Some Top Blocs in North Wales

With temperature dipping into single figures and a three-day high pressure system it was a no-brainer; pack the pads and head out west to North Wales.

Mark picking a pocket or two on Fagin at Clogwyn y Bustach

We figured we needed to avoid the northerly wind and save skin and energy so our two-part plan was pretty simple – start late on the Saturday and head to Clogwyn y Bustach above Llyn Gwynant and hope that Snowdon would act as a giant wind breaker.  Walking-in mid-afternoon we thought we’d blown it but once inside the tree it was indeed sheltered – if however – a tad on the damp side. Bustach was predominantly dry though and kept us entertained for a good couple of hours. Fagan and Sick Happy (Stand) couldn’t be more different if they tried – great blocs though, for different reasons! Fagan, by the way, feels like a limestone pocketed wall and it seems almost impossible not to mouth the words from the famous song whilst pulling up the ever improving pockets!

Mark Sick Happy at Bustach again

Sunday was Sheep Pen day; what a location it is too high above the A5 as it snakes towards the Ogwen Valley. And what rock too – totally lush; defo one of the best locations in North Wales which is just as well as pretty much all the blocs put up a fair bit of resistance and will need more than a few trip up there! The Pinch has to be one of the best and aesthetic looking problems anywhere but the Main Block has got to have a lifetime of pulling on it for most peeps! It was pretty primo connies all day; the snow was still on the tops when we’d gonnen back to the car late afternoon so it clearly wasn’t overly warm all day!

Ogwen at close of play Sunday

We woke on Monday morning to a frost on the ground so we figured a sunny venue would be in order. Craig Llyn, a new bouldering venue on the shores of LLyn Dinas sounded just fine; the east-facing roadside location a total bonus. Voie Normale and Voie Normale SS were just what we wanted to get going. Whether Voie Normale SS is one of the best Font 7a in North Wales is open to discussion but it is defo very good if a little more accommodating for the taller climber.

Pete Robbins warming-up on Elephantitus

Suitably warmed-up, we shifted up the road to Elephantitus. It’s a stunning location and whilst it might only have a limited number of blocs the quality is absolutely stonking. Elephantitus is another candidate for ‘the best Font 7a in North Wales’. Part way through our session local Pete Robbins rocked up and proceeded to polish off the project link starting up Going Down on an Elephant in what couldn’t only be described as double-quick time to give Bucking Bronco Font 7c – nice work Pete!

Pete crushing the final moves on his latest addition Bucking Bronco Elephantitus

Great weather, great blocs, great trip…

photocrati gallery

Posted in Bouldering, Photography

Mina Leslie-Wujastyk is Totally Free

Privileged to have a bird-eye view last week whilst photographing Mina Leslie-Wujastyk send Totally Free II (F8b) at Malham. It was pretty inspiring stuff from Mina – as usual!

Mina Leslie-Wujastyk on the headwall of Totally Free II on her unsuccessful attempt last Wednesday

At 70m in length it’s one of the longest single pitch hard sport routes in the UK. Mina tied in at 4pm on Wednesday 9th. An hour later, she had topped the final roof and only two metres or so of climbing remained; a nasty, rounded mantleshelf onto the final, final headwall. Having belayed Mina on the first half of The Groove, I handed over the belay duty to ‘Buster’ Martin and then ran round to the top of The Cove with my camera.

I arrived to see Mina climbing Free and Easy – perhaps the second most ‘out-there’ F7c in the UK. At the top of that she faced the final roof of Breach of the Peace – a huge roof right at the top of The Cove another F7c pitch and definitely totally ‘out-there’.

Finally she committed to the final roof. Determined as ever, Mina was soon on the very lip but it was almost immediately obvious that she’d hit a problem. She could just about reach the final quickdraw above and off to one side of her but the rope drag was so bad she couldn’t pull any slack through and clip it. Then the forecast rain started; initially a few spots being blown in on an increasing wind. She hung there for fully ten minutes shaking out and trying to clip the draw as it swung about in the wind. Cramping badly and in the face of increasing rain she gritted her teeth and committed to the mantleshelf finish. Pulling over the final bulge she drew level with the quickdraw – still stubbornly off to one side. Her movement were determined but her elbows were up. One final last-ditch throw to a distant hold failed; totally blown she fell off the final roof into the wind, the rain and the abyss!

