About Me

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I'm Alex (also known as Midge, Al and the Guy in the Neon Orange and Black Leathers). Three main passions in life: Mountains, Motorbikes and Old Stuff. Currently in North Wales, at Bangor Uni with my Transalp 600 and Snowdonia on the doorstep. The purpose of this Blog is a combination of discussing the above and highlighting other blogs and videos of interest.

Slideshow Info

The Slideshow contains various pictures (all taken by myself), ranging from my Dogs to hanging belays at Gogarth. Hopefully they give you a flavour of what I get up to.

23/08/2012

What are you looking for? And some other bits.

What are you looking for? In climbing? In motor-biking? In education? In life? We set goals, sometimes not distinctive ones like “I want to climb route X” but more general concepts like seeking out an adventure, and work towards achieving them. These goals are often fluid and changeable, effected by personal feelings and circumstances. And of course they are all effected by the different favourites of individuals, sport-bike riders want something different to motor-cross riders. Working out these goals, these desires, can take time to figure out. Yet once they are discovered a journey starts. The only challenge then really is to gather the motivation and determination to achieve them (along with funds, strength and skills, which the drive to complete the desire will provide for). The more focus that is given to achieving these goals the easier they become. (Which is why this blog has been so long without an update, a lack of focus). 

Before leaving Uni for the summer (which gives you an idea how long it has been since an update) I had a couple of busy days out with Lewis. First on the Great Orme then in Vivian Quarry (in the Llanberis slate quarries). Lewis ready for some trad warmed up on Precious Metal (E1 5b), a route I’ve done a couple of times which follows a leftwards-trending diagonal cracks and edges sequence. Quickly dispatched, we moved to attempt Plumbline (E3 5c) feeling brave (or possibly foolhardy) I racked up letting my eyes wander over the upcoming route attempting to gain information to help my onsight attempt. Setting off the moves were fairly steady, consistent and interesting. The gear was going in well, then it got hard. With forearm pump kicking in on the steep upper section and with a misreading of the gear size I placed a nut that was far too small, I was suddenly gripped, not wanting to fall but unsure of how to make progress up or down. A horrible catch-22 situation. Knowing that if I did not make any movement I would fall anyway, I pushed upwards (following the saying ‘If in doubt, run it out!’). A few moves later my grip gave way. In the air, I felt the rubbish gear pull out, then I slammed into the rock. Lowered to the floor, bleeding from various cuts of the sharp rock and buzzing with adrenaline I was suitably chastised for getting the route wrong. With a pull through of the ropes Lewis set off on the lead to try it, with some effort he reached the top. I eventually battled up the route on the second, wondering how I’d of faired if I had managed to stay on (poorly I think). Next up was Excursion (E2 5b), a great route, with a good run-out towards the end which I did onsight. Lewis having half-watched a strong team doing The Visionary (E4 6a) decided that he would like a shot on it. Misreading the route resulted in him following a section between The Visionary and Clear White Light from about half way. After some long run out sections and hard moves he reached the top (new route: The Lost Visionary E5 6a, Lewis Gadd 11/June/2012). Having a feeling that I would not reach the top and wanting to have some energy left for the rest of the day I did not attempt to second. We moved further along and I did Kanly (E2 5c), which I had attempted when I first went to the Orme with BUMS in the first year. Knowing the route placed me at an advantage, but made the physical moves no easier. The first section is a run out slab, then follows an overhanging hand traverse and mantle to finish. Feeling strong I bashed on, dealing with the overhang section that had stopped me last time. We packed the gear away and headed down towards the Cave, but bumped into Owain, Chris and Gregg who were trying some of the harder sport routes near the Cave. Lewis and myself, psyched for some harder routes joined them. Roped up for Contusion (F6c+) I set off, with one scary clip that involves a balanced behind head reach the route was fantastic. I made a mess of one of the moves, attempting to pull up rather than move sideways and rockover resulted in a fall but that was all. A great route. 
Me attempting Plumblime (E3 5c).

