Friday, 3 December 2021

Dark Autumn

 Well it rained a lot. And the family got Covid (all except me bizarrely)

To be Frank, my motivation took a bit of a nose dive, I went back to Porth Howel, which was nice..

The autumn storms had brought winter pebble levels. I was pleased to confirm that it didn't really make Barcode Punk easier, and I got to repeat What a Difference a Wave Makes, which again was nice.

I also followed up a hunch and checked the prow project at the old Trefor pier.

So the big prow project is back on... There is a niggle in the back of my brain, and at this point I think the seeds of discontent were sewn. 

I'll explain. 

I've had a great year. Properly Stonking. The motivational boost provided by the new bouldering guide has meant that I've ticked a humongous amount of long term projects this year. 

The shard

George's crack

The Tosheroon 

Barcode Punk... 

But there is still so much to do, and the wave of success has to reach the beach at some point. Fear of Failure has been a long-term foe, one I have repeatedly defeated only for it to jet off like The Claw. 

Throw in some external stress, and it's quickly becoming a bit black. 

Feeling burnt out is OK, feeling incapable and vulnerable is OK. Withdrawing a bit is not bad... But I'll be damned if I relinquish control.

So to try and break this low patch I went back to exploring. 

A bit of Google Swooping* found me a wood with a cliff in it and an adjacent public footpath.
*flying round Google Earth with help from Geograph.Org.Uk

Path was closed due to an exciting bridge (well I enjoyed it).
Turns out the interesting path wasn't exactly public.. 

Proper mushroom circle 

Slightly too small boulder. 
There was a massive and inaccessible cliff in the wood, but by that point I'd had enough, and diverted myself along a contour to check out a dark roof in a cwm. 

English Sheepdog Sheep! 

Turned out to be a slatey hole.. 

All in all a tad disappointing. I was lucky enough to get an actually sunny day, but with little psyche I diverted to more Google Swooping and a hunt for Tone's Golden Boulder. I found it, was underwhelmed, and quested on to see these reprobates:

Not rubbish, but not enough to pull me out of my slump. 

Driven by a unhelpful desire to add to the forthcoming Nwb3.2 idid a last bit of Google Swooping and decided to check out Carreg Lefain. I'd seen on ukc that the parking described in the Llyn guide was no longer welcomed by the land owner. Fortunately, the excellent work on the Mynydd Nefyn footpath network had meant easy access via a carpark just south of the crag. 

The crag itself looked ace, almost tempting me to dust off my rack and revisit in the Spring ;

Slight digital photobomb.. A couple of boulder bits at the bottom, but no pot of gold. 

In nearby mynydd nefyn quarry I found a cool looking crack.. 

And a too small but perfectly formed microgranite boulder. 

So yet another disappointing ramble, at this point I swore off further Llyn exploration.. 

(though I might come back for Gwylwyr quarry). 
What finally snapped me out of the doldrums was an indoor climbing session with my wife. I hadn't lead climbed apart for when I was setting for months, and it was fun just trying stuff and getting pumped.

It's OK to fail if you're having fun.
Find your own fun, this may not be the same as other people's fun. 
That's OK too (within the usual societal boundaries ofc). 

Thus I found myself going to an old venue, in an unfashionable out of the way spot. I'd told myself that I'd try some of the easy stuff I'd scoped out. However, I soon got sucked into old projects. 

So I'm now looking forward to trying, Failing and maybe succeeding on random things that I find fun. I'm putting aside tick lists for a bit (save some for next year). 
I hope the rest of the winter will be a bit drier, but I won't base my happiness on it. 
Finally I probably wouldn't have exited this wallow quite so speedily without the support and heckling of my wife and kids, and the shadowy network of professional banter merchants known as the Pebble Helms (cheers lads). 
Keep me posted on any virgin offwidth sightings.. 
I'll try not to leave it so long between blogs, but there's always the Instagram.

Forward Always 

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Gabba Gabba Hey! Or how everything is better when Listening to the Ramones

 "Punks not a product, its zest for life" 

-Milky Wimpshake "Barcode Punk

Once more I find myself poured utterly into a project. Riffing on training ideas an Macgyver-ing myself any advantage I can scavenge. It all sounds very romantic, but it's mainly blood and sweat and dribble.. However, there are worse situations to be in than sitting on my favourite beach in the drizzle. 

