Monday, 5 January 2015

It's been a while...

... since I went highballing on the grit...

Narcissus, Froggatt Photo: Guy Van Greuning

The Mint 400, Froggatt Photo: Guy Van Greuning

...or made a little video...

36 Chambers Sit from Alex Barrows on Vimeo.

... or blogged.
I was supposed to blog at the end of October, upon return from Spain as a newly crowned 9a climber. The post was to be adorned with photos of my bulging biceps as I crushed Era Vella into oblivion, and fans would hail my brilliance, charm and modest understated nature on the online forums. Unfortunately my fingers and forearms had other plans, and it turns out 9a is quite hard! It was shitty and hot the whole time but, frankly, I can't imagine I'd have done it anyway. The holds were more slopey than I'd expected, the rests were worse and I wasn't up to it. Whilst there aren't any particularly hard moves, it's stamina beyond reason - comp climber heaven. Pity I'm a shit comp climber! Spring will bring a rematch however, and this time I'll know what I'm up against, so hopefully I'll style my way up it like this guy: 

Monday, 19 May 2014

Rodellar 2014 - Why you should always smash on

As I got to the second set of chains I just wanted to give in and say take. I was boxed. I felt broken. I'd climbed the lower section abysmally, nearly falling off an easy move by misreading it. Then nearly falling off a tricky move by being shit. I'd been lucky to scrape through to the first anchor, let alone the second, and I knew the top was supposed to be the hardest part. Still, might as well press on until I fall, I've blown doing anything else today anyway. With expectations thrown out the window and caution thrown into the wind my climbing improves instantly - faster, flickier, more decisive. Suddenly I'm at the lip of the cave, shaking out on undercuts. Fuck. It could be on. Don't screw up now. The last sequence sends me up and down a couple of times. Don't screw up now. No time left. All the aero cap training is doing its thing, but 40m of cave climbing has taken its toll. It's now or never. Commit. Try hard. Round on the slab and it's over. I'm in. GET IN! Excitement and happiness well up, and I shout like never before. A perfect reminder that it's always worth keeping on trying, even when you're convinced you've blown it, and just the kind of experience I wanted for my first 8b onsight.

Glorious Gran Boveda
After a few days in Tres Ponts and Figols (well worth checking out for the 8a and, by the looks of it, the 8b there) to start the trip we'd headed to our planned destination, Rodellar. Fortunately this is the land of steepness and big holds so my endless collateral ligament injury wasn't a big deal. In fact it probably helped - I knew the finger didn't like volume, so I basically carried on tapering during the trip, which is a bit dull but no doubt helped keep the performance up for the 2 1/2 weeks I was away.

Onsighting Eclipse Cerebral (8b) [photo: Mark Tomlinson]
 We got lucky with the conditions - cool, breezy and dry almost every day, though the tufas were a bit wet in places as they recovered from a previous deluge. Still, Rodellar has enough variety that we found plenty of blocky choss to climb on whilst the wetter stuff did its thing and dried off. It was beautifully quiet too. On my previous 2 trips there it's been pretty busy, but this time the valley was delightfully peaceful on many days, reminding me of just how nice a place this is. Is it going out of fashion? It shouldn't be, it's awesome. Although since steep burly stamina is my ideal style, and RADellar has it by the bucket load, I may be easily swayed.

Eclipse Cerebral (8b) [photo: Mark Tomlinson]

Happy knees. (It wasn't my idea. Honest.) [photo: Mark Tomlinson]
By the time we got in the car to head home (via a final Carrefour hit, of course) I'd had the most successful trip I've been on - my first 2 8b onsights, 5 8a+ onsights and a bunch of easier stuff. I did, however, fall off a route by kneebaring on my own hand. Something to work on for next time. It was also kind of interesting (to training nerds only) that preping for the trip doing a large chunk of my energy system work on a fingerboard didn't seem to be a big problem, and seems to be by far the safest way to train around a finger injury. Potentially useful knowledge for other injured souls...

The Kneepad Tree
Wow. Oh wow

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Stamina Boys

Yesterday I climbed what's probably the hardest bit of route length climbing I've done. This classic testpiece takes an audacious and improbable line though intimidating terrain, with unrelentingly bold climbing, continually challenging technicalities and the very real prospect of severe injury should you accidentally sit on the tree part way through.

The Boy Band/Staminaband link tags another 15 move 7C boulder problem on the start of Staminaband, adding a really quite surprising amount of difficulty and absolutely no quality! But hey, it's a fairly obvious challenge, good training for something, and most importantly doesn't involve any heavy crimping for the right hand, which probably makes it one of the few hard things of route length that I can try at the moment in the UK. Plus I get to have done something that Steve Mac called 9a (fortunately it's easier for the tall) and even Ondra enjoys the odd local challenge of dubious quality. I used the cheaty lank method at the end of Staminaband. Sorry.

