Friday, 21 April 2017

Breaking News

Breaking News

Here we go, this year's election has been called.  Apparently the neverendum was so popular, following the blockbuster of the general election the year before (or whenever it was), that this time we are going to combine the Brexit vote WITH the general election!  Wow!

I am so far into not giving a fuck.  Its like that moment when you feel the strength go out of your muscles, even the next easy move is beyond you.  I just do not have the micro-nutrients within my muscles to be able to flex once more for the next hold.

Not one of the parties fits the bill.  Even those that I am more traditionally predisposed to blow it in some major way:  Labour - fight themselves harder than anyone else; the Lib Dems lest we forget joined the coalition; SNP - have Nicola Sturgeon who I am sick to the tits of with her fucking mandate;  the Tories I could never, never vote for because of their smugness, history and sheer self-interested expedient evil.  Even the Greens, who on paper are the best fit for me, would potentially ban my beloved diesel-engined Bongo because of some trifling air pollution concerns.  A classic example of every moderate environmentalist's dilemma!

Fuck the fucking lot of them.

That goes for the internet petitions too., 38 degrees, whatever those green ones are for the official Houses of Commons stuff.  I used to think it was alright until you realise they will petition for any-fucking thing, and claim loads of credit for Osbourne quitting one of his jobs, micro-beads getting banned or Wednesday following shortly after a Tuesday.

So instead of moaning, here is my manifesto.  This is the climbers manifesto, and if you don't agree with it, write your own.

1.  Access legislation same as Scotland's.  Imagine it!  being able to walk anywhere that isn't round someone's house and doesn't have crops on it.  Instead, we get the internal policemen in your head wondering when someone is going to shout at you.  Or - worse - a middle-class Englishwoman passive-aggressively informing you of some hazard she has just invented.  Like if you're wild-camping with your son in Thetford forest, you need to beware of the deer-stalking in the forest.-  because apparently that's how they stalk deer, they randomly shoot into a tent in case a 10 point buck is sleeping there.
Scottish Access Law.  Also, Clickbait.

2.  Don't fuck the environment up.  Its not red tape to want pollution controls - as long as I keep the Bongo though.  By the way: I fully support renewables and cannot get away with people moaning that wind turbines are eyesores.  If you don't want wind turbines on hills, you better have changed all your lightbulbs for LED ones and got a+++ appliances all round.  If you've built your own straw bale house - whinge away.

3.  NHS.  Yes please.  Public Services generally.  That includes Mountain Rescue still being free.  Wankers who think we should have insurance- thus enriching insurance companies even further- can fuck off.  That goes for bicycle insurance too.  Just fuck off.

4.  I like foreigners; they are cool.  I want to be able to travel, and I want people from foreign countries to be able to come and receive the same hospitality as they've shown me.  Especially if they are into climbing.  I want a load of Basques, Yanks, Slovenians and Iranians over here, now.

5.  That includes refugees too.  I feel sorry for refugees.  They only want the chance to slave away for piss-poor wages in order to prop up the gold-plated pensions of a load of old cunts who don't want them to actually have to live here.  In quest of a better life than being raped or macheted by some coked-up teenager who is being told God wants him to do it. Or drowning when your inflatable boat capsizes because we cut the Coast Guard budget in the Med.  

6.  Golf-courses.  They can go.  They represent all that is wrong with an deeply unequal misogynistic, environmentally-bumming society.  Look at Donald Trump's golf course in Moray (the SNP invited him in), bulldozed over a Site of Special Scientific Interest.   Turned out to be prescient that did.

There we go.  Anyone who wants my vote better promise me all that.  Its a good job none of these sorry lot will, because I would be genuinely disappointed when a) they didn't do any of it post election- inevitable, or b) they genuinely enacted all of it, in such a stupid way that even I would relish imprisonment in a brick womb. 

I'll be off climbing now.  At least I've got a week booked in May with no telly to have to shout at.

Oh hold on, just before I disappear for a week- there is one group- only one -who have politically raised any interest for me at all.  Meet the Alt National Park, they're all over Facebook at the moment.  So, who would have thought that Park Rangers might be the most radical group in America.  Certainly no one who has watched Valley Uprising where they all had intolerant moustaches and silly hats and hassled the peace-loving climbers and their hot girlfriends.  But here we are!
Coolest logo since the anarchy sign.

