Hobbie Noble

Posted on July 04, 2014 by Dan Varian

In my mind I approach bouldering development like a giant easter egg hunt, whereby 300,000 to 3 billion years ago nature ran round and hid loads of the best bouldering lines in the UK into bizarre little nooks and crannies with very little logic behind it.


The other day i managed to climb a total dream line of mine. The type of line i always hoped would exist but never expected to find. Expectations can be disappointing in that even in the best areas in the world its rare to find something that ticks all the boxes for what i imagine is the perfect problem. For me its things like, hard and varied moves from start to finish, nice rock with a flat landing. All too often a minging hold, lumpy landing or filler moves section creeps in. Even lines like Lanny Bassham (sharp pockets and palm gouging pebbles detract from the experience) and Partage (samey moves) can be nit picked. Until last year i’d say the best problem i’ve ever done in the UK is Lanny as it ticks all the boxes for me. It has fantastic moves and is reasonably varied, employing heels and toe hooks, pockets and slopers, the location is stunning and its still tricky after the crux. 


Highballs are a funny thing in that they often embody the zeitgeist of bouldering over the generations (Mandala, Careless Torque, high fidelity, evilution, partage, merveille, livin’ large etc) For me a true highball should embody the bouldering spirit of it being really hard to take a hand off, whilst not quite being a solo. Lines like Lanny, Superbloc and Londinium fit this ilk well, you just keep heading upwards until you’re on top. Movement wise IMO these are a class above lines like Careless torque which has a no hands rest after the bottom section and is escapable. Of course strength and fitness can render most moves “chalkable” 


Last year I decided to pay another visit to the “waste of cumberland” -a rather cruel historical name for what is a beautiful forgotten part of the county. As there is a crag out there which crowns the hilltop in splendid isolation. Once a landmark for the borders it now sports one of the most overgrown footpaths in the UK. A place people seem to only visit to carve their names for the last 400 years. Its nearly a scottish crag but for a mile and a northumberland crag but for 500 meters. Such is the history of the area it feels a little bit like all three; Scottish standards of isolation, Northumberland’s rock and Cumbria’s views.


Of course the downside of that for most people is that its in the arse end of nowhere, then again most crags are. Last year on a summers day when it was in the high 20s in carlisle i realized this wasn’t just a fantastic crag, it also enjoys great conditions in summer as i battled with the top out in a light thermal. It took me 30minutes just to figure out the top out on a rope that day so i wasn’t overly optimistic about taking huge falls from the last moves. Everytime i shockloaded the gri gri i just thought, splat, splat, splat and a long crawl back to the car. It is the type of slopey top out where every sequence is a dead end except one, which involves about four foot moves and four hand moves to move 50cm upwards. I was thinking i’d prefer to have rataplat up there than something so specific as at least on rataplat there is a point where you can just keep mauling the top. I gradually pieced together the lower moves and it just kept being an unrelenting bit of climbing, super varied, pockets crimps and slopers, and all powerful, there is one hold on the whole problem where you could chalk a hand ok but it tends to tire your fingers out for the font top out so i felt it was better to just climb fast through it.


Its certainly the hardest crux i’ve ever done at height and i feel i have a decent record to draw from on highballs. What kept me going was that it was too fun, working the moves on a rope i was left grinning each session from the quality, i was constantly having little chuckles to myself as to why the best highball in font had turned up 30mins from my house in Cumbria, such is the brilliant randomness of life. Combined with the fact that the crag doesn’t really exist save for a page in the eden valley guide. It was a much needed boost to the part of me that says “keep looking, they are out there”. A rhetoric which is hard to positively reinforce sometimes especially in the eighth grades.


So following some serious pad logistics and a good amount of help from Micky Stainthorpe  and my Dad we had enough pads up there for me to fail miserably from high up and take some big falls. The next week, and some forethought with regards to rest days, saw me struggling to get warm in June! luckily i did get fired up enough and after a scaredy jump off i carried on through the keyhole on autopilot. Watching my ring finger pop out the tiny pock (leaving me mono crimp hugging a very slopey top) just before my foot landed on the slopey lip is a moment i can only be thankful went the right way.


