dimanche 29 décembre 2013

I hate climbing at Christmas, it's so ....... cold! (said Elaine).

We had some superb days climbing at Jurassic Park and Cayenne, in early December. The weather was amazing and very mild and the crags were bone dry. It was nice to go out and feel our bodies moving, even though we didn't do anything new. It's always good to break in new shoes on stuff you know, too.

Kirstie and Hardin finished off a couple of their projects, Well done! Seb and Cathy ventured down from the cold, further north. It was really fun to see them again, after such a long time. Amazingly, Seb was still climbing in shorts when he sent Psychopat! Cathy was more sensibly dressed when she sent La Queue du Diable. Both 8a+'s dispatched very quickly by a mega pro team! Encore, well done!
Seb Hemmery showing Psychopat whose boss. Shorts at Jurassic Park in December!

Around the same time, I finally saw another dentist about my on-going saga with my root-canal. It has finally been taken out and (fingers crossed) the infection is finished. I've been feeling so much better ever since.

However, the day before the Christmas holidays started, the rain clouds rolled in and I also picked up a bad cold. Perfect timing for both!
Ashley Lewis on Viatge a Venus, 7a, at Montgrony. Photo by Rich Kirby.

We decided to go to Montgrony, just inside Spain. Rich Kirby had recently been and his photos looked ace. So, we were hooked. The first two days was very promising (even with a runny nose and constant coughing) with blue skies and plenty of sun. Then we had 3 days of rain and snow, accompanied with very cold temps, during which we were stuck inside the camper van. Still, we managed to cook a fab meal on Christmas Day. We managed one more day of sun, before giving up yesterday when it turned out cloudy and very cold again. We drove home through the rain. There are some great looking routes to go back there for, especially Gaia and Callabruix (Aromes de Montgrony looks fantastic but I can tell it also looks well gnarly!). Still, it was nice to do some climbing up to 7c.
Home made mince pies!

Christmas Day lunch washed down with champagne.
One of the best doss spots ever? Right under the crag in the sun and quiet too.

Back home and the sun is out. Artbloc tomorrow!

samedi 30 novembre 2013

The good news and the bad news

Not much happening at the moment. It's a damp and cold day here today. It should be nice and sunny again tomorrow, so we're sitting tight waiting for then. No training and not going to climb indoors either.

Here's a couple of photos of Hardin climbing at Chouchou Place last Sunday:

The bad news: 
The infection in my root canal has returned with a vengeance. It probably explains why i'm so seriously tired these days. I had the confirmation from a new dentist yesterday (recommended by Marie-Jo). Tuesday next I should find out what he is going to do. He has said it needs to be taken out but there may be further complications and maybe another operation to clean it all out again.

The good news:
We asked our head for a year out. He said OK. So we're looking forward to some cool travelling and climbing next year. Brilliant! 20 years ago, we were on our last year out climbing in the USA.

Here's some photos from that trip:
Ascent of man, 7c+  1st redpoint, Virgen River Gorge in December, brrr!

Yaak attack, Red Rocks, also in December!

Marla's house at Smith Rocks, where we stayed for 3 weeks in September.

Elaine and TM Herbert at "The Pie Shop" in late October.

Sissy Traverse (8a) took quite a bit of effort and quite a few goes to do. Red Rocks.

Aggro Monkey (8a) 1st redpoint. Smith Rocks in September.

My favourite US crag, Jailhouse Rock. Not sure what the route is though.

Heading back to Portland from Red Rocks.

Buttermilks in November.

The legendary Smith Rocks.

A nice warm up at Red Rocks.

mardi 12 novembre 2013

Loud and proud!

You'd hear a load roar as a super bike arrived at the car park at the top of Pex Hill. A tall, slim figure clad in black motor cycle leathers, would step through a gap in the railings and announce his arrival by letting out a humongous belch. Every head would turn to look at him as he nonchalantly down soloed The Dateline, a tricky 5c finger crack, with his helmet in the crook of his elbow. Of course, I'm talkng about the legendary Phil Davidson.

