Tuesday, 28 December 2010

All happening

Happy Christmas everyone. It’s been all happening for me - ups and downs. First up I have been in the foundation stages of next years training, putting in four or five hours a day on my board, doing my moves and exercises. My body feels great apart from a core stabiliser muscle in my trunk which is causing some pain and concern.  More on this later. As much as this could get in the way of immediate performances on cliffs, it’s letting me get on with the much needed work of preparing my body for next year’s objectives. 
For the last couple of years I’ve been quite focused on short term objectives, hence not doing any hard routes, just lots of ‘easy’ ones. Not easy of course, just easy enough to do in a couple of days. Two E10s, three E9s and a good few E8s this year. I’m ready for a big one or two routes again. And that means short term sacrifice.
I’ve made several changes to my training, which are going great so far. I’m excited for next year. After training I’ve also been doing a ton of reading about training and about injury rehabilitation as I continue to work hard on my book Rock ‘Til You Drop. It’s fascinating. There is so much to learn. But I must admit it’s been hard to sleep. I’ve got the information coming out of my ears by the time I go to bed. Usually 3am at the moment.
On our way home from Christmas in Glasgow, we briefly became accident statistics. After sticking below 40mph all the way from Glasgow in sleet and snow in Claire’s 4x4, a ridiculous stretch of black ice took control of the car on Rannoch Moor. I managed about 5 anti-steers back and forth, keeping the car facing ‘forward’ (roughly) for about 200 or more yards. But it was useless and I had time to apologise to Claire and receive her acceptance as we spun a few more times and were finally deposited in the ditch. A winch and a couple of hundred quid later, we drove home, at jogging pace. Thanks to the lads who tried to help us get the car out under our own steam. I have your snow shovel. Drop me a line and I can send it back.

Mountain Equipment Ts are here

Our fresh stock of Mountain Equipment Pro-Team T-shirts arrived just before Christmas. It’s a short run from ME and we are due to get more sometime in the spring. But just to say the current lot are selling fast, so if you want one get it now. There are 3 male mediums left at the moment!
Claire has added chest sizes for them on their page in the shop so you can be sure which size is right. We have been impressed with the quality of the new run of T-shirts, great quality organic cotton and a little ‘heavier’ cotton and crisper print than the previous batches. In the shop here.

[UPDATE] The mediums are now sold out for now. Small is a chest size 28 and large is 42.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Christmas orders

More and more of you are asking each day about our last posting dates for Christmas from our shop. Claire is dispatching every day as usual, via Royal Mail. If you’re ordering within the UK then you ought to get your order in by last thing Monday night (20th) to make sure it’s there before Christmas. Please be aware things are sometimes taking a little longer as Royal Mail still seem to be delayed in a few places by the snowy weather. 
We’re expecting new stock of the Mountain Equipment Pro-team T-shirts later today and will put  all the sizes up in the shop as soon as they arrive. We've been out of men's sizes in these for ages and I know lots of you asked when they were coming back.
As always, if you want anything signed, just ask, in the special instructions field of the PayPal checkout. Thanks to everyone who’s ordered from us recently. Claire’s been doing a great job in the office getting everything out in double quick time every morning.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Too steep for dry snow..

Michael on some nice ice, on the way to look at some steepness and then abseil off.
It’s been an up and down couple of weeks. I tried training hard but ended up annoying an arm muscle and having to back off just when psyche levels were getting very high. I must admit I got a bit fed up after that and put my energy into various writing tasks I’m working on. A lot of work got done, and now my arms are feeling ready for some training again. So it's worked out well.
I went with Michael to look at a winter project, a very steep one. But it’s 45 degree steepness meant it was the only route on the cliff not in condition. ARRRGH! Next time.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Ukclimbing.com just put up my video of Die by the Drop E10 7a, Apophenia E8 7a and Kev doing Frustration E5 6a on the slab at Glenfinnan. 
It’s here.

Couple of videos: Pinnacle Trailer and the cave

Here is the trailer for The Pinnacle DVD, ice climbing on Ben Nevis following in the footsteps of Smith and Marshall. Brilliant for the winter psyche!The DVD is in the shop here.

