Saturday, 21 October 2017

Previous Posts

Previous posts.

I've bashed out a load of these now, although not in a particularly regular or organised way.  However, the format of the blog means that older stuff gets buried, like a manky banana at the bottom of your climbing back.  So lets not let that banana rot into an adhesive slime; lets unpack that climbing bag and find out where the fuck your favourite quickdraw went.

Here are five of my favourites and the reason you might like to read them.


Hands down the most popular blog to date.  Why? people like to read about the misfortunes of others, it makes them feel all real inside.


This one got shared a bit by people who were on the same trip.  If you want to understand climbing and risk taking then have a look at this.  Its the closest I get to a genuine insight, in list form.


Grim predictions for a dystopian future.  Note, that this was written pre-Brexit.  If you instead want to know how Brexit or the 2017 election affected my climbing then Breaking News or Brexit Examined.  Don't expect accuracy, impartiality or saint. I'm not the BBC.

Not as bad as it sounds.  Actually, this post delivers sensible and sensitive information about parenthood that Social Services have so far failed to condemn.


Get your tissues out, the saddest thing you'll ever read with swearing in.  I bloody loved that dog.  At Christmas too.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Watching the achievements of others

On Watching the Achievements of Others.

Its that time of year again: The Big Flash.  One of the three best climbing competitions in the UK.   And I am not  there.

Now, don't get me wrong.  This is not some protest against competitions or indoor climbing. I've got plenty of misgivings about climbing being in the Olympics, I find it harder to relate indoor bouldering to climbing outdoors, and I ain't never gonna win NOTHIN'.

No.  The reason I am not going is because of a series of fuckups, which go like this.
1.  Me and Garry decide we NEED a weekend on the slate: fuck yeah!
2.  The only weekend we can do is the weekend of the 13th, 14th, 15th.  We book it with my partner and his spouse (not the same person).
3.  That turns out to be the weekend of the Flash.  Fook!
4.  Tom Smith turns to me in Highball:  'Speaking of volunteers, are you going to run isolation, which you do each year, in an incomparably professional way?'  (words to that effect).  I look embarrassed and go quiet.  'Is that a yes then?'  It is not.
5.  Then, Garry backs out, for the un-understandable reason of having to be around for the imminent birth of his sister's child.  I respect Garry's priorities, but they are wrong.
6.  I find out that a plan b is possible.  The Brothers Slarke are going bouldering to Northumbria.  I resolve to gatecrash their party.

Kyloe In.  Nice eh?
So I do, and we have a good couple of days: Kyloe In is closed for shooting, presumably red squirrels because we don't see any.  Back Bowden is not as sheltered as it should be from the howling wind: which to me is nowt due to Scottish Winter.  Johnny and Bob? not so happy.  

Through all this time, hundreds have people will have been passing through he Highball doors: many will be competing, at any level, Nu Kids for lower grade climbers, the comp proper for the talent and the graft.  Lots of people will be coming along for the first time, having delicious coffees and generally enjoying the vibe: which, fair go, is festival-like.

We keep following the updates.  Even in the data wilderness of the Northumbrian backwoods we can watch everything unfold over the FaceAche posts, live stream and general Twittery.

Sadly, Bob wins a tenner which is the
EXACT PRICE of a round.
Anyway, after finally getting to Kyloe- hungover- and having a good day there (Johnny Slarke especially comes away with the four prize tick of the crag), we go back to Back Bowden to meet the Brothers Lawson.  Sam and Joe Lawson are a pair of wads (note to non-climbers, this is a Good Thing), and Joe wants to do County Ethics, a f7C+ highball problem, while Sam films him.

What do we bring to the party? extra pads and spotters, humour, and a stove for making coffee - which is so trad. Joe gets on a semi-static rope and cleans and ticks the holds, works the moves and sorts out his beta.  There is a lot of laughter, and the atmosphere is super fun.  Sam gets ripped for his apparent unfamiliarity with dangling from a rope with a camera: silky ninja skills they are not.  I am enjoying myself immensely, the crack is good (verbal not rock), and it feels really light and nice to be there.

