April 14th: Ain’t the Peak District an awesome place…

Despite having lived within a stone’s throw of the Peak for coming up forty years now it never fails to take my breath away with what an awesome place it is! Sunday just gone, was a perfect example – just incredible…

Sheffield was havin’ a bluebird day; a cloudless blue sky day, reasonably calm and peaceful – spring was fully in the air. Not so out in the Peak where there was a full-on hooley blowing. Cyclists were being blown all over the place (I know, I been that zig-zaging cyclist earlier that morning), walkers (these that cared more about their comfort than their cool appearances) had their hoods up and jackets fastened and east-facing (ie sheltered) buttresses seemed to be pulling more climbers than usual.

Paraglider above StanageFrustratingly, and despite it being an absolute drop-dead gorgeous day, there was not much action going down and – not understandably – zilch activity upstairs. Simply there was nowt to shoot – so I didn’t! Boo hoo. Last night though I was doing some work on my photo archive and came across a bunch of pixs that I’d shot a couple of years back on a similar (but sans wind) day that had been sitting (quietly) on my hard drives ever since. As I hadn’t captured anything yesterday I thought I’d share the pixs from the archive. They make the point though that the Peak really is an awesome place – on every level!

‘Discovering’ these shots languishing on my hard drives is a tad embarrassing really hence a metaphorical note to self – “update your portfolios you puppet!”…

Running off Carl's Wark down towards the Burbage BrookMicro-light above Burbage ValleyParaglider above Stanage

Posted in Adventure, Aviation, Running

April 7th: Shine a light…

Although it’s a tad retrospective now – the last month or so has just disappeared – March’s copy of Climber magazine carried my review of the latest in so-called hands-free (aka head torches) lighting. From the uber Mammut X-Sun (a 950 lumen monster) through to the delimitative Petzl e+Lite (a 25 lumen emergency unit) there really is a headtorch for every occasion…

Without a doubt, headtorches are an essential part of climbers’ kit-bags. Today, cheap headtorches are sold in main stream supermarkets from as little as a fiver a pop whilst the specialised shops sell the top-end units costing anything up to £250 quid. They’re used for all manner of activities – anything from dog-walking to emergency services through to elite athletes for climbing or other extreme sports. As power and functionality vary, so does size and cost. The review covered fifteen different units as well as giving the low-down on the plethora of batteries and LED types currently in use. If you don’t want to be left in the dark (I know – crap pun…) then check the review out.

Incidentally, as part of the review I dug-out my old Petzl Zoom headtorch from the bottom of the wardrobe and compared it with the X-Sun and the e+Lite (mentioned above). The results show quite plainly exactly what the R&D departments have achieved in the 30 odd years since Petzl first brought their legendary Zoom to market. Take a look for yourself at the pixs below and the difference is obvious. For the geeks amongst us, the e+Lite delivers the same (25 Lumen) output as the Zoom albeit at a fraction of the size/weight whilst the X-Sun knocks out over whooping 38 times more light than the Zoom.  The times sure are a changing…

And here’s a shot of the X-Sun and the e+Lite alongside the old past master, the Zoom…

 

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Posted in General, Reviews

Feb 12th: F-BO14 – not just another boudering comp…

Saturday the 8th February saw a fair few of the UK’s bouldering elite gather at the Foundry in Sheffield for the F-BO14 bouldering competition. Since it first opened its doors, the Foundry has long been the scene for climbing comps – those of us who have been regular visitors over the years will remember the then sixteen year old Chris Sharma appearing in a Foundry bouldering comp back in the 90’s! F-BO14, is the latest in that series, and what a cracking event it turned out to be too…

The morning qualification round saw the elite, the good and the would-be’s all rubbing shoulders on no less than 25 problems – all carefully devised and crafted by the setting team which comprised the regular Foundry setter, Rob Napier, Percy Bishton (on sabbatical from The Works) and guest setter and strong-man/ex-British bouldering champ, Ned Freehally; nothing if not a strong, stout and sly setting trio! Collectively, they served up a veritable cordon beau menu of problems. One problem had just three holds arranged in a horizontally manner rather than upwards! Challenging the paradigm indeed!

Emerging from the quallies as the lady finalists were Shauna Coxsey, Michaela Tracy, Diane Merrick, Katie Maxwell, Gracie Martin and Ella Russel. The six-man testosterone-laden crew comprised Thom Arnold, Nathan Phillips, Cailen Harker, Martin Smith and Ben Moon. Yep, that’s THE Ben Moon who is back on the scene and pulling down with remarkable determination once more. The stand-out performance from qualification was supplied by Shauna who flashed every single problem to return a perfect score-card!

