Monday, 11 June 2018

Just Do It!

I've been back in Manchester for a few days now and have had a chance to reflect on my latest trip to Smith Rock. Flying back this time felt like the end of an era in some ways, complete with the usual jet lag and kipping on airport benches at 3am, good times! This was my 6th trip in 3 years to try Just Do It and I was aware that time was running out for completion of this project due to the pressures of keeping on trying a route so far away from my home. I said to myself at the start of the trip that it was important to get it done this time around so I could move on with my climbing and free up time and effort to sample some of the classics closer to home. I was lucky enough to have been given the option of staying out for a longer period of time before flying out due to my work circumstances so I had this up my sleeve. 

The slap up to the 'sidepull sloper' on the upper crux (Screengrab: Nate Gerhardt)

In the back of my mind was my talus fracture back in December and how well I would be climbing compared to previous trips. Luckily, on my first session up on the Monkey I quickly realised that I felt stronger than my last trip and my fitness was decent due to a recent spell at Malham and some indoor routes at Stockport Wall. I had also been lapping my replica of the route at Rockover Climbing Centre that Tom Stewart, the owner, had kindly let me set on their auto belay area. I had been adding ever increasing amounts of climbing going up and down different routes before shaking out on the first hold of the replica (a hold very similar to the big flat hold at the 13th bolt which marks the start of the upper cruxes in the purple rock) and then finishing up it, which I had never been able to do training on the same set up last year. So, just the small matter of climbing the real thing!

The lower crux in the purple rock (Pic: Mike Doyle)
On the first day, it was a case of getting reacquainted with the moves as usual and keeping jet lag at bay. On the second session, I went for the key link from the 1st chains to the top (which weighs in at 14a or 8b+) which I had done once before in 2016 but which I had never had the chance to get solid on due to the pressure to keep trying from the ground every time on shorter trips. I surprised myself by getting through the upper crux twice and very nearly going to the top on my first attempt, getting shut down on the last big move of the upper crux sequence, to a relatively big flat crimp before the final, hopefully not droppable (!), moves up to the final shake out guarding the chains. I had never done this so early in the trip and was in 2 minds as to whether to keep trying this link or start trying from the ground. I decided to try from the ground. After a session or 2 of narrowly failing to reach the porthole, I managed to get up there before the end of the first week, which is the earliest I have ever managed this on all of my trips. The porthole rest follows the first crux section in the purple rock on crimps which is around V8 or so. (For those interested in my previous trips to try Just Do It, check out my previous blog posts from 2015 onwards:

Approaching the porthole rest (Pic: Jason Bagby)
This time I could feel that I had a bit more fitness in my arms from all the training over the winter and had a good stab at getting past the upper crux, another powerful V8 boulder problem. This sequence is more sustained than the crux before the porthole (comprising 8 hard moves in total) and the hardest 2 moves involve a powerful lock off and cross over from a 1st joint 2 finger pocket to a poor, gaston crimp and then holding this to then fire into another, better, 2 finger pocket. From this pocket, 4 slightly easier moves follow without rest before the relative sanctuary of the 'big, flat crimp' by the 16th bolt and the still tricky exit moves. 

On my next session, I was mega psyched to finally stick the upper crux pocket stab to the 2 finger pocket on a session with Steven Dimmitt. This was the breakthrough I had been looking for and what the previous 15 or so redpoints up to the porthole over my last 3 trips had led up to. I very nearly stuck the next big move to the 'sidepull sloper' too but was so surprised at finally having stuck the pocket stab move that I fell just short of it, but I didn't mind as I knew it was now on, I could do this!!
After sticking the upper crux for the first time from the ground (Pic: Steven Dimmitt)
I still had a few days before my flight was due so I persisted in trying it in hot conditions with only 1 rest day between attempts in the hope of snagging the route without having to rebook my flight. Unfortunately, conditions were too warm so I the slight setback of having regressed from my highpoint with the nagging doubt as to whether I would ever get up there again. Luckily, having not got on the flight, the pressure was off in some ways as with no fixed return date, I had the luxury of being in a position to pick and choose my redpoint days. Little did I know that it would take another month before I was clipping the chains!

After a mini-heat wave of 80+F temps, I returned with Crit Concrad and managed to get a move higher, holding the sidepull sloper but not having quite enough power to get crimped up on it, which you need to do in order to execute the next throw to the 'big flat crimp'. Since failing on this move on the link from the 1st chains on my second session, I couldn't decide whether to move my feet 4 times using some intermediate footholds (which seemed to be less strenuous and more in balance) or to stick with my old foot sequence, which was only 2 foot moves and more powerful but quicker. I went with the former option and chanced introducing some new foot moves as these moves felt OK on the link from the porthole. Unfortunately, on my redpoint, I ended up stranded below the throw move with no hope of sticking it as I was too pumped to move my feet! I went for it anyway and took the ride with a new highpoint under my belt of 2 handmoves further up the wall, which was good progress nevertheless. The lesson I took from this was not to tinker with your sequence, best to stick with the devil you know!

