Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Ogle Sessions

Summer 1997, Glen Ogle.
“Bloody hell, these aren’t holds. Just really, really bad footholds!”
My first ever experience of what an 8b looked and felt liked, at a time when I could just about climb 7b. Digital Quartz at the Diamond, in it’s first 5 metres contained a miserable selection of match-stick edges and tips-only slopey pockets, how could anyone hang onto these let alone move up them?

Cut to summer 2006 and a short play later I discovered I could now hang these same holds but couldn’t figure out how to move between them, unfortunately any further play was curtailed by the arrival of the midges. Yesterday, after two days of dogging and two days of redpoint efforts, I finally clipped the chain. A route that’s taken me 11 years to climb and it's 3rd ascent in 14 years.

Digital Quartz 8b

I’ve got a soft spot for Glen Ogle; all of the 8s that I have climbed here have meant something in some little way or other to me. Off The Beaten Track was my 2nd 8a, Ceasefire became my first ever 8a+, Solitaire is probably the only route of MacLeod’s that I’ll ever get to downgrade (going from 8b to 8a+) and Spiral Tribe 8a is just fantastic which I always seem to recommend it as a good first 8 for those in the central belt.

But judging from some of the reactions, including Sam Clarke snootily informing me he was going to climb “somewhere good”, you would think Glen Ogle was some back-water, wet, chossy, badly bolted midge infested venue…eeerrrr. Anyway, all the aforementioned 8 deserve more attention : they are all on good rock, well bolted, a tendency to crimpiness (but not sharpness), ten minutes from the road and an hour and half from either Glasgow or Edinburgh. Come on guys, we live in Scotland not Yorkshire or Catalunya: just climb on what’s available and stop bitching about how crap Scottish sport climbing is…(it is, but that’s not the point).

Many thanks to Tony Waite for holding a desperate man's rope, probably the UK’s most famous belayer at present. Glad I didn’t break his reputation by failing on this lowly 8b. What next Tony?

Monday, 5 May 2008

Stolen Pleasures

Nipped up to Glen Nevis at the end of last week, in between some bad weather and after picking up Dan who had just been ill, suffering from exam-fever. We made a beeline straight for Steall Hut Crag: Dan went for Leopold 8a+ and I got stuck into Stolen 8b. Since this last route was put up last year by McLeod, I had been hearing great things about it especially from Mr Tweedley, who made the 2nd ascent a few weeks ago-fantastic effort and thanks for the beta!

Moving along post-crux on Stolen 8b

Anyway, the route didn't disappoint with surprisingly good holds for an 8b but with some funkily powerful body positions and a real sting in the tail thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, the crux and final section was wet on the first day but by Saturday afternoon the whole route was bone dry and we were joined by Alan Cassidy. Two redpoints efforts and the route was in the bag for me and I have to say this is probably the best grade 8 I have done so far in the UK. However, Alan had to use a different method on the crux due to being a fat fingered freak and was too tired to complete the route that day, so returned to complete Stolen on Sunday before the rain.

Alan clipping before the crux on Stolen

A few years ago, I had an accident; a ground fall from 10 metres in Ardnamurchan which put me out of action for 2 months with a broken ankle. As part of my rehab after this accident, I decided to focus on sport climbing the following year in order to put a reasonable amount of time and distance between my accident and resuming trad climbing. In that year, I learned the benefit of focusing solely on one aspect of climbing as I nudged my redpoint standard up to 8b with Huecool at Gordale. By aiming myself at sport routes that I knew I could not onsight and would therefore have to work on, I learned a whole new set of skills that I hadn't really developed before. From figuring out moves and finding the most efficient position to clip from to remembering the sequences (and in particular, the foot sequences...), I suddenly understood the point of redpointing: the perfect ascent of a level that I had previously thought too hard.

So now, with a great start to the summer, I am looking foward to learning more and getting stuck into more hard sport routes...

