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Saturday, 31 December 2011

It's Been A While...

Almost six months since my last blog, where does the time go?
The main reason for my lax blogging activities of late is this:
Sam Edgar Jennings made it into the world at 9:18 PM on Boxing Day weighing in at 7lb 1oz. Proir to his arrival I have been spending pretty much every spare moment trying to ready our house for the arrival. As anyone who has visited my house can tell you this is no small feat. Anyway whilst I don't anticipate having a sudden glut of free time forthcoming I am at least hopeful that the nature of my ceaslessly busy schedule will alter. It should in theory be easier to write blog entries whilst watching over a sleeping child than it is when wielding drill and hammer. But that is all for the New Year, for now I hope you all had a great Christmas and wish you all the very best for the New Year. I'm off to change a nappy...

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Spanish Sun


You Can't Do If You Don't Try.

Each failure.. ..will increase your chances for success at your next attempt
Og Mandino (1923 - 1996)

First off sorry about the long time since my last blog, time has been in short supply of late. I was considering writing a piece about some technical aspect of climbing, body positioning or slab technique or something similar but recent climbing based activity has slightly altered the content of this wittering.

So instead I am going to share with you this little nugget of wisdom:
If you want to do a climb, you first need to try it.

If your aim is to climb 8a (a very common goal) doing some training is excellent, working your weaknesses, getting stronger, improving stamina and a host of other things is all very good. But if you don't get on an 8a you'll never do an 8a. This is true at any and every grade. So if you aspire to a certain grade, pick a route/boulder problem of that grade that you think will suit you and get on it. Even if you're dogging your way up it or working each individual move. Then go away and address the areas of your climbing that fall short. Or alternatively decide that the route/problem you thought was the one for you in fact isn't, and then you can get on a different one until you find one that does suit.

There is an obvious caveat here of course. This doesn't work so well with trad onsighting, I'm certainly not suggesting that if you fancy on-sighting a bold E8 you should just have a go. Trad on-sighting is a different game, and is definitely NOT covered by this post.

Of course the alternative is to not be bothered about reaching a particular grade, after all it's not all about the grade is it? Is it?

See you at the crag, I'll be the one hanging from a bolt of a route a few grades too hard for me :o)

It 'Aint 'Alf 'Ot Mum...

Last week I was in Spain clipping bolts in the heat, man was it hot.
Anyway I had a great time, climbing wise there weren't many highlights beyond a flash of Batman (7b+). I worked a few 8's which all seemed to have massive reaches on them (but then I would say that). A return visit in cooler conditions should see less working and more crushing (but then I would say that...)
Anyway here's some photos:
Batman 1
Flashing Batman...
Batman 2
...Still flashing Batman...
Batman 3
...almost finished flashing Batman.
Redpointing Muscleman
Rock n Roll Express
Very much not redpointing Rock n Roll Express.

Since returning I've not been feeling that healthy. I've had a very disappointing day at Kilnsey blowing a 7c onsight which, if I'd had the wisdom to wait until I was healthy, I would quite possibly have got (but I would say that). And an evening at Cadshaw Quarry getting eaten alive, which was nice.
Now it's very hot and humid and muggy, conditions which I certainly don't thrive in. I'm thinking of hitting the training and cutting back on the cragging until conditions improve. At least until someone suggests going outside...

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Time is a human construct...

...and we should have made more of it!
The odd thing about blogging is that when you're busy doing interesting things you have no time to blog, and when you've got the time to blog you haven't done anything interesting to blog about, hey-ho.
Anyway of recent times I have been spending a lot of time working and a bit of time climbing. I'll not dwell on the working too much, or indeed at all. However on the climbing front since returning from Font my efforts have been directed in a sporting direction. There have been a couple of high end efforts (for me at least) which have yet to end in success, but I remain hopeful. There's also been pastures new visited, well pasture actually. Yew Cogar was a crag that on paper never massively appealed, it was down a steep hill meaning a hellish walk-out and seemed to contain longish (from my bouldery perspective) routes. However I finaly succumbed to pressure from the Stallion and ventured down, and it was ace. The hill wasn't that steep, the routes weren't that long and the rock was luuuurverly.
Thus far my only success there has been Justin Time (7c) but I'll be heading back for some of the harder routes and Cruisin' For A Bruisin' which I want to save for a bit later in the season and give myself a decent chance of the on-sight/flash.
I've also revisited Troller's Gill and made a pretty quick redpoint of The Tinderbox:

This was pleasing as after Andy did the first ascent I tried to repeat it and found it a very stiff challenge. The crux felt very hard and even the supposedly easier section just after was a struggle. However this time the crux felt hard but pretty steady and the rest of the climbing was not in doubt, it seems as though my sport climbing is coming on.
I've also visited Kilnsey and got back on Metal Mickey. I first tried this eighteen months or so ago and it felt incredibly bouldery with every move feeling long and hard. So for my first session I was expecting to be making step-by-step progress so was quite pleased to have a quick go reminding myself of the moves and then on the second time on the rope climbed steadily up to the crux. My second session on this was just one attempt long without a warm-up and again the start felt steady. The crux moves still feel hard but I'm thinking this is probably game on.

Hopefully more to report soon...

Footwork - The Very Basics

I dazzle you with that footwork.
Bobby Darin

Think about where you want to put your foot
Put your foot there
Don't move you foot again until you need to


OK, so it's a bit more complicated than that...

Think about where you want to put your foot:

Which foothold do you want to use? Which part of the foothold? Which part of your boot do you want to use? Will a toe be most effective? Or an outside edge? Or a heel? What will be the orientation of you foot? In which direction will you be applying force? Etc...

Put your foot there:

Exactly there where you have been planning, not near there or around there, or there but at a different angle. Put the bit of your boot that you want on the hold on the hold, and put it on the bit of the hold you want it on. Be precise.

Don't move your foot again until you need to:

A sure sign of sloppy footwork is constant little adjustments, if you're foot is in the right place and at the right orientation it shouldn't need to be moved.

Obviously these are ideals to aim for, even climbers with very good footwork will spend a lot of time not using their feet in this perfect manner, after all smears can creep, sequences can be misread, other things can happen. But if you can aspire towards following those three simple guidelines then you'll provide yourself with a sound base on which to build good footwork.

A Blow By Bleau Account

Ahhh the juex de mots potential of Font, just another reason why it's such a great place.

Lists were made, ticklists and packing lists, but in the end both failed to deliver the hoped results. The ticklist is always at the mercy of the whims of family and friends so is a regular casualty on the Font trip but the packing list is usually a safe bet. Mind you it is usually in the safe hands of my wife. So pants, passport and climbing paraphernalia were flung in various bags and then the various digital accoutrements of modern life were lovingly ensconced in a single padded bag and stowed in the boot. It's time to go, but wait a minute whats the address of the hotel we're staying at in Dover? I dunno, I'll check, get the computer out...

I'm sure you can guess the rest. Suffice it to say the lovingly packed bag of electronica was comfortably settled on the sofa when we returned home.

Anyway, on with the diary:

Saturday 16th
Wake up in Dover, get on the ferry, swan through Northern France and arrive at Maisonbleau mid afternoon and god is it hot, 25 degrees according to the car. The gites are still been fettled so we head to Buthiers to warm up/dig holes/snooze. I decide that the ideal warm up would be Coccinelle, a problem I have done previously. Whilst the flash was hopelessly optimistic it was heartening to get it ticked in a handful of attempts, I then did the alternative easier finish version just to do something new. Then back to the gite to make food for the troops.

Sunday 17th
Tried to get out early, and failed. Went to Hautes-Plaines and the birds dibbed first climbing session, then they continued on to Sablons. The boys got a look in at lunchtime, by which time it was back up to yesterdays temperature, we headed to the Rainbow Rocket Block, I had a couple of throws at Voltex before doing Mortel Transfert then did Les Pantins Sociaux on the back of this block. Then we returned to Hautes Plaines for a couple of quick flashes of Lapin Ou Canard and Ah, Plus Facile?. Although given that they both share a common start I guess it's not possible to flash them both, cue some silly ethics debate somewhere on the net...