The following was written live from the trenches, as it were... 

Once more I lounged below the roof of the Idiot Kings, watching the drizzle turn the grey beach into a riot of colour as the pebbles gloss and shine. For a moment it was like a Kevin Lowery painting. It's never a chore at Porth Howel, although getting out the car into drizzle was an exercise in will power. However, there was beautiful sun over Trefor, and it was dry in Pistyll. Yr Eifl was just toying with the clouds that's all. As I write this the birds shrill out and the drizzle clears. Hope springs eternal.

The rake works well on the smaller pebbles, but it's length (breadth?) means big pebbles can dislodge it from its path. A change in grip and some close work soon deals with this. The traverse is excavated, all is required now is the connies.

I was very close to packing it in, in fact I'd packed up and was just noseying around the other side of the bay which I'd yet to focus on. Walking back to the bag I saw the pebbles were starting to grey again.. Let's not jinx it, time for lunch.

The drizzle returned. I packed it in.

Next visit I returned rake in hand to be greeted by a lack of rain and unfortunately a lack of breeze. 

My previous work with rake (my Macgyver-ing outside the box) seems to have stuck. 

I still set about improving the crater around the lowest foothold, chuckling that by Christmas it would be 2 foot up the wall. The traverse project on the Wall of Something Dead is something I'd toyed with for years, always trying left to right. The moves through the alcove were nails and I never really got that far. It wasn't until earlier this year that I tried it right to left and the moves unlocked.

The subsequent burying of the footholds by the summer migration of the beach was something that I had initially reconciled myself to had niggle at me following success with the Tosheroon. Hence my purchase of the uber Rake. It was soon altered to my needs; chopped to fit better in a pad, and a rubber foot so it could be used as a walking pole /crutch.

This first dry visit back was a bit of an eye opener, as it all felt loads harder. Basically I'd spent the intervening months climbing on my fists, and I now had to remember how to use my fingers. It wasn't a complete waste though, as I was able to throw myself repeatedly at the crux and work out exactly what was required for success.

The traverse is about 23 hand moves long, with a jug one third in. Past this I've never really been able to Chalk up, so took my bag of at this shake point. Leaving the jug the moves get steadily more dynamic and powerful switching from crimps to pinches to fat slopey layaways. The key was positioning your body to enter the next move, and that meant foot work. Footholds required attention. 

Brushing off the sand, Washing off the salt crystals, squeaking the hell out of them. Triaging their value, and marking the important ones, tactics and tricks, trying really hard.

Having exhausted my time there I trudged back to the car, past some walkers with a dog, who started barking excitedly. I commented that he must have loved the cows further up. The owner replied it was fine with livestock, it was that I was walking up the hill with a massive rake..

The following week and a half I bouldered lots at the wall, crimping and pulling and throwing myself around. Of course this hurt, and I overdid it, causing various old man issues. However, it did leave me feeling a bit more prepared. 

When the next session opportunity presented itself, I decided to instead take a small hand fork.. It was very effective, and could be hidden from canines. The opportunity was more driven by availability than conditions, as it was still unseasonably hot, and the tide was large and swiftly encroaching.

Confident that the actual traverse would be non tidal I set out to have a play, give my fingers a workout, and continue my footwork on its journey from pantomime horse to primo ballerina.

The waves were gently lapping over the Seaward wall as I did my little pilates session. The beating I'd given my body during the week was proving to have been positive as I flowed through my little crimpy  set pieces. Although after these preparations I still took 8 or 9 goes to latch the crux.

I changed the foot positions for an earlier hard bit on a whim and found it made it much less dropable. After this I had exhausted all my little bits of noodling prep, and it was time to set up the camera, stare at the sea for a bit, an then have a proper go.


Following that I had a bit of a digging session. I was feeling OK, and keen not to loiter too much at the jug. Rather than dragging my chalkbag to this point, I just put a little pile on the jug itself. Tadah!

Flushed with innovation I rubbed some into my trousers like the cool kids.

Next go.. 

