nr's blog

Compare and contrast. A small epiphany. 25 February, 2008

Filed under: Indoor climbing,Outdoor climbing — nr @ 9:29 am

Climbing, it seems, is about more than hauling ones bulk up to the top of a wall/crag/mountain and getting back safely again. There is also a social aspect to it which I had never considered. From the strong bond of trust forged between a climber and his belayer, to the meeting up of loosely associated groups of people on a regular basis who have nothing in common other than a desire to climb, there are always people around a climber. This is one aspect of climbing that I struggle to deal with to be honest, as I am a miserable surly git at the best of times, and am very uncomfortable in large groups. So when I arrived at the Stowmarket wall last Thursday evening to find it so full that there was only one rope that didn’t have a small group congregated at it’s base, I was, frankly, rather dismayed at the prospect of spending an evening accidentally bumping into people and apologising to them. Happily, in the end, it was a good evenings climbing. The crowds dispersed after an hour or so, and left Sol & I virtually alone in the place to get on with it. Very good.

Compare that with Saturday. I had arranged to travel up to Birchen to meet up with a few friends for a day on the gritstone. Birchen is a three hour drive away for me, so it was an early start, and I arrived just before 9am. The car park was empty, which was a good sign. So I picked up my gear, and walked up to the crag. And I had the whole place to myself. Not just the crag. The whole valley stretched out around me, and there was not a soul to be seen or heard. So I fired up the Trangia, made a cuppa, and just sat there, listening to the birdsong and revelling in the tranquility and solitude. Really, it was the most pleasant half hour I’ve had for a long time. And the creeping realisation that I would be doing a lot more of this in future filled me with an optimism that I will be carrying with me for a long time to come.

Blimey. Almost seems trivial to talk about the climbing after that, but climb I did, and ticked off another grade – an HS 4a was chosen as my first route of the day (Stoker’s Hole), and after a little struggle to get the first move, the rest of it went swimmingly. Comedy moment of the day was when we eyed up the next route, Trafalgar Wall, a highly rated climb. We looked at it, scratched our heads, and both fell off the starting move before giving up, heading left and wandering up Trafalgar Crack instead, which proved to be very enjoyable. I’ll have another crack at Trafalgar Wall next time I’m there, hopefully with someone who has done it before so I can get a bit of information about how to get off the ground. I don’t particularly care about not being able to claim it as onsight, but I do want to have another go at it. Final climb of the day for me was Yo-ho crack which I chose just because it looked like a nice line, rather than the grade. I’m not sure what I screwed up, but I really found this one a struggle at one point – I just couldn’t work out what to do with my feet. In the end I just pulled myself up on a rather uninspiring hand hold and used a couple of smears to gain height, which felt a bit precarious, and certainly not in keeping with the character of the rest of the climb which was lovely. Again, I’ll have another go at this one at some point, as I’m sure it’s a lot easier than I made it.

A grand day out. And made all the better by that 30 minutes of solitude at the start of the day which I will remember for a long time to come.


Fear and Loathing in Hatfield 18 February, 2008

Filed under: Indoor climbing — nr @ 10:57 am

(Before I start, an apology about the title of this entry. I know it’s a tired old cliche, and a quick search reveals literally millions of “fear and loathing in <placename>” web pages around. My excuse is that it’s Monday morning, I’m a bit tired, and in desperate need of tea).

Any road up. Last Friday was another trip to Hatfield, to meet up with Sol and Kev. I may have to start limiting my trips there because it’s costing me a fortune in petrol, which is a shame as I thoroughly enjoy climbing there. But, onto topic one of todays drivel: Fear. I noticed something odd while attempting a new route on Friday. I got about halfway, up to the crux which was a couple of balancey moves to grab a hold around an overhang and pull myself over. Nothing that I’ve not done before on other similarly graded routes, but I got up to it, looked at it, tried it, came down, looked again, came down, and pondered. In the end I realised that I wasn’t going to get it, so I bailed out, and Kev whipped up to the top to retrieve the gear I’d left behind. While he was on the move that flummoxed me, I watched carefully and closely, and when he got down, I told him to leave the top rope up and I’d try it on top rope now that I knew the sequence of moves I needed. While I won’t say it was easy, it really did get me wondering why I couldn’t work out the sequence on the onsight approach. And the more I thought about it, the more it confused me, for one main reason. I’m normally pretty good at making on sight choices regarding risk and action. When I raced bikes, I could pretty much guarantee that on the first race on a new track, I could get a top three finish while everyone else was struggling to learn the circuit. By the end of the meeting I’d be back in my customary midfield obscurity as all the proper racers learned the track and used that knowledge to good effect.

So, why can’t I apply this ability to climbing? My theory is that it’s easier to rationalise falling off a motorcycle than falling off a cliff, and for that I blame evolution. Falling off a cliff is a much more primal fear than falling off a motorcycle, and so the brain is harder to retrain to accept and rationalise the risk. I rather think the only way I can overcome this little problem is actually by falling off a good few times and attempting to get used to it.

Loathing? The cafe closed up early and wouldn’t sell me tea. No excuses, no apologies, nothing. Don’t they realise how important a good cup of tea is to the modern climber? (Well, to me at any rate).


Two little words 14 February, 2008

Filed under: Indoor climbing — nr @ 9:24 am

There are, of course, lots of words that will strike terror into the heart of any man.