Lewis (lost?) on a possibly new route, The Lost Visionary (E5 6a), just right of The Visionary (E4 6a)
With a day’s rest I was on the bus again with Lewis heading to the slate quarries, with one route in mind Comes the Dervish (E3 5c) the mega-classic of the slate quarries. To warm up we went to the Conscience Slab doing a couple of sports routes (loose and hard for the grade) including Mister, Mister. Feeling a bit bold and wanting some practice for the Dervish, I led Is It A Crime (E2/3 5c) one of the early bolted routes on the slate. Good, run-out, slate fun. Back at the Dervish Slab there was a group on the Dervish, so Lewis fancied a shot at Gin Palace (F7c). Battling bolt to bolt, move to move it was great to see the determination in his climbing. Smears and diagonally-downwards facing edges were employed as footholds. A full-on battle. He eventually bailed just before the pull out onto the upper face, out of puff and with soaking wet hand-holds in the crack it was a valiant effort. Then it was my turn for the biggy, the route I’d planned to do and put off doing since the start of Uni, Comes the Dervish. Racked up, a bit jittery and psyched it was a going to go onsight (hopefully). I’m spare the details as I know several people who will read this want the onsight. In summary: fantastic, long, more of a mind game than physically hard, watch the leg pump. Upon reaching the top, a wave of elation hit me the training, the practice and wait had been worth it. Abbing down I could barely believe that I had managed it, especially at those points where I had felt that I was going to come off. This is where the goal and the means of reaching the goal have accumulated in its completion, as was discussed at the top. 
Lewis seconding Is It A Crime (E2/3 5c).

Lewis stuck into Gin Palace (F7c).

From below, Lewis' legs are just visible.

Starting Comes the Dervish (E3 5c).

A bit higher.

At the over lap.
With rubbish weather and work getting in the way this summer has been hit and miss for trad climbing. A visit to Burbage North resulted in a poorly thought though attempt at the Sentinel (E2 5c), with a couple of falls due to no warm up. This came about because I was teaching my mum and her friend Meeta on some routes nearby. The overhanging steepness would be fine without having to place gear. A brilliant route never-the-less. On the same day I visited Yarncliffe Quarry to do Zapple (HVS 5b) a route that I saw on my first day doing trad and have wanted to do since. The route follows a zig-zaging crack line up the quarry wall. Typical crack climbing methods of climbing and gear are all employed. A highly recommended three-star route. Just try and go when the midge levels are low and the days have been dry for a while. 
Me on the Sentinel (E2 5c).

Me on Zapple (HVS 5b).

And a bit higher up.

A visit to Curbar was in order, an expectation of sandbags was in mind. Warming up on P.M.C. 1 (HS 4a) was a good start with a switch in the route around half way, from crack climbing to a series of ledges. The exposure of the finish was good (however my mum, who was belayer/seconder for the day thought otherwise). Next was Owl’s Arete (VS 4b) and Bel Ami (VS 4b) both different types of route, both worth doing. Avalanche Wall (HVS 5a) was a great route, using two parallel cracks and then some burly moves to finish.  I had an attempt on Elder Crack (E2 5c) but bailed upon realising that from about a third of the way from just under the crux to the top relied on massive gear (head size or larger). One to come back to with some size six/seven cams. To finish the day I got on The Peapod (HVS 5b), a psychically strenuous route that involves offwidth techniques. I fell once, stupidly, near the top of the Pod section having just placed some gear I relaxed and had my foot pop off. Down I went inside the Pod. After a quick breather back at the highest bit of gear I pulled back on and finished the route. A must do route for those going to Curbar. 
In the Peapod (HVS 5b).

