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When climbing holidays don’t go to plan: Anna Taylor blogs

The back end of summer was a wet one. feeling the frustration of UK climbers up and down the country – we feel your pain! It’s not just us punters who get let down by the weather, it affects the pros too. Anna writes her second installation of her summer diary, spent in France and then back home to some familiar gritstone.

Anna’s Summer ’19 climbing diary part two:

Fontainebleau

We’d planned a trip to Europe for the end of August, the idea being that we would head to Fontainebleau for a couple of days before heading to Chamonix or northern Spain for some big multi-pitch adventures. Unfortunately, this just wasn’t to be. While the weather in Font was beautiful, it was deteriorating fast everywhere else, and it really wasn’t worth the fuel to travel to Chamonix or Spain.

The bad luck seemed to continue, as I picked up a cold virus and felt rubbish most of the time, despite the warm temperatures. Three days in, Ben accidentally sliced the end of his finger open with our cooking knife. After a morning of me having to drive frantically to the nearest supermarket (I’d never driven on the other side of the road before) and purchase a large amount of first aid supplies, I patched him up, but it was clear that I was going to be the only one climbing for the remainder of our trip.

Deciding to stick it out for a few more days, I tried to get into the Font bouldering style. It was weird, sometimes flashing 7a felt fine, but sometimes 6b’s felt impossible after half an hour of trying. I did some cool problems, including the infamous La Marie Rose, the super hard and slippy 6a, which was even harder and slippier in the boiling sun.

We returned early from Europe, pretty disappointed that the weather had turned on us, but we had a nice couple of days in North Wales on the way home to compensate, while we planned what we wanted to do next.

The beginning of the Grit season

Now in the early days of Autumn, summer is beginning to fade away as we head towards the winter months.

I’m going to be away all November on an expedition to South America, but until then, I’ve got one thing on my mind, Gritstone!

Ben and I kicked off the season with a couple of slab climbs at the Roaches on the 3rd of September. We started off with the classic Track Of The Cat, on the Roaches Skyline. I’d never been up there before but i’m certainly glad I went, as the clean cut slabs of flawless gritstone were a perfect way to reacquaint with the bold and friction based climbing style.

Track Of The Cat is an E5 that climbs a faint groove, then traverses onto a slab, which is easy up until a big slot where you can stuff a large cam to protect yourself on the scary top section.

After the slot there’s a couple of smeary moves, then a big lunge up to a juggy break just below the top. I didn’t like the look of the starting groove, as it looked a bit green, so opted for a direct (and way more fun) start, by throwing my heel by my head and rocking over onto the slab. I’m sure it’s been done many times before as it’s not particularly hard, but it certainly makes me wonder why on earth the route starts on the left when the direct is so obvious!

After Track Of The Cat, Ben and I walked out to the Nth Cloud, where we’d heard about a cool E6 called Judge Dread. I onsighted it on a top-rope, and found it thin and bold, but also right up my street. There was just enough gear for me to not feel that scared, so I was quickly on the sharp end, and found myself really enjoying the precise and crimpy moves on the top section of the route. I should probably have tried to flash this one, but have made a rule with myself to not onsight or flash any potentially dangerous grit routes until after November, as I think those are the one’s i’d most likely end up injured on. The rain followed Ben after his lead so we quickly bailed and headed for a supermarket cafe for lunch and coffee.

As the weather has been more than unpredictable this year, I’m going to concentrate on grit for now. I didn’t get as much done in the Lakes as I’d wanted to this summer, as everyone else by the looks of it, but I checked out a few routes for when it gets warm again. Until then, there’s plenty of hard stuff on the smaller crags to concentrate on. We did have a sneaky look at a slightly harder route when we were at the Roaches, so if all goes well, there will hopefully be more on that soon!

Exciting times ahead in South America, catch you on the other side.

Anna

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Confidence is key: Priceless (E7 6b) performance by Anna Taylor

As the mornings get colder and the leaves begin to golden, we asked Dirtbags climber Anna Taylor to reflect on her summer of climbing both in the Lakes and Yorkshire. The second part of this blog will follow, covering her time in France, and looking onward to Autumn on Gritstone.


Anna’s Summer ’19 climbing diary part one:

In the first part of this blog, I’ve written down my account of some of my favourite routes this year. The hard routes, and particularly the new route, pushed my boundaries mentally in one way or another.

Disorderly Conduct E8 6c

It was July, and I thought that it was about time I tried an E8 again. I wasn’t sure what to go for, it was too hot for grit, but I didn’t want to commit to a project on a mountain crag and get rained off either. After a bit of research, I decided that Disorderly Conduct at Reecastle crag might be a good option, it was five minutes from the car, and was apparently steep and crimpy, so would potentially suit me. So Ben and I headed up to have a look.

