International Jet Setter

Over the last few weeks I have got a small taste of what it might be like to be an international climbing superstar (although my trips were self funded), travelling between climbing destinations in quick succession.

In two and a bit weeks I have climbed in Switzerland, France, Wales and England.

First up was Switzerland. This trip was actually a family holiday but our chalet just so happened to be next to Magic Wood, happy days!

Magic Wood is an absolutely stunning bouldering location situated in a high mountain valley next to a beautiful river and surrounded with snow capped peaks.

Magic wood has been a venue that I have always wanted to visit, so when the chance of a trip arouse I grabbed the opportunity.

In total we spent only four days climbing here but we seemed to get a surprising amount done. I believe the amount we did was down to the climbing style here. It seems to lend itself to fast ascents. If you have the power you can do stuff quickly, if you don’t then, you cant.

Highlights of the trip for me include:

Intermezzo 7C Flash (small crimps on a 40 degree wall, soft)

Supernova 7C/+ (Slopey, slippery, slimy ramp. Classic. I found it hard)

Piranja 7C+ (cool wall with one hard deadpoint move)

Neverending story part 2 8A (Powerful moves on smooth rock)

Foxy Lady 8A (Tiny hands, massive feet!)

Nothing Changes 8A (Bad landing. Loved it)

I have got footage of most of the climbing from this trip (hense the lack of photos) so I will try and put a small video together soon. I will definitely be back for more Swiss bouldering in the not too distant future.

After Switzerland I had seven full on days of work at home. I did two days of route setting, three days of coaching, a day of guiding and a day of Stone floor restoration. You can read about some of the coaching work I did here www.ben-west.co.uk/south-west-squad-day/

Before we new it we were back on the Euro tunnel on our way to Font. This Font trip was partly work and partly play. I was accompanying three boys I have been coaching for several years to show them the delights of the forest.

This trip was even shorter than the Magic wood trip, with only 3 days of climbing to be had. On arrival the conditions were far from perfect, humid, sticky and about 20 degrees but we were so happy to be there we just got stuck right in.

photo Max Ayrton

Fontainebleau is possibly my favourite place to climb. I love the style here. Not many grab and pull type problems and you are lucky if you get a quick tick. You have to put the work in here to reap the rewards. Fortunately I seem to be fairly well suited to it, perhaps its my ability to grovel my way up rocks. Whatever I do it seems to work out ok. In our three days here my ticklist included:

Sur-Prises 7B+ (one really hard move)

Symbiose 7C (cool sequence through a roof, hard sloper move to finish)

Appartenance assis 7C+ (I thought the 7C started as a sit and was pleasantly suprised to find out it was 7C+)

La Balance sans pocket 7C+/8A  (campusing on slopers).

The boys also had a great first trip to the forest and all came away having climbed 7A as well as having been schooled on some brilliant 5A+ slabs. Im sure they will be back.

Getting schooled on a Font slab

Marie Rose CAC

Finally we have just spent the weekend up in the Gower. Trying to climb some fairly damp rock. I will be back to soon for some unfinished business. In the mean time its back to work!

Oh I forgot to mention an amazing route I did  at the the beginning of May. The route is called Galactica 8b and is situated high above the ground on Spacehunter wall in Cheddar gorge. This route combines great climbing and a stunning positions to create a great climbing experience.

First crux on Galactica

 

Albarracin

Back in January Hannah and I travelled to Albarracin for a couple of days bouldering. The first day was supposed to be a travel and rest day but when we arrived the sun was shining and there was frost on the ground, perfect bouldering conditions. We jumped straight in.

I generally don’t like to decide on what to try before arriving at a venue, part of the joy of climbing for me is running around climbing what looks good. Saying this I did have my eye on a few things, Zarzamora being one. This boulder is graded 8A and revolves around one big move to an edge. Once I sorted my method the boulder was done, pretty steady for 8A and not bad for 10 minutes work. Zarzamora is great fun and the big move feels beautiful to do, in the UK I think this boulder would be graded 7C.

Waking up the next morning we were greeted with slushy wet snow falling from the sky. Forced rest day for us then. We spent the day wandering around the beautiful historic town of Albarracin.

I was a bit cheesed off with the weather as we only had a few days and I was keen to get on some boulders. Fortunately the next day we opened the windows to clear blue skys, crisp air and snow on the ground. We were up early and psyched to get started.

