Tuesday, 26 May 2015

It's been a while since I wrote an update, mainly because there's not been all that much climbing going on. For personal reasons, going back to Rodellar didn't work out, and feeling mentally and physically exhausted I decided to head for the beach. I ended up in a lovely little spot called Segur de Calafell, near Tarragona.

Despite being more than warm enough to swim and sunbathe, there were few tourists around - most of the apartments were shuttered up and I was able to just park the van by the beach for about 10 days with nobody bothering me. With nothing to do but yoga, guitar and chilling on the beach, had I been in a better state of mind it would have been absolute heaven. As it was it was a great opportunity to recharge and reflect on the last few months, and some of the old behaviour patterns that I'd fallen back into.

It was also a great place to be inspired to get fit again - with people constantly biking, jogging and roller blading along the sea-front, and making use of the free outdoor gym. I strapped on the GPS watch, and discovered to my surprise that I'm still capable of running quite quickly. I guess the weight loss of the last couple of years helped plug the gap created by lack of fitness. If I stay at this light, it will be interesting to see where I can get to with a bit of CV training.

After Calafell, I went back over to Siurana. I bumped into Charlie and Gillie, and had a really nice day climbing with them, but back at their pad in the evening I started to feel quite anxious again - not really dealing well with being in company, so I jumped in the van and headed back up to the car park behind the goat farm where this whole trip began.

There was a really nice bunch of people staying there, and as the week wore on, I started to crawl back out of my shell. I wish I'd spent more time getting to know them. They all left for Margalef, but I hung around as Mike Reed was on his way back over from Kalymnos. It was good to see him again - we get on well and I find it easy to relax in his company and talk about the shit that's bothering me.

Next stop was Barcelona, to catch up with old friends Monica and Marco, and meet the new (to me at least, it's been a while) addition to their family. It was great to see them and get a look around the city.

After that I went back to the beach for some more me time, but the tourists were starting to arrive and the resort felt a bit less secure - one afternoon I was sat with the curtains drawn when somebody came by casing the camper. I guess it's one of the drawbacks of van life, your gear is never safe so you need to steer clear of nice spots that attract thieves.

I'd been thinking about St Leger for a while, so when I found out some more old friends were heading there for the weekend I decided to make the long drive up the Route National. It was a liberating feeling being on the road proper again, and arriving at the car park for La Baleine sector I found a lovely little camping spot. It was good to climb with Vlad and Aurelia again, and after they left I met up with a really nice French/Quebec couple, looking for a third to make it easy to look after their kid.

It was all seeming to click back into place - mentally I was feeling better and on the rock I was beginning to feel strong again. On my first attempt at La Chant Des Baleines (7c+) I'd figured out all the moves, so I got back on it a couple of days later feeling like it could be a quick tick. Nic offered to put the draws up for me so I could have a good go at the first redpoint, narrowly missing out on the onsight himself in a really good effort.

I made it through what's probably the crux for most people, but slipped off a tricky intermediate sloper on a slightly morphological move just after. I was pretty boxed, so even if I'd stuck it the chances of recovering enough for the send would have been pretty slim, but to even be thinking along those lines felt great.

After resting on the rope and carefully checking out the middle third of the climb, I made a mistake whilst trying to link the top section. After skipping a clip, and with the mists of oxygen deprevation descending, I forgot my footwork on the final hard move - stepping across and behind the rope instead of the drop knee I'd worked out before. I reached the next hold, but couldn't unwrap my feet and came off. Facing the prospect of a long inverted fall, I instinctively threw an arm round the dead side of the rope as I passed it; I succeeded in keeping myself upright but at the cost of a fair bit of skin, and as I was later to find out some muscle damage underneath.

I've spent the week since week pottering around Mont Ventoux resting, and although the arm is now back up to general duties I suspect it'll be a while before I'm able to climb hard sport routes again, so I'm thinking on heading up to Chamonix. Anyone fancy bagging a few 4000m peaks?

The beach front at Segur de Calafell
Looks like even the Face Man is a fan of the resort...
Katerina on the crux of Ruaxa (7a+)... Siurana has some magnificent crack climbing.
Physio in the evening sunshine.
Aurelia on a three star and hard 7b+ (name escapes me) at La Baleine
Vlad starting out on the super steep Malaxe (8a+)
It keeps going....

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Taking a holiday from the holiday.

It's been a funny few weeks - the climbing has been ticking along nicely, but after a fairly long period where I felt happy and settled, my moods started swinging wildly again. I suppose it was always to be expected, but it's pretty frustrating.