Sadly, they are also in America, but have a flick through their Facebook posts - they don't like Trump cutting parks budgets, aren't keen on deregulating industries' ability to pour pollution where it likes because its cheaper, but also put out longish but sensibly reasoned posts with cool graphics.  Can we start doing that over here please?

Friday, 14 April 2017

Crossover Training

Crossover Training

Assuming that by now everyone has grasped that I live in Norfolk miles away from any rock whatsoever, I have a family and other commitments such as pretending to work, and yet I want to climb as hard as I possibly can.  At the moment, this means trying to push my grade up to a certain level both indoors, but most importantly on the slate.

Therefore, it seems that there are two distinct strategies.  One would be to strictly audit my time, and allocate what there is available to a clearly structured and periodised climbing plans.

The other strategy is to try and find a load of activities that I can pretend in some way mimic the- highly specific- activity of climbing, in order to make some kind of improvement in weird areas such as knot tying, which might equate to a 1% increase in performance due to, say, getting less pumped on a clip.

Strategy 1 - the plan - is sensible and a proven route to improvement.  Guess which one I have plumped for!

Have a look at my previous post about maximising my training gains, which outlines the philosophy and also some basic exercises.   It's more in the same vein.

1.  You need to find some jams.

Excruciating... but solid
Hand jamming is an important addition to your repertoire of moves.  Fair go, it doesn't come up in bouldering that much, but if you want to d classic Joe Brown routes on the trad, because you're so fucking gnarly... then you've got to jam.  

Classic example: The File at Higgar Tor.  VS.  V fucking S, but if you can't hand jam its impossible.   I know this for a fact.

To jam that well, you need  a theoretical understanding of the opposing kinetic forces.  Also, a high pain threshold and the experience to know that what feels as insecure as sinking an ice-axe into milk is actually bomber.

Round here: its trees.  Look for parallel tree stems which are about a hands width apart.  This is going to hurt...

This is one of those funny mental things like seeing fish in a river.  You're mate says 'look at those fish in the river, you say 'what fish?' cause there aren't any.  Then you see one!  Then you see the lot of them.

Hand-jam in practise and suddenly! the existence of jams leaps out at you!  You can rest on them!  You can climb on them!  The climbing cognoscenti - unimpressed by heel-hooks and knee-bars any more - will cheer as you do one on an indoor boulder problem!

2.  Tiptoe everywhere.

Using footwork is an essential part of climbing, often neglected by beginners and males with huge gorilla like shoulders and completely un-worn shoe soles.  

By tiptoeing round the house, you will increase proprioception.  Proprioception is an important term which you should use at any opportunity.  It means the process by which the brain recognises and learns physical movement within the body.  The brain, being essentially a lazy lump of electric fat, doesn't pay attention to the ins and outs of which muscle is being switched on. Once its learnt how to move your limbs, which it had to do twice : first when you were a toddler; then when you were a teenager.  From then on, it is simply the boss of your body: shouting 'you lot! get on with it' at its most experienced workers.

But unfamiliar movements are in fact unfamiliar.  By tiptoeing round the place, as if the one-year-old is having a nap and you daren't wake her, you are learning to engage your toes and therefore take weight off your arms.  This has unbelievable application to overhangs.

3.  Route-reading

Conscious and deliberate planning of your climb will give enormous benefits, but not easily.  Its a pretty unnatural skill, and trying to remember sequences of moves can only be improved by deliberate practise.
The striking arete of no. 27.  

Therefore, you need to plan how you would climb the front of your house.  This is fun, especially if you pretend you are a ninja planning to off the Shogun's unfaithful wife.  Look for slightly uneven bricks that might make a sketchy toe-hold, big tile window ledges which are in fact bomber jugs, and features such as aretes (corners) and chimneys (door ways).  Note areas of objective risk, such as electrical cables which you will want to avoid.  Plastic drainpipes are best regarded as unstable choss, not to be trusted.

By working out how you would climb it: and you will want to do this in some detail; you will start to build the neural pathways which will help you plan how to climb an actual route.

Whether you actually climb the front of your own house is up to you, wait til the partner is out would be my advice.

When you've worked out every possible route up the front of your own house, apply it to other buildings.  Don't get caught out, if you climb remote electricity sub-stations deep in the woods, remember that even these are occasionally visited by maintenance engineers.