It was a beautiful experience putting up this one, a complete package and everything i could wish to find in a highball. The grade is on the soft side if you get it wired on a rope (i only ever abbed the top section, so never top roped the whole thing as that always takes away a bit of the magic for me). I do think the grade may be on the hard side to anyone who steps up to ground up it as that would be an incredible effort, as ground up climbing always is, far superior and far harder.


Hobbie Noble is named after a local reiver who was a bit of a rogue with morals who divided the locals depending on whether he was raiding your Bastle or rescuing your nephew from the Law, his is a great story and worth a read , The abridged version is that he grew up pretty much at the base of Christianbury and would have passed through it on his way to bust Jack o’ side out of Newcastle’s gaol. Jack o’ side was a Scottish armstrong and Hobbie was loyal to that clan, famously solving the Armstrongs Dilemma of what to do about Jack getting locked up by saying “give me 5 good men and i’ll sort it”. He was later tricked by an english armstrong clan who’d betrayed him for gold and as a result he was captured and hung in Carlisle, most likely on Harrabee hill, which is pretty much where Eden Rock is today. The guy who betrayed him; Sim of the Mains, got his comeuppance when the Scottish Armstrongs found out and tracked him down and hung him in Carlisle too.


Proper history rather than fannying about on rocks. You can still feel a bit of the Reiver feel in the borders in a few places and wondering round the timeless stone corridors of christianbury is certainly one of them, its nice to be born out of their world and to still feel what those bleak times might have been like sometimes in these days of blogs, tweets and likes. 


Climbing takes me into these landscapes and knowing a bit about the history of them all adds to the experience.


Hobbie was immortalised in Walter Scott’s ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border’







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Fun in the north.

Posted on June 05, 2014 by Dan Varian

Climbing for me seems to have a way of aggregating aims from seemingly chance events as time passes, a quick flick in an old magazine here or a flick through a guide book there. A conversation with friends about some crag i haven’t even thought of for years. Sometimes the aims build to become a solid one or sometimes they just drift by in the background. Slow burners. One such project for me was a line of veiny rock at Reiffs bouldering cliffs. Last year i spotted this incredibly obvious line the day i climbed helicoidal flow and Rubha Dubh Dubh. I felt the holds and suspected it’d go. Quite why nature felt like producing a wall with all these perfect holds i don’t know but in my eyes they are some of the best lines in the uk because they exploit incredibly subtle features that hardly ever occur on overhangs. I didn’t know if i’d get back there to try it but i logged it in the back of my mind, ready for serendipity to build it into a reality if everything conspired.



Reiff was a lovely breath of fresh air that comes from ranging further afield, out of my local crag comfort zone.

As i’ve got older i’ve got fussier as to what to spend my free time on. I still love bouldering on hard lines more than ever but as i climb more and more, i’m inevitably left with those 2 choices that face you in local areas. Change tack and climb different lines/ styles or get stronger for the bigger gaps. A number of projects in Northumberland are currently that bit too testing for me and they are of radically different styles which aren’t necessarily what i’m great at, one involves at least 8B slab skills and mono pock crimping and the other involves wild compression on slopers and obtuse angles. Interestingly the UK’s hardest proven slabs are in the 7C+ region on boulders and there are few of those about. True compression wise our hardest problems max out at 8A+. Font has loads of compression climbing upto 8C so why are we so far behind? well partly its the rock but mostly it is our history, Compression has never really been in vogue in the UK, it was all about crushing small holds 10 years ago and in many respects it still is now. The same goes for slabs, in Font there’d be far fewer hard slabs without the LeDenmats passion for the mighty Dalle.

Its with this in mind that makes me really happy to go out developing with other climbers. Everyone is looking for something different that inspires them when the rock is a blank canvas. Tom “Gangle” Newman has turned his hand to putting up new problems in the peak since moving to Nottingham with much success. He’s been hoovering up old projects all over the spot.