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Some Scots Getting Pumped in Spain

As I sit down to write this, my trip to Spain of the last few weeks is becoming a memory and the engrams from weaving between the twisting tufas of Terradets are dying down. Sam and I had started out by picking us Nic and Ross from the Siurana campsite and went onto Margalef for a few days. The verdict from us on this venue? Good but not great fun, due in a large part to the cheese-grater pockets that shredded the sides of our fingers. So we were glad to head northward, past Lleida and onto Terradets which I knew from past experience had a complete lack of sharp pockets.
Terradets: Top Tufa Terriority

Last year, I had spent about a week here, climbing at Les Bruixes crag, a 20-35m high crag, liberally splattered with tufa systems and roofs with helpful jugs. Having on-sighted most of the 7c +s and a few of the 8as on this wall, I was keen to return here to see if I could notch my OS level that little bit higher: 8a+. Feel free to accuse me of grade chasing and of being a typical sport climber; obsessed only about the number. These are true facts but reaching into new levels of climbing requires improvements on many different components of personal ability: strength, technique, fitness, sequence reading, poise and psyche to name the obvious candidates. So for me, progressing through the grades is also about learning how to improve as a climber.

Ross on Orient 7c+
But before I go any further, allow me to introduce Dario who we met on our first night at the Terradets refugio. At just the right point in our trip (we had run out of people we could think of to slag off and were about to start on each other…), Dario walked off the train: this biscuit-eating skinny Italian Stallion who had more energy than the three of us put together, kept us entertained with his high-octane sense of humour and numerous games of chess in which he mostly beat everyone. Even more annoyingly though, was that after telling everyone he had not climbed for two months, he spent the rest of the week on-sighting 7cs and 7c+s and doing a few 8as second go. By the time we left, Dario was also pretty fluent at swearing in English…
Dario on THE line of the crag, Latidio del Medio 8a

The long routes at Les Bruixes seem to require a certain rhythm; going as fast as possible on steep sections is important but tempered by the absorbing nature of climbing and internally calculating directions of leverage on the many tufas. This isn’t flat, 2-D follow-the-dots-wall climbing: knee-bars, hand-jams, toe torques, bridging, heel clamps, lay backing and heel-toes all come into play on this crag. While the lads were getting to grip with this style of climbing with varying degrees of success, I started throwing myself at the 8a+es.

Showboating on the OS attempt of an 8a+, Pity I fell off a few moves later, eh?
After a few days of failures and redpoint efforts; my first breakthrough. Trecking, a long 8a+ that, unfortunately last year, I had accidentally wandered onto the last two bolts from a neighbouring route. So despite on-sighting the first sustained 25m, I knew what to do on the sting in the tail move at the top. Not an onsight but definitely not a redpoint either: does this ascent lie somewhere in the murky realms of a flash? Nevertheless, an absolutely fantastic endurance route on amazing rock and exactly the kind of climbing that I love, lowering off with turgid forearms.

Trecking 8a+ , is this a legitimate flash?

Another couple of days later (and more onsight failures), just as I was running out of 8a+ routes, Nic suggested I try Millenium which he was going to dog up. I had avoided this route as it appeared less steep and cruxier than all the other routes. Nic dogged up placing the draws whilst I occupied myself listening to my i-pod and taking in the view. Later, after a shaky start, a technical crux section on a slab, a roof with a final sting in the tail I was soon clipping the chain feeling somewhat unpumped and deflated. Surely an 8a+ onsight should be a total fight? This route would probably be 7c+ if it was at Malham (or 7b+ at the Anvil…) and yet a quick look at the website indicates that most people think it is 8a+…maybe I should just take the tick without all this quite British modesty. Perhaps it is soft touch but I will be happier with a proper 8a+ onsight.

Sam on a "warm up" route at Santa Linya

The last couple of days climbing were spent avoiding the rain and thunderstorms, either at Sector Regina (in the valley opposite Les Bruixes and well worth checking out if you climb 7c+ to 8b) or at Santa Linya (probably not worth bothering with unless you climb above 8b!). Now, back at home, it's dull, grey and feels colder than when I left; still I dream of that perfect onsight when I am slapping for holds, getting pumped out of my box and barely having enough energy to clip the chain.

