Category Archives: Trad Climbing

Nightmayer’s Really Do Come True

 

Stunning views on one of my favourite crags
Stunning views on one of my favourite crags – Marc Langley

 

I’d thought about this route on and off for 3 years. Yes, it had become a bit of a nightmare, as I would mentally prepare for the idea of a lead attempt it would inevitably start to piss it down and I would just accept that it would have to wait another year. Maybe it was my easy exit out; to just blame it on the weather. It meant I didn’t have to really commit.

I’d climbed a fair chunk of the routes on the Cromlech ticking off the classics in the book case area. But, then it came to the more serious and famous routes, one’s that I had been saving for the onsight. The Cromlech always had a slightly intimidating aura and though I knew I was capable of climbing these routes there was something that made them feel more special and scary. Most of the time I will just get on a route but for Right Wall (E5 6a) and Lord of the Flies (E6 6a) I waited until the moment felt right.

Left Wall E2 5c
Left Wall E2 5c – Marc Langley
Right Wall E5 6a
Right Wall E5 6a – Marc Langley

 

Lord of the Flies E6 6a
Lord of the Flies E6 6a – John Bunney

 

I always knew that Nightmayer first climbed by Steve Mayer (E8 6c) in 1992 was on this majestic wall but I’d never entertained the idea of being good enough to climb it until the last few years. Somehow it had this unspoken aura surrounding it with only one repeat ascent by Tim Emmett. I saw the video footage of Nico Favresse trying to flash the route and taking the mega lob which only added to its reputation. I wondered why this route had seen so few ascents when Indian Face which was surely more dangerous had seen more than double the amount of ascents.

Dark Horse Alex Mason showing everyone the way on Nightmare
Dark Horse Alex Mason showing everyone the way on Nightmayer – Will Hardy

 

Alex Mason near the top of Nightmayer
Alex Mason near the top of Nightmayer on the crux – Will Hardy

 

The intimidation of this route finally broke for me when strong dark horse Alex Mason tried this route and finally achieved the 3rdascent in the rain. I briefly tried the route with Mason and figured out a sequence on the crux. I started to realise this route was hard but possible, it sucked me in. Over the next couple of years it would dip in and out of my mind, luring me once again to the bottom of the face. It became a quiet and subtle obsession, I wanted to do it but I wanted to be ready for it both mentally and physically. I wanted to fight but be ready to justify the danger, overall I didn’t want to be stupid and hurt myself unnecessarily.

Angus Kille (the E is silent) enjoying himself on Lord
Angus Kille (the E is silent) enjoying himself on Lord – Will Hardy

 

The following year I briefly tried it with Angus again before he got the 4thascent. In Nick Bullocks account of Nightmayer I found this funny description of Angus “In all of my time I don’t think I have seen a person so worked up and psyched and frustrated and driven all in one young bundle, or at least not since looking into an 18 year old reflection in a mirror” and “This tightly skinned, pent-up bundle once again began striding and shaking his head, obviously lost in a dream of him successfully pulling the final moves and standing here where we now stood but with this dream realised.”

For anyone who has met Angus I felt these descriptions were pretty apt. He’s incredibly passionate and obsessed but this drive makes him one of the most talented climbers I know. I hate to be too nice to Angus but climbing such a serious route on someone else’s rack which isn’t what you planned is probably one of the most impressive and stupid acts of commitment I know of.

This year I decided it was time to decrease the number of projects I was amounting but not finishing. I believe strongly in following the momentum you generate. It felt like the right time to try Nightmayer but it also felt like I had to commit and try it regardless of what the weather would do. I’d obsessively and quietly read Nick Bullock’s account of attempts and ascensionists over the years, I had no place left to hide, this time I would face this route head on. On my first return to this route with James Taylor I retro flashed the route on a top rope but I was sure the sequence I had was a poor one. I top roped it again clean with the same sequence and was discussing a return trip with James, maybe I should stop trying to top rope it clean and get a decent sequence.

We returned about a week later. I think both of us had a plan to lead it with one more top rope to check gear and the sequences. As we left Llanberis village driving up in James’s car I was quietly nervous. John Bunney would be arriving later to get pictures of our lead attempts so it seemed like today was inevitably the day for success or some air time. It had rained a bit earlier in the week but we were sure it would be dry, we were right in some ways but wrong in others.

As we rocked up to the bottom of the crag we were both surprised to see an unexpected wet streak on the bold section of climbing. Well that was that then, game over but we should check it out anyway on top rope as we’ve walked all the way up here. I set up off the classic Cemetery Gates to get us to the top of the route so we could set up a top rope to check the line. Whilst James set off down I sat up at the top in my own little sanctuary eating some Bilberries to pass the time and admire the views of the pass on offer. I knew I wanted to be here, this crag has bought me so much joy over the years and I am sure it is one I will keep returning to just for the pleasure to climb some of the classic routes again or to introduce other people to its delights.

As we lowered to the bottom I tried to towel dry the wet patches in the hope it would magically make the route dry, blind optimism was my best bet right now. James went first cruising through the moves cleanly as there are no consequences on top rope. I decided to break it down and check the gear out so I would know what I was placing and where. I tried to figure out better sequences but as it turned out my spanner sequence instincts were pretty good. James was up first, he understandably got pretty terrified on the wet section but put in a ballsy effort falling off mid crux at the top, he’d shown it was possible despite the bad conditions and I have no doubt when it dries out James will be back to smash this route.

 

James Taylor putting in a valiant effort on Nightmayer mid crux
James Taylor putting in a valiant effort on Nightmayer mid crux – John Bunney

 

As I set off for my attempt I was trying not to let the wet terrain get to my head. I started off up the shared start with Lord of the Flies questioning everything I was doing. I reversed to get my ‘shit’ together and to settle on the decision that I was going to give it everything I had. Once my head had settled I quickly got into the bold section and hit a special moment of being calm. As I hit the first wet holds on House of God the idea of falling and being uncertain as to whether the tiny cam and wire nest would hold didn’t phase me. I panicked a little with how wet the holds were, especially the positive holds that were part of my sequence but I managed to improvise a little to avoid these holds and I knew the dangerous bit would be over quickly. My head took me into a zone where I just focused on the climbing and not the consequences.

Trying to keep my 'shit' together on the wet rock before reaching the safety of the porthole
Trying to keep my ‘shit’ together on the wet rock before reaching the safety of the porthole – John Bunney

 

I made it to the ledges after the porthole a little more pumped than I had been on top rope, some of the holds after the porthole and on the second run out had been a little damper than I expected. I decided to get the decent ledge nests of kit in and wander out right under right wall to re-focus and dry my boots off in a more comfortable position. I went over to have a chat with Bunney and have a bit of a giggle, it put my head in the right place again after a fairly terrifying start. I was ready to give it everything for the hard head wall with run outs between good kit.

Having a little giggle and drying out my shoes after the wet start
Having a little giggle and drying out my shoes after the wet start – John Bunney

 

As I set off leaving the ledges the climbing gets technically trickier, I aimed for the next bomber wire as quickly as I could. I was in, this was the point where I could no longer feasibly reverse the moves I could only push on or bail on to the gear if I got scared. I’d got this far though so bailing didn’t really feel like an option, I had to really try hard even if I felt like I was about to fall. The next few tricky moves came just after the good wire, I knew I could blow it on these tenuous moves. All the time my brain is computing this perfectly executed sequence with no hesitation, it feels so involved trying to focus on the right footholds making sure I use the correct hand sequence with the right body position. But it flows so beautifully, the Cromlech makes you feel like a technical wizard and this route is the culmination of all the routes on the Cromlech.