The alternative finish to Zarzamora was my aim for the day, this problem has a lofty grade of 8B and is called Zarzaparilla. First a quick warm up/epic on El Ermitano 7A+. This problem was supposed to just warm me up nicely but ended up being a real fight as the top out had a layer of frozen snow covering it, (Sp)icy times! Anyway, onto the main event;  Zarzaparilla climbs through the hard moves of Zarzamora and then rightwards through a much harder finish. The finishing moves revolve around a very small break which you crimp. All kinds of toe hooks and deadpoints aid you with this.

On to the grade. If this boulder problem is actually 8B then this is fairly significant for me as it would be my first. In my opinion the bottom section is 7Cish as I have already said, the independant finishing moves felt similar in difficulty as The Joker to me (soft 8A). So for me Zarzaparilla felt like 7C into  soft 8A. If this problem were in Britain it would probably get 8A+ but isn’t the main reason we all go to Spain the “Holiday Grades”, or is it the sunshine?

Talking of sunshine, I cant wait for the sun to come out around here. I keep dreaming of the deep water soloing season.

See you out there.

The CWIF 2014

Last weekend saw the return of the annual Climbing Works International Festival. The CWIF is probably the most anticipated indoor climbing event in the UK and this year was no different. There are 350 places made available for competitors and the competition was fully booked within  two day of opening registration.

I have had a very busy few months of work so I was looking forward to getting away and attending the event. It is always a very social affair with much of the climbing community attending. This year there were also a large number of forign competitiors with the likes of the Dutch, Slovenian and French national teams there.

The competition has two parts; on the Saturday all 350 competitors do a 30 bloc qualification tour then on Sunday the top climbers go through to a Semi final and final.

This year the qualification round suited me perfectly, lots of technical, balancy and droppable problems, just my style. I managed to climb 29 out of the 30 problems and scored 275 out of 300 points, a score good enough to see me through to the semi finals on Sunday in 12th position.

Sunday morning arrived. By 11 am there were 40 competitors (20 male and 20 female) locked away in isolation. I really enjoyed the Isolationas I got to observe how some of the best climbers in the world warm up and prepare themselves to climb hard.

The semi finals ran in reverse order of Qualification, I was out 9th. The format was onsight with 5 minutes on each problem. The first problem was hard, a really brutal affair through a roof. I struggled. The second problem was dynamic with big moves and flying legs. The third was similar and the fourth and final problem was a slab.

I ended my round with no tops but 3 bonuses in 3 attempts. I feel Like I could have done 2 of the problems, dropping the last move of both on my flash attempt but unable to finish them off as tiredness kicked in. The problems were hard, but they had to be to split weak outdoor climbing punters like me from the worlds elite!

 

Overall I finished 18th which I feel is a pretty respectable position. Full results and replays of the semi final and final are available here http://www.climbingworks.com/the-beta/events/cwif-2014/

I really enjoyed the competition.

We finished the weekend off with a relaxed trip to Cratcliffe for some sunny bouldering.

I would like to thank Mammut for supporting my climbing and for renewing my contract for another year. Thanks also go to La Sportiva for the amazing climbing shoes that they make.

 

The Joker

After headlining as one of the hardest boulder problems in the iconic film Hard Grit The Joker has always been a climb that has inspired me. One move, pure difficulty, absolutely not my style. I am more suited to grovelling, thrutching and cheating my way up rocks using sneaky heels and toes. The Joker doesn’t allow for any of this trickery; or so it would first appear.

The Joker
Photo Hannah Brading

On closer inspection, when you start to really break down the move you realise just how technical one “pure power” move can be.

Ben Moon famously stated that “technique is no substitute for power”, but I beg to differ. Obviously you need power to drag yourself up pieces of rock, especially rocks as short as this, but the amount of power you need is directly proportional to the amount of technique you possess.

When/if you watch the video below notice the body swing as I step off the boulder. Get your timing right on the back swing and surprisingly little power is needed to reach for the top:

Technique in “full swing”?

Once I had mastered the technique of this move I could repeat it almost every time.

Admittedly just holding the holds is fairly difficult so some finger strength is required.

Anyway as I was saying this climb inspired me, in fact it still does although now I am trying it from one hold lower. It sits in such a majestic position overlooking all of the problems below. The Joker also signifies great improvements for my climbing, to do something which you would never have thought possible for you really is a great feeling. I walked down from the plantation that day with a massive grin on my face, and I wore it all the way home.

My Climbing Year in Pictures

I have put together a few photographs to sum up my year. Sort of a photo Diary I suppose.

The Terrace

 

Western Eyes

Eclipse

Controle Technique

Jungle VIP

The Prince

Fat Cat Roof
Blue Planet

Christine
Cutlass
Photo Ramon Marin

BLCC’s

Careless Torque

Careless Torque
Photo Mike Hutton

The Joker

Happy New Year Everyone!! Here’s to an even better 2014.

