Ship of tools


Is that time of the year again. The tools have come out and we swap the glorious sunny sea-cliffs for dank caves in disused quarries. It's the same time that we ask ourselves why we do this bizarre form of climbing. It's then that our memories of dangling ice-daggers come to life and all justifications are met. And so we carry on scraping loose rock and hooking drilled holes in the hope it will all be worth it. These memories need to be recalled often as sometimes motivation wanes. It's not easy to clock six hours at the wheel to end up in a hole in the ground where a certain chipped route happens to be. But this training provides hope to hit the ground running once we do get to the white stuff.

And with this hope is how I've gone through the last couple of months of Drytooling. I had a really good summer doing loads of Trad, and feeling suitably weak, I felt it was time to get aggro on the tools and get strong. The first weekends were about getting acquainted again, but then I realised I hadn't lost much since last season. In the hope to find a really hard route, soon the drill came out and I started a bolting spree. I got stuck in developing the Stump Cave in the Power pact area and resulted in three new lines. None as hard as I expected them to be, but all the lines are as good as any at the Goods. The hardest of them all is "Rage with the machine" which I reckon is a hard M11 or M11+ perhaps. "Burning Man" is also a really good pump fest going at M11, and climbs a lot of ground of the neglected but excellent "Mental Block" M10.

We put a lot of team effort to chop the dead trees down to see if we could uncover new routes. In the process of bow-sawing I've acquired a very nasty case of Golfer's Elbow which is getting worringly painful now. I wish I waited for Dave Almond and Simon Frost to turn up with the chain saw. Eventually chopping the trees didn't prove to be that useful, as I started scoping the rock face, I was soon was halted by some very large loose blocks which would make any new routes very dodgy. And yet, I think there's still one more potential line to be bolted. I'm not sure if I'll ever sum up the energy to actually bolt it, but I think it would perhaps give very hard climbing. Let's see if I get bored enough to dig out the drill again.

The White Goods Meet happened again this year thanks mainly to the efforts of Simon Ward. Definitely the most successful Meet so far, the turn out I think exceeded 50 people, and that's without having a Scottish contingent this time, except Anna Wells and Willis Morris. What became obvious is that a whole lot of new people are getting into it, but the most impressive is the level that the majority are operating at. Only a few years ago not many people were on the M10s, let alone successfully getting them done. In this Meet we saw M10 flashes right, left and centre. Originally I thought the routes were massively overgraded, but now I think that these youths, and not-so-youths, are just getting ridiculously strong. I for one can't wait to see these skills to be put into good use in the mountains. I think the future of winter climbing is looking very bright indeed.

The talented young Anna Wells did a quick flash of my route Neomania M10. She perfomed really welll over the White Goods Meet. 

Viki warming up on White Goods M8+

Simon Frost making the deep lock-off on Finnish Start M10

By now I felt well-oiled so I thought it was time to up things a notch. The last hard route left for me to do south of Scotland was Powerdab, an M13 at the Works with a bit of a name as many good mixed climbers come and test themselves on it. I knew it would suit me as it's not very long and is very powerful, my cup of tea really. The previous week I didn't train in order to hit the weekend fresh. I was feeling fairly psyched as there was a good team going to the Works and even Jeff Mercier was in the area. With Viki we smashed the drive up from London on friday night and we woke up to a pretty epic view of the Lakes fells covered in snow. I almost wished I carried on driving for another six hours and be in the Scottish hills doing some real mixed climbing. But we were now here and I started to get ironically psyched to pull on a chipped route climbing out of a quarried hole. I do doubt my own sanity sometimes.

