Sunday, 23 December 2012

Busy times

It's been quite a busy couple of weeks with work.  It's a pleasure to live and spend time in a place where you can offer a wide variety of adventures to your clients.  With that in mind, I've spent the last few days moving between guiding a couple of students on the Camino, swapping leads on a couple of the longer multi-pitch with Peter and spent five days with Gareth on a general sports climbing course.

Peter on Amptrax
Peter had attempted Amptrax a few years ago with his son but had to bail off due to the heat.  The route leads you up  one of the highest point of the Frontales area and has recently been bolted to the top allowing for, those inclined to do so, to top it out.  Alternatively, you can abseil back down the wall (4 x 35m abseil), after the eighth pitch.
With many years of climbing experience, Peter was happy to swap leads to the top and we celebrated with a cold drink in the station bar after our successful tick.
Peter had intended to attempt Zeppelin on our second day together but we decided on an extension to Nitti, in sector Austria as a more appropriate grade.
The extension has been recently bolted to the top and offers six pitches of varied climbing up to 6b.  The crux pitch has a slabby, technical section and the climbing remains interesting to the top.  Another great day and two excellent routes ticked.
Gareth knee-baring

I spent five days with Gareth working on a general sports climbing intro.  Gareth organises climbing trips for the students at his school and therefore came with a good foundation of knowledge and experience.  As the focus has always been on his students on these trips, he wanted the opportunity to focus on his own development.  An excellent opportunity to cover a lot of ground over the five days.
We spent the time at a variety of crags to allow the opportunity to look at movement and climbing on different route types, from slabby to steep and some overhanging cruxes.
Multi-pitches offered us the opportunity to cover slick change overs, tying off the belay device, multi-pitch ropework and multiple abseil descent.
We looked at red-point tactics to tick some harder leads with a strong focus on breaking down the route to take advantage of the rests (knee-bars - good ledges), and pushing through the harder sections.
An excellent five days for both of us as I got the chance to cover so much with one client it was great to see the development and progression throughout the course.

I now have a few days off to celebrate the holidays and then on to a learn to lead course before focusing the remainder of my time on sending Ace Ventura and hang out with various friends that are coming out to play.  Good times ahead!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Overheating & Overhanging

So with four days of work done I felt that my fingertips and skin had recovered enough to go have another play on Ace Ventura with my motivational guru Andy Tapper (the most psyched climber I've ever met).  Over-enthusiasm had us heading to Ace on one of the hottest days of the week which made the tiny crimps, smears and edges feel ridiculously hard and sore. But we persevered to improve the sequences and sort out where and when to clip.
We thought we'd have to skip a few clips which started to look like a bit of a monster fall if the crux moves didn't go.  Luckily, just a wee bit of balance and some extended draws keeps the falls to just a normal screamer.
Although it was too hot to go for the lead we did get some strategy sorted, even to the point to see what time it's in the shade (4pm for those who are keen).  With the sun off it we had a couple more goes and the difference was immense.  Future trips will be on cold days or after 4pm.

Via de Rudolf

With destroyed fingers and a lack of skin we decided the best option would be to try one of the extension coming out poema cave.  Andy had done the right hand extension to Veiejo Amigo on his previous trip so we started our onslaught on the left hand extension - Via de Rudolf.  To the first chain it's a nice 7a+ and then leads on through the huge overhang on some amazing hanging tuffas, to give a fantastic 7c+/8a endurance route.
It's a true burl fest and far from what suits me.  