This is an extended clip of Michael making a determined second ascent of my own problem Bone Broke (Font 7c) in the Arisaig Cave last week. The wee fire was great, shame the wind was blowing it into the cave for the full winter cave dwelling experience!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

New 8b at Steall, Glen Nevis

Since the conditions got kinda frozen last week I was eager to see if the drips of Steall would freeze at source and allow me to see off an obvious link-up project. A few months ago I did a new 8a+ called The Gurrie, between Leopold and Steall Appeal. So named because I started up it only intending to work out the first 4 moves off the deck and ended up growling and scuffling my way through the crux bulge to the chain.
The obvious link was to take in the second crux of Steall Appeal to bump it to soft 8b. Once I’d worked a sequence around the icicles at the top, I stuck my handwarmer ‘teabag’ in the chalkbag and got it done. Video below:

Friday, 26 November 2010

Die by the Drop pics + another new E8

Apophenia E8 7a  - Taking each move as it comes on the crux section. Photo:  © Suzy Devey

Above and below: Die By the Drop E10 7a (video stills)

Man it’s great to be home after a week on the road on one stage or another. I’ve come home to a great spell of weather which has halted work on my book but been great for cragging. 
Yesterday I returned to Donald’s slab in Glenfinnan with Donald himself and the keen gang for a great session in crisp winter sun. Kev dispatched Donald’s E5 ‘Frustration’ in a smooth lead, if you can call one shaky skyhook a lead rather than a solo.
Afterwards I started up the remaining project on lead, with a lump in my throat. It has 2 microwires for gear which is twice as many runners as Die By the Drop just to the left. But the crux is a pure balance move without really anything useful for the hands to apply ‘do or die’ finger strength to if you don’t climb it perfectly on the lead.
As it was, although I had a bit of mishap with lead ropes behind heels on ‘the move’, I felt good on it in the superb conditions after the sun had dropped. Still, ‘Apophenia' still felt like a solid E8 7a to me. I suppose it might be a good idea to sharpen some ice axes soon? What do you do when conditions are perfect for bouldering, sport, hard trad and winter all at the same time? It’s a hard life. Some more photos below of the action yesterday. I'm editing some film of these ascents just now too.

Suzy enjoying the lovely light for photography

Kev, solid on the sharp end of ‘Frustration’ E5 6a

Lovely afternoon at Steall the other day

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Great Climb & Triple 5 DVD’s have arrived

The DVDs of our live BBC Great Climb and also the Triple 5 (5 Climbs, 5 Islands) programmes are ready and Cameron McNeish is dropping them in to me later this morning. I’ve put them up in the shop just now.
The Great Climb DVD comes as a 3xDVD set with the full 6 hour programme of the first ascent of The Usual Suspects E9 7a, including an option to listen with or without the television commentary, extra footage from the climb such as the roof section on Pitch 4 of our route and extras about the background and making of the programme. It’s in the shop here.
The Triple 5 DVD comes as a 2xDVD set of a longer cut of the film with extra climbing, interview and background footage. The ‘5 Climbs, 5 Islands’ programmes that went out on the BBC was 2 hour cut. The DVD is a 3.5 hour cut so could go into more depth about the climbs we did during the challenge and our approaches to climbing in general. It’s in the shop here.
I noticed at Kendal that a lot of folk wanted their DVD signed. If you would like that when ordering from the shop, just ask! Write in the ‘Special instructions to merchant’ field of the checkout page.
Hope you enjoy them.

The Pinnacle wins at Kendal

I’m just home from the Kendal Mountain festival where I had a great couple of nights speaking about The Pinnacle film and The Great Climb. The Pinnacle won the People’s Choice prize for the best film at the festival - thanks for voting for it!
It’s great that people liked it so much. It was a great vibe at the premiere and watching the film for the first time I just felt so glad that we were able to make it. I think Jimmy Marshall and Robin Smith’s story is as inspiring as ever and the film shows off Ben Nevis at it’s absolute best.
Diff gave me a pile of Pinnacle DVDs to take home and Claire has just dispatched all the pre-orders today. I had a watch of the extras this morning, which include our live show with myself and Andy Turner talking with Jimmy at last year’s Fort William Mountain Festival, Diff’s full uncut interview with Jimmy for the film, and also Heatherhat’s film about my first ascent of Don’t Die of Ignorance (XI,11) with Joe French on the Ben. All the info about the DVD is in the shop here.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Pinnacle DVD is here