On another occasion, we were walking down the main street in Llandudno, when I felt an urge to burp. I let it out loud and proud, which we always did. Phil was suitably impressed, but only until I apologised to the two appalled ladies walking towards us. After that he was very un-impressed!

I first met Phil in the glorious summer of 1976. There was a heat wave that summer and water was rationed. But, more importantly, the crags in Wales were all dry and the routes were all for the taking. John Roberts, Pete White, Brian Jones and I were regulars at Humphrey's Barn in Nant Peris. We used to spend Saturday nights there after a great day's climbing and a lot of beer in The Padarn in Llanberis. Phil used to turn up with his equally talented climbing partner, Gaz Healey. We used to call them the "Psychos" because they did such outrageous climbs and rode their motor bikes always at full throttle. Other regulars at Humphrey's were Andy Sharp and Steve Lewis from South Wales and Mike Griffiths and Sandy Dobie, like us from North Wales.
18 year old Phil Davidson making the 5th ascent of Right Wall in 1977 (photo Gavin Peat)

Our paths crossed many times on the crags. Phil quickly worked his way through all the classic hard routes and made a name for himself when he did the 5th ascent of Right Wall in 1977 with nonchalant ease. From that moment on he become well known for making incredible on-sight ascents and amazing solos. (When Phil soloed Right Wall, in 1984, he hadn't done it during the intervening 7 years!)
Phil Davidson soloing Right Wall in 1984
I got to know Phil really well, when Elaine and I moved to the St Helens area in 1980. We became good friends and we climbed together for many years. My favourite memory goes like this:

Elaine and I had just returned from a two week holiday in Corfu in 1982, spent chilling out on beaches, eating too much and doing no exercise. We just happened to see Ron Fawcett, on the TV that evening, climbing "Sardine" at Raven Tor. As soon as the programme finished the phone rang. I knew instinctively that it was Phil and what he had in mind for tomorrow! Sure enough, it was him on the other end of the line and he confirmed my dreadful suspicion, he wanted to go to Raven Tor. He absolutely strolled up Sardine, as usual. I was dragged up it and then lowered down into the nettles in my shorts (he was too busy chatting away with Jerry Moffatt to notice).
Phil strolling up Sardine on-sight in 1982

Between 1982 and 1984, Phil was probably one of the best climbers in the world. He was one of the first climbers to look carefully at his diet and used to eat a couple of tomatoes, whilst we'd tuck into fish and chips on the way home from the crag. Secretly he used to do loads of sit ups, press ups and pull ups and was the most supple person I have ever known. (I wonder if he can still do the box splits or stand against a wall and touch the wall above his head with his toes on one foot?) As a result, he had an incredible physique that we all envied!
Phil making short work of L'Obsession at Malham during his comeback year in 1990

Then Phil just quit climbing when he went to I M Marsh College to become a teacher in 1984. He applied the same dedication to white water canoeing and became very well respected for his skill and bravery on the flooded Welsh rivers. Later on he became an accomplished saxophone player and more recently took up clay pigeon shooting (of all things).

Phil got back into climbing in 1990, making a very good comeback of course. However the sport had changed a lot in the intervening six years. Everybody was into sport climbing; this involved dogging and rehearsing moves. Despite Phil always having preferred to climb on-sight, he embraced the new red-point ethic and ticked most of the classic 7c's and 7c+'s at Malham, Kilnsey and Gordale. But the magic 8a grade proved elusive for him, he tried desperately to finish Zoolook, but kept forgetting the exact sequence necessary to achieve success.
The dude on his Ducati 900SS (photo by Steve Foxley)

Phil has always been into motor bikes and has been the lucky owner of all sorts over the years. His gleaming Ducati 900SS used to be kept in his parents back entrance hall until he finally got his own house. His helmet and leathers matched the black and gold on the bike, apart from his boots (as seen above). He regularly wore out the outside edge of his boots due to banking so low on corners at fast speeds. I remember the soles were held on with red duct tape!

