I'm a woman

I'm a woman
Photos copyright Laurence Gouault
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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The best cliff : GOGARTH, by Stevie Haston

Journalists love superlatives and absolutes and the sound of their own voices, and often don't have the faintest idea what they are talking about. In this they are not dissimilar to the rest of us of course, humans being human and all that. But rock is not flesh and blood, rock is the foundation, it`s solid. Rock is an absolute and something we can rely on. And what more ancient and venerable collection of rocks can we consult or learn from than the superlative ancient stones of the Gogarth cliffs?

As someone who has climbed on many of the most beautiful cliffs in the world, I naturally have several favourites. You can probably guess which ones. Ceuse, Grand Capucin, the Tre Cime, and Gogarth, to mention just a few of the usual suspects. Each in its own way perfect and complete.

But it is Gogarth that seems to tick all my boxes. It has terror in extraordinary amounts, every conceivable angle of rock, good rock, bad rock, colours galore, climbable features like grooves, cracks, chimneys, and kindly enough offers all grades from easy to just below impossible.

The just below impossible has always interested me and this is where Gogarth`s routes score a full 10 out of 10; everything looks possible. It may not be of course, but it looks it, from Dream of White horses to Conan the Librarian. Gogarth's cliffs look climbable; they are not like those inhospitable, hard cliffs which somehow seem to be for squeaky serious mutants only. Gogarth attracts players, climbers who enjoy the game, rather than competing. North Wales has great cliffs and is the best area to climb in Britain. The jewel in this crown is Gogarth, because it seems to get the best out of you. The best cliff: a big claim, a biased claim? No, merely my not so humble opinion. I climbed there recently and it was distilled magic. It was a full meal when a lot of climbing feels like a quick snack, it nourished my soul, it reached those parts that beer can't. And it has seals. Yesterday we saw five baby seals, all furry, fat and white, like weird roly-poly grubs, creatures of fantasy.

When I was a fledgling climber, it was photos of Gogarth that excited me the most. They somehow where an obvious gate into another dimension. Just look at Leo Dickinson's famous photo of Dream of White Horses, more like climbing the underside of a pitted ancient meteorite than traversing an easy slab. The stories I read and later heard seemed so crazy they just excited me more than those about blander rocks in tamer scenery.

Alan Rouse on the crux pitch of Positron, going for it with a MOAC nut in his teeth. It was do or fly, with friend Pete Minks belaying while offering foul-mouthed encouragement. Knowing these lads made it all the more exciting, knowing how well they climbed made the route bolder. I wanted some of that. I wanted to boldly go where no man had gone, I wanted to laugh in the face of danger. Or at least nervously giggle. Even if today I am a reasonable climber, I judge my true worth by climbing a cliff like Gogarth.

Over the years many climbers have thought like me, and some have left a considerable mark on these cliffs, climbers from Joe Brown to George Smith. Sometimes it's not their hardest routes they like most, but the more idiosyncratic ones. Fly Trap for Joe perhaps, in and out of an un-travelled zawn, with a belay on a chockstone which seems to be the key rock, holding the zawn together.

One of my own favourite routes is similar in a way, in and out of a unclimbed zawn and then tunnelling and caving to emerge on another Joe Brown route in another zawn altogether. That is The Light That Didn't Shine, typical of a lot at Gogarth in that the sea and the water are part of the psychological make-up of the routes. This waterish element is worse for some of course, for if you can't swim or don't like water, many of Gogarth's best routes will be much more scary. The approach to many climbs is by airy abseil, with a perhaps rough sea boiling underneath you. But upon analysis, all these problems never seem to outweigh the grip factor you can be feeling. Indeed, I am always amazed at how safe most of the stuff is at Gogarth, with probably only a handful of really dangerous routes among hundreds of three to five star classics. The danger is often illusory, imagined rather than actual.

Of course, it was very different for the early pioneers, with their antiquated racks of inadequate gear. The route that bears the crag's name, Gogarth, was so loose it was likened to a jigsaw of sabres, literally a field of rock, covered in hanging spikes and by all accounts not that enjoyable for many years. The route and its low grade hide the true dangers of the early ascents, and many of the easier routes have similar ghastly histories.

A long love affair with these cliffs has allowed me to gauge the change of many ascents over the years. Superlative routes like Yellow Wall's The Moon have gone from being pokey, creepy affairs to just being very exposed gentle romps. But how many of us would have voyaged out like its first ascentionist, Mr much maligned Ed-ward Drummond, into that vortex of swirling colours and loose rock? There are old-timers who say Gogarth is too tame now and that everything is too solid. I am not one of them, but let's say some of the choss fests have been over-sanitized. Some of these veterans would be astounded at our triple racks of friends too. No wonder they were often good alpinists as well as good sea cliff climbers.

Last year the Gogarth North guide by Ground Up came out, and it reminded me of how deep is the debt that we owe many of our climbers. Some of the routes are hard and required much effort and time to climb. We often forget these cliffs are a bit more of an effort than a small edge, and conditions can be very fickle, with the sea fog, the spray and the humidity. The harder routes are plagued by Gogarth's soapy feel, often changing for the better in the late afternoon. Some of the zawns and marbly bits of the main cliff always seem slick, but just suffer really badly, especially those bits under roofs. I hope this guide and the forthcoming Gogarth South guide make the cliff a bit more popular in the future, as to neglect these great routes, some of which rank among Britain's best, is a real shame.

There are so many good routes, you can't even pick a top ten. Any starred route is better than the 3-star routes in the Peak and has more character and atmosphere to boot. Only in Scotland's Western Isles do you get the same quality, but at a considerably higher cost in both time and money. Even in bad weather you can still do a long sea level girdle and gain vital knowledge of the cliff, while having a scream of a time. Wetsuits are probably obligatory, as well as a sense of humour, as you will end up doing more swimming than planned. Yet every time I have reluctantly done so it turned out to be a great day.

Which of Gogarth's walls are the best? The answer is entirely up to you. I have enjoyed all of them, from the looser ones at South Stack to the solid main cliff. The only one I am a bit reluctant to recommend is North Stack wall: some very good routes, but also a handful that are frightening rather than exciting. You really do have to have your loins well girdled for that half dozen routes, and be climbing very confidently to succeed with any margin.

My favourite days at Gogarth? Too many to mention, but certainly those when visiting new walls, doing new routes, or coming back after a long absence. Recently I completed a new route which I first thought of thirty years ago, so a chapter closed for me. I cleaned the route a month or so prior and tried to climb it, but gave up due to bad conditions and bad weather. I even had to import a belayer from France, who in the end was more captivated by the seals' antics than mine. Great conditions made the climbing reasonable but the day was exceptional: a cold breeze and the snuff dry rock felt sticky. I thoroughly recommend this latest addition to Gogarth's repertoire. The Randy Rhinhog is well protected, has weird blind moves, lots of jamming and is stunning. It's exposure feels like that of a much bigger cliff, simply another five star route, a must-do for aficionados and a must-avoid for those who like predictable climbing.

The route is in memory of Gordon Tinnings, a guy who loved Gogarth.

It's protected by some ice climbing bulldogs and some pegs, so get on it now and not in a few years when these rust...

Monday, 27 February 2012

Grippers by Stevie ‘the claw’ Haston.

Tools of the trade

Hand Grippers have been for about 100 years, but most people dismiss them. I think they are fun, and they can help with hand strength, so why not get one?

Their basic plus, is that they are light, and portable, and they are fairly cheap. They are not the be all and end all, just an adjunct.

What do they do? Well they don’t do a lot, it’s you that does the work, and its you that has to find out how to use them to your advantage. The reason most people dismiss them is because they see no application to rock climbing, well, think a little out side this narrow way, and you might see some thing in Grippers for you. The hand is a really wonderful thing, it’s so complex, it needs a whole gym to exercise it properly, and grippers can make up a part.

The normal way to use a gripper is the ‘Crush’, kindda just squeezing, and this isn’t super useful to a climber except in one small overlooked area, the little and ring finger. The little and ring finger are the weakest, and so it might be profitable to strengthen them. If you invert the Gripper in the hand; the strain is the opposite, it is now primarily taken on the index, and the ‘rude’ finger. So you already have two ways to train. If you buy a gripper that you cant close, the range of movement is almost nothing, so the gripper turns into an open hand strengthener in a static mode like in climbing. Now if you buy a gripper that is too weak for you, you can close it in a crimp. So now you have four options to train with. If you use the gripper to train your thumb, it is getting very interesting, because the thumb can be ridiculously strong. You can do all this with an adjustable strength Hand gripper; or two grippers of different strengths.