Tom was my raiding partner for a quick trip north of the border in May and upon arriving at Reiff he immediately spotted a line between the obvious ones i’d seen. Wide moves off few holds. At first i was a tad sceptical that it’d go as it’s a line i would never have spotted immediately, its the type of thing i’d have ended up playing on after being at the crag for ages. Yet it ended up climbing superbly, taking a line through the blankness that was super impressive in it’s board style and pureness. Tom got very close on our day trip but the rub of the green wasn’t with him for the full send. It’s always the way in climbing. I can say this smugly as i was fortunate to just be on the other side of the coin on my chosen project. Just scraping out an ascent which felt much like chucking a dart through an open letterbox from 20yards away. Mainly because i’d been off form for close to 3 weeks with a bad flu bug and cold which i was only just coming out the other side from.

All in all it was a brilliant day at one of the best bits of bouldering crags in the UK for side by side quality 7’s & 8’s.


On a tangent the other day some people i know were miffed when Jemma Powells new sandbag 7B+ was reported on UKC the other day, because of its "lowly grade” (and yes UKC’s ultra basic reporting didn’t help convey the overall important message here). Yet i was really chuffed to see that getting reported for a few reasons. The main one being that to my knowledge that it is one of the hardest boulder problems ever put up in the UK by a woman, something which is well worth drawing attention to (Nia Fletcher put up a 7B in the lakes recently and there are quite a few other female developers who have put up many a classic in the uk, Karin Magog Tess Fryer and Veronica Hunter to name a few. For some reason bouldering development in the UK is a very androcentric past time. Even though Trad and Sport climbing in the UK has had more female FA’s close to the cutting edge for their time (granted sport climbing has abated a bit since Ruth Jenkins and Karin Magog's 8’s) Yet at the minute we have many of the worlds most famous female boulderers operating in the UK. Obviously there are oodles of reasons for this, but it’s fantastic to see development reporting on the rise in the UK by Women (Leah and Shauna have put up harder boulders abroad) . But that isn’t the main reason to be out putting up new climbs, the main one is that its really fun, you don’t have to have climbed everything to develop new climbs, you simply need the desire to go into the unknown and find roughly what you’re looking for. It takes a different skillset and mindset to do this and i think it's very commendable when it happens. whether people share it with the world or not is up to them, but i am always glad when they do. There is a huge onus on international development at the cutting edge of the male sport right now, mainly because they warm up on last years test pieces nowadays and the more that development equals out between the sexes the better in my eyes. 

Anyhow, back to me. there’s a fantastic project near me at the minute that i am pretty sure is one of the problems i’ve been looking for my whole life without knowing it. It’s bizzare where they can turn up and i was smiling from limb to limb doing the moves on it the other day. 9m high 8Bish and everything on it, crimps, slopers, a pocket and subtlety with a 7B+ slopey font top out. Middle of nowhere, yet only a short drive from my house. A slightly harder, sandstone Lanny Bassham is a good summation, with a similarly involved approach. This is what gets me excited to be fettling away as a boulderer. Sometimes i develop things for both myself and the community and sometimes its for myself, this is a me line. That for me is why it’s worth heading out and sifting through all the crap crags that can be nearby. Once you’ve done the classics it’s worth trying to find more lines which are as good if not better. Of course a day has to come when they run out, but when you take places like Scotland into consideration that time is a long way off. It had seven new font 8’s added to it last year (possibly more if Mike Adam’s ascents on Skye get graded, i think Venom Jag had been done by Dave Mac before but Darken down is new). More than Wales and they roped Megos in for the best one... , it looks like it was the most new 8’s added in one year ever in the history of Scottish bouldering and it’s main (pretty much only) native hard bouldering developer was injured most of the year. Dave Macleod has put up some amazing problems in Scotland over the years. Triangulation is just one example of a benchmark classic power problem three star climbing and situation and 10 mins walk from the road and basically perma dry.

Here’s Gangle on the second ascent four years after it was put up. He uses pretty different beta but i couldn’t image two more contrasting climbing physiques. I got up it after tom with slightly different beta again.

