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 - patrickpearce@outlook.com

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.