Sunday, March 29, 2009

More Proof Positive

Even when I was still at Malham I knew I'd come a bit of a cropper. Cleaning the last two routes simultaneously! rushing to get home in time for Daddy duty I pulled a little too hard on exhausted muscles and tendons and felt something give in my shoulder. The following day my shoulder was throbbing away although luckily not completely seized up. I think its my bicep tendon but will know more in a couple of days. This didn't really come as too much of a surprise as seemingly every time I try hard (particularly training) when rock climbing something snaps. Obviously this could easily put a spanner in the positive thinking speil I psyched myself up with just days before.

Then today I watched the Grand Prix motor racing down in Melbourne and it reminded me why however bad things look you should never give up. For those who didn't see the race; Jenson Button, who after being flagged up as the new British hope of motor racing has spent the best part of his career languishing at the back of the grid having to keep his composure and his dodgy car on the track while being routinely mocked by punters as talentless. Then at the end of last year's season it looked like his team were about to give up F1 all together leaving him with no job. That a hastily salvaged team could actually make the start this season was amazing enough, but for Button to go on and win (and his team mate Barrichello to come second) was pure fairy tale stuff.
An equally impressive story filled third place where Lewis Hamilton last year's champion but this season driving a dog of a car made it from a starting position of 18th onto the podium.

I'm off to the Alps in 2 weeks so I feel a bit like Hamilton 18th on the starting line with a sea of cars between him and the podium. Time to turn on the positive afterburners.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Malham - the power of positive thinking

Steve McClure onsighting another 8a at Malham

For me Malham is easily one of the most impressive cliffs we have, as far as limestone goes its one of the few that compares to the best in France or Spain. But its a place Ive always found tough, somewhere I needed a lot of motivation just to start attempting any of the routes there.
So today deciding to skip a possible trip to Scotland and try and get the rock season off to a start involved a fair bit of positive thinking. Not least that I had a nose dripping like a tap matched only by the teaming rain as Alex and I left Sheffield. We were rewarded surprisingly with an almost bone dry crag to ourselves (until mid afternoon when another team braved the forecast).
For some odd reason I ended up with quickdraws in two parallel routes Against the Grain, a 7a I've done before but which for me would still be a good tick for the first day sports climbing of the year, and Taking the Space, a 7b - a grade I haven't climbed for about a decade. With the clock ticking on our return drive I had a decision to make. I'm hoping to try to carry some of the momentum over from the winter season so using the power of positive thinking I opted for the harder route. It would be nice to report that I floated up it first redpoint but it didn't quite work out like that, but it still felt great to be making forward choices straight away at the beginning of the season. The following whippers blew away a few cobwebs too.
On the same note, as a Dad its easy to come up with excuses why you can't climb as hard as you want to but one of my role models is another Sheffield Dad Steve McClure, who climbed his hardest route the amazing Overshadow 9a+ at Malham while bringing up his 1 year old daughter. For a bit of McClure inspiration check out this excerpt from Alastair Lee's Psyche film of Steve on his other Malham testpiece Rainshadow 9a.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Working Week

It's been a busy week, work wise. As well as my slide show in Newcastle (thanks to everyone who came, I think about £500 was raised for the Schools World Challenge Expedition) Ive had a couple of photo shoots. The first for the Canoe Agency for their clients New Balance in Peak District.Then the second yesterday a climbing one in the Slate Quarries next to Llanberis. It's this variety that I love so much as a photographer. Adapting to the different challenges of each location and client is what keeps me on my toes and still getting the buzz each time I head out with a camera.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Show this Friday, Newcastle

Dawn light on Liathach, Torridon, Scotland

A quick reminder of a talk this Friday at Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School (Eskdale Terrace, Newcastle upon Tyne. NE2 4DX)

The talk starts at 7.30pm, lasting for approx 2 hours with a 20 minute interval. Tickets are £10 per person. For bookings or reservations contact Jill Graham direct at the RGS Theatre on: 0191 212 8930 or by email on

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I was reading a climbing website recently (it might have been Black Diamonds) in which a series on sponsored climbers were asked twenty questions including inspirations. Which got me thinking....

