Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Because I'm worth it.

Up till a couple of months ago, my diet was what I'd guess is a pretty typical mix of fairly healthy and fairly not.

I'd cut down on red meat and increased fruit and veg in the home cooked meals over the last few years, but was still prone to the odd dirty chicken takeaway (with the chips smothered in salt, chilli and garlic sauces), and often had crisps and chocolate as my afternoon snack at work.

Whilst my cupboards certainly weren't full of convenience foods, I was still no stranger to the odd oven ready pizza, and a pasta sauce was more likely to come from a jar than be made from scratch.

At a doctors visit for a sore throat, I was told I had high blood pressure. This was later to be diagnosed as "white coat hypertension", i.e. blood pressure going up because it's being measured, but not before a series of tests had been ordered. The upshot of those was being informed I had high cholesterol - and this one was an actual problem, not a phantom.

Given I stopped smoking a good few years ago, don't drink much these days, and get plenty of exercise, the only lifestyle change to make before considering medication was diet. So I was asked to eat healthily for three months, and come back for another lipids test.

I decided to download a diet diary application for my phone - initially so I'd have a record of whether or not I'd stuck to my intentions, but I quickly realised I could use it to pressure myself into making the right choices.

The plan was quite simple - the diary had a function to create a pdf report for the doctor, so I'd e-mail that to my siblings once a week. Every time I went to buy food, I'd stop and think "if you buy shit, everyone's going to know about it". Everything I ate and drank was to go in it.

No exceptions.

The plan worked well. I went practically pescatarian, stopped drinking milk, substituted butter with margarine, cut out cheese, and banned myself from all manufacured cakes, biscuits, chocolates, crisps and any sort of ready meal or takeaway.

I stopped buying jars of sauces and got back into making them myself.

I switched exclusively to wholemeal bread, reduced my intake of pasta, and bought a chupati maker to replace the white rice - turns out sorghum flour is pretty nutritious, the one protein it's missing being lysene, but that's found in lentils so tarka daal with chupaties was right on the staple meals menu.

For snacks I bought fruit (both fresh and dried), nuts, seeds and vegetables (carrots in particular). The nuts and seeds also went on salads and anything else that seemed ripe for a sprinkling - a favourite breakfast became a fresh fruit salad with yoghurt, crushed wallnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and a drizzle of honey.

In the work canteen, I began picking exclusively from their "Let's Energise" range - a bunch of salads with exotic ingredients like quinoa and wild rice, and for desert such creations as a strawberry, cucumber, oatmeal and low fat yoghurt smoothie. All promising to fill me up with buckets of nutritional goodness and practically no saturated fats.

I began reading the nutitional information on anything that came in a packet. Some of it made for astonishing reading. I resolved never to return to eating processed shit.

After about four or five weeks, I began to relax the rules a little. The diet didn't quite feel like it would be sustainable for good, and I didn't want to just knock my cholesterol into shape then return to old ways - I wanted to reprogram myself into a healthy diet for life.

I figured re-introducing a little red meat (stereotypically, I was really missing the occasional bacon buttie) and dairy would make things a bit more balanced. I've never been a fan of margarine anyway - it's not natural - so I decided to go back to butter; with the amount of saturated fats I'd cut out, I could surely cope with a natural spread on my (wholemeal) toast.

My diet began to feel not only sustainable, but pretty bloody desirable.

Ten weeks into it, and I no longer really had to make the healthy choice - if I let my appetite guide me, I was picking good stuff. Cakes, biscuits, "chocolate" bars and crisps no longer appeal to me - I want whole foods.

I dropped 4kg in the three months, and it wasn't muscle disappearing - I can see the difference when I pinch my waist. It's not like I was carrying much excess fat, but getting rid of what there is can only help my climbing.

But there's more.

I feel fucking fantastic.

I can't remember the last time I had that wobbly low blood sugar feeling in a mid afternoon slump or during training... it just doesn't happen any more.

Before a session at the wall, I don't have to worry about loading up enough energy to see me through. If I'm hungry I'll eat, and if not I won't - it seems to make no difference to how hard or how long I can pull on those holds.

