Tag Archives: peak district

Substance or Style?

I’ve always been a climber with a very distinct style: put me on small holds on a near vertical face and i’m all over it. Give me compression or intense shouldery moves and all of a sudden my grade drops significantly.

I know what i have to do – the phrase “train your weaknesses” has been floating around for many years now – but doing it is an entirely different prospect. I’ve even come up with my own add on to the phrase that says: “Train your weaknesses, play to your strengths”. Of course, all this means is that i constantly define everything as playing and nothing is classed as training and i never actually work on anything that i’m crap at.

Two of my last three outdoor sessions have highlighted this beautifully; bringing to the forefront of my mind quite how style-dependent i am and (certainly in the case of our Peak day out) the inherent risks therein.

The Big Problem

We found ourselves in Birmingham for a week with my parents in between an awesome gig and an even awesomer weekend at Larmer Tree Festival. Music is probably the next big passion of mine and it was great to see some live sets from some bands that i truly love; Cat Empire, KT Tunstall, Gogo Penguin and Ezra Collective were just some of the bands that joined Bloc Party in our recent extravaganza.

However, that didn’t mean that i needed to totally neglect climbing while all this was going on and we were a bit further East, Cratcliffe seemed like a good option. I’d long thought i’d like to try Jerry’s Traverse 7b there, as well as possibly T Crack 7b if it wasn’t as scary as i remembered so now was the time. First though, i’d been recommended Razor Roof 6c+ as a nice line and a glance in my guidebook showed i’d not actually done it before. With Hannah hiding under the roof, i finally committed to the obvious sequence and sent what really is a fantastic line.

 

Then on to the main aim but I should’ve done my homework. I am not strong at the moment, relying on my technique and footwork to get me up climbs. The problem on Jerry’s is that there are no feet; it’s a campus fest. The hands felt plenty big enough but even then, campusing sideways is about as far from my abilities at the moment it was a fool’s errand that finished with the only likely

It got worse. Late that evening, a strong and deep pain in my chest developed, around my sternum, balanced out nicely with a similar pain in the middle of my back. Slowly through the day, it worsened until i spent the majority of the night awake through pain – something incredibly rare for me.

I spoke to my mum about it the next day, while still wincing and she suggested an intercostal strain. It made sense and thankfully subsided by the second evening after a long soak in a hot bath. Nevertheless, the whole day did highlight the importance of training antagonist muscles as it is a surefire way to hurt yourself very quickly.

Flash in the pan

Once back home and fully recovered, i took a trip to an esoteric little venue with no more than four established climbs; the top out for one a dirty, grimy mess. It goes without saying that Llyn y Gadar is not a popular venue, which was annoying as the problem obscured by lichen was the one that certainly seemed the more suited to me.

There are two 7a+ there: Freddie Kreuger and Freddie Welsh. On the same boulder, there was one more problem, Freddie Right Hand 6c acting as the warm up. I thought i’d flashed the easiest line, only to realise i’d started two moves in by mistake. Thankfully, i didn’t get it second go either (meaning i hadn’t wasted a flash) but it didn’t take long after that.

Then on to the next line: same start, move onto a rising slopey traverse. Granted i didn’t keep on it for that long but try as i might, i couldn’t find the body position that worked. Worse than that, when i found something that might’ve worked, i couldn’t manage it with my weak shoulder muscles. Again, this was a climb that simply didn’t suit me and as such, i struggled. A lot.

I wondered if perhaps i was off form; weak and underperforming. That was until i got onto Freddie Kreuger. Sat underneath, the right hand felt huge, the left ample and a super deep drop knee was ideal for me. Snatch up and i’m on the good crimp, shuffle feet and fly for the lip, bang! Slapped, stuck, swing the feet back on, go again with the right hand and i was onto easier terrain. Some tenuous moves later – top outs are often tenuous when you’re alone – and i was stood atop the bloc. One 7a+ miles beyond me, the other flashed.