The first 2 finger pocket move on the lower pitch (Pic: Mike Doyle)

I was fully expecting to be able to rest 2 days then head back up to the Monkey and send but the weather had other plans. Another mini-heatwave rolled in and I was forced to train in the morning cool of Morning Glory Wall and Aggro Gully. This was no bad thing as I was able to reference my fitness on my favourite training routes such as Churning in the Wake 13a, Aggro Monkey 13b, Disposable Heroes 13a and The Quickening 12c. I even chucked a lap on Full Heinous Cling 12c in the Dihedrals, for old times sake ;). I clocked up 4 or 5 such sessions over 6 weeks and I think this helped me to avoid burnout. Still, it was not ideal having to wait more days than necessary when I was on the brink of success and there were times during the hot spell when I began to doubt whether it would ever cool off and I would get another chance. It was at such times that I found it important to stay focused and positive during the long hours away from the crags. Using the time productively was important as one of the problems of all the resting was how to keep your mind from constantly obsessing about the route, which could be counterproductive. I spent many happy hours in Redmond library reading classic novels like Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road' and Thomas Hardy's 'Return of the Native', books I will always associate with my time out in Oregon. 

Just below the good rest above the 9th bolt, the chains of the first pitch just above  (Pic: Mike Doyle)
I had one abortive early morning session with Brady Kendrick getting up at 5am for a 6:45am start up on the Monkey to beat the heat. I shall always remember Brady pulling up in his truck and the whooping and hollering and 'Heck yea's' for no particular reason other than pure psyche as I cranked out some hangs on the Tension flashboard hung up in the parking lot while the coffee kicked in. This session was not a success as the entire route was in the sun by 8am before even one redpoint was possible, leading to an impromptu training session in the gully on the way back - at least we tried!

The stemming rest at the 9th bolt (Pic: Jenny Abegg)

By the time temps cooled down, I had spent a week without any redpoints since my highpoint and was nervous about whether I would be able to get past the upper crux again. Probably the low point of the trip came after my first redpoint that first session back when I failed to get up to the porthole. To be honest I was gutted as I began to wonder whether I had burnt out and would ever regain my highpoint. A change of pace was in order and I elected not to have a second redpoint from the ground for once. I bolt to bolted up to the 9th bolt and then managed to do a link from there to the top, which was a massive confidence boost as it was one bolt better than the link I had been aiming for on my second session and a personal best in still warm conditions. It also involved climbing into and out of the main stemming rest above the 9th bolt. Every move felt the best it had ever felt and I had power in reserve at the chains. I needn't have worried about fluffing my previous redpoint and had turned the session around. The moves on small crimps leading to the porthole are so hard on the link from the ground that it is inevitable that you won't have a 100% strike rate. If you put your feet a few cm's left or right of the sweet spots on each foothold then you are liable to be spat off. Sometimes, redpoints don't go well purely down to the law of averages - you can't always climb at your best. 

Big move at the 12th bolt (Pic: Mike Doyle)
The next session with Brady and Jenny Abegg proved to be a turning point and it was a rare occasion when the weather allowed me to take rest 2 days and then go back up for another session without having to wait for a longer hot spell to dissipate. In hindsight, I could have done it this session as I stuck the pocket stab move twice, which I had never done in a single session before. Unfortunately, I didn't get the second 2 finger pocket as well as I would have liked which left me short on the slap to the sidepull sloper so I didn't quite make my highpoint again.

Focus required! Just below the 3 finger crimp on the 1st crux of the purple rock (Pic: Mike Doyle)

The Monkey was still intent on testing me though as yet another 5 day heatwave rolled in with some pretty horrible, humid thunderstorms thrown into the mix. I made a tactical error of coming out one evening for a session to try and keep momentum going as I had rested 2 days already and felt really fresh. This was a mistake as I fell off the upper crux in really humid, warm conditions. Lesson number 2, don't bother trying things at your limit in bad conditions, rest up instead! In retrospect, I should have gone training at the gym in Bend or something, anything but try Just Do It! 

Starting the upper crux: locking the first 2 finger pocket, about to crossover for the gaston (Screengrab: Nate Gerhardt)

Crossover move from the 2 finger pocket on the 
upper crux (Pic: Heather Furtney, from Oct 2015)

I managed to steady the ship with a session sticking the pocket stab again with Mike Doyle on a session when he came super close to sending the East Face Crack 13d without clipping any of the fixed gear, taking an impressive fall in the process (he sent it with ease next session). However, I didn't make any impression on the slap to the sidepull sloper, which did nothing to ease my fears of having peaked too soon. I decided to try the 1st chains to the top link without lowering off after my second burn and after 10 mins hanging at the 1st chains. This link felt the easiest it had ever felt using my old, quicker foot sequence. I knew I was getting closer and it was only a matter of time.

The redpoint crux - stabbing into a 2 finger pocket 
off a small gaston crimp (Pic: Heather Furtney, from Oct 2015)

I was destined to have one more close session and made the trek up there with Jon Roderick, who has been trying the East Face Crack and who I belayed on a very smooth ascent of the lower pitch (12c on trad), way to go Jon! This session, I failed on the pocket stab move twice, despite 2 full rest days so I was stressing out wondering whether I had lost the power needed for this move. However, the saving grace was another 1st chains to top link after 10 minutes rest following my second burn. Jon put up with me offloading a load of doubts about conditions and beta on the walk down, sorry Jon!