Unfortunately, I slipped a disc subsequently, and couldn't climb for two months, so I haven't really had a chance yet to see what the weight loss will do for my climbing, but after only a couple of weeks back in training I'm already onsighting 7a in the gym so I think I'll be in pretty good shape by the end of the winter.

In a sport where little edges add up to big differences, the training and recovery gains I'm convinced will keep coming from this would be worth sacrificing a lot for... but in this case I don't feel like I'm sacrificing anything. 
The only downside is having to be a little bit more prepared than before; convenience foods are after all quite aptly named - but for that I get so much... it's way more than worth it.

So, if you're putting in the hours in the gym and on the rock - pulling on beastmakers and campus boards, working technique, building core strength - and wondering if there's anything you've missed, try Doc's Diet Diary. It worked for me!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Cast out first the beam out of thine own eye...

I'm going through a bit of an introspective spell at the moment, and one of the questions I've been asking myself is "Are you practicing what you preach?"

One of my favourite recommendations is "You need to train your weaknesses." - Ramon gets it from me regularly for his dislike of going near slabs, and I went as far as abusing him for it in a recent post.

So how about me?

I like to think I've got this one wired - I relish getting on slabs for a change, and have diversified into trad this year with all the new climbing styles that brings.

But on closer inspection I'm going to have to call bullshit on myself.

What's my biggest weakness?

Boulder strength.

What do I never do?


Now, historically there were good reasons for this. When I first started trying to improve my climbing I took to bouldering and injured my fingers a lot. My tendons just weren't ready for the forces my arms were able to provide - at one point I remember training with seven fingers taped at once.

So I resolved to stick with route climbing - it was after all the style that gave me the most enjoyment, so why not go with it rather than hurting myself and taking time out?

But those days are surely behind me. I understand a lot of the mistakes I was making then (insufficient warm-up, training with full crimp, etc.) and I've had time to develop those tendons.

My best redpoint is 7c, yet my best boulder send is just V5... that's out of balance. Surely improving my bouldering to regularly sending V6 would improve my all-round climbing ability way faster than any amount of stamina work on the comp wall will.

Of course bouldering is a slightly higher risk form of training, but that's the same for all of us and with high risk should come high reward for someone in my position.

So, whether it's because I'm sticking to what I'm good at, or scared of an exaggerated risk is largely irrelevant - I've been avoiding what I need to do most. If you're a regular in london's indoor bouldering venues, expect to see a baldy scotsman down there trying to clear a beam from his eye... and if you're heading up to the peak or down to bleau this winter, give me a shout!

Once upon a time in Bleau... with a lot of finger tape.

A couple of weeks later, and four taped fingers had become five... it was getting silly.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Life is sweet!

Last week, while I was going through the usual post-climbing-trip "what am I doing here?" malaise, I came across a thread on UKC asking where's the "Best place to live for climbing, skiing, outdoors"?

In amongst all the usual replies about the alps, the states, and New Zealand, someone pointed out that London is actually a pretty good place if you've got the motivation to get out - and posted a link to Ramon's blog as a good page for inspiration. A timely reminder that for all the moaning we do about being miles from the rock, we're actually in a fairly privileged spot here.

Sure, there's no real rock to climb on in the evenings, but that just frees up the midweek for getting strong in the gym.

In the past I suffered from not enough rock time, but not this year. With Ramon I've put nearly 10,000 miles on the clock of my trusty C5 estate since February, leaving London on a Friday evening after work and parking up in some corner of South West England or Wales, to fold down the seats, sleep in the back, and wake up to a weekend of climbing.

We've done sport climbing in Brean, Ceddar, Swanage, Ansteys and Torbryan. We've done trad climbing in Swanage, Avon, Pembroke and the Culm Coast. We've even squeezed in a bit of deep water soloing at Lulworth and Berry Head.

Had we not been so focused on these areas (Pembroke in particular) we could have been slate climbing in Llanberris, gritstone udging in the peak, sandstone death tradding in Nesscliffe, sea-cliff adventure tradding in Gogarth, bouldering in Fontainebleau, or - if we were really fucking crazy - chalk climbing on the south coast.