My hands are very weak at present, so I am going to start using them again. If you have just a very good crimp like many climbers do, good for you, but you might consider rounding out your hand strength and hand health. Mixed climbers will fully realise the importance of hand strength as their hands unwrap from an axe, and they plummet. And if you find yourself unable to untie your knot, or undo a Screwgate carabiner, you can get into a bad fix, don’t blame your hand strength, blame yourself. Hands are amazing things, to think of them, as just crimping devices is dumb. When you have to pump up a rope from an overhanging fall you might be keen on a bit of Crush power.

Grippers come in different strengths just like climbers. There have been a few climbers with very good grips, and in-fact one of the few tests that seems to reflect leading, and bouldering ability, is a calibrated grip test. If you do a lot of Trad climbing, and have to help your buddy on the rope, a bit of hand strength is very welcome. So try to explore the possibilities of a Hand gripper, and you might get more out of it, and your hands. Obviously climbing related grips are the best for climbing; but grippers defiantly are useful if you temporarily don’t have access to either climbing, or a Finger board.

There is some evidence you can train the Hands with a lotta volume, and also with negatives, but be shy of working against the natural movement of the joints. If you want to train the hands negatively, or in a Stactic hold, close the hand with two hands, and hold with one. In extreme cases you can use a cheat bar, and this is much kinder on your lower back than big dead lifts.

Good luck and don’t hurt yourself. 

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Burning off Ben Moon by Stevie Gibbose Haston

Ben, Mike and Stevie the stalker

Ben Moon did the first ascent of Hubble in 1990, it was the first 9a in the world under the new Uefa grading system, I burnt him off once. He wasn’t pleased!
Ben Moon was eclipsed in many ways by Wolfgang Gullich, who was certainly not Bens equal in pure bouldering, or redpointing. This is the odd way history is,  its not an accurate thing, its easily subverted.
Now then a few months after Ben did Hubble, his best buddy Jerry Moffat was climbing well so he thought he would try Hubble. By some weird coincidence I was there with Kurt Albert, Wolfgang’s old training buddy. The World is indeed a small place full of odd coincidences. Anyway Jerry huffed and puffed but could not blow Hubble away, Kurt and I laughed, Jerry fumed and then went incandescent but all to no avail. Hubble is apparently a hard nut to crack. Kurt and I being out of our league decided to go arête climbing on the Grit instead, we did Archangel, Ulysses, Edge Lane and Great Arrete, we Talked about how routes can break you mentally, we had a great time. Kurt was a talented pianist and told me that certain bits of music broke him, a bit like redpointing, you know you can do them, but you cant!
Some years later in Salt Lake City I met up with a few strong people and we were all messing around. A certain Ben Moon became interested in picking up a weight attached to a needle, he was adamant that he could beat everybody, he was wrong. He couldn’t beat me. I burnt Ben Moon off.
I went out a few times to watch Ben and Mike Beck bouldering as a master class lesson. Mike Beck was really cranking at the time and it was very inspiring to watch him, very short, no excuses, and him and Ben enjoyed each others company. Anyway I moved Mats for them and brushed a few holds, and generally gawked.
At one boulder venue however I was lucky and did something and Ben looked at me shocked, and said ‘Stevie you could be good if you lost a bit of weight’, inside I laughed. “Condescending young Whippersnapper” I said, ‘I am the Champ at weight lifting with a needle and don’t forget it’..
After my tiny victory I was relegated to labouring for Ben and Mike, Ben would point at tree stumps and I would up root them like the trained Mule I am. Its horses for  courses, and bouldering is not weightlifting. 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Rules of training by Stevie the Dictator Haston.

First rule of training, is don’t hurt yourself.
Second rule of training, is don’t hurt yourself.
Third rule of training is, don’t hurt yourself.

These rules apply to every sport, not just climbing.

Drink lots of Liquid, it helps protect your tendons.
Be courteous and pleasant to others so that they are courteous and pleasant to you, so that you can all profit from training.
If you do hurt yourself, even in a minor way, take 10 whole minutes to think about it, go have a coffee, and think about it, do not carry on in any way which might make the injury worse. Do not keep squeezing and testing the injury, you only make something worse by hurting it more.
Tidy up your mess before you leave. After you finish turn to the training area and bow just like in Martial Arts, now do two things, say thanks and goodbye, and check you didn’t leave anything!

Blisters by Stevie Haston.

Blisters are a bugger, better not to have them. How to not have them can be a trial, but prevention is way better than cure. I am tough but although they haven’t yet made me cry yet, blisters have made me yowl, and yell, and wince and wobble. They have even put me in hospital with serious blood poison once, so are defiantly not a laughing matter.
Prevent them. You need to monitor your feet all through the year. Your feet must be kept supple and clean, and most importantly, no hard skin. The best time to sort your feet out is sitting in the shower, or with your feet in a bucket of water. You soften the skin and scrape it off with a stone, or file. Don’t be too aggressive, better to do it over a few goes, than all at once. After filing, apply some oil, and massage it in. Sort out your nails while you’re here, Not just because you get in-growing toe nails, but because they can rub adjacent skin, and also catch in socks, and against the inside of the shoe. The skin on your feet should be soft like a baby.
Shoes and socks are really very important. Check your socks for stones, tiny sticks and seeds. Discard any sock with a ridge in the material, or a hole. Pay a lot of attention when you put the perfect sock on, to prevent any rucking of material. Two thin socks are better than one thick one, but at all costs don’t have feet that are too hot.
Blisttered to the Ying Yang but happy at the finish of the TDG, notice preventative beer can in hand...

Shoes have to be the right size for the distance, They need more room on long, to very long runs because your feet will swell. They must not be so baggy  that they allow excessive movement in long traverses, and while contouring. They need to be perfect! Goretex or waterproof lined shoes can be way too hot, and will promote blisters. I love my goretex shoes but only when I, and conditions decide. Even unlined shoes can be too hot so watch out for dark coloured ones, as well as ones with lots of plastic toe protection. Examine the inside of your shoes for rub points, discard shoes that become rough inside, and rub a toe, or keep them for short runs.
On really big runs were you have to keep on running with blisters, be really super careful about infection. A blister which is broken, is an easy entry point for infection, that’s why you are normally advised not to touch them. If you must touch them its better to do it earlier than let your shoe, and the terrain do it for you. You need a clean needle to pierce the skin, clean fingers to get rid of fluid, and then a clean dressing. Betadine is my preferred solution because you can see it, due to the colour, so you know where it has been.
Blood blisters are supposed to be one step up, and doctors sometimes refuse to do anything for you. A blood blister can sometimes happen at a very deep level especially if you haven’t sorted out those callous. If it is very deep and you continue to run it gets worse, the pressure opens up from inside. If it is close to the surface an incision with a scalpel will drain it, clean it up, disinfect the hell out of it, and make sure see a doctor after the race or course.  I have cut thru deep layers to relieve pressure, but I would not do it for some one else, because it is a serious procedure. If you are anywhere remote take a course of antibiotics with you. Blood poisoning comes on quick, you will have a swelling or stiffness at the juncture of your leg and hip in 12 to 24 hours. With out treatment you can die.
Feet one month after a race...

Some people pre tape their hot spots, and there rub spots, if this works for you good. What works for me is prevention. I am also keen on not running when I have damaged feet, but there is a bit of a problem because of special races that you don’t want to miss, the entries are expensive. It is on your own head right, your decision. You can have a blood blister, and not know about it, because of depth, but you will be aware that something is amiss. If you do alotta tarmac you can sometimes have an almost permanent one on your heel strike area. A telltale black line sometimes gives it away. Cooling down your feet in freezing mountain streams can be good but not after you have holes in them remember infection doesn’t need much.
I have seen people with horrific feet still finish tough races, and they heal up in a month, its up to you. 
On multi days the commercial Compede works well, as does climbing tape, the higher quality ones work best. All the adhesive tapes work best on dry skin, putting an expensive Compede on damp skin, is worse than useless, as it will just slip. If you don’t have fancy plasters for the job, even gaffa tape will do- that’s Duct tape in America.  If you carry sticks you can always put a couple of turns around the pole, for a bister repair, or to tape up a twisted anckle.
 Hope this helps. More fun and Success to you, and less pain.

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Way of the Dervish, by STEVIE HASTON

Katie Haston on the Dervish

Are route names important? 'Seventy Thousand Assyrians' is the title of a short story by a brilliant writer called William Saroyan. I was going to use it as a route name but instead I chose 'Comes the Dervish'. It became the name of a symbolic route of a thousand shades of mauve and purple.

