Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The feeling of exposure

As my feet cut loose I know that my technique has left a lot to be desired, I feel the sharp edge of the hold cut into my left hand, I glance down to check on the tumbling chaos that I know is there. Seeing it rules out any thoughts I had of letting go, the expressionless face and panicked eyes of my friend looks up at me while he franticly works with what he has, to put things in place for the expected airborne decent.

Its time to act, I free my right hand of the clumsy wooden handle and now with mind fully consumed by the task, I probe the brail like features of the wall with my feet to push back against the gravity of the situation. With subtle shifts in my weight and optimistic use of my feet and I begin to move right.

I become aware that the situation below has improved but letting go is still not an option, I scrutinize the rail of holds and give myself odds on making it to the platform at its terminus. As I start to make progress in my puzzle, I become aware of a creaking noises above my head. It turns out that I’m not the only one feeling the strain, this structure was designed to collect water not idiots, glancing across to my destination again and the asphalt of the flat roof looks so close but I’m no longer concerned about my problems solving and endurance.

Second ago I was joking about the ladder falling and being more concerned about the paint on the ground than the fall its self now here I am bridged out in a window with the hands of my fellow instructors like cress leaves below fragile and waving. Do I wait for the ladder and rescue or make a brake for the roof and safety?

My minds eye plays back footage of similar traverses undertaken on the limestone hulks of Pembroke, with an anxious sea pacing back and forth, reaching up and protesting, outraged at my presents. I ponder weather others in my position have made the same comparison, is what I’m thinking the correct response, or a sign of a miss spent youth? Either way the cries from the guttering are sounding more urgent by the second and the solution to this problem may well be out of my hands. I observe the angle of the underside of the structure change, as gravity and the masonry fixings work together like Meany of our groups.

Their task; to release pressure. Their solution… well that’s for them to fathom, I wonder weather my part in all this makes me a facilitator? Quietly observing their actions without offering opinion only ensuring they stay focused on the task. Probably not I’ve never really seen myself as a facilitator more a catalyst keen to agitate, enthuse and remain unchanged. There goes the miss spent youth again.

The familiar sensation of weightlessness, it’s the same weather your in the sea on a river or off the rock. It has its own sound but I can’t describe it, it never lasts long enough, do I tense now or relax?

I rejoin my friends on the ground, there is no fuss everyone has a job to do and they are all very good at doing them. They only speak and move when necessity dictates. I watch quietly proud of their efficiency in overcoming the problems I’ve presented them with. Am I a facilitator or catalyst… perhaps now is not the time?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Time for a quick one?

Staring into middle distance at the lights, the cars at the start line all look familiar, we are members of the same wave released from our grind to race our course home. Where the real work begins, but it has been a hard week for me and an even harder day... there is only one thing for it “I’m going to call in for a quick one son, you keen?”
Jon smiles and doesn’t even check his watch he’s young he doesn’t have to answer to anyone if he thinks it’s a good idea, then it’s a good idea.
But where to go? The wife has been released now and her race passes my favourite haunt. I know a good parking spot, a hidden parking spot you can’t see it from the road, not since they reinforced the wall after the massive storm last year.
We park up and on the way in I bump into an old friend from school. I thought he lived down south? Said he was back to visit the family and needed to unwind, not sure if this is the place to be it looks really busy. It’s the busiest I’ve seen it in ages, there’s Dan he’s shit hot at darts, plays at county level, surfs pretty good too. Whenever I do this I worry she will smell it on me or taste it on my lips, or just notice the change in me, it’s not like I’m cheating, just one or two on the way home, never longer than a hour, just an hour for me to catch up with friends, reflect on the day, the week, the month.
We go in, it’s even more crowded than I thought, but we find a quite spot and settle down. All the regular faces are here “feeding the habit” nervously checking their watches and surveying the horizon, they’re just like me they have “homes to go to” drains to unblock, mouths to feed, dishes to wash, but for now here we are and I’m not sure we could stay away even if we wanted to. I’ve had some good times here, the best of times, regardless of the season there is always is familiar face about a funny story that’s being told. Sometime’s that’s the only reason I come, to catch up.
But today I’m here for the swell, 5ft glass 13 seconds period. More power than I thought, queuing in the line up waiting for my opportunity on this busy evening constantly reassessing my position, trying to read what’s about to happen, like getting the attention of the busy bar man. Finally “I make eye contact” seconds later….. it all slips away, it’s just me, me here, I feel the weight of my week lose its grip, I become fully aware again. My vision sharpens; I dance tipsy on the ocean. I nod to Jon, time to drink up and head home. Drying myself in the car park I’m careful not to leave any sand on my feet or wet in my hair I wipe clean all signs of my mistress. The van starts first time and we both crane our necks for one last look as we leave.
Through the front door and a voice inquires “your home late?” is she talking to me or Simon Cowell? I poke my head around the door yea busy one today.. what’s for tea?
The hint of a smile lets me know that she knows, and that’s enough.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Diary of an idiot Part 4

