The Pura Pura Project

Whenever I’ve thought about trying to push the standard of crack climbing, it always seems so simple. Climb something hard, find something harder, do some training and repeat. This week though, I’ve found myself with a dilemma. I’ve found that mega hard project, done it and now feel really nervous about where I am.

Last year I spent quite a bit of time researching hard crack climbs around the world in the quest to find something to really get my teeth stuck into and also one that would be a first ascent. I knew about Mason Earle’s unfinished crack in Utah, Peewee’s roof project in Canada but realised I needed something that I could could try without taking away from other people. That’s when stubbled across two ideas at once – the Gondo Crack and the Pura Pura Project.

One is extremely bouldery and slightly overhanging, the other is a complete endurance burl-fest. Anyone who’s had a look at previous blogs will know that the former is Gondo Crack and the latter is something I tried last year in the Orco Valley. The Pura Pura is not maybe what most people would envisage when they think of crack climbing, as in fact it’s a combination of hard boulder and hard route climbing. I supposed it was inspired by watching Dani Andrada in his Spanish caves contorting his way round impossible looking 9a+ link ups as a way of finding the hardest climbing possible.

Climbing the lower section on The Green Shadow

Climbing the lower section on The Green Shadow

This project aims to link together two climbs of equal length, difficulty and steepness – The Greenshadow and Greenspit. You climb all of Green Shadow with a rope on and then immediately press on into the amazing roof of Greenspit, with the crux lying in wait right at the end. All in all it’s about 25m of extremely steep roof crack climbing and one that leaves your shoulders and core feeling like useless lumps of flesh hung on a skeleton.

Trying the link up last year I found that I was no where near strong enough or fit enough to put the two together. In their single entities they were manageable, but trying to climb Greenspit already pumped and powered-out seemed impossible. It was a whole significant level above for me and I knew I’d have to put massive amounts of work into achieving my aims. Needless to say, the hard work part is what I enjoy the most and over the last six months I’ve pushed pretty hard to make the steps after Century and Cobra possible. My climbing started to fall into place in the last couple of months with a near redpoint on Gondo Crack but it was this trip to Italy when I felt like everything worked 100%.

The problem now is, what do you do when you tick the thing that seemed impossible? Do you go with your feelings of years of experience or do you write it off as a fluke? When I topped out on the line, almost every muscle was at failure point. My fingers were uncurling on the final slopers, my arms were jelly and my core like felt as if I’d done a million sit ups. Still though, in the end I wanted to sit in a position of comfort where I could say “well, it’s not that hard, I could obviously climb harder.” Well, maybe if I think about it, I can’t. Maybe that’s where I’m at right now. I can’t climb any harder and I should be happy I’ve pushed it all a notch higher.

So, I’m going to take a risk. Nico wouldn’t state a grade when he did Recovery Drink, Beth Rodden didn’t when she did Meltdown and if I’m honest I’m very tempted to do the same as it’s the easy way out. I could just say “it’s the hardest I’ve done, but I’m not sure how hard.” Life is too short for safe bets though. I’ll put it on the line and say it. 8c+.

 

Time and Rest = Better Grades

I’ve not really got that much reading material down in the crack training cellar. I suppose I like to keep it spartan and without any distractions or excuses from working hard. I have allowed myself one small indiscretion though, and that’s a copy of Climb magazine with a very important training article by Steve McClure in it. Does it prescribe the reps, the rest periods, secret regimes and special exercises for fingers of steel? No it doesn’t – it tells us resting is just as important as training! You can break your body down with a good session, but if you want it to adapt afterwards, you have to let it recover to achieve what’s often referred to in the business as – “Super-compensation.”

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Got Super-Compensation? (c) Paolo Sartori

You’d think being a climbing coach would make me good at dishing out this kind of advice to myself and taking it on board. I think I’m probably ok at telling myself, but very poor at listening! In my last blog about returning from Italy to try Gondo Crack I had to do just this. I was burnt out, tired and lacking mojo. I told myself that it wasn’t the end of the world and all it needed was some rest, which probably for the first time in a (very) long time I took. My God, it felt good. And weird. Six days off pottering around on the beach with my family, going for walks and watching TV was my medicine and I was very curious to see the effects.