The three midgets and Sam copying Dario's one legged Italian Style

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Learning the Lingo

I recently taught a friend of Em's, who has just started climbing, some rudimentary belaying, a few knots and more importantly enough of the jargon to bluff her way up an E2 so that she could impress her climbing friends back home...

This card she made, had me giggling. Time had prevented me from explaining the more funky terms of climbing which is probably just as well as she didn't try to deadpoint the mono whilst doing a bruce lee into a toehook and the only bit of gear being the tensioned tri-cam...

Once again I apologise for succumbing to the McNair Malaise with a complete lack of posts over the last 2-3 months (My mum tells me she is now finding the sight of Alan's ripped torso a bit boring). But with some bouldering snippets and an upcoming trip to Spain approaching there will be a few more blogs.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Some Friends of Mine #2: Alan Cassidy

I have known Alan for almost as long as I have been climbing and he is probably the most "well known under-rated" climber operating in Scotland. I first knew him as my junior rival in the Scottish Leading League and various boulder comps back in the ‘90s. Back then, we shared top spot about 50/50 but as Alan has been a member of the British Climbing Team for three years now and is built like the proverbial brick shit-house, I would struggle to get anywhere near his position these days.

Alan on Anabolica 8a, Siurana (Photo: Hotaches)

It’s no secret that Alan loves his sport climbing and with over 70 sport routes of 8a standard or above, he is the “Mr Mc8a” of Scottish climbing. Personally, I think it’s madness to operate solely as a sport climber in Scotland due to a large number of factors but Alan has worked hard at this discipline despite this and the results speak for themselves.

Favourite climbing area/crag and why?
Ceuse probably - I've had a great time every time I've been there, the routes are great (if sometimes a little similar), great scene, good views and fit climbing birds ;-)

What kind of routes do you prefer climbing
- At the moment I like climbing at my physical limit, pushing myself as hard as I can, so as I am a bit soft, that generally means sport climbing and bouldering. But I have got good trad pedigree too and I have a lot of trad routes I want to go for in a few years time. I love all climbing and hopefully I'll be out on mountain severes in my seventies (though really I'd still like to climb 8a when I'm 70!).
What do you see as your biggest strength?
- My opinion of my own climbing is that I am equally strong/weak in all areas. There isn't really one area of climbing that I excel at over others, I just seem to get by on what Ive got. I'm not the strongest boulderer, but I can hold a level close to my maximum for a reasonable amount of time, so I guess power endurance is my strength.

What do you see as your biggest weakness?
-Strength is my weakness, plus a complete inability to open out my hips. I cannot frog to save myself. Some much so I think I could gain a grade just from being able to do this.
What motivates you to push yourself to climb as hard as possible?
- I just love it pure and simple. I love feeling at my absolute limit, struggling to do things which feel impossible and being so pumped you can't even speak. Its the best feeling.

Getting pumped on an 8a+ at the Baltzola cave, Spain (Cassidy Coll.)

What is the best thing about being based in Scotland?
- For climbing, nothing. I like the Scottish climbing scene though and my mates are here. For my mental well being, being in Scotland is good and I am close to my family. Plus I love Scotland and am proud to be from Scotland. I'd rather be in Europe though. Scottish trad climbing is however brilliant and I really should be out there making the most of that, but for just now it’s just not what I am interested in. I reached a level where I could on-sight E5s no problem, and did a few E6s and technically I can climb much harder than this. I just don't get off on scaring myself on routes which are easy for me and I don't want to die doing routes which are hard but deadly. I guess that is why I enjoyed Requiem E8 as it has the physicality I'm looking for but is safe.

What is the worst thing about being based in Scotland?
- Where do we start? No limestone, no tufas, no sport crags; yes that's right, no sport crags [Oohhh! Controversial Al!...Niall]), no bouldering areas (yes, you heard). In summer; rain, midges, seepage, too hot or too cold. In autumn; seepage, rain, snow, freezing cold. In winter; rain, snow, rain, cold... In spring; rain, seepage, too cold etc etc. Whinge whinge, moan moan...yes I know, I'm too soft.

