Monday, 25 October 2010


I was just playing before. I dont think I actually wanted to do the route - I mean, it looks great and so on, but I was scared of the top, and I didnt really think it was possible. People kept on at me to stop working the bottom bit and get stuck into the top, as even though its supposedly easier, you need to have it wired. The route requires a shift in attitude for me - one must actually embrace the idea of trying hard above the bolts and the possibility of falling off, and Saturday saw a big change...

But not just in terms of my progress on Mecca. I'd supposed to have been going surfing with Edlog. The charts and forecasts were checked, refreshed and checked again before finally, the advice was not to go. By the time we'd have gotten there, it would have gone to shit. Now I love the tor, and when I know I'm going, I get thinking about what I want to do and get my head in the right space for it. When you have gotten yourself excited about one thing (surfing in this case), enthusiasm doesnt just switch to its replacement activity. So, it took some time to get motivated.

As I minced up the path with a coffee, a glum faced queen of the tor (Rae) stood beneath the pinches wall with the Mighty Lion Paw (Sharples). These two Tor stalwarts did not look keen either. It was cold, raining, and Paul Reeve had a t shirt and shorts on! All chatted, then they went off to try Culloden. Ethan and his dad turn up. I do the Bear Claw at long last. Tried for the first time in new Teams. What good shoes these are. People seem a bit down on them, and yes - they are very hard to get on, but when they are on I think they are really good. Ted arrives, and inspires some enthusiasm in me trying 'the route'.

Paul is on Mecca extension. I think I'm off the hook, but he wont hear of it. He proclaims it perfect conditions, but says that he feels shit and pulls his rope. I get set up. Blimey, it does feel good. Typically, i'm not listening to those who have won their battles, who tell me to get on the top bit, and am trying from the ground again. It does feel good, but my fingers are a bit cold, and cranking through the start bulge, the grips feel amazing, but I feel a bit tweaky. I actually think I would have gotten into the groove that first go, but the sun had come out. I dont mean it had gone hot, far from it - I mean that I couldnt see the footholds in the glare! I flump off, then monkey up to the top of the groove to put the next bolt in.

Its well bolted Mecca. All the bolts are in good places, and in the only places you could use them. However, if you are working it from above, the line pulls you away from where you need to be, particularly when you want to work the groove. On this first session I feel good and everything, but the top of the groove is totally impossible. I cannot get out at all. Its desperate. I come down and cant ever forsee of what I need to do.

Ted gives me a pep talk and eventually I agree to try again, but this time, monkey up the draws to the start of the groove. I stick the belay and rumble to the top - which is ok. I suppose its the fear of the unknown that makes me wimp out of even trying. With the belay clipped I place another draw on an old death bolt to the right - this makes the rope I am on run perfectly down the groove. I come back to the top of the groove, and Ted coaches (or perhaps coaxes) me out of it. Ted's knowledge and enthusiasm is the perfect tonic for a limp sequence and a wet day. He knows not only how he did it, but also how everyone else does. He soon works me out a method and I go from it feeling impossible at the start of the session, to not only having a sequence, but actually having executed it, climbing out of the groove to the top of the route.

I cant emphasise how important this is! I now actually have a chance. I now actually want to do it, and am starting to believe i could. I think had I had it worked out earlier in the day, I could actually have done the link i was trying, which was from the move into the groove to the top. Is it on? more work needed, better fitness etc, but in theory - yes!

Britain's strongest Pathologist turns up and starts working on Keen Roof. He's a nice chap Tim Palmer, and brutally strong too. I hear on the grapevine that he actually does it later that day as well - so good effort Tim!

Edlog and I leave the tor malnourished and tired. We go up to Neil's wall. He has different foot beta, but I totally cant remember what you do with the top sloping death rail. After some skin grinding attempts I manage to get to the top from the sitter, but cannot match. My tip splits and we decide to bail. I have had an amazing day, and fall asleep with dreams of Mecca, the groove and a complicated leg intensive sequence.

Typically, I have climbed the loggest day of the weekend. Sunday is beautiful, and I make a woodstore and a roast for the outlaws. Today is also beautiful, only I understand that theres a chance of rain moving in later. This is the last week before the clocks change, so after work action really will be a thing of the past next week. Most people I know are in Font.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Cumberland Grit

Starting back at Stanage is very different to starting back at School
was. I am excited for one. One of the great things about living in the
UK, and particularly the Peak national park is the variety of rock
climbing on ones doorstep. In spring I long to get involved with the
sharp crimps on the limestone, in autumn I remember how to mantle.

