Saturday, 7 January 2017

Spain Game II

Christmas is time for eating and drinking but not if you want to climb hard in Spain. The sun is low in the sky, the crags are cool, it’s the perfect time for pushing into the high numbers at crags like Oliana and Santa Linya. Here it’s all about the project; you see people on the same route for weeks. They make progress bit by bit, very occasionally sending. The likes of Jonathan Siegrist, Jacob Schubert and Seb Bouin are all visiting and the locals are often there like Edu Marin and Patxi Usobiaga although this year Chris Sharma didn’t make an appearance. It’s hard not to be inspired with all these climbers around and you realise that the way to mastery is letting go of climbing lots but instead focus on one route. Although this may lead to no sense of achievement or satisfaction the best love giving it everything and they are thrilled when they make tiny steps of progress.

I’ve visited this area many times and used the quality routes to push myself. My first 8b was in Margalef, my first 8b+ Siurana, my first 8c Oliana. My goal was to go for my first 8c+. I was searching for a beautiful route with athletic moves right at my limit. Last year I got shut down by an 8b with an 8c+ extension called Blomu but had loved the nature of it. Blomu climbs the left side of Cova Gran near Santa Linya which is thirty metres of perfect orange overhang. The difficulty escalates with the hardest moves being right at the top, the best type of route. After a couple days, I wasn’t sure if it was possible, there was a stopper move right at the chain of the 8b. The moment of realisation it was possible was when I found an awesome drop-knee knee-bar cheat beta for this stopper move. It was time to rest. Now I had all the beta down it was time for red-points. This is when all the nerves and anticipation creep in. No project is possible unless you truly climb freely, focusing only on the climbing and not about the chains. On my first two goes of the day I dropped the top crux, a desperate stab to a three-finger pocket. Normally two hard goes and my arms will be wearing out but as the sun was dipping behind the hill I wanted one last go. This was perfect, I didn’t have any expectations. I just wanted to go and give it hell. I got to the crux and did the next moves, I kept my head together and clipped the chains!

Going back to climbing without fear in your heart, sometimes it comes naturally. You just manage to get out of the right side of the bed in the morning. Maybe coffee helps, maybe it’s the right cereal, or perhaps it’s a low gravity day but climbing like this is special and comes once in a blue moon. I had just one of these days this trip. I’d been being shut down for the third year in a row on Rollito Sharma Extension 8c. This was a true nemesis and a top move felt ridiculous from the floor. However, this one day I climbed it with only a few sketchy moments. After this I felt confident. I went for the flash of an 8b Luke had sent a few days earlier called Codigo Norte. This was a route on the right side of Cova Gran which featured an intense section of about ten moves with a crux revolving about a mono. I fought hard and made it to the top of this one for my first 8b flash. Still brimming with confidence, I decided it would be a good idea to try Ruta de Sol 8b. Frances Bensley and Will Smith had succeeded on this route earlier in the trip and thought it was possible to flash. The moves felt hard but when I thought I was about to fall, my fingers didn’t uncurl. Many times, I should have been off but I still managed to battle through to get the flash. This was a dream as it was cool to actually do a route I’d deliberately not tried in order to do it first go.  

We also climbed lots at Oliana. This is a beautiful crag. Its about fifty metres long, sustained and slightly overhanging this makes for some hard routes. Early in the trip I did El Gran Blau 8b+. There was a direct start to it called Joe Blau 8c+ that I’d seen Jessica Pilz do last year and Jim tried it. Both said it was incredible. The first four clips are a hard boulder problem and you end up clipping the fourth draw when it is by your feet. I never took the fall but each time I felt like I was on some hard grit route. Next you have a nice jug rest to chill out. Then the meat comes and you must do about twenty sustained powerful moves which finished in a dyno to a big jug pocket which is the crux move of El Gran Blau. On an early go I got to the dyno move but could barely clip let alone stick this nails jump. Although after this I had the moment where you know it’s possible. After doing the hard climbing you still have an 8a+ to climb which finished in a sustained section of hard technical climbing. Bad feet, bad hands, run-outs and being pumped out of your mind isn’t a very pleasant combination. A few days later, on my second attempt of the day, I went to war. I got to the dyno boxed again but slightly less so and I managed to recover and do the dyno. Now anything less than the top would be a heartbreaker. I climbed quickly on the hard sections and rested lots. Despite this I felt my arms tiring after each stint of climbing. I was at the rest before the final slab. I went for it but nothing felt quite right, my legs and core were weak. Each foot feeling worse than the last, if one pops I’m off. My fingers sweating, mind racing. I can’t drop it here. Three more holds, two more holds, power scream as I stand up. Not cool when you are on a slab and grabbed the good holds. I’m shaking all over, but elated. The sketch was on point!

