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Wrapping up

Posted on January 06, 2015 by Dan Varian

2014 was definitely peaks and troughs. It started really well with things like Capability Brawn 8B, and a trip to Ireland in February where I had loads of fun mucking around and climbing in every kind of weather. Glenn Ross 8A+/B was the highlight of this trip, it is one of the UK's nicest power problems. no messing around just big drop clutch board moves with a dabble of technique for one move. I climbed it on my first day there as the rain came in. The rest of the trip passed by with some great banter.

 

Katie and I headed to font the week after Ireland. Climbing at Fairhead couldn't be more different to font and the first day or so in font was a shock to the system. I had a brilliant trip though with there being some great days despite it being a little warm. It was the type of trip you get very rarely and it's one i'll remember for a long time. Made all the better by the company we kept out there.

After font things went pretty rubbish for a few weeks after getting the flu and something seemed to linger on for months meaning i needed lots of rest days throughout the summer to keep a half decent level up. Despite this i tried hard to keep things interesting and just made sure i stayed on reasonably subtle and finger friendly rock types. This was a tough time for me after climbing so well at the start of the year and i felt like it took quite a bit of resilience not to get really frustrated with what was happening at times. Luckily i'd found a few lines which were still possible for me and put some others on the back burner for a while. One of them was a line i'd tried last year but written off as too hard at height. I decided to work it on a rope quite a bit and see how it felt, some big links came quite quickly and i sorted out a strategy for committing to the top out. Highballing is something i like to push myself on every once in a while. Highballs can be deceptive though as it's often the height of the crux which determines the true difficulty of the boulder. Pushing the height of highball cruxes is something i've been sporadically keen on over the years, as well as ground upping highballs and trad routes in that style. Of all the UK hard highballs and short solos i've had a good bit of fun over the years. Things like superbloc GU 2nd ascent, careless torque GU, the prow, 2nd ascent, lanny bassham 2nd ascent, the darkside, GU 2nd ascent, Empty the bones of you FA, queen kong GU FA arc royal FA crack in the shadows FA, as well as easier climbs like The Young 2nd asc, Earthboots GU solo, Unfamiliar GU, toyboy GU, and many more 7B+,7C highballs and trad routes (living in oxford, navana and nefertiti all GU same day as voyager). There are still plenty of great 8's i'd love to do like Sampson, Pebbledash, high fidelity) etc.

With the crux of what became Hobbie Noble at 9m it was ultimately the hardest highball i'd ever approached (the crux of things like living in oxford and unfamiliar are 7B+ish with their cruxes at 3-4m and they are well protected near the top, Darkside and the prow are font8a ish with unprotected cruxes in the 5-6m zone, Empty the bones of you (8A+ish) has the crux in the 7m-ish zone for hands.) Hobbie felt like slopey font 7B+/C top out and 7m of font 8A/+ climbing to get to the start of that. It seems like people just assume that everything is safe with pads if it is given a highball grades when that's not truly the case, they just give a better impression of overall difficulty to the modern climber.

For example New satesman and Gerty Berwick both get E9 yet one is ~7B and one is ~8A/+ both have good landings with enough pads, (provided you are spotted off the block on NS) I've fielded a fall from ~9m off new statesman and he only landed on one pad and walked away with a bit of whiplash. The crux of NS is at 4m and the crux of Gerty is around 5m. By comparing these side by side routes to me a ground up ascent of Gerty would be a much better effort yet in E grades there is little way to tell that difference. I'm just trying to illustrate how things have moved on in highballing as on both climbs a groundfall is pretty much guaranteed up to 7m-ish

Anyway it's something to be aware of when ground upping a climb. As i learnt this year when i badly bruised my talus bone from only a 2m fall. If you're 100% guaranteed to hit the ground. At some point the odds of a perfect fall will stack against you and something will end up hurting for a good while. I was really glad to get Hobbie done safely on a really nice breezy day just hanging out up there with Micky and Dexter. It's in nowheres-ville but it might just be the most perfect problem i ever do. Hard, commiting, good rock and great moves from start to finish, good landing. Definitely the highlight of my year all in all. 

