Monday, 16 May 2016

Winter bouldering and Spring trip back to Smith

Hi folks, I thought I would write a little round up of the training and bouldering I've been doing over the last 6 months and my latest trip to Smith Rock along with my goals for this summer. The winter was spent training hard, doing a lot of bouldering at the excellent Manchester Depot and fingerboarding on my new beastmaker. I have a nasty ankle sprain back in December to thank for getting me more into 'hangboarding' as the yanks would call it. While laid up in December and before I could jump off properly again in early February, I had a period of intense sessions, often doing 7 climbing sessions per week spread over 5 days, with 2 rest days. Weekends were spent bouldering in Wales, mainly in Parisella's Cave but with frequent visits to Pantymwwn, Tremeirchion and the excellent micro crag, the Gop, near Prestatyn. This was hard work but I was psyched because it was with the overall aim of raising the bar strength-wise so I could have a good chance of making a breakthrough on or actually doing my project 'Just Do It' out at Smith and also to put me in good shape for my projects on UK lime. 

Smoke a Bloke, Font 7b+ at the Gop, North Wales (Pic: Sam Pratt) 
When you want something badly enough, you'll go the extra mile and make sacrifices to achieve your aim whether that is an hour less in bed before work, fingerboarding
The last move of Solomon's Seal Font 7c+ (Pic: Sam Pratt)
Solomon's Seal 7c+ (Pic: Sam Pratt)
at 7:15am or busting out an extra lap on Rockatrocity when the wind is whistling through the back of the Cave and its 3 degrees. I knew I had to get stronger to have any chance on the savage crux of Just Do It, situated by the 14th bolt and it was with this in mind that I set myself mini goals of doing Hatchatrocity 8A in the Cave, 36 Chambers Sit start 8A at Tremeirchion and Blokesmoker Low 8A at the Gop. I even threw in as a goal a grit 8A called Solomon's Seal Sit start at Stanage after getting the stand start (Font 7C+) wired. 
Ticking off anything remotely hard is satisfying and it was gratifying to tick off Hatchatrocity and 36 Chambers sit start both on the same day in March on my best day's bouldering since 2009. The others will have to wait as shortly after this, I had to do some emergency stamina training at Stockport Wall with 3 weeks to go before my flight and had to postpone attempts on these other projects. Sometimes its hard being an allrounder! Even though bouldering is great as a way of training endurance as well as power (aka Jerry Moffat's training philosophy), the thought of setting off on a 30m monster pitch having done no roped climbing for 3 months was sufficient to scare me into putting some time into this aspect of my climbing. 

36 Chambers Sit, Font 8A (Pic: Sam Pratt)

The reachy starting moves of 36 Chambers Sit (Font 8A) Pic: Sam Pratt
Sam Pratt, a talented photographer and climber living in Manchester has been coming out with me to Wales and the Peak and has been taking some snaps, some of the best ones are here. Thanks a lot for all these shots Sam!  

Hatchatrocity, Font 8A (Pic: Sam Pratt)
The last few moves of Rockatrocity on the link in from Hatchatrocity, Font 8A (Pic: Sam Pratt)
A couple of weekends before flying out to Smith, I had a couple of pretty cold outings to Malham where I managed to tick 'A.B.H' 8a+, a pumpy link up of GBH into Baboo Baboo, which was a good early season outing. I'm looking forward to some more Yorkshire action this summer, with True North, unfinished business from last season, being my primary objective. With Kilnsey already dry, attempts have begun at the time of writing, but more on that in future blogs :).

Under the Bridge, Font 7b+, Pantymwyn (Pic: Sam Pratt)
Early on in the lower pitch (Bolts 1 - 10)
Pic: Julien Havac
I have been trying Just Do It for a year now, spread over three, 2 week trips. So, how did this trip's attempt go? Well, after 4 days re familiarising with the moves doing some links into the crux from the belay at the end of the first pitch (at bolt 10), I decided to concentrate more on top-down links rather than try repeatedly from the ground as this had started to become quite frustrating on my previous trips. We were hit with 5 days of very warm weather in the middle of the trip which was not ideal. It was like summer with temps as high as 79 degrees Fahrenheit making serious attempts out of the question. The Monkey is cooler than the lower climbing areas and often much windier but this has limits and on one abortive attempt, I literally has moist fingertips before bearing down on the left hand crux crimp, which meant pulling on the razor blade hold was a non starter it was so painful! Thankfully, on the last day of these warmer temps, a nice breeze was blowing when I set off on my link go from bolt 10 at 7:30pm. Climbing through the last 3 bolts of the yellow rock (a 10 metre 7b+ leading up to the upper resting ledge at bolt 13 just into the purple band) I realised conditions were actually pretty good due to the effect of the wind. Indeed, that same evening my friend Peder Groseth, a local Bend strongman, sent Starvation Fruit, a long 8c on the Picnic Lunch Wall that day so they can't have been that bad!
Gaining the porthole rest at bolt 15 (Pic: Julien Havac)

