The Soft Parade

Although a lot of people don’t know it, my main passion in climbing is “new routing.” Everyone assumes that it’s crack climbing, but in fact, the joy that I get from climbing a new route (no matter how bad they are are sometimes!) far outweighs most other climbing experiences. I’m especially lucky to have a climbing partner in Pete who also seems to hold these values highly. I remember when he was still at school, I’d pick him up every Wednesday afternoon and we’d try and get a new route in each week without fail. Some of the quality that emerged from those trips, was utterly horrendous! I think even Grimer was disappointed in Pete’s standards…

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Pete and I after another day of new routing. Whacked!

There is one combination of climbing experience that trumps everything; a new route that’s also a crack. The backs of my hands tingle even thinking about it. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to find routes of this type in the UK as they form many of the most obvious lines and hence were climbed years ago.

Last week however, I struck gold and found a lovely unclimbed ultra-thin crack at Hallmoor Quarry, where I’d previously done Speak The Truth. After a session of cleaning and working out where to place the multiple RPs I gave Pete a call to tell him about the line. Once I’d explained that the crux involved a move just like the one on the mono undercut on Cobra Crack in Squamish, he was sold!!

Didier showing the way on the mono-undercut. Inspiring…

Returning a few days later we found that the route was a little wet, but I knew Pete wouldn’t even entertain the thought of doing something else, so we started off on the route as a warm up. My God………. I was so pumped! Everything had seemed pretty straight forward trying the moves on abseil, but now linking everything together in the damp seemed a different kettle of fish. Topping out with arms like lead balloons, I somewhat dreaded watching Pete make it look easy. Fortunately he saved my shame and did me the gracious favour of pulling out a “Full Gurn” and I silently chuckled away on belay below.

FA of Soft Parade, E6 6b. (Photo, Mike Hutton)

The next week I then came across the polar opposite to a new crack route – a prow! I’d been hunting around Gardoms Edge for a few hours and came across a fairly obscure prow tucked away in the trees that starts from half way up the crag. I’m certain it would be an easy highball if it were at ground level, but as it is, if you fluff the final tricky move you’re going a loooooong way. It was great to have a local lad Kyle Rance along to make the second ascent  – big grin on his face after sketching that final move… I decided to let my 20 month old daughter name the route, so “Porride Egg” E6 6a, it is!

I gave both routes E6, but as I’ve been reminded by my own rantings about grades last week; grades can be so far out on each end of the spectrum. Soft Parade you’re not going to get up unless you’re sport climbing at least 7b+ and good on RPs, and Porride Egg you could climb as a V3 boulderer with balls. What a nightmare. I think I’ve become lost in my own mind.

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The Grit List Shakedown

Ok, here goes then. I’m going to break my own rules, and pass judgement on a load of route grades. Having mentioned that I’d do this a week or so ago, I was fairly surprised by the number of opinions expressed on whether I should do this or not! It’s really not the end of the world if an opinion is expressed and likewise it’s not the best thing since sliced bread. I do think it should be done now and again though – and the more people that did this in an open way (rather than anonymous forum posting/voting) the better. Please feel free to comment at the end of this blog on any others you’d like adding to the list.

I dare not comment on the grade on this one...

I dare not comment on the grade on this one…

I’ll apologise in advance to all my friends who read this and see that I’ve moved anything downward in grade – it’s not personal…. honest! And besides, it’s only my opinion. Also as wise man Sam Hamer pointed out to me, it’s only the lines that truly matter, not the grade.

It was a total geek posting, with a ridiculously long list of those that I’d suggest move up and those that move down. However, after a few days thought, I’ve decided to keep it to those I feel most strongly about, rather than the shady areas of “soft” or “sandbag.” I’ve formatted it so that each route is in what I think is the correct grade boundary and will have brackets afterwards to show its previous grade. I’ve only moved a grade if I think it’s a total joke at the grade – I’m quite happy with some routes out there being tough or soft.

All of these routes I have lead (bar Captain Invincible which I’ve top roped a fair bit) so I hope my opinion is as measured as possible. I’ve also kept it mostly Eastern Grit based as it’s Andi T’s duty to expose those from the dark west….

