Training pays off

With the days counting down until I go away to the Alps I’ve been trying to rack up as many hours as possible at work leaving with hardly any free days until I go away. Working chaotic hours almost everyday might sound like a restriction to my climbing but I often find at times like these it motivates me to train more. Finishing shifts in the centre before closing time leaves me with no excuse not to have a session afterwards as I’m already there with little else to do and its easy to be motivated when you’ve been watching others climb all day so even squeezing in an hours fingerboard session between shifts doesn’t feel like a chore when your blowing off steam from the previous shift. With the dramatic change in the weather over the last few days I’ve been jumping at any opportunity to take my training from the fingerboard onto real rock (It is Scotland, it could be raining again tomorrow!)

Today we woke early to try and get the most out of a morning session in the sun before starting work at midday so we headed to the local sport crag Dumbuck. Being notorious For its short, yet aggressively steep routes I was interested to see how my recent level of training would pay off here.

Finding the crag was nothing short of a total mission. The guidebooks approach description say something along the lines of ‘though some fields and up to the crag through the trees’. When in reality it it should say, cross the tick infested fields down the hill to where you will have to battle your way through the overgrown jungle, up the steep mud and scree slope where you will randomly stumble upon some ropes that climb up to the crag…..In other words, we got lost because of Euans fantastic guiding skills!!

Neither of us having been to the crag before we spent the day attempting the ‘must do’ route of ‘Awaken’ 7c+. We both struggled to work out the final few moves through the crux on our first few goes and as time (and skin) started to run out there was some frustration when we finally cracked the crux later in the day only to not have enough energy for a serious redpoint after all the previous attempts. After some serious moaning about skin condition and dehydration We pulled the rope and agreed to come back for the tick another day.

Satisfied with a good session I agreed to go up to get the draws back before leaving, I tied in again and before I knew it I was topping out the route. Clean. No falls…talk about a last minute effort! The psyche was high from the tick after all the demoralising efforts earlier and it was great to walk away with such a high grade having only had just one session working at it, I guess it proves this training malarkey does pay off eh!?

Surface Tension (E5,6b)

With my winter season being called to an early and unexpected end due to an injured ankle I’ve spent the last few weeks of ‘good’ weather getting out to local crags and pulling on some dry rock,getting ready for the upcoming trad season. Last year I’d been convinced to give ‘Surface Tension’ at Auchinstarry Quarry a go on a top-rope to try out the moves. The routes an awesome line that takes the blank wall above the water at the back of the quarry. On my first attempt I quickly realised the route was extremely sequence-y and decided to leave it for another day when I could try all the moves over on a shunt on my own.

My recent attempts have been solo trips to the crag running the tricky sequence and balance-y moves of the route over and over until eventually on my last trip I’d managed it clean (no falling from bottom to top) and started to feel confident with my chances on the lead.

The tricky part about the test pieces at Auchinstarry is not just that they are technically difficult but also that they tend to present a serious aspect of danger due to the lack of protection, most featuring marginal, next to nothing placements or none at all. Like ‘Nijinski’ (E5, 6a) That I’d climbed previously last year, ‘Surface Tension’ has serious moves that are well above the doubtful gear, that most probably come under the category of ‘bodyweight placements’, However it comes with the added bonus of falling into water rather than decking out onto hard ground…

20150402_224443

My serious, deep seas diving goggles… (many thanks to Zuzu for the last-minute ‘save’)

Today The weather was cracking and I’d decided to take my wetsuit down to have a go at clearing away some of the debris and objects that have been thrown over the cliff edge and sit under the surface of the water, waiting to impale a falling climber that has been ejected from one of the routes above. With the water being freezing and only have a comically small pair of pink goggles that were borrowed from a friend last-minute, we rushed through the job clearing out deck chairs, “danger, rock fall” signs, wheelbarrows and logs.There was no excuses now, the lead was inevitable.

willis 2

pulling hard on small crimps

I could write a long paragraph here to take you through terrifying lead but I fear I’d do it no justice. Here’s a short video from Finalcrux Films that shows the day in full.

Many thanks to both Euan and David for their support and for convincing me to go for it!

‘The Cathedral’ (X,11)

Last night me and Euan were checking out some photos that Kev Shields had put online from his and Dave MacLeod’s day out on the Cobbler. As we flicked through them we tried not to get jealous of them being out in the mountains when we were restricted to Glasgow for the next few days due to work and Euan being called for jury duty. Noticing that the crags were looking really well hoared-up in his pictures we jumped straight to it and messaged Kev to see if he’d happened to get a look at the condition of ‘The Cathedral’. With it being a line I’ve wanted to try for a while and a real test-piece of Scottish winter climbing, I was always keeping an eye out for the right conditions to appear. To our amazement we were told it was in condition, with the whole crag being covered in rime, perfect for mixed climbing. The perfect conditions being so rare we instantly raced to social media to bribe people to cover our shifts and find out if the court was going to cancel last-minute, like it had the previous day.

With our planners swept clean with the haste of an emergency we woke at 6a.m today, rushing out the door within the hour after stuffing our packs with gear and scoffing down a bowl of porridge.

