For me Gordale is a very special place to climb, both intimidating and awe inspiring at the same time. Entering the gorge early on a sunny summer’s morning is always memorable. One minute you’re strolling along the path, enjoying the sun then you step round the corner into the shade, the temperature plummets and the overhanging rock faces glower down on you. It also seems to act as a wind funnel so it’s rarely too hot – I always take my down jacket and a hat! Fortunately the sun does a good job and picks out virtually all the walls in the gorge at some point of the day so if you time it right you can always enjoy its warmth. As it moves across the Left Wall the shades it creates are amazing as various gargoylian faces materialise in the rock and glare down at you. I first climbed in Gordale in 1995 but was a bit overwhelmed by the place and it wasn’t till the following summer that I felt confident enough to take on some of the classic trad routes. The rock in Gordale is an interesting mix of top quality, Malhamesque limestone and a looser more flaky variety that demands a bit more respect. My first big route was the classic E3 Face Route and a good example of the adventurous climbing Gordale offers. As you start up the route you quickly learn not to pull out on the holds too much, instead palming down and careful footwork is the key, whilst trying to convince yourself the gear you placed in the usually damp crack is good. Interesting moves on wobbly undercuts through the roof, past some ancient pegs, lead to easier climbing and a sigh of relief as the rock quality also improves. The second pitch is a real contrast, hard moves on more compact rock, but with a choice of sequences success can seem like a gamble. This style of climbing can be seriously addictive and a few weeks later I found myself setting off up Solstice a Mark Radkte classic and one of my earliest E5’s. The route is mainly peg protected, with the guide mischievously informing you that the peg by the crux is the worst but gives no clues as to where the crux may be. This added nicely to the intimidation I felt as I slowly inched my way upwards, taking great care not to pull too hard and testing footholds before I stood on them. I eventually started to relax and enjoy myself when suddenly the crux arrived. The peg looked just like all the others below me, best not to think about that really and just concentrate on sorting out the moves. After much shuffling up and down a perplexing and awkward sequence led to better holds, a sigh of relief and more relaxed climbing to the belay. Cave Route RH was my next challenge and at E6 it was certainly a step-up. This is truly an amazing route up the searing crack-line, endurance climbing at its best. Unfortunately for me my endurance wasn’t quite up to the on-sight and with my feet skittering on dirty smears and my elbows up by my ears my forearms failed me just a couple of moves from the sanctuary of the final crack. But even though it took me 3 red-points before I finally reached that sanctuary it was perhaps the moment that my love of Gordale was truly born. The best years have been the dry summers of 1997 and 2003 when the place was a hive of activity and routes were getting climbed left, right and centre. These are the years that really stand out in terms of achievements.
However, my most memorable lead was The Cause (E5 5b,6b,6a) back in 2002. Gordale was looking a bit neglected, the routes hadn’t had much traffic what with a damp summer following on from the Foot and Mouth year, but I was busy reading Lynne Hill’s autobiography and felt inspired to take on a challenge. The first pitch is shared with Jenny Wren and at 5b sounds like a breeze. However, it is a good exercise in self-preservation with decaying pegs and tottering rock – Gordale at it’s best! The main pitch above is superb. After finally committing to the tricky moves over the overhang I gingerly stepped right into the bottomless groove, quickly placing a couple of small wires before briefly glancing down to admire the drop to the stream below. The fight then began. Dirty holds, quite a bit of dampness and marginal gear all added to the experience. Any negative thought was banished by thinking about how Lynne would have relished such a challenge and it was by sheer determination I got up that pitch. I still rate it as one of my best on-sights. The route wasn’t over yet though and the fierce 6a finger crack above could have put a dampener on things. However, I wasn’t going to be so easily defeated and after a short battle the difficulties eased, good holds arrived and I lead the last few metres to the top with a huge smile on my face.
Gordale by Steve Crowe
The short stroll through the idyllic campsite does not prepare you for what you are about to encounter further up the gorge. The atmosphere changes dramatically as you turn the corner the pleasant sunny slabs contrast sharply with the dark and threatening overhangs, the foreboding walls of Gordale are certainly not a playground for the faint hearted. Some of the very best sport routes in Yorkshire are found here juxtaposed with some harrowing Gordale Adventure routes.
My relationship with Gordale began in the summer of 1986 with an ascent of Court Jester a popular E2 on the lower left wing. Well protected powerful climbing followed by big run outs on rattling rock and already I am beginning to understand the meaning of the term “Gordale Adventure Route”! Face Route is a superb and popular E3 6a that thoroughly deserves is classic status, I enjoyed it so much that I’ve climbed it more than once.
Things got more interesting in 1992 when I decided to try Solstice given E5 and protected mostly by pegs it sounded straight forward however this was when I began to understand the term Gordale Adventure Route. My log book simply states “11 peg runners, some are good.” Ten years and many routes later I could no longer avoid the challenge of Cave Route Right Hand (E6). I set off with a huge rack and great confidence fiddling in many wires to back up the dozens of rotting pegs. After 25m and 25 runners later my forearms gave out and my scream echoed around the gorge! All told I had placed 35 runners before I reached the sanctuary of the cave. My next ambition was to attempt both pitches of Pierrepoint (F7c+) in one huge runout. My first attempts with a single rope were thwarted by horrendous rope drag. Success on this powerful pump fest came when I decided to use two 9mm ropes. This time with less resistance, I was able to latch the long slap to that hidden hold and I was filled with a great sense of achievement as I reached the top of one of Yorkshire’s classic sport routes. By the time I had reached the ground however I was already pondering with some trepidation at what would be next?
The long hot summer of 1997 was one of great confidence and many successes that I am still very proud. Masochism Tango at E6 6c was a massive challenge up the line of depressions to the right of Revival and the stunning white wall above. I remember the crux was a powerful and a perplexing sequence between the first and second depression. The second pitch was more straightforward, simply enduring a screaming forearm pump to snatch my hardest trad onsight ever!
The following weekend remains one of my most memorable. It began with a successful redpoint of the crimpy stamina route Supercool my first grade 8 sports route and was followed by my first E7 onsight the next day. I had been looking at Bliss all summer from every possible angle but mostly lying in the sun beside the stream in between attempts on other routes. The time had come to try it. No more excuses. The first pitch is shared with Bite it and Believe It which I had done before but it still felt hard the second time! The thin overhanging crack leads to a long runout up very steep grass and the belay. The guide states that the main pitch requires cool, cunning and considerable confidence. I set off hesitantly and shaking but with growing confidence I reach the huge roof. I remember looking at the row of three pegs below the roof and wishing I had three ropes. I knew that I needed to extend the runners to reduce the rope drag if all went well but as I struggled to reach out to the lip of the roof I was wishing that I hadn’t. My fingers were playing along the lip like a piano player searching for “The Lost Chord”, then suddenly I found something, I cut loose and swung my feet up and pulled on to the headwall above. My heart was pumping hard as I struggled to place a micro wire desperate for any possible hint of protection. However by the time I got my second runner in I began to relax and realised that I could actually take my hands off. The situation eased, fear subsided and relief turned to pleasure. The ultimate Gordale Adventure Route safely in the bag – Sheer Bliss!
Gordale Adventure Routes
A light hearted introduction with spectacular views of adventures to come!.
It’s worth doing a warm up first because the hardest moves are encountered immediately with powerful moves up the steep crack. Take your time over the superbly positioned second pitch and savour the exposure as you stride across the bottomless chimney.
Face Route E3
A classic “Gordale Adventure Route” where a good head and a confident approach is required to push on past the remnants of rotting pegs. The second pitch has a perplexing but well protected crux.
A commiting start up the delicate wall leads to a fine groove. Saunter nonchalantly up this before attacking the well protected roof and headwall above. The best E4 in the gorge!