Here's some send footage

Stamina Boys from Alex Barrows on Vimeo.

Only the inadequacies of windows movie maker saved you from having full length rests accompanied by a split screen with this glorious footage:

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Training for Sport Climbing

Back in the summer of 2012 I went to Gorges du Loup for a 5 week trip, and in between pinching tufas until my thumbs were raw and desperately trying to trick my way up things using kneebars, I decided to write up an article/document with some training knowledge. Having served its purpose of stopping rest days getting boring it promptly languished on my computer doing nothing, until recently when I finally got around to digging it out, finishing it off and getting it online.

This link should take you to a downloadable pdf:

If anyone has any comments then either use the function at the end of this post or message me on facebook, I'd be particularly interested to hear what other people who are into their training think of it.
(EDIT: 6/2/2014 I've updated it to include a new section '2.1. Capacity and Power: An Analogy')

In the meantime I've been trying to rehab an infuriating collateral ligament injury, which means a lot of deadhanging on front 3 and failing to deadhang on pinky monos. Still, at least the weather's been abysmal so it's not felt like missing out on too much!

Sam making the most of a rare dry afternoon

Sunday, 10 November 2013

'The Red'

I cruise past Miguel's. I can almost hear the tires crunching through the carpet of leaves that covers the landscape from head to toe and the last signs of the cliffs disappear in the rear view mirror. Another angsty Country song comes on the radio, one I've learnt from my time here, and I can't help but smile. There's something different inside me when I'm on a trip. A contentment and happyness that makes everything feel more alive. The grey stresses of home morph into vivid golden leaves falling to the floor whilst we try not to do the same. I turn onto the Mountain Parkway and grin to myself again. God I love trips. A few hours later and I'm sitting in the airport, the feeling fading already. I could turn and walk out the door. Sack it all off. I could be back for an afternoon session. But I've not got the balls. Maybe one day...?

The Motherlode, a.k.a. Heaven. Spot the climber.

Right. Enough self-indulgent introspective bollocks. I'll try to keep the rest of this post as useful as possible for anyone thinking of a trip to red river.

The sandstone at RRG is basically gritstone with holds. But way longer. And way steeper. And WAY better. As a downside, this does mean it can be a bit conditionsy. Arriving to unseasonably warm temps and high humidity the gameplan for the start of the trip quickly switched from hard redpoints to mileage onsighting. With a relentless stream of amazing routes to try on highly onsightable rock it never went back!

There are 2 main camping spots in the red - Miguel's and Lago Linda's.The dream team - Eddie, Ally, John and myself - checked into Linda's, the quieter of the two. This place was damn good - for the first 2 weeks we had the bunkhouse ($44 per night for 4 people) and then when Ally and John left it was into a tent. Unfortunately this coincided with a major drop in temps. Fortunately this made for amazing conditions! Some were complaining about the difficulty of avoiding numbing out, but if you're used to the tactics required for Malham in February you'll be fine and can reap the rewards of perfect friction. Plus, for a mere $5 a night for camping you've got a covered cooking area with picnic tables and lighting and a nice warm chill-out rooms for the cold evening! You also get to hang out with a bunch of super friendly people, although you may be disappointed about how few of them own guns.

Home sweet home
The style there is pretty fitness orientated. Generally good holds (particularly for the feet), fairly steep and power endurance or stamina based. I was in heaven. If you're training for onsighting there then foot-on-campus aerocap should be high your to-do list.

It's hard to pick out highlights - I barely did a bad route in 4 weeks of climbing! Anyway, a few favourite memories include:
Onsighting The Madness, 8a+ doesn't come more 'edge paddling' than this. Pure stamina, pure quality, pure fun.
Falling off the last hard move of Last of the Bohicans (8b) on my onsighting attempt. Ed even offered to get me beta and I said no. Idiot! So close. So angry. So much fun anyway.
Everything else in the madness cave too. I just wish there were 5 more of these caves next door! Sure, you could accuse the climbing of being formulaic, but I'm not one to get bored climbing, I was having too much fun!
Onsighting 2 8a+s in a day was pretty damn cool, and the first time I've done that. It was even better when Ed fell off one of them. He claimed to be tired from having done 8b+ earlier that day but I think he's just a weak punter.

It's not really a gorge, and there's not really a red river. Welcome to The Forest, sport climber style.

Watching John's comeback-king display was awesome too - from falling off 7a to nearly flashing 8a in the space of 2 weeks! It was also really cool to have my good friend Eddie Barbour psyched again. I've climbed with Ed for a long time now, and over the last few years it's seemed like he's drifted in and out of psyche a bit, but the last couple of trips we've been on he's been back on the waggon and you can hear the excitement when he talks about a route or a trip. Feeding off the psyche your friends have is inspiring and it's good to have my arch-nemesis back in the game. Even if he's a punter nowadays.

