Sunday, 31 July 2016

Rocklands Smash Fest

Having spent a long time in one area in Australia, I was pretty excited to be moving to a new spot, Rocklands, for a month long smash fest. And so far it’s been just that. After a 12 hour drive and two long flights we headed off through a country which felt quite different to the one we’d just left. Shanty towns on the outskirts of Cape Town provided an interesting change from hanging out at the local library in Horsham in the Gramps.  Arriving in Rocklands I found a picturesque area packed full of a bewildering array of boulders and small outcrops. The scenery is beautiful, the cottage we’re staying in with our friends James and Jo is basic but a nice upgrade from living in a small van with far too much gear to be convenient, and the rocks are freakin’ awesome. After a jet lagged struggle on day one and a bit of a mission to retrieve our delayed bags and pads from our airline we awoke to perfect conditions and headed up to the Roadcrew sector for a great day where we both began to feel like ourselves again – Ella quickly doing good links on Un Rime Stupide (7C+) and me doing that, Purple Nipple Clan (8A) and getting frustratingly close on Royksop (8A) at the end of the day before a weird popping in my hand told me it was time to stop and return another time (fortunately it seems like it was just one of those times where something moves over a bone or tendon or whatever rather than an injury).

The sun goes down in Rocklands

With a satisfying day at the boulders under our belts it was time to fill our bellies at the much anticipated fish barbecue which one of the local landowners puts on on Fridays. Drive up the road… Ella indicates and waits for oncoming traffic.. start to tur
Suddenly we’re spinning, my head going a million miles an hour.
What the fuck happened?
What the fuck is going to happen.
You’ve got to be kidding me, this can’t be happening.
Smoke everywhere, is the car on fire?
Get out of the car.
Get out of the car.  
Ella is in the drivers seat. Head down. Unconscious.
The door won’t open. Climb out the window.
Shouting. From me? From someone else?
My glasses have gone, I can’t see properly.
Run around to Ella’s side of the car.
The door won’t open. Fuck. Fuck.
Back to my side. Ella has come to, she’s already climbing out of my window after me.
You’ve got to be kidding.
Her memory is fucked. Can’t remember the crash. People have turned up. They’ve called the ambulance.
Ella goes around in circles like a goldfish whilst we wait for the paramedics “What happened? It wasn’t my fault was it? My head hurts, it’s bleeding. My neck’s starting to hurt. Don’t leave me. Don’t let me fall asleep. What happened…?”
Is that just shock? Is something wrong? Fuck. Fuck.

A 4x4/pickup-truck had ploughed into the back of us at god knows what speed as we started to turn. Fortunately the car wasn’t on fire, it was probably just the radiator of the other car which was smashed up pretty badly, as was ours with the rear of the car caved in. Whilst the accident was some hideous luck, the fact that we were both walking out of the hospital the next morning with only sore necks and stitches for a cut on Ella’s head seems really lucky given how messed up the car was, and thank God that only pads were in the back of our car rather than people.

Many thanks to everyone who helped us out, especially James Noble, Jo Allen, Dan Turner, Will Buck, Charite (the owner of Travellers’ Rest where we’re staying) and Duke and Holly from America.

A few days later and with normal service resumed I was chuffed to manage a 1 session ascent of Black Shadow, the classic 8A+ of the area. Now time to try some harder stuff…

Royksopp (8A), Rocklands

When We Were Kings (8A), Grampians

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Wheel Of Life

"Are you going to try The Wheel?"
"Na, it's probably too hard and I don't want to spend my whole trip projecting in a cave."

I had similar conversations to that with a number of people before coming to Australia. In many ways The Wheel Of Life was an obvious target, being both the world classic of its genre and one of Australia's hard 'must-dos' for any aspiring wannabe (the other obvious ones being Punks, Groove Train and Ammagamma). It's also about as 'me' as you can get - a long, endurance orientated boulder-route in a cave known to contain plenty of 3D trickery like kneebars and toe hooks. 