Blomu 8c+
The most valuable lesson I can take from this trip is to enjoy the process. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing. If it’s hard there is doubt and worry but you must keep going. Sending the route is only half the fun! 

Friday, 9 December 2016

Moving to Manchester

Corridors of Power 7C+
Well basically everything changed. I lived in a village of a couple hundred, now I live in a city of a half million. I studied in a school of 800, now I study with 80,000 around me. I’m living in student halls and not at home. Surely this must have affected my climbing? Well yes it has.

Studying physics can’t be done all the time, it’s too intense. This caused climbing to turn more into a relaxation from the work, a time to chill out, let my mind wander and body do all the work. I think climbing is great for this as you can’t think about anything else when you try your hardest. I’ve also met lots of other climbers on my course. I love climbing with them as it gives me the balance of working hard to achieve goals and just enjoying climbing because it’s the best. It’s weird how most the climbers I’ve met have been doing physics, maybe it’s because we are all niche people but climbing no longer is that niche what with the Olympics and all that. Perhaps it’s because we like solving problems, well after many years of climbing the tricks to things come quickly. I think it because we need to get out our heads and it’s a perfect way to do that.

Flick of the Wrist 7C+
Moving to Manchester has opened the door for me in terms to crag access. I can now visit all the best crags in England, apart from Anstey’s Cove, for the weekend. Routes I’ve always dreamed about doing are now a few hours away. All I needed was someone equally keen, so I hooked up with Chris Shephard. We visited North Wales to climb at Llanberis, Parisellas and Devils Gorge. All three venues where great days each with a different style and feel.

The main crag we visited was Malham which has many famous routes like, Raindogs, Predator, Bat Route, Rainshadow. I wanted to hit the ground running but doing Bat Route and Unjustified in a weekend came as a happy surprise. The next visit I tried the project to the right of Cry Freedom. This was originally bolted by Aaron Tonks and had thrown of attempts from a few talented climbers over the years. I tried it with Ted Kingsnorth, who is one of the most psyched climbers I’ve ever met! The route is about an 8b until a high rest on Cry Freedom. Then you blast out right onto a steep wall to do a 7B boulder before reaching the chains. I fell on the top multiple times, each time I was nowhere near fresh enough to do the crux. A week later fortune favoured us and the crag was in the best condition it had been all season. I fell again at the top on my first two attempts. On the third I rested a lot more, I’m not sure why I didn’t do this on previous attempts but it is always good to make it harder for yourself. This go I had the beans and battled through the crux to clip the chains. Although it wasn’t a massively long project the fact that it had never been climbed before gave it an aura to me. Hence it was without a doubt one of the high points of my climbing career and one of the biggest buzzes I’ve had from climbing. 

I should maybe mention the bouldering side of things. I’ve had opportunity to push myself, with a lot of hard boulders close by. I’ve climbed the ones with beautiful moves, ones with savage moves and ones with lots of moves. Each one has been enjoyable in its own way. I’ll pick the problem which I was happiest to do. This was New Noise 8A at Tanygrisiau boulders. The setting is incredible, beautiful mountains scared by black slate quarries. The place is made even more rugged and raw by how the landscape has been ruined by industry. The climbing there mimics the setting especially New Noise, being brutal yet oddly beautiful. The problem boils down to one basic power move. It works everything: the core, the fingers and the arms. Nothing can be weak and it was awesome to have everything work well enough to stick it.

Something for Nothing 8c
New Noise 8A

I wondered when I left for university if I would be more or less motivated. I know now for sure it’s more. I’m going to Spain over Christmas and I’ve never been so excited for a trip. I’ve got projects to get back on next year in both bouldering and sport.  

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Ceuse 2016

I turned 18, finished school, and had two months of summer ahead of me. A perfect time for a climbing trip. I didn’t own a car so this limited my options, but for me the obvious destination was Ceuse in the South of France. This was my fourth trip but would be by far the longest time I had spent out there. We travelled down by train and arrived at Gap at midnight. Gap is a big town so I thought it reasonable that there would be taxi’s running to the early hours of the morning. There were no taxis. Stuck we headed for the only open restaurant a Chinese and asked about taxis then hotels. It soon became clear we weren’t going to get to the campsite until the Chinese man pulled out his car keys and offered us a lift. What a stroke of luck.

Rosanna 8a
Tom on Vagabond 7c
From the last trip I tried an 8c called Dures Limites so naturally one of my main goals was to finish off this route. I tried it on the first day and could do all the moves like before but wasn’t anywhere near linking the crux 15 moves of power endurance at half height and also the top crux felt extremely low percentage with the top being by far the hardest moves on the route. I kept chipping away at it over the next week each day having a couple more goes. Slowly I got stronger on it, the moves started feeling easier and easier. My first serious day of redpoints I fell on the crux section each time.

