A Ton of New Eights

Posted on March 18, 2016 by Dan Varian

A ton of new 8’s


This spring, after possibly the most depressing winter in living memory things have finally picked up again and i’ve made the most of some days spent cleaning boulders in the winter.

Sat in Space

New carrock low end 8B, really nice moves on this.


Incidentally this has meant that I’ve lurched past the hundred marker for hard new boulders in the UK. There wasn’t any great sense of satisfaction at the time. But retrospectively its something I’m quite proud of so it seems like a decent time to look back and take an abridged look at why, where and what I’ve been doing all these years.

Motivation for putting up new problems is a funny one. These days It seems most popular in middle to older aged men. It's Incredibly rare in the fairer sex and its an activity which is somewhat challenging for anyone who can’t drive. So why do I do it?


Well, these are my cards.


When I was younger I realized that British Bouldering was still only really coming into fruition. I sort of coasted in at the beginning of boom time when loads of crags had little or no high seven or eighth grade climbs done. I noticed this when I was 17 and just beginning to operate at those grades. A lot of this was thanks to lakesbloc creating a good movement in the lakes as well as bits and bats of info trickling down from Northumberland. When I started bouldering in Northumberland in 2002 it had two straight up 8’s done. (the bitch and working class) Nowadays it has sixty one. 39 of these are from my various days out there over the years. It has been incredible finding and climbing many of these lines and to be of the privileged generation that was born at the right time.

This has been my game plan if you will. Every generation has had a great opportunity to develop new rock, mine seemed to have nearly all the best hard boulders still to do. I’ve always been captivated by the bouldering movement in this country and its home grown feel. It was exciting when I was young and lots of things were happening pretty near to home. Malc, Gaskins and Andy Earl were putting up 8A-8C’s nearby. It seemed to show that anything was possible on the blank walls left by previous generations. I took a look round some local crags to see if I could play with the big boys and couldn’t believe my luck. Places like Queens Crag were totally unclimbed bar a few mid 6’s. Imagine walking into queen’s crag and having the big blank lines all to do? blank aretes and walls like queen kong and red dragon, arc royal.

I don’t have to imagine as I was there with Chris, and it was full on super market sweep mode.

 Every so often I would head up to the crag and expect loads of people to be there as it was no secret where the venue was. Nope. And, barring a few exceptions, that’s pretty much been the case for the last 13years. line after line of great climbing all to play for, just sat there for the picking. Its been a great process sniffing things out and getting stronger and more cunning at finding them, with help from friends as the years have gone by.

 I wouldn’t say I’ve ever vehemently hunted problems. Over the years I’ve repeated more than twice as many as I’ve put up in the UK. I’ve also put up eighth grade problems in France, Italy, Germany and the USA.

I’ve just always done two key things when I’ve gone out climbing. A: kept my eyes open to good gaps. B: made the harder decision to go and explore/try the unknown. This is opposed to the ease of going to a crag and knowing what to try and roughly how hard it is and what to do.

I think whilst climbing walls are fantastic for introducing people to the sport and helping them to get strong they have inevitably taken over the traditional shirt tails, rock based, upbringing into the sport that my generation had. I think this has meant that the outdoors is more of a unfamiliar commodity than it used to be for many and its something which I think has lead the crafty middle aged man to continue to dominate the FA side of the sport for the last 10 years when it comes to doing new things . They still hold all the knowledge of what’s to be done where and unless you are good friends with your local one you will likely be on the back foot when it comes to finding good new boulders in the UK.

All I can say is those people have got a good thing going most of the time,as it can be bloody fun finding and climbing new problems, especially if they are big boomers. If you’re not part of the development wave or have never ridden on it then it is a very different thing and I’d urge anyone to have a go somewhere once or twice in their life. Good problems can also be hiding anywhere. Two of my bizzarest moments have been literally stumbling upon great problems. Once when I went for a poo in Simonside woods and found Awooga and again when I took a bee line back to the van after exploring at Succoth and found “The beast of Succoth” 10m off the path, 10m high but fairly invisible from just above it.