Mina back on the headwall again during her successful ascent on Friday

Two metres off a 70m route after 70 minutes climbing was no place to fall! Two days later Mina was back. Battle-scarred and still pretty tired but with a new game-plan. Her first burn she fell off the top of The Groove. A weaker person might have thrown the towel in – but not Mina! “It’s always worth one more go though” she said before tying in again for what turned out to be a successful ascent, the first by a women of one of the longest and best single-pitch hard sport route in the UK.

Posted in Climbing, Photography

Bootcamp

Nothing beats an early trip away to ‘get your eye-in’ ahead of the season in my opinion.

Ceguera Temporal (F6b+) on Sector Ceguera is a rather fine pitch overlooking the village and just a stone’s throw from the climber’s cafe

After a winter of pulling on plastic – or more likely these days – bars, rings, fingerboards and wooden holds, there comes a time in the spring when you’ve gotta bite the bullet and get back out on the rock. It ain’t easy stepping outside again; training has become your ‘thing’ – the norm in fact, but it’s outside where the real action is and where what really matters goes down.

Coffee, a guide and some sun; all you need for some serious chillin’ in the square in Chulilla – on a rest-day, obvs!

Leaving the comfort of your regular training routine feels all kinda scary. Yes, it’s a process we’ve been through before but it’s still a tough one. The holds are smaller and strangely they don’t come tagged with brightly coloured tape! Footholds are none existent; at least that’s how they seem at first! Those who have travelled that road before us have chalked every last dimple as well; each and every one of the plethora of holds within your field of view needs to be assessed and sorted into the good, the bad and the ugly and then incorporated into a possible sequence. This process should take nano-seconds, but your brain seems stuck in second (at best) gear and the pump is coming on fast. Your movement feels laboured and mechanical, wooden at best. That polished foothold is half the size you need it to be as well! And why the heck did the person that bolted the route think it was a good idea to put the next bolt right up there out of reach!

Welcome to bootcamp!                                                                                       

Serengueti (F7a+) at Sector Serengueti is just one of a handful of new(ish) routes at Chulilla slightly off the beaten track. Well-worth searching out however – the rock at Serengueti and the nearby Masters Wall is top notch.

This year’s bootcamp for me was in Chulilla – at least it was until rain stopped play and we reconvened down south at Wildside in Sella. Compared to Chulilla, Wildside comes-up as rather ‘old skool’ now-a-days. Wildside is much more limited than Chulilla, the routes are generally shorter and being older they’re ‘well-loved’ but, in general, they’re steeper. Yeah they’re different; but good different. TBH, a few days climbing at Wildside will hit a different spot than Chulilla; together, they complement each other very nicely. Two class venues – highly recommended!

Oceano (F7b) at Wildside gives steep climbing on good holds; pumptastic!

This trip was all about the climbing so photography took a back seat. Still couldn’t resist getting a few snaps though, be rude not to…

 

photocrati gallery

 

 

 

 

Posted in Climbing

Once more into the breach – a day on The Skull

May 29th; 2017

The Skull is, without a doubt, one of the ‘must-do’ routes in The Pass. Like a giant ogre, Cryn Las hangs over the southern side of The Pass. Early morning summer sun casts deep shadows across Cryn Las; the resemblance to sunken eye sockets looming ominously high on the headwall is both unmistakable and daunting in equal measure.

A sunny but daunting  Cryn Las

A sunny but daunting Cryn Las

The Skull climbs up to and through the left-hand ‘eye socket’ – when looking face-on at Cryn Las.  I’ve ‘wanted’ to do The Skull for years – since the 80’s in fact; last Friday Paul and myself committed to the snatch a day over in Wales to get the job done ahead of the (predictably) forecast end to the good run of weather. I’d not trad-climbed in a couple of years so to say I was a little ‘trad-rusty’ was an understatement. The solution was simple; an evening visit to New Mills Tor (of all places) on the way over however was the perfect opportunity to – at least start – to get my trad head together.

