perfect sunset, a spectacular view and whilst singing along to a fine selection of Phil Collins, Finish power metal and dubious childhood classics.

I’ve learnt a few lessons this trip too: Migranya Profunda (8b+) at Siurana reminded me just how much I need to work on my heel hooking skills. This brilliant resistance route does the crux of the classic 8b Migranya (nice foot-first beta Robbie!)before questing off through some butch climbing and decent rests to a tricky move on a heel which seemed to provide the meat of the difficulty for me. 2nd go I redpointed to this move and realised my beta was wack. Next go I fluked through it but punted the next couple of moves with a sequence that turned out to be too powerful on the link. I then proceeded to screw up the heel move a bunch of times, reminding myself that I’ve got some definite improvements to be made in that department! My vertical onsighting has been pretty shoddy too, something which I guess isn’t surprising having spent half my winter climbing in a cave, but which really needs some work.

Mark on Dr Feelgood

The final week was spent based from Tom Bolger’s new house out here, not too far from Margalef. It’s pretty remote and a really cool location..
Grit jeans vs dog. No contest
The plan had been to get on some onsights at Margalef for the end of the trip, but the rain came in and plans needed to change. We managed to steal a few hours between downpours at Laboratory and sneak in a couple of short routes, including the fun but not-quite-what-I-came-to-Spain-for 8b 8a+ La Bomba. The next day the weather proved better than forecast allowing an active rest day cruising cool Ceuse-esque 5+s at Tom’s clostest crag, Villanova de Prades. Our final day dawned to heavy rain, and driving towards the crag it was joined by dense fog for a combination more reminiscent of North Wales than Spain. After a few hours eating cake in the café the weather gods seemed to have been appeased by our sacrifice of lightness and granted us a last chance to climb. After a quick scout around for dry rock, and worried that my reputation as Mr Linkup might be in doubt, I decided to start off with the original version of Migranya, which proved almost as good as its harder counterpart. After that it was time for some more relaxed mileage and an education on vert climbing. Threading the chains on a particularly nice 7b as the sun dropped out of sight for the last time of the trip there was only one thought in my mind: Damn I love rock climbing! The wind had picked up, darkness was falling and we walked  back to the car cold on the outside but glowing warm on the inside. God I love climbing.

Snow in Siurana on our last morning. A week earlier it had been 25 degrees!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Pilgrimage Footage

Here's some mobile phone footage of the send. Unfortunately it cuts out the first few moves. The rests are cut down due to technological issues and the guy filming getting a phone call whilst I was in the second one! You'd get bored if all the resting was in anyway.

Thanks to Iwan Willams and Jason Reeve for the footage.

Pilgrimage 2nd Ascent from Alex Barrows on Vimeo.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Pilgrimage 2nd Ascent

Pilgrimage. Wow. Ben Moon fell off the end when it was a project. Rumour has it that Malc Smith spent a grand in petrol money to make the first ascent back in 2004. Unrepeated since then. Now some punk came along and ruined it with kneebars and kneepads. Oops!

Pilgrimage, a.k.a The Big Link, is the full back-left to front-right line in Parisella's cave. It starts at the back left of the cave and does the start of Left Wall Traverse before looping over a small arch, doing the classic 7C Rock Atrocity and then heading off to the front right of the cave to finish up Beaver Cleaver, a really cool 7B, after around 45 moves of almost horizontal 3D shenanigans. About a month ago I did it in overlapping sections and was really psyched to try the whole thing. Then the weather crapped out. First condensation. Then rain. Then seepage. Then it was too cold for trying long stuff. Finally last weekend the stars came back into alignment and I headed back over to Wales to try it again. My petrol money tally was racking up quickly.

Warming up on the end section Photo: Chris Lockyer

Saturday: Perfect weather. Perfect conditions. Cold enough for good friction but not so cold that your hands numbed out too easily. I failed. That's OK, I'd not been on it for a month, I knew I needed to relearn everything and get it dialled.
Sunday: Perfect weather. Perfect conditions. I still failed. This time I fell off the exit boulder problem, 2 moves from glory. SHIT! Still, when you're getting that close to something you know it'll go, it's just a question of when. So when? Not midweek, I needed to work. But the forecast for the next weekend was poor; the recent spell of glorious dry weather set to end. Was it going to be another month before I could get back to it? Another month for my memory of the moves to dull, my understanding of the body positions to dwindle, my belly to grow fat off flapjack?
Screw that.
Screw work.
Midweek it is.
Texts were sent out and willing accomplices found for a day raid before the weather was set to turn. Up goes the petrol tally. Who cares. Do it and it's all worth it.