The weekend looked warm so I would only have one rest day before an attempt on Friday, which looked like half decent temps with the forecast saying 70 degrees. I scoured my contacts for a belayer and luckily Lukas Strauss-Wise agreed to come out at short notice on Friday night, which was a big ask. It felt warm in the air in the gully but hanging out there with my good friends Andrew Hunzicker and Nate Gerhardt helped to create a relaxed atmosphere. We could feel a warm breeze blowing down the gully and all agreed conditions felt good, despite the heat. I left it until the last possible moment to allow for one burn before sunset before hiking up to the Monkey. The initial bolt to bolt go felt good and I was psyched to have the chance for a decent attempt before resting through the heat of the weekend after which substantial rest I should then be in a position to have a full blooded go on Monday.

The big move to the sidepull sloper 
(Pic: Heather Furtney, from Oct 2015)

To my horror, I proceeded to fall of the move cranking a tiny right hand sidepull just above the 3rd bolt, a move I hadn't fallen off in over 2 years. I put it down to the relative heat then lowered off and rested 15 minutes, which is all the time there was left before it would start to get too dark to see footholds. Without any expectations, just before 8:30, I set off again and managed to slap through the sidepull move. I had extended the 8th draw on my previous session which enabled me to clip it from lower down in a position of balance and made it less strenuous. I arrived in the rest above the 9th bolt feeling fresh and for some reason started for the first time to alternate putting my weight over my right then left foot as I shook out each arm in turn, which I think helped. After my regulation 2 minutes shake, I set out up the familiar 12d section leading up to the 13th bolt shake. I realised I was feeling really good and so didn't stay more than a couple of shakes on this hold before attacking the next big move up and right leading into the crux crimps. I made it through these moves to the porthole with relief and then tried to calm my breathing down. 

           My send video. (Advisory, contains some slightly 'rum' language)

After 45 seconds and 2 shakes on each arm, I eyed up the upper crux then set off. One thing I had learnt on my previous session was to be sure of adjusting several times in the first 2 finger pocket to get it really well so I really twisted my fingers in deep and adjusted 4 times. Another key bit of micro beta was to do an old fashioned foot swap on the sika crimp on the cross over move to the gaston crimp rather than place your feet next to each other on this hold. My outside left foot came down on the foothold perfectly after the swap and I cranked up to the gaston. I fully crimped this and placed my right toe on the dicey smear. This time, I hit right in the back of the second 2 finger pocket and only needed one adjust before moving my feet up for the slap to the sidepull sloper. After a power grunt, I got more than enough height to get crimped up on the sloper using the crucial crystal at the top of the hold and before I knew it I was crimping the intermediate sidepull and moving my left foot out in readiness for the throw up to the big flat crimp. I went for it and my fingers latched the hold, I was in! The exit moves went on autopilot and the next thing I knew, I was shaking out in the final jug before the last moves 5.12 guarding the chains. Thankfully these went without incident and I was clipping the chains! It was a great feeling to put this project to bed and be able to fly back to the UK without any unfinished business for a change. 

Post send pic (Pic: Lukas Strauss-Wise)
I would like to thank everybody who came up to the Monkey to belay me or offer support, it means a lot! Coming from the UK with no partner this time, I was relying on finding partners out here. The fact that I was able to keep coming up there for 6 weeks with not a single time when I had to skip a good day for lack of a partner is a testament to the awesome Smith Rock climbing community. A special mention to my friend Calvin Landrus who came out to belay me a tonne back in 2015 and 2016 but who has recently sadly contracted leukemia. I am happy to hear that the chemo has been going well and best of luck with the recovery. 

Happy climbing out there and good luck with all of your projects!

Beers in Bend!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Summer and Autumn round up (Yorkshire, the Peak and Smith Rock!)

Hi folks, its been a while since my last blog but having unfortunately fractured my heel bouldering at Burbage West two weeks ago, now seems a good time to round up the second half of my climbing year. 

A long way to go! Starting up Cry Freedom on the link-up 'The Great Escape 8b+ Malham (Pic: John Thornton)

Since I last blogged in June, I was psyched to move onto new projects after closing out True North and Something for Nothing and invested considerable effort over the summer into Progress 8c+ on Kilnsey's North Buttress, thirty foot to the left of True North. First, I ticked Mandela 8a+, a king line through the main overhang which I had wanted to do for years. It didn't disappoint!

Mandela 8a+, Kilnsey (Pic Kris Suriyo)
Opening my Account on Progress 8c+

I invested 20+ sessions in this awesome power endurance/ stamina beast over June and July, often going after work on a Tuesday night and taking some strategic half days off and hooking up with the keen local climbers. I got it down to two overlapping halves (or a 'one hang' ascent as the Yanks would say). Although there is still a long way to go in terms of getting it done, I was encouraged to get the key link from the ground to the 'eyes' at the 5th bolt (the first opportunity to shake and chalk) quite early on in the process (see video below), which is a fierce 8b piece of crimping.

Working Progress 8c+ at Kilnsey (Pic: Kris Suriyo)
I also went from the third bolt to the top a few times, which has to be a meaty 8b+ link in its own right. Unfortunately, the knuckle of my left index finger is a little too fat to get a shake in the first 'eye', which is a little shake out for those with thin fingers, but I'm confident I will be able to rest a couple of moves later by swapping my hands in the eyes. Sadly, as soon as we hit August, North Buttress practically turned into a waterfall and even though I held out hope of having another chance, it wasn't to be and the anticipated 'Indian summer' failed to materialise.

 Link on Progress 8c+, Kilnsey (from the ground to the 'Eyes' at the fifth bolt) (Video: Andy Tappa)

  Attempts on Dalliance 8b+

While Progress was out of commission, I decided to first tick some routes I hadn't ever got round to trying on the impressive wall to the right of the corner of Balas. First I did the tricky Puppeteer 8a and its short extension, Drenka 8a+ and then managed to flash Neil McCallum's good new addition up the wall just to the right, Dark Stranger 8a.