Committing to the top run outs and entering the grand finale
Committing to the top run outs and entering the grand finale – John Bunney

 

Feeling like a technical wizard on the crux
Feeling like a technical wizard on the crux – John Bunney

 

I gain the pockets just before the crux and at the height where Nico took his infamous big lob. There are quite a few holds around this area that will eventually break off, who knows what they will leave behind. Will Sim broke something off around the crux when he was working it, as Nick seemed to think it might be something to do with his Cumbrian fingers of steel. As I hit a good pinch just before the last wire, it wobbles a bit and I hoped this wouldn’t be the time it decided to detach itself from the rock. I move into the crimps making one hard move before I can place the last crucial wire, it slots in perfectly. I feel so alone up here with this tiny crucial wire, it has held so many falls, I’m sure it will hold me too. The crux is hard, I hit the Spock pocket badly with only my middle and little finger. As I move my left foot up I feel like I’m falling outwards but somehow I stay on when my foot hits the miniscule foot edge and I’m suddenly falling upwards. But now I’ve really set myself up for the potential of a bigger fall onto the small wire. I hit the sanctuary of 2 good pockets before the last few hard moves to the top. I place 2 good skyhooks, at least I tell myself that because I don’t want to think about what might happen if I blew the last moves onto the small wire. I shake out for a long time, I don’t want to leave the pockets but I know I will eventually have to go for the last moves. I finally decided it was time to finish the journey, I hit the last hard move from a backhand, rolled into a small pocket and gained the top shelf. I’d made it to the top and let out a big whoop of relief and probably a fair few choice swearwords.

Finishing the journey and my obsession with Nightmayer
Finishing the journey and my obsession with Nightmayer – John Bunney

 

I had a small moment of reflection at the top. I took in the scenery and I gave myself a small moment to celebrate. I was happy to top out on such an incredible route on one of the most iconic walls in North Wales but also a little sad that it was over.

I have had one of my best trad years to date in terms of headpointing and this route comes close to being the top spot. I love the Cromlech in all it’s glory, I love the history behind the routes up there and I can appreciate the impressive first ascents in their day. I always knew that Steve was a strong climber but this might be one of his most impressive first ascents in my humble opinion, it definitely felt pretty ‘out there’ and technically tricky to me. I can now go into a new phase of appreciation of the Cromlech, if I’m walking up there now it is will be for the joy of just climbing up there until the time I decide to try the upper routes I guess.

 

Dreaming of Pembroke

Instead of being the heroine of a Jane Austen novel and dreaming of Pemberley and Mr Darcy I am a scruffy crag rat reminiscing about some classic climbing on trad. As Winter approaches I sit here watching Paul Donnithornes crazy video of some big waves crashing over the top of Bosherston Head; as I watch this my dreams of a return visit to Big Issue are washed away by Storm Ophelia, at least until next year.

I'm still smiling! I love trying hard - John Bunney
I’m still smiling! I love trying hard – John Bunney

 

I’d not been to Pembroke for a couple of years but in a year where I have been struggling for psych it was just what the good Dr ordered, it was much needed. In an impatient child like way I can’t wait for next years Pembroke trips, I’m sure I’ll soon be asking is it Spring yet! My first visit came to pass with James McHaffie, Maddy Cope, Ryan Pasquill and Mike Hutton hanging around to take some cool pictures.

After a very wet and adventurous first day climbing the classic Preposterous Tales (E2 5b) which felt like an atmospheric caving experience and an extremely wet Stargate (E3 5c) which felt nails, I think we made the most of the less than ideal Friday weather forecast.

Caving Scenes - James McHaffie
Caving Scenes – James McHaffie

Saturday arrived with some better weather conditions and I got my first foray into some of the classics; climbing Pleasure Dome (E3 5c) and seconding Caff up Mutiny on the Bounty (E6 6a). Fatboy then went on to lead this as his first E6 with Caffs recommendation of it being about E3, perhaps not that easy but still a great introduction at the grade.
We then headed for the main event, Big Issue. Caff got a bit over excited and set off in the sun (completely ignoring his own game plan) getting cooked on the crux and flying off. Caff and Ryan had tried to on-sight this route the weekend before but were now attempting it ground up. I’d wondered if I was on form for this route or not, and then I thought I’d never get past the first few metres trying it ground up. I watched Maddy and Ryan put in great efforts, then I had my first go. I surprised myself both times by getting into the crux and the seed was sown. I was psyched by the possibility of doing this classic route, but, the day was made by having fun trying it as a team, watching Caff cruise the route and better yet watching Ryan fight hard on his third attempt to make it to the top with chicken winging glory! After all we wouldn’t let him live it down if Caff burnt him off!

Group Camaraderie really helps on intimidating routes - Mike Hutton
Group Camaraderie really helps on intimidating routes – Mike Hutton

The next day was a tired one, my skin was sore and Caff was hungover. First up was a route that Caff had recommended but I approached it with some trepidation. A friend of mine had a bad accident on Barbarella (E5 6a) just over two years ago, she has recently written about it in Rock and Ice. I would describe Harriet as a strong climber with a great ‘go for it’ attitude, her gear ripped and she decked out, the result was lower vertebrae compression fractures and a broke wrist.
As I set off it was a little greasy and I was tense about following in Harriets footsteps; to battle this I placed as much kit as possible. I climbed down and rested, then I shook my way up the route getting over pumped and secretly cursing Caff for sandbagging me by sending me up this route for a ‘warm up’.

Trying not to look pumped or scared on Barbarella - Mike Hutton
Trying not to look pumped or scared on Barbarella – Mike Hutton

Next we visited Huntsman’s leap, somewhere I’d looked longingly at 13 years ago as a psyched18 year old but had never climbed on till now. Caff sent me off up Headhunter (E5), this time though it was a long endurance route with a bit of a bold start. Luckily for me this route was my style and the climbing was perfection, I loved every minute of it.
Caff then decided to tick another Leap route off his list with a spicy E5 6b called Woeful. I haven’t stopped being a Pembroke punter yet, I’d come down either just my climbing shoes so whilst Caff was cruising I was dancing around in the wet sand trying to stop pools of water soak into my shoes. I actually fell off seconding this rarely climbed route as the weird nature of it started to aggravate my shoulder, an impressive lead by Caff but not one I’ll be back for anytime soon.

