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.