I really need to work my weaknesses.

A Hat Trick

I didn’t climb again for another ten days, having been with the family in Cambridge for a friend’s wedding; a trip that included me camping alone with a two-year-old and a ten-month-old for the night… I don’t know how i ended up in that situation and all went fine, i was easily up to the challenge, but i don’t know many other people who would do that.

In a wonderful example of my occasional ineptitude at life, i had arranged to meet someone in Kendal the day after the wedding. Cambridge to Kendal then, plus a night sleeping rough in the back of the Land Rover – it was like old times again!

I left a little later than i’d hoped but as i crept towards Carnforth weighing up my options, i decided i would head to another old haunt and, much like our Lakes trip back in April, exorcise some more demons. I had a dinner date that sadly cancelled (totally understandably) so options were food or climbing. I picked climbing.

So straight to Trowbarrow: a regular haunt during my undergrad days and home to the imposing Shelter Stone. This monolithic bloc houses some incredibly tough lines, including the notorious Isla de Encanta 8b, climbed by the great John Gaskins. Some say he can’t have climbed it as it is simply too hard. For what it’s worth, i totally believe him, although looking at it, i’d love to have been there!

The Shelter Stone, much like the Bowderstone, was always something i longed to climb on but would never attempt as it was too hardcore. I didn’t stand a chance – largely through the fact i refused to even try – and even now, much of it is far out of my abilities. Still, there are some low and mid 7s and i wanted to plant my flag on the top just once.

If only it would stop raining. As i got there, i struggled to find the lines in the new and excellent Lakes Bouldering Guide, not through any fault of the book but because i was trying to keep the pages dry. Annoying but one of the best things about Trowbarrow is Red Wall, which stays dry when almost everywhere else for fifty miles does not. Ironically, i left the Shelter Stone in search of shelter.

A handful of 6s later and the sky was blue, the ground drying enough. Back to the Shelter Stone and i found a small and innocuous 7a+ two move wonder. Ideal! and with my types of moves and holds! After some quick conversation with visiting climbers, i sat on my pad, placed my limbs on the rock and less than a minute later, pulled over the top to stand atop this mighty boulder for the first time. Fifteen years after my last visit and i had finally climbed something: Funk Phenomena. Boom.

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It's been a very long time. Fourteen years, perhaps. I think that's what made going back to Trowbarrow on Sunday so special. The Shelter Stone is, for me, much like the Bowderstone: one of those crags I always dreamed of climbing on but felt inadequate to the point I wouldn't try. Half the battle of climbing harder is to get on it and give it a go. Again like the Bowderstone, even more it is a tough venue, with many of the problems still out of my abilities. But after all this time, I now finally have my tick. And now than that, I've had the chance to return to this fantastic, scenic spot and enjoy it once more. #lancashire #lancashirebouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #exorcisingdemons Huge thanks to @greg_lakesbloc for the excellent guidebook at gave me the chance to find something I could climb!

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Rounding off on Slopers

I thought i’d posted this and have just come to give the latest update in my life when i suddenly realised it wasn’t published… Originally written on the 19th September

 

It is now Wednesday and while the ache in my shoulders has now finally subsided – putting my down jacket on yesterday was still causing me to wince slightly – it has been replaced by tiredness after a long night of dealing with a sleepless 18-month old. It seems my little weekend trip is now most definitely over.

Once you come back from something like that, it’s inevitable to be asked how it went and i’m not entirely sure how to answer this time. Even two days on the grit, people are interested and in the past i’ve been known to judge my time away by the sends i’ve come back with. This time, that leaves me a little disappointed.

I had become very focused on the idea of Seven 7s on film and as i mentioned in my last post, once we’d lost the Friday it was an unlikely and tall order. The experience on Gorilla Warefare and Early Doors had left me slightly dejected but a quick send of Kiss Me Arsee 7a at Birchen late on the Saturday had renewed hope.