A slab that had been chipped for me by an unknown Welsh Powder Monkey, slippery stone, turned into a test for chalk-covered fingers. Mostly it was mine, 'all mine my precious', but of course you can share it. Routes are funny little things, mere pathways up bits of stone, but sometimes they have a story. We often burden them with significance, and mystery and an aura totally beyond their span. Slate routes are a little odder than most. The very medium implies distrust; brittle and incredibly lacking in friction, this stone cannot be trusted. Or so we once thought, and maybe we still secretly believe that slate is malign.

In 1980 I was sitting in Pete's Eats at lunchtime, without the means to afford lunch. I was staring in the direction of the Prince of Wales, though I had no money for its fine ale, and I was banned anyway. Through the drizzle I noticed that some slates on some roofs were by some alchemy dry. It wasn't a trick, it was a sign, a starting block for a new route boom, so I stirred my tea and then naturally forgot about it. That's what happens to great ideas when dropped into the minds of young lads, they are simply forgotten. You generally need burning bushes or meteorite strikes to wake youths up. Later that week I failed to hitch to Tremadog and instead found myself swimming in the magical aquamarine of the Vivian Lake. My companion was a happy hippy chick, we were not burdened by clothes, we were floating, resting on the surface tension of a secret spell, between the blue of the lake and the turquoise of the sky, a trance-like place, timeless. As we opened our eyes, a kaleidoscope of colours assailed us, blues, browns, purples, greens, spinning around and then, there, in the middle, appeared the Dervish. It showed the way, it promised scary stuff, vanquished by arcane techniques, it was The Way.
Spending time in North Wales is easy. So many rock types within a short drive, the sea cliffs and the mountains, nowhere in Britain offers such variety of climbing. One day in London thirty years ago I quit my job, packed my pack, hitched to Wales, and fell in with a crazy bunch of rowdies, reprobates and riotous Pan worshippers. They were climbers, but they were also people in love with life. I was a student of climbing, and came to be apprenticed, to learn more, broaden my skills and at the same time shake a tail feather in the university of Lambert. They were halcyon heady days, hazy after all this time, but famous to those who were there.
Fight club every Friday night in Caernarfon. The elders of the climbing world dishing out free advice and the odd sandbag in the Padarn Lake hotel on Saturdays. Climbing was so popular that you couldn't get into the pubs of a weekend, or onto the fashionable crags. This meant routes were clean, info was on offer, and there were partners and enjoyable climbing society everywhere. You could be penniless and physically broken, but some kind old dude would buy you a pint and listen to your tales of daring do. The elder statesmen had been everywhere and done most things, some shameful, some staggering, but all recounted in that put-down, self-disparaging style, punctuated by boyish smiles. The partying was prodigious, the casualties colossal, the fun farcical and free ranging. At one party I remember the editor of the world's premier climbing magazine and the head of the BMC, both unconscious, and I didn't think this odd or inappropriate.

It was the time of the famous Dance of the Flaming arseholes and other such social frivolities. A time and a mindset never to be forgotten. I lost a lotta mates in the next few years and I'd just like to mention Al Harris, Mark Whitfield, Rob Utley, Gordon Tinnings and Dirty Alex (Macintyre), because they were very special to me. You hear a lot today about the trauma of losing mates, but in those days you just went on the ale. Some of course never got back off it, and became casualties of another sort.
There were whacking great holes in my climbing skills, apart from a yearning in my heart for fun, laughter, and joy, and I needed to fill these needs. Having travelled around the country I had seen many very good climbers and come to understand the necessity of the complete palette of skills. Colourful Wales was the place for me to learn mind skills, not just the rockcraft, but also the Jedi-stuff. In those far off times there were some exceptional people who not only had the moves, but also could tap into a flow, a secret place of free movement, unencumbered by fear. It wasn't always there of course, and it wasn't always accessible, but you could see it if you looked very closely and thought outside the finger strength box.
In the 70s and early 80s people did think differently. Ron Fawcett had the flow occasionally. He is famous now, but then he was just one of a huge bunch of very talented climbers who at times tapped into the flow. When he did Lord of the Flies, you could see he was there, he was inside that climb, he was complete. Ron didn't have it all the time; it comes and goes, this gift. For some of us it is there briefly, for just one summer of superlative stuff, and then poof, it's away, just a happy memory.

Great climbers I have seen are Joe Brown, prodigy John Allen, and masters Ray Evans and Hank Pasquil. The last two were incredibly cool on lead, and not widely known. Ray took the piss outta me once when I was trying a new route on Gogarth in '78, when my second was pressurising me to put a peg in and use it to clean a loose section, so that we could do the route, though with aid. I listened to Ray rather than my famous second and retreated. My greedy second went back and did the first ascent. I lost a route, but learned a very valuable lesson from a master. I knew I could move my level of loose rock skills higher and didn't have to compromise my fair play to accommodate my ambition.
The Dervish was very blank when I stared at it from the scree-covered tier at its base. It was unlike any of the few routes that had been done on slate until then, which had been fairly easy and more exploratory adventures, rather than technical tests. This clearly was going to be very hard. I bouldered out the start, taking ground falls from loose flakes until I managed to get stuck on a little ledge at about 12-foot.
The next 100-foot looked the same, but further, bigger ground falls were more than my knees and heart would stand. So, I abseiled down, cleaning it with a knife and fork from Pete's Eats. There was gear, but it would all be very small, number one and two stoppers, and the climbing was going to be on fingertips and rubber edges. After I'd cleaned it, I gave the first lead attempt to Chipper Jones, as he was the best slab climber in our posse. He couldn't believe I was giving away such a pearl, but I wanted to learn and my intuitive brain told me I would learn more by watching than by doing. These were the years before videos, YouTube, and blogging infinite, and it was hard to learn, but damn it, I wanted to learn. I wanted to know my shortcomings, so that maybe I could make them up.
Chipper gave it a really good go, getting high but then ran out of strength, and psyche, but not technique. Being stronger than Mr. Jones I knew I just had to access more psyche, and so I did, I just pulled the switch and I became the Whirling Dervish. I woke up above the overlap my last gear miles below, and with 20-foot of uncleaned rock to the belay. I made it to the sound of Chipper swearing at me for succeeding on 'his' route. Chipper and McGinley did the second ascent, and Dougie 'the Bold' Hall the third, but not without taking a fall. It was top end E5 for a while, a good test of one's inner calm, and it became a collectors' route. Slate was to hold on to its bad reputation for a long time.
Even to this day there are people who are proud that they did an early ascent of the Dervish. Younger climbers should realize that in those far away days people mostly had very limited racks of gear, and climbing boots with holes in them. Climbers made personal journeys of discovery rather than trained. They were archaic times, and people's standards were all over the place. Good climbers often had to access some intestinal fortitude or some Jedi calm to make up for lack of gear or physical fitness. Climbers took climbing to a certain level, only for it to be forgotten, and then others would start again. There was little continuity of knowledge, and for many climbing was a game of macho one-upmanship. I saw it differently, but didn't know why or how or where it would take me, or where I would take my climbing.
The day of the Dervish was over for me quickly. It was just one lesson out of my long course in climbing, for I was a slow learner, and still am. I was just a boulderer, or at best a gritstone climber, while some of my friends and mentors had made the transition to 'bigger' routes almost by instinct and years before me. Leigh McGinley and Chris Gore, the late human anagram Arnie Strapcans; these were friends who would often do the big leads when I would be bouldering somewhere, shirking the serious stuff. Or someone like Cliff Philips, who had harnessed his heart into soloing first ascents with his light frame, capable of skipping over rock, rather than fighting it.

But over the years, climbing with many good and great climbers, a kind of osmosis happened. Sometimes it was a two-way thing, when I gave and didn't just take. The Dervish however always gives; it gives you the purity of its line, its position, and its colour, still as stunning now as then. Its difficulty, though diminished by large degrees, is still a question of finesse and delicate technique and a prerequisite for harder slate. None of those harder routes on the magic, icy, slippery slate could have happened without Mr. Dervish. That was its true gift, an eye opener and no mistake.

There were also the small battles that had to be won or at least fought, the battle of the bolt. Bolts don't have the legitimacy in Britain they have elsewhere, so we had to understand their place or make a place for them. As the blanker faces were attempted, often the poor gear that was the norm on slate had to be supplemented by a bolt or two. Bolts were placed by Joe Brown himself. I do not castigate him, but merely mention it for historical reasons. Other famous bolts were placed by other notable climbers and pre-practice became the norm on the harder routes. Many of the true onsight skills that were once known, were lost. Again I do not criticise, I just mention it, lest people forget these arcane skills, these atavistic arts that could supplement everybody's climbing. But onsight ground up has to be within limits of looseness and ability and the rock was not supplying onsightable stuff in significant amounts or of sufficient quality. I have never placed a bolt on slate.