Our first session was on a scorching hot day, and although I quickly did all the moves, I really didn’t feel like going for the lead. The gear also wasn’t as good as I’d hoped for, there were quite a few pieces lower down, but none that I trusted 100%. The good bits were all too low to be of much use.

The climbing itself was interesting, it started with a really burly lower section on good holds, that became very strenuous if your feet were in the wrong place. Then there was a crux throw to a tiny pocket, followed by a run out on small, sharp crimps.

I was finding the crux particularly annoying as I couldn’t quite reach the pocket from both of the good footholds and had to bump my right foot up onto a smear before committing to the move, making it feel slightly more sketchy. The sharp holds on my skin meant we quickly called it a day. I was keen to return.

Two days later I was back at Reecastle, standing under the route and taking a couple of deep breaths before going for the lead. We’d had a slightly shambolic morning to say the least, featuring a flat tyre and a lot of driving to and from Keswick to sort it out. Warmed up and ready to go, I was a bit nervous mostly because all my hard headpoints in the past had been slabs or vertical walls, so I’d never had to worry about getting pumped or my fingers uncurling before. But I knew I could do it as long as I stayed calm. Setting off, as always, was the hardest part, and once I was on the wall I found it easy to get into a rhythm and flow through the moves.

Once I’d passed the initial overhang and stuck the pocket move I went into auto-pilot, and before I knew it I was at the rest jug and it was all over! I placed a couple of cams then wandered up the super easy upper section to the top of the crag.

Yes! I was really happy to have done the route, as I felt like it was a step out of my comfort zone in terms of style, but the thing I was most happy about was that it actually hadn’t felt that hard. I had to try, and try hard, but I knew that I wasn’t physically or mentally at my limit, and that more than anything was a victory to me.


Priceless E7 6b

A new one! I’d found a new line in Langdale.

Whilst I could top rope it fine, there was a bit of an issue with the gear…mostly the fact that there wasn’t any. One humid evening I found myself stood under the route, without a harness, just one bouldering pad and Neil Gresham for company. Realistically it was way too hot to contemplate a forty foot solo, but sometimes things just happen…

It was one of those angel/devil moments.

After a twenty minute spell of dithering, I found myself stepping off the ground. I’d told myself that I should just climb up to the first rest, then from there I’d decide what to do. Of course I knew that once I was up there it was irreversible and I would have to commit. Soon I was smearing gingerly across the first traverse, trying not to put too much weight on that suspect handhold. I’ll admit that I was pretty scared of the next bit, the fact that the rock-over had felt so hard last time (on a rope) was haunting my thoughts, but too late for that, I was there.

I’d stepped my foot high, and I was suddenly in the middle of the move. Just balance, balance, push with your leg, stand up, reach, got it!

Anna Taylor discovers a new Lake District hard trad climb – Priceless E7 6b

I was incredibly relieved to have made it to the good holds. While the next traverse was balancy and would surely feel outrageous without a rope, I’d never fallen off it, and I was not about to now. The forty foot plunge into a pile of boulders would not be an ideal end to the night. In reality it was just going through the motions, the hard part was long behind me and soon I was pulling over the slopey top out to victory.

In the end, I named the route Priceless. Grade wise I gave it E7 6b, which is nothing but an estimate, but it felt about that to me. It was nice to finally get another new route done, but next time I might wait until it’s a bit cooler!


Fire Dance E6 6a

The July heatwave was proving a bit much for Ben and I, so we decided to leave the Lakes and head over to North Yorkshire for a couple of days. There was a lot more time spent on the beach and playing cards than actually climbing anything.

Firedance at Stoupe Brow is a big, imposing looking arete perched half way up a steep hill, with beautiful views of the coast. For some odd reason, there is a line of bolts on the right hand side of the route that, while a bit silly, did save us the task of bush-whacking to the top of the crag. Ben led the route on the bolts, and climbed it easily apart from one move where he looked like he was on the absolute limit of his reach.

Sure enough, when it was my turn, I couldn’t quite make the span to the hold. This was so frustrating, particularly as the rest of the route felt fairly easy, and I knew that if it wasn’t for this move then I’d solo it without a second thought. Eventually, after quite a lot of swearing at the rock for not forming holds that were closer together, I discovered that if I used a slightly higher foothold, I could just about creep my fingers onto the hold. The problem now was that I was so stretched out that my feet were doing nothing, and the only solution was basically to do a pull-up to get my feet back on. Not ideal, but there was no alternative.

After a while I was top-roping the route cleanly every time. Slowly, the thought of going for the solo was re-entering my head. I decided to come down for some thinking time. For a while I wandered about, with the usual dilemma in my head. Do I or don’t I? I’ve been in this situation so many times now that you’d think I’d be quicker at deciding, but it always takes a while. In the end, as per usual, I decided to give it a shot. I knew Ben thought I was being reckless, and maybe I was a little bit, but I knew that I could do it.