O.K. so you say there's no "real" sport climbing in Scotland but what's your opinion on the bolt debate that is raging right now and do you think there is place for lower grade sport climbs in Scotland?
-I hate all this ethical high ground bullshit, it seems like if you’re mates with those stripping the crags you can bolt where you like if not then tough. I don't see why there shouldn't be easy sport crags, not that I know of any good venues actually worth bolting. It doesn't really affect me so I have to say I don't really care that much about whether Lower Lednock is stripped or not - it sounds like a shit crag for sport and trad, but if people were getting something out of it then that is good. Now no one will go there, I find it hard to believe Lenny (Gordon Lennox) and Boo Boo (Craig Adams) are really going to go back there to repeat loose E2s when there is so much good trad that they can do elsewhere at their level. It does seem a shame though that people on both sides take unilateral action and are unwilling to accept the consensus of the majority of climbers. It feels like I'm in a time warp to the early 90s when I started climbing, Ken Wilson et al were bemoaning how the bolt would take over and there would be no trad left - things didn't really pan out like that and I don't see that there is such a threat now. I love sport climbing but I don't want to see the trad crags retro-ed and I don't know of anyone who really does. Some people are really reluctant to open climbing up to greater numbers but the evidence on the crags is that so many great routes aren't getting traffic - I don't see the harm in more people being allowed to enjoy Scottish rock-climbing and if they take there first steps on sport climbing crags then that’s fine by me.

In Scotland, do you think there is still an attitude that you are not a "real climber" if you go sport climbing and bouldering? And has this held you back at all?

-Absolutely, I feel like people judge you for preferring to go sport climbing. Generally its people climbing at a lower level than you too. I love trad, but as i said before I'm at the stage where my ability far out strips my boldness and I don't really get a lot out of doing lots of routes that are easy for me - ok, that is fun now and again but I'm into pushing my limit. I'm saving the classic trad for when I'll appreciate it most. I don't expect anyone to understand that, but I'm getting less embarrassed about being a sport climber (though I wouldn't call myself - there is still too much shame). Britain is pretty backward in accepting other forms of climbing as valid (though I bet most if not all the critics have clipped a bolt in Spain/France etc or enjoyed the boulders of Font). Has it held me back? Maybe when I was younger and cared more of what people thought of me. Now I don't really care, I'm close to climbing 8c a level I thought was physically impossible for me when all I did was trad climbing. Now I'm not sure if that is even my true limit.

Alan does climb in Scotland too! On the classic Precious font 7c, Glen Croe (Cassidy Coll.)

Tell us a bit about your first International comp at Kranj, Slovenia last November?
- It was a shock, I really enjoyed it. It was amazing just being in the presence of the best sport climbers in the world, watching them doing there thing and learning from them. It really opens your eyes to what is possible. I also really surprised myself. I got a lot further than I thought i would in the qualifier and fell from miss reading the route - I basically hadn't seen a hold hidden behind a big feature. At that point I'm sure I had 5-6 more moves in me. Had I seen that hold I would probably have made Semi-finals. As it was, I tied with Gaz Parry in 36th, but 10 places equated to getting only 2 holds further! This made me think there was hope for me to still improve to a new level. The main problem is that to get better at comps you need to do lots of comps. The BICC is now a one off event and there are no other lead comps in Britain. What's more the routes and the walls we have in this country are never of the right standard for what you compete on. That is why young Nat (Natalie Berry) is so impressive - I strongly believe she is the best comp climber in Britain at the moment.

What is it like being on the British Team?
- Basically there is no cash. It's so frustrating cause a lot of the time you come away from training really motivated thinking yeah, I'm really psyched to go do lots of internationals and improve etc, but they can't send anyone, so its makes you feel like, what is the point in there even being a team? If I had the money and time I would self fund to go to comps, but I don't and the little cash I do have I'd rather spend on trips to the crag. The only perk is free entry to climbing walls but as we have to fund travel to training meets ourselves, I see that as paying for the free entry.