Phil has always skied immaculately, he still canoes horrendous rivers (especially when they're in flood), he still enjoys playing the sax and is still very keen on climbing. Recently Phil has been receiving justified respect for working his way through the desperate (and very bold) routes at Nesscliffe. I'm very happy to add that whatever he's doing, he's still doing it loud and proud. Good on yer, mate!

Footnote: I just happened to read through this today and noticed a few things that needed improving or adding. So I've edited it and hopefully it's better now. (Mike 23/10/18.)

mardi 5 novembre 2013

"Don't waste October"

Way back in July, as we were moaning about the hot temperature, Stevie said "There's always October, don't waste October". Usually it is a great month for getting some great climbing done as the temperature is prefect. 

Unfortunately this year it came and passed in a blur. It's just been a rather tricky period that has left us both really pretty tired out and we haven't been able to get much quality time on the rock. 

Here are some photos from Les Pistones secteur in the Gorges du Loup.
Nico Lesage warming up on a 6a

Fabien Bartez on a 7a+

A superb 7c

Nico on-sighting the classic 7a+ (version longue)  not long after finger surgery. Bravo gar!
We just returned from a week at St Leger, where I was hoping to settle the score on some unfinished routes. Unfortunately all the tufa routes at La Baleine were soaked. Never mind, they will still be there for another time.

Today, I accidently knocked off the handbrake whilst hoovering out the Cali, it rolled and hit the garage wall. As a result, the passenger door now needs a re-spray. Marvellous, bloody marvellous!

"De la houle, du grain (et des essais)" a really hard 7c that took me 2 whole days!!

A Spanish climber on "Le chant de baleine", a tricky 7c+ that spits you off right at the top at least once!

An old photo from 3 years ago showing "Le concierge et dans le parking", an ace 7c+

Tired, sore hands. That split skin in the joints is always so painful!

vendredi 11 octobre 2013

Climbing outdoors is my favourite waste of time.

Climbing outdoors is my favourite waste of time. Some people would say that it is completely pointless; you don't "win" or improve your "best time" or "score" and everybody thinks you must be "mad" and have a "death wish"! Most people simply don't understand. I suppose I can't blame them really; F1 is utter rubbish to me. Luckily, we're all different.

Climbing is so great because you get to visit beautiful places for free; meet like-minded, calm people from all round the world; you can get mega fit and it is very relaxing for the soul. An extra bonus is the complete lack of rules and regulations that makes it the perfect antidote to normal, everyday life. Quite simply, it puts everything else into perspective (everything else is just "grains of sand"). All that mindless rushing around we do each day is the real waste of time.

Robin and I went back to La Turbie to while away Tuesday afternoon. We were psyched to hurl ourselves at the unfinished route from the week before. The weather was superb, despite the forecast. Once again the warm up from hell was desperate. Monte Queue is a very polished sand bag 6c+. Robin has it well dialled and he is taller than me, which makes the crux section easier for sure. He despatched it effortlessly, whilst I had to fight and pull out all the stops to hang on (especially as my feet shot off twice!).
Robin demolishing the warm up from hell!

Then it was back to the serious business of trying to finish "Oeuvre Complete" (after the pumped forearms had recovered enough). Robin should have done it. He fell off the last move, due to a dodgy barn door sequence that he had to refine. Me? Well I fell off much lower, but I did make some good progress.
Robin on Oeuvre Complete (he is less than half way up this 50m monster!).

So, we left the crag with our bodies having taken another battering but we'd had another great time, even though we didn't achieve success this time round. We'll be back there again next Tuesday. Who knows, we may just pull it out the bag! That's what makes you keep going back for more.