Anna Taylor leading Fire Dance E6 6a

A few moves in and I was at the point of commitment. Not wanting any long pauses to put me off, I went for it. All I remember from the crux is thinking “shit…I’m really having to try here!” but I managed to just about creep my fingers onto the hold, before my feet came off and I hauled my body weight up and back onto the wall. Although Ben looked like he was about to have a heart attack, I could tell he was happy that I’d gone for it. We packed up and left the crag, and as soon as we got back to the Lakes we jumped into Rydal water to finally cool down (the joys of owning a van with no air-con).

In a way I’m still surprised that I went for Firedance. A year ago I would have wanted perfect conditions for such a sketchy move, and some decent bouldering pads, but I was happy in the knowledge that the heat and lack of any sort of protection didn’t matter as I knew I wouldn’t fall.

Some people may think that that’s crazy, but these routes all come down to confidence, and if you have enough of it, then I think you’re pretty safe. I’ll definitely be planning a return trip to North Yorkshire later in the year.


Anna.

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Ethical trader: gold award.

We had the pleasure of attending the Green Gathering festival in Chepstow at the beginning of August. The trusty Skoda was full to the brim with stall, products and camping gear and we journeyed down to the South of Wales.

‘Low impact living’

The Green Gathering festival has a fierce and loyal following of eco warriors, green activists and hedonistic hippies. It felt like a bubble indeed. Everything was solar and wind powered and we were so impressed by the lack of ‘bins’. Instead were various recycling points for most rubbish, compost, plastic, tins etc – everything that wasn’t able to be sorted you took home yourself.

Good vibes throughout, it was a chilled weekend and alongside some pretty rad music and talks – everyone was open, warm and welcoming.

‘The Green Gathering Sustainability Policy

All contractors, volunteers and directors undertake to respect people, animals and the environment in the production of the festival. Waste, destruction, pollution, fossil fuel use and feeding corporate profits are to be minimised in the production of the festival.

All activities undertaken by The Green Gathering – the festival, its production company and charity – aim to promote environmental sustainability, ecological awareness, biodiversity, human rights, and appropriate education, technology and communication.Green Gathering

Anyway we only bloody won the Gold Ethical Trader award.

Festival goers seemed chuffed that we had made everything ourselves and even all of the climbers hiding out at the festival came to say hello. Combining the climbing community with the green community worked well for us at this festival; we had a dead good time too.

We are honoured to receive such a wonderful recognition, especially as a new trader.

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St Bees Head: product test and photoshoot.

A group of local friends and climbers joined us for a quiet afternoon celebrating the beginning of Spring hugging some rocks and testing out some chalk bags. We drove out to the coast, to St Bees; a gorgeous bouldering location.

Loaded with pads, shoes, lunch and a bag of new stock we carefully made our way down the cliff side to boulder the afternoon away. Due to the bird ban, and high tide, our visit was restricted to the Apiary wall area – which had lots of problems with a good range of difficulty.


We were excited to show off some of the new lightweight panel bags made entirely from offcuts, and the classic horizontal panel recycled rope chalk bags. We also brought along some bracelets and belts for the guys to have a look and test.

James and I were joined by Anna, Karly, Tess, Jonathan, Reece, Nick and Lauren. With a good range of climbing abilities it was a chilled day, not about performance or showing off – just everyone confident enough to have a go and to enjoy the day.

The day was made possible really by the power of social media , reaching out to those who might be interested in spending the day messing about on some rocks with us proved to be popular, and brought this little group together.

With aching fingers and bellies lit with an enthusiasm for this year’s climbing – we all left with big plans for summer.

And us particularly, to make days like this, with new friends all with the love of climbing in common – more regular.

Huge thanks to those who came, particularly Jonathan and Reece who worked hard taking photos while we all played.


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Dirtbag Diary: James – overcoming injury.

Humans are quite good at problem solving. As Dirtbags solely uses recycled materials and machines in need of repair there has been quite a bit of problem solving to understand how we can create what we want from what we have at our disposal.

Lately I have been doing a lot problem solving. Since breaking my leg in Fontainebleau after landing awkwardly off my pad blowing my MCL and ACL. At first I struggled to come to terms with my injury and how my knee may never work the same again. It’s strange how having a problem to solve takes your mind off of immediate longer term problems like healing a climbing preventing injury. For example, a good few hours designing and building our own embroidery machine for the labels took my mind off the injury for a while, but being stopped from climbing in the longer term was the last thing I was going to allow to happen.