 

After doing Hobbie and things like Wilson at st Bees, along with Establishing and repeating some lovely 7&8's in Scotland. The highlight of which being Veinglorious 8A+ at Reiff, a close compression line of marginal pinches. I did some exploring around the Arrochar Area and Dumfries. I found some incredible projects which i'm dying to get back to. this one is all of 5 minutes from the road and the huge 55˚ front face has one perfect line snaking across it. I managed the moves on it whilst Katie was at the Womens symposium at TCA and am looking forward to heading back.

 

General round up/ discussion of UK bouldering this year (exclusive material! thanks to not a single sentence being mentioned about it in the BMC or UKCs wrap up of 2014s climbing highlights) i've squashed it into a paragraph.

Pete Robins put up lots of great looking new 8's in wales, Jemma Powell putting up the hardest UK boulder problem FA by a woman and becoming the third to climb 8A in the UK (http://northwalesbouldering.com/index.asp) Mike adams as ever putting up some great looking things in the east peak, scotland (https://vimeo.com/user7044532) and NYM. Dan Turner's really cool looking new 8B in the North York Moors looks to be a stand out line (http://instagram.com/p/txxwCXkQZA/?modal=true), Ned, Tyler and Tom Newman putting up great looking grade 8's in the peak (beastmaker blog and toms vimeo https://vimeo.com/user17752633, http://tv.thebmc.co.uk/video/tyler-landman-first-ascent-of-smiling-buttress-curbar), Alex Gorham getting out and exploring hard lines in Scotland (http://stonecountry.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/driest-september-2014.html). James Squire putting up a brace of great looking 8's on Dartmoor granite (picking up where Mike left off after a flying visit). Peckitt finding some classic grade 8 lines in yorkshire right under everyones noses (http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/item.php?id=69238) Lakes hard developments (lakesbloc.com)

After looking at all those I'm left thinking, bloody hell this has been an impressive year for hard bouldering development and repeats in the UK, and i've missed out quite a few ascents there i'm sure. One thing which is obvious is that there has been a really noticeable ground swell of ascents in the 8A-B area.

It seems to me there has been a decent amount of bouldering development in the UK this year in all corners. new 8Bs in Northumberland, Cumbria, North Yorkshire, Wales and many interesting repeats. Really cool new 8's in the peak. 2 new guidebooks to North york Moors and Lancashire. Maybe it's because 8B isn't news outside the UK anymore with people flashing them and kids climbing them. To maybe put things in perspective i've done a little numbers exercise below.

There are currently 50 independent straight up grade 8's in my home climbing area of Northumberland, of which i did my first one in 2005. This year it'll have taken me 10 years to hopefully tick those 50 and maybe a few more can be added (~thirty of them are my doing already so i'm not doing myself any favours by saving the last 3 repeats for years) In a twenty day climbing trip to font this year i climbed 21 8's from 8A-8B which going by some very crude calculations, in a perfect world, that really means that in those last 10 years i could potentially have climbed 3832 grade 8 climbs! In reality in the UK i've climbed over 150, v few of which are link ups or traverses, a figure which looks quite crap next to the theoretical one yet it looks to be the most in the UK of all time on paper. Obviously the calculation is a totally flawed number but maybe it gives some sense of theoretical potential given endless rock, good weather and full time climbing and the actual effort it can end up taking to repeat and establish things sometimes.

 Something else tells me that if the Big Orange had been given E9/10 and Hobbie Noble had been given E9/10 they'd be seen as more of a big event. Smiling Buttress a grit LGP of the highest quality is a real stand out point in the year too. To me this is maybe one illustration of how much of bouldering is lost in the translation of general news reporting. Things like the Big Orange and Smiling Buttress getting given 8A mean it is all to easy for people to overlook them by not fully understanding what that grade means at height or in a single move at the top of a problem. Hopefully this quick few paragraphs can give a better sense of how active and diverse our climbing population has been this year.

