Saturday, 29 September 2007


This is a bit of a weird one but while driving to and from work I tune into Radio One. The last couple of weeks they’ve been celebrating 40 years of broadcasting by getting modern artists to come in and cover a famous track from each year between now and 1967. I never bothered with many of them until I heard the Foo Fighters cover McCartney’s “Band on the Run”! Class!! Check it out! These guys can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned!

List of Covers


WOW! All I can type is wow! The other night after having a webcam and skype on my computer for over a year I was trawling through the web trying to find some good examples of GCSE maths exams for one of my classes when I get this weird phone noise coming from my speakers… Eh? I click something and up pops Neal! My first video conference call from home! Class! (Lucky I was wearing clothes! Haa!) It was the business, being able to talk to and look at your mate for free! It’s the way of the future people! I cant believe I never tried it before!

Friday, 28 September 2007


Well again i'm late in writing anything as a result of adjusting to the new schedule of work and training but thats not to say we've not been getting up to anything. After the success on Highway we headed back to Dinbren, this time to try a neighbouring 8a+... on arriving to the crag, the locals in the form of Lee (the guidebook writer), Guy (Lee's Nephew) and their strong friend Mark were set up camp on what we had come for.

After catching up with Lee and hearing his Beta for Elite Syncopations i decide it's worth getting on again and seeing if it feels any more doo-able. This is another 8a at the crag and has a wicked hard crux at the second bolt. The frustrating thing is that aside from this section, the rest of the route is fine and dandy! I had tried it a few months ago and decided that it didn't suit me and left it at that. With Lee's new sequence it seemed possible.

Sunday we return and after watching Lee's successful ascent on youtube the night before i was psyched to give it a propper working! Man i got spanked! if you look at the video it looks like a path! it just highlights how tall Lee actually is! I've never before been outreached by anyone but he manages to do it! It's a git of a move but workable all the same - Very powerful lock with the left shoulder on a crimp with only a very low right foothold while you reach for a distant sloper with your right

Heres Guy's video of Lee's ascent... the third hand movement is the crux! He styles through it!

Meanwhile Caroline continues her training by working the harder 7's at the crag. The line pictured above is a brilliant 7a+ but a bit reachy! I can honestly say that i reckon the sequence Caroline has crafted out of the meager holds on offer to her looks more desperate then the 8a crux i was on.... reach huh?! Not the fairest thing in the world but makes for great grading debates!

Saturday, 15 September 2007


A while back, one of my Blog posts had a comment on it from a guy called Steve who said something to the effect that he was motivated to train as a result reading my waffle… then he went and wrote some inspiring waffle of his own about his recent few days climbing with Séan in Fair Head and I got Psyched meself! I had to get out on rock and prove to myself that I could climb something decent and do it fast!

Today we headed out to Dinbren again, a week after my last skin trashing session with “Highway”. Well it marks the end of the first two weeks of our intensive winter running and climbing training schedule and I feel like a different climber again! Only two weeks of training on my board and the 8a felt like a path! I really wanted to redpoint it today so after two laps on the crag 6b warm up I abbed down the route, cleaning the holds and placing the quickdraws – the sharp nature of the crux monos means that I usually only get 3 good burns on this route so I didn’t want to waste any time (or skin).

The temps were perfect, sunshine, dry rock and a nice breeze. Someone must have been working the route lately and there were a few massive chalk lines indicating someone’s choice of footholds… They weren’t much use to me and looked gank so I brushed them off aswell on my abb down before starting. While I was abbing an impressively large owl did a fly by of the entire crag. A father and son team on a trad route further down alerted me to it first with shouts of “ Oh WOW!” and I turned around just in time to get an awesome aerial view of it’s bright golden plumage gliding by. Caroline was fairly chuffed with her close up too; apparently it practically flew past her face! As a side note, the Clwydian crags are generally good for wildlife, so far we’ve regularly seen Foxes, hawks, falcons, Owl’s, Rabbits, mice and even a Poll cat or something up at worlds end (Like a giant squirrel with a massive cigar shaped tail with a black ring on it).