Hot Aches Productions DVD about our re-enactment of the Smith-Marshall week on Ben Nevis is ready. Tomorrow (Friday) I’m at the premiere of the film in Kendal and will be picking up our DVD stock from Diff there and dispatching orders when we come home on Monday. It’s up in the shop to order if you want a copy, right here.
In case you missed my previous posts about our week, this is what all the fuss is about: In 1960 Jimmy Marshall and Robin Smith, probably the best ice climbers anywhere at the time completed a week of back to back first ascents of cutting edge ice routes on Ben Nevis. The first one-day ascent of Point Five Gully, first ascents of Pigott’s Route, Smith’s Route, The Great Chimney, Minus 3 Gully, Orion Face Direct and a traverse of the Grey Corries as their ‘rest day’. It was a massive step forward and took the generation behind them a good decade and the development of modern ice tools to catch up. Step cutting these routes day after day was a fantastic feat of skill and endurance. It became a bit of a legend in Scottish climbing, to say the least.
Hence, 50 years later, to the day, myself and Andy Turner felt it would be great to go and repeat the week of climbs and make a film about it with Hot Aches Productions. We had a great night after our week with Jimmy Marshall himself, talking about the week at the Fort William Mountain Festival (which you’ll find as an extra on the DVD along with an extensive interview with Jimmy who is now 82). Since then, Paul Diffley has been preparing the edit of the film itself.
It recounts the story of Jimmy and Robin’s adventure and achievement, shows off the routes and the Ben itself rather beautifully I think. It did help that we had a stunning week of weather on our re-enactment.
Hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it.

About to top out on Point Five Gully during our re-enactment of the Smith-Marshall week on Ben Nevis.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Die by the Drop E10 7a

After a a couple of weeks of October deluge in the highlands, the mountains had turned an amazing bright gold colour lit up by a rare morning of sunshine. I took my chance and headed out to Glenfinnan with Kev for a look at the slab. I was off to Spain that evening, so it was worth going for a look even just for a few hours. On arrival at Lochailort and inspection of the slab through my binoculars, it was still soaking. 
Over several brews in Arisaig’s caf’, we discussed how precious it was to be have dry days on mountain crag projects in Scotland. It had been over two weeks of waiting since our last day at the slab, and I realised it would over three before I could come back again after a trip away and some work for sponsors. 
The discussion was ringing in my ears when we arrived at the crag at noon to find my E10 project almost dry. It isn’t a long route so I there were no excuses about needing to work sections of it anymore. I knew exactly what to do and that it would never be any easier to lead than today. So why not? Well, because the knowledge of the moves meant I knew how easy it would be to fall. A desperate snatch for a thumb press and another for a poor smear were definitely low percentage moves, above a sole microwire in dubious rock and a couple of comedy skyhooks in a flake you could pull off with the same force as you’d need to open a fridge door.
I guess I was in the right frame of mind, so I led it anyway. Of course the inevitable happened and everything went wrong on the crux. I caught the thumb press but at the same time my toes seemed to buckle on a tiny smear and my body arched backwards. In that breath, I fully expected to fall. But at least I also fully accepted I was committed. So survival instinct could fully kick in and I pressed down into the crimp I’d locked to my knee level with strength you only get above an unprotected drop. That was enough to escape the impending splat and I pressed on, wobbling like jelly, all the way to the top.
What a great experience and I must say I felt a lot better after it and that I’d decided to go for it. 
It’s a slab so who knows what bloody grade to give it? I know there are some hard slabs out there, and I also know I’m an awful slab climber. So all I can really do is compare it to recent slabs and other trad routes I’ve climbed: Harder than Indian Face & Walk of Life? Check. Harder than If Six Was Nine? Check. Harder than Muy Caliente? Check. Etc etc... So maybe it scrapes into E10 7a. 
PS: Will post up some video stills and pics when I’m home from Spain.

Anti-slabs in Margalef

After a summer of climbing a lot of slabs, I’ve been climbing for the last two weeks in the giant roofs of Margalef. Here’s a wee clip of climbing and 8b and 8c (might be 8c+ now after I broke a crucial hold) in the roof of Sector Finestra. These are definitely not slabs!
Part of the fun of climbing here right now is it’s good therapy for an injury I picked up recently. More on this over on my Online Climbing Coach blog here.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

More adventures like this...