OK, London may not be an aspiring alpinists dream location, but for a cragger, where would you get more variety than that in easy driving distance?

And that's before you start to think about the options that come from having four major international airports a short train/bus/tube ride away from the office, from which you can take a peek at any corner of europe you choose in a weekend.

This year I've been fairly UK trad focused, but in the past I've done sport climbing weekenders to places like Monaco, The Amalfi Coast and El Chorro for very little expense with the budget airlines. Seriously fun times.

With the nights drawing in and the autumn wind and rain arriving, perhaps it's time to be thinking of resurrecting those trips. But here's the thing - I've had an absolute ball exploring the south west climbing scene this year and I've barely scratched the surface. I wasted years of my time in London, training at the gym to get ready for a few weekends away and three or four sport climbing trips a year.

Friends who've moved abroad would love to see me join them for weekend adventures, but it actually seems like a bit of a waste to fly out - euro sport and alpine adventures will always be there, and one day I may leave London for sunnier climes. Once I do that, the vagaries of UK weather will mean it's much harder to plan weekends back here than it would be now to plan weekends away, so I don't want to regret not making the most of what was on my doorstep any more than I have already.

Anyway the moral of the story is yes, life for a London based climber can be pretty fucking sweet. Thanks TobyA for the reminder!

Early season mucking around at Brean Down - January. Photo by Ramon Marin.
Tom Le Fanu getting in a climb in the late evening sun.
Camping in Swanage, February.
Hunstman's Leap at Pembroke in March

Waves lashing the belay ledge as St Govan's, Pembroke

Late summer sport in Anstey's Cove.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The most fun you can have with rubber shoes on?

What a week! Where to start? This one's a bit long, so I hope you're sitting comfortably...

I guess the story begins a month ago - after I'd decided to go out to Mallorca for a deep water solo holiday with Clare and her mates. Having never really done any DWS, I figured I'd best get some practice in, and luckily there was a crew heading down to Devon that weekend. I cut my teeth on the quite brilliant Magical Mystery Tour (6a) at Berry Head, and then another traverse followed by an astonishing route. Cavewoman (6c) starts with a downclimb on red and white crystal pockets, traverses along a steep wall into a cave to a rock bridge sit down rest, and then exits through a chimney of green crystal walls. Talk about unique climbing! I'll have to go back with a head torch some time to have a proper look at those rocks.

A week later I found myself back down at Berry Head, this time with Clare for her first taste of DWS. She had a right good go at Magical Mystery Tour, but with a really low tide it turned out to be much harder than the week before, and a little cold. Undeterred, she came back the next weekend armed with a wetsuit, for another go at MMT followed by an attempt on Rainbow Bridge traverse. The 6b start proved a bit much for her with water running out of the wetsuit sleeves, but I managed to get across that, followed by a flash of the 7a+ crux pitch, and then the 6b climb out. I struggled a bit on that though - the climbing was pretty straightforward but laybacking 10m or so above the water had me gripped, and things were going to get a lot spicier in Mallorca!

We flew out to Palma on the next Sunday evening, picked up a couple of small cars - I got my focus upgraded to a rather nice little BMW 118d Sport for a the princely sum of 7€, it wasn't an absolute flying machine but it was pretty quick off the mark and the rear wheel drive and "traction control off" button were to provide some fun - and drove across to Porto Colom. The apartment was well situated with the beach, Spar and DWS crag of Cala Marcal in a couple of minutes walking distance, views out to the lighthouse from the balcony, and a decent sized pool for drunken evening frolics.

Monday morning we headed a couple of miles south to a Cala Sa Nau - a small place with a nice starter sector called the Virgin Area - not too high at 10m, plenty of easy grades to intoduce everyone to DWS, and one 7a+ called Attack Of The Spindly Killer Fish to spice things up.

I warmed up on Virgins Are Only Human (6a+), and as soon as I got to the top I took my shoes and chalk bag off, and turned to jump. Fuck, I was gripped. It may have been only 10m but the water looked miles away. It took me a couple of minutes to psyche myself up, but eventually I took the plunge and it settled me down a bit.