Highlights have been a quick send (4th go) of Festa Fortre (7c) at Margalef, onsighting the magnificent Fiesta De Los Biceps (6c+/7a) at Riglos, and an epic ascent of the easy (6b) route up El Puro - where the three of us made enough mistakes for a week's climbing, but managed to emerge laughing in the end.

After Riglos I headed to Rodellar, but was starting to feel a bit battered, both mentally and physically. I had a good time getting on some old projects - Gracias Fina, Kings of Metal and Made in Mascun all feel doable now - but I was finding it really difficult to relax away from the crag.

Last weekend someone damaged a water pipe in the car park at Rodellar, and the police came round taking pictures of all the vans, so fearing a fine for illegal camping we thought it might be a good idea to go somewhere else for a couple of days.

It was a good thing for me to get away anyway, and after two days climbing with Stephane and Frank in Alquezar I decided to hang around and take a break. Aside from the climbing (which I definitely want to return to some time), the village is really stunning, and there's currently no problem with parking up. I suspect it would be a rather different story in high season, but with most of the climbing south facing, it really seems like an ideal winter destination. I think you want to be climbing pretty hard to get the most out of it though - there's some stunning roof climbing here.

It was a great place to sit and contemplate things. I did seriously consider jacking the trip in and heading back to the UK, but after a week of nothing but yoga and guitar, I'm feeling a bit refreshed in body and mind, so decided to turn back for Rodellar... having come this far it would be a shame to give up before I got properly fit ;)

Just to make sure I couldn't change my mind, I popped into Huesco today for some climbing related retail therapy....

Fiesta De Los Biceps

At the top of El Puro with Nicole and Stephane after a bit of an epic...

Meeting old friends in Rodellar
Alquezar is stunning
Frank on the world's steepest 7b+ at Alquezar... I couldn't do the crux... what a shame - it means I'll have to go back.

New toys for Rodellar... Kings of Metal here I come!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

You always have more time than you think

I say this often, but am I really acting on it?

On my previous attempt at Super Cantina Marina, I'd climbed well but fallen just below the crux. From the ground, I had decided I must do the powerful move before clipping to keep the flow of the sequence, but it didn't work.

Going back last Saturday, I decided to try a more measured approach. After a warm up, I got on to put the draws back up. I climbed slowly and steadily to my previous high point and looked around. I found a higher knee bar that not only allowed me to clip first - I was also able to shake out, brush the crucial hold, and visualise placing my feet and engaging the core. After that, I pulled over it fairly easily. Why didn't I have so much time before? I didn't try to find it.

The rest of the line went much the same; the send barely entered my mind until I was stood at the final rest. When it did, I rushed the next few moves and almost blew it, but after reversing I re-focussed and was soon clipping the chains.

I was pretty stoked with the 8a tick, but even more pleased with the way I'd gone about it. The project took just 5 attempts over four days, and I felt I'd taken the mental side of my climbing up another notch in the process.

To cap the day off Aussie strongman Gerd onsighted the same line, and watching him climb slow and measured felt like further vindication. Good climbers always look like they have loads of time, and it's easy to get a little jealous; thinking they're able to do that because they're so good - when perhaps they got so good because they learned to take their time?

Back on the ground with an 8a tick in the bag... happy camper!

Gerd onsighting Super Cantina Marina (8a)

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Giving myself credit

It's something I've never been very good at; when I was in counselling, my therapist must have got sick of pointing it out.

When it comes to my climbing, I've always said "I'm not a strong climber, I'm not a super technical climber, but I am good at giving it everything I've got." I've voiced this a few times recently, or at least tried to. First Sam interupted me before I got to the "but", to question what I was saying. Then Mike interrupted me before I got to the "but". Then Nicole interrupted me before I got to the "but".

I sat one evening and thought about this - the most credit I could give myself was to add an addendum to my self-criticism. Everyone else seemed to think those criticisms weren't warranted. I resolved to put a lot of energy into believing in myself and my climbing ability. The next morning, I did an exercise in positive re-inforcement - something I hadn't done for a while.

We went round to Las Chorerras, and climbing with a Bristol lad, Toby, I was having a great day. We were onsighting 7a for fun and having a right good laugh. The line of Super Cantina Marina (8a) caught my eye. I heard the voice of doubt, saying it was too hard for me to get on, and decided it could fuck right off. I cruised up the first 15 or 20 meters, then fell off what turned out to be the lower of two cruxes. I plugged away, and some time later I'd done all the moves and reached the chains on a sustained 40m 8a with a technical crux.

