Beauty, Barrows and The Beast

I have known Alex Barrows for quite a few years – although I actually came across his internet “persona” first on UKC before meeting the man who’s inspired T-Shirts to be made with the logo “Climbers Against Barrows.”

Most of the general public out there will know him for a number of reasons;

  1. Being on UKC News for redpointing hard sport
  2. Being the bad boy of UK bouldering by reducing everyone’s hardest ticks with clever knee-bar techniques
  3. For being one of the first Turbo-Punters to climb 9a.
The most hated man in The School Room

The most hated man in The School Room

It’s the getting to know the real Alex Barrows over the last few years that I wanted to write about. Not because I have a man-crush on him, or because he’s got one of the best teeth cleaning regimes out there. It’s because I want to get across to people that his recent climbing of Era Vella 9a, in Spain is only partly down to solid training methodology.

Both me and Alex are total training geeks and I’ve always enjoyed the various discussions about “how hard would it be to AeroCap the lattice board” and “why can’t capillarisation just be done at one intensity” etc etc…. but the thing that I’ve enjoyed the most is seeing and hearing his motivation.

Sure, he’s trained correctly, intelligently and consistently. BUT, it’s been with a level of motivation and psyche that is in my opinion a cut above the rest. I say this because I work with some really capable sport climbers writing their plans and therefore I know what the “Spectrum of Psyche” out there looks like! It’s pretty broad!

Font 8A and above AND... he claims to be weak?!

Font 8A and above AND… he claims to be weak?!

Over the years, I’ve become more and more convinced that the correct training methodology absolutely has to be underpinned by an equal (if not excessive) level of drive and passion for the sport. If you don’t have it, you just can’t put the hours in. Week after week, month after month and year after year. With no relapses.

The people I see who have this are Alex, Ethan Walker, Pete Whittaker and Dave Mason to name a few who I bump into regularly. People will always view these people as being gifted and having advantage over others, but in reality I’ve seen them graft so hard over the years and they always seem glad that they did. They don’t profess to having some kind of golden pill every morning for breakfast (Alex probably has Cod Liver Oil though…..) and keep psyche driving the correct training and projecting methods they already use.

Unknown

So in summary, what I wanted to say was:

Alex has a beautiful training method (I’m sure many out there will be wanting to know if there is a “secret” to it!) but it’s driven by a deep-down beastliness for hard work and consistency. If we could all tap into it this coming year I’m sure we’d all be a bit closer to 9a….

Wideboyz Lectures and Events – Spring 2015!

I think whilst everyone else was writing their new year’s resolutions, me and Pete were filling out diaries and phoning up climbing walls to organise events! 2014 was a pretty eventful year for both of us and one of the things we really enjoy doing is taking the climbing a full circle and giving something back to everyone out there. This year, we’re going to be mainly doing that in the form of lectures and Wild Country Crack Schools.

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I didn’t say it was going to serious did I?!

Importantly also is that many of these events are made to happen with the help of brands that support us – without them a lot of this would never occur. They don’t always shout about this, but it’s worth remembering that many of the cool things you see in the climbing media nowadays are helped along by people who believe in supporting adventure.

Wideboyz Lectures: Beards Bagels & Bigwalls

Whilst these lectures are predominately about our adventures in Yosemite, they also include film and slides from the gritstone edges of the UK, to the Gneiss of Europe and granite of Scandinavia. There’s footage of London Wall solo, Pete dressed in various fancy dress outfits and plenty of fun stories about big wall toilet dramas. It gets messy!

Pete and Tom

A number of the lectures we’re doing are supported by Beta Climbing Designs and Climb On! Skin Products, so they’ll feature some pretty good giveaways – all in exchange for a few answers in the Big Wall Beard quiz of course…. :-)

Dates for this Spring

7th Feb                   Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival

13th & 14th Feb      London Outdoors Show

20th Feb                 The Climbing Station, Loughborough

22nd Feb                The Beacon Climbing Centre, Wales

25th Feb                 Birmingham – Solihull Mountaineering Club

Wild Country Crack School

These Crack School events have to be one of the best coaching days I’ve taken part in – mainly because me and Pete have exactly the tool at our disposal that we want…. specially made INDOOR CRACKS!! Yes, we’re talking parallel wood cracks of all sizes from finger crack all the way up to offwidth. We’ll be taking you through all the sizes, which techniques to use and this year even some work on how to best protect these cracks.

Crack Machine 1

As with last year, there will be some cool giveaways including a Wild Country T-shirt, Wideboyz DVD, posters, stickers and more. The session only costs £20 and a good part of the proceeds go on supporting the GB Para Team.

Dates in the diary for you to book into are:

The Leeds Wall Sunday 1st Feb
Call 0113 2341554.  Mail: offthewall@leedswall.com

The Pinnacle Climbing Centre, Northampton Sat 21st Feb
Call 01604 875 996 climbing@thepinnaclecentre.co.uk

The Foundry Sheffield Sat 28th Feb 2015
Call 0114 279 6331. Mail: wall@foundryclimbing.com

Castle Climbing Centre March 7th
Call 020 8211 7000. Mail: info@castle-climbing.co.uk

Here’s a little taster as well…

The Longest Day

When Pete and I come up with an idea to do some climbing together, there are usually two reactions.

“Nah, too easy. You’d just need to put some effort in to do that.”

Or

“Ooooh. Holy smokes that’ll be spicy. Isn’t that a bit unrealistic?”

Now of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. I mean, it’s not like every time I ring up Pete and ask if he fancies a day out climbing in the Peak that it’ll go those two directions, but when it comes down to “Challenge Territory” then it really does seem to apply.

Make the challenge hard enough and organisation is paramount (and my wife plays a bit part in this!)

Make the challenge hard enough and organisation is paramount.

The story started quite a few years ago when we succeeded in one particular challenge: to climb the Western Grit Brown and Whillans routes in a a day. I think we originally went for it as we knew a few teams had failed to do it, so we were goaded by our competitive nature. After completing a very long day out (10hrs of climbing over 1500ft of rock) we sat down at the end and Pete said to me,

“Can you imagine doing all those from today and linking it into the ones from the Eastern Grit?”

I immediately replied with something like,

“Yeah, but who’s going to actually do that? That’s an absolute monster day out… A nice idea for someone though!”

Fast forward 5 years and there I was last night at 10pm preparing myself for the unthinkable. During the previous couple of weeks, Pete and I had been out on the edges slowly improving our soloing skills, learning 130+ pitches of climbing, practising the approaches and devising our strategy. Most importantly though, we’d worked hard on driving an unstoppable motivation – there was no chance we would get through it without some serious knuckling down and suffering.

80 routes in the suffering started to take hold...

80 routes in the suffering started to take hold…

The climbing on the surface appears relatively straight forward with only approximately 6000ft of ascent, but it’s the style of the route that really kills you. Brown and Whillans routes seem to seek out the burliest, steepest and most awkward routes on the gritstone edges. Goliath, Sentinel Crack, The Unprintable, Cave Crack, Deadbay Bay Groove & Crack of Gloom all make me feel like I’ve got jelly arms and remind me that skin isn’t that tough! Added onto this is the 23.6 miles of running between crags and routes and trying to not get lost in the 7 hours of mostly solo climbing done in darkness with a head torch. With all this combined, you have something quite worrying.

Finding relief from cracks on some slabs!

Finding relief from cracks on some slabs!

At the moment, it feels like something that’s really hard to write about in depth as a blow by blow account as we both went through so many different emotions in the whole process, but for the minute I’ll leave you with a few key facts and figures and the odd funny fact.

Crags: 17

Ground covered: 23.6 miles

Routes & Pitches climbed: 125 & 132

Best route: Bachelor’s Left Hand

Worst route: Swastika II

Biggest sandbag: Deadbay Groove & Central Crack

Biggest soft touch: Big Crack

Solo vs Lead: 66% solo, 34% lead

Rack: No nuts, no draws, just Friend 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5.  (Couple of exceptions)

Challenge duration: 22hrs 36mins

Support team to help with driving and bad jokes: Martin Kocsis & Mike Hutton

By the time we arrived at the finishing post of The Sloth, it felt like a huge journey. Along the way I kept on thinking of James Mchaffie’s words describing how doing these kind of multi-route challenges is a look into a our rich climbing history and the huge contribution that some individuals made. Climbing all of the Brown and Whillans routes on the East and Western edges reminded me constantly of the huge diversity of their additions. They were incredibly privileged to have made those routes their own as well.

I’ll leave you with one funny moment that I’ve not actually told Pete about yet….

One of our tactics on some routes was for the seconder to be immediately lowered back to the ground to start soloing up the next route before the other person could get down to the base and follow. Well on one long route, I was being lowered down, but swung out too far and was about to hit a tree so I grabbed a hold on the face and shouted at Pete to hold me one second to redirection myself. What did he do? He thought I’d said “off belay”, so untied, chucked the rope off the top and left me abandoned on this hold! It all worked out with a little down soloing though…

 

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