Many people think that if you try a route enough you’ll do it. This is a myth, as at the start you may see dramatic improvement on the route but as this improvement tails off seeing gains is harder and harder. For Dures Limites I knew I could do it if I kept improving so I was nervous before the next session. The crux went and I fell from the top heartbreaker three times, still I was psyched out of my mind to get there three times. I took a rest day and went back for it. All the training is worth it for the feeling of being strong and light on a route that is at your max difficulty. I warmed up on it then on the next go sent it. This was the hardest route of my life.

My other goal was to onsight 8a+. The best training for onsighting is practising it so over the next few days that’s what I did. I was waiting for a perfect day of climbing and I was doing everything I could to create that perfect day. I knew I was close to the ability I need when I flashed Le Poinconnceur de Lilas 8a+ on Demi Lune, this route was intensely technical with a hard crux. The two 8a+’s I’d set my eyes on where both classics Encore and Face de Rat. Encore seemed very possible as I watched my brother cruise up it a couple weeks ago. So after much preparation I decided I’d go for it. I crimped my way through the bottom holds appearing just as I needed them and reach a rest before a final bulge, this was it. I puffed like a marathon runner and squeezed the life out of each hold until I was at the chains. My first 8a+ onsight! Next up was Face de Rat this one was longer but had a rest all day slab in the middle. I made this rest and above all the big pockets disappeared and turned to tiny looking crimps. I decided on a sequence through then and went for it. This wasn’t super hard and a scraped my way through.

Flying off Mirage 7c+
To finish the trip, I had a devil to put to rest. Last time I dropped the top slab of Le Chirurgein de Crepuscule 8b which is a 35m wall with an intense crux at 15m then sustainedly technical from 20m to 35m. I tried it again and found the crux really hard. I then went to fall on it twice. This was really frustrating as I could do this before. Suddenly the clouds rolled over the top of Ceuse so I went for a quick attempt and stuck the crux moves. Suddenly clouds broke and it started pouring it down, I climbed to the slab and once again dropped as it was dripping with water. When it dried out I fired it out first attempt of the day. This was one of the best 8b’s I’d ever done! Just next to this was my final challenge La Femme Blanche 8a+. This route had a big stigma of being scary and technically difficult. I had the beta given to me and managed to flash it. This route was like a pumpy 7c then a crimpy crux and a 7c slab above it. I climbed this on my last day and it was absolutely incredible to finish on this route.

After four trips to Ceuse I’ve grown to love this crag but it’s the first place where I feel like I’m running out of routes. I’ve done most of the good 8’s and only have the harder ones to do like Mr Hyde, Le Part du Diable and Chronique. However I’m sure I will return to this crag if I get stronger as these routes are incredible and I saw people trying Realization which is an all-time dream and looks like one of the best routes in the world although one of the hardest. So I’m very excited to return.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Magic Wood

After Ceuse it was time for the second part of the trip. Magic Wood! This was my first time visiting this famous bouldering venue. I’d heard stories of bad landings, soft grades and the best bouldering in Europe. I got there and it didn’t disappoint there was everything I hoped for and more.

There were bad landings, one of the first problems we tried was called Pirannha which was a 7c/+. This one had a track record of breaking people but I thought the landing looked flat. Soon Ed was getting close to the crux deadpoint but he came off awkwardly and twisted his ankle, there I was thinking the landing was solid. I kept trying but being extra careful now, eventually I managed the deadpoint and tried it from the start which adds about six moves of easier climbing and did it straight away! Some problems however just have god awful landings like Hohenrausch 7b+ but after first sight at this climb I knew I wanted to do it. It’s a perfect smooth wall split with edges and they get smaller as you get higher. The last move was the crux and it was high above the slanted landing and death pit to make matters worse it was very dynamic. I tried a few times and got to the end and chickened out. I persuaded myself that James would stop me dying and went for the last move. I stuck it then pulled over the top. My heart was beating pretty fast by then.

Jack's Broken Heart, the crux move
We had the new guide book which had downgraded loads of problems to a slash grade which seemed stupid for example Pirannha was 7c/+. I wish they would just make up their minds. One of these problems was Jack’s Broken Heart 8a/+. This problem I’d seen in loads of videos and always thought it looked incredible and would really suit me. The line was a row of flat rails that traversed a steep lip. I tried the problem on my first day and found I could do all the moves but linking them felt miles beyond me. On one of the last days we went back for Jack’s and I knew all the moves so just tried from the start, I power screamed my head off and managed to pull it out of the bag. Another stupid slash grade problem was The Bomb is Explosion 7c+/8a. This wasn’t a great line neither was it a cool sequence it was just one very very hard move which for me gives a quality problem. The day we went to try it was a wash out even the Roof of Darkness was wet so this must have been the only dry boulder. The move is pull-on through a heel on and slap for a jug. The problem wasn’t very complicated. After a few goes to recruit the biceps I stuck the jug and climbed to the top. This is probably the hardest move I’ve ever done.

