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Make a wooden climbing hold: expert level

Salvaged wood pocket hold, handmade for home climbing walls

Handmade pockets using salvaged log wood. A step by step guide.

So, the last hold was too easy, huh? James upped his game and chipped away to make a two finger pocket wooden hold.


1. Get wood, drill hole.

Salvaged wood climbing holds

It all started with a perilous journey to find the perfect tree, chop, and leave for a year to dry and season.

In our case, we saved our shed from destruction by a scary, heavy looking branch, and kept it as it ‘might come in handy’. It wasn’t seasoned, either.

Prepare your ‘might come in handy’ bits of wood, obviously it needs to be big enough to have a hole big enough for your pocket. This was about 4″. Saw off the end so you’ve got a nice flat end to work from.

I used a 3/4″ spade hole cutter bit; a Forstner bit would’ve been better- but I don’t have one. Alternatively, drill lots of small holes with a regular drill bit, the bigger the better. Make sure you do this carefully with the log in a stable position, ideally clamped in place.



2. Chisel.

Using a chisel and a heavy object, dig out the hole to make it larger. Enough to accommodate as many fingers as you want. Please be careful doing this, chisels are sharp. Unless it’s ours, which is not.


3. Countersink.

Countersink to a depth of 5mm at the positions of the mounting screws (we used three screws, one at the top and two at the bottom). The depth of the countersink is to accommodate the screw head but is not absolutely crucial if you don’t have a countersink bit.

Drilling out a pocket hold

4. Shape and saw.

Using a rasp, bevel all the square edges and give the face of the hold some shape. Measure where you want the base of the hold to be, and saw it off. Keep it nice and straight, as this will be the back screwed against the wall. Obviously, when you cut the hold off the log, consider how deep you want your pocket to be. The length you cut off will determine the pocket depth.

Rough shape of climbing hold

5. Drill mounting holes, sand.

Drill holes for mounting. In order to shape and finish the hold, mount it to something solid (waste bit of wood, for instance) so you can go at it with sandpaper (250/400 grit), without having to hold it in your hand, until it’s nice and smooth.

Home climbing training, wooden pocket hold

6. Screw to board.

Make sure you screw this to something relatively solid. We don’t want you to pull your shed down. Climb.

Salvaged wood pocket hold, handmade for home climbing walls

Expert level, completed.

James.

Disclaimer: we take no responsibility in loss of limbs, grazed skin, or bruised egos whilst you make your own holds. Use your common sense.


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Zoe goes…nowhere

Home training, in isolation in Thailand

She’s stuck in Thailand.

Amidst the current crisis, of which we are all VERY aware, travellers across the globe are rushing home to loved ones as the pandemic continues to cause disruptions locally and worldwide. My rock climbing and planned motorbike adventures for Laos-Vietnam (upcoming blogs) were cut short, as serious decisions had to be made quickly to escape to Thailand before borders were fully locked down. Being stuck in Laos was not an option, with their limited emergency care and lack of an international airport. Turns out the day after I crossed, my border closed. 


Finally accepting defeat and turning my gaze towards the red bricks and rolling hills of sunny England, I now find myself in a rather sticky-rice situation.

I’m waiting on refunds from three different airlines and coming to terms with the horribly inflated price of my winged journey home now scheduled for Sunday. If this plane doesn’t leave the country, that’s it. Trapped in Thailand.


Interestingly, the choice as to coming home or staying put is not so simple and many fellow travellers are similarly questioning their next move. I don’t have a job to get back to or rent to pay, the crags and climbing gyms are closed anyway, and my family are probably safer without me potentially carrying the virus back to them. Thailand is warm, cheap, and my accommodation situation actually allows me private outdoor space (a pool, no less). 


So why am I so desperate to leave to confinement in England? 

I would be lying if I hadn’t considered waiting it out here. But Bangkok will shortly be on lockdown too and who knows how long the travel restrictions will last. If I commit to staying, I have to COMMIT to staying. For months, even.

Not so bad though? I have a guitar, chrysanthemum tea, air conditioning, a yoga mat, jungle-esque scenery (despite being in the middle of the city), and all for a fiver a night. Plus, when this blows over, I can start moving again. 