Another couple of jumps and I was ready for a go at Attack. First attempt I didn't get round the little roof, but second go I got to the high crux, launched for a hold with full commitment, missed, spun down face first, and smacked the millpond flat water in a full on belly flop. Before I'd even surfaced I felt a deep, visceral pain in my chest. I popped out and tried to breathe, but there was just a low groan coming out... I was totally winded. A few seconds of mild panic ensued, followed eventually by that grateful first gulp of air, and a gentle swim to shore. The last time I was winded to that extent I'd fractured three vertebrae, so it brought back some unpleasant memories. No damage was done, but my confidence was shaken a little. On the one hand, it was nice to get a worst case scenario out of the way, but it made me a lot more tentative on my next few attempts.

A bunch of Germans arrived, and one of the girls looked familiar - she looked back at me and asked "did we meet in Portland or something?", and I realised it was Heide Spets who used to train at the westway some years ago before moving to Norway... it really is quite a small world the climbing community! After warming up, they joined us working Attack, but the crux was proving a bit tricky and committing. In the end, I went home without the send. That evening, we were treated to a gorgeous sunset back at the apartment... Spain never seems to disappoint in that regard and this week was to be no exception.

Beautiful rock formations and crystal clear seas

Matt warming up on Virgins Are Only Human (6a)

James wasn't happy just jumping off...

Sunset from the apartment

Next day Clare, James, Matt and Katy went to check out Cala Marcal, and I headed up to Cala Barques to meet Adam and the rest of a crew from the westway who were out. What a stunning location, with amazing climbing if I had the balls for it - the metrosexual wall looked pretty intimidating!

Heading round to the snatch area, I warmed up on the polished and uninspiring Fortuna (6a+), followed by Hercules (6c) - an incredible line for the grade, super steep on massive jugs. I got the onsight by the skin of my teeth, so decided to give it another lap before going back to the main event.

My first atttempt on the wall was on Bisexual (7a). Starting from a traverse in from the side of the cave, it's straight onto hard moves quite high above the water. With some surprise, I found myself holding a big scoop half way up the wall. Moving out right to another pocket, I knew I was supposed to put a left heel into that scoop, but I was too scared to have my feet up by my head. I baled out, didn't land all that well (getting a bit of a face-full), and swam to the side pretty annoyed.

Only one thing for it, I'd have to walk round to the top and do the jump. There was just one problem - I couldn't make myself step off. My legs had turned to jelly, so despite the shouts of encouragement from the crowd below, I turned tail and walked back down to the base.

I sat brooding at the side for a while. What to do now? I was hugely tempted to head round to the slightly easier routes of the Cova area to build my confidence, but that would feel like even more of a defeat. I toyed with the idea of getting on something much more difficult on the other side of the cave, the thinking being that if I was fighting with harder moves I wouldn't have time to think about failure till it happened - but again that felt like an easy way out, avoiding the issue.

I watched AJ taking a fall from the high crux of Metosexual (7a+), and when he got out he came over to give me some encouragement. I decided I had to man up and get back on the line. I pulled my shoes on, chalked up, and got to the start as fast as I could - trying hard not to think about the decision... it had been made.

A few deep breaths with my eyes closed to focus, and I swung out onto the starting rail. I made my way back up to the same point, and this time committed to the heel hook - once it was in and weighted, it actually felt really good. I made the next few moves to the lip of the cave, took a slopey but grippy right hand over the top, and reached for a slightly blind hold with my left. I got a desperate sloper at the bottom (I was later to discover this was the finishing jug if you get into the back of it), tried to pull on it, and was instantly off.

This time I got the fall right though - initially loose in the air, pencilling at the end - and hit the water perfectly. Swimming out, I really didn't care that I'd missed the send; I overcame the fear, committed, and took as big a fall as that wall was likely to produce, and I was well chuffed. Twenty minutes of rest in the sunshine later, I got back on and cruised to my first Mallorcan 7a DWS.