The finals were run using the familiar bouldering comp format – two climbers (one male, one female) both climbing at once on two problems over a four minute slot before back to isolation. Both legs were pretty closely contested. Shauna Coxsey emerged in top place – though she was pushed hard by Michaele and Diane. Shauna dropped the very last problem of the day on her first attempt (her only mistake of the day). Michael came second with Diane in third. Sadly Ben Moon sat the final round out but Stu Littlefair stepped into Ben’s place and provided some great entertainment climbing bloc #4 by starting upside down! Unconventional, but seemingly effective and a definite crowd-pleaser. Martin Smith came in first with Ethan Walker in second and wild-card Stu picking up third.

A cracking day all round – here some snaps…

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Posted in Bouldering, Events

2013 Captured

Twenty Thirteen is behind us now for sure and I’ve been working hard to clear the decks and get the ship ready for 2014. Wrapping up 2013 photographically means putting last year’s shots both in perspective and into the archive.

If figures were the only metric, then I had was one heck of a year in 2013; 7,500 images totalling 263 GB of disk space – the largest volume of images I’ve ever shot in a year. Whilst the bulk were captured using my D800, some were taken with my Sony RX100, my go-to, shirt pocket compact. File sizes from the RX100 are pretty big (20MB) but nothing compared to the files (36MB) off the D800.  It’s a good job that hard-drive space is relatively cheap!

However, 2013 stands out in my mind as significant for entirely different reasons. Firstly, that the better weather broadened the possible scoop of climbing subjects/locations as many of the crags dried out during the summer. The better weather also meant that it was possible to include some of the cracking scenic backdrops into the images which in turn widened composition possibilities. Finally, I was also able to push the boundaries back a bit on my usual subjects by shooting a wider gambit of sports.

Winnats Pass_DSC_7118January into February are often about snow and ice and 2013 was no exception. A wintery snap in late January plastered the Dark Peak in snow. Returning from a family walk with the dog, a lone winter boulderer rocked up to Mother Cap and it seemed rude not to grab a snap or two. In as many seconds, the first shot for the 2014 calendar was in the bag – result! Farther west, Mam Tor and Winnats Pass were striking, if sombre, in winter garb. The Grand Massif in February for a skiing trip was very enjoyable but in no time it was Easter and a road trip around the climbing fleshpots of France underway. Following the traditional Font stop-off, a few days each at Vanasque, St Leger and Gorge du Tarn chalked up some successes, some failures and, perhaps more importantly, some more shots for the calendar. On a less positive note, I also chalked up the first of the season’s injuries – doh! It was, however, my first visit to the Gorge du Tarn and an interesting one as well. Before I head back though I’ll work my pocket strength on the Beastmaker!

Malham is a favourite early-season venue for many. Most visitors are captivated by the seemingly blank walls; the same walls that frustrate the heck out of climbers, yet draw them repeated in. The Malham scene was noticeable in 2013 given Steve McClure added a new super desperate route above the Catwalk, Batman (F9a/+), Jordon Buys repeated Rainshadow (F9a) whilst Cry Freedom (F8c) and Batroute (Fc) were respectively red-pointed by Paul Reeve and Buster Martin, two climbers operating at opposite ends of the age spectrum.Sheffield GP_021_DSC_9934

Early summer family trips into Sherwood Forest and then north to almost the farthest northwest tip of Scotland along with the Sheffield Cliffhanger and cycling Grand Prix soaked up a good month all told but give some cracking photo opportunities. Shooting fast moving action on the Sheffield GP was an interesting (read, in-at-the-deep-end…) experience. It’s great to mix it up though and I was pretty happy with the images I captured of the town-centre race. I’ve been up to Scotland many times before but never quite so far north. Scotland really is immense and the scenery and wildlife specular. A wee hike up Ben Nevis, a drop-in at the Newtonmore Games, a visit to a Scottish Heritage Museum as well as the long hike into the far-flung golden sands of Sandwood Bay were all perfectly memorable and rewarding, but standing on the pebble spit at Cantorny Point watching the dolphins feast on the inbound Atlantic salmon in the gathering dusk is a sight that I won’t forget in a hurry!

True Moments_DSC_2112A solid month of photography saw the 2014 calendar finished and the images over the design studio. The weather was kind for once and I grabbed the opportunity to include as much of the surroundings within the images as possible. For me, a climbing shot works best when it has not only the climber and the route clearly visible but also as much of the surrounding as possible – assuming that the backdrop is of scenic merit. One of my shots which ‘speaks to me the most’ in the Climbing 2014 collection is the shot of Ben Meakin cruising the classic DWS, Electric Blue. I like the rock and the sea but it’s the sea kayak that makes the shot though for me – I totally lucked-up on that one as a group of kayaker paddled off leaving a solitary kayaker sitting peacefully facing the crag and watching Ben casually stroll up Electric Blue. I couldn’t have planned it better had I tried!