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Posted on April 16, 2014 by Ned Feehally

I always find it easier to train if I have a definite goal. Motivation doesn't come as easily as it used to now but the one of the more exciting things for me is to visit a totally new area with loads of new problems to go at. Especially if it's a sandstone area! After booking a trip to Albarracin I suddenly kept finding myself climbing on the board and hanging off fingerboards again.

I didn't really know what to expect as I didn't know much about the area and hadn't done much research but it ended up being a great trip to a lovely venue. For the first few days the conditions were perfect and I got loads done. Then it started to warm up and I toned down my climbing and enjoyed being on holiday for the last couple of days (i.e. eating too much).

A meaty mantle



Quimera has an amazing thumbdercut crux maneuver  



Pinturas buldestres - beauty!


Quite a lot of Albarracin is out of bounds at this time of year - for bird nesting I think, but maybe also to protect the place a bit from people. It struck me that considering how beautiful and unique the landscape is, people didn't seem to take much care of it. It's impossible to say weather the locals or the visitors (or both) are to blame but  there was a lot of rubbish, poo and toilet paper scattered all over the woods. And on top of that the rock really seemed to be suffering. The sandstone is pretty soft and erosion is starting to noticeably set in on some problems. Also the popular problems are often caked in chalk - not just a light dusting but a thick, chunky layer. Maybe this is because the popular problems tend to be the steep ones (quite right too as they are brilliant and very unique for Europe) so don't get washed by the rain so much. It just seemed such a shame that people didn't care about the rocks and forest as much as they could/should.  These rocks are pretty special but they won't last forever - lets try our best to look after them as we enjoy them and prolong their lifespan as much as we can.


Zombie nation 


The grading is all over the shop in Albarracin.. Although as usual conditions, and the generally simple nature of the climbing plays a big factor and the soft rock and hold breakage must change problems quite regularly.  I can't be bothered to disagree or argue about any specific problems here.


El borreguito - prow!


Cosmos - a total classic


Bindu - crazy legs


The conditions there were perfect for me there. It was very low humidity, very windy and way below 10 degrees on the good days. For me conditions play a huge part in weather I can climb anything. In fact it is one of the most important factors for me. Usually my hands are hot and sweaty so as soon as they are cold and dry the rock feels totally different and I can climb more slowly and carefully and not slip off.


A nice arete


Esperanza - really cool  font style squeezing


I have no idea how hard any of the problems are there, partly due to actually training before going there and partly due to the freakish conditions. If only Font had weather like that! Although I suppose the attraction of Font is that you never actually get anything done (unless you're Dan) so you have to keep going back!
All photos: Shauna Coxsey

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Some bits

Posted on April 05, 2014 by Ned Feehally

Here is a couple of photos from recent climbing jaunts:

Enter the Dragon (8a+) 
Classic British bouldering - the crag is small and the landing is pooey but the climbing is on tiny holds and great fun (not to mention hard). I had done the stand start ages ago (which was called 22 chambers as Ben Thompson climbed it on my 22nd birthday) so it was nice to go back and with a bit of huffing and puffing, climb it from the sit start. Good work Danny Cattell for putting this up.


Surplomb de la mee (8b)
After a damp and warm trip to Font over the new year I was desperate to return for some unfinished business. So I did, and I managed to climb this bad boy. It used to be 8a until the only real hold fell off it, now its got a fair bit harder. 

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June bugs

Posted on June 30, 2013 by Dan Varian


Colonel Hathi:

Colonel Hathi 8A+

Well it seems longer than a month since i last wrote but it has been a really busy month with lots of big dates in it. On top of that the midge clock finally bonged a death for windless bouldering until september and it got hot and humid. All in all i got left feeling like hard bouldering was struggling to get a word in edgeways. Some highlights then. After Waking up from Katie’s brothers stag do, i made my way home and with time getting on i thought it’d be a nice day to check out Swarthbeck Ghyll a new local spot Pete Gunn had found last year. There was a promising boulder there which Kris Hall had just put up a nice bloc on too. 60˚ overhangs tend to be hard no matter what holds turn up on them. Luckily, as it’s often not the case, this one had a decent amount of holds and the ones which broke off left solid ones behind. This session was interesting as it was a day where i expected nothing, i’d been running round like paintball Rambo the day before and had a tea entirely consisting of meat and beer (and the odd cheeky softy). Regardless it was lovely to be out climbing and a nice breeze was keeping thinks good on the blocs. Upon arrival i launched into cleaning and sequence deciphering whilst Katie had a nap. I managed to wake her up by moving some big boulders around right next to her which was my signal that i’d like to put my shoes on soon. It was a perfect session really, i guessed a sequence fast and after one tiny microbeta tweak i huffed and puffed through from the start, winding up through all the gears as the last bits of energy got sucked into the squeezer. I am unfit this year but contently so, i have embraced the boulderers lactic acid melt down pump as a trade off to doing ~60 seconds worth of moves above 80% of max instead of ~30 seconds. After 30 seconds i seem to get the gradual onset of a normal lactic acid pump but can still squeeze holds for a bit until total meltdown. At which point i seem to be totally out of breath and in need of a good sit down. Its a fun game to play as its a bit like the classic sport climbing pump you get but at a much higher intensity level and over a quicker time span. It was an awesome feeling to put up such a fun boulder in such a fashion. A perfect day really, go to a new line, clean it, work it out and only just climb it with one all out attempt. One attempt is all you need though when things go your way. Colonel Hathi is a great boulder. Really fun and its got the only true clock move i’ve ever done outside (rather than just getting muddled hands on something not that hard).

Training Room:

Next up came the news that the matting was going to be ready for the Beastmaker training room at Eden Rock and that meant a few days of hard graft in there getting everything ready. The boards are all tailored in there to be certain difficulties and the 55˚ is the best board i’ve ever trained on. It is incredibly nice of Micky and Katie to let me have free reign on the two boards and where the 45˚ is maybe 6B+/C to get up using the biggest holds and best feet the 55˚ is around 7B+ and it soon gets harder if you stray from those holds, as a result i have found its been the best tool for pushing my board strength ever and i’m looking forward to the coming years of climbing in there. I’ve pretty much trained on boards for most of my life, in garages, bedrooms or walls, they are my only ever coach, team mate and indoor inspiration. The recipe is pretty simple really, go climbing, have fun, rest, fingerboard to get the fingers stronger on basic grips, rest, bring the body in line with the fingers on a steep board, rest, go outside and learn to put the power down again, repeat. 


Carrick Arete

Going outside is the hard part in June. It managed to get unseasonably windy for a few days thanks to a good northerly the other week and i spotted a half chance to get back to scotland even after the midge clock had bonged! I was keen to clear up a tiny bit of unfinished business North of the Wall. It’d have to be a day trip this time due to work but Cal was up for it and we boshed up the road for a grand day out. I managed to get the Cruachan! Arete at Carrick from a sit start, once again winding up through the gears as the boulder pump set in, its about 15 moves of super sustained squeezing. I managed it quite early on so i decided to work the full traverse a bit more before we left, but that is very much a harder prospect in June, one for October. We got lucky as when we called in to Glen Croe on the way out we met a ferocious midge pack in the trees and quickly retreated to the car. Cal’d never been to Dumby and i hadn’t been to Dumby since it was cleaned up. The graffiti removal is so well done its like it was never there. Its definitely moved up the urbanized crag league tables to somewhere near Ilkely's ambience now. We randomly met some other friends there and had an ace session. I felt like i was running on fumes after a long day but after warming back up i managed Fire Starter in about 5 minutes on my 3rd attempt i think. flashes of the classic Slap Happy and The Shield took me and Eddie onto Pongo sit. I almost got that by stealing Cal’s sweets but for a saggy foot pop after the hard bit, it was a lot to ask by that point as it was 9 in the evening and we’d set off at 10 in the morning, the wheels were well and truly off so we hit Dumby M&S and scored the ultimate reduction jackpot, a world of tasty treats was reduced to 50p. £4 later and we were feeling human again after a grand day out.