Follow these simple tips and you are sure to etc.etc.  But if it goes wrong, I don't want to know.  As a climber you have to take personal responsibility for your own actions, which is my way, as a writer, of ducking personal responsibility.  Cheers!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Personality Types

Personality Types

Me, I've got a semi-obsessive personality.  I like to portray it as "oh I just really enjoy climbing" but its not really, its like a heroin addict, who with one third of his brain is ALWAYS thinking of where to get his next hit.  And like some heroin addicts, I live in Drysville, where the local cops have been busting dealers, and the local Chemist has got new bars and a security system so new no one knows what the default passcode is.  That is Norfolk, no rock, and only a few indoor shooting galleries, albeit, some excellent ones, shared with other total addicts.

So, I need to scratch my itch, time to smoke some prescription painkillers!  

I've been listening the Enormocast a lot.  For those not in the know, it is a climbing podcast done by Chris Kalous (who?) from the US.  He's interviewed hundreds of climbers, most of them Americans, including Cheyne Lemp (who?), Boone Speed (who?) and Noah Kaufman (who?).  Also, lesser knowns like Paul Robinson, Tommy Caldwell and Hazel Findlay.

You lot only read blogs with winter pictures on 

You can forget your stereotypes of dumb yanks too.  Chris Kalusz is intelligent, witty, has a sexy voice and gets huge amounts of value out of his guests, who without fail give an entertaining and insightful interview.  

Even if you don't like climbing, you get a taste of people's lives, why would you not be interested in Stacy Bare (who?)?   Drugs analogies aside, Bare actually was addicted to cocaine after coming out of the army and he (yep, despite the name) variously learned how to clear landmines ('slowly and carefully') and discovered climbing which then saved his life by giving him a focus etc.  

One of the best bits of the interview, was Chris Kalous pointing out the importance of other people towards 'your' climbing.  For the self-obsessed, this is news!  surely its just you and the rock?  and gravity?  Friends are camming devices, you must have at least some verbal contact with your belayer, but by and large it is easy to view yourself as the only person doing it.

You'll hear a lot of bollocks about what human nature actually is: especially from Cunt-Politicians, who tell you human nature demands whatever level of market freedom or state intervention best serves their vested interests.  Human nature is competitive, freedom-loving, averse to foreigners, inherently violent, rational, emotional, not to be trusted - What-Fucking-Ever.  I'm not Andy Kirkpatrick so we'll leave this alone...

Human nature is really the product of what the people around us say and how they behave.  Not 'think', because they probably don't know why they do shit, and they definitely won't be honest about it. 

So, here is a list.  The more of these you can identify from your circle of friends, the more likely this is to be accurate.  But make no mistake, this is far from being double-blind control group peer reviewed fact.  Which is why you may be reading rather than studying it.
Complex interplay of personality types.

1.  Guru:  someone on a much higher level of climbing than you, who decides you are worth hanging out with anyway.  Will help you attain greater levels of climbing well-being  (achievement)  and eventual reincarnation as a rope.

2.  Student: someone on an even lower level of competence than yourself, who you take under your wing because it gratifies your ego to do so, they may also be genuinely worth hanging out with.  By explaining how they could climb better, you are forced to mentally understand what it is you are wittering on about so will accidentally find some performance gain.

3.  The Heel-snapper: another newer climber who has inexplicably decided you are worth competing with.  Will hop on a climb you have just dropped and flash it then grin at you.  Use your hatred to hold on harder to crimps.

4.  The Technically Competent Wuss:  Climbs well below what they could achieve because they don't dare leave the safety of the bomb-shelter.  Technical brilliance in an often extremely static style.  Do not allow feelings of superiority to develop into contempt, and be aware that if they ever get any self-hypnosis, you will be left in the dust.  Follow their gear placements with the utmost attention- if you place gear like them, you will never, never get hurt.

5.  Mascot: someone who starts out shit -proper shit- then improves a lot, although not so much as to be a threat.  Such a lovely person that you are genuinely happy for them.

6.  The Negative Guru: an incredible climber who is happy to give advice.  However, their insights about how to improve are a bit squeaky.  With a sickening lurch you will realise that they haven't a clue, lets hope you realise this before you start on their campus problem which will only further retard your already underdeveloped footwork.

