Trying Summer


Dougie had been sitting on gridlock traffic for the most part of eight hours. I've been waiting for him sitting in my van in a Lidl carpark in Bristol. We were supposed to be enroute to Pembroke with a sterling forecast. Dougie had said that he enjoyed my blogs but they were very few far in between. I thought about making the most of the wait by writing a one, but about what? Things seem to happen at glacial pace in my climbing, there wasn't much to talk about even though almost three months had elapsed since my last blog post. I spent those eight hours doing extreme faff and doing seemingly futile sorting and re-sorting my rack. Fortunately, since then, I have a few more anecdotes.

That trip to Pembroke with Dougie ended a my spell of bad form over the summer. After coming back from Ireland with Rob I experienced some deep fatigue that I've never encountered before. I seemed to have hit a wall. I woke up in the mornings feeling like having a hungover despite not having drunk. I couldn't train and couldn't barely get myself up a 6a at the climbing wall. I did a lot of research, blood tests and took every supplement known to man. I let it run its course without stressing about it. I decided to just have fun and hopefully before the end of the summer I would be better and get something done.

A lot of this happened at the start of the summer.

Luckily for me it has a very busy summer with social commitments to keep me ticking. Soon after coming back from Ireland we were off for Andre's stag doo in Mallorca. Being one of the two best man I was in charge of organising it. I made sure it was going to be a blast, and as it turned out was the best stag doo I've been to, even if I say so myself. We filled the days with DWS and drinking on the beach bars, finished off by partying into the wee hours of the morning in the lush villa. The most fun details have to be spared to public consumption unfortunately.

Some people are just talented. Adrian Baxter did an 8a and a 7c DWS onsight in a day, with hardly any training and hungover.
Andre not letting the stag do banter getting in the way of hard climbing. He did manage to get up a 7c second go, despite risking his fertility.

Upon return Viki and I spend our weekend driving around the UK finding the hottest spots so we could swim, paddle board and BBQ by the beach, with the odd climbing day here and there. As Viki was still at the height of her elbow injury, it suited her well. The highlight was a week's holiday in North Wales with the most amazing high pressure system. We finished that week with a quick visit to Nesscliffe, which confirmed I couldn't really climb but on the other hand I found some extra cheeky, but very valuable gear on My Piano.

I had a fair deal of DWs this summer. It's great in a sense that you don't have to climb hard to have fun.

After that, Andre's wedding followed, which obviously was as good and mad as advertised. We decided to burn off the hangover by Brean. We mostly sat around lounging in the sun. By then we thought we ought to start visiting Kilnsey, more than anything because we missed the social scene in Yorkshire. We did try to climb, Viki specially, by running laps on Sticky Wicked trying to get fit. I struggled up pretty much everything. I tried to put an effort on Frankie, but it just felt way out of my capacity at that moment. But I kept at it, trying, mostly failing, to get up anything. Towards the end of the summer I had a good day when somehow I managed to scream my way up Myra Hindley (7c) which gave me a glimmer of hope. We had one more wedding to attend to, but now that I thought I was getting on the horse, I was pretty keen to go up to Dovedale and try Arch Enemies, Andy Pollitt's famous testpiece. We left the wedding early and drove up to the Peak District and we had a glorious walk down to Dovedale with the most impressive Ilam rock standing proud on the way. I made a mental note to be good enough one day to do Eye of the Tiger. I couldn't get anywhere near Arch Enemies, I spend an entire day reappointing a 7a, confirming I was nowhere near out of the woods yet.

Lowering into the Cauldron to do Friends of the devil (E4) , as class route in a great situation

Feeling slightly frustrated with the ungratefulness of sport climbing it was time for something good for the soul. There's no better place for the should than Pembroke. Viki always enjoys Pembroke, so what better to go somewhere slightly more adventurous than St. Govans. We headed to Stack Rocks to do some of the long E4's there. The highlight perhaps was Friend of Devil just because that abseil into the Cauldron, with its magnificent position backed by the rock bridge, certainly feels a notch up from the Malham catwalk. Paired by the echoing sounds of mature seals feeding their sense of curiosity, the ambience of that zawn is something to remember. Sated with adventure we retreated to the St. Govan's Inn for a pint. The following day Viki and I felt totally exhausted so we decided to lounge in the sun and chill out.

The Pembroke feeling that I keep coming back for.