Cala Barques main beach
As nice as a place as it must be to sit on a yacht, there was much more fun round the corner...
Metrosexual Area
Mike warming up on Hercules (6c)

Approaching the top of Bisexual (7a). Photo by Clare Mains

Wednesday was to be a rest day, so we left the gear at the apartment just to make sure we stuck to the plan, and headed south to Cala Mondrago for a day of sunbathing, swimming, eating, and a few afternoon beers. Whilst there though, we decided to check the weather forecast and found rain on it's way... perhaps it might have been wise to check that first before creating the schedule!

Stunning beach...
... pizza...

... beer...

... and a bit of easy bouldering... perfect rest day!
Next morning did bring rain - so much of it that the westway boys were convinced even the Cova del Diablo would be out of commission. Their plan was to head for the steepest sport crag the area had to offer - the Castell de Santueri sector at Felanitx. This sounded like a good plan for me, but it would mean only one route was available for some of our crew to try. Still, everyone seemed keen for a go, and the location right under a 13th century moorish castle sounded pretty spectacular, so off we went.

The cave was indeed stunning, but when I failed to onsight the solitary 6c (Qwin Thomas), I began to wonder if I should have brought the whole team up - was I just giving them a crap day out so I could climb? There really wasn't any other choice of venue for that day though, and we had two cars so I wasn't forcing anyone to stay there.

Matt put in a very solid onsight, then I set about coaching James and Clare on it. Clare showed massive determination to dog it to the chains, and I think impressed everyone when, having grabbed a quickdraw out of fear, she decided the only way forward was to pull slack and jump... a maneuver straight out of the fear of falling textbook, and perhaps one that showed me up for not jumping the day before!

I had a go at a nice crack line called Munchescal (7a+) after that, but then decided I wanted to keep my powder dry for DWS, so I cleaned the draws off Qwin Thomas and packed up. The westway guys were still cranking hard though, so while the rest of the gang headed back down to Porto Colom with Matt, me and Clare hung around to spectate and get a few pictures.

Castell de Santueri

Adam cranking out a big move on Sex Cannabis (7b)

It's a route that doesn't let up.
Mike making hanging by your fingertips look easy

At the end of the day, it's all about the craic though

Ryan on Sex Cannabis

Friday started out wet again meaning none of the easier vertical DWS crags would be in condition, so we all headed back round to Cala Barques. The sea was looking a bit rough, and a few of the guys were walking out as we arrived having decided against it, but I sat across the other side with Adam watching a couple of climbers taking falls and getting back out. Although tricky, it looked OK if you picked your moment to beach yourself on the exit ledge, so we headed over to get involved.

I warmed up with a repeat of Bisexual, then got on to Metrosexual. This follows the same line as far as the big scoop then heads back left, with the rest of the line offering a whole different proposition - the straightforward moves on jugs replace with small pockets, crimps, and a dyno to a rail, as well as much less positive finishing holds. First go, I got to the crimp below the dyno and tried to go off the wide right foot I'd been given as beta, but got nowhere near the move. Second go, I stepped back inside for a bit of an outside edge, and nailed the dyno - thankfully the rail was indeed a sinker as I swung around 12m up on one hand... what a cool move! I was a bit pumped, but after a quick shake I made it over the top for a surprisingly quick tick. Time to join Adam and Liam Cook on Transexual (7b).

Although harder, this was a line that should suit me down to the ground. A steep, pumpy traverse with good rests, followed by a couple of hard moves to another rest under a roof, a strenuous reach around the lip, then wild moves on pockets to get the feet round onto the wall above. First go I got across the traverse fairly easily, but failed to make the rest below the roof. Second go I struggled a bit with the traverse (why is it so often the way?) , but then found a slightly different sequence that suited my small frame better and made the rest. I reached round the roof to the first pocket, but couldn't control the swing to bring my feet up.

By now I was feeling quite tired, but having reached the crux I couldn't leave without one more attempt... Unfortunately that ended at the same move - I didn't have the core strength left to get my feet up without taking a swing I couldn't hold. I did have the feeling it would go if I got back up there with more in the tank, but we didn't go back to Barques on this trip, so it's a nice one to look forward to when I return!

Sending Metrosexual (7a+). Photo by Clare Mains

Matt on Bisexual (7a)
Adam showing some fancy footwork...