The walk-in was dismissed with little trouble with the path having been smoothed out with snow and well compacted the whole way. We chose to take the tourist path round the back and drop into the basin from the rear rather than our usual route that cuts up the front of the crag to avoid the knee-high powder that had accumulated there over the last few days. The crag was in the best nick I’d ever seen it with almost every route hoared-up and with good ice and bomber turf everywhere. We made our way across to the centre peak and started scrambling up the initial snow ramp to the belay stance, every step taking us further under the colossal and intimidating roof shadowing over us, serving as the visual representation of the nerves and fear that also shadowed over me.

As Euan flaked out the ropes and set up his anchors to belay from, I went through my usual racking up procedure. Working the gear piece by piece onto my harness to their pre-specified places. This familiar and well-practised routine, identical in structure, brought some familiarity to the situation and help calmed my nerves, allowing me to focus on the task ahead.

‘The Cathedral’ is the route that takes the large overhanging arch (hence its name) that lies on the centre peak of The Cobbler. It follows the steep and technical right hand corner of the archway until you begin to traverse left into the centre on the underside of the roof. The fun begins as you climb horizontally out from the wall in front of you and out onto the 5 metre wide roof, feet level with your axes until you burst out over the lip of the arch and into easier ground to the top. From where we had set up I could follow the entire route with my eyes, no guidebook needed, no picture required, it all stood there, right in front of me.

With a few words of motivation from Euan, all that was left to do now was start climbing.

I started up the corner through some steep névé and turf getting my axes high in the crack and moving up to a thin layer of ice sat upon a slopping ledge whilst bridging out and smearing my crampons for purchase on any of the tiny fractures in the wall. With the crack narrowing and filled with ice, the torque I so desperately needed to make the large move up to the choss above just wouldn’t stick, ripping every time any real weight was applied to it. 10 minutes of failed attempts passed and placing a wobbly hex to protect the belay, I found the confidence to match a small blown pocket further right with the very tip of my picks. Stepping high on my front points I reached for the turf, still coming short. My right foot came higher almost level with my handles, to a matchstick edge and I exploded to full extension. Out of view my pick bites as it catches a small chockstone frozen in place and my feet scrape the walls, using my monopoints on any minuscule ripple in the rock to push me up and under the far right of the roof.

With less difficulty than the lower section I climbed left and up and under the centre of the roof into a world of large icicles and overhanging white ceilings. Their only weakness the thin cracks that shot out horizontally away from me, lined with gloss-like ice. I composed myself away from the spectical of where I was and focused on the priority at hand, finding gear to protect the likely event of a fall from the inevitable battle on the roof. I found a good sideways ‘tin opener’ placement for my axe, allowing me to lean away from the vertical wall and reach out under the roof to place gear. Several core-tensing minutes later and a lot of chipping away at the ice within a crack I’d managed to find a bomber tri-cam (my favourite and personally the most valuable piece of winter gear available) and a small nut to back it up in the roof. With this protection in, my courage grew and with the lactic acid beginning to build in my arms and the strength being used by one arm starting to outweigh the recovery of the resting one, I knew I’d have to start the siege on the roof soon.

I leant back on my axe and dropped into a press out right allowing me to be able to reach into a thin crack that I’d eyed-up from below the roof. I slotted in my pick to find it slide straight through. Rising the axe again, this time really twisting in on my handle to torque the pick as much as possible. The movement stopped and I weighted it, swinging my legs out over the void below me and digging my front points into the turfy crack to my right to counter the involuntary swing from my feet leaving my safe haven under the roof. I tried to move quickly to find the next hook. I pulled high on my axe, searching ferociously to find a good placement and finding nothing but a small sloping edge that only stuck at the very lip. I decided it would have to do as I was fighting a loosing battle against the rising pump in my forearms. Matching the non-existent hold, I moved my feet further right, trying to position myself for the next move. My grip was becoming weak, I didn’t have the energy to shake out and as I went to make the next placement, that was it. Energy reserves gone. Arms emptied of strength. I was off.

Pulling out into the abyss

The roof falls away from me as I tumble through the air. Natural instinct trying to keep me as upright as possible, I feel the rope come tight to my harness. Brace for impact. Bang! I’d hit the wall but swung back out into clear space dissipating most of the fall onto the rope thanks to Euan’s dynamic belay. I righted myself and let out a big WOOHOO!! My onsight attempt had failed but I had taken the burn as a great success. I’d managed three-quarters of the route on my on-sight, I hadn’t bottled it and bailed off when I got scared and I’d proved to myself that it was within my capability. I was over the moon!

Me getting boxed searching for hooks on the roof.

We spent the rest of the day refuelling with lunch and giving it several other attemps, each one slowly increasing my highpoint throughout the day but the route wasn’t going to give in that easily. I had given it my all today but it just wasn’t quite enough. After my fourth attempt we called it a day and I retrieved the gear and we packed up to head back down the hill. Although disappointed to leave without the ‘tick’ when I’d been so close, I’ve come away from the experience feeling really motivated to push my limit on other hard routes this season and I’m super psyched to up my training and return to claim victory on ‘The Cathedral’ one day soon.

A BIG thank you to Euan for coming up the hill with me and bearing the cold just to belay. Also thanks for your motivation. Without it I probably would have bailed well before pushing myself to my full potential.

You can check out a short video by Finalcrux Films here: http://vimeo.com/117591016