Monday 18th
Back to Buthiers, ladies day, stinking hot. Manage to sneak off and get up Le Dernier Probleme Droite in a couple of goes. Geez has this got a sharp hold on it, watch those tips.

Tuesday 19th
The team is keen for Potala, I'm indifferent. We head there but manage to get out early (when it's still pretty cool) so I pop across to have a quick look at L'Atelier at Guichot. Neil mentioned this to me a couple of days ago as something well worth checking out. He'd described the sequence to me and looking at it from the ground I could see why it appealed to him (as a gent of the taller persuasion), one of the moves looked HUUUUGE. Anyway the rest of it looked steady away so I placed the mat under the obvious crux move and got on it. The start is just a steady traverse on good holds, then a drop down onto a good sidepull-jug with your left, come over with the right hand to a good slot, bring the left hand down and in a bit to a slopey hold and pop your right foot up onto the good sidepull-jug. Then the big move, the ultimate aim is a left hand gaston about six miles away but first I popped the left hand to a poor finger dimple, then a big lock and tension to a stupidly poor nothing a few inches shy of the gaston then a final positive launch, keep it tense hit the gaston latch it stabilise. A slight foot tweak then I (with my twiddly little fingers) can match the gaston. Swing the feet round and pop a left heel on then finish. The end is steady but I was tired and didn't really know where I was going, and it's a bit bulgey and the feet are a bit blind and my foot pops, I start to slide a bit but claw the fingers, scrabble the foot on and gracelessly haul over. First 8A flash, and it's in Font. Good times. Spend the rest of the day playing fire-engines with lard at Potala (but also sneak up La Poussiere Qui Tue), yet again it is very hot.

Wednesday 20th
I'm a broken man, yesterday exertions have done me in. Isatis is busy and hot and I do a lot of sitting and looking. In the interests of ticking something every day I drag myself up Le Faux Baquet.

Thursday 21st
The ladies bagsey the first slot today at Apremont and by the time we're up for action the heat is just ridiculous. In a desperate bid to get a 7's & 8's tick I stoop to this. It actually turns out to be a nice bit of climbing, but looks rubbish. It would make a great top-out it's just a shame there isn't a problem under it.

Friday 22nd
Last day, hottest day. I am still a very broken man. Things are getting really desperate now so there's only on thing for it. This is rubbish but it's a tick (yes I'm that sad). To compensate I do Beatle Juice twice as it is brilliant, but doesn't count as a tick as I've done it previously.

A good trip despite the outrageous heat. Tailed of a bit at the end though, as ever...

A Great Day

Monday was spent at Troller's Gill with the guru, we had both over-extended our credit limit at the Banco De Famile to get out and the weather was supposed to close in big time by early afternoon so the pressure was on to get some quick results for our foolhardy gambles with the tolerances of our wives.
Things got off to a steady start for both of us on our respective targets for the day with both making good progress with our first couple of redpoints. My third attempt, with the weather turning for the worse, saw me get to the top of my project to give a new route. In keeping with the canine theme of the place I've gone for Moddey Dhoo as a name and the grade of 8a+. Which means that's all the rock eights ticked for me and, as a Brucey-bonus, a first ascent of an eight at all three events (trad, boulder and sport). Which I'm very pleased with, and that in itself would have been a very good day out however there was still the small matter of the guru's project. After my success he went for his fifth redpoint of the day, fell from the very last hard move, and tweaked his back. Disaster. And the rain continued to fall and now there was run-off at the top of the crag. And this is a project where he's said that if it doesn't go in the first couple of redpoints of the day he's unlikely to do it as he'll be powered out.
So a rest for five minutes, a quick stretch out and, with run-off pouring onto the top holds of the route and a strained back he sets out on the SIXTH redpoint of the day after a few encouraging words from me. And he totally destroys the route, he crushes it so completely. I'm impressed. Giving us Velveteen Rabbit (8b). Two new routes, a great day.
We walk back to our vehicles getting totally soaked and my van now stinks of wet dog. I don't care, I'm still smiling two days later. Climbing is the best thing in the world.
Moddey Dhoo (8a+) First Ascent:

Moddey Dhoo from nik jennings on Vimeo

Season Opening

It would seem the sport season is upon us. I think this is as much to do with the fact that sport climbing is currently in vogue as it is to do with the weather. In previous years I'm sure all the strong young things would still be flinging themselves from various bulging lumps of grit at this time of year, and whilst some obviously still are there's plenty that are on the white stuff. The fickle nature of climbing fashions. Anyway enough of this, on with the sport.
The plan a week or so ago was to head to Trollers Gill and try and open my sporting account for the season with a quick red-point of Angel Heart to get the ball rolling. It gets 8a in the Rockfax guide but in reality is 7c, or it was before I tried it. The plan was to do it in a session, a bit of dangling on the rope to get the moves sorted and then an effortless float up on the sharp end. All is going reasonably swimmingly until, in a fit of extreme overgripping, I rip a jug off and it shatters as it hits the ground. Now this jug was just before the crux sequence and provided a reasonable pre-crux-moment-of-contemplation point and was also handy for reaching up to clip the fourth bolt. So it falling off pretty much changed to route completely and, given my dwindling window of free time and the requirement to work a new sequence, put pay to my "in a session" plans.Grrrrrr...
Oh well a week-ish later and I'm back, a new sequence is worked out using a sidepull that was next to where the jug used top be. It makes a pretty significant change to the difficulty of the route for a few reasons. The climbing is obviously more powerful and the crux sequence is longer now but also the fourth clip now has to be done mid-crux and is a little bit gripping. After a few unsuccessful redpoints I finally managed to get it in the bag on the last attempt of the day, which was nice. In it's current state it's probably worth 7c+/8a so a promising start to the season. What's next I wonder...

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Newton Roolz

Ye cannae change the laws of physics.
Scotty, The Enterprise

A few years ago in the face of some apple based inspiration Newton came up with a handful of rules regarding the operation of the world around us and, with the exception of the weirdness that occurs when you look at very small things, these rules have remain pretty much unchanged. Which is nice, but what's this got to do with climbing?

Well I'll tell you. Often when someone (usually but not exclusively Mr Dawes) performs some mind-bending feat of climbing it is described as if the individual was “at one with the rock” or “as if the laws of physics don't apply”. It's all very inspiring sounding but in terms of learning and improving your own climbing pretty much valueless. Nobody can cheat the laws of physics, there are two elements to climbing:

Your biology which will limit what your body can do

The laws of physics which will limit what a body with your biology can climb

So when somebody out-climbs you it's not because they are “at one with the rock” but because they are doing something which you are not. It may be something as basic as they are stronger than you, or it could be a minor positional tweak (their flagging foot is 5cm further left than yours giving them a more balanced position). But whatever the difference is it certainly is not their oneness with the rock (or any other equally meaningless flim-flam). If you want to improve don't accept that a better climber than you is “just better”, work out what the difference is and then you have a weakness to address. And don't fall into the trap of thinking it's just because they are stronger, that may well be the case but it often isn't (more often than most people realise...).

Having said all the above lets not completely remove the romance from climbing. I've had days when the sun has been shining, it's been cold and crisp, the crag has been deserted and a flurry of soloing has gone effortlessly and as I sit on the crag top drinking my cup of tea with the dog lying at my feet I will think back to how a few minutes ago I was climbing at one with the rock. Because after all when the analysis and training is complete who doesn't deserve a little inspirational flim-flam back-patting?

