Friday, 24 April 2015

Margalef Take 2 - a tale of a trickyish route of an unspecified difficulty which may not may not be hard for other people depending on who you talk to

Era Vella - big and steep

For those who didn't already know, a few weeks ago I went to Spain and did my project, Era Vella. I tried it for 3 weeks in October, got my ass kicked, came home and trained for it all winter, went back for a 5 day mini-trip in Feb, then headed out for 3 weeks in March/April to do the deed. Fair to say I was pretty chuffed to get up the thing this time around! Being a clown, I decided to start the trip by repeatedly falling off below my previous highpoint, and thus endured a short period of depression, despair and self-loathing before pulling myself together and beginning to really enjoy each redpoint try on it as my highpoint crept up the wall. I rested a lot, which can be kind of boring, but means you're excited to have a go each time you head back up, and that's just the mindset I need to be in to stay motivated on a long project like this. As I've found before, and as Tom tells me is almost standard protocol for his coaching clients, the reduced expectations and pressure of a few bad sessions actually helped in the end too. Sometimes accepting the likelihood of failure is just what you need to open the door to success. (Don't worry, I'm done with "inspirational" quotes now.) In another example of stupidity, I also had to relearn the same lesson I've learnt multiple times before on long redpoints - climb faster. Fortunately, something Tom Bolger had said about his experience on the route reminded me of this, and cutting down on time spent at the rests once again proved to be key to staying fresh enough for the upper wall.

It was fun to hang out at the crag with Team America too, kid crusher Kai Lightner and his groupie Shane, who has the 'loudest' jacket I've ever seen - Adidas meets Europop chic. It's going to be taking over in the near future. Thanks to Will, Nic, Sam, Eddie and Tom for all the belays!

Did I mention it's big and steep? Photo: Nic Duboust
After managing to get up Era, I decided to indulge in a type of climbing I've been missing recently: onsighting! God I love onsighting stamina routes. I really, really love it. In terms of pure enjoyable days out it might well be my favourite style of climbing. It also provided yet another reminder of how low expectations can be good for you. On my last day I felt mediocre waking up, felt weak warming up, then pulled out one of my best onsight performances ever. Like the cynical, grade-chasing dick that I am (see below) I selected an 8b that people seemed to think was soft and sounded like it would suit me - La Trencatranques up at the magnificent crag Espadelles. [Useful knowledge: Despite what the guide says, this crag gets some morning shade in Spring, especially towards the left-hand end, so with a reasonably early start you can get a few routes in.] It was just what I wanted - good holds, big moves, burl, and a fight. The lack of expectations meant fast and decisive "go big or go home" climbing rather than the slow ponderous approach that works well when operating within your comfort zone but can be the death knell of onsights at your limit.

Replica time Photo: John Dudley
Returning to the UK karma decided that I was a little bit too happy, and so subjected me to 3 days of running experiments in a big metal box near Oxford, including night shifts and general sleep deprivation. I'm not even an astronomer damn it! On the bright side, I think we got some good data, so I might actually finish my PhD one of these days...

Crux section Photo: Sam Harvie
Things I learnt from this experience:
- Projecting is totally shit and totally brilliant all at the same time. (Not actually at the same time, usually it's shit and then brilliant. Or maybe brilliant-shit-brilliant.)
- On redpoints try climbing faster and spending less time in the rests
- Have goals, but try not to have expectations
- Ain't no-one does pre-try music like Phil Collins and Bonnie Tyler
- Rock climbing is awesome. Not that I ever forget that one.
The view from Espadelles sector