The perfect conditions came to an abrupt stop at the start of my final week. Whilst the crags there are remarkably free from seepage and run-off (a damn useful trait!), they do know how to condense in a way that would make the cornice proud.

A couple of rather damp days were spent on the testpiece Lucifer at a sector called Purgatory. I'd heard this 8c+ was supposed to be one of the more finger strength intensive and less stamina orientated of the hard routes, and thus not so much 'my bag', but hey, it was dry. Actually on the second day it wasn't dry at all, it was totally soaked, but trying was much more fun than sitting around at camp! Plus the route is brilliant climbing, mainly on small but positive back 3 pockets and edges, and is a joy to try even if it can tear the skin a little.

The downed local watertower

On my penultimate night the Gods decided it was time to give me one last taste of just how good this place can be. A storm swept through (with impressive consequences - see above!) clearing out the air and bringing back the dry rock for one final day. I headed back up to Purgatory with strong Yank Mike Foley  who'd been kicking my ass on Lucifer (although he doesn't own a gun or a pick-up truck, so he's probably a Canadian in disguise). He had some good runs on that whilst I flashed the classic 8a of the cliff and set off adventuring on another one, Paradise Regained. This thing is basically two 7c+/8a routes with a sit down cave in the middle. The bottom is a super-classic on bomber rock, whilst the top is the most fun you've ever had climbing chossy stuck-on crimps and praying all those snacks and burgers haven't made you too fat! A great experience if you don't bust anything off, and a perfect way to round off the trip. After that a quick crag change was in order. Mike dispatched Thanatopsis at the Motherlode and I hit the mileage, climbing until my arms were useless lumps of lead, and then climbing some more. With a final day like that there was no way that I was saying 'goodbye' to the area the next day, just 'see ya later'...

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The 20 most pressing questions in British climbing

Whilst on a rainy rest day we began discussing the topics on the lips of every climber in Britain – How much speed does it take to do Hubble? Have Jonny G and Jesus ever been seen in the same room together? Why are British male climbers so ugly and nerdy? Will Mark ever get a girlfriend? In no particular order here are the top 20 most pressing questions on the British climbing scene today…

1       Just who is the hottest British climbing girl?
2     Is Steve Mac past it?
3     Why doesn’t Ondra do more deadlifting?
4     Will Simon ever climb the Oak?
5     Would the lovechild of Stu and Ru grow to more than 3ft tall?
6     What’s wrong with Doyle?
7     What really happened at the houseparty with Mr Richard Simpson and senor Spanish Kev?
8     Is Bob really seven or better?
9     How did Ryan ever get with Katy?
10.   Just what does Randall do to P Widdy in that basement?
11.   Did Cubby really nail “the Hill”?
12.   Why does JP wear those sunglasses?
13.   How do I stop my facebook feed filling up with fishing photos?
14.   Should I get anorexia?
15.   Will the school boards ever be resurrected?
16.   Is wanking Ancap or Aerocap?
17.   What the fuck is wrong with Pete Robins' arm?
18.   Who would win in a fight between Stevie H and Malc?
19.   Are the new generation of climbers more stupid or just more annoying than the previous generations?
20.   Has a girl ever poked her finger in your bum while you’re having sex?

Today's Menue: Doughnuts, Fried Chicken and Pump

Right now I'm in the Red River Gorge. This is somewhere I've been dreaming of going since seeing the video of the Petzl RocTrip there a few years ago, and the footage from the endless rampage of Ondra, Megos, Lachat et al last year didn't exactly diminish the psyche. With France having a wet year and worries of my intended trip to Loup being a wash out, plans were quickly changed and America was on! I'm playing blog catch up at the moment - here's a quick roundup of pre-America goings on, more on this trip to come, but suffice to say I LOVE ROCK CLIMBING, and RRG is 'not shit'.

Since Kaabah and True North I've not really blogged as things have just been ticking over. Anyway, highlights from the last couple of months include:

A good day down Chee Dale Cornice doing Bob's 8b+ Techno Prisoners (nice name, pity about the first ascentionist) and flashing the classic 8a of the crag, Powerplant. Techno Prisoners is pretty steep and funky for a British route - if roofs and bicycles are your bag then it comes highly recommended.

Flashing Crucifixion (8a) at the tor. I've been saving everything on the left side of the tor for ever and ever, worried about blowing the flash. Turns out the slabbing isn't as bad as you might think and the upper sections are every bit as good as might hope. Tip-top.

Dalliance, 8b+, Kilnsey. Whilst I always thought this didn't look like much from the floor, the climbing is actually superb and the top boulder problem is no push over.

Dalliance Photo: Tim Lowe

Resting before the top crux. Photo: Tim Lowe

 A day of good nick at Pigeon's Cave. Sea cliffs are damn cool, why can't they be in good condition more often?!
Shit gets real on the Orme

James busting out of the steepness at Pigeon's