Married to today's levels of fitness and gear, particularly rock shoe brilliance, most people would climb two E grades harder when accessing inner calm - this force that some of the older climbers could tap into. The new pro-bolts attitude opened up much rock and the cleaning tidied up the quality no end. The fear that the slate would become emasculated proved unfounded. Without the great bolted routes like Manic Strain - just to the left of the Dervish - we wouldn't have the repertoire of routes we need to get to the next technical and physical level. In hindsight their bolts are now a non-issue. A route like the Quarryman with its length and disparate pitches of great climbing surely is a must for today's climbers, and a stepping-stone into the future. A few bolts placed by a stone master showing the way is not a sin.

Sadly the Welsh scene is not as vibrant as it once was. The limited amount of reasonable rock for new routes and a more moral social structure has created its own rewards and shackles, but the routes are there, the talent is there. It used to be said that if you climb on all rocks in Wales, you develop the skills necessary to climb anywhere in the world. With the addition of a touch of ice this old adage is probably true.

The Past, that sacred time during which the old skills were so blatant? Ray Evans, climbing onsight new routes in weird RAF boots way above his gear, calm and serene. I can see him now, but can you? I think a few of each generation still do the same, but forgive me for thinking there could be more.
Caving Dervish style with Kate and Mini Trogs
In Ron Fawcett's book there is a lovely section on soloing. In a way it is about this elusive ability that is sometimes harnessed, it's worth reading again and again. There were many people who used to solo in the old days; a very common practice, but the reaper had to be paid. Noddy, Jimmy Jewel, Derek Hersey, Paul Williams and many others have passed to the other side. Loving something called soloing is classed as a sin in today's society but it used to be seen as a celebration of life.
The first pair of EB's I had were Tony Wilmott's. They were too big for me in more ways than one. I inherited some of his stuff after he died soloing, a long time ago. Tony used to do a lecture, called the Black Light show. It wasn't about the dark side; it was just about the two sides.
Is there anything finer than soloing a dozen routes at Tremadog?
Just don't wake up flying through the air, that's all.
Is there anything finer than being way above your smallest wires, sublimely confident in your skill?
1993: Identifying Derek's dead body in Yosemite and seeing the cost, I was not able to avoid the questions. But there were days like the one Derek had in the Black Canyon, inoubliable, was perhaps his defining moment. Today, as I write this, I must say the price seems too steep. And there I think is the rub; age has finally finished what the political correctness of the 80s began.
The 80s were the watershed of my life. Childhood and freedom on one side, being bound by watches and time and money on the other. Weird stuff like the war with Argentina, and the glorification of the burning the Argies in the Belgrano. The taking away of choice with front seat belt legislation and two decades of Toryism, it all contributed to my alienation from the New Briton.
Many climbers seemed to retreat into climbing and to the smaller communities in the climbing areas, but even there the tide has I think been too strong. The new North Wales in this new century is still relatively unspoilt, adventures are there in plenty, and luckily it is still a place where you can hide from the latest political nonsense.
Today there is a fantastic number of great routes on slate, with authors like the cosmonauts Dawes and Redhead, and stalwarts like the Crook and Smith, a cast of hundreds. It's probably a good time to celebrate the Quarries more and keep a careful eye on the access situation. The quarrymen and the climbers left us a great heritage that we should be proud of, and perhaps we should guard it also. There are routes of all grades, to suit any persuasion. Hundreds more could be added, so get going. And maybe we should retain some Dervish in all of us, just a bit, to keep the magic of the force alive.

The Education of a Mountaineer - by Stevie Haston


I grew up, if I ever grew up at all, in two places; the Dickensian jungle that was the East End of London and Gozo, a small cliff encrusted island paradise that sits in the Mediterranean a few miles north of Malta.
I grew up in the Sixties, I was born in 1957.
It's a long time ago and the world has changed, but I am almost the same as that long lost boy.
I climbed before I knew the word and what it meant; on Gozo it was up Carob trees or chasing my goats up hillsides or scrambling up loose crumbling sea cliffs. In London I climbed derelict buildings and wire fences that tried too keep me in, or keep me out.
There were three male figures in my early life.
My Maltese grandfather was an ex-sailor; my Uncle Jock a political activist and ex-sailor; and my Dad, Scottish, an ex-sailor, and a steel fixer on high buildings, a strong and staunch union man. They all loved the outdoors, they all had huge lives, and bizarrely they always treated me like a younger brother.
My mother was Maltese, a dark skinned Dolly Parton, totally bonkers and yet very kind. She hardly spoke a word of English. She fell for the red haired Viking, my father, and out of this union came me. From the earliest age I was attached to a leash, a real leash that kept me from wandering off, my parents were always losing me you see. I was a wanderer. There was a tag around my neck stamped with name and address, and this was also sewn into my clothes. Kind policemen would bring me back to a distraught crying mother and a raging, worried father. Neither the tears or the beatings ever had the slightest effect on the bemused young adventurer or on the fledgling climber. I kept wandering.

On the friendly island of Gozo, unlike hostile London, there was never any danger from people, but there were huge overhanging sea cliffs and dangerous seas which made the birds eggs harder to collect and the fish harder to catch. All my relatives spoke really loudly and were always deeply passionate about something, even when speaking with their hands. The cacophony from the people around me was like a colony of sea birds on a cliff ledge, deafening. On Gozo you were either a farmer, a fisherman, a teacher or a priest; some of my family did the lot. Two doors down from our house my second cousins Peter and Paul, twins, were both priests. They were pretty average fishers of men, but brilliant in a small boat 50 miles off the coast fishing for swordfish. One had a stutter and one a twitch, I acquired both afflictions.
Peter and Paul's brother Pio kept bees and a flower garden, he taught me the catechism while the twins would make me repair their fishing nets.
Just before secondary school I spent more than my summer holidays on Gozo. The reason? I was sent there for a few years to keep me out of trouble and to civilise me as I was running around in London with street urchins and on a fast tract apprenticeship to Artful Dodger status.

The Maltese teachers still had contact with the land and sea, they were still real and knew the real desires of a child like me who was born to roam the cliff tops...
But somewhere along the line I started reading books on caving, climbing and exploration. These books seemed to justify and glorify all the stuff that got me into trouble, so I gobbled them up. There were no Everests locally but there were 60 foot high boulders to conquer, and slippery cliffs of clay to cut steps up with carpenter hammers and a screw driver in hand. The Maltese teachers still had contact with the land and sea, they were still real and knew the real desires of a child like me who was born to roam the cliff tops, talking to Golden Orioles and Hooppee birds, rather than struggling with long division.
Back in the other world of London, the supposed sophisticated real world, the Cold war was on.
There was a blossoming of spiritual freedom, there were plans to land men on the moon, and black people in America were starting to be classed as human by their white brothers, their former captors. It was an interesting and optimistic time. But at the same time this world of hope started to fade from my horizon, the Vietnam war raged, the Cold War was at its height, and politicians who were meant to serve us were exposed as liars and thieves