The Puppeteer 8a, Kilnsey (Pic: James Turnbull)

I then put my energies for the rest of August and September into some unfinished business from last year, the tricky Dave Pegg classic, Dalliance 8b+ (on the right hand end of the crag) as this stays drier for longer. I got close to doing this in August using my old sequence from last year of sticking my left heel way up and left on a spike and then slapping up into a big undercut. Unfortunately on one of my best goes my left hand ripped out of the undercut and I fell off backwards and inverted, painfully slamming my left shoulder into the rock. After lowering off, I realised that I was having trouble raising my arm above my head and sure enough, it stiffened up overnight and a lovely yellow, green and purple bruise appeared around my shoulder joint. A visit to my physio confirmed that I had torn some ligaments. I had to take a couple of weeks out to heal this up and by the time I got back on the rock, suddenly the season was rapidly running away.

Training on Comedy 7c, Kilnsey (Pic: Kris Suriyo)
After speaking to Paul Bennett, I changed my sequence to his method on the top crux, which is much safer and involves keeping your feet lower and with less risk of inverting in a fall. By this stage, in late September, even Dalliance was seeping badly and even though I stuck at it til the bitter end, it was a losing battle against the wetness. I was happy to get to the last move using the new method (see video below) several times and linked from the third bolt to the top three times on a particularly wet session when going from the ground was out of the question. Again, this one will have to wait until next season. The battle is over but the war is not yet won!

 Link on Dalliance 8b+, Kilnsey (from the upper rest to the top)

Peak Bouldering and Training at Malham

I had 2 weeks in Smith Rock booked to look forward to in the first two weeks of November to escape the wetness of the UK crags and was really looking forward to another crack at Just Do It 8c+ my project of the last 2 years. 

Byker Groove V9 (Sean's Roof, Blackwell Dale, Peak District)
After a long season at Kilnsey, I was conscious of the need to top up my bouldering for the savage V9 crimping crux on Just Do It as inevitably, if you predominantly climb routes for a long period, you will be lacking some top end power. I was getting out after work to the Peak a fair bit and had managed to do Ru's Traverse, a stout V11 at Griff's Buttress in Blackwell Dale at the end of June but was getting shut down by the next challenge at that crag, the burly Mutton Busting V11. I decided to drop the grade a little in order to get some ticks as some success is always good for the soul. Over July, August and September, I did Neil's Wall Sit V9, Byker Groove V9, Advanced Training V10, Alacrity Sit V9 and Converter V9, great training for the fingers and all enjoyable problems.

Alacrity Sit Start V9 (Cucklett Delph, Peak District)
I also changed up the pace by starting going back to Malham for the first time since May with the aim of keeping my endurance topped up.

Cover to Cover 8b, Malham 
After re-climbing Climb of the Century 8a+/8b on the upper tier, I took it to the top of the crag via Breach of the Peace to do Dave Birkett's excellent linkup 'Cover to Cover' 8b for a particularly memorable outing.

Cover to Cover 8b, Malham 
Getting into October and with even Malham starting to seep badly, it was time for some final training pitches. On a cold afternoon off work, I managed to do The Great Escape 8b+, a bit of a cop out link breaking out left into Predator before the final crux of Cry Freedom but nevertheless guaranteed to produce a good pump! 

The Great Escape 8b+ Malham (Pic: John Thornton)
Trip to Smith Rock

I was joined on the trip by Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, who was keen to try Just Do It with me. It was great to head out there with another Brit to share beta and psyche after several solo missions. It had been 13 months since I had last tried the route in the autumn of 2016 when I was out here for a full month (see my blog from last year I had done a lot of bouldering, training and routes since then so I was keen to see if I was any stronger on the route. 
The upper crux of Just Do It 8c+ by the 15th bolt from an unusual angle (Pic: Jon Roderick)
After a couple of days of re-familiarising the moves, I reclimbed some key links and started putting in some burns from the ground. Unfortunately, it was hellishly cold on a lot of the days we were up there, even when the infamous Monkey Face wind wasn't blowing a houlie. We even enlisted the help of a portable propane heater in an effort to bring some life to our freezing fingertips. Even when you managed to get warm enough to climb, you were so exhausted from the constant running up and down, star jumps and taking off 7 layers of clothing that by the time you got on the rock, you had likely already used up a lot of your energy reserves. Despite this, I was pleased to get up to the porthole rest by the 15th bolt three more times in total. On one go where I arrived at the crux with numb fingers and had to shout take, as I could no longer feel the holds(!), after the hot aches had subsided, I rested a few minutes on the rope then, after lowering down to the 12th bolt, went from there to the top (see video below). Sometimes, when things don't go to plan, this is just the filip that you need in order to try a new link. 

Link on Just Do It 8c+ (from 12th bolt to the top)

Mina did really well on the route, quickly learning all of the complex moves and redpointing the lower part (8b) with ease on her 3rd day on. I have never climbed on this route other than on my first day on due to the rugged nature of the climbing on both the muscles and skin so this was a very impressive effort. She was doing some great links on the upper pitch in the purple rock and even found an alternative method on the reachy crux move involving a very crimpy undercut (Malham comes to Smith Rock!) but was very unlucky with some split tips. The extremely cold conditions were also not making it any easier for both of us. I'm sure she will be back with fresh skin and in wamer temps to seal the deal. 

