Sunday, 8 November 2015

In Praise of Climbers

In mid-September I was pulling hard on the Keen Roof undercut when I felt something go in one of my fingers. I stepped off and my DIP joint on that finger stayed hyperextended. Over the next 2 weeks I did my normal rehab - gradually do more, try not to do too much. It felt ok after that to the point where I could crimp again, and I returned to manage my hardest ever boulder problem, and gain vengeance on the hold that had hurt me, by tricking my way up Keen Roof.

Keen Douche (8B) (photo: Ethan Walker)

Unfortunately, the very next day it seemed to re-injure itself all over again. Cue starting the rehab again, only this time it didn't work so well. 4 weeks later and my finger was still was prone to looking hyperextended. Strangely there was very little pain or swelling, my finger would just be pointing in the wrong direction! Getting worried I went to see the hand centre at the Sheffield Northern General hospital. Their diagnosis was an injury (probably a tear) to the volar plate and they advised splinting that joint 24/7 for 4 weeks. This surprised me a bit, so I started asking around and it's here that I want to praise the climbing community for being so helpful and quick to respond to questions, thanks especially Ru Davies, Volker Schoeffl and Dave Macleod for their help.

The finger is now in a splint to stop the DIP joint hyperextending, and I've now got a new training strategy which involves a shit load of core, some more core, a bit more core, and then a shit load of back 2.. and a few index monos just to make sure I'm properly injured. My uninjured, weaker, hand might have time to catch up with the other one too. Fingers crossed for being back in the game with abs of doom by 2016!

Back to Black, 8A (photo: Mark Tomlinson)
With rather unfortunate timing some shiny new Organic Climbing pads just arrived as well, thanks to Organic and Mountain Boot company for these, pity I only got to use them once before being incapacitated! The brief try I did have with them left me impressed however - they're well nice to fall onto and great to sit-start off without feeling like all your energy from an ass bounce is being sucked up by the pad!

Happy (9a climbing) Hippo
Ella on Paint it Black (7C)

Keen Roof (photo: Ella Russell)

Trying Badger Badger Badger (photo: Ella Russell)

Ella testing out the new pads on Piranja Start (7A)

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Kilnsey Main Overhang

Earlier this year I noticed a new line of draws heading through the main overhang at Klinsey. From the top of Hardy Annual they blasted into the steepness, swung right along an obvious break line and then once again blasted out to the finish of the classic Mandela. It quickly transpired that this was a project of Neil Gresham's that he'd bolted the year before. I got on with getting Progress done, and then got sucked into weddings, stag-dos, failing on Northern Lights and bouldering for a while. Despite the weight gain associated with the former two, I was chuffed to manage my first flash of a 7C+ boulder with Corridors of Power in Llanberis Pass.

Flashing Corridors of Power (7C+)
Around this time Gresh managed to make the first ascent of his new line, naming it Freakshow and grading it 8c. I was immediately keen to get up to Kilnsey and give it a crack, but first up I needed to have a flash or onsight go on Mandela before I blew the chance by doing the end section as part of the new route. After sourcing some beta 21st century style (via facebook) the climbing turned out easier than I'd expected but I was still really happy to flash such a historic and memorable route. (Fortunately there's no need to haul you belayer up nowadays - just climb on 2 ropes and drop one before questing out on the roof to reduce drag.)

Mark Leach on Mandela back in the day
Now it was time to get stuck into Freakshow, which turned out to be as good as I'd hoped. At the top of the 7b there's a great no-hander in a kneebar, almost facing out down the valley - lovely spot for a quick breather! Then it's off up a few jugs and into the crux section, which is probably something like a 7B boulder. The break provides good holds but awkwardly high feet, and after a quick shake-out on a toe hook you plough on out into Mandela, via some really cool moves, joining it at the crux and finishing up that route. I found some really nice kneebar beta for this second crux - easier than Neil's method but brilliant! After a couple of days sussing the moves and beating myself up trying to find inventive rests I returned for the repdoint, and with a bit of a fight made it through to below the last few moves. Pulling into the final slap I let my mind get the better of me and lost belief momentarily; one of those times when you feel like you've fallen before you have and your mind whirs inexplicably quickly through thinking you'll fall to lambasting yourself for thinking like that to thinking you might be ok... fumbling the final hold I even stopped the fading lock for a split second as I was pulled earthwards, just enough to know that I hadn't really given it everything and could have tried harder. Despite feeling like an idiot and a punter, I couldn't help but smile whilst hanging on the rope. I much prefer falling off the top of something after a good fight than off the bottom, especially on a good route! A few days later I was back and everything went a lot more smoothly allowing me to make the 2nd ascent, I even managed to dry out the final wet rest while on route in a little homage to tales of Simon Nadin drying out holds on his onsight of Urgent Action years ago.