30% of the time…. It rains every time!

Our trip was going swimmingly, we had done a load of free climbing including a fantastic day out on royal arches a rather straight forward 19 pitch route (after the 1st pitch chimney) involving everything from cracks to face climbing and a pendulum thrown in for good measure, all this with the impressive back drop of half dome. It came to pass that blindly assuming everyone from boulder Colorado can move fast on rock, was an error that added a number of hours to the outing and saw us racing a storm of biblical proportions down fourteen 60m abseils. We literally were pulling the ropes through on the last abseil as the cats and dogs began to fall. Deciding that this wasn’t cooking under the stars weather we opted for the all you can eat buffet (and got our moneys worth!). We later found that the storm had buried the entrance to our tent in a foot and a half of debris (my how we laughed in the darkness while digging away the mud with our bear hands in our flip flops)

                                                  the last abseil
Anyway on this particular day we checked the weather forecast which to our delight gave only 30% chance of storms. We had our sights set on a few single pitch aid routes at the base of El cap this was all part of our master plan of getting on a big wall (lurking fear) by the end of the week. Off we trotted like good little school boys up the path to our days education, today’s lesson ….. YOU KNOW NOTHING!

After a few false starts on awkward ground that really we would have freed had it been on a route, we set off up a rather steep thin corner crack/ chimney thing, the aid proved delightfully thought provoking and profanity inducing, two and half sweaty hours later Matt arrived at the belay fixed the ropes for me to clean the pitch. We both flirted with the notion that our preparation for this trip may have had the odd weak spot, if challenged we could have defended this conclusion with a compendium of amusing anecdotes that had taken place over the past few days. Anyway we decide that Andy Kirkpatrick’s approach of “fail… fail again better” was our best course. So I set of up that same pitch after cleaning it with the sole purpose of learning from the difficulties I could see Matt had encountered and to improve on his time even if just by a second.

Things were actually going to plan; I felt that I had dispatched the awkward chimney with relative speed and minimal swearing, and seemed to be making progress on the corner above… than Matt muttered the immortal words “I think you might want to come down mate?” that was my 10 minute warning before Thor himself unlashed his full fury the captain. Later while running like our lives depended on it back the to the car it became evident that we were not the only ones have a bit of an epic time, it began to rain climbing equipment, teams high on the face in the teeth of the storm were clearly in a fight for survival and were dropping all sorts of kit in the process (crabs, nuts, aiders).

We felt morally obliged to collect this kit and to claim it as our own, so that we would remember these warriors and tell their tale! It turns out that earlier in the day Matt had been chatting to a local who had told him if the forecast says 30% chance of storms it means 100% chance of storms!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Diary of an idiot Part 3

It aint half hot mum!

Kit sorted, camp sorted, food sorted…its climbing o’clock! Just next to Camp 4 there is a small crag called swan slab, an extremely popular road side venue. We decided to head there with the little light that was left and cram a few routs in, to get a feel for Yosemite slabs and cracks, we were very aware that the style of climbing here with very different to what we had been training on back in the UK, and that caution should be exercised. So with in minutes of getting my shoes on I had soloed up one of the route and was stuck! The next 10 minutes of my life involved cramped calves a hastily build belay and a one handed bow line (TIT).