Mina on Aggro Monkey 5.13b (8a)
On the last day after Mina had left, I had my best ever burn. I somehow got to the porthole feeling quite fresh, despite feeling tired on the lower pitch. I think relaxing and letting go is just what your mind needs at times on these long term projects. By subconsciously giving up the possibility of climbing the route, I tricked myself into getting through the V9 crimp crux below the porthole despite it being my second go of the session on my 7th day on the route in 14 days. I was surprised to feel my energy coming back like never before in the shake out. I think I even shook out too long (a full minute) as I was so used to having to stay there that long from previous redpoints in order to get any kind of recovery. I had a really good go at the upper crux where I got the gaston crimp for the left hand solidly for the first time and was pretty close to sticking the deep 2 finger pocket that marks the end of the really hard climbing. 

Mina cruising on Churning in the Wake 5.13a (7c+) 
Having run out of time again, I left feeling encouraged that I had actually improved on the route in the preceding 12 months and will be back as soon as I can for another crack, hopefully with temperatures 20 degrees warmer! 

Accident at Burbage 

Sadly, the second weekend after I got back, on a bouldering outing to Peak gritstone with Pete Dawson, I fractured my talus bone (the small bone that the head of the tibia rests on) falling off the top moves of West Side Story, a classic font 7b+ at Burbage West. I have done the problem including the 3 move top out several times in the past so was possibly lulled into a false sense of security. It was one of those moments where I was probably more tired than I realised after a full session over at Burbage North and quite a few attempts to repeat Western Eyes. It was also a little damp in the air (not on the rock) and my right foot slipped on the foothold as I was standing up into the crimpy sidepull before reaching for the top of the crag. 

Out the game! Fractured talus from fall off West Side Story (small fracture not really visible)
I fell straight down with my feet on a level with the top jug of the boulder problem and unfortunately, the second pad was stacked on top of the first one in such a way as to create a downward slope which my right foot landed straight on. I rolled over on my ankle which dislocated and then popped back into joint after a couple of seconds. I initially thought I had got away with it as my foot wasn't swelling up too badly but an x ray and CT scan at Sheffield General A and E confirmed that I have got a small, non-displaced fractured of my talus bone near to the edge of the joint. I would like to say a massive thanks to Edale Mountain Rescue team who quickly attended the scene and stretchered me out in the dark. Without volunteers like these, we would all be in a much worse position when accidents strike. 

Luckily, the fracture clinic at the Manchester Royal Infirmiary have confirmed that I don't need any screws putting in but will be non-weight bearing for 6 weeks and will no doubt need lots of physio thereafter to get back in action. Oh well, a timely reminder of the dangers of bouldering, take care out there! Now, time to get strong on the hangboard! 

Attempt on In the Flick of Time Font 7c+ 1 hour before my fall (Burbage North, Peak District)

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Spring in Yorkshire: Something for Nothing and True North

I thought I would bring you all up to date with what I've been up to over the last 2 months or so on the Yorkshire sport crags. Since mid April and pretty much as soon as both crags properly dried out, I have been heading to Malham and Kilnsey with some unfinished business in mind. High up on my list of projects were Pete Dawson's Something for Nothing 8c at Malham and True North 8c at Kilnsey, both of which I had been involved with since 2014.

The crux of True North 8c at Kilnsey (Pic: Sam Pratt). My old, duff method!
By early April, I was making good progress on one of my projects in the Cave, In Hell V12 but I made the decision to cease attempts on that for now and divert all my energies into sport projects. My aim was to capitalise on a sustained period of bouldering and deadhanging since November last year. In Hell will always be there and is one of the driest problems around so it was an easy decision to make, even though I had been close, falling off 3 times after the flake match on Rockatrocity. Only one way to find out if I would be fit enough for Yorkshire, get involved! 

I had had some good burns on Something for Nothing back in November when Pete did the first ascent, getting halfway through the crux sequence by the last bolt. However, there is a savage crank off a 2 finger pocket to a distant undercut on the crux and this always stopped me cold trying it from the ground. With this in mind, my first objective on day 1 this year was to try and get the key link climbed from the 6th bolt of Cry Freedom (before the 1st crux of that route) to the top. On a half day off work with Al belaying, I shocked myself by climbing this link on my second day back on the route. This piece of climbing must rate 8b+ and only leaves the small matter of the introductory 7c of Cry Freedom leading to the undercut shakeout at the 6th bolt to link in. I felt way better than when I was last trying the rig in November, game on!

The crux of Something for Nothing 8c at Malham (Screengrab from video footage)

Barely able to contain psyche in between visits to the crag, I started the familiar process of trying to batter the route into submission. It took a few more visits on strategic half days off work to get it in the bag. I found that the stopping point on all of my redpoints was standing up into the crux undercut that you cross through to with your left hand off the 2 finger pocket. I must have had about 7 redpoints (2 a day) reaching this point before I finally managed to creep over the line and stand up to quickly reach over for the sloper which marks the end of the crux sequence. With Rich Waterton belaying it was an incredible feeling topping this one out, the end of 4 year saga! 