Andy finding a kneebar rest
The exposure as you're climbing up through the roof adds to the excitement and fun of the route as your swinging off big pockets, tuffa pinches and seeking out any rest to give the arms a wee bit of respite.
I don't have the guns for this route at the minute so will focus on Ace over the remainder of the trip  but with such fun climbing it's definitely one to come back to.  In the meantime it'll be great working it with Andy until I get the strength to give it a Redpoint attempt.

exhaustion after getting to the top

I'm now going into eight days of work so will have strong, rested fingers and skin to give Ace a good attempt at the end of it.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Sweat is fat crying

I've spent the last few days working with the lovely Ulrike focusing on single pitch climbing.  Ulrike had just spent the last two weeks on a bootcamp, living on 1,000 calories/day while being beasted for 6hrs/day - including, boxercise, 10km runs, circuits, hill walks....  The bootcamp included motivational phrases such as "sweat is fat crying".  Sounds horrible and amusing in equal measures.
With this in mind I was expecting a beasting but was very glad when she told me she wanted a chilled week of nice climbing.
On top of Escalare Arabe pillar

Having spent a week with Silvia Fitzpatrick in January, Ulrike already had a lot of the basic skills, so it was a case of a refresher on skills already learned and moving on from there.
Throughout the week we looked at movement on various rock from slabs, vertical and overhanging  routes; clipping quickdraws efficiently and correctly; re-threading anchors and eventually moved on to leading routes.

top roping at La Gaita
As it was a chilled week we also spent the days enjoying other distractions.  I was introduced to Carajillo - a coffee and brandy for breakfast, rumored to have been drank by troops for courage,  which set up the day nicely for some courageous climbing.

escalare arabe
We also were introduced to Silvi's puppies, Ratita and Osita.  The breaks between climbs were definitely often and long as the puppies were great to play with.  So we focused on the importance of rest between climbs as Ulrike got her first ever leads in that day.  Relaxing mentally and physically is an important part of the day and the puppies provided a fantastic distraction.

puppy power

Sunday, 9 December 2012


I've spent the last couple of weeks just climbing at various venues looking for a route that I'd like to spend some time working and belaying a friend on their project.  A good mate of mine, Darren, was playing on Talibania last year and wanted to finish it on this trip.
The weather didn't really help for the first couple of weeks of his trip so we just made sure we got mileage at the right grade and climbing style.  The route itself starts up a very overhanging groove on large holds to a good rest before you make technical/hard moves into a vertical groove and then continue up into a hard compression crux.  This takes you to the first chain and then you continue up to the second chain on less difficult ground but dealing with tiredness.  A great climb and very, very exposed.
Even with all the beta from Darren and being able to do the moves I never felt the love for the climb.  It would mean jumping up a grade for me and entering the world of 8a, which is something I really want to achieve but for me the route just did not enthuse me and I feel the amount of time I will have to spend on such a project I must love the climbing.  So for me, I moved on, for Darren it was time to learn, refine and understand.
Darren resting before the send
Warm up properly and rest.  So to get the arms working we progressed through the grades and then went onto an overhaning into vertical technical 7a+.  Basically the perfect warm up as it offered similar climbing and got the arms working hard.  Followed by a rest/snooze and then what seemed like an effortless send.  First 8a for Darren and lots of celebrating followed.

Andy getting ready for a TRON

I find I get inspired and motivated by my friends successes and have found myself a hard project that enthuses me.  I'd been wanting to try a climb called Ace Ventura since I arrived this year.  It's a vertical, technical, crimp fest which a friend of mine sent earlier this year.  I first saw this line on my first trip to chorro 7yrs ago and at the time thought it was something I would never ever be able to climb.  It looked so blank and impossible that I did not have the imagination or belief that I could get to that stage of climbing.
Over the years I have become more and more enthused by this style as I find that it throws a puzzle at you with tiny moves and nuances of movement and small adjustments to sequences being the secret solution to progressing to a successful ascent.

Andy and Patrick on their projects
So, we had our first play on it yesterday in the sun and heat, (not ideal conditions).  Within three top rope attempts Andy and I have worked out sequences that should get us to the top.  Having a mate joining you had definitely helped and other people with beta is starting to make this route very achievable.  
If it goes it will be my hardest sport route ever and a route that I feel very inspired to complete, as much for the grade, as for the fantastic climbing it offers.  
Now just need to regrow the skin and hope for colder temperatures!!


