Monday, 15 December 2008

The Arch

Maybe I'll buy a season ticket to London.

After Tuesday's train journey to London I flew down on Friday instead. I flew because the train times weren't going to get me to where I needed to be in time, even if I started out at 05.50 again. British Airways worked a treat. It was an easy journey, with not a muppet in sight. My conscience did prick me, though, as I suffocated on the CO2 emissions. My return flight on Sunday, by easyJet made me think that catching the train was infinitely preferable (for my blood pressure, at least) until I remembered Tuesday's 17.00 service from King's Cross.......

Anyway, I didn't sit down to write about planes, trains and automobiles. I sat down to write about The Arch, London's newest (?) climbing centre at London Bridge.

Since it was apparently leaking water out of the sky all day and everywhere on Saturday I didn't feel so bad about climbing indoors. The Arch was easy to find, easy to get to and definitely to be recommended at weekends. I met Tamsyn there, who has regularly found it a friendly place to climb. She tells me it is rammed solid after work during the week, but pleasantly empty at weekends. On Saturday we were the only two there for a while. Fantastic!

On the positive side, the problems were good (if sometimes seeming a bit height dependent), the staff were very friendly and we had the place to ourselves. And they have a nice shower.

On the less positive side, all the bolt on holds were filthy, so filthy it was nigh on impossible to tell the difference between yellow and black. I kid not, it was bad. To counter this, though, I understand that the whole place is closing over Christmas and New Year for a complete clean, re-set and re-paint. I'm sure if I'm wrong on that, someone will correct me.

Given that my regular haunt is Alien 2, I still come back to comparing everything with it, and to date, I still think I have the best deal on it. The Arch is similar in size ( or maybe a wee bit bigger) than Alien 2, but it has fewer problems. There are vast expanses of shiny emulsioned hardboard with very few holds and no features! It's frustrating to think that there could be so many more things to go at - why do they leave so much space? Am I missing something? The Leeds Wall was like that too. I like Alien 2's featured walls, and the sticky surfaces. They make for more interesting problems, with a variety of solutions. So why don't other walls have these things?

Interestingly, The Arch uses V grades. I have very little experience of these, so it was quite fun to not know where to start, whether to throw myself at V6 or start at V0. Tamsyn was a good guide. She set me on all the things she couldn't do. Some were ok, some spat me off first shot, but it was enough to allow me to find my feet and I reckoned after a few problems that my limit was probably around V6. I don't really know how that relates to anything else, but next time I go to The Arch I'll know where to start!

All in all, definitely worth a visit, and highly preferable to roaming London's busy shopping streets in search of Christmas presents. One last comment, their campus board might be signed by the great and the good of the climbing world, but it isn't a patch on Alien 2's new one ;-)

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Siurana Sunshine

Although I knew I wasn't feeling quite right about my climbing, I hadn't realised exactly how low my psyche had got until I spent 3 days in Spain with the two Daves, Mike and Alicia. What I can't work out is whether it was the place, the company or a combination of both which restored my psyche.

The crew had set up base camp in Cornudella and were dividing their time, it seems, between Margalef and Siurana. While I'd missed much of the excitement, there were still projects on the go, yet to be sent and plenty more to be found. I went out on a flying visit with no expectations of myself which was quite liberating. Usually on trips I find myself building up the pressure to climb something harder than I've ever climbed before, or at least as hard as I've ever climbed before. But since most of this year has been full of things which are a distraction from climbing, I figured that such an attitude was only going to end in tears and disappointment.

Mike on 8a+ at Cova Boix (I think?)

While I was very much looking forward to returning to Siurana, I was also very conscious that the last time I was there Caroline and I had already spent 10 weeks climbing constantly. I was certainly at the top of my game then, and I worried a little that Siurana was really going to kick me into touch. Only a few weeks earlier I'd been very close (oh so painfully close!) to redpointing Law of Gravity (the 7a+ version - I can't reach the 7a version) at North Berwick. But since last year I reckon I had lost touch with what 7a and 7b felt like in general, let alone on Spanish limestone and mores the point, in Siurana. It strikes me now, writing this, that this proved to me how much I (and quite probably others) rely on grades to keep us steady in measuring both our progress and our current ability.

There are so many debates on grades; just check the forums on UKClimbing. It gets boring reading other people's nitpicking and petty quibbling about the grade of some new route, whether it's E8 or E9, E10 or E12, 8b or just 8a+. But, unless climbers bother to grade things justifiably, it is very hard to maintain some idea of how well one is climbing. In fact, there might as well be no grading system at all, since the point of a system is to provide a means of measurement and why measure how hard something is, unless the intention is to also measure an individual's progress or achievement by it? As an aside, I would rather the grading be done by concensus in a public forum, and I don't mean an internet chat forum.

Team Margalef

Anyway, I digress. I had no idea whether I'd be able to climb 7a in Siurana, so the most sensible option seemed to be to abandon all expectations, and go for the bolt-to-bolt, climb-in-the-sunshine options.

Happy days. It worked! Siurana is a beautiful place, and I had forgotten how pretty that part of the world is. I really enjoyed being back there. It was just as cold, just as sunny, and just as inspiring as it was a year ago. With only 3 days to climb, I was happy to tag along with the others and climb whatever was available. We started off in Margalef.