Joe is so casual, he turns from a minor gossip about a mutual friend's Hil-aaaiirrriiiouuus financial dilemmas, and suddenly changes into a climbing machine: none of the psyching up I need, or angsty heavy-shouldered worrying.  He is up! and then he is off and landing on the pads.

Joe has a few more goes that night, but ultimately it is not happening.  What IS happening is that I am getting a lesson in how to climb hard.  Yes, I'm sure all the strength training and board work is important, but just as crucial is the attention to detail.  For stuff at this level, tiny fractional differences in skin conditions ('connies') are critical.  Joe is also hyper-aware of his own physical reserves, and knows when he is low on energy.  So he stops.  Tomorrow will see another go.

Lights on, cleaning into the night.
By this time, people have finished competing in the qualifiers (over 300 enter) at the Big Falsh and know whether they have made it through.  Only twenty men and twenty women qualify for the semis, with some surprises from the local climbers, but generally the travelling pro and semi-pro climbers book their places.

A huge crowd will turn out for the finals to see the final six males and six females.  These are some of the best competition climbers in the UK, climbing on blocs set by the best setters in the UK.  This style of setting doesn't reflect rock that you might find in nature, it has become its own beast.  A good climber makes hard stuff look easy, but in competitions this doesn't work: no tension would build up to thrill the crowd.  Instead, blocs are set on bulbous volumes, often with dynamic moves and leaps, which look great and are legitimately difficult.  

I'm sure the watching crowd will be thrilled, the atmosphere will be like a football match.

The technical way to eat a flapjack,
and the non-technical way to take a photo.
While this happens in Norwich, we are back in front of County Ethics.  'Its all about the connies,' sings Joe, brushing and re-ticking the holds, figuring out better beta for critical moves coming out of the crux.  Bob looks strong: he has been using bulk powder with his training and suddenly we are all talking about getting him sponsored by them.  I declare that Trad is Over For Me and rip off my shirt to become a proper boulderer, but haven't got a bobble-hat.  We have a laugh.


We eat flapjacks, and I learn there is even a technical way to do this: you don't grip the flapjack with your fingertips because this could impart a tiny bit of grease on.  Oh no.  You wedge it into the gaps between your fingers where it won't matter.

The breeze blows, the gods of the skin connies smile down beneficiantally, and Joe starts up the climb.  He has everything dialled and in its place, and it looks easy, so easy, to do such a hard thing.  Within three minutes he is topping out, and everyone congratulates, and thanks and grins about it.   Like the audience at the Big Flash, we have watched someone else achieve something, and we are the better for it.  But it is not enough just to watch.  You have to get your own ticks too.




I find an off width boulder problem.  I am mentally unwell.



Thursday, 5 October 2017

Not a clue

Not a clue.

Well, climbers, here's some news for you:  Non-climbers haven't got a clue what we are on about, and critically - they can't guess, and don't care.

Here, I sadistically introducing my young son to my obsession.
Note I am too tight to buy him rock-shoes, while mine cost £100
For most climbers, not a problem! as we systematically eradicate those from our friendship list who don't shred the gnar on the rock.  (If you don't regularly use the phrase 'shred the gnar', or indeed don't know what it means then obviously you aren't in as deep as what I am).  Many of them are probably pleased to see us go.

Here is a swift summary of some failures of contact between climbers and normal people.

1.  The jargon.  Its detailed, its nuanced, its sometimes a bit fucking silly isn't it?  Psyched! Why can't we just say excited?  Not to mention the revelation that people who don't need to arrange their own protection won't know what a nut or a quick-draw is.  Ask yourself: why would they?  Then ask yourself 'can I remember not knowing what a nut or quick-draw was?'  No?  but why?  Its like we re-learned a universal language. Crimps? Jugs?  Bomber.

2.  The experience of fear.  People who don't do it just won't recognise.  I was talking to my mate Serge the other night, and he said  'You know when you get that actual taste of fear in your mouth?  Like that iron-y taste in your mouth?'  I looked blank.  'You've never had it?  You obviously don't climb hard enough then.'  I wouldn't mind this, but its not like I've never been afraid on the wall.  Knowing what I put myself through, I can't believe I haven't had the taste, but on the other hand, I HAVE jabbered meaningless shite at the top of my voice as my boots skeeter on slimy rock with no gear in.

3.  Paradoxically, non-climbers think its much more dangerous than it is.  Sport climbing?  statistically safer than the drive to the crag.  Trad? most UK climbers operate at a laughably easy grade.  Soloing?  anecdotally, most soloing deaths - and there are enough- happen on relatively easy ground, grades below what the dice-rollers are known for climbing.  
Hands mauled from hand-jamming: a particularly mild session
The reality is that it is safer than a lot of other sports : definitely horse-riding or rugby.  Although bear in mind I haven't backed this up with any research, statistics or evidence.  I'm just asserting it, and I can't be fucked to check.

4.  Even though non-climbers think that its more dangerous, this doesn't equate to more interesting, especially if you can't imagine why someone would do it in the first place.  Remember that spoof list on UKC  "You know you're a climber when..." Lot of truth in that especially: "
  • The 'what have you been up to?' conversations are just as boring as the next man's because all you ever respond with is 'climbing.'

5.  The reason they can't imagine why we would do it is because we can't tell them in a way that makes sense.  Look at this article from the Daily Mash 'Rock climbers enjoy weekend of gruelling misery'.  Ostensibly, its written as satire, but in actual fact it is a piece of cutting edge reportage which gets more facts correct than most mainstream information about climbing.

But here goes at unpicking why I do it:

Someone at uni, nearly twenty years ago, tried to explain why they loved golf - which is a shit game.   They said that as soon as they pinged a ball, there wasn't anything else.  That was it for me with climbing: as soon as I did it there wasn't anything else.  There might have been a bit of an incubation phase, but from those first visits to the wall, through to getting on rock, and getting through stuff at a level of difficulty I couldn't imagine - it was all there was.

Furthermore, the more I do it, the more deeply addicted I get: I don't yet know whether this will culminate in a moment of clarity in five years time where I realise I wear pink shoes that cost £100 a pop and then immediately give up.  But at the moment - I'm committed.
And probably the final point: its cool because its pointless but beautiful.  

I bet that's no clearer.  We've got a range of options: take people climbing OR accept the fact a proportion of people in our lives won't ever get it OR keep culling the friendship list.
Which to choose?




Monday, 14 August 2017

Steeple Buttress

Steeple Buttress

I want to go climbing for the purest motive of all: in order to get a free hat. So its off to the Lakes, dragging Rob Prowse up there for a climbing weekend when he should be packing for his actual move to the Lakes.  We've selected a handful of routes on the Arcteryx Lakeland Revival, and there is a bit of a cluster around Ennerdale, including Steeple Buttress, 'a remote and long climb that finishes right on the summit ... v.diff.' 

The weather forecasts provide detailed knowledge of what we are to expect, but they are also bad, predicting lightning, rain and high winds.  This doesn't suit us, so we ignore them.  We find the following justifications for our behaviour: 1. MWIS is a little bit wussy and conservative to poke people into making sensible mountaineering decisions, 2.  the Met Office is a bit too general and not aimed at climbers, 3.  it simply does not suit the time we have available for going to the hills.  WE have travelled from Norfolk, were the only rock is sold at Great Yarmouth, and if we burn the fuel we are getting out of the van.

Good call.  The weather is nothing like as bad as forecast and we march over the hills to the remote valley.   We make good time to attempt Steeple Buttress on the same day, until we have to walk into Mirk Cove.  Cue a classic mistake.  We decide to contour around the sides of the valley across scree rather than lose height walking on nice spongy grass then meandering our way up to the start of the climb.  
What do you see?  if the answer isn't 'ankle-snapping death' then you're wrong

We lose a load of time and arrive at the base of the climb at half two.  The hillside is shattered and sheer and looks like the elaborate stonework of a gothic cathedral, all buttresses, gargoyles and gutters.  The rock is black and wet.  Cloud swirls around the top. Having used up our stupidity we make a good decision to not start on the climb: at a pitch an hour we would be up there at half eight also known as nightfall.  Nope.  

Rob's ultra lightweight tarp holds up better than you would think to the wind and rain of the night, but if the climb looked a bit wet yesterday, it canNOT be better today.  Still, we think, we'll go and have a look, and take our harnesses ropes and gear anyway.

Yes.  The rock is wet.  But the flesh is willing!  so off we set.  
The route is to the left of the picture.  None the wiser?
Now, I have been guilty of thinking that the grade of V. Diff is frankly a bit beneath me.  After all, I can onsight 7a (I did it once, and not again)!  I have been known to climb E1 and E2 and find them easy!  As it turns out, the difficulty is not in the technicality of the movement but rather in the 'Mountainy-ness' of the route.  

It is a fight up shattered rock with no gear, interspersed with slidy grass.  I run out of rope on a 20 metre pitch because I simply cannot believe that the belay is where it is.   I avoid gear placements which seem pointless i.e. all of them, and the rope drag is so intense I feel like an arrow about to be fired across the valley.

The last two pitches are the obvious crux.  Rob sets out up what looks like friendly enough rock.  The rock is indeed friendly, but the quarter inch of slug slime on top isn't.  Rob climbs while laughing ironically, then sets up a belay swearing manically.  When I get to the belay, I find he has got halfway up the chimney and burrowed into the sodden wet mattress of moss that has been happily growing on nothing stable.  He has unearthed a decent stance, but doesn't look happy about it.  He should, as tying into the gear has clearly prevented him from sinking into the mountainside to a bitterly ironic death by drowning on a sheer mountainside.

There is only one problem.  The chimney he is in is so slimed up that we have no chance of getting up it.  If the way up here was slippy, the way out is positively soap-like.  The chimney to the left looks better, the rock is clean with visible holds, and a clear way up to the summit cairn, where, for once, there might be some appreciative and attractive female hikers to appreciate our clearly heroic efforts.  The only problem with this chimney is that we are not in it.

I can get there, but it means a nightmare traverse - over more slime- and running our ropes over a razor-sharp fin of rock which is serrated like a saw.  If I fall, the chance of the rope cutting and dropping me down the mountain seems unacceptably high.  I step out of Wet Chimney, and across towards Dry Chimney in the best possible place, but it is still not good.  I am milking an undercut jam formal I am worth, while my boots rest on footholds angled like lifeboat launching ramps.  I try and improve my feet - keep moving, look for improvements however small, but trying to accurately place my feet wearing mountain boots is as difficult and pointless as balancing the tip of a canoe on a marble.

I reach across for what should be a good jug, but isn't.  As I move, the cleats skitter, and I cling on with iron fingers to the hand holds.  I skitter my feet and pedal them against the wet glass, this is desperate, desperate.  My feet go, and for a moment I am holding myself locked off, my fingers and my core desperately locked solid.  I get half a foot back on, and it is enough to move one hand up, snatching onto hold as grippable as a dinner plate.  I look down, don’t even notice the drop and find a vague change in angel which is enough to paste the side of my foot on.  Its not enough.  But my fingers don’t care and go for another hold and I am moving up, the rope drags at my waste, trying to pull me back and off. 


I look at what I am standing on.  It is a huge shelf, where an obelisk of rock has fissured and separated from the mountain, filled with rubble.  Normally, I would get out of there without hesitation, but I need some time to get my head back and my breathing rate down.  I have been gibbering nonsense as well, which is bit embarrassing.  Or would be if anyone were to hear it.  There's only Rob and he's about to find out why. 

‘Where are you Pete?  Wave an arm’.  I am back in human contact, which is what I need.  I calm down and head up, and WITHIN A MINUTE the experience has changed from harrowing to deeply satisfying and pleasant.  Rob follows up with an audible sucking sound -sshhhloooop - as the bog releases him, then straight up to the summit.

We head out home across the tops, glowing with a happy sense of still being alive and being able to do this kind of stuff for fun.  Yes, I will be doing another Lakeland Revival Route next year, I have already started looking forward to it.

Oblivious to the views, we pack up.







Friday, 14 July 2017

Solos, Run-outs and Lids

Solos, Run-outs and Lids.

The lad is friendly enough and looks like not a bad climber, though not awesome, definitely climber not punter.  At the moment I am virtually writhing in rage with him though, because he is soloing in front of my eight-year-old son; who tells me he thinks its cool.

I tell Ellis I can name hundreds of good climbers who died soloing, and reel of some names.  Ellis says 'that's three.  Who else?'  It is an hour later I finally think of John Bachar, bollocks, normally my memory for death is so good.

Now, not that I am all holier-than-thou with soloing.  No, I don't do it, but roped climbing trad definitely involves times when you could potentially deck out if you fluff it, especially as my style is evolving into a run-it-out-don't-pump-out style.  This is in part because of my encounters with Scottish winter, in which it is not an advantage to be hunting round for buried gear placements wile the temperature drops and the day approaches dusk.
The point of Scottish Winter?  Photos as clickbait.


Soloing produces a reaction in people because the lack of a rope and harness indicate, as clear as you like, that the person visibly cannot depend on the backup of gear.  If I run it out, taking serious risks by skipping gear, you cannot tell unless you know the route and can assess how I've climbed it.  Soloing is quickly identifiable as more risky, and it is this that has led to a lot of videos about it, often featuring Alex Honnold, or people who want to be him.

Soloing seems to produce more of a mental effect as well, a more profound experience.  It certainly looked that way when me and Tom watched the soloist try his foot one way and then another on the crux, then back to the first way again.  Just watching was terrifying, then he made the move and spent only seconds shaking out before keeping going.  He was on a slab, and sheer tactics suggest - take a bit longer before you go, but having already done that route, I did know he was onto easier ground, moves no harder than v.diff.

People climbing the top end of trad can have the ability to climb very fucking hard indeed because they know they can take the falls onto gear - Hazel Findlay springs to mind, especially her interview with the Enormocast.  This is not the dominant, slightly wussy mainstream British culture, where we have a hundred year old culture of disapproving trad-blokes with socks up to the knee declaring 'The Leader MUST NOT fall.'  As if this would be a moral failing on a par with giving in to the temptation of masturbation on a lazy afternoon, or cowardice in battle, rather than a failure of grip, stamina or technique (masturbation could only aid these attributes).

Safety first: lid, gear and bomber anchors,
even when clearly incredibly high.


Soloing embraces this risk limiting ethos.  You really cannot fall without obvious risk of death or serious injury, so the frame of mind must be that you cannot allow the possibility of falling to arise.  Some soloists won't wear a helmet, as this accepts a possibility of a fall.

Unlike the bloke parked in the middle of his middle-aged group of crag-rats, who are chatting by the end of the crag.  His female companion asks him where his helmet is.

BLOKE:  I've forgotten it.

Woman:   Naughty Boy

BLOKE (huffily) : I didn't realise you were a school teacher [this said in a tone implying that nothing could be worse]

The Bloke is on the defensive, and badly.  Everyone else at the crag has a lid on and he plainly feels threatened.  Its his own guilt, the woman he is talking to doesn't actually seem to bothered

BLOKE:  Anyway, I saw a car accident once where everyone was wearing a seat-belt.  If that car had burst into flames they all would have been dead.  I was first on the scene, and I had a hell of a job getting them out, if that car had burst into flames, they would all have burnt.

He clearly feels that this proves his point that he should not have to wear a helmet AS IT IS CLEARLY MORE DANGEROUS TO WEAR A HELMET due to a car crash he saw years ago involving seatbelt.  I wish 'Eh?' was a two syllable word, just so I could put 'fucking in the middle of it, but I will have to settle for 'E-fucking-h?'

Now, fair enough, if he had had the nuts to say 'I choose not to, despite being aware of the risk and statistics' I think that would have been fair enough.  Or 'I have assessed the risk at this part of Stanage, and as it is not Horseshoe Quarry or the fucking Alps I do not believe there will be any risk of falling rock', again fair enough.

As it is, this asinine, illogical, and plain invented bullshit makes him the biggest dickhead at the crag.  So much so, that I go an make friends with the soloist, who after all, has accepted the risks he runs.  He might be lying to himself about his own mortality, but he isn't pretending its safer.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Annual Slate Trip

The Annual Slate Wales Trip.

It is not the message but the medium.  The readership of this blog - according to my primitive statistical analysis - likes to read humorous lists with pictures of Scottish Winter OR Humorous accounts of my mates nearly dying.

Here you are then! 

Essential background: each year, the Norwich club heads out to Wales to climb on slate. We spend a week doing this, but officially market it as Wales Week to avoid unduly biasing the membership about preferred rock type.
Come on.  Sedimentary rocks are for losers.

1.  Despite the week being clearly Slate Week, some of the members go to crags with a more igneous character to them; Carreg Wastad (it is with some difficulty I have managed to stop my overly-helpful computer from correcting this to Carreg Wasted), Tremadog, Ideal Slabs or Milestone Buttress.  Everyone claims to have had a good time, but this cannot be so, as it is not The Slate.

2. I create a monster when I insist that Garry does not harm two spider's webs - and by implication the spiders who have made them - at the base of a warm up climb.  This makes the route slightly harder, but through the week I am confronted by spider's web after spider's web.  By the end, I am putting my hand through them guiltily, and try and tell myself it is the cycle of life anyway.  Should I have got stuck: completely stuck on a climb, they would have been welcome to feast on my dehydrating corpse.  Deal!

Oliver Twist wouldn't have moaned.

3.  Jason is making porridge for Jub.  He does nothing wrong, adding the porridge and milk to a bowl and placing in the microwave for the correct time.  The microwave focusses its powers onto a single point within the oaty mix and flash boils a single enormous bubble which belches the porridge out of the bowl like a volcano blooping magma.  Jason, undeterred has another go - exactly the same thing happens.

4.  Garry and I head into the Big Hole to do Supermassive Black Hole.  I have dogged this before (i.e. climbese for rested on the rope) and want to get it clean.  Garry is helpful and encouraging, ultimately making me have one more go, and do it, when I am about to give up.  When I 'suggest' he might like to do some of the leads, he grins evilly and says 'No, mate.  This is yooouuuurrrr day..."

5.  Henry 'Slate' Smith, 1 year old son of Garry and Alice is a gorgeous little gem of a boy, who totters around the precipices and teetering piles of scree under the watchful eye of Mum and Dad.  He learns how to crimp, that falling is natural and not to be feared, that Pete (me) swears too much unless it is nighttime when it will be Mummy who is swearing, and that climbers are friendly.  Everyone we meet visibly approves of the little lad being brought along - too right.

6.  Lee makes us all laugh with Henry's Sweep toy, doing a spirited monologue about murdering people.  'What's that Sweep?  Only fifteen years?  Yes I know.  And you'd have a Phd by the time you get released?"  After a few minutes it all gets a bit too convincing, the consensus is that Becky, Lee's Girlfriend, may have a lot to cope with.

6.  At the very top of a multi-pitch trad route, Roger drops a nut down a crack while trying to build a belay.  It falls within the crack and lodges just out of reach.  Not being quitters, the team tape together two nut keys and attempt to fish it out.  They nearly reach it, tickling the wire at the very top, but not quite hooking it.   This slight movement is enough to dislodge it and vroooop! it tinkles down the crack to the centre of the earth… 

7.  Wioleta takes the whipper of the trip falling off Bisch Basch Bosch at the second bolt.  She narrowly avoids clattering off a massive ledge, falling about six or seven metres.  Without sweat or complaint she heads back up immediately to finish the route.  I am the belayer and it is the biggest fall I've held.  Jo's tumble off Christmas Curry at Tremadog does not compare, although to be fair, it is a fall onto trad gear rather than a nice stainless steel bolt...

8.  Much needed rest days involve traipsing around the different levels of the quarriess, exhausting ourselves moving vertically between other people's belays.  These rest days often leave us more physically wrecked  than before.  We start to hope for rain, then when it rains are grumpy.  This is possibly all you need to know about human nature.

19.  Steve cooks delicious food.  He is the only climber - ever - to bring truffle oil and his own spices on climbing trips.  His pestle and mortar  has wear marks testifying to the number of curries produced, and several of us use the grinding of spices as strength training.