7.  The Warrior: someone not as good as you in the gym, but far, far more experienced outside and consequently far harder.  Good to hang around with, and a realistic position to retire into once your days of talented climbing untainted by fear are over.

8.  Upstart:  An unbelievably talented young person who can burn off 98% of the people at your local wall.  Do fucking not get into a competition with them inside your own head, as you will never beat them.  Unless they lose interest, which they have a 98% chance of doing.  The 2% who don't will star on videos in the future, and you can brag about knowing them when they first get started i.e. when they could only onsight f7b+ indoors.

9.  Captain Macho: someone you write off as a cock due to the strength and a-technicality of their climbing style, easily spotted as will have his shirt off to expose a massive tattoo.  Turns out to be quite a good bloke when you eventually talk to him.

10.  Prickly Pear: someone who gets a bit fucking narky if you climb better than them, or start to display some climbing knowledge in conversation.  If you really dent their ego they will lash out with an ostentatious verbal display of how good they are/who they have climbed with/where they route-set.  Pity them, they are truly insecure.

11.  The Rival.  Someone just as good as you, just as motivated, who you will be friends with, but also get intensely competitive with.  Managing this relationship, and achieving a level of equilibrium is a major emotional challenge.  If you ever lose these feelings of competitiveness and inadequacy - Rejoice! for you are either a better human being, or they have 'won'.

There you go.  Make of this what you will, and remember! this is all inside your head.  Treat people as friends rather than personality types.  I just wrote this to make you smile, not live your life by.

Find people you can be a knobhead with, and call them 'friends'.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Competition. Part 1 Probably

Competition (Part 1 probably)

'It would be worth it just for the bragging rights.  "Just back from a day rigging for Big Walls with Andy K-P, yah, yah,"' I say, normal crack for climbers being what wild ideas they have got to get past the other half in the next few months.  It is much like a professional gambler - you can't win every race, but you have to keep your percentages up to stay in profit.

'Wait a minute!  YOU say YOU aren't interested in bragging rights!  YOU don't like competition, remember?'

Shit.  Its one of those moments, horribly exposed and high above protection, when you have a moment of clarity and suddenly see the word for how it might really be... 

Hating and loathing competition of any form started for me as a child, because I was shit at sports.  Occasionally, I would find something I was unnaturally good at, like skipping, but as a boy growing up in Liverpool in the '80s, you had to automatically love football and be amazing at it.  I fucking wasn't.

Then I moved to Durham.  In Durham, in the '90s, you had to automatically love football and be amazing at it.  Sound familiar?  There I was, in my all-white PE kit, being run into the ground by man-sized thirteen year olds looking for a quick kill.  (I went to Framwellgate Moor Comprehensive School: the list of notable former pupils has five names on it, four of them are footballers, one of whom was notably a co-defendent of Woodgate and Bowyer in their infamous 'racist assault trial'.  The list unaccountably also fails to mention a local lad convicted of murder - surely that counts as notable?)

When I was Thirteen I was in a school sports day  - my house Hawk were doing badly.  I remember suddenly thinking 'What has any of this got to do with me?'  The results were other people's, who had no connection to me other than we had been grouped together in some insane dickhead's attempt to emulate a private school in pit village County Durham. 
Fuck! She's beating me!  Must climb faster...

This set me off on a thoughtful path.  Achievements meant nothing in comparison.  If I ran a certain distance in a certain time, that was surely independent of someone running next to me who might be quicker or slower.  After that moment of insight, formal competition meant nothing -absolutely nothing- to me, attempts to learn the names of football players faded within seconds, not just the weird foreign names either.

When I came to climbing, I liked it because no one had to lose for me to win, I just had to achieve something, and anyone else could too.  Climbing has been becoming more competition orientated, has been for decades, but this is coming more prominent with inclusion in the Olympics.  There can be a competitive atmosphere at some climbing walls, it might be pretty informal, but you can tell when someone gets on a climb to burn you off.

But you can sidestep any competitive aspect because climbing is such a broad church.  Not much room for competition below the top levels of alpinism or Scottish Winter, because the stakes are so high, adding a layer of competition would surely ratchet up the 'normal' level of crippling tension beyond any serious functionality.  Plus, it is easy!  Then, when you get back home, you can lord it over the bouldering types with your thousand-yard stare because you can't handle the moves, but they can't handle the danger.
Beating this guy though!
Until he puts a spurt on, and he's nearly there...  
My self-esteem shrivels like my tiny cold cock.