Elaine and I had a very entertaining afternoon at Jurassic Park last Sunday. It was quite challenging doing my favourite 8a+ in a mega thunder storm! We spent Wednesday afternoon struggling with very humid conditions at Mesa Verde. But it was so much better than just staying at home or going shopping.

We didn't get to Le Discret last Saturday. I had a cold and the weather was too iffy. But we're going tomorrow to have some more fun times. Bon weekend amigos!

vendredi 4 octobre 2013

Don't mention the "K" word, thank you very much!

It's about this time of year that my smug mate, Chris Craggs, posts on Facebook that he's booked his trip to Kalymnos. Now Chris is very, very lucky because he is a retired teacher (though, even luckier (jammy b.....d), he managed to get out well before retirement age!) and he can now travel around the world climbing wherever, whenever. So, around October/November he heads across to the climber's island paradise Kalymnos for a month, two months, or as long as he and Sherri fancy going for. He posted some time during the last week! Mmmmmm.

Last Saturday, at the excellent and quiet "Le Discret", Alex (also smug) Zuttre casually mentioned that he was going to Kalymnos for 2 weeks. He flies tomorrow from Milan Bergamo (closest airport to here with flights to Kos) via Ryanair for peanuts, because he can go outside school holiday time. We have a week holiday from the 26th of October, so I looked at flights from Bergamo. Elaine and I can get to Kos for less than 35 euros for both of us. The problem is that Ryanair flights finish at the end of October, so we wouldn't be able to make it back. I haven't worked up the courage (yet) to tell my fantastic boss that we've got no option but to spend the entire winter out on Kalymnos, just climbing!

Anyway, here is a special photo for you Alex. Bon grimpe!
The fantastic Aegialis (7c) at the Grande Grotta, Kalymnos. Just who in their right mind would prefer to be working?
Changing the subject (only slightly - remember I am obsessed). It's been good to go to some different crags lately. Even Fatman and Robin have made another return. They have been seen on "Oeuvre Complete" at La Turbie, secteur Jacob. This is a 50m long stamina fest with the crux right at the top. It gets a very stiff 7c+ grade, which is very frustrating when you blow it way up there! Great to do "Vent du Terre" in a day (also 7c+) at Le Discret last Saturday. The plan is to go back for "Hilti Base Jump" (8a/8a+) tomorrow. However, the forecast is for rain most of the weekend.
You can be easily distracted whilst your mate works a 50 metre route. Fatman belayng whilst Robin tussles with "Oeuvre Complete" at secteur Jacob on Tuesday.

When did it last rain? Correct, last Sunday, then the Sunday before that and the Sunday before that as well. Why does it always choose to rain at the weekend? Have a nice weekend everybody.

dimanche 15 septembre 2013

Just an obsessive, compulsive punter really.

I'm just a punter really. A punter suffering from OCD and bordering on autistic, I suspect. Perhaps that explains my complete lack of interest in team games and activities, including my job where I'm happy in my classroom but loathe both the staff room and meetings. Though I do like watching football, surprisingly.

Being crap in PE at school, it is surprising to think that it was my PE teacher who got me into climbing. Although I was good enough in the gym, I can remember sitting out many rugby and football lessons, though I can't now remember why. The PE teacher was Eric Howells, who had been a very good climber. He'd done stuff like Vector in the sixties and had climbed in the Dolomites. He was still young but had packed it in as he began to settle down into ordinary life. I can remember flicking through some climbing book in the changing room, whilst most of the other kids were out in the mud and thinking that climbing looked much more like fun. Soon enough, I was hooked. My school mate John Roberts had been on a course at Plas y Brenin and could tie knots and belay. Eric Howells lent us the gear and we went out and taught ourselves how to climb on Capel Pinnacles and Idwal Slabs. Could you imagine any sensible teacher today doing such a thing? Imagine what could happen to somebodies career.