The reality of climbing trips: faff and packing.


10.  Tim gets excited when he finds a guidebook written by his father included in a book about guidebooks.  Truly, a guidebook written listing other guidebooks fills the last great meta-niche of all time.

11. James -the Club Chairman- had to cancel coming on the trip.  This is because his plans for his forthcoming wedding are going smoothly, but the restoration of the Mark 1 Landrover needed to take him to church is not.  He phones up mid-week and instructs Roger to stop telling him how nice the weather is in Wales.
Me redpointing Mister Blister,  should have had it

By the end of the week we are all as satisfied as our personalities will allow, bearing in mind that for some climbers improvement and achievement are fleeting goals.  As I have pointed out previously in a blog post so old none of you will have read it - climbsis not like mars bars which eventually fill one up.  They are like heroin, each one leaves you more deeply addicted.


On the last morning I say goodbye to Lee and Becky.  They are off on a van around Europe for a year, driving, climbing and living the van life.  I will miss them, although, in fairness they live in Sheffield normally so I will see them as much as I normally do.  As I walk up the steps away from Vivian Quarry, I wonder if Henry's Sweep toy has gone home with Henry and not with Lee.  I suppress a moment of worry...


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Burglar Bill's Tea-Time

Burglar Bill’s Tea-Time

One of the attractions of climbing must be its utter pointlessness.  John Redhead famously said that if you were climbing something in order to get to the top you were wasting your time.  Johnny Dawes observed that ‘No handed climbing is a pointless activity.  Just like climbing’.

Well I beg to differ.  There is one highly specific set of circumstances in which a trained ability to climb is an essential skill.  

Club member Violeta and I have headed back after a rewarding/tiring day in which I belay her up a series of more and more difficult climbs at higher and higher levels in the quarries.  This culminates in her climbing a long, difficult and atmospheric route in the quarries by four o’clock.  The week’s climbing has been tiring, so we kick it in the nuts and head back to the hut for a cup of tea.


The crisis looms as we approach the Klub Hut.  Neither of us has a key, as between the twelve club members we have separated across the hillside and throughout the quarries.  And the hut, originally built to store gunpowder for mining the quarries, has two foot thick walls and a massive steel door- securely locked by an expensive brand of lock whose logo is a muscleman whose legs and groin turn into a key.  Who thinks this shit up?

Now, despite our consciousness of security, due to residing in the (rural) crime capital of Norfolk, we have left some windows open round the back.  The Ladies bathroom has a staunch concrete window frame, clearly pincheable and is about four feet of the ground, but the window opening is not big enough.

No.  It must be the dormitory window.  I size it up and reckon it will go.  Reading the route, I note a thick two inch ledge, numerous footholds in the course of slate supporting this, then a possible mantle up a blank face of slate tiled wall.  I’m going to need my shoes for this, but lest we forget, I am a climber who has been climbing, so have them to hand.

First attempt, barely get of the ground before crashing back into a bramble-tangle.  Like velcro barbed wire it is.

Second attempt goes better, I rock up onto the ledge.  Its balancey, and relies on a crucial pinch of code four lead flashing.  Past the feet , mantle up and I am in the window niche.  Getting through the open window is not as simple as might otherwise be, as there is a system of metal bars which partially block access.  But I choose the middle and leading in with one shoulder, then working my other shoulder in.  Shoulders in: no part of my body is wider, so all that remains is a face forward snake-like wriggle across the window frame, arms pressed out as if doing a plank.  I scrape my genitals across the wooden bar, then my thighs, knees, shins.  It is the least enjoyable part of an otherwise exceptional climb with unique moves.

I claim first ascent ( if anyone has previously climbed this route - I don’t care) and name it Burglar Bill’s Tea Time.

No point eh?  Without all those hours climbing, learning balance and building strength I could not have overcome the problem of being locked out.  I think we will conveniently overlook the point that if I hadn’t been there for a climbing holiday, then I wouldn’t have needed to break in.  But you have to draw the line somewhere, otherwise what is the point of anything?