Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Training on the job

How on earth?
I did have a plan to do a few easy winter routes before trying a couple of harder new lines I have an eye on, but curiosity for the hard routes rapidly got the better of that. I just had three tries on a fantastic new line with a 6 metre horizontal roof. The first attempt was a bit of a poor show to be totally honest. Climbing with tools is definitely feeling a bit alien still, so I did a lot of craning my neck looking up at it and making various excuses.
There’s nothing wrong with doing a bit of training on the job though, so I went back up with Kev and fully attacked the roof. The rock is so smooth cut and featureless that it seems to be better to cut onto one tool on quite a few of the moves rather than even bother trying to get crampons to stick to overhead and distant smears. I pretty much gave up though as I just couldn’t find a way to do the move around the lip. The gap between the hooks seemed just massive and I couldn’t find anything to get my feet on at all. 
It’s hard to give up so easy though. That night I dreamed up a method involving throwing a foot overhead into a potential heel-toe and climbing feet first around the lip. When I went back up with Michael, it didn’t work. Not even close. Michael had a shot too and reckoned it’s harder climbing than the Birnam tooling routes - maybe M11+ climbing. Next time up I found a way to stein-pull my axe in a thin hook and do a massive and dynamic move to the first little nick around the lip. 
However, I didn’t have the strength to complete the route yesterday. I think a couple of weeks of circuits with tools while the mild weather is in could be just what the doctor ordered. Next time it will be really interesting to see if I can get past the lip and into the overhanging groove above. Hopefully I’ll have learnt a bit more about how to use my tools well again and be fully ready for an anaerobic battle!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

While the rain falls

My house was still standing after Hurricane Bawbag and all is well as we settle into a long awaited full week at home and not on the road. Despite a million flattened trees in the glen around our house, everything except our TV signal (dodgy aerial down at the loch shore) survived. Our internet connection survived and that has been keeping us busy with Christmas orders from the webshop (thanks for those!!). We are dispatching every day as always by first class post. 
While the gales and sleet rage outside, I have been getting seriously into training. My finger joints are complaining about this mildly, but good sleep and food are keeping them keen for leaping between crimps on the board. 
Tonight I even managed a tweaked version of my model of Seven of Nine, a good notch harder than the original, which I completed once shortly before I did the real thing back in April. From my bouldering apprenticeship in Dumbarton I’ve been left with reasonably good openhanded strength on small positive edges and I’m good at getting weight on my feet when the climbing surface is fairly undulating and angled. My ever growing weakness was flat panel 45 degree angles and big pinches.
I’ve kind of neglected the pinch strength aspect since few of my rock projects rely on this, something I’ve now come to regret. However, It’s never too late to get strong and I’m attacking it now with some fine pinch problems. I reckon I’m still at least 2 full grades weaker on pinches than edges as recent indoor sessions around Scotland have reminded me. Let’s see what we can do about that.
The training part is easy though - It’s like eating pudding, I could just keep going and going. The hard bit is maintaining the discipline to rest properly and do all the supportive stuff to keep the body going (rehab exercises, basic strength work, flexibility and eating well). With Freida crawling about the house now tracking down anything dangerous she can get her little teeth into, it gets too tempting sometimes to take the opportunity to do some work while she sleeps. Resist! Rest up and train another day.
Following my session tonight I’ve just spent a couple of hours immersing myself in some fine training inspiration such as this:

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Meeting the Queen

On Fat Boy Slim VI, 6, Ben Nevis the other day

How do I winter climb again?
After doing Anubis a couple of years ago I took a bit of a break from winter climbing. That route was a really nice piece of climbing and was very satisfying to climb. It was hard to find something good enough to follow it. I was also really missing bouldering and felt I hard to get some strength base together for climbing the Longhope. Last season I tried a couple of new routes that were maybe too hard, and then winter was over for me with imminent arrival of my daughter Freida. It’ll be interesting to see if I can find some good routes this season. I was worried that I would feel very out of touch with winter climbing. So I thought I better start with some basics at VI or VII. It certainly felt strange to be holding tools again and a circuit around my board tonight on them felt desperate. It’s always difficult finding the real stand out new routes in any discipline, but never more so than in winter climbing. I’m really into finding steeper lines but it’s a frustrating business when every climb on the mountain is in condition except yours sometimes. But I do know about two or three lines that might have the makings of great winter routes that I’d like to go at if they come into condition this year. I think a Birnam cave session or two could be in order first though!

Blink and you’ll miss it. MacLeod in a suit for the first time, for one night only.
It must have been some occasion, you must be thinking, to see me in a suit of an evening. Indeed! I was asked to go to London to meet the Queen, along with many other adventurers from up and down the land and beyond. We gathered at Buckingham Palace, for a glass of champagne and a royal hand shake to mark the centenary of the Scott expedition. I met many accomplished climbers I knew, some I didn’t know and spotted various royals and folks I’d seen a lot on the telly. Messner gave me some good beta about future projects too. It was a nice evening, and the trip was a nice way to spend a couple of rest days after a monster session at the TCA in Glasgow. 