 

 

Careless Torque

I have visited Stanage Plantation countless times over the years and on every visit I have gazed up in awe at the amazing line that is Careless Torque.This huge boulder stands proud and dominant away from the rest of the cliff. Climbers, walkers and mountain bikers revel in its imposing glory as they pass beneath it on the path.

Ever since my first visit I have dreamt of climbing this incredible line, but I never believed it would be possible.

Over the years I have ticked off many of the other classic problems at Stanage: Cresent Arete, Green Traverse, Deliverance and Brad Pit to name a few. After climbing Brad Pit I thought (until this winter) that I had climbed all the problems that were possible for me at the Plantation. Gritstone has always suited my style but pure strength has always been a weakness, this year I set myself the challenge of  increasing my power.

Careless Torque was to be the problem I would test my new found power on, and it would give me an excuse to revisit the Plantation. I intended Careless to be a long term winter project and had resigned myself to many trips to the Peak to attempt it. Two weeks ago I drove North to open the account.

The first session went incredibly well. I was shocked to find myself standing high on the arete after just a few goes. The bottom of the problem is massively undercut, and thought, by many, to be the crux but once I had sussed the body positions for this bottom section I seemed to be able to do it almost every go and the top became the main challenge. On that first session I fell from the very top twice, unfortunately sore muscles and split tips stopped play that day.

Split tips stop play

This weekend I made the trip again. I was nervous,I knew it was possible and this weighed on my mind. I hated the pressure I now placed on myself to climb the route quickly, only a few weeks ago I didn’t even believe it possible.

We arrived at the crag with a big group of friends, and an even bigger number of pads. Game on! My first proper go went well, I tickled the top hold, chickened out and fell Southwards. A few goes later and I was back just below the top on the last hard move, my foot fell into place and I reached the top hold with relative ease and pulled over the top on the most beautiful glory jugs available.

Careless Torque

Careless Torque

On the actual go the climbing felt easy, everything fell into place and Careless Torque was done.

After climbing the route I felt happy to have done it, but I wasn’t over come with glee. For me definitely the process was more enjoyable than the completion, the anticipation to try the route outweighed the final success. That said I am over the moon to have climbed Careless Torque, possibly the greatest line I have ever seen!

What’s next?

On a side note. It has occurred to me  how much Highballing is like DWSing. You get the social aspect of Bouldering, the adventurous adrenaline rush of Traditional climbing and relative safety on a big fall.

Happy days… I LOVE CLIMBING!

Summer Round Up

The Deep Water Soloing season came to an end in style. The weekend after the ban was lifted at Berry Head a huge party of climbers assembled to celebrate Rob Greenwood’s birthday and to reincarnate the (unofficial) DWS festival. Routes were being climbed all over the place. Every where you looked along the cliff there were sun bronzed human beings interacting with the most wonderful coloured rock to be found anywhere.

My aim for the weekend was route called Cutlass. This route was first climbed by Ken Palmer on a top rope before Neil Gresham climbed it ground up on the first solo ascent.

The route climbs directly out of the most beautiful orange, black and gold streaked section of the rainbow bridge traverse. There was a couple of really strong climbers about that day who were also interested in trying this route. Me, believing myself to be the weakest of the bunch decided to go first so I could provide some beta for the strong boys to go for the flash. You start the route by climbing along Rainbow bridge before attacking the blankest looking section of the wall. A few deep locks lead you to a large move to a big pinch, here you set your feet and lay one on for a flat hold near the top, hold the swing, grab some jugs and top out easily. On my onsight go I didn’t commit properly to the big move from the pinch and dropped it trying to hold the swing. I blame my saggy core (note to self, something to work on over the winter). On my second go I set my right hand on the pinch properly, drove my feet into the smears and held the move by really engaging the core to kill the swing. I had achieved the route I had come to climb, and all before coffee time.

Cutlass
Photo Ramon

Later that day Ryan Pasquil and Neil Mawson flashed the route with relative ease (and good beta ;) ). I was so psyched watching these boys in action that I decided to have another go on the route. Climbing this route for the second time really topped a great day.

Cutlass was originally graded 8a+ as it was tried many times by Neil with beta that turned out to be harder, after several discussions I believe the grade to be on the friendly side of 8a. Boulder grade wise perhaps it would break down as a 6C into a dynamic 7A+.

Grades aside, this route is fantastic and pretty low so go and get on it people, although perhaps best to wait for the summer to return now.

That evening we had a great BBQ in the car park to celebrate.

