From “Wideboyz” to “Slender Gentlemen”

A few people that are unlucky enough to have to see myself and Pete regularly will know that we’ve spent the past winter improving on our crack climbing skills and taking things down a size or two. In fact it’s gone right down in size. We’ve by-passed hand jams and fists (aren’t they just belays anyway?) and decided to spend some time crushing our nerves in cracks of less than 1 inch.

There is method in this madness, but for the meantime bare with us! The whole experience of the “wide world” has taught us a few handy tricks and at the moment, we need to broaden the skills (and strengths) a little to take on the next little (big?!) challenge.

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Front 2 locks – avoid the screws though!

After this winter’s training I traveled to Italy where I got rained on for 2 weeks but I did a couple of 8a+/5.13+ finger cracks in amongst working on wet projects – a bit of a mixed trip of frustration about the weather but satisfaction in seeing improvements. Pete is currently in Sweden showing them his smorgasbord of tricks and no doubt mashing his fingers in gnarly finger cracks as well. Once we’re both back in the UK though, it’s time to really knuckle down and start working for later in the year: the difficulties have got to go up towards 8c really, or we’re not pulling our weight.

As a result of the above, we are going to revive our Wideboyz blog. Yes I know, it’s an abomination to enjoyment in climbing…. but what can you do?! As a little taster for this stuff to come this year (we’re making some more films with the Hotaches guys) I’ve filmed some training footage from my cellar.

For anyone who’s interested in the whole training link details (just the individual sections shown in this clip) it’s a 100ft offwidth (8a+ ish) to V8 finger crack crux into an 80ft 8a+ roof hand crack. Guaranteed to get a sweaty brow! 

 

And if you haven’t seen the award winning Wideboyz Film yet…. why the hell not?! Download it here and make me happy 🙂

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The Wimberry Big One: Part 2

This is part 2 of a blog post that I started last night – if you haven’t got a clue what’s going on, then click on this link!

Continued from yesterday…………

I think it was Seb Grieve that immortalised the gritstoner’s mantra, “It’s all in the mind” when he climbed the E9 6c Meshuga at Black Rocks. The self professed weakling of The Foundry had surely captured something important here – even Pete when I met him, had the words inscribed on a rucksack he used to bring to the crag. As I’ve climbed more and more over the years and more with climbers like Pete, I’ve come to realise how true that is. We’re not talking big french numbers on these routes, but we are talking big Blockbuster bills when it comes to smashing yourself up and lying around the house for a month.

Nathan Lee soloing the third ascent of Order of the Phoenix. No mistakes. (P Whittaker)

So what does a middle-aged (yup I think I’m going to call myself that now) man do when he wakes up in the night thinking about dying? I play a game. A game of the mind. I need to trick myself into not going into autopilot on the route, because at the moment my mind wants to think about the ominous nature of this route and what would happen if I fell off. My rational head is completely happy with the situation, but this is often the part that we switch off when we go for big leads. So how am I going to trick myself? I hatch a plan to stay focused on the surroundings all the way up the route, to allow myself to be disturbed, to notice the sounds around me, to see holds that I won’t use and to think about each sequence as it happens. No auto-pilot this time.

Some thoughts from Sam Whittaker on his methods of mind control when making the first ascent of Appointment with Death. Interesting stuff. (Footage and interview care of Katherine Schirrmacher)

Tying on for the lead at the base of the crag, I stay completely relaxed and jokey, almost as if I’m not going to make an effort. I climb the first section of the route in my trainers to the ledge and place a couple of cams. I also place a bouldering mat on the ledge as I seemed to have fallen off the first move so many times on top rope that I kind of suspect it will happen again. As I lace my climbing shoes I chat to a photographer and sing a bit of the new Pink song.

“We’re not broken, just bent. We can learn to love again…”

Man, that’s such a good song. I have to keep my voice down though or my mates will think I’m soft. Humming away to myself, feeling the breeze I pull onto the start of the route. First move passes very quickly and I’m onto the rockover that I always fall off. Hmmmm… it’s gone in a second. This is going too well. Shit, I’m doing what I normally do. I’m letting autopilot take over. Ok, what’s happening? Ah yes, someone’s talking to me. I’ll answer them. For a moment, I pull out of the dark cloud of subconscious action to remind myself of my strategy. As I pull into the next sequence though, I drift back again. Mono on pebble, move foot, adjust to two fingers, roll over to sloper. That’s not right. No, that’s definitely not right. What the fuck is going on, why does that hold feel so bad? I can feel my anxiety rising as my doubts about falling off race towards a reality. Ok, just flick the hand a little, that always works. Alan Cassidy does it all the time and he climbs 8c. Nope, that hold still feels pants. Look down to find footholds to reverse. Ah, crap. Those aren’t that close. At this point I roll out of autopilot again and glance up to the top of the crag to see someone looking over the edge looking concerned.

I’ve only cocked up on headpoint routes a couple of times over the years and it’s a strange feeling when it all starts to spin out of control. You almost feel indignant that the route has turned round to bite you. On top rope you were such good friends, hanging out, thinking about various sequences and how many options you have when you feel soooo relaxed. The sharp end is different though – it’s that quiet black dog that always sits in the corner of the pub looking unloved. It’ll put a hole in your hand if you misread its silence for docility. In that last second before parting company with the pebbles I finally force myself to look downwards to view my outcome. Dear God, yes. It doesn’t look too far. I jump.