My goal on this link attempt was to get to the top and I was chuffed to get to the resting 'porthole' (shown in the picture below of the first ascentionist Jibe Tribout back in 1992) for the second time that session. I realised also that I wasn't that pumped at this point, unlike on many of my other link goes. The moves leaving the porthole constitute the redpoint crux of the route and although not as hard as the crimpy V9 moves gaining it, they are a major hurdle to clipping the chains. 

(See my earlier blog post for more detail and photos of these moves: 

It was the move shown in the picture below that I managed to stick for the first time linking from bolt 10, a stab off a tiny left hand gaston crimp into a deep 2 finger pocket with a tiny smear for your right toe that requires a fair degree of accuracy. Unfortunately I fell off the last hard move of the pitch, a throw off a slopey sidepull crimp for your left hand for a crimp rail by bolt 16, which marks the start of the exit moves to bolt 17. Still I was pleased to have nearly done the 8b+ link from the top of the first pitch to the top. 
So, with 4 climbing days left, I surely had to try from the ground and luckily was blessed with some cooler temps when I next came up to the Monkey with my friend Calvin. On my first go from the ground this trip, I was really pleased to get to the porthole at the 15th bolt for the first time, this link is 8c I reckon if the whole route is 8c+. I was buzzing as on my previous 2 trips I had fallen around 12 times from this move from the ground; it was the breakthrough I had been looking for. In retrospect I hung around too long in the porthole and didn't have the best way of holding it to rest. It is pretty awkward to hold as although it is a good jug, you have to hold it cross handed and there is only room for 7 fingers and the feet are not great so you are mostly on your arms. So when I embarked on the redpoint crux I didn't have much left to give and fell off 3 moves into the traverse rightwards. 

The upper crux by bolt 15 (Pic: Heather Furtney)
I was then faced with a dilemma with 3 days left. Do I rest 1 day then try the next to last day with the possibility of another attempt on the last day? Or rest 2 full days before an attempt on the last day? Or do some lighter climbing tomorrow then take a single rest day before have a last day attempt? I chose the latter strategy as I felt I was gaining fitness from doing other, easier pitches both on the same day after attempts on Just Do It and also on the next day before taking a rest day. A tick of Churning in the Ozone, a long, pumpy 8a probably in retrospect took more out of me than I expected but I enjoyed the pitch and it is so difficult to judge these things just right. Anyway, the last day dawned and my friend Andrew Hunzicker and me warmed up in Aggro Gully before heading up to the Monkey where we were greeted with really good conditions. After my initial warm up go, I set off feeling really good but unfortunately, the draw on the 14th bolt, which most people don't clip on the lead, stabbed me in the chest during the crux move as I was trying to get really close into the wall, pushing me off the move! I was gutted as this was the first time this had happened and I was feeling really good. No matter, after an hour and fifteen minutes rest and the draw safely removed from the 14th bolt, I had another go and got a new highpoint, making 2 moves further than my previous session and reaching the porthole for the second time. This time I had made a conscious decision not to outstay my welcome and set off after around a minute's shaking out. I had very little left for the pocket stab move but was psyched to have finally got there and had a go in anger. Would I have been fresher after 2 full rest days? Who knows, all I know is that I have proved to myself that this rig is possible for me for sure and that I'll be back next year for hopefully 3 weeks or a longer trip, can't wait! Here is a little video of my best attempt:

I was definitely feeling stronger this trip than October last year from all the bouldering and training and now know that as the route is so bouldery, it suits me to go in the Spring rather than the Autumn when a summer campaign of routing will inevitably mean a slight drop off in power at the expense of increased route fitness. So, here's to Spring 2017! In the meantime, there are plenty of hard sport routes to be dealing with here in the UK and I have been on Evolution as well as True North in the last few sessions, its certainly exciting to get involved with all these classic hard routes. Til next time, enjoy your climbing out there!