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Not sweating it

It's been a couple of weeks since my last blog and in this case that's a good thing.  The weather, although temperamental  has allowed for lots of climbing.  Not always first venue choice but definitely lots of climbing to be had.
Some of my favourite climbing in El Chorro is on the great big overhanging, jug-fest, tuffa-ville, forearm exploding, super-long endurance test-pieces.  As we have had a lot of rain over the last few weeks the big tuffas have been sweating water like the climbers trying to crush them.  In fact most of the overhanging rock has been seeping for a while, especially in the mornings before the sun hits it and drys it out for us.  

Poema de Roca Cave.  Photo courtesy of Patrick Pearce

So I've spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks on more vertical offerings in the area.  This style of climbing suits me better at the minute as I can compensate for my weaker arms with a bit of technique and footwork.  And I've also made use of the mileage achieved in the first few weeks to climb smoother and more confidently.  At least until I confidently and smoothly fall at the crux on some of the harder routes.
The search for vertical climbs has taken advantage of some fantastic sectors in the area with trips to Escalera Arabe and its beautiful views over the valley.   

Darren at Escalera Arabe.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Pearce.
And a great excursion to El Polvorin, through the gorge.  I've been to El Polvorin once before a few years ago but got put off by the difficulty of my supposed warm-up route.  El Polvorin offers several high quality routes, all super long on clean vertical rock, in a beautiful setting.  The warm-up is a 35m, 6a+ with a bit of a tough start which had me pumped for the rest of the route and never truly relaxed.  Off-putting, considering all the other climbs are at least 6c.

El Polvorin.  Photo courtesy of Patrick Pearce
Sticking with this crag definitely pays off.  We moved on to climb Pilier Dorada, Generacio spontanea and Habitos de un perturbado irrerdiable, each route worth the stars and top 50 accolade they receive and well worth the longer walk to get there.  A day spent on-sighting at a top venue like this is great ground work for getting on other longer routes as it offers you fantastic opportunity to focus on your route reading, identifying rests and crux sections.  Cementing the habit of climbing to the rests or identifying where the clipping hold is or where to push your hardest, especially on routes at your on-sighting limit creates the habits that help you succeed on harder and harder on-sights and pushes you up the more difficult projects.
A lot of climbing is down to arm and finger strength but sometimes it's this strength that can be a disadvantage, especially when we get closer to our max.  More and more I use the term you're just too strong when I try to give advice to climbers.  Learning to let go a bit and climb at your weakest brings you closer to the smoothness and effortless movement that allows you to arrive at those harder cruxes fresh and with plenty of power to push through.

Tom Ireson on Ace Ventura 8a/+.
Prize winning photo courtesy of Patrick Pearce.
With that in mind, today we're going to start our onslaught on Talibania F8a.  A project Darren was trying last year and we hope to send on this trip.  Not exactly my style, especially having spent the last few days on vertical rock, the over-hanging nature of this route will get me stronger and get me focusing on how to not use that strength until it is absolutely necessary.

On a wee side note...
All pictures are courtesy of Patrick Pearce.  The difference between my point and click approach and his understanding of the intricacies of creating something special and beautiful are so evident in the atmosphere and emotion he is able to portray in his artwork.  His pictures include the Petzl competition winning picture of Tom Ireson on Ace Ventura (above).
The great news is that Patrick is in El Chorro for the season and you can hire him for the day.  
Contact him for more details -

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

TRONing and working

Over the past few days I've managed to get a good bit of climbing in beautiful sunshine, with dry rock, good company and an education in some new terminology.  It's great to always learn something new in climbing whether it be a new route, a new crag, equipment... but I always find the terms that make it into the climbing world quite amusing.  Rot Punkt (Red pointing) from the practice of putting a red dot beside a route that is being worked but has not had a first ascent, back in the day in Frankenjura, the next step to pink pointing where the quickdraws are left in for the lead attempt; TOFP (tops off for power) - the realisation that the t-shirt weighs just too much and is hindering the send; the Send - the process of finishing a problem; the Problem - the route (used more in bouldering terminology), etc. etc.

