Sunday, 29 July 2007

Shaftoe Sunshine

Sunshine! At last! I know bouldering in the sun is supposed to be rubbish because the rock is sweaty and you fall off. But after so much soggy weather, how could we NOT climb in the beautiful sunshine of a July Saturday? We were lucky enough to have the time to climb, so we should be grateful and make the most of it. Besides, I like climbing in sunshine.

We went to Shaftoe, since it was on my way home and seemed logistically sensible. Despite an interesting detour to avoid standstill traffic on the A1 through Newcastle (how were we to know there was an Air Show, a Flower Show, Ladies Day at the Races AND an accident??) we got to Shaftoe with plenty of time to climb. Having been once before earlier this year, I knew that following the guidebook was difficult. But that was early spring....before the bracken sprouted. Now the rocks looked as though they had been marooned on a desert island for several years, missing their regular hair appointments and in desperate need of a shave.

The rock was a veritable garden of weird and wonderful flora

Identifying where we were was a challenge enough. The hairiness of the rocks themselves was a different prospect altogether. Those ladies who climb in sports tops (the ones with a built-in "support shelf") will know how it feels to have bits of moss, grit, lichen and soil nestling on the shelf just beneath it's intended occupants. One ends up with a line of gritty grime where grime usually isn't to be found. Gentlemen, don't be surprised if the ladies begin to adjust their attire in an unusual manner. It's pretty uncomfortable, and needs to be sorted! Well, you're allowed to adjust yourselves without comment; why can't we?







This was the Warm Up Boulder...an interesting traverse from flat holds under the nose on the left, along to the next bulge, matching on a mossy sloper, and mantling up between the two small overhanging butresses face first into the heather on top. We eliminated the tree root directly above the deep cleft on the right as cheating! Now you see how we accumulated enough organic matter to grow culinary herbs from our sports tops!

Having Warmed Up (for once!), we moved onto the Crucifix Boulder and found a very green traverse there too. We plonked some chalk on various holds which instantly made the problem look more friendly. Sarah's ability to hold sandy slopers defeated me, so I reinvented the problem into something I could do. It still took some trying to trust both my right hand on the not-very-good sloper (which seemed to be Sarah's friend and definitely not mine!) and my right foot on an undercut smear I couldn't see from above. At this point I really learned the meaning of sucking hips in to the wall. Wow, what a difference it made. Suddenly I could balance enough to hold the next slopey (and small) pocket, and hold that long enough to walk my other fingers up to the lip at the top, which was much further away for me than for Sarah. She appears to have elastic arms! Either that or I am shrinking with age (like my grandma) already.

Traverse on the Crucifix Boulder

Then we found an excellent three (girly) finger pocket which added a satisfying sitting start to the problem. I had a real sense of achievement linking one set of moves, adding more, and linking them too, until we'd exhausted all the options. The descent route made for an interesting change...

Trees was where I started climbing...many moons ago!

We then moved on to the Lost Arrowhead Cave. By this time Sarah was quite excited by how much bouldering there was, and a little frustrated by tiredness and lack of time. I was rapidly running out of finger skin (no need for pictures of this - those of you who have read this blog before will be familiar with my skinless fingers from previous posts! This time was no exception - 2 days on grit and now Northumberland sandstone...you can imagine the pinkness for yourselves.) and we were both running out of steam generally. We did a lovely, but strenuous, route starting from crimps under the roof (which I had to stand on tippytippytoes on the mat to even reach) and a fantastic heel hook out along the lip of the cave, finishing up the slab at the opposite end. My slightly more diminutive stature meant that I had to scrape my heel out of it's bomber position to even reach the hold out along the lip of the cave. I have a very sore ankle now, and I still didn't finish the problem: too tired. So we lay under the edge of the cave with the sun streaming in, sheltered from the wind. Yes, I did nothing for at least 20 minutes! Some of you may find that hard to believe ;-)

With time looking short, I suggested we tootle about on the easy slabs just below us, before heading home. These too were sheltered from the wind and faced the late afternoon sun. Beautiful. We felt good just being on the rock, and being in the sun was an extra treat. This patch is a great place to take beginners - sticky slabs, of not more than 10 feet in height, with lots of ridges for fingers and feet. Certainly, it was a useful place to practice trusting our feet, and the height (or lack of) meant that beginners shouldn't freak. Having said that, Sarah's face in this picture looks like she might be freaking! Maybe it's because she's not a beginner....