 I think that after the next fifteen years their wont be a lot of amazing problems left to be done in England and Wales bar the very hardest, Just like I can’t rock up to Stanage and put up 20 new HVS’s nowadays. Its not like every blank gap is climbable; as skin and rubber have their limits set by physics. Developing climbs is a one time only thing. After they’re done everyone can enjoy them, which is also a great part of it for me. but if you think you’re the type of person who’d like to head off into the true unkown or can tackle the hardest gaps still to do I’d get cracking now, as there’re buggers like me out there who really like doing it, and I’ve got pretty decent at it over the years. I’ve had so many fun experiences that it’s hard not to keep seeking them out if I spot something. I tell myself that I can repeat climbs any time when its convenient, and often do. But new lines are a one time only commodity. My only caveat is to pinch myself once in a while, if I find myself climbing some crap lowball link up its time to change tune and go and enjoy another niche or sport.

 For someone to come into the sport in England or Wales nowadays and put up a hundered hard problems which aren’t crap link ups would be a big ask. That ship has pretty much sailed and the next generations will re invent the frontline I’m sure. If you’re Scottish or Irish, I think there’s plenty to do still. Good luck.

 Here’s some pics of a quarter of my eighth graded problems that don’t really sum up the experiences too well but they might show what it’d be like to find them and where they are at. The UK is great for bouldering and, as ever I’d like to encourage people to get out and enjoy its huge diversity of rock types and landscapes.

Iron Lung 8A Callaly moor. Northumberland at its quietest, and it's pretty quiet...
callaly moorColonel Hathi 8A+

 Colonel Hathi 8A+. Put up in just under 2 hours after a stag do, i guessed the sequence fast and got lucky just before the beer sweats got a bit much.


 Marratime 8A+, of the twelve 8's i've put up in Scotland only 3 have taken more than a  a session. It Would be good to see this get a repeat, its almost perma dry on the hard bit.


Bourgeoisie 8A+, when the crimps get this dirty the teeth come out.

half the story

Arc Royal. This one is like an old friend.

the shrubbery

The Shrubbery 8A+, index mono. The trees are gone nowadays, which has made the landing much better. 

The Clangers. 8A+/A Great team boulder move on this one Pic: Rob Hunter

Bewilderness. A limestone problem that isn't shit! Pic: Adam Long

Darkest Cloud 8A 5th cloud. Lovely slopers, minging crimps Pic: Nick Brown

Stanton Deliver 8A+, the only FA in life on hold, poor show boys! 

Pic: Nick Brown

End Sequence 8B. One of my favourite FA experiences

Black Triage, 8A+ Like Monk Life only the holds are worse and the move smaller, and no one except Nige has put any time in. Pic Mark Savage

Ivan Dobsky 8A+, my first proper session on this was amazing, i was so close on every go, the session where i did it was humid, midgy and shit but i pulled it out the bag.

Pic Mark Savage

The Crack in the Shadows 8A, quietly brilliant this one 10m high.

Pic Mark Savage

Queen Kong my first 8A FA age 18 and by far my most repeated

Pic Mark Savage

Red Dragon 8A, Ned and i carried in this massive mat from my woody to do a highball there.

Pic Mark Savage

Awooga SS 8A+

Pic Mark Savage

Home 8B

Star Power 8B+ish Proper big boomer

Wilson 8A St Bees

Hobbie Noble 8B. Simply the Best

Glen Ross. One of the UK's best moves, cool sitter project too

The Pit Problem 8A+ Fairhead, done in the dark with Jonesy and Eddie

Helicoidal flow, one of my favourite ever days out bouldering anywhere 8A+ Reiff

Nth Power, one of my most perfect moments in climbing 8A+ Nth cloud

I forget the name of this one... Pic: Nick Brown

All pics Varian/Mundy collection unless credited.

Apologies for the back patting, i'll wait until 200 for the next bout of it. It's been pretty hard work putting these problems up over the years, If anyone fancies coming out and scrubbing muddy top outs, trundling massive rocks over their feet. ripping their good jackets on endless brambles and explaining to secluded land owners just why that little rock is so important to you, give your local developer a call. 

A huge Thank you to Scarpa and MBC for their support in recent years. They're actively funding new problem development in this country which is a great thing. 



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BIFF 2016

Posted on February 04, 2016 by Ned Feehally

Last year we totally surprised ourselves - we ran a footless comp and somehow it worked. It actually worked so well that we felt like we had to run another one this year. The Climbing Works were keen to host it and a whole load of amazing handhold companies got on board to provide a great mix of interesting and unique holds. After a bit of planning, carving wooden holds, building bizarre obstacles, setting bizzare boulder problems and generally messing about we were ready to go.