The Cause E5
Perhaps less well known that it’s famous neighbour Rebel but certainly well worth seeking out for the superb middle pitch up the groove
Comedy of Errors E5
A great introductory E5 with a bold and committing lower wall which then leads to a superb crack in the steep headwall. Top tip: take lots of mirco wires!
Jenny Wren E5
Low in the grade but not to be under estimated. The highlight is some delicate traversing with sparce gear in extremely airy positions. Top tip: Take a competent second!
Protected by many pegs but are they any good?
Cave Route Right Hand E6
Probably the most sought after route in Gordale follow the prominent sweeping crackline. A superb endurance route.
Cement Garden E6 6c/7c
Classic hybrid mostly bolted but some wires/cams needed for the final section which leads powerfully to a good bolted lower off.
Mossdale Trip E6
I decided to try the classic rattler Mossdale Trip (E6) in 1999. I pondered over the wisdom of this decision many times on that long lonely lead while seeking out the most solid holds with my ropes swirling worthlessly in the breeze! Top Tip: Write your Will.
The ultimate “Gordale Adventure Route” with a little bit of everything. Rarely repeated!
Andrew Earl – On top of the World by Steve Crowe When three times British Bouldering Champion Andy Earl won the fourth round of the IFSC Bouldering World Cup at La Reunion in 2007 he was on top of the world but his most difficult challenge was yet to come, learning to talk and walk again.
Andy first started climbing with us in Northumberland in the early Nineties. He was 14, prior to that it was only an annual birthday treat and much against his mam’s wishes. He already had a homemade fingerboard in his garage which he used regularly. It was about 3ft by 2ft with a few footholds screwed to the garage wall. It wasn’t long before he could do moves on grips that I simply couldn’t hold. “I first got dragged out at the tender age of four and I’ve been a climber ever since. It was a harsh upbringing, climbing with my dad and the likes of Bob and Tommy Smith, always being told how crap I was!” Andrew. During 1993 John and Andy, Bob Smith, Karin Magog and myself revisited and redeveloped Whiteheugh. During this time Andy made the impressive first ascent a new E5 but it was not without incident hence the name Bones Don’t Bounce. Soon enough he was out in The County every weekend, bouldering in all seasons and in all weathers with an impressive repeat of Pete Kirton’s Pockets Traverse 7C under his belt by January 1995. “I suppose I was about 16/17 before I started burning my dad off, a combination of him getting older and me getting better, but I had to get considerably better before they started treating me as an equal.” Andy.
The early nineties also saw the indoor competition scene start to develop. Both Andy and Karin started with a few Yorkshire based leading comps, which were held on temporary climbing walls. Soon the rest of the Saturday squad were persuaded to take part in the Northern Indoor Bouldering League (NIBL) which ran for a few years. Andy and Karin both entered the National Leading Comps. However, it was in the bouldering comps where Andy started to excel. “I found the leading comps particularly frustrating because you only get one chance.” Andy. Bendcrete built the Berghaus Wall in 1991 for Newcastle City Council at a cost of £100k; they got their investment back in 18 months. Andy started some serious training with his good friend Mike Rudden as soon as the Berghaus Wall opened and Andy finally got his investment back in the 2003/4 season as British Bouldering Champion. Mike Rudden remembers climbing with Andy during the early 1990s.
“There was a gang of us who climbed a lot together in the 1990’s – myself, Andy, Dan Smith (Boza 1), William Cleaver (Boza 2), Richard Duffy and Neil Anderson (Fat Lad). Climbing was important but so was the banter. We’d be bouldering and the banter would often follow a regular pattern: 1. Boulder problem attempted by gang. 2. Andy would send it. 3. The rest of us would carry on trying to do it. 4. Andy would be only too pleased to ask us why we were not “pulling harder”? Out of the hundreds of occasions we all climbed together, only once or twice did the boot end up on the other foot. One such occasion was with Born Lippy (font 7c at the time) at Bowden. Boza 1 and I could do it pretty easily but Andy always seemed to have real troubles on the slopers and heel hooks, his body would just sort of sag resulting in failure. This pleased us no end – “Andy – why you not pulling harder we’d say”. This of course was like a red rag to a bull, so off Andy went and decided to do something about his weak core. Two weeks of front levers and candlestick training sorted out this defect, Andy was no longer ‘saggy’!” Mike Rudden
Throughout the 1990s Karin and I joined Andy and John for regular visits to the Yorkshire Limestone where the tough Soft Option at Kilnsey became Andy’s first sport 8a. His hardest sports climbing redpoint was Dalliance 8b+also at Kilnsey. Andy was now a regular on the “Cream Team” Easter sport climbing trips and during the 1998 trip to Spain he flashed the short but very explosive La Cara Que No Miente 8a+ at Siurana. His ascent was significant enough to make the Scarpa advert on the rear of the 1998 Rockfax guide to Costa Daurada. His dad remembers an early visit to Trollers Gill “I was belaying a very young Andrew who was climbing Haslam at Trollers Gill. He was at the crux which is about 4 bolts up. He pulled the rope to clip the bolt but realised he was too pumped dropped the rope, jumped off and at the same time shouted take which I frantically did and managed to stop him but not until his feet were at head height. I am sure he still thinks his long fall was my fault” John Earl
For a few years the four of us all climbed and trained together on a Monday and Wednesday evenings. Initially the focus had been on repeating classic trad routes in The County but this later changed to bouldering and we were all heavily involved when Rothley and Shaftoe saw a massive surge of development in the mid to late nineties. At Rothley, Andy’s early first ascents included Well Hard Problem 7A+ on John’s Wall. Meanwhile at Shaftoe there are really too many to mention but two stand out from this early period: Power is Nothing Without Control 7C and of course Purely Belter 8A. Andy’s first attempt to climb the blank wall left of Incipient Crack on the Font boulder came with a big grade only for his dad to quickly repeat it with a Surprising Solution (an undercut hand jam) and a swift downgrade to 7A! So Andy followed up a little further left again with Purely Belter which Andy insists is 8A if climbed correctly.
Andy enjoyed an amazing run of form which started in 2000 with the first ascents of Masterclass and MasterblasterArête two poorly protected E7’s at Rothley and TheYoung an extremely bold E8 challenge at Callaly that waited 10 years for a repeat by Dan Varian. Chris Graham compares the differing beta used by Andy and Dan “Having seen Andy on it, he was certainly playing to his bone-crushing finger strength by making a cross through to opposing, shallow pockets and moving up from there whereas Dan ended up making a long move from one of these holds and could just get his fingers onto the poor sloper above. After matching on this, it’s a series of tenuous, balancy moves on some weird looking ‘pancake’ features to the top.”
During a trip to The Frankenjura with Mike Rudden, Andy made a very rare onsight of The Bastard 10-/10 (8a+). This short and powerful route was put up by Jerry Moffat in 1989. “I couldn’t do the hard move, much to his surprise and obvious disgust!” Mike Rudden.
I retired in December 2001 to concentrate on my climbing, photography and route setting. We did a lot of route setting together for Andy’s sponsor Rockworks. We set the original routes at Sunderland Wall when it opened in 2003 and then along with Chris Graham we continued setting together with new routes going up every week until Andy left to build his own successful wall Climb Newcastle in Byker. Before his Rockworks sponsorship deal Andy had worked for Entreprise to help build the popular outdoor boulder at Whickham Thorns. He was also involved in setting the Scarpa hardcore circuit at The Works. “Yesterday me and Springer popped down to Climbing Works. Meeting up with Percy the aim was to set a hard circuit for men and women 10 problems each. Sounds easy, well check out what happened here.” Andy.
In April 2003 Karin and I got the call to go to Kyloe In with my cameras, and Karin’s new bouldering mat. Along with Rich Duffy we watched in awe as Andy coolly climbed the blank looking arête of The Prow E9.