I have no idea what the problems were called or how they were graded. We deliberately didn't use the guidebook. Knowing that it was hard to follow anyway, we abandoned it. We revelled in not knowing what we were climbing, not getting hung up about the grades or reputations of problems. Everything was reduced to things we could climb and things we couldn't climb. This minimalist approach seemed to breathe fresh air into my climbing, and I started to pay more attention to how the moves felt, whether they were hard but workable, or just plain impossible! It's a bit like judging a book by it's cover. If a book doesn't have a cover, one might start reading it to find out what the cover might look like. If it has a cover, one is more likely to judge the quality (or substance) of the writing without actually knowing anything about it.

I am still baffled as to why Shaftoe doesn't appear to see more traffic. On Saturday we only scratched the surface of what's there. Diff and I saw much more of the place earlier in the year (although we had less time to climb then - maybe it was just easier to find without the bracken). There are oodles and oodles of problems - traverses, highball, crimpy, slopey, easy, hard, steep and slabby. I would thoroughly recommend a visit, but take a brush to clean holds with (but mind that the sandstone is very soft, so be gentle with it). I don't mind if you don't go, though - it was a beautiful spot when we had the place to ourselves.

By the by, does anyone else remember the song about Bobby Shafto? I have memories of singing it as a child, along with some dubious pictures of the lad himself in a nursery rhyme book.... typical sailor in a stripey shirt, trousers rolled up, with blonde curly hair, bearing a strange resemblance to Doris Day. Maybe all that sunshine has gone to my head....
Bobby Shafto's gone to sea,
Silver buckles on his knee;
He'll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!
Bobby Shafto's bright and fair,
Combing down his yellow hair;
He's my love for evermair,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Keen Beans or Baked Beans

All this talk of psyche leads me to tell you about the last three days. I headed south to Middleton-in-Teesdale (where? Middle-of-Nowhere, Englandshire) on Thursday to stay with Sarah and enjoy some girly climbing company. Apparently, climbing with boys was getting "difficult" for her - the boys, not the climbing. Teesdale is beautiful; wild, open moor, with no immediately obvious outcrops, cliffs, quarries or crags. There was most definitely something Bronte-esque about the space and air, and the weather. As I arrived, it started to rain. As far as I could see, everything was wet. We had some lunch and a few cups of tea, and by 5pm it had stopped raining.

As we drove along a narrow lane towards Grasholme Reservoir, Sarah pointed across the moor at something which could have been a mere contour in the hillside and said "Over there!". I was a little sceptical at how long these pimples might keep us entertained, but 20 minutes later, with soggy shoes and a strong smell of sheep in the air, I was excited to find that theywere pretty sizeable chunks of rough gritstone....and there were hundreds of them! The Fontainbleau of Teesdale!!


Two hours later, we were running late for dinner. I was quite glad of this; my fingers were already very pink and my ankles scraped from heel-hooking.

This is Sarah on the first roof traverse we did. The first move was the hardest, mostly because it involved avoiding two things: sitting in the soggy sheep poo and landing coxix first on a rock.

Everything was a little damp, but we persevered. Having got our shoes soaking wet trekking through the bog from the road, a bit more dampness didn't seem too traumatic.

Sarah on the second traverse. This one is apparently documented, and goes at Font7a (I think). It was a bit damp, but hey, we were being keen beans....

The third traverse was lots of fun. A bit green and a bit damp from the rain, it was fingery and required great trust in tenuous and smeary footholds. It might also have benefited from a good brush, but we didn't have one.

It seems both a shame and a blessing that these problems don't see more traffic. It's a beautiful spot, well away from the crowds, where one can invent problems and try things out without regard for grades or rules. It was refreshing not to have to worry about whether something was "hard" or "easy" according to a book or another's opinion. All that mattered was that I could make the moves and then link them. It's a shame that more people haven't been to enjoy this area. More traffic would mean that the problems would be cleaner. But more traffic would also mean that problems would become well-established, graded, talked about, compared, argued over.... I felt a real freedom from all these things out on that moor. I think it's hard to escape from the hype associated with established and popular climbing areas, so it's nice to know that there are places off the beaten track, which are free from the confines of documentation and analysis.

