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!

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.”

Image

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…. 🙂

Image

Entering the crux on Gondo Crack (c) Paolo Sartori

 

 

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.

You Can’t Win Them All

One of the big aims for 2013 was to improve my finger crack abilities – the usual methods of systematic analysis of what was needed were applied. I needed better Front-2 strength, more strength in my pinkie in the “drag position” and really good shoulder power endurance amongst other things. Once I (and Pete) had this worked out, we set about training really hard. That’s the easy bit, right?!

You can train undercut monos, right?

Who said monos aren’t fun?

What we realised was that it’s all very well to do the training to increase performance, but how do you know you’re actually improving? Does a Front-2 deadhang set on an 18mm edge lay down on rock? Would a pinkie mono on a beastmaker really make every crack move a rest?

Question 1: Yes!

Question 2: Not really and ended up injuring me.

So what I did, was make a list of finger crack routes in Europe that I wanted to do during 2013 as a way of measuring my gains. I could try a number of real routes on real rock to see how it was going. I booked some trips to Italy and I reminded myself of some UK crack projects. Whilst the Italian cracks went well (8a-8b felt ok), it was the UK lines that were probably the hardest, move for move. It’s all very well pulling off 8a+’s on cracks, but it’s not exactly pushing the envelop is it?

Entering the low crux on Dinas Project (c) Simon Rawlinson

Entering the low crux on Dinas Project (c) Simon Rawlinson

There’s two obvious finger crack projects that I know of in the UK. One is at Dinas Rock in Wales and the other is the infamous finger crack right of Ramshaw Crack. With a couple of sessions over the years on the latter, I have always found the moves totally out of my league. It’s not really route climbing. It’s crack campussing! Three simple, very hard, very painful moves. I guess it’s the epitome of crack power. Climb that and you’ve got the power reserves to climb 9a on crack.

Anyway, back to the other project. Dinas Rock. It’s been a line that I’ve actually dabbled on for over 2 years now (or is it 3?!) and it’s somewhere in the same league and style as Anna Kournikova. Short, very steep, in your face all the way, and even less rests than its Italian sister. It climbs a 3 bolt old sport route to some chains and then continues through an 80 degree finger roof crack on small nuts. The sequence of climbing is absolutely awesome and I was so psyched when I worked out how to put everything together. Every move seems to “wrong hand” you, so half of the difficulty is puzzling out the way to move upwards.

Feet first rules at the lip (c) Simon Rawlinson

Feet first rules at the lip (c) Simon Rawlinson

This year I put some serious effort in trying to climb this line. I was sure that it would be great preparation for Cobra Crack and would also allow me to measure if my strength and power was increasing. Over 4 weekends this summer I relearnt the sequence and started to have redpoints. Each time though, I got shut down on one move. I could do it in isolation, but it was just too close to my strength limit to do when I’d got very slightly pumped. I resigned myself to only trying the route when the conditions were perfect (condensation can be terrible at Dinas) and started making isolated trips to Dinas, trying not to think about the 4hr drive each way. As I got closer to the route, I got more and more motivated and sleeping in the carpark after arriving at 1am the previous night seemed worth the chance of climbing route. In one desperate moment, I even went to try the route on the way to the airport to go to Canada! All was to no avail though, and I ended up going to try Cobra without having completed my “training goal”

Hard floor, happy times

Hard floor, happy times sleeping under the route

Returning from Canada having done Cobra, I knew I was on seriously limited time. I guessed at around 4 weeks of possibly friendly conditions before the rain arrived. I found a couple of days free after returning from the E.O.F.T in Germany and went back for what I thought would be the formality of finishing off the route (I mean, it can’t be harder than Cobra can it?!). On day two I climbed through the crux and found myself at the last hard move. It was so strange… I’d not really worked out how it would feel to get there. How hard would I have to try? Did I need to go static when pumped? Did I really have to shake my foot out, or could I ignore the numbness?

FUUUUUUUUCK…… I fumbled the hold. I was off.