Since you have repeated a large majority of all the 8s in Scotland, how consistent do you think the grades are at this level?
-I think they are getting a lot better, thanks to more repeats and the graded list on Scottish climbs, unfortunately there is only about 6 of us actually repeating these things so I think it'll be a while yet before the grades completely settle. The other thing with Scottish sport routes is that they are either pretty cruxy or bouldery and this can often leave you confused as to the grades once you do something - this type of climbing tends to feel alright when you finally do them.

You say you are close to climbing 8c, how are you finding the transition to this level of climbing?
-Well I have found it a bit of a shock that I was able to get on these things and make quick progress. It has really inspired me. I think that ticking a couple of 8b+s [Happiness in Slavery, Dumbuck and Body Blow at the Anvil] quickly has helped raise my confidence but I am nowhere near consolidated at that level (nor really at 8b). I believe that next year will be 2008c for me! I think I would have done True North [Classic 8c at Kilnsey, Yorkshire] this year if it hadn't been wet over the summer because I nearly sent it on the day after my 1st year exams at the start of june- my foot popped just as i was going for the last properly hard move and I was feeling like I still had a lot in my arms. Oh well next year! My focus for the winter is to train harder than before on sick power endurance so I can get these super hard routes done quickly. I'd love to climb 8c abroad which requires having a good margin. A lot of people don't like power endurance training because it hurts - I guess I must just be sick!

Making links on True North 8c, Kilnsey (Cassidy Coll.)

You have just completed your first year of medicine, how have you found balancing out all the different demands on your time, training, studying and socialising?
-Its been OK actually. I managed mixing my training and studying fine (though the exam period was quite stressful). I'm not a big social animal (though i need to address this one as it's about time I had a girlfriend) and I must admit my social circle in the last few years has included fewer and fewer non-climbers. When I was living in Perth, all my school friends were about, in Glasgow I only really know climbers well. I might climb hard but I am too shy for my own good! Or maybe its just the climbing chat that scares them away [aye well, talking about cracks and thumb sprags can have that effect…Niall].

Thanks Alan, for taking the time to speak to Deft Moves and best of luck on getting the 8c tick (although I don’t think you really need any!).

"And if you do this with your middle fingers you get the shadow of a rabbit..." (Photo: Hotaches)

Monday, 5 November 2007

Some Friends of Mine #1: Tess Fryer

This is the first of a series of blogs about some of the folks throughout Scotland that I have had the pleasure to climb with. Each person that I chose has been inspirational to me in some way and by interviewing them, I hope to gain some insight into what makes them tick. Plus, it’s a great way of getting someone else to write about 95% of a blog post for you, easy work. First up and with a strong Trad flavour is Tess Fryer.

Tess bouldering at Reiff (photo: I.Taylor)

Shy, retiring, wall-flowery, lackadaisical, middle-of the road: these are all words which I would never dare to use in the same sentence as Tess. I’ve known Tess since I moved to Edinburgh about 9 years ago (Well, 7 actually since I disappeared into clubland for a while when I first defected to the East) and I have to say she is one of the most vivacious and enthusiastic climber that I have met in Scotland with a real appetite for adventure.

The first time I went climbing with Tess was during the Foot and Mouth fiasco back in 2001, we had planned to go to Upper Cave at Dunkeld but due to conflicting signs and general confusion, we ended up bimbling about Polney. The highpoint of the day was a lead of Scram’79 E4 6a which Tess seconded up this with relative ease. I could see immediately that she was capable of climbing and leading much harder than this; there was nothing hurried or unconsidered in her approach and even though she was “only” seconding, she gave the pitch 100% attention and focus, which typically characterises her approach to leading routes.

Since then I’ve been out on trips to Pabbay and Mingulay with Tess and her partner Ian Taylor; stayed in the same apartment whilst in Kalymnos; passed each other in the airports as one group starts a holiday just as another is finishing; caught up with on trips up north and generally bumped into her on a regular basis.

However, since she and Ian moved to Ullapool four years ago, I have seen her standard rise significantly from leading the occasional E3 to jumping onto E5s. My immediate thoughts were that there must be something in the local water! But then, it’s not so surprising given Tess’s drive combined with the unfair amounts of quality rock that there is in the North-West.