Speaking of the TCA, it was my first visit and I was headless chickening as most folk apparently do on their first visit. It’s the best climbing wall I’ve ever been to, worldwide. I’m really chuffed to see climbing walls go to another level. I walked around all after noon repeating inwardly “I wish this was here when I started climbing”. I’m super looking forward to Christmas hols in Glasgow to get a proper feel for the place. It’s just too big to scratch the surface on your first visit. If you haven’t been yet, sort it out!

As I write I have the satisfied feeling of every upper body muscle aching from a good solid session on my board - hard problems, mileage, circuits and tooling circuits and then my rehabs. With work trips finally over for the year it’s so nice just to get down to the business of uninterrupted training.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Long Hope DVD is here!

We now have our stock of the Long Hope DVD and many of our pre-orders will have them by now. They are in the shop here and as usual we are dispatching every day in the run up to Christmas. I’ve just been signing a large pile of them for folk and if you’d like a copy signed, just ask on the checkout page. Signed copies are only available from my shop.
Thanks for all the messages from those of you who have seen it. It seems it’s become your favourite climbing film very quickly which is good to know that what was appealing to me as a climb and an adventure is also to lots of other folks.
Here’s the trailer for the DVD:

The need to pull hard

A week of coaching abroad last week marked the end of a crazy few months of various work projects. Last week was very strange, going climbing every day and having great days but only on easy routes. I was absolutely stir crazy on the way home to pull hard on some small holds again. The need to take things to extremes seems to be a deep set part of human nature, and not just ego driven need to stand out from a crowd. 
Climbing at a relaxed pace without battling my way up routes to the last just doesn’t work for me. Although I love all the other aspects of going climbing, they seem to work as part of a whole recipe - and climbing routes that are hard for me is a crucial ingredient. 
Our return to the UK was met by the inevitable rain and gales, so it was my board who took the brunt of my restlessness. I must have caught it off guard since I managed a personal best session on my hard problems and made some great progress on a couple of projects I couldn’t touch just a few weeks before. Endurance was sadly lacking however.
What to do tomorrow??? Freeze my fingers bouldering or freeze my fingers mixed climbing?

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Long Hope - Kendal people’s choice

Andy Turner, myself, Paul Diffley, Ed Drummond and Oilver Hill at the Long Hope premiere, KMF. Photo:

It was a nice atmosphere at the premiere of the film about the Longhope Route in Kendal on Friday night. Ed Drummond was on good form to say a few words after the film and it was cool to have 5 of the 6 people who have climbed that route in our various different styles in one place. Thanks to folks who voted for it and gave it the people’s choice award of the Kendal festival. DVD’s are still being made but will be with us soon. Thanks to everyone who has pre-ordered so far.
It’s a strange experience presenting a film of a climb like this. For the audience, it’s the first time they’ve been able to see the story really get a feel for this climb. For me, it’s really the end of the process. I was sitting watching it with everyone else, feeling happy with my memories of that cliff. But they are just that - memories. The only meaning it has for me is contained within the film; that watching it will motivate others to have good adventures of their own.
Since climbing the route in June, I’ve been doing some basic training, and doing a lot of work (as in bill paying work) to set myself up for next years adventures. I have the restlessness to find new things again! Some projects, like those around my home area of Glen Nevis will come down to training and dedication. There are also some fantastic onsight climbs I’d like to try this winter. After last winter’s time out with an impending new baby I’m looking forward to learning to use the ice axe again. I’ll need to start from a low base, which is always great fun to just enjoy repeating others routes for a little bit.
First though, I have one more week of work, coaching abroad, exploring some untouched limestone. I’ll post up some pictures...

Monday, 14 November 2011

BAFTA for The Great Climb

The Great Climb programme just won a Scottish BAFTA for live event coverage last night. I’m well chuffed that the effort that went into the programme from a lot of people was obviously appreciated and it’s nice to see it have recognition. It was a fine effort from Triple Echo Productions to attempt another live climbing broadcast, and pull it off after the frustrations of previous attempts.
Folk were asking on my lecture tour last week if there is still anywhere you can get hold of a copy of the programme. The DVD is right here.
I’ve also been asked loads if there are any more televised climbing programmes in the pipeline. I mentioned the other week about the Stac of Handa re-enactment that is showing on Nov 22nd (7pm BBC2 Scotland, iPlayer). There is a wee trailer up on the BBC site for this here.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Long Hope DVD available for pre-order

The Long Hope DVD is now up in the shop for pre-order. 

The master disc is off to the DVD manufacturers and DVD stock usually takes a couple of weeks or so to be manufactured. If you did manage to get tickets to the premiere in Kendal before it sold out, we are hoping to have a handful of advance copies there but if you don’t make it to that, pre-ordering it now will mean you’ll get it the fastest way possible. We’ll dispatch orders for it as soon as we get hold of the stock.
A lot of folk ask for their DVD signed, which is no problem of course! Just ask in the ‘special instructions’ field of the checkout form.
The running time of the film is 60 minutes and there are lots of extra films on the DVD: My ascent of Indian Face, Mucklehouse Wall on Hoy and naturally, The Old Man of Hoy.
It’s in the shop here.