The OCD has been my best friend for the 40 years I've been climbing here, there and everywhere. You see, there have always been far better climbers than me. More talented and much stronger. However, over the years my obsessive nature has helped me remember the intricate sequences of so many climbs and by simply sticking at it I've had so much fun. Nige Hunt would say "Never go down"! In other words don't give in (especially when the going gets tough).

John and I worked our way through the grades, getting more and more confident, though John was much better than me. However, John's aspirations seemed to reach a plateau, whereas I wanted to keep on pushing, even though sometimes the outcome was a close run thing. We eventually went our own ways.

Trad climbing basically means climbing on sight without falling, as the gear is often very dodgy and a fall could be serious. However, sport climbing involves falling off lots (until you are able to link all the moves without falling), though it is safe because the gear is in situ bolts. This in turn means that you can do much harder climbs, with practice. Tim Lowe introduced me to sport climbing in 1987 at Malham. A whole new concept of dogging moves and repeated falls opened up new horizons. At that time Obsession and New Dawn involved me investing several days of effort before success was achieved. But it was a step up the ladder. Seeing people like John Dunne, Yorkie, Mick Lovatt and Ian Horrocks at work on their chosen projects was fascinating. I knew I'd done harder trad stuff, but they had the edge when it came down to redpointing. It took me a while to realise that they just stuck at it and "never went down".

However, there is a fine line between going on something that is achievable and something way beyond your ability. Though, when you start piecing together your chosen project you don't always know for sure. In March 1993, Glenn Sutcliffe, Keefe Murphy and I started working The Austrian Oak at Malham. Glenn was in the GB team at that time and very strong. He sent the route pretty quickly. Keefe got very close, but for some reason left it and eventually did it much later. I had to build a replica on my board and spent 13 very stressful days falling off before I wobbled my way to the chain! After 3 days it would have been easy to give up (and that's now the time I'm prepared to spend on a route, unless it is something special). However, I did stick at it and eventually got the job done, although I was much happier doing my next project (Predator) in only 2 days.

Since moving down here, I've taken on some hefty challenges. Memorable, lengthy sieges have seen me eventually clip the chains on Mortal Kombat and Barjoland (both 8b at Castillon). However, I invested a lot of time on Soul Sacrifice (8b, Deverse) and Souffle du Vizir (8b+, Peillon) only to never get the job done. I actually did Souffle du Vizir 3 times with only 1 fall on the pockets near the start, getting back on and going all the way to the top. Perhaps I should have lowered down and tried again. Who knows? It becomes hard for me to keep trying the same climb for too long, despite the possibility that the next go could be the one that counts.

So, it seems that being obsessive is great up to a point, but being compulsive can be a hindrance. In other words it is good sticking at it but sooner or later the desire to do something different takes over.

Well done to Pete Chadwick for sticking at getting the job done on Predator, despite falling off well above the hardest climbing several times and having to put up with Eddie taking the piss out of him. And good luck to him settling the score on The Oak. Stick at it mate and never go down!
Pete Chadwick sticking at it on Predator
Sticking at it on Mortal Kombat, a dream come true in 2005. No my left foot is not on the bolt. Photo by Phil Maurel,

Simon Lee on the difficult start of The Austrian Oak

vendredi 13 septembre 2013

Imagine my surprise.

Imagine my surprise. 

You see, there I was dozing in bed one Sunday morning, back in late 1998, and Elaine shrieked "I know what we can do" and sat up full of enthusiasm. Obviously, that put a smile of optimism on my face, but then she announced that she had a plan. "Oh" said I. As the plan was explained, I sat up and nodded along in agreement. 

But it was a brilliant plan! Put simply, it was a ticket to another life. A life far removed from the dismal wet, cold weather and an end to teaching in Britain. It involved staying in Antibes over Christmas and buying a caravan. Said caravan would be rented out and joined by a second caravan, then a third, and so on. But, it would take time. After perhaps five years, it would be possible to move down to the sunny south of France and live in one of them. Voila!