75 ‘climbers’ and about 300 spectators piled into The Works to pull, push, dangle, drink and heckle. The atmosphere was great, and gave us faith that the climbing world definitely still has a sense of humour. 

After two and a half hours of footless antics covering the whole spectrum of climbing maneuvers (from dragging yourself up a slab to leaping wildly between jugs) and forearm wrecking dead hangs the climbers were done. We set the comp a little harder this year and were amazed just how strong everybody is!


However, we weren’t done yet! Just to make sure tendonitis was fully set in, it was time for the piece de resistance. The cherry on the cake. The evening’s climax. It was time for the Spitroast Deadhang Final.  This head-to-head-dead-hang challenge was a little safer than last year’s Deadhang Death Match, and a little more refined, but equally as hilarious. Especially when the baying mob of spectators were armed with stress-ball-projectiles and invited to launch them at the precariously pendulous competitors.


After the pandemonium subsided we were left with our winners. Molly Thompson-Smith took the women’s title, while Jim Pope took the men’s. It’s great to see the youth looking so strong. And come to think of it, everybody else.

However as well as the overall winners, a huge pat on the back goes to:

Pete Whittaker and Tom Randal - the minions. Totally amazing to see how strong they were while dressed in 8ft balloons

Janja Garnbret for the strongest display of crimp strength you could ever see

Matt Cousins for his exemplary deadhanging skills

Louis Parkinson for smashing the hardest boulder problem in fine style

Emma Flaharty/Banks for gaining the most bonus point stickers with her incessant sweet talking of the judges. 

Finally a massive thanks has to go to all those who helped and supported us with setting up, running and dealing with the aftermath of the event. Especially the companies who provided us with all the excellent handholds: Atomik, Core, Enigma Volumes, Flathold, Teknik, Wataaah and 360 holds.

Also those who helped out with goodies for the crowd/donations to CAC: Red Bull, 5.10,  Organic, Friction Labs and Wild Country.

And the Climbing Works for being so supportive of our whimsical plans for elbow inhalation...  

The whole point of the event was to raise money for Climbers Against Cancer. This side of things was a huge success, we raised nearly £2000! Thanks everyone for helping.

Keep your eyes peeled for a video of the comp. See you all next year!


The top 8 from the qualifiers went through to the Spitroast Deadhang Final. This was a knock out comp, with a head to head dangle off to decide the winners. The results of the final are as follows:

1st   Molly Thompson-Smith

2nd  Janja Garnbret

3rd  Jen Wood



1st  Jim Pope

2nd Nathan Phillips

3rd  Matt Cousins


The results below are from the qualifying round:


Jaja Garnbret 601
Melissa Le Neve 500
Jen Wood 464
Mechaela Tracey 463
Molly Thompson-Smith 462
Jo Allen 350
Emma F 317
Gracie Martin 313
Sarah Pashley 277
Ellie 229
Alice H 194
Zofia Reych 176


Matt Cousins 512
Louis Parkinson 498.2
Jim Pope 460.2
Domen Skofic 447
Aiden Roberts 442
Dave Barrans 435.6
Nathan Phillips 432.9
Dom Wragg 416
Jonny Kidd 370.12
Myles Crossley 365
Big Jack Ainscough 364
James Nobel 352
Ash Wolsey-Heard 340.6
Joe Wilson 340.19
Jose Fernandez 320
Euan McFayden 309
Tom Green 302.4
Gorilla Sam! 295
Sam 277.2
Ms Joe Swales 276.3
Jez Auditore 242.6
Bily Ridal 235.12
Joe Heely 231.2
James Mcilveen 221.4
Dawid Skoczylas 221
William Smith 220.6
Dan Turner 215
Hura Ciprian 207.7
Niels Pampus 158.8
Jessie Nutt 142.06
Joe Harding 131.9
Adam Fidler 114.7
Toby Chan 94
Haziq Ghafoor 90.2
Jevdet Ahmet 80
Aaron Bosley 72
Seb Smith 42
Kenny Geoghegan 30
Isaac Cumbers 25
Dan Watson 19
Pete Hamlin 5.1



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2015 (Dan)

Posted on January 06, 2016 by Dan Varian

Well it’s now or never on the blog front i think. I’ve left it for as long as i can but like peoples tax return it is starting to become a thing i really should’ve gotten round to by now, but it’s been pretty busy in the work and personal life in 2015. Regardless Its nice to glance back at what has certainly been the best year of my life both on and off the rocks.