Again, i was left in the balance come rise on Sunday: the tents were sheltered and dry but a glance across to the next field could show driving drizzle. Not bad enough conditions to simply give up but not good enough to drive psyche.

So we did what all good Brits do in these conditions: we went for a sandwich and a cup of tea. Pack up reasonably efficiently, drive north, first to Calver and then on to the familiar Outside in Hathersage. In the time it took to eat and drink (and begin a conversation about Bob Dylan that would last two days) the ground had dried up enough to get us going. We were now psyched, despite Lewis’s fingertips so thin they were almost leaking plasma.

I’d prompted us in the direction of Cratcliffe, as i was keen for both Jerry’s Problem 7b and T Crack 7b and i thought the shelter may help us in getting something done. One or both of those problems would almost definitely make the weekend a success, especially if i could capture it on film!

On the way, though, the weather turned again. Little rain began to fall on the windscreen and i realised it was drier further north, where we’d just come from. A session at a crag we weren’t as keen for would be better than nothing at a crag we weren’t so the sensible option was to turn around and find somewhere nearer Hathersage, where there was no liquid falling out of the sky.

Yet. After so much faffing – in hindsight at least – we eventually arrived at the good old Suprise View car park with a view to hit up Millstone, only to look across the valley and see the familiar drizzle we’d been running away from had found us. Damn you, weather gods.

I figured shelter was what was now needed and so, as i have done many times before, we made the short slog into Secret Garden. I enacted my revenge on Lewis for his bushwacking exploits of the day before, unintentionally mind, as we ploughed through ferns taller then me, let alone my companion and eventually stumbled across the small scar that i’d first visited back in my undergrad days, all those many years ago.

Beachball 7a fit the bill for my plans and has been on my radar for very many years but alas, there was just not enough energy left in the tank. Much as with Early Doors i couldn’t have been closer without getting the tick, i was that close but that problem has thwarted me time and again. Everything else followed suit.

Looking back, the indecision of the weekend certainly contributed to our poor return in terms of climbs and the remarkably large amount of walking definitely didn’t help with overall fitness levels. Our pads were heavy and uncomfortable over such distances and it sapped the life out of me, the straps digging into my collarbones. In retrospect, having a more definitive plan and sticking to it would’ve probably yielded more success.

And that, right there, has probably tipped the balance on the verdict for the weekend. Poor trips are part of climbing, we have bad days and in turn, they contribute to make the good ones all the better. Being able to learn from that is what makes us better climbers, nay better people, in the long run.

 

A huge thanks to Lewis for coming along and putting up with me for the weekend! Here’s looking forward to many more in the future. 

Burgered and Broken

With burgers in our bellies and Climb On now covering our fingertips, both my companion for the weekend – who, Mr annoying man at Frogatt is neither my son nor am i his “chaffeur” – and i are throughly wiped out after a day that saw us at three separate crags. Sadly, though, despite this valiant effort, my goal of Seven 7s on film now looks increasingly unlikely.

You’ll recall from my last post that we were hoping to head to the Lakes for this weekend but as i woke on Friday morning, i checked the forecast and instantly wrote it off: apololyptic rain and climbing don’t mix and no amount of wishful thinking was going to get us anywhere with this one.

So the decision was quickly made to head east and a surly disposition soon followed. Every time i try and go to the Lakes, i get rained off. Every fucking time.

What made it slightly worse was the relentless drizzle we found ourselves taking with us from North Wales right to the campsite. We ran into Ben Brandsby in Outside in Hathersage – a friend of little Lewis, who introduced me – and at one point, his reply to the question of where would be dry was “The Works will be dry…”

We found a nice site near our intended crags, pitched camp and went shopping for food. Still the drizzle fell and soon nightfall with it and with that, we found ourselves in the local pub, me nearly falling out a couple of pints, hours and a hefty pudding later.