Patrick TRONing Insominio de Equipmiento F6c+
I have now been introduced to TRONing - Top Rope Onsite.  A fantastic and amusing new term to describe your first attempt on a route which already has the rope in place.  It seems that it is less strict with it's limitations as I've been informed your second top rope attempt can still be called a TRON, although I do question their ethics or maybe it's just the lack of an equally amusing term for further attempts.
I have not yet partaken in this new phenomenon but I do look forward to being a TRONer at some stage and possibly even making it to MEGA-TRON status.

Colette on Rogelio F4+ or F6a+
I also had a lovely day working with Colette from Wexford.  We spent the day looking at some useful rope work related to sports climbing as well as leading, and got a great 9-pitch route in looking at rope management in a multipitch environment and smooth multiple abseil descent.
A great day out with a beautiful sunset to welcome us on our return to terra firma.

Colette back down from Rogelio

Sunday, 11 November 2012

El Chorro plan b

So the weather has still not been the best over the past few days so we had to start looking at all the various things you can do to make the most of the place.  Shopping and sorting out all the wee bits and pieces that you keep putting off finally got done.  Finding lots of signs with my name on it became very important too.  It's like ironing underwear during exam study time:  there's no need for it but it suddenly becomes of utmost importance.

I feel appreciated
Luckily there are other wet weather alternatives and, Spain being Spain, when the rain stops there are crags that dry very quickly.  The perma-dry bouldering cave keeps the strength and stamina up and is a nice wee spot to hang-out for the day.

Charly crushing!

Yesterday was the first sunny, dry day in a while and gave me the chance to get moving again on the rock.  Suffering from the cold at the minute I just fancied getting mileage in and looking at potential multi-pitches to use with clients. I was joined by Mette and we made our way to Sector Austria for the day, with lots of friendly graded routes from two to four pitches.  We managed to get ten pitches of climbing in including the classic Valentine's Day.  It's a great sector with grades from F4 - F6c and just a few metres to walk from one to the next.  An excellent spot to get the body and brain into climbing mode again.

Mette on Valentines Day

Abbing off at the end of the day

Beautiful cloud formations (lenticular clouds) on the walk out


Sunday, 4 November 2012

Despo rate

Today was my last day of three with Deirdre and Martin King on their wee trip to El Chorro for a bit of bolt clipping and the weather again wasn't making life easy.  We made our way into Poema Cave to climb the friendlier graded climbs hoping the overhanging nature of the buttress would have kept them dry.

threatening clouds over El Chorro
Unfortunately, this was not to be as we got showered from the seeping tuffas and made a quick return to the car to chance a trip to Buena Sombre, Desplomilandia (Despo).  This is a high quality crag with lots of three star routes with a grade range from F5+ to F8a+.  After a couple of goes on the F5+ we moved onto Sin mantenimiento F6a, which gave us the opportunity to look at techniques for overhaning rock. Looking specifically at efficient movement, reading moves and using centre of gravity, both Martin and Deirdre came away with a greater understanding and enjoyment of overhanging climbing and a good workout before their trip back to the UK.

Martin on Escombros
With such a short trip for Deirdre and Martin I was desperate to get the most out of their time in the region and although the weather has limited the choices on offer the variety and accessibility of the cragging has enabled us to spend the weekend covering slab climbing at Valle de Abdalajis, Via Ferrata and abseiling on the Camino del Rey and some vertical and overhanging climbing at Despo.  
When coaching and instructing clients I aim to challenge them and to use these challenges to help them improve technically and psychologically and therefore enjoy and accept that if it's hard it's a great way to learn.  Having had to deal with the challenge of the weather over the past few days was not how I wanted to start guiding in Spain but it has been an invaluable experience.  
With a few days off now I have a bit of time to get settled at the Olive Branch and to challenge myself on the rock.   