Charlie came to visit a weekend and a bit ago keen for some Peak District Trad. We set off to Millstone on the Saturday, in attempt for Charlie to have a go on the type of climbing she hates, Crack Climbing. With the Mall (VS 4c) to start things looked promising. A good classic (but not a top fifty like the guide book suggests). Next Charlie attempted Embankment 2 (VS 4c) a brilliant route that follows a pair of vertical cracks about two foot apart, she managed to get to nearly halfway then bailed as she was struggling to make progress. A good but difficult introduction to crack climbing. With a quick pull through of the ropes I set off to finish the route. A brief think at the crux was required and soon enough I was at the top. Charlie came up on the second, quite happily (apart from having to really work hard to retrieve her high-point gear). Next was Bond Street (HVS 5a) a wide crack route. I got about half before giving up as the weather was hot and the jams I was using just would not stay sat (more practice I think is required). Charlie got on Svelt (HVS 5a) and then really enjoyed Great Slab (HS 4b), well apart from having difficulties setting up the belay. Next day we went to Black Rocks. Charlie attempted Stonnis Crack (HS 4b) a real fright fest at the grade and probably deserves a whole extra grade at least, but Black Rocks has the most sandbag routes in the whole of the Peak. After getting scared at the crux, she came down I led and finished it. Rain came in and we slowly under the cover of a big rock packed the gear away and went home. A bit of a disappointing day really because of the weather. 
Me on Embankment 2 (VS 4c).

A bit higher.

Charlie on Great Slab (HS 4b)
This Sunday just gone (19/08/2012) I went out with some of the Notts Uni Climbing Club (I’m not a splitter for those of you in BUMS) we went to Matlock with an intension of visiting Willersly Castle (limestone) and Black Rocks (grit). My “warm-up” route at Willersly turned into a bit of an epic. Sycamore Flake, VS 4c according to the guidebook, I should have known from the start that it was going to be difficult. A green offwidth to start, led to delicate moves along a large flake, which in turn led to hard(ish) cracks and crimps which were either green, had plants covering or very dirty making easy climbing feel particularly precarious. I reached the belay point amazed to have stayed on the rock. Bringing up my second was interesting as Colin has hearing difficulties, made worse by the fact that sweat stops the hearing aids from working. Trying to tell him information was tricky. Once at the belay we swapped over gear and Colin set off. As the route was harder than the grade suggested and with large amounts of exposure he decided after about three meters of climbing to come back to the belay and for us to swap over, I’m quite glad he did for the route got even more challenging. The crux moves were dealt with quickly as Colin’s gear was sound, but then the rock got loose. Gear placements spread out and rope drag a pain. The finish of the route was gripping, as I pulled myself up the last metre or so on ivy. Belay set up, I took a deep breath and slowly but surely brought Colin up. Adventurous climbing at its best. After a speedy abseil we went to Black Rocks. Colin led Curved Crack (HS 4b) and then we did Lean Man’s Climb (VS 5a). Lean Man’s can be done in two pitches and to give Colin a share we did this. The route entails a lay back on smears for the feet around a rock elephant’s ear and then a series of cracks to the top. Good fun and committing for the layback.  Charley and Steph did Stonnis Crack and Lone Tree Gully (S 4a). 
Colin setting off on pitch 2 of Sycamore Flake (VS 4c).
© Charley Carpenter.

Charley (top) and Steph (bottom) on Stonnis Crack (HS 4b).

Colin on pitch 2 of Lean Man's Climb (VS 5a).


A mini-adventure was Drum Camp, a world music festival in Norfolk that I go with my Dad to each year, except that he is in New Zealand. So with a loaded motorbike I went, partied and came back. Great stuff and I managed to miss all the traffic by filtering passed the cars. 

Also I did a cirum-nav of Kinder Scout with my mum. The weird rock formations up there were fantastic. The walk/very easy scramble up Grindsbrook and down Crowden Clough topped the day off. It is definitely a place to visit with the large expanses of peat bogs and weather worn grit boulders to play on. 
One of the many strangely shaped rocks on Kinder, looks like a sheep.

Me prancing around on top on the trig point.