What a beauty! - Mike Hutton
What a beauty! – Mike Hutton

A return trip was imminent, I’d got the psych to be back in Pembroke as quickly as possible. Usually on the bank holiday weekend in August I would have been competing at the DWS comp in Exeter but the guys at the Quay were having a well deserved break to freshen it up for next year. This also meant I could have a well deserved break from scaring myself above water, or so I thought. On the first day teaming up with fellow DWS competitors Simon Rawlinson and Rhoslyn Frugtinet, Simon thought it would only be fair to warm up on a DWS route! 😳 We head over to Breakfast Zawn where Simon told us there was a great 6b to get started on. The psyched led the blind up this ‘warm up’ route which felt tricky for the grade and actually turned out to be Black Mass (7b), naughty Simon! Whilst a little soft for 7b it wasn’t 6b either, perhaps somewhere in the middle.
After a little excitement Rhos went on to lead Pleasure Dome and I led the classic Bloody Sunday (E4 6a) giving Rhos an idea of how I place my gear and seat it as she is new to the trad climbing game.
Simon had done an amazing effort of setting up a top rope on Big Issue and we went down to check it out again. The moves are truly incredible, in the sun Simon had a hard time commenting that it was a big step up from Point Blank (E8 6c). Rhos looked strong on the route and I had some encouraging link ups, I was glad I checked out the top though as it is still pretty tricky. Simon had a second go, improving on the first in cooler conditions and making good progress.
Day 2 saw a return journey to the leap with Rhos cruising up Headhunter and I seconded a lovely guy called Russell up Minotaur (E5 6b) after he cruised up it for the on-sight win. I’d not led this one but sometimes you can see in the eyes of someone else how much the ascent would mean to them. Russell’s climbing partner was tired and Rhos had been stolen from me, I didn’t feel the need to lead this route and I was more than happy to see someone else achieve success on a route they wanted to do. Simon was checking out Dusk till Dawn (E8 6c) and suggested Terminal Twilight (E7 6b) to myself and Rhos. At this point I hadn’t learnt about leap conditions but I was quickly going to learn the hard way! I set off up the expectedly wet bit and slipped off, glad that Simon had placed a piece of kit to protect the damp start. Next go I made it through and got to the point where I expected it to dry off, it wasn’t super wet but it also wasn’t that dry. I fought for over half an hour hanging about trying to figure out a non-reachy way through the first hard bit without using soaking wet holds. I’m a stubborn git but in the end I was off, eventually I did the moves using wet holds and made slow progress until I hit a dodgy peg and a less than ideal cam. I set off up on wet undercuts not psyched about taking a dangerous whipper on to kit in greasy rock. In the end I shouted for Simon to give me the static rope to tie into, I’m glad I did because moments later I slipped of the aforementioned wet undercuts. I was knackered and it took all of my effort to just climb out at this point; sorry Rhos! Watching Rhos struggle a little bit to climb out did make me feel a bit better that I wasn’t being a wuss! I didn’t understand why it was so wet wet with such little rain and a beautiful sunny day until it dawned that whilst it was hot up on top it was very cold at the bottom of the leap causing the rock to condense, climbers beware!
Day 3 for me was a planned adventure with James Taylor that turned into a little bit of an unexpected epic. It all started off at a leisurely place; James led a Pleasure Dome (I seem to really like this route), then we climbed Mysteries (my first foray into Stennis Ford). After this James was keen to check out an E5 called Circus Circus which ended up being pretty wet, he instead made the very sensible decision to climb the classic Luck Strike (E1 5b).
The punter part of the day came just after this when we headed back to Stennis Ford. I abbed down From A Distance (E7 6b) checking the grease factor and brushing the bottom. I also placed in the first bit of low kit to protect the very start after some sensible advice.
As I set off up the route I made it through the first hard bit, I was then on the traverse rightwards between the two pegs. At this point I became aware of a crowd watching at the top, and I started to get nervous. The traverse run out to clip the next peg felt tricky and had whipper potential, I spent a long time shaking out on a variety of holds including a mono! The footholds felt slippy but I eventually managed to unlock the puzzle and clipped the peg, and relax. I could breathe I started to move up and my foot slipped, I was off, I lowered down frustrated with myself for not being patient. I wasn’t pumped so I felt like I hadn’t tried hard enough. James set off with my beta, glad that the traverse thread had a draw in it he managed to clip and make the next few moves before bingo wings kicked in and he was off. James asked if I wanted another go, my body was ready but the overriding concern now was that darkness seemed pretty imminent. Two guys who had been on the route the previous day were watching James, after he fell they upped and left, we were alone. James was too pumped to traverse into the E4 and climb out. His suggestion was to prusik and gri-gri out for 40 metres, I was not psyched as I knew this was how Dougie messed up his shoulder to the point it now needs surgery. I looked over to the grassy cross thinking we had just enough light to climb out. I suggested this to James, if he came down the ab rope and took the kit out we could bail pronto. How a head torch (at the top of the crag) and an ascender (in my car boot) would have been useful right now. As I set off up the choss it went dark, I couldn’t see enough to place gear and I’d just hit the potentially loose bit half way up. James was right, we should just take the hit and prusik as I imagined crashing to the boulders if I broke something off. All of a sudden some light and voices appeared at the top. My pride went out of the window and I shouted for help, I no longer cared. I’m sure it had only been minutes but it felt like hours hoping that the choss didn’t break on me. Suddenly I realised it was my amazing housemates (Tom and Bunney) who had come to our rescue. They grabbed the ab rope and attached a head torch to it, after a few attempts I got hold of it, tied on and safely climbed out. We made it out with a few valuable sea cliff lessons learnt and the one I was most glad of was that I had told them where we were most likely to be.

My hero John Bunney, glad they came to my rescue.
My hero John Bunney, glad they came to my rescue.
My hero, Tom Butel - John Bunney
My hero, Tom Butel – John Bunney

Day 4, I needed a break. I was mentally exhausted from the day before, I treated my amazing housemate to a birthday breakfast and off we went to Mother Carey! It made a lovely change to just sit, listening to Harry Potter on audiobook and taking pictures of my housemates climbing some classic routes.

Tom on Rock Idol - I took this one!
Tom on Rock Idol – I took this one!

Day 5 before heading home and the red flag was up! Whilst putting a little spin on my plans it did mean that Simon and I got to warm up and have some fun at St. Govans first. I belayed my housemate on his lead of The Butcher, Tom is normally more at home on a technical slate route so this was a fine effort. It was funny to see him tense up, I knew he was easily capable of climbing this route but he made it hard for himself. I thought he was off on the crux but he somehow managed to fight to hang on, one of the best feelings is when a friend tries hard and succeeds.

Tom trying hard on the Butcher - John Bunney
Tom trying hard on the Butcher – John Bunney

 

By this time the red flags were down it was my turn to try hard on Big Issue. I had decided to headpoint it with the gear in because I didn’t know the placements well enough, I thought I could come back again if I achieved this. I set off knowing I only had one shot before the drive home. I climbed tensely but somehow I made it to the crux and tried to relax, my foot slipped but I stayed on. I managed to reverse to the shake out, ok I just had to breathe. Weirdly in this moment I relaxed because I felt I how had no hope of getting up the route. I somehow managed to pounce my way through the crux in a scrappy fashion knowing that i had the rope in a bad place which could lead to a bad fall, and suddenly I was at the last few really hard moves. As I moved up my foot slipped but I stayed on, one big move down, I set up into the next and catch this awkward sidepull, I set up again to pounce for the next hold but I hit the slopey outside part of the hold instead of the jug and I’m off taking the ride. Well that wasn’t too bad for my first proper headpoint attempt, it wasn’t smooth because I didn’t have it dialled. I pull back up to my highest gear and after a short rest I pull back on and climb through the moves I just fell off to the top savagely pumped. I’m grinning when I top out, yes I’m a little frustrated I fell because I was close to doing it. I’m happy though because now I know I can do this route, I wasn’t at my fittest, I’m excited because I get to climb this superb route again and I’m determined that I will succeed. I think this route might come close to being one of the best trad routes I’ve ever had the privilege to climb on, sometimes it just needs a friend to plant the seeds of inspiration when you doubt your ability.

What have I let myself in for?! - John Bunney
What have I let myself in for?! – John Bunney
Good to have an attentive belayer - John Bunney
Good to have an attentive belayer – John Bunney
Trying Hard - John Bunney
Trying Hard – John Bunney
Big Issue (E9 6c) - John Bunney
Big Issue (E9 6c) – John Bunney
Tongues out for Power - John Bunney
Tongues out for Power – John Bunney
Yes it really is that steep! - John Bunney
Yes it really is that steep! – John Bunney

As Winter kicks in I will have fond memories of my Pembroke trips this year. I look forward to some training over the winter so I can complete Big Issue, hopefully being good enough to place the gear next time for a better style. It’s the Summer of fun times and adventures that keep me going over the Winter, that keep me psyched. What I live for is the next adventure whether it’s on the seacliffs or in the mountains or fighting the pump on a sport route; it’s where I feel that sparkle of something truly special.

Nemesis routes – facing your inner demons

Cloggy
After a hot walk in!
After a hot walk in!