Yoga in Thailand, self isolation with Zoe Allin

Add on travel insurance (mine expired, whoops). But then minus the extortionate flight ticket home. Add on the same confinements as at-home UK citizens (there’ll be no island-hopping; in doing so, backpackers only threaten to transmit the virus to smaller isolated communities). Add on the incessant uncertainty of changes to the country, NAY, THE WORLD. But minus the support network. Add on the psychological claustrophobia as all the other travellers also manage their own brain-turmoil regarding their own personal situation. 

Add on that I have to drink my tea out of a bowl. 


Finally, add on the prospect of my family being affected and me being helplessly 6000 miles away. 

Personally, it becomes matter of physical comfort versus pragmatism and mental stability. Ultimately and to the relief of my parents, I have decided to pursue the latter. Though really, I’m still not entirely sure I’ve chosen right.

In this blog, I endeavoured firstly to summarise briefly my travel situation, and why Zoe may not be going to too many places in the immediate future (surprise, it’s Covid-19). Secondly, I wanted to address those who are lusting after confinement abroad into the mindset of someone actually locked in another country. Grass is always greener, ey

I admit to being surprised at my yearning for England.

Nevertheless, IF I get home, I’m sure I will welcome maybe 2 days of relief followed by weeks of the same isolation mania as everyone else. I’ll make sure to re-read this entry when that happens. 

INFO: If you are abroad and want to return home (gov.uk)


At least I now have time to devote to more FUN and LIGHTHEARTED Dirtbag blog entries. Coming up… Ropes, falls, and funky limestone tufas: a boulderer goes rock climbing in Thakhek, Laos.

Zoe Allin: insta @zoallin


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How to make your own climbing holds

Step by step guide to creating your own wooden, plastic free climbing holds for a home training board.


Home climbing walls are becoming a pretty big deal, what with ‘ahem’ not being able to roam free at the moment. Home training is a cost effective way to stay strong, and to maximise training time; being able to do it in bursts in between dinner, putting kids to bed, washing pots blah blah blah.

As per usual, we gathered together random bits of wood to make our holds out of. We already had everything in the house so didn’t need to buy in anything. Woohoo – free holds!


1. Get wood.

This is a branch kept from a condemned Hawthorn tree. It is a nice dense hardwood, good to work with. Nice and chunky. You can use any old branch/wood scrap provided it is dead and dry with some weight. Using a rasp, I shaved off the bark into a rough shape and size on one edge.

2. Saw bits off.

Carefully saw off end at desired length. Be careful to get a square cut as this side of the hold will be against the wall.

3. Drill and countersink.

Drill two holes 4/5mm approximately two inches apart (distance will depend on the size of wood you are using). Then counter sink both holes to accommodate the screw head. Counter sinking creates a tapered hole about 5mm in depth. This can be done either using a tapered counter sinking bit or with a 10mm drill bit, drilling 5mm into each hole.

4. Flip and mount.

Now, flip the hold over – flat side up. I temporarily screwed it to something solid (wood cutting horse, for example) to keep it secure for the next step.

5. Shave more.

I then shaved the opposite edge on the opposite side to create a tapered hold. We are going for a small jug, here. But you can do anything you want, be creative.

6. Rough sand and shape.

I have a fancy machine but this can be done with a coarse sand paper block and some elbow grease or an electric hand sander. The aim is to smooth out the surfaces from the coarse rasp shaping, and to fine tune the shaping. No nasty splinters.

7. Fine sand.

250 or 400 grit paper works well. Sand away until nice and smooth.

8. Screw to board.

Voila. Get training. You can get creative and make lots of different shapes and sizes. Be sure to send us pictures of your finished pieces – we want to show them off too!

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Shoestring guide to Albarracín bouldering

Five things you need to know before a winter bouldering trip to Albarracín

Let’s be clear. Bouldering is free. It’s more of a guide for getting to/from/general survival.


The plan was Font in early November, book at the last minute after seeing what the weather was doing. It was a good plan as it turned out the weather looked horrendous, cold and rain. So a plan B was needed, long story short we headed to Albarracín (with a reputation of being one of Europe’s best bouldering venues with “bomb proof” weather) We had a great time, so much so that we went again in early January, right in the middle of storm…with knee deep snow. So here we’ve put a crib sheet about getting the most out of winter bouldering in Spain.