Stevie Haston climbing in Malta
As a teenager I started desperately to look for an alternative path in my life, I escaped into sport and books. Fairness, right and wrong, morality, these were abstractions it seemed. I passed my eleven plus examination and went to an elite grammar school where I found that the rich kids had been tutored through there entrance exam. I was for a time the most caned kid in the school and to this day I can't understand how the best kids, the unique kids, the gifted, were the ones who were often expelled. The school did however have an excellent library and a few of the teachers were dedicated and believed in their work.
My thumb represented freedom in those days and school was just a prison that tried to trap my immortal soul.
Was this school there to kindle my spirit and help me find my own peculiar talents and gifts or was it there to break my spirit and make me a slave to the machine?
A book I read at this time was I Chose To Climb by Chris Bonington. I liked the man's climbing, his spunk, but he was the opposite of me, middle class, a man who chose climbing as an occupation, a military man, a toff. The big thing of course is that you don't choose to climb, climbing chooses you or that's what I thought. If it wasn't for the books about Don Whillans and Joe Brown, two working class lads, who somehow rose above their impoverished upbringings to lead interesting lives and become great climbers, I don't know what would have become of me. Perhaps 10 useless O levels and a career in lower management was the way forward instead of bunking off school, sticking my thumb out and hitching up the M1 to gritstone cracks, and my real vocation of climbing. My thumb represented freedom in those days and school was just a prison that tried to trap my immortal soul.
What is climbing?
For me it is the vehicle to explore the natural world where strength and skill overcome difficulties. You are not just flotsam in the social sea, you make real decisions that govern your life and death. It is a special place where you enjoy yourself like an animal, feel your pulse racing, experience the sweat of fear and anxiety, and the taste of well-earned success.
Climbing is my life, climbing is life. How can there ever be anything else?
In the last few months Craig Luebbin, Thomas Humar and Guy Lacelle died. I knew them and loved them, each one very different from the other, but the one thing they had in common was their genuine, deep love of climbing as a way of life. There was something of the boy in them all, a boy who had no wish to grow up. Their journey is over, I will miss them. Growing up is not linear it is like the sea, learning comes in continuous little waves and each of those dead men taught me something.
Their obituaries were inadequate, especial Humars. Yes he used the media; well it was only fair, retaliation really, the media used him, so quid pro quo. The fire in his eyes warmed the cockles of my heart. He was like one of my mad Maltese cousins, passionate and loud, a Cyrano de Bergerac of the climbing world.
Enough of death, what of life? Life is for living. It's not about sitting in a classroom reading books about geography; it's quietly slipping out while the teacher turns to the chalk board. Geography is escaping and discovering Soho and little Chinatown. Sport is not playing dumb team sports like cricket, it's soloing stupendous icicles which will come thundering down around your head if you don't hit them for six. A level art is time spent in Spain snaking your way up beautiful tufas, all orange and blue, a little bit Dali, Gaudi and Velazquez.
There were no streetlights in my grandfathers street when I was young, there were stars that made your soul long to explore wild spaces. Climbing is that vehicle to explore, outside of yourself, and inside. Climbing is dawn starts with my Pappy all those years ago, a sac on our backs and a few miles of cliff to fish, soloing up and down. Pre-dawn starts with a bowl of bitter black coffee as breakfast, then we wouldn't exchange a word all day. No shoes to worry about, limpets and sea weed to chew on. Pappy's story was that he had left his fiancé immediately after she had accepted his proposal and sailed around the world for two years. When he came back she was naturally still cross, so he handed her the money for a house and a farm.
I always remember a conversation about my uncle Jock spending time in prison during the war, he was a revolutionary communist and a conscienous objector. My dad was a man who had run blockades. Their father lost a leg during the first war. Was there any animosity between them, about so called bravery? No, in fact the greatest respect was shown for Jock, the conscientious objector, the bravest of the brave as my dad called him.
My dad recalled this conversation years later when we were climbing at Almscliff. He was enjoying the view after climbing a stiff overhanging crack called Western Front, when he suddenly turned to me and asked about climbing and bravery and principle and who and what was right? I stuttered trying desperately to think of something clever to say. He said 'Nay mind son, you have balls but nay brains, but Jock had balls and brains', he laughed and agreed that climbing was the thing for me and that we should let the world go to rot and go find a pub.
My parents were desperately poor at times. But it is clear they gave me one special thing, 'vaster than empires' a thing called freedom. My Pappy's gift was teaching me to swim the Gozo way. He threw me in off a wharf and watched me nearly drown a few times and when it looked like I wouldn't sink forever, he strolled off smiling, content in his schooling.
If you saw the Gozo technique being applied today most people would call for the police. It was this kind of schooling that saw me in the Alps as a teenager, soloing winter routes in Chamonix at 16 years of age. It was also the early lessons I learnt on loose rock and clay that helped me understand the peculiar material that is snow an ice. I somehow knew that it was only the frozen manifestation of the dangerous sea. The greatest lesson was that my soul and heart were the most important parts of the thing I called me, and that you were supposed to dedicate your life to the service of goodness. The fact that I failed to find a vocation for greater good is sad but the ideal of service has percolated into my climbing just like my Pappy's bitter coffee. Uncle Jock stood as a Revolutionary Communist Party member for the Neath election in 1948 and that clearly was not the done thing and yet in my family Jock just did it.
One day I will perhaps climb a giant Himalayan peak and surf the snow down the other side and I will have finished the journey that was started by those three men. It won't change the working conditions of the ordinary man but it might make them smile. It won't be a sermon, it might be a pointer to something sublime. The trick will be for it not to being a crass act, but a class act. And if I do surf that mountain I am a sure that my holy trinity will smile.
But it will never be a bigger journey than my dad cycling to London when he was 14, living off turnips and sleeping by the side of the road. And it certainly won't be a bigger adventure than my mums. For a very young woman to leave peasant Gozo, and travel to the excitement of London, is an adventure beyond my ken. They gave me life, and more importantly the courage to live it.
It's a long time ago and the world has changed, but I am almost the same as that long lost boy.

Biased News and stuffy stuff, by Stevie Haston.

This bit of writing is an experiment, to see if you lot out there in the web zone actually read! I have had a tremendous amount of hits on this blog recently!!!! And I cant really imagine its just my Mum, cos she is dead. But what do you lot want? I like all climbing, little rocks to Giants, but I also like Sense and Sensibility, and learned opinion, I am getting very little from established mags and web zeens.
Firstly, the Fontainebleau boulders seem to be being torn apart by young climbers from all over. What is interesting is that it is not the obvious bouldering specialists who are doing the damage but many lead climbers and comp climbers. The excellent freezing temps have helped but things have been pulled down in all weathers.
Adam Ondra was notable in a flash of an 8B+ which he did say may have been 8b for him, Adam is 6 feet tall (?).
I am ashamed to say my knowledge of these boulders is second hand so if I added comment it would be a bit hollow. It seemed only yesterday that there were only one or two operating at the big grades and now there seems to be a short dozen, if some one would care to explain, that would be good. There is also a lot of weird work being done at Font to control sand, maybe they are making work for the sake of making work, and some people don’t like it. Perhaps boulderers could spread themselves around a bit more to help stop the erosion. Boulderers all over the world seem to be operating just under the magic Font 8c, which  now seems to be the new leval to aspire to.

Mixed climbing is doing well this winter, with lots of activity. The problem with the Mixed climbing game is however a lack of good reporting which is not doing the routes, or the protagonists any favours. It’s a great shame, as I don’t think that many climbers have caught up with the advancement and  new gear yet. This great gear does allow fantastic things to be climbed.  Ines Papert did the fourth (?) repeat of Illuminata, which is one of the most spectacular mixed routes in the world as a girls team, which I thought was very interesting, they were full of praise for the route. I would love to do that route.

Nanga Parbat is being tried this winter, which  although not of a high standard of climbing; is of a hard standard of toughness. One day the Himalayas will become the Alps of yesterday and we might see some interesting routes, but financial constraints is effectively blocking good alpinists from venturing away from there own back yards. Interestingly enough the Pakistan mountains are very good value at the moment due to the lack of tourism, due to American foreign policy in the area.
While we are talking Mountaineering, the annual nonsense of the Piolet d’Or  has come around. This is where a panel of Judges, pretend to judge studiously, some apples that were eaten in another country, and then compare them to some tangy tangerines described on a topo, with a google fish translator.  Not to mix metaphors, or shazam similes, or anything, but the Cerro Tori Burning Inferno of silliness seems to have fizzled out into what it is, a fate accompli. The Bolts (actually only a certain portion) have been pulled, and it doesn’t matter why they were, because lets face it they were unnecessary. Perhaps soon people will demand wheelchair access as well, and we will all have to agree or we will be branded elitist. The next thing the two boys should do if they want to remove monstrosities are remove the loop road around Yosemite, and take out the CIC hut from Ben Nevis, and the Aiguille de Midi télécabine. If they do this I will give them the Piolet de Diamond, paste of course, as in copy pasted around the globe instantly.

Meanwhile at a scintillating cliff in Spain two young climbers are trying to do a very hard route and I hope they enjoy success. Notable at Oliana  was the ascent of an 8c+ by two girls and this was  reported but as usual the reports were so shallow that they finnally  evaporated. The route is now regarded as 8c. The fog that lies over many Spanish grades is not transparent; and will have to be faced sooner than later. I think it will be faced much later, as all anybody seems interested in are short  snippets of  pseudo news. One of the problems in Spain are the big temperature differences, and the initial often dirty condition of new routes which then get easier due to cleaning. Also many of the routes are on conglomerate which seems to get easier as the climbers fiddle with the holds.
There is lastly some very partisan reporting, certain people are being treated very oddly by the web masters and the Mags, there is no real conspiracy, just amateurism and business, coupled with a soupson of old fashioned childishness.