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Suirana/ Margalef 2016

Happy New Year everyone, I hope all your climbing wishes come true in 2016! To update you all about the last 2 months or so since I came back from Smith Rock at the start of November, I started a period of exclusively bouldering at the Rockover bouldering centre in Manchester (which is 5 minutes' drive away from where I live) in the evenings after work. I combined this with weekend sessions bouldering in Parisella’s Cave on the Orme outside Llandudno. My aim was to increase my power levels in order to prepare for my objectives for the coming year, which are Just Do It at Smith Rock, True North at Kilnsey and Evolution at Raven Tor and also to prepare for a forthcoming 8 day trip to Suirana I had planned with Ally Smith. 

Give me more of that orange stone! Mucho Troncdo poca Madera 7c, El Pati, Suirana (the onsight that got away!)
After 6 weeks of pure bouldering I was starting to feel reasonably strong and was coming close to ticking Hatchatrocity, a tough Font 8A in the Cave, falling off the move to the final pocket several times. However, it wasn’t to be after some seriously heavy rain beat down in late November/ early December which meant some key holds required drying before each attempt, which didn't help matters. 

Something to train for! Pocket cranking on the steep start to Magic Festival 7c, Raco de Tenebres, Margalef
Also, unfortunately, I sustained quite a bad ‘category 2’ sprain on my left ankle in mid December after bailing out from the Cave one Saturday morning after arriving to find it was completely condensed out. On the way home, an awkward, twisting fall at the Boardroom bouldering centre onto quite a hard mat resulted in a trip to A and E, a precautionary x-ray and 2 weeks of exclusive beastmaker training while the swelling gradually went down. Oh well, take in on the chin as they say! This meant that I had to alter my objectives for my Spain trip. As the first 10 days or so involved getting back to walking normally, hard climbing would have to take a back seat for a week or two. I had intended to try Migranya, a tough 8b which I had tried on a previous trip and which is a powerful number. However, after a trip to my physio, Cathy Gordon of Romiley Physio (see if you fancy an excellent service in the Manchester area) and getting the all clear to go, I was keen just to see how my ankle would fare and trying more vertical, less intense climbs seemed a sensible plan.

Ally on La Seconella Direct 7a+, Suiranella Centre
As it worked out, 2 weeks off actual climbing coinciding with the Christmas festivities meant that the first couple of days were spent getting back into the groove and the ankle felt pretty weird and weak at first. Just scrambling in to the crags over rocky and uneven paths without tweaking it was a challenge. I was climbing with a baggy boot on my left foot and a neoprene ankle support to protect it. I was therefore reasonably satisfied to redpoint a 7b+ on my second day. 

Ally at Suiranella Centre
On previous trips, due to quite a few days spent redpointing Zona-0 and Ramadan and trying Migranya, I hadn’t made it round to the Suiranella crags before and I was keen to change that and sample what they had to offer. We ventured round to Suiranella Centre on the 3rd day and I managed to onsight a 7b+ without any problems. The following day, I was starting to feel like my ankle was getting back to normal whilst climbing and I managed to bust out a couple of 7c onsights at Raco de la Finestra, a superb pockety crag in Margalef.

Pockety fun on Magic Festival 7c Raco de Tenebres, Margalef - don't forget the kneebar ;)
After a rest day, and not having a 2 day hangover for a change ;), we decided to hit up Suiranella Centre again. After warming up onsighting a 7b+ and fluffing a tricky 7c, I decided to have a go at Memorias de una Sepia, a crimpy looking 8a after watching another climber crush it and taking mental note of all the foot bumps on the crux. There seemed to be a left foot heel hook move using some poor slopey crimps to deadpoint for some better holds leading into a scoop by the 4th bolt. I had been informed that from here to the top is 7b+ so I knew this should be doable. The heel hook crux went exactly as planned with a few desperate slaps and was the first heel hook since my sprain so I was psyched it still worked and there were no ill effects. Getting into the scoop was satisfying but the rest wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped. Nothing for it but to quest on upwards! Knowing that an 8a flash was on the cards if I could keep it together was a great incentive to keep cranking and I took my time over the next 6 bolts, milking the rests and trying to keep my cool on the last redpoint crux, a crank on some tiny crimps with a left foot jam in a crack leading to a monster jug and easy ground. I was made up to be back climbing nearly at my best onsight/ flash level so soon into my ankle recovery. 

Victory pose after flashing Memorias de una Sepia 8a, Suiranella Centre
To celebrate, I redpointed a tricky 7c, Matarrates, further left on the same crag and eyed up La Crema, a famous 7c+ wall climb I had wanted to try the next day.