Thanks to everyone (there was a LOT) who sent me a message to say you really enjoyed the 5 Climbs, 5 Islands programmes. Episode 2 is still on BBC iPlayer for a few days. If you miss it, it’ll be on DVD soon so don’t worry.
Watching it myself reminded me how much this type of adventure is really what I like and hope I can keep doing them as long as I’m still around. A lot of folk commented about how I did like to try as hard routes as possible on this type of thing - that’s totally true. I totally need to feel that I might not be able to do it, or even more that I actually can’t do it, but learn along the way how to figure out how to make it work. 
That process of focusing in and getting really absorbed in the task in hand seems to be hardwired in me. I don’t know exactly where it comes from. I get very frustrated and wrestless when there is a barrier between me and focusing properly on the task. I find it pretty hard to accept that things upset progress and take that in my stride. I tend to respond by going even deeper into the obsessive zone. Climbing yields really well under this approach, which is pretty much the core reason why I got better at it slowly. Up to a point it works really well in other fields too, but at a big cost.
It leads to a funny situation in that as a climbing coach I spend most of my time trying to encourage people to adopt this approach, but a lot of my adult life has been spent trying to blunt it myself. The Triple 5 programmes and The Great Climb I hope gave a decent insight into how these things work out in climbing. On that day my normal focus was totally destroyed every time I put my mashed up ankle on a foothold. Half of me wanted to give up and half of me wanted to shut it out and keep climbing. So ‘machine’ mode won out and I just went a bit quiet and kept grabbing holds til we were on top. It seemed to me that Tim had pretty much the same experience on the soaking wet finishing pitch. It would have been very very easy to admit defeat then.
The experiences of this summer made me think again about the big one - my project of freeing the original aid line of the Longhope Route on Orkney. If ever there was a climb that demanded and would reward the obsessive approach it’s that one. Perfect really. After this year’s shortlived trips up there I realised I probably wasn’t good enough to do it last year, or this. But I’m still learning a lot about the tactics and training needed to make it work. Looking forward to standing underneath it again next summer with fresh energy to throw at it.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

5 Climbs, 5 Islands part 2

Stac Lee, St Kilda looking amazing

Quick reminder to tune into the second part of our 5 Climbs, 5 Islands adventure tonight, 7pm, BBC2 Scotland, Sky 990, Freesat 970 and iPlayer for streaming or downloading later if you miss it. There seems to have been a wee delay before the download comes online on iplayer after the scheduled showing ends so don’t fret if you can’t get it immediately.
Tonight we are on Lewis, Great Bernera and on a mission out to St Kilda.

Heading into no man’s land on St Kilda

Monday, 25 October 2010

Thought provoking afternoon

Just in from a shivery afternoon under black skies and gales in Glenfinnan. Kev couldn’t make it out for sessions on the slab so I took the shunt and worked more on the harder of the two projects there. When I originally looked at it I could see that it was possible but it looked like an E11 slab (!) Can you imagine how nails that would have to be?
But after some hours of deciphering I decoded a sequence and with much wild slapping for various tiny things, got it linked on the top rope. Oh dear. There is also one microwire placement. A poor one, but enough to make it seem like it could be the coming down towards the top of the E10 band, and something I would at least think about leading.
Most of the hard trad routes I’ve done are much better protected than this, and a LOT easier. The only harder route I’ve done is Echo Wall probably, but that suited my style being steep and technical. I’m a crap slab climber on the whole. Having said that, I’ve tried to climb some harder slabs to get better at them. Comparing this line to other slabs like Indian Face or The Walk of Life in my mind - they are easy warm-ups against this line, and a lot better protected. A lot of much better microwires would have to rip on Indian Face before you’d be in trouble on a fall. This route only has one, shallow, flared and in quite soft rock.
Unfortunately there’s no way I could lead this slab with any kind of margin. It’s a full on, all out desperate slap, scream and wobble fest to get through the crux. And that’s on a top rope. The landing looks like it might only dish out broken legs. It’s only a 40 foot route. But the chances of a scary tumble would be high. 
Thought provoking… 
I can’t decide if it’s a good thing that the forecast looks rubbish until I go to Spain.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Learning the error of my ways

