Sunday, 20 October 2013

Solving puzzles at Shepherds Crag.

     I often think of climbing as a puzzle, a problem that requires brain power to work out how to climb the sequence and create the correct body positions to make progress up the route, all the while wondering what do I do next? This is what draws me to on-sight traditional climbing, where every route is a different unique experience mentally as well as physically. There are no rehearsals like sport climbing or bouldering, where time can be taken to work sections or individual moves. A completely different mindset is required to dig deep and work out the puzzle before the lactic acid becomes to much, or is it the mind that fails before the arms. 

     Jon and I were driving up to the Lakes for the day opting for Shepherds Crag, Borrowdale to seek shelter and dry rock, now that the cooler temperatures and Autumn weather are almost guaranteeing numb fingers on the mountain crags. The short walk in is always a bonus as well. He asked if there were any routes I particularly wanted to get on; I’d already had a flick through the guidebook and replied: ‘Black Icicle, Brown Crag Grooves and maybe have a look at The Bludgeon.’ Jon calmly answered that he’d been keen to follow me up some E1s for a day, meanwhile I was slightly nervous of the day ahead, having not climbed many routes in the last couple months. 
Jon following up Pitch 1 of Brown Crag Grooves
     We walked along to the far end of the crag wondering where everyone was hiding, not a single person at probably the most popular crag in the Lakes on a sunday morning. We started off on Brown Crag Grooves, on which I found good climbing, quite fingery from the off and slightly bold with a couple of crux sections in the first pitch. It certainly kept me thinking anyway. Jon finished up the easier but slightly mossy second pitch, we grabbed our gear and headed round towards North Buttress, past the swarms of people on Brown Slabs, seems like everyone had remembered where the crag was. After a couple of longer single pitch routes on North Buttress neither of us had climbed before, Evel Kineivel and Crunchy Frog, both containing really good moves and positions. After Jon’s next route on Fisher’s Folly Buttress he reminded me that we were getting close, we’d working our way back along the crag all day, Chamonix Buttress and The Bludgeon were next. I thought we’d give it a go, see what happens ‘ey. 
Jon leading Kransic Crack Direct HVS 5a
     Jon lead the first pitch which felt surprising bold, and I was feeling pretty tired making quite  awkward moves through the block towards the top, heading up towards the oak trees. Looking above to what lay ahead, the description of the lower moves didn’t quite make sense. I climbed where I interpreted the description, heading out left onto a bold rib leading upwards towards the pinnacle under the roof, thinking the crack above was to be the crux. Pleasant moves and solid gear lead to a niche to the side of the pinnacle with the overhanging roof moving out above me. place a couple of solid runners and began to think of what to do next, this was to be the start of my problems. I had underestimated this part of the route, thinking the difficulties lay above and the moves at this point would be fine, I was so wrong, the crack between the pinnacle and roof was around 6 inches, with featureless rock on either side. I somehow needed to get on top of this pinnacle. I was getting frustrated with the puzzle, trying different positions, not quite being able to get my feet where i wanted them and all the while hunting for something better for my hands. There was nothing, I had to just accept that, I needed to make it work. Both my arms and brain were tiring. I tried several methods, but couldn’t commit to them, no faith that they would work and unsure of what was to come and whether I could reverse it. I’d made the move, it had worked, I was now reaching reaching around both sides of the narrower top as my body now moved around the front of it, I had to think fast. One leg swung around the side and into the wide crack, I had just mounted the pinnacle and earned myself a no handed rest. I then shouted down to Jon: ‘What the f**k am I supposed to do now!’ The tanks were running empty and I stuffed another cam into the crack by my face. The crack above was narrower than I expected and I’d used that size cam lower down. I was safe here, I needed to chill and regather myself. 
Moving around the front of the pinnacle on The Bludgeon
     The crack above was completely parallel, nothing to layback off, and I am rubbish at jamming. I reached to what looked like a sloper, just out of reach. What to do here, I now had to unlock the top section of the puzzle. I shimmied slightly up the pinnacle, the sloper was a good flatty, big enough for two hands. The key! I pulled and stood a top the pinnacle, hands moved right to positive flakey edges, I reached what looked like a good jug, but it was too far. My fingers were tiring, I was grasping at holds, technique was long gone, though none of the pitch had been very graceful. Feet up slightly and I reached the jug, ‘right, I can’t blow it now’ I thought. I pulled through larger holds and thankfully the angle eased taking the pressure of my arms. The whole sequence there can’t have been longer than 30 seconds. I gave a little shout of ‘Come on’ at the top, which is quite unlike me, and I’m not sure if it was relief or wanting the route a lot that produced it, probably a combination of the two.
Mounted the pinnacle wondering what to do now? The Bludgeon
     It is experiences like the one above that are the reason I trad climb. To put myself in these situations and have the belief I can do it, testing myself physically and mentally. There were points under that roof that I wanted Jon to take me tight on the rope, the route pushing to defeat me, I was quite frustrated by that point. Determination and stubbornness  are pretty good attributes to working out the puzzles unlocking the route.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Alone on the moors at Brown Beck Crags

I was inspired. A couple of days ago I had a cracking afternoon visiting a new crag, getting off the beaten track and finding some great little problems. My exploration head was on, and the weather was a lot better for the grit, to say it was the beginning of October anyway. I was keen to sample some more of the hidden gems across Yorkshire. Brown Beck Crags is located across the moor beyond Slipstones, and is a bit of a trek to say the least. I was on my own, but determined and motivated to make the hike in after finding out the landings were pretty reasonable as there was no spotter for me. The guidebook reckoned about a 45 minute approach, which is about right with a couple of pads strapped to my back. 
Slipstones with its Autumn coat on.
I headed off up the track, keeping my head down trying not to look at the inviting blocs of Slipstones with its autumnal coat on. There were problems I wanted to check out at Slipstones, but today they could wait, I was on a mission. I passed the crag and crossed a natural ford above a ravine, a marched across the edge of the moor through varying depths of heather, bracken and bilberry bushes. I dropped beneath the ridge, which was a bad idea. This was just getting ridiculous, there was still no sign of a crag anywhere, so I checked my watch 35 minutes. The guidebook mentioned a solitary pine tree from which the crags were visible, I could see it, but it didn’t seem to be getting any closer as I battled through the undergrowth. I eventually made it to the tree, spot on the 45 minute estimate. The crag looked beauty.
Brown Beck Crags
Brown Beck is very similar to Slipstones, sharing the angular blocky shape with apparently smooth walls and stunning aretes. After sussing out the crag with the guidebook, and bypassing a few of the micro routes, it would be a rewarding trip with a rope, I found a slanting buttress with several problems to warm up on. The rock was surprisingly clean, taking no drainage and makes the most of any sun going. None of that today though, a chilly breeze and overcast sky made for some good conditions. The edges were good, the footholds just lacked that bit of traffic that gets rid of every grain of grit, so felt a little precarious at times on smears. 

Lower moves on Next of Kin f6B+
Moving onto the upper arete - Next of Kin
The crag has a very solitary feel to it and rightly so as you can’t see any buildings from the crag and there is no mobile reception. Perfect for just enjoying the rock and the climbing. There are some really good problems, walls split with the odd break and positive crimps in between, and some stunning aretes all culminating in the stereotypical sloped mantleshelf top out. Some of the problems were quite highball in nature but the landings good, however glimpsing the word ‘Snap’ on the mat below in the corner of my eye, made sure i was switched on for those top outs. I never pushed it too hard but the crag has some great problems, and is perfect if you ever want to get away from it all and just climb.

Smiley Dog Arete f6B - tricky moves to mantle onto the wide break
I apologise for the poor image quality, they're stills from videos i took.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Clint Crags: Exploring the wild grit.

Having grown up close to Brimham Rocks, gritstone was really the only rock I knew early in my climbing career, from scrambling around, starting to boulder and eventually learning to lead, all was learnt on God’s own rock. Since widening my climbing into the mountains and sea cliffs, climbing on a wider variety of rock types and styles and moving away from gritstone areas I have felt this connection growing weaker over time. Each time I revisited familiar areas I couldn’t quite climb as fluid or produce the right positions and failed to climb problems I had climbed a couple of years previous. 
Matt on the Arete
Now summer has passed, the air is becoming cooler the grit guidebook has reappeared at the top of the pile, flicking through for inspiration, and theres plenty of it. I’ve always loved visiting new crags and the new grit guide is so visual providing a never ending list of problems to try. Surrounding the outstanding crag of Slipstones, a number of smaller crags lie on the nearby moors similar in nature allowing top quality problems to be found just off the radar for those willing to hunt. 

Clint Crags is found beneath Masham Moor overlooking both Leighton and Roundhill Reservoirs. A solitary setting, you are almost guaranteed to be the only climbers at the crag, contrasting with the industrial feel of 100 year old dams in proximity. The crag is compact, with brilliant landings and a bit of scritty rock which is expected at less traveled destinations. A brief warm up on a few problems and getting completely shut down on a couple more that had incredibly tricky starting moves, which meant I lost motivation and couldn’t work the other moves. I moved across the block and found a good line up the arete on the right hand side, with a positive starting layback hold. 
The 'Long Lob'
Lobbing for the pocket

The problem suited me, requiring a long reach between good the start hold and slopey pocket whilst holding the barn door swing. On first appearance the sequence looked easy, but the problem wasn’t giving in that easy, maybe it did warrant its f7a grade. I tried and tried and tried. I seemed to be doing and failing on the same move over and over, putting it down to just not catching the top pocket right, without loosing the swing of the barn door. I’m always one for impatience between problems and attempts, never resting enough or thinking in depth about the sequence I have just tried and how I could change it. 
Jug top
Matching the pocket.

I forced myself to have a break, the first of the afternoon, fifth problem in and after about ten attempts on this one. Shoes off, water out and just chill enjoying the view. Next attempt, launch up for the pocket, latch it, flag my foot to hold the swing and quick hand up to match the slot. Its done, sort the feet, and move up two shelves to a rare jug on the sloped top out. It certainly was the Long Lob, and a cracking problem. This visit has really rekindled the spark that was going out. I love the subtle movements and changes that can unlock the problem, and am now looking forward to the rapidly approaching grit season.