Rather than say Ciao, I’ll say Goodnight and Goodluck, these immortal words were of a real news commentator of the 1950s in America : Edward R.Murrow. He was courageous, and of course there is not his like in the Climbing press today . In France a few years ago, the staff of an Ink Mag kept on trying to do a good  job, they were pressurised by the owners, who new nothing about climbing, and then finnally sacked. In Britain the same thing happened……. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Man I am Psyched, by Stevie Psycho Haston.

Tools of the trade

I got 10 weeks of new routing ahead of me, I am buzzing already.
Got mail from mates who are training, it’s keeping me Motownvated,
Got up at 5am to do my 1000, easy peasey, then an old mate came round, used to do the Competition thing years ago, he wanted an assessment, you know like an Mot (don’t know the US term), anyway it was really fun, he was so poor in so many areas! But man, his crimp strength! We had a great day, except I had to do a bit of stuff with him, like showing him how to do the Bug, so we were both BUGGERED. Feel like I had an Appendectomy. How youall doing? I send my regards to the Salt Lake City boys, Downs and Maisch, maybe I’ll come over, just to check out Maisch’s forearms,  I can barely do the Number two Gripper, by the way. Send me a photo of Steve’s Forearm, I got one of Wolfgang’s somewhere, I can make bookends out of them, haha.

New dancing shoes

Feel coltish to day, frisky, snows amelting, saw some flowers, Spring time is coming, Rocktime. Can you here it, the music, I mean, ‘We will, we will, Rock you’. 
Here’s a few photos for Maisch.  And Co.
Excess bagages????

The Dumbell is rigged with a wide handle like a Thomas Inch replica, its feels welded to the ground.
We will, We will, Rock You.

Doing the Bug , by Stevie Scarabe Haston.

This Exercise complex is mine, but I give it to you, be grateful!

It is called the bug, bugs are strong, bugs on their backs are desperate to right themselves. This exercise is good for everybody, and everything, I have watched babies doing this exercise. If you use this complex well, it will improve your core strength dramatically, and increase your ability to climb. Every kind of climber can use this, boulderers, ice climbers, even hill runners. It is also safe, and I think fun.

One of the problems of stomach and trunk/core exercises is that they can irritate the Sciatic nerve. This complex, or super set, attempts to be safe, and easy to do, but with the biggest pay off.

Lie on your back with your knees raised to the side like a frog. The important bit, which is very natural in this position, is that your pelvis is tilted up and not back.

With your hands folded behind your head touch your elbows to your knees, or behind the knees, without taking your back off the floor. Squeeze tight, very tight. Alternate each side.

Now do the same but with your back curved in the crunch position.

First part over, rest if you like in the yoga Corpse position. Resume Bug, and do the same thing but using the legs, and not the arms. So your knee comes up, alternately to touch your elbow. If you cant do this just do Crunchies, with your head as far over your crutch as possible. Remember squeeze,

Corpse out, if you want.

Now fingers touch toes alternately

Corpse out, if you want

Now both hands touch toes together.

Corspe out.

Repeat, and numbers, as much as you want, but quality, and range of motion over volume. Add resistance for more power. If doing it for the first time, watch out, the Bug bites.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Training for climbing, training for life N°1, by Stevie Haston

Training for most British climbers seems to be anathema, almost as if it’s the antithesis of the sport. Training in other places seems better excepted. But for many training is definitely not cool, and of course its way too much work. Training is a bad word, not sporting, unfun, I could go on ad nauseam, but its not training that gets me sick, its people not training in a sport that can maim and kill, and which is supposedly hard.

I don’t know why I agreed to write this, except Neil the editor is training, and most of my friends are training (in one way or an another) and all the best climbers in Britain (such as they are) train, I think its because I want you to have a bit more success, and joy in your success. If I was honest however I would tell you the truth, I need to finance a new rabbit hutch.

Einstein said that the greatest stupidity of all was to do the same thing, and expect the outcome to be the same. So why do the a huge number of climbers world wide do so little to change the way they climb. You can say you are happy to do easy stuff, or bumble along at the wall if you like, but any psychologist will correct you, you are deluding yourselves. Humans are brill at delusion, it’s a human thing, they are not good at much else. To train for 9a takes alotta time and effort, just because 14 year olds, and 50 plus do it, don’t be deceived, its not skill, its training, and over a few hard years too. But, and its not even a very big but at all, to go from easy to moderate difficulty, is very easy, and would take a very small bit of training and thought. Like wise E4 to E5, 5.10 to 5.11, and 6a to 6c+ is easy peasie. How do I know, cos I have done it, and I did it years ago. Today its easier, more knowledge, more facilities and better equipment.

I have been training to climb better all my life, from the moment I was born I started to exercise and develop patterns of movement and learn to use that huge lump on top of my neck. That’s 52 years and counting, cos I still want to get better, if you don’t want to get better, go switch the teli on and switch your brain off, become a couch potatoe, there’s nothing wrong with it, hey, you can even watch some good climbers, doing what you are to lazy to do-yes! The first book I read on climbing I saw a photo of a young kid balancing on the palm of his dad’s hand, which kid was it, and how strong did he become? That guy was one of the best for his time and his fitness would still embarrass 99% of Britans so called alpinists today. To become a great alpinist is no small thing and there is perhaps an element of character, and intuition that may be a gift from the gods, but the French of course produce them by the score. How do they do this? Yep, they train them!
Melody training for her Karaté belt, 5 years old...

The word Train comes from the French wouldn’t you know, it means to draw, or to arrange, its from gardening and vegetable growing. Now then, I was trained by my Scottish dad and Maltese pappy, who both thought and acted like I was some kind of dumb but robust legume. Neither of them liked me, there wasn’t much to like after all, but they persevered, they tried to instil in me a little work ethic, and pride in accomplishment. What’s this got to do with climbing some of you are asking, well, actually a lot. I was under their guidance, and they trained me, I took some notice and got better. Did they teach me to climb, yep they did, but accidentally. My pappy took me fishing off the loose coastal cliffs of the island of Gozo, and dad took me to work on high and dangerous building sites, to keep me outta trouble. When I started climbing as practised as a sport in Britain I could already do it. So, is that it then, to hell with health and safety, bring back dangerous illegal chid labour. And what about the lack of male influence in most children’s upbringing nowadays, or any meaningful input from anyone else at all? Well who knows, but you must train if you want to get better at climbing, just like other stuff. If you want to be one of the better climbers maybe you should train very hard and systematically, and get the best advice, eh! What about if you want to be the very best? When I was 14 I asked my dad how to train better (I was already doing finger tip pull ups), he thought about it and added two strips of wood above the door lintel, and made me what amounted to be the first campus board. About a year and a half later I asked him again for some advice, he made me a weight belt, a 20 pounder. I have still got it and still use it, its 37 years old. I never asked him for anything else in my life, and to be frank haven’t needed anything else. So that’s the secret of the universe of climbing, well no but it’s the first secret. Strong fingers are the first secret, coupled with a bit of upper body strength they will take you a long way, its taken a few who didn’t have very many other skills or secretes to the top. Let’s say Wolfgang Gullich was one of these, and don’t think I am maligning him for one micro-second. To be at the top of your game and be a one trick pony, deserves respect, total respect. I will however temper my respect with a bit of blasphemy, Wogu was defiantly not as good as Ben Moon or Jerry Moffat in my humble opinion, they were not just one trick ponies, they knew many of the secrets. But who did the hardest route of the time? Interesting question, ‘do you not fink’?Is Hubble harder than Action Direct.

Do you want to be a one trick pony? Its harder now of course, routes aren’t as simple. Wolfgang’s era has passed, the blacksmiths of our sport have faded into the mists of time. Plus Wolfie had pretty good genetics, have you, do you know, are you even interested? No, today you have to have all the tricks. If you just want to improve your game however, its a lot easier today, it’s so easy, it’s almost criminal to be an under achiever.