The bouldering was world class no doubt about that. Two problems stood out for me Blown Away 7b and Swizz Beats 7c+. Blown Away we did to finish a day climbing and the sun had set so we needed to use the flood light. Angels couldn’t have made a better line, it was a rail across this massive over hang that was athletic, pumpy and with a scary top-out. We all climbed it and agreed it was an all-time great. Swizz Beats was significantly harder, it wasn’t the best line but the moves on it blew every other climb out of the water. You had to squeeze with every part of your body to stay on the start with toe-hooks being the key then it finished with a technical slab climb. I tried this for a couple sessions but couldn’t quite do the first two moves although it felt like five moves because of the foot sequence. One day when I went up I just tried the problem from the start first time and sent it which was a bit of a miracle.

Spending only ten days here was plenty of time and I’m super keen to get back here again and push my bouldering more. I tried some problems that I didn’t send like Massive Attack 8a+, Steppenwolf 8b and Left Hand of Darkness 8a/8a+. I think it’s important to try things that stop you to motivated you to get stronger so that’s the goal now.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

No place like Spain

Cronica 8b
Imagine the most beautiful walls of orange and blue limestone looking over rolling Spanish countryside. It looks pretty good. Not to mention the walls hold some of the best climbing in the World on them. This place is Siurana, a climber’s paradise. This was my fourth visit to this area and each time I’ve found it more incredible than the last.

What impressed me most was how individual all the routes where. Nothing was the same and each route I did felt very unique and memorable. The first route I went for was Migranya 8b at a sector called L’Olla. This was a pure power endurance festival of pump. After struggling to do the fourth move. I was wondering if this route would be possible for me. I went from the ground and gave it my all sticking the move and sending the route. Also on L’Olla, next to Migranya is Cronica 8b which is a pure power route. Although right next to Migranya it has a significantly different feel with big slaps, long locks and a dyno to finish the crux. All the time spent on the training board paid off on this one and I sent it on my second go.
El Mon de Sofia 8b+

El Mon de Sofia 8b+
Now it was time to find some harder projects. There really was only one place to go; El Pati. I think this is the best cliff in the world with quality route going from 7a to 9b and a good route to go at every grade between. I’d done one of the 8b+’s on the wall and now it was time for the next one. It was called El mon de Sofia, it had got a reputation for being quite stiff. The route followed a smooth bulging wall into a vertical blue streak at the top where some very technical moves guarded the chains. The same day I headed to Campi qui pugui on the other side of Siurana. This wall is one of the older school venues and the routes are classic, hard and thin. Here I tried Renegoide 8b+. Which require ice cool focus for six clips to make no mistakes on the ultra-technical vertical start.  
El Mon De Sofia 8b+

Siurana isn’t the only world class area nearby just down the road is Margalef. It’s crazy to have two of the best climbing areas in the world so close. When Siurana is crimps, corners and cracks Margalef is the antithesis being the capital of pocket pulling. We spent a few days here and I mainly focused on flashing stuff and I climbed many great routes. A highlight was Artisans 7c+ which was the finest leaning wall on pockets, pure perfection! I also tried L’Espidiamos 8c briefly and this has inspired me to get stronger so I can send it next time.

Telemaster 8a
 Now with the projects I had to create the right conditions to send them. This trip I’ve learnt lots about projecting and being able to create a record-breaking ascent. Most of the work is done before hard training to become strong enough to do it. Although 
when the moment comes you need everything to go right. For El mon de Sofia I rested in the morning and kept myself active so by the evening I was full of energy, light and super motivated. The first go I fell from the crux move a massive slap to a crimp. I really liked this move as it wasn’t technical, you could lock it out it was just generating the power and the co-ordination to stick the hold. On the next try I stuck it and climbed the rest of the technical top with laser precision. For Renegoide I tried it in the morning and it was too hot and I discovered a bee’s nest on the route. This caused me to have to wait again until the evening to try it, another great lesson as I had to resist the urge not to climb other routes. The evening came and I put the draws in the top off the route, discovering yet another bee’s nest at the top of the route which seemed to have sprung out of nowhere. Now was time for an attempt. I climbed all the hard bit smoothly and efficiently. The best bit was executing such a technical sequence so well. However, it wasn’t over I rested and some of the bees started flying around my head. I prayed for them not to turn from curious to aggressive. Thankfully I recovered and climbed to the top of the route!

Telemaster 8a
Some places I go and I enjoyed it but don’t feel that motivated to go back to and some places I climb my hardest at but still am not that motivated to return but this area has got me hooked. Each time I return home I can only start wishing for another opportunity to return to climb on these special cliffs. I wonder what my next visit will bring?