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Anchor Management

Posted on November 24, 2014 by Ned Feehally

After another tip off from Jon I headed to Birchen, mainly to fight my way through the throngs of top ropers but also to have a look at a project. Jon tells me that everyone he had mentioned it to had dismissed it as impossible, but there seemed to be a few holds dotted about so I thought it was worth a look.

 

The problem is in between the arête of Lowside and Mark Katz's "boulder problem" The Brigand. It sounds squeezed in and the photo makes it look squeezed in, but it is a great independent line up some pretty poor holds. Start on undercuts, reach around to a right hand ripple then ride a heel and crab up a few more ripples to a pocket, and an easy finish.

 

(Photo: Ben Morton)

I had a session on it with Tom (Newman) where we both got reasonably close, but the sun came out and started to warm things up - not ideal when you are trying to stick to tiny nano ripples. We were both dead keen to return, but unfortunately for Tom his free days never quite coincided with cold, dry weather. I lucked out and found myself back there early one chilly morning and managed to finish it off just before the sun crept round onto the holds.

 

Sticking with the nautical theme of the crag, the frustrating nature of the on/off heel hook (and a love of bad puns) I've called it "Anchor Management". It felt like it might be font 8a+ ish.

 

A couple of weeks later Tom nipped back for a quick repeat - he used a different sequence as his gangly limbs didn't fit into the bunched heel hook, but they could reach a toe hook out on the arête. Either way it's hard, good work Gangle!

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Gritty Mauling

Posted on October 06, 2014 by Ned Feehally

I have been spending a fair bit of time wandering around the Peak looking for new problems recently. I've visited a fair few crags for the first time and occasionally it has taken me way off the beaten track. Strangely I found exactly what I had always hoped to find in the Peak almost directly on the beaten track, sitting just next to the path on the way up to the lower tier of the roaches. 

I have often wondered what would make the perfect gritstone problem. A great feature, immaculate rock, an interesting and tricky sequence, lovely hand holds that don't tear the skin, a good height and some pretty burly moves right on the limit of friction. I think this problem ticks all the boxes. I am not one for hyperbole but it really is good.

 

Ned's new Roaches 8a from Jon Fullwood on Vimeo.


I know this style of climbing isn't too popular on the whole (probably something to do with not being able to train for it indoors?) but I think it is one of the better problems I have climbed this year. If you fancy a proper tussle then I couldn't recommend it enough.  

 

Ned's new Roaches 8a FA from Jon Fullwood on Vimeo.

 


Unfortunately I have to come up with a grade for it. I am never very good at this bit. I think it felt as hard to climb as similar 8as and 8a+s, however I climbed it on a hot and muggy day and freshly cleaned rock always takes some time to settle down. For now I'll go with 8a. At some point I'll even come up with a name...

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Chasing geese

Posted on September 13, 2014 by Dan Varian

 

I’ve been wondering whether it’s just me and if my own tastes have been becoming more esoteric. In some respects it’s definitely true but i’d like to thing its because that’s where some real quality climbing is. If there’s one thing in climbing i love it’s being first on the scene in an area with classic boulders and experiencing it whilst it’s sleeping. When it comes to visiting unkown venues or places that don’t have any hard climbing established i never question myself anymore. 10 years ago i didn’t ask myself those questions either, it was always worth it even if it’s just to go somewhere different. That latter point is something which has been snowballing more and more with recent climbs. It’s been utterly brilliant climbing loads of new problems over the last 10 years, its also been just as fun repeating those of others. I guess this is my point in a way, i hope the development scene can weather the pressure of the way climbing media operates nowadays, much of local development is a slow process and finding classics can take years, yet inevitably these things end up sharing the same 5 seconds of fame as the rest of the internet now just to be forgotten. The consoling fact is that they exist and they’re amazing things to climb on when you find them nearby.