Grades, Grades, Grades and Honesty
Grades don't matter. It's about the experience, it's about enjoying the process, it's all about the line, it's all about the moves etc etc.. But let's face it, to many of us, grades DO matter. They're not the be-all and end-all, but they are a not insignificant aspect of what we do. There are some grades which I log feeling a little cheeky, e.g. my first 8c+ in Loup, a couple of my harder onsights, shit like Revolver at Anston Stones - I know that if they were given the lower grade in the guide I'd just log that, note 'hard' and not really be that surprised. Sometimes I probably wouldn't even mark it as hard. Ironically, for Era I had no similar feelings. It felt hard for me.
The approach to the crag in February. It wasn't hot and greasy.
Still, since a bunch of people have done the route recently, Jens has been on the downgrade warpath on Apparently some people have said to him they think it's not 9a. That doesn't surprise me that much. It's an enduro route, which means that if you're above the required level for it it's likely to feel pretty steady (e.g. the 7c+s at Cascade Sector, Ceuse work in a similar way - feels like 7c+ to the 7c+ climber, feels like 7b+ to the 8c+ climber). For some reason, these people want to remain anonymous (or Jens is spouting shit). First up let me say this: you can't have your cake and eat it. Taking/reporting your ascent as 9a but then emailing the one man in the world most likely to start a grade debate to tell him you think it's easier - thus enabling you to put dibs on an inevitable self-congratulatory downgrade and keep your sponsors and groupies happy at the same time - is pretty whack in my opinion. It's also not 'keeping out of a controversial grade debate' it's just keeping your name out of it.
Anyway.. Siegrist did it, though it was piss, and said so on his blog. Fair enough. Now if he thinks it's 8c, I'd love to see what grade he thinks the 8cs in Loup or Santa Linya are, or the longer UK routes like True North or Mecca Ext. But hey, whilst he can tell me 8cs he thinks are harder than Era, I can tell you 8a+s at the tor that I think are harder than 8cs at the tor. And that's on the same crag as each other! That shit just happens with grades - they don't really work that well all the time, especially if you try to compare different styles. Is it 8c+? 9a? Being possibly my first 9a (except Pilgrimage, which is clearly not 9a with my sequence) all I can justifiably say is that, for me, it's the hardest thing I've done by a notable margin. I won't tell you that that means I don't care whether it's considered 9a or not - I'd like it to be that consensus is 9a and I'd be talking bollocks to say otherwise - but it does mean that even if it's 8c+ I'm still happy, still glad I put the time and effort in, and I still think it's a great route.

Ethan onsighting the classic Sativa Patatica (8a). Not a shit route.

The New Most Pressing Questions in British Climbing

18 months ago, dear readers, a select group of climbing's finest minds brought to you the 20 most pressing questions in British climbing. Many of these have now been answered - Yes! The school boards were resurrected. Yes! You should get anorexia. And, resoundingly, you responded that yes! A girl has stuck her finger up your bum whilst having sex. And yet, a whole bunch of new questions have reared their ugly heads - Is Hubble really 9a? Have Brits got better at climbing or just better at lying? Who's going to do the Easy Easy project now that Steve's over the hill? Without further ado, it's time for 20 of the new most pressing questions in British climbing:

1. Just who is "Sheffield Rumours", and how much glue do they sniff?
2. Did Dawes really get with Leo?
3. What the fuck is #throwbackthursday and why can't we have #titilatingtuesday instead?
4. Will the school room ever get a decent deadhanging setup?
5. How many retweets does it take to earn a free karabiner?
6. Why aren't all these punters doing the 'Catalunya Commute' strong enough to climb something in the UK?
7. How many girls does it take to downgrade a lightbulb?
8. Does Ethan really eat any of those cakes he takes photos of?
9. How long can you traverse the kids wall for before it becomes paedophilia?
10. Has anyone tried climbing for Allah or Buddah?
11. What the fuck is still wrong with Doyle?
12. Does Simpson even exist or was it all made up?
13. Does Sierra BC own anything other than short shorts, and how many legs-akimbo moves will the setter throw in now that she's entering the world cups?
14.  What the hell do these kids think 2nd go means?
15. Is Jens a Larsehole?
16. How do people taking more than 7B+ for Trigger Cut sleep at night?
17. Was Pooch the giver or the taker with the infamous strap-on?
18. Who's higher in Ned's affections, Dan or Shauna?
19. Do those smack addicts really drink Red Bull?
20. Have you ever stuck your finger up a girl's bum whilst having sex?

Answers on a postcard please.

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'...