Circuits @ Halewood‘s
This week has been a week of solid work on Rock ‘til you drop by day and abuse of various plywood boards by night. Good fun and a nice change from travelling too much. I do think I’ve read just a bit too much this week about posture and it’s impact on people who choose to spend large volumes of time hanging from bits of plywood. It’s a strange thing to spend all day reading about how much damage you can do from your sport, and then heading out to go and do some more all evening long!
Seriously though, I’ve learned a LOT about the likely sources of my own elbow problems over the recent years and have sufficiently terrified myself into including an enthusiastic battery of stretches and weird looking calisthenics to sort out my various imbalances. It's brilliant to actually know what the problem was!!!
Researching a book that crosses so many scientific and practical fields of expertise is no overnight task, and next week I’ll no doubt repeat this one and many before it: - buy expensive textbooks (the most expensive so far was £200!), spend the wee small hours tweaking searches through journals with nasty pictures of mangled elbows and then try to fit this with my knowledge of climbing and the elbow, finger and shoulder destroying ways of keen climbers.
But for two days, I have a break. I’m off with Claire to the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival for some good events - first up: Diff’s lecture “Climbers I’ve shot, and some I’d like to shoot” which will be a laugh, then the Premiere of the film he shot of our repeat of the famous ‘Pinnacle’ week on Ben Nevis, 50 years to the day since they did it. Then on Sunday it’s the debate on the ethics of adventure. See you there maybe..

Mountain Equipment’s Chill slackline sets are now in stock in the shop - the 15 metre ‘entry level’ set. A little wider at 40mm…
Also back in stock is the To Hell and Back DVD which some of you have been asking for.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

5 Climbs, 5 Islands part 1

Galta Mor, the Shaints - the location of our first ‘5 Islands’ challenge route; The Puffin Diaries E7 6c,6b
Did you catch it on TV last night? If you missed it, you’ll get it on iPlayer right here and if you are abroad you’ll be able to see it using this website (or wait for the DVD...). Remember to tune in again next Tuesday (26th) at 7pm to catch the second half of the story. If you don’t want to know how we got on in the first two days of the challenge, best stop reading this post here! All pics: by me courtesy of Triple Echo Productions

Cleaning pitch 2 the day before the start of the challenge. 
So first up was the Shiants. We didn’t know of any recorded routes on the islands other than some scary stories of attempts on loose basalt chimneys back in the day. The wave washed basalt in the arch was fantastic stuff. The only problem we had was that all the cliffs with good rock were north facing and the rain was coming down good style until about 12 hours before we were due to start. You saw the result of the damp rock under the roofs - a sudden slip and plummet. Thankfully that arete wasn’t too sharp on the rope! The roofs were about 7c+ but with reasonably good gear. Pitch 2 was a stiff E5 6b finger crack. So the whole route went at hard E7 6c,6b - The Puffin Diaries.

The Shaints have 2% of the worlds Puffin population
The second day was really going to be the toughest of the challenge. As it turned out it didn’t really work out that way, but that’s for next week’s show... The big horizontal roof on Creag Mo was about 7c+ or 8a before the crucial hold came off and possibly 8a+ afterwards. Or maybe I was just getting tired after throwing myself at it several times? On my recce for the production in May I semi-aided/free climbed out to that slot, removing a LOT of loose rock because the roof marks the line of weakness between the Mica Schist below and the bullet hard Lewissian Gneiss above. I dynoed for the slot and had a desperate time trying to get a cam in it along with my fingers and take a rest to clean it. And yet it broke straight off on the crucial lead day! Weird. Anyhow, the result was a harder route and I suppose more entertaining to watch me failing so many times. 

Arriving in Loch Seaforth to head to Creag Mo, Harris
It wasn’t too entertaining at the time I can tell you. The pressure of the entire project’s success or failure for Tim, the crew and the BBC production resting on me getting across that roof on my last try was kind of thick in the air. I think the relief on my face was obvious. The Realm, E8 6c, 6b is one of the best mountain E8s in Britain (The best E8 in Britain is still The Great Escape on Arran by the way). Did you spot the ‘Indian Face of the future’ project just right of The Realm? 