Video of Something for Nothing 8c

So, one down and my thoughts turned immediately to Kilnsey where I had already had a few sessions in late April refreshing the moves on True North. Kilnsey in April is not for the faint hearted and several baltic sessions were had where the only respite from the bitter north wind was hiding in the car inbetween burns. Iain McDonald kindly held my rope on a few occasions where I didn't have a belayer and, desparate to keep momentum up and with nobody keen to freeze their asses off, I rocked up at the crag on my own, a big shout out to him!

Nearing the top of True North (Pic: Sam Pratt)
I have blogged about my efforts on this one twice previously for those interested in a bit of background to the campaign:

Blog from 2015 attempts            Blog from attempts last year

So, without rehashing what I have already written about, I will just add that this time around, I was very lucky in that the crag co-operated in kindly remaining bone dry from mid April until early June, a period of 8 weeks, which to North Buttress regulars is almost unheard of. Regular sessions on the route on saturday and sunday coupled with the fitness I had gained from my Malham stint soon resulted in me getting up to the last move again, a highpoint I had last reached in August last year. The whole season was ahead of me this time, which made a massive difference mentally. Knowing that there was plenty of time to finish the route off even if it got wet, only left the small matter of actually climbing it, easier said than done!

Hanging out on the last bolt of True North (Pic: Sam Pratt)
I kept on with the sequence on the last move I had tried a lot last year, involving a deep right foot dropknee onto a low fin with my left foot still on the glued block. Unfortunately, I kept getting spat off as the recoil when coming out of this dropknee was savage! I was able to link through this fine from the Full Tilt belay and it was doable, although not every time, from the kneebar by the 5th bolt on Full Tilt. As soon as I tried it from the ground though, even after 2 full days rest and a perfect go where nothing went wrong, I was still getting shut down. When my falls off the last move (including last year) went into double figures, I knew it was time to change things up a bit.

Reaching the 'eyes' on True North (Pic: Dale Comley)

I reverted back to a sequence that Will Kelsall and Tim Palmer had told me about involving taking the crux crimp with my left hand and slapping straight for the sloper below the finishing jug with my right hand. Although this was a powerful slap, it had the merit of being quick, involving only 2 moves as opposed to my old method's 4, plus even fewer footmoves. I had tried this method last year but had discounted it as being too powerful.
Steepening up! Stretching for the glued block on True North (Pic: Dale Comley)
The first time I tried from the ground with the new method was way better than last year and I immediately knew this is the way it would go down. I had a very close couple of goes where I tickled the sloper twice on the day when Pete Dawson sent it first try (a totally awesome effort!!) I knew I would have a good chance the next saturday as long as the route was dry. After a final light session doing routes at Manchester Climbing Centre on Wednesday and 2 full rest days on Thursday and Friday, I headed to the crag on Saturday morning trying to keep focused. 

Approaching the crux on Mandela 8a+ at Kilnsey (Pic: Kris Suriyo)
On my first go, I felt really good, the best I have ever felt on the route. I was amazed to finally stick the sloper from the ground and thought surely, this is it! Unfortunately, I couldn't find the small, white toe hold needed to stand up and roll over to the finishing jug and I dropped off unexpectedly, utterly gutted! I forced myself to recompose and had 90 minutes rest. I went back to the car to keep warm and gather my thoughts. On the second go, I had in mind that I had done Something for Nothing on my second go of the day so knew it was possible. I didn't feel quite as good as my first try but soon found myself at the last move. I gave it everything I had and grunted my way up to the sloper again. This time there was no mistake and with the last ounce of energy I had left, I rolled over with my left hand into the jug, it was done!! I was ultra focused on the still tricky, balancy rockover shared with Urgent Action and then took my time on the final groove. Clipping the belay was a massive relief after the efforts of the last 4 years and brought to a close a big investment in the route. I was too far down the road to quit, the stuggle must continue to the bitter end!

                                          Video of True North 8c

Over the last month, I have enjoyed briefly being project free at the crag. I ticked Mandela 8a+ the other week, which was a long term ambition of mine. 
New project time! The lower crux of Progress 8c+ at Kilnsey (Pic: Kris Suriyo)
I have also started to make inroads into my next project, Jerry Moffat's 'Progress' an 8c+ 10 meters to the left of True North. This one remains a lot drier than True North and perhaps suits my natural style a little better, being more fingery. Until next time and good luck on all your projects out there! 

Powerful moves by the 4th bolt on Progress (Pic: Kris Suriyo)

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Happy Easter! Update on bouldering and training

I thought it was about time I put pen to paper, so to speak, and write a little update on my winter's bouldering and training for you to digest while you are all munching your Easter eggs! The last time I blogged last year I was about to embark on a period of indoor training and bouldering with all the crags either already seeping or about to. I had some interesting sessions at Malham and Raven Tor right at the end of the routes season on Pete Dawson's new route Something for Nothing 8c and Evolution 8c+, making some mini breakthroughs on both, which has given me something to think about over the winter. 