All the time without worrying about why a comparison needs to be made at all.  Maybe, just maybe, the truth is you are so competitive that you CANNOT STAND even the prospect of of being beaten.  Not entering a race is the only sure way of remaining undefeated.

Mind you, if you are unpicking things to this level, you are dangerously close to reaching enlightenment, and the ultimate universal truth that everything is meaningless.  Including your own survival, which would briefly allow you to really push your trad grade. 

Hmm.  All very troubling, so one solution: seek out some interviews with great climbers.

Luckily, two land on the mat, just as I am worrying about all this.  The first is an interview in The Project Magazine with Malcolm Smith: read it now.

The second is the interview with Tommy Caldwell on the Enormocast.  Listen to this now, especially as Chris Kalusz had what my missus describes as 'an extremely sexy voice'.  Even I have to agree.

Malcolm Smith has some fantastic insights.  As a very introverted chap, he has to live in his own head more than the world, and as such really knows himself.  Despite his introversion, Malcolm went out into climbing competitions.  These competitions favour the extrovert - of which I most definitely am, even on  my own I am showing off to a crowd of one, who doesn't care and isn't impressed.  But for Malcolm they were a nightmare, and he had to go to war to do well.

One part stands out:  "needing to be good is a character flaw, it's ego. Competition and grades are about social status. I don't want to be part of a hierarchy or scene anymore, it's weak. Strength is about doing your thing for you and not seeking approval."

His point is clear: needing to compete and do well is weaker than disregarding the opinion of others and doing it for yourself.  I would feel validated by his opinion, if it were not for the fact that needing my opinion validated by his is... a bit on the weak side.

Then Tommy Caldwell chimes in.  Freeing the Dawn Wall with Kevin Jorgerson was a newsworthy event, hitting national and international news: I first heard their names on the BBC News.   Tommy gets motivated by competition, it makes him try harder.  But at the same time, he thrives on collaboration, all his friends and family jugging up fixed lines to help him and Kevin get to the top.  His attitude is to take a bit of competition and use it to spice up his performance a bit; using it as a handy tool.  

So that's it.  Competition is simultaneously weak, but also a useful tool to inspire performance?  You will have to decide for yourselves, because I'm none the wiser.  I still don't like competition though. I will be using some movement drills and strength training as useful tools instead.  

Friday, 24 March 2017

Walking Through A Wall

Walking Through A Wall.

Here's a quote for you - bit long, and slightly out of context, because its about base-jumping - but here you go, its from a novel called Zero History by William Gibson, who is a genius.  He invented the term 'cyberspace' in, like 1982, before we had the fucking internet.  Anyway...

"He says its like walking through walls.  Nobody can, but if you could, he says, it would feel like that.  He says the wall is inside, though, and you do have to walk through it."
       "I'm afraid of heights."
       "So's he.  He says.  Said.  I haven't seen him for a while."

Spot on.  
When you are bonkers, visualisation
 of the impossible is important.

A year or two ago I said in conversation that I wanted to climb 7a to another climber.  His response was 'Well, you are basically doing 7a moves already.'  If he was right, then how come I wasn't climbing 7a on sport routes?  


In a social context, this doesn't bother me.  I am the king of inappropriate comments one pint into the evening.  I've done this for so long that I never even get a rush of adrenalin when my little voice inside says 'go on, say it'.  I also have a pact with a few people: it is unspoken and it concerns the act of deliberately forgetting the worst things I say.  Not that I can usually remember anyway, only the shock and disgust on people's faces remains.  Thank fuck for Cards vs. Humanity which legitimises all this shit.

In a climbing context: very different, and it reflects my history of climbing.

Bouldering- firstly- makes you very strong and powerful, so you can take your shirt off while wearing a bobble hat.  It can improve your technique, if you deliberately let it, which means doing a huge volume of some highly unenjoyable easy shit while your mates are having a right laugh working stuff at the top of their grade.  

These are the plus points, but there are also limitations to bouldering, and the most important of these is height.  Obvious.  You never climb anything higher than two sheets of plywood on top of each other, and you never think this make a difference until you try routes and consistently run out of steam three clips up.