The Pembroke bug now truly set in (has it ever been otherwise?) I recruited Scotland's smiliest cranker for another quest. Being as psyched as me, Dougie didn't complain about having to be sat in traffic for eight hours trying to get to me. We just got in my van, handed him cold beer and headed west. I knew by the time we woke up to the Bosherston's sunshine all memories of hours sat in the car would be swiftly vanished. We hit it off by going back to Stack Rocks as I was desperate to do Arettica, an E5 that came highly recommended by Rob Greenwood, something not to be dismissed. I remember being extremely nervous before setting off due the lack of confidence in my current fitness and not wanting to blow the onsight. The route is properly wild, climbing a perched arette way above the sea, with a very distinctive pokey move to negotiate a roof. After excessive up and downing I started feeling sorry for Dougie being scorched by the sun whilst dutifully shouting encouragement. I concluded that procrastinating any longer wouldn't result in any more favourable outcome so I committed to the moves past the roof. A surprisingly hard pull almost saw me plunging downwards but pushed on with stubbornness over skill, passing some more balancey moves that also almost spat me off. Gasping for air, I pulled over the top, with the unequal satisfaction you are rewarded after a big trad fight. That route had most certainly saved my summer.

Will on From a Distance (E7), most likely my next E7 quest. I tried it on a top rope at the end of the day and it didn't feel too bad, about 7b+/c climbing. One for next season.

Aware I must have been on the lead for about two hours, time was of essence so we headed to the Leap, Dougie was keen to tackle some of the classics there. We uncoiled the ropes under The Minotaur and warned him about the massive span on the crux move. Dougie hasn't got the best wing span, but what's he's missing in apex index more than makes up for his dynamic "Flying Scotsman" technique. Now, if you don't know what I'm talking about, Google Steve Johnstone's video of Dougie doing a all-points off dyno on a winter route in Scotland and you'll see what I mean. So, having guaranteed entertainment for the next half hour, I sat back belaying and waiting for the blockbuster moment. As Dougie got into the hand-off knee bar below the crux, I repeated the beta to him: grab the left-most crimp, plonk your feet high and go for broke with a massive move to a decent pocket. Armed with that knowledge, Dougie grabs the crimp, starts swinging and launches for the pocket just to fall short of it. Amazingly recovering the situation, he reverses back to the knee bar for a rest. About five minutes later he's back up on that crimp, but this time I can see him swinging wildly left to right to a point were he's off flying into mid air only just to go past the good pocket and latching the jug above. What a fucking legend. A roar of laughter ensued.

Flavio gunning it on Yellow Pearls (E5 6b). he had the week of his life doing ten E5's and Jen, with a leg in a cast, jumaring dutifully every route. Trad is certainly not dead.
I think Viki was relief to top out "Dicing with guppies" (E5) at Gun Cliff. My long enduring wife earned a whole lot of brownie points that week.

Suitably psyched by Dougie's effort I forgot about my epic only a few hours before and I talked myself into doing Head Hunter. Supposedly and easy E5 or a hard E4 seemed like a good candidate for the situation. On the abseil back to to the leap, we bumped into what looked like two schoolgirls with climbing gear. When we asked what they've climbed, they said they had just done Head Hunter. Aha! It can't be that hard then. That thought quickly changed when I found myself in extreme red-lining only a few finger locks above the ground. Shambles galore as usual. I down-climbed for a rest. Now with some gear above my head surely would feel easier. I tried again only to go past my last piece of gear and finding myself struggling to commit to a hard pull, failing to get it right I could come close to the belay ledge. With screaming forearms I reversed the climbing to save the ascent for another time. Don't underestimate school girls.

Fatboy on, I think, Orange Robe Burning (E6) in Pembroke.

With tail between my legs, I passed the baton to Dougie who was now frothing at the mouth by looking at Scorched Earth/Just another day. I gave him the beta, which was basically a romp to a 7a pull which he wouldn't struggle. It soon transpired that some of the moves down below require a long span that I failed to notice before. Dougie ground to halt in the first traverse left, unable to reach out the good holds. After much deliberation, a muted "watch me" came from the Dundee Buckie-lover and again he was flying sideways into space, all points of contact completely departed from the rock, only to land his hand on a flattie and recover the wild swinging. What a legend Vol.2. The rest of the route when in a whizz, the crux went unnoticed and we topped out in time for cold Punk IPA's watching the sunset in the carpark. What a day! Sunday's forecast turned for the worst and got rained off, so we drove back to Bristol buzzing with the Pembroke high.