1 Getting there. Flights and car hire


From the UK you can fly reasonably cheaply if you shop around to Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante and Madrid. The nearest airports are Valencia and Madrid. We used Barcelona and Alicante because the flights were cheaper and earlier in the morning so we could there, if we got a wriggle on with enough time to boulder for a few hours on the first day. This is a good thing to do if you are short on days and don’t mind being knackered.

You can choose to offset your carbon footprint created by flying by giving something back. To find out how much impact your flight has, ClimateCare have a carbon calculator.

Sandstone bouldering in Spain, Europe
Emma Brown experiencing the joys of sandstone.

Hiring a car is really the only viable option, made cheaper if you have a car full of people of course. Using public transport is difficult, as would getting to the crag when you are there. Be really careful checking the condition of your car when you pick it up, and don’t take it back very dirty inside (easy to do on a climbing trip) or you may end up with a nasty bill. Be sure to understand what you are insured for. If you take your own mats you need to hire a car big enough. First trip we hired a VW Caddy, we didn’t take our own mats but hired 3 mats from the climbing shop in Albarracin. We comfortably got
three of us and the mats in the car. Second trip we hired a bigger car a Vauxhall Zafira, with five of us and four mats. A tight squeeze.

It was like tetras trying to fit everything in.


2 What to take. Mats and stuff


To keep costs down for the first trip we took a sack each which fitted the size requirements for cab luggage (56x45x25cms) a decent size, this way we avoided the high costs of hold luggage, and skipped through the airport not having to collect baggage. Packing was quite tight.

All you need:

  • A good pair of approach shoes/boots which we travelled in
  • Warm coat.
  • 2 pairs of climbing shoes,
  • Chalk,
  • Warm crag layers, hat gloves etc
  • Flask, tea is important.
  • Change of clothes and toiletries etc. don’t forget you haven’t got any hold luggage so you are restricted on what liquids you can take, e.g liquid chalk or sharps (scissors)

With Easy Jet the hold luggage is measured by adding up the height, length and width of your bag, maximum total is 275cm, this is plenty big enough for most large mats. This meant we could put two mats together and count them as one. Jen constructed some large covers out of tent materials to hold them, and straps, together. This meant we could stuff boots and chalk etc inside the mat. We had no issues getting the mats through check in, as they are relatively light.

I think its slightly more expensive to take your own mats than to hire (hiring in November was 7 euros per day, but you had to pre book and collect when the shop is open. Taking your own is a bit of hassle but is probably worth it as you remove the risk of not getting hire mats.

Traversing

3 Accommodation and provisions

There are less choices for accommodation in the winter, camping is less practical because it is very cold on a night, there is a carpark for campervans. Albaraccin is around 1300m high. There are plenty of Airbnbs hotels, a couple of climbing hostels, we paid about 20 euros per person per night for a really good airbnb.

There are two supermarkets very near each other in the town, we had no trouble getting what we wanted to feed ourselves, we didn’t go to the next big town Terual as it was 40 mins away, and there was no need. We cooked in for 50% of the time and also ate in the local restaurants/ bars. The food was good and alright value, the best we found was Bar la Despensa, a cosy tapas bar, with very friendly staff and good prices. The restaurants don’t open until 8pm which doesn’t suit everybody, but if you are climbing all day it suits us.


4. The Crags


The boulder areas are a 10 minute drive up the hill from the town, we took flasks of hot drinks, sandwiches, fruit and boiled eggs up to the crag. We generally got to the crag between 09.00 and 10.00 which seemed early enough especially if it was cold. You can easily spend all day at the crag with no need to drop back down to town for lunch. There are 3 main car parks, the first being on a bend, the second has some small out building in it and third has parking on both sides of the road. The third is the best places to start at, you can see boulders from the road and Sector Parking is right in front of the parking. This sector is great for warming up at it has some easier problems on fantastic looking walls.

Brad Fletcher climbing on sandstone
Brad Fletcher


We used a 2019 guidebook which we bought through Needle sports in Keswick. Its in English and is very good. Ticks with intials helped us keep track of everyone’s progress. We also used the 27crags app, which proved very useful later on. Go for the problems with stars or half stars, they are all excellent. We tended to climb in 1 area in the morning and another in the afternoon. You soon get a feel for the aspect of the crags, we were able to find crags in the shelter from the wind and ones in the sun.