Monday: Nerves. Worries. All those redpoint feelings you learn to keep at bay, but at the start of routes season I've not remembered to subdue them yet, not become accustomed to ignoring them. I shouldn't eat much, I need to be light. But I should eat lots, I need the energy. My knee hurts, cut and bruised from overuse in the kneebars at the weekend. My calf hurts too, what if it's too tired for the rests?

Tuesday: Who cares about nerves. It's a work day and I'm going climbing. Sheffield is enveloped in dense fog as we head out but I've checked the webcams, I know it's clear out there. Tash leaves her purse in a service station toilet. Nice work. (We got it back later) Cheesy trance on the ipod for my warm up jog, that stuff never fails to get my head in the mood for stamina. In the cave it feels a bit slippy. Secretly I quite like that, it helps me take the pressure off. Warming up is the usual pre-redpoint affair, over analysing every move as I re-familiarize myself with the sections. "Ooh, that bit felt good, I think I'm strong today." "Yeah, definitely, feeling good." "Shit, why does that bit feel hard? That bit felt easy last time, maybe I'm tired." Eventually I'm ready for a go. Try not to care too much. Try just to think about the climbing. Try to remember to try really hard. It works. Yes! Pilgrimage. Bloody hell. I can't stop grinning. I spend the rest of the afternoon doing some nice 7Cs, content but always wanting to do more, always wanting to climb more. Begrudgingly I make myself stop, saving my arms for the two days of training that lie in store before it's time to rest again.

Now I'm sat up writing this, despite the fact I should have gone to bed hours ago. I've got to get up and work in the morning. This time I actually have to go in. I don't want to. I want to go climbing. I'm content, but I want to climb again already. Always more...

The ascent (all actually stitched from the send go too!) Photo: Chris Lockyer

Big thanks to Chris Lockyer for the photos, especially the really cool sequence one above. There are more shots of me on Pilgrimage at his blog:

When Malc Smith did the first ascent he gave it F9a or Font 8B+. As a ~45 move marathon without a rope Pilgrimage lies in that awkward region of not quite a route but not quite a boulder problem. Personally I feel more comfortable using a route grade for it. This is partly because I'm more of a route climber so I have more experience with these grades, but also because I feel it better characterises the difficulty and the process involved in climbing this bit of rock. That's what a grade's supposed to be for right? My method was significantly easier than Malc's, both due to finding alternative beta on a couple of hard moves and due to 2 kneebar rests. Some of the knees are a bit leg length specific so shorties may well struggle to get them all to work. Anyway, it must be WAY easier than the original method, but it's probably the hardest bit of climbing I've done - I think it's harder than the 8c+ I did in Loup last summer and it’s in another league to any of the 8cs I've done so I figure 8c+ or maybe 8c/+ is probably about right for what I did. Who knows? Anyway, whilst I bloody love grades, for once that's not so much why I'm happy. Like a friend said in a text I got after doing it, "not coz of the difficulty, coz it's cool".

My ascent will probably annoy a few people because I used kneebars and kneepads. I'm not planning on getting drawn into a big debate on this. It's been done already and it got pretty boring. Suffice to say, for me pads are a part of modern climbing. If you want to message me a rant on facebook feel free, just don't forget to copy in Dave Graham, Daniel Woods, James Pearson, Ethan Pringle, Gerome Pouvreau, Matty Hong, Dave Macleod, Dan Varian, Joe Kinder, Daila Ojeda, Jimmy Webb, Ian Dory, Alex Raczynski, Enzo Oddo, Jon Cardwell, Neil Mawson, Steph Davis... you get the point. Initially I didn't really understand why people wouldn't want to use knees and pads nowadays- the moves are really cool with them and it seemed dumb not to use them. Now I think I 'get it' more, I even feel a bit of guilt over what I've 'done' to such a classic testpiece. Still, now it can be done 'new school' or 'old skool', so everyone can be happy. Except maybe the guidebook writers, V14/F9a/V12/13/F8c/+ anyone?!
Actually, one more thing on the pads – ‘mad props’ to 'Little Dan' for the American style kneepad beta and Neely for posting over some of the Rock and Resole pads all the way from Colorado!

Mobile phone footage of the successful attempt coming soon...