... and sending Transexual (7b)...

... then doing a victory leap!

Alas, this was no victory leap... not quite sure how I managed to end up facing this way falling from the crux! Photo by Adam Brown.

Liam Cook took the biscuit though, with a swan dive from the top! Photo by Clare Mains
One of my goals for the trip was to get on a line at Cova del Diablo called Afroman (7b) I'd heard a lot about, so I was keen to get down there, but a bit worried about dragging people to another hard venue. I was therefore rather pleased when the guys started showing an interest in the more vertical wall at the east of the crag called White Noise. Although high enough to be pretty scary, it held some routes at amenable grades, so we all headed down there Saturday morning. Unfortunately, the sea was too rough so we got back in the cars and went instead to Cala Magraner, a beautiful beach-side sport crag with some really good technical wall climbing in the lower grades, and a hard roof sector a little way back from the sea.

I decided to have an active rest day and just be a concierge for Clare, scoping out and putting up the draws on 6a/b lines for her. Although a little polished in places the rock was superb, with awesome flowstone features and tufas between crimpy technical sections. She started the day with a good onsight of the very technical (and fantastic) L'amo de Baltix m'envia (6a), and put in another battling performance on a steep line called Asulla (6b+) - overcoming a fear of roofs and not coming down till she was bleeding for the cause.

The end of the walk in to Cala Magraner
Clare on Nautilus (6a)
Awesome technical face climbs...

... and plenty of scope for mucking around near the water.

Sunday morning I made my way down to Diablo again, with Clare and James. We warmed up on the quite brilliant traverse of White Noise (5+), then I headed round to the Lobster area. The crag was pretty empty, with just one guy projecting In The Night, Every Cat Is Black (8a) a little further round from Afroman, and his mate watching from the top. The seas weren't too rough though, so I decided to traverse in to the start cave anyway and have a go. It's a steep 6b traverse, and I was quite pumped by the time I got in, so I had to sit a while and try to chill out before I could have an attempt. As steep as it looks from the top, I wasn't prepared for the reality of getting up close - the start is practically horizontal and it was pretty intimidating sitting in the cave on my own, with the swell rolling in below. 

I lined up for my first go, climbed up to the top of the cave, made a move out to a big side pull, and tried to cross through to what looked like a decent crimp. Looks were decieving - it was no where near deep enough to be any use at this angle of rock. I tried to go again to a better looking hold, but couldn't make it. A nice landing and an easy exit up the in-situ rope made me feel a bit better about the situation though, so I rested up and went for another attempt.

I tried to go straight for the second crimp this time, but no matter what I did with my feet, I wasn't able to reach it. I took the plunge going all out for it, and climbed back up again. Then, as I sat drying off wandering what to try next, something a little surreal happened.

First a pair of feet swung into view at the roof of the cave. Someone was campusing down Afroman??? Then the smiling face of Chris Sharma dropped down to say hi. He casually campused into the cave, and stopped for a chat. I particularly liked the introduction "Hi, how you doing? What's your name?... I'm Chris", like there were loads of guys he'd meet at a crag who wouldn't recognise him.

Before swinging back out onto Hair Bear (7c+), he gave me the beta for Afroman (a cheeky undercling move I'd totally missed) and wished me luck. One of the many things I love about this sport is the fact that no matter who they are and what they've done, everyone's just another climber when you meet them at the crag.

Next go I made it through the bottom section and fell off the crux. It began to rain, so I swam round and climbed out the "easy way down" as I didn't want to leave Clare sitting around the top of the crag in the rain while I had my fun. As we drove back, I was telling myself that it didn't matter if I wasn't back the next (and last) day of this holiday, the rock wasn't going anywhere... but inside I was desperate for another crack. That evening, Clare insisted I should get back on my project for my last day (the rest of the gang were staying on for one more), so I texted Adam, who I knew had unfinished business with Afroman himself, to get down there for a team send.

James on the Crux of White Noise traverse (5+) - a bit trickier and much more fun than the grade suggests!