I’m sure everyone gets a route from time to time that becomes your nemesis, no matter the grade it scares and intimidates you. It’s like you are David facing the mighty Goliath, seemingly having no chance. Until finally you manage to outwit him and defeat your foe.
About 4 or 5 years ago I set off up to Cloggy for the first time with Alex, I’d been having a good week climbing everyday. I’d onsighted routes like Right Wall and Void in this week, I was on a roll or so I thought.
Our plan of attack was to climb the classic Great Wall E4 6a. Rather arrogantly – I think this was my undoing – I was already thinking that this route wouldn’t be that hard. It used to be given E3, so I just assumed the gear would be obvious and the climbing relatively straightforward.
I set off up this route going at a steady pace and placing some good kit. However, at the crux I had a brain freeze. I’d got kit in but my confidence seemed to have run dry and I just couldn’t commit to the crux. In the end I reversed the entire pitch (daft I know) instead of heading upwards.
I let Alex take over for the lead, I was so disappointed when I got back up there to find that I could do the moves easily. I felt like my head had let me down and fear had gotten the better of me. This time Goliath had hammered me into submission, my head was in such a bad way that I let Alex lead the next pitch too. I had been humbled by this route, stripped bare of my confidence. I felt vulnerable but I bounced back in every way except for facing this route again. It was a valuable lesson never to underestimate a route no matter what the grade is, and yes I do get scared.
Cloggy is a truly stunning crag when it’s dry and it was pretty busy when we arrived. While it’s beautiful I would now never underestimate the aura of intimidation this crag gives you. Whilst places like the Cromlech are intimidating the holds tend to be good and the gear placements fairly obvious. The climbing at Cloggy is technical and the gear placements are fiddly leading you to waste a lot of time and energy. I have been up to Cloggy a few times now and never had an easy mental day up here, I always come away exhausted. I’ve witnessed history in seeing 3 friends climb Indian Face in the space of a week, something I would consider a death route if you made a mistake. It was harrowing and I’m glad they all survived to tell their stories. I’ve had some good climbs on Cloggy but on the same day I had a meltdown on an E4 5c called the Boldest. I felt this was more justified because it is quite a serious route but it only led to me feeling a little negative about Cloggy and reluctant to go back.

George leading Indian face
George leading Indian face

A week ago my friend Dave Evans suggested a return visit to Cloggy to do Midsummer Nights Dream (E6 6a), the word Cloggy sent chills down my spine and I wanted to run away. I started making all sorts of excuses about why we shouldn’t go up there but Dave was pretty psyched on the idea. I felt I owed Dave a day of what he wanted to do after he agreed to belay me on my project at LPT for some filming the day before. I think I was more nervous belaying Dave than he was (only just) about the main first pitch on Midsummer. I was impressed with how he kept it together to onsight this stunning pitch. I can only say seconding it that my eyes were bulging with how technical the climbing is and how run out it was. It’s a funny one, you don’t get pumped but the holds are not good enough to stay on if you lost your balance. You can’t half commit to a move, my words of encouragement to Dave had been smash it in which was entirely inappropriate. In hindsight it should have been climb like a graceful ballerina, not how you would describe Dave if you know him.
I tried climbing the start of the second pitch twice but the rain and wind forced us to retreat. Unsure whether the forecasted thunderstorm was on its way in we were certain that we’d made the right call. On the ground it frustratingly started to brighten up. With it being Summer Solstice we thought it would be rude to leave the crag, the options were Great Wall (my nemesis) to get to the 2nd pitch of Midsummer or a different and easier route altogether. In my head I knew there was only one option but I was scared, I voiced out loud that we should do Great Wall because I had to get over this big mental block. I’ve not been doing much trad recently so my gear placements are a little rusty to say the least and I’ve not been climbing smoothly on trad so far this year. As I set off I was climbing well until I had to place gear. Everything suddenly got a little shaky and I became nervous, my movements became a bit more rigid and there was a clap of thunder in the distance. Great, this was my excuse to back off, I even said out loud that I could just clip the in-situ wire and reverse. Luckily Dave shouted up to me with words of encouragement and I kept on going after the in-situ wire unable to believe I’d reversed these moves. Then I got to where I was 4 years ago, my mental block. I started to shake, overgripping I felt uncertain as to whether I could conquer this giant. I was way above the in-situ wire and needed to settle my head before the crux. I built myself a nest of 4 fiddly, shallow but bomber bits of kit. It was the only way I would be happy. I went up once to figure out what I was doing then I came back to the shake out. All the way up I’d been hesitant and quite negative, in that moment I calmed myself for the inevitable choice. I knew I had to commit to the smears and two awkward moves for glory, in that moment my head cleared, I trusted my kit and I went for it, committing one hundred percent to succeeding or falling off.
Luckily I succeeded, but the bigger success to me was that I got to a point where I trusted my gear and I was happy to go for it knowing I may fall. I defeated my inner demon and toppled my Goliath. It’s not the hardest or boldest route I’ve done, but in some ways it meant just as much to me because I had to come back from a dark hole of negative thoughts. Sometimes it’s easy to take these things for granted when you’re on a roll and in a good head space. As I’ve found, it can be a difficult battle when you’re suddenly full of self doubt to turn it around and get back to the top of your game.

 

Will on Cloggy on a fun day
Facing my fears on Great Wall
Facing my fears on Great Wall

For anyone facing fears I wish you good luck, and if you have any questions about tactics please feel free to ask questions and I’ll try my best to answer. Happy summer of climbing!

 

My year so far part 1

Apologies for the delay on writing any blogs this year, my website has been a work in progress so here is an incredibly late blog that will be in two halves.

I wanted to write about the South African trad exchange which now seems like a distant memory from the beginning of the year. For me this has been one of two highlights of an incredibly mixed year for me. I decided to do as much route training as possible before heading but even sneaked in some January sessions at Red Wall, Gogarth. The excitement was building for heading somewhere completely new and meeting the South African team.

The hospitality and friendliness of the South African climber’s was incredible with a huge amount of organisational skills from Julia Wakeling. After skimming over the itinerary and just being psyched to go climbing for 3 weeks I completely underestimated how much we were going to be packing in, I’m also pretty certain their tactic was to wear us out with the walk ins and copious amounts of alcohol.

On arrival, and straight off the plane, myself, Pete and Mikey headed up to the majestic table mountain with Snort (one of the colourful characters of the group). Table mountain towers above Cape Town with some amazing views and impressive exposure I did my first climb of the trip weighing in at a hefty E4 it was great and just the right level after a long flight.

 

Out to Lunch - 24/E4
Out to Lunch – 24/E4
Stocking up on the important camping bits
Stocking up on the important camping bits

The next morning we got up super early to join the rest of the team at Wolfberg. On the trip over we realised that Snort had left half his climbing kit and I couldn’t find some of my trad rack which I was pretty sure I’d left safely at the climbing wall (eventually got it back). Instead of telling the real story Snort decided to concoct a ridiculous one that involved partying, drinking and orgies in the van. What’s more ridiculous is that everyone believed this story for a couple of days, when Julia brought it up on the way back to Cape Town I couldn’t stop laughing and eventually told her the truth.

Wolfberg Features
Wolfberg Features

 

Incredible exposure on Wolfgang - 22/E2
Incredible exposure on Wolfgang – 22/E2

 

 

Fighting hard on Red Rain - 26/E6
Fighting hard on Red Rain – 26/E6
Pancake rest day scenes
Pancake rest day scenes

 

I was too scared but most of the team had a good cool off
I was too scared but most of the team had a good c

To me there are so many fond memories of this trad trip; the great bbq’s, drinking wine and socialising, pancake breakfasts, incredible rock to climb on. For me the highlights include:

Climbing at Tafelberg; even with a 3 hour hike-in carrying water and suffering in the heat this crag stood out for so many reasons. Every climb was five stars, and I had a great day with my climbing partner Jimbo ticking off numerous E4’s and 5’s. The route that stands out for me here is Blue Mountain Direct which was given 25 or E5 put up by Steve Meyers and Tiny, this felt like the biggest sandbag I’ve been on. I had to dig deep and try really hard finding ways to attain the breaks on small holds and placing more cams than I needed to. But the climbing and the exposure on this route were five stars. To me it was also pretty magical bivvying out under the bright starry sky. I didn’t sleep much but for once I wasn’t complaining.