On the rocks i’ve been pretty busy locally this year just getting out lots and getting stuff done, there’s been loads of great things keeping me entertained this year and its only now, in january after 3 months of the BBC “storm personality of the year” contest that i’m finally beginning to feel the weight of all this rain. On the whole the weather in 2015 was fantastic, it just really, REALLY, let itself down in October. Thanks a lot El Nino, you meanie. This was supposed to be a blog about another nonsense number. Establishing my hunderedth UK 8A-8B+ but thanks to the abysmal weather i’m stuck on 95 straight ups (no traveses no link ups) and am into another year. For some relation, there are 126 straight up 8’s in the latest 7 and 8’s guidebook for all of font (although many more exist now). Thats a decent amount to try and catch up to for any hobbyist i think.


Photo4 (61)


What keeps me inspired, and actually blogging, is seeing others getting out and pushing standards in new areas of bouldering. To me pushing standards will always be completing new gaps that have never been managed before as it poses a much different question of is it possible? rather than can i do it? I put up 26 grade 8’s in the UK this year but i reckon i failed on just as many projects (see above for just one example), those are what keep me interested and wanting to improve in climbing. And whilst i repeated over thirty "8’s" too (i think a balance between FAs and repeats is really good for ones climbing. If you look at the best globe trotting boulderers they do this well on a world stage) Its mostly the new stuff that sticks in the old scrap book for me this year. Here’s a few highlights from my year on the rocks.

One of my favourites


Font: I’d had a jittery start to the year and was questioning my form when i went out. I’d been getting shut down on the prow at high crag as well as a project on the bowderstone and was definitely losing perception of how i was climbing and some confidence. Confidence is often key to getting things done and trusting oneself in a sequence. After two weeks in font i came away with a very healthy ticklist, but more importantly i was confident in how i was moving on rock again and what i can do. It was also made all the more special as Katie and i got to catch up with some great friends as well as meet some new ones.

Magic Circus 8A


April: This was a month i’ll never forget, If its the best i ever do then that’s fine. Establishing twelve straight up 8s (8A-8B+) in the UK in just over 30 days would be a good run by anyones standards (its more than a lot of good boulderers in this country have done in their entire lifetimes, a pointess comparison but some context nevertheless) but when i look at the problems i got to climb on and the dots i got to join there were some crackers in there. I even felt moved to blog about it at the time, so theres more there if you’ve somehow missed that being on our webpage all year!

 Pics: Mark Savage

Fairhead. The trip that broke me!



I went out to fairhead on my last holiday before being a dad. I was in good form and was really looking forward to trying loads of projects. On my first day i got massively side tracked deadlifting huge boulders and trundling bigger ones. By the end of the week my back was properly knackered, Ricky had almost mushed his finger and there were some tired legs about but we had successfully turned some leg eating talus into nice places to be forever. 6:43 onwards for the size of some of the things we shifted (you’ll have to visit to see where it ended up). Ultimately this was a really nice get away, kicking about with some of the nicest people i’ve met in climbing and what to me is the best scene in the UK, really grade A banter and try hard scenes. I managed a few new things that week, almost none of which were on my project list from last time, but they were great fun. On the first day i almost did a really fingery hard thing that might have been desperate. Fairhead is full of basic hard moves on the boulders, a refreshing change from the beauty and subtleness of font. Its a place for pulling and squeezing really flipping hard on stuff, often with leg break potential if you miss the pads. It was very satisfying to do things like the Clangers after sorting the landing (left sit to hyper moon) as the quality of the moves and sequence reminded me why its a great venue to travel to if you want to boulder at your limit. The trad is still better though, I always feel like a sneaky little pad rat scuttling about down there, cowering when i look up, the Irony is that the boulder field has most of the most serious trad routes nowadays! Thanks to Ricky, Michelle, John, Paul, colm, lolo and Dave for a great trip, i’ll try and pop back next year with ma' pal Jimmy for some more rock wrestling