What is secret number two? It is how to move, how to get from one hold to another with the minimum effort. Notice the word minimum, underline minimum effort. If you want to be macho fine, I like seeing people overpower, I still do it myself from time to time, but you are probably in the wrong sport, try power lifting, or the rings in gymnastics. Climbing is a very physical sport that can also be won by cunning, the clever skilful weaker boxer, beating the brave, hard as granite brawler. Think Sugar Ray Leonard beating Marvellous Marvin Hagler. I have a personal admiration for the brawler over the boxer, but boxing just like climbing is not always what you think. Climbing is perceived as athletic daring do, but most routes can be overcome just as easily and probably more neatly by twinky climbers whose fore arms are bigger than their biceps. Think gritstone, or slabby walls where many of the hard routes can be vanquished by prizzy balance and a bit of timing. A lotta Trad climbs are also very gear intensive, and much skill goes into placing protection equipment, assessing risk, and recovering enough strength from doing these two things, and then going forward. How to move, then becomes how to move gear from your rack, into that fiddly crack, and move into a partial recovery position, and then assess the ground ahead for more of the same. These are skills often over looked, and practised by very few. Simple strategies like training to place gear quickly, or knowing when to make do, are not typically part of what most people consider training. Learning how to move is best done by repetition just like training your fingers, biceps or lats. The same kinda move, but at slightly different angles will throw you, different temperatures, with a wind, an extra foot above gear, it’s all different. You have to train for this difference. We are all different and some aspects will be much harder to learn than others. Danger for many throws a big spanner in the works, not just the dramatic danger of death, the quite trivial danger of failure on a totally safe climb will blow it for most. Being brave, or indeed supremely, gallantly, reckless, is a very odd thing. I don’t know what to say about it, as its not very useful in modern life, but occasionally for some routes you defiantly need some bottle. Bottle training is best done from an early age in unfashionable impoverished places, but has also been known to be trained on the playing fields of England, and the public pubs of market towns. Bottle in boxers always comes from the inner cities, the slums, the barrio, were as most climbers nowadays seem to come from Berkshire and be driven around in four wheelers driven by nannies.

Learning to move is often thought the way forward and is said to be the most important. I disagree. Some people think that being strong is the most important, I disagree. Some people think that training your weaknesses is the most important, I disagree. You cannot move if you cant hang on, you cant move if you cant use muscles to turn yourself into more favourable positions for moving and pulling, and hanging on. And you cannot do any of these things if you are rigid, or even a bit stiffish with anxiety, through fear, to gross terror. Climbing is an onion with many layers (wow dad and pappy were right after all, its a common or garden vegetable), it’s a round thing, a holistic thing, watch the best, Sharma, Patxi, and the rest. Some are maybe more intuitive than others, some have more gifts from the gods, but without working at what they really love, they would not be so golden. Patxi says he must work harder. Sharma says, he should climb more. Ondra says he is weak. I agree with them, they could all be better. They are not doing it perfectly, just nearly and admirably, damn near perfectly. Most people of course are happy chatting to their mates about climbing, and never break into a sweat. Train sensible and with purpose, and you will get better. As little as two hours a week training, will improve nearly every ones climbing who reads these words. Climbing more impressive, and harder routes is better, whether you are happy and content, or a good moral person is another story. I know how to train, never said I knew the way to heaven, but then again I have seen heaven at the top of icicles, or at the chain of a few sport routes, and lucky for me, I was strong and well trained.

If you have made the decision to train, well done. What do you need to train? In reality you need very little; a simple strip of wood to do pull ups, and hangs on, and space to stretch, and do a few free exercises. Cost is zero. If you go and use a wall , obviously use their facilities, but you should have a pull up station at home, and if you have a bit of money you should buy a good finger board or two, with a variety of holds. Cost now is up to about 80 quid a board. What else do you need? Well if you are like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, you also need a brain, or like Tinman a heart. Desire, discipline, days training, days resting, the delirium of deserved success, achievable dreams and unachievable dreams. How do you get these thingies? You get these things by keeping the faith. Climbing is the New Religion, and if we Train, we will ascend to Heaven

Stevie Haston is sponsored by La Sportiva, Grivel, and www.V12 outdoor.com

He is desperately training to get better, and is slowly, very slowly getting better. By the time he is 100, he should be climbing 9b, by which time the top standard of course will be 10b...

Monday, 20 February 2012

A hard man is Ardbeg to find, by Stevie Sloshed Haston

Paul Diffley, the film guy, came round to see me from Bonny Scotland. He came with gifts, a bottle of Islay Malt, and two Cam Six, any guesses why he was here? Anyway he's done a few climbing films and has won a few awards, I personally like two of his films very much. The Pinnacle is an interesting historic story of Ben Nevis Basher Jimmy Marshall, and the enigmatic Robin Smith, worth seeing if you like a bit of history and Scottish hyperbole. Second film is perhaps Paul’s best film, certainly for me, a lovely filmed and heartfelt appreciation of the first ascent of the Long Hope Route on the Scottish island of Hoy. Paul took the first ascentionist, the first free ascentionist by a slight variation, and finally the first all free full on ascent, its actually magic stuff and everybody gets a big thumbs up from me. Sumptuous filming of Rathwick bay and the majestic Old Man of Hoy, the best climb in Britain. I well remember a Moon filled night, fuelled on whiskey, running around naked, howling at the Moon with Pete of Pete’s Eats Cafe and Ray Kay. A Long Hope away....

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Three versions same climber? by Stevie Haston

Stevie the sand bagger, soloing.
This article was published in a mag...