Barcode Punk 7A 

I'd deliberated over the name as most of the wall was Ramones themed, and I was initially keen on R.A.M.O.N.E.S. for the songs energy. In the end it was Milky Wimpshake's word smithery that won out. I'd also convinced myself that it would be 7A+, but no way I could have done that grade in these connies with this body. 

Another tick on my post lockdown To Do list. Might have it finished by Christmas. 

There's Treasure Everywhere. 

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

The Tosheroon


This is my phone. I've had this wall paper for about 7 years, passing from phone to phone.

The picture was taken on this trip in 2015, however, my first discovery of this special sea cave was in 2010, I think on new years day, when a man mate took me out for some Anglesey sport climbing. The climbing turned out to be a little too chilly to be enjoyable, but a gentle wander at low tide with a much needed flask of coffee led to its fortuitous discovery.

Put off by... Well everything really, it took 4 years almost to the day for a return inspection. That first trip I had campused the entrance to the cave and looked at the exit. I was sufficiently excited to return that I talked some friends into returning later that month. The climbing deep in the cave turned out to be really interesting, possibly fun even. Accepting the nature of the challenge was key, it was never going to dry out, chalk was pointless. Barnacles added to the 'fun' adding much needed friction, until you applied too much pressure and they dissolved to slippy paste. The high point of this initial session turned out to be a familiar one. Boxed and flailing at the end of the constricted section.

Some time in 2014 two things were decided.. 

Firstly, that trips should be undertook in the warmer months, as the cold trip meant major gashes off the barnacles due to lack of sensitivity in the hands. This also led to myself almost breaking my hand squeezing the life out of a jam I couldn't feel for fear it would slip.

Denizens of the Tosheroon cave.. 

Secondly, the name of this project. As a keen new router, I often find a name presents itself well before eventual success. Furthermore, it often helps to spur me on to greater efforts. The Tosheroon was a term appropriated by Terry Pratchett in his

 book 'The Truth'. Officially an old English name for a half crown, in the Pratchett universe it is defined as:

"a lump of debris and rubbish made of the mud and gunk found clogged in drains. While they appear worthless, tosheroons can contain valuable items, such as old coins, lost rings and alike." 

It seemed fitting, as while this project on first appearence should on paper be everything we run away from, it contains treasure.

So first trip back after that was in April 2015 during an unfavourable tide. I took the opportunity to scare myself and SWS down the crack reversing the (thankfully dry) HVS ground deep into the wider squeeze section. This left me with only 2m of uncovered ground.

Looking back, I was still doing a lot of bold trad at the time (I'd climbed Twll Love, a bold E5 in Twll Mawr the previous autumn) and attempts this year to repeat this feat resulted in whimpering retreat.

Next proper attempt was that May. Once more I failed to clear the constriction. That September Seren my daughter was born and thoughts of offwidth fitness were put to bed for a while. I visited in 2016, but only to shoot some beta footage. 

Fast forward to Father's day 2019, and one of my son's Ethan, having flicked through the pics on my phone, decided I should go back to Benllech. It got me re-energised for the project, especially as the pebble level had risen and evened out making it feel more boulder and less intimidating.

Returning at the end of the month, it was the old team again. Back with some form of fitness, and having a couple of years of digesting tactics and possible options off all the previous decades footage, I felt hopeful. However, the crux exit of the constriction still eluded me, as the previous 4m was knackering me too much to try a whole lot of things before I plopped off. Another issue was the narrow tide window which only allowed 3-4 goes before retreat became necessary.

Another year and covid came along, the Mountain volume of NWB took my time and attention and The Tosheroon bubbled away at the back of my mind. It had been suggested that my ground up approach might be supplemented by a step ladder, that opened my eyes a bit. With the coming of the summer and the coastal NWB looming, I was keen to put this monster to bed, and with a favourable tide window for 16th July 2021 it was scribbled on the calendar. Post covid, the old team had gone their separate ways and I was given the challenge of enticing new faces to the project.

