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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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Albarracin

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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North of the wall

Posted on May 24, 2013 by Dan Varian


Cowal

Pic: Katie Mundy


I’ve had two more 2 day trips up to Scotland this year on my days off from Beastmaker and setting problems at Eden Rock when i’ve spotted good weather up there and i thought i’d share a little about what we’ve been up to. Katie and I have bought a T5 after being woo’ed by Jonesy’s T4 on trips up there and its already proving to be a great wingman. Scotland is a fantastic place to use vans and many a winter climber and tradder has known it for years. It’s been the coldest may since 1979 (met office data) and that hasn’t gone un noticed, i’ve had some fantastic conditions lately and i’ve only had one midge sighting which came on my last trip and it was with great satisfaction that it morphed into a little black smudge on my arm. 


Stand

Pic: Katie Mundy

Interestingly i’ve pretty much only climbed on one boulder up there when i’ve been fresh but it’s a cracker. I first heard it get mentioned when chatting to local developer Tom Charles Edwards about venues in the Arrochar alps area. A bit of web searching revealed a pic of a huge roll of turf flying off the top of said boulder but nothing more. Then i found a pic of Macleod staring up at a very steep face and so i thought; worth a look. so on a wet december day i took a look with Katie for something to do and was pretty amazed. You can see why good lines get talked about before they are done because they are so striking to whoever sees them. The boulder has two total classics on. The uniquest line is an incredible rising traverse that comes out of a square notch in the boulder and the only other holds on the entire 10m wide face force you leftwards and up towards the arete. A true face problem. I think a certain strong Scot had a look back in 2008ish but wrote it off as it didn’t quite go at the end. This was a bit worrying initially and there were old ticks when i got there. I thought it could be another classic, not quite there boulder, as is so often the case on many great features. I’ve always been one to let the rock decide though rather than reputations of things and upon getting there all the holds looked quite big to me, albeit undercuts with no feet and slopers and flatties on a 60 degree overhang. But at least there was stuff to work with. After years of climbing with Ned his bonkers beta has rubbed off on me over the years, i’ve had so many basic power sequences heeled and drop knee’d into submission that it becomes obvious that if there is a way of getting the feet to do the work then let them do it, save the arms for when feet aren’t there to help. So on my first session i let my arms and legs run wild. I thought i could spot the mythical blank impasse and sure enough after looking at the likely 50 megatonne power beta to do just that move the thought of climbing into it via more horrendous moves seemed like i’d have to move house and become a scottish hermit to get it done. So my sincere apologies to the incredible last great power project. 


pic: Nick Brown video still.

I long to find problems where i don’t have to resort to kneebars, heels and in this case, drop heels, double spag heels, double toes, leg threads and possibly a level 5 heel. God that looks bad on paper, its like a confessions list of crimes against power. The thing is they are awesome fun when it all works and comes together. I did all the moves on my first session with this cloud cuckoo land beta. Next session saw me drop the very last move from a logical stand halfway along the boulder. I had duff beta for the last few moves and i was disgusted to drop it there, especially when i found easier beta at the end. I had tried so hard i felt like a heavy horse seriously in need of a watering hole, it was well past 9pm and my last go just confirmed that my bolt was shot. Katie and I had a gorgeous dinner down by the castle. I felt a lot better with some food in me in such a tranquil place, i couldn’t agree more with the late Don Whillan’s sentiments when he says that climbing for him was about an excuse for getting into the mountains more than anything. To have dinner by such an ancient monument surrounded by the Cowal Glens is something i don’t want to forget. Its not hard to imagine the comings and goings of the last few hundred years whilst glancing from the castle northwards into the wind. As it licks up the water on the loch into a series of riffled swells; life must of been truly memorable for the people living there. Clarity hit me and this all seemed like a nice opportunity to come back. I knew the midge clock was ticking so i didn’t wait long. 

Tuesday saw me back up with Nick who is keen to film some development of areas. He’d had a relaxing weekend in Austria filming proper world cup celebs and what they eat for breakfast lunch and dinner so i thought i’d better sweeten the deal by offering him a bunk up in Van Diesel, the idea of a 2 day mini break appealed. We set off back up the road on tuesday and arrived to some rather good temps and a nice golden eagle sighting. Nicks little legs got a bit tired on the walk in but like all good camera chaps nowadays he likes to carry really heavy bits of metal about with him. I had an objective in mind, one hold to glory. Luckily i’ve been feeling quite good of late on the rocks and i did the stand at the end of my warm up with the new last move beta. I don’t know how hard it is exactly as the beta is so bonkers, to me it felt like an 8A/+ but who knows, it’s so steep it doesn’t compare to many blocks except for the bowderstone and some stuff at dumby/ glen nevis. Time will tell anyhow. Thanks to doing it from stand quick i had time to refine the sit into it a little bit. This is certainly the most obvious start but at over 30moves i thought it was worth splitting the problem up into a stand and sit and its easy to pull on where i did the stand from. The sit adds some truly whacky and powerful moves into the stand up and it’ll be a formidable challenge once done. It’s not traditionally my style of boulder as i’ve grown up in England where the boulders tend to be smaller and the the holds too on many of the boulders (because they are less steep). So i feel a bit like a 2-10move climber attempting a route. I managed a pretty good link from sit though so if i can get my fitness up then i’ll be keen. 


pic: Nick Brown video still.