Anyway, I pull the rope down and tie in… the route begins with a boulder problem involving a shallow mono and a slopey matchbox pinch that has to be deadpointed from to a sharp two-finger pocket that you have to catch as an undercut at full stretch. From there a few non-descript moves lead to a good hold and a rest before a long crux sequence out under and through a blank-looking bulge. Left crimp, high right gaston, left to intermediate thumb-catch, foot up, left again out to wide, beefy pinch, right toehook in the good hold allows me to release the gaston and catch a high undercut below the crux bulge without swinging off. Then the scary clip from way above the last bolt.

Now the strange bit, previously I had been sketching by this stage due to the pump and nerves but this time I’m solid enough to relax and chalk up my left before reaching over the bulge to the slopey two finger scoop… normally this feels desperate and I have to snatch out to the right hand mono sidepull but today I can actually lock-off and chalk my right hand (I actually thought to myself “Why are you chalking up for a feckin mono?”) and then wipe the excess chalk off on my trousers before holding the mono. Next I’m adjusting my feet, ready for the deadpoint to the Killer mono with the flapper-ripping tooth. From here on things get a bit Vocal as I know I’m fresh and I really want to stick this sequence. I reach high to the mono and it feels good as I stack my thumb and index finger onto my middle (just like I practiced on the board during the week) and step up my feet. The slap to the sloper happens perfectly and I’m on the bulge and further than I’ve ever been on this route.

The footholds are rubbish at this point. Basically I’m standing on a quarter of your little fingernail with my right and a rough patch of vertical rock with my left. The handholds are slopers. The higher you stand up, the more likely your feet are to skid off and theres a bolt to clip infront of my face but I cant let go of either hand! I hop my left up high and have one of those on-off moments where I’m a gnats left testie from peeling off backwards. I’m on, stand up to the undercut above and the final easy bulge after skipping the last draw. Clipping the lower off I’m shocked. 2 weeks of board work and the route felt like a path compared to how it felt before our trip to Ireland. After stripping the draws I was at a loss as to what to do next… I was all set for a full days battle and I sent it in one! We kept busy – no shortage of bolts to clip

My second 8a …

Sunday, 9 September 2007

The Storm

I've been quiet lately....
My first week of Teaching in my new school is just over and i'm enjoying it there!
But i'm taking a beating adjusting to the hard winter training and working routine again and adapting to being generally fatigued every day as a result... We're upping the weekly mileage to around the 60 miles mark and cranking up the climbing training intensity too... must be paying off, went out yesterday to Dinbren to tie in and try clipping some bolts for the first time in over a month... after a warm up i managed to get past my previous highpoint on my new 8a project before fluffing the sequence and comming off at the top crux mono (the one with the sharp tooth!). I realised something important though... I've always had a good head for remembering sequences, what hand and footholds to use and in which order, but this requires more than just the black and white pattern. The holds themselves are not enough for me to stay on, they have to be used and squeezed in the right way, tensing and contorting my core in just the right way and at the right time to allow me to pass. I gave it one other good redpoint effort before the 3 right-hand monos on the route took their toll on my skin and i called it a day. But i learnt something up there that i can use on every route in future...
Today (Sunday) Caroline had a 10km race in Manchester so we made our way there for half eight. Then the Coach springs a race number with my name on it on me without warning and i end up running my first 10km road race on the spur of the moment! I feel shite having not raced since June but jog around in 40mins (with my 5km times around 17mins i should be able to knock out a 35min 10km!!) Ah well, it was a nice morning and i got some training out of it - most importantly i didn't kill myself trying to race it and risk my fitness for the comming months hard training.

Complete Scream, E8

Sean boy goes and picks up the second ascent of this cracker! Well done man! Ah well, plenty of More rock at the head... I'll have to content myself with some hardcore training for now before a lenghty trip back to Fairhead sometime in the future...

Séan had this to say to me about it all:

Without the Peg and without duck tape... I think duck tape is unethical! don't you think? :)Awsome route... though the skyhooks are pretty bommer... You'll love it, big moves on small face holds...excelent technical face climbing
Also did Bad skin day, not as scary but really nice route too. and this route called Men of kerow, nice stemming and jamming.
Was climbing in Freyr today with Tom and the lads...feels funny to clip bolts again but Freyr is really good climbing.


Sunday, 2 September 2007

Sean's Expedition website

Check it out!!!

The Burren and back again… Via Glendalough!