Boat life
It was funny Tim pointing out in the program that I was psyched to do as hard routes as possible on the challenge. I really should have known that choosing to try and do climbs as hard as E7 and E8 back to back that haven’t been done before so aren’t pre-cleaned and have all the unknowns removed would put the whole project at risk. The reason was that I just got carried away by the quality of the lines! It just seemed like if we were going to climb a new route on a brilliant cliff like Creag Mo, then it was obvious it had to be across the roof. When a lot of people’s time and money is being spent on a big crew of people being there to film us climbing and make a good TV programme, making it work is really high on the priority list. I made a judgement call that super high motivation to take the rare opportunity to nail such remote, good and hard routes would win out against having no margin to absorb setbacks. It worked so far...

Sometimes naming routes is hard, sometimes not.

Seconding Tim on day 3 on Lewis… 7pm next Tuesday for episode 2. Pic: Cubby Images/Triple Echo

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Teetering time

Loch Ailort looking like glass in the October sunshine

Since pulling super hard on the tweaky little sidepull crimp on the crux on Muy Caliente the other week, a ligament in my index finger has been complaining. A week or so of doing pretty much no climbing seems to have given it time to calm down a bit, and some careful training has resumed. At least it's been good for making progress on my next book, 'Rock 'til you drop'.
It’s quite scary how a week off makes a real dent in your form. Mind you, if there’s anywhere you need to be firing on all cylinders, it’s my board. I’ve never climbed anywhere so unforgiving of lack of form, energy or confidence. So long as you take it the right way, it’s good for you to be slapped so convincingly. 
As always, when injuries demand a rest for the fingers, slabs are a good idea. I did make one last attempt to climb a nice slab in the mountains. But the unseasonal high temperatures didn’t last long enough to finish the job. 
Instead I headed to another tip off from Donald King. The latest in the King line series is a lovely compact slab near Glenfinnan, with two hardcore projects. Yesterday, in lovely sunshine and the company of Kev, I had a session on the easier one which will be a bold E9 7a. I brushed, fiddled a lot with tiny microwires and tried some very teetery moves. By 4pm, it was time to either lead or go home.
The prospect of the lead meant a very balancy crux, swapping feet on miniscule smears with one hand on an undercut and the other doing not very much at all. Prognosis in case of a fall; two rather dubious microwires that could hold...or not, and a landing on a razor sharp spiky embedded rock 30 feet below.
I opted for going home. On my return, I’ll bring some more tools for the job. Ten minutes with a spade will sort out the guillotine landing. A handplaced pecker should add another runner to the rack, and fresh toes and fingertips should bite into those little ‘holds’ a tad better.

Can't wait...

Kev enjoying the gloaming on the walk out

Friday, 8 October 2010

Hot Aches DVDs offers

We are running a couple of offers in the shop for a while on the Hot Aches DVDs collection:
The ‘boxless’ set of all the Hot Aches DVD back catalogue for £50. 5 DVDs, 7 hours of great climbing films and the collection pretty much reads like a history of top end British trad climbing as well as ice, mixed, bouldering and sport and multipitch from all over the world. Contains E11, Committed I and II, Monkey See Monkey Do, All Mixed Up. PAL format only. It’s in the shop now here.
Committed I & II bundle for £20 which they would normally cost each. Committed I has 200 E points of hardcore trad action including Divided Years E8, Blind Vision E10, Trauma E8 and stacks of others. Committed 2 has The Walk of Life E9, The Groove E10, Dynamics of Change E9, If Six Was Nine E9, A’ Muerte 9a, The Hurting XI and on and on. In the shop now, here.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

5 climbs, 5 islands scheduled on BBC2

The 5 climbs, 5 islands film has a provisional slot on BBC2 Scotland! Originally filmed as a back up for the Great Climb programme in case of atrocious weather, injuries etc (we got both but still managed it!), we had a great adventure and I think you’ll like the film.
We travelled about the Hebrides on a big boat, attempting some really hard new routes back to back over 5 days. You’ll have to watch the programmes to see the outcome but I can tell you it was the best trip I’ve had new routing in the Hebrides, certainly one of the hardest and definitely with the most falls!
The culmination of the trip trying a brilliant 2 pitch line of perfect black Gabbro on St Kilda was unbelievable.
It will be shown in two x 1 hour shows, BBC2 Scotland, Sky, iplayer October 19th and 26th at 19.00. Enjoy!