The bulge of Matarrates, a quality 7c at Suiranella Centre
After a few beers in Goma Dos, the new local bar for climbers in Cornudella, the next day, I warmed up on a 7b and then set off on my onsight attempt of La Crema. It all went well with some tricky, technical moves interspersed with good shakeouts (so much so that I had to force myself to leave them at times). A total hands off rest 3 bolts from the top is the nail in the coffin of the route being 8a (it isn’t, despite the abundance of 8a ticks on scorecards out there ;)) and allowed a complete recovery before tackling the top crux. This involves a few intense cranks on some tiny crimps on a slab which allow you to do a hopeful rock-up for some more positive crimps and the jug of glory! I was pleased with this one as while on paper it was my ideal route being a crimpy, vertical wall climb, it still has to climbed at the end of the day. Setting off is the hardest part as always and once into the rhythm of climbing, I enjoyed every minute until the chain was clipped.

Onsighting La Crema 7c+ Suiranella East
Unfortunately, I split a tip on the top crux and had to tape up my right index finger for the remaining 2 days of climbing. This didn’t stop a productive day at Margalef however during which I managed to flash a 7c, La Corva de Felicitat at Raco de Tenebres, a cool, steep conglomerate/ pocket crag and redpoint 2 others including Tsunami, a powerful short one that had got away on my last visit to the area in 2012. 


Tsunami 7c at Sector Laboratori, Margalef (no walk-in required!). Brian Weaver climbing in lower picture
On the final day, we both felt quite tired but last day psyche kicked in and we both managed to redpoint La Ardilla Roja, a tricky 7c right of Zona-0 at El Pati after we had failed to onsight it. With an hour to go before we had to bail to Barcelona airport for our evening flight back to Manchester, I managed to onsight a 7c at El Primavera Sector to round off a highly enjoyable trip.

I was happy to be back climbing after the ankle incident and whilst the swelling is still there and I am not allowed to jump down from boulder problems for another 10 days, I am pleased with progress so far and psyched to get back to bouldering training. Interestingly, I have always found that a fitness trip like this usually kickstarts my bouldering for some reason, no idea why, maybe a break from a power cycle or something rests the muscles!? I will leave that one to the training boffins out there J Happy climbing folks.

Suirana Village from Suiranella Centre
My Trip Ticklist above 7b+

Memorias de una Sepia (flash)                                                        Suiranella Centre


La Crema (onsight)                                                                          Suiranella South


Antologica (onsight)                                                                         Raco de la Finestra, Margalef
Festa Fotre (onsight)                                                                        Raco de la Finestra, Margalef
Estratosferica                                                                                   Suiranella Centre
Matarrates                                                                                        Suiranella Centre
Mucho Tronco poca Madera                                                            El Pati, Suirana
Magic Festival                                                                                  Raco de Tenebres, Margalef
La Corva de Felicitat (flash)                                                            Raco de Tenebres, Margalef
Tsunami                                                                                            Sector Laboratori, Margalef
La Ardilla Roja                                                                                 El Pati, Suirana
Hijos de la Pedri (onsight)                                                               El Primavera, Suirana


Teoria Punset                                                                                   Suiranella East
La Refinaria (onsight)                                                                      Suiranella Centre
Berrio Cabrero (onsight)                                                                 Suiranella Centre

Friday, 13 November 2015

Progress on Just Do It

I've been back nearly 2 weeks now since another trip to Smith Rock to try the world famous 'Just Do It'. I have been going through the photos that some of the talented photographers, Heather Furtney, Jason Bagby and Julien Havac took of me on the route and thought I would share some of them here. I was excited to see what difference a summer of climbing would make compared to my attempts in May plus the fact that I knew the beta now. As things turned out, I ended up trying True North up until early October due to Kilnsey remaining amazingly dry so it didn't leave much time to prepare for a longer, supposedly pumpier affair like Just Do It. However I needn't have worried as despite its 35m length, this rig is much more about power than stamina, unlike Jibe's other famous line at Smith To Bolt or Not to Be.

I went alone this time and was lucky enough to get belays off some kind local climbers (Andrew, Crit, Justin, Andi and Calvin thanks a tonne!) Conditions were better than in May being mostly colder and without too much wind. The day after flying in and attending the Reel Rock Tour film showing in Bend, I went up to re-familiarise with the moves and the day after, managed to do some decent links on the upper section. It reminded me of how hard the crux by bolt 14 actually is. Imagine a viscous V8+ shouldery, crimp problem on Pill Box Wall on the Orme and you wouldn't be far off! This first hard section leads to a 'pod' resting slot (described in more detail in my post back in May).
Reaching the crux left hand crimper at bolt 14 (Picture by Heather Furtney)
The crux move at Bolt 14 (Picture by Jason Bagby)

 Sticking the 'tooth' by bolt 14 (Picture by Heather Furtney)
From the resting pod, there follows a very tricky and powerful traverse involving two 2 finger pockets for the right hand and some slopers, gradually easing to the belay beyond bolt 17. The move hitting the second 2 finger pocket and locking it to a left hand sloper is probably V8 alone.

