Thursday, July 10, 2014

Keeping up

                                          Neandertal 8b+

Years seem to pass by earlier as we grow up. This year has been a roller coaster for me, being constantly on the go. More work came along draining all my precious free time in order to save the half terms for the real rock. I ended up working nearly every weekend as well as week days and evenings.

My girlfriend and I recently bought a property in London for the cheapest price you could ever imagine, but imagine how much DIY is required for that? I will probably be on this project for my entire life before I can actually sit on the sofa with a beer. On the edge of being gazumped by sellers and endless financial worries. This is real survival life in London! But with 99 problems on my plate, as a true climber, I always keep the side game spinning. Training was still going with Baxter most mornings before work. After a few mini rows with the girlfriend who sees climbing as just scaling some lump of rock. We came to an agreement in the end that I am allowed to go on short climbing trips if she is allowed to get a new ‘organic’ bed mattress, which cost an absolute bloody fortune! When really I only wanted the cheapest one from Argos or even a camping Thermarest would be fine.

Since my trip to Siurana, I managed to get 7 climbing days in Chorro, 6 climbing days in Tenerife, 1 day on Grit and ½ a day at Cheddar. All during the last 6 months, in just 15 climbing days on rock, I managed to climb….

Danza Agresiva, (El Chorro)                    7c On Sight
Madre Salvaje, (El Chorro)                       7c On Sight
La Golosa (El Chorro)                              7c+ On Sight
Quei Instants au bord du monde               8a RP
Talibania (El Chorro)                                8a Second Go
Subway, (Tenerife)                                   8a Second Go
Preserancia (El Chorro)                           8a On Sight
Morralla De Basca (Tenerife)                  8a On Sight
No Toques a tu madre (El Chorro)          8a+ 3rd go
Bulging Orange (El Chorro)                   8a+ second go
Lion Sleeps Tonight (Cheddar)               8a/8a+ 3rd go
Neandertal (Tenerife)                              8b+ 3 sessions
White Lines, (Peak District)                   E7 6C

I was pretty pleased with my achievements after managing 52 hours of work every week. With motivation and dedication it IS possible to do anything. How much do you really want to push? How ambitious are you?

Tenerife was different compare to the glass rocks of Europe from the comings and going generations of rock climbers. The volcanic rock supplied perfect friction gifting a feeling as if you were in Moab mixing the cracks with crimps from Siurana. Wow! Tenerife is an absolute killer crag.

   Neandertal (8b+) without the ‘th’ as the Spanish pronounce, was the highlight of the trip. After two days of working the route I could barely do the route in 2 half’s. I did loose faith in myself from the struggle. My dad also said that I was never going to get it from observing my poor progress. The nightmare continues, the crimp at the top came off on my second session making the crux nearly impossible. I made a note to quit muffins for life.

After countless searches around the section for clues and solutions I found a new sequence, 6 additional bizarre moves flying to opposing powerful side-pulls. After 10 attempts, more or less, from the ridicoulsly spaced bolt bellow, I finally conquered the moves.  But then was the real challenge, from the bottom, 25 meters below. Uh oh.

The truth was, I barely did the route on my second last day, I don’t know how I did it but I made more noise then anyone could imagine. It was a really triumph. I just couldn’t believe it when I opened my eyes at the chains. According to the locals, it could be harder. I am psyched.

All the hard training with Adrian Baxter is paying off. ‘But it is only the beginning’ he says, ‘you’re going to have to pull much harder’ he continues, like this was advice straight from the Dalai Lama. It’s going to be a hard month ahead now.

 El Chorro
 Beer sends with Ramon and Dad
 El Chorro
 Scary White Lines at Curbar with Ed and Sam Hamer (Ed is passing through the first crux)
 Ramon 'Rambo' Marin
 rest days innit
 Dad has to carry the big haul bag.
 After the gorge of death
 Cold innit
 What a beauty, riding the 'Subway'

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cabin fever (Siurana)

“Give us five”, the words struggled to come out of Sam’s mouth as he put both hands on his forehead. For a second, he looked like if he was having a brain freeze from eating ice cream too fast or something like that. It was New Years Day, there must have been dozen climbers cramped up in a small shed that we were living in. Even Robbie Phillips was on the floor; I thought he was in another climbing destination; Margalef? Sam’s brother Ed was still in his coma. What happened here? I was glad to see my phone under someone else’s pillow; I was incredibly surprised to discover I actually took lots of pictures from the previous night. I don’t remember half of this. Every image justified a thousand words of wild animals we were, celebrating away the New Year! There always seems to be a different drink in everyone’s hand as I flicked the photos by. We all drank probably enough alcohol to kill a small animal. This will be the last time I ever drink.