Some pics from St Kilda on the 5 climbs, 5 islands trip. Photos: Triple Echo

My previous blog about the trip is here.

Muy Caliente

In the ‘no fall zone’ on Muy Caliente E10 6c, Pembroke
I’d never been to Pembroke before, so obviously I’ve been a bit of a headless chicken over the past week spent there. There’s a lot to do! First up I met up with Harry and the team to shoot for a couple of days with them for their documentary ‘Mastering the Matrix’. We talked a lot on camera about my perspectives on finding success in sport or tasks in general, the differences between success and happiness and misconceptions about risk taking. I’d been invited to take part in part because I discussed a lot of this in the practical context in my book. The lessons from sport for the wider world are fascinating and it was a good discussion.
After talking for ages, it was time to put it into practice. So we went to the cliffs and took some falls. We practised falling, taking 30 footers off ‘Test Case’ E3, in St Govan’s. It totally reminded me how often you have to practice falling. I was actually a little nervous before the first one. A couple of months of no trad falls and the unfamiliarity of falling plays absolute havoc with your leading confidence and climbing efficiency. If you don’t believe me you’re either a nutter, operating way below your potential, or more likely kidding yourself. After this I took the opportunity to have a quick play on Tim Emmett’s E10 ‘Muy Caliente’. Moves done first try, link done first try. Game on.

Setting up for the technical crux, the crucial nut clipped
I asked the guys if they wanted to stay an extra day and film me putting my money where my mouth is and blasting up that runout. I must say that my knowledge of Tim’s lead attempts really spurred me on to get on the lead myself. I think Linford Christie would struggle to prevent a boulder splat from 50 feet up if you fell off the end of the runout. Tim’s  lead attempts despite not having linked it on a top rope are an exemplar of taking it right to the limit. A fine effort of boldness. I linked it second go and still felt it was a serious proposition, especially while nervously fiddling in the wire at the end of the runout, all too aware of the long stretch of rope below me.
Once past the runout it’s just a matter of unleashing every bit of power in your fingers on the technical crux. You don’t want to have to do that runout again! E10? Maybe just, because of that runout. It’s certainly easier than To Hell and Back, but maybe a slightly bigger undertaking than Achemine.

Mid-technical crux on Muy Caliente

With that in the bag, I headed to the pub with Pickford and rendezvoused with the gang for the next shoot! Next up our plan was to shoot some nice climbs for a few days for Black Diamond Equipment. Myself and Tim climbing, Diff, Katie and Dave Pickford shooting. 
The next hardest route to get on was Pickford’s line ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ Originally given E9 but later downgraded to E8. However, Dave pointed out that the line hadn’t been done in one big pitch. The second pitch is E7 and was led on a separate day from the main pitch by Pickford, Birkett and Mawson (as far as I know). Dave reckoned that cleaning up this niggle would make it definitely E9.
On day 1 we had a go but sea spray stopped both of us in our tracks. Instead we wandered up some nice E5s which were lovely. Next day we got thoroughly soaked by rain and opted to just to Pleasure Dome E3 and Manzuku E1 in the wet. Once we discovered that climbing soaking limestone in gloves was easier than soggy chalk we got on fine and had a nice day.
But ‘The Brothers’ (needs to be said in a Welsh accent for full effect) needed doing to round things off. So next day after the rain stopped we were there again, this time with both of us feeling like going for it. In the end, by the time conditions were right and we were ready, the sun was low in the sky, the waves were getting closer and there was time for only one lead. So we drew straws. I won and Tim graciously let me go for a good scrap on the wall, struggling at first with warm slippy slopers on the crux, and then rope drag just where I didn’t need it on the upper E7 half. But just after sunset, I topped out with a big pitch behind me and a big smile. Video and pics from all this will be on BDs site sometime soon.
Great trip!
PS: 600 mile drive home, as always, was the most dangerous part of the trip. As I pulled up at a traffic jam I looked in my rear view mirror to see the guy behind driving along looking down (presumably at his iphone) and not braking. So today I have some minor whiplash and a smashed up car to deal with.