Shamelessly stolen photo of Gresh on Freakshow
Having had such fun getting pumped in the roof I decided to stick with it and moved on to try to make the 2nd ascent (as far as I know) of Epic Adventures, put up by Jordan Buys last year. As a line this is just as good as Freakshow, blasting out and leftwards from just before the end of Hardy Annual all the way to the lip. The climbing starts out fairly steady, then gradually gets more tricky and more pumpy until a cool sequence with a heel and some final thugging leads you round the top roof. Overall it's probably not quite as good as Freakshow due to being a bit more reliant on sika, but for sure it deserves more attention as the climbing is well fun and the positions are great. Jordan originally gave this 8b+, then changed his mind and upped it to 8c. For me I'd say that Epic felt like the lower half of 8b+, but I did leave my feet low on a few moves so it might feel trickier if you're not as tall. Freakshow felt probably bottom end 8c to me, similar in difficulty to something like Bat Route. Anyway, they're both well fun if you like getting pumped and climbing steep things so get on them and enjoy!

Posing like a clown after doing Freakshow

Monday, 22 June 2015

Enjoying the Ride

After coming back from Spain I was involved in making a few training related bits of media. Firstly I had a fun interview with Neely from TrainingBeta, which can be found here:
If you've not listened to the others in the series and you're interested in how people train then they're worth a listen whilst you're pootling around doing aero cap or similar.

Next up was a video on endurance training for the Depot Nottingham (who've got some rather good looking boards for bouldering on, though I didn't get the chance to test them out much):

So, having basically told everyone about how structured and dedicated I am, I promptly decided to spend a while being unstructured and doing - almost - whatever I wanted with my climbing. I'm now planning on switching back to being a little more planned in my approach, but for the past couple of months I've been really enjoying spending a bit more time doing what I want to be doing instead of what I 'should' be doing! In between pondering more important questions like "When's Liam L going to fight Sheffield Rumours and who's going to drive him to hospital afterwards?" and "Now that I've stopped my facebook feed filling up with fishing photos, how do I stop it filling up with dog photos?" this meant spending my weekends going to Malham, a crag which I typically go to at the start of the year, get psyched for, and then don't go back to for some reason.

I was going to put a photo of Malham, but I don't have one, so you'll have to make do with a shot of my fly wheels instead. Speakers in the front with the bass on krunk. (Photo: GVG)

This time around I've managed to get up there a fair bit, working my way through some of the glaring omissions from my logbook. First up was the classic and popular Bat Route (8c), which features a wonderful series of tricky sections between good rests. Next on the list was Cry Freedom (8b+/c), which whilst perhaps not quite the same quality of line as Bat Route, has just as good climbing and features a fine excuse to gaffa-tape a piece of rubber to your leg (as if I need an excuse). Highlights on this one include falling out of a no-hands kneebar like a douche. Good thing there were no superstars like Ben Moon at the crag to laugh at me that da... oh bugger. More importantly, I got to discover the secret of champions when it turned out that Mina's pre-redpoint psyche-up routine involved biting the head off a young Housemartin as a sacrifice to the Yorkshire Lime Gods.

A clown in the sky on Progress (Photo: GVG)

Over the last few weekends I've been mixing it up between local bouldering (read: failing) and heading up to Kilnsey to try Progress, a Jerry Moffat 8c+ on the brilliant North Buttress, which seemed like a good way to find out whether my finger was fixed for hardcore crimping, and to re-injure myself spectacularly if it wasn't.  Fortunately it seems like the former has, finally, happened, so whilst I can't do too much volume of crimpy stuff it was fine to try once a week. Progress is a pretty power endurancy style - a little intro (7A?) straight into a long crux section deposits you at a good hold (7C/+ from the floor to here maybe?). Unfortunately, the route setter fucked up, so the good hold is only big enough for one hand. After a quick chalk there's another long boulder section where it helps to be a lanky bugger, a quick shake on small crimps, where it helps to be a lanky bugger, and then a final section to the first real rest on the route, where it helps to be a lanky bugger. From there things ease, though there's a butch move in the roof you've got to be sure to have some guns left for! Anyway, it's ace in my opinion, really nice climbing and flows well. I knew the final section on the lower wall, moving towards the good rest, was where Tim Palmer fell a lot before doing it last year, but I kind of had it in my head that I'd be ok there. In these situations, until you get there on redpoint you can never tell whether thoughts like that are totally naive or just having faith in yourself and what suits you. Fortunately it seemed to be the latter and on Sunday I managed to stam my way up the thing. The moral of the story? Trust yourself.