The following weekend I was down at Lulworth cove. Lulworth cove is my favourite DWS venue for this summer. The routes are characterized by steep and juggy climbing which generally requires a fairly dynamic style. Especially the route I was there to try, Adrenochrome. Gav was getting much further on the route than me and I was getting frustrated, the sea was getting colder and this would be the last opportunity to do this route before the summer was over. I was being shut down by a big dynamic throw where the usual beta is to “tag” into this grim undercut before latching a jug. Try as I might I could just not generate the required momentum for the move. I blame my short arms, but I am just making excuses. Anyway, instead of just tagging the undercut with the left had I decided to use it as a hold and go more statically to the jug with the right. Not the usual method, but it worked for me.

Adrenochrome is probably the best route I have ever climbed in any genre, every move is amazing and the climbing just flows together into one amazing journey through this wonderful feature.

Since the end of the summer weather I have been reminiscing about sunny days passed, gone are the times of just waking up in the morning and going to the crag to climb. Now the first thing I do is check the weather forecast.

To keep myself motivated to train on plastic I registered to compete in the British Lead climbing championships, some of the boys that I coach were also competing. I went down the wall and did lap after lap after lap on the pink spots then the green spots then the black spots….

When the sun did come out I went climbing. Some memorable days were had at Cheddar, many routes were climbed between 7c and 8a+. Generally I tried to flash or onsight every route, if this didn’t work then second go it was.

Last weekend we travelled to the cool new Awesome Walls Sheffield, where the BLCC’s were being held. On the Saturday the juniors competed and the lads all climbed well and had a great day. On Sunday the seniors were up. The qualification involved climbing two routes. These routes had very contrasting styles. My first route was very bouldery, I regretted doing all those laps on the aformentioned spoted routes at UCR and wished I had just gone bouldering. Nearly every one fell at the same boulder problem with a hold or two separating the majority of the field.

The second route was a bit more to my liking, it was about 10 degrees overhanging and had the most disgusting little rat crimps imaginable, just my style. I topped the route with what felt like relative easy. Later talking to Mike Langley, one of the setters, he congratulated me on completing a hard route, commenting that it was graded 7c+. I had to disagree with him on the grade.

In the end I was one hold away from making it into the final and I finished in 12th position. I am fairly happy with the way I climbed, although I definitely didn’t climb my best, which is good as it means I will have more to give next year.

The following day I dragged Hannah around the Peak district looking for a particular boulder problem. Like a numpty I had got too carried away setting boulder problems the Friday before at TCA, when I was supposed to be packing for the weekend, and  had forgotten the guide books.

I found the boulder problem, climbed it and then went home.

Mossatrocity

Mossatrocity

 

Christine 8a Deep Water Solo

After returning from Long Quarry point last week I had only one thing on my mind.

Christine!

I just had to go back to her.

An unsuccessful attempt on Christine
Photo Hannah Brading

Christine and I came excruciatingly close last week but I fell on my last go, from the final move of the crux. Unfortunately I was already running late as I had to be back in Gloucester to run a coaching session in 2 hours so did not have time to finish her off.

On Monday I drove back down for my second date with Christine. This time I was sure something would happen.

On my first go of the day I climbed clinically through to my previous high point, reached for the next hold but could not hold the wild cut loose. Christine spat me off once again. This time I took a wild fall landing fully side on, and got a real ear full. A few minutes spent drying of and shaking sea water from my ears and I was ready to go again.

A creating waves

The route breaks down into 3 distinct sections, first up is a board style boulder problem to a no hands back and foot rest, next you have amazingly steep 3D climbing which culminates in this wild cut loose right at the lip, you then join and climb the crux of Blue Planet 7b+ and follow this route to the top.

The lower wall
Photo Hannah Brading

I climbed the now dialled lower wall to the rest. The rest on this route is special, hard climbing to it and hard climbing after it, but while resting you are on your own in this hanging full body bridge above the sea. The sound of crashing waves are in your ears and you can see small fishes darting around in the sea below, all very restful until you anticipate the climbing that you cannot see but is still to come. After the rest you lower yourself down, around and through bulges and ceilings, toe hooks are de rigueur. The final hard moves revolve around the afore mentioned cut loose on small crimps. This time I released one leg first to reduce the swing, dropped my final toe hook and engage the core. I stayed on. Whipping my feet back to the wall I made the final move before joining Blue Planet and enjoying this route to the top.

Finally holding the crux swing on Christine 8a
Photo Ben Norman

Relief after the crux

Climbing the top wall of Christine and Blue Planet
Photo Ben Norman

Overall this is one of my most satisfying climbing experiences as when climbing ground up on every go you are climbing into the unknown right up until you unlock the finishing sequence.

Christine, you are mine.