Tip Juice in the shop

I’ve just added the new Tip Juice balm to the webshop. Most keen climbers these days doing a lot of sport climbing or bouldering are using a skin balm to help speed the recovery of fingertip skin for the next session. In the damp climate of western Scotland I don’t find I need to use it every session to keep my finger creases from cracking. But on a trip to somewhere with a dry climate such as sport climbing in Spain I’ll use it every day. It goes without saying that if you have a split tip or a cut from a sharp hold on your fingers you’ll need to use a balm like this daily to help it heal in the quickest possible time and prevent it going to a deep crack that will bother you for ages.
Tip Juice is a new balm developed by an Aberdeen team of boulderers. They took a long time to perfect it and I think they’ve done a nice job. You can find it in the shop here together with the ingredients list.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Longhope DVD is not far away

We’ve just finished arranging the DVD artwork for the Long Hope film which may be finished by the time you read this and off to the DVD manufacturers. Paul Diffley has been doing sterling work editing it and must have earned a beer or three at Kendal after the premiere. Speaking of the premiere at Kendal - it’s already sold out! So if you want to be there, your only chance now is to enter the Mountain Equipment competition to win tickets for it. All you have to do is leave a comment here.

For those of you who don’t get tickets, the DVD will be out when it comes back from the manufacturers and we’ll put it up for pre-order in the shop soon so watch this space.
The film is looking really great, although I would say that. I reckon it almost makes you want to go and climb a fulmar infested loose big wall sea cliff in the middle of nowhere. Extras on the DVD include the film of my ascent of The Indian Face (E9), Mucklehouse Wall (E5 5c, 5c, 6a) on Hoy and of course our ascent of the Old Man of Hoy.
Other things coming up - The Stac of Handa re-enactment I shot the other week with the BBC has a provisional slot on BBC2 Scotland/iPlayer as an Adventure Show special on Nov 22nd at 19.00.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Perfect day in Torridon

After coming home from my lecture tour I’ve had a familiar feeling of being a little burnt out. This happens to me every year really, I cram as much work as I can into the west highland monsoon season - lectures, writing, coaching, events, film work etc. By the end of it, I’m always rather impatient for the calmness of just going to an empty highland glen and climbing some nice rock on my own.
I’m not naturally cut out for being on stage every night, and much as enjoy sharing the stories and meeting great people, I need some balance after many weeks of it.
So after a week of sorting out so many loose ends at home, the autumn monsoon finally broke to sunny gold coloured mountains, and I got to enjoy two great bouldering sessions. I can’t tell you how much of a lift it is to spend time on real rock in a nice place after so much time indoors.
First off I found some killer new beta on a tough project in Glen Nevis. One that will take a while, even with a clever trick of the foot on the crux. Today, the north west seemed to be the place to be and I scooted up for an afternoon on the simply superb boulders in Glen Torridon. I noticed that visiting Sheffield bouldering specialist Dan Varian, one of the strongest men in our isles at present, had added a few hard problems here in the spring that sounded great. 
I went up to check out a lovely arete called Stokes Croft, given about 8A. I enjoyed it a lot. Perfect holds, perfect conditions. The only thing not in perfect condition was me, still feeling decidedly sluggish from one of those nagging colds that seems to keep coming back. But as soon as I arrived at the problem, the sniffles and sighs melted away and I had the moves worked out in twenty minutes and then climbed it first redpoint. It’s probably more like 7C+ but it was still a lovely change to just go and repeat something that was all cleaned up and ready. I’ve spent a lot of time cleaning dirty rock this year!
Wee clip of this above. These last two sessions have fully redoubled keenness for the bouldering season, and for training training TRAINING!!!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

New route in Peak Cavern

Pitch 1 (wet 7c+)  of Ring of Fire during the first ascent in Peak Cavern. All pics Triple Echo Productions.

The other shoot I just finished with Triple Echo for the BBC was even weirder than the Handa adventure! The director Richard Else managed to get special permission to climb in the show cave Peak Cavern near Castleton right in the middle of the Peak District. The idea was for myself and Alan Cassidy to see if we could find a route out of it!
Peak Cavern, otherwise known as 'The Devil's Arse' is one of the biggest and most impressive limestone crags in the Peak. In a region where every other inch of rock has a route on it, it’s pretty amazing that there are no free routes on this crag at all. It comes down to access. The crag has been banned for climbing forever as it’s a tourist attraction on private land - paying public walking around below climbs etc. Of course it’s a massive shame since I’m certain a way round it could be found with the help of the BMC. The cave is only open to the public until 5pm and then it’s locked. Climber’s lock-in? Sadly I don’t think a change is likely any time soon. We appealed as best we could.