The plan came together like a dream; but would our execution be as flawless? Nothing to E4 seemed like a bit ask to my sport climbing head but nothing ventured. And what could go wrong; how hard could E4 be?

Paul questing into the unknown on the fifth and final pitch of The Skull

Paul questing into the unknown on the fifth and final pitch of The Skull

Long story super short; it was a stunning day and we got the job done – although not without a degree of excitement. One of the great mountain classics in the bag after 40 years of dreaming! A couple of teams were on Main Wall and none other than the legendary Phil Davison was in the groove on The Grooves. An amazing route up an amazing crag; an all-round amazing day. And thanks too to Nick Bullock for the loan of a spare chalk bag; that would have been one experience too far to have to climb that route sans chalk. And yes Nick, I’d agree with you, all three of the main pitches are worth 6a.

DSC06745_00__lo res.jpgDSC06754_02__lo res.jpgDSC06778_05__lo res.jpgDSC06781_06__lo res.jpgDSC06786)_07__lo res.jpgDSC06804_08__lo res.jpg

 

Posted in Adventure, Climbing

Interview with Mick Fowler – A Climbing Legend

Without a doubt he’s a climber’s climber, a climbing legend and a pioneer with true grit.

Mick Fowler probing the envelop on Jermyn Street in the mid 70's

Mick Fowler probing the envelop on Jermyn Street in the mid 70’s

He rampaged around the country doing first ascents of classic routes like Linden, Caveman and Ludwig – all E6 – and then turned to winter mountaineering doing Shield Direct – the first route to be given VI (now VII, 7). The chalk cliffs of Dover amused him but the Himalaya provided a play-ground that he excelled at. The first ascent of Gave Ding in 2016 secured him his third Piolet d’Or.

I first met him in the Peak District in the mid 70’s. Around that time I photographed him spread-eagled on blank rock attempting an unclimbed direct finish to Jermyn Street at Millstone. It’s still unclimbed today by the way. He was probing the envelope – something which he’s done on numerous occasions throughout his climbing career, a career that spans more than four decades.

He’s a reluctant ‘hero’ but, without a doubt, he’s a climber’s climber, a climbing legend and a pioneer. I had the privilege of listening to some of his exploits at Kendal in November 2016 and have interviewing him recently. That interview will be in the next edition of CLIMBER.

He, is Mick Fowler…

 

Mick Fowler recounting a stand-out occasion from one of many epic London to Scotland trips at Kendal 2016Mick Fowler looking at a direct finish to Jermyn Street, Millstone in the mid 70's

Posted in Interviews

Snowdon Calling

Sprinkled with a tantalising dusting of snow Snowdon was calling this weekend; at least it seemed so as the Pen-y-Pass car park was rammed at 6:30 am on Saturday!

Nant Grwyd, Pen-y-Grwyd and a hint of Snowdon

Nant Gwryd, Pen-y-Grwyd and a hint of Snowdon

Driving along the North Wales coast road we could see the white-topped Snowdon standing out in the distance. Remarkably, given the high ambient temps, the dusting of snow seemed to be persisting.

Snowdon and Crib Goch from the east

Snowdon and Crib Goch from the east

Tempting as it was, I didn’t get set foot onto Snowdon though that didn’t stop me getting a few snaps in the can first thing Saturday morning…

DSC_4680_00__lo res.jpgDSC_4659_01__lo res.jpgDSC_4663_02__lo res.jpgDSC_4669_03__lo res.jpgDSC_4706_04__lo res.jpgDSC_4718_06__lo res.jpgDSC_4714_05__lo res.jpg

Posted in Photography, Scenic, Walking

Young Guns – a.k.a. GB Climbing Development Squad

Managed to touch-base recently with some of the Britain’s best young climbers during a GB Climbing Development Squad meeting.