Texas Hold Em Font 7B+, Trowbarrow  (Pic: Sam Pratt)
From November onwards up until recently, I have been doing the Chris Webb Parson's one arm hang programme before work on Tuesday and Thursday mornings followed by an evening session of either bouldering at the Manchester Depot or Rockover or routes at Stockport wall. I had a highly enjoyable week in El Chorro over New Year where I managed to get two fantastic 8a's done which I had tried 16 years (!) previously, Lourdes and Musas Inquietantas, the latter route being these days very difficult to get on with the Gorge walkway being now commercialised.
Musas Inquietantas 8a, Lower Gorge, El Chorro (Pic; Adam Bailes)
Porrot 7c+, Makinodromo, El Chorro
Since getting back from El Chorro, I have been getting out bouldering at the weekends as much as possible - pulling down on real rock at regular intervals is important for psyche after all! A lot of visits have been to Parisella's Cave where some extremely cold and windy sessions were had but also to Pill Box Wall and Sunny Wall on the Orme and Tremeirchion and the Gop near Prestatyn plus a day at Trowbarrow in the Lakes. I was chuffed that I have managed to tick off some of my hardest boulder problems, including my longstanding nemesis, Drink Driving V12 on Pill Box Wall, which has been satisfying. Halfway House V10 and In Life (lite) V11 in the Cave, Silence of the Trams Sit V10 at Sunny Wall, Enter the Dragon V12 at Tremeirchion and Push the Button V10 at the Gop have been stand out problems. I'm well keen for more though, its addictive this bouldering game! I have done some videos on my Youtube and Vimeo of some of these boulders if anybody is interested in getting any beta for their own ascents:

Youtube bouldering                                Vimeo bouldering

Here are a few pictures of the bouldering I've accumlated over the last few months:

Halfway House Font 7C+, Parisella's Cave (Pic: Ally Smith)
Pit Problem Font 7B, Trowbarrow (Pic: Sam Pratt)
Texas Hold Em Font 7B+, Trowbarrow (Pic: Sam Pratt)
The Lizard King Font 7C, under Dinas Mot (Pic: George Dunning)

The Tracks Font 8A, Barrel Cave (video still)
The last few weekends, I have managed to get to Llanberis Pass as the weather has improved to try out some problems I have heard a lot about at some new venues, which I think is important to do in order to avoid going stale at your regular crags. It has been cool to climb stuff like The Tracks V11 in the Barrel Cave and the Lizard King V9 under Dinas Mot and Corridors of Power V10 in the Cwm Glas Bach boulders over a handful of visits, which has left me hungry for more!

Pump up the Valium Font 7c+, Raven Tor (Pic: Ally Smith)
Recently, I was psyched to do a one arm hang on the central bottom rung of the Beastmaker 2000 without rotating and with no weight taken off for the first time, which is definitely progress! Here is a little video of the first time I did this on my right arm:

Now, thoughts are turning to the forthcoming routes season and I have already been back to Raven Tor and Malham to get involved with some of my projects there. This year, I am going to try and boulder as much as possible as well over the summer, to keep the power up - its got to help on those route cruxes. So, stay psyched out there and whether you are going for boulder or route projects this spring, try hard and all the training will be worth it in the end!

Views from Sunny Wall, Great Orme

Friday, 28 October 2016

Project updates from Kilnsey and Smith Rock

Hi folks, I thought I would update you all on progress on projects which I have been trying this year. As anyone who has devoted more than 3 days to a redpoint project can attest, the closer to your limit a route is the more things have to fall exactly in place for a send to take place. I have been beavering away at 2 main projects this year, at two crags that could not be more different but which I love spending time at in equal measure. The first is True North 8c at Kilnsey in Yorkshire and the second is Just Do It 8c+ at Smith Rock out in Oregon, USA. Having multi year projects has its challenges both mental and physical but I am hoping to seal the deal on both of them as soon as I can, roll on next season!

Leaving the Full Tilt belay on the first crux of True North (Pic - Dale Comley)
I have been out to try Just Do It twice this year, the first time was back in April this year. I was unexpectedly presented with the opportunity of a longer trip than usual at the start of September being in between jobs and didn't hesitate to head back there for a month for another crack but I'll come onto that later.

The upper crux of Evolution 8c+, Raven Tor (Pic - Sam Pratt)
First up, I'll pen a few lines on this years attempts on True North. (My blog on last year's attempts is here: After returning from Smith at the end of April, I had a few weekends on Evolution 8c+ at Raven Tor, the other hard project I would like to do eventually if all goes to plan. I made progress on the upper wall and had some good sessions with George on it who was very psyched before picking up a tweak to his finger on Weedkiller :( However, a split tip from repeatedly sessioning the crux move (a vicious lock on the lip of the roof left of Chimes using a tiny 6mm edge) meant I had to take some time off the route, by which time it had warmed up and True North was dry.

Locking the gaston pocket up to the left hand mono at the end of the first crux of True North (Pic - Dale Comley)
Looking back on how the summer panned out, I spent pretty much every weekend at Kilnsey from mid May through to the end of August, including a couple of half days in mid week and spent a lot of time on the route. After a complete sequence rebuild I was able to work out my ideal beta by mid July and made it to the last move for the first time. I got there 6 times in total by mid August which was a breakthrough in itself after failing at the penultimate bolt multiple times last summer, i.e. at the part where it steepens up to 60 degrees around a chunky glued block. What made the difference was firstly going out right by the third bolt on Full Tilt, which actually saves power for higher up on the route, even though its more long winded than going direct. Actually, for all but the most flexible, the direct moves are now basically defunct after a crucial foot spike for the flag move crumbled away (along with a few others, fortunately not irreparably ;)) Also, by keeping my feet lower on the first move after the Full Tilt belay (see pic at top of the page) and bridging out down and to the right so the moves using the razor crimps were less bunched up was much easier than my previous method. On the moves at the glued block, Luke Dawson pointed out that it is easier to throw a left heel up before you slap up for the big slot by the last bolt, which was a huge help and put me on the last move, which was exciting. 