Leaving the resting pod and starting the tricky traverse at bolt 15 (picture by Heather Furtney)

 Crossing through to the gaston off the first pocket then using it to stick the second (Pics by Heather Furtney)

Alan Watt's description of the route from his seminal 1992 guidebook is below:

I would agree that the first 13 bolts are merely a warm up (!) for the difficulties between bolts 14 and 16 when you are hit with some savage cranks straight off a good but quite pumpy resting rail at bolt 13. These days the bottom part of the route to bolt 10 is considered 13b or 8b due to some very thin pulls on pockets and crimps but after doing it a few times and getting it wired, its probably only 13c or 8a+ I reckon, like Alan Watts says.

Easier moves at bolt 4 (Picture Jason Bagby)
Approaching the lower crux at bolt 8 (Picture by Jason Bagby)
I decided this trip to focus at first on links into the upper crux and on my 3rd day on the route was psyched to climb from the rail at bolt 13 to the top for the first time, which is an 8b link. I found a slightly easier method on the crux before the pod by first bumping my left foot up to a small pocket before slapping for the 'tooth' crimp with the right hand which seems to make the move higher percentage. I also found that by trailing your right foot on the move to the left hand crimper on the crux rather than first placing it on smear, this move became much more manageable.

On my next session I started climbing from the belay at the end of the first pitch (bolt 10), which must be 8b+ if climbed to the top and links through a 3 bolt 7b or 7b+ to the resting rail at bolt 13 before embarking on the top 8b section. On this link attempt, I was pleased to make it through the crux at bolt 14 (the first time I had ever climbed any distance into it). After a brief shake at the resting pod and chalk on each hand, I got to the stab move to the second 2 finger pocket, just failing to stick it. I have made a little video of my link attempts on the upper section plus the bottom wall to give you a flavour of the climbing involved (and to remember the moves for future attempts):

If I had had more time I would have continued trying this link as it would have been a big confidence boost to have got it in the bag before trying from the ground. However, with only a week left it seemed to make more sense to try the full rig and 'roll the dice'. On my 5th day I started the first of 3 days' worth of attempts from the ground before my trip ended. Each session would start off with 20 minutes warming up on a board indoors before hiking up Misery Ridge to the Monkey and climbing Spank the Monkey, a runout 12a. I would then climb short sections on the route to the top to prepare for full blown attempts. I had 6 attempts, two per session and got to the move slapping for the tooth before the resting pod on 6 occasions in total. I felt closer to this move from the ground than in May when I frequently fell on the previous move to the left hand crimp before the slap to the tooth. It was frustrating not to stick the tooth though and make it to the resting pod. You would think that with an excellent, approaching hands off rest at bolt 9 (I stood here for 2 - 3 minutes on redpoint), you would recover almost back to zero and I felt fresh at this rest on all of these 6 attempts. However, something about having cranked through all of the lower section five minutes before attacking the upper section makes it tougher to crack than if you have simply slumped on the rope at bolt 10.

Reaching bolt 16 on a link attempt, nearly there! (Picture by Jason Bagby)
On my 6th session, I managed to one hang the route, resting 5 minutes on bolt 14 before pulling on 2 moves where I had fallen off and climbing to the top, which was definitely progress since my last trip. This was the first time I had done this on the same tie-in, which is a better 'one hang' ascent I guess than if you climb your 'overlapping sections' over different tie-ins or sessions. On my last attempt, despite taking 2 rest days, I definitely felt a bit tired on the route after 7 sessions on it in 13 days. What you need ideally is a longer period of time during which you can do other climbing in order to remain fresh on the route....or a higher overall climbing level. With only 2 weeks at a time available from work, I will have to adopt the latter approach for future trips although perhaps a few days trying easier routes to mix it up a bit wouldn't go amiss. After my last tie-in I hiked down Aggro Gully and managed to onsight Kill the Hate, a cool 5.13a or 7c+ in the gathering gloom and felt that I was feeling stronger in general after the previous 2 weeks of effort so all the hard work is certainly not going to waste!