So Tess, here’s your Starter for Ten:

How long have you been living in Ullapool & how is the lifestyle different to Edinburgh?
We moved to Ullapool in 2003 for a trial summer. And never looked back. Though there was one winter when it did rain every day for 6 months, which got a bit wearing. But there was still dry rock to be found. On the whole life is predictably more laid back and low key, much less manic than Edinburgh days where I was always trying to fit in lots of different things. Now I’m more west coast, where maƱana feels like a rush job. I do miss a few things like getting together with friends or going to the cinema. On the other hand, I probably go and see far more music cos everything is 5mins walk away.

Are you still working as a Social Worker and how is that panning out?
Yes. What more do you want to know? It’s the day job: 4 days/week which is an okay work-life balance. Mind you, I’ve just had 3 months off which was very good for the soul. Back at my desk now and starting to pine….

How long have you been and climbing and how did you get into it?
It feels like all my life, but I suppose I get properly hooked in 1990 after going out a few times with a friend and realizing, this is me, this is in my bones.

Tess engaging in some Modern Thinking E4 6a, Reiff. (photo: I.Taylor)

Why do you climb?
I thought you said no deep questions! There is no why really. It’s not a conscious choice. From the beginning I’ve loved the whole experience: spending time in beautiful places, that involvement with the rock, the whole deep play thing. And the incredible buzz when it all comes together. But most of the time, just because…

How long did it take for you to get to E1? And then E3? And to E5 now?
Probably 3 years till leading E1 (1993). Then a decade to reach E3: E2 is a big place. And there were minor distractions along the way - like getting professional qualifications. I did quite a few E4s last year-and then a couple of soft touch E5s this summer.

What do you like most about climbing?
Same things as why I climb- the scenery, the rock, the company (on a good day), the pleasure of moving on the rock (also on a good day).

What do you hate most?
Litter. Crowds. Over-developed egos.

What kind of routes do you like the most?
Anything I can hang around on for hours to place gear and contemplate the meaning of life. I like butch routes – steep with big holds. But I also like technical balancy things. Either way, long and sustained. [Yeah, me too!-Niall]

What kind of routes do you hate?
Unbalanced, with bouldery crux, especially if it involves big reaches, power, or anything too dynamic. And blank slabs. And Lubyanka.

Favourite Area?
Can I have lots?
Top of the list: Pabbay and Mingulay in good weather-a little piece of paradise.
Sheigra. And I do love local sandstone: Reiff obviously, but also Ardmair - all year round cragging.
North Wales is not bad either.

Tess on the FA of Line Of Beauty E4 5c, Sandray.

Favourite Route?
I have the world’s worst memory so I generally forget something as soon as I’ve climbed it and every route is an on-sight, even if it’s a second attempt... I loved the climbing on the Galleries on Sandray last year. And Second Geo at Sheigra. Ancient Mariner on Pabbay was fantastic even though I failed on it. Shibboleth….I could go on.

What’s the best thing about being based in Scotland?
The beauty; the variety – of rock types, venues; the lack of crowds.

And the Worst?
Probably the fickleness of conditions: even when it’s not raining/too cold/too windy/the rock’s not seeping, you have the dreaded midge to contend with. But heh, the place would be a lot busier if people thought we were having fun.

What for you has made the biggest difference to your climbing ability?
Moving here, because there’s so much good rock within easy reach. Even if it’s too wet to climb, you can almost always find somewhere dry enough to boulder.
I’m also probably putting more energy into my climbing than I was in Edinburgh – less distractions here! Having an equally enthusiastic partner helps too.

Having moved away from a city with a climbing wall, do you miss using the wall at all, and how do you think your climbing has changed from not using the wall?
I do miss the craic that you get at the wall, and hearing what folk have been up to. But my climbing has improved except on plastic, of course. We will go through to Inverness wall for a bit of therapy if we get a really dire spell, but it’s 120mile round trip, and you have to compete with bouncy-castle kids parties, so we have to be really keen or clucking.
I think we could do with a Highland Adventure Centre: maybe a roof over the local quarry? So if anyone has £20 million to spare….