In October 2003 Andy was encouraged to climb Dark Side by Bob Smith who had already climbed some of the line. Andy cleaned the finish and top roped the line with John Earl a few days before the ascent but didn’t quite manage to link it. In those days Andy Earl would come with Richard Duffy to train in our garage once a week to use our campus board. I would photograph Andy on many of his hard ascents and sell them to the climbing magazines. So Andy, Karin and me went to Back Bowden with maybe 3 or 4 mats and a rope. Andy brushed off the line and quickly linked it all on top rope once then decided to climb/lead it solo to the break then place a cam for the “easy” finish where Karin would belay him while I took pictures. It all went smoothly, me hanging on ab rope taking photos (another camera on a tripod & motor drive, click click click) then suddenly… Andy was barn dooring, somehow he reeled it in dropped a gear and exploded up to the break. Phew but no “Shit!” he was wrong handed with his hand in the slot where his only cam should go and the cam was now out of reach on the wrong side of his harness. Karin, a tiny thing, way below holding a rope that wasn’t clipped into anything yet was wondering wether to run or spot Andy when he fell. Somehow Andy got a hold of the cam and rammed in where it didn’t really fit and freestyled an untested sequence and thankfully made it to the top. Meanwhile John Earl was a work, nervously waiting for a phone call from Andy to confirm that he had survived the ordeal. “When I eventually got a call from Andrew to say he had succeeded the relief was tremendous. As a climber I knew how serious these routes were and right at the cutting edge ” John Earl. I asked Andy how hard it felt but he didn’t really commit to a grade just said it was “Hard!” Since I was writing the guidebook and selling pictures I came up with the grade and since he used a rope we settled on a trad grade. These days he would have solo’ed it above a mass of mats but back then we climbed everything with only one layer of mats. I knew this was a hard line because we had two layers of mats this time!
The crags in The County have suffered at the hands of increasing traffic, even the hardest routes have been affected. Not long after Andrews ascent of The Bitch 8A+ at Back Bowden Doors the hold on the lip which was a smear when he did it became a finger jug. Despite this it still went on to frustrate many strong climbers until his good friend Martin Smith got the second ascent in 2006.
Noel Craine had been based in Newcastle and often joined us during the development of Rothley and Shaftoe and when he returned to North Wales he was involved in the resurgent interest to develop the boulders around Llanberis. Andy, Chris Graham and myself enjoyed a great weekend bouldering in North Wales in October 2003 ticking off many of the new classics despite some indifferent weather.. Personally I enjoyed Porth Ysgo the best. Proper blocks, strong lines, unusual rock and sunshine! The highlights included Jerry’s Roof 7C,Tide of Dreams 7C and Lou Ferrino 7C+.
In January 2004 Andy enjoyed a short trip away from home which meant that he went two days without climbing or training for the first time in years. The next day he went to Kyloe in the Woods and made the second ascent of Monk Life 8B+, it still ranks as one of Andy’s hardest and best ascents. “Andy’s involvement in Monk Life ended up being the reason I did it. I’d been trying jumping straight up to a crappy pocket. Andy showed me the way and it was to jump further out left to a better hold, obvious really. Once I knew this method it didn’t take long.” Malcolm Smith.
I must admit I was a little disappointed when Andy climbed Endless Flight Direct E8 at Great Wanney in July 2004 because it made my slightly less direct start appear superfluous. I have tried Andy’s start and it involves unprotected Font 7C+ compression climbing directly above a sturdy fence. Too hard, too serious for me!
Around the same time Andy added two thin crimpy 8A’s at Bowden Doors, Growlers and Antihydral. He repeated them so that I could take some photographs. Andy usually graded his new boulder problems but he never graded any of his routes. (The Prow he gave highball 8A.) As the Northumberland guidebook editor that was left for me to decide!
I was recovering from knee surgery in January 2005 when I got the opportunity to join Andy for a bouldering trip to Cresciano and Chironico in Ticino. It was a strong team which included Ian Vickers, Gaz Parry, Jamie Cassidy and Percy Bishton, I was there just to take photos but I did take my rock shoes with me. There was soon much to photograph, so many impressive problems getting dispatched in super quick time. Unfortunately Andy had a bad cold but he still came away with some impressive ascents including Dreamtime Standing 8A+ and Soucoupe LH 7C+.
In November 2006, Andy made two very significant ascents in the space of one week. The third ascent of Cypher 8B at Slipstones, then the following week he made the fifth ascent of The Ace 8B at Stanage
2007 saw many first ascents climbed and many hard problems ticked. Andy returned from a short trip to Switzerland with two 8B ticks VecchioLane and HighSpirit, then he and Chris Graham spent three days trying the outrageous prow just left of The Plumber at Ravensheugh. Andy quickly followed by Chris climbed The Magician an unprotected E7 7a or highball 8A. Andy commented “The name came after Chris proposed a possible sequence and I asked him if he thought I was an effing magician.” Andrew. The first ground up ascent of Careless Torque 8A at Stanage stands out as does the quick ascent of High Fidelity 8B at Caley.”Anyway so we get to Caley, Andy brushes the holds and sets off, not expecting to get too far on his first go. Undoubtedly inspired by my awesome spotting ability he waltzed straight past the crux to top it out first try.” Chris Graham. Andy describes his trip to Parisella’s “Clyde 8A+after some good beta off Gaz Parry I did it pretty quick, nice problem. Then I did Trigger Cut 7C+first go, then it took me a couple of attempts to doHalfway House 8A+. Then I triedDirector’s Cut (8B), which I would hope to get done by the end of the summer but it’s a bit of a pain with the 5 hours driving to get to the cave, but all the same nice day.” However I think Andy was especially pleased with the ascents of Sloppy Ploppin 7C+, Vorsprung Durch Technik 8A and of course BloodSports8B on his home patch at Shaftoe. Suz and Andy enjoyed a fun summer trip to Targasonne in 2008 where Andy collected an impressive tick list: Nazgul 7C 2nd go, Clem rit 7C, Sing while you may (du fond) 8A 2nd go, I shot Sarzonazy 8A Flash, Psoas Hole 8A+, Tarite de demonologie 7C Flash, La beaute de la chose 7C+ 2nd go, La beaute de la chose (da) 8A+ Flash, Black bloc 7C 2nd Go, Black bloc 8A Flash, Orgasm Machine 7C+ (a jump), Flagellun Daemonium 7C (another jump).
In June 2008 Andy, Chris Graham and Darren Stevenson signed the lease for the Old Pool at Byker, Newcastle. Close friends Andy Long and Rob Lambey were drafted in to build the wall. Climb Newcastle opened on the 23rd October 2008 and continues to be the most successful indoor wall in the northeast. Enjoying a break from work, their 2009 Rocklands Trip was great. Suz Dudink (Andy’s partner) did her first 8A+ Tea with Elmarie and Andy did loads of hard problems quickly up to 8B including Armed Response 8Band Green Mamba 8B.
Andrew sitting (left) sporting a black eye after a disagreement with a GriGri while route setting, Malcom Smith (centre) and Chris Graham (right) went on to share the podium after the A5 BBC first round at Ratho. Looking back, I can remember I was in Preston back in 2004 to watch Andy and Karin competing at the final round of the British Bouldering Championships when Graeme Alderson was explaining to Andrew that parts of the bouldering wall were just paper mache and must not be kicked! Andy was leading on points with two second place results at both Ratho and Blackburn counting. He won the final round at West Park Leisure Centre, Preston to become British Bouldering Champion and fortunately the climbing wall remained undamaged. Andy retained the title for three consecutive seasons from 2003 until 2006.
Perhaps his proudest moment was taking second place, against a very strong field, in the 2004 European Championship at Lecco, Italy. Andy was camping in a small tent and he didn’t know what to do with the trophy other than to carry it everywhere he went!