Well, it’s one week later and I cannot believe the difference. It’s like someone injected a 25yr old me into my body and gave me the most psyched mind for quite some time. After that week off, I came back and had training sessions that went through all previous highs and did a few link-ups that I wasn’t sure were possible. It’s all very well me going on about this to you, but I’m not sure you really care if I suddenly did a 9b+ crack on wood – it’s just fake stuff. What really counts is what you’re going to do now, with this information.

If you look at the last month, did you train/climb more days than not? Did you do a number of back-to-back climbing days? Are you psyched out of your mind to complete your outside project, but suffering from training gains that no longer come or even worse, slightly dip? Well, take a look in the mirror, slap yourself with a empty chalk bag and GO AND HAVE A WEEK OFF! I’d be great if just one person out there tried this and had a positive experience. Let me know…. :-)

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Entering the crux on Gondo Crack (c) Paolo Sartori

 

 

Failure Hurts

One of the best blog posts that I’ve read recently, comes from British climber Mina Wujastyk about her recent experiences on the world cup scene and how her levels of motivation in climbing were fluctuating hugely. It wasn’t the quality of the writing or the photos that got me psyched, it was the barefaced honesty of it. These days it’s actually pretty rare to read something from an athlete (particularly a climbing one) that lays down some of the truths about how hard it is when things are going wrong or when they’re suffering. Perhaps we all want to appear superheroes, or maybe it’s just plain hard to say we’re hurting?

I’ve just arrived back in the UK this week feeling pretty miserable. Last week I went out to try and complete the Gondo Crack project that I’ve spent a fair bit of time working on and I failed. I was climbing really well, my head felt amazing and I wasn’t making any mistakes but yet I still didn’t succeed. On the final day, in the final hour (yes I was going for an all out, just before catching the plane attempt!) I grasped the finishing hold with my fingers, but they uncurled and my body hurled downwards. Swinging around on the end of the rope, I knew I’d given everything and it was over. Everyone at the base of the route looked towards the ground and I could feel a sense of disappointment that the person they’d tried to push upwards with screams of encouragement had fallen short.

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Looking for psyche??

During the last visit to Italy (I stay in Italy, but travel over the border each day to try the project) I was privileged to meet so many people from the Ossola climbing community. These guys are incredibly passionate about their region and visiting various houses during the trip was constantly opening my eyes to this. There were always photos on the walls of alpine adventures, multi pitch new routes, topos and climbing pioneers up in frames. The history of climbing here is just as rich as ours back at home and the characters involved in the development are real legends. I think it has been the influence of this crowd here in Italy that has made me so determined to succeed on Gondo Crack. They’ve made me believe that putting in extra effort to something that seems unattainable is worth it and when I see each of their faces, I know they’ve already been through that experience. The ups, the downs and the shear hard work.

Being back in the UK again has been really tough, I won’t lie. On the first day back I allowed myself a day off from training (I desperately wanted to punish myself for not succeeding) and spent time relaxing with family and friends to give myself a break from the intensity. Whilst it felt good to chill out, I couldn’t get my head out of gear and I felt like my mind was still pedalling at a breakneck speed towards a certain belay I’d failed to clip.

The next day I felt like I need to start training early. I didn’t want to miss out on any more time and I needed to understand what my body was asking me to do next – did I feel on form to push to another level or was more time out needed? Within 10 minutes, I knew the answer. After just one lap of a hard crack circuit I felt like crying. I had nothing. Suddenly my mind had joined my body and I finally knew that I needed to accept that I’ve got to allow myself some time. Time to reward myself for actually giving 100% to the project and for not flying out from that country thinking I could have given more. I couldn’t. And I should be flipping psyched about that.

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The problem is, that all of us who want to push ourselves in sport are generally quite hard on body and mind. We rarely savour the thrill of succeeding and often reward ourselves in a fairly transient way. Just think about the last project that you completed – did you have a big celebration afterwards, take 2 weeks holiday from climbing and write it down somewhere that you’ve achieved your goal? I suspect not. I would put money on most of us having a meal out / drink in the pub with mates and then getting stuck into training or climbing again within 2 or 3 days. The problem is, that this isn’t a realistic way forwards in the long term. Whether we succeed or fail on a project I think we need to recognise that the huge length of “build up period” that we put into these things deserves a longer “reward period” to balance out the mind and body. For that reason, I’m now on a beach holiday in South Wales and I’m pleased (I didn’t grit my teeth honest…) to say I am not training for a whole 6 days. Yes, that is SIX days.