Some more weirdly shaped rocks.

Coming back to the start, what am I looking for? Adventure, yes please lots of that. Mentally pushing myself that is good also. But as I go on climbing, motorbiking and wandering up mountains I think I will find different aspects that fascinate me and drive me onwards. It is good to step back and think about these things time to time.

Recently I bought, then actually read, The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner (rubbish, corny title I know). It is a good book, with methods of stepping back and reassessing why and how you climb. There are also exercises in the back of the book to help implement the concepts discussed.  He deals with some of the factors of drive, motivation and particularly fear. Well worth a read and dipping into now and then. 

Some film clips:

Power of Jam - Nico Favresse and Seán Villanueva

Ice, Anarchy & the Pursuit of Madness Part 1 A great series of three videos.

Long Ways - Jonny Copp on Alpine Climbing

The Greatest Show on Earth  Which of course is the Isle of Man TT. A well put together film about the race. 

 

09/06/2012

Tangoing with a German Schoolgirl over the Rainbow to meet Dali


With the weather over the last week being a mixed bag of cloud, rain and the occasional glimpse of sunshine I’ve been bashing around the Llanberis slate quarries. Their surreal, industrial atmosphere provides a playground for climbers, on probably the most marmite of rock types. From the strange three-dimensional routes to tentative slab routes requiring trust in edges the size of match-sticks to make progress. Although the rock initially appears to be a cold, dark-purple-grey up close the subtle shades and different colours appear. 

Rocking up at Vivian quarry (01/06/12) with Lewis we had no real plan, digging the Llanberis Slate guide (by Ground Up) we found a link up of routes, The East Face of Vivian (E2 5c/6a). Gearing up I set off up Mental Lentils (HVS 5b), a classic easy route on the slate (but is suffering from polish). Pulling over the top of the route, I set up a belay. Hunting around on my harness for my belay plate I realised that I had not put it on the gear loops. Shouting to Lewis about this issue I placed him on an Italian hitch and brought him up. Lewis set off up The Monster Kitten (E1 5c), a tough route. The leader has to choose whether to hang around placing gear therefore suffering major leg pump or to crack on running out on the not-so-good gear.  Lewis picked the latter. I quickly raced up on the second. Sorting out the gear, it was my turn to lead Too Bald to be Bold (E2 5c). The route lives up to its name in the first half with no good gear, loose blocks and some tricky moves. The top section is the crux, protected by a bolt. It requires delicate steps on small nothings that are fairly fragile (the route could do with more traffic to resolve this issue). Pulling over the top I set up a belay around some trees and set to hauling up the rucksacks. I’m not looking forward to ever big walling, just pulling a pair of rucksacks thirty metres was hard work. Lewis easily raced up to meet me. Checking the time we decided to stop on the Dervish level. Lewis suggested that I did The Last Tango in Paris (E1 5b), a long route (as in forty-five metres long), naturally split into four sections; a diagonal traverse out right, several mantel moves directly up, a leftwards-rising crack, (then once pulled over the protruding lip) delicate face-climbing. The initial traverse is fairly simple and able to take lots of gear, but does not require it. The mantel moves are safe but feel slightly precarious as you are moving up on flat, polished ledges not really requiring friction but careful balance to make progress. The crux moves come as you swing around on to the main face of the slab, gear is good but placing it generates a large amount of forearm pump. The moves are solid. Once over the lip, I sighed relief but in slight shock at the length of the route I pushed on, placed a couple of cams, a reached the top. I brought Lewis up, he flew along quite happily. As I lowered him down he had a look at Flashdance (E5 6a), testing the gear (a nut placed sideways and a DMM offset half in, confidence inspiring!). Once I was down, Lewis racked up, psyched up and set off. Smooth climbing on small holds, Lewis moved perfectly. As a belayer it was terrifying, long run-outs and poor gear, meant that I was going to have to sprint backwards to catch him before he decked. Intense focus was required. Completing the crux moves Lewis moved over to the finish which goes up Comes the Dervish (E3 5c) an easy and more relaxed route in comparison. An amazing effort. I seconded, a scary prospect when I pulled out the gear that protects the crux because even though I could not deck a massive swing was possible. I stopped just before joining the Dervish, as I really want to do it onsight. Packed up we raced back to the bus. 
Me on The Last Tango in Paris (E1 5b) at the end of the initial traverse.