Know Thyself

Until we see what we are, we cannot take steps to become what we should be.
Charlotte P. Gilman

If you want to get somewhere you've never been before (Basingstoke for example) then it's handy to have a map. But that map is worthless if you don't know where you're starting from. If you know where you are then the map becomes very useful and can (if you read it correctly, and it's an accurate map) lead you to exactly where you want to go.*

Improving at climbing is a lot like trying to get to Basingstoke. It's all very well and good reading various articles in magazines and on the net about training but if you don't know where you are it's very hard to take effective steps to get somewhere new. So before embarking on a new cycle of training utilising the latest research on micro and macro cycles and such like take a moment (or indeed several moments) to assess where you actually are in terms of your climbing. I know you've read this “self assesment” stuff before, but that's because it's true.

How you do this appraisal of your own climbing is quite important. That's not to say there is a “right” way to do it and all other options lead to failure and disappointment, but it's helpful to keep in mind why you are doing the review. The idea is to give a reasonably accurate picture of where your climbing is and (very importantly) where your weaknesses lie. Some people will construct tables scoring different aspects of their climbing out of 5 (or 10), some people (like me) will have a slightly less structured (but no less accurate) view of their climbing. It really doesn't matter the exact approach you take as long as you can draw effective conclusions from your results.

I will however give two top tips for assessing your climbing:

1) Avoid overly general statements

“I'm good at slabs” is too general. People have said to me “you really like slabs don't you?” several times over the years, the implication being that I am good at slab climbing based on me having climbed some tricky slab routes. It's a fair comment but in terms of assessing my climbing almost meaningless because when I reply “yes I do...” there is an unsaid series of caveats rolling through my head “...as long as they don't involve bridging, or really reachy moves or very small sharp holds or anything involving frog legs or...”. To the extent that saying I like slabs is not saying very much. Rather than “I'm good at slabs” the thinking should be a bit more specific:

I'm good at smearing on slabs

I'm good at high-steps

I'm good at balancing on slabs

I'm bad at bridging

Etc etc

2) Don't get bogged down in minutiae

This is the opposite end of the scale, if you know you can hang on for 5 seconds on a 15mm flat edge on a 40º board and 3 seconds on a 10mm flat edge on a 40º board and 7 seconds on a 15mm edge on a 30º board and etc etc etc etc, then you know a lot but (dare I suggest) you may be over-analysing? Whilst you need enough data to assess your current climbing weaknesses and strength too much data will muddy the waters, perhaps all the above would be better said as “pretty good on crimps on steep ground”?

Anyway as so often in life the ideal is to aim for the middle ground where you have enough information to make an assessment but not so much that you need a supercomputer to analyse the results. The scoring system seems like a good starting point to me so maybe try that first. Once you have some information you can start to address your weaknesses and imbalances in your climbing, and that's where progress is made.

*Having a coach is a bit like having a GPS in that the coach can work out where you are then give you directions to Basingstoke from there. Although obviously the more involved you are in the process and the better you understand your climbing the sooner you'll get there. Also, in common with a GPS, you need to tell your coach you want to go to Basingstoke. Otherwise he might direct you to Swindon, and nobody wants that do they?

The view from another window

Over the last few week I have been embroiled in re-instating some windows in my house that have been previously blocked up. However, given the nature of the house I live in, this has not been a matter of removing a few bricks from an existing window opening and stuffing it with a pre-assembled sealed double glazed unit from Wickes. Oh no, I dream of such a simple life...

Here are the blocked up window openings:

So first I need to make the leaded lights to go into the opening, several days of lovingly cutting each individual glass diamond by hand, stretching and cutting the lead, positioning everything and then soldering it up gives me a pair of each of these:
Bottom Section
Middle Section
Top Section

Then to remove the numerous large blocks of stone to expose the openings for the first time in approximately sixty years.
Almost there:

Some of the stone removed, with a hammer for a sense of scale:

And finally put in the new leaed light panels and supporting steels:


I'm really pleased with how these have turned out, and it's obviously made a massive difference to the light levels inside. Just a few bits of finishing off detailing then they'll be done and focus shifts to finishing off the room inside. The endless joys...