....and at the moment I think my biggest inspiration is my 8 month old daughter Suzanna. At her age everything is new, fascinating and exciting. For her life is a tremendous quest for experience, a 100% involvement in every fresh challenge. It's a good lesson for an old giffer like me, who can easily become a little jaded by the effort needed to embrace further adventures. I've tried to return some of that "new eyes" approach to my climbing recently. Andy Turner took the photo below of me swinging around above the 350m drop of West Central Gully and I like to think it captures a bit of that eager desire to see what's new and exciting around the next corner that Suzanna expresses every day.
Photo by Andy Turner

Friday, March 13, 2009

Brusied Violet

I was going to post gushing reams about the Eighe route. The pouring rain at 5 in the morning, the slush at 700m suddenly turning to neve a 100m higher, the wildest abseils in Scotland, my dropped axe, my dropped head torch, Andy falling asleep at the belay, me coming close to fainting on the crux, the beauty of the full moon as we topped out, the inspiration from Andy Nisbet's, Brian Davison and Martin Moran's great efforts on this wall.....
But instead I'll just let the pics do the talking and post the description for those who want a similar adventure. Looking down the second of 2 at times free hanging abseils on the approach
Andy topping out the first pitch as the clouds clear
Feeling the strain on pitch 2
The spectra of colours just visible around the full moon as we reached the summit plateau. A great relief as I'd dropped my head torch an hour before.

Bruised Violet VIII,7,8,8,8,7 90m
A phenomenal direct line through the very steep ground Chop Suey avoids. Very sustained climbing at the top of the grade.
1. 30m Chop Suey pitch 1
2. 20m Climb cracks up the right wall of the groove as for Chop Suey) to the upper girdle ledge then pull through the roof and follow the committing groove for 8m to where the ramp of Force Ten heads up leftwards. Arrange gear here (insitu pecker used as back rope for second) from two good footholds on the left wall before dropping back down into the groove and making an unlikely thin traverse on the lip of the overhangs across the right wall. A good crack in the right arete leads to a small ledge where a complex belay can be made. (with enough gear it might be better to continue or alternatively combine pitches 3 and 4).
3. 8m Step up until level with big roofs on the left and swing into a bottomless steep groove which leads to good cracks and possible hanging belay). (note we belayed here as our gear from the ab was here).
4. 20m Pull up right to a sloping ledge and follow very steep grooves and cracks up slightly leftwards until a final pull round a roof gains a big flake. Pull up left onto ledges atop the prow. Traverse 3m left to a crack which leads to big turfy ledges.
5. 12m Blocky steps via a wide crack to the top.
f.a Ian Parnell, Andy Turner 10 March 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Aaaaaaahhhh, Yes!

It's nice to be able to write about some personal success in Scotland rather than my usual round of epics. Yesterday together with Andy Turner I returned to the scene of my avalanche incident from back in the beginning of December. This was my second return having been halfway up the hill in drizzle with Dave Macleod in January. This time despite once again setting off at 4.30am in the rain again we hit a freezing level at 800m and found superb conditions on West Central Wall. We spent probably 10 or 11 hours unlocking the false turns and blind alleys of the maze of overhanging rock right of Chop Suey (starting up that route) before managing a superb direct line. I'll post more later about the details (I only got home at 7am this morning after 1 hours sleep) and my daughter Suzanna is more interested in which is the tastiest my mobile phone or the TV remote. It's been a long held dream of mine to climb a winter route on this face. So here's a couple of pics of Bruised Violet VIII,7,8,8,8,7 Andy on the second ab. Bruised Violet takes the big groove (Chop Suey) then a line direct through the roofs before an incredibly pumpy overhanging crux wall to finish.Andy on the first crux traversing the lip of the roofs.
Andy leading the short intense third pitch - more roofs (which more sensibly could be combined with the second or fourth pitch)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Keeping your mojo going

This time of year can be quite a challenge for winter climbers. You've spent the last 4 or 5 months putting in the mind numbing drives north, the endless walk ins and froze your bits in search of those elusive winter ticks. Now you've got the option of early spring rock climbing perhaps a chance to warm your digits rather than suffer continuous hot aches. February also seems to dish up an unfair proportion of winter spankings usually due to over ambition or more likely the slushy crap conditions we had on the international meet.