Third place in the World Cup at Fiera di Primiero in Italy followed in 2005, before finally standing on the podium for first place in the fourth round of the 2007 World Cup at La Reunion. “I went to La Reunion to compete in the 4th round of the World Cup, I found temps of around 26 in the night and up to 38 in the day, it took some time to get used to. I qualified for the semi finals and then qualified for the final in first place by doing 4 blocs in 4 attempts. I thought that things could only get worse. In the final I felt good, doing all the blocs up to the last bloc. This left me in second place before the last bloc with Killien and Jerome having done the last bloc I was in the position where if I did the last bloc I would win and if I took a walk up Henman Hill I would end up out of it in 4th place. Well to cut a long story short, I came out to the last bloc, focused and somehow I flashed it, all my friends in the crowd went crazy. What a feeling having competed for 4 years, I have finally achieved what I had always wanted.”
Graeme Alderson recollects “In la Reunion Andy was in an apartment with the rest of the team, I know as I was there as Delegate and I had booked everything as I was still at the BMC. However I remember even better when I met up with everyone at Orly airport realising that there was an atmosphere, so I took Audrey to one side and said “Should you have not mentioned that you and Andy had split up, I have booked you a double room in the apartment”, she was in a dark place at that comp!”
What happened in Alnwick could never have been anticipated but how Andrew pushed himself throughout all the rehab was not unexpected.Following 5 weeks treatment in the Royal Victoria Infirmary’s Neurology Unit, Andy spent a further 9 months in the excellent care of the dedicated staff at Walkergate Park Centre for Neurorehabilitation and Neuropsychiatry. The more determined Andy was to complete all his therapy the more challenges the staff at Walkergate found to set him! “Andy had to relearn everything, even the simplest things like swallowing, holding up his head, and making a sound.” Suz. The story of Andy’s recovery from his massive brain aneurysm is best described by Suz Dudink and Nick Brown in the digital feature on UK Climbing: In the Bubble.
As I write this final paragraph I am still aching from another tough workout at Climb Newcastle. I could only manage about half of the problems on the new circuit which was set as usual by Andy, Suzan and Chris. I found this set especially tough but Andy’s words of encouragement are still ringing in my ears “Pull harder!”
Andy was sponsored by E9 and Beta Climbing from 2004. He liked the brand so much he wanted to import E9 products himself. The County Climbing Company Ltd was formed in September 2006 by Andrew Earl and John Earl. Based in Newcastle it is the sole importer into the UK of E9 clothes and accessories. “Like most things that have happened in my life it was more a reaction to a situation. I had already retired and Andrew was sponsored by E9 and loving the brand when Beta Climbing decided not to import into the UK. We thought we would look into the possibility of setting up a company to take on the franchise. Simon Berry of Beta Climbing provided us with advice and information and because of Andrew’s relationship with Mauro Calibani the owner of E9 was prepared to trust this embryo company with his product.” John Earl
It is over 21 years since Andy joined Scarpa UK. ” I recruited Andy as soon as we formed The Mountain Boot Company in January 1995. Andy was the ultimate sponsored hero. He was “the brand”, he would do anything we asked of him with a smile. He helped us test and design products, he sold to shops, he helped us recruit other athletes including the likes of Malcolm Smith, he even drove forklifts ( badly) in our warehouse!. Andy has been and continues to be a massive contributor to the growth of the Scarpa climbing brand in the UK. His black and white view of life always made it easy to understand his view. His testing and feedback was invaluable and fun!. A great shoe would be stroked and purred at, a bad one could be thrown an enormous distance!. Despite the tragedy that hit Andy, we are still so privileged to enjoy his input as a customer and partner, but above all as a friend” Steve Roberts Scarpa UK/Mountain Boot Company
Following the fantastic success of his popular indoor bouldering business at Climb Newcastle Andy and his team have plans to open an new centre during the autumn of 2017. Both centres will run side by side with complementary activities and events. The Valley will be twice the size of the existing centre and Andy promises that “The Valley will be a bouldering centre of the highest calibre, we will include all the state of the art features that you would expect from a modern indoor climbing business.”
Rock climbing on Lundy remains one of this country’s last great adventures, it is not a place for the faint-hearted. A trip requires careful planning, a certain commitment and the climber is guaranteed to be rewarded with some glorious and long lasting memories. Be warned that this could become a life long commitment, returning year after year for your Lundy fix.
Introduction Lundy is a gem of finest granite sat in the Bristol channel 12 miles from the nearest landfall at Hartland Point. The island is 3 miles north to south and 1 mile east to west with the majority of the best climbing situated on the 100-metre-high west facing coast. Three walls; Quarter Wall, Halfway Wall and Three-quarter Wall serve as important landmarks. The latest (2008) Climbers Club Guidebook to Lundy includes an excellent separate 1:15,000 scale map which details all the important crags. Many crags are banned from 1st April until 31st July so the best time to climb here is August and September.
Weather and Tides So goes the rhyme: Lundy high fine and dry, Lundy low, rain and blow. The tidal range is a phenomenal 15 metres so pay attention to the tide times and always belay yourself to the base of the cliff in case of freak waves.
Birds Lundy Island is internationally famous amongst birdwatchers, indeed the name is Norse for Puffin Island. Up to 35 species have been recorded nesting on the island including of course the Puffin and over 140 different migrant species visiting every year.
Accommodation While it may be years before you can get a booking for The Barn or some of the 24 other more salubrious properties, the campsite can often be booked at the very last minute. For details regarding booking, camping or accommodation and sailing times of the ferry, contact; The Landmark Trust, Shottesbrooke, Maidenhead, Berks SL6 3SW or call 01628 825 925
The Marisco Tavern is the hub of island life offering meals and coffees all day and one of the highlights; their own unique ales; Lundy Experience 3.9% and The Old Light 4.2%. Be aware that they strictly enforce a ban on the use of electronic devices so you may well have to rely on the ancient art of conversation. It’s also worth knowing that you can run a tab at the tavern and pay by credit card at the end of your stay.
The island shop is well stocked with all the basics but be sure to bring as much crag food as you can manage with you (within your 20kg baggage limit).
Climbing Getting on to the island on the MS Oldenburg is just the start of your adventure. Take all your climbing gear in your hand luggage so that you can go climbing as soon as you arrive on the island. The rest of your baggage will be delivered to your accommodation but it can take quite a while for it to arrive.
While there are almost 1000 climbs on these well weathered granite crags to choose from most first time visitors have a similar tick list. There are routes of every grade from Difficult to E9 including the superb Devil’s Slide HS to the steep and spectacular Flying Dutchman E7 the majority of the best climbing is VS and above.
Golden Gate E4 is a terrific pitch tackling the arête of Focal Buttress at the very southern tip of Lundy. The superb crackline of The Great Divide E3 and the fantastic sweeping Olympica E5 combine to make a memorable day out.
A few hundred metres north of The Old Light is the non tidal Wolfman Jack Wall. The well protected central crackline is followed by the popular Wolfman Jack E3. Venus Flytrap E2 is a brilliant pitch finding the easiest line up the right-hand side of the wall.
Landing Craft Bay is a popular area with easy access. This is home to the steep and well protected The Indy 500 E1, the superb jamming crack of Destiny E2, the powerful and exciting Rampart E3 and the very popular Shamrock VS which is quite steep but has good holds and is well protected. Supercharged E5 is an excellent technical route that follows a superb slender groove.
The Flying Buttress is the huge granite arch which lies directly below The Battery an old gun emplacement.Double Diamond HVS is a high quality and more sustained version of the popular Diamond Solitaire VS, The Cullinan E5 and it’s excellent variation Flying the Colours also E5 are both bold and compelling,while the Flying Dutchman E7 is one of the finest hard routes on Lundy and indeed in the South West.