Clangers FA 8A+/8A Pic: Rob Hunter

Brimham: Somehow it’d escaped and i hadn’t visited until September this year. It was pretty warm and still but on my first visit. I ran round like a nutter in between holding the baby. Time was short as we didn’t have our routine ironed out so i actually tried to flash things for a change. I managed the excellent slapstick 3rd go i think and topped it out. Flashed the fonze 8A and to you too (7C) amongst other easier problems and got a better sense of the place. two more visits after and i had done most of the established lines at or above 7C+ and many below and was getting the feel for it so i started looking at the odd gap and did the two below.

Nanny StateKittens Galore


It’s been great fun climbing at Brimham and i’ve never been so perplexed by a major venue. There are amazing 8’s left totally ignored like Pinky SDS. and over graded eliminates like To You Too which get lots of attention. Scrittly lowballs get hammered and one of the best 7B’s i’ve done in yorkshire (Belly Porkers Progress) seems relatively ignored for how many people operate at that grade nowadays. It might be because they are a little further from the car but it seems more like many peoples only way to make sense of the jumble of rocks is to find whats popular and try that as its clean and a certainty. Regardless of the disparity its my favourite venue in yorkshire at the minute, although i think much of that is because i like to solo the trad routes there in combination with bouldering as they lie side by side. One minute i’m having a memorable time on an E3 top out and the next i can be fiddling about on a hard problem, great fun.

Pinky SDS


Torridon. With Storm Abigail on the Radar this five day trip looked like a washout. If we’d ben going in the van i reckon we’d have bailed. We’d booked a cottage though and, regardless of the weather, it was a nice place to read a book by the window. In terms of climbing it was pretty all over the shop as i didn’t know whether i was coming or going with the rain squalls. We had to pick steep stuff that faced the right way and bez to the pub or cafe when things got a bit much.


wave arete ss 7B

On the first day i managed to lift my heaviest ever rock before i restrained myself and got back to the climbing. Help and hindrance came on the third day with the arrival of Richie and Bronwen respectively. Richie sent me up a rock whilst Bronwen set to work on my socks. A cunning double act which has left many a cold foot in the Gairloch area and beyond. Richies project was Phoenix Nights, and as luck would have it mine was the weatherproof sit. The day before i’d sorted the upper landing so we needed less pads, but we didnt think to put one down the bottom as a fall down there was unthinkable. I got through the sit fast, cocky in that i’d remember the stand from 5 years before (as you do) well i did until the last move where upon belting for the top i found myself at least six metres below. I’d flown off backwards, straight over the mezzanine and straight onto my back. This has got to be one of my luckiest ever falls as i narrowly missed a back breaking rock and landed on a squidgy bilberry patch. after about 45 minutes of regaining my wits and massaging some whiplash, as well as actually sussing the top again i blew its bleeding doors off. It was rather good comeback after a big KO. Phoenix fights, 8A+Richie was close to phoenix and was just ripping off the drop in at the last minute. Alas it wasn’t to be that day but he turned up with Gaz on Saturday to make himself feel better about sieging it. Gaz was trying Malc's. I’d last seen Gaz 3 years earlier; when he was trying Malc's… I think Richie thought he was safe amongst disconsolate friends by accompanying a tried and tested siege weapon along. but Gaz was packing something in the trebuchet that no one saw coming that day. The big fat rock of Success. In a few swift tries he’d whisked his way to the top, stepping through a massive glass ceiling and onto the top floor, awesome. No one knew what to do except congratulate him with a well done. Richie must have felt the pressure of his excuses crumble from below him and the next thing I knew he was on top too on the second known ascent of the stand.

local hotshot crushing his proj


To me this was a brilliant sight and really what climbing is about. It was incredibly inspiring to see these guys getting out and getting things done despite busy lives and bad weather. It’s thanks to people like them and others in Ullapool that the scene in the north west is really exciting to me. They have excellent rock up there and are getting out amongst it and finding some brilliant challenges.

The Lakes: For much of my life i’ve had the dirty little secret that despite being a Marra, born and bred, I’ve not really put much time into the Lakes. I’ve done quite a bit of trad, but when it comes to bouldering i was pretty bad for just going to St bees, the Stone and Kentmere. This year i started setting this to rights and pulled my finger out a little. It was only my small mindedness that had it pegged as being limited.