But have faith, do not stray into the sunshine, you'll be in a similar position come the end of September tired of the endless weekends of dry rock and blue skies, hanging on every weather forecast for the first snow flake. In fact March is the best month for those big meaty winter routes. A fact that was illustrated over the past few days with Ed Edwards and Pete Macpherson climbed Blood Sweat and Frozen Tears on Beinn Eighe and Andy Turner, Iain Small and Tony Stone nipping up Centurion on the Ben. Both routes would get 4 stars on the Scottish system; basically about as good as winter climbing gets.

I've got a chance to join Andy next Tuesday. And with 3 potential new routes I've got halfway up this season there's a lot of unfinished business. The winter psyche is back.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Newcastle Lecture

Ibex in the Gangotri, India
A date for the diary if you're based in the North East. I'm lecturing at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle on the 20th March at 7.30 pm to raise money for their World Challenge Expedition to Honduras. Its brilliant to see youngsters have a chance to explore the planet, become more self reliant and be introduced to the amazing world of adventure that has given me so many rewards in my life. There's more info here (scroll down)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Playing with the Pros

Behind every good climbing photo there's a lot more than just the art of when to press the shutter. Sometimes its easy to think its all down to the photographer themselves. But many of my best shots have come when I've been working with the right people. The title of this post is a bit misleading as very few of my "models" are pro climbers. My mate Jon Winter works in Outside but is always willing to give a route a go and ignore me hanging on a rope nearby taking the mickey. I try to avoid too much posing in shoots, with ideally the climber just getting on with the route although on this shot of Jon inside Swimmers Chimney a very old school VDiff (i.e. much harder) at Froggatt I did get Jon to thrutch up and down the easier upper chimney several times. Someone else Ive turned to on several occasions is Ben Bransby. Partly because he lives near me in the Peak District but mainly because he's very reliable at getting up climbs that few others would dare get on merely for pics. The shot below is on the same day at Froggatt on the E4 classic Downhill Racer, a bit of a walk in the park for Ben. Ben climbed it three times on the trot so I could get my angles sorted but its even more humbling when he puts in similar laps on some barely repeatable nightmare like Warmlove or Little Women, both E7s at Stanage.
Photographing Jon and Ben despite the obvious grade difference of their climbs is a very similar experience. It doesn't feel like work at all. With Ben's dog Klem usually trying to eat my cameras or Jon adding to his fine collection of jamming scars, the best way to describe it would be playtime.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The G10 Winter Test

The dampness of last week's International Meet wasn't much cop for climbing but one thing it was good for was the "Soggyness test". Several days immersion in full Scottish spring conditions saw the G10 eventually spend an evening on strike refusing to work and asking for a new battery. Luckily normal service was resumed the following day although the screen is still recovering looking a little more like a lava lamp with a few floating bubbles. I'd say that was a pretty reasonable effort by the G10 considering I wasn't using a case and it ended up in a puddle in my rucksack lid pocket, Ive had an F90 die after a similar dousing. 7/10 The other big test for the G10 this winter was during my ascent of Ravens Edge in December when the final pitch tested how robust the body was. Grating my way up a squeeze chimney I remember getting to an impasse where I thought my rack was jamming my progress. It turned out to be my G10 once more without its case wedged in my chest pocket. The Gore Tex got shredded but the G10 escaped with minor scrapes on the metal work. 8/10

The biggest benefit of the G10 as a winter camera so far has been the chunky dials on top, which enable me to turn on, change operating mode, ISO and exposure compensation wearing big belay mitts. 9/10