The miniature sea stack of Needle Rock provides a selection of routes on superb rock. Intergrity HS stands out as an impeccable climb in fine positions. A short way along the beach is The Punchbowl Cliff where there are a selection of popular single pitch routes including the delightful and well protected Promises E1.
A visit to Jenny’s Cove requires careful judgement of the fast approaching tides if you intend to tackle the unique Devil’s Chimney HS which is Lundy’s answer to Napes Needle. The Fifth Appendage E1 provides delicate climbing in an impressive situation while the brilliant and varied Promised Land E3 is one of the the islands major undertakings. An complex and improbable line. On a failed attempt to climb Promised Land we approached by a slippery and frankly dangerous boulder hop across far too many greasy boulders only to find the start just too damp. A better approach is by abseil a 100m static from the boulders above as mentioned in Paul Harrison’s definitive guide on page168.
The harrowing sounds of adventure echo around the huge Deep Zawn. The Serpent E1 offers a gentle introduction to the zawn, Quartermass E2 is the most popular climb tackling the prominent twin crack system. The excellent Supernova E5 climbs the perfect thin crack splitting the ochre tinged headwall, while Antiworlds E5 is an outstanding challenge, sustained climbing on excellent rock with good protection throughout.
Directly below the Halfway wall and The Cheeses are the gold and black streaked Egyption Slabs where you will find the delightful and popular Immaculate Slab HVS which tackles the left side of this sweep of perfect granite
Grand Falls Zawn is home to the atmospheric American Beauty HVS and stunning steep wall of Mal de Mar E4. The brilliant Cithaeron E4 is a great introduction to The Parthenos where only the strongest climbers will seek the explosive Ex-Cathedra E6, the uncompromising Too Precious E6 and the exhilarating Earthsea Trilogy (part 2) E6
Further north is the unmistakeable 120 metre Devil’s Slide which is by far Lundy’s most famous cliff. The Devil’s Slide HS needs little introduction as it is by far the most popular route on Lundy. The magnificent Albion VS takes the corner formed by the left side of slide while the extremely bold Satan’s Slip E1 can be protected by many small and micro wires. Although Redspeed E2 is hard for the grade it is worth seeking out around the Back of the Slide as the gear and rock are exemplary.
The Diamond is a superb steep blank looking face sparkling with classic’s. Widespread Ocean of Fear E5 is a much sought after natural line up the face, Watching the Ocean E6 is a very bold and sustained slab climb however the continuous crackline of Diamond Life E4 is probably the most popular route on this excellent face.
When I climbed the classic Controlled Burning E3 on the steep and complex Torrey Canyon Cliff I found it unpleasant, rather gritty and altogether disappointing, however it fell down a few weeks later so that explains why! It has since been reclimbed and now makes a slightly harder but still stunning crack climb at E4. Wall of Attrition E5 is a steep and dramatic crack climb while The Ocean Dosen’t Want Me Today E4 follows a tenuous line up the overhanging capped corner.
The Headline Promontory of Arch Zawn is over half a kilometre north of The Devil’s Slide. It has a collection of fine routes with the highlight being the intricate Headline E1 which makes the long walk worthwhile. Access to most of the sea cliffs is usually down steep grassy slopes then often by abseil so a 100m static rope and many rope protectors are recommended.
Current Guidebooks There are three popular guidebooks that cover climbing on Lundy, one excellent definitive guide and two very selective books. West Country Climbs by Mark Glaister (Rockfax 2010) includes little more than a graded tick list with no topos, it would be impossible to find any of the routes with this guidebook. South West Climbs volume 2 by Pat Littlejohn (Climbers Club 2014) includes about the same number of routes, this time 45, but there are also good photo diagrams and supporting information enough for a weekend visit. The only realistic guide for a longer trip is the excellent definitive Lundy by Paul Harrison (Climbers Club 2008) which we have reviewed here.
Lundy Classic Climbs
E7 Flying Dutchman E6 Watching the Ocean, Ex-Cathedra E5 Olympica, Antiworlds, A Widespread Ocean of Fear E4 Diamond Life, Cithaeron, Mal de Mer, Controlled Burning E3 Rampart, Wolfman Jack, The Promised Land E2 Redspeed, Venus Flytrap, Destiny, Quartermaster E1 Satan’s Slip, The Indy 500, Fifth Appendage, Headline HVS Double Diamond, American Beauty, Immaculate Slab VS Albion, Diamond Solitaire, Shamrock HS The Devil’s Slide, Horseman’s Route, Integrity
So here I am, tucked in under an orange roof, trying to recover from being an idiot. Back clipped the last draw on the steepest bit, fiddled with it, took it off put it back on – but hey I’m still on. Fairly pumped but still on and feeling strong. Feet, feet, feet, yes left here, right over there on the dish, backside in for the poor sloper, rock up, got the crimps, where does this bloody left foot go? This will have to do, nah here, drop a bit, right hip in and the Gallowgate throw. Shoooot. Fingers brush the air by the jug but all of me is heading down, through the crisp blue Catalan air. No, no, no, I had it, how did I miss, what am I doing here?
Three years ago I retired from a great job, working with lots of superb people. My children had grown up and flown the nest and were making their way in the world. My wife was on board with the idea of me retiring so I could travel and climb. So after spending most of my adult life as a worker who climbed, I became a climber. I was sixty two years old with the resources and the time to train, travel and climb. The opportunity of a lifetime.
For the last three years I have travelled and climbed and loved it; great places, great trips, great people. I applied myself to learning how to get stronger, how to build endurance and how to improve my technical ability. I did training for coaching courses to improve my knowledge and understanding of “climbing”.
In October 2015 I came back from a yet another great trip to Siurana as a junior member of “team awld”, the cream of Northumberland, some of the best climbers of their generation. We climbed lots of routes as is usual for these trips, trying to flash each route then moving on. Over the last three years I had completed thirty similar trips in Europe, on sighting / flashing hundreds of great routes and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Then I thought, can I change the game? Can I maximise my strengths and go on a trip where redpointing routes at my current limit was the focus? It sounded very risky, I could go away and fail to do any routes, no ticks, no prizes.
I needed an achievable goal and had loved Bruixes wall at Terradets since I first set eyes on it, many years ago. The goal was therefore easy, climb up the centre of this beautiful wall on Energia Positiva 7c+, with a heartbreaking move at the top. Worst nightmare for Mr Static midget – a big pop
Finding the right person to climb with was essential. I needed calm, positive support, and someone who understood the process through and through. Steve Crowe was out in Catalonia for a long trip with the missus, Karin Magog, but she was coming home early to work. I had climbed many times before with Steve and knew he was the person I needed so I agreed to meet up with him for a couple of weeks at Bruixes in December 2015. The race was on, I had just 46 days to prepare.
Training can be a lonely activity, fraught with uncertainty and pitfalls, and I knew I would get more out of it if I could build a team to get me ready. I enlisted lots of folks for belaying / training support. This included access to bouldering at Durham Climbing Centre and the awesome circuit board at Eden Rock in Carlisle. Then I sat down, had a think and wrote a training plan. At this point I was very unsure if the plan was the right one to get me ready. I had also learned that doing the plan is far more important than writing the plan. The backup and support for this came from Neil Gresham, I was very impressed with the way he had trained to do his new route, Freakshow, at Kilnsey. Going from looking like it would never happen at the end of 2014 to it certainly looking like it would get done in the spring of 2015 , to sending it. I sent Neil my plan and he gave me some fairly robust but well informed feedback and then we knocked it into better shape between us. I was particularly impressed with the nutritional aspects that Neil recommended that I integrated with the plan. I recalled that Lucy Creamer had an excellent trip to Bruixes a couple of years ago and contacted her via her website. She provided comprehensive advice and information, which you can read on her website, lucycreamer.com. Lucy also kept in contact providing great support through her knowledge and enthusiasm.