Working on The Wheel (Photo: Ella Russell)

Even a week ago I didn't plan on trying it, although the seed had no doubt been sown in the back of my mind by doing other linkups like Pretty Hate Machine. The Wheel links together 4 problems* to climb the entire length of Hollow Mountain Cave from the small window at its lowest point all the way out through around 70 moves on lovely sculpted rails and edges. Ella and I had already found ourselves spending quite a bit of time up there: partly because it's a good place in showery weather, which seems fairly common here; partly as I'd been keen on trying a few of the sections of The Wheel on their own, as well of some other problems in there; and partly because Ella picked up a pulley injury whilst climbing on Serpentine which meant that steep stuff was the order of the day. 

Working on The Wheel (Photo: Ella Russell)

Heading up to the cave earlier in the week I'd reached the point where I felt like I was getting done with the place and keen to head elsewhere more, but Ella was close to a problem she'd been trying there so I figured I'd play around on things or head along to another sector close by. Having spent half an hour scrambling around on sketchy rock pinnacles trying in vain to find Ground Control Caves, I returned to Hollow Mountain figuring I might as well try the earlier sections of The Wheel which I'd previously been less keen on. At least then I wouldn't fall off a cliff whilst scrambling around a ridge line with pads on (I realise that might have pleased some people, sorry about that).

Quickly enough I managed to find a way around a heel hook which had put me off initially as it felt tweaky for my leg, and by the end of the day I'd unexpectedly climbed from the end of the 7B+ up which The Wheel starts to falling off the final crux at the exit to the cave. From here it was on and now I certainly wasn't done with the place! Sections were dialled and rests were tweaked with some funky upside down kneebar plus toe hook combos together with an awesome rest just before the final crux where you shake out by using the sole of your foot as a hand hold whilst it's toe hooking.

Novelty resting (Photo: Damo Taylor)

Four days after not even really considering the problem, I found myself nervously pulling through the last few moves of the world famous Wheel of Life...

In some ways it was strangely anticlimactic. Not having been planning on trying it there was minimal build up and minimal mental stress; having done so many links on it already there was no last-move-itis or realising that my beta didn't work on redpoint; unlike on big projects from past years like Era Vella or Rollito Sharma Extension there was no dream-like surrealism in climbing through the last few easier moves having not fallen. Don't get me wrong though, I'm fucking psyched, and the deep down contentment of doing a problem which I'd heard of for a decade but never dreamed I could ever climb until the last few years, and never expected to climb until the last few days, seems likely to stay around a little while... at least until I find the next project anyway :)

Out of the darkness and into the light... Sending The Wheel. (Photo: Damo Taylor)
For now it's onto a rope and some more bouldery boulders...

*For anyone interested, The Wheel links Extreme Cool (7B+) into Sleepy Hollow (8A) into Cave Man (7C) into Dead Can't Dance (8A). I used beta for the last section similar to the vid of Ian Dory on The Wheel, which some purists won't like, and you're god damn right i gaffa taped knee pads on and rinsed the fuck out of all the rests I could find.

Riding the Giant Emu on the way to The Citadel

Golum gets prepared... (Photo: Ella Russell)

Real bouldering, American Dream (7B+) (Photo: Ella Russell)

Toe hooking out of the cave on Pretty Hate Machine (8B) (Photo: Ella Russell)

It's not my fault, the guidebook told me to use my knees... So You Think You Can Dance (8A) (Photo: Ella Russell)

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Sandstone Season Part 1: The Grampians

I would start by apologising for not blogging for ages... but realistically you'll be pleased to have avoided feeling the need to read my endless pontificating about ancap, aerocap and whether my fingers are fixed or not. Unfortunately for you I'm back and your dopamine receptors need a hit.

 For those who don’t know, now that I’ve finished my PhD it’s time to take some time off to climb J. Ella and I have thus embarked on a 7 ½ month trip which, despite both of us normally being limetone climbers, basically involves going and climbing a shit load of sandstone (with the occasional bit of something else thrown in). Our first stop is Australia – The Grampians, Arapiles and The Blue Mountains. After that we’re off to South Africa and then America.

After flying for longer than I even knew planes could fly for we finally made it to the Grampians… and Groove Train. Snaking a 50m line up a beautiful part of Taipan Wall, a number of well-travelled climbers have claimed that this is one of the best sport routes in the world. Ethan Pringle rumoured that it might be more 9a than 8c, the video of Ben Cossey on it is some of the best footage around, and the bolts on the upper section are freakin’ miles apart, all of which rather add to the aura of the route.