Ok, we came out with Eddie and Mandy and discovered La Turbie, Castillon and Le Gorges du Loup. Not surprisingly, we fell in love with the place (despite finding the climbing grades quite tough). We bought our first caravan that Christmas and the second the following Easter, both in a lovely campsite in Pont du Loup, with a spectacular view of Le Bar sur Loup, Gourdon and the Gorge. 

After returning home from our Easter trip, it rained for days. This was too much for my poor dear wife. Eventually, she couldn't stand it any longer. She announced: "F... waiting five years, let's go this year!" I was stunned, as my very sensible wife is not normally a person to make hasty decisions. I didn't hesitate of course. Well, who would? I quickly agreed with her, before she changed her mind!

Amazingly, we sold our house very quickly and quit our jobs. I had it all planned out in my mind: move out, live in a caravan and go climbing, then climbing the next day and the day after......... Heaven!

And then I got a job and I didn't get to go climbing every day. And Elaine also got work.

We sold the two caravans, moved into an apartment in Le Bar sur Loup and bought our house within 18 months of arriving in France. But it's not been so bad. We chose a great place to live, the weather is fantastic, the scenery amazing and we get to climb all year round. The climbing is brilliant.

Here are some tasters from this week:
Robin on a 7c+ at St Cezaire

Ced on Hot Chilli Beans Volcano (8b+) at Deverse

Kev on Hot Chilli

The classic Deverse Satanic, 8a

Ced warming up on Mecanik (7c)

Seb Bouin on PuntX (9a).

Franco on L'ethique du tacquet (7c+) at St Cezaire

dimanche 1 septembre 2013

What do The Bells! The Bells!, Steve Boote and The Climbing Hangar have in common?

The climb described is John Redhead's famous scarry route The Bells! The Bells! (E7 6b) on Anglesey's North Stack Wall.

Anyone who knows Steve Boote knows that he's great fun and always good for a wind up. It started at The Climbing Hangar. He encouraged us to join him in the last bouldering comp. We'd been there 3 hours already and were pretty tired. He was fresh. However, he didn't spend his time there just climbing, he was busy having a laugh behind my back and bigging up my reputation, particularly my 3rd ascent of The Bells! The Bells! way back in 1990. As we were leaving, one of the climbing coaches (Mike) said "You're Mike Owen, didn't you do the 3rd ascent of The Bells! The Bells?" (or words similar to that). We had a nice chat about the routes on North Stack and the fact that Bootie had been spreading the word.

When we next went to The Hangar, the word had spread further (much to my surprise) and one of the young lads behind the counter said "You're Mike Owen..........." Infact he then asked for my autograph (saying it was for Mike). Well, I couldn't refuse, could I?

The story really begins even further back in time. Way back in 1983, to be a bit more precise. Andy Pollitt and I come from the same area of North Wales and got to know each other through climbing at our local crag, Craig y Forwyn, in the late 70's. In 1983, he stayed with us for 3 months as he worked with me at Black's in Liverpool. We used to talk for hours about climbing, trading tales and sharing wish lists, and so on. We'd both done The Cad that same year, so obviously we sowed the first seeds about doing The Bells! The Bells! which was first climbed by the talented and very brave John Redhead. At that time it was probably the most dangerous route in Britain. Still, Andy and I were both young and we had high aspirations.

Andy moved to Sheffield and became one of the first professional climbers, making phenomenal new routes in the Peak and back in Wales. He went on to make the coveted 2nd ascent of John's death route test piece in 1986. I have his signature on the Berghaus poster from the time in the cave downstairs (next to Phil Davidson soloing Right Wall in 1984). It took me a few years longer to realise my dream.