The following day went with out to much drama, we headed out to do a few short routes, still getting used to the rock style and found ourselves cruzing up a fantastic 4 pitch route with everything from delicate (but easy slabs) to immaculate hand cracks, Matt did have a bit of a moment. As we were finding the going particularly easy and our pace quite fast, we may have overlooked checking where the route went and when Matt shouted down for me to check the route description I may have applied a similar hast to that of my driving on the previous day… And I MAY of told Matt to head up right towards an arête when perhaps I should have told him to head up left in to the corner… Anyway after grinding to an alarming halt after a sizable run out on a blank arête, I applied my full Sherlock Holms style detecting skills to the problem and solved it (Go me!), it turns out we were on pitch 3 not 2 (Ooo how I laughed…. To myself)

Simple solution, Matt had to down climb some cheeky friction moves on the arête and a slab below, with the real chance of taking a large wipper that would see him crashing on to the belay and invading my personal space! And possibly spilling the Haribo everywhere.. After he arrived (safely) at the NEXT belay, I followed, enjoying the cracks and slabs (secretly vowing to pay more attention to how many belays we have on each route.)

On arriving at the belay with Matt I could see he had gone an impressive red colour, the kind of colour the extremely obese go after climbing stairs. But Matt was neither obese nor had he been climbing stairs!? It turns out that away from the cool protection of the corner the arête was rather desolate and extremely hot. I left Matt pondering as to weather guiding on Skye in several months of sideways stinging rain was the optimum acclimatization for climbing in 40 degree heat? The finishing crack was perfect hands and fists all the way. After topping out and eating our lunch of sardines and flat bread it became clear that the heat was having serious effects on Matt and we decided to head back to the valley and shelter as apposed to going up onto the 5 pitch route above that was drenched in the full heat of the day.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Diary of an idiot (Part 2)

Are you drunk sir?

After a sizable American breakfast, we were off just 40 minutes to the Yosemite national park…. Its on!

Thoughs who have been to the park know, that as the road comes out of the trees and you get your first glimpse of El Capitan you instantly turn in to a camera swinging, giggling tourist, and Matt and myself with out world travelled experience…. Were no different. After asking passers by to take our photo and dramatically high fiving each other (and strangers) we settled down and headed in to the park to try and sort out accommodation.

So our luck continued, at the camp reservation hut we were told at 14:30 that the fabled camp 4,( where climbers sleep in a the dirt outside the office to get a space for days) there was availability just head over and book in SWEET!!

Booking in walking around the camp and the valley for the first time was like walking amongst celebrities, there’s El Cap, there’s Half Dome, lost arrow spire.. That is the boulder with mid night lightning on, Andy Kirkpatrick has stayed here, John Baccar, Royal Robbins, Ron Fawcett, Tom Frost, Yvon Chouinard…… Everyone, climbing royalty from every country in the world, this is it we are here we have the kit, I’m feeling fit there is not much that can stop us now! (How wrong was I??).

Camp sorted time to get food, in our hast to get to the valley we had not bought food outside the national park (don’t do this the valley is expensive). Matt was feeling the strain of having driven all the way from san Francisco so I offered to take over for a bit, I was quite excited to get on the rock so I was rather …Hasty? With my driving I figured the quicker we buy food the quicker we would get a route in!! This state of mind was swiftly accompanied with flashing blue lights from behind…..

At this point in the story it’s important to point out, that when renting a car from Budget car hire it will cost £X for one driver to hire the car, to put a seconded driver on the policy the number doubles! So before the trip we talked it trough and decided to save money we would only put one driver on the policy, which was fine except that driver was currently sat in the passenger seat!!!!

After me trying to open the driver’s door to get my drivers licence from the boot, and after the police officer trying to pull out his gun to shoot me for being a terrorist who keeps his driving licence in the boot. We got on ok…. Well he accused me of being drunk, I apologized for my erratic driving style, he then read our insurance documents, at this point Matt and I were trying to work out if driving with no insurance was a fine a prison sentence or both? The officer was still rather excited from my act of terror and did not seem to read the documents properly, handed them back to us and sent us on our way. From here on things got a bit out of hand…..