Tom Enjoying his first steps on Trad (E6)
Eh? Well things got a bit messy after the Aran Islands… Kev had to go back to Dublin for work on Monday and Sean needed to get to Doolin to meet up with the happiest Belgian on Earth, Tom (Who I had met last year in Ceuse), who was coming over to meet up with Sean for an introduction to Traditional climbing. These two guys have been mates since they were kids and Tom was keen to visit Ireland and catch up with Sean after his crazy year of big walling. Sean was just back from 3 months in Patagonia followed by 2 months in Pakistan establishing new, free big wall routes in an underdeveloped valley – 2 routes were in excess of 1200m! We had a day to kill before our ferry back to Wales so decided to give Sean a lift to Doolin and stay the night and get some routes in on Monday before splitting for Dublin ourselves. We camped on top of the cliffs at Alladie – perfect!

Sean and his Whistle

Monday morning we woke to some sort of demi-hell – millions of the nastiest, most ferocious midge seemed set on devouring us piece by piece so we packed up out tents in a flurry of arms and curses and speed towards Fanore beach for a swim to steady our nerves and clear the midge from our skin. After the swim it was time to climb… as I mentioned earlier, I got hit with some sort of bug just before we made it to the Aran Islands causing me to loose my voice and leaving me totally wasted – I know when I’m sick as my shoulders just feel like lead weights! I really wanted to jump on loads of the lines I had on my tick list but didn’t want to waste them if I wasn’t feeling right. I end up trying ‘Quicksilver’ E5 6a on the far end of Mirror wall. Now I’ve heard someone say that they reckoned this was a soft E5 or maybe even a hard E4, Well I have always had a hard time on this one, well just one move to be honest but it just pumps me silly! This time I cruise it clean as a warm up and Sean seconds me and reinforces my opinion on it’s grade, Its an E5 alright – Phew! I’m not that soft yet!

Me and Sean on Quicksilver, E5

Sean seconding Quicksilver

Next up I point Sean at ‘Ice Queen’ E5 6a and he romps up it with shouts of Brilliant! Amazing! Perfect Face climbing! I second it and then Caroline climbs it. Up to this point Caroline had been taking a back seat on the climbing front, chilling out with her sister who had come with us for the weekend. Caroline manages to climb ‘Ice Queen’ clean on a slack top rope and frankly stunned the hell out of meself and Sean. It was a real fight and she won…. It’s on her list of leads to do now (watch this space!).

After that we had to pack up and split if we were going to catch our ferry but just had time to drop Sean to Doolin where he could wait for Tom to Arrive. We dropped Caroline’s sister home in Offaly on our way back to Dublin but the motivation to catch the ferry seemed to evaporate the closer we got… I’d had a taste of the Burren Rock and I needed more!

Tuesday morning and we’ve missed our ferry and are still in Ireland – Damn! Off to Glendalough! Sean had been filling our heads with talk of Big Walls and Caroline wanted to do some multipitch climbing. We end up climbing on of Glendalough’s most celebrated lines, ‘Spilikin Ridge’, 85m of E3 5c crack climbing in spectacular positions. This was only Caroline’s second ever multi pitch and she loved it! Stopping for lunch at the base of the crag we hatch a cunning plan to miss tonight’s ferry and head to the Burren for a couple more days!

Wednesday morning we hit the road to Galway again and make it to Alladie for mid afternoon. Walking into the crag and seeing Sean and Tom on top of a route was priceless – They were gobsmacked! Sean had just topped out on an E7 to the left of ‘Very Big Springs’ and Tom was loving Ireland and Trad climbing. We catch up briefly and explain ourselves then jump on some routes – Sunstone, Route 32, Eliminator, and Desolation Row – All feeling easy! I must be shaking this bug! That night we set up camp on top of the Jokerman Wall and head into Doolin for some live music and a session that just kept on going into the night.

Room with a view - Notice Toms makeshift bivi shelter to the right of Seans silver tent!

The next morning I woke up first and chilled out in the light breeze that kept the midge at bay. Eventually everyone rises and after a prolonged breakfast we all head to Fanore for another Swim, Tom is sceptical at first about swimming in the some what less than tropical conditions but we convert him to our ways and we have great craic body surfing the waves. Funny seeing the horrified looks of the onlooking wetsuit wearing surfers! Right then, What to Lead?