 

A great bivvy spot
A great bivv

 

Crouching Tiger Hidden Giraffe - 24/E4
Crouching Tiger Hidden Giraffe – 24/E4
Echoes and Shadows - 25/E5
Echoes and Shadows – 25/E5
Tafelberg Spaceship
Tafelberg Spaceship

Watching Steve Mclure flash Double Jeopardy (E8) on Table Mountain, I mean we all know he’s a pretty good climber right!? It was great to see everyone get their silly side out with 80’s style themed get up. Myself, Pete and Steve decided to have a look at triple jeopardy with local heroes Jimbo and Clinton. It was pretty roasting up there and Pete and myself both fell off at varying stages on the crux. Pete gave up but I had a look at the rest of the route. I though it was hard but what is more impressive Steve went first and with some vague information he cruised up this route managing to recover and make the holds look better than they actually were.

Dodgy 80's attire
Dodgy 80’s attire
Attempting Double Jeopardy - 30/E8
Steve Flashing Double Jeopardy – 30/E8
NO Longer at Ease one of the best 25's/E5 on Table Mountain
NO Longer at Ease one of the best 25’s/E5 on Table Mountain

Climbing with Snort at Yellowwood, although this was a ridiculously early start (got up at 3am) and by about 1 we were baking in the sun and I had blisters on my toes. But climbing here on one of Snort’s first ascents called Fantastic Time felt like a real adventure. The rock quality wasn’t as good but I’m glad I didn’t miss out on going to this incredible place. It was very different to most of the places we climbed at the climbing on each pitch was serious, engaging and enjoyable. I did however disappoint snort by lay backing the bit where I was told the only way to do it would be to jam.

The last part of the trip was at a place called Blouberg with another 5 hour epic walk in and bivvy overnight. I was teamed up with Richard Halsey to climb an E5 called Once in a Blue Moon (aptly named because it had taken Hector a long time to complete the route for the first ascent). To me a lot of this was now type 2 fun, I could barely put my climbing shoes on without them being painful let alone climb in them. The lunch breaks were great but I was apprehensive about climbing the crux pitch when I couldn’t stand on big footholds. I don’t know why and luckily it played into my court but I was actually in less pain standing on small holds which the crux had plenty of, with minimal gear and a couple of hard to reach bolts I found this pretty committing, maybe more like E6. I was pretty terrified of taking a big lob onto small cams but somehow I managed to make up a random sequence of moves to clip the bolt and carry on to safety, much to my relief and the climbers around us. I thought we’d been making good progress on the pitches and topped out just before sunset, but little did I know we still had the maze to come and we hit it just as it went dark. This wasn’t where you wanted to be getting lost, but there were a few of us stuck up there. We were managing to make our way down at a slow rate of progress in a group when Mikey and Garvin found us, as it turns out we weren’t even the last people. Snort was against more rescues as it would be character building to bivvy for the night at the top for anyone else who was stuck. Luckily mikey and a couple of others headed out again to gather up the stragglers. Although this was mostly type 2 fun for me with my feet being in so much pain by this point I learnt some valuable lessons and it is probably one of the days that I still remember clearly and with an element of fondness. Even the descent from blouberg the next day was a bit of a mission with some of us nearly getting very lost. We had various stories from Saffers about 12 hour walks to get to or from the crag.

The grand scale of Blouberg
The grand scale of Blouberg
Cool dude at Blouberg
Cool dude at Blouberg

It was time for some of our hosts to go their separate ways and the rest of us carried on to Waterval Boven.
For me the second half of the trip to Waterval Boven was a bit of an anticlimax, don’t get me wrong it was great fun and the climbing was good but it’s not what I would travel half way across the world for when we have such good sports climbing already in Europe. However, this is only my opinion and I have heard rave reports so don’t be put off by my thoughts. The rock quality on the classics is stunning and there are many world class lines but I was spoiled by the sublime trad climbing beforehand.  I will give you my highlights of this part and if you are climbing out there hopefully some of the quality lines that Boven has to offer. The rock has a beautiful orange hue and there are some spectacular features but I feel it is a risk for any climber going here. With stories of people being robbed, held at knife point and Candice giving us her mace spray for the last few days it didn’t feel like a safe town to be in, however if you do visit the couple who run roc n rope are lovely and my recommendation would be to stay up at the beautiful tranquilitas, even though the road up is slightly sketchy the best climbing is up at this accommodation.
Luckily it was only on the penultimate day we had any incidents but it wasn’t very pleasant when Becca got bitten by dogs as we were walking out from the Restaurant crag. It was pretty nerve wracking on the drive in, there are buildings here that used to be accommodation mostly for visiting climbers but they are now abandoned and squatters from a political faction seem to have taken over. When we drove in we pretended we knew this guy to be able to climb there. Ben and Candice had to leave to get to the airport, so when a thunderstorm started brewing myself, Sophie and Becca walked out. As we approached the buildings three dogs started running out barking and baring their teeth, what is strange is that they went round myself and Sophie and started biting Becca who had been the furthest away. Luckily the guys managed to call the dogs off but not before they had done considerable damage. I’m not sure I could’ve remained as calm as Becca did, I’m pretty sure I’d have started crying if it had been me. Luckily the guys on the site were decent enough and one of them walked us to the gate to make sure we were ok, it was the first time this had happened so we decided it wasn’t worth reporting it to the police.

Becca's War Wounds
Becca’s War Wounds

Boven highlights:

Urisk the Rustic Brownie – given a grade of 23 the climbing is not a walkover but it is also at an amenable grade. The best bit about this route is that it is in an exceptionally photogenic location right by the waterfall.

Freak On (24/7a) – the first route I did at Waterval Boven and what a cracker it is with some really funky moves near the top of the route.

Lotter’s Desire (27/7b+) – this has to be one of the most beautiful pieces of red/orange rock with some intricate climbing. It has a real sting in the tail.

Bikini Red (27/7b+) – another stunning line with a sting in the tail.

Snapdragon (29/7c+) – Dastardly tricky moves all over the place from start to finish, I found the mid section to be my crux with many of the holds never being quite as good as you would like them to be.

Monster (29/7c+) – one mega long pumpfest, make sure your arms are in full working order before you set off on this one. What a beauty!

Jack of all Trades (30/8a) – like its name says you really have to be good at a bit of everything for this route. It starts off pretty steady but gradually gets harder the higher you get until you’re all out fighting not to drop it at the top.

Urisk the Rustic Brownie - 23/6c+
Urisk the Rustic Brownie – 23/6c+
Lotter's Desire - 27/7b+
Lotter’s Desire – 27/7b+
Mikey chicken winging to glory on Monster 29/7c+
Mikey chicken winging to glory on Monster 29/7c+

The non climbing highlight of the trip for me was heading to Kruger on Safari for a rest day after climbing at Waterval Boven, it’s something I would definitely recommend to anyone visiting South Africa. I wasn’t sure if we would spot the big five, even if we didn’t it was a great laugh heading there with Ben, Sophie and Becca. I think half the fun is looking for the animals, I don’t think I’ve concentrated on anything for that amount of time in a while. We caught a quick glimpse of a Leopard which was the most exciting but for me, I love Leopards and if I could be one animal I would like to be a Leopard for their graceful speed and agility. We saw Lion’s from a distance, plenty of Elephant’s, Giraffe’s, Hippoptamus and Zebra’s. I could’ve spent more time there, I think there is something magical about seeing creatures in their natural habitat hunting and exploring.