You recently led a few E5s. How did you find them?
Has this been a goal of yours or have you just tried to see how well you could climb at each stage?
I’ve always tried to avoid chasing numbers, and climb what I want to do. But I like doing things that challenge me (but not too much). Stone Pig routes suit me, and I’d done a couple of E4s there, so I was keen to try Miss Moneypenny, and loved it: no desperate moves, just lots of climbing, and plenty of opportunities to shake out.
My friend had seconded Warpath, and assured me I had to do it, and I always do what she tells me. It’s the easiest in the graded list in the new guide: “Some people call it Footpath”, I was told.
Since then, I failed miserably on the crux of Ancient Mariner. Though it was a reachy move (but I keep vowing to stop using that as an excuse, and learn to jump…). It was also 110 deg, which didn’t help.
I also got spanked on local gneiss on Freakshow at Gruinard, which was a bit annoying, as it definitely had my name on it, but I’ve got to stop placing a dozen bits of gear on cruxes, when 6 will do. I returned for a re-match recently, and did it a bit shakily.
Those are my on-sight attempts – 50% success rate to date!

Tess with One for Q E3 6a, Reiff. (photo: J.Reed)

A recent poll on Scottish Climbs found that there were over 50 men leading E5 in Scotland. One would expect to find that there were at least 5 women in Scotland capable of doing the same but there isn’t to the best of my knowledge. Why do you think this is?
How long have you got?!
You could write whole volumes on this: gender and participation in sport and risk taking: sounds like several dissertations to me!
For a start, why would you expect that proportion of women to perform at that level? Do they in Britain as a whole: 100 women leading E5 - I think not!

My starting speculation would be the time/commitment factor: unless you have shed-loads of talent, you need to put in the hours, and be fairly single-minded (and selfish), with no major distractions – like high-powered career, other burning passions, or family commitments. I would hazard a guess that it’s pretty hard to find the necessary time or energy if you have children under school age.

I’m sure there are other important factors – I learnt to climb on gear, and that has always been what I’ve done most of and what I get the most satisfaction from (probably directly related to my lack of prowess in any other area of climbing). Nowadays, it feels like the majority of people start climbing indoors. It’s a big leap from that to getting on trad routes – and probably a frustrating one, when you know that technically you can climb much harder than you are able to lead. Which is maybe why lots of people put their energies into sport or bouldering which hadn’t been invented when I were a youth... But the best way to climb harder trad routes is to climb trad routes and lots of them. I know that this affects men as well as women, but women are generally more cautious about taking risks than men, so that comes into the equation.

Oh and there’s the whole thing about motivation and why/how you got into climbing. From the beginning, I’ve wanted to climb for myself and as an equal. I’ve always lead and generally climbed with people who are operating at a similar level. I’ve never enjoyed being dragged up things.
I would hazard a guess that a fair proportion of women come into climbing through their more experienced partners, which is not generally the best way to build up confidence and skills – or the motivation to get past the indignity of struggling to follow his routes.

Basically if it aint your passion, you aren’t going to stick with it.

Thank you Tess, for taking the time to speak to Deftmoves

Next Friend: “Mr Mac8a”-Alan Cassidy

Friday, 26 October 2007

Return of The Nipper- France

I should perhaps rename this blog “Things Wot I Done a Month Ago and Can’t be Arsed Blogging Until Now”, except it probably wouldn’t fit onto the Scottish Climbs blog aggregator very well and it’s a bit of a mouthful too. Anyway, France; Emma and I took a 19 day trip starting in the Brittany region, passing through Fontainebleau, Orpierre and Nimes before finishing at the Mediterranean village of Cassis east of Marseilles.

Fontainebleau was fun and relaxing despite the absence of a bouldering mat. But to be perfectly honest, you can go bouldering anytime at home and it’s not why I go to France. A seven hour car drive later and we arrived at Orpierre, not far from Sisteron. Having booked a static caravan at the campsite, we were expecting a grotty, cramped box. However, our residence for the next nine days was the complete opposite; a sumptuous and spacious mini-mansion complete with marble effect tiling in the bathroom, the only thing missing was a butler on call.