Aiden Dunne bearing down on the Wasp 8a at The Foundry

Aiden Dunne bearing down on the Wasp 8a at The Foundry

It’s impossible not to be uber impressed with these guys – their output is little sort of phenomenal and their attitude and psyche is amazing. I caught up with William Bosi, Jim Pope and Aidan Roberts at The Foundry. They’d all had great weekend – firstly at Awesome Walls and then at The Foundry. Some, Jim Pope – for example, had even slipped a session in at The Works after Awesome Walls. They – alongside the rest of the squad – are ‘on it’ and gunning for the top slots in this year’s comps. Sure, they all take full advantage of the training facilities at their disposal and the experience of their coaches but they graft super hard and are seeing the results.

I’m in the throes of writing an article on the Development Squad for CLIMBER Magazine BTW, so look out for that in a forthcoming edition if you wanna find out more.

GB Dev02_DSC_4545_lo res.jpgGB Dev04_DSC_4585_lo res.jpgGB Dev05_DSC_4598_lo res.jpg

Posted in Climbing, Photography

Guilty Pleasure

March 7th; 2017

There’s something about skiing that gets under the skin – for me at least! I get all the pleasure of being up in the mountains – the stunning environment and the amazing feeling that skiing gives – yet I don’t have to endure all the hard graft of flogging endlessly uphill that is part and parcel of mountaineering. Mountaineering, of course, is more than that – but skiing, at least for me, is just unadulterated type #1 fun – mostly.

Mont Blanc from the Grand Massif

Mont Blanc from the Grand Massif

We’ve just been to Grand Massif – our third visit in fact. The Grand massif is the sprawling ski conurbation that encompasses Flaine, Vernant, Les Carroz, Morillion, Vercland, Samoens and finally, Sixt. It was easily the warmest visit – mainly we skied with open jackets and a thin baselayer only – even gloves were dispensed with at mid-day. We skied over from Samoens into Flaine one day only to be greeted by temps of 17 degs – yep, seriously warm. Not surprisingly, there was less snow than usual; sufficient, but definitely less. It’s dumped over a metre of fresh snow since we were there so the rest of the season should be pretty much assured.

There’s considerable development underway at Samoens; both in the village itself and at Samoens 1600 – the base for operations in that neck of the woods. A monster development in town is going to add a fair number of peeps, and pressure, to the infrastructure but not nearly so much as what is apparently a ClubMed development at Samoens 1600 where, so the word on the street has it, a c.400 bed development is partway through the procurement process. All the extra bodies will create the need for additional uplift, new pistes and – it is said – some re-modelling of the exit runs off Tete Des Saix @ 2118m where the two existing runs will surely be swamped under the burden of the new skiers.

The last run home from the Desert Blanc

The last run home from the Desert Blanc

Whether all this is positive or not depends on your viewpoint. It’ll undoubtedly be a plus for local businesses as well as those directly linked to the ski business. The environment will take a further hit and that’s the mute point I guess. Yet it can only be duplicitous to raise concerns about new development and turn a blind eye to that which has already been undertaken – after all, all the existing lifts and pistes weren’t dropped-in overnight by the ski-gods.

Interesting, Grand Massif was awarded the Green Globe in autumn 2016. In fact, Grand Massif is apparently the first ski area in the world to be awarded the Green Globe Certification. There’s some blurb on the back of the piste map related to said certification. Here’s what it says:

“Green Globe is an international certification programme which rewards the efforts of tourism businesses in their social, economic, cultural and environmental initiatives. The programme is built on a series of 40 topics set out in over 300 obligatory and optional criteria ranging from management to sustainable development… and is a firm long-term commitment since [they] have to present significant improvements every 2 years in order to keep the certification.”

