Energia Positiva by Dave Stainthorpe

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?

Energia Positiva 7c+ Nate Murphy
Energia Positiva 7c+ Bruixes

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

Dave Stainthorpe on Energia Positiva 7c+, Bruixes © Steve Crowe 2015
Dave Stainthorpe on Energia Positiva 7c+, Bruixes © Steve Crowe 2015

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. 

Dave Stainthorpe climbing Energia Positiva 7c+ Bruixes © Steve Crowe
Dave Stainthorpe climbing Energia Positiva 7c+ Bruixes

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.


Dave Stainthorpe enjoying the moment. © Rick Kirby
Dave Stainthorpe enjoying the moment. © Rick Kirby

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


Key ideas:

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 
      Good belayers
      Good travelling companion
      Good tactician, listener and communicator

Process ahead of prize 

Support Team:

Durham Climbing Centre

Eden Rock

Karin Magog

Lucy Creamer

Neil Gresham

Team Australia


Steve Crowe

Climbing is my passion by Karin Magog

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.

Karin Magog leading Bleed in Hell E8 Hell’s Wall Borrowdale © Steve Crowe 2010
Karin Magog leading Bleed in Hell E8 Hell’s Wall Borrowdale © Steve Crowe 2010

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.

Karin Magog on Cubby’s Lip 7B+ Kyloe in the Woods © Steve Crowe 2007
Karin Magog on Cubby’s Lip 7B+ Kyloe in the Woods © Steve Crowe 2007

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.

Karin Magog on Showtime 8b, Kilnsey © Steve Crowe 2015
Karin Magog on Showtime 8b, Kilnsey © Steve Crowe 2015

Read an interview by Keith Sharples here: https://www.climber.co.uk/news/news/showtime-with-karin-magog/

Mind Games by Karin Magog

Karin Magog topping out on Yellow Walls, Gogarth   Photo © Steve Crowe
Karin Magog topping out on Yellow Walls, Gogarth Photo © Steve Crowe

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.

Karin Magog on Showtime 8b, Kilnsey © Steve Crowe 2015
Karin Magog on Showtime 8b, Kilnsey © Steve Crowe 2015

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.

Karin Magog going all out on Cockblock E5 6b.  Photo © Steve Crowe
Karin Magog going all out on Cockblock E5 6b. Photo © Steve Crowe

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.

South Stack Sunset © Steve Crowe 2015
South Stack Sunset © Steve Crowe 2015

Useful Links:

Hazel Findlay Coaching.

Suzan Dudink – Upgrade Climbing

Gun Fhiamh (Without Fear) E5 6a

Rubha Carrach, Ardnamurchan © Steve Crowe 2002 www.climbonline.co.uk
Rubha Carrach, Ardnamurchan © Steve Crowe 2002 www.climbonline.co.uk

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.

Steve Crowe solo Ardnamurchan Corner E1 5a © Karin Magog 2002 www.climbonline.co.uk
Steve Crowe solo Ardnamurchan Corner E1 5a © Karin Magog 2002 www.climbonline.co.uk

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.

Karin on the first ascent of Tidal Wave E5 6a Ardnamurchan Point   © Steve Crowe 2006 www.climbonline.co.uk
Karin on the first ascent of Tidal Wave E5 6a Ardnamurchan Point © Steve Crowe 2006 www.climbonline.co.uk

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).

The line of GunFhiamh E5 6a at Rubha Carrach
The line of GunFhiamh E5 6a at Rubha Carrach

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.

Steve Crowe climbing GunFhiamh E5 6a at Rubha Carrach
Steve Crowe climbing GunFhiamh E5 6a at Rubha Carrach

The Day I caught the Ghost Train

Ghost Train E6/7 Steve Crowe
Ghost Train E6/7 Steve Crowe

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.

Ghost Train E6/7 Steve Crowe
Ghost Train E6/7 Steve Crowe