Return of the Kings

So the move to Spain has been made easy with both good and bad fortune.  Good fortune - Having shadowed Silvi Fitzpatrick on the Camino del Rey for a day I got straight into some work for the weekend.  Working with Deirdre and Martin King on a Rock Climbing course in El Chorro.

Deirdre and Martin on Camino del Rey
We spent a half day at Valle de Abdalajis just getting some mileage in before the weekends rain came in (bad fortune).  As their only here for the weekend the weather has not played fair so we took advantage of the other attractions in the area by spending yesterday on the Camino del Rey (King's walkway), a makeshift via ferrata through a gorge with a wee scramble/climb to get out at the other end.  

Martin on-ish Camino del Rey
Considering the damp weather we managed to get a full day out on the walkway including a wee scramble and an abseil down one of the climbs.  Having spent the last few years climbing in El Chorro I have looked at  the area in a different manner on this trip.  Looking for the best learning opportunities for clients and putting together interesting and challenging days out that will help them develop and get the most out of what the area has to offer has helped me get to know the place in a different light and appreciate all the opportunities that are on offer.
Holding on for dear life.  Camino del Rey

Today we will be taking advantage of one of the caves in the area with some more amenable climbing which, fingers crossed, should have remained dry.  With two appropriate climbs we will have an opportunity to look at top roping, simulated leading, leading.... and enjoy the beautiful lakeside location.
More bad fortune - my tent is soaking.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A dogs life

The highlands have definitely been showing off over the last few days.  Blue skies, sunshine, clear nights, morning temperature inversions...  it's been a beautiful place to live and play.
Berry enjoying Glen Nevis
After a weekend spent catching up with friends in Glasgow, I felt the need for some exercise and healthier living.  I've managed a couple of days bouldering on Heather Hat, repeating some problems and trying a new font 7b which I'm still not quite strong enough for.  I love the movement on it though with some crafty heel hooking, deep lock-offs, egyptians, full on body tension moves and finishes with a big dollop of fear.  If i get it sent it'll be one my favourite boulder problems on this stunning bit of rock.

Berry spotting me on Heather Hat
The rough rock in Glen Nevis isn't always the most friendly on the skin so to not waste the good weather I spent the rest of the day playing on a slackline with Loch Eil in the background until the sun set just beyond the Loch.

Berry spotting me on the slackline
It was back to a bit of work today with the students from Lochaber college.  The aim of the day was to look at technical rope work, so we went up and down Ledge route looking at different belaying techniques, confidence roping and where and when to use the rope.

Descending Ledge route with Lochaber College Students

As I'm about to head off to Spain in a week it is a real privilege to spend the last few days experiencing what makes this part of the world so special.  With snow forecast over the weekend on the higher summits we will again see the area transform and again offer new opportunity to enjoy playing in these wild places.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

End of Frustration

At the start of the year I set myself a couple of climbing goals related to grades I wanted to climb.  After a long trip to El Chorro clipping bolts, I felt in a good position to push things further this year and started my training with a solid foundation.
But, as with all plans, there are always a few hurdles along the way that slow or stop progress.  Although, I've had a much busier year due to venturing into the world of freelancing as well as continuing with a full time job, it is the various little tweaks and injuries that have proven the biggest hurdles to over come and the most frustrating.  This has led me to climb very little this year with next to no routes/bouldering throughout the summer and a significant affect on performance.