Hiking up Misery Ridge to the Monkey Face with Calvin (Picture by Julien Havac)
So, what did I learn from this trip? Well, the experience was invaluable in spending more contact time on the crux and managing to discover some important new beta. I have realised that I need to change my training to get stronger so the crux feels feasible with more climbing in the arms from the lower wall. My previous training in the Spring focused on both stamina and power and I made some gains in both areas. Training for this trip was mainly doing routes outside over the summer at Kilnsey and bouldering on Peak Limestone. For my next trip, I am be changing to a '3 to 1' power/ stamina training plan where fitness is put on the back burner in favour of bouldering  and fingerboarding. I think this will help my climbing in general. I want to get back to my bouldering level from a period when I was exclusively bouldering 6 years ago. Fitness training is important for sure but there comes a point in every route climber's career when they have to knuckle down and get stronger. After all, as Tony Yaniro said: "If you can't hold the holds, there is nothing to endure!"

I hope these ramblings encourage others out there knuckling down to long term projects. Redpointing ain't easy and if they went down without a fight, it would hardly be worth it would it? Onwards to projects in the UK and the next trip!

A moody looking East Face of the Monkey (Picture by Julian Havac)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

A Kilnsey Summer and Campaign on True North

Now the autumn rains have finally arrived seems a good time to write a few words about my efforts at Kilnsey over the last 2 and a half months. It has mostly been a good, dry summer apart from a 3 week blip in the last half of August and we have even enjoyed something of an Indian Summer through mid September and into early October. Since July, I continued with evening sessions at Raven Tor despite the shortening evening light and had some productive sessions on Evolution, managing to do the top wall in a oner and getting to the two crimps over the lip from the ground and having a go at the crux rockover. I now see what it will take to climb this route, which is more power, put simply! I also did lots of bouldering to keep on top of this side of my climbing doing ever increasing links on Ben's Roof, Powerband and the usual suspects down the right hand of the Tor. However, I decided to devote my energies to True North 8c (the extension to Full Tilt 8b) at the weekends so have put Evo on the back burner for now.

Adrift in a sea of rock. The sanctuary of the kneebar of Full Tilt with 8b climbing to go from here
So, how did True North go? Its been refreshing to try a hard project at a different crag from the Tor or Malham having not spent as much time at Kilnsey over the years. I was psyched to get a highpoint of the next to last bolt and on 3 redpoints got to the second intermediate for the right hand off a big, burly undercut for the left hand just before the slot/ jug on the steepest part of the route (which must be about 60 degrees overhanging). This slot offers a final, brief shake for the left hand only before the last slap for the final jug. On 4 other occasions, I fell a move or two lower with many more redpoints ending on the first crux after the Full Tilt belay passing 2 razor blade crimps.

  Attempt in September

I would often try the route 2 days on the trot on saturday and sunday as I was paranoid about it getting wet the next weekend, even if the crag was bone dry, given its notorious reputation for taking any seepage going. I was surprised at how even if I was feeling broken on sunday morning, after warming up, I was still able to make some good redpoints, its amazing what you can put your body through. Perhaps in retrospect it might have been better to have done some less intense climbing second day on and got some mileage in on some 8a+'s at other crags which is what I would have done on any other route at my limit. However, obsession took over and I was psyched to gradually piece the route together and get increments of progress with each visit.

Match of justice on the first crux of Full Tilt 8b
I still did lots of other climbing though for fitness usually after already intense sessions on True North. Over the summer I did laps on stuff I have done before like the Ashes 7c+, Man with a Gun 7c+, Biological Need 7c, Comedy 7c, Slab Culture 7b+, 50 for 5 7b+ and WYSIWYG 7b+.

Comedy 7c
The lower crux of Comedy
Vertical tech on Man with a Gun 7c+

I also did the following routes for the first time:
  • Bullet 8a+ 

Starting the crux moves on Bullet 8a+
  • 50 for 5/ The Ashes 8a+
  • Complete Control 8a
  • Sticky Wicket/ The Ashes 8a
  • Rubble 7c (onsight)
  • Dreamtime 7c+
  • Dead Calm 7c+
Stamina needed on Dead Calm 7c+
I repeated both of Seb Grieve's new extensions to Dominatrix, Exit to Eden 7c+ and Drag Queen 7c+, which offer good climbing in superb positions on the upper part of North Buttress plus a session trying La Connection 8b and a brief go on Over the Thumb 8a. It has been a busy summer!