John Kennedy

On both trips it was very cold (between 0 and 10 degrees) but we were able to keep warm and dodge the wind.

The climbing is really good, a mix of edges, pockets and slopers.

There are hundreds of Youtube vidoes which give you a much better idea than I can. You can also walk up the canyon by parking near the sports centre (in the end we wound up using this trail to lug the mats to go climbing). This is a good thing to do perhaps on a rest day.

Brad Fletcher

5 Plan B and C



On our second trip we had about 30 cms of snow on our third day. The whole area was very beautiful, but the conditions made salvaging any climbing virtually impossible as it snowed throughout the day and the snow was very wet snow. There are lots of overhangs (Techos area especially) where it may be possible to climb in rain or light snow. For us the snow was blowing in under the overhangs and the ground and our kit was sodden. But dammit, we tried.

Team battling through. Boulderers are a desperate kind.


So decisions had to be made.

There is plenty of walking or running in the surrounding area, but you are in Spain and its just that you are high up in the mountains in poor weather. We bailed and dropped down towards the sea to find better weather. This is where your choice of airport comes in. We were Alicante so we did the 4 hour drive first thing in the morning, we went straight to a bouldering area we had checked out the night before called Crevillante near Elche, had an afternoon and following days bouldering and stopped in a cheap air bnb.

Onto sunnier climbs further south

If you fly from Barcelona or Valencia there is a boulder areas called Alcaniz which is gaining a good reputation. There is also an area near Madrid. The point is you have choices if Albarracin is rainy or snowing. Just call it early and bail. We used Instagram to find very recent photos of folk bouldering on the crags we were heading for, this was excellent for sussing what condition the crags were in.


Albaraccin is a great place to visit, I haven’t even talked about how magical the town itself is or much about the bouldering really. If you are organised, a trip in winter is really worth doing, we were a bit unlucky in our January trip as it was right in the middle of the big storms. But we had a fantastic time and the snow just added to the adventure.

Steve Rhodes


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Nuts and bolts for the future

Copper, a chemical element which, can occur in nature in a directly usable form. Pink and orange, soft and malleable; the lustre of a freshly exposed metal surface and the ease by which it can be worked, led to very early human use.  Chemically contrasting, elemental Zinc is a silvery blue-grey and brittle metal whose oldest evidence of use comes from 9th century Rajasthan.

Alloying these two contrasting, natural ingredients in different proportions formed a new material, one with improved mechanical durability and strength; both copper and zinc at the same time, a symbiotic material, respectful of itself, whose two constituents can replace each other within the same crystal structure. Brass.


Beautifully crafted pieces of equipment, either mental armour or crucial for harder rock climbs, a brass wedge on a silver soldered wire protects from falls for those skilled enough to need them.

Marginal breaking strength and tiny surface area for contact with rock, brassies or RP’s (Roland Pauligk, their inventor) were skilfully hand-made. Careful shaping and filing, drilling and soldering; from a garage in the Australian suburb of Mordialloc, Victoria, twelve-hour days became thousands of brass stoppers on wire, crafted in a way which would make the ancient alchemists and engineers proud. Being sometimes the only protection against serious injury or death, climbers in the know or the need, held them dear, synonymous to religious icons.

Treacle Slab E3 5c – A powerful and delicate route. RP’s protect the mid run-out section. 

Roland no longer makes RP’s, they have been replaced. Replaced by dimensionally identical counterparts manufactured with more rigorous safety testing by a large company with resources at their disposal. Amazing to think that this revolutionary piece of climbing equipment which has for the most part remained unchanged was once hand made in a garage.


This is how all the best ideas start.

We started in a shed, with an idea.

Handmaking boulder brushes

An idea to change the way expired outdoor gear is disposed of and instead re-purposed. Mass manufactured versions of our products exist however, similar to Roland’s story, perhaps Dirtbags Climbing can plant the seed of a sustainable idea, an idea or example for manufacturers of outdoor sports equipment to use to help clean up the amounts of waste produced through manufacturing which, slowly pollutes the world and environments we like to play in.

Roped climbing indoors is becoming increasingly popular, cheap tents are ubiquitous and all ultimately end up in landfill once expired. A majority of this plastic based material can be repurposed.

So, lets give our waste a purpose and help to prevent the outdoor sports world from becoming one of the large producers of plastic waste.    

James Dickinson