Once we got Powerdab located in the Bakestone Quarry, I put as many clips from the ground with a clipstick as possible. I got on the route working the moves and putting the rest of the draws. Surprisingly none of the moves felt that hard, just really long but between really deep pockets, meaning you could get a good swing going without fear of popping off. On the two hard moves doing fig4's doesn't really help, the pockets are too far away. On my second attempt I found myself going through the harder moves without much of an issue but building up a proper pump as I went. I got a bit flustered when trying to hook a spike where you do the last move from. But luckily I had a big flat edge for my tools to go back and forth to figure out the move. Eventually I hooked the spike, big deep lock-off and got the finishing pocket. I do believe having the E-Climb axes in this case made the route easier, as they are longer than the usual tools. So whether that's cheating or not I couldn't care less, but doing the route was good training nonetheless.

Once done with Powerdab, we headed down to The Works as we still had the whole day ahead of us. Viki started working Bloodline and I relegated to belay duties for most part. Simon and JJ had bolted a cool new line a few weeks ago, and they were together with Scott grossly involved working the thing. I had a quick play on it before getting dark but could finish it off. The route has some really cool moves and climbs some pretty outrageous terrain. On Sunday the boys turned up to the crag a bit dazed and confused, apparently something to do with a bottle of whisky and some Polish antics the night before. Not that stopped JJ getting the first ascent of the route. I waited in line to have my go at the route again, in the meantime Viki quickly dispatched Bloodline M10 without much fuss. The girl is getting strong, specially considering this is just the start of her third season ever on axes. My turn finally came and got on the route. With a lot of beta from the boys I managed to clip the chains and got the second ascent of "Polish Direct" M12. All in all a very productive weekend. It made the 12hr round trip from London worth every bit.

Scottie involved in the "Polish Direct" M12 at the Work, a great

Viki is doing the Ice Climbing World Cup this year, and so to practise and meet the team, she has to do some of the British Tooling series. The first round was at Rope Race in Stockport, but the competition falling on a Sunday, we decided to hit White Goods on Saturday for a quick burn. Viki got on her long-standing project, "Stump Man", Tim Emmett's M11 at the Power Pact cave. She must have had a good 20 attempts in thefts two seasons. So it came as a surprise when in that dull, wet and cold day she tied on and dispatched the route on her warm-up. She wasn't even power-screaming, which is not like Viki, really. Not sure how wise it is to get on your hardest project the day before a comp, but as my mate says, life is not a dress rehearsal. After her display of determination, I thought I might as well get on my project I bolted a couple of weeks before, "Burning Man". I was on the route for about half hour, pumped out of my brain and practically onsighting the upper walk section. But came up trumps at the end and White Goods has yet another M11 for you lot to go at.

Viki crushing the first British female ascent of an M11, Stump Man at White Goods

The competition came on Sunday, loads of familiar faces turn up and a good number of competitors made it a whole lot of fun. I never been one for competitions, but I thought what the hell, it will be good training at least. At the end I came fourth. But being Viki's first ever time using axes on plastic holds, she did really well and came third. A good day spend amongst friends and getting silly pumped. Thanks Alan Elison, Andy Turner, Harry Holmes and the other little helpers that put together the competition.

Keeping myself amused

An interesting anecdote happened, for anyone that cares anyways. During a chat between Simon Ward and Andy Turner it transpired that what I thought was "Marginal Gains" at Masson Lees, it is not after all. What I've been climbing all along is a project that had yet to be climbed at the time. I did think it was very stiff for M11. So sparing my thoughts for Turner as a sandbagger, it turns out I got the first ascent of new test-piece. I called it "Band of Brothers" M12, and not an easy one at that either. Boys and girls get psyched and go get the second ascent, I'd be curious to know what other people think about the route. Certainly it feels is that hardest route south of the border.

The updated topo for the Power Pact cave. My drill is still hot from all this flurry of development

Not even three-quarters the way up what is to become "Band of Brothers" M12. I didn't realized at the time that Marginal Gains M11 finishes about where I am in this picture, from the last hanging draw you go up to a mid-way anchors. I carried on for another 15mts across the lip to the far end of the cave.

Tropical Christmas

High Pressure