Clare on the crux
Clare on the overhang near the end of White Noise

Chris Sharma playing on the wall, while I try out the beta

When I arrived back at the crag mid morning, none of the other westway guys were around yet. I decided to just use the traverse in as my warmup and get straight on it. Sitting in the cave was one of a bunch of Swiss climbers who'd been at Felanitx the same day we were, also having a go at Afroman, so I enquired about the crux moves and then went for a burn. The crux starts with a long move up from a rail to a crimp, from which it's a case of sorting feet, moving along a break on a couple of not very positive holds, and then round to a finishing jug. My first attempt of the day, I was a couple of inches short of hitting the crimp. Sitting in the cave, I began to regret my shortened warm-up as I felt the (unfortunately) familiar feeling of a strained A2 pulley in my left ring finger. Ah well, last day of the holiday - nothing else for it but to wrap some tape on (for all the good it'll do), and keep cranking.

My next go, I hit the crimp, but couldn't quite stick it, and the following go I held the crimp long enough for a quick look at the next couple of holds before peeling off. I hit the water badly this time - slapping my balls hard enough that for a second I thought I was going to vomit - but after the initial nausea wore off this didn't matter, I was getting close!

Climbing out for a proper rest, I met Adam at the top. Things were going well already, but it was good to have a partner around to bounce the psyche off so I went over to grab some food in a confident mood - while he went down to warm up in a more sensible manner than I had done!

We traversed back in, and as I sat down to de-pump for another attempt, a strong South African climber who'd been crushing at Barques a few days before turned up to have a go. He got very close to the onsight - making the last hold before the finshing jug. This was quite handy, as I was able to quiz him about the final moves before I went for another burn. Latching the crimp more comfortably this time, I got my feet sorted and reached for a little slopey pinch for the left. I tried to match to a side pull below the pinch, but came off in the process of dropping my weight onto it. Adam crushed the lower wall - although he didn't latch the crux crimp, it was good start.

The South African strong man sent it second go, and then the Swiss guy got his send. Adam had another crack at it that finished much the same as his first.

Lining up for another attempt, I knew it was on. My heart was pumping as I stood up to go, and I was a bit worried about sending fever, but after a few deep breaths I managed to get focused.

Pulling out onto the lower wall was starting to feel well drilled and easy. I reached the rail feeling fresh, shook out, and nailed the move to the crimp dead - no adjusting to get into the best part of the hold. Taking the pinch, I tried again for the side pull, but it didn't feel balanced, so I changed plan and went again with my left to the last difficult hold. It stuck, but I was a bit off balance, the hold was slopey and polished, and my arms were fading fast. I adjusted my feet to get them under my centre of gravity and reached over to match with the right hand. For a split second I thought I was peeling, but as soon as I got the right hand on, I knew I was good. One more foot out left, and I reached for the finishing jug. From there, I still had the small matter of some easy climbing to the top, but with a sit down rest beforehand, I wasn't dropping this one now!

It was a fantastic send for my last climb of the holiday, so I headed down to collect my gear and cheer on Adam's next go, and then went down to the main beach at Porto Cristo with Clare for a swim. The day was rounded off when Adam texted to let me know he'd got the send too.

Adam Brown lining up the crux move on Afroman (7b)

Sticking the crux crimp. Photo by Clare Mains

Looking relieved reaching the finishing jug! Photo by Clare Mains

This was my first visit to Mallorca, but it certainly won't be my last. It really is hard to think of anything that could be more fun than pulling wild and hard moves on steep limestone above the sea... I think Mallorca in September may just become the first entry on my annual climbing calender!

Friday, 21 September 2012

The importance of variety

Two weeks ago, I was down to Anstey's Cove with a friend (who shall remain nameless in this instance to protect the guilty).

After a warm-up, we had a go at a technical little climb called American Express. It gave us a few more problems than it's sport grade of 7a+ might have lead us to expect. My friend went first, and pulled through the bottom OK, which was slightly fierce and fingery, but then above the second clip ran into a balancy slab where the hand holds disappear.

I had a crack at it, and had much more of a struggle on the bottom section, but eventually found myself staring at the same problem. A big hold lay up and right, but with a finger in a mono somewhere by my crotch and nothing obvious in between, it seemed a long way away.  Adding the fact that at this point both feet are above the second clip, it felt rather precarious.