If my spindly sport climbing legs would have let me, I would have run
up to the plantation. But walking around with pads on felt like hard
work after a summer of stumbling to the tor with just a rope. Few cars
in the car park, and something in my heart said that the ace/joker
would be occupied. Sixth sense didnt go so far as to tell me who would
be there, just that someone would. You'd have thought that those
crimps would be unusable in the sun, but two people were indeed there,
and as I drew closer the blobs became shapes, and slowly the bushy
black thatches of Constance Variable and Cave legend Davies took form.
They were trying the Ace, and not doing very well to be honest.

Although in the sun, the wind was bitter. I'd guess temps were around
5 or 6 degrees. Pretty much perfect to be honest. Pottering around
warming up, you needed a coat on between goes, but it felt brilliant
padding up slabs, remembering how to trust ones feet again.

Joining Dan and Chris at the Ace, chris is about to go. Ryan turns up.
I have a few goes on the joker. For me to climb this problem I have to
try quite hard. This means I have to commit to snagging the top with
my left - which is scary. If you were to plot intent against attempts
then you would see early attempts with no actual intention of holding
the top, its all about seeing how it feels. Then once it shows a bit
of promise ("let dog see rabbit") I get excited and start trying
properly. Thing is with that problem is that to do it (as we have
already said), you have to commit to the left hand sloper. If you do
that it changes your trajectory such that you arc out over the death
gully, and you save yourself by grabbing with the right hand, only you
might not get it and that will end in a plummet. So you need a spotter
too really. I didnt just have spotters, I had spotters who had climbed
8c+. Perhaps not the best choice of spotter, as presumably a less
able, but fatter chap would do a better job of stopping ones
earthbound bulk.

They started working the sitter (yes, the sitter. Climbing out of the
cave. It looks hard), and i went to go and 'do' Help the Young sit.
Took me about 15000 goes to repeat the stand (brilliant problem), then
I felt like i was running out of skin, and beans, so I went back to
the Ace to meet them. They were going anyway, so I waited to walk down

Couldnt decide where to go next. It was about quarter past five and I
had perhaps another hour before it went fully dark, so i needed
something near and ideally that I hadnt done. Ended up going to Spring
Voyage, where i met old school hero Robin Barker. Excellent I thought,
this means I can see how its done and get it sewn up quickly. Which
isnt how it worked out - has this gotten harder? I'm sure I remember
getting up to that sloping crimp rail loads of times in a session when
I have tried this before, but it felt desperate and a real struggle.
Neither of us did it, but with aid Rob managed the top (i.e from crimp
rail to top). Consoled myself (and tried to warm up) by doing the

Blimey it was cold. When I got back to the car it said just 1.5
degrees! I would like to say 'lets hope this is the start of a great
winter' but its raining this morning, and supposedly will be until
Sunday. Its only 1815 when I get back to the car, so I pop to the
Climbing works to gloat that I have been out. Am more tired than I
gave myself credit for and flump around falling of the jugs for half
an hour before admitting defeat and going home to eat sausages. MMMMM,

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

d5 damager, power to the people

Its not that nothing's happened since we last spoke, just that nothing
you'd want to read about. Far be it from me to make judgements about
what you do and don't want to read - i mean, a whole load of people
actually buy the daily mail, so you'd be suprised what people do want
to read, and hence here's a little note to brighten your Tuesday
morning. Or, plunge you into a pit of self loathing and despair (based
on how good i am and that you aren't me).

On wednestag Dylog and I went out. It was a beautiful autumnal
afternoon, but still with a bit too much warmth in the direct sun,
which of course Mecca would be in. I wanted to go to Sean's roof to do
that Banks problem to the left. It was wet. As was Sean's. Some
discussions about where it starts and hold investigations. Then I
remembered about Neil's wall, and Smitton's scorecard comment -
'soft as sin'. If ever there's something to galvanise the loins its
the prospect of an easy 8a, and Dylan hadnt been and could do that
Beginners wall thing.

I put the clips in BW and set off. The holds didnt feel as good as I
remembered, and I gave up attempting to stab my hand into the dogs
mouth pocket at the end of the hard bit. Dylog had a go and fluffed it
as well. I went back up and did it this time. Lowered off. Dylog did
it as well, and then I got involved with Neil's wall. Did it from
stand, and very nearly from sitting. Sadly, its not 8a. Neil Travers
is a full legend though, and no stranger to 8a, so I can only imagine
he either did it with his eyes shut or new footholds have been
uncovered since then. It started to bite, so I left it for another day
and we went to the tor.