Upgrades

E9: Captain Invincible, Burbage South (E8 – makes most E8s feel like E6)

E6: Shape Shifter, Millstone (E5 – sorry, bad grading. My fault)

E5: Profit of Doom (E4, Too many wads flail on this)

E5: Hurricane, Curbar (E4: proper Gogarth E5)

E5: Nectar groove & roof (E4. P Widdy even flailed on it)

The downgrades

E8: The Zone (E9 – the climbing is too easy)

E7: Power of the Dark Side (E8 – who made a bloody massive patio??!)

E6: One Chromosone’s Missing, Harstons (E7 – gear is too good)

E6: Masters of the Universe (E7 – everyone knows this one)

E6: Speak The Truth (E7 – dangerous, but the climbing is too easy)

E5: Committed (E6 – no one ever does this without pads. Ulysses or Bust is harder)

E5: Nosferatu (E6 – sorry, it just is)

E5: Peas of Mind, Curbar (E6 – crap route, too easy to step off line)

E5: Winters Grip, Millstone (E6 – hard move much too low for E6)

E4: London Pride, Millstone (E5 – no hard moves)

Speak The Truth

Every winter in the UK you inevitably spend a lot of time training indoors avoiding the typically unreliable weather. It’s probably one of the main ways that we as Brits, can stay motivated. We’re slowly getting stronger and fitter during the dark months and all the while you can tell your mates about what routes you’re going to do when it stops raining (yeah, right) and of course browse the guidebooks.

As a trad climber, guidebooks are one of my main sources of inspiration. I absolutely love them. I suspect most people have a nice Tom Clancy novel next to their bed – I have most of the BMC guides with little bits of paper stuck in them! These bits of paper refer to constantly evolving ticklists and ones that contain some totally unrealistic goals and others not so…

Having been able to get out a bit more recently, I’ve found myself trawling through the guidebooks looking up things that I tend to shy away from when I’m a bit rusty. Bold routes, any aretes and anything that’s at Curbar. One route that ticks two of the boxes is Speak The Truth, an E7 6b at Hallmoor Quarry. I remember seeing a video of someone climbing this years ago and thinking I’d never do that (i.e. the bold soloing) but recently 2 things changed my opinion. One, was that Pete Whittaker had been out and flashed the route and secondly that Ethan Walker and Sam Hamer had headpointed it in the last few days, so most likely there would be plenty of chalk on the route. To further bolster my confidence, they’d posted a video up on youtube with a (hopefully?!) perfect sequence repeated twice before the camera.

With this in mind, I convinced my wife that post-night shifts she’d like to come out and spot me doing “a nice easy climb that Pete said was ace.” Poor her. There she was lugging a bouldering mat through thigh-deep brambles on a weekday morning – Thanks Kim! As I sat at the base of the route, I wondered about two things;

1.  Was Pete’s flash and casual remarks about ease of climbing to be relied on? Shame I couldn’t get him to demo to me one-handed in a pair of Five Ten trainers to show me how it really was a piece of piss. Ok, just trust Pete. He knows how crap at aretes I am. He’d not have recommended it otherwise.

2. Was Ethan and Sam’s sequence any good? Both those boys climb some big numbers and my long term sieges on V8’s isn’t exactly up with their quick V11 ticking. Hmmmmm…. but they both did it quickly. Maybe they’re Arete Jedi Monkeys? Hmmmmmm…. doubts were creeping in.

Ah sod it. Can’t be doubting myself now.

I put my boots on, quickly chalked up and thought I’d just do the first sequence of moves to take my mind off it. Ok yup, feet up and smear high. Not quite as easy as I was hoping. I’m stood up now, high enough that I’m a little scared. I look down. No…. don’t do that. Eyes up. Good hold on the arete. Yes. Good holds. Right, take them hard, and run feet up. I can see better holds higher. Surely this is the “little boulder problem” that Pete talked of. Feet so high it’s getting scary. Move my hands quickly up the arete to counterbalance. Shit. That’s not great. Just two foot moves until a good hold. They’re sandy. Ugh. Don’t cock this up. I’m totally crapping my pants. Holds reached, but I’m so gripped I’ve started cramping in my foot and I’m overgripping on everything. Relax. RELAX. Pretty much all out blind panic. I can’t really think any more and I go autopilot just to top out.

Point of no return

Point of no return

Thank God for that. It’s over.