But for now feel free to make the effort and take a look if you fancy a massive power endurance 8B+ish boulder. Its nice to share projects like this as it was never mine to begin with, lots of other great Scottish climbers helped put the effort in to getting it climbable and solid. The line deserves to be done rather than get forgotten as it was certainly going that way and it’d be fantastic to see Scotland with more amazing hard boulders as it is certainly one of the finest places to boulder in the UK in my opinion. Dumby has even been cleaned up now, which is a genuinely inspiring thing to see in terms of strength of community.


sit proj

Pic: Dan Varian

After working the traverse i thought i’d see if i could do the arete to the right from sit as it’d been bugging me after doing it from crouch the week before (if you used 2 pads you could sit i guess). Dave Jones climbed the stand with me a few weeks before after a days skiing in fort william and we both ran out of gas from crouch, Dave had an awesome go where he crushed his way up to the stand holds but the fumes evaporated and we both left wanting more. We wrote off the sit that day as it seemed unfathomable compared to the obvious crouch. After a bit of brain crunching again i found a possible solution and then much to my mutual disgust and pleasure figured it out. Disgust because i’d just usurped my previous efforts on a classic boulder, but pleasure because there is an obvious start sidepull “jug” and it feels right starting from there. By this time i was feeling the few hours of climbing on the traverse but i thought i saw a possible window of success there. 2 strong goes left me on the ground at the stand up due to a messed up body position. One more go saw me get to the very last move of the stand before it relents totally gassed with my hand opening up on the crimp. My number was up and deja vu from the week before hit me. Another castle dinner was called for to make up for the crippling failure which had tainted the success of the day.


pic: Nick Brown video still.

A tranquil night by the loch brought round a new day. We decided to change tune. I’d never been to precious or Turbinal Nose in Glen Croe and i thought it’d be a nice relaxing day out on some classics! We headed straight up to Precious after a brew at Loch Goilhead what a fantastic boulder. There weren’t many warm ups but i pretty much felt warm from the day before still. upon topping it out i noticed the top of the line to the left was clean. Clean schist shimmers in the sun as its metallic flakes catch the light and its a pretty thing to look at. I had a quick play on the upper wall above semi precious which’d give it a great independent finish, it’ll definitely go. My mind was elsewhere though, the sun was pinning me to the shade but shimmering round the corner was a fantastic highball line. At first i thought it looked pretty easy but the boulder overhangs a lot more than the eyes suggest from front on. As the clouds came i ran round, did battle, sun came back out, ran away. I gradually broke it down ground up like this for about an hour, getting more and more frustrated by the testing weather and an infuriating foothold (by this point some showers and hail had popped by too) but like a bad itch it’d got under my skin. I was tired, skin sore and being hammered by sun and rain but that just added to the challenge. I appreciate scenarios like this now, whereas in the past i may have walked away. I wanted to find that window of success and it was all over the place. As the afternoon drew in i began to wake up more. I got through the bottom crux only to find another one high up and dirty holds. I’ve done a lot of new problems in the last 12 years and even as a lowly 25year old i feel pretty wizened now as to how to do battle with a project. Basically if i wanted to stand a chance of doing it in a day i had to throw the true ground up ascent out the window and change tac. The abseil rope was retrieved from the van and i got the top cleaned and sorted the moves. I’d long pushed past my comfort zone and my skin was sore but i knew that was all just a test. In the back of my mind i knew there was a chance if i could just hit all the holds and positions right, somehow all that happened. I pulled it out the bag and it felt good. Its a fantastic problem, crimping up some 25degree overhanging schist on off kilter edges and really dicky feet. you could possibly add a sit into it from the precious start too which would make it harder. Sit starts to highballs aren’t something i usually go for but it looks like it could be a good one. Its start holds are on a leftwards trending rail which would also make a brilliant problem.


pic: Nick Brown video still.

I’d like to call it Stronghold as its on the hideaway boulder and i think its soft 8Aish? its a good bit harder than precious anyhow. Many thanks to Alex Gorham for doing the majority of cleaning on the line its inspiring to see the glens getting some attention.


pic: Nick Brown video still.


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