“Sam, how did we get back from the party last night” I whispered
“Give us five” he croaked. He said 5 minutes 20 minutes ago.

I remember the small crimps in Siurana on some amazing routes I did with Ollie Benzie 3 years ago. We cramped in a one-man tent in the coldest month of the year. We were completely broke having to hitch all over the place. But now I have a job and I told Sam I wanted a proper crib with warmth and warm water but couldn’t believe he booked a shed for the same price as a fancy apartment where our German friends were staying in. I made a vow to not let Sam book any climbing trips in the future.

Here in Siurana everyone was incredibly strong, everyone was sponsored and some were climbing the odd 9a grade. Hanging out with some of these cool dudes made me realise it was a trip I needed to put in a bit more effort on the rocks.

I managed to make a quick tick on Ramadan, 8b, on just my second redpoint attempt. The crux contains a ridiculous crimp that was almost too small to be an actual hold. I don’t know how I did this. I just remember freezing like a gecko on the crux and then huffing and puffing till I blew my way up towards another pathetic sloper crimp hold.  This is the real magic power that you see in the comics. Towards the end, I did the top crux in a completely different way from my original sequence, almost On-Sighting. Why? I don’t know, I am just pathetic at repointing I guess.

Ed, who just recently won the British Leading Climbing Championships a few months before made a remarkable achievement by flashing the classic Kale Borroka 8b+. This is not the first time he has flashed this grade! Let me tell you a bit about the Hamers. From a teacher’s point of view, I would have marked them like this.

Profile: Sam and Edward Hamer
Summary: Two brothers, both keen as mustard for rock climbing, living large in the heart of the Peak District far away from civilization. Ed is a blondie with a 1980’s American mullet hairstyle who’s addicted to Biggie Smalls and Earl Grey Tea. Sam dresses up like old people and talks about fish more than anyone I know. He gets excited like a kid playing Super Mario with his fishing iPhone game. Once upon a time, I witnessed him nearly getting attacked by a seal whilst spearfishing.
Conclusion: Ed needs to stop self-cutting his hair and trust a hair saloon to do the job. Sam needs to wear normal clothes and stop getting a culture shock every time he comes down to London.

Through the trip we had the car stolen by some low life scum. A sad thing to do that cost Sam a fortune on his credit card. Since this issue happened, we had to hitch everywhere as if I was a student again, but some days we didn’t have much luck and had to walk for hours and sometimes there was heavy rain. What goes around comes around. We will get every penny back from this scumbag.

Sam managed to climb up to 8a with absolutely no training in over a year. He still is recovering from a bad wrist injury, which also lead on two more small injuries. In my opinion, this was impressive.

The week’s trip flew by fast and I just managed a quick flirt with the line Migranya (8b). I am not going to waffle about the moves like most boring blogs do. But all I will say is that the line is incredible with powerful dynamic moves. Oh boy, I can’t wait to return!

Cabin fever training
some dude on Migranya
Joonas and Anna appear everywhere I go.
Sam…… belay.
'because your worth it' Head and Shoulders
Sam…… again, belay properly.
"I am too drunk to do a one armer"
NYE party
Ted off the hook and Ed in some coma
Jakob and Ed had a little bit too much to drink compared to Michaela
Hamer hungover
Sam surfing
Ted's Migranya beta
Ed's hand!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Social Climber

September 2nd, my life is changing. A new leaf is turning over.

I had dreams of climbing everyday. I could have been doing what I love the most everyday. But over the years I was just a part-time punter, and now transferred from that league further down the rabbit hole into the social climber’s category.
I started a new job at a College in East London as a SEN Teaching Assistant. Working with teenagers can be like facing a black hole that slurps your energy out. During the same week, I set up the Squad at White Spider Climbing Wall coaching some keen youths two evenings a week after College. That’s not it all… I also have a third job! On Saturdays, yes at the weekends, I run Masterclasses and coaching at another club called IOTA. Sometimes I attend to climbing competitions to motivate and support my Squad. A question popped up in my head, when am I ever going to have time to climb for myself?

Strange to say, but I am in my best shape ever. How is this possible from working sometimes 56 hours a week? What’s the magic? The secret is there is no secret. You just have to make an effort and find time to train. You just have to stop watching television. You’ve got to cut down socializing in the London pubs. You’ve just have to wake up much earlier than you’ve ever imagined. You’ve just got to make it happen.