The Mansion at the Campsite

Usually, when I’ve got a sport climbing trip I train for it by going to Ratho, doing circuits and generally giving my forearms some form of punishment, all in the name of “getting fit”. This time round, I couldn’t be bothered doing all that and did little training, just some regular bouldering down Alien 2. I also felt it would be interesting to see how much difference all the stamina training actually does from its absence for this trip. I was pleasantly surprised by the results by the end of the trip.

I nearly despaired after the first day having struggled up a 7b+ and having to fight to get to the chain on a 7c. But as the week went on, I could feel my head and body getting back into gear for sustained sport routes. Discarding the staccato rhythms of trad climbing and settling into the slick, almost flowing motions required of steep continental limestone.

Sneaking a rest on a 7c (P.Black)

For Emma as well, Orpierre proved to be the best climbing trip she has been on as all the 4s and 5s were proper lines, well bolted and all of good quality. On previous trips to Europe it’s been a struggle to find such routes at crags. Routes at this level seem to be these scrappy little things tucked away to one side (well, the crags we go to anyway…).

A European sport trip is never complete without bumping into someone you know from the UK. Stepping into those shoes were Phil Black and Alison Martindale, of Raindogs fame, who had last seen me about five years ago running about Alien Rock dressed as Luke Skywalker, but that’s another story…Not forgetting some lads from the Lakes who knew the Sheffield Mafia back in the ‘80s and imparted some, err, “unsavoury” tales of a certain gritstone hero from that era (ask me at the wall or the pub; I know my mum reads this blog…).

The 7cs got easier as the week went on; plenty of wine, beer, pain au chocolates and croissants were consumed. We got up late, had lunch then went climbing only 15 minutes from the campsite. The sunsets lit the crag orange, I cruised a 7c+: it was a perfect holiday.

End of a Fantastic Day

And then I nearly cocked it all up.

I locked the only keys inside the hire car one night.

Frantic calls were made to the hire company the following morning and by lunch time a mechanic from somewhere appeared in a battered Peugeot. With a box of coathangers. An hour later almost no progress had been made other getting the driver door open a one inch gap (via some rubber airsacks and a hand pump) due to the design of this new model of a Fiat Punto. Everyone else on the campsite pitched in with ideas until finally the passenger door was opened with a set of tent-poles.

My relief was palpable as I had had visions of the car being towed away. With all our climbing kit still in the boot. Oh, I onsighted Game Over 8a, that evening too, but of course no-one at the camp-site will remember that little detail- I’ll always be the Scottish numpty who locked his keys in the car.

Game Over 8a (P.Black)

A silly schoolboy error saw me slip off an easy move at the second bolt on Bookaro Banzai 8a the next day. But instead of dogging on to the top, I lowered down, untied, retied and lead straight back up, past my highpoint (lowpoint, really) and the next 20 metres to the chain. Banzai has two distinct, powerful cruxes and cruxy routes aren’t my forte, however having already fallen off had relaxed me and removed the pressure. Consequentially, I seemed more willing to throw and slap for poor holds and only had a mild suggestion of a pump at the top. I felt like I could have climbed another 20 metres! Maybe a good tactic for my next sport climbing trip would be to deliberately fall off at the second bolt to ensure that perfect state of mind on hard onsights…

The last few days of the trip ended at Cassis: sun, sand and sea and plenty more wine before heading back to the muted grey skies of autumnal Scotland.

A great holiday, fantastic climbing and some stories to tell but I will not be remembering this trip for all these things. After nearly five years together, Emma and I are now engaged to be married. The girl who tamed me of my reckless climbing approach, who introduced me to whisky (an Englishwoman no less!) and the one that I dressed up as a ned couple is the one that I want to spend the rest of my life with. Many thanks to Caz and Diff for plying us with excessive amounts of alcohol that fateful night many years ago!

The Missus and I with a "pile of stones" in the background