The limbic system 8A+/B

 The Limbic System 8A+/8B best without sound!

Much of that attitude comes from when i was 17 and looking for the Mandala but not finding it. Looking back i didn’t even know where to look. Now that i’m 28 and a bit more grounded i decided to look for what was there and try to climb it. Some of the projects i found this year in the lakes were lucky finds. And before half of it washed away in December it was the place i was most keen for in the UK. If it dries out in 2016 i’ll be cracking on looking for stuff in a really active local scene, lots of people bouldering in the 8’s. It’s been nice to see just how popular the lambrini boulder has become thanks to Greg’s efforts, we had a great afternoon putting those up.


 Aidan getting close on Flow Motion 8A+, the sit to this is a really inspiring project for the next generation. Or maybe the next next generation...


 I’d like to put an addendum in a few links to some new stuff other people have put up this year that i think are inspiring. Whilst globally its easy to pick projects and book a flight its always nice to know there are new projects in the UK after work or on the weekend or for those who want a project closer to home.

so heres just a snapshot of what really inspired me this year.

The Cunninghams, Two young lads from ullapool found what looks to be one of the best quality, wall style, bouldering crags in the uk. Knowing how good sea washed Torridonian sandstone is i am really inspired to go and check out their hard work sometime. 

Ned and Jon Boy put up a bunch of new classics in the peak with Heavy Sky 8A+ being the hardest, but stuff like Crich On a Bike look equally good additions, if the peak isnt climbed out, then everywhere else has a long way to go. 

Liam Fyfe and Alex Mannion have been developing a steep limestone cave that looks like it should be in spain, but its in the UK, their other additions look good too. 

Ricky Bell put up the incredible Gentlemans arete and added a sitter to john 3:16 along with a clutch of great new sevens at the head, Northern Irelands first 8B and a world class one at that. 

2015 FA’s

8A: Stretch and Glide, Lotus Feet, Northern Territory Direct, Atilla SDS, endless rain, Kittens Galore, prow direct, space jam, grimfangdangle, an honist man, the cashmere cat, downstairs mix up, bing pot, The beast of succoth, notorious BLP

8A+: Call me david, Phoenix fights, The Clangers (in retrospect i think could be 8A+), second fiddle, officer peabody, Tsar pushka, flip flopera, Sideshow (8B?)

8B: The limbic system (8A+?) Northern Time?

8B+: Star power (8B)

All the above was made much more fun thanks to these two this year.

Many many thanks to MBC. Scarpa, organic and friction labs and Eden Rock for the support this year and of course to anyone who bought a beastmaker.

good luck on the projects.

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Posted on January 03, 2016 by Ned Feehally

Last year I hit a good run of form. However, the year started badly with a dislocated ankle and a torn pulley in America last December (worst trip ever) but as is often the case with injuries, I came back stronger. It’s probably as much about regaining motivation after a slump as it is about actually getting strong again but the time off climbing day after day sets you up well for having a good spell.

Here are a few highlights from the year:

Jour du Chasse

My climbing year started with a week in Font in February where I surprised myself by climbing Jour du Chasse and Mechanique Elemintaire fairly fast. It was good to feel like things were finally coming together after a frustrating winter.

Mecanique Elementaire. Photo: Martin Smith 

Throughout the Spring I was able to put up some quality new problems in the Peak (Black Asteroid, Heavy Sky, Thick End of the Wedge) while staying pretty focussed on training for Rocklands.

The Thick End of the Wedge. Photo: Martin Smith

I was feeling stronger than ever on my board, ticking off a few projects (including my Sky simulator!) and left for rocklands feeling dead keen to get stuck in. It was a productive trip in terms of doing loads of volume. I didn’t get round to trying anything really hard as we had less than 3 weeks there, but I managed to get everything on my tick list done and successfully narrowed down my options - next time I’ll have to try the harder stuff! And it turns out my Sky simulator is a lot harder than the actual problem! Although given the choice of being in a damp cellar or sat in the desert under a glowing orange sunset I think climbing Sky was a more enjoyable experience than training for it, on the whole.

Monkey Business. Photo: Lucasz Warzecha

Power of One from Ned Feehally on Vimeo.