Which was in a strange state. It was cool out of the sun, but it wasnt
out of the sun - and the rocks still felt warm. Ok, it wasnt bad, and
certainly someone competent who know what they were doing could have
done Mecca, but thats not me. Although I did reach a new high point -
which was one hand in the groove. Fun afternoon though. Problem is
that it goes dark at 1830, but the crag is too warm until 1700!
Although, it is supposedly cooler this week, so maybe. Actually, the
all important breeze wasnt present, and as time went on it looked like
there was mist forming in the valley.

There are no tales of further glory at the hands of the Tor this
weekend, as I have been off having my picture taken. No, its not a
repeat of 2008's modelling debut, rather my mum's 60th birthday
present - a deeply shameful family photograph. Oh god. I could only
think of zoolander as it happened, and suspect i may have been pouting
and looking rather less than fabulous. When I get to see something of
the pictures I will post them.

So a weekend of drinking and lard really. Went back on the board last
night, and was shit. Its good that board though. Hooray for winter.
Man, the works was well busy. My little oasis of calm remains quiet,
but by 1900 the place was teeming. Anyway, back out again this
wednesday, and theres potential for thursday too. This weekend, I need
to catch up with Edlog, as there might be something going on there as

Finally, I might buy a Volvo V70 D5. Am shopping....

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


Can't believe I forgot to mention, that Char did Mecca on Sunday!

Its a bit with mixed feelings I report this news, as in part, my mecca
chum has now done it and wont want to go on it again, but also I am
off the hook - its scary and now I dont have to be brave.

Solid as a rock according to Pennells (last night at the wall). I
better get my finger out!

Prison Bloc

There is something menacing about the tower which stands over Strangeways. Like an Orwellian overseer, its gaze unflinching, never sleeping - the all seeing eye forgetting nothing... I'm getting carried away, Its just a structure of bricks and mortar after all. But these thoughts fluttered around as I walked back from the station holding my coffee. It was 0830 on Saturday morning, and I was waiting for Rockover climbing (herethereafter referred to as Prison Bloc) to open its doors. Which was, in itself, a shame. Nice day saturday turned out to be, but Jordan had invited me to be part of their team, and I couldn't let him down.

Officially, I have retired from comps, dismissing them as 'for kids'. Thing is, I thought the chances of loads of good people going to this one would be smaller, and that I might do well, and there's nothing like the promise of glory to reawaken ones interest. Barrans and Johnny P were the obvious ones I wasn't going to beat, but beyond that, things looked hopeful. Jordan and I surveyed the task ahead. Everything looked quite hard - where were the giveaways? got chatting to Cassidy - he's going to quit climbing walls and start converting vans for a living. And, pointed out the easy ones. Which looked dropable.

Climbing started, and we flashed our way through the back corridor. People were actually falling off some of these problems, so already it was unlikely I was going to be last (yes! get in!). Quallies require more strategy than may first appear obvious. Don't completely warm up, as some of the easier problems should continue your preparation. You need to go round and identify the hard ones before you do anything. Work out which ones arent going to get climbed by anyone - and which ones you think you can do. Look also for those with conditions dependant holds on, and get these done early. What you need to work out is what standard everyone else is at, and what you will need to do to get in the final.

Say what you want about Gaz Parry (he looks like David Dickenson and eats Pork pies) but he is a savvy competitor. Watch him in comps and he races round picking off the problems, finishing early and leaving a longer rest. He is also a very good climber, so he doesnt make mistakes, and those "shouldnt fall off" difficulty ones? well, he doesn't fall off. Which is the central reasoning behind my not doing comps anymore. I spend the following three or four days frustrated and kicking myself about my silly mistakes. I climbed well, but as always, there were errors. For instance, there was one problem where I set off when someone else was in the way. I thought they would be out of the way in time, but they started fannying around and I greased off whilst waiting. Error.

I say I could have done better, and that I was/am frustrated, but I was knackered when climbing finished, so i must have been trying hard. Mixed feelings as they announced the results. I was tired and didnt know if i could climb again, I was partly frustrated to have missed the proper final by one point, but mainly proud to have gotten through to something. Although, as Folog charitably pointed out - there are no 'names' in the list below me. (Effort to Rich Sharpe!)