At this point, the idea of filming us completing Seven 7s and compiling a short movie was unlikely but i was undeterred and this morning, after a bit of a lie in, we awoke and i chatted with a woman for whom a tin-foil hat would’ve been entirely appropriate – “you’re not Jewish are you?” she asked me while watching me eat a bacon sandwich before railing on our collective decision to poison our bodies with meat and wheat and pretty much anything else! Soon we were heading for the quick-drying Curbar.

Trackside was my very first 7a back in April 2006 and for a little while, i’ve wanted to repeat it. It seemed fitting now was the chance, with another huge life-change just around the corner. Lewis ticked it first (today that is, he was five back when i got it the first time) while i eagerly filmed from a distance. Then it was my turn, along with pretty much anyone else who was passing. I’ve been flashing 7a outside lately but the retro flash most certainly didn’t and after the first attempt, i was clutching my thigh before i even hit the ground, cursing my aging and creaking body. It’s still sore nearly 12 hours later.

Still, a repeat did indeed follow, as well as a stunning photo of a new friend:

Feeling buoyed, we headed up slightly to finish off an old project line, Gorilla Warefare 7a. I’d set up the tripod before i set up the pad and quickly realised the reason i’ve always been put off is the large rock right underneath the finish. However, a more direct finish, Early Doors 7a+ avoids this and was now well within my capabilities. Or at least i thought.

I’m not sure if i bottled it or ran out of juice, i’ll have to watch the video, but in my experience, if you’re asking that question, you could’ve finished it if you really wanted to. Sadly, either way, it was not to be and with that went our last realistic chance of Seven 7s in a weekend.

We packed up, bickered slightly about the route ahead before Lewis led us across a non-path through chest high bracken and seriously broken ground and i got the hump. We traversed the bottom of Curbar crag, missed the path we were looking for and before we knew it, were at Froggatt.

I wasn’t really that inspired by the routes Lewis not aptly threw himself at, never really being sold on crag problems that finish half-way up the wall and still grumbling internally at being led somewhere like this without any discussion. Still, it’s his trip too and it was only fair to let him crack on. Eventually i wandered off to see if i could see something that did insprire me nearby.

What i saw didn’t inspire anything other than hurry. The Peak District is a laregly flat (remember where i’m from) area that allows for a lot of vision for miles around and a few miles away, you could make out the rain falling from a very dark sky. Suddenly very conscious of quite how far from the sanctuary of our vehicle we were, i wasn’t about to suggest we started on a different problem; i was suggesting we quickly run away.

Lewis finished up nicely and we packed up and took another beeline back to Curbar. We still didn’t find that elusive path and made an impromptu descent down some more sketchy and broken ground with more bushwacking, this time with rain gently falling on us from above.

Still we made it to the car largely dry and unscathed and with the sky now clearing. It was only 5:30 and that offered either a very long evening of not a lot or a chance to get another crag in. We opted for the latter.

I thought the walk in to Birchen was shorter than it is but it is quite easy and largely flat. Annoyingly the problem i had in mind was at the far end of the crag and after a gut busting route march, we made it.

Kiss Me Arsee 7a didn’t give up easy and manages to hide her beta well. What’s more, with a whopping 1 seven filmed so far, the camera battery died and we were left with a mobile phone instead; oh well. That largely didn’t matter as i seemed to inexplicably stick two very slappy moves to slopers and soon found myself topping out my second 7 of the day.

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After a long trudge across the top of Curbar to Froggatt, where @lil_lewis_climber made some nice repeats of old classics (#photo coming soon) we made a hasty retreat, watching some ominous black clouds heading our way. But while we did get rained on a little, it really wasn't much and was still early when we got back to the truck. So we made an equally hasty beeline for #birchenedge and this little beauty: Kiss Me Arsee 7a. I've been flashing 7a back home but this was a fight and she didn't give away her beta easy. Still, there was just about enough juice in the tank for one last and off the day #peak #peakbouldering #bouldering #bouldering_pictures_of_instagram #grimpeur #escalada #escalade #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbinglife #climbing_is_my_passion #weekendaway Thanks to @lil_lewis_climber for the photo

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And that brings us to now: sitting quietly in my tent while Lewis is crashed out in the tent next door, exhausted from our day’s exploits, sat on my laptop, bloggin away happily. I did marvel for a moment about how far technology has come, that i can connect my computer to the internet in a tent in the middle of nowhere, until i remembered i did this up an almost uninhabited Alpine valley back in 2010* . Still, my tent has an electric hookup this time. Funny how things move on.