After this the wind died and the weather went so muggy and ming that Katie and I resorted to trad! I look like the worlds most enthusiastic tradder compared to Katie, but she is a keen seconder and together we have had a lovely time bumbling about on E2-E4s, the E5 we did was a bit much and i got my ears burned by her. Living in the lakes it must be done as there are some bloody good trad routes. The highlight of that week was an epic ascent of GTX in the rain (the route was dry bar the top slab so only the last 2m were epic and getting across to the AB point) This put us off tradding enough for me to attempt bouldering again.


There are a few lines in my time climbing where upon seeing them i have been left totally open jawed. For me the extremes of these almost Stendhal moments have been Superbloc, The Young and Lanny Bassham. My own developments can’t count as it is a different process. Upon seeing someone else’s climb you know it can be done as it has been, and in the case of the 3 above i knew the history around them and i wanted to climb them more than any others. Of these climbs i’d say The Young is my absolute favourite, but being in the county i’m biased, unfortunately it is not quite a boulder problem it is a solo. It’d been a mini dream of mine since 2009 to do the second ascents of all three (i’d already got superbloc in the bag). I’d abbed The Young before doing it, and originally i wanted to do Lanny ground up like Superbloc as it is ultimately more satisfying and better style. I went up twice when it was freezing and got to the top sloper match ground up but the cold and wind shut the ground up team of Me, Ned, Katzy and Ryan down. As the years have past since and my life has changed i found myself becoming aware that action is required rather than distant hopes of serendipity. The chances of me finding myself up at Rylstone again with the top clean were diminishing (moorland rock is often scrittly) Basically i talked myself out of the ethical stand point in favour of actually climbing it and having fun on a clean boulder. The decision was made in my mind that it was time to take on the meaty, blobby, bassy Bassham again. It is such a fantastic boulder, every move is interesting and relatively hard, there's not a crimp in sight just pockets slopers and clamping. It is also a hard test piece. Ben usually climbs hard boulders most winters in a casual, just out for 30mins with Klem before picking May up, manner, never mind when he’s got a raging psyche on and has lost half of his one stone body weight. It was a brilliant effort putting this line up out the blue in a protracted flash of inspiration when he did. Lanny seems to require a raging psyche to do it i think. It’s an hour’s slog up Barden Moor and it's so high that you normally need loads of pads to be able to be sure of walking out again. 

Here comes in my Steck-ian approach to highballing. I took one pad and stuffed a carrier bag with a pair of Instinct VS’s, chalk bag, fleece (not needed) and some food & water, along with an 18m static (courtesy of Caff and Bailes sheathing a 100m static on Hoy last year in 3 places when jugging out the Long Hope on it) gri gri and harness. It was a bit of a gamble but i’m a world leader in decking off things and i’ve got respectable legs rather than snappy boulderers sparrow ones. The other main challenge was that it was June. It looked windy so the midgies would at least be kept at bay and i had a raging psyche and a lot of steep board squeeze to combat the lack of friction.

Anyhow after abbing and cleaning the scrittly top slopers as well as sussing the top (all the other rock is quite bomber) i dropped the top match (the crux for me as being bigger than Ben my ass hangs out on the slopers) The wind was frustratingly missing the boulder and i was sweating, i rarely sweat a lot in my hands but i was asking for it in those conditions. 40minutes of battle against my mind and the newly arrived sunshine lead to crunch time, i was going backwards and had only got back up there once. I implored the Bassham performance subconscious to do its work and somehow i managed to just squeeze up it despite feeling the gop on move 3. Polish Dave once wisely told me he ignores conditions in that it teaches you to try hard, and that some of his best ascents have been on boulders where he’s had to dry holds etc, there is a lot to be said of this ethic when it works (and lots of bad things when it doesn’t) as at the top of Lanny i was ecstatic, what a brilliant coup, i’d got in there whilst it was hibernating. Why try it now and not Autumn or spring? well my projects whiteboard is full of things where i have to have perfect conditions to stand a chance of doing them and this year its looking quite full. So planning ahead i thought Lanny was worth a punt in June. Varian 3, June conditions 2 (i’ve had two horrific and midge aborted attempts to boulder in June this year too)

I also took a camera up to Rylstone too:

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