The Berghaus poster showing Andy Pollitt making the coveted 2nd ascent of The Bells! The Bells! in 1986 (Andy's faded signature is down right from his right hand).
June 1990: Twid and I were onsighting E6's and E7's in Wales and we had both done a few 8a sport routes by then. So we were pretty fit and still young enough to be brave. We were working our way through the North Stack routes and both of us had eyes on doing The Bells! The Bells. I couldn't believe nobody had done it since Andy. I finished my degree and had time to climb before entering the teaching profession. Twid got busier with guiding and had less time. So, it was there for the taking, if only I was up to the challenge.

Graham George and I abbed down North Stack Wall on a reasonable busy day and I set of on-sight. To be honest, things didn't feel right. I remember finding the start (in common with The Cad) harder than it should have been. At the end of the first traverse I placed a small offset HB2 which was basically the only thing between me and the floor. After several half hearted attempts to commit myself to the moves leading to John's 10 year old peg I called for a toprope which, thankfully, arrived pretty quickly. I cursed myself for being a wimp as the move seemed ok, albeit with protection from above. However, I found the (wrong) sequence going rightwards from the peg desperate and covered in "grandfather's whiskers" vegetation so typical at Gogarth. It was a very empty feeling I had at the top. Ok, I'd climbed The Bells! The Bells! but hadn't actually led it on the sharp end of the rope. To tell the truth I was gutted even though I had underestimated the severity of the challenge. Still, Graham was well chuffed to follow, which he did impeccably. I returned, much better prepared, next weekend but I was still concerned about the moves right from the peg.

Saturday 9th June 1990. There was a lot of moisture in the air and the sky was grey. Still I was ready, the time had come to either realise my dream or die on the jagged boulders at the foot of the cliff. I abseiled down The Bells! to brush off the vegetation and to tie off the peg, which was in a pretty sorry state after ten years of weathering. I was shocked when I saw a line of finger incuts going directly above the peg. This was the obvious sequence to gain the second traverse where, later on again, I was shocked to find a bomber Hex 4 placement just to the left whilst doing The Hollow Man with Phil Ralph!

There was nobody there at all, just Elaine and me. Therefore no chance of a top rope this time. The boulders were slippery and it was very still and quiet.  It was do or die. So I set off up the start of The Cad, traversed right to a good foothold and put the HB2 in again. Without hesitating, I committed myself into serious terrain, where it was up to me alone to see this thing through to the end, come what may! I dared not look at the tied off peg as I followed the line of incuts up to the start of the second traverse. There is a shield of rock there where I spent ages trying to get in some dodgy rp's and a tape sling over the top. The seriousness of my position was gnawing away at my concentration (if only I'd known that Hex 4 was nearby!). I have never been so totally frightened in all my years climbing, as I was from that shield onwards. I seemed to be looking down at myself tiptoeing across, with the ropes trailing uselessly down to the left of me. By the time I gained the shallow groove that led to the top I was almost completely spent and there was no meaningful gear to stop me decking out from about 150 feet. There was a nasty sting in the tail: on the last difficult move I felt a tiny foothold break off as I delicately weighted it. For a moment I swear that I thought I was going to fall to my death. At this point, Elaine was well aware of the mess I was in and was weighing up her possible options to run over the slippery boulders in an attempt to take in the slack if I fell. She told me afterwards that she realised there was nothing she could have done! Somehow, I told myself to calm down and test with my foot to see if there was enough left to stand up on. I crawled over the top and just lay there, utterly spent and sobbing as it all sank in. After a long time, I set up an abseil to strip the gear. You should have seen the smile on my face by the time I got down to Elaine. And I've been wearing it ever since!
The incuts above the peg that lead to the second traverse. This section of The Bells! is shared with The Hollow Man, a harder but safer direct version first climbed by Andy Pollitt. Elaine took this photo (from an abseil rope) of me making the 3rd ascent on 17/6/90. This photo became a DMM poster used in outdoor shops.

At the time I was testing gear for DMM, hence the Mammut harness, Mammut ropes, La Sportiva shoes,  DMM chalk bag, nuts, quickdraws and the shoddy La Sportiva tights!

mardi 27 août 2013

Great to be back home!