Well, fortunately it turns out that everyone was right, and it is totally awesome, but that Pringle was wrong, and it’s nowhere near 9a. Unless you’re a midget in which case the first 7c+ (going on 8a+) pitch is probably 9a in its own right. After the slightly ‘educational’ lower section the upper wall is glorious crimping on perfectly sculpted, if a bit skinny, holds. There are good rests, and a bolt next to each rest… but none in the hard sections between the rests. With no chalk on the headwall and talk of various strong people resorting to abbing into the route to tick up the holds it was much to my relief that I found that a clipstick, some tactics and some lank allowed me to avoid the faff of having to work out how the hell you’d even manage to get to the chains to lower in. After a few days working out the links and overcoming my terror I found myself on redpoint on the last moves of the top runout, screaming my head off like on the video, only for my forearms to fade as my fingers ticked the jug that marks the end of the hard climbing. Cue falling half the height of Taipan whilst getting my leg caught behind the rope, flipping upside down and having long enough before stopping to ponder how the hell this was going to end up and whether I was about to smash my head open. Thankfully the fall was big enough to take me down to a point where I swung into the cave feature on the routes to the right and I escaped the experience with only some mild rope burn. Despite the overwhelming temptation to bottle out of having another go that day I manged to unexpectedly summon the mental fortitude to embark up it once more and put the daemons to rest. I normally hate falling, especially big falls, but the experience of doing the route was undoubtedly better for having taken the ride!

The Grampians is broken down into two real areas: the south and the north. The north has Taipan, lots of bouldering and a few other crags generally with easier routes. In the south there are a number of steep sport crags together with a lot of newer bouldering (so long as you don’t mind walking uphill with a pad for 45 minutes). (There's Arapiles just round the corner too, but so far we've only been there for a quick hit for me to do Punks.) Slightly against what I’d been expecting, whilst the Gramps has some world class sport routes, like Groove Train, it doesn’t actually have a huge volume of them. Taipan is fairly limited, and half the routes on it require pieces of trad gear here and there. A lot of the ones that don’t are on the shorter ‘Spurt Wall’ on the right hand side which is, frankly, miles from being world class. The crags in the south feature steeper climbing and more normal bolting, and again there are some world class routes, but there still isn’t a huge volume like you’d have in Catalunya or Provence. It’ll be interesting to see what the Blue Mountains is like in comparison – so far I’d recommend the area for picking out some real gems but not if you just want a trip to smash out a shit load of sport routes in a convenient setting.

[I would upload a photo here, but the internet connection is shit, so you'll have to wait...]

Anyway, as well as the route climbing in the Gramps there’s a big chunk of bouldering and we’ve been spending quite a bit of our time on that. Some of the rock is magnificent, and I’ve been tricking my way around hard moves as much as possible on some of the classics using a combination of knees and toes. Ella's had a bit of a finger injury which has meant no crimping, and I'm always psyched to spin around in a cave, so we've been spending plenty of time in Hollow Mountain Cave, home to The Wheel of Life. Today the time I've spent working through some of the problems in there really came to fruition, and between rain showers I surprised myself by managing two hard link ups: Cave Rave (8A+/B) links Cave Man (7C) into Dead Can't Dance (8A, but maybe easier with my magical beta) and was my goal for the day. After a more efficient than expected tick, I figured I should have a try on the link of Cave Bitch, an 8A+ that ends at the same place that Cave Man ends, into Dead Can't Dance. Called Pretty Hate Machine, this link gets 8B/+, and reacquainting myself with the lower section I was surprised [read: fucking psyched] to find myself pumped and pulling around the top of the cave!

Photos to come when the internet stop being so shit! For now it's time to get back on Taipan and get scared again...

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Optimise Climbing 2016

Despite being a training nerd, I don't normally do any coaching. With my PhD thesis submitted, a nice 3-day per week schedule working for my research group's spin-out company and having recently started writing training plans for both The Queen of the Wave and Mina this seemed like a good time to change that. In a couple of weeks time I'll thus be running one of the four sessions at the Optimise Climbing day that's running at the one and only Foundry.. If you're interested then have a look here or on the facebook page.

Meanwhile I'll get back to trying to make my finger better without getting too weak!