 

 

The Gondo Crack Project

One of the things that keeps me really motivated, is having first ascent projects. It’s the lure of always knowing that there’s something just round the corner, that’s a smidge out of reach. This year, I’ve got 3 main crack projects on the books, which is probably a bit ambitious! One, which is totally possible when it stops raining in the UK, another which is probably a bit beyond me and one more that is just right.

I’ve been looking for something that was the next step up from Cobra in finger crack terms and last year I was introduced to it on the border of Italy and Switzerland. Those who know me, won’t be surprised to know that I actually thought it was in Italy for nearly a year, despite crossing the border each time to try it!

Am I lost?!

The Gondo Crack project was originally envisaged by local Italian legend Allesandro Manini - this is the man who’s probably contributed more to cutting edge Italian crack climbing than any other; Profundo Rosso 8a, Denti Stretti 8b/+, Lapoterapia 8c are all very beefy crack lines established by a man of Moon and Moffatt’s generation. The Gondo project, however, has eluded him since his first attempts on it in 1999 and he’s been kind enough to let me try it. I’ve also been really lucky in meeting a local climber, Lucas Iribarren who’s psyched out of his mind to climb hard cracks. He’s done many of the local hard climbs and most importantly, is just a little mad like me. That always helps!

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The route is located near the village of Gondo and forms a thin crack line on a leaning wall – I would guess it’s around 15 degrees overhanging. The first part of the line is a pretty nice introduction into the horrors that lie above, with 7c climbing on pretty pokey gear. All the holds are pretty reasonable, but none are massive and there are no rests…. it slowly wears you down and takes the edge off whilst placing the gear. This section then deposits you at a good resting hold at three quarters height via a slightly scary jump/slap move (well, it is for trad climbers who hate being dynamic!).

After this, the real meat starts. There’s some set up moves on side pulls and a couple of finger jams and then one good position from which to place your last gear. It burns your shoulder muscle like nobody’s business, but it’s worth it to place the offset nut properly as it’s your last piece of gear. From this, you make a long lock to probably the hardest finger jamming move I’ve ever done. A single, shallow finger in a tiny slot to make a full length move to the next jam. Think 1-4-8 on the campus board. After this, you take a small gaston, slap to a sloper, then reverse your finger into a “Cobra-style” undercut mono move. Build your feet and then pull off a total max body length move to a three finger edge. At this point you’re desperately wanting it to be all over, but from here you have to single arm deadhang the edge (I’ve been telling people for years that one arm pull ups are useless and then I find one!) and do what feels like a one-armer on it as the foot hold is so poor. Just a couple of sloper moves after this then lead to a belay and hopefully not a fall…. it’d be brown pants time from there!

Yet another route that's destroys your skin!!

Yet another route that’s destroys your skin!!

Well, as I write this I’m sat here in Italy (yes I’m definitely in Italy and not Switzerland) with only one day left on my third trip to try this route. I’ve got all the way through to the last hard move now, but the conditions are not favourable. The temperatures are high, there’s no wind and humidity is right up there with my local sauna. I guess I better hope to get lucky on the last day huh?

 

Wideboyz 2 Download

Well, that was an exciting weekend! Just a few days ago was the premiere of Wideboyz II at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival. Unlike the viewing of the first film of Century Crack, I got to have a sneak peak of the unfinished product and I have to say it made the night feel quite a bit calmer.

Cobra Crack (c) Paul Diffley, Hotaches

Cobra Crack (c) Paul Diffley, Hotaches

I remember sitting in a Kendal cinema 2 years ago for Wideboyz I and absolutely crapping my pants. I’d never been in a climbing film before, let alone one that had my face plastered all over it. This time, knowing that Chris Prescott and Paul Diffley from Hotaches had made an amazing job was reassuring to say the least. I know it seems a foregone conclusion, but when your year’s climbing efforts are in the spotlight it’s not quite so easy to be casual about. Maybe I shouldn’t care so much, but then again, I’m only human!

So far the production has won Best Climbing Film already at ShAFF which is ace and John Coefield has written a very complimentary review on UKC here. As ever Pete and I will be doing a Europe-wide lecture tour to support the film, so please do give us a shout if you’re keen to see and hear about Pete’s sausage fingers, my nude top rope of Cobra or how you train for 8c on a 8ft wooden crack….