 

It’s a real privilege to have been born in the “bouldering generation”, we didn’t have the climbing walls that are about now, but like the generation before us with 90's sport and 80's trad. Pretty much all the best 8th grade lines in the UK have been put up post 2000, save for one or two. I would argue this is also a reason why bouldering has been popular in the last decade, as much of the excitement has come from many people riding on the back of a wave of interesting development. The fact that the golden goose is still turning them up in strange places just goes to show how rewarding it can be living in a country with such great little crags on our doorstep. Rock is a limited resource however and the days of new climbs will dwindle one day. All i will say is that it is an incredibly rewarding thing to get good at whilst it lasts. The last unknowns in a niche of a niche sport. It’s a bit weird but there aren’t many better rushes than walking round the corner and seeing that dream line, sat there like a sleeping leviathan. Difficult, intimidating, but possible. Waiting to breathe further life to the sport. I’d argue It’s even better when it’s somewhere you’ve been brought up as you have a more intimate connection with the landscape and the local nuances, a connection i always lose on holidays. On holiday i feel nothing other than a consumer of nice rocks most of the time, but i can certainly appreciate what it’s like for the locals there and the scene they have.

 

 

For two years now i’ve been engaging with a sporadic wild goose chase around my favourite stomping ground of northumberland looking for a mythical mega prow thanks to a teasing tip off from Steve Blake. Last week, at a particular low point physically (two black toes and a racked but light body. I caught a nasty gastroenteritis after competing in the best stagnant bogwater lowball girdling championship in history) i finally guessed it’s location. Dan Brown could write another crap novel with all the places Katie and I have been looking for this flipping prow (we’ve had a lot of fun on the way too). All i’ve had to go on was a photo which Mark’d got hold of on the NMC black market. luckily i could tell the sandstone type and a rough aspect and plants which hinted at a few locations. Sufficed to say expectations were high. What if the side i couldn’t see was covered in choss, or even worse, Jugs! Luckily the hype was pitched at a decent level, i’d say in the end it’s one of the coolest sets of moves on one of the best lines in the county, and northumberland isn’t short of massive lines. I got the stand last session and i’m calling it Star Slinger the stand goes at 8Aish but there’s more still to go below and around it, so in the great tradition of the one-upmanship of knowledge we wont be telling the internet where it is anytime soon, but you’re welcome to go hunting and find it in the real world.

 

 

Sometimes classic line’s are just waiting for their time, be it a nearby tree falling or the sea giving a helping hand.

 

Wilson 8Aish was one such line i’ve crossed my fingers for 5 years over. i first cleaned the upper section in 2009 but at the time it was almost impossible to start and had a death landing. The storms this winter pushed the massive block at its base to the best place it could possibly be and straight away i was on it, these things only happen once in a blue moon. I knew it was the best line on the coast. Its on the best st bees rock and the moves have a great blend of power and fear suppression. It will make a really satisfying ground up challenge to the best boulderers. Hurting yourself in the infra littoral zone with no phone signal is fairly ill advised though.

 

On another development thought experiment we decided to act upon some enticing pics John Watson put of some coastal bouldering in Dumfries, it’s pretty near where we live in Carlisle (in the grand scheme of things) and Micky, Katie and I have had 2 trips there recently and i can see myself going back for years to that coastline, The greywacke and raised beaches offer a huge variety of angles and holds on great clean rock and it’s a lovely peaceful setting. A real developers playground. We’ve put up quite a few problems there now but there are 3 classics that’d be brilliant anywhere. There’s a 7A+ish hanging scoop that has the best scoopy power palming i’ve ever done on a problem, really unique stuff which you hardly ever see, arete’s are ten a penny in this world but hanging scoopy bowls are somewhat rarer. More on this in the future i guess.

 


This blog is dedicated to “left of Ivan” a project i ripped a key hold off recently, which was going to be well fun.