In sport they told you that there were three different body types. The body types were Mesomorph, Ectomorph, Endomorph, and these three types of body, were supposedly standard types of shape which would affect your suitability for different sports. Interesting but incorrect, some shapes are definitely not as good as others but when it comes to climbing there are different ways to skin a cat, or should we say cloth a cat. The most common misconception in sport is that mesomorphic shape is the strongest, and the easiest to put muscle on. This probably arose, because it’s the most liked and loved, wide shoulders, narrow hips are cute, but is it really the fastest and strongest? This all came about from the Greek ideas of proportion and beauty, it’s the kind of body you see painted on Greek urns, and represented in Greek statuary. Remember never bend over, if your climbing partner is called Stavros. Is a Mesomorph the best shape for climbing? Dunno, and how would anyone else know for that matter. You would have to have three different versions of the same person to make comparisons between. In climbing we seem to have many different shaped people who succeed. All that we seem to know for certain is that high power to weight ratio is good, combined with high finger and hand strength. Kind of simple and all you need to know really. Yes but without talk about training and mental preparation there would be a lot of unemployed climbers about. So we, the sport pundits and trainers, use your insecurity to create mystique, and pseudo stuff systems. We get paid, and you can feel good about yourself because you are not after all the ideal body type with the right kind of muscle fibers. You also may not have centred yourselves through a lot of mental mumbo jumbo. I mean where is the profit in telling people that if they want to get better at climbing all they have to do, are door jam pull ups and climb a lot. How utterly seventies, how pathetic, door jam pull-ups indeed and hanging out with good climbers. That’s it, that should be the end of my article, no book, video, DVD with free cosmetics, and signed mixed climbing axe, but no you would feel cheated and worse, much worse, you wouldn’t have any excuses. So here is a little study I did which took me 34 years, and with the right application and a certain amount of dosh handed over to me, your personnel trainer, you to can have three different versions of your self. It’s not for nuffing people call me Guru Spanker.
In the late seventies and early eighties it was clear that the more time you spent in the gym the stronger you became, oh for those simple days without training plateaus. But as a few other climbers and I seemed to discover the stronger we became the longer we seemed to spend at the crux. We could get incredible pumps in our forearms, these pumps were so Popeyesque that they kept us visually entertained until we fell off. The result was the same grade climbed, but we did look better in shorts. The real imputs came from better shoes and a modicum of technique which some how filtered across the channel from prissy Parisians who told us it was all about ‘ze feeling man and ze timing and ze balance’. The fact that these same feeling geezers, were spending fifty percent of their waking hours on a finger board, seemed to escape most peoples attention. There was an additional problem in that lost age, most climbers wanted to be good at a number of normal things like carrying your own rucksack to the cliff. Enter Phil Davidson the British climber of the late seventies and early eighties who was to turn standards almost on their heads. People said that Phil was the best cos he was the lightest. True, but he was also very strong, dedicated, to the point of obsession and brave as anyone I have ever met. But Phil Davidson was indeed thin, he made Bruce Lee look obese and at times was mistaken for ‘walnuts in a condom.’ Phil thought outside every thought box , and would pay people to carry his rucksack to certain crags because his legs could barely support him. He had so little body fat that he looked like some thing from a butcher shop or anatomy that went wrong. If you want a lesson in real climbing class with brilliant improvisation look no further than Phil at this time or Francois LeGrand the multi- titles champion fifteen years later. Ah the French, you cannot beat them, so better join them eh. I had to marry one. My first year in France was more than embarrassing, they called me ‘ze tractor’. A compliment I thought, ‘ze tractor’ sounded strong and sturdy, I rather liked it. It was only later, I found out they called me the tractor because, I was so so slow, and made a lotta puffing noises. About this time I read something JB Tribout had written, he stated that if you could do around 30 pull-ups on a 1cm edge you could do a long 8b+. Simple, I liked that, I also liked it cos I could do it. Did the equation prove correct, well not quite because he said it would work for some one with reasonable technique. I of course had no technique. I was after all ‘ze tractor’ and a British one at that. A little later I read that some of the French champs used to train fat, and the loose a few kilos to sharpen up. I liked that, simple, easy to understand, but again I misunderstood. Their fat photos, were actually my lightest ever weight! Wrong again. It was to take me a long time to get really good, I had to train harder and do more climbing than I'd ever done, and some times eat only about 800 calories a day doing it. Along the way I experimented, I used myself as a guinea pig. And because my sporting needs were different at different times I came up with three widely different bodies. Please take a good look at the photographs that I have chosen to illustrate this article. Firstly yes they are of the same guy, they are all of moi. They have not been altered in any way and the guinea pig took no drugs (except recreational ones) no steroids at all, even when he was injured, and no stimulants to help with training except a double cappuccino. Instead of looking at three different peoples physique I thought it would be more informative if we looked at the same guy but with three different bodies. We wont talk about his mind too much, even though you probably guessed he has three different heads, to go with the three different bodies. An important aspect of much climbing happens in the big muscle between some peoples ears. We decided to go with photos of this particular subject because it is permissible for me to make fun of myself and say odd things without legal complications. I also apologize for not having more photos available since the subject went thinner and heavier, possibly vanity is to blame or shame for the lack of photos, you can hazard a guess. During a climbing career that has spanned 34 years it would be unusual not to see some variance in physical shape but this is a little more than you would expect and is perhaps an indication of what is possible. Not really desirable, just possible OK. The first photo shows a subject who weighs 58 Kgs that is 127.5 lbs and is 5 foot 8 inchs, 173cms. The height will remain constant in all photos, if I could have changed it believe me I would have done. In some ways this photo is very important because it represents a great sandbaggers physique. This subject is the seventies ‘off the couch climber’ par excellence, he can climb up to E.5 without seemingly training, or going climbing. How? Well he is as fit as a starved butchers dog, goes bouldering, but tells you he doesn’t do any climbing, and does a lot of circuit training. He is also borderline anorexic, if not actually anorexic, due to poverty. If this subject was a woman a doctor would class them as ill, no periods and bone depletion would be evident. If he were a youngster future growth could be impaired. Actually cause for concern in who ever it is, whatever sex or age. The fact that he is a good climber who is a better runner confuses the issue. You have all seen photos of climbers like him in mags, or at comps all the time. The fact that he is totally happy at this weight and feels on top of his running form is further confusing. If he stays at this weight he runs at least the risk of diminishing sporting performance, injury, stress fractures, and being mistaken for a clothes hanger. The subjects lowest weight was 54 KGs thats 118 lbs when he came back ill from the Himalayas, he could boulder well but had surprisingly no stamina. When the doctor told him he needed to put some weight on urgently he was cross, and stormed out just like the Frenchman he had become. Many male champion sport climbers who are 5 foot 8 are between 54 to 60 KGs. At 118 lbs you are officially a Bantamweight, at 127 lbs you are in the Featherweight class. Lets move on to the second subject. This guy is 65kgs (143lbs) he is a climbing machine, any kind of climbing it doesn’t matter. On top of his game, he is paranoid about his standard dropping, he actually has nightmares about his standard dropping in any of the many disciplines he is paid to work in. That’s right, it is work, full time, he is always tired, and always hungry. He does not enjoy climbing, he doesn’t enjoy running, he is close to enjoying nothing. If he only did one thing he might be really super good at it, and happy, but no he wants to be remembered as the great all rounder. His power to weight is optimal except for his crimp strength, because his legs are too heavy, because he runs too much, it is his Achilles heel. Is he a nice guy? Not really, he is self-obsessed, very proud of some of the things he has accomplished and very demanding. A life that revolves around training, eating and resting. He can climb 8c or on-sight 8a, by dropping 3 KGs in body fat he gets over his crimp strength deficit. Does this make him happy? No. He wants to on-sight harder things, he wants to red point harder, and harder. The worst is he might be right, he is toying with the idea of going down below 62 KGs but is worried that he’s loosing the plot. He would get two paragraphs for doing an 8c+ and maybe a tiny bit more money, but does any of it matter. Er good question. Finally he blows it all, goes to Wales, goes drinking, gets fat, gets happy, and gets depressed. The last subject weighs 83 KGs that is 183 lbs his height believe it or not is still 5 foot 8, but he is wider, definitely wider. A full clothes size bigger although carrying lots of fat, make no mistake this guy is strong, want your fridge moved, no trouble. This guy can not run very well, it feels horrible to run, but he can snowboard at hypersonic speed, something to do with gravity I believe. Subject A could literally run all day with food, and water stops. Subject B was starting to prefer cycling as his upper body got heavier. Subject C¸ can walk carrying A and B together, but doesn’t like running. The surprising thing about C is that he can still climb, indeed he and subject A would be nearly evenly matched. How can this behemoth, this juggernaught, this fat gorilla still climb? Puzzling, is it not? We are so used to featherweights being the ultimate and ideal physique in climbing that the thought of a light heavy weight being able to climb is astonishing. What is more this guy is happy, he can drink lots but within reason, he is still training after all, and eats for two, no lets say five sports climbers. OK you are thinking the guys strong, but surely he is just too heavy to climb. Well not only is he strong he is really strong so don try arguing with him. As an example of his strength try this, his best two-arm pull up is with 200 lbs added to his waist. Yes his crimp strength is his weakness but on I cm edge he can bang out 20. He is very unlikely to go above small wires though for fear of snapping them, and loose rock might very well become broken handholds. So for fun we have looked at three diverse guys, who all happen to be the same guy. For sure subject B was the best climber, the sad thing is if he had have talked to his mate C about training he might have got a 9a. The limiting factor was his hand strength, and his runners legs, and having a bit of patience and proper mind control. Ask yourself who you are and who you would rather be, remember life is about many things not just climbing, or moving fridges. Unfortunately it is not possible to be all three at once, but you are not locked in a set body type like people think, or you have been told. But if you look at subject C, Big Stevie has the other two inside him. He can become either. Medium Stevie or Small Stevie is possible by loosing weight, and hey presto magic different sporting levels will surely result. The reverse, going from Small to Large, is possible but would take years, possibly by more than five years regular training. It is very hard to put 10 lbs of muscle on in a year and its definitely impossible when you are an anorexic.
Stevie the beast.

So in some ways size is more important than every body lets on. Subject A by the way was a vegan. Subject B was a lacto vegetarian, and subject C was a rabid carnivore. The ratio of training they did was also different. Subject A, did way more running than bouldering, up to a hundred miles a week, and three brief sessions of bouldering or climbing. Subject B was mostly a bolt climber, and a fitness freak who really had no spare time or energy to get better. Big Stevie pushed and pulled more iron than you can imagine, but by not neglecting his hand strength was still able to climb, really more of a power lifter, and to invent a new phrase perhaps a power puller. They wont mind me saying that they were anomalies; and were more than a bit mad. So after 34 years the experimenting is over, or nearly over. What is the secrete? Well it is easy take subject C, keep his fore arms, his upper arms, back, then loose his 47 inch chest, legs and huge bum, and lipo suck a stone of fat off. What is left? A bigger version of subject B. You knew it all along, did not you? I whish I had. The trouble was I did know, but knowing isn’t doing! So as a final exercise look at the different body types, and group famous and successful climbers, into the three categories. This is the fun part. Is Dave Graham in group A? There are lots of As and lower end Bs, Wolfgang Gullich was upper end B, when he did Action Direct, 5 foot 9 67 Kgs. Fred Nicole is between A and B. But Cs are as rare as hens teeth in climbing. At my biggest I was down to E4 but could one arm curl a small sports climber. As I aspire to move on rock again, and not move it, food elimination time has come once more for me. Remember knowing isn’t doing, lots of people know things, but few, precious few, do bugger all. Also remember if you want to loose weight ie fat but not muscle don’t do the sports climbers thing, and stop eating, because you will loose as much muscle as fat. Muscle is hard to acquire, especially functional muscle, function first, Greek fashion second, moving fridges last. But climbers are stupid, and arrogant, and prefer to believe in their own talent. Talent is very over rated, hard graft, and good power to weight with reasonable technique will get you very far, even near to the top. You can believe me, or at least one of me.
Stevie is sponsored by Grivel, Sportiva, and www.v12outdoor.com