Given I got strong as fuck, and then bothered improving my technique, why don't I climb harder eh?   Because its scary without a big bastard spongy motherfucker underneath me to save my ankles.  Its scary even with a kernmantle elastic band proven to be able to catch a landrover tied to my waste.
Tenuous move coming up...

Fear is what gives you those very intense moments that are really like a mental enema.  When the moment is so intense you can't remember your name- and don't know why you would be asking yourself that-, because nothing else exists apart from the need to reach and grab an extremely marginal crimp, or clip an awkward clip from out of balance on shit slopers.  I reckon that has the same effect on the brain as flushing a 'chodhopper filled to the brim with bangers and mash' (in the words of Viz, pertaining to how one would expect to find a motorway services toilet).   It clears it all out, and leaves it nicely empty, ready to be filled with more shite.

Some of the moments are just as intense, but you actually make the decision to take the fall - safe as houses on a sensibly bolted sport route - and letting go and flying through the air.  After a few of those its easier to let go because your brain has a quick check: yep, your arms and fingers are fucked, don't reckon you can do what you need to do to get to safety sooooo .... recommended option, chuck yourself off until your next stable position which is dangling from a rope.  Dangling from a rope, mind, not splatted on rocks, which is also a stable position until Mountain Rescue recover your clay.

This to your brain becomes an attractive choice, like ordering the Italian BMT every-fucking- time form Subway just in case a Chicken pizzicato doesn't taste nice.  It is a trap.
...And he's fucked it.  

The alternative is to go for the move.  Fuck me.  It is not easy, but the hard part isn't doing it, its deciding to do it.  It IS like walking through a wall.  But when you actually make an impossible move, your brain now knows that it can, in fact, sometimes walk through a wall.

Deep eh?  Don't like it?  I don't care.  I can walk through walls me.

Extra points if you can name the route I am failing on in the pictures.  (Not Lee and Becky, who were there).

Friday, 17 March 2017

Lessons from Scottish Winter

It IS worth it. (Photo thanks to Peter Naylor)

Lessons from Scottish Winter

Climbing, like no other activity I have ever found, has the ability to transcend 'normal' life.  The very nature of the heroic struggle of climber against gravity and weather obliterates the normal pervasive culture of consumerism, career and c**tishness: which I call the three c's.  The raw fight against factors which do not depend on society's opinions allow some stunning insights into the nature of reality.

Here are mine from the recent Highball Scottish Winter Trip.

1.  Going on a climbing trip and being around other climbers means you are not an secret agent any more.  If you surreptitiously try out a crimp on a brick wall, or eye up potential lines on the rock of a road cutting - your mates will notice and take the piss.  It is important to revel in this.

2.  The mental aspect of Scottish Winter is crucial.  Essentially, you will load yourself with a near crippling anxiety, like winding a spring up to near-breaking point.  Unwinding this mental spring provides the momentum to fling you up the route like a fucking arrow.  

3.  If you aren't anxious enough, you may be complacent and will therefore automatically die.  Thinking of the prospect of dying through no fault of your own - like literally none- may be enough to ramp up the anxiety to survivable levels.  Dwell on the apparent slidy-ness of snow above hundreds of feet of exposure for that 'what the fuck am I doing here' motivation.

Mike Surtees Goes For It on Tower Ridge  (Photo thanks to Peter Naylor)

4.  If not, you may need to increase the anxiety through artificial means.  And ideal 'trick' is to use the Aonach Mor ski-lift, with its strict cut-off deadline at 5.15pm.  Having previously done the walk of shame down the mountain bike track will further ratchet this anxiety level up to a point where you may well be climbing three grades harder with a lightning fast turnaround at belays.  If the anxiety level is not high enough however, just fail to flake out ropes properly: the resulting faff will produce a near-crippling tension which will work nicely.

5.  Going out with a guide is money well spent, as he uses his skills and expertise to ensure your safety.  Also, he is using his anxiety to keep you both safe: as a trained guide he will be much better at hiding this.  Signals that reveal he is in fact much more worried than you think:  perhaps when he refuses to talk about anything other than the view.  

