Tuesday 21 April 2009


Spring feels like its really sprung here in Sheffield. Its a few weeks now since the Curlews returned to the moors, the first buds burst about two weeks ago, but the last week has seen the leaves unfurl and breathe colour back into the landscape. On friday a Cuckoo sealed the deal. To further lift the spirits there's been plenty of sunshine, we might even be on for a repeat of April two years ago when it didn't rain in the central Peak for four weeks. Hopefully we'll be spared the summer of floods that followed. In common with previous years there's a lot of haze about which can make for disappointing sunsets for photography, luckily alternative subject matter to 'the grand vista' is getting more varied by the day.

As is usual this time of year grit action has swerved into the quarries. For these (and the midland sandstone crags) it's peak season; quick drying, not too hot or midgy yet, and a nice transition to the bigger trad challenges of the summer.

At venues like Duke's or Nesscliffe the rock is usually at its driest of the year just before the trees close in. Not sure if'll make it over to Shropshire this year, but if you've not been, now's the time to go.

Friday 17 April 2009

Lleyn sun

Sitting on the patio, enjoying a beer in the evening sunshine, I tilt my head and a stream of saltwater runs out of my nose and onto my book. Despite packing the car full with cameras and climbing gear, surfing proved just too addictive. Abersoch came up with the goods over the easter weekend; wall to wall sunshine from friday to tuesday that felt like a real holiday. I did get out with the cameras during the evenings, but the light was too harsh during the day and the swell too inviting.

Mick Fowler's old principle of trying to get more feet of climbing in on a weekend than the miles he'd driven to get there seems positively opulent compared to surfing though. The actual seconds you spend stood up compared to the effort of getting there and the time spent in the water is ridiculous. Thankfully I'm at a stage now where I'm improving fairly quickly and proper rides are seeming much more attainable. That failure ratio is highly addictive too, everytime I decide to go in after the next wave, its goes better than I hoped and I head straight back out to try again.

With this and the ice climbing I did earlier in the year, its really nice to be learning and improving fast at something again. Hopefully the psyche will spill over into my photography and climbing where gains are harder won nowadays.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Caley etc?

First stop on Saturday was Steve Dunning et al's new bouldering wall in Leeds: The Depot. Its superb and will be the equal of anything in the country when its finished. What's open now is better than 95% of walls already. Cofe gave me a hand fitting out their swanky new Cafe with a bunch of my prints. Looks pretty smart:

They are all for sale so have a look if you're in the area. If you've seen something you like on the website its a good place to check out the quality of the prints before you buy too.

Good as it is there's no climbing wall in the world which could tempt me off the grit on a sunny spring day, so it was off to Caley next. I'm pretty convinced its the best bouldering venue in the Uk, the only downsides being proximity to a busy road and a tendency to stay damp. Conditions on saturday were great, literally everything dry, cool, sunny spells and a good breeze. Indulged ourselves in a long warm-up circuit (how good is Rabbit's Paw wall?) before getting stuck into some more serious stuff. Nearly seven years ago now I was a local here so have done most of the stuff I'm likely to do on an odd visit before, so its was all about trying to repeat some of my favourites. I stayed well clear of Blockbuster, Ben's Groove went easily enough and then it was on to Terry, one of my top ten problems ever. After re-learning how to hold the pebbles (its in the thumb, of course), Nige and I were getting to the top hard move lurching left into the big holds. About twenty goes and an hour later I finally took off my boots and admitted defeat. As a general rule I'm much more bothered about my base level than my all-time hardest tick-list, so stuff like this really frustrates me. Its a tricky move, but I couldn't undertstand what I was doing wrong. With hindsight it was pretty warm and I think we were the first to clean it off this spring - with a proper clean of the crux slopey crimp it might well have been a different outcome. Putting this amount of effort into something I've done before doesn't bother me at all though, far better than scratching around some lowball drivel just for the sake of a new tick.

By the time we'd worked our way along to the crag rain was threatening and we were pretty goosed. We finished off trying Scary Canary, another classic highball that I've done quickly before. Failure this time was more squarely due to filthy holds on the arete. I suspect the arete sequence has fallen out of fashion in favour of a more basic crimping up the sharp pockets, but it makes for a better problem. Hopefully there'll be chance for a rematch before it gets too hot.

Monday 6 April 2009

Up The County

Tuesday and Wednesday last week turned into a mini-trip to Northumberland with The Lodger, Andy J, Sam & Lu. Four crags in two days plus a dawn photo session can't be bad, in fact I'd say the Belford-Bamburgh area is perhaps the best in the uk if you want to combine convenient landscape photography and bouldering.

Tuesday started at Shaftoe; a new crag to me and great to explore in sunny breezy weather. Surprisingly its gritstone, a little soft and scrittly, reminiscent of Brimham in its rounded sandiness. Its a big, fairly complex area, though one impression was reiterated as we checked out the various areas: its either too high or not high enough. The grades also seemed to be wildly to cock; I warmed up by flashing a 7b+ in my trainers and Lu slipped off the topout of an 8a on her first attempt. No doubt its a fun area if your relatively local though, some great features in the rock and fantastic views north to Simonside.

A very pleasant drive along quiet roads took us north, passing an amazing amount of outcrops, to the bunkhouse at Preston ('The Joiner's shop' - recommended), and then for a last light session at Bowden. I wanted to get a good photo of what is probably the best problem in The County - The Crack, which Andy and I had previously done but Sam hadn't. Sam was first up on his second go, Andy lapped it several times, and I managed to struggle up in between trying to catch the light bursting through layers of clouds. In The Peak I think this would get 7b+ or 7c, a similar standard perhaps to West Side Story and of comparable quality for certain.

Dawn Wednesday saw me at Bamburgh beach and a frustrating sunrise - two minutes of contrast as the sun broached the horizon, then overcast. Flipping between my Mamiya 645 and the new digital body was a struggle and in future I think concentrating on one or the other is required. The beach here is probably the most popular sunrise photography location in the country - four folk out this morning - but having shot it in soft light before I packed up, sat and soaked up the sea air and the bobbing Eiders for a while and then headed back.

Most of the day was spent at Kyloe-in-the-woods where none of us managed anything of note. More than a little fatigued we agreed to check out Hepburn before heading home. Another nice looking crag on a quiet hillside, plenty of good lines in the mid grades, but nothing to tempt us to stop. Further right there was more lurking in the woods. A few giant slab extemes lost to moss, and a perfect highball block with a cracked arete - Northern Soul. A stone cold classic at 7a, don't miss it if you're in the area.