So there you go. Something positive to offset the guilty pleasure of skiing in that area…

Deux Pain SVPOn-site bakeryOn-route to Samoens 1600On-route to Tete Des SaixLooking past Corbalanche towards FlaineTete Des Saix - Corbalanche panoMont Blanc from the top of Desert BlancThe joy of an open pisteDropping into MorillonThere's never a rush to start the final run homeTete Pelouse (2474m) above the Desert BlancSunset over Cluses on the way back from FlaineDown-town Cluses

Posted in Skiing, Travel

A(nother) winter trip to the World Climbing Destination that is Chulilla

Most of the time, most climbers visiting Chulilla agree with the premise that it’s Valencia’s best crag and an undisputed WCD (World Climbing Destination). This winter however, Chulilla hasn’t quite delivered.

Chulilla Jan2017_03_DSC05955_cropped

Locals say that it’s been the worst winter for 35 years; the un-uncharacteristically heavy rain has almost, quite literally, washed some of Chulilla’s reputation away. Depending exactly when visiting climbers have dipped their toes into Chulilla’s rocky pool, they may have escaped the worst of the rains and hence had a typically Chulilla visit during which they have quenching their thirst for endless routes. Others – myself included – have not been so fortunate. Arriving in late January, we were greeted by dripping wet walls and tufas rather than the normal curtains of immaculate rock.  It’s not solely Chulilla that’s been affected either; the Costa Blanca and Costa Durada have been hit too. Latterly, those confining their activities to more northerly venues – such as in the Lleida area – have apparently fared better.

 

Try Gasolinera at Fantasia if you fancy some old skool action

Try Gasolinera at Fantasia if you fancy some old skool action

The roller coaster kicked off in late December/early January by all accounts. Firstly, it was dry, then soaked, then it nearly dried but then it rained again and got proper wet. By late January the contrast with last year couldn’t have been greater. The only decision last January was whether to climb in the sun or the shade. This year, the shady crags – barring a few – were drenched so it was in the sun or (almost) nothing. Pared de Enfrente and Chorreras – normally thronged with climbers – were deserted; it wasn’t that there was the odd wet hold here and there rather that whole swathes of the crags were gushing wet. Early in our visit we walked – well, actually we ran – beneath Chorreras; it was flowing like a river drenching us in seconds! Pared de Entrente wasn’t quite as bad but soaked nevertheless. Locals say that it’ll be April before these badly affected areas are dry again!

The flipside of the coin was that Muro de las Lamentaciones, Nanapark, Ca Germa and Naranjito were pretty much bone-dry. Teams flocked to these areas either arriving early or late depending on team preferences to climbing in the sun. Most of the other popular crags such as Sex-Shop, El Balcon, El Balconcito, El Algarrobo and El Oasis were in decidedly poor condition too. New sectors such as Serengueti and Masters proved ‘pretty dry’ and so along with old skool crags such as Competition, Ceguera, Peneta I and Peneta II were climbable. Outside the gorge, other old skool and sunny crags such as Pesadilla and Fantasia were dry.

Bar the rainy day, the weather was pretty amazing; stunning blue skies being typical. Most days we thought we could see vultures high above the crags whilst Alpine Accentors and Robins were frequent crag visitors. The cacti in the valley also appeared to be flourishing.

Whilst we were decidedly impacted where we could go and climb, save for a single (forecast) wet day we climbed six days from seven. We bagged numerous multi-starred classics and had a fantastic time despite the wet and hence off-limit crags. Sometimes, you just have to ‘get on with it’. Oh, by the way, if slabby walls are your bag, then have a crack at Gasolinera L1 and L2 at Fantasia and see how you like them. They’re given F6b and F6b+ in one guide and F6b+ and F6c in another but we figured those are still a fair bit shy of the proper grades.

A night-time Chulilla

A night-time Chulilla

One last thing Pedro Pons, who runs the guesthouse just on the (northern) outskirts of Chulilla, has recently published a revised guide (c.22 Euros) to the climbing at Chulilla. Pon’s guide is available locally and it supports the bolting effort at Chulilla. Unfortunately, this isn’t currently available in the UK.