And you know what?
It pays off.
Is it worth it?
Every goddamn sweat.

I have been doing 6.30am sessions with strong Adrian Baxter. It takes me over an hour to travel to the wall by public transport, this means waking up at 5am. Adrian is another full-time Londoner who works ridiculously long hours too. But dude, he’s strong.

Little time left is found after College and weekends and Beastmaker pull-ups before work helps too. But I still need to leave some spare time to invest into; I have a long-term relationship with a beautiful girl who doesn’t climb. But I can still make everything work. (Just about).

Perhaps a structured weekly schedule helps the training targets. It controls everything to detail. I am not just training randomly, that’s silly if you don’t know what you’re training for. I have goals during my half terms. As we all know it’s hard to get away for the weekend when you only have one day off a week in London. This is why I plan to go away every half term. I need to climb; in fact I have to climb. Not just for the joy but also for the addiction. Just like Batman needs Robin and Popeye needs spinach, it’s the same thing.

Last month I had a week in Kalymnos with my pops and friends managing to on sight up to 8a. Just before College started, I squeezed two days on the Grit with the strong Hamer brothers, Ethan Walker and Dave Mason sending E6 and E7 scary ticks. I would never be able to achieve these sends if it wasn’t for the amount of training I did. If I had a lazy gene, I could have easily climbed half as much as I do now and used my work as an excuse of not having time to train. But that is a coward’s attitude.  No matter how hard and how long we work, anything is possible but it all comes to the sense of how badly do you want it? How motivated are you? How far are you willing to go? What sacrifices are you willing to make? How good do you really want to be?

Senders celebration pose (Me, Ed and Sam)
Adrian in action before most people wake up.
Kalymnos on sight swing
We aint no punters (Dad and I)
Sam showing me his secret Garage. 
Robbie Phillips warming up before exploring another island near Kalymnos 
Sometimes things happen.
Moment of truth
                                                              1-5-8 is simply not good enough. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The demise of rad Climbing

                                Photo:- The legend Joonas Sailaranta 

As each new generation of climbers passes by, there have been quantum changes in climbing itself; the sport has divided into numerous sub-sports: Alpine, Traditional, Ice, Sport, Bouldering, Mixed, DWS and the list goes on. Each having it’s own code of ethics. So what’s happened to the Trad? Why are there so few people doing it these days. There’s been an explosion in the number of new climbers in the last decades with the growth of indoor climbing walls. In the last 20 years I have been climbing, I have noticed less and less climbers on the Trad cliffs. Some of the classic E grades are now so overgrown with vegetation that’s not possible to climb them anymore. Recently I had to fight my way down the dense jungle after topping out of the classic E1, Hard Rock route, Sirplum. What’s going on?

Today the majority of beginners start off the ground mainly indoors on plastic holds since the growth of indoor Climbing Walls. When a novice climber breaks through their confident barrier from top rope to leading indoors they are still a long way from Traditional Climbing where the sport was born.
   The very first eerie of climbing in Britain, I believe, were young lads chimney sweeping in the early 19th century without ropes; today soloing up these same ‘offwidth’ chimneys could be as hard as E1.
Proper climbing was introduced in the late 19th century way before the first world war and these bold men tied thick ropes round their waist and were leading with practically no gear placements on the Gritstone.
   When I was a little boy, as soon as I could start walking I was already climbing on the southern Sandstone with just a rope around my waist at the age of 4. By 10 years old I was leading VS 4a all over the UK. So, at the same age, skipping a bolt indoors on the lead was never a problem from the way I was brought up in climbing. But for those who grew up on plastic and can’t skip bolts outside, therefore Traditional Climbing can be more than just quite a fright.

Traditional climbing is not the top of the food chain in the rock sport. There is something beyond. It only subsists in the Czech Republic; there culture is another league. Some of you already know from the Sharp End that the locals use only rope knots to protect their falls as cams, nuts and even chalk is completely forbidden. These beasts obeyed their own ethics in East Europe. I thought I was quite bold till I went to the Czech myself in 2009 to experience the horror. I was shitting my pants on every lead finding it very hard to hold the sandy edges with my sweaty palms not allowing the use of chalk. But that wasn’t the problem, it was the protection, I just couldn’t bear imagining the little pieces of rope knots holding my fall if I slipped. Some of the routes left me miles alone above these pathetic gear placements. The locals have the biggest balls of them all.  One dude established an 8b+ route with no chalk and rubbish knots protecting himself. Never wonder why more climbers have died in the Czech then anywhere else in the world climbing.  Recently this year, our very best British Wide Boyz Tom and Pete couldn’t do the hardest Off-Width in the Czech, they found it desperate. The climbing in Czech is almost a myth, a legend of very tough climbers who regular solo in barefeet stuff we can’t imagine doing.

