Friday, 28 May 2010


Well this evening was perfect... Caroline and myself arrived at the crag in perfect conditions and feeling fresh. Dry cool rock, good light and a gentle breeze. Most importantly Caroline's skin was feeling better and her goal was obvious. Warming up on the 6b the rock felt great. Right then straight onto the 7b+. I lead up it putting in the draws and lower off, brushing the holds even though they didn't need any attention... just following routine at this stage. Caroline ties in and flows up to her redpoint crux at half height. Chalking, I could tell she was going to send. Left hand onto the crimp, right foot stepps through, left foot way out onto it's ticked edge and now the crux ... Caroline moves her right hand from the big undercut and latches the small crimp, but only for a moment, she immediately moves it onwards to the high right hand edge... hitting it her body flexes away from the wall and i can see her 3 fingertips just latch the high edge, fingers straight. Previous attempts saw Caroline ping off at this point but this was different, she bounced her right hand into a half crimp and moved her feet across and up onto her familiar edges and slopes and eyeballed the base of the crack marking the end of the technical crux and the beginning of the final 3 clips worth of draining, off balance, stabbing up the finishing flared crack. Switching into auto pilot Caroline just executed each move as she had done countless times before... not making a sound until clipping the chains and letting out a scream that echoed around the crag! Over two weeks of effort and around 15 redpoint attemps. Rain, cold, 27 degree heat waves, fatigue, thin skin, sore shoulders and split tips! Awesome!! After seeing all that I felt motivated to get on El Rincon again – falling off the initial crux move between the first and second bolt I hung on the rope. It was feeling good tonight. I chalked up and pulled on with my feet probably 2m above the ground. Every hold felt positive and I moved through the sequences I had worked placing the draws as I climbed. I made it to the chains without falls or rests!!! YES! Feck!! Now I know it’s on!!! Brilliant!! I gave it two more redpoint attempts but fell off one move from the change of angle and the good undercut above the crux! We finished up with a few laps on Extreme ways for a finger friendly pump. I'd say that was a productive Friday evening alright!!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

All the small things

The past two weeks have passed by in a blur of work and climbing and sore tips. Caroline has been trying her project whenever she’s had a chance and it’s awesome to see. It’s re-defining my ideas of what makes a project. Up until now 5 goes would represent an epic battle… Belaying Caroline for the 14th attempt last night, it was interesting to see the affect coming so close so many times can have on a climber. She wants it real bad now. But the drive to climb it is causing her to want to send it any chance she gets… unfortunately the nature of the crux means Caroline has to pull damn hard on some tiny crimps and hike her feet up high for a deadpoint to another sharp edge. Her skin just can’t take it but her need to finish what she started won’t let her take a break and recover. Catch 22. Last night after a rest day Caroline punctured her tips during her first try of the evening – feeling fresh and having a route dialled was not enough it seems. Logistics and patience. It really is all in the head. It’s also brought the old grade debate into my mind again – does size matter? Obviously it does! It’s clear to see that Carolines sequence is a solid couple of grades harder then the one I use but she still gets the same grade for all her effort. Similarly Neals sequence through the start of Elite Syncopations looked about right for the 8a grade while mine (reach dependant) feels far, far easier. Caroline cut through the bull and put it simply – I don’t care, I just want to do the route. What have I taken from all this? Well in an attempt to avoid hypocrisy I have kept trying the 8a+’s despite feeling like little or no progress is being made. But I can’t NOT try them while Caroline is pushing herself to go through the project process – it’s inspiring. The problem with only having two 8a’s, two 8a+’s and three 8b’s at the crag is that they’re damn hard and can be very specific and/or conditions dependant. All too easy to sack them off as being impossible for me, my style, my height (Yes! Sometimes even being tallish can make a Dinbren move hard!) or being out of condition. Well I’ve done the 8a’s so I’ve no option but to work on the others. Last night marked a milestone for me. The realisation that after 9pm the temps dropped sufficiently for the first crux to be held on El Rincon, kicked my brain into fighting gear and I managed the route in two big overlapping links for the first time. From the deck, through the crux to above the 3rd bolt – and from below the crux (around second bolt), through it and through the bulge, past the rockover and on to the chains. Totally unexpected and marking a huge leap forward for me. All of a sudden it seems possible to me.