Trying La Connection 8b
When True North got wet in mid August, I thought that was the end of attempts for the year and prepared to get ready to do battle with Evo. However, events proved otherwise and I got a second bite at the cherry in September. However, conditions were not perfect as the route did not fully dry out again and it was usually a case of stuffing beer towels and/or paper towels in the crucial pockets/ slots that get wet (at the niche by the first bolt, the break by the 3rd bolt and the pocket for the left hand at the Full Tilt belay). My technique at prepping the route improved a lot over a few sessions and I came to the conclusion that papers towels are the way forward along with copious amounts of chalk crammed into the back of the pockets which tends to generally keep the worst of the seepage at bay (unless its absolutely gopping), welcome to UK redpointing! (Actually we Brits are not the only peeps to employ such dark arts but I digress).

It was frustrating to slip off on several occasions whilst feeling fresh and strong on one time after redpointing Full Tilt as my left hand lost traction in the dampness at the back of the pocket by the belay and by the 3rd bolt when I took a big whip completely out of the blue pinging off a damp pinch, suitable swear words at the ready :). However, ulimately, I cannot blame the dampness or any other reason for not climbing True North. Not being able to get my left hand fully into the deep pocket you clip the Full Tilt belay off before taking the awful thumb press for the right hand and using it to gain the higher razor blade for the left hand (which is one of the harder moves on True North) undoubtedly made this move harder than it had been in August when this pocket had been totally dry. This was because I was using a diabolical polished footdink as my main right foothold and could hardly get any weight through it, making this move desparate as I was so bunched on the handholds; this method may be easier for the short as they are less bunched.

Moving right from the Full Tilt belay into the first crux of True North
However, on my last session on the route on 3rd October (a couple of days before it turned into a waterfall and all attempts were ended for this season), I discovered that I could make this move a fair bit easier by stepping down to a good foothold for my right foot which meant that it didn't really matter if you couldn't bury your hand into the pocket. I was shocked at how much easier this was and was kicking myself that I hadn't spotted this sooner, the perils of redpointing! The lesson here is to always keep trying different methods as even if they had previously seemed not the right way on the dog, 'sequence evolution' can occur and they could morph into the best way of climbing a particular section. I think this is largely down to how you tend to get stronger on the moves throughout a redpoint campaign so keep an open mind out there on your projects folks!

On the upper moves off the burly left hand undercut, I also discovered a significantly easier method as I had been too bunched again on all of my 7 best attempts. Basically I had discounted a good, low right foothold by a bolt in favour of putting my right foot straight up on a high, downwards sloping niche hold that I now use later on in the sequence, which made standing up into the undercut the living end on the link, although it felt misleadingly OK on my warmup links. My new sequence has two new foot moves which make this bit easier overall as it is less strenuous and involves keep my feet lower.

The hardest move of Full Tilt (for me). Going direct above the 3rd bolt using the boney left sidepull.
So, in retrospect, I am a little disappointed to have redpointed Full Tilt a lot (26 times in total this season) with only a 1 in 4 strike rate at getting through the crimpy moves above the belay and not having the best method on the upper burly moves. This meant I never got to try that last slap in anger from the deck. On the flip side, I am pleased to have been fortunate enough to have discovered 2 much better sequences which should serve me well for next year's campaign. I only wish I still had a dry route to try! Never fear, a return trip to Smith Rock beckons next week, its a hard life. Enjoy your climbing out there!

Friday, 31 July 2015

Hajj and future projects

Hi folks I thought I would write a few words about my experiences on Hajj 8c at the Tor. A UKC Report from a few weeks back has the details but I though I would share a few thoughts and reflections on top of that and show a few of the photos, video stills and some of my own tripod footage that I have accumulated. Climbing Hajj represented a big milestone for my climbing and was a culmination of a lot of effort spread over 7 years at the Tor in trying first Mecca in 2007, 2008 and 2009 then the 3 extensions to it (The Extension, Kabaah and Hajj) in 2012, 2013, 2014 and this year.

 David Pett's Video 'The Outdoor Office Part 1' of Hajj
Hajj closes a chapter for me and my involvement with Mecca, although I intend to keep doing it for training. Its time to move on to pastures new, even if that might only be 20 feet to the right to Evolution! I didn't like to think about what I would do after clipping the chains on Hajj as I preferred to focus on the challenge at hand. Now it has happened, the last few weeks I have been busy getting stuck into my next projects. These are True North 8c at Kilnsey and Evolution 8c+ at the Tor. It has been such a pleasure to seriously try such an amazing historic line as True North while fresh on my first day on on a saturday. For the last few years I have usually devoted my freshest climbing days to the Tor and while I don't begrudge that at all as it was all for my long term goal of doing the trilogy of Mecca extensions, the fact was that the years were going by and I wasn't getting a chance to try hard routes at other crags as much as I would have liked. Now I am free and it feels great!

