O'Connor where art thou? a probable new 7B+ in Loch Coruisk that Caff and i put up on a quick hit north, no pads, no cleaning no faff just a fun few minutes bouldering on a walk out.
There’s a lot of things I think about when bothering to write a blog. After a hectic year of time compression thanks to having a child I have been left evaluating everything I do. Is that worth my time? Could I be doing something better? I’ve tried to use the good elements of technology to shave a few corners off. There have been a few more unorthodox time savers too. Like shaving in the garden (then you don’t have to clean up a million tiny hairs if you use an electric razor) Much of my attitude during this time has been a smash and grab attitude to time on the crags, every session initially felt like the tick of the clock was burdening my body, each failure tocking and ticking my free time. Slowly but surely we have adjusted to a better routine and looking back it was just a few waves rather than a full on shake up. I’ve put up some of my best ever problems in Northumberland, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Yorkshire the Lakes this year. I’ve picked more doable lines than I maybe would have and sometimes I had to adapt a session outside as to whether or not I’d slept much the night before. But its been a great learning curve, as for all the downs there've been some really great moments, i finally get that cheeky glint in a parents eyes when you're having a really crap time out in public. I used to wonder why/how they do it, and its completely incomprehensible until you've got a kiddy. is it like some sort of masons handshake for parental empathy?
Part of me feels very lucky to have such supportive people around me, but also such a great environment for getting out in the hills. Where I am as is close to where I’d love to be in the UK and so its still possible for me to get out. There are still good inspiring challenges after 10 years of developing hard climbs in the area. I think everyone often finds a way to balance all the things in their life as they stack up with age but that doesn’t mean its not worth looking at once in a while. There are so many complex factors with work, family and free time I’m amazed at how many people get anything done. I'd be screwed if i lived somewhere that i couldn't nip to the crags from. Maybe i'd just be a plywood fanatic who knows, chances are we'd just have moved if we could.
Bouldering has been a great fit for Katie and I to continue to climb whilst looking after our daughter. Despite the fact I’ve been gaining more of an interest in trad again. It’s been bouldering that’s had my back this year. It helps that I’ve got years of experience doing new things so there’s a lot of time saved simply by knowing my craft, I think without that I’d have sacked off doing new stuff whilst adjusting to being a dad. In my local nip out zone of 20mins-1hr I don’t have loads to repeat so my hand was certainly forced a little into maintaining the psyche for new stuff. Luckily I had enough banked lines to provide fodder until the other day really, when suddenly something finished. My mind seemed to come out of the tunnel of thinking about what to try next and when I could sneak out after work. Like a periscope popping out I suddenly feel like I’ve got a good surface view of an optional finish line.
We are the champignons 8A+ Arran.
Picture/Copyright: Adam Long This is probably my favourite pic of the year from a really fun week away. Thanks for the Pic Adam. And thanks for cleaning this boulder really well Ben Brotherton and pals.
Its decision time in many ways. With trad being that little bit harder to organize at the minute I’ve settled on trying to do some proper training which is more disconnected from the outdoors. As I’ve not trained for a block period in years. I’m not the type to readily go indoors if the weather is good. Again it’s a choice I made to get things done and get out there rather than plump for getting stronger. Having things to go at in the 8A-8B+ range helps. But its always a decision where I can see the other side. If I trained more there’s a chance I might get some lines done faster, but would I have more fun?
The Punisher 8A+ shaftoe.
Picture/Copyright: Mark Savage I'd known about this line for years but everything was much further apart in my memory, it was nice to do it quickly on an evening session in June
Training is certainly a great choice for people with less free time or who don’t live near goals which are easy to nip out too. Or for those who have more of a concept goal than a physical, rock hard one. But for me its always been a means to an end. If I’m good enough to be the one snaffling the lines, then I may as well keep snaffling. I’ve now reached a point where I’m just curious to see if I can get a few big weaknesses better in many ways these have become the projects in my mind. I'm really inspired by the hard work Aidan has put in this year and the way he's turned a really crap injury round to being almost an advantage. He's a role model for what hard work can do if you really want it, (and are house bound with lots of time on your hands) It wont be long until the lakes has even more hard problems of the highest standard.
Aidan on a hard project.
I’ve had the chance to establish another twenty-six or so font 8A to 8B since January and thanks to the fact that life is now busier, they’ve felt pretty sweet. Like scoring a winning penalty except there’s your child on the sidelines about to walk into a rock, important emails pinging away in your back pocket and dinner in the oven back home.
I’ll just share a few highlights and piccys here for the hell of it.
Hepburn, Callaly weekend.
The hammer and Sickle 8Aish great move off a pocket. This place is driest in autumn usually. but its only the top outs that get wet.
We’d headed up to the county for the weekend and I had a pass on Saturday afternoon so nipped out to a new area at Hepburn which is very rain and wind proof. It was super windy so I ran across the moor like a shit covered Tim Robbins in Shawshank
Picture: Katie Mundy.
I was constantly looking over my shoulder to see if any Dad jobs would rear their head and I’d be rained back in. I’d given Mark directions to find me by carving notches on some posts on the moor. I half expected not to see him that day. I wanted to get a few projects done which had been niggling away. The first was a really nice hard one in a rift of sandstone. Its got a solitary 2 finger pocket in the wall and you do a big move to and from it. It’s a lovely move and nice to pull hard on a pocket in the UK as they are a rare thing on hard problems here. I felt good and got it done fast. Mark rocked up and we got a few piccys. I then went and got on a slab project that I’d tried a year before but had pulled a hold off. It’d been bone dry so I knew the rock’d be good. I found a better foot and it ended up being a really classic 7B highball. Great day.