Fortunately for this opening salvo the reliable Mark Reeves was willing to come and heckle. We were also joined at short notice by that lover of all things niche; the Fiend. Needless to say the session was banter heavy, and I somehow managed to get out of the construction into the wider squeeze. However, in my 1000 yard stare state I'd become fixated on the right wall of the cave (possibly due to the extensive examination of it from the step ladder - didn't bring it again). The video is a bit long, but worth it for the running commentary :

At about midnight that same evening I came to the realisation that I should have switched to face the other way. Picture Dr Emmet Brown exclaiming "Great Scott!" and you get the idea.

Next visit (25th July) was with a mutual acquaintance  of Fiend and myself, who Mr F thought would be keen. He wasn't wrong - Rafe turned out to be a power house of enthusiasm and encouragement. The ladder was left at home, and instead a rather large stack of pads was bundled to the beach. Once more I'd cleared the constriction, but by then the barnacles had managed to rip both my tape gloves off:

Rafe giving it some 

For the next trip (10th August) I was to be joined by both Fiend and Rafe, and I set about retiring my old foamies and traced some new 2mm foam rubber templates. I've been building my tape gloves around these foam pads for about 18 months now and I'm finding they give a good compromise between the efficiency of a pure tape and the convenience, and let's face it bulk, of a jamming glove (I have small fists).

Once again Fiend bought the banter, but I was still unsure of the exact sequence of circus tricks required to establish me firmly on the left wall. I also prevented an early ejection from the roof with a dyno-bar of my right knee.

The aftermath 

After that I was running somewhat on fumes. Good laugh though:

The next available tide window was the 23rd of August. Unfortunately nobody could come with me that date. I felt quite nervous about this as the tide window is narrow. A low spring tide is needed which gives about 3 hours of access before completely submerging the cave again. Not somewhere to have an accident. However with only about 2 tide windows a month being available to me, and winter looming, I needed every session. 

I set about finding as many things that could provide an edge as possible. MMA knee sleeves under my trousers, a slimmer £3 headtorch off ebay to stop it catching. Hell, I even bought an led dog collar (not useful in actual action unfortunately). I also flicked through P-Widdy's crack book and set about converting my foamies to a vedauwoo wrap. 

I had some kind words of encouragement from fellow jam heads and general deviants, and although still nervous, I stumbled onto the beach to find a lone fisherman toying with his rod. Although I left him to his practice and scuttled into my cave. Knowing that he was there had a calming effect. 

Once the four pads I managed to Sherpa down were in place, I did a bit of pilates and a couple of pull ups, and set about the rigmarole of taping up. After this I did a bit more pilates and reacquainted myself with the technicalities. This basically meant bashing a few bits with a towel and adding some tick marks with a fat stick of Chalk I'd nicked off of Seren.

First go. First meter felt really good, once into the kneebar pivot from feet first to burying myself head first horizontal in the roof.. Well the pump and scrabble kicked in a bit. However, I got to the crux and had a bash until the wheels came off and I dabbed while suspended by a solitary teacup jam.

The first go had done its job and the blood was pumping into all the nooks and crannies. I lay on the pads and thought about all the peeps who believed I could do this. I waited for the heavy breathing to subside, and then waited some more. 

This is an unabridged video of the second go. It's very long, and there is no Fiend to liven it with commentary. Also the lighting was a bit poor so you can't make out loads of the initial bit. However, here it is :

Arghh it's not embedding, the link is here

I wasn't smooth in starting and almost lost my kneebars getting into the roof. The jams through this bit are hard won and I kept slithering onward, expecting them to rip. Getting to the end of the constriction I was on two teacups bumping my left kneebar forward and it slid out. 

Slight wolverine moment, primal driving rage. Not sure how but next thing I know my right kneebar is buried in the roof and I feel solid. I can bump the right teacup to a high fist and twist out onto the left wall. 

My foot is on the first tick mark. Please don't skid off the barnacles. Next thing I'm extending into the rafters, open barring and feeling for help. Holds appear, I can pull into an upright squeeze position. The balcony at the end of the horizon is near. Slowly deliberately, I slide on a bum cheek. I'm there. 

Having a moment just to be happy I took in my surroundings. It was a still and humid day, the crag above was still wet from sea spray, not the dry hvs I soloed 6 years before. I could just plop of the ledge and call it done. The Tosheroon I had envisioned was a crack climb, pulling off the deck and climbing until at the top of the crack, or at least the crag. I probed out, up and further outwards trying to breach the soggy defences. A stretch off a fist gave a dry jug and I swam back into the crack where I could bridge and get some more jams (best weapons against the sogg).