Night bouldering at Trowbarrow Quarry, Jame on Shallow Groove V11.
Trowbarrow Quarry – Shallow Groove V11
James in front of hospital with his new knee brace.
Brace yourself…

At first the frustration is immense, I actually spent 11 days laid up in Chamonix before I made it home. Staring at mountains you can’t climb only leaves you with one option….the bar. Rehabilitation started slowly as my leg was so swollen but after two months of intensive physiotherapy and lots of ice I started to get back into climbing outside. Here’s a quick run through of my of how I managed to get back to roped climbing within 5 months without surgery.

  • I didn’t take Naproxen to reduce swelling as there is evidence that it hinders the ligament healing process
  • I used constant ice and heat to get blood flowing to the area (ice also really helped with the pain).
  • Know the difference between the aches and pains of healing and making it worse pain
  • Knowing the above allowed me to tentatively put weight on my knee with a brace on and then start to regain flexion and extension (this hurts but you have to try really hard).
  • Once I could bend my leg a little I went hard with the TENS machine followed by a few private and NHS physio sessions
  • I stuck to the physio exercises religiously and did them two to three times a day to get my quads and hamstring working properly again.
  • I started going to the climbing wall and got straight back leading with a brace on.

Now five months on, and as a result of exploring every avenue to healing my leg, and training my upper body in the mean time; I’m already on the road to returning stronger.

A large part of my motivation to climb comes from finding a route that inspires me and makes me want to go climbing. I was feeling pretty low about not being able to climb well again so I knew that finding a new project route would be a large motivator to sorting out my head. My body would heal with time but the confidence I had in my physical ability had gone to shit.

Only a few days ago, while Wetherlam was dusted with snow and a mist hung low in Hodge Close Quarry I was dangling over the water scrubbling lichen from my new project. Excited for warmer, drier times to get back on the rock, some potential E6 slate is definitely on the cards for 2019.

I really enjoy climbing on the slate, it lends itself well to a climbing style typically adopted from climbing indoors. You move from hold to hold but without large dependency on smearing such as a grit route perhaps.

The Lakes slate areas sometimes get a bad rep due to their chossy nature. I love exploring esoteric choss that nobody wants to climb on and find something new in amongst the rubble pile. While Tilberthwaite Quarry is well known, some of its routes appear reclaimed by nature, part crumbling and dangerous looking. I’m always surprised to not see more people climbing at Tilberthwaite Quarry. In such a pleasant setting there are some great lines here with an adventurous feel, protected by a mixture of bolts and trad gear.

I’m always intrigued when I walk up to old routes in the slate quarries. Could I climb this route? Is the old peg still safe?

James Dickinson: Latex Generation E5 6b

The first route I projected rather than trying to onsight was Latex Generation, my favorite to date! The process of working this route opened up a door allowing me to realise that I could climb a lot harder if I really wanted to.

Initially I set up a shunt on the route, scrubbed twenty years of lichen off all the apparent holds and started to piece together all the weird compression moves, long powerful reaches and strange jams. It felt ridiculously hard.

I top roped Latex Generation a few times sporadically and finally I was able to make it through the first powerful crux, through the mid-section protected by a rotting peg and a tri-cam placed into a shot hole and up to the final hard move. This must be the 6b move. While smearing on slate, toe cammed in behind a flake and a two finger lock as deep as the first joint, a really powerful sideways dyno is made to a ledge. As I went for it, I latched the small flake hold of the ledge at the absolute extent of my reach. The hold snapped off and I took a big swing with the flake in my hand. The problem now was that I knew I could make it this high but I also knew how hard the sideways leap was and didn’t think I would ever be able to do this move, it was at the absolute limit of my reach even with a jump. A month later I was back. I top roped the route with a friend, making it to the upper crux and stuck the sideways dyno. I was at the top.

When working on a route at your limit I love and hate this moment.

I got straight on the lead the following afternoon. After placing the last piece just below the upper crux I lunged sideways, brushed the ledge with my fingertips, took a big fall onto the old fixed protection and smashed into a razor slate edge with my heel.

I could feel my heel swelling and I knew that if I didn’t try again, this time committing fully in my head then I wouldn’t be able to try again until the bruising had gone down. Back at the upper crux I clipped the gear. I felt really tense but after composing myself I sank the tips of the first two fingers of my right hand into one of the best finger locks you could ever wish for. Releasing, I leaped across the blank wall and latched the ledge. Mantel up, bridge the corner, off the top, done.      

I felt really absorbed by this climbing experience and the problem solving process. The exploration finding a route that inspires you, working out how the climb the route and the challenge are all great motivators for climbing but also as mini lessons on dealing with things that push you physically and mentally.

James Dickinson leading Latex Generation E5 6b – Tilberthwaite Quarry

Lesson: If there’s something you want to do whether that be solving a technical problem, recovering from injury or even working out the crux on a route then take something positive away from every failure and learn from the experience until you can eventually overcome the challenge.