Finals are an interesting showcase of ones ability to perform under pressure. I dont have it. Totally misread the problem and failed early which will have cost me places. Jordan on the other hand, he went up as a result of both being good at showing off, and having better fitness (and being a better climber). Naomi also made the finals and looked to be climbing really well. Predictably, the unstoppable machine which is Barrans won. Second, comping's nicest man Jonny P.

Finally, a word about Shauna. Amazing. She won the lady comp comfortably - is a very good climber.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Surf rat

After we went to Islay I had a weekend at home, then I went off down to Bracknell to go on a course. This was frustrating, because through no more serious effort than following the Twyford plan (i.e. not eating bread), I was down to a svelte 11st3lbs, and climbing well. I'd not tried to get my weight down, but I had been just avoiding bread which does seem to work. So, i'm all light and strong and everything, then I toddle off down to a hotel and undo this good fortune with lard. Ah well, easy come easy go I suppose.

Breakfast in the hotel was £16!!! I know I'm not paying, but £16!! so I felt I had to make the most of it and piled my plate high with various cooked meat products. I love breakfast, its probably one of my favourite meals, but starting the day feeling so full you might be a bit sick is perhaps taking things to excess.

Courses provide lunch. Which is usually congealed egg mayonaise sandwiches and/or sausage rolls. Deathy. This course laid on a full cooked dinner! So lunch was bad as well. Then of course, because I was staying in a hotel, I couldnt cook or anything, and Tea was deathy as well. I basically had three full cooked dinners every day for a week! Like I say, easy on, easy off (hopefully).

Made it to Craggy island on the Wednesday evening and had fun (and pizza). The bouldering is quite a small area, but the setting was good, and unlike before - not everyone was a punter, which was disappointing. I visit these southern climbing walls under two guises, firstly to go climbing, and secondly because you quite often do everything, burn everyone off and get to feel like a hero for all of ten minutes.

The course finished at 1400 on friday, and I drove home. This mundane detail is going somewhere, I promise. I get home at 1800. Its poured with rain the whole way. I unpack the car, throwing my stuff in the porch of our house, and I bundle my wetsuit, board and a sleeping bag back in the boot. I dont even bother with a change of clothes - am going to be living like a rat in the car - i won't need them! The Wifelet is wedged in the passenger seat and at 1930 we set off again. Phew. This time our destination is Bristol. In spite of surface water we make it there for just before 2300 and have a couple of beers. Get to bed at 0100.

She's staying in Brizzle with her friend Frankie. My alarm beep beeps all too early (0600), and I roll out of bed, back into last nights clothes and the car. Which rolls off down the motorway to Devon. Its ten to eight when I am suited up, trotting across the sand with a lump of fibreglass under my arm.

I'd just like to briefly visit the excitement as I crested the hill before Woollacoombe and caught sight of the ocean for the first time that day. Clear long lines stacked back across the surface of the water - it looked so clean! I could barely keep my right foot off the accelerator as I dropped into the town. I wouldnt say it looked huge, but it did look clean.

How wrong I was. The time now said it was 0930, which meant I had been trying to get out for an hour and a half. All I had so far managed was a number of near death experiences and to drink a lot of sea water. At one point I was level with someone riding in, about 20 metres to my right, and as the surfer turned in at the bottom of the wave, he was completely stood up, looking back UP towards the peak, which was at least 2ft over head. Basically, it was bigger and harder than I have ever been out in.

A combination of amateur duck dives and paddling like my life depended on it (felt like it did at times) got me out back. Set after set rolled by whilst I tried to recover. My arms and shoulders felt anhiliated. Finally my time came, and I took my chance... Glancing over my shoulder as I paddled frantically I could feel the water hefting me up, and then I was pitching, no, shooting towards the trough, I was too far forward and had I tried to pop I would have gone in head first and gotten slapped down, which I knew, so I stayed put and shot beachwards at what felt like light speed. But now I had to get back out again.

The problem is, I cant duck that board, so you just have to take everything on the head. Quit at 1130 and went for food. Bought the papers, had a snooze, got back in at Putsborough in the afternoon. This was much better. It was smaller and the tide was on the way in. Easier to get out, and got some good rides.