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On my return from South Africa after an incredible trip I was riding a wave of psych; the day after I got off the plane,on a pretty cold March day, Pete robins and I headed to check out Caff’s new route Gravity Wave (E8 6c).
When we first abseiled into the route I had this feeling of being intimidated by the route with no chalk it looked impossible and scary with the sea lapping beneath us. Pete set off along the start, having been on it before with Caff he decided to check the moves out. The start looked tricky with not much gear and there is a bouldery crux in the steepest part of the route. Then it’s just a case of keeping your pump under control with shallow cam placements.
As Pete put chalk on the route it started to look more possible and I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to attempt a flash of this route. Pete stripped most of the gear except the blind wires that protect the crux (the same kit Caff had in for the first ascent) and the starting gear just before it as they would have been a nightmare to get out.
I set off along the bold starting traverse with some trepidation trying not to think about what would happen if I fell off at this point, breaking it down into baby steps in my head. I thought get to the starting gear and the pre-crux wires first, then if I feel good I should just go for it. I tugged on the wires to make sure they were seated properly and went for it. Surprisingly I made it through the crux boulder with help from Pete on the moves and I was soon into the shake out on Chicama. Ok now it was just a case of making it through some big moves on reasonable holds in steep terrain. As I moved along I placed the cams I’d been given, pulling up high to view the placements and wishing I hadn’t as they were all so shallow. all I had to do was keep breathing, stay calm and try not to question if they would hold on a fall. In a certain amount of disbelief I made it to the top and then stripped the same amount of gear for Pete to grab the 4th ascent of Caff’s new route. Did I do it in the best possible style? Absolutely not, I think I could’ve done it in better placing all the gear but I did it in a style that I felt comfortable with and placed as much of the gear as possible. Is it E8 6c? I’m not sure of the grade, some bits felt pretty out there to me and without chalk or beta I think it would’ve felt hard on the crux, but the route suited my style after the crux in that I just had to stay calm and manage any developing pump.

Stripping the gear out of Gravity Wave
Stripping the gear out of Gravity Wave

Part 2 of my blog to follow soon……….

Late Bloomer

I’ve had a hard time sitting down to write a blog this year, I’ve written many and deleted them all due to sounding like I was feeling sorry for myself. I started off the year training well but picked up an inhibiting neck injury which prevented me from pushing myself on the rock, I found this very frustrating when Alex and I headed to Rodellar as there were a number of days I couldn’t climb, luckily it’s a stunning place to be and Alex tried to teach me how to juggle, we played frisbee and generally chilled out and had a holiday.

When I got back to the UK I decided to visit an Osteopath called Belinda Rae who has been absolutely amazing and is helping me get past my niggles, however I have also been doing my best to hinder her by having car crashes!

I also had one of my worst climbing experiences ever when I headed to Pabbay and Mingulay; it was no one else’s doing but my own. The group I headed out with were amazing and the location was idyllic but my head was just not in the right place for climbing and it was crazy how much it affected my climbing. I seconded Alex up an E4 5c on Mingualy called Ray of Light (which should have been an enjoyable experience, albeit the traverse pitch was slightly wet), needless to say I think I cried my way up most of the route on second and didn’t enjoy the climbing. At the time I was embarrassed and felt incredibly down about the whole experience.  I didn’t have many positive feelings to take away from the last few months.

Over the last couple of months I have realised more than ever that whilst it is important to have a good group of people to climb with the only person that can make a change is yourself. So I set about doing this in every aspect of my life as well as climbing; the change in attitude made a big difference almost immediately. I was having fun climbing again but without pushing myself hard unless I wanted to or felt ready to. This culminated in a flash of Yukan 2 E6/7 6b at Nesscliff, this route is so good and I’d love to do more at Nesscliff. I found this route really suited my style in that it was quite technical but you could also slip off at any point. The most inspiring part of the day was watching Alex Mason fight his way up this route second go with some incredible power screams; it made me feel like I wasn’t trying hard enough and I wanted to be giving it my all on a route.

Yukan 2 Beautiful sandstone line - Ollie Cain
Yukan 2 Beautiful sandstone line – Ollie Cain

A few weeks later I headed up to the Lakes with Caff getting prepared to be scared on some classic sandbag routes. One route he’d suggested for the start of the trip was an E7 on Dove Crag in the Lakes called Dusk til Dawn – nothing like a gentle warm up into the week.

I was keen to head back to Dove Crag as the last time I had been there was 11/12 years ago with Caff; at the time I had found this crag incredibly pumpy and intimidating with some steep trad climbing. I also got sandbagged by Caff telling me that the walk in was only 20 minutes, this time I was more prepared for the hour to hour and a half walk in.

Dove Crag a nice 20 min walk in right??
Dove Crag a nice 20 min walk in right??

We warmed up on a tasty E5 6b called Outside Edge and then Caff decided to ‘man up’ for the main event. Dusk til Dawn starts up another E7 called Bucket Dynasty (this route used to be given E6) which is known to be pretty fierce in its own right, this was proven to be true when Caff did not breeze up the start. It’s one of the few times I have seen Caff pumped and he made the decision to just do Bucket Dynasty first time up which was a fine onsight effort in its own right. I was keen but also apprehensive to try and flash this route placing the gear, I’d just seen Caff struggle and get pumped so I was there thinking that I could maybe do the route but if Caff had got pumped was I good enough to do the route?

The start did not go smoothly and I was up and down a couple of times before committing to the crux due to the fall being a bit more spicy than I would have liked but when I did commit it all came together, a moment of being in the zone until my leg started to shake placing the gear. One more move and I would be on jugs and into safe gear haven, but then it gets hard again. A little sting in the tail of this route which was burly almost saw me off, I don’t really know how I stayed on but I was fighting hard and enjoying that feeling of wanting to do a route badly. I was psyched to say the least when I got to the top of this route and for me that was the day done, for Caff he decided to have a look again at doing Dusk til Dawn now he knew the start of the route and with usual Caff prowess he dispatched another E7 onsight.

Psyching up for Bucket Dynasty with a nervous look - Caff
Psyching up for Bucket Dynasty with a nervous look – Caff

 

Caff cruising the stunning line of Dusk til Dawn.
Caff cruising the stunning line of Dusk til Dawn.

The rest of the week was a blast with a one day hit to Malham in the blazing sunshine and a first visit to Scafell. The hike up wasn’t as bad as I was expecting and we climbed a classic E3 called Nazgul in the evening to top off the day. The next morning we were up at 6 (thanks Caff) to go and climb the mega E4 Lost Horizons and have a look at another E7 called Borderline. I think Lost Horizons has to be one of the most stunning pitches of E4 6b climbing that I have ever done, the  gear is good and the climbing is sustained. Like an idiot I did try to make it into 6c climbing by exiting onto the arete too early and nearly coming off as everything was slopey and out of balance, luckily I managed to reverse it just in time and decided to go the 6b way.

Lost Horizons an immaculate line on one of the best mountain crags - Caff
Lost Horizons an immaculate line on one of the best mountain crags – Caff

It was time for borderline and Caff set off up first getting to the crux placing the gear and trying to figure out the sequence which wasn’t chalked or obvious, in the end he climbed back down and passed the ropes to me. I was still on a high from earlier in the week so I thought I’d have a look, I got to the crux but was having the same problem as Caff in that the sun kept peeking out. I unlocked a sequence but couldn’t quite get into the good crimp which was extremely frustrating so in the end I backed off and climbed back down. It was Caff’s turn again but this time he had my new sequence for the crux (I think that means I get half the credit) and he made it through only to fall higher up – close but no cigar. He worked out the higher moves he’d come off and then came back down to have a rest. Second time up he got it but still had to work hard, unfortunately I let him down on second by not being able to do the crux but also feeling satisfied that I’d made the right decision on lead. Maybe it was due to being tired by this point or maybe I needed to figure out a better sequence for myself in the end I had to be lowered off as I had swung into the midair of no mans land with this route being deceptively steep. With the climbing done we walked back down with my Dad and headed to Langdale for the fun Raven’s Pit event that had been organised by Claire Carter which involved some good Cumbrian Tales, a local band, good food and a bit too much wine plus walking into a fence.

 

Lakeland legends photo caption anyone? - Dom Bush
Lakeland legends photo caption anyone? – Dom Bush

The next morning the hangover had definitely kicked in and there were a few people milling about looking less than fresh. My parents had rocked up so I tried to put on a bright smile and failed miserably. The walk up to Pavey was gruelling and whilst Caff chilled out I climbed a classic E1 called Capella with my Dad and another guy. The hangover and other mishaps put paid to our plan of climbing Sixpence but as far as trips go this is one of the best I have ever had.