Lewis setting off on Flashdance (E5 6a).

Lewis just pre-crux, contemplating the moves to come.

The Dervish Slab. The dark diagonal line rising right to left is Flashdance.
With the weather still being poor I went out with Charlie back to the slate and up to the Rainbow Walls area. Charlie noticed a couple of E2’s on the Manatese Level, noticing one of them was a Dawes’ route I set my sights on one of them, Angel on Fire (E2 5c). I racked up, taking all my cams, hexs and tri-cams as the route had several obvious crack-lines. The route has a reasonable start but is run out. Good gear follows. The route has typical strange slate movements, tackling the blocks, perfectly parallel cracks and small crimps. Once all the difficulties are over, including a precarious step using a slate smear and a very loose top out, the belay needs to be set up. The belay is a slate hut on the level that you have climbed to. I walked round the hut, tied my ropes together and set up ready to bring Charlie up. One of the strangest belay set ups I’ve used. Charlie raced up the route. Next up was German Schoolgirl (E2 5c), a slate classic. A corner route that chews through small gear. Having a reasonable reach makes a massive difference, as the climbing involves long reaches and scrambling the feet up to various size ledges. Before long the difficulties were over and the top reached. Once I’d stripped the gear out we set off to the Rainbow Slab. The Rainbow Slab is an amazing geological and mining event. It is a ripple that moves across the slate block, clearly evident from miles away. The colours of the rock change throughout the slab. Beautiful, in its weird industrial nature. Charlie wanting to attempt the classic line of Pull My Daisy (E2 5c), a line just left of the rainbow. Racked up and ready to go, she set off. The first gear is fairly high up and small. A few more metres up and with some more small gear in she tried to move up on the first crux. Hands on good holds and on small feet but she could not find the right size gear, the panic started. I could hear it in her voice, that raising pitch, the desperation and slight note of anger. Not being able to place the gear I took the ropes tight and she fell. Landing on solid gear she was safe, but slightly shaken, her first proper trad fall. I suspect she was more angry that she’d failed to do the route than bothered by the fall. Once I’d retrieved the gear by dangling off a skyhook (a hook of metal that relies on gravity and faith more than anything else), I racked up for Red and Yellow and Pink and Green and Orange and Purple and Blue (E1 5a). This route is forty metres long, has barely any gear and although the climbing is steady it involves some technical balances. Once I’d pulled on it was several metres to the first gear, a sling round a friable flake that does not inspire much confidence. Next gear was about fifteen metres, placing a skyhook weighted down by two sets of nuts and with a long sling, I stepped sideways and managed to get a tri-cam into a shot-hole. Removing the skyhook thinking I might need it later I moved up. A delicate step left and upwards I reached the large ledge about two-thirds up. Stepping on to the next section I wrapped a sling around a metal bar and raced to the top. Bringing Charlie up on the second, she cruised up the route. There was a strange mental process that went off on the route, I was questioning myself on the value of the route to possible cost of failure. Although I eventually decided that the route was worth doing, the internal measuring of these factors (experience of the climb and enjoyment vs. the risk i.e. death/massive injury) stopped me, whilst balanced on a four inch wide ledge. I’ve never experienced such deep questioning, even when soloing. I suspect as I increase the grade I climb at these mental debates will become more common. We raced back down to Llanberis and had a good pint in the Heights Hotel.
Me on Angel on Fire (E2 5c).

A bit higher up.

German Schoolgirl (E2 5c).

Charlie attempting Pull my Daisy (E2 5c).