Most of my calendar shoots require considerable advance preparation in order to get everything lined up just right; right location, best light, best clothes etc.. The days themselves though are basically about going climbing – albeit I have to capture the moment. Most times though, I can turn around and see some other captivating action unfolding just behind or off camera and I manage to pick-up additional shots that are every bit as good as the calendar shots. I’ve included a selection of these as well in the 2013 Captured gallery. The shot of Paul Philips on pitch 2 of True Moments or the shot of the team on Wendigo both just fell into my lap during a lull in shoot the images of Neil Foster on Hanging out at Glastonbury. I love it when that happens!

SF_Running_DSC_3258September was racing by and with it I added some running shots to my portfolio. A climbing mate was going over to the other side (running that is…) and was opening a store here in Sheffield and needed a running image for his holding page on his website. The Green Drive was our chosen venue but the grey and somewhat grim evening we’d selected for the shoot was totally uninspiring. Suddenly however, the evening burst into life when a sky fest opened up in front of our very eyes. A single strobe was all it took to get some light where it was needed – ie on Steve’s running shoes and lower torso – and hey presto, Front Runner had it’s holding page shot and I was rather chuffed with my first running shoot! Further running shots of the Edale Skyline fell race as well as a set of Steve running off Stanage complete my running action shots from 2013. More will follow I can assure you!

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Autumn was soon here and with it came a trip down south to London. The closure of the rail network following the St Jude storm inspired a long-awaited trip to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford which, I have to say, is one heck of a venue – a genuine ‘must visit’ spot. London itself, with iconic sights like the Millennium Eye or Westminster Abbey are well worth the effort – especially on a sunny day! Totally by a fluke though did we drop into King’s Cross Station as night fell – the new roof there looking simply amazing under artificial light!

 

 

 

DSC_4998_007_web resOne of the last shoots of the year was a non-climbing, family affair when Vicky, one of my older progenies graduated from uni and a very obliging Robin (of the red breast variety) posed next to her in the grounds of York Minster. I don’t do much portrait work but I reckon it’ll be a while before I get another shot that I like as much as the shot of Vicky and the Robin; a cracking end to a cracking photographic year. Here’s a link to the 2103 Captured collection. Oh, and see if you can spot the images off the RX100 – I’ll bet you can’t…

 

 

 

Posted in General

Jan 10th: A New Year (game plan)…

With 2014 well and truly established I’ve been reflecting a little on 2013, the images I captured as well as the photographic process. I often find that sifting through and filing recent images I drift off into a reflective mode. Instinctively I ask myself questions. What worked well and why? What didn’t work and why? What will I look to develop? What will I do different in the future?

It’s easy to opt for BAU (business as usual). However, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got! And whilst that might be the correct game plan for some circumstances it almost certainly won’t be good for others. The trick is knowing when and where to switch into a new way of working and so produce something different. Although I’m still (metaphorically) crunching the numbers on this, I feel that I’ve got the basis for my shooting sorted out. Meanwhile…

The good weather and my free time hasn’t coincide much yet this year and I’ve yet to capture any climbing action. However, I’ve been shooting some non-climbing action and that’s been insightful in its own way. Thus far, I’ve snatched three separate shoots of three disparate subjects:

Shoot#1 – An hour or so snatched in the early morning in the Peak getting shots of a ‘lone tree’ and of an inversion over the Hope Valley.

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Shoot#2 – Less than an hour grabbed as the sun rose on the sea front at New Brighton, Cheshire.

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Shoot#3 – A (chilly) hour or so poised for some northern lights action above Stanage – sadly, they didn’t show up though!

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It would have been very easy to ignore the opportunity to get out on every one of these occasions. I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t. As well as a few nice images, I’ve come away with a single common thought; no matter what the outcome might be – just do it! Here’s a gallery

Posted in Photography, Scenic

Dec 16th: Last Post – oh, and Twin Pack killer deal…

Climbing 2013_December So, if you’ve not started your crimbal shopping yet (err… that’ll be me then folks!!) then you’re almost in deep do-doh… However, as Ms December (Leah Crane) from Climbing:2013 will tell you, there’s still four (on-line) shopping days left to order Climbing:2014 AND still get it in time for the big day (for UK orders) so all isn’t lost yet …

Yes folks, the elves in the dispatch department in KSP Towers will be sending out orders right up to the wire again which this year is Friday the 20th so get your calendar/year planner orders in before last knockings and the team will get said order into the system and you’ll be home and dry!! Please submit orders for all books in the KSP on-line shop by close of play on Thursday 19th for delivery pre-Xmas.