 

Unjustified

I know this is the part of my blog that most people will jump to and I’ve found it hard to write down my thoughts about the route as it has finally sunk in that I climbed it. This year it was one of my main goals to retry this route and get it done if I was good enough. I quickly realised that this would be achievable if I put my mind and some time to it but my visits were still pretty sporadic until the week I did it.

A week before I did the route I made it through the crux for the first time from the ground since I’d started trying it, this was a big mental breakthrough for me as I found the crux really hard. Not only did I make it through once I then made it through another two times but was falling high on the headwall due to having focused my attention on the crux and I was getting overexcited. I decided to head back up as soon as I could whilst everything was still fresh, on the Sunday morning I didn’t want to get out of bed. It was raining outside and everyone else was all snuggled up cosy and warm. I dragged myself up and got in my van to drive to Malham in the pouring rain; it took an immense amount of psych to persevere on, at Chester I almost called it quits and turned back. The rubbish weather did take the pressure off, after arriving and warming up I thought I had nothing to lose by giving it my best shot. I was psyched up and ready to go after seeing Toby put in an impressive first effort of the day getting high on the groove. I tied on not sure if this would be the go but hoping that I would get through the crux again to give myself a fighting chance.

I didn’t climb the start very well (at least not in my mind) but it was good enough to feel fresh once I hit the start of the crux. It’s funny when your redpointing because something that initially felt desperate and impossible becomes easy and you climb almost in a trance, the crux now felt easy on redpoint and I was through again this time determined not to mess up on the headwall. The move I had to fight the most on was hitting the pockets, I wasn’t really pumped but my fingers were starting to get a bit cold so I had to throw a bit more than I would have liked to. It was important to me to have to dig deep and really commit as too often I give up due to it not being perfect. Once I was in the pockets I knew I could do the route but I also had to stay focused as in true Malham style everything is still pretty sketchy. When I clipped the chains I couldn’t believe I’d done the route; after pouring my heart and soul into trying it I was so happy to have done the route but a slightly masochistic part of me was also going to miss trying the route.

I’m not going to give the route a grade, to me it felt like the hardest thing I have ever been on and done, I don’t hold the experience to pass comment on something that is subjective at best. I had to work hard to figure out the moves and do this route, the crux for me had to be nothing less than perfect due to the burly nature and being spanned out between the holds. Whilst it felt easy on redpoint I have to remind myself of the amount of work it took me to do the route and how the moves initially felt, I didn’t get the crux moves figured out the first time I went up the route and it was only through hard work, stubborness and determination that I won the battle with this route but I enjoyed every minute of the process this year.

Early attempt in 2011 - Toby Dunn
Early attempt in 2011 – Toby Dunn

 

Trying the crux moves - Ray Wood
Trying the crux moves – Ray Wood

 

A very happy face after doing the route - Toby Dunn
A very happy face after doing the route – Toby Dunn

As is always the case its onto the next project now and time to start planning some trips. I’m psyched to see how far I can push myself but also to have some fun. I would like to thank Rab for taking me on as one of their new athletes and also give a shout out to some friends (Will and Becky) for giving me some cosy Bob Hats – if you haven’t got one then order one now to keep your head snuggly and warm in the winter.

I hope everyone has had a fun summer on the crags and my next blog will be coming soon on DWS and facing fears.

The Fine Line Between Success and Failure

After my last blog I have quite a bit to write about.

Starting with the week of awesome weather we had a couple of weeks ago! I had such a brilliant week doing things I have wanted to do for ages.

I started by trying my project at the orme but it was too hot, I thought I would be tactical and leave my draws in for later on in the week.

The next day I was setting routes in the Beacon but by the end of it I was tired and my back was spasming, (route setting is definitely not a rest day!) this did not bode well for the next day as I had agreed to go bouldering in the pass at Jerry’s roof with some of the girls. I was anxious that I would not be able to climb but still keen to head out and support Jemma and Sophie in their attempts on Bus Stop after work. We all warmed up on the Cromlech boulders, it wasn’t a great start for me but I felt a bit more loose than earlier on in the day so decided to have a bash at Bus Stop too. My first go on the flash attempt went pretty well but my foot slipped out of a very irritating heel hook – this happened quite a few times. Jemma and Sophie were also cruising through the start but decided to look at the finish (we had decided to finish up Jerry’s having been told it was nicer) but I decided ignorance was bliss and hoped that if I got there I wouldn’t fall off.On my last go of the day with skin wearing thin having pretty much gone through on one finger I fought my way through to the Jerry’s finish regretting not having checked it out and desperately not wanting to blow it. For once I was lucky and I managed to push through to the finishing jug. I was a very happy lady to do this v8+/9 in a session as it is very burly plus there was a bit of blood on my thin skinned finger after the attempt so it as just in the nick of time!

Sending Bus Stop V8+/9 - Sophie Wilmes
Sending Bus Stop V8+/9
– Sophie Wilmes
Sore Skin After a few attempts, done just in time!
Sore Skin After a few attempts, done just in time!

On the Thursday I went to the Orme again to try my project. I thought it would be perfect with the afternoon low tide. Unfortunately there was no breeze which made it hot and humid. I was also a bit stiff from the last couple of days but decided to give it a bash. I was pleased to make my highpoint feeling fitter and stronger so it bodes well for future attempts.

The next day I went to meet Ollie up at the Cromlech in the afternoon by now feeling pretty jaded and thinking I should have been on the shady side of the pass and not the sunny side! I was on a mission though to try Right Wall (E5 6a), this is a route I have wanted to do since the first time I visited the Cromlech when I was 16. I was going to second Ollie up True Grip to warm up but he backed off so I decided to just get on with it.

This route did not disappoint me, I loved every minute of climbing it and being in such an amazing position on such a sunny day. It is definitely a route I will remember for a long time.

Finally on the Saturday Alex and I headed up to Cloggy with what seemed to be half the UK trad climbing population. We ended up queuing for a classing E4 6a called Great Wall, on the walk up I was tired and my knees were sore to the point we almost headed back down. For the climb we decided I would lead the first pitch and Alex would take the second. I climbed ok to the crux not too far from the end of the first pitch but my head wasn’t really psyched. I’m not ashamed to say that after consideration I down climbed from the crux to the bottom of the route knowing I didn’t really feel up to going for it. In the end I had a very pleasant day seconding Alex up both pitches and just enjoying the climbing.

This week has been a bit of an eye opener after 10 days straight of work I was keen to chill out but also psyched to climb and make the most of some half decent weather.

On Monday I headed to Tremadog with Dave Evans, the initial plan was to do Weaver into Bananas (E5 6b) but there were wet patches on the route including the crux so I decided to head up The Croaker (E3 5c) to finish which was a cool route in its own right. After that we did Void (E4 6a) where I was lucky to get the final pitch – it was so good but felt like a bit of fight. I never felt like I was off and I could place good gear but I still got a bit pumped. This route was safe but made the climbing on Right Wall feel like a path in comparison, I guess I’m just not used to thrutchy climbing!

On Tuesday Calum and I headed up to Glyder Fach for Calum to try his new route, I was also keen to have a look at a route called Kaya (E7 6b). After a couple of top ropes on Calum’s new route he cruised to victory making the crux climbing look easy. I seconded him up it cleanly but had no inclination to try and lead it. Next up it was my turn – Calum kindly chalked the holds ad gave me a bit of beta before setting off. I was nervous about falling of the first bit into the ground but seemed to climb quickly and in a confident manner to clip the first peg (phew)!  The climbing then eases off but there were a couple of burly and sketchy moves to make with sidepulls and smeary footholds. I got anxious about blowing this bit, the friction on the rock was amazing but the sun was out, I waited for a while to get some a shade from cloud cover but it wasn’t long enough. In the end I went for it, I made it into the big sidepull with only a couple more moves to go, but I relaxed and tried to get my foot high on the good foothold too quickly. My right foot slipped and I was off. Disappointed I pulled back on and went to the top with ease kicking myself for coming off where I did.