Running it out on Red and Yellow... (E1 5a).
After having a rest day we headed back to the quarries (04/06/12). Sitting in Pete’s Eats in Llanberis, Charlie and myself worked out which routes we’d like to do over a pint mug of tea. Dali’s Hole was the target with Holy, Holy, Holy (E2 5c) being the main route to tackle. Charlie went under the fence and I climbed over delicately standing with the spines of the fence between my legs, possibly the most dangerous thing I did that day. Feeling strong and confident I racked up to do Holy, Holy, Holy straight away. The route follows an open book corner crack, which from the ground looks remarkably easy yet as is normal with slate appearances are not what they seem. Ready to go I set off, placed a few pieces of bomber gear then lay-backed for glory up the crux section. Semi-smears on the slate whilst turning in my toes to try and gain further purchase in the crack proved successful and quickly I reached the top. Charlie happily came up on the second. Buoyed by her ease on the route, she quickly forgot the issues from the previous trip and opted to try the route on the lead. Geared up and ready to go she set off, making short but steady work of the route. The only nervous section was when, unwittingly, she kicked out her top runner post-crux. Staying calm she blasted onwards and topped out. Having a look in the guide book we spotted some routes down in the hole, setting up an abseil we lowered in. Dali’s Hole is one of the weirdest places in the whole of the quarries. Trees have grown and died, leaving white, spectral remains with water surrounding them. The water changes colour and height on a regular basis, from being a deep blue and half way up the hole to clear and shallow. The industrial remains that are scattered around just add to the strangeness of the place. Without any imagination required the place would not go amiss in a sci-fi film. It certainly lives up to its name, surreal and dreamlike. We wandered over to look at two routes, Le Cochan (HVS 5b) and John Verybiglongwords (E1 5a). I suspect that there has either been rock fall or the grade is wrong for Le Cochan as the start looked desperate and unsafe, however the upper sections look good. We decided to do John Verybiglongwords, its brilliant description in the Llanberis Slate originally written by Paul Williams made it even more attractive. A perfect arête of slate with little notched edges leading up, at largest, a foot wide fin of rock. Having done Red and Yellow… a couple of days before the run out seemed perfectly fine. The climbing is obvious but committing, with a crux around twelve metres and before the first piece of gear. Around fourteen metres you place some gear and pull over the top. A virtual solo. Set up a belay was complex and slightly dodgy, which involved the words ‘Charlie the belay is fairly sound but please don’t fall’. She raced up on the second. Topped out and declared it was an amazing route. Personally I’d recommend it but be careful and know you have a couple of grades in hand. Next was At the Cost of a Rope (E1 5b, but felt more like E1 5c). The start follows a couple of hard moves then an inch wide crack presents itself on the left, with a tri-cam placed it become safe to continue. Getting feet up near your hands becomes the name of the game. Once the challenges that are faced in relation to the corner the difficulties rapidly ease and it becomes a plod to the top. Charlie her usual good style blasted to the top. Day over we climbed back over the fence and headed back to Llanberis for another cuppa at Pete’s Eats. 
Me on Holy, Holy, Holy (E2 5c).

Charlie near the top of Holy, Holy, Holy.

Some of the delightful weirdness of Dali's Hole.

Me on John Verylongbigwords (E1 5a).

Me on At the Cost of a Rope (E1 5b).

Charlie squeezing under the fence.

So to summarise: ‘Good climbing and good company often go together: each is essential to the enjoyment of the other.’ Tom Patey.

In other news: 

It has been the Isle of Man TT this past two weeks. Records have fallen, especially those for the TT Zero (the electric bike race) where an average lap time of over one hundred mph has been broken, not only once but three times. 

Look up Luke Tilly, captain of the British Youth climbing team. He’s been crushing something crazy recently. Best wishes go to him. 

The Cold Summits team, part-sponsored by Alpkit, are in Alaska routing. Good luck Will Hardy. 
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