Anyway, we enjoyed our special permission while we had it, in the name of making BBC television. But first we spent two days a bit further north climbing an even sillier cave. The team wanted to see if we could climb our way out of a proper Yorkshire Pot Hole - Jingling Pot. A 60m tubular soaking wet pitch black slimy hole in the ground. Alan and myself didn’t have the faintest idea how to tackle it. I started off climbing in winter boots and gloves which was a mistake and I quickly switched to rockboots even through the water was running down it, over the green slime. I thought back to a day last year climbing Pleasure Done (E3) in Pembroke with Tim Emmett in the rain. That was surprisingly amenable and the limestone had a weird friction even though it was soaking. Jingling might be just like that, but with a headtorch on?! It turned out to be a wee bit harder than that, but we had a great time and emerged squinting in the daylight after one of our stranger days out climbing.
After that we headed to the main event at Peak Cavern. Where Jingling Pot felt about E3 in the wet, Peak Cavern looked about 9c! The cave went in for over 100 metres. It also looked like any route there would take a lot of cleaning since the cave roof had hundreds of years worth of soot from the troglodytes who used to live there. With 4 days to do a route, we opted for a nice looking line going up a 45 degree wall then crossing the full length of the side wall and some roofs to gain a crack system in the headwall. It looked like it would go in about 4 pitches!

Back on dry rock on the superb pitch 3 (7b+)

After a hardcore couple of days with the hilti and wire brush, It looked amazing: 7c+, 7a, 7b+, 7b. Only one problem, the first pitch would be 7c+ if it was dry. But it was completely soaking and all the holds were full of slimy wet mud - proper caving style! At least Keith’s floodlights made it feel slightly more like a crag than a hole in the ground. I had a couple of tries, sliding about all over the place. It was actually better not to use chalk for most of the first pitch, it only made your hands feel slimier. 

Alan cruising pitch 2 (7a)

Next morning I set off again. I could see that slipping off could happen on any move, so why worry about any of them? I just kept creeping across the traverse, unexpectedly scrapping my way through to the stance, and we could enjoy the remaining spectacular pitches through the roofs and headwall. What shall we call it? Has to be 'Ring of Fire'! My first new routes in Yorkshire and the Peak -what a weird week!

Alan enjoying the fantastic headwall on pitch 4 (7b). The programme will be coming to a TV screen near you sometime next year. I'll let you know when it's scheduled.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Johnny Dawes book in the shop

Johnny Dawes long awaited autobiography ‘Full of myself’ has finally arrived and I’ve just put it up on our shop here. The stock just arrived this morning and after a quick flick through it looks like a superb book with a lot more really interesting pictures than I was expecting. I’ll write a full review soon.

Handa - More dangling above drops for the BBC

The Great Stack of Handa. Photo: Triple Echo Productions

*Update* The programme now has a provisional slot of Nov 22nd at 19.00. Adventure Show special, BBC2 Scotland, iPlayer.

Last month I was working on two great film shoots with the Triple Echo team for the BBC at either ends of the UK. First off it was up north to the Stack of Handa to play the part of Donald McDonald, a Lewis farmer from the 1870s. 
The reason we ended up here was down to two accounts in the SMC journal by WH Murray and Tom Patey. Handa is a small island off the far north west coast of Scotland near Scourie. It’s a fairly remote and barren place, abandoned since the potato famine in 1848. Probably it’s best natural feature is the great stack of Handa, a 300 foot chunky sea stack of red sandstone sat between two headlands with cavernous vertical cliffs between.

Myself, Donald King and Dave Cuthbertson going climbing on Handa. Photo: Triple Echo Productions

Three rather intrepid men from Lewis rode across the Minch in 1870 and made the first crossing onto the stack by rather inventive means. They lugged 600 feet of fishing rope across the island and walked it out across the headlands , pulling it tight until the rope (just) rested over the summit of the stack. McDonald then rather boldly hand-over-handed across the sagging rope without any backup to get onto the stack. The climb up the far side of the rope stack sounded like a fight for his life, the rope basically running almost vertically at that point. With encouragement from his partners, he made it and brought the others over the re-belayed rope in a breeches buoy. 

Crossing the fishing rope to the stack. Photo: Triple Echo Productions

It’s hard to see any other reason for them taking the considerable trouble and risk to make this expedition for anything other than the sheer challenge of it. There are plenty of birdy cliffs for harvesting that are a lot more accessible nearby. Therefore, according to Murray writing in the journal, it may be the first recorded instance of an ascent like this in the country. 

Making progress along the rope got a lot harder as you approached the stack. The rope was basically running vertically. Photo: Triple Echo Productions

Tom Patey tried to repeat the same method in 1967 with modern ropes and jumars, but there was so much sag on the rope that Patey found it a desperate challenge and wrote of his incredulity that the Lewismen pulled it off, and without protection. A piece of stomach churning boldness! He invited Murray to research the story further, which he did. Murray tracked down McDonald’s son in Dunoon and got the more detailed story. It sounds like the Lewismen of the era were pretty handy and competitive climbers!