The committing part before clipping the peg on Kaya - Calum Muskett
The committing part before clipping the peg on Kaya – Calum Muskett
A good rest before some final tricky moves - Calum Muskett
A good rest before some final tricky moves – Calum Muskett
On the top after falling off :(
On the top after falling off 🙁

On reflection I learnt some valuable lessons from that route.

Was it a failure? I don’t think so. I have consolidated at E5 this year, I haven’t onsighted E6 yet either. Its nearly 3 or 4 years ago since I last did an E7 (Monopoly) whilst I was living in Sheffield, but I did that route as a headpoint. I guess I have been pretty focused on sport climbing so my fitness is pretty good. I don’t feel like my head let me down though, I committed to the moves and definitely went for it, I think this will hold me in good stead for future E7 attempts. I was a bit gutted not to do the route on my flash attempt but happy to have put in a good effort at the same time, hopefully I can go back to finish it off.

Yesterday Calum, Ed Booth and I went up to try Ogwen Crack (E7 6c/7a) we all found it ok up to the crux just above the peg but then found the crux absolutely desperate and a bit unpleasant on small painful holds. We decided to try and work out the moves on top rope, I managed all the moves but one. By this point none of us were psyched to continue though I may go back for it one day if I run out of things to do. We decided to move on to try another E7 6c called Daisy World (Calum had already climbed it before). On the way over being the massive klutz that I am I went over on my foot and bashed my knee badly but was lucky it wasn’t worse than that. We continued anyway and had a play on Daisy World, the climbing is pretty tricky and off balance to the pegs but the crux of the climbing then kicks in. I managed to climb the route in two halves and with the exception of one time I made it to the pegs clean. My reservations with this route are that the landing is terrible and there is no gear till the pegs. I am keen to head back to try it when the sun is not on the route and when I don’t feel stiff and sore to see if I feel differently about trying the route on the sharp end.

Attempting the desperate crux on Ogwen Crack - Calum Muskett
Attempting the desperate crux on Ogwen Crack – Calum Muskett

I am starting to find a new passion for trad climbing. I love the diversity in North Wales where I can go bouldering one day, sport climbing the next and then trad climbing in the mountains the next day. I enjoy bouldering and sport climbing but trad climbing and getting pumped trying hard is giving me a new sense of satisfaction. It has given me a new level of psych in recent months, I feel very lucky to live where I do.

I hope everyone is making the most of the amazing dry rock the UK has to offer!  🙂

Swiss bouldering fun and More!

Where to begin……..

I’ve been wondering about writing my first blog of the year for a few months now but I’ve often wondered where to start and what to write.

Being blunt the end of last year was not a good time for me, I went through some personal tough times and didn’t really climb much apart from a couple of days in Morocco whilst on a trip with Mountain Hardwear. I managed to surprise myself by flashing a 7c+ whilst climbing with Tim showing that some element of my climbing was still there. It was difficult to accept that last year was a bit of a step backwards but I hope I can push forwards again this year, sometimes things don’t always work out the way you plan them.

Whilst my psych for climbing was low I did my Mountain Leader qualification through Phill George (for anyone doing any qualifications along these lines I can’t recommend him enough. I had a great time and learnt so much from him, Mick Jones and Sam Leary). I spent many windy days out on the mountain and committed to going out at night to navigate with Ollie Cain, it felt good to be productive in another way.

So this year came and I was still finding it tough to get motivated to climb until Alex and I started talking about a 2 week bouldering trip. Bouldering isn’t my forte but I was psyched to try and get stronger so we set each other training programmes and decided to enter the CWIf comp.

I had a lot of fun at CWIF climbing with Tanya who climbed amazingly well. I also surprised myself by coming 7th in my first competition in a long time. I held my own but still felt like there was room for improvement.

Unfortunately 2 weeks before we went away there was an extremely sad event for Alex that came as a complete shock. Neither of us was sure as to what was happening or whether we would still go away but in the end we managed to get to Switzerland for 11 days of climbing.

The weekend before I headed to Pembroke for some trad fun climbing with a group of friends. I climbed with a mate called Dougie on this very windy trip (we were pretty surprised at how quiet it was for a bank holiday) I will not recount the whole trip but the first day was definitely an adventure of the wet variety! I have learnt the valuable lesson never to The Rob Greenwood about sea cliff tides and karma for laughing at Ollie Cain as the tide was coming in came back to bite me when we abseiled back in with Rob and Duncan only to get soaked by spring tide waves on belay duty – plus the wimpy side of me got a bit scared!

Team wrap up warm with Dougie, Ollie and Helena
Team wrap up warm with Dougie, Ollie and Helena

Highlights of Pembroke included:

Butcher E3 5c                            Get Some in E5 6a

The Fascist and Me E4 6a

John Wayne E5 6a

Finally it was Swizzy time – yeah baby! I was so excited about heading out and looking through the guidebooks on a daily basis for the best problems in a very geeky way.

We climbed at Cresciano on the first day but it was so hot and I lost a bit of skin, the higlight of the day was a 7a traverse that was cool. We did want to have a look at le boule but it was in the sunshine for the best part of the day!

After meeting up with Ben West and his wife Heather in the evening we decided to head to Chrionico but the next day it rained heavily. We were itching to climb and the next day was overcast with light showers but we managed to get out  🙂

I really loved climbing at Chironico and Magic Wood even though problems were wet at Magic from snow melt. I am psyched to go back which is a first for me when it comes to bouldering! I was pleased to tick some powerful problems and frustrated to come so close on others in particular Jack the Chipper (7c) at Magic Wood where I slipped off the top. I was pleased to come away a bit stronger though I would have liked to do better, still that’s all part of the game.

I was also very proud to watch Alex smash in Never Ending Story Part 2 (8a) a problem he has wanted to do for ages and came very close to last time .

I also learnt that I can survive more than two days without a shower even if I did get a bit narky towards the end plus I did brave washing my hair under the cold river water!

The tables are turning for the next trip in August when we head to Ceuse for some roped climbing – psyched!!

Highlights of this trip included:

Powerstrips 7c

Autopilot 7a+/b

Slooper Attack 6c+/7a

Chads Bulge 7a

Autopilot 7a+/b - Alex Haslehurst
Autopilot 7a+/b – Alex Haslehurst
Autopilot 7a+/b - Alex Haslehurst
Autopilot 7a+/b – Alex Haslehurst
Autopilot 7a+/b - Alex Haslehurst
Autopilot 7a+/b – Alex Haslehurst
Autopilot 7a+/b - Alex Haslehurst
Autopilot 7a+/b – Alex Haslehurst
Brushing sweaty holds on Le Pilier 8a - Alex Haslehurst
Brushing sweaty holds on Le Pilier 8a – Alex Haslehurst
Trying Le Pilier 8a - Alex Haslehurst
Trying Le Pilier 8a – Alex Haslehurst
Sore skin from hot humid attempts - Alex Haslehurst
Sore skin from hot humid attempts – Alex Haslehurst
Powerstrips 7c - Alex Haslehurst
Powerstrips 7c – Alex Haslehurst
Powerstrips 7c - Alex Haslehurst
Powerstrips 7c – Alex Haslehurst
Powerstrips 7c - Alex Haslehurst
Powerstrips 7c – Alex Haslehurst
Close but no cigar on Jack the Chipper 7c - Alex Haslehurst
Close but no cigar on Jack the Chipper 7c – Alex Haslehurst
Close but no cigar on Jack the Chipper 7c - Alex Haslehurst
Close but no cigar on Jack the Chipper 7c – Alex Haslehurst