In praise of bouldering

I’ve had two and a half intense days at home since returning from work in Milton Keynes and leaving for more work in Wales this morning. Too much driving!
Last night, after a marathon office stint, attempting to finally catch up with all my work at home, I enjoyed a session on my board immensely. That might not seem surprising. But to me, the extent of my enjoyment of bouldering surprises me nearly every time I do it.
As I was saying in a recent post, I’m looking for lots of things in climbing - adventure, partnerships, big challenges. Seen as ‘higher order’ pleasures compared to the physical enjoyment of climbing. Except ‘higher order’ is totally the wrong way to see it.
In actual fact, there is nothing ‘lower order’ about the physical side of climbing. Firstly, because there’s no such thing as a purely physical pleasure. All enjoyment is psychological. Sometimes it’s convenient to separate ‘basic physical’ and more complicated feelings. However, when it comes down to it, there is no difference along these lines and that is not sufficiently recognised in modern discussions of climbing or other types of enjoyment.
A complicating factor in how physical and mental pleasures have become separate is our natural tendency to become either arrogant, ignorant or just a bit unimaginative. Lots of climbers got into climbing to have adventures, see nice places, gain respect or acceptance and other things like this. It’s still fairly common that some climbers either simply don’t understand sport climbing and bouldering, or think they do understand it and look down upon it as a ‘lower order’ pleasure.
Their loss! And I don’t mean that in a dismissive way. This post is a direct appeal to those people to make another effort to understand it and realise the whole world of deep enjoyment they are missing out on! 
Sometimes, it’s purely the fear of the status quo changing and their connection with climbing changing that stops people giving it any effort. Maybe your view of what you value in your climbing might change forever and that feels risky. But much more often it’s a purely practical problem - people don’t know how to boulder. They don’t know what to do on a bouldering wall. It feels boring to them. Their mistake is to deduce therefore it is boring. Rather, they just haven’t figured it out yet.
It’s a skill in itself and it takes time and application to master. It’s not love at first acquaintance for everyone as I’m sure some of you could testify. Think about a skill you know well such as your favourite branch of climbing, your job or some other activity. Have you ever seen people make some basic mistakes and fail to connect with it? You find yourself thinking “if you just did it this way, you’d get so much more out of it!”. Well maybe you are in the same position with bouldering.
I’ll put my money where my mouth is and write a simple guide to how to boulder and enjoy it for those who have tried and don’t. I’ll do this shortly and post on my other blog. But for now here is a quick thought:
We call boulder problems ‘problems’ because it is primarily a problem solving activity (that idea of it being all about the physical is dissolving already!). So you have to come to it with the willingness to grapple with the problem - experiment, learn incrementally and then reach the solution. If you do it indoors then you inevitably run out of problems and need to set more yourself. So it’s also a problem setting discipline. A massive area of skill with lots of areas to go wrong. Learn it piece by piece. 
And what about the physical connection? First, you have to open yourself to the pleasure of movement. Not everyone is. They are too focused on getting to the top - the result, the task completion mentality. There is more to it. If the objective is not just to climb it but to climb it well, with minimum force. The experience has more dimensions this way.  The application of strength and momentum is enjoyable too. But not just for the force - for the timing of the force and also the sparing of it.
It’s possible to get so much enjoyment from an hour on a plywood board. Crazy thought.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

ME Slackline sets are here too

I’ve just uploaded the new Slackline sets from Mountain Equipment to our shop right here. They have been super popular for ME and so they’ve updated them again this year. There are three sets, the Pro, Passion and Chill. We are getting the Chill in shortly when the new stock arrives at ME.
Both the Pro and Passion sets have a 25mm wide slackline with 3m padded anchor slings and heavy duty ratchets for racking them up. The Passion is 18 metres long and the Pro is 25m. Enjoy!

New colours in the ME beanies

We just got in a lot of new colours in our Mountain Equipment beanies ready for the coming winter. They are in the shop now right here.

In the books section I’ve added Eric Horst’s new book on mental skills for climbers - Maximum Climbing which is just out. It’s a very up to date and comprehensive guide to theory and practice in the psychology of performance in climbing. Horst has drawn on the developments in behavioral and cognitive psychology which has come on a lot in the past few years. Interesting reading (review on the way on OCC soon).