Chulilla from the southInside ChulillaChulilla_townscapeChulilla_townscapeClimbers' Bar ChulillaGraham on Gasolineria (L1) at Fantasia - tough old skool slab actionGraham again - this time on Vol Damm at Pesadilla.Robin at FantasiaRobin at FantasiaSector CompeticionPared de EnfrenteCacti below Sex ShopDale duro Negro about to discharge its suitorRain Towers beneath Pared de EntrenteWhen all else fails...El Brutamonti (L1) at Ca GermaChulilla sunsetChulilla sunset

Posted in Climbing, Travel

2016 British Bouldering Championships @ Cliffhanger

2016 British Bouldering Championships at Cliffhanger

July 14th; 2016

Shauna Coxsey and Matt Cousins lifted the 2016 senior British Bouldering Championship titles at the Cliffhanger Festival in Sheffield last weekend.

BBC_2016_024_DSC_8808

Shauna Coxsey – MBE, 2016 British Bouldering and World Cup Champion

 

 

 

 

Shauna Coxsey’s form throughout 2016 has been little short of phenomenal. Having already secured the Bouldering World Cup with the final event still to be held, Shauna went into the BBC as odds-on favourite. That she totally dominated the women’s event at the BBC’s came as no surprise to anyone. But for a single problem in the semi-finals Shauna flashed every other problem brushing many aside as though they were just warm-ups.

The men’s event however was a little more finely balanced. Dave Barrans scored a perfect round in the qualifiers flashing all five blocs. It was however, Matt Cousins – runner-up in the qualification round – that came to the fore in the semi-finals and finals to take the top slot with a deserved and consistent performance.

BBC_2016_023_DSC_8774

Matt Cousins – 2016 British Bouldering Champion

The Cliffhanger Festival – in its ninth year – has become a regular feature of the summer scene here in Sheffield. For the first time however, the festival was held in the city centre rather that out in either Millhouses or Graves Parks. Sharing the stage with a running, biking and hiking hub, the city’s outdoor fraternity were well-served and turned out in force despite the changeable weather.

The setting team – Percy Bishton, Andy Long, Jamie Cassidy, Rob Napier and Ben Meeks – came up with the goods setting a whole raft of interesting-looking, spectator-friendly blocs for the competitors.

The women’s results were:

1st Shauna Coxsey; 2nd Tara Hayes; 3rd Leah Crane; 4th Michaele Tracey; 5th Gracie Martin;  6th Jo Neame

The men’s results were:

1st Matt Cousins; 2nd Nathan Phillips; 3rd Orrin Coley; 4th Billy Ridal; 5th James Garden; 6th Dave Barrans

Finally, here’s a selection of shots from the finals…

 

BBC_2016_Finalists checking out the blocsBBC_2016_Finalists checking out the blocsBBC_2016_Leah Crane wrestling with the crux sloper on W1BBC_2016_Jo Neame hunting the sweet spot on the sloper on W1BBC_2016_Tara Hayes staying low on the sloper on W1BBC_2016_What sloper? It's a pinch not a sloper says Shauna Coxsey (MBE)BBC_2016_Billy Ridal getting into the groove on M2BBC_2016_Jo Neame wrestling with W2BBC_2016_Billy Ridal progressing on M2BBC_2016_Tara Hayes nearing the top of W2BBC_2016_Orrin Coley in the midst of the blankness that was M3BBC_2016_Jo Neame on the tufatastic W3BBC_2016_Tara Hayes on W3BBC_2016_Shauna Coxsey crushing W3BBC_2016_Shauna again on W3BBC_2016_Gracie Martin on W4BBC_2016_Michaela Tracy on W4BBC_2016_Orrin Coley sizing up the dyno on M4BBC_2016_James Garden launching one on M4BBC_Dave Barrans on/off M4BBC_2016_Nathan Phillips landing the crux dyno on M4BBC_2016_Matt Cousins letting rip on M4BBC_2016_Matt Cousins latching M4BBC_2016_And another win to Shauna Coxsey after flashing W4BBC_2016_Women PodiumBBC_2016_Mens PodiumBBC_2016_2016 scoreboard... the envy of the world!

Footnote: I wrongly commented in my 2015 Cliffhanger report that last year’s Cliffhanger was the ninth – it was in fact ‘only’ the eighth.

Posted in Bouldering, Climbing, Events, Photography