Friday, October 7, 2011

Diary of an idiot (Part 1)

This is a quick rundown of my recent trip to Yosemite, it all seemed so easy! Found Matt at the airport with no problems, we then sailed through baggage submission with nearly 50kg of kit each and no one batted an eye lid. A comfy seat with more videos than I thought possible to watch in one sitting! (It’s possible).
                                               Matt the lightweight alpinist?
There we were before we knew it in the Promised Land (through customs even though we had to lie about our U.S address... we actually had a harder time getting into morocco a few years back!!!click here to like my picture from that trip) car up graded to a frisking monster truck and we are trucking. With no map we followed our noses out of San Francisco heading roughly in the direction we thought Yosemite was (and it worked). Found a motel for the night and recharged the batteries. In the morning I called Jodie (my wife) it felt good and bad all at once, Harvey is only 5 weeks old and even though Robyn is 9 she is finding sharing the house and mums attention very hard. stay tuned for the next instalment...

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Road to the nose

Myself and Matt Barratt formally of Skye Guides are off to Yosemite for some big wall action this September, we have spent the last year begging borrowing and steeling anything remotely big wall related. We have also been doing a fair bit of fitness training, that and staring at pictures, guide books and YouTube so as you can imagine we are feeling pretty prepped...... I spoke to a hardened big walling friend of mine the other day for some advice on the trip:

He said you’ll be fine just make sure you get lots of mileage in with your partner before hand, so you climb as a tight unit where one knows instinctively what the other is thinking and doing even when you’re out of sight of each other...

I said the last time I rock climbed with Matt was over a year ago we did a route together on Gower?? And the next time will be in Yosemite....

Looking a bit awkward he said Well that’s ok just sort you systems out get ninja good at setting up the poterledge, while hanging in you harness do till you get your times down, do it in the wind do it in the dark.... do it lots.

I said the poterledge is on Skye.... Im living in South Wales

He raised his eyebrows and said well that’s just a small part, its hauling that important; sort your hauling out practice from a ledge, hanging from your harness, practice packing the bag so you know where everything is with your eyes closed

I said the haul bags are waiting for us in Yosemite we had them delivered there

He straightened up, scratched his beard a bit. His eyes glazed  over as if searching through all his big walling experience for another shiny pearl, he looked me strait in the eye and said you better be climbing like a spider monkey son or you’re going to be an article on UKC!

I said... Nothing

Despite this we have got some sponsorship for kit from to which we are eternally grateful, and I for one am feel rather optimistic. So please keep an eye on this blog as i hope to update it with stories and video for the big stone.

Please note: the “big wall” character in this story is entirely fictitious, his likeness was note based on a real life person, if you know someone like this good effort! However my part was based entirely on me and everything I said though probably poorly spelled was entirely true.

I hope you enjoy the blog, and that it maybe helps you in the future

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ron Fawcett: Rock Athlete

Come on Arms do your stuff!!! In his book Rock Athlete Ron Fawcett recollects that this “throw away” comment he made while being filmed climbing lord of the flies, was just simply something to break the silence. Yet he notes it took on a near mythical form, with climbers regurgitating it to each other and at him as a sort of cult style catch phrase… Well I was one of those climbers! Even though the bulk of Ron’s career was played out in the 70’s and 80’s when I started climbing (90’s), I was fed a healthy diet of Ron Fawcett stories and every crag we went to that had a route by the big man on was pointed out to me.

This is a biography of the man who for me, made climbing what it is today. The cover shot sums up what he was to me perfectly, his finely tune athletic frame (a result of the thousands of push ups he did a day, and the hundreds of miles of rock he would cover each week), pierced by “a stare so focused it could cut steel!” .

Having not known the man this book linked up all the magazine articles, stories and pictures I have absorbed about him over the years. His biography walks you through his life and achievements, in a warts and all narrative, his self-conscious and shy personality show through as the common thread of the book is how he would consume large quantities of highly graded routes to satisfy his appetite for rock and not fame.

