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.

17/05/2012

It could be worse...


There must be one of those laws out there, like Murphy’s and Godwin’s, which is when a deadline approaches something will break, stop working or just give up. This has just happened with my bike. With less than a month to go till I travel home, the front sprocket has sheared. I was heading back from Llanddulas Cave on Sunday (13/05/12), just got on the A55 accelerated to seventy mph and then suddenly no drive, quickly I swung on to the hard shoulder. I looked down and saw the damage caused. The highways officers that stopped and helped push my bike up the on ramp at Conwy were of real help. Thanks go to them.  
Damage caused to the front sprocket cover. This is what I saw upon stopping. Did not look promising.(Gear leaver removed)
The removed front sprocket and retainer. Notice the mangled teeth.
Wear on the drive shaft.
On Monday I looked at the damage and now I’m waiting on new parts. I’ll be taking the engine block out and replacing the drive shaft when I get home. A messy job since the drive shaft sits inside the gear box which is full of oil. A combination of factors appear to have caused the damage, long journeys at high speed, age of the parts and a slightly tight chain, all of which really come down to one cause poor maintenance. Woops. So a point to learn from, when checking  your chain tension also have a quick check of the front sprocket and see if it has any free play around the drive shaft. Having not done this I’ve paid for it. 

However, it could have been worse. At least it did not do the opposite and lock the rear wheel up, a skid at seventy would have made a real mess of me. 

Climbing has been great recently, a direct opposite to the bike. Saturday (12/05/12) I went with Dale to Wen Zawn, Gogarth, to do Britomartis (HVS 4c). Abseil rope set up, we set off down to the belay ledge. Once on the ledge we had to wait twenty minutes or so for a pair of climbers (who had just met at the Climber’s Club meet that was happening over the weekend) to finish the first pitch of Spider Wall (E1 5a). Dale was wanting to try an lead his first HVS but baled (without shame as the first pitch was cold, wet and in the shade) and quickly came back to the belay. A swift change over with the gear and I set off. Having previously led the route I got on and got going. The route follows a rising crack line, with jug-like holds for the hands and other quartzite lumps for the feet. It is fairly pumpy and the gear is regular, but it just keeps going with the pump setting in. Reaching the belay stance is a relief. I threw a loop of rope and a sling over the two flakes at the stance, set the hanging belay up and placed Dale on the belay. On the second he made good progress. On reaching the belay we switched over the gear. I set off (mainly because last time I did Britomartis, I’d miss read the route and finished up Toiler of the Sea (E2 5b) not something I wanted Dale to experience) and quickly reached the top. A great section of the route, short and a complete contrast to the first pitch, sparse gear and airy moves. Dale came up and reached the belay ledge thrilled to have done such a cool route. Dale also did Cursing (VS 4c) at Holyhead Mountain in the afternoon. A solid lead that he had wanted to do for some time. 
Looking down the line of the first pitch of Britomartis, sea below.
Dale reaching the belay.
At the belay.
Dale tackling the second pitch.
Dale on the Cursing.
The next day had a slow start as Dylan had stayed overnight, we set off to Llanddulas Cave and met the BUMS there. Warming up on Spider Mite (F6b) was great but a brutal way of waking up the muscles. It just kept going, clip after clip a great route. After a break I attempted Pearl from the Shell (F6c+), falling at each clip, missing holds and pumping out far too quickly. That route and some others have caused me to realise that I’m spending too long on the bouldering wall and not training my stamina. It is funny how you can become focused on certain small aspects and forget the whole picture. Before leaving I did Afterglow (F6b) with Thea, a funky run with a good run out. Next I did Grog and the Donkey (F6b+), I almost had it, then a foothold broke. I went flying. A quick breather, I pulled back on and got to the top. The crux moves were good fun and I recommend the route.
Me on Grog and the Donkey.
Wednesday (16/05/12) I went with Chris to Clogwyn y Grochan, with no real set plans but an inkling that we might attempt Hangover (E1 5b). Racked up and ready to go I set off on what I thought was Phantom Rib (VS 4c), at the first major ledge I checked the guidebook (stashed down the front of my jacket, a great place to store the guide on a multi-pitch) I realised I was about ten metres to the right of the route I was meant to be on. I was actually on Spectre (HVS 5a) which quickly explained the difficulty (4c rather than 4a), the line followed a difficult start to a more continuous crack line which involves a full foot jam near the top. Chris took pitch two, less technically difficult but more run out. It follows a vertical crack and then stepping left from under the roof. The last pitch was mine, a complete fight and of unexpected difficulty. Stepping up I placed a pair of offsets, and tried to pull myself into the shoulder width crack. And I failed, pumped out, confused and fearing