I want to get to other areas more now but funds and the cost of diesel are keeping me close to home. Hopefully over the coming weeks we’ll make it to LPT more often and I can start to play on a crag with a bit more variety in the 8’s :o)

Irish Invasion

A week or so ago we had the all too rare chance to entertain some guests and show some people round our local crag, Dinbren. Sean Marnane, Kev Marnane and Tricia Fox got the ferry over from Dublin and Mr McQuaid (he’s old now so we have to call him that) came by train from Sheffield. Right then, 6 Paddys vs Dinbren…. This was gonna be epic! Haa! After the Marnane morning bakery stop we got to the crag in blue skies and perfect conditions. Everyone went up the 6b warm-up to get a feel for the rock and then we split up and the routes were attacked. Tricia’s lead of the 6b was also her first ever lead outdoors, deadly stuff! Caroline got stuck into her 7b+ and I pointed Sean and Neal towards Fat Boys 7a+ while Kev and Tricia played on Resist and Exist 6b+. Knowing all too well how difficult route reading here can be on first acquaintance I was offering beta out left, right and centre but you know yourself – it’s one thing someone shouting up how to do a move and quite another to actually make sense of it when you’re up there. The day went by and routes were jumped on all over the place. I ended up playing on Gwennan, an 8a+ that had apparently never been repeated. A vicious and stretched sequence through a low roof got you to … Blah, blah, blah! This post has been a stop start thing for two weeks now! I give up... Heres what’s still stuck in my head about it all;

Neal onsighted Technicolour Yawn, 7a+
Tricia lead her first 6c
Kev lead his first ever 7a+, Fat Boys
Sean lead Bandits, 7b+, Full respect after putting in two days of siege redpointing
Caroline made 6 solid redpoint attempts of her 7b+, falling at the top of the crux and then leading straight to the top
Myself and Neal played on two 8a+’s and an 8a on top of all the 7’s
The cakes were great!

By Sunday evening I was wiped out!!!

Awesome weekend!

Thanks to Tricia for the use of the pics!!!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Elite Syncopations

  • I first tried this ages ago and thought it was impossible.
  • Then i tried it before going to Siurana and still couldn't do two entire sections and was convinced that if it was possible it was for only the strong.
  • Tonight i climbed it - it felt beautiful - the holds felt big and happy - the moves were beautiful and in balance - and the evening sun was warm.
Caroline gave me the beta for my redpoint crux right at the top and the impetus to try it again. I couldn't of sent it this evening without her.
8a and a personal best for me - best for difficulity - best for unexpected - best for personal progress - best for style. So psyched for more it's insane!!!!!!!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Enter your zone

Forget what you think you know about where your limits are. Climb without guides. Climb often. Climb happy.

After 9 days of climbing in Siurana and 3 weeks of evening and weekend craging back home in North Wales I am feeling in the best form I have ever experienced. The last two sessions out on rock have totally blown apart the last remains of what I thought was impossible and what I thought was required to achieve personal progression.

I’ve typed about it before and each time I get a little closer to understanding it fully. There really are no limits. Everyone is on an even playing field. We have the same tools, it’s what we do with them that makes the difference.

Friday I had an awesome breakthrough on holds, moves and a route that I previously sacked off and considered impossible. Sunday I had another similar experience on another hard route that I had looked at in the past but considered physically un-doable for me. After aiding up the route to place the draws and brushing the holds, I lowered off, pulled the rope down, tied in and gave it a lead attempt – no expectations, no hopes – just because everything else was busy. I was planning on working one of the many moves I couldn’t do and settling in for a long term project. Without really thinking about it I began bearing down and snatching up the poor holds and steepness… clip, clip, clip, clip. Before long I had climbed through the 8a section and clipped the last draw before the chains. I was chalking up on the rest before the final stiff pull through the crux of a 7b+ that the route joins. I don’t wait long – I expected nothing and have nothing to loose, I launch into the sequence, hike my feet, commit and … my right hand blows out of the wet hand hold. I sail back through the air looking up at the last hold. Only then I realise what I had done and hear the shouts of the people who had stopped to watch. Shit!!!! But I don’t tick 8a’s first redpoint attempt – do I? Why the hell not?!?! I had it!! YES!!!! I can have this anytime!!! Woo hoo!!! I get to climb it again!! That felt amazing!!! I need to focus.