Strangely back at the ground I felt an unexpected feeling. I was psyched out of my mind. Despite the fact that ultimately I’d failed, I found the enjoyment of the climbing so satisfying. I chuckled to myself that I could find such a great piece of climbing on a small limestone roof hidden away in the Welsh valleys. For once, I wasn’t disappointed with a lack of result. I was inspired by the process.

As I sit here writing this, I know that realistically the season is over. Dinas Crack won’t be mine this season, but I gave it everything I could. I slept at the base, I spent nights in the car park in my cold van and I gave up days at work just for the slim chance the conditions might be good. This whole process has reminded me how much I love climbing and why I’m prepared to sacrafice so much for it.

 

Anna Kournikova – Orco Valley Crack Mission

It’s funny when you sometimes reflect on where you were years ago. In the late 2000s, whilst developing new routes in Orco Valley with Pete Whittaker, I came across this mega steep roof next to a waterfall in a small side valley called Val Piantonetto. From the road I could see there was a crack in it, but until I walked up to the base I couldn’t see the size of the amazing splitter right through the centre. Oh my God, it was like my own European “Cobra Crack.” A route that I maybe, just maybe wanted to do one day had it’s own little sister in Orco Valley. What it lacked in length, it seemed to make up for in steepness. What a find!

Since that year, I have on and off tried this route with Pete on various trips. Even during the year that we’d both successfully redpointed Greenspit we couldn’t do the crux moves and I think both of us wrote it off in our minds as just two powerful for the weak trad climber punters that we were. As a consolation prize Pete did a brilliant line that came in from the right to join the final roof of the project called “Fat Tony” which was pumpy, steep and well protected 7b+/7c climbing with an offwidth-box finish. Proper good fun!

Image

Pete on the “Fat Tony” finish. Hanging out in the box.

After getting really psyched for finger cracks this year, myself and Pete have devised a new training programme of the usual ridiculous methods. As we emerged from the cellar and into the Spring it was time to see if the “pinkies” and “index monos” were on target and we booked some trips. Pete went to Sweden and crushed. I went to Italy and it mostly rained. I mustn’t complain too much, as I did get some stuff done, but ultimately I was really disappointed to not do the project that we’d found all those years before.

This last week, after a trip to Poland and Czech Republic to get scared on the sandstone towers, I headed out to Orco Valley for one last push on the project. My diary had practically no time left in it, and squeezing in 5 days of redpointing seemed a little optimistic, but when there’s no other choice…. what do you do? I partnered up with an Argentinian (but Italy-based) crack climber called Lucas Iribarren who I’d met on a previous trip. If you think you’ve met the most psyched climber ever, well this guy is more psyched! An exceptionally kind, motivated and driven partner is always brilliant and I got bags of it from him in those five days.

We split our time evenly between the FA finger crack and the “Pura Pura” project I’ve also been trying. Good progress was made on the first couple of days and both of us were making good links and Lucas was using his Thai Boxing skills (that boy can fight!) to totally school me in fist-jamming. By day three though, I was red-lining and I could barely face another jam. A rest day was in order.

Day four, I felt a lot fresher and decided to start having redpoint goes on the finger crack.

GO 1: Waaaaaaay too shaky. Nervous as hell and pumped.

GO 2: Much better, but made a silly mistake and slipped mid crux.

I now had to make a decision. I had just one day left (the next day), but only 4 hours of climbing as I had to leave the crag at 2pm to catch a plane. Despite my inner rage at having fluffed the sequence on my previous go, I held back and decided to go all out on the final day. Just two redpoints, all eggs in the basket. Go big, AND go home.

The next morning, I ate just a small breakfast hoping to keep light and went for a run to warm up my body and mind. Walking up to the crag, I felt the usual nerves that you face when picking up exam results. I played through every scenario in my head. The potential success (and various permutations) and also the feeling of disappointment if it all went wrong. Whatever happened though, I knew I’d give absolutely everything. To give myself even more advantage I decide to climb on just one side of a Sterling 8mm half rope and cut the gear down on the crux to a single small nut protecting the deck. Why not, I thought. I’ve got my BMC insurance booked, right?

Mid crux. Two horrible finger locks and a big throw to follow.

GO 1: Good start and feel fresh after the first third. I enter the crux, slight twist of the hips on the hardest move, then I’m at the last move. Shit, the last hard move! Throw long…. throw long….. aahhh! NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Fingers slap the break but I’ve not given it enough.

