The Comp Scene

Over the summer I seemed to suffer from a lack of form. I have been trying to understand why this may have been. It is possibly down to the fact that I climbed hard for 16 days in a row in August and suffered form a bit of burn out or, perhaps it was the fact that last winter was my best climbing season yet where I achieved many of the goals I had set for myself and therefore my desire was a little lacking. What ever the reason was it had had an effect on my climbing.

I had two weeks of climbing in Spain where I didn’t achieve the things I wanted to, partly down to uncontrollable circumstances such as bees, wet weather and tweaky monos. Don’t get me wrong I still did plenty of climbing but just not to the standard I had set myself.

The winter season came about and with it the start of the competition season. I really enjoy competitions. There is a great social aspect to them and well as the fact that they push me to try really hard. I used to view them as great training but now I seem to enjoy them for what they are. To start the season I did a few local competitions as well as two rounds of Blokfest. My results were not very pleasing with me placing around 20th position in both rounds of Blokfest. I was slightly disappointed with these results as last season I made a few finals and was always in the top 10.

Mammut had asked me to compete at this years FBO. I wasnt really looking forward to competing as I didn’t think I was in the best form, I decided to just go into the qualification round with no expectations. The setting for the FBO was excellent with many varied and interesting problems and before I knew it I had flashed 24 of the 25 qualification blocs. This put me in 1st place heading into the finals.

Problem 2 FBO15 Final

The final was great fun to be a part of with the vibe in isolation being  friendly and fun. Sam Whittacker, Ben Moon and I were matching one another bloc for bloc until the last problem. Ben Moon completed the last climb where Sam and I could not, crowning him “King of the wave”. I finished in 2nd position which was  really unexpected and a great confidence boost. Perhaps I was seeing a return to form.

Standing next to the legends. FBO15 Podium

The following weekend saw the first Rab Superbloc Masters competition take place in the EXCEL centre in London. This event was an invitation only competition with all of the best competition climbers in the UK taking part. Someone (Alex Hazelhurst) probably though it would be good entertainment to invite me, perhaps he thought it would be funny to watch me flounder.

There were 20 female and 20 male competitors. My goal was to not come last (gotta be optimistic). The competition was run in an IFSC world cup format so effectively our first round was the semi final. I was out 4th. The running order had been established by taking the British Championship results from last year, as I was the highest ranked non GB team member in that event I had a pretty good position in the running order. The problems were hard. Dave Barrens was out first and we could hear from the crowd and the commentary that he had only achieved one top. Out of the four problems I got three bonus’, usually this would be a pretty poor score in a competition of this calibre but, as all of the competitors completed their rounds my name was still sitting in 6th place on the scoreboard just scraping me into the final. Three of us qualified for the final without even climbing a problem, the climbs really must have been hard.

Superbloc problem 1
Photo Duncan Bottrill

Superbloc problem 3
Photo Duncan Bottrill

I was absolutely buzzing to have made the final, having surpassed my ambition of not coming last by 14 places.

In the final I climbed ok but thin skin and the skill of the other athletes meant I finished in 6th position. A placing I was very happy with.

Superbloc Final 1

Superbloc final 2
Photo Duncan Bottrill

Superbloc Final 3
Photo Duncan Bottrill

Superbloc Final 4
Photo Duncan Bottrill

Superbloc Podium

As soon as the superbloc finished Ben West and I drove to Font for eight days of bouldering. Unfortunately the weather for our week away was far from ideal. Out of the eight day trip we managed a meagre three and a half day of climbing. Despite this I still had my most successful trip to the forest climbing a number of hard boulders in quick time. Because our weather windows were so short we crammed in as much climbing per day. My tick list for the week is below:

Day 1 (half day):

  • Belle Gueule assis 7B flash
  • Pancras assis 7C
Day 2
  • Fourmis Rouge 7C
  • Big Boss 7C
  • La Directe du Surplomb de la Mee 7C+/8A
Day 3
  • Haute Tension 7C+
  • Hyper Tension 8A
Day 4
  • Imothep 8A
We will hopefully get a video put together of some of the best bits or our trip soon.
The bad weather did enable Ben and I do to plenty of work on our newly started Coaching Businesses Up-Grade.uk
We are putting together a few “bouldering essentials” tips videos, episode 1 is below. Check out Up-Grades Facebook page and give us a like for forthcoming episodes.
The next big competition is the CWIF so I’m off to do a finger board session.
See you all out there

 

New Year in Northumberland

I like to climb on New Years day. It has become a tradition, a start the year as you mean to go on kind of thing. I have spent New Year climbing ice in the Alps, trad in Pembroke sport at Ansteys and this year is was to be bouldering in Northumberland.

Northumberland or “The County” is a place I have heard a lot about but never visited before, after all I can be in font in about the same amount of travel time. The climbing style in The County reminded me a lot of Font, the climbing and the stone feeling somewhat alike.