Gearing up - This felt very heavy after all our recent sports climbing!

Everyone is feeling a bit tired at this stage but we gotta do something! I set an Ab up and we go down to try ‘Sharkbait’ E5 6b – this is an awesome line but I had seen some very strong crack climbers get spat off this one over the years and stories of a pumpy, goey, 6b crux had put me off trying it before now. I tie in and cruise to the top – nothing stands out as being too difficult. Was that really E5 6b? I must be feeling good. Meanwhile Tom leads ‘Black Barron’ E2 and Sean belays while watching me on Sharkbait. Caroline seconds me and realises where the route got its name (See pic below). Caroline in typical stubborn form refuses to leave any of the gear in place and cleaned the line while seconding - before this Caroline had bee struggling to get to grips with pure crack climbing, well something clicked! Caroline seconded the route cleanly to the 6b crux before comming off due to a foot slipping and a reachy move. Once past the crux Caroline cruises to the belay - After finishing her crash course in crack climbing! Tom makes it to the top of the Black Barron and looks like he needs a drink. “I Nearly Shat Myself!” he says… bit of a contrast to sports climbing alright!

Caroline became Sharkbait after seconding the E5 6b

Sean gets psyched and goes for ‘Jokerman’ E6 6b and gets it onsight (possibly only the second onsight ever of this line).

Jokerman E6 6b

Then before leaving Sean wants to try Sharkbait – afterwards he tells me that I made it look too easy – he thought it was going to be easier – infact both himself and Tom said that it was as hard as Jokerman! Tom even thought it was harder – They reckon I should get on the E7’s...

The Lads starting up the awesome line of Sharkbait, E5 6b

Their encouragement is much appreciated and now I feel psyched for some hard training and confident that anything is possible if I want it! Alas we have to get going and end up driving the Lads to Andy’s gaff back in Dublin (Andy, I know you don’t read blogs but Cheers for the Tea!! And your Gaff and Pooch are both Class!)

And that’s a wrap!

Back in Wales now after an awesome trip home! I didn’t get to meet up with half the people I wanted to but nothing new there, haa! I recharged my flow and had a great time with the few family and friends we actually did catch up with.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Aran Islands

We eventually made it over to Inis Mor on Saturday morning and met Kev and Belgian Sean at the Dun Aengus Coffee shop in light Drizzle… yuk! We hop on our bikes and explore Poll na b’Peist… the lines I had lead 5 years ago look so pathetic now… Jeeze! We explore some new cliffs and unearth two great lines, a New E3 6a and an E5 6a. The next day however we went exploring Scalp na platti and it’s considerable 70 – 80m cliffs. The outcome was ‘Tom agus Mick’, E4 in beautiful sunshine on perfect rock up steep cracks with bomb proof protection. 2 pitches and a 10m scramble up a groove to top out. Bliss! Now theres only the other 1000 or so other unclimbed lines to be done on the island and we’ll have a mega crag on our hands! Pictures are on Kev’s Camera… I’ll post them as soon as I get them!

Dalkey’s Crack Attack round

Our last day in the quarry before my granddads 80th birthday and we head off to the Aran Islands and we’ve had our fill of trying the hard lines. We’ve 4 hours to climb before having to leave for the festivities and I realise that Caroline has never climbed the classic E2 cracks. Can we do all 5 before leaving? Damn straight!
Tower Ridge Direct, E2 5c
Heres the challenge:
The Shield
Smouldering stirrups
Blazing Saddles
Tower Ridge Direct
The Gnasher
2 climbers
1 rack
1 rope
0 falls
0 rests
All belays must be set up and dismantled
All 5 routes must be seconded and cleaned
Clock starts on entering the quarry
Clock stops on leaving

Blazing Saddles, E2

Our time 2:34 (But we stopped for lunch and did one or two other side lines as solos)

I reckon some local out there could probably tidy them off in under an hour but it would be interesting to see…

Give em a go! They’re a great few lines!

Imagine the pitch if they were all stacked one ontop of each other!