 

(*may not have had internet through my phone, may have just written it and posted it later, too long ago, can’t remember but i’ve DEFINITELY done this before in a tent somewhere.)

Frozen Out

You have good sessions and you have bad sessions; that’s just part of life. It’s about balance and comparison – if they were all amazing, that would just become par. What’s frustrating is if those bad sessions come when you’ve driven nearly three hours, half way across the country…

I’ve bouldered in the cold before, many times, and yes, it does help the friction on the rock slightly but i’ve also been derailed by it as well – most notably in Switzerland in November 2012! This Sunday was one of those trips. We went to the Roaches, on the request of my friend Pablo, heading over full of psyche and enthusiasm, ready to have a blast at Tetris 7c and buzzing from the short dry spell we were right in the middle of. The stage was set for one of those days that you remember for a long time.

But i hadn’t really anticipated it was going to be one of those really cold days. The thing with these days is to try and keep the psyche going and get on the rock as much as you can – get warm, stay warm. And that was my problem, i just couldn’t get going. We started on Trust 7a: a tricky mantle onto a steep-ish slab where your only option is to place your feet carefully and trust them. It didn’t appeal and while i could do the first couple of moves with ease, i just wasn’t feeling it.

I soon got straight onto Tetris but found myseld spat off unceremoniously – like an old-time tobacco chewer in a Western. And with that, my head went down. I sat down and smoked a cigarette, got up to spot, smoked another. Very occasionally i put some shoes on and had another blast but they were token gestures at best, getting colder and colder and rapidly losing psyche, struggling with the problem at best. It soon became apparent that 7c wasn’t going to go in a session (it was optimistic from the offset!) and while i knew i should get on something else, something easier, when it started to snow lightly, i knew i was done.

I did feel very bad for Pablo but to his enormous credit, he didn’t let my pathetic attitude affect his climbing. He gave Tetris a damn good go and towards the end of the day, got back on Trust and nailed it like a pro. We left shortly afterwards, my respect for my companion even greater than it was before.

It wasn’t all bad: it was very nice to be outside on rock again, irrespective of how the performance went. It was also a stunning day and a great one to drive 300 miles or so (even if we did get a flat tyre on the way home…). But most of all, it was brilliant to spend a day with a guy i originally met randomly at the cromlech roadside boulders and who has become a good friend of mine.

The following day, i headed back into that same pass, this time alone. I’d been delayed by sorting that tyre from the night before and trying to overcome the lack of psyche from Sunday, but eventually Tess and i took the long trek up the hillside above Ynys Etws towards a problem know as Lotus. In the film Stick It it was given 8a, in the guide gets V10 (or 7c+) in reality, it’s fucking brutal. It’s a traverse from low left under a roof and requires a lot of pads and with only one with me, i was restricted to trying a move or two at a time. Even then i struggled.

But it was first session and i did tick off a couple of other problems and top out on a rock climb. It didn’t matter what it was – for this week, it was enough, that was my victory. Now Thursday evening, it’s forecast to rain again tomorrow for another week and it turns out, i didn’t actually tick two established climbs. It didn’t matter.

It just goes to show that sometimes, it’s not about how hard it is, it’s not about the grade. Don’t get me wrong, ticking hard lines feels better than sailing up easy ones but sometimes, it’s just to be out tasting success. I coached another session that Monday night; my third coaching session in two weeks and i worked with that group absolutely contented with my two days of bouldering. Funny how it goes sometimes.