After the 6 hour drive from Bristol we arrived at Hepburn. There are a few problems of significance there, the two most prominent are “Northern Soul” 7A+ and “Preparation H” 7C+/8A. Northern Soul in an amazing boulder. It starts up a technical slab into a crack and the onto a hideously slopey topout in Highball terrain. I managed to flash this boulder with some beta from a very helpful ground crew. I got pretty close on Preparation H, dropping the top a few time before darkness stopped play. It was time to head home for turkey Fajitas, Scrabble, Red wine and NYE.

The next day we headed to Kyloe in the Woods, a fairly good wet weather option. There are many classics here through all the grades. We were here to try “The Yorkshireman” hard 7B+. Its an absolutely classic bloc which climbs a flared diagonal crack before a hard deadpoint move to a good edge and the top. I had to try hard on this and it was only with a bit of helpful Beta from Dan Varian that we figured out the bizarre sequence.

The best day we had was at Bowden doors. The conditions were perfect, it was cold clear and crisp. It was our fourth day on but this didn’t seem to be slowing us down. I had one of those great sessions where you sort of forget about the guidebook and walk along the crag climbing what looks good. Some of the best problems were Stagged 7B+, Temptation 7B+ and The Crack 7C+/8A, this, as its name suggests climbs a crack feature on a very font like boulder. The climb looks easy, feels nails when you are trying it and steady when you get it right.

Our last day was spent trekking around on the Simonside hills finding hidden boulders and admiring the stunning views. By day five my skin was thin and my body was aching but it was just so great to be out climbing on such good rock.

The short trip has left me with more projects to go at and I cannot wait to return to Northumberland. Below is a short video put together by Ben West from the trip.

F-BO 2015

Last year I attended F-BO 2014 (The Foundry’s annual bouldering competition). It was a great event with brilliant problems and big cash prizes.

Competing in the final of F-BO 14

This year the competition is happening again. If you are into your bouldering competitions this is definitely one to put on your list for this winter.

I hope to see you all there.

To get you psyched whilst you wait here is a video from last year.

Infinite Gravity and Palace of the Brine

When you mention the words Sport Climbing most people think of a casual day cragging, climb a few routes and clip a few bolts. I’m not saying you expect it to be easy, most people go sport climbing because they want to try HARD, in relative safety.

Well the sport climbing in Swanage is all together different! Long and complicated (for sport climbers) approaches, loose rock, rough seas and massive routes.

Last weekend Ben West and I travelled down to Swanage with two routes in mind. Infinite Gravity 8a+ and Palace of the Brine also 8a+. The weather forecast for Saturday was for a big band of rain to sweep across the UK in the morning, followed by an afternoon of sunny spells. Infinite Gravity starts in the back of a massive cave called Blackers Hole so we thought this might be a good place to be in the rain. After the approach which involved a 40 minute walk in, a scramble down a cliff and a via ferrata above the sea we arrived in the cave. The conditions in the cave were almost perfect with only the last few moves of this huge route being affected by the torrential rain outside.

Infinite Gravity climbs a massive steep arete feature for its entire 40 meter length and overhangs at 45 degrees.

On our first go up the route we equipped it with numerous extended quickdraws, got warmed up and worked out the moves. There was one move that concerned me, a big throw to a flat edge off a finger lock and an undercut.

First to climb was Ben. He climbed steadily for most of the route, regularly shaking out on the many big holds available, he climbed through what I perceived to be the crux with relative easy. “He is going to walk up this.” I thought to my self. How wrong I was. 5 meters from the end his elbows were up, he’d missed two clips and he was desperately digging around in a sandy break trying to find a big enough hold for is leaden arms to grasp. Somehow he made the last few moves to the belay and clipped the chains amid whooping crys of joy and fatigue. I couldn’t help but chuckle, seeing such a strong climber having to fight so hard on what I had assumed would be easy moves.

The thing with this route is that you have to make every go really count. If you fall high on the route it is questionable if you will have enough juice in the tank for another burn. Its not like short routes where you can fall, pull the ropes and have another go. This is definitely an endurance exercise which fatigues you with every go. I knew I had to do it this go. I climbed steadily through the first third, this climbs a steep groove split by a crack to the good rest. I felt good. Next up a steep section through a roof before pulling onto a hanging fang, undercuts and bad feet here really make the pump kick in. A few more moves lead to the crux, I was already feeling worked. “Ben had looked steady here and still had to fight at the top” I though to myself, “How am I going to have the beans at the top?” Banish the negative thoughts. Psych up for the crux. A little power scream and I have somehow latched the hold,my left arm was going to jelly,move on to the jug. “Ahhhhh” glory jug, shake out here. The foothold rips off I lurch onto my already fatigued arms but somehow hold on, flick my feet back onto the wall and move on. What was supposed to be a good rest and turned into an extremely unrest-full experience. Nearing the top my forearms have gone away from me. Its not really a pump but a tired empty feeling. There is no energy left in them. Five moves to the belay. I flop them onto holds blindly hoping they will grip, some how they do. I clip the chains. During my time on the climb (about 45 minutes) the sun has come out, I bask in is glory and whoop for joy.

 

Celebrating after clipping the chains on Infinite Gravity
Photo Ben West

We finished the day with a quick flash of “Rise of the Robots” 7c on the promenade before heading to the put to sink a few pints of celebratory cider.