Sitting back down at the base I mull over the route in my mind. I was so gripped and the route is so much my anti-style (insecure, balancy and not a crack in sight) that I realise that probably this route is really rather easy. I’d been right about my earlier assumptions – I’d simply not realised how much I has batting off the wrong foot.

Back in autopilot.

Back in autopilot.

The more I thought about this route and some others that I’ve done recently, I came to the conclusion that it’s about time that someone spoke out about how ridiculous some of the grades on grit are. Over on 8a.nu they’re always banging on about the “personal grade” thingy and how it will lead to a better consensus. Why don’t we really do it on trad? Sure, the ego can get in the way and you’d love to take the Man Points, but surely the buck has to stop somewhere? Someone has to take the hit, downgrade all their best stuff and be honest. Well, that’s going to be me. I’m going to sacrafice my ticklist so we’ll no longer think that Nosferatu is really E6 and Profit of Doom is E4.

Proper grit E6?? Hard, sandy and runout.

Time to load up the excel spreadsheet….

Back on The Crack Horse

It often seems to be the way with me, that just as I feel like I’ve had a little bit of a break-through, I get injured. It’s happened time and time again over the years. This time, just one day after doing My Kai and Master’s Edge I injured myself fingerboarding.

I was training down in my cellar doing some assisted one-arm hangs in safe grip positions. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Then, I had this sudden urge to see what my max full-crimp hang score was….Why?? I really don’t know. Thirty seconds later I had a sharp pain down my forearm and I knew it was game over for a while.

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Bad chin day.

Over the years I’ve been injured far more times that I’d like to admit to myself. It’s been absolutely soul crushing sometimes, but over time I’ve learnt a really useful skill: sideways motivation deflection. Every bit of psyche that I’ve got I’ll plough with total energy into what I can do without affecting my particular injury. The list of “sideways deflection” results during the last 5 years probably now reads as the few things that I’m actually quite good at; offwidthing, hand jamming, pinky hangs, core conditioning, and index monos.

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Back when the cool kids did core conditioning, not deadhanging.

The ferocity at which I end up training and obsessing about these things have only been equal to the frustration that I’ve had in not being able to do “normal climbing.” So where did this leave me after the latest blow up?

After 2 weeks of total rest, I spent some time testing what I was able to do on rock. I could do some pretty intense climbing on very steep rock (big holds on >45 degrees) and any amount of finger crack climbing. With hindsight, I can look at this injury as being a good thing as it reminded me of two goals this year. My Blackers Hole Projects and an Italian Trad climbing trip to Cadarese and Orco in April. With those in mind, I was back focused and happy!

Firstly, I booked off a little time to spend down at Blackers Hole reaquainting myself with how pumped you can get on big holds. It’s totally mind boggling really as there’s hardly a crimp down there, but within 60ft your arms are exploding. It was brilliant fun though, finding that I could climb with no pain on such big holds, yet still explore a couple of new routes in the E9-10 range. Very, very psyched for this.

Heading up on Infinite Gravity. The new route breaks out from this into beefy and bold territory. (Photo: Oli Grounsell)

The second half of my motivation has been directed towards making new steps forward in my crack climbing again. Pete Whittaker and I have come up with some devious ideas and some devious training methods! I love making these sorts of plans with Pete as he’s partly mad and fuels the fire for some insanely tough and unique training sessions. I’ve built around 40ft of new finger crack that’s got some amazing link ups and problems up to….. er….. well, quite a horrible grade.

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Flappers don’t come in the usual places now.

So for over a month, I’ve been slogging it down to Blackers Hole and sweating away down in my cellar, with just a small dinosaur shaped paddling pool (and occasionally Pete) to keep me company. Last 10 days though, I finally felt like my injury was starting to not hurt on problems less than V6ish, so I headed out for a few days with the very talented Oli Grounsell and did The Bad and The Beautiful E7 6b, Fat Slapper E7 6c, Peas of Mind E6 6a and a rather nice 7c+/8a finger crack in Cheddar Gorge called Bursting the Wave.

Photo: How to get good on grit? Go out in all weather.-0.5 degrees in the car park at Curbar at 9am...doesn't stop the mighty Tom Randall..!

Flashing Peas of Mind at Curbar. Can’t be more than E5 6a though. (Photo: Wild Country)