Since then I've been climbing more relaxed than I ever thought possible. A second go on Super Cantina Marina improved the crux sequences and identified a knee bar rest between them, then I decided to take a break and get on some other stuff. I found a bouldery 7c that really wouldn't suit my style (Los Mercenarios at Parade de Enfrente), and worked out all the moves first go. I jumped on the more suitable 7c+\8a Ramalla, and at a hands free knee bar at about 25m had the onsight firmly on my mind, but not the choking desire that usually accompanies it. The crux proved too much, but again I figured it out and felt the line should be very doable.

With my finger skin getting pretty thin, I decided to have one more go on Super Cantina Marina before taking a longer rest. I went fully "A Muerte" and was climbing really well until a sequence error sent me head first and backwards down the crag - thanks Stephane for a superb soft catch to keep me in one piece. After that, I linked from the rest below the bottom crux to the top of the second - although as I reached for the jug at the end, my skin finally gave way on the other hand and I slid off. Two tips were clean through and pissing blood, but I didn't really care. I knew I was rolling the dice when I pulled on, and I may have lost the skin but I'd found more than enough confidence in my climbing to make it worth while.

So I am a strong climber, I am a technical climber, and to top it off I've got a fucking good head for getting the most out of that. If you hear me saying otherwise, you have permission to slap me.

But to give credit where it's due elsewhere, I owe a big thanks to my new found friends in the Chulilla car-park. Coming off a bad depression it has been hard to find confidence, and whether you complimented my climbing (or my singing!), popped into my van for a chat on a rainy day when I needed it the most, accepted some decisions I had to make without any ill-feeling, or just welcomed me into your circle, you've helped me back onto my feet more than you'll probably ever know.

Joris on (I think) Richer Line (7a)
Stephane on what he thought was a 7b line at Las Chorerras (athough on UKC it looks like there's only a couple of 7cs where he was climbing) 

Nicole getting into a knee bar high on El Ramallar (7c+)

Relaxed - this was right before I pulled on to go "A Muerte" at Super Cantina Marina (8a)

Focussed - but still relaxed... I never knew climbing hard could feel so simple.

About to go for some upside-down airtime... forgot to move my left foot before I tried to stand up. Thanks Per for the photo to remind me not to do it again.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Team Scotland

After three days of rain, we were itching to get back on it, and I formed Team Scotland with Mike to return to Sex Shop.

Warming up on the polished 6b+ felt I felt strong, so I decided to go straight at the line to the right, which I had a feeling went at 7a (the guidebook is out of print at the moment, so a lot of us are flying a bit blind). I had to really pull hard through a technical crux, but I managed the onsight of what turned out to be Eco dildo (7a).

I was going well so despite intending to get back on Dale Duro Negro, when Mike fancied a go at Happy end (7c), I decided to join in.

Mike went first, and took it sensible redpoint style - conserving energy, resting to look at sequences and then completing them with minimum fuss.

I went with my usual not-so-sensible "a muerte" to see where it got me - the answer was not very far into the hard moves of the upper half of the route, but I was still very pleased with the effort. My head is in a good place, but it's not yet on a solid enough foundation for complacency.

I dogged my way to the chains, and lowered with a smile - I'd done all the moves, and that meant I could do the route. I've never had a first go at a 7c go so smoothly.

Mike dispatched it second go, and I decided to just go for it again. I made the chains with only two falls, which I was very happy with. After finding better footwork where I'd fallen, I think I'm already in with a genuine shout of the redpoint next time I pull on.

As the next day was Saturday, we decided to walk round to the quieter far gorge. It was a fair slog, but worth it. Beautiful scenery and stunning walls, with a lot more steep sections and tufas. After a not very finger friendly "warmup" at Oasis we walked along the crag a bit to find a gorgeous 6b+ tufa climb that was almost 40m and finished up practically inside the rock.

As we finished, a French lady was lowering off Catherine Panzeta Jones (7a) and whooping with delight. "That was good then?" asked Mike. "That was better than good, like an orgasm, you know?" came the reply. Obviously I had to have a crack. It was indeed a fantastic line... by 30m I had a grin plastered across my face despite the pain of the pump, and after a slightly desperate lunge, I clipped the chains for another 7a onsight. I was starting to feel like it's something to be expected.

Mike wanted to have a go at Sendero luminoso which goes at 7a+ for pitch one, and 7b if both pitches were strung together. He onsighted pitch one easily, but didn't have enough draws to carry on. I wasn't sure exactly where it finished, but I racked another 8 and set off. The French lady (who we now knew as Lilly) was climbing next to me, and we chatted for a while on the way, which helped keep my mind off what I was trying for. I was climbing relaxed, and the first anchor came surprisingly easily, but then I was on my own. I tensed up a bit and it turned into a real physical battle. I also started to get distracted by fears of an epic descent - if the rope wasn't long enough to lower back to the first anchor, it was far too steep for me to abseil, and I was running out of quickdraws. I skipped two bolts, and it was just as well - I finished with none so the top would have been very run out, and there was one final hard move just below the chains. That move almost snatched the onsight from me, but after a desperate reversal I found some better footwork and reached the finishing jug.