A fantastic read about a living legend, make it part of your library today.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book Review: Pembroke Range East Gary Gibson

This is the long awaited comprehensive update by the Climbers Club of possibly the busiest, most diverse and beautiful climbing venue in Wales (or the world). It did not disappoint! “1000 routes between Vdiff to E10”.
It is one of two from the new serise, that have been released and there is another four books set to come in the next year (that is a life times supply of climbing).

This book has fantastic photos and crag descriptions making navigation off the area simple, leaving you more time to climb. The knowledge and experience of its author certainly shines through in its text with very accurate route locations and descriptions (a must if your abseiling blind towards a boiling sea, the last thing you want is to find that the VS you have come to do is actually E5).

All this in an A5 book that fits in your pocket (just like a guide book should) this book is a must no matter where you live in the UK, Pembroke has it all from the Tim Emmett types, to those making their way throught the grades.

so head to pemb's and maybe ill see you there. if your keen but nervouse check out my intro to sea cliff climbing courses Click here

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tony's Top Tip's - Racking Nuts

Sort your nuts out!

Heading off in the vertical world is always a gamble of efficiency do you go light and fast and run the risk of not having the crucial bit of kit to see you through the crux, or do you take the kitchen sink and struggle to get of the floor? With the majority of decent length trad pitches, I find it useful to have two sets of nuts (DMM wallnuts are my weapon of choice).

Split the nuts in to four sets, two sets of large and two sets of small. And rack one large and one small set on each side of your harness, this will enable you to do a number of things. If you were to drop a set of crucial sized nuts in to oblivion or can’t get at the set you need then all is not lost simply reach for the set on the other side.

Plus if you clip the nuts in towards yourself and if you need to replace a nut on the rack then all you need to do is rotate the crab on your harness, this will put the crab in the best position to re-clip the nut. All this can be done one handed!
there you go just a few thoughts, hope they are helpful. feed back is always welcome

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A day out in Scotland

What’s that noise? That noise is people getting ready, can’t be we are getting up at 05:00 no one will be up before us…. What’s the time? 07:50 SHIT!!!

SI, on your feet! We slept in mate; I was laying on the alarm! You get your shit together ill get the feed on then we’ll swap leaving the van in 20 mins

Right o…. what’s the weather like

Pissing down

Grim…at least there wont be any cues

Kit sorted, feed had, walking in the rain through the woods, steep dark path, sack is too heavy, I’m not hill fit, another party coming up the path… in the rain? At this time in the morning?.. Their keen. Their fast, we’re slow.. And late. Perhaps we should have a rest day we did drive for 14 hours yesterday.

Get a grip, people have cycled further and climbed harder. You’ll curse it.

What’s up mate?

Iv lost a glove, I’m going back down the path to find it

This is daft, we’re not together. Late, rushed, kit missing… We don’t even know what route we are going to do! Leave you sac here bro..

No sign of the other two now, Christ we are slow. Looks like he has it, good work what’s the time? 08:46
Its raining pretty hard this must be affecting the snow pack, leaving the woods now, Jesus its windy, we should go back.

If everyone who thought that went back the world would be full of short walks.

Ankle is sore, tendonitis is playing up a lot, we should head back.

What route do you recon would be a go in this mate?

The one back to the van. Well our dreams of point five are out. We’ll have to stick to the ridges…. We are quite late and the weather is getting worse so maybe just head up and look at conditions and do something short like ledge route?

What’s that like?

Its fine, its short.. But good

This is stupid, not fit, late, massive tendonitis, it’s my partners first Scottish winter day out and here we are walking in to the Ben when everyone else is walking out!

Well we’re up now keep walking, at very worst you can head up and see conditions for yourself.

Lights are on at the CIC hut…

Hello… excuse me, have you had a weather forecast for today? Do you know if this “BLIZZARD” is going to get worse?

yea the wind will get stronger this afternoon, its not really snowing now this is mostly blown stuff coming off the top.