Justin Timms about to embark on the crux of The Minotaur

But back home I couldn't get Head Hunter out of my head. By all accounts an easy route, but it kept nagging me, a pending subject. Bank holiday weekend was approaching and we had booked a week's holiday right after it. We had a stag and hen doo in Devon over the Bank Holiday weekend, but I was sure I could get my own back on that route. DWS in Berry was good but to be honest I get bored with the faff. The best thing though was taking Viki down to do Magical Mystery Tour, it was such a laugh and felt so lucky I can share these experience with my wife. After a night partying at Adam's backgarden we went and check a crag a never been to, Churston Sea Cliffs. I'm not sure I'll be back any time soon. We had one more day in Devon, but I had bright idea to check the firing times in Pembroke just in case. Disaster! The rabble was going the be closed mid-week until end of September! So making our apologies to the rest of the team we made the four and half hour drive to Pembroke to try and do Head Hunter before the range closed.

Rachel Keys sampling the Devon delights. We took a day to check out a crag I never heard off (impossible!) called Churston. I was hungover after a long party and I was glad I didn't miss much.
About to go down in the soup of Berry Head. Usual faff scenes of August Bank Holiday weekend.

Bank holiday Monday woke up to an amazing sunshine and I was chomping at the bit. I knew it was high tide but I didn't care. We abseiled directly into the belay ledge under Head Hunter so we didn't have to wait for the tide to go. This time the whole business went smooth and yes I could see why it gets E4 in some places. Wondering what a muppet I had been just a week earlier, but glad that I got the get on the route again. The next two days we climbed over Gun Cliff and Moving Word, with the highlights being Olive Branch (E4) and Dicing with Guppies (E5). As it turns out, the MOD would stop regularly firing in the afternoon (run out of ammo?) and the would open the range at about 4.30pm. I tried to have a go at Yellow Pearls (E5) which I found utterly desperate and for some reason didn't quite find the bomber gear. But then Orange Robe Burning (E6) was an amazing experience despite cheating a little bit by extending the in-situ tat and practising the first move of the floor from the ab rope. Nonetheless a quality route and log standing tick crossed from my list. We topped the trip with an ascent of Mean Streak (E5) which took me two goes and is nowhere as mean a people make it. Another great thing of that week is that Viki lead her first two E1's with total style. The make 'em good up North them lasses.

Viki about to embark on the Magical Mystery Tour. I felt the luckiest man alive to able to share that experience with my better half.

By now full of confidence that I was out of the worst of my fatigue problem I started thinking about plans for the Autumn. My Piano is always in the back of may head, but I'm in no rush to get it done and perhaps it's not so much an adventure quest, but more like something to fill the gaps. Just before our trip to Pembroke, our friends Adam and Ed Booth had been up to the Cobbler to do Dalriada. Now that's a route that has inspired me beyond believe, but I've always considered out of my league. But Adam made it sound "achievable", so when Rob Greenwood had serious bout of FOMO, he asked me to go up and have a go at Dalriada with him. I immediately said yes. But as a consequence of saying yes this became a reality, and suddenly, I really wanted to get this route done. It's the best line I've seen in the UK. It felt just like the days when I did winter climbing, when all my motivation came to climb certain striking, lines that really took over me. I realised it might take me more than one visit, so I lined up a long weekend with Charlie Woodburn as well as the long weekend just before with Rob.

Rob Greenwood, the serial ticklist climber, knocking one out off the Extreme Rock list with Club Crack (E2) at the Cobbler.

The week leading to driving up with Rob was the usual weather hustle. Luckily it coincided with my MetOffice/Exeter Uni weather course, so I used it as course practise. A week glued to atlantic pressure charts, jet stream flows and the havoc the Irma was creating to weather patterns. I'm no expert, but it was obvious it would be difficult to predict until last minute. And as it turned out, we only lost one day's climbing, which was just fine with me. But luckily the hurricane Irma had dramatically change the course of the jet stream, pushing a massive high pressure system from the Polar regions down our way. This was good and bad news. We would have a chance decent weather, as long as Irma stayed active in the tropics, but it would be flipping cold. Like 0 degree feel temperature at The Cobbler summit where Dalriada is.

I've seen this shot many times before, and never thought I could actually, one day, be there myself. I never used this cliche saying before, but it was truly a dream come true.

We took the Friday to drive up all the way to Arrochar. Saturday morning look like the last bit of the wet weather passing through, so we did the two hour walk up in the afternoon. Now, the beta we had was to carry a 80mts single rope for top roping, then two 60mts for leading, plus a length of 20mts for rigging and a rack and half. Add water, food and a ton of warm clothing and you end up with one very heavy pack. Not a problem for Mr. Big Legs Greenwood. But Mr. Spindly Leg Sport Climber Marin had a big task ahead of himself. I struggled and hurt for way more than two hours, but eventually got there. That afternoon we set the anchors, sussed the gear and did one top rope each, but not in a oner. It was a productive day, but I was exhausted and that route felt like a beast.