  • “Have you forgotten it’s my birthday?”
  • “Do you know what the speed limit is on this section of road sir?” [1]
  • “I’d like to arrange an appointment to talk about your overdraft”

etc. etc. However, last night I found another two that could be added to that list for climbers. Let me set the scene: I’ve not been climbing for a couple of weeks. In fact, I’ve not done any kind of exercise, and have eaten an inordinate amount of very good food, courtesy of being away on my hols for a while. So, last nights trip to Hatfield was always going to be a bit of a struggle, as I’ve put a few pounds on that I needed to haul up the wall with me. We warmed up with a couple of 5a routes. One easy, that was despatched with no problems at all, and one a bit more technical, which I needed to put my foot on another route at one point, purely because there was a hold from the other route in exactly the place I wanted to put my foot for balance. Anyhow, Sol then showed me up a rather physical 5b he’d completed the week before on top-rope, and fancied a go at leading. He managed it, but I could tell that it was a struggle for him, and that I was about to struggle even more. To cut a long story short, I didn’t have a chance. I struggled and puffed and panted, thrashed, wriggled, and finally gave up on the 5b route, and grabbed the 5a that was next to it. By the time I arrived at the top I was sweating, shaking, and had a distinct case of Elvis leg. I clipped the lower off, and shouted down “Take in!” to Sol as I was ready to drop. Back up the wall came a plaintive reply:

“Hang on!”

[1] A friend of mine was pulled for speeding many many years ago on an old RD350YPVS. The officer greeted him with a cheery “having trouble taking off were we Wing Commander?”


Brave new world 4 February, 2008

Filed under: Outdoor climbing — nr @ 4:13 pm

I’ve been reading over on the forums at a lot of posts recently about people’s first outdoor lead climbs. A first lead climb outdoors seems to be a pivotal moment to a lot of climbers, and it brings out a lot of emotion, to the point where people want to document the moment. Also the fact that a £500 prize was up for grabs for the best essay seemed to encourage the written output.

My first outdoor lead was (unusually for me) pretty well planned. The date was to be Sunday, 3rd February. The place was to be Birchen Edge. I also found a set of suitably low grade routes on a particular buttress that seemed to fit the bill for a first go. Everything looked good, right up until the last moment. At which point we had the first snow of the year, 70mph winds, and possible flooding. Still, I wasn’t going to let a little thing like that put me off. I just packed an extra wooly vest in with my climbing kit, and headed off to the crag. Once there, the first thing I noticed was that despite the dire warnings from the met office, there was no actual snow laying on the ground. OK, so there was still a biting cold wind, but the crag was dry, and once we’d found a little cave to set up the camping stove in for tea, it was actually pretty cosy. After a cuppa we decided to look for a suitable first route, and found a candidate in Nautical Crack, listed as Vdiff, and with easily spotted points for protection. In fact, there was only really one placement needed, and it was easy enough to scamper up the bottom half of the climb unprotected to reach it after the lead, as we were later to find out. We tossed a coin, and Sol won, so tied in while I clipped my belay plate on. The climb was uneventful, apart from a bit of a squirm to get out of the V shaped crack. About a minute later a shout of “safe” from the top of the crag (nearly lost in the 60mph gusts of icy wind) indicated that Sol had completed his first lead, and the smile on his face a few seconds later as he reappeared around the side of the buttress confirmed that he was happy with it.

And so it was my turn. My first outdoor lead. Was I nervous? Um, not really. I had been, up until the point I tied in. At which point the nerves vanished, and I got on with the job at hand. And to be honest, other than finding the same squirmy exit from the crack a bit awkward, it was all pretty straightforward. One thing that did surprise me though – the amount of friction available from gritstone for my feet. Anyhow, I scampered up the slab above the crack, shouted “safe” down to Sol, and had a little self congratulatory moment, standing there looking out over the peak district shivering my nadgers off.

That completed, we had a celebratory cuppa, and looked for another route to have a crack at. In the end we couldn’t be bothered to look too hard, as it was so perishing cold, so we just decided to do the next route on the buttress, Heave Ho. I wasn’t holding out too much hope of completing this one to be honest, as it weighed in at a grade of S 4a which I was kind of planning to complete by the end of the year. In the end though, it turned out to be easier to complete than the previous climb, despite me taking the wrong sized nuts up there and having to fiddle around for what seemed like 45 minutes trying to get some protection in place.

So, two leads by lunchtime, a VDiff and a S 4a which I was more than happy about. We stopped for lunch as by now, we were both shivering with the cold, and needed to get some hot food and tea inside us to try and delay the onset of hypothermia. While munching away on pot noodles we looked up the wall above our little encampment. It looked eminently climbable, and the guide listed it as Ta Very Much, an HS 4c. This was well above what I’d planned on climbing this year, let alone this visit to the crag, but my confidence was on a high, so I decided to give it a go. Until, that is, I took off my gloves and found that I couldn’t actually feel my fingers any more. Discretion being the better part of valour, we decided to pack up, and save it for the next visit to the crag when it may not be so damn cold.

So, we packed up, and headed off to The Foundry in Sheffield to spend a couple of hours in the warm. Nothing remarkable to report really – a few good climbs and some very welcome hot sweet tea.

And that’s that really. My first outdoor lead, and an ambition realised. The problem is, I want to do a lot more of it, and soon. So I guess I’ll be spending a lot of time travelling up and down the M1 from now on.

Happy? Yup. Proud? Very.


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