You have to admit that Britain has an awful lot going for it. Honest! The real ale is the best in the world. The curries are awesome. The climbing is fantastic (weather permitting, of course). And, as we recently reminded ourselves, the indoor climbing walls are brilliant!

The plan was to combine a family visit with some climbing. Shame it poured down just before we arrived, so the crags were soaked. Ewan wanted to go to Gordale, I fancied Kilnsey. We ended up at Malham thinking it would be drier. Now that is a place I used to know very well. However, it was bloody freezing and the crag was very, very wet.  I used to cruise up many of the classics putting the draws in a long, long time ago. On a good day I could do Raindogs, Zoolook, Connect Four, New Dawn, Mescalito, Herbie and Obsession with no falls, placing all the clips (apart from Connect). That means three 8a's, two 7c+'s, one 7c and one 7b+. Of course that was only possible because I knew each route so well and having a workout day was always so much easier than trying Cry Freedom or Bat Route. Don't forget, I am pretty lazy at heart, so I have always tended to go for the easier option. Ok, this time the crag was very wet and it is over 14 years since I moved to France. The outcome was a dead cert: I got my arse kicked big time and I'd forgotten how to climb there; my fingers weren't strong enough and I found it so hard using little, polished footholds. No excuse, I was crap.

A change of plan was needed. Why bother trying to retro flash (or worse: dog then redpoint) routes from the past? Not to mention trying to cope with wet holds and polished footholds, etc. Yes, the easy option of course! Forget climbing outdoors and go inside. We came up with a list of walls to visit. However, we were so impressed with the excellent Climbing Hangar (in Liverpool) that we didn't get to the other walls. Maybe another time.
We started climbing at 3pm. Then we did the comp, which started at 6pm. Arms finally gave up at 8.30pm! Came 15th overall (out of around 80). Photo by Steve Boote.

lundi 12 août 2013

"Pass the gravy, please dear" (well that's what most folks do on Sunday's).

We don't do roast dinners on Sunday's. In fact we don't do roast dinners any day. Firstly, we're never at home on Sunday's to make/eat one. Secondly, they tend to be very tasty but very heavy on the fat and carbs, so not too good for you. And thirdly, they are very expensive. Frankly, we'd rather spend the money on a new pair of rock shoes, or a new rope, or diesel in the tank to get to some new mega crag.

So, we didn't get to pass the gravy. Instead we were to be found playing at one of our favourite playgrounds, in other words Jurassic Park. We have been whiling away lots of time there over the past 14 years. Nowadays it is not "a la mode" and nobody else goes there. We tend to refer to it as "our cliff" and we look after it by replacing quick draws and chains, oiling stiff in-situ karabiners, cutting down vegetation and improving the path, etc. We've also been giving Cayenne the same loving treatment as well. This last week we've been out there 4 times, just enjoying climbing for climbings sake. Neither of us has done anything that we haven't done before, but it's been wonderful just to get the body moving and doing plenty of mileage, completely stress free.

Anyway, twice this week there have been visitors at our crag! Not "tourists" but locals. Word has spread that the crags are dry! John and Sheila Stark and Pierre and Marie Von Brizzi were all there yesterday, which led to a very pleasant, friendly atmosphere at the crag with the usual banter and trading of tales. However, I have become very proud of my new status as fashion icon. I jest not, John has answered to the call and gone for the cut off jeans look, too. It has taken a long time to convince anybody else (and it has been hard having to put up with taunts from the likes of Baz and Dunning!). So, now there are two of us happily wedging our knees in wherever possible without the rigmarole of knee pads or forking out lots of dosh. Finally, very well done to Sheila for sending the difficult and slippery Homo Sapince (7b).

Fashion icon Sponge Bob Square Pants!

Local prodigy "Strong Uncle John" wearing the new look!

John warming up on the classic Homo Sapince (7b).

Strong Uncle John on the crux.

A rare look at the camera from Scamp.