"How can it be 8c+ if your belayer can take a photo when you're on redpoint?" (Photo: GVG)

Friday, 24 April 2015

Margalef Take 2 - a tale of a trickyish route of an unspecified difficulty which may not may not be hard for other people depending on who you talk to

Era Vella - big and steep

For those who didn't already know, a few weeks ago I went to Spain and did my project, Era Vella. I tried it for 3 weeks in October, got my ass kicked, came home and trained for it all winter, went back for a 5 day mini-trip in Feb, then headed out for 3 weeks in March/April to do the deed. Fair to say I was pretty chuffed to get up the thing this time around! Being a clown, I decided to start the trip by repeatedly falling off below my previous highpoint, and thus endured a short period of depression, despair and self-loathing before pulling myself together and beginning to really enjoy each redpoint try on it as my highpoint crept up the wall. I rested a lot, which can be kind of boring, but means you're excited to have a go each time you head back up, and that's just the mindset I need to be in to stay motivated on a long project like this. As I've found before, and as Tom tells me is almost standard protocol for his coaching clients, the reduced expectations and pressure of a few bad sessions actually helped in the end too. Sometimes accepting the likelihood of failure is just what you need to open the door to success. (Don't worry, I'm done with "inspirational" quotes now.) In another example of stupidity, I also had to relearn the same lesson I've learnt multiple times before on long redpoints - climb faster. Fortunately, something Tom Bolger had said about his experience on the route reminded me of this, and cutting down on time spent at the rests once again proved to be key to staying fresh enough for the upper wall.

It was fun to hang out at the crag with Team America too, kid crusher Kai Lightner and his groupie Shane, who has the 'loudest' jacket I've ever seen - Adidas meets Europop chic. It's going to be taking over in the near future. Thanks to Will, Nic, Sam, Eddie and Tom for all the belays!

Did I mention it's big and steep? Photo: Nic Duboust
After managing to get up Era, I decided to indulge in a type of climbing I've been missing recently: onsighting! God I love onsighting stamina routes. I really, really love it. In terms of pure enjoyable days out it might well be my favourite style of climbing. It also provided yet another reminder of how low expectations can be good for you. On my last day I felt mediocre waking up, felt weak warming up, then pulled out one of my best onsight performances ever. Like the cynical, grade-chasing dick that I am (see below) I selected an 8b that people seemed to think was soft and sounded like it would suit me - La Trencatranques up at the magnificent crag Espadelles. [Useful knowledge: Despite what the guide says, this crag gets some morning shade in Spring, especially towards the left-hand end, so with a reasonably early start you can get a few routes in.] It was just what I wanted - good holds, big moves, burl, and a fight. The lack of expectations meant fast and decisive "go big or go home" climbing rather than the slow ponderous approach that works well when operating within your comfort zone but can be the death knell of onsights at your limit.

Replica time Photo: John Dudley
Returning to the UK karma decided that I was a little bit too happy, and so subjected me to 3 days of running experiments in a big metal box near Oxford, including night shifts and general sleep deprivation. I'm not even an astronomer damn it! On the bright side, I think we got some good data, so I might actually finish my PhD one of these days...

Crux section Photo: Sam Harvie
Things I learnt from this experience:
- Projecting is totally shit and totally brilliant all at the same time. (Not actually at the same time, usually it's shit and then brilliant. Or maybe brilliant-shit-brilliant.)
- On redpoints try climbing faster and spending less time in the rests
- Have goals, but try not to have expectations
- Ain't no-one does pre-try music like Phil Collins and Bonnie Tyler
- Rock climbing is awesome. Not that I ever forget that one.
The view from Espadelles sector