And nearly forgot, Climbing:2014 Twin Pack is now available as a killer ‘buy one, get one half price’ deal. Just the deal if you fancy a copy of Climbing:2014 for the work place as well as for home, or if you wanna say thanks to your bessie mate for all his/her top belaying all year. Click through here to go straight to the Twin Pack - that’ll put a smile on their face…DSC_9062

Posted in General, KSP Publications

Dec 5th: Peak Rock – The launch party

Peak Rock was officially launched into an expectant world last weekend at a celebratory bash at The Climbing Works in Sheffield. It was a veritable who’s who in Peak District climbing with the good and the great all turning out to welcome what will undoubtedly prove to be a seminal title into the already rich world of climbing literature…

Peak Rock, if you haven’t heard, is a celebration of the cutting edge and significant developments in Peak District climbing from the very beginning when James W Puttrell kicked the sport off at Wharncliffe right up to the present time. The project, which was originally started back in the early Eighties, was the brain-child of SUMC (Sheffield University Mountaineering Club) member, Giles Barker. However, his untimely death in a caving accident in 1992 meant that his work went unfinished. And so things stood for nigh on 20 years until Rock Archivist, Phil Kelly and Peak aficionado, Graham Hoey started the ball rolling again in a push to complete the job that Giles had started. So, having updated Giles’s original text, Phil and Graham then pulled a team of local eminent climbers/writers together to add further chapters to cover the most recent developments. Eventually, after a mountain of effort by the team, Peak Rock has finally been published by Vertebrate Publishing.

Contextual intro duly completed, let’s get back to the launch party on Sunday night which was about as glitzy and swanky as it gets in climbing. Think Oscar’s, but drop the tuxedoes, evening gowns and champagne for jeans, duvets, beanies and beer and you’re about there! There were also some indoor fireworks, but they came later and they weren’t exactly what the organising committee had planned!!

DSC_5133Host for the night was none other than would-be, stand-up comic, Niall Grimes. A four-man, heavyweight team of rock stars slowly climbed (sic) aboard the stage to join Grimer who extracted the proverbial from each of the said rock stars in turn. Ron Fawcett was first under the Grimer cosh, then Jerry Moffatt, John Allen and finally Pete Whittaker. To a man they all squealed and squirmed under the weight of Grimer’s ever so slightly off-the-wall questioning but they fought gallantly on determined to regale the audience with their wit and erudite comments. No doubt the booze, served in liberal quantities by Mark Leach, help lubricate – and liberate – their innermost thoughts. Ron, having trotted out the ‘marigolds in the bath story’ again, went on cheerfully to tell the audience that he and his former globe-trotting climbing chum/mentor, Pete Livesey, took great delight in nicking other people’s lines. “No namby, pamby messing about in those days!” Jerry delved back into his early days with stories about his first meeting with Ron at Craig-y-Forwyn and then his time in the Stoney wood-shed. Looking for the controversial angle, Grimer then gifted Jerry with the opportunity to ‘star rate’ a number of climbers – some of whom were well-know (to those in the know that is) – as being on Jerry’s ‘B-list’ (polite moniker). Interestingly though, he did smile as he low-scored some on Grimer’s provocative list – perhaps suggesting that with the passage of time he has mellowed a little? Pete Whitaker was introduced into the proceedings as the Young Pretender, a position clearly supported by his new routes of which he was only too happy to talk about rather than get embroiled in Grimer’s rabble-rousing questioning. However, it was John ‘The Boss’ Allen who gave what was perhaps the unexpected star performance from the sofa. His one-liner, put-downs were highly entertaining and little short of acidic. A classic example came when Grimer asked him if he felt that things had moved on significantly when Johnny Dawes did End of the Affair on Curbar. Without a pause John, lowered his head and his voice and grunted into the microphone – “No, I was just bitter!” The Boss’s wrapped up by sharing some of his hard-earned lessons too; “”stay off the pies, lads”. A class performance Mr Allen!

DSC_5140Following the half-time interval Steve Bancroft hit the stage with his guitar – not literally of course, that would have been too rock and roll. Then followed an auction of a copy High Peak, the 1960’s book which – previous to Peak Rock – was the Peak District history book of choice. Paul Pritchard and Grimer, pumping the crowd, succeeding in extracting a shocking three-figure sum from Graeme Alderson in exchange for said copy of High Peak to the cheers of the audience.

