What have I been up to? It's a long one!

11th Jun 2008

Well, it’s been a busy couple of months, what with leaving the BMC and going away abroad and in the UK on some great climbing trips.

Font (2nd week of April) was a fun trip and a good way to get back into climbing after a layoff. Although bouldering is probably the worst type of climbing for my elbow, I was careful and did LOTS of easier problems. Sometimes I didn’t even take my trainers off and it was nice just pottering around and climbing lumps of rock.

So with a week of climbing under my belt, we got back to the UK and a day later I was off to Rodellar, an awesome sport climbing venue NW of Barcelona.

Having religiously taped my elbow, I carried on with this, as it does seem to help. There are certain moves, like very deep locks- compression moves- that no amount of taping can counteract but in the main I feel the taping I am doing is helping a lot.

So Rodellar, if you haven’t been, what a place! It is a beautiful river gorge with great looking rock all around. I really love the vibe of this place and could easily spend a lot more time there. But we had a week so I wanted to make the most of it.

Due to my layoff I wasn’t sure how my arms/body would respond on long demanding sport routes, so the first couple of days I took it easy (although I managed to flash 2 f7b+’s on the second day which was a shock, especially because they were short and steep, not normally my forte).

It was strange at first getting back into doing routes, when you’ve been very fit to climb when your arms don’t respond how you expect them to is very weird and also a little depressing. But the only way is onwards and upwards, so I just kept plugging away.

There are so many routes of a good grade for me to get lots of a mileage on and that’s what I did. We climbed 2 days on 1 off and this worked well for rest and recovery. By the last few days I was starting to feel more like my old self, although obviously in such a short space of time nowhere near my best but certainly more like the climber I want to feel like.

On the second to last day I’d had a good nights sleep and was raring to go. We went up to an area called Las Ventanas, which has something for everyone, and also there had been a lot of rain before we arrived but this area doesn’t succumb to seepage, so it’s a good bet for dry rock. Unfortunately, everybody else had the same idea so it was heaving and we had to queue for routes at times but there was a good buzz.

I felt good on my warm ups and so I decided to try and onsight a f7c+. A bit of a lofty expectation but you don’t get if you don’t try. The route I fancied is an amazing traverse line on the back of the arch, it was in the shade, looked dry and I was psyched. Again I didn’t know how my arms would respond to something like this but it looked like my cup of tea- a long stamina fest and I was hoping no boulder problem crux.

Well, after a lot of huffing and puffing, heel hooks, knee bars and general fighting to keep going I managed to reach the chain without a fall. It had actually felt pretty good and I seemed to be able to recover when I needed to. And to be honest it’s not the hardest f7c+ I’ve onsighted but at this stage of the game that doesn’t really matter. I was just very pleased with how I’d climbed, as I hadn’t expected to climb anything like as hard as this on this trip.

After a bit of a rest, I still felt very good so I tried to onsight an f8a. I actually came very close to doing it and was amazed at how good I felt on the route. I was kind of disappointed that I’d fallen, as I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t messed up on that move there is a good chance I’d have done the route but c’est la vie and all that.

So after this great trip, I felt like my climbing and my head were in a good place again. Having left the BMC, these trips had given me a chance to just get back to what I loved and sort my head out a bit.

Tony Ryan has taken over my role at the BMC, so during May I went in for a day a week to assist him in the job. My Mum also had an operation, so I was toing and froing to Wells, looking after her and commuting to Manchester. It was all fairly hectic and I tried to snatch the odd climbing day here and there.

Katherine and I went to High Tor, which was the first tradding I’d done for ages and we had a nice day of which the best bit was a good E4 called ‘Decadence’, which traverses the main face and covers some great ground.

The next day we went to Raven Tor for a bit of bolt clipping and I achieved another ‘high’ moment.

There is a classic f7c there called ‘Body Machine’. I have left this route for years, ‘saving’ it for the onsight. Even though I wasn’t feeling my peak of fitness, I thought I’d give it a go. There isn’t much left for me to onsight at the Tor (it’s all too hard) apart from the Prow, which is f8a in one pitch and I knew I wasn’t up to that.

The added bonus was that somebody had left their clips in ‘Body Machine’ from a previous day, so it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. It did look fantastic, I’d never really looked at the line before, and it was definitely calling. Unfortunately, the start as always was damp but the rest was in pristine nick.

Again, I was really pleased with how I climbed on this route. There is a famous ‘rockover’ move about a third the way up and I’d heard about this horrific move (it had put me off in the past) but just thought I would probably find another way of doing it, which I did. There are basically some pretty small crimpy side pulls that if you pull on them hard enough, they keep you on the rock long enough to get up to better holds.

This route really is amazing, one of the best f7c’s around. It has tricky sections in between good rests that are all very different in style, I found it totally absorbing and satisfying. I was sooo pleased to have unsighted this route.

At the end of May the British Lead Climbing Championships (BLCC) took place in Blackpool. I was actually moving house that weekend, which was a good distraction for me. As this meant I am no longer the British Champion. I decided to retire from comps when I took on the BMC job but there is still a part of me that loves comps…who knows maybe next year I’ll make a comeback- Joke!!

The last trip I’ve been on to bring you up to date was Fairhead in Northern Ireland- wow what a place. We actually went the day after the BLCC for a week and the group I was with had all been a lot before so could show me round in style.

We were very lucky with the weather (only a couple of days of rain with one being a complete washout) but the rest of the time it was like some sort of paradise- is this normal, probably not- blue skies and sunshine with barely any wind. Although the no wind wasn’t so brill as the midges came out in full force and we really were eaten alive. The worst time was when I repeated a classic Pat Littlejohn E6 called ‘Above and beyond’. The midges followed us up the crag, there was no escape. My poor belayer who was on a semi-hanging stance just became a blood bank for an hour and I was fending them off as I was trying to work my way up this technical route. When I got to the top pretty exhausted (it was very hot too), some friends came over to say how amazing the route had looked; they saw my face and went pretty quiet. Basically, I’d turned in to Quasimodo. I react quite badly to midge bites and if they get me on the face, a bid welt appears. Well they really did have a feast. My face just turned into a mass of large red lumps, it looked grim and I felt grim too. They took hours to go down but nothing could take away the great feelings I got from climbing such a good route.

We did lots of good routes that week, including a new E4 6a called ‘Scott’s pine’, which is a great looking crack line. Our friend Scott had spent 3 days cleaning this thing but unfortunately couldn’t quite manage to climb it, so we stepped in and did it. Very kind of him, hence the name.

The Fairhead website is awesome and really up to date, check out a piccie of me on my last day climbing a fantastic E2 5c called ‘Equinox’ here:


I am really keen to go to the Burren now, as that looks equally fantastic, there seems to be a lot of great climbing in Ireland and I’m now inspired to check it out.

Well, that finally brings me pretty much up to date. I am off to Portland now for some climbing and coaching. The weather looks like it’s on the turn but hopefully the rain will stay off long enough for us to get some stuff done.

Then I’ll head back up and plan my life!

I hope you managed to trawl trough this rather long blog and I will try and keep them shorter from now on!