So with the team in place I set off to do the plan, sharing progress with Neil and Steve throughout the process. Neil’s role was to feedback on the progress reports providing support and suggesting tweaks as we went along. Steve kept a watch on how things were going so that he knew the state of play as we hit the crag. He and Karin also gave me excellent suggestions of routes to use to achieve my fitness objectives. This arrangement worked very well and was a significant factor in me following through on the agreed plan 100%. We had ups and downs on the way. My yoga commitment led me to develop positional vertigo which caused me to feel sick and dizzy if I moved my head. This did not stop me training though and my GP was brilliant, sorting it out in one session – flipping genius! The control this partnership gave me over the training meant I did what was planned rather than what I fancied. This was a key factor in training very hard but not getting injured. Not wandering off and doing random bouldering with the boys at the wall, not just trying some new finger ripping exercise, simply doing what we planned.
By the time I left for Spain I knew I was much stronger and fitter than when I started the process and I was totally psyched to get stuck into the redpointing process. By now the route was simply an element in the process, getting on it and learning how to climb it was what motivated me. Steve was great at managing the pace, talking me through the tactics, getting the food and hydration right, advising when to rest and when to go, having the last go of the day to build fitness on the route and keeping me calm and positive. So the route came together quickly. I made big links on day two and thought it in the bag. Went backwards day three, falling off easier sections because I was thinking about clipping the chain instead of placing the feet. Got frustrated next day dropping the last move every go. Then on my rest day I thought I’d have a potter just to warm up the body and found myself looking at the long pop after a very smooth trip up….. Missed it. Took half an hour rest, cruised back up, eyeballed the jug, stuck one on – just managing to catch the very edge. I crimped hard and moved on up. Success!! I clipped the belay, asked for loads of slack jumped off and enjoyed the ride down.
Elation lasts a few seconds. I was dead chuffed, Steve and team Australia were suitably congratulatory. I was empty, desperate to get back into the process, seeking out a new project. Got one, Bon Viatge 8a, sorted out all the moves but too few days and too little left in the tank to finish the process ……. . but I’ll be back
Building a team to support climbing at one’s limit Gaining knowledge Feedback and testing plans and ideas Support through the training period Physical technical nutritional and mental issues Being part of a team
Pros and cons of being old Harder to build strength But possible to get closer to your maximum potential Need to rest more to realise gains Breaking poor technical habits and engrams Time to research, talking reading and observing Time to train Time to travel and climb Possibly good extended networks to meet and climb with different climbers
The process of working routes around your personal limit Recognising that a redpointing / upper limit trip is different to an on sighting trip Process begins with honest appraisal of strengths and weaknesses Training is part of the process Having a training plan is essential Doing what is in the plan is 100x more important Having the right people on the ground is essential Positive Experienced Good belayers Good travelling companion Good tactician, listener and communicator
Climbing is my passion in life and when not working (I work part-time as a pharmacist), my husband Steve and I spend most of our time immersed in the sport.
I love both trad and sport climbing and try and do a mixture of the two. I’ve on-sighted/ flashed over 100 E5’s on a variety of rock types and situations, from the sea-cliffs of Lundy, Pembroke, Gogarth, the Outer Hebrides and Reiff, to the mountain crags of Wales, Lakes and GlenCoe, and not forgetting the beautiful sandstone crags of Northumberland and my favourite, the Yorkshire limestone. Moving on to harder trad and I’ve on-sighted/flashed knocking on for 20 E6’s (Yorkshire, Scotland, Lakes, Pembroke and N.Wales), as well as Death Wish E7 6b at Blue Scar and was pleased to get the 4th ascent of Vlad the Impailer E7 6b at Dove Crag (climbed ground-up on-sight).
I was very pleased to manage a quick headpoint ascent of Bleed in Hell E8 6c on Hells Wall shortly after Mary’s impressive first female ascent. I’ve head pointed numerous routes including Stairway to Heaven E7 6c at Blue Scar, Inferno E7 6c on Hells Wall and both On the Rocks E7 6c and Charlotte’s Dream Direct E7 6b at Back Bowden Doors. I have yet to discover the delights of gritstone (although I do quite enjoy bouldering on the Yorkshire grit); as a consequence my grit CV is not very impressive, with my hardest routes being Big Greenie and Wall of Horrors at Almscliff.
On the bolts I’ve flashed/on-sighted numerous F7c’s and F7c+’s, plus several F8a’s(all abroad) as well as red-pointing some of Yorkshire’s greatest routes including Huecool F8b and Supercool F8a+ in Gordale, and The Groove F8a+ at Malham. I made the first ascent of Stolen F8b at Kilnsey in 2006 and more recently succeeded on Showtime F8b also at Kilnsey. I’ve climbed numerous F8b’s in Spain and in 2017 red-pointed Mundo Feliz F8b+ at Villanueva del Rosario.
I do enjoy bouldering but rarely boulder outside these days, so the hardest I’ve flashed is Font 7A/7A+ and the hardest problems I’ve climbed are Cubby’s Lip and The Nadser both of which weigh in at Font 7B+ and can be found at Kyloe In.
I also dabbled in the competition scene for many years, starting way back in 1992, with several good results; including 2nd place overall in many a BICC series (most recently 2006). My best year was probably 2002/3 when I finished 4th overall in the BBC’s and won the Sunderland BICC (the only round I entered that year). I still enjoy entering all the local bouldering comps in the winter months and enjoy the summer bouldering league through at ClimbNewcastle.
Some of my favourite climbing areas include the Outer Hebrides, Yorkshire limestone and Catalunya, Spain.
Read an interview by Keith Sharples here: https://www.climber.co.uk/news/news/showtime-with-karin-magog/
Click the link below to listen to Karin talking about climbing at Muckross (and much more) with Niall Grimes:
“It was a gorgeous blue-sky day, but chilly on the belay. Above me, Steve was making slow but steady progress prospecting a new line, aiming to follow the righthand pink vein of tram-line pegmatite streaks running parallel up the smooth face of the wall. Below me. the stiff-winged fulmars swooped and tumbled, the steep hillside crowded with birds nesting precariously on the edge of the roaring Atlantic. I knocked out a few shoulder rolls in a vain bid to warm myself up. A sudden call from Steve sharpened my focus “I’m coming down for a rest” A small knot began to form in my stomach – that mixture of fear and excitement many climbers will recognise. Sure enough Steve reached the belay, tied himself off, then uttered the immortal words, “Fancy a look?” …”
You can read Karin’s account of climbing KnS Special E6 on the impressively steep Creag Dearg on Mingulay in The Great Sea Cliffs of Scotland by Guy Robertson.
Adventures and Achievements by Karin Magog
A brief summary of some highlights down the years.
Start climbing and leading regularly. Progress through the grades until leading E4’s, with ascents of routes such as Resurrection, N.Wales E4 6a; The Tube, Northumberland E4 5c and Edge of Eriador, Scafell E4 5c. Red-point Obsession, Malham F7b+ (1st red-point); NewDawn, Malham F7c and Man with a Gun, Kilnsey F7c+. On-sight my first few F7b’s.
Progress to regularly leading E5, including Right Wall, N.Wales E5 6a; The Cumbrian, Esk Buttress E5 6a; Deja Vu, Kilnsey E5 6b; Endless Flight, Northumberland E5 6a and The Risk Business, Tunnel Wall E5 6a. Lead my first E6 – Bite It and Believe It, Gordale E6 6b. A few years later lead my first E7- Death Wish, Blue Scar E7 6b. On-sight several F7b+’s both in Britain and abroad. Make quick red-point ascents of several of Yorkshire’s classic F7c’s and F7c+’s Red-point Supercool, Gordale F8a+.
Start to get a few more E6’s under my belt including The Cad, Gogarth E6 6a and The Long Run E6 6b both on the same day; The Great White, Blue Scar E6 6b; Bucket City E6 6b and Pail Face E6 6b, both at Dove Crag. Narrowly miss flashing the 2nd ascent of Vlad the Impailer, Dove Crag E7 6b due to dirty holds. Return the following weekend to grab the 4th ascent without incident. Headpoint several E7’s including Stairway to Heaven, Blue Scar E7 6c and On The Rocks, Northumberland E7 6c. Red-point several routes of F8a and above in Yorkshire, including The Groove, Malham F8a+; Huecool, Gordale F8b and the long awaited 2nd female ascent of Raindogs, Malham F8a. Flash F7c.
Regularly on-sighting F7b+, numerous F7c‘s (including several in Kalymnos; Northern Spain and Lost Safari in Oudtshoorn, South Africa) and a handful of 7c+’s (mainly in Spain). Fast red-point ascents of F8a’s and 8a+’s abroad plus ascents of some more classic Yorkshire sports routes including The Thumb (8a), Zoolook (8a), Bullet (8a+) and Climb of the Century (8b). Red-point the Cold Steal extension to get the first ascent of StolenF8b, Kilnsey. Continue to regularly on-sight E5’s (passing the 100 mark) throughout the UK (North Wales, Pembroke, Lundy, the South-West, Lakes, Northumberland, Yorkshire limestone, Ireland, mainland Scotland and the Scottish Islands). Also consolidate more at the E6 grade with on-sight ascents of numerous routes particularly on the Yorkshire limestone and the Outer Hebrides (including the awesome Bonxie E6 6b on Pabbay and Perfectly Normal Paranoia E6 6b on Mingulay. Numerous trips to the Outer Hebrides (mainly Pabbay and Mingulay) with several new routes climbed on-sight – the highlight being the first ascent with Steve of K ‘n’ S Special E6 6a on Mingulay. Head-point E8 with a fast ascent of Bleed in Hell E8 6c on Hell’s Wall, Borrowdale. Bouldering moves up a notch with quick ascents and the odd flash of some V6’s and V7’s, and manage to tick Cubby’s Lip and the Nadser (both F7B+) at Kyloe In.
Sports climbing starts to become the main focus as we managed to get some longer trips abroad. Regularly on-sighting 7c and 7c+ (both home and abroad) as well as numerous 8a’s in Spain including Alt Urgell at Tres Ponts; Pinche Lupita at Mas Riudoms; El Bufa, TequillaSunrise, El Capataz Ircapaz and Diedri Mata all at Chulilla. Red-pointing more hard routes quickly with 8a’s frequently climbed 1st red-point and 8a+ in a couple of days. Also fast ascents of various 8b’s abroad and El Infierro 8b/+ at Chulilla. Back in the UK I continued to tick off some of the Yorkshire limestone classics such as GBH at Malham as well as quite a few nemesis routes at Kilnsey including The Bulge and La Lapine. I also was very pleased to red-point the classic 8b Showtime. Knocked off a few classic hard routes elsewhere in the UK including The Prow and Crucifixion both 8a’s at Ravenstor; Statement of Youth 8a at LPT and Airshow 8a+ at Shipwreck Cove. Trad climbing generally limited to week long trips to Wales or Scotland. Still managing to regularly on-sight E5’s though with ascents of classics such as Killerkranky E5 6a/6, Kicker Conspiracy E5 6a and King Wad E5/6 6b on Scimitar Ridge; Energy Crisis E5 6a at Gogarth and several E5’s up in the NW of Scotland around Gairloch, Shiegra and Super Crag. Also managed the occasional E6 on-sight including Twilo Thunder E6 6a at Goat Crag, Gairloch and the mega classic Lord of the Flies E6 6a on the Cromlech.
Sports climbing focus continues with several trips to Spain and a good collection of 7c on-sights and quick red-points of 8a and 8a+. I also was extremely pleased to red-point Mundo Feliz 8b+ at Rosario. Enjoyed a long trip to Flatanger in Norway where I came away with 7b+ on-sights, an ascent of the rarely dry Paltergeist 7c+ and fast red-points of numerous 8a’s including Frigg and Eventyrblanding and the classic Massih Attack 8a+. Down in Yorkshire I continued to tick off some 8a and 8a+ routes mainly at Kilnsey including Puppeteer 8a, Drenka 8a+ and A Darker Stranger 8a+. I was also extremely pleased to make the most of a dry spell to make short work of Pierrepoint Original Start 7c+, a true classic which is rarely in condition. I also red-pointed China Crisis, which may be a mere 7c+ but has a viciously bouldering start especially for the short and was something that I’d never been able to touch before. Trad climbing trips became very infrequent but still managed to on-sight a good selection of E5’s – in Yorkshire, Lewis, North Wales and Pembroke. The highlight though was an on-sight of the ultimate classic Ghost Train E6 6b in Pembroke.
Chullila January 2013. I watched with admiration as Hazel took yet another fall as she worked her way up one of the desperate looking 8b’s at the far end of the crag. There was no fuss or screams, just a graceful flight through the air before she pulled back on and had another go. The next day she was onsighting hard route after hard route. If she didn’t manage the OS it would be dispatched next go, then she would move along onto the next route. I was also climbing well that winter, with my first few 8a onsights under my belt and redpoints of several 8bs, yet watching Hazel made me even more aware of my own limitations. I tended to climb mainly within my comfort zone, being drawn to endurance routes that weren’t too steep, allowing me plenty of time to climb up and down before committing to a sequence. I also tended to work harder routes on a top-rope first before taking on the lead. Deep down I knew I had several reasons for this – fear of falling, fear of failing, fear of commitment and lack of self-belief, all of which conspired together to hold me back. A lot of the time this wasn’t evident, run-outs when I felt in control didn’t bother me but faced with a committing move such as a jump or slap and I would hesitate and usually end up sitting on the rope. I suffered from irrational thoughts in these situations that my belayer would drop me (even on a top rope sometimes). I also performed poorly on very steep routes where quick decisions are generally needed and faffing about like I did usually resulted in failure. I still have a list of routes that I have ‘saved’ for another day when I might be feeling stronger, braver, fitter, etc in the hope that I could onsight them.
Watching Hazel though inspired me to start making some changes. Over the past two years I’ve gradually started to work on these issues with some success. Firstly I started to lead the warm-ups, rather than often top-roping them. I also decided to work the harder routes on the lead, which worked really well. Several climbers had recommended reading The Rock Warriors Way by Arno Ilgner, so I downloaded it and started working my way through it. Too be honest, although some of it was really interesting there also seemed to be plenty of waffle and I haven’t yet finished it. However, it did get me really thinking. I discovered I was definitely more of an analytical climber than an intuitive climber; decided I needed to set smaller, more achievable goals; and had to start looking for a positive in every performance instead of dwelling on failure and letting that dictate my mood. I also learnt about my ego and how that may have been holding me back in certain circumstances. With all this in mind I got back on routes that I’d dismissed in the past as being too hard or too reachy or not my style. I worked on climbing quicker and more fluidly on the bouldering wall, and tried more dynamic problems which I would have previously ignored. I sought out steeper routes on holiday that really pushed me both mentally and physically. If I was just concerned with the numbers game this could have been disheartening as I struggled with routes given a lesser grade than ones I’d previously succeeded on. However, I tried not to reflect on that and instead looked at all the positives. Over those two years I managed to tick off numerous outstanding projects, both in the UK and abroad and managed to surprise myself with both onsights and redpoints of routes that I would have avoided previously. However, I knew I still held back at times and this was highlighted by my failure on a route I’d saved for many years, hoping to onsight it. I found the start of the route harder than expected and this shocked me mentally, putting me on a back foot straight away and I started to doubt my ability. This was compounded when I got to a long, committing move. The route was very steep, not one for hanging around on, but hang around I did! Up and down, round and around looking for an alternative method, trying to shake out but getting more and more tired, ripping the skin on both my hands and my heel as I tried to recover. I’d saved this route for so long I didn’t want to blow it by falling off this move. In the end I had to commit, I made the move but was so exhausted I slumped off a few moves later. I then had to rest a few more times to get to the belay and was too knackered for a redpoint attempt. Initially I was upset and frustrated with myself, but decided at least I’d taken the route on in the first place instead of saving it a bit longer. That at the end of the day it was just a line of bolts up an arbitrary piece of rock and it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. I’d also learnt the hard way that procrastination is not the best strategy on that sort of route and that if I really wanted to improve more work was needed on the mental side of my climbing.
Not long after that I was reading Hazel’s Facebook post about the mental side of climbing and how she was toying with the idea of offering some coaching on this subject. I sent her an email and asked if she would be prepared to take me on. I think she was quite surprised but after I reassured her I was genuinely serious she agreed. After filling in a detailed questionnaire that required a high degree of ego crushing honesty and a long chat on the phone we got started. She got straight to the heart of the problem, which is a basic fear of falling and the lack of control this involves. Even on a toprope I found it hard to let go without reassurance first that my belayer had me. If I felt I was in control then I won’t think about it, but as soon as that control was compromised the fear would arise. This could be down to a jump or slap, or committing to a move off a poor handhold or a marginal smear. Suddenly the irrational would take over and it would take an enormous amount of mental energy to make that commitment, and at other times I couldn’t make it at all.
Hazel offered loads of advice and practical exercises to try. She also recommended I read Arno Ilgner’s other book – Expresso Lessons. This was much more interesting and easier to read, I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in this subject. One of the exercises both Arno and Hazel suggested was fall practice. Now I had tried fall practice in the past but had pushed too hard too soon, which resulted in me getting frustrated and upset at my failure. This time I took it more slowly, doing some falls on the toprope to start with, then moving to the lead, concentrating on my breathing, relaxing. Looking up before letting go instead of down was hard to start with but also easier in some respects, and mimicked the climbing situation much more. I’m slowly progressing, but have a long way to go. I’ve realised that I need to try and incorporate some fall practice into everyday at the crag/wall and have started trying to incorporate it into my warm-up.
So did any of this work? Well I did have numerous successes this year, the main one being my redpoint of Showtime at Kilnsey. Showtime is a 30m 8b with three distinct cruxes none of which suited my usual style! I had looked at this a few years back and dismissed it as being too reachy and therefore impossible. Last year I had a few runs up it to see if I could find another sequence on all three cruxes, all of which, on the face of it, involve very big moves. The first one is very thin face climbing, so by holding some marginal holds I was able to get round the more obvious big moves. The second crux was more complicated, but by doing a big reach and pulling off the intermediate I managed to do the individual moves but couldn’t link it. The last crux was just a massive slap from a small undercut, no way round this unfortunately and I could barely do the move after sitting in the rope, so the thought of doing it after 30m of climbing was quite daunting. However, I’d seen that it could be possible so was looking forward to getting on it this year. I broke the route down into small goals and would have an aim for each session on it. I also did plenty of practice falls. Hazel also offered advice on techniques for maintaining focus which were invaluable once I was on the redpoint. The route came together faster than I thought, although I did spend three days and numerous redpoints falling off that move at the top. Another success in my eyes was my failed onsight of Cockblock, a popular and powerful classic E5 6b in the Llanberis Pass. This may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, however, when you consider that I’ve rarely fallen off a trad route in the past (the few times I have it’s been down to a broken hold, or a sudden slip off a greasy hand or foothold), the fact that I fell off this whilst trying hard was a massive step forward. Previously I have avoided this route as short intense routes with a bouldery and reachy crux are not my forte. Also I have done less trad over the past few years so I wasn’t really trad fit for hanging around placing gear, especially when I wasn’t always getting the right piece of protection first time. Despite this I made the effort to take it on. Needless to say I got really pumped placing the gear but pushed on regardless, fought upwards but unfortunately didn’t quite make the reach and I was off. A quick rest and I got a better sequence, climbed to the top and then red pointed it. Yes I was disappointed not to onsight it, but I was more pleased that I’d actually taken it on in the first place and given everything on it.
I’m now back from a recent trip to Spain. Another two past failures put to bed and success on a route I would never have considered in the past due to its steepness and the ridiculous sequence at the top to get round a big move (I have to admit this did test me as I fell from this move too many times to count – some wise words from Hazel got me up it the next day!). However, the biggest success was the fact that I took more falls this trip than I have on the past few trips put together. This I know is the way forward for me but I don’t find it easy. Just like every other aspect of climbing if you don’t use it you lose it. There is no magic cure, but working on your mental game can be just as rewarding as the physical side. I’m excited to see where it may take me.
A big thank you to Hazel Findley for all her help and advice over the last few months. Thanks must also go to Suzan Dudink for her training advice and of course to Steve Crowe for being such a patient and supportive belayer.
I had a close shave when I was exploring for new routes at the huge and remote Rubha Carrach in Ardnamurchan. We had slept overnight close to the Kingshouse in Glencoe and woke early and keen to climb in the glen. Unzipping the tent door on a glorious still day, we were greeted by a dense cloud of hungry midge. In a instant we had ripped out the tent pegs and bundled the old orange Vango, complete with sleeping bags still inside, into the car and were soon formulating a new plan while waiting for the Corran ferry. We hoped to catch a good breeze out at Ardnamurchan where we could explore the ancient volcanic ring complex crags that Cubby had written about in the climbing magazines.
We found a pleasant café at Ardnamurchan Point and then visited the most western crags on mainland Scotland situated below the lighthouse. The rock there was impeccable and we climbed a dozen lines of every grade. It turns out many had been climbed previously but we enjoyed climbing great lines without any prior guidebook information. The best of the bunch was a pumpy and powerful E5 that we called Tidal Wave and that was a first ascent by Karin and myself that we both led.
There is something special about climbing on sea cliffs with the tide lapping about around the base so we decided to explore more coastal crags. Rubha Carrach seemed to fit the bill with a few extremes but a lot of gaps too. We warmed up on the excellent Honeycomb Wall E3 5c. I thought I spotted a nice looking gap and set off up what became Gun Fhiamh (Without Fear).
I got some good gear then about half way up it got tricky but managed to get a small wire in to give me a bit more courage and pushed on. After a long runout the good break I was aiming for near the top was sloping and gritty. There looked to be some potential gear a little further up and left so I quested on leftwards only to be disappointed… No gear and gritty sloping ledges, I was close to the top but pumped stupid so I decided to back off. I looked down to tell Karin I was reversing only to see my last runner was about halfway back towards the ground. I froze momentarily then moved up and threw one on for the top fully expecting to take a massive fall. Somehow I stuck it, then I was greeted by a swarm of midge while I brought Karin up. I gave it E5 because the actual climbing wasn’t to bad but like Ghost Train it’s hard to give it a realistic grade.
I’d always wanted to try and onsight Ghost Train but I had never see it in good condition when I felt like I was going well. Then one morning in 2006 we looked down into Stennis Ford to see it was bone dry and covered in chalk however I didn’t feel up to it. Karin was keen for Suspense E4 so we warmed up on that and it felt a bit smeggy. Anyway all I could think about was how great Ghost Train looked and if I didn’t try it today I’d probably never go for it. As soon as we topped out I announced that I wanted to try Ghost Train and quickly got ready before I could change my mind. Ian Denton offered to belay me and after we abseiled in he suggested I borrowed his helmet. I said “No thanks I don’t like wearing them” A few moments later I put it on. To be honest it was well chalked up but I pulled on some very small holds at the start before realising they were ticks for the crucial footholds! The ascent was a bit surreal, I felt like I was watching someone else climbing.