Clipping the penultimate bolt on True North, at the 'eyes' and before the glued block (Pic: Dale Comley)

On the last weekend in July, I got to the last move 3 times on the saturday and sunday and it looked like I had a good chance of doing it. However, it wasn't to be as the crag proceeded to get progressively wetter, catastrophically so in mid August, putting paid to all suitors' ambitions for another year (apart from a certain Alex Megos who was the only (2nd go) ascentionist this year). Oh well, this is part of the challenge of the route and it means that you have to really tick it in May/ June or risk running the gauntlet of the crag turning into a waterfall. Next year, I plan to hit the route early and take strategic leave days in May/ June for the campaign. Now knowing my perfect beta, which has definitely been hard won (!) no sessions will be wasted working stuff out so its all down to training and execution. 

Wrestling with the glued block, which guards entry to the last move, strenuous stuff! (Pic - Dale Comley)
Sticking the slot by the last bolt (don't do it this way, whack your left heel up on the block first!) (Pic - Dale Comley)

After North Buttress got wet, I took advantage of the chance to head to Smith at short notice that changing jobs had offered. One moment I was doing a lantern session at Rubicon, the next I was tying on under Just Do It on the Monkey Face, shaking off the jet lag! With a long stretch of 30 days to go for attempts, I was careful to try and avoid trying it too much and in the first 10 days or so, had second day sessions on White Wedding 8b+ or 5.14a in Aggro Gully to mix things up a bit, which I managed to send (see the video below):

So how did the redpoints go? Well at the end of my trip in April, I was pleased to make it to the 'porthole' (see my the second half of my blog post here: With a bit more time to play with this trip, I initially spent a few sessions on links in the upper part of the route, managing for the first time to link from the belay of the first vertical 8a+/8b pitch (at the 10th bolt) to the upper chains, which is a 15 meter 8b+ in its own right. Logically, if you can do this link then you should be able to seal the deal from the ground as there is a very good stemming rest just down and right of the 10th bolt, the famous 'Sharma' rest where he takes his jumper off in the Pusher video from 1997, where you can stand around for up to 3 minutes. However, I found during repeated redpoints from the ground that in spite of this rest, the upper crux feels substantially more pumpy than when you approach it just having done the 3 bolt 7b+/7c from the belay. 

Not a wet crimp in sight! (Pic - Bob Loomis)
On redpoint from the ground, I would get through the lower crux by the 14th bolt (a savage Font 7b+ crimp move in the steep purple rock) most redpoints (8 times this trip in total) but fail to get through the upper crux due to very high levels of pump. The porthole is such a good hold, albeit with very poor feet that it is tempting to outstay your welcome there. I would generally spend 45 secs to a minute there trying desparately to expel all the lactic acid from my forearms before pressing on. The upper crux feels extremely taxing in that state of pump as it is an insecure Font 7b stab to a deep 2 finger pocket that requires you to retain good form using an awkward right smear and executing a big cross through to a tiny left hand gaston crimp and then to the deep 2 finger pocket. Funnily enough, the stronger you feel and less pumped you are, the easier these moves feel, go figure! 

At the first shake by the 5th bolt (5.13b or 8a to here (Pic - Bob Loomis)

 I was hit with a 6 day warm spell at the 2 week mark after having 4 or so  attempts where I was quite close to sticking the pocket. However, for some reason, I kept repeatedly getting the gaston too low on the cross through and once that happens there is no way back, no adjusting is possible! Hard climbing was pretty much out of the question with temps up to 93F on one day. After some trail building in Cocaine Gully and a few training sessions in shady Aggro Gully, it was time to resume attempts. However, there was now an element of time pressure as I had less than 2 weeks left. The problem with a route of this nature on a relatively short trip is that you need a full rest day between serious attempts due to the sharp nature of the rock and the fact that you are pretty much wasted the next day! The days soon mount up and suddenly I was down to the last week. I was taking 2 full rest days to be totally fresh after a chat with Sonnie Trotter (which was rad!) who gave me some more ideas for foot beta - he sent it back in 2000.

The first crux of the upper section by the 14th bolt, the porthole rest up and left (Pic - Jason Bagby)

I gave it a really good go with 3 days to go with Calvin in pretty much perfect temps of 56F and had one finger in the back of the 2 finger pocket on the upper crux and felt the least pumped yet in the porthole.  However, as soon as my left fingers bit into the sharp gaston on the cross through I knew I was a little too low on it again, my body sagged downwards slightly and my left elbow went up... I was off again! On my last attempt on the last day after only one rest day where the very friendly French climbers Nina Caprez and Christophe Bichet were enjoying their second day in the Park up on the Monkey I didn't manage to make it to the porthole due to still being fatigued from my last attempt.

:Leaving the porthole, the big span for the first 2 finger pocket (Pic - Heather Furtney)
I am more motivated than ever to return as I have a better idea of what is required in order to send this beast having been up to the redpoint crux a fair few times now. You need to be both fit and strong at the same time, not an easy combo! There are plenty of climbers out there with multi-year projects in a similar situation who I draw inspiration from. Back at Malham and the Tor and in a new job, I am reflecting on the experience and already planning my winter's training for next year's bout on both Just Do It and True North. Thanks for reading and keep the faith on your projects out there!

Just Do It 8c+, East Face of the Monkey, Smith Rock (Pic: Adam McKibben)