The next day I had a trump card to play as I was “working” Alistair Lee wanted to film me on something and I was initially skeptical if he could surpass the quality of my phone resting on a shoe. However, it meant a days climbing where I could just run around like old times. (now I know why so many parents do races and events, it’s so they have leverage)
Mr Blobby 8A+ish
Al kept mentioning how great Hepburn looked, and I agreed, having been there the day before it is really good, and having climbed my projects there I couldn’t be bothered going back. Instead I suggested rolling the dice and going to a crag that no one ever visits to try a line I’d half spotted 6 years ago. He seemed game, which was a plus. So off we went on a real adventure to try and find something worthy of climbing. Luckily it was all much better than I remembered. A huge blobby prow of slopey compression loomed above. I warmed up by cleaning it for hours and sorting the landing. At which point I started to get properly hungry, having forgotten my lunch in the morning rush. Al had visions of only filming a man brushing for hours. so he valiantly offered to run back to the car for some fruit. Meanwhile I lay in the blueberries, which weren’t yet out, trying to muster some energy. An Armada of fluffy clouds was sailing overhead and i contented myself watching them tac and jive until sustenance arrived. A few bananas and and oranges later and I was starting to come round to the idea of trying an 8m highball with no spotter and one pad with the top out being super committing. Why not? I’m here after all and the weathers nice and i have my day pass. So after a few test goes out I went for it, and just had enough left to scrape up it. Just. It’s a brilliant prow. Similar to Lanny Bassham or Superbloc in feel. Al got to see me properly try and I got to find where fruit powered reserves go to.
Bowden is very child friendly so we’ve still been pottering there a lot in the past year. I’ve got a few things left that I’d like to do but they are conditionsy. One thing that looked a bit more amenable was a line Ned and I had spotted last October. Ned had a quick go and ripped a huge jug off and landed on his arse on a rock. This would’ve put most rational people off but I’ve not got a huge amount of choice at that crag. It got wet after that during the winter of endless misery. So I’d left it until May’s dry spell, when the underside finally looked hard enough to take my weight on the crimps. With a bit of stabilizing and a deadlifting warm up on the offending rock (which is now flat) I managed to figure the roof out. I could tension and cut the move but in the end I went for a half and half, cut and pop. It felt more reliable. I finished up born lippy initially but knew that the best challenge would be to take it into pulp friction. As Northumberland’s current hardest mantle it deserved a hard start for a really well rounded problem. It’s a bit easier than this (https://bleau.info/isatis/602.html) which is a hard 8B after the mantle has repeatedly broken, so hard 8A+ seems fair for the minute. It was a great session though and whilst I was chuffed to climb the lines there in a morning (I’d previously done the exits though) I can also remember when Bowden looked like a long wave of potential. In 5 years I’ve plugged a lot of the gaps and there’s not a huge amount left for me to do there now. For now, It’s still got a few important cards left to play, and that’s a nice feeling for Northumberland’s flagship sand dune.
It’s sometimes weird being at the forefront of development, you don’t know whether you’re half mad by walking an hour to go bouldering under one of the best trad venues in the lakes. If people had done it for years then it’d seem normal. Pushing through this unease, Rich and I ventured up to do the classic Impaled, which is a stunning line indeed and worth the walk for any keen boulderer. On the way back down we took a look at a project I’d spotted the year before. At first it looked easy, then I just couldn’t make anything work on one of the moves. After about an hour of trying all sorts I just combatted the thing. Arms and legs pushing and pulling and then I got so tied up I had to jump out of it at some good holds. A grin burst to the surface that I hadn’t felt the likes of for years. I’d just done some genuinely new sequences that I’d never have thought of. I can’t think of another hard problem worldwide that uses crossed over gastons, toe hooks and a drop knee all at once to simply get in position for a double tap exit. It isn’t the case of most problems where you simply rag a heel, toe, foothold and pull. This felt like some really involved movement that you’d typically get in a hard corner or slab but instead it was on a 40-degree overhang. I love those moments and surprises of what’s possible. Better yet I found it on a nice afternoon out in Ullswater, with beautiful Lakeland scenery, those dappled cloudscapes on the hills and good company. Moments like that make up for all the disappointments when looking for new climbs. The Rocking Spectre isn’t aesthetically the best line I’ve ever put up, but its certainly one of the most unique sets of moves I’ve ever done. It was such a nice set of moves though its rate up there on my all time favourites. It'll be In Blocheads, Al's Film http://www.mountainfest.co.uk/programme/event/world-film-premiere-blocheads if you want to get a good sense of the place and the moves.
Fairhead: the whole week was fantastic, great company and perfect weather. Good lines and good trundling. Thanks to Al, Dave, Michelle and Ricky for the craic
The line on the guillotine block that became Blondie, we put a lot of work into the landing on this but it was worth it. Fairhead has plenty of stunning Aretes.
first to the crag, last to leave. No stone unfilmed... or trundled.
just hanging out on a ledge, eatin' some beetroot.
Picture/Copyright: Ricky Bell
sore feet, fresh arms on paralysed power e6 OS. Great pitch.
Picture/Copyright: Ricky Bell collection.