Fully Committed: Speed Grit

Over the years Pete and I have tried many different forms of climbing, but one that we keep coming back to time and time again, is the traditional “climbing challenge.” A day of rock that has set boundaries, rules and a very specific goal. There is of course, rather a lot of stupidity thrown in, but that’s up to the individual!

The Master's Edge birthday challenge

The Master’s Edge birthday challenge

We started our climbing partnership by trying to break the record for the most number of climbs soloed in a day – we exhausted ourselves doing 550 in over 17hrs – and have done many other challenges that involve speed climbing or silly fancy dress outfits since then. It’s been extremely entertaining finding someone else who’s up for these kind of days out and is prepared to push the boundaries of what’s possible. It’s that pushing of boundaries that I think has led us to our next challenge: one where both of us are very, very close to our personal limit.

Nothing compares to when Pete took command of that Boeing 747.

Nothing compares to when Pete took command of that Boeing 747.

Pete and I are off to Yosemite in a couple of weeks for some big walling and we wanted to create a challenge that would sort of mimic what we’d be trying to do out there. So we came up with attempting all the Brown and Whillans routes on the Eastern and Western edges in a day. That’s just under 130 routes and up to E6 6c.

It seemed a little (very?) unrealistic when we came up with the concept, but now as I sit here the day before setting off to try it, I feel truly doubtful. That’s what we want though, right? Where’s the fun in trying something where the outcome is guaranteed and you won’t be pushed right to your limit…. yeah…..? I think I feel ok about the amount of climbing (which is around 6000ft of rock) but it’s the roughly 22 miles of running on top, spread across 17 different crags and keeping going for a whole 24hrs at a fair whack that I know could push it. 90% of it has to be soloed and there’s no space for food breaks, mistakes or getting lost. Oh God…. what have we let ourselves in for?!

Pete trying on my wardrobe - outfit by @indigoatcrafts

Pete trying on my wardrobe – outfit by @indigoatcrafts

Here’s a photo to cheer you (or me) up whilst I’m thinking about our midnight start and the first route to warm us up being MAy35 at Bamford.

 

 

Dina Crac, E9 7a – Welsh Limestone Trad

I couldn’t think of a name for the project for ages…. I asked my friends, the wisdom of Twitter and even my daughter (she said call it “Climber”) for inspiration. Then I came across it this morning, whilst looking up derivations of the word “Dinas” or “Dinas Rock”

“Dina fooled me into loving her and toke all I had, but still I can’t get enough of her. 
I wish I can stay away from Dina but her mysterious ways are irresistible.”

In those words it was chosen for me. I never was quite sure why I spent so many sessions in the carpark at Dinas sleeping in my van, driving the M1 for hours and hours and putting up with multiple days of ruined climbing just down to the fact that the condensation had set in. The lines above probably sum this up as best as I possibly could.

I think this particular crack project has been one of the biggest struggles for me, due to a combination of factors. The climbing is really quite hard, the conditions on the line are incredibly fickle and the moves are so complicated that each time I would come down, I’d waste at least half a day remembering how to move my body. The route starts up a very strange and steep 2 bolt sport route which is more like climbing a long boulder problem. This then gives you access to an 80 degree finger roof crack. The sequence through the roof is around V10 and involves amazing spins on finger jams, an undercut mono-style move and some funky heel action. All of this has to be stopped in the middle of though, to place two micro nuts, which caused me problems on a few occasions!

Dinas

Placing gear in the roof (c) Kim Davies

The Dinas project has kept me occupied for 3 years I think…. Which seems like a long time. I got very close to it before going to climb Cobra Crack, but I rushed the last move and fell off on practically the last decent day of the season. Going back down again this week, I could feel all the same doubts creep into my head as I know that I’m off to Yosemite in 3 weeks and I’m not supposed to be trying projects. A friend offered a night’s sleep in his house before but I refused because I wanted to feel that I’d earned my route. I didn’t want any soft touches, no luxury, no compromise. It might sound a bit silly, but I find that if I take away the good things, it makes me want my goals more and makes me toughen up mentally.

Morning view from Hotel Randall

Morning view from Hotel Randall

The last day at the crag this weekend, was one of those really great days. A good crowd of people, a really relaxed vibe and absolutely no expectation. I’d been moaning for about an hour how sore my skin was, but that I’d just “have a little go to see where I get to” and then I could prepare for maybe coming down the following weekend. If I’m honest about it, I kind of know that this trick of “having a little look” is actually extremely effective on redpoint, as you fool yourself into it being a low pressure attempt. As we all know, the lower the pressure, often the better the results!

On the bolts at the start I very nearly fell off but I remembered at that instant that this had happened before when I did Greenspit. I pushed on. The next hard sequence felt hard and again I only just locked the undercut mono-style move as I was sagging out, so I pushed on. As the sequences flowed I just kept grunting away and trying to “fall up” the route – I think the climbers on the ground probably thought they were watching something rather odd. The climber above was using strange grunt sounds and a sagging arse to climb something quite hard. But hey, it worked!

It was pretty tricky coming up with a grade for this route, because of the afore mentioned factors in trying it. I possibly could have done it quite some time ago, but maybe it was a bit harder than I gave it credit. It’s so hard to be objective about it now though. So for this one, I’m going to assess it as to where it felt relative to other cracks I’ve done even though it took me absolutely ages to do.

Harder:

Century 8c

Cobra 8b+/8c

Kournikova 8b+

Easier:

One Infinity 8b+

Greenspit 8b

Army of Darkness 8b

As it’s a trad limestone crack (although, granted there are 2 bolts from an old existing line at the start) I will stick with the proper UK grade of E9 7a and given it a token US crack grade of 5.14a. All gear was placed on lead (not a very easy prospect!) and consists of loads of those offset Wild Country micro nuts, including the top 30ft of groove climbing.

Many thanks to everyone who’s kept me company at the crag over the last few years. You know who you all are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.