Our first climbing stop in Ireland was Dalkey Quarry in south Dublin. This is an awesome venue and should be high on the list of places to visit for all climbers coming to Ireland. A sizable granite quarry originally used to provide rock for the nearby Dun Laoirigh harbour, the quarry now holds over 300 traditional lines from Easy to E7 with potential for much more. This is where I took my first climbing steps and I have spent probably far too much time on its lower grade classics throughout my years living in Dublin. Once I began to climb at other locations the quarry lost it’s appeal for a while as I had effectively climbed it out – there were no routes left for me at my grade. A few years later I spent some time working with youth groups in the quarry just before moving to North Wales and I began to see the quarry in a new light again – there was loads to go at! Now I see the quarry as a venue to go and spend some time on something hard. Unfortunately many of the better lines have seemed to fallen into a state of disrepair with vegetation reclaiming many of the less trafficked lines at an alarming rate. It is a sad situation but there are just not enough people climbing these lines to keep them in good nick.

View from the Quarry

One of the main problems with attempting some of the harder lines in the quarry is the fact that many rely on some element of fixed protection, usually in the form of pegs placed where no other protection will fit. The problem with this is that unlike bolts, the pegs are often placed in very thin cracks which act as drainage lines, exposing the pegs to more then their fair share of water – throw in the close proximity of the sea and you’ve got a recipe for corrosion. As many of the harder lines were first equipped over 15 years ago their protection is currently incomparable to its original state… yet the grades remain unchanged. Lets get one thing straight, Dalkey is not an ego-massaging venue, with a few exceptions it’s not home to many soft ticks.

One such line that I had tried over 3 years ago was CHOMOLUNGMA Sans Oxygen, which goes at something like E6/7 6c. Originally the line was vigorously cleaned and equipped with 5 pegs, some of which were cemented in place to add extra protection. The route forces a direct line up Dalkey’s largest expanse of overhanging rock and is a contender for the best line in the quarry in my opinion. Currently only 3 of the routes 5 original pegs remain and two of those can be bent by hand. Without the time or equipment to invest into overhauling the route I contented myself with toproping the route to act as a gauge for how I had progressed over the previous few years. Surprisingly the route felt great and not too difficult. After a few clean ascents on a very slack rope I began to lust after the lead and the tick – it could be lead entirely on natural pro but all of it would have to be placed below you as you climbed, as the gear would obscure the crucial hand holds needed. A lead on completely natural pro is a worthy goal for this line, removing the last 3 pegs. Unfortunately such an ascent will have to wait as 3 of the crux fingerlocks simply refused to dry out despite me spending 4 days out in the quarry waiting! No amount of chalking or sponging would pause the drip, drip, drip long enough for me to consider leading the route in it’s current state so I contented myself with the fact that it provided some good training and that I had repeatedly climbed it clean on a safety line despite the seepage.

The Rest before the final 6c sequence on CHOMOLUNGMA SANS O2

Another interesting hard line that I spent some time on while in the quarry was bitter aftertaste. This route has an interesting history… originally bolted, it breached the overhang left of tower ridge. Causing considerable interest, then controversy the bolts were eventually removed and it’s first ascentionist placed a single peg and then lead the route traditional style at E6 6a. Firstly, it’s not 6a… Infact it couldn’t even pretend to be 6a with powerful moves on small but positive crimps up an overhang with it’s only protection a fair bit below and some nasty looking angular ledges not to much further below that! This is a serious route, made more serious due to the fact that originally there was a thread near the lip of the overhang, which has now crumbled and disappeared – does this add to the difficulty? Maybe not, but the route has still to receive a repeat and I’m at the point where I may step out of the queue for it. In all honesty I think the bolts belonged in it. It is not a traditional climb, the style of the climbing the terrain it goes through… had the bolts remained it would have added something unique to the quarry and probably gone a considerable way towards removing the glass ceiling currently putting a cap on Irish climbing standards. Some lines should remain as hard trad testpieces – and some should be opened as sports lines allowing Irish people to experience hard SAFE climbing on home turf… The deciding factor should be the style of the climbing and the natural protection available. Currently the route remains there with it’s one peg and empty boltholes – seldom touched and wasted. After spending 4 days out in the quarry I came away from it wondering what the MCI or the climbers put back into the place? Is there money available for replacing fixed protection? If it was replaced would it spark interest in the great lines again? Who would be willing to put the time into doing it? I would and probably will once we move back home in the future. As it stands, climbing one of these hard lines in Dalkey requires a lot of time, effort and preparation… factors that actually add to the experience and make every hard ascent something special.