I spent the rest of the summer/autumn not training but trying to maintain form. I lost loads of fitness, but I did managed to tick my way through some tough UK problems. I felt like I was in shape to be able to do these things fairly fast, so I thought I’d cash in on my run of form and get out as much as I could.


Malc’s Start
Malc first climbed this back in 2002. It was the first 8b in wales, and one of only a handfull in  the UK at the time (I think). It’s even more impressive that he climbed it in the middle of summer in a single session! It’s always been on my mind as a hard problem I’d really like to do. However I’m not too sure why - it’s not the prettiest bit of rock or line and I always found the lurching crux of Pools of Bethesda (the stand start to this problem) a bit of an awkward and unpleasant move. I did however manage to climb the stand start in 2010 and every so often since then I’ve got all keen on the sitter again, but ultimately this keeness always waned after a couple of flaccid throws at the porthole.

This year I decided to give it another go and within a session I had found a workable sequence that avoided the low percentage lurch move. It’s mighty powerful tho and tires the shoulders fast so it took another couple of visits to finish it off.

I was strangely pleased to finish off Superman. Certainly not because of the quality of the “problem”! However it’s something that I had always dabbled with and got nowhere on. Finally I went there specifically to try it, rather than just ending up there and having a go, and within a few goes I had done it. Strange that.

The sit start remained unrepeated (as far as I know, although I have a feeling that everyone’s favourite 90’s climber John Welford may have done it back in the day?) Although it’s nothing like the original problem now, having shed holds over the years it’s still a pretty tough power endurance test. After climbing the stand start my friend said “that looked easy, why not do it from the sit”. So I sat down and did it.

Superman Sit. Photo: Andy Banks

After climbing the stand start to this in 2009(ish) I had returned most years for a go on the sit start and always got shut down. It adds a desperate move to the beginning of the problem, which revolves around pulling up into a terrible undercut from a long way below it.

I found myself back there this year, feeling strong and confident. Until I tried it, and found that I couldn’t even pull on! The conditions were grimy and dank with moisture hanging in the air like a bad smell... or that might have been the bad smell in the air - the crag is opposite a sewage works afterall.

Suddenly I figured out the way. Nothing subtle, nothing clever but simply try harder. It’s a brutal move and you just have to bite down and do it.  Now I knew that if the conditions were decent I’d stand a chance of linking it. However the window of conditions was well and truly closed.

But no - I was there and I had done the moves. I should try my best to make the most of what I had learned. A few goes later I was climbing the end on some sort of semi autopilot - that weird thing where you know exactly what to do but you have to focus on not scuppering yourself by getting excited or thinking about what you’re doing.

Serendipity. Photo: Martin Smith 

More recently I went back there and finished off Mike Adams’ slightly harder finish which he called Serenata and also his extended finish to Apache, called Tomahawk completing all the hard link ups on that bit of crag.

The Big Island
So after an autumn scrabbling around in the UK I made it to Font. It was warm but I managed to get the moves on The Island figured out fairly fast. I knew it was going to be possible for me, but only if I had perfect conditions - cold and windy. It wasn’t to be on that trip.

I went back at the end of November. The forecast was slightly better with some storms bringing in a cold wind every few days. After a few sessions I hit the jackpot and managed to make it up to The Island just as the wind picked up and the temps dropped. It felt great to piece The Island together and I was relieved to have climbed it, but not totally content. The Big Island was always the obvious one for me.

I knew I could do it, but it all came down to the weather. On the last evening of our trip we walked up so I could have a last ditch effort. I felt pretty relaxed. I enjoyed climbing on the problem so much, and I was already fairly pleased to have done The Island so I was able to distance myself from the idea of success. The evening was drawing to a close, the lamps running out of batteries and my spotters probably getting fed up of being there (again). Finally for 1 tiny moment it was all there. Everything perfectly aligned and in tune. It felt easy. They always do!

With everything closing in (time, temperature, skin, arms, legs, torn shoes, hungry spotters...) I had one small opportunity to make it work and against the odds I managed it. That was satisfying. Climbing The Big Island is one of my favourite climbing memories.

Since then it’s been all about resting, making fingerboards and organising this years BIFF. It’s going to be a night to remember. Get yourselves down!

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