Cubby following in the breeches buoy. I.e. an oversized nappy! Photo: Triple Echo Productions

Anyway, the full story will be in the film which is on BBC2 Scotland (iPlayer etc) towards the end of November. I’ll let you know the time when it’s published.
My comrades in the re-creation were Cubby and Donald King and we had a blast dangling about on fishing ropes above the big drop into the sea. Or should that be we got blasted by the full wrath of the Atlantic squalls every ten minutes for the best part of a week. I started off the week thinking that my costume of a tweed suit, bunnet and old leather boots was quite good outdoor attire. But by the end I must say I couldn’t wait to see the back of soggy tweed and soaking boots and get back into modern kit and ropes that weight less than 40kg.
The week was for me an old lesson re-learned. The generations gone by had less to work with, but had no less boldness, courage, or ingenuity.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

On lecture tour next week

Racked up for rigging the Longhope Route - more of Lukasz’ pictures of this route in my lectures next week.
All of next week I’m travelling around doing talks each evening in a different part of the UK. Maybe I’ll see some of you?! Mostly I’ll be talking about the importance of taking on massive projects like the Long Hope route on Orkney. Big projects like that and a few other hard climbs I’ll show you involve a lot of doubt - you just don’t know if you’ve got enough to finally do them (unless they are too easy!). Dealing with that doubt is a big psychological challenge. My experience has been that there’s more than one successful mindset to adopt. I‘ll explain more at the talks.
First up, I’m going round Scotland, speaking at various Tiso stores on a Mountain Equipment tour. Details and tickets are here, but the dates are:
Monday 24th Inverness Tiso Outdoor experience 7.30pm
Tuesday 25th Aberdeen Tiso 7.30pm
Wednesday 26th Perth Tiso Outdoor experience 7.30pm
Thursday 27th Glasgow Tiso GOE 7.30pm
Friday 28th Edinburgh Tiso Outdoor experience 7.30pm
On Saturday I’m speaking twice at the SAFOS seminar on decision making in avalanche terrain at EICA Ratho. First up I’m speaking about my approaches and ideas to managing risk in my trad climbing. I’ll discuss some of the times I’ve nearly killed myself climbing, and what I did wrong, and some of the times I climbed really dangerous routes safely, like The Indian Face. Details of this here - There are some great speakers lined up on risk and decision making.
On Sunday I’m at Dart Rock near Exeter doing coaching clinics (Sunday and Monday) and  on Sunday evening I’m speaking there. 
See you out there!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

To those about to rock Scottish climbing - TCA Glasgow

The biggest and best bouldering wall in the UK, The Climbing Academy opens in Glasgow tomorrow. Brilliant news! Can’t wait to get in there...

The Climbing Academy Glasgow - The UK's Biggest Bouldering Wall from Jen Randall on Vimeo.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Karina's machine mode

We finished our new route in the Peak District a day early, so I had time after all to make it to the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival. That was the 9th EMFF and I was glad I didn’t miss it as it always provides a fresh dose of inspiration and an atmosphere. As a speaker or climber featured in a good few films, I’ve been to a lot of mountain festivals but I’d have to say Edinburgh is my favourite. A lot of that is down to Stevie Christie managing to strike the right note with the vibe, films, speakers etc. Well done again Stevie. 
On the Saturday evening session we listened to Karina Hollekim speak about the ups and downs of her career as a BASE jumper. If you haven’t heard of her, Karina is most famous for the film 20 seconds of joy in which we see her great enjoyment of jumping and then crushing disablement when her parachute didn’t open properly and her legs were broken so badly she was told she would never walk again. One gruelling recovery later, she can walk, and ski. Her talk was very much focused on the self-belief required to do what she did before (jump off cliffs) and the whole other level of self-belief required to get through her recovery. The message that self belief is the key ingredient to break personal barriers is one that we see a lot from speakers with a motivational story. Sometimes I’ve seen it presented that self belief is all that is necessary. But it’s fair to say that most would place it more as a crucial ingredient, but just one of quite a few more. That is certainly my feeling.
One statement in Karina’s talk stood out a mile for me. She was describing the moment sitting crouched in the dark at the foot of a signal tower waiting for the all clear to climb to do her very first BASE jump. Full of fear, she felt she couldn’t make herself do it. But when the call finally came through on the radio, she “got up, like a machine and started climbing up the ladder”. 
Machine mode neatly describes the state of mind needed to make the final decision to do almost anything bold and committing. Thinking as a human fades away, replaced by processing as a machine. I’m here, I’m ready, I want to do this, and I’m doing it now. The time for questions is passed, already processed. All that is left is to turn the decision into action. 
Simple huh? But this is the hardest thing for people do actually do. There is a block right at the point machine mode is needed. The fearful, doubting human thoughts refuse to be switched off, and nothing happens. Rationalisation follows, and the moment is gone.
I managed to ask Karina about this after her talk. Could anyone master this machine mode? I’ve often asked myself this. For some it seems to come naturally. For others it’s out of reach even if they are actually really trying. Karina’s answer was surprisingly direct. She thought you could either do it or you couldn’t. Reassuring I suppose, as if you can’t do it, at least you know it’s because it’s a genuinely hard thing to do.
I must say, I’m not sure whether I totally agree. I certainly agree that most people will never actually manage to master this mental skill. But that it’s beyond possibility I don’t know. I guess I’m naturally resistant to the idea of untrainable performance variables. My personal view is that there is more to it. 
I think a lot of it has to do with how much you actually want to do the thing. Even the most die hard egos crumble doing the most dangerous form of climbing - free soloing. People can do a handful of bold things for ego, attention or status. But it never lasts. To do bold things day in, day out, you need to genuinely love doing the raw activity. If that raw motivation for the activity isn’t there underneath, that might be the real reason for failure. And if you were doing something else that you really did want to do, machine mode would appear. Also, I sometimes feel that even when good motivation is there, it gets clouded by other motives that ultimately get in the way. 
Before concluding that you could never, do something like Karina has, I’d say at least try first of all to reconnect with the raw, basic things that make you want to do that thing, and see what happens.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Lukasz' workshop

