Archive for climbing

Sweet dreams are made of this.

Posted in Climbing with tags , , on March 4, 2012 by bridbeast

On Saturday I bought a second-hand portaledge. On Sunday I took it out to Bowles Rocks in Sussex for a test.


So what do I do with this then?

Quite easy to put together, on flat ground.

Portaledge, Bowles, UK.

Managing to cope with the exposure.

Portaledgem, Bowles Rock, Sussex.

Lovin' that Nineties shade of purple.

Cosy. Is it supposed to be that bendy?

Conclusions? It’s okay to put up but will need plenty of practice before I can do it in the dark on a hanging belay. I need to suss out how to use the fly properly. I definitely need to spend a night in it this spring. It’s very heavy but surprisingly small. There’s no where to hide on one of those things. Getting on it and imagining living for several days on it reminded me of sitting in the Apollo command module when I was little and we went to Cape Kennedy. That thing was tight!

More to the point, it’s made going to Yosemite and doing a wall feel real rather than just something in my head.


Training is boring.

Posted in Climbing with tags , on January 26, 2012 by bridbeast

Every single public space in London at the moment is full of Olympics adverts featuring sculpted athletes exhorting the populace to run faster, jump higher, train harder. Honestly, it’s like some Communists have decided to decorate the place, only with better graphic designers.

What the posters don’t give away is just how bloody boring athletic training is.

The last few weeks I’ve spent a good proportion of my spare time at the climbing wall, slogging away at improving my fitness, doing loads of laps on routes which is very dull. Afterwards I feel spent and tired, come home and eat, sleep for eight hours and then look forward to doing it the next day. And this is only training for my very modest amateur efforts, not the Olympian heights of 9a+ sports climbs.

I don’t mind bouldering sessions, in fact I really enjoy them, but then they are mostly resting between problems. However I want the stamina this year, so I have to work for it.

Sunday was the first day out climbing for 2012. We went to Dancing Ledge at Swanage, that superbly reliable winter venue. Typically we were down to t-shirts at one point, which seems to happen on nearly every winter visit I make there. I came very close to flashing a F6c, albeit one I top-roped a year ago, and got it easily second time around, despite feeling tired. So hopefully on track for some of my sports climbing goals and generally feeling reasonably fit for January.

But… I’m at the fourth week of the training regime for the new year and already it’s time for a rest! I’d planned this out, it should have been the fifth week but that didn’t work with the time I’ve got, so three weeks on, one off it is.

It feels like a good thing. My hands were beginning to get really stiff in the mornings and I could feel my tendons straining a little, but that’s disappeared. I think I’ve been a little too lazy – must go for a run tomorrow and do some proper stretching – but overall it’s been good. I’m ready for the next bout.

That means more stamina training and some strength stuff, but hopefully also starting learning some big wall techniques. I’ve bought a “how to” book by John Long and John Middendorf. They’ve plenty of experience and a way with vivid images which cements ideas in your mind. Keep your shoes clipped in at night:

“Drop your only shoes, kiss your feet goodbye. It’s happened, and the survivors walk with a cane to this day.”



Goals for 2012

Posted in Climbing, ramblings with tags , , , , on January 10, 2012 by bridbeast

It’s that time of year again – putting down in writing a few of the things I hope to achieve this year.

I’m planning a year of two halves. For the first six months, it’s time to get as good at cragging as possible. Pretty much like last year, really, and some of the aims remain the same, ie I didn’t tick them last year:

Sort out niggling shoulder problem.

Get my onsight level up to F6c. I’ve done this a couple of times last year, now I want to be able to do this regularly.

Redpoint lots of F7a (say five to ten routes at this level), mainly at Portland or Cheddar. Try a 7a+ or possibly 7b.

I’m going to the Verdon at Easter, target routes include: Riviere d’argent, Debiloff, Durandal and Le Demande. Given the tough grading, spaced bolting, massive scale and overall in-your-face scariness of the Gorge, I’d be very pleased to get any one of these routes ticked.

Continue to improve at British trad climbing. Climb some classic Pembroke E2s such as Deranged or Silver Shadow, if I get really fit then I’d like to get on one of the E3s there, Pleasure Dome or Space Cadet. On the grit I’d like to do the likes of Billy Whiz or Insanity before attempting a solid E3 crack such as Gates of Mordor, Sentinel Crack or Emerald Crack.

That in itself seems quite a lot. Obviously I don’t think I’ll get it all done but that’s the sort of thing I’m aiming for. Then in July/August I want to go on a road trip to the US. The rough plan at the moment is to climb in the high-up areas during the summer: Rocky Mountain National Park, the Needles, Tuolumne, Lake Tahoe and the High Sierras, working on my crack climbing and getting fitter for long routes, before hitting Yosemite Valley.