There were loads of foot holds around, but with nothing of note for the hands staying balanced on one foot to move the other was a real challenge. To begin with I was a bit sketched out, but after a couple of falls I started to relax and was able to try out some options - however nothing seemed to work so my first go ended with me returning to terra firma, the third bolt still unmolested, and rather painful feet.

My friend's second go ended much as his first - completely stuck, seemingly unable to grasp the idea that the mono must be abandoned before the feet get too high, and trust placed in the friction of the rubber and balance. Although a very strong all-round climber, when it comes to sport climbing he's very much a steep limestone man - and here it showed.

My second attempt I got through the bottom section clean, then started falling again. It took a while, but eventually I found a sequence of small foot movements that got me high enough for a delicate little tip-toed stretch to the good hold, and that third bolt. From there the route was pretty much over, so now I was thinking of the redpoint. On the way back down, I tick marked all the necessary footholds, and began explaining the sequence, but my friend had decided it was time to abandon this lovely little line and head for his main event - a first look at the fiercely steep 8a, The Cider Soak. He knows my opinion of this tendency to over-specify in one style of rock, so there was no point in haranguing him, but I was muttering to myself about cul-de-sacs and engrams as I followed him up the hill to belay.

My friend did a very good job of his first crack at The Cider Soak, working out a sequence for the bottom half and aiding his way to the top to have a look at the rest. I couldn't help thinking that unpicking the lock on American Express would do his climbing more good in the long run though.

I went back down the hill for a redpoint attempt, but fell off the crux. Not only that, but after a rest on the rope, I still couldn't repeat the move. I was absolutely baffled. I knew exactly where my right foot had been as I leaned over it, stretching up and right to the good hold, but now I was two inches short. How could this be? After a few goes, I unlocked the sequence once more. I'd been concentrating on my right foot (this was after all the main pivot point for the move), however lifting my left foot up another couple of inches changed my whole body angle and allowed me to reach over to the hold.

I was tired and the crux was still a little tenuous, so although I had another couple of attempts I didn't quite manage to pull it off - but that didn't really matter, I was happy to have worked my way through the problems and come up with good solutions, and those tricky little moves are always the best to work out, because you know it's going to help you somewhere else down the line. In this case, it was going to help me out much sooner than I realised.

This weekend, I was down in Berry Head to sneak in some deep water soloing before my trip to Mallorca. After doing the Magical Mystery Tour with Clare, I headed over to join the end of a train along the Rainbow Bridge. This was my first attempt at the route, and after an entertaining start where I almost blew it on a wet hold on an easy section, we got to the rest before the 7a+ pitch. Alex gave me an excellent blow by blow account of the route, and I watched him climb through the crux before I left the sanctuary of the ledge.

A relatively straightforward start led to a technical series of small crimps, followed by the crux Alex had described - reach over onto one sloper with the right hand, match, take a second sloper, then go again to a big jug. I was pretty boxed, but I managed to take the first, and slide my weight underneath to match. Shuffling the feet along to some more glassy little holds, I took the second sloper and lunged for the jug. Yes! I had it. I was still on poor feet though, so I looked over to where a large tick mark lead to what was presumably a hidden undercut. I reached for it, but was a couple of inches short. Shit. The jug wasn't feeling so juggy any more. I tried to shake out, but I was so pumped I couldn't hold on long enough with either hand to rest the other, before the fingers started to peel. Surely to fuck I wasn't going to blow it now? Alex saw me struggling and offered some encouragement. I looked desperately for something further round for my right foot to get me across, but there was nothing in reach. Suddenly, I remember the crux on Amercian Express. I looked back towards my left foot, found another hold a couple of inches up, purposefully pushed a toe into it, reached out with my right hand, and latched the undercut for my second ever 7a+ flash!

Bring on Mallorca, and vive la différence!

The world's scariest warmup

My anonymous friend pre-clipping as far as he could reach on The Cider Soak

Examining the route

And having a go

Time for tea

An Anstey's snail

More Anstey's flora and fauna

Yachts mooring up to enjoy the sunshine