The next morning we woke to bright sunshine. Today’s route of choice was Palace of the Brine. We had tried this route earlier in the summer but greasy conditions and hard and bizzar roof moves had shut me down. Ben had come close but not cigar. Today was a different story. Conditions were perfect, not a wet hold or damp crack anywhere. The only things that weren’t in condition were our bodies. I felt ruined from the climbing (and the ciders) the day before. “Oh well” my turn to put the clips in. The moves and the conditions felt great. The route climbs a vertical wall with funky moves on bad feet to a no hands rest at about 15 meters before questing through a groove feature in the massive horizontal roof. I climbed past my previous high point and on through the roof. Flarred hand jams and knee bars are de rigour. There is a hard section in the middle where you have to spin 180 degrees in the roof, I climbed through this section relatively easily and on to the the crux move out on the lip. This move involves a huge cross through off a bad hold into a slopey jug. I couldn’t reach the hold, my beta was whack, my feet were in the wrong place and I was off. I pulled back on, worked out some different beta then lowered off into the sea.

Ben’s go went smoothly. He had achieved what we had come to do, the big Swanage 8a+ double. I wanted it.

Ben West on Palace of the Brine
Photo Cailean Harker

I had one more go in me. I was achey and and shaking from fatigue. As I set off up the route a sea kayaker paddled past “Your mad!” He said.

“Yes we are” I thought “and I love it”.

Somehow I managed to finish the route. Knee bars saved the day!

Overall it was an epic weekend with some of the most enjoyable climbs and climbing experiences I have had for some time.

The holds are chalked and the conditions are good. Get down there people.

BMC Coaching Symposium

I Have just returned from a long weekend in North Wales where I was attending the annual BMC coaching symposium. This event is organised by the BMC to get a whole load of climbing coaches together to discuss best coaching practice, new ideas and techniques. Many of these coaches are also very keen climbers which makes for some good climbing sessions squeezed in around the course.

 

On Friday morning Ben West did Roof of Baby Buddha 7C+

Ben West on Rood of Baby Buddha

In the afternoon a whole group of us headed over to the little Orme to look at Rob Lamey’s DWS Heel Hook Look. We were supper psyched and supper unprepared which meant I ended up climbing the wrong/a variation on the original line at about 7c. We have called this variation “We ‘ad a Look”.

Mikey G on We ‘ad a look

 

As the tide dropped and the water became too shallow to solo we headed over to the Diamond to see what all the fuss was about. The via feratta approach was fun, and the routes where just as good! Both Ben West and I managed to onsight the classic Boat People 7c and I finished the day off with a monumental battle up the 35 meter Wall of Evening Light 7b+.

On Saturday we dragged a bunch of Britain’s finest climbers and coaches out for a night session at Elephantiasis cave. I’d told them there was a 4 star 7A among other problems to go at. It turns out my knowledge wasn’t completely up to scratch and we ended up being eaten by Midgys in a hot sweaty cave. I did manage a cool ascent of Going Down on an Elephant 7B+ in far from ideal conditions.

Sunday was the final day of the Symposium and it consisted of practical sessions at the Beacon climbing centre. We started with a session on on Drills and System Boards with Si Rawlinson. This session was great and really showed me that many climbing centres are missing a trick in this department. Expect to see changes in the way core climbing skills are taught in centres all around the country soon. The next session was Training vs Performance by Victoria Hadnett. This was about the way the mind deals with pressure and anxiety in a training and a performance environment as well as teaching us about how the mind learns new skills. Very interesting. We finished the day off with a session from Tom Greenall and Lucinda Whittaker about Building the Athlete. In this session we learnt about how to train and coach a climber to become and all round athlete and one that will be able to participate in our sport for a long time without the fear of injury or burn out.

Today was a day of trad. I have not done much trad climbing since taking a ground fall from a hard route back in the Summer of 2013. What better partner to go out with on a trad day than Mike Goldthorp. We had our eyes set on Pretty Girls Make Graves which is an E6 6b up on Cwm Glas Bach. We warmed up on El Guide Direct E3 5c. I was expecting this route to feel tricky and a little scary as my head really hasn’t been in the trad game. It went like a dream! We moved onto Rimsky Korsakov, a soft E5 6a just to the left. This route also went down smoothly with not much of a fight. Next up was Pretty Girls, but on the way round we became distracted by a line of chalk up a small blank wall just to the right. This route is called Ring my Bell. After a fall or two from us both we each lead the route ground up. We had thought the route was E6 6b but it turns out it has been upgraded to E7 6b, happy days! Next up was the main event. Pretty Girls Make Graves. This route had a reputation for being fiercely pumpy on good gear. I was up first. I was feeling great, all but no trad for 18 months and here I was having an awesome day. I started my way up the crack systems, finger locks and hand jams everywhere and more gear than you can shake a stick at. Had I placed to much? I was getting pumped, I could feel the lactic acid coursing through my veins. On the last move you takes a big pinch with your left hand crank for a jug at the top. I was in. I whooped for joy and pulled my sweaty coursing body over the top into a crumpled heap.

“This is what trad is all about” I thought to myself.

I’m back in the game! (Just in time for bouldering season)

 

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.