Grades, Grades, Grades and Honesty
Grades don't matter. It's about the experience, it's about enjoying the process, it's all about the line, it's all about the moves etc etc.. But let's face it, to many of us, grades DO matter. They're not the be-all and end-all, but they are a not insignificant aspect of what we do. There are some grades which I log feeling a little cheeky, e.g. my first 8c+ in Loup, a couple of my harder onsights, shit like Revolver at Anston Stones - I know that if they were given the lower grade in the guide I'd just log that, note 'hard' and not really be that surprised. Sometimes I probably wouldn't even mark it as hard. Ironically, for Era I had no similar feelings. It felt hard for me.
The approach to the crag in February. It wasn't hot and greasy.
Still, since a bunch of people have done the route recently, Jens has been on the downgrade warpath on Apparently some people have said to him they think it's not 9a. That doesn't surprise me that much. It's an enduro route, which means that if you're above the required level for it it's likely to feel pretty steady (e.g. the 7c+s at Cascade Sector, Ceuse work in a similar way - feels like 7c+ to the 7c+ climber, feels like 7b+ to the 8c+ climber). For some reason, these people want to remain anonymous (or Jens is spouting shit). First up let me say this: you can't have your cake and eat it. Taking/reporting your ascent as 9a but then emailing the one man in the world most likely to start a grade debate to tell him you think it's easier - thus enabling you to put dibs on an inevitable self-congratulatory downgrade and keep your sponsors and groupies happy at the same time - is pretty whack in my opinion. It's also not 'keeping out of a controversial grade debate' it's just keeping your name out of it.
Anyway.. Siegrist did it, though it was piss, and said so on his blog. Fair enough. Now if he thinks it's 8c, I'd love to see what grade he thinks the 8cs in Loup or Santa Linya are, or the longer UK routes like True North or Mecca Ext. But hey, whilst he can tell me 8cs he thinks are harder than Era, I can tell you 8a+s at the tor that I think are harder than 8cs at the tor. And that's on the same crag as each other! That shit just happens with grades - they don't really work that well all the time, especially if you try to compare different styles. Is it 8c+? 9a? Being possibly my first 9a (except Pilgrimage, which is clearly not 9a with my sequence) all I can justifiably say is that, for me, it's the hardest thing I've done by a notable margin. I won't tell you that that means I don't care whether it's considered 9a or not - I'd like it to be that consensus is 9a and I'd be talking bollocks to say otherwise - but it does mean that even if it's 8c+ I'm still happy, still glad I put the time and effort in, and I still think it's a great route.

Ethan onsighting the classic Sativa Patatica (8a). Not a shit route.

The New Most Pressing Questions in British Climbing

18 months ago, dear readers, a select group of climbing's finest minds brought to you the 20 most pressing questions in British climbing. Many of these have now been answered - Yes! The school boards were resurrected. Yes! You should get anorexia. And, resoundingly, you responded that yes! A girl has stuck her finger up your bum whilst having sex. And yet, a whole bunch of new questions have reared their ugly heads - Is Hubble really 9a? Have Brits got better at climbing or just better at lying? Who's going to do the Easy Easy project now that Steve's over the hill? Without further ado, it's time for 20 of the new most pressing questions in British climbing:

1. Just who is "Sheffield Rumours", and how much glue do they sniff?
2. Did Dawes really get with Leo?
3. What the fuck is #throwbackthursday and why can't we have #titilatingtuesday instead?
4. Will the school room ever get a decent deadhanging setup?
5. How many retweets does it take to earn a free karabiner?
6. Why aren't all these punters doing the 'Catalunya Commute' strong enough to climb something in the UK?
7. How many girls does it take to downgrade a lightbulb?
8. Does Ethan really eat any of those cakes he takes photos of?
9. How long can you traverse the kids wall for before it becomes paedophilia?
10. Has anyone tried climbing for Allah or Buddah?
11. What the fuck is still wrong with Doyle?
12. Does Simpson even exist or was it all made up?
13. Does Sierra BC own anything other than short shorts, and how many legs-akimbo moves will the setter throw in now that she's entering the world cups?
14.  What the hell do these kids think 2nd go means?
15. Is Jens a Larsehole?
16. How do people taking more than 7B+ for Trigger Cut sleep at night?
17. Was Pooch the giver or the taker with the infamous strap-on?
18. Who's higher in Ned's affections, Dan or Shauna?
19. Do those smack addicts really drink Red Bull?
20. Have you ever stuck your finger up a girl's bum whilst having sex?

Answers on a postcard please.

Monday, 5 January 2015

It's been a while...

... since I went highballing on the grit...

Narcissus, Froggatt Photo: Guy Van Greuning

The Mint 400, Froggatt Photo: Guy Van Greuning

...or made a little video...

36 Chambers Sit from Alex Barrows on Vimeo.

... or blogged.
I was supposed to blog at the end of October, upon return from Spain as a newly crowned 9a climber. The post was to be adorned with photos of my bulging biceps as I crushed Era Vella into oblivion, and fans would hail my brilliance, charm and modest understated nature on the online forums. Unfortunately my fingers and forearms had other plans, and it turns out 9a is quite hard! It was shitty and hot the whole time but, frankly, I can't imagine I'd have done it anyway. The holds were more slopey than I'd expected, the rests were worse and I wasn't up to it. Whilst there aren't any particularly hard moves, it's stamina beyond reason - comp climber heaven. Pity I'm a shit comp climber! Spring will bring a rematch however, and this time I'll know what I'm up against, so hopefully I'll style my way up it like this guy: