Storming the Castle June 2016
Jamming and a Bridging on New Morning
Lets be clear here, I do not base my entire performance against other peoples abilities. Some people I climb with are more experienced, younger, stronger, better, climb more than I do and are therefore fitter, have more experience of the rock we are climbing on and in the discipline we are using etc etc etc. I have loads of excuses.
I am an all rounder, I walk, I cycle, I sport climb, trad climb and I mountaineer. I do not really have the time to get really good at any one discipline. This does frustrate sometimes when your mates who focus on something leave you behind, but hey, I love what I do, every aspect of it.
A good climbing mate of mine, Henry Castle, moved to Pembroke to start his own guided climbing business a few years ago, he has been very successful, he is one of the best MIA’s ( now MIC of course ) I know, so his success comes as little surprise. He has also just become stronger and stronger as he climbs all day most days. If he is not guiding/working he is out exploring in the environment he loves best. The gulf between our abilities has widened considerably over this time, especially post my accident last year.
My sport climbing trip to Greece however really increased my fitness and confidence so I thought the first place I would take my Kalymnos arms should be to see Henry in Pembroke.
Pembroke, the best trad venue in the UK can be a very frustrating place to climb, If the sun shines then you have to check the tides for access to the area you have chosen, if this two are in alignment then you have to check the access by the MOD as it is a firing range, if these three line up then the area could be bird banned at certain times of the year. The places I wanted to go were all out due to either the MOD or the RSPB, one of these I can live with the other just pisses me off.
So we found ourselves at the top of Mowing Word at 0900 with no real plans but the whole of the day to play with.
Choire and Tom Rodgers on New Morning taken in 2014
We decided to abseil down to the start of Blowing in the Wind and then reverse the Heart of Darkness traverse. I led off the first pitch of this plan, climbed to the intermediate belay spot of Diedre Sud then traversed for approx 10m to the belay below the New Morning crack line. I am not a fan of traversing, I like to go generally upwards, not sideways, I don’t mind a fall but am not a fan of a big swing. The traverse was probably about 5a but was not overly endowed with gear and by the end of it I had probably left a four or five metre section with no gear, largely due to my get on and get it finished mentality. Henry eyed this dubiously as he approached it but to his credit did not give me any real abuse for the pendulum factor I left him exposed to.
He arrived at the belay ledge and I pointed him hopefully in the direction of the harder, but considerably more vertical crack of New Morning, Henry agreed, I breathed a sigh of relief and off he went. There was a considerable amount of grunting, deep breathing and more than one or two muttered ( not inaudibly ) curses as the man jammed, lay-backed and sweated his way to the top. ” You are not selling this to me” I shouted up at him, no response, hmmm. “Climb when your ready” came the communication, off I went.
What a delight, it all came together for me, the only obstacle being a couple of bits of difficult to remove gear. However I reached the top thoroughly psyched for more.
I had made some vague noises about leading Chimes of Freedom the night before and felt that given my impudence in the face of the Pembroke master I should at least give it a go. I had no real excuses, the tides were perfect, the weather was lovely and I had just made New Morning look quite straight forward.
Below the roof on Chimes of Freedom
Standing at the bottom of the route however and looking at a rather large roof at mid height I started to get a wee bit fairt ( translation: scared: for you Sasanachs ) It was over three years since I had climbed E2 and that had been in Cheddar on a route called Twilight of Imperialism ( With Henry no less ), but I was fit and climbing well.
For these reasons I now found myself at half height under this big roof wondering how to go about it. I climbed up and placed a dodgy cam and scuttled back down, I climbed up again and placed a dodgy nut and scuttled back down again, I placed a goodish cam just above my resting stance and decided that if all else failed the bomber sling some 3m below the crux move would stop me before I hit the sea, or Henry. I scuttled up again, made a committing move left, cut free, swung up a heel hook which turned into a toe hook, made a desperate pull on a sloping bulge and found myself standing on a ledge. Wow, I hadn’t fallen off, I really expected to. I took a few minutes, steadied my breathing, redistributed my gear and set off for the top half, which was an absolute delight.
I brought Henry up, he looked a wee bit sweaty but he agreed to go and do Snozwanger as the final route of the day. I would have been happy to call it a day, finishing on a major high. However I think that Henry maybe felt that he should do something else, it was only three o’clock.
The last couple of moves on Snozwanger, looking more relaxed than I felt.
We abbed down and off he went, climb when your ready came the shout, off I went, thankfully, the incoming tide had already given me wet feet. By the time I reached the top ( and crux ) section I was knackered, I really struggled to find the strength to pull on the side pulls and crimpy horizontal cracks. I rolled over the top onto the short grass with a massive sigh of relief.
Packing up our gear my muscled ached, my body felt well worked, but I felt soooo good, Henry admitted to this being one of his harder days of climbing for a while and this made me feel good as well.
He e-mailed me the next day and told me he was still aching, this made my almost inability to pick up anything heavy easier to bear.
Bring on the next Pembroke session.
Kalymnos May 2016.
I wouldn’t be a member of a club that would have me as a member ( Groucho Mark ).
The Dragons Lair, 6C, Kastri
I joined a club to start climbing, I had to, Climbing was not mainstream, there were no climbing walls and I had no friends who were involved. I did this, because after two trips to traverse the Cuillin ridge on Skye I realised, in my naivety, that it was not really possible without ropes and the skills required to use them. The very next day after returning from said trip I joined the Braes of Fife Mountaineering club where I met several individuals who were to become life long friends involved in the shared pursuit of a life long passion.
Fast forward 30 years, I climbed out of the plane at Kos airport on my annual spring pilgrimage to the Greek isle of Kalymnos to sport climb in the sun. One of the worst things about going to Kalymnos is the journey, specifically the flight to Kos. Its a mid afternoon flight from Gatwick, stuffed full of the great British holiday makers on their way to cheap sunshine for two weeks of overindulgence. The result is a plane half full of semi inebriated adults who then go on a mission to ensure they are fully inebriated by the time they arrive ( Easy Jet alcohol prices notwithstanding ). Its awful, I would ban alcohol on all flights if I were supreme ruler, maybe one day.
However the maurading hen parties and screaming rug rats fighting in the seats behind me over the window seat due to being left unattended by half pished parents survived we found ourselves on the rock climbing paradise of Kalymnos after the usual car, bus, plane, taxi, ferry, taxi journey was completed.
Gav, Choire, Rab, Jane and myself were up and out the very next morning on our way to a Kastri a small outlying crag above Emporios. The trip to Kalymnos the previous year had not been a great experience due to my pushing too hard after my accident in Thailand, this in turn left me “out of action” for the majority of the summer. I was determined to take things easy, I had two weeks, no point in burning out in a few days. However the best laid plans of mice and men never had to contend with the drive, ambition and psyche of climbing and four routes later I was onto 6c and pushing it out on a fabulous route called the Dragons Lair.
The rock was good, the holds big enough, it was steep and well bolted, what a delight.
Choire on Flipper, 7A, at Palionasos Red Wall
Which brings me onto another issue I have with climbing and guide books in particular, so many times I have ignored a route because it is not given a star or stars in the guide book only to do it later on when I have done the majority of other routes at the crag and subsequently found out that it is a super outing, the Dragons lair being an excellent case in example, no stars but a brilliant route.
As the first week continued I climbed harder and harder routes getting onsights on grades that the pervious year would have been only wishful thinking. The weather this year really helped, it was cool ( some 18-21 degrees ) and sometimes overcast with a good northerly airflow to keep the humidity down. I had been training prior to the trip but I really think that the biggest improvement had come about from my enforced six month rest the previous year. Not only had I recovered my strength and muscle tone but I was keen for action and I wanted those grades really badly to prove to myself that I was still there. The result was that I was climbing better then I had been for many years.
We visited many of the outlying crags, preferring to stay away from the hotspots above Masouri and at the road edge. Skalia Pillar being a great example, a fabulous crag which is ignored due to its 30min walk in.
Rab, Gav and Choire ( The climbing animals ) left after the first week leaving Jane and I to recover and continue our climbing at a more leisurely pace. Thoroughly enjoyable it was too, we focussed more on days of lower grades with more routes for Jane and then days of working a hard route for me, although I was denied my 7b getting shut down on a “stopper” move on a route at the crag above Palionasos.
Tuffa King Week. Gav at Eros on a 7A
As the month of May drew to a close and the temperatures climbed the clientele on the island changed, away from climbers to general tourists. It was about this time that I suddenly realised what made me most uncomfortable about the whole Kalymnos experience. Being on an island full of climbers did not sit comfortably.
I joined a club to start climbing, I never started climbing to be in a club.
I started climbing to enable me to get away from other folk, get to places where less people could go, be different, not one of the pack, but here I was, on an island with the pack. It gets worse as you reflect on this and recognise that you are just part of the whole commercial enterprise, climbers breakfasts, proceeds to the bolt fund with every beer bought, climbers fashion shops selling the latest colours and brands, even the supermarket owner says “8a today then” as you buy your daily victuals on the way to the crag.
I am elitist, I have never considered myself a tourist, more of a traveller, I did one package holiday once, never again, or so I thought.
However I guess its all part of the never ending process of “Punk will eat itself”, everything seems to be turned around to commerciality, its good for the island, it has created a world class climbing venue but I honestly think it has lost something in the process, perhaps thats just me.
Rejected by Kaly Minogue 6C at Skalia Pillar.
One good thing ( apart from having had an excellent climbing trip ) is that the flight home is much much better, after the disorganised chaos of Kos airport has been dealt with. Its a later flight and nearly everyone gets on the plane and zonks out almost immediately. Two weeks of going for it takes its toll.
Peace and Quiet ensues giving space and time for reflection on your holiday and to prepare for the return to work.
Breaking the Bogie, Pembroke, April 2016
2015 was a fairly crap year for me climbing wise, started off with a full 12 month plan of how I was going to get physically fit then mentally strong for my rather optimistic tick list.. but.. it all went Pete Tong in Feb with a ground fall in Thailand resulting in a broken hip.
I forced my way back from this through intensive ( and bloody painful ) physio training and some big easy multi pitch trad routes to optimistically push my limits in Kalymnos in May and then had further setbacks, as a result of “going for it” far too soon, which took me out for the rest of the season.
Choire on Curver VS 4C
Truth is I pushed too hard, too soon from a major injury that resulted in bigger setbacks than were probably necessary. Should have rested more but then hindsight is the best manager of all and climbers are not known for their ability to sit on their arses.
By the end of the year I was physically capable, and had been given the all clear by the consultant, but had missed the season, hey ho a winter of plywood and plastic at the church ensued.
2016 got off to a good start with an extended trip to Spain but the weather, ( the worst spring ever ? ) combined with an increased workload in our business delayed my venturing onto real rock to do some “real” climbing.
By real, I mean some good trad, now some folk will say that the older you get the more risk averse you become, that is generally true, not for any reason of wisdom but simply out of laziness. Risk is a young mans necessity, will I buy a house ? Should I take that job ? Get married ? ( that’s a real risk ) by the time you get to my age you have taken your risks, become comfortable and/or accepted your lot and settled down a wee bit so actively pushing yourself into dangerous situations is not a requirement but more of an effort.
Rigging the abseil, Choire in his element.
Couple this with the learning curve of my climbing accident of just over 12 months ago when you come to the realisation that accidents are ultimately unavoidable, that’s why they are called accidents and guess what, you are not immune from this process ( the great human trait of denial ). Climbing is a risk and the risks are big and therefore accidents tend to have greater consequences and you start to wonder why you are doing this when you do not really have anything to prove.
Its all to easy just to look at the weather and make an excuse, go to the wall, go and clip some bolts, no commitment, just lower off and go home if it all craps out, no risk !!
However, and it’s the real issue, a life spent taking risks does not take kindly to comfort, risk is the drug and its bloody addictive, it keeps you fit, it keeps you sharp and the rat demands to be fed.
So after a long break and a large degree of soul searching I found myself hanging from a vertical wall suspended from two slings some 3m above a “relatively” ( that means the waves were only three feet high ) calm sea with two ropes in my hands, the ends of which either dangled over my knees in organised coils or snaked away above over a roof to Choire who was out of sight above the initial overhang and battling with his head, gear placements and the rock some 20 to 30m or so above.
Blowing in the Wind E1 5b
Its amazing where your head can take you when you are in stressed isolation, I thought through the process of Choire peeling off, landing in the sea below me as a result of all his gear ripping, how I would pull him in sort him out and then climb back up the abseil rope to get help. What the top pitch would be like if he decided to stop half way and leave me to lead the crux of this route. I felt every move through the ropes, knew when he had stopped to place gear, felt the wobble when he was struggling with a run out and a difficult move, saw the confidence as he moved up quickly through a sequence above a good bit of gear.
My reverie was broken with an indecipherable shout from above, didn’t need to know what he said, I knew he was on a belay and at the top, the rope had told me all that before he shouted.
I stripped my hanging stance, tried to get the blood flowing into my legs which had been restricted by hanging in my harness for over an hour, took the weight on my arms and tentatively pushed down on my screaming ( constrained by shoes too small and lack of blood ) feet. I eased into the climbing, cursing my stiff limbs but then enjoying the movement and exposure as my muscles responded, working out the sequences, making light of some moves and cursing when I misread others.
Making the most of the day, Choire tops out in the evening light.
The smile of Choire’s face was reward enough when I made the top, actually no it wasn’t, the reward was being there and taking part in the adventure, being out in Pembroke, our only company the gulls, guillemots, razorbills and the sound of small arms fire drifting over from the MOD ranges at St Govans, being away from the office and the phone, having an open sky above and the wind in my face but above all making the effort to be there and take the risk and succeed.
The greater the effort the bigger the reward, the bigger the risk the greater the effort it is to do it, why would you ? Well you have to do it to understand.
However the biggest hurdle has been jumped, Im back, real climbing on real rock.