Back in Britain in the late 70’s before bouldering and bolts developed. All the climbers began to worry about the classic traditional crags in the future. Since climbing is expanding fast, everyone assumed the cliffs would be exploded with climbers ruining the rock. 40 years later; there are less people doing Traditional than before in some parts of the UK. On the sunniest day of them all, more than half the climbers are on plastic. Madness.

Traditional climbing requires lots of practice, lots of understanding on placing gear properly and staying safe. It’s very easy to make a small mistake that welcomes death. But once you click, the challenge will still always be the trick. Traditional routes in the UK have a real character, a history, usually a stunning view, a mission, a memory and sometimes a wee little fright.
   Sport climbing seems to out climb Trad these days. You can climb much harder and increase a limit that you’ve never of imagined as it’s totally safe on bolts. Youngsters today are just hungry for the magic numbers to be updated on their 8a.ego scorecard, don’t get me wrong, I am not being hypocrite as I have been influenced by the modern media for hard sport climbing as I love the numbers too. But these points and projects can kill you inside. As strongman Stuart Littlefair says, “An obsession with grades and performance can ruin lives. It can make you neglect your friends and family. It can make you abandon the rest of your life. Sport climbing can make you hate climbing itself.” Stuart has climbed many hard 8c’s in the UK guessing his weapon to keep the joy is mixing the genres, he does traditional and bouldering and keeps mixing up.  That applies a proper climber is an ‘all rounder’ like master Dave Macleod who can climb the top level in every category such as Bouldering, V15, Sport 9a, Traditional E11, Ice and mixed M12, and Scottish winter X1/X11. Wow.

High up, pumped trying to place a nut can be scary; in fact so scary sometimes I have discovered my leg shaking like sewing machine during the longer run outs or above ridiculous protection. But isn’t that the joy? the challenge in Traditional?
   Alexander Megos is a rising German rock star who recently made a historical mark claiming the worlds first 9a On-Sight, yes before Adam Ondra. He once went on a trip to the US where he during 121 days did 135 routes and boulders graded 8a and harder including the 9 grade. What’s interesting is, Alexander tried some Traditional Climbing in the Indian Creek, Utah and said “5.10 (E2) was hard, 5.11 (E4) really hard and 5.12 (E5/6) mostly impossible.” So climbing the odd 9a doesn’t mean you can fire up routes on cams. Its big bottles you need.

This summer, I went on a sport-climbing trip to Ceuse (France) rewarded with some good On Sights and Redpoints. The challenge was high and the lines were superb despite France always has dry quality rock, lots of it, probably more routes than anywhere in the world with sunshine. But now, I barely remember the names of all the hard routes I did, next year I will probably forget. But whilst caming, you can remember them all. During my visit to Millstone earlier this year I managed to On Sight the Traditional route London Wall, which I never thought I was capable of. But somehow, a miracle, I did. And now I will always remember the route, in fact every damn move I suffered on. I fought my way through every finger jam as the On Sight only lays once and it’s very precious to achieve. But I nearly discovered some air miles near the top run out. John Allen did London Wall in 1975, he was ahead of his time back then. This was 2 years before cams were invented, the master used nuts only, what a pair of big balls he had!
  London Wall can still brush off the hot shots. Alex Johnson is a leading American female Boulderer with a few V12’s under her belt and has redpointed up to 8a on bolts too. In Spring 2010, Alex was in the Peak District and managed to flash London Wall on a top rope. But tried to lead it 7 times and just got too scared and dropped the project.  The route is only around the French grade 7a, but have you got enough guts to trust your nuts?

Perhaps it’s a good thing having limited climbers on our precious rock, which avoids the routes turning into glass. Perhaps, we trad climbers should appreciate our precious sport that many climbers today wouldn’t dare consider touching. Perhaps I should stop blogging and go climbing outside now. 

 The Nose, El Capitan
 My homemade rack, Czech Republic
 London Wall, Millstone
 Dangerous protection in Czech and still using an old rope that certainly didn't help much during a fall. (I don't know why I am still alive)
 Dad in the Czech
 Admiring the beauty of the sandstone towers, Czech.
 Florian Rieder on Separate Reality, Yosemite. 
 I did The Rasp (E2) when I was 15, I still remember the day! Higgar Tor
Ted Kingsnorth on Linkline E6, Higgar Tor