The trees in Margalef itself were a beautiful colour in the late afternoon winter sunshine

We had only spent one day in Margalef last year and it was hot. So hot, Dave refused to climb until it was almost dark! OK, not quite, but you get my drift. This time, not so. It was very chilly in the shade, but pleasantly warm in the sun. While Mike and Dave R headed to Dave's project at Laboratori, Alicia and I went to the dark side and pretended to warm up....on 6c. I say pretended to warm up, because it was baltic! I had brand new shoes on, hadn't climbed for a week, hadn't climbed outside for 6 weeks, and we picked 6c as a starter for 10. And I went first. With all those excuses I think I did very well. I even fell off and didn't scream, which is quite an achievement for me. I can only assume that my lack of expectations for the trip extended to completing routes and falling off! Anyway, the 6c went first redpoint, having decided that I was simply too cold to to anything other than bolt-to-bolt on the first try. Next up was (for me) an onsight of a 6b+ route that Alicia had done earlier in her trip. See, my expectations were so low, I can't even tell you the names of the routes!

Alicia ticking her project

Next up was Alicia's project - the 7a+ tufas overhanging the valley road. It was a lovely looking route, which she cruised easily first time, although I am told she'd had a bit of time working it before I arrived. Her ascent looked pretty effortless to me, particularly after it threw itself at me! Spanked. Well and truly. It was nice to be in the sun by this point, so I was warm enough to warrant an attempt. The first move is like that cold shower at 6am - a bit of a slap. Standing on a precariously placed rock atop a very unconsolidated conglomerate bank, there is a tiny left hand crimp under the mini-roof, and a long reach over the top for a jug. Feet are just about on the kickboard above the bank, but for me (and Alicia I think) the next move is to cut loose and swing a right heel up, cross over with the right and pull. Hard. Yes, it's a grunt move. In all honesty it wasn't that hard. I easily had the strength to do it. The problem was the lack of stamina to get beyond the 7th move.

Reaching for the 4th clip on the tufas

So I fell off. Ah well. For the sheer satisfaction, it was probably worth doing that move several times more. But that wouldn't have got me to the top of the route! A few (vaguely impressed, ego-stroking and very welcome) oohs and aahs from Dave and Mike, and suddenly I felt like the Old Pretender, slightly ashamed that I couldn't deliver what my had been promised from the starting block. Still, it was fun. Thus my first Margalef project was born. I haven't climbed tufas like that before. They were pretty powerful and two days later I worked out a very different sequence from Alicia's. It'll go next time. With a bit of training.

La Rambla

The following day we headed to the valley crags of Siurana itself. In celebration of ticking her tufa project the day before, Alicia had proven her capacity for consumption of rotten grapes and had a hangover. But today we were destined for Mandragora, that fabulous orange streak visible in all her glory from the road up to Siurana. Caroline and I had looked but dare not touch last year. Today, Alicia, took her hangover up to the crux and decided enough was enough. So I followed her up to that point, clipstick in tow, and managed all the moves, with a little bit of thought and re-try, up to the first belay. I had been slow, and the crowds were gathering so I forewent the opportunity to explore the upper section.

I really enjoyed it. The crux section was hard, on very tiny crimps, and polished!! I guess this is Siurana, so 7b is the warmup route. No wonder it was polished. Having said that, we moved round the corner so that Dave could have a look at La Rambla. He later told me that that too has some polish on it, probably due to Dani Andrada's 300 redpoints!

7b was harder than I remembered it being, but with a bit of stamina training, Mandragora might go too next time. Project number 2. I've also added this to Caroline's tick list (if she has one) although she won't know that until she reads this ;-)

Mike's damaged skin from Margalef's sharp pockets

I can't write about this trip without mentioning Dave's last ditch attempts at his 8b+/8c(?) project at Laboratori, Margalef. To avoid the circus of local families there on Saturday and the heat of the day, he resorted to turning the car headlights on full beam. Unfortunately, this meant having the engine running.... thereby filling the Laboratori ave with diesel fumes!

Cool enough to climb, but too dark to see! Mr Redpath in the zone.

Four flights and two days travelling was definitely worth it for three days climbing. I came home psyched to climb more and more. I'm not sure I'm so psyched for the training involved, but maybe aiming for anothter spring trip to Siurana might spur me on further.

Team Margalef, high on diesel fumes at Laboratori!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

I want to go home NOW!

I don't do this very often, travel to London and back in a day by train, but I'm very glad I don't. The 05.50 train this morning was fine. But the 17.00 from Kings Cross is an absolute nightmare. Why is it that people SHOUT at each other? This is a (very) confined space. I can hear people 30 feet away! And the BEEP BEEP nonsense they talk about is unbelievable. Yak yak yak yak, shouting into mobile phones, gossiping about Julie on reception, or Gary in Sales or Darren in marketing. "I like Diana, and what's that blonde girl without the shoes all about then". DING DONG. Then there's the coughing and sneezing. Everyone in here is sick! BING BONG, another mobile phone at a gazillion decibels. I swear that wearing a sharp suit and too much offensive aftershave makes you DEAF. Why else would your phone be on BRRRRING full volume? Or is to make sure that the entire train (I think I counted at least 10 carriages) knows exactly how important you are? I just ATCHOO phoned home briefly (usual progress update) and I can't hear Diff and Diff can't hear me. I just about caught "can' But...lots...other...". And to top that, if I sit back in my seat, the phone is behind BING BONG the wall of the carriage between the windows, so the signal goes BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEEEP BEEEEEP (repeat). So I have to sit forward and practically shout AHEM into the ear of the person in front of me. I don't feel good about this. But they're all BRRRIINNG shouting anyway, so maybe they don't notice.

The wifi is free, but no wonder. You wouldn't pay baked beans for a service this slow. I resorted to UKC, thinking that loading one web page would give me plenty to read, without having to load more pages. Then I read this: Now, clearly this evening is not going well for me, but this thread almost made me want to stop climbing altogether it was so depressing. Maybe it's just that tonight EVERYONE is chattering absolute twaddle as far as I am concerned.

Only two and a half hours to go.........