Seeing Caroline working her projects during the past few weeks has given me a kick in the arse. Some days they go smoothly and others it seems like every hold is just a tiny bit too small or far away. Yet she keeps trying and making progress, even if it’s only a new clipping position or finding a different way to hold a piece of rock. From the belayers perspective it’s clear that the ability is there and every move can be climbed so naturally it’s only a case of waiting for a magic moment when it all comes together. But I can see Caroline sometimes doubting if it’s even possible for her some evenings. Obviously it is – and more! I suffer from those same thoughts too… but the beauty of doubt is that it’s very nature insists on there being a possibility of success! From now on, if the move can be done at all – even if it’s only once every hundred tries – I’ll send the route.

Redpointing is all about staying motivated through the hard days and milking any improvements or success’s. Use them to fuel your psyche during the drought periods of repeated failure and fatigue – every moment spent on holds or moving between them your body is assimilating the route – believe. So heres my to do list for the next few weeks out in the open…

Elite Syncopations 8a
Gwennan 8a+
El Rincon 8a+

After payday in a few weeks time I should be able to afford diesel and want to play down at LPT some more… at which point my to do list may well change!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Friday night Progress

This evening we hit Dinbren feeling very tired. By the time Vince arrived i had warmed up by clipping up Carolines current 7b+ project. Caroline began her lead attmepts in style, cruising the lover roof and dealing with the head games associated with the lead. By the time Caroline clipped the anchors she had clocked up some impressive mileage working the moves and her sequence was clean and efficient - the redpoint is on the cards! Vince warmed up on the 6b and then gave Caroline line a go, finding it difficult but agreeing that it was pure class! My turn. Onto the 8a+... during my last attempt I managed the first "move" but nothing much more. The middle section was untouchable to me. Tonight however things were flowing. I pulled on and Dialed the first crux first go (felt easy! Was this the same route?!!?) and set up for the crux. Holds that felt unusable before gave purchase this evening and i began experimenting with the meager footholds on offer... then click! I discovered my sequence that allowed me to move up on the high left sidepull, hike my feet onto smears, coil up and snatch high with my right to a slopey edge, bump the right toe onto a cornflake and stab again with the right into a sidepull and put the next draw in and make the clip. I had just climbed through the crux and made the clip! The next energy sapping section kept me busy for a while - an obvious chalked undercut kept enticing my left hand but it was foolish... I was Waaay to low for that and it was waaay too shit to be of use yet. The sequence I came up with that allows me to make it to the "rest" undercut is like a complicated dance - I LOVE technical climbing!! The top quarter of the route didn't put up much resistance and i cruised on to the top but i'm not fooled... the redpoint crux will no doubt be the delicate rockover through the top bulge on truely piss-poor slopers! It's on and I'm psyched!!!!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Moving on...

We relocated to North Wales from Ireland nearly 6 years ago – can you believe it’s been that long?!?! Basically I followed Caroline over when she began her studies at Chester University. A combined honours degree, PGDE and NQT year later and we’ve accomplished what we originally set out to do. Caroline is now a fully qualified teacher and we are ready for another move. Somehow along the line I became a teacher too. Since being over here I got engaged, bought a house, owned 3 cars, changed career, ran for North Wales, adopted Rocky the wonder dog, climbed 8a sports, E8 trad and bouldered Font 7c. I got my Mountain Leader, Mountain Biking Instructor, Raft Guide, Canoe and Kayak coach, swift water rescue and white water safety qualifications. We’ve mostly been skint … but we’ve had a good time together and continue to grow.

Well while climbing in Siurana over Easter we nipped down to Alicante for interviews at an English speaking private school. We both got jobs!! So this July we pack up our lives and hit the road to Spain and on to a new chapter. We’ve both handed in our notices in work and are beginning to get very excited about the whole thing. I don’t have too much more to give away yet but for now all I can say is that the small village of La Nucia, above Benidorm is going to be our new home. And yes, there is plenty of climbing! The Rockfax Costa Blanca guide lists over 3,500 climbs within an hours drive. Plus we’ll be 4 hours from Siurana and the best rock on the planet and 4 hours from El Chorro. Just check out the crag search… Who wants to visit?

Extreme Ways

Last Wednesday we walked up to Dinbren in light rain - our reward was the rain stopping and the sun appearing below the distant clouds before setting, leaving the quickly drying crag still and calm in the gentle warmth. Magic evening to redpoint a brilliant route. Lee's Extreme Ways, 7c. One of my new favourites...


Last weekend we packed up the car and hit the road south, destination Pembroke. Despite the appalling weather forecasts we were psyched to get a trad break in and meet up with Neal and Naomi. I had a hunch that the weather Gods would smile on us and that all the forecast rain would fall further inland – I was right! 3 days of clear skies and dry rock were on the cards.