About to go though the second crux on Dalriada (E7)

But Sunday arrived a clear day, fresher legs and a whole lot of psyche propelled us all the way up to the summit in no time. This time went down first, sussed the gear himself, warmed up a little and did a top rope clean. Then I did a top rope myself stripping the gear so Rob could lead it. Which is exactly what happen. Rob tied in and without much effort got to the top with seemingly little effort. Cool, I was psyched. I knew I wasn't quite ready for a proper lead, plus that would mean making Rob climb it again on top rope to strip the gear. So I thought what benefit would I get from top roping again, and decided to pull the ropes and lead it on Rob's gear. My attempt went better than I thought, I felt I climb really well and I got all the way to the headwall where I realised my top rope beta wasn't going to work when pumped. I lowered from the last peg, a mere 3mts from the top, and we packed before it got dark. We run out of time for that day.

Rob on the airy headwall of Dalriada on his successful lead

Monday was a short day as I had a nine hour drive back to London, so the aim for the day was to sort the beta for the headwall so I had it completely dialled for when I got there pumped out of my mind. The walk up the Cobbler for the third time in a row was now started to get a bit old news by now, but still psyched, I keep sprinting up the hill. Rob was good as gold as support team and just gave me the space to decide what I wanted to do. So I spent a bit of time on the headwall sorting a different sequence than Rob and luckily, I worked a solid beta that worked really well. As soon as I lowered to the ground, the sun came out, I felt good and fresh and with that I told Rob I was going to lead it with the single rope. I thought about top-roping it gain to strip the gear and then have a go placing the gear on lead, and now in retrospective I should have done, but at the time I didn't think I had the energy for two attempts. I set off and everything just flowed really well, both cruxes felt pretty straight forward and the headwall, now with the new beta, went in a whizz and loved the moves up there in control with the exposure. I did think about doing it again placing the gear on lead again, but that would mean climbing the route twice again and we just didn't have the time for it.

Rob doing his "Birkett" warm up before Dalriada

The whole nine hours drive back to London I was buzzing with the experience and so happy with my performance after the crap summer and my physical meltdown after Ireland. I did wish I had a bit more of an ego and went for placing the gear on lead, but at the same time I had the next weekend line up with Charlie Woodburn to come back up, so I was more excited about the prospect of climbing the route again with a good mate.

The three days back in London I spend them glued to Atlantic pressure charts and triangulating forecast between catching up with work. Unfortunately I didn't look that good and we had to postpone it by a day. But psyche was high and we decided to go for broke anyhow as it was my last possible weekend to go back up, and also a good chance to hang out with Charlie and Gilly. As we drove up the forecast worsen so the mood dampen a bit. Saturday we got up to rain and mist, but with the odd break in the clouds. I kept the mood up by my stupid endless optimism and I think Charlie got pulled in my madness. But the more we climbed up the wetter it got. At the foot of Dalriada we couldn't even see the starting holds. With our heads down and a subtle laughter we walked down back to the vans for cups of tea and a proper catch up. So with that, the obsession to climb it again placing the gear on lead just vanished and had to let it go.

Now it was time for Charlie, so we sat the wash out on Sunday and head up to Glen Nevis for Charlie to have a go at Hold Fast Hold True (E10). But upon arrival the Glen was obviously very wet. We sat around the Monday drying up the crags with our eyes with very little effect, but to our surprise, when we walked up to Edgehog (E3) was surprisingly climbable. A quick ran back to the vans and a bite to eat and we were back to get an Extreme Rock tick before dark. We both lead the route and with the rat now fed the smiles were all back on our faces.

The man, the legend, the hero. They don't make them like this anymore. Charlie Woodburn prepping Hold Fast, Hold True (E10) before his lead attempt.

I didn't quite confront the idea of Charlie going for a lead attempt to Hold Fast, Hold true. But drinking my morning coffee I saw them back from Dave McLeod's house charged with pads and the right skyhooks, and then I realised that Charlie was serious. I switched to "support" mode, helping Charlie and Gilly ferrying the numerous pads up eh hill and generally keeping the mood lighthearted and fun. I belayed Charlie on a top rope, in which he danced up the slab of Gneiss rock like a true master. As soon his feet touch the ground he determinedly said "I'm going to do it!". We worked out the logistics of the cameras and before I got enough time to get on the rope to film he was ready to go. He had his eyes on the prize. The next few minutes were a weird mix of determination, skill, inspiration and sheer terror. But I kept calm and kept filming. Charlie look composed, but as soon as he set for the crux I could not all was well. In a fraction of a second he was airborne and with the skills of a cat he quickly turned around prepared himself for the ten-meter fall. Luckily he walked away to fight another day. They don't make them like Charlie anymore.

Tuning the Piano

The Rise of Erin