Download Wideboyz 2

Much like Wideboyz I, the film is available to download directly here and all you need to do is click on this link. It’ll take you straight to the download page where you can access it direct to your computer. Simple eh?!

DVD Hard Copies

You can also order DVD hard copies of Wideboyz I or II through my blog (simply comment on this post and I will email you) for £20 incl P&P.

Finally……………….

As an extra something in case you’re not into all the crack climbing – I mean, who is…? – then here’s a short video made by Guy Van Greuning about the recent first ascent of Pure Now E9 6c. Hope you enjoy it.

E is for Experience

I know “E” is supposed to stand for “Extreme” when it comes to grading, but recently I’ve tried to have a very different take on it. In just the last couple of days I completed a first ascent project at Millstone that many people would think is for all the wrong reasons. It’s not a king line, it’s not the best quality rock and it’s certainly not likely to get a repeat.

Why’s that I hear you ask?

Well let me start by talking about the last two “dangerous style” routes I did on grit; The Zone and Appointment with Death. Both left me feeling a little unsatisfied. The Curbar E9 wasn’t quite as dangerous as I imagined (especially not after Oli Grounsell unwisely took the tester fall and was ok!) and the Wimberry E9 wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. Yeah I know I should just take the tick and be happy with it, but in reality I wanted to really push myself in both dimensions. Hard climbing. Hard consequences.

This lead me to scouting around the gritstone edges looking for something that I thought would be of 8a or more to top rope but one where a fall during the hard climbing would lead to hospital. I needed it to be so uncompromising that there was no shirking away from the reality of the situation. If I wanted it, it had to be for the experience. 

When I abbed down the wall right of Master’s Edge at Millstone I had a good feeling that I’d found the right thing. You could get to the shot holes and then break out on the wall right and climb up on small edges and blunt undercuts running it out 45ft from the shot holes before meeting safety again. The best thing was that the crux was on slightly snappy edges and at a height where you’d gone beyond the zone of the jug height on Master’s Edge. Nice huh? 

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Photo by Guy Van Greuning – do not use photo without permission.

Well not really. Each session I had on the route working it, I felt pretty sick thinking about the seriousness of the route. I think it’s either the mark of a truly psychological route or me getting old. I continually brushed and flexed the holds working out which ones were the most reliable and in the end found a good sequence. Sure the odd one broke, but that was just a reminder that I couldn’t f*&k up. I liked that. 

When I eventually decided on Sunday to go for the route I was really lucky that the weather was terrible. It was blowing an mini-gale and it was like Patagonia standing on top of Millstone. This meant that psychologically I had no pressure from the route. It had already given me a “get out” and so I only needed to do it if things felt absolutely perfect. The guys at the crag knew it was unlikely as well, so what harm was there in throwing one optimistic top rope on it, just to see how much I’d get blown about. As I warmed up, it became evident that conditions were actually rather good despite the strong gusts. I smiled to myself and thought about how the route had lured me in and now I was ready. I felt calm and accepting of the factors involved. 

Setting off on the lead I climbed calmly up to the shot holes and explored my head. Everything felt good. I noticed that I’d placed the cam in the hole slightly wrong, but rather than taking this as a portent I simply noted it and stood up into the next sequence. Just before breaking out right into the hard climbing I had a quick shake of the arms and was amazed to feel good. It was just too good. I felt like I was on a VS. Slap out to side pull…. adjust feet….. slap again…. adjust feet again. GOOD. Bone that foothold. Reel that f*&ker in…. slow…. crimp. Bite the tips….pull it hard and slap to undercut…. YES. Ok…. go big now. No thoughts….

OOooop. Yikes. Just for a second or two I fumbled a hold and broke out of the mist. No mistakes though Tom, this is proper. Back in. 

Shake the wrist. Flick, flick. Ok…. in control. High step on the snappy hold. Be accurate. Rock up…. crimp….. crimp…. crumbly hold…. just take it EASY. Hold it light. It’s bomber. Roll out and hit the match…

And then it all came flooding in. The sequence was done and it felt flipping amazing. What a rush. I now just had 20ft of soloing on mellow edges to enjoy on an ocean of millstone wall. What a complete pleasure. It was insane how good I felt in those few moments. Everything I wanted in an experience was right there in just a few Sunday morning minutes. I knew instantly that I didn’t need a hit like that for a very long time indeed. If ever. 