Frustration over.  Lonely skyhook far, far away.
With a few weeks of regular training and a healed broken hand I finally managed to get out on some dry rock on Sunday with Kev and Scott.  We headed out to a beautiful slab out by Lochailort with the intention of trying Frustration E5,6a and also to look at getting the 2nd ascent of Kev's route Rebellion E6,6b.
After a couple of top-ropes on frustration I felt happy to get on the sharp end.  The route is protected by a solitary sky-hook about a third of the way up the climb.  Having selected not to tie it down it basically became an aesthetically pleasing piece of kit and would not stop a ground fall from higher up the route.
I felt very comfortable on the route and therefore wasn't too bothered about the gear.  The route has a lovely flow to it and I felt that my moves matched the this flow and the boldness became much less significant.  It's been a long time since I've found this feeling of fun and freedom on the rock and has definitely ended a feeling of frustration I have become far too aware of.

Scott toproping Frustration
I managed to send Frustration and had a top rope on  Rebellion.  Kev was able to talk me through the route move by move.  Quite impressive since it has been several months since he climbed it.  The crux is the very last move and proved a sticking point for me.  I decided to leave it for another day as I didn't fancy the potential fall onto gear at half height.  I am constantly amazes at Kev's ability and technique when it comes to these routes.  It's easy to see why companies are willing to sponsor him.  He is a very accomplished athlete!

Kev looking for a new route
I have another couple of weeks before I head out to El Chorro for my annual escape to sunshine and I'm starting to feel more and more positive of where I am now in regards to my climbing.  Although, I am not yet as strong as I was I am enjoying playing on the rock a lot more and I'm starting to feel less rigid and am making strides towards climbing the way I like to climb.
The goals might not be realised this year but the playful nature of climbing and the feeling I seek from it have re-established themselves.  You often hear it said, "the best climber is the one having the most fun", which make me pretty damn good again!!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Native schooling

I spent the last week working for Outward Bound with the Glasgow Gaelic school.  It was  a great opportunity to get to grips with the pronunciation of local place names and their meanings.  A beautiful start to the week made for stunning views down Loch Eil (shimmering loch) to Ben Nevis (poison mountain) and the Mammores.

Canoeing on Loch Eil
 The course included an overnight expedition which we spent up by Stob Ban (white peak) and made an evening ascent of Sgurr an lubhair (peak of the Yew) hoping to see the northern lights.  Unfortunately no northern lights but we did manage to catch a very striking sunset.

Stob Ban sunset
With only a couple of weeks left in Scotland for the year it's these views and settings that make this a very special place.  All those days spent cursing the midges, rain, ticks, more rain and even more midges are easily forgotten when you see just how beautiful the place can be.

Stob Ban

Students on Sgurr an lubhair

Monday, 8 October 2012

Canyons & Crags

Inchree Canyon
After a week working at my full time job at Outward Bound I got a call from Vertical Descents to guide a couple of canyon trips at Inchree.  Having recently passed the Canyon Guide level 1 assessment, it was a great opportunity to put it to good use.  
Canyoning is probably my favourite activity to undertake with groups, as it turns the outdoors into a giant playground where you just have a great laugh and scare yourself a wee bit with some of the bigger jumps around. Inchree is a fantastic canyon with very little rope work which means very little waiting around and a great flow to the day.  There are some excellent slides, jumps, zip wire and it all culminates with an 8.5m jump into a deep pool.  Fantastic fun!!
For more info on canyon trips contact me via email.

Black Jack F6b, pic Dorota Bankowska
Sunday was a bit more chilled with a trip out to Black Crag by Lochailort.  This crag was bolted a few years ago by Tom Bollard and and is a nice wee day out with grades from F5+ - F7b+.  The crag is situated by the sea so discretion/common sense is advised regarding the bolts and lower offs.
The setting far exceeds the climbing in my opinion but the setting is so stunning on a beautiful day that it makes the trip worthwhile.  You can extend your stay with a night in the Fisherman's bothy a little further along the coast.  Up there with one of my favourite places that I've ever stayed.
The day was spent with Karen, Sarah, Dot and Berry.  Beautiful setting, beautiful weather, beautiful company and a wee bit of bolt clipping thrown in.  A great finish to the week.

Berry chilling in the sun