’King of Drunks' V6, Llanberis Pass, Wales. Photo: Richard Enticknap

I’m just home for a couple of weeks after a manic few weeks travelling about working. The bulk of my work has been two fantastic film shoots with Triple Echo Productions. I’ve played the part of a daring 1870’s Hebridean farmer/new router and climbed 4 pitch new sport routes on a huge new crag in the middle of the Peak District! Yes it was an interesting time! More on those when I have some pics to show you through from Triple Echo.
Between those shoots, I spent a great weekend with Lukasz Warzecha and his students on his climbing photography workshop which proved to be a hit. I was really amazed by the standard of Lukasz’ tuition and had a great time jumping onto whatever routes we could find.
On the first evening we headed up to some nice boulders above the Llanberis pass. I did about 30 laps on a V6 called ‘King of Drunks’ while flash guns went off from various angles on the hillside. The following morning I did a somewhat bleary eyed ascent of King Wad E4 6a in the pass but felt a bit guilty for declining Lukasz request to jump off the top after my ascent! I reckon if you want to get anywhere in climbing photography, you should get yourself a place on his next workshop.

King Wad E4 6a, Scimitar Ridge. Photo: Paul Diffley

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Five new things in our shop

While I was away last week Claire uploaded five new products to the webshop which we think you’ll like. Here’s a quick run through:
Alpinist issue 35 - We have the latest issue of Alpinist, as ever a beautiful publication. Articles in this issue include Sonnie Trotter showing us around Squamish, perspectives on soloing with Alex Honnold and other nice mountaineering feature by Barry Blanchard, Kyle Dempster and others. It’s here.
The Munros in Winter - Martin Moran’s book telling his story of the first traverse of the Munros in winter in a single season in 1985 was one of the first books I read about climbing when I’d just discovered the Scottish mountains at 15. It inspired me and intrigued me about the locations and awakened a desire to go and do some exploring of my own. It’s been out of print for some time and has just been republished. Whether you go into the mountains to walk, climb fish or whatever, this book will strike a chord with anyone into mountains and mountaineering challenges. It’s here. 
The Mountain Marathon Book - speaking of mountain challenges, mountain marathons are more popular than ever and the growth of organised races around the UK and the world has meant that the general standard of hill runners appears to have raised my some measure. To get anywhere, it’s pretty essential to get all of the basic tactics and techniques right, and to know a fair bit about how to plan your training. As always there is tons of information online, but you have to be already fairly expert to be able to spot the wheat from the chaff. This is the first comprehensive instructional book for hill runners covering all aspects of preparation for events - events, tactics, equipment, training, nutrition strategy and more. It’s here.
The Scene DVD - Chuck Fryberger’s latest climbing flick from the hottest climbing destinations around the world. Hard trad, 9b sport from Sharma, hardcore bouldering with Nalle Hukkataival and even more hardcore climbing comp action. New psyche for your own training! I wrote a full review here and it’s in the shop here.

Northern Beats DVD - A new school film by Bernd Zangerl combining artistically shot bouldering on a tour around Norway with good music. Full review on the way, meanwhile, it’s in the shop here.

Preparation for the good conditions season

Alex on ‘Boeing 747’ 7c, Monsterveggen, Stavanger
I’ve been quite enjoying a little time without any project focus in particular except training for the season of cold weather and holding onto small holds again. The Scottish autumn deluge has been not frustratingly bad, so no chances to get on my sport project. But at least absence makes the heart more psyched. Last week, an enforced  week of no climbing due to a bit of film work helped even more to make me super restless to climb. I’m just home from that and will be hitting my board as soon as this post is written.
I had a lovely weekend back in Norway doing a fun day of coaching clinics and a lecture in Stavanger. The day afterwards we took a little drive around and pointed at almost countless new route, nay, new crag possibilities in abundance here. Like Scotland though, good weather was not in abundance and I fought my way up a rather damp 8a+ to clear my hangover.

It's also a great time of year for me to do some work which fits quite nicely (well OK, acceptably) around training. This weekend I'm working on Lukasz Warsecha's climbing photography workshop in Wales (there are 2 spaces left on the course I hear). Later this month I'm doing a lot of lectures around the country so I might see some of you. For the first time in my climbing life I'm starting to think a little more in advance about what I might do next summer, and make some plans son for travelling to some cool projects. 