 

 

A Start to the End of the Gritstone Season?

As many of us are aware it’s been a strange collection of weather conditions over the last couple of months and it’s basically been a choice of venues based on which indoor wall is quietest. Local boy Ethan Walker commented on this recently on his blog and pointed out that whilst we can all moan about the wetness, at least we’re indoors getting a little bit stronger….

Finally last week I felt like things took a turn for the better and I immediately reminded myself of the routes that I’d abandoned 2 months ago due to damp. First was a boulder-route link up at Higgar and the other being Captain Invincible at Burbage. The Higgar Tor line has been in the back of my mind for absolutely ages since I saw a thread on UKB about the direct start being done by Ed Brown (Block and Tackle Direct 7B+) and someone saying in the forum that it’d be good to climb that straight into Block and Tackle E6 6c.

When a windy day arrived in amongst the showers last week I packed everything up and got a belay off a mate. When we arrived at the crag it was blowing an absolute hooley which was good for dry rock but not exactly that easy to warm up. After working out an easier method of doing the direct boulder problem (just jump!) at maybe Font 6C it was promising that it’d all link up. Half an hour later and having flailed around even more on the boulder problem I scraped my way up the whole thing for a really rewarding first proper route of the gritstone season. Guy Van Greuning the Sheffywood Film Magnate has made a short video about the ascent, so I’ll post that up very soon.

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Setting up for crux on Block and Tackle E6 6c (c) Guy Van Greuning

Having got that route under my belt I then got really hopeful that my main winter’s project of Captain Invincible might be possible. I’d got really frustrated since Christmas with the holds always being damp or wet but over 5 days of windy conditions had to be good. Surely, surely?!

This route has been a big motivating factor for me in my climbing this winter mainly because it’s one that I’d always written off as being too hard. It was done by Sean Myles at the peak of his abilities and repeated by another Peak master – Robin “The Pocket” Barker. When I’m climbing harder routes I’ve always tended to match myself up in terms of ability with the ascentionists to know if I’m ready for something and I have to confess that those guys always seemed a bit out of my league. Their ascents of this route on the front face of the Cioch block at Burbage have been shrouded in mystery and confusion, mainly due to a lack of information. Not much in the BMC guidebook, nor in the new Peak Rock book and even a google of it brings up not much more than “8b on dubious pegs.”

When I first started working this route before Christmas, it was a bit of a wake up call. I couldn’t even do some of the moves after a few sessions of working, which is never promising. After a while I also tried going on it with a few people who I’d consider being really strong to see if they could show me the way and that I’d just mis-read it all. Nope. I was just not pulling hard enough! Maybe that was what I needed though, as it meant I put my mind into a new gear and decided to get a bit more gnarly. That means for me, going down The Climbing Works, doing some campussing and back-3 finger boarding. I know that’s probably pretty normal for many of the Sheffield boys, but that’s big changes for me! No more cracks. No more hiding behind endurance.

A Christmas of training, a New Year of training and finally Jan & Feb training, finally got me to the base of Captain Invincible last week ready for a lead attempt. Andy Reeve (more E9 belay ticks than Pete’s mum probably?) had come out for moral support after nailing his heel on another one of his weekly grit forays and seemed psyched that I’d chosen to go for the lead just a few hours before needing to go and catch a plane to Spain. Nothing like a bit of pressure.

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Last break before crux of Offspring E5 6b. Photo (c) Andy Reeve

In the end the lead went brilliant and unusually for me, I felt pretty solid on it. There was a bit of waver in the middle where it gets a little interesting if you were to fall there, but I could hear Reeve’s voice below pushing me on. Once you get to the last break (see photo) then you’re into the crux of Offspring and I made sure I shook out fully knowing at least one of the previous ascentionist had fallen here. What an absolute heartbreaker. I’d already pulled on a “back 3″ like it wanted to break my fingers and twisted a pinky mono until I winced, so I had no desire to do that again. I still hurts a bit thinking about it now.

Overall I thought the route was absolutely amazing, mainly because it’s so unlike many of our hardest grit routes in the UK. It’s actually physically hard, you need to be sport fit, there’s toe hooks, heel hooks, mono’s and slopers. Everything you’d want to take to a desert island I suppose. It’d need to be a cold desert island mind….