Deep water soloing never ceases to amazing me and give me joy. I think the main reason I love it so much is that even if you do not climb your desired route you still have a massive amount of fun trying. Falling into the warm blue sea is nothing but pure pleasure (most of the time).

Deep Water Soloing

Is Deep Water Soloing the greatest form of climbing? For me days spent deep water soloing are definitely up there with the best climbing days I ever have.

Mike Goldthorp on Arapiles oh Arapiles

Spring and early summer are by far the busiest time of year for me, as this time of year is when much of the work I do is in full swing, but fortunately this year I have had some great days out climbing above the water in between work. It is these days that have inspired me to to write a few words on my current favourite genre of climbing.

Mike on Arapiles

So why is deep water soloing so good? In my opinion this form of climbing incorporates all of the best bit from its neighbouring disciplines, and none of the worst bits.

Cailean Harker on Once a Dogger

First of all you have the adventurous feeling that you experience whilst Trad climbing, perhaps it is the apprehension of the unknown, feeling the fear and adrenaline of being way above your protection or the great sense that you must keep climbing despite the uncertainty of a mighty fall, and all this without the faff of ropes and gear.

Ben Norman on Blue Planet

When you do fall you realise that DWS’ing has much in common with sport climbing. It allows you the freedom to flow with the climbing whilst pushing your physical limits to the max in relative safety, you don’t even have to stop to clip a bolt.

About to get a face full… SPLASHDOWN!!!

This form of climbing has a really close connection with the vibe that you get when bouldering with a group of like minded people. There is a hugely social element and the feeling of comradery and mutual support are the real reasons that I like DWS so much. Participants whoop and cheer with joy at any opportunity, especially when they see their friends take huge splashdowns into the sea.

Mike on Blue Planet

Last month I had a trip down Lulworth, on arrival we were greeted by a large group of super strong climbers from all over the country. The conditions were amazing and the atmosphere was even better. The group moved from route to route ticking classics such as Animal Magnetism 7a+, Gates of Grey Skull 7b+ and Mark of the Beast 7c.

The dyno on Adrenochrome

Animal Magnetism is a cool route which starts already way above the sea and climbs to the top of the wall with a brilliant sequence on cool holds. Gates of Grey skull is a spectacular route, climbing a super steep wall on good holds to a final exciting dynamic slap for the top. Mark of the Beast is as fine an example of a DWS as can be found anywhere. It climbs a super steep wall on big pumpy holds to a final move which requires precision and strength of body and mind, way above the water. In total that day Mark of the Beast was climbed 8 times with 6 of those ascents being flashed (perhaps the most ascents this route has had in one day). I finished of the day with an onsight of Skullthuggery, a super steep and 3D start to Gates of Grey Skull. Super Stuff!!

Other must visit destinations include Berry Head, Long quarry point, Swanage, Pembroke and of course Mallorca. Get out there people and enjoy the sunny weather!

One thing to bear in mind is the safety of Deep water soloing, it is a great idea to take someone experienced in this form of climbing on your first trip. Always check the tides and landing zones before you set off and practice your falling technique before you start getting high.

Getting high and scared on The Lobster Mallorca

 

Mammut Realisation Shorts

image

You may or may not have heard or seen the Mammut Realisation Shorts.  For those of you who are unaware, they are a pair of shorts and a climbing harness built into one.

On ordering my pair I was slightly dubious about both how good the functionality would be and how they might look when being used as a harness. As soon as they came out of the box I loved then. They look great, especially in the fairly out there ginger colour, and they feel really comfortable as a pair of shorts too.

We headed down to UCR Bristol to try them out in harness mode. I was slightly unnerved at first by the freedom of movement that they offer, the comfort is so great that it almost feels like soloing! Once you get used to this sensation they feel amazing. Little things pleased me like how when you are being lowered the shorts don’t come tight and just look like a regular pair of shorts. As an indoor climbing harness I would highly recommend them.

The following day I did a few routes at cheddar to see how they performed on the sports routes. They did the job well and it was nice to wear shorts for the first time this year. They performed well outside too. I will have to do a few trad routes in them to see how that goes.

You tie into two small loops at the front of the shorts. These loops are small and unobtrusive. I did find re threading at the top of routes a little fiddly and when attaching a belay device you have to clip through two loops as opposed to the conventional one, but I am sure I will get used to it. It may also be tricky on multi pitch and trad routes. But I dont think this is what they have really been designed for.

I think the Realisation Shorts are a great peice of kit and apart from the obvious draw backs (such as them being shorts and us enjoying the lovely British weather) I already love them and I am sure I will continue to wear them regularly. Let us just pray for more Sunshine!