A small trip is getting close now to look at another steep sport project I’ve been told about but not seen in the flesh. We don’t have much time to climb it, but I’m pretty sure when we see it we’ll be keen to pull out the stops and try our level best. Better go train...

Review: The Scene DVD

Chuck Fryberger has been on a mission to inject some style into climbing and climbing films. I enjoyed some of the mega footage from his last film Core and was eager to see his latest climbing flick ‘The Scene’. Chuck has based himself in various modern centres where the world’s best climbers seem to be gathering right now such as Innsbruck, Catalunya, Boulder and various other areas around the USA. There are some quite nice interviews with the best climbers of the moment talking about what fires them up and why they have chosen their particular path within climbing and settled in their chosen area.
The climbing: We kick off with some nice trad crack climbing around Moab with Steph Davis among others. This was my least favourite part of the film although friends I watched it with thought it was great. A blaze of excellent bouldering sequences around the US follow - very inspiring. Nalle Hukkataival reminds us just how strong the human body can be with a few muscly genes and a life of travelling about between world class boulders. It was also great to see more of Dave Graham, still clearly a powerhouse of enthusiasm. Before we leave the US, there is a nice chapter on trad headpointing and a really nice 8b trad ascent by MAtt Wilder which I enjoyed watching a lot.
Then we go to Innsbruck and get a glimpse into the Red Bull fulled and funded life of Kilian Fischuber and friends on the boulder comp scene. Lots of flashing lights, cool people, cool music and impressive displays of plastic crushing strength. A branch of climbing that is clearly becoming further and further removed from it’s old-school roots. The leading competition section is led by a profile of the machine that is Ramonet. The climbing sequences make it fairly obvious why he’s exerting his dominance over everyone, even Ondra in the comp world right now. He looks like he’d be a world class athlete in whatever sport he chose.
Finally we are back in the ever thriving scene of the Catalunya sport crags with Dani Andrada, Daila Ojeda smoothly dispatching an excellent 8c and Chris Sharma, just as impressive as ever trying and completing a monster 9b pitch at Oliana. 
A subtle education of the current direction of climbing, and a great pre-training session flick of psyche. Already watched it three times since my stock of DVDs arrived last week. It’s avaible in the webshop right here.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Arnaud's E10

Excellent video below of Arnaud Petit climbing Black Bean (8b) at Ceuse on trad gear to give an E10 7a. What a lovely looking route. I was wondering if there would ever be a movement towards doing some harder trad on the big famous limestone cliffs in Europe. Toni Arbones always told me that folk told him he was crazy for trying it on Montsant etc. The next level I guess would be to do something like this as a a first ascent of a new line at a high grade without any bolts being in place. I reckon somebody will do it soon.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Centre Court 8b/+ video

The final video clip from the Gore-Tex Experience Tour trip in Norway is now up. My new route at the Tunga boulder, Ersfjord - Centre Court 8b/+. Mega route. I also bolted an extended start to Piercing (8b/+) which shares the same finish as this route, but since we put our time into Bongo Bar on Blamann, I didn’t get a chance to finish it. So it’s there as a project for some keen locals or visitors. Would be around 8c. Go to it! And if you don’t get it, I might just come back sometime soon and do it myself.

Longhope fine art prints

Along with Lukasz Warzecha we are producing a limited edition of 100 fine art prints of his great image above  showing the first ascent of The Longhope route, E10/11, Orkney.  We thought it really grabs you as an inspiring climbing image of a special route, so it would be nice to make a print available.  I have signed and numbered each print. The prints are A3, unframed with a white border and are printed on Ilford Pearl paper and are £75 (shipping worldwide as always). The actual print is not watermarked with the LWimages text. The prints are available in the webshop right here. 
If you’re into your climbing photography Lukasz is running a weekend  photography workshop in North Wales Sept 30th-Oct 2nd. I’m going along to do be in front of the camera (hopefully doing some good climbs!). There a few spaces left. Details on Lukasz’ site.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Bongo Bar first free ascent, Blåmann

On the first free ascent of Bongo Bar, Blåmann, Norway. 400m, 7b+, 7b+, 8a, 7c, 7b, 6c, 7a, 6b. Photo: Paul Diffley/Hot Aches Productions. More pictures on the Gore-Tex facebook page shortly, and also on Julia's blog and Hot Aches blog.

Between the three of us, we have climbed a ton of superb granite routes during our stay in Kvaloya. Some of the classic established routes, which are as good as anywhere in the world, and a few great new routes. But before coming here, the biggest thing in my mind that I wanted to do was a new free route on the north face of Blåmann. It’s only been in the past few years that the aid routes here have been considered as big wall objectives for free climbers. The visits by the Austrian climbers Auer and Mayr brought the wall to international attention, and it was their pictures that made me first think of coming here, followed closely by Marten Blixt's excellent guidebook.
Those pictures were from their attempt to free climb the aid route Bongo Bar. They freed the first two pitches at 7b+, 7c+ (although the second is more like 7b+), but the overhanging pitch 3 through the roofs was wet and they traversed left into the ‘Atlantis’ and abseiled off to create the route 'Tingeling' (Tinkerbell in English). Their route was finished to the top of the wall this summer by locals Andreas Klarstrom and Thomas Meling (Peter Pan 400m, 7b+).