I was properly spent, but elated... my first 7b onsight. I know these are Spanish grades, but I've spent enough time on Spanish rock before without getting these numbers so it's still a sign that I'm climbing at my best.

Mike's a strong climber, and I'm sure there's a lot I could learn from him, but the thing that struck me the most was that his route reading is light-years ahead of my own. On my first attempt at Happy end, every time I got stuck, he gave me the perfect beta; even when I didn't believe it was possible, he was right.

If I want to take my climbing to the next level, this is obviously something I'm going to need to work on. But other than logging the hours on the rock how do you do that? I guess the first step is to keep a more open mind to what's possible, but what then?

Answers on a postcard please (c/o The Top Car Park, Chulilla, Spain), or in the comments below :)

Team Scotland colours nailed to the mast...
Can't beat breakfast in the sunshine, under a lemon tree...

"We go this way, right?" "What ze fuck are you talking about?" Joris, Mike and Stephane on the walk to the second gorge

Worth the walk though...
Stephane embracing the tufas on Magic Line (7a+)
Mike on the "Orgasmic" Catrin Panzeta Jones (7a)

Monday, 9 February 2015


For my "something a little more difficult" I headed up to try the Sex Shop sector. After warming up, I decided to go for Dale Duro Negro, as it seemed similar in character to Blue Agave - an easy angled start leading to a sustained upper section, that hopefully wouldn't have any stopper moves - and at 7b shouldn't be pushing the boat out too far.

The line was pretty much as I expected - I climbed through the bottom half clean, then fell after mis-reading the crux. Some time and two more falls later, I made it to the chains with arms like footballs and fingers that no longer seemed able to translate the messages coming from my brain.

Back on the ground, I thought about what I'd just climbed. The second fall was largely down to a loss of motivation for suffering with the onsight gone, and the third my hand just opened on a fairly large hold below the chains. All three were only a couple of moves from a rest, and each time I pulled back on and completed the sequence second go.

It dawned on me that not only should this route go quickly, with a little bit more fitness it would have been eminently onsightable.

Even at my fittest, I don't think I've ever had such a thought about a 7b, and a quick look on UKC shows that most think it's fair for the grade. At the moment, it seems like every day I'm pleasantly surprising myself.

The car park's other resident Scotsman, Mike, on Dale Duro Negro (7b)
A technical little 6a+
The Enfrente wall, taken from the top of the first pitch on the sensational 6c crack climb La Diagonal... hand jams, fist jams, finger locks... on polished spanish limestone???

Sunday, 8 February 2015

It's all about the systems

After our rest day, we headed to a slabby crag round the far side of the village, by the old fortified walls.

I decided to up the ante with the falling practice, and took some long whippers on a 5c slab to start the day. This made a big difference to my climbing, as nothing else I faced could hope to be as terrifying. However, with fear of falling out of the way I was free to notice some performance anxiety. Sloppy footwork cost me the onsight of a really nice technical flowstone line, but behind the bad technique was too much desire to onsight it's grade of 7a.

The next day we went back to Parad de Enfrente and after warming up (complete with the now customary whipper) I decided to get on Blue Agave (7a). I knew it was soft in the grade, and so the onsight was again on my mind. I started a little internal mantra of "It's just another route... it's just another route..." and by the time I'd made the first few clips, I was relaxed and climbing well - not caring too much about the result, despite the crowds there to witness my success or failure.

It's just the sort of spanish limestone route Ramon taught me how to deal with - long and sustained but with good rests everywhere if you take the time to look, and before long I had pulled through a pumpy section to the last bolt. I was feeling boxed, and despite a decent rest position I didn't seem to be getting anything back. I could almost hear the catalan cranker shouting up "just wait there then!", so I did.

Eventually, refreshed, I made the last few moves with ease and clipped the chains. It was indeed soft in the grade, but since on paper it's my first 7a onsight in some time, I'll take it.

As someone once said, climbing is all about systems; I seem to have systematically worked my way back into good climbing form - loosen up the body, deal with the fear, then deal with the ego - far faster than I could have hoped for when I crossed the channel.

There's a few days of rain forecast, starting on Tuesday, so perhaps tomorrow I should open an account with something a little more difficult...

Climbing under the old walls.

Pinchtastic flowstone on the gorgeous line of Smegol (6c)

Weekend + Sunshine = Not The Quiet Crag We Got Used To. Ah well, nice to be looking forward to Monday mornings ;)