Friday was wet. Very. We hung about until lunchtime, when the rain eased a bit, the sun came out and we convinced ourselves that the wind would dry the rock pretty quickly. As we drove up onto the moor, little speckles of water appeared on the windscreen. We, being keen beans, dismissed it as just a few spots and duly trekked up the hill again, turning right this time towards the main outcrops. This was even more exciting. High ball problems, big vertical walls of gently ridged grit, little roof sections, crimpy traverses....it was all here. It was (almost) all running with water, too. But the wind was strong, and we found a small boulder out of the wind which seemed to be dry too. We also found two fellow climbers sitting out the weather under a big roof, with their wellies and Alexander McCall Smith for company.

The Reading Group in the Roof - watching the weather

We pottered on a couple of things for a short while, wearing away some more skin, until it started to rain a bit more heavily. I thought I was being a big jessie with the rain, but this time even Sarah ran for cover. We joined the Reading Group under the roof for a bit, to enjoy the pungent aroma of sheeps' sleeping quarters. At least it disguised the smell of my stinky climbing shoes! Eventually, we decided to head home and make a run for it while there was a break in the rain. Our timing was impeccable. The moment we stepped away from the shelter of the roof, the heavens opened. By the time we got back to the car 10 minutes later, we were soaked to the skin. Thank goodness we'd left the mats in the car, or they would have taken forever to dry.

A shaft of sunshine through the dampness

So... keen beans turned baked beans. We must have been half baked already to even contemplate heading out climbing in such weather. I guess beans need a good soaking before you can cook them, anyway. When we got back, we lit the fire, turned the heating on, put newspaper in our shoes and spent the rest of the day doing jigsaw puzzles. At least it gave me time to grow some more skin!


Sunday, 1 July 2007

Trad Anxiety

The good weather seems to have been and gone; it's frustrating that the long days should be rendered useless by rain. I'm looking at it sheeting down now and hoping that it rains itself out by tomorrow. Having done so much bouldering and sport climbing so far this year, I thought it was about time I put my helmet on and got back to some trad. In my usual fashion, I will start with the easy stuff so as not to scare myself silly. Tomorrow may end up feeling like a huge anticlimax if all I can manage is a VS, but I am sure that longer term it will pay off not to jump straight on E2!

Yes, I am a huge scaredy cat when it comes to trad. At the moment, I'm atributing this to lack of practice. Tomorrow may change that view. I'm quite anxious about how Trad will feel, whether I will have lost my bottle completely. I hope that all the indoor training will pay off and my strength and technique will not fail me in my hour of need. It's my head that will get in the way (yes, even my little pinhead!).

Spanish bolts

Why is it that the psychologies of trad and sport are so different? I am happy to fall on bolts (well, relatively speaking), which someone else has fixed to the rock. I don't know when the bolts were fixed, by whom or how. But if I can at all help it, I won't fall on gear I placed myself 5 minutes ago. I will also try hard moves above bolts that I wouldn't in a million years contemplate doing on trad routes. I don't seem to be able to trust my own ability to save my own life, but I have blind faith in Joe Bolter's ability to wield a bolt gun and mix resin properly. [Apologies to those of you who might have bolted routes yourself - this isn't a criticism of your ability to place bolts, just an observation that I don't usually know who you are! In fact, it may be a credit to your skills that I am prepared to trust my life to your work.] In theory, if my gear placements are solid, they are as likely to hold my fall as bolts. But something deep down in my subconscious doesn't believe this.... I'm hoping (again) that practice and experience will help initiate some mind control so that I can match my trad grade to my sport grade. Maybe this is too much to ask of myself, along with my other goal of 7c by Christmas. Do I want the moon on a stick or what....??

High steps above bolts, not so easy above trad gear

Sunday Update
What is with this weather?? It's damp and horrible and it's rained all night so everything is soggy. So I decide to climb indoors. Two stamina sessions and 29 routes later, I step outside into beautiful sunshine! I am suspicious that the weather has a personal vendetta against me and my purposes for trad. Either that or this is an omen from the Gods, telling me that trad is not for me.