A winter attempt of The Pendulum Route, Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire, USA. Filmed & edited by Bayard Russell Jr

While hunting for the Mindless Finish film a couple of weeks ago, I noticed this film clip of the Pendulum Route wasn’t on the blog in the film section, so here it is. It’s pretty funny to compare these two film clips, both were a bit mad, but in different ways. The thing I love about this clip is Bayard’s commentary, he’s laughing and encouraging most of the time. The slab bit of climbing was stupid and hysterical… “Use the crystal” Bayard said… the crystal was so small I couldn’t see it, and when it became apparent what the thing was he was talking about, I couldn’t believe it! It did work though, so cheers Bayard, good beta 🙂

The full story of this day can be read here

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The film of the first winter ascent of the Mindless Finish to Pic n Mix.

Myself leading, and Bayard Russell Jr belaying, on the first winter ascent of the Mindless Finish to Pic n Mix. Credit, David Mora.

‘Quick one – have you still got that footage of you on the pic n mix direct finish ? A kid I know is reading your books and got in touch with me when he read that story. He would love to see it, but I can’t seem to find it.’

I received this message last night (26/1/21) from Dave Garry. It’s possibly nine  years to the day, give or take a week, when I first climbed with Bayard Russell Jr on a BMC International meet, (the story of that week can be read HERE). Bloody hell, what a great week of climbing, and what a great friend Bayard became, and still is. Since first meeting him, a small tractor of a man with a sensitive side, we have climbed together in New Hampshire, Vermont, Quebec, North Wales, Newfoundland and Alberta, and I’ve stayed with Bayard and his wife, Anne, (who is also a great friend) in their quirky wooden house hidden in the woods, on many occasions. Along with the cats and Bailey the dog, they now have two kids, neither of whom I’ve met, but at some point I hope to. And at some point it would be great to catch up with everyone, in and around the North Conway area who also became valued friends, they really are a wonderful and welcoming bunch from around those parts.

So quick the years have passed, nine years and so much, and I’m not sure where it went, and of course, it’ll never return. And the thing that’s become obvious to me recently is, no matter how good you’re going, no matter how never ending a thing may appear, no matter how much fun you’re having, at some point you will slow, and things will change, and those things you revelled, and did so easily, they will now become difficult or even stop, and they will stop before you realize. So, treat it all; meeting with friends, climbing, travelling, laughing, being kind – treat it all like it’s the last time, because at some point it may well be.

Here is James Dunn’s film that I’ve placed onto Vimeo because it doesn’t appear to be available anywhere else now, sorry James 😉

 

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A way of life or a life style?

The crag shot I posted while on my trip in Spain.

A few weeks ago, I returned from a six week climbing trip to Spain. I booked the ferry in July, making use of an offer Brittany Ferries were running for people whose sailings had been cancelled because of the Covid-19 outbreak earlier in the year. Not one to miss a saving, I booked the ferry knowing it may not happen, (I had to book before the end of July) but against the odds, I sailed on the 9th of October heading to Santandare. At the time, Covid-19 restrictions in Spain and the UK had been relaxed, things were looking, ‘not too bad’, although Madrid was being hit pretty hard as was the Northeast of the UK, but as I was travelling from North Wales, an area with low infections, and going to areas in Spain that also had low infections, I took the decision to go.

I met up with my usual partner for this type of thing, Rich Kirby, and after 3 days in Catalunya, we travelled south to the Valencia Community. It wasn’t long after, the Spanish Government introduced regional travel restrictions throughout the whole of Spain, but once you were in an area, it was OK to continue climbing. These regional enforcements remained for the whole of our trip and still remain.

Since returning back to the UK I’ve had a bit of time on my hands and a good internet connection (dangerous) and I’ve been perusing some stuff I normally wouldn’t, more fool me. While doing this, I picked up on something that interested me, especially as I had recently returned from a climbing trip abroad.

I’m not a fan of Social Media. This statement will not surprise anyone who regularly reads my waffle, but I do have a Twitter account and a Facebook account. I mainly use Facebook for messenger and as a platform to advertise my writing, I gave up on the newsfeed a long time ago because I discovered it wasn’t good for me. I don’t do any other Social Media. Instagram appears to be the latest big thing with climbers, and with time on my hands, I decided to take a look. After flicking around, I soon found out not signing up had been the correct decision. There were some really great landscape pictures and cool climbing shots and interesting life stuff, fun stuff and inspirational stuff, but many of the posts from climbers felt similar to the Facebook newsfeed, vain and narcissistic. Consumerism oozed from posts with more hashtags and @’s than nouns and adjectives. I wondered who some of the posts were aimed, as they were so obviously thinly veiled adverts or appeared to be something to hit a number count, possibly a filler-in to fulfil a sponsor’s requirement with nothing particularly interesting, new or inspiring, just a picture with, occasionally, some pseudo deep and meaningful prose at the side. Do people enjoy this kind of thing? I don’t think I’m an anti-Social Media zealot, there are good sides to it, contact with family and friends, a platform to enhance good causes etc, and I can see, when first invented, it was intended to give people without a voice, a voice, but it was soon appropriated by consumerism and greed, and people went along with this get rich quick, and have helped make it what it largely now appears to be, a big advertising platform. Maybe I’m just a cynical old man? Maybe I’m behind the times? Maybe the days of expecting something from the heart is gone and we have become conditioned to a sparkly set-up picture accompanied by a bit of rushed trite? Or, maybe I’m the fool, because everyone actually knows things like this are staged, and the words that run alongside twaddle, and this is just how it is and we shouldnt expect more?

Anyway, my personal failings to move with the times is not the main aspect of this piece (oh no!). While looking at Instagram, I read some quite interesting replies to a picture that got me questioning myself. The replies were in response to a picture posted by Hazel Findley. I’m sure I don’t need to explain who Hazel is, but I’ll give the quick low-down for anyone that’s been in a submarine for the last ten years. Hazel is a brilliant climber, one of the best in the world. What most people won’t know is, she lives just around the corner from me and we bump into each other on occasion, and when we do, I enjoy a bit of a chat because she’s smart and interesting. So, enough fluffing, (sorry Hazel) now to the bit I found interesting, and in no way a personal attack, because her posts and replies come across more honest than most, and a lot of what she has done in climbing is truly inspirational.

In one of her latest Instagram posts she is wearing a facemask while taking a ferry to Greece. Angus Killie and Hazel had left Wales in their van before the Welsh lockdown, to climb in France. When France locked down for a second time, they headed to Italy to catch a ferry to Greece. The usual comments to this type of Social Media thing began, “good job, well done escaping…” etc, but someone then questioned the moral aspect of travelling through several countries while there is a world pandemic,

‘…the lack of transparency that a global pandemic impacts the climbing world where people should be staying close to home and limiting interaction with unknown groups of people. This seems to be across this platform for many climbers and does not seem to capture the gravity of the responsibility for such travel. Privilege of traveling is not the issue. Having the privilege to travel and willingly doing it in a 100 yr pandemic is. Now I am not saying you are not taking precaution but the projection of this freedom gives others the validation to do the same which might not have the same sense of responsibility.’

The person was not rude, offensive or attacking, it was a well thought out and, I thought, an intelligent question, which Hazel answered in a similar, intelligent way,

‘…fair points. I did reflect for a long time before coming away. However, climbing is my work and I know my actions have very little impact on others. I come into less contact with others travelling in my van than I do at home. The economies of this area depend on visitors buying things from local shops etc so it’s not like our presence is only negative. It’s my job to talk about what I’m doing and I let other people make their own choices.’

And in reply to Hazel’s reply,

‘I am in agreement that economics of travel bring critical money flow. However, almost every community is financially impacted and struggling. And the financial discussion of ecotourism is a vastly large and a whole other discussion. With such a large platform comes much responsibility. I do not disagree your platform is part of your job which has layers only known privately. But projection of free travel can be taken and run with by so many, resulting in unknowing spread and ultimately more lockdowns. Your platform has far reach, and although you may not have chosen it, your voice does have great influence on what people do.’

Hazel didn’t reply again which was fair enough, she had said her piece, but others did, going to some of the usual cliched, bullying and belittling responses that are seen all too often within the world of Social Media, the “You are jealous, how dare you question…”, etc. I have no doubt this type of response is designed to intimidate, it is an attempt to humiliate and silence the person they disagree, but these were, as Hazel agreed, valid points.

Another person said,

‘…some people just let others be happy and do their thing…she has not broke any laws or guidance, so not sure why you feel the need to hold up her to some imaginary standard, comes across as jealously for sure…as they say, if you can’t say something nice…’

This, I find a particularly naïve or ignorant; As long as replies are respectful, not rude or aggressive, why shouldn’t someone question the decisions of others? Are concerns within the world of Social Media not allowed, are coments that fluff egos the only comments that should be posted? The post and all responses can be read here

I had wrestled with some of these same things when I set off to travel to Spain, but if I’m honest, not much, and certainly not enough to stop me travelling. Bloody hell I wanted to escape the dark and wet of Wales (along with a large percentage of others I’m sure who for various reasons didnt or couldnt!) and as long as I was breaking no laws, I was almost certainly going. While I was in Spain, and given everything going on in the world, I decided to avoid posting any shots of climbing and climbers or crags, except one. Even posting this one shot, (a long-distance crag shot) took days of deliberation, and to be honest, I still don’t really understand the reason I felt the need to post it. Did I want to brag about my life and my fortunate position, while rubbing salt into the wounds of people having a tough time in the dark and wet back home? The complexities for the individual with Social Media are so layered and complex, and the effects on the thousands of people addicted to this medium unrecorded?

Not posting on Social Media while I was away wasn’t difficult, I don’t publish many climbing pictures anyway, but more than ever, it felt wrong to be publishing pictures showing where I was, and the climbing I was doing, especially while others were either stuck at home or taking the morally higher, or dare I say, correct stance, given a world-wide pandemic? In life there are quite a few things that are not against the law, but given certain circumstances, it doesn’t make them morally correct, although, I suppose, as individuals, we all have a different take on what is moral, and my morals are different from yours, which are different from theirs. None of us know what is truly going on inside another person’s mind and the reasons behind an action.

Having travelled to Spain on the long ferry where I had a cabin, and afterwards living in my van, and climbing at quiet crags with Rich, I completely agree with Hazel, it felt safer than staying at home where I mixed with more people in riskier environments, but I do think the question, is travelling abroad at the moment the correct decision, was valid and worth exploring? Rich is in contact with quite a few people, he has an Instagram account and fills in a UKC Logbook, and people could see he was in Spain, and because of this, he received messages from climbers asking him about what was going on, and whether it was possible to travel and climb? Hazel has 184000 followers on Instagram, saying it’s your job is valid, but is it reason enough to advertise travelling around Europe at the moment? Given how well Hazel climbs and her large platform on Social Media, surely no sponsor is going to have a problem with an email from her explaining she is going abroad, but has decided to be low key given the pandemic. When everything is over, there will be loads of new stories and pictures that can be shared – a story, is a story, there is no particular time limit to when it should be published unless it’s a news item? Given this explanation to a sponsor, or should we just call them employer, they would surely understand, and if they didn’t, well maybe it’s time to look for a new employer?

Climbing has changed massively over the last few decades, some for the good, some, not so good. I was fortunate to start climbing in the early 90’s at the age of 28, most of my chasing has now gone, but I still love climbing and the way of life. I was very fortunate to have discovered climbing when I did, because in doing so, I think I was entering at the end of the period where climbing, and being outdoors, was a genuine, ‘life way’, a way of growing, shared by a minority community. Appropriated by capitalism, climbing now tends to be sold as a ‘life style’, rather than expressed as a ‘way of life’. Some climbers now have more followers on Social Media sites than professional footballers and cyclists and other top sports people. The days of climbers being dirtbags doing their own thing has not gone entirely, but if you make a living from climbing, and you have more followers on Instagram than let’s say, Tao Geoghegan Hart, a professional cyclist for one of the biggest teams in the world, Ineos Grenadiers and winner of last year’s Giro d’Italia, (he has 96000 followers on Instagram) this makes you a serious influence and your actions are going to influence and affect thousands of people.

The business of ‘climbing’ is now so big it has changed the activity, and it is changing, and has changed, the motivations of the people involved. I now find myself wanting to turn my back on much of what climbing has become. I understand things change, and that’s OK; at least for the time people can remain peripheral, go and do their thing and get what they want from it, but there will come a point this is no longer the case. We already see a backlash against people wanting to live in vans to climb. At one time, people were low key, under the radar, but now #vanlife and publishing the coordinates of the best places to park, Instagramming your amazing climbing life while living in your van, has turned the tide against people who at one time – quietly, considerately and cleanly, went about their thing for a way of life, not to enhance a business, a profit or a profile.

We now get indoctrinated on a daily basis about freedom of expression through climbing from car companies in adverts designed to sell us cars. We hear about climbing in the mainstream media regularly, even though a lot of the time the reports are factually incorrect or stupidly hyped. Maybe the time has come to openly question aspects of climbing and for climbers to be more honest, for climbers to really look at themselves and their motivations and ask what effect advertising of their endeavours on Social Media has on the bigger picture? Is it still inspirational to fly to the Greater Ranges on an expedition given all we know about the effects of flying on the atmosphere? Is it OK to be a part of a report in the mainstream press or TV when you know your words will be changed or taken out of context or reported incorrectly? Is it OK to travel across Europe on a rock climbing trip when there is a global pandemic?

I can only speak for myself, but when I travelled to Spain, I desperately wanted to climb on rock and in the sun, I wanted to spend time in my van that was parked up in some quiet spot alongside nature and without people, and I did. I listened to owls in the evening. I watched a fox poke its head from a clump of grass a few feet from where I sat. I stared at the stars, and I did this without advertising any of it.

I’ll admit, I’ve almost reached a point that I no longer care what the rest of the so-called ‘climbing community’ does. I’ve almost reached the point of sticking my head in the sand, as long as what I do is ethically correct and doesn’t adversely affect others, because it feels we, the human race, are close to the point that none of us will be doing anything at all for much longer, not unless we become more responsible, less greedy, less selfish and begin to work together to find a way to turn the thermostat down.

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Embrace the rain…

Will Perrin. Credit, Ray Wood.

For anyone who regularly subjects themselves to my blog, (gluttons for punishment) or perhaps, for those who don’t, (sensible) you’ll probably know I enjoy climbing at Craig Doris on the Llŷn Peninsular in North Wales. The seabirds, seals, waves and wind, they grind, until after a time, become embedded beneath skin, similar to the muck at the base of the cliff. Over the years, I’ve possibly climbed at Doris more often than some of my other favoured crags; North Stack, Wen Zawn, Dinas Cromlech, Red Walls, Yellow Wall, Rhoscolyn. Doris is a non-tidal sea cliff, so there is none of that messing about between full tides, which is good, because it can take a long time to climb a pitch, and some routes have two! Doris has quirks and idiosyncrasies, it also has a reputation and mystique, but once beyond these, once you give it a chance, you’ll relish your visits and find something long-lasting.

Craig Doris by Jethro Kiernan.

On almost every occasion since that first visit, I laugh thinking about that first climb. For those who know something about the cliff, you are possibly guessing one of three routes, Byzantium Wall, Knowing Her or Cripple Creek, all three would be sensible and good choices, (if such a thing as sensible can be had) but you’d be wrong. The first route was a climb called Bobok. Bobok is a Ray Kay and Dave Jones climb and given the grade of E5 6a. I’ve written about my experience of climbing Bobok a few times, so I’m not going to waffle on again, other than to say it was an eye-opener (It’s here if you are interested). When James (Caff) McHaffie and I climbed it, about twenty-five years after the first ascent, our ascent was the third, which is telling, but also telling was the second ascent team, Will Perrin and Ben Bransby, neither a slouch, both exceptionally talented climbers.

Mick Lovatt and myself. Neither exceptional, but both loving the times spent at Craig Doris. Credit, Ray Wood.

I’ve met Ben many times, don’t be fooled by that geeky, slightly awkward look, he’s a wolf in a woolly jumper, but I only met Will once, and that was a long time ago when I was still employed in the Prison Service. On that occasion, I had travelled to Wales to climb with my friend Owain Jones, but Owain had fallen ill, leaving me on the hunt for climbing partners. Tim Neill told me his friend Will was free to climb, and the next day, running through the rain, Tim led me into a packed, and steaming, Pete’s Eats, the climbers’ caffi in the centre of Llanberis. A fresh-faced and striking teenager sat amongst a group of people surrounding a table. “Nick, this is Will, Will, this is Nick.” After the introduction, Tim left. I pulled a wooden chair from beneath a table – the legs dragged against the floor, a cruel screech cut through the hubbub. In the company of folks I didn’t know, I sat down feeling uncomfortable. All I wanted to do was climb, but that was not going to happen today; thrashing rain streaked the windows, gushed from gutters, flowed along the roadside. Will turned to me, “Do you want to have a walk around the quarries?” “Nothing better to do, OK”, I answered, relieved to escape the crowd of strangers.

Will and I ran to my van. I drove from Llanberis and up the hill and along Y Stryd Fawr (Deiniolen high street), heading towards the parking spot at Bus Stop Quarry. Deiniolen was grey and wet. Some houses along the high street had metal meshing across the windows. Cars were parked along the side of the road making it a single lane. I could see an estate of cream and brown pebbledash council houses with soggy front lawns and abandoned multi-coloured plastic bikes. The pub was boarded up, but the door was open. I sat waiting for a bus to pass the parked cars. Windscreen wipers struggled to clear the deluge, but with each pass, I could see terraced houses and above the houses, moors and heather and piles of grey slate washed with frothing white water.

A dry day at Dinorwic Quarry. Credit, Tim Neill.

Parking at Bus Stop Quarry, Will sprang from the car wrapping a jacket around his thin body. I was grumpy, I wanted to climb, but here I was in the rain with someone I didn’t know, and someone I really didn’t understand. Will had been enthusing about the quarries and the slate, he didn’t appear bothered it was pouring, and we were not able to climb, he appeared happy to go for a walk and experience the atmosphere of the quarries in the wet. I couldn’t see the point, what the hell did I want to go for a walk for? Experience the quarries in the rain? Will was ahead, pointing out things of interest, things he appeared excited by – twisted railway tracks that abruptly stopped, hanging in rusty curls over the edge of a shining cliff face. Dark tunnels that led somewhere, or nowhere. Workers’ sheds, with holes in the tiled roofs that the rain fell through, and writing carved into walls. Old hats and boots and jackets hanging from rusty nails. Corroded metal pipes dripping water. Broken down fencing. Deep pools of green that I couldn’t see the bottom. A single wet and bedraggled sheep. This was all a pointless waste of time. I would rather be in warm weights gym or a climbing wall.

Esme Neill in slate tunnels… Credit, Tim Neill.

Will was transfixed, watching the white and bubbling flow of water churning its way down smooth water worn black. Climbing was not happening, and eventually I convinced him to leave. I dropped him outside Pete’s Eats, feeling somewhat relieved to escape this unusual and intense young man.

Brad Reed on Splitstream, the Rainbow Slab, Dinorwic Quarry. Credit, Tim Neill.

When I arrived in Llanberis, in the summer of 2004, my friends, Tim Neill and Lou, (who was still Lou Wilkinson at that time) were about to go on an expedition to Greenland with a bunch of climbers I didn’t know (many since have become good friends). Will Perrin was also a member of the team, but on the day the team travelled to the airport, Will drove, dropped his friends off, and said he wasn’t going. None of the team thought this was so unusual, Will had always done things differently, and after saying goodbye, he returned home. Everyone from the close-knit climbing community in Llanberis thought Will was in Greenland, and everyone in Greenland, thought Will had returned to Llanberis. Will did return to Llanberis and took his own life.

Ray Kay in his purple phase. Ray is a wonderful and warm character from the 80’s Llanberis scene. Whenever we meet, I pester him for stories. This picture was dug out of Ray Wood’s archives, Ray W had to buy some new scanning IT stuff to get me this shot, sorry Ray, but it is a great shot of a great person that deserves airing! Here is Ray W’s background about this shot… “Ray K had just done a slate route in the Nantlle Valley called The Purple Tailed Lovefish and it involved taking photos of him painted purple along with his girlfriend at the time sitting in a pool of water below the route, with eels swimming around her feet. Ray was really into the colour purple. There is a black and white photo of the climb hanging in Pete’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if the route had fallen down.”

Credit, Ray Wood.

I was staying in the climber’s club hut Ynys Ettws in the Llanberis Pass at the time, and in the days following, it filled with people attending Will’s funeral. One morning I met a man who was attending the funeral, I’d disturbed him as he slept on the sofa in the living room. Later, in the kitchen, we chatted, and I discovered he was a man who had a formidable reputation in the history of North Wales climbing.

Ray Kay was a man full of dark mystique, a man, who, according to tales, was less stable than some of the rock from his climbs and possibly as dangerous. Introducing myself, and speaking to Ray, was almost impossible, I was so in awe of the man and his climbs. To be honest, I was also a little intimidated, but when I plucked the courage to introduce myself, and chatted, I immediately warmed and relaxed. To Llanberis locals, Ray is something of an enigma, a loose rock expert. By modern standards his climbs are not that difficult, but they still remain serious test pieces, Bobok, New Moon, many of the Llŷn Peninsular horror shows. I stood in the kitchen, feet shuffling against the surface of the red tiles, asking Ray about his first ascents and solos from the eighties, he happily entertained my quizzing and was a superb raconteur.

A large proportion of the Llanberis climbing community were mourning Will’s death, people spoke warmly about Will, and I thought about the one time we met, and the time we had spent together in the rainy quarries. I was also in mourning, but for my friend Jules Cartwright, who had recently been killed while guiding on the North Face of the Piz Badile. I’ve now learnt that on occasion the rain gives a person time to reflect, and I wish all those years ago I had given Will more time, and we had spent longer in the rain together.

Over the years of living in Llanberis, I’ve met Ray Kay several times, we always have a good chat, he’s great company, warm and friendly, I’ve grown to like him a lot. I’ve also learned it rains for large periods of time, and it’s taken me a while to get used to, maybe it’s an appreciation thing, maybe it’s about getting older and becoming more understanding, but I’d like to think I’ve embraced the rain completely now, it’s part of the place and makes it what it is, home.

Myself on the 26th August this year, climbing the new route, Tell Your God to Ready for Blood. E7 6b, on the un-named area at the edge of Stigmata Buttress, Craig Doris. Credit, Ray Wood.

Tim Neill on The Rainbow of Recalcitrance, Credit, Phoebe Denton.

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The Space Face Case…

Two Andys of climbing, both characters, both a great influence on the North Wales climbing scene, Boorman and Pollitt. Credit, Ann Boorman.

Mick Lovatt and I decided to head inland to the rolling hills and broadleaf canopies of Conwy. We drove through Old Colwyn; past the recently done-up Co-op, past the chippy and kebab house, past the Cuckoo pub, where a woman wearing cut-off jeans, and a vest stood smoking a cigarette and holding a black Staffordshire Bull Terrier on a lead. We drove past Aldi on the right, and up the hill, past the new flats on the left – a high-end development, all chrome and windows, balancing on the cliff edge above the little sport crag. Turning right, up the even steeper hill surrounded by modern houses, until a levelling and the sea behind, dotted with a multitude of wind turbines. Downhill and into the village of Llysfaen, before a turn left down the track and parking in the sheep field. Craig y Forwyn, a large chunk of gleaming limestone nestled amongst the trees.

Mick and I were hoping to lead a route called The Space Face, a line that climbs the front face of Great Wall and first climbed by Calum Muskett, and given the grade E8 6b. In some respect, the climb is an odd one, it starts up Great Wall, going into Space Case, leaving Space Case (for some direct moves of its own, including the crux), before once again joining Space Case at the bolt, and finishing the same as that route, including its crux. The bit of new climbing of Calum’s route is technical with small crimps and even smaller pockets, but with hardly any protection. It’s wonderful to climb directly up this scalloped shield of solid white limestone, while burying thoughts about how contrived climbing can be at times. I don’t mean this to belittle the climb, it’s a great climb, and on that day, both Mick and I led it and loved the experience, it’s just an observation. What is odder, when Mick posted on Facebook afterwards, that he had done the climb, were some comments.

Mick Lovatt on, or at least near the crux of Space Case, having climbed The Space Face. Credit, Pete Johnson.

Boring as this may be, I have to give a bit of background, so here goes…

Space Case is a brilliant three-star Andy Pollitt E6 6b that he climbed in 1982 with one bolt high on the climb to protect the crux. Andy was a superb climber who soloed loads of hard stuff and climbed a whole host of even harder stuff, he was no slouch and as bold as they come. I’m sure if Andy had wanted to, he could have climbed Space Case without the bolt, (or rope) but he chose to put one in, possibly because the route was more balanced and much better for it, and for those wanting to try to on-sight it, or climb it ground up, (without fear they would crater from the top of the crag) they could. Andy died on November 13th 2019 aged 56, a great loss to the climbing community and those who knew him.

Big John Orr topping out on Space Case. Credit, Tim Neill.

Anyway, a load of years ago, I was more black and white and opinionated. With age and experience, I’d like to think I’m a tad more understanding and take a more nuanced approach these days, and I can see now, it’s better to take each case on its own merit. So, Space Case, a brilliant E6 6b with a bolt high-up, first climbed by Andy Pollitt in 82 and available for many people to climb on-sight, ground-up, or headpoint, until a few years ago when a local climber called Ryan Macconnell set his stall to work Space Case until he had it very dialled, before removing the bolt, and climbing it. I am told to do this he used an elaborate system of tensioned bungees, holding down the skyhook placements. Brilliant, bold and imaginative, and I really understand the personal challenge and dedication to a dream, but did it make Space Case a better climb for the bolt removal, I’m not sure it did? Fortunately, Ryan (good on him) chose not to fill in the bolt hole that meant anyone having a bolt and hanger could drop a line down the route, replace the bolt, and attempt it in whatever style they chose, and a lot of locals did just that, including myself. Unfortunately for anyone not in the know, or not local, they wouldn’t have the odd 8 mm bolt and hanger on their rack. They would also, possibly, not have the time for multiple visits to Craig y Forwyn to repeatedly work the climb on a top rope, so this great climb, a climb that had been available for around 25 years, was now, for most people, off limits.

A few years pass, and with access to the Great Wall area still sensitive, but less so than in previous years, the bolt has now been reinstated for good? I think for Forwyn, a crag that has always had a few bolts on a few climbs, and going back to what I said above, each climb has to be taken as a case by case, this was the correct decision.

Phew, so where were we. Yes, The Space Face. The day Mick and I climbed it the bolt was recently reinstated, and the route we climbed, (a direct line up the face) felt balanced, a good addition, a fine line for locals who wanted to pull on a few different holds as long as we kept the blinkers on. On Calum’s first ascent, the bolt had not been replaced, so at one point he traversed into Great Wall for protection, before traversing back, and continuing with the climb. I take nothing from Calum’s bold and creative ascent, a typical Muskrat endeavour, I can almost see him now bouncing up the cliff with abandon, but aesthetically, not that good when you have to leave the line to get gear in another route (a route quite a way to the side). Calum mentioned on Facebook he thought the route would be better with the bolt in, and Mick and I agree, because at one E grade less, it’s a much better climb when you climb the actual line without deviation.

Nick Dixon, a person I respect very much for his climbing, didn’t share Mick, Calum and my opinion though, and made a few comments on Facebook about how Calum’s climb had lost its challenge because the bolt had been replaced. Nick appeared to forget that fact the bolt was replaced in Space Case, the original route, not Calum’s route, a very recent addition. Did the challenge need making any more on that three-star piece of Andy Pollitt history? Yes, Ryan had climbed Space Case without the bolt, but no one has since, and I’m pretty sure they won’t again, because it’s not balanced and not the climb Andy Pollitt climbed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been into making routes consumer climbs. I love the quirky and individual, I understand there should always be climbs that folks will never do, or want to do, but I’m not sure affecting such an established three-star Pollitt climb is the way.

Nick also suggested the bolt had gone back in because Ryan was not a well-known climber, I’m also not sure about this, I think the bolt went back in to make Space Case the route it was when it was first climbed by Andy Pollitt. Replacing the bolt doesn’t make Ryan’s effort less, it’s just, I suppose, a more equitable and accessible experience for the many people who aspire to climb a great Pollitt E6, which there are many, and once again they now have the opportunity to try and climb it on-sight. [As a side note, I believe Ryan was asked about replacing the bolt in Space Case, which he said would be fine if someone else had repeated his effort. He asked two of the best local climbers around to repeat Space Case without the bolt, they both refused stating they would rather on-sight the route as an E6 with the bolt.]

Would people want to climb Calum’s route by traversing off into another line to get gear before reversing and continuing climbing? Nick said he had top roped it once, (a while ago) and he thought it was a good challenge, but he hasn’t been back, so maybe not that good a challenge to make it worth repeated visits? In my opinion, climbing The Space Face by traversing off route to get gear, before traversing back is not a challenge worth depriving people from attempting Space Case on-sight, or whatever?

So, anyway, Space Face, E7 6b, a great route for those who have done almost everything to do at Craig y Forwyn. Nick, I have a spanner and a bit of time, come over, I’ll hold your ropes, we can have a crack about the best style and experience of climbing Calum’s route, but I’m sure I’ll not change my opinion about the best way to climb Space Case, and that in the end is what it’s all about, a fantastic route from a great character and open to the many.

Myself on or around the crux of Space Case after climbing The Space Face. Credit, Rich Kirby.

Almost… Credit, Rich Kirby.

 

On the same day. Geoff Bennett climbing Great Wall, an on-sight attempt after no training throughout the whole of the Covid-19 lockdown and hardly any climbing after. Geoff’s enthusiasm for climbing is an inspiration for us all… A bit of a link, Geoff used to teach Calum at school.

Unfortunately for Geoff, on this occasion his enthusiasm didn’t quite get him through… Great effort though… 🙂

A bunch of old men with a bunch of gear on top of the crag at the end of a fun and memorable day. Credit, Rich Kirby.

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We went, we saw, we failed, we came back…

This podcast was recorded by Matt Pycroft and Emma Crome on a very rainy day in North Wales at the end of 2018. After listening to something I said a while ago, I still hold with most of it, which is surprising as I usually change my opinion daily.

Matt and Emma are a part of a team of talented folk who make and produce films, the company is Coldhouse.

Other more interesting podcasts from Matt can be listened to here at Terra Incognita.

As mentioned in this podcast, I did write an article about this trip that also included other ramblings. The article was published in Alpinist 68 and called Less Rich Without You.

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Smash and grab.

A unique shot of the whole of Craig Doris taken by Jethro Kiernan via drone.

I’ve been fortunate to have climbed a reasonable amount, (given all that’s going on in the world, and my shoulder) over the last weeks, but I’ve only climbed at three crags; Craig Doris, Craig y Forwyn and Rhoscolyn. I’ve avoided the Llanberis Pass and other crags that are generally busy, not wanting to have the weirdness of interaction – who steps where, how do I pass this person, don’t shake hands, don’t hug! I’ve mainly climbed at Craig Doris, with a couple of trips to Forwyn and one to Rhoscolyn. Rhoscolyn was the busiest, but it was still relatively peaceful.

I’ve read lockdown accounts from folk saying they enjoyed the isolation and quiet, personally I just got on with it because it was a necessary evil, although now that the roads are busy once again, I must admit, I do miss the peace and quiet and the clear air. I miss the hard edge to the hills that usually only happens when there is a Northerly air flow. Until lockdown, I never really appreciated the blast of noise and the mini hurricane caused by vehicles. Until lockdown, I didn’t appreciate the necessity for drivers to reach their destinations at breakneck, but here we are again, vehicles driven by tight-lipped and frowning; cyclists and other road users lives risked by impatient drivers crossing solid white lines on blind bends.

Craig Doris is always a sanctuary, a rickety, rubble strewn recluse, an oddity stuck on a windswept peninsular. The gulls, fulmars, ravens, stonechats, kestrels, pippets, skylarks, buzzards, choughs, they all frequent the headland, I find their cries and song evocative. It’s mesmerizing sitting and watching the fulmars, wings set, skimming the cliff at the same height as my feet that dangle over the edge. Charms of goldfinches raid the thistle heads on the bank beneath the crag and large field mushrooms look like moons glowing through the long grass. Out at sea, out into the yawning mouth of Cardigan Bay, above the waves with their white caps, gannets, oystercatchers, and cormorants cruise and call, and beneath the waves, most days at 4pm on the dot, a pod of dolphins pass, its like they have an understanding of time. Mick Lovatt and I look forward to watching the dolphins, the pod is eight or nine strong, adults and calves. We generally stop whatever we are doing and watch them. Mick sometimes ruffles his rucksack to find binoculars and gives me a commentary. Occasionally an adult breaches the water and the slapping noise on re-entry alerts us to their presence. They hunt fish causing a flush of blue bubbles and alert the birds to a possible bonanza. But eventually they pass and swim out of sight, going to where ever it is they go. There is always a gap in conversation, a time for quiet reflection after they pass. I know nothing about dolphins, I’m just another ignorant punter who finds charismatic megafauna a joy.

Lockdown for the time being is over here in Wales and visitors can once again travel freely. I’ve read some people complaining about the influx of people, which in a way I understand, but I also see the benefits for a family or individuals needing to take a break from the usual in this crazy year, we all need a break! Who has the right to say, no you can’t leave your area and travel to the countryside or a beautiful place, let’s face it, most climbers are tourists and the financial benefits for the local community is helpful and needed?

Mick and I walked to Doris on a Sunday, the first Sunday since lockdown had finished, it was eleven am when we stood on the top of the crag. There were several boats in the bay, the first we had seen for a while, but they were anchored and the people inside reasonably quiet. But, as we prepared to climb, the first of the jet skis appeared, followed by others, their high pitch revving engines and bump, bump, bump as they hit waves, jumped, hit waves. As the day passed, more and more jet skis, some had loud music. The call of the birds was now engulfed by engine noise and bumping beats. The gannets were nowhere to be seen. At four pm, the doughnut spinning madness happening just out to sea had reached a new level of revving-screaming-fervour. I sat on top of the crag willing the dolphins to stay away, but right on cue, the pod appeared. They took their usual course, on occasion breaking the surface, dark glinting skin, a blow of air, but they were separated by jet skis cutting through the middle of the pod. Two dolphins turned back to swim in the direction they came, the rest continued their usual path. After several minutes, the larger group of dolphins had a boat and a flotilla of jet skis following, just metres away, and the two separated dolphins swam in circles some way behind. Having heard nothing, but the sound of revving engines and music all day, I watched the dolphins being disturbed, and longed for lockdown again. After everything people had experienced over the last few months, I hoped we may have had a deeper understanding and consideration for wildlife and other people, but in some way, for some, it appeared the opposite, now it appears to be a smash and grab, ignore everything and everyone else, get it while you can before the ‘good times’ are gone.

The flotilla closely following and disturbing the dolphins.

Myself climbing the new route Sold Under Sin E4 5c, on the clean white wall, high above the boulders and grass ledges, between the pinnacles at the start of Pysgodyn Aur, and the crazy overhanging crack (with a massive, vacated nest at its base) of Chosstokovitch. Pic credit, Mick Lovatt.

Mick Lovatt seconding the first ascent of Sold Under Sin.
Start from the biggest and lowest, ivy covered ledge at a small groove, on the right of the ledge, beneath the crack in the final headwall. Peg and good cam for belay.
Follow easy grooves and corners, up and left, (with increasingly better gear) until a small ledge beneath an overhanging red wall that has an obvious flake-crack. Climb the flake crack, step right, then a series of good, but bold moves to reach two solid flat holds on the left (crux) where a peg can be clipped (if tied off). A couple more tricky moves follow to reach the base of the finger crack. Follow the crack to the top.

Mick climbs Box of Blood, E7 6b, a memorable route, first climbed by Leigh McGinley. The lower section is the first pitch of an E5 called Crucial Condition, NOT Doris lite!

Mick leaves Crucial condition to get good gear before some, eyes on stalks, overhanging, unprotected groove climbing. Mick did a great job climbing Box of Blood with minimal practice and pre-inspection.

A Ray Wood shot of my ascent of Box of Blood from several years ago. This is the overhanging groove above the position where Mick is, in the picture above.

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Out on a limb…

Pic credit, Jethro Kiernan.

I’m not sure where to start this piece, or where to finish. Shall I go with a stream of consciousness, or slow and studious? Can I be bothered at all? Writing my pointless drivel hardly seems worthwhile with so much going on in the world. The loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods destroyed or put on hold. The murder of George Floyd and the riots that followed. The unbelievable hypocritical arrogance, madness and lies coming from Donald Trump, Bolsonaro, and ‘I-shake-hands-with-everybody’ Boris Johnson. And before I get off my wobbly stool, how about the arrogance of Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson’s refusal to sack him. If we ever needed an example of Johnson’s haughty belief that he, and his cohorts are more entitled than the rest of us, that was it.

While I’m on one, what about the whole global warming, deforestation, consumerization, exploitation, globalization, that of course is still happening and getting worse and has certainly had a big part to play in the pandemic. The year 2020 is just over halfway, and its already given us so much, thank you world, maybe we have asked for much of it, but if you can, please spare a thought for the caring and considerate people out there.

Given everything that has happened, and is still happening with the pandemic, I wanted to learn as much as possible, and for two months I did; I read, listened, watched – day in, day out, most of the day, but in another way, it all felt, and still feels too big for me to make a difference, and after hitting pandemic burnout, (at about the nine-week point) sticking my head in the sand felt more healthy than banging it against the wall. So, I sit here thinking about writing, about climbing, and it all seems pretty pointless and insignificant and selfish. But, on saying this, and truly believing it, climbing is also something I get a lot of joy and satisfaction, especially when I become a bit OCD about an area, or a crag and all of its foibles. A crag I’ve had a special relationship with for a long time is Craig Doris on the Llyn Peninsular and given everything happening, Doris, in some way, is quite fitting because its pretty wild and crazy, (although always honest) there are generally no other climbers, or people near the crag at all, so socially distancing is easy, and many of the holds are one-use-only, so cross-contamination is never going to happen.

TPM climbing the first ascent of Safe as Milk E7 6c.  Pic credit, Jethro Kiernan

Now, as I’ve obviously gone with the stream of consciousness and I’ve already explained I’m a selfish climber and this is my blog that no-one has forced you to read, did I mention my shoulder injury? No… OK, well, for the first time in twenty-five years I’ve injured my shoulder, and to be honest, it’s a bit of a bastard. I blame my injury on the pandemic and my stupid personality. Train, train, train… it was so obvious I was going to become injured, because for me, (and I stress, for me) the correct thing to do, given the thousands of folk dying and in trouble, (and because at the time no-one had a handle on what was the correct way to tackle the virus) was to completely adhere to the advice to separate myself. I certainly didn’t want to encourage others to go out climbing, not going out and not been seen climbing felt morally correct. I know some people think this is a misguided form of solidarity with people in a less fortunate situation than myself, but if we don’t support people with less than ourselves, what does that say about us and how will change happen? I was also told to get a grip when I said I thought we should hold fire on climbing, as thousands could soon be dying. I wonder if I still need to get a grip, figures today from Johns Hopkins are thirteen million Covid-19 cases and five hundred and seventy-one thousand Covid-19 related deaths?  Taking to the fingerboard was the correct way for me, all in all, it was a bit of climbing I was missing, and as painful as this felt, it’s a bit of climbing. So, in about sixty plus days of lockdown, I completed thirty weighted fingerboard sessions, which, given the age of my shoulders, and the fact I only usually fingerboard twice a week through winter, this was always going to have an effect, but of course, because this is 2020, the year everything is messed up, it wasn’t the desired effect! Day two out of lockdown and in a quarry where I would never usually be climbing unless it was with a set of axes, I was slithering around in a groove when I heard and felt my shoulder explode, deep joy! There was no way out from the climb other than to climb, so, with much gnashing of teeth, that’s what I did, and all the dentists were closed at the time, so this wasn’t good either. Anyway, two months down the line, I’m still being kept awake with pain and it looks like I’ve either torn the rotator cuff tendons or the shoulder labrum. But the force is strong (or is it that I’m a sad, addicted climber?) and after much ringing around and chatting to friends who have had similar injuries, I’ve continued to climb; albeit cautiously, with the occasional near vomiting with pain episode.

New topo of the sector. Mick Lovatt.

So, where was I… yes, Doris.

A section of Craig Doris I have hardly bothered with apart from one climb, Tonight at Noon, is the far-left hand section. This left section always felt a little like Doris lite, as in, it’s reasonably short, thirty metres over-all, but about ten metres of this is scrambling, and it just doesn’t cut it in comparison to the forty metres of Stigmata. There is of course the very overhanging cave, but this has never interested me, and I’ve always been drawn to the other, longer, more exciting sections. The wall to the right of the cave is attractive, no doubting, but it’s up high and above a load of chossy pinnacles, it just didn’t appeal. But all sorts of things start looking good in a pandemic (even a quarry), and after taking a close look, it quickly became apparent the wall was, in-fact, a thing of reasonably solid and pocketed beauty.

So, over the last few weeks, I’ve been meeting my old Doris partner in crime (no, not the Hippy, not that old!) Mick Lovatt, and we’ve been climbing a few things on the section of crag to the right of the big cave, it’s been the perfect antidote to everything going on in the rest of the world and it’s helped my shoulder recovery, or at least that’s what I tell myself. It’s also been a real tonic to be away from the internet, sat on a deserted headland watching the gannets and dolphins who appear to be enjoying the lack of jet skis.

TPM climbing Harmony.

Myself climbing Harmony. I took a lob from the crux first go, it’s about as big a fall as you can take, but the gear’s good and the fall-out zone safe.

Myself on the first ascent of Harmless, E7 6b. It stars as for Harmony but goes straight up the wall into the crux of Harmony and direct up the top headwall.

The final section of Harmless. The small groove to the right is Pysgodyn Aur, E5 6b, and the thin crack to the left is the finish to Harmony. Pysgodyn Aur starts from the top of the flat ledge (can be seen in the picture below) after a scramble and a bit of chimney. Its good climbing, but the pegs that protect much of the climbing are not bomber. On another day I climbed the new Harmless start and finished as for Pysgodyn Aur, it’s a good link up at the same grade and less faff with ropes.

TPM on the first ascent of Safe as Milk, E7 6c. Terrible name, and possibly a tad over graded at 6c, Mick must have forgotten to take the Sanatogen, (other old age supplements available) or maybe I’m on fire, but a brilliant climb, possibly the best on this section alongside Tonight at Noon. Pic credit, Jethro Kiernan.

TPM just before the crux moves of Safe as Milk. Jethro Kiernan.

Myself seconding the first ascent of Safe as Milk. Jethro Kiernan.

Another day. Myself on the second ascent of Safe as Milk.

All the best routes (or at least the ones I manage to climb) have a sit down. Safe as Milk before the headwall.

TPM bringing Rodella knee bar skills to Doris on the (possible, but happy to change this if its incorrect) second ascent of Dissonance, an E7 6c first climbed by the, not-so-young-any-more, wunderkind, Calum Muskett. It starts from the flat top of the pinnacles, as for the original Pysgodyn Aur, then traverses left into Harmony, which it climbs to the group of pockets, before a few hard moves and the final crack of Harmony.

TPM gets the second ascent of Harmless.

My withered right shoulder and lockdown hair and beard, (although my hair looks like this lockdown or not!) but happy to be in the sun and away from the internet. Pic credit, Zylo.

 

 

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The smell of change… reading

Unknown climber having a kip on the floor, unknown climber on Coliseum, and another unknown climber on something hard, think its Gemenis 8b+ Rodellar, Spain.

I wrote The smell of change, a 4500 word piece published on UKC, in the week following my return from a climbing trip in Spain. A link to the full written version can be found HERE. When I’m in the UK, I’m a bit of a sucker for the PM programme hosted by Evan Davis on Radio 4. The Covid-19 crisis has become a big part of the programme, well, its all the programme (no surprise), and a new item that interested me was a 400 word written piece to be recorded by the author, and then played on the programme called Covid Chronicles.

After writing The smell of change, a piece describing leaving Spain and travelling through France as lockdown happened due to the virus, I thought it would be something to do, given the time I was now sitting on the sofa, to try to edit 4500 down to 400, and send this to the PM programme. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get the original down to under 700 words, but sent it anyway, and of course, didn’t hear back (note to self, don’t ignore word count!). The piece was possibly a tad dark for 5pm, or maybe I need to face the truth, it wasn’t very good. Anyway, I thought bugger it, I’ll do my own reading, so that’s what I did, and in the process I incorporated my friend Mark Goodwin, a trained sound recordist (he will no doubt tell me this title is wrong, but what the hell, you get the idea!).

Now, as good as a person is, they can only work with what they’re given, and a recording on my phone, while shuffling about under the duvet, was never going to be brilliant, (at one point I thought I was suffocating) but Mark did a great job sorting it out, and I think it’s OK.

Here’s a link to the piece, its 8 minutes long…  The smell of change. (audio)

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Footsteps.

The Orion Face, Ben Nevis in great condition.

Lockdown has the occasional advantage over usual life (not many), but one is the lack of guilt and concern about the time I sit on the sofa staring at the computer screen. Trawling my documents, it’s odd going back to a piece of writing from long ago. It’s even more strange going back to an experience from long ago.

I don’t remember when I first wrote Footsteps, a piece that has just been published on the Mountain Equipment site, but it wasn’t immediately or even close to being after my solo of the Orion Direct on Ben Nevis, because the climb would have taken place in the winter of 95/96 (possibly), and I didn’t start writing until 2000. Twenty-four, or twenty-five years on, I still remember the experience vividly, especially going off-route and climbing the groove near the top of the climb. At that time, climbing the Orion Direct was a big thing for me, and given the poor conditions, it turned into an even bigger thing. It was the final climb of that winter season, I didn’t need to do any more after this experience.

Its crazy how experience, appreciation, gear improvements and conditions can turn something on the limit, to something reasonable. Several years (possibly ten or twelve, maybe more) after my first time climbing the Orion Direct, I walked again, on my own to the Ben. It was late March, birds in the bushes were bouncing around and singing, and the bushes themselves threatened to bounce into life. The weather and conditions were perfect – hard frost, hard ground, blue ice, blue sky. I soloed Point 5, then The Orion Direct and finally Zero Gully, before returning to the valley for a late lunch. Like the first time I climbed The Orion Direct, this was also the last climbing of the winter season, because not only was I keen to begin the rock season, but after climbing these three great climbs in a morning, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do anything else in Scotland that winter, how could I better this experience? For many years I had held onto the dream that one day I may solo these three climbs on the same day and now I’d done it, it was another of life’s dreams realized.

We’re lucky as climbers that in times like this (pandemic lockdown) we can look back and remember, and after re-editing the piece about my first time soloing The Orion Direct, I feel especially lucky to still be around to remember!

The newly edited and quite raw version of Footsteps, which was published in Echoes as the chapter called Honesty, can be read on the Mountain Equipment site here 

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