Anna Kournikova, short & sweet.

FINAL GO: Ok, I’ve got just two hours before leaving to the airport and we still need to get “set-up” shots with film maker Adrian Samarra. As I pull off the ground I tell myself that this is it. No more messing. As I approach the hard move to gain the rest at one third I look down. Bollocks, I’ve forgotten the Friend 4. It’s on the ground. Bollocks, bollocks. I run it out, praying that I don’t fall on this section. Entering the crux, I snatch my way through the moves to arrive at the final throw from a terrible 2-finger lock. YESSSSSSSSS……! I latch the hold in the break. Oh God……………… for some reason I can’t contract my forearm muscles and I can’t hold the break. What? WHAT?! Screaming out in anger I swear at every person and think I can think of and realise that I’ve blown it. No redpoint, no glory, and at least a month of despair until I can return.

Back on the ground, both Lucas and Adrian are mega supportive. I can see they’re gutted for me and look as disappointed as I feel. Looking at my phone, I see the time and know that we have to leave in just over an hour. As I look at the clock on my mobile, cogs start to whir in my brain and I begin to rationalise that somehow I can fit in one last go. One final, final desperate fling. I know I’ve not got time to rest properly and I know I’ll be making Adrian sacrifice on his set-up shots, but I can’t bare to accept the failure.

Working out a minute-by-minute timetable, I tie in for the very last time with Adrian already preparing the fixed ropes and cameras for when I fail. I know all hope has gone, but at least now I’m free of the pressure and I can try without the realistic expectation of succeeding.

FINAL FINAL GO: First section goes badly, but importantly, I do remember the Friend. I feel weak on a hard fist jamming move, but my mind feels free as I know I’m climbing crap and I’m tired. At the recovery point though, I feel light and the temperature of the rock is perfect. I pull through the next sequence of hard finger jams with conviction and despite the lactic acid in my arms, I reach the final throw again. This time, there is no doubt though. I hit the hold perfectly and although I still struggle to hold it, I grimace a little harder and success is in my grasp. After a shake out, I fumble my way through the upper E5/7a-ish offwidth section (I’d not climbed it for 3 years so no idea what I was doing!) and top out with a huge smile across my face. What an end to the trip. With so little time left! With no time to bask in the glory, I immediately start rigging ropes and gear ready for Adrian to film further sequences. Just 30 minutes later we are down at the car, playing AC/DC at full volume and laughing our way to Turin Airport. What an end to a trip!

Yes…. I can go home and Lucas can get rid of me!

So the essential details of the routes? I’ve named it “Anna Kournikova” after the lovely tennis player that graced our screens for a few years. I’m going to go with the grade of 8b+ as it’s certainly the hardest bit of crack climbing I’ve done away from Century Crack. Relative to the other two hardest cracks in Italy (Greenspit 8b & A Denti Stretti 8b/+) I thought it was a significant level above as it took me quite a bit of time and never felt easy even when I did it. Compared also to other things like Profundo Rosso 8a+ and The Doors 8a+, it’s in a totally different league. Although it’s quite a short route, it really packs a punch and I always felt like there was an easier way to do the crux, but none of them worked once you actually climbed into the sequence! All in all, it’s a bit like Mecca at Raven Tor, but in a finger crack. Lovely huh?!

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image
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)

Wideboyz Film Available For Download

I’ve decided to progress my somewhat basic web skills into offering the Wideboyz Film that Hotaches produced last year through my website. I never thought I’d see the day where someone would actually want to film me doing something, let alone me being competent enough to sell it! Well, here goes……….

As it turns out, it’s pretty simple really. You just have to click here to buy the film and not long after it’ll be slowly using up all the hard space on your computer! I’ll be donating £1 of every copy of the download sold to Climber’s Against Cancer, which is a charity run by a friend of mine.

You can read about him on my blog or an excellent article here.

https://i1.wp.com/alexekins.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Wide-Boyz-POSTER-small1.jpg

Buy the download here:

http://www.digitalgoodsstore.com/c/udeRKd/7ZeILf