Back on the ledge, feeling pissed off and relieved at the same time, I review my climbing. I’d over-estimated my ability to control my mind and vowed that my next effort would be more a mixture between conscious and subconscious action. I take just a few moments of time, before setting off for a second attempt. This time, I feel the balance. I can rationalise when I want to and likewise switch off when necessary. Even at the crux, I’m all four points of contact on pebbles – what a ridiculous proposition – but I’m happy with it. The route flows reasonably and I top out taking a certain joy in shouting,

“I’m alive, I’m alive!”

As I said in my previous post, I don’t want to step on Nathan and Pete’s toes when it comes to their ascents, but I would like to say a couple of things;

Nathan: I’ve watch a lot of headpoint ascents over the years by various climbers, but his performance on Order of the Phoenix was quite something. Totally business-like. I couldn’t believe that someone could dish out E8 climbing in just a couple of minutes, with no fuss, no mistakes and no ego. Brilliant. I can’t wait to see what he gets up to this coming year.

Here’s a video of him repeating my route Nah’han at the Gardoms.

Pete: The prow project (direct on Appointment with Fear) that he’s just succeeded on climbing has got to be one of the all time greatest gritstone leads. The line is totally outrageous, the climbing is high in the 8’s and there are no rests. You’ve gotta be a beast for this one. I was massively inspired watching his performance. Thanks Pete!

Everything from the day was captured by the Hotaches film crew and Mike Hutton on the stills. I’m sure if you keep up to date with what they do, you’ll see some nice pics and video footage shortly!

The Wimberry Big One; The Prow, Death and Harry Potter

The Saturday that’s just passed has got to be one of my all time best days out on grit. Ever since the day when me, Pete Whittaker and Nige Kershaw went to Millstone and did something like 10 E6-E8s between us (mostly flashed or onsighted), I’ve been wondering when it would be surpassed. I think yesterday finally did that.

The harsh skyline of Wimberry (Rockfax.com)

Often when you go out with friends at the crag, one or maybe two of you come away something really ballsy in the bag. It’s just the way it works out. One of you mops up the collective pysche and cashes in, whilst the others are often happy to support and wait their turn some other day. When myself, Pete and Nathan Lee headed up to Wimberry we all had projects that we vaguely hoped we might climb that day, but it all depended on time, temperatures, sequences and luck. By the end of the day though, the planets had aligned and somehow all three of us had succeeded. It’s strange looking back on the day now and it seems with retrospect that as each person succeeded, that made the next person even more motivated and committed. It was like a tsunami of positive gritstone force was rushing up the Wimberry slopes to push gravity the other way.

Walking back down to the car park in the evening, the collective haul was the 3rd ascent (solo) of Order of the Phoenix by Nathan, the 2nd ascent of Appointment with Death by me and the 1st ascent of the Wimberry Prow project by Pete. Bloody hell, that boy can climb! I don’t really want to steal their own respective stories which I’m sure they’re keen to share, so I’ll recall a few thoughts of my own from repeating Appointment with Death.

Sam Whittaker making the first ascent of Appointment with Death, E9 6c, Wimberry

Sam on the first ascent of his Wimberry E9 (Photo: Adam Long)

I was first introduced to Sam Whittaker’s route (AwD) on the HXS film that someone bought me for Christmas one year. I think I was climbing about E1 at the time and was utterly horrified as I watched this nutter claw his way up Wimberry using tiny gritstone pebbles for his hands and feet. It seemed inconceivable that someone could do that in a position of such danger. I could barely hold onto big crimps on a gently leaning wall, so that piece of footage lodged firmly in my mind.

Fast-forwarding 10 years I have just completed a winter of unusual training methods. Mono-boarding has become the replacement for evening TV sessions, hours of crack campussing have hardened my index fingers’ skin & I discovered some important mental tricks. Combined, those factors meant that pebbles were now my friends, my skin no longer hurt and I knew how to disassociate effectively. That said, I was still the relative weakling that all my friends know me as, but there were small forces on my side now!

After a couple of sessions on the route working the moves, I realised that the lead was inevitable, but success was not. Something really bothered me about the route and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The night before going up to Wimberry, I had the most terrible night’s sleep. I woke up twice drenched in sweat thinking about the route. I switched on my phone and googled some images of Sam Whittaker on the route. Typing the search terms into the entry box, I realised the problem. Sam had pulled a totally brilliant trick on the mind – the obsessive nature of a climber will always lead them to mull the route name over and over again in their head. In doing that the climber also unwittingly takes on the subtle reference to what might happen if it all goes wrong. It had slipped in there, so slyly I’d hardly noticed it. My problem was that for the first time in my life I was thinking about dying on a route!

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The Wimberry Voodoo doll lying at the bottom of the crag not really helping matters.

In the early hours of the morning I had to switch my brain back into the realms of reality. I wasn’t going to die on the route – not by a long way. Sure, if it went really badly wrong I might break a leg but that’d only be if I was unlucky. Objectively the route had to be no worse than many other gritstone frightners. It was tricks of the mind. Or was it weakness of the mind?

Part 2; continued to tomorrow. (Or this post will get very long!)