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Eastwood - Stumble. Stop. Repeat

Posted on September 03, 2014 by Ned Feehally

A few years ago Jon Fullwood put up Lip of Fools at Eastwood, a classic E7 6c. It's an interesting route as it features physicaly hard climbing of about font 7c but with a ridiculously comfy fall onto baby bouncer style gear - bomber cams out right and tree out left. It is this sort of quirky route which gritstone is great for (Bransby protecting baron green back with a fence post etc...)

When I climbed Lip of Fools I went at it highball style, pretty much for the simplicity of it and because we had a lot of padding available that day. Also I was trying to do routes in a ground up highball style at the time and had got used to big lobs and sore knees. More recently the tree that provided the gear out left has fallen over. This means the only way to climb Lip of Fools now is to solo it, but it also means the crag isn't hemmed in by a tree any more.

 

The left hand side of the roof is split by a lovely flared green groove - a strong line indeed. After climbing Lip of Fools a couple of years ago a few of us had a crack at climbing into the groove ground up. We got a bit stuck, couldn't find any holds and generally got scared of rattling down the gap between the tree and the crag, pinball style. Jon and I had often talked about trying this groove properly and last week we finally chucked a rope down it and cleaned the minimal holds that were on offer.

After a bit of searching and head scratching we had found enough holds (well 2 of them) and enough footholds (only really one of those) and squeezed a sequence out of them. 2 small crimps, a cut loose and a huge rockover which only works if you can make a vague knee scum stick off a dusty foothold. After that it's easy to the top, fortunately as you'll be in trouble if you fall off from there.


It is strange becoming a headpointer. Part of me feels like a fraud as I am claiming to climb something which it feels like I have faked. I mean practicing moves on a rope then climbing them afterwards can make it feel like you aren't actually doing the moves any more. Gritstone has a history of being about the head game but it feels like with preparation you are partly removed from all that. You don't have to think on the fly and freestyle the movement. You know how the moves should feel so you just aim for that, and when you are within a percentage of it feeling right you know it will work so you just crack on.

Anyway, I have never headpointed before, but putting up new routes kind of forces you into this style a bit. I am not talking about the multi day siege headpoint, I am talking about top roping it in sections then cracking on in order to preserve a little bit of the excitement and uncertainty you get from not knowing. 

 

Weirdly for August the conditions were great. It was cloudy and breezy as we figured out the sequence. We then pulled the rope and as we were sorting the landing the sun came out to spoil things. I had a couple of gos anyway but I was sliding about on the small edges and couldn't commit to the crux. Fortunately an hour later the cloud came back and it went without incident.

 

MVI 0282 from Jon Fullwood on Vimeo.

 

 

Difficulty wise it felt way harder than Lip of Fools. Probably font 7c+ climbing in a position where you really don't want to fall off. It is at a height where you can dangle and drop off in control (just) but the landing isn't perfect and the nature of the move means that if your knee scum slips or your foot pops mid move you will land on your back. I actually had one semi controlled fall where I found myself doing some sort of mid-air-deep-water-solo-style-flailing to try and right myself so I would land feet first!  Maybe if I had more body hair (like a cat) i would have had slightly longer to right myself and my back would be a bit less sore today!?

So font 7c+ at height. It is probably E8 7A in old money - which describes the difficulty quite well as it is such a short sequence. An easy slab, two 6C moves then a 7A move then and easy top. I think I'll call it Stumble. Stop. Repeat

 

In other news, Dan had a quick stop over at Ramshaw the other day where he repeated my new highball. He was actually on his way back from the deep water solo comp down in Exeter and managed to climb it just before the diarrhea and vomiting fully kicked in. Apparently a few of the climbers at the comp who had fallen into stagnant canal water have ended up with a dicky tummy. Who'd have thought... Still the comp looked great fun and gave Dan a good excuse, if a little long winded, to head down and ground up my route! Good work.

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