Video Still courtesy of Jon Clark - the crux of Hajj
So, what made the difference to doing Hajj in the end after trying it extensively last year? Well, as always, the devil is in the detail. I will try and explain below the small things I found this Spring when approaching the route with fresh eyes after 6 months away from it that together put me in a position to send it.

 My own video of an attempt from last year

After coming back to Hajj in June off the back of my trip to Smith Rock this spring, I noticed it was easier to step my left foot up earlier before (rather than after) slapping into the first undercut for the left hand on the crux. This seemed to make the crux move feel a little easier going into and standing up into the right hand undercut. I had to press my feet a little harder into the tiny smears but once I got the engrams after repeated attempts, I was happy with the end result. Such a small change in beta but such a big difference! Also, I decided to sack off the long quickdraw on the crux and clip it short with my right hand off the undercut to the left of the Extension top pocket rest. As the foothold here is quite big, the position is not strenuous and you clip on your way up to the next handhold anyway. Suddenly the crux move felt easier as I found that before I was making it harder than it had to be by stepping round the rope in a position of some difficulty! My right foot now shot out quicker to the smear out right before I did the big reach up to the final crimps.

Video Still courtesy of Jon Clark - Gaining the 'Horn' on Mecca by the 4th bolt
Ally Smith helped me to put in a new dogging bolt on the top crux which enabled me to work the crux moves directly off the rope whereas before I always had to climb into them from 3 moves below as the bolts were all 1 metre off to the right. As soon as the bolt went in, I realised that it was possible to take the undercut slightly lower with all four fingers engaging directly into it and the index and ring fingers biting into the best bit. Again, this made the crux move feel a few percent easier, not by much though.

Video Still courtesy of Jon Clark - Getting into the first kneebar on Mecca

Also, I found that I could use the most miniscule of intermediate pinches for the left hand with a crucial, sharp thumbcatch to help get stood up into the undercut, which I had found on an earlier, too hard method of climbing the crux more to the right but had since discounted (we are talking tiny here, don't get your hopes up!)

Video still: The first crux on Mecca
 After failing at the upper crux from the ground five more times in June, I decided to try a new approach doing links from the top down. Two weekends before I did it, I had a massive breakthrough and managed to climb from the 4th bolt to the top and then from the 3rd bolt in the same session. I would recommend the top down approach to anybody looking to get past a sticking point on their redpoint project. I realised that in all my attempts from the ground last year and this year, I had never been from the 4th to the top. Doing this link was a big psychological step. I realised I was now getting fitter on the route, I could feel it on my link goes where I would flick hands between moves just to get a little bit back. By really looking closely and ticking up the best part of the left hand undercut on the crux (which is uneven and quite crozzly but with a better bit for 2 fingers at the bottom of the hold) rather than just getting it any old how was the key to getting the right hand undercut successfully. As you must semi-dynamically slap into the hold, it is tricky to get this right but it certainly made a difference.

Just before the first undercut on Mecca
Taking the first lefthand crimp on the main crux of Mecca
I found a funny, contorted double kneebar at the Mecca belay which took about 20% off my bodyweight I estimated, which all helps up there. I fine tuned my rest at the top Extension pocket and made sure I stayed there for only 1 chalk of each hand. Its not that great a rest as despite the pocket being massive, the footholds are off to the left and its quite draining to stand there for more than a few seconds.

Getting ready for the crux jump (for some!)

Catching the horn on the Mecca crux
So, what's next? Well I am excited to move on to new horizons and am having fun trying Evolution and True North. For the former, I may have to raise the bar bouldering-wise as a vicious V11 boulder problem over the roof left of Chimes of Freedom guards the top wall (which must be around 8b in its own right). Not even a spot to chalk up on the entire route, tough stuff! One thing for sure, this route is a considerable jump upwards in difficulty from Mecca, not many takers for this one. True North is a little steeper than most of my projects that I have tried but it motivates me to try and get better at this style, which is more Euro style, pumpy endurance cranking rather than straight crimping. 

Jerry Moffatt on Evolution 8c+, Raven Tor
I leave you with Jon Clark's excellent video from last year, which contains some earlier footage of Hajj from last year and sums up the psyche required for climbing at the Tor in December! Thanks for reading and good luck on all your projects out there!