Saturday, December 20, 2014

Gaining the margins

But my heart lies in winter. There is where my fondest, most memorable experiences are. I can say with confidence that some winter climbs, the ones I went in deep, have fundamentally changed me as person. So recently, whilst climbing in South Africa, out of all places, I decided to rekindle the fire of winter climbing. I decided I was going to give winter another shot this season. I was going to “force it”, as they say. And if it was going to be a good season, I wanted to be prepared. To sacrifice all rock and finger strength to be ready for it.

So that’s the mindset I landed at Heathrow in mid-september. As soon as I landed, the axes came out, and waited no time in getting to work. I got busy organising the White Goods Drytooling meet, which was a success. The huge numbers of people didn't materialise, which made the last minute logistical problems a bit easier to deal with. Despite that, a good group of motivated toolers made the trek from all corners of the country to join in the fun. Team Scotland this time came in the form of the ever chirpy Dougie, our guest speaker Ally Swinton and Scottish winter machine, Greg Boswell. There were some new faces and the old faithfuls too. It was great too see how people have improved in just a year. Dave Almond showed really strong progress and so did Simon Ward. Most of us know each other now, so the vibe was just great.

As the main organiser this year, I out aside my climbing and made sure everyone had a great time. Running between walls and routes, chatting to everyone and getting people motivated. I was keen for Greg to try all the harder routes so he could have a good time, and also to get second opinions on grades and quality of the routes. So I spend the weekend demoing the moves and giving all the beta I could remember of the routes. None of the routes posed much of a challenge to the man, flashing every single route. Careful Torque, Ready Steady Hook, Tumble, and a the second ascent of Neomania at last. On sunday there was only one thing left to do, and it was for him to have a go at Stump Man. I went up the route to put the draws and point the holds and sure enough he dispatched the thing on his warm up for the day soon after breakfast. Pretty impressive.

Saturday night entertainment was provided by the tales of adventure of Ally Swinton. How that man has got so much done at such an early age is beyond my comprehension, but he certainly kept us at the edge of us seats and what not (he'll know what I mean).

Thanks everyone that came and made it such a cool event. Thanks again to our sponsors for supporting us yet another year, massive big up to Alpkit, E-Climb and DMM.

I tried to repeat Careful Torque M11 to show Greg the moves but pinged off at the crux. At least he saw what holds not to use. Photo

The man on fire. He ticked the crag, literally. Dougie, belaying, showed a massive progress as well. And true to form, he send his first M11 a week later. Photo

Me again demo-ing Neomania M10+, which I couldn't remember the beta for, but had fun ripping holds off and taking lobs to the amusement of the crowd. Photo

Dave Almond putting an sterling effort on Ready Steady Hook M10. Sure enough he got it a weekend later. Photo

Viki getting amongst it on Ready Steady Hook. Another crusher showing amazing progress in just one season on tools. Photo

The fire has been truly rekindled

I kept being draw to Masson Lees. On my first visit, 3 or 4 years ago, Rob Gibson had just finished bolting a futuristic line across the lip of a massive cave. Back then I thought that would be one of those crazy Rob’s projects, like the 50mt monster at Gideon Quarry, that would never get done. Then one autumn day of 2012, Andy Turner pulled out the guns and dispatched the route, calling it Marginal Gains and grade it M11 I went soon after to have a look, having done the first pitch (Sub Rosa M10), I thought I stand a chance. As soon as I got on the meat of it, I realise it was way beyond me.

Last season I climbed out White Goods, our regular dry tooling crag. I’ve done all the routes, and most possible link-ups, so I had to look for new challenges. I had been to Crafnant to have a look for contenders, but didn’t feel too inspired. I went back to Marginal Gains again last year, decisive that I was going to give it a good go. I really tried, but couldn't do a big span move across a roof. After a couple of weekends I thrown in the towel.

But this year something has changed, I got a trip booked for Spray On. I know I need to train hard for it. And so with renewed energy, we went back to Masson Lees again a few weekends ago. I needed to break through my mental barrier and get involved, I promised that to myself, that I would just really go for it and battle it out. I'm suppose to be climbing M11, but this route is a different beast, I'm not used to climbing on drilled holes and I haven't got Andy's apex either.

That weekend I did indeed break through the roof span move, I managed it twice. Invigorated by this, I kept going through the lip of the cave in what can only be described as a fig9/fig4 marathon and eventually I linked all the moves. I tamed the beast, and no longer felt impossible. I went back to London and rested all week and make an effort to get psyched for the weekend after the Goods Meet.

Last weekend we were back in the cave at the back of Masson Lees. I had a game plan, warm up, do SubRosa and just gave it all I had on the route. And that's exactly what I did. Really pleased to manage the span move across the roof, so I kept going... and going... and going... until I felt my lungs were about to burst. Three clips from the anchor I couldn't go any further, but this was really good progress. In the meantime Viki and Simon were having it on Sub Rosa, both doing really well, so I thought that would work really well, it would give me a couple of hours rest and I would give it one last go.

So with the fading light and the heavy mist, I stripped off my t-shirt and got involved. By the anchors of Sub Rosa I felt exhausted, and I almost shouted take to Viki, but I thought what the hell, might as well make it count and take the lob. But the lob didn't come, I just hang on and hang on, and with almost exploding forearms, I clipped the chains. The beast had been slayed.

On Sunday, after a lazy start, we were back at the cave. My body felt broken after the effort, so I focused on helping Viki on Sub Rosa. She was getting very close before, and not many British girls have climbed at that grade. After she warmed up on the easy route, she went for it and dispatch the route. I was still waking up and digesting my coffee, so I couldn't really believe it, she made it look piss. Some other drytoolers looked in amazement whilst she climbed the upside down roof with grace. A truly remarkable effort.

To finish my training for the weekend I run another lap on Marginal Gains, and this time it felt fairly easy, and I could almost agree on the grade... ;-)

Simon Ward doing a sterling job with Fig4's. A steep learning curve as he's my recruit for Helmcken Falls.

Getting amongst it on Marginal Gains

Viki sending Sub Rosa M10

Viki on the practise run for Sub Rosa M10

The first pitch of Marginal Gains M11, which is Sub Rosa M10

The big span across the roof
On the successful ascent. Photo Si Ward

Khondoker Hafizur Rahman

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