Baguettes, Crack and Faces

At the moment I’m splitting my climbing time 50:50 for two reasons. One is that I’ve injured myself so I can’t go outside climbing all the time and the other is because I’ve learnt that long term projecting makes you extremely unfit in your other areas of climbing. Some of the best things that I’ve ticked over the years have immediately followed with a realisation that my grade in another style away from the project has dropped 1,2,3 or more grades!

As I’m wanting to clear up a load of the projects in the UK that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a few years I’ve thought it would be more stimulating to travel around a bit and get quick 1-5 day ticks on things that are of varying styles and don’t hurt my finger (or at least I can drop the finger and go without). As I’ve committed in my mind to 20+ days on the Devon roof project, I need to keep the mileage a little higher that usual as basically each projecting session is a high intensity boulder/pad hitting session. I fall off a lot more than I hang on!

One big roof. One big project

One big roof. One big project

First up, I headed to the North York Moors to see if Franco Cooksoon is as mad as they say he is and whether he’s talking absolute nonsense about the UK’s best lines being up there. Well, I’m not sure about the superlative quality yet, but…… it is pretty flipping good! I spent a day exploring High Crag and came away with the first ascent of “The Art of Non-Conformity” E7 6c which had lured me in with the project title of “Australia Crack”. I can’t resist a crack! I soloed it without pads, but I suspect that if you had 4-6 pads and a tied down belayer you could make it a very reasonable highball.

The week after I got midged to hell and realised that limestone was my only option, which lead to a final lead of the Eye of the Tiger Direct project at Ilam Rock. I tried this ground up, placing all gear on lead quite a few times last year but kept on falling at the top. In the end, my greed got the better of me and abseil inspection reduced the line to a more reasonable feeling 7c+, although placing the gear still makes it feel like the most desperate 8a ever! Especially when I couldn’t find the crucial placements at the top. I did shout “Punter!” at the top of my voice at myself a few times. I’d imagine it’s one of the harder limestone trad routes around at the moment and “Thrill of the Fight” E7 6c will reward most people with a pretty enjoyable forearm pump.

Thrill of the Fight, E7 6c

Thrill of the Fight, E7 6c

Finally last week, I snuck off to France (whilst the weather wasn’t looking) to explore a tip off I’d had from a friend about some hardcore limestone cracks in Sisteron. To warm up I scraped an onsight of an amenable looking 7c finger crack. To say I was nearly falling off quite a few moves was an understatement. I realised we were not going to get rewarded with soft grades in this old-school venue. Damn it! I did get some self (crack) respect back when I found it’s often claimed at 8a and that Britain’s strongest one-arming lawyer Ru Davies even thought it tricky for the grade. All my other friends gave me none of that though and told me if I couldn’t climb Spanish 7c then clearly this was 7b. At max.

For the next few days I ploughed some effort in an 8b finger crack called “Presence” with my partner Lucas Iribarren. As usual, he was psyched out of his mind and provided constant amusement as we flailed around on the early sessions. On the first couple of days I was left with the impression that the route was very similar to the middle hard section of Cobra Crack but without the V9 crux undercut part. What it lacked in crux beef, it definitely made up for in sustained nature. It was hard from metre “one” to metre “twenty five” and only let up a tiny bit in the last eight metres.

Presence, Sisteron

What also added to the difficulty on this route was some very spicy bolting. Both of the 3rd and 4th clips would result in deck out from 30 and 50ft if you fell off level with the bolt. Fortunately the risk had to only be taken on the initial working day as we got some decent long rope draws to make it more 8b than E9. After a few days of working the moves I had just one day to make an optimistic redpoint and made sure I got up at dawn to get the temps lower. It wasn’t the greatest start in my history because I stayed up late drinking coffee and watching climbing films and then couldn’t get to sleep until 4am as I was absolutely psyched out of my mind. The new simple formula for lesser success is Caffeine + climbing vids + project next day = no sleep! Fortunately early bird strategy paid off this time and I chicken winged my way through the top crux much the crack’s surprise. As a crack, I think it’s absolutely superb and fits in nicely at the 8b/+ (or 5.13d/5.14a) mark on a global scale. My obsessive nature was of course mainly pleased that I’d managed to tick another one off the life time list.

Will it ever end??

Summer Project Time

The last few weeks have a been a bit crazy and all over the place – mainly due to the launch of Sublime Climbing via a Kickstarter project that I started up with a USA partner, Ransom Allison. We wanted to “re-think” the climbing brush and produce something that people thought was a significant step above what’s currently available. Whilst I can’t be sure that we’ve hit that exact target, I feel fairly confident now that the response from our fund raising has been so surprisingly strong that we must have got some parts right!

More than we could have possibly hoped for!

More than we could have possibly hoped for!

It felt pretty scary doing the big launch, but after 15 days of running the Kickstarter we had over 300% of the funding at $15,000. It might not sound like the kind of numbers the big guys play with, but it feels cool to have grown this from very small beginnings to something that has promise. So thanks very much to everyone for the support!!

The mastermind designer, Ransom!

The mastermind designer, Ransom!

On to more normal things…. CLIMBING PROJECTS!!!! Oh yes. I love all types of projects but nothing gets me more fired up than finding something in my home country that I want to plough time and diesel into.

The first couple to get done when I came back from Spain were a Franco Cookson tip off in the N York Moors and the direct finish to Eye of the Tiger at Ilam Rock. Whilst neither are up there in the realms of mind-blowing difficulty (E7 6c’s) they’ve both got me really reinvigorated for UK first ascents again.

Thrill of the Fight, E7 6c

Thrill of the Fight, E7 6c

Which brings me onto the most exciting one. I’ve been looking for something for quite some time that would take my crack climbing on a significant step in terms and strength and power. It’s not that hard to find routes around the world that feature pumpy V7-8-9 sections and are fairly long (and carry big numbers like 8c and 8c+), but identifying anything with sections over V11 kinda leaves you stumped.

I went to Switzerland last year to have a look at a V13 finger crack which was cool (but not that cool) but didn’t have me thinking “my life is on hold until this gets done” and so I ended up revisiting some of the projects I’ve dabbled on in the last 10 years but previously written off as being too hard. One of these lines was the roof crack project at Hartland Quay. I tried it with Pete Whittaker when we were still to do Greenspit and it was basically way too hard. Way, way too hard! Granted we could do some of the sections, but doing everything and linking was so far away from our ability.

The crack is where you want it... in the middle!

The crack is where you want it… in the middle!

So when I went back down this year to see if I’d improved during the course of training for Century, Cobra and El Cap, I was pleasantly surprised (that should read – psyched out of my mind!!) to find it was fully possible. The moves worked, I felt stronger and my mono ability from Cobra paid serious dividends.

To have found something that is way off the spectrum from what I’ve previously done or tried (and completely plays to my own personal strengths / style) is pretty motivating. It’s given me back that deep routed drive that when you wake up every morning you want to tear the walls of the house down in excitement for training and climbing. I’m back in the zone and I’m really enjoying it!

Recovery Drink – A Norwegian Drinking Experience

Last month, Pete and I were invited on a trip to Norway to lecture at the infamous Ballestein Festival. Literally translated this is the “Ballsack (bollocks) Festival” and even has a poster of a climber bouldering a giant pair of testicles. When you get an email in your inbox asking if you’re up for presenting at a festival with this kind of poster, you know you can’t turn it down!

Yup, that's a hairy pair of balls!

Yup, that’s a hairy pair of balls!

What was even more exciting than the promised crazy Norwegian climbing festival, was the assurance that we’d have time to make a visit to try Nico Favresse’s Recovery Drink on the Profile Wall in Jøssingfjord. As a route suggested to be perhaps the hardest crack on the planet, it’s received a relatively small amount of media coverage. I suppose this is testament to Nico’s quiet demeanour and conservatism. When I asked him some questions about it before going, I knew we’d be in for a good trip. He reckoned it was one of the best bits of climbing he’d done.

Nico on Recovery Drink

Nico on Recovery Drink

Heading out with Pete Whittaker on a trip always brings it’s risks. They’re mainly navigation ones as the combination of both of our levels of idiocy brings much confusion and missed road turnings. Fortunately this time, we were hosted by some competent Norwegians and an extremely nice Canadian. After 6+ hours of driving we arrived, tired from flights, at Jøssingfjord. We’d been landed the pleasure of a 4 man bunkhouse which neatly fitted 2 climbers, a filmmaker and Cannuk.

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The next day we headed up to the Profile Wall with a great deal of anticipation (and some fear when we saw how overhanging it was!) to try the route. As usual, we didn’t know how to get to the crux pitch, so made some assumptions about the first pitch and botched a rough bit of climbing together. Standing beneath the line of the route an hour later, I was blown away – oh my God – what a pitch!! Double tramline finger and thin hands crack, through bulges and all on impeccable Norwegian Gneiss.

Some Wideboyz getting very cold!

Some Wideboyz getting very cold!

STEEEEEEEEP!

STEEEEEEEEP!

Over the next few days we put some time in on the route and worked the sections and tried some of the easier links. At first glance, it all appeared to go well, with every move done on the pitch and some sequences fitted together… when we tried a “what does it feel like” link from the bottom though…. hmmmm…. quite tricky!! Needless to say, the most important thing for me and Pete was that this line stood up in terms of quality and intensity:

  1. Difficultly. It’s hard to say after trying it only 3 sessions in freezing cold and rain, but it’s similar to Cobra in terms of the hardest single moves but is way more continuous and has a longer crux. Cobra is a 5 move crux, but Recovery is maybe 10 moves or more and you’re already pretty pumped when you start! It also has a way harder finish than Cobra – of pumpy 7c+ (?) rather than vertical tech 6b+.
  2. Quality. Probably the best thing about this line is that it’s not unpleasant crack climbing. Not surprisingly, it’s quite hard to find things above 8b that aren’t utterly joint or finger destroying. It’s the long, continuous and sustained nature of the route that allows it to be just under that pain level yet still hit some big numbers. I have to say, Nico is a pretty lucky guy to have this first ascent under his belt. One of the best in the world!
Pulling through the final moves of a looooong pitch

Pulling through the final moves of a looooong pitch

After the climbing (and vowing a return-match for us both) we drove back towards Olso to attend the festival. I won’t write too much about the madness of the drinking, partying and nakedness as I’m sure Joe Kinder or Henning Wang have adequate evidence of what went on!

What I do want to say, is that I think this festival is such a great idea and the philosophy and people behind it are amazing. Firstly, the main man Lars Halvorsen runs this thing each year in a totally non-commercial style. There’s no admin team, corporate selling stands or ulterior motives. He wants to run a festival for climbers that’s about loads of people getting together to celebrate what they love and also to try and raise money for CAC.

And this was before people really got going!!

And this was before people really got going!!

Walking out of the party tent at 5.30am in the morning I could see Lars had achieved everything he’d set out to do. Well over £3000 raised for CAC, drunk and wasted climbers with no tops on lying in the grass & sweat-lined marquee and Pete Whittaker still standing tall, fuelled on pints of cider dancing his best moves to a Rocky tribute song.

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.

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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.