In the Valley I want to do some long free routes and beginner walls, such as Leaning Tower, culminating in an ascent of El Cap. I’m flexible over which route: the Nose, Salathe, Zodiac or Tangerine Trip are the main ones I’d be interested in.

So, some big ambitions. Lifetime stuff in fact. I’m not sure how much of this is outside my ability or will be done with some hard work and scary moments. In addition, I want to see if it’s possible to mix an athletic life with a writing one. In 2012 I want to read some of the classics I’ve never got around to, Dickens, George Elliot and so on, and to start work on some of my own stories. That’s a bit vague because I’m not sure exactly what I want to do, and unlike my climbing plans, I feel a need to keep my writing ideas to myself for the moment. They’re too fragile for the scrutiny of the wider world right now! In the meantime, here’s a few photos of El Cap.


Headwall of the Salathe

Salathe headwall © Duncan Critchley


Climbing on Tangerine Trip

Tangerine Trip, El Capitan © chrisbevins



2011 goals redux

Posted in Climbing, ramblings with tags , , , on December 31, 2011 by bridbeast

Back in January this year I wrote out a list of goals for the year. Now it’s the last day of 2011, time to see how I did:

I’d like to fulfil the long-standing goal of climbing F7a again, and onsighting F6c.

Ticked the F7a in Catalunya in November after coming very close around Easter time. Flashed a couple of F6cs but not quite an onsight. I think that’s 3/4 of a tick.

More unlikely is climbing F7a+.

Yes, that was unlikely. Fail.

Trad climbing – I’d like to get up to E2 and possibly E3. Something steep and safe at Pembroke or Gogarth. Pleasure Dome is on the list, maybe also Ocean Boulevard or Soul Survivor at Swanage. Some steep and savage grit cracks, with the ultimate aim of doing Sentinel Crack at Chatsworth – ouch!

A bit ambitious this one, given that before this year my trad climbing was seriously out of shape. I hadn’t taken a fall onto my own gear or climbed an extreme in years. I was reasonably on it this year, with my best lead being Brown’s Crack at Ramshaw. E1 in the guide but E2 on UKC, it is most definitely steep and savage. I didn’t do Sentinel Crack but this was a step in the right direction. Tick.

Unfortunately my dreams of E3 at Swanage or Pembroke didn’t materialise. I think that was a bit too much. Fail, but rematch for 2012!

Ramshaw climbing

My idea of fun.

Places to visit: Cornwall, Verdon, North Wales. Spend much more time at Swanage and Portland to get fit.

Didn’t go to Cornwall or  North Wales as my plans of long weekends away were scuppered by getting a new job. I did go to the Verdon even if it was too rainy to get anything properly done. Went to Swanage and Portland a bit, but perhaps not as much as I’d envisioned. Still, mostly a tick.

Actually write a short story. Try to write a radio play.

Big fat fail on both these aims.

Get at least one article published in the national media.

Got a ghost-written piece into the Huffington Post. Half a tick I think.

Looking back on it, 2011 was a pretty good year. I did loads of climbing, chopped and changed jobs (hopefully for the best), got tattooed and had a great visit to Sri Lanka. I’m unhappy that I failed in any of my writing aims but I’m hoping for a better year in 2012 on that front. I’m also keen to realise some big, lifetime climbing goals in 2012. Bring it on!


Yosemite Valley. El Cap.

The mighty El Capitan. ©ChrisJD

Big wall climbing on the Capitan. ©Enty

Beginner’s mind

Posted in Climbing with tags on October 11, 2011 by bridbeast

I’m a real sucker for psychological types and classifications, as you’d expect from someone who came out as an INTP on the Myers-Briggs personality test. Systems and classifications, that’s my thing. Apparently.

A lonesome drive to Swanage recently gave me a few ideas for climbing archetypes.


Gnarly Old Gits

Balding, with massive biceps and tufts of back and shoulder hair showing through slightly retro vests, the GOGs are the veteran troopers of our little world. They’ve been everywhere and done everything. They’re done with campussing (tried that back in 92 and got six months off with injured elbows for their efforts), they first went to the Verdon back in the 80s, they might even have been at the Hacienda the night someone pulled a gun out.

GOGs will climb with anyone, as most of their original climbing partners have had kids, got into cycling or given up. They all want to climb 8a before they are 50. Or 60. Or perhaps as a retirement project. Either that, or they are stuck in some hellish multi-week siege of a 40ft crimpfest with the suitable magic number attached.