6.  Being connected together by a rope allows an intimacy unmatched outside of a sexual relationship.  If you slip on easy ground while moving together, not just your life but your climbing partner's will flash in front of your eyes.  Do not climb with anyone who has had either a significantly more interesting or tediously dull life than your own.  Your final two seconds will be a sad and frustrating mismatch.

7.  Twenty year old Ski Club members from Glasgow University are cunts.  They would rather party in an obnoxiously self-centred way than actually go skiing.  Do not be afraid.  When they start shouting and playing guitar at three in the morning, do not lie there waiting for them to stop, give them ten minutes then go out - fully clothed - to send them to bed.  There will turn out to be only three of them, they know they are out of line, and the ten thousand yard stare of the true mountaineer will make them slink upstairs with their own shit running down their legs.

8.  When going for the above confrontation, do not - for fuck's sake- get locked out of your own dorm room.

9.  What gear you wear will have no impact on your ability to climb.  It will however vastly alter your comfort.  Beware!  without simultaneously sweating your tits off AND being freezing cold you may not have enough anxiety to survive.

10. Monitor your sleep closely.  Waking eight or nine times in the night is a sign that you are too confident: your brain is therefore subconsciously keeping you sharp by making you tired and tense.

11.  The release of tension at the top of a climb is worth it.

Just look at Steve unwind.

12.  The views on a clear day are worth it.

13.  Lording a successful week over a) climbing mates who have been on an unsuccessful week, or b) non climbers who think you are fucking superman because of your FaceAche profile picture - is worth it. Do not feel guilty.  You are their gladiator, taking the risks they don't have to.  Or if it stings sufficiently it will provide enough negative emotion to propel them into the hills at the right time, to create their own anxiety driven achievements.

14.  After one week of crippling tension, any other climbing related activity is a joy and a pleasure.  You will never enjoy multi-pitching v.diff in the dry so much.  Boulder problems on resin holds become almost orgasmically satisfying, no matter how much you fail to succeed or even progress at Three Wise Monkeys.  Sport climbing will now have an irresistible allure of both hard  movement but also total safety.

15.  The drive home will be the most dangerous bit as you relax into a familiar activity with a much higher statistical death rate.  Ensure climbing podcasts are to hand.  

16.  A phase of depression after a climbing trip is normal.  Normal life is safe in the extreme, and not having to secure yourself to a rock using a rope just to stand fucking still is extremely difficult to readjust to.

Hopefully this blog will inspire you to embrace negative emotion in a positive way.  This is perhaps Scottish Winter's Greatest Lesson.

It IS worth it.  (Photo thanks to Peter Naylor)

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Risk brings death but fulfils life.

Risk brings death, but fulfils life.

'Is this your dog, mate?'

It is, as well.  Ah, poor Stella.  How have you gone so still so quickly?

As I walked up to the cars with their hazards on, I'd pretty much known it would be, and from twenty yards away, there is no doubt.  She is just lying there, they have pulled her carefully off the road.  The main guy is chatting away  to me, telling me everything about it.  He's full of adrenalin, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was him who hit her.  I'm not really listening.  His mate is close to tears, silent.

I am not close to tears.  I stroke her head, and look at her eyes.  She seems like maybe there is still something in there, though she isn't breathing.  How long is it before the brain gives up after the heart stops beating?  Does she know I'm there, or is she just dead?  I am in problem solving mode, but the immediate problem cannot be solved.  She is dead.  

I've got a blanket with me.  Ten minutes ago I had picked it up in case I couldn't find her.  I would have left it where she last saw us if I couldn't find her by dark, and she could have smelled it, and stayed there and we would have got her the next morning.  That's not how it worked out, but it is useful now, I wrap her in it and the adrenalin-man gives me a lift back to my house.  His mate sits in the back, the car is fucking tiny, like a Corsa or something, and me and Stella ride in the passenger seat.  She is easy to hold, comfy in the blanket, and blood gets on my down jacket, and on my face where I have got her muzzle pressed to me.

The next set of problems is about dealing with other people's reactions.  I phone Nanny and can hear The Boy, upset in the background but at the moment its just because he is worried, not because he knows she is dead.  Nanny's voice trembles and I can tell she is crying.  Our Lass is not there, she has been woken up from a Boxing Day snooze in front of Dances With Wolves, and has headed out to look for Stella on her own initiative.  I phone her, and she is distraught.