It felt good to be back on familiar ground – we’ve spent a lot of time down here during our years in the UK. But having not lead any trad lines since October I was feeling rusty and Caroline hadn’t lead on gear in well over a year. An easy introduction in Stennis sorted us out and then I ab’ed into have a look at a line I’ve wanted to do for years – Ghost Train, E7 6b. Immediately the rock didn’t inspire confidence and I decided to back clip the line on ab and toprope it. It was brilliantly steep the whole way and relied on 8 points of fixed protection in the form of threads. Two problems though, the rock was filthy and loose and the threads were ancient and creaky! The top peg was completely blown out and rusted and needed backing up by wires too. This felt like it hadn’t been done in a while. Surprisingly the climbing felt easy – despite the dirt and breaking holds. Climbing it wouldn’t be a problem but coming off due to a breaking foothold onto suspect threads would. I climbed it 3 times in all just for some mileage but in the end just couldn’t justify leading it in it’s current state – I would have just been doing it for the tick and not because it inspired or challenged me. Probably 7a+ or 7b climbing and safe all the way.
But it got me thinking a lot while I was climbing other routes. This whole trad thing… seems less about the climbing and more about placing the gear and deciding to trust loose rock. I was missing the physical challenge on these routes and not enjoying the slow pace and bravado associated with what are essentially piss easy climbs. Being honest I was a prime example of a climber playing to their strengths. When I started climbing I was fat and weak – so I climbed to my strengths – my head. When I was 17 I soloed some E4 slabs. Then I realised I was quite good at placing and trusting gear so I targeted technical lines around Dalkey and the Burren with definite cruxes and reliable protection. Eventually I built up the strength to climb steeper lines and could venture onto the sustained cracks of Mirror wall and Fair Head. This was when I began proper climbing. But even then I left the head’s cracks for the more technical and bold face climbs. I found the E6’s at Fairhead easier than the E3 cracks! All this time I avoided sports climbing and hard bouldering or at best treated it as a joke or bit of fun for a while – simply because I was too weak for it. I could just about manage the odd 7a sports route (if it suited me!). Well lately I am feeling more and more comfortable on sports climbs. I am loving the physical difficulty and the falls and the run-outs and the solid rock, small holds, steepness, diversity of the climbing, the power. And although the trad lines are feeling easy they’re not ringing my bells in the same way – I miss having to fight. And that’s where I think things have begun to change – the E7/8 I did in the pass last year was an eye opener. My first true headpoint. 7b+/c climbing in a ground fall position above psychological protection. It needed a sequence, it needed to be precise, conditions mattered and I needed to fight and stay in control of myself. But the rock quality was unquestionable so I could justify the climb through belief in myself – it was like a test of that belief. It’s easy to say “I would never let go” but until you’re somewhere where letting go has a serious consequence – how do you know? In Pembroke I resigned myself to having a fun weekend of climbing low to mid E-grades as I couldn’t justify leading anything harder with the prospect of loose rock. And I wasn’t prepared to devote much time into cleaning when there were others who wanted to climb and nothing that I really, really wanted to climb there. For now at least, trad is taking an enjoyable backseat in my priorities.

Onto Caroline. She was feeling rusty as hell on this trad sea cliff climbing. Double ropes, seconding, carrying a rack, setting up belays, etc… But by the third morning Caroline had adjusted well – her trad switch had been flicked and she warmed up with a onsight of a nice E1 on the White Tower near Mother Carey’s. Straight after that she was eyeing up a neighbouring E2. From the ground it looked spicy and as I had never done any of the routes down here I had no advice to give. Caroline started up off the belay ledge and after placing her first wire was up against a difficult move off an undercut. Making the high step up and span to the next edge meant she was totally committed and in an un-reversible position. Keeping calm and taking time to shake out Caroline managed to place two wires and a small cam and then ploughed on through high steps, smears and sidepulls to the sanctuary of a small detached flake and a sling runner. After that it was like watching a vertical sprint to the belay ledge – it was obvious that the intensity of our recent sports climbing was doing wonders for both Caroline’s endurance and route reading – she was climbing smoothly and with confidence – It’s a good place to be when you get there.

Finishing off the weekend in a café with Neal, Naomi, Matt and Marsha was the perfect ending to a great weekend. I’m gonna have to climb a lot more with these guys before our move!!