Thanks… I think we’re heading down anyway

Probably a good choice.

Can’t see a thing viz is already grim. Lets wonder up behind the hut and have a look at the snow.

Its bullet hard, good times.. There is the odd pocket of soft blown stuff but nothing to cry about, aaar but what time is it its probably really late, 11.00am not great but not bad either.

Which way is ledge route?

Over there you can’t see it though. We’ll head this way and see what’s happening towards point five area.

Don’t be silly there is a lot of snow accumulating above that route you know this, its one thing to bring him up here today but don’t chase medals not on a day like today.

Im just looking…We are not committed… Jesus that’s deep!

Accumulate snow.. God this viz is bad is that tower ridge or north east buttress….

Its tower you tit! Switch on!

I thought you said point five is a bad idea today?

It is, we are not going up there, there is to much loose stuff about, we’re going to look at tower ridge.

Tower ridge which one is that?

The really long one, which needs an early start and no faffing.

Ok sounds like us to a T.? is it hard?


Have you done it before?


Where does it go?

Follow those steps

It’s too late to start this route, my tendonitis is killing me! The forecast for the summit is 50mph plus this afternoon it’s dark by 16:30.....We’ll just have a look

Can I lead this first bit?

If you want have you done any mixed stuff before?

No just some ice in Canada with the marines.

Stick a runner in then

At least if he fall’s the decision is made for us, ill just drag him back to the CIC hut job done.

A bit tricky that.

Yea you did well, lets put the rope away for now.

He took to long lets turn back. Its late lets turn back, your tendonitis is hurting let’s turn back.

The going is easy for now lets have a look.

That’s a big shadow, must be little tower I think we go up the left..

You think? Not a good day for guessing check the book

It’s the left I’m sure just follow the easy ground.

We’ll get the rope out here..

Ok where does it go?

… Up left ish on the easy ground.

Are you sure about this, once you go above this your committed, you should be going down, tendonitis, late, weather?

This snow is perfect, the climbing is simple your moving fast.

That was awesome! Good effort not quite used to mixed climbing, probably best you keep leading everything
Great tower and the eastern traverse now. You better be up to this it’s your idea, it’s your fault you’re here.

Did you here that?


There was a large rumble to our left when you were leading that last bit?

Must be avalanche.

Good job we are not on point five. Can’t find much gear on this traverse. I have to find something for Si, its your idea to be here so sort it out, we should of turned back.

That’ll do.

That was scary mate where now?

Up this chimney and I’ll find a belay.

This snow is perfect! The climbing is awesome!

Cool head now you still have tower gap to do yet, do I send him first to keep the rope above him or shall I do it so a can coach him through to save time?

How was that?

Hard… good effort, can’t get use to using tools on rock… where does it go now?

We get back on the ridge now and then on to tower gap.

What’s that like?

It’s like a gap… I’m not sure we’ll have a look and see.

Christ it’s windy as hell gusting like mad. Better chuck a sling on this before I go and look.

Ill head down first and talk  you through mate.

This looks desperate!

It looks tricky, tricky but fine. There must be a sneaky hold for your foot?

There it is… he’ll be fine there is tat he can swing on.

There is sod all for the belay.. Get excavating son!

That’s it mate there is a good hold for your left foot, stick your axe through the tat… Tidy


Good effort!

Where does it go now?

Up this ramp and up.

That had better be the crux because we can’t turn around now. Listen to that wind! Goggles out. The summit is going to be epic!

Get your goggles on Si it’s a bit windy up there.

Get your map out, check the bearing. Head torch on for later, quick snack, drink. Right over the top. I cant see a thing not even my legs. Shit this was a bad idea!!!



Don’t cock this up not to far left or you’ll be down five finger gully, not to far right or you’ll be down number two gully. This wind is throwing me everywhere. Nice! The cairn, a foot and a half away this viz is mega bad.

Viz improving, wind easing job done. Piece of piss!   Back to the van for tea and medals.

Mate that was awesome!

Yea I can’t believe we didn’t see any one on the summit?!