On day one of our trip, we could see Blåmann from Tromso airport, standing out from the other peaks on the skyline. When we drove round to the approach and could see the north face, I could hardly get my sack full of ropes on quick enough. 
But arriving under the wall, it was less clear if Bongo Bar would be possible. It looked really steep and blank through the roofs. But then again, all the other potential new lines looked rather desperate also! Lots of overhanging closed granite seams, with apparently sheer and featureless sidewalls. Andreas and a friend were stationed 60 metres up a new route, and were obviously having an exciting time. He was shouting down, encouraging us to look at Bongo Bar, and so I thought we should at least give it a shot.
A 55m E6 6b pitch to start was a rough warm up, and a reminder that we have no steep granite laybacking to speak of in Scotland. The following pitch went rather better. E6 6b again and the best granite pitch I have climbed anywhere. Perfect laybacking with spaced but good protection. 

The next day, I sent Donald onto the crux third pitch (A3) with the aiding gear. It looked hard and scary. ‘Bong, Bong, Bong’ a hollow ringing from his peg hammer came from over the first roof, followed by an exclamation; ‘Jings, Crivens and help me John Boy!’ Donald had just realised that the crack he was aiding up was actually a huge pancake flake, tottering in a groove waiting for an unsuspecting aid climber to release it from it’s perch. He was not a happy man and came down, suggesting it might be better if I delicately free climbed past it. That I did, only to find the next flake made the previous one look solid. My exclamation was less civilised. I did continue, half aiding, half free to the next belay, to find that pitch 4 looked almost as hard. After another day, I’d worked each move on pitch 3 but needed more time for pitch 4. The forecast looked poor, we were unsure how to manage with logistics of a team ascent with many sharp edges about and a prospect of me doing most or all of the leading. We had a discussion on the belay and reluctantly decided to bail.
However, my greatest failing is never being able to leave things like this and a few days later, I resurrected the idea of a free ascent - I would put in another day of dangling about to clean pitch 4 and scope out some of the pitches above while Helena and Julia ticked classic routes on Hollendran and then I would hopefully go for a redpoint with Julia if the weather held.

Moving around the arete, Bongo Bar pitch 7 (E5 6a)
Some rain threatened our chances. I walked up with Julia to find the black streaks of pitch 3 still looking dry-ish, so we started with no expectations. The two 7b+ pitches flew past and hanging on the belay 100 metres up the wall, inevitably expectations crept in to our minds. Speaking of expectations, Julia seemed to have no questions that I’d be able to dispatch the 8a (E8 6c) pitch above, and told me so in her direct but ever positive style. I launched up the pitch, climbing smoothly at first but wobbling into the crux and seriously losing my cool. I looked behind me for the crucial thumb press; it was wet, and so was the foothold. There was no time for hesitation and as I began to slip off backwards I threw my right hand across the corner without enough time to look for the hold first. Two fingers caught it and with a grunt I stayed on and continued with ‘Elvis leg’ all the way to the ledge.

Julia still smiling, pitch after pitch
Julia’s task of seconding the pitch was going to be one of the main hurdles of the route. 8a climbing, not having been on it before, carrying a rucksack and a 45 metre diagonal pitch through roofs with razor sharp edges. Not for the faint hearted really. The rope came in steadily without a sound. Pulling on gear where she could to avoid weighting the rope and sawing it on the edges, Julia was up in 30 minutes, still smiling and directing me to dispatch the balancy 7c pitch above. After that performance, I thought I’d better.
I climbed it well and in no time was swimming up layback cracks in the upper pitches. Julia was determined to go out in front and lead pitch 6. We were climbing onsight now and the pitch turned out to be 7a (E5 6a) and 60 metres long. She was obviously tired from carrying our jackets, food and water on the hard pitches below but still went for it. After 20 metres, she shouted that she had decided to make a belay on a slab. A good belay? She shouted yes, and then as I arrived admitted it was two old peckers from an aid ascent plus a poor cam and didn’t want to tell me before. We excavated a welcome backup cam placement and I headed around the corner and up endless cracks, now bathed in the lovely late evening sun. A BASE jumper leaped past us just before we topped out on Blåmann, and he touched down safely before we could even finish the last pitch and begin our tired stumble down for 1am pasta. Bongo Bar - the name kept reminding us 30 something brits of this song from our childhood!

Blåmann north face
I have a feeling that despite the unpredictable Norwegian climate, Blåmann will be one of the most famous walls in Europe for hard granite big wall climbs in the coming years. It’s a very accessible place and yet really impressive with some of the best granite you’ll find anywhere. 
Thanks to the Gore-Tex experience tour for sending myself, Helena, Julia, Donald and Paul on the trip, and to all the locals who helped us with information and encouragement. It was a pleasure. Here is a taster from Paul's film of Bongo Bar.