I tidy Stella up, and place her in her blankets in our back garden.  She doesn't look too bad really, we all give her a cuddle, tell her she is a good dog and bury her in the flowerbed she most enjoyed digging up, with her blanket and toys.  No chieftain's dog would have got any better, although I would have liked to included some of her mortal enemies - the local cats, squirrels and birds.  Maybe a Muntjac.  All of us dig, and all of us cover her over with sandy Breckland earth.  

What a disaster.   In a few hours, on Boxing day, tragedy has sprung for us, out of the blue. Nothing in world terms, where kids drown in the Med and others will freeze and die of disease this winter.  But for us: massive and terrible.

For the next day I am obsessed with smelling blood on my fingers.  Its all I can smell.  I am like fucking Macbeth.  I wash my jacket.  Rob, if you're reading this, yours was worse.  See Shrapnel From A Near Miss

Stella loved her life off the lead.

We were lucky enough to live right on the edge of Thetford Forest, and did we not exploit it. We had her out there, every day since the earliest possible chance with her vaccines completed.  On lead at first, and gradually off it, and how she loved being off it.  She would bomb off, patrol ahead.  We got her recall pretty well sorted early on: not perfect, but she was eager to please and clever, and knew I was the boss.  I could whistle, and we let her know what was expected.  She might pull a bit on the way out to a walk but she was really good on the way back.

When we were passed by four wheel drives we got her to sit, and not bloody chase them while they went by.  At first a wheel was just too much like fleeing prey, but not for long, she knew what was expected.

She loved those walks, and she was clever.  She knew the difference between me going to take The Boy out to school (she'd jump on the sofa and watch us go from the window, we would wave goodbye as we went up the path) and going for a walk in the woods, and she'd leap up from her doze if she thought that was what was going on.  The Boy started to love coming for walks, and bike rides too, she worked her magic on him, and gave him a bit of her love for being out there.  Rather than on Minecraft.
Walk? Fuck, yeah.

At night we went out and she would stay closer, still running off ahead, but if we called you would see her eyes light up from our headtorches.

She loved running in the woods, with the prospect of a chase, or some fascinating smells.  Or fox-shit to roll in, it wasn't all good.  I think it was the freedom, and the joy of the movement.  Like climbing for me.  

She was rolling her stone in the garden, playing with it in the afternoon of Boxing day, but I could tell she wanted to walk.

So me and Boy took her out.  She ran off while we inspected an old motorbike helmet, and didn't come back to the whistle.  We walked up where we would normally have gone to leave a scent trail, whistling all the way, but - no sign.  We headed back to Nannies, which is where she would have headed back to.  I still wasn't too worried.  She was used to being off-lead, and she would be back.  She was clever enough to try and find her way home.

The only flaw in that was that she had to cross that main-road.  In the event, that is what happened.  She realised me and the Boy weren't around, so she headed back home.  She was hit by a car, which must have been doing sixty, the speed limit, and she can't have lasted more than a minute or two after that.

She had gone from having the best thing she enjoyed doing- having a run, through two minutes of pain, and probably unconsciousness, and then nothing, peace.    No infirmity.  No incontinence.  No pain, not in any big terms, nothing that lasted too long.  Then back home forever.

I could have kept that dog safe on a lead for years.

The difference would have been that she would have died over a course of twelve years rather than two minutes.  Her spirit - a collie's spirit, with its need to hunt and run, and play- would have been squeezed and crushed.  She would have got used to it, and she was too low in the pack hierarchy to seriously complain.  But she would not have been the same dog.   She wouldn't have had the same life.

Our Lass looks at me and says 'I think she probably chased a car.  You weren't there so she saw her chance to finally kill an Audi.'  

That makes me laugh, its could well be true.  She would have been killed, in self-defence, by prey that was just too much for her to handle.  Too hard, too committing of a route, in bad conditions and with no protection, but nonetheless, something she wanted to take on.

Walking without her is not the same, although actually you would probably still see as much of her as you ever did.  She only had eighteen months with us, but it was a brilliant time, and she was in the peak of her life, getting more used to us, settling down and growing up, but losing none of her spark.  

I feel so sad about her death, but I just cannot regret the full life and love of freedom that bought her to it.

Stella, with chewy bone and toy giraffe.