The rest of the second half was more about audience participation, although when the spot-light was spun onto one mega rock star from the Eighties who was present in the audience he (sadly) couldn’t find it within himself to embrace the spirit of the light-hearted evening.

Without a doubt the evening the majority there thought that it highly entertaining and a fitting launch to Peak Rock. Both charities CAC (Climbers Against Cancer) and the MHT (Mountain Heritage Trust) finished ahead of the curve – as they say – from the evening’s activities. The Barker Family have eventually seen the fruit of Giles’s labour although as it’s already out of date and thanks to the advance sales which appear to have accounted for half the print run, maybes work should start p.d.q. on the 2nd edition! No resting on your laurels please messers Kelly and Hoey…

 

Finally, then here’s a gallery of images from the evening.

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Posted in Climbing, Events

Nov 24th: Be in My (2014) Calendar – Round-up

So, with Climbing 2014 shipping it’s time to round-up the 2013 ‘Be in My Calendar’ competition that was run on UKClimbing. This year the winner was David Kirsfelds and the three runners up were Luke Owens, Char and Owain Atkins.

This year we stayed in the Pennines for a day of classic grit for the photo-shoot with David. Whilst I know the Pennines pretty well and it was pretty easy to short-list a number of routes to go out and shoot, it did pose a challenge – how to shoot classic routes which have been photographed many times before.

There’s a write-up for the day and my thoughts on shooting the classics here

And finally, here’s a gallery of my favourite images from the day as well…

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Posted in Be in My Calendar Competition, Climbing, KSP Publications, Photography

Nov 16th: London Calling – Part III (Whiz Bang…)

So, after a bit of a break in transmission, there’s the last instalment of the London trip which was rather a whiz bang affair; a whiz bang tour around the traditional sights and then a whiz bang tour around an out-of-tour attraction…

No matter how many times you see them, the iconic sights of London really do send a shiver down your spine; well they do me anyway! The London Eye isn’t exactly old but it’s been there more than a decade now and it’s not showing any signs of losing its attraction as yet. Nor too are the London Dungeons; no chance of a seat or four without booking ahead. Next time maybe?

So then finally to the out-of-town Warner Brothers Studio at Watford which is home to the uber sets created specifically for the filming of the Harry Potter capers. Pretty interesting tour to be honest; we went after dark and that added a certain feel to the place. Well worth a visit – even for someone who hasn’t read a single tittle from the JK Rowling pen…

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Posted in Heritage, Travel

Oct 30th: London Calling – Part II (Imperial War Museum, Duxford)…

The storm, St Jude, pretty much closed the rail network in the south west down on Monday 29th Oct. Instead of heading into London we went north instead to The Imperial War Museum at Duxford and what a place it is too!

It had been on my ‘must-visit’ list for yonks – so I was made-up with the switch. For anyone that hasn’t been there’s basically an airfield full of hangers crammed with all kinds of stonking (war) exhibits. In nearly three hours we did three of the nine monster hangers – so I guess it would be best to allow a full day.

AirSpace, the first hanger, is about the story of aviation in Britain and it has more iconic planes and helicopter in that you’d be forgiven for knowing; a Swopworth Camel, a Spitfire, a Mosquito, a Lancaster, a Lightening, Harrier, a Concorde and a bunch of others as well.

The Spitfire, the WWII icon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We skipped the next hangers where restoration work is being done and nipped into Historic Duxford, a small building outlining life on the Duxford airfield through the ages including some great stories about the famous airmen (including Douglas Barder). Anyone with a fancy to slip into a RAF uniform then head straight here – this is the place! Immediately behind HD is Hanger #4 which was used in the World War II. Currently it houses the Battle of Britain exhibits which is crammed with yet more icons including a Hurricane, a Meteor, a Hunter as well as a V1 (Doodlebug) and a Messerschmitt and then a Russian MiG.

The Meteor, Britain’s first jet-engine plane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Further up the airfield again is the American Air Museum which is host to a full gambit of American planes ranging from a biplane right through to the stealth Blackbird. What is striking about the American exhibits is the shear size of the ‘modern’ planes. The Blackbird is especially impressive; in size, speed (Mack 3+) and appearance.

The USAF stealth Blackbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly, we’d timed-out by this stage so it was the long walk back to the start past a bunch of passenger (prop) planes, the tower and a ‘clipped’ Shackleton standing somewhat forlornly on the tarmac. It’s a heck of a way to spend a few hours – I can’t recommend it enough…

Here’s a gallery of some of the planes in the AirSpace, Battle of Britain and the American Air Museum.

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Posted in Aviation, Heritage