Slept in the car that night, and got in again at 0800 the next morning. It was good until 0900, and I thought I was really learning, then the wind started and I sacked it home. Well, to Brizzle, then to home. Pooped

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


It rained all the way to the Lakes. The M6 north has to be one of the most picturesque motorways in the country - perhaps topped by the M74 which it becomes when you get a bit further up. And, there's noone on it. Glasgow looked damp and busy. I craned to try to see Dumbarton rock (is it just above the a82?), and onward, sloshing northwards through the rain we went. The scenery passed in a blur, the novelty and excitement now but a memory.

Finally we arrived at Port Tarbert which was to be our base for the evening. We'd driven all day, and booked in to a B&B overlooking the harbour. There was some sort of music festival on in the town, and so after tea we investigated. Raucous. Bet it would have been a good weekend - folky music and lots of beer from the looks of the revellers. It'd been a long day and we didnt stay late.

The next morning we caught the Calmac ferry from Kennacraig across to Port Ellen on Islay. Takes about 2.5hrs. Beautiful crossing - you are always in sight of land, and its pretty stunning land, so most of the time was spent on deck scanning our surroundings.

Islay is a beautiful island. Its characterised by small pebbledashed villages connected by bouncy roads across peat moors. Port Ellen (where we landed) is very small network of buildings and a bit underwhelming. We went straight to the hotel to get the keys to our lodge thing. This was a recommendation from the footprint surf guide, and I'm sure it said that the hotel was 'smart'. Tired would be a more appropriate description. Initially disappointed, we felt like we were staying at butlins. So out we went to find both waves and the prospects of staying somewhere else.

Our lodge sat at the southern end of a long stretch called Laggan Bay. The footprint guide recommends it because you have only to wander across the golf course and you are on the beach, and whilst tired it was clean and we had everything we could have wanted. Plus, if you were on a surf trip with all boys it would be more than adequate. Oh, and it was cheap by islay standards.

A wierd contradiction exists on the island. If you live there and are local then you have either retired and have money, or you are one of a number of young families and you probably live in what looks like pre fab concrete council accomodation - albeit in a spectacular setting. We quickly discovered, on our quest to better our accomodation, that bijou commands a price premium and that what we had would do for us.

The island is bigger than you give it credit for. You see if on a map and think its only wee, about 15 miles from end to end, but its probably about 20 miles from north to south, and if you drive from the two points of the U (its U shaped) then you are looking at a hours drive. Bowmore is the biggest settlement, and even that is wee. Mark McGowan had recommended Machir Bay, so after a look around Bowmore we headed off in search of that. In the furthest flung, most remote of corners sit the distilleries, which are in the most improbable of places. BUt what an amazing place to work!

The most striking thing about being on Islay, and particularly in contrast to Devon and Cornwall is that theres noone there. We park up at the road head, and run across the dunes to see whether its worth getting in. It is, but only just. The monster decides she cant be bothered, and I paddle out alone. Catch a few waves, get some reasonable short rides and head in after about an hour. Not the greatest surf session ever, but having done all that driving, I just wanted to get out.

The rest of the trip followed a nice pattern - there would be a bit of surfing, a bit of doing something else, a lot of whisky drinking and even more eating. All separated by spells zooming from one end to the other of the island.

So, on friday we were back on the Ferry to the mainland. Port Tarbert felt like a conurbation after such small pockets of humanity. We loved it. The remoteness - the tranquility - it was wonderful. From a surfing perspective it was only ok, but I had fun, and got some little rides in on 4 out of 5 days. The return jouney was long and epic, and it felt good to finally be back home. We would recommend Islay, but I would suggest that if you are not going with any specific activity in mind then you could do it in a couple of days, and then hop on to another one and continue your tour.

Anyway, been rambling on for ages now. Better do some work.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Quick thought

When I'm there I think about the negative things. How hard it is, how my arms and shoulders hurt, how cold the water is, how I can't breathe, how getting tumbled over in my attempts to get out make me feel sick, but now that I'm home I just can't stop thinking about the glimmers of brilliance. When, for a few seconds I actually felt like I could do it, these are few but shine so bright, that even though I remember the struggle so clearly it makes me just want to go back there and try again. Someone once said that if something is worth having then its worth working for and the things which matter most come hardest of all. And that's surfing. It is fucking desperate. And so frustrating, but so utterly brilliant. Like a shining light, its brilliance a beacon in the darkness. I want it and yet I don't, the ease of climbing so appealing, compares to surfing which is to struggle, but so fleetingly incredible. When it works it works so well.

More tomorrow. Possibly.