The Young Dudes

These little Tiggers live down the wall or the crag, bouncing around from problem to problem and route to route. In any random sample at least 10% will have dreadlocks (even today!). Tendon problems are a thing of the future which is a good thing because they worship at the Temple of Strength.

They’ve never heard of Buoux – Catalunya and Magic Wood are where it’s at – but then they’ve never heard of the Stone Roses either. They all want to climb 8a, of even 8A, but they are easily derailed by love, drugs and finals.


The Natural Geniuses

These are the true stars of climbing. Natural climbers with immaculate technique, they’re the sort of people who will throw in a drop knee on their second ever boulder problem. A lack of height or strength doesn’t hold them back, their natural creativity helps them overcome such workaday restrictions, and they take to highballing as if fear of falling were an alien emotion.

Surely these intuitives are rare comets in the climbing firmament? Far from it. I see hordes of these mini-masters every Sunday at the wall – when the kids introductory climbing sessions are in full swing. Could they climb 8a? Probably one day, but I’m not sure if right now all of them can even count to eight.

All the pieces matter

Posted in Climbing with tags , , , on October 4, 2011 by bridbeast

Who needs coaches?

Quite a lot of us who are engaged in complex, hard-to-learn, hard-to-perfect endeavours, at least according to this interesting article by surgeon-author Atul Gawande, in the latest New Yorker. The author explores the idea of coaching in his own profession by asking an accomplished retired surgeon to sit in and observe his operations. He learns more in a few hours than he has in the past five years of plateauing skills.

This passage struck me:

“In sports, coaches focus on mechanics, conditioning, and strategy, and have ways to break each of those down, in turn. The U.C.L.A. basketball coach John Wooden, at the first squad meeting each season, even had his players practice putting their socks on. He demonstrated just how to do it: he carefully rolled each sock over his toes, up his foot, around the heel, and pulled it up snug, then went back to his toes and smoothed out the material along the sock’s length, making sure there were no wrinkles or creases. He had two purposes in doing this. First, wrinkles cause blisters. Blisters cost games. Second, he wanted his players to learn how crucial seemingly trivial details could be. “Details create success” was the creed of a coach who won ten N.C.A.A. men’s basketball championships.”

In a little moment of serendipity, just a day before I read a very similar thing by Steve House about his alpinism:

“Let there be no doubt that for every ascent listed above, there were a thousand details that fell into place, like knowing how to dry my gloves, what sock combination worked, and (usually) a high pressure that held. It is experience with those details that allows some to ascend to their potential, while the rest get stopped by blisters and bad timing.”

It’s the socks and blisters again!

It made me think to climbing with relative beginners and how few of them bother to clean their shoes before stepping onto the rock. It also made me wonder what I’m missing in my own climbing, and what a coach could advise. What are the new little details I need to know? Because all the pieces matter

Moaning about climbing

Posted in Climbing with tags , on July 26, 2011 by bridbeast

If climbing this year has a low point, I reckon it came this weekend. A perfect sunny Sunday, partners lined up for a day in the Wye Valley, but I stayed at home. Less than a month ago I felt on a roll, pushing myself on trad routes, but since then I’ve done nothing.

There are plenty of good reasons. I’ve struggled to shake off a bad cold, exacerbated by a hectic work schedule. My knackered shoulder is taking its time to heal. I’ve just been tired. It’s one of those periods when living in London is tough. Even if I were dead beat, I would happily bodge out to the crag for an afternoon’s bouldering if it were a half-hour drive, but a minimum of 90 minutes in the car to reach rock – and those 90 minutes on the gladiatorial M25 – acts as a powerful deterrent when I’m exhausted.

The feeling that the summer of climbing is already waning only adds to my mood. Work and family commitments mean I’ve got one weekend and one day out before going to Sri Lanka at the end of August, and by the time I get back, get over the jetlag and long flight, it’s coming on for mid-September. And whilst the autumn can be one of the best times for climbing in the UK, it’s overshadowed by brooding November and chilly December ready to storm over the horizon.

But… hold on a minute.  I’ll be rested from my holiday in SL (which, in case it looks like I’m carping, I’m super-psyched about). The autumn is perfect for sports – and trad for that matter – down on the south coast. Perhaps I’ll tick my E2 down at scary old Swanage at the fag end of the year. Routes on the grit should be climbable well into October if we’re lucky with the rain. My shoulder may be iffy, but it’s getting better. And I have booked a three day trip to Catalunya in November, and hopefully will manage another weekend away on the continent before Christmas.

The year’s not over yet!