A whimper and a grunt and it was over. The memories remain. 

The Tosheroon 7A+! 

(could be MXS 6b, might be easier although my support team scoff at this. Let's just say Hard Very Marvellous) 

Benllech hidden wall beach, around the corner. Needs a tide window based around a sub 2m low tide. No Chalk required, maximum skin protection advised. 

Start 8m in at a chockstone in the roof. Leave the ground and battle bravely to the light and the jutting balcony. If you get here, pat yourself on the back and feel free to hop down. Those mad enough may, like the first ascentionist, want to battle to the top of the crack, but unlike him, please have someone to rearrange your pads. 

Mark Dicken (23/8/21)

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Broken Hallelujah

 So intention versus reality. Life and work have once again conspired against me, as well as an unhelpful dose of apathy. I'm still down on my offwidth training, hard to motivate myself to boot the kids out the way after a late shift.

Instead I've been focusing my attention on Porth Howel, sprucing it up for the forthcoming Coastal volume of North Wales Bouldering.

I am deeply smitten with this tucked away quarried cove. Despite the fact its at the bottom of a big hill, and the height of the pebble beach varies seasonally by over 2 metres! At least it is vaguely predictable.

First port of call was the Seaward wall, and having another go at a highball arete that scared me off last time, as I could not work out how to top out, and had to reverse to ground. Having scoped out the top and decided that discretion was the better part of valour, I scoped out a flying ramp of footholds leading into the top of paradise groove. This proved to be key, but still very scary, and The Dread Pirate Roberts was born (at about 6A+!) 

The pebble level had risen on the Seaward wall. One move less required on Seams Dynamic, and 2 Jugs was now a sitter. I had intended to try the lower seam traverse, but it had become too bumshuffly. However, the upper seam gave a lovely traverse I dubbed Bird is the Word as the tide was coming in, and couldn't risk a mat. 

I then started working the low level traverse of the wall of something dead early this May. I'd always been unable to work out how to cross the alcove below Blitzkrieg Bop, and a bit of a seige was taking place.

A eureka moment occurred when I stopped trying left to right and switched direction. A series of big dynamic throws between pebble smoothed side pulls deposited me at the starting jug of 53rd and 3rd - the game was afoot!

Starting jug of 53rd and 3rd 

However 2 weeks later when I could next visit the pebbles had begun their inevitable march towards summer height. The crux section was unchanged, but a berm of pebbles had swiped the footholds of the easy section. Even worse, I couldn't repeat the crux. Like the enthusiastic beta hound I am, I dove into unlocking the new challenges, and surprised myself by linking to the start of the crux. I was however now out of beans.

Key pinch #holdnerd

Next session I found all was as before, and I buckled up for the red point. Starting with a proper core and flexibility warm up I moved onto nailing the crux a couple of times. Then it was rest, rest, try, rest.

It was not to be, however I was made up that on my last go I made it as far as blowing the last hard move of the final crux. I was sure it would go next session.

Next session the pebbles has swallowed the footholds of the alcove. End of play until they recede in the autumn.

Having made the journey all the way here I was somewhat disappointed. I was determined to turn these lemons into lemonade. The higher pebbles meant the line over the alcove was less scary than usual. The natural higher line over the alcove would lead into The Rail (down to a nice 5C with this pebble height). After looking at right to left, I decided it would flow better as a natural extension to The Rail starting at the 53rd and 3rd jug. This still necessitated me to dig out a starting foothold, luckily not too deep.

 The moves into the launch crimps of Blitzkrieg Bop were quite strung out for me, but a cunning foot jam (and a bit more digging after a pebble dab) led to:
Overarched 6C 

Satisfied, I retired to return once the summer pebbles sucked away.

Next is Tosheroon. The imminent arrival of a guide is always a double edged sword; Excitement at a chance to be documented is tempered by the anxiety that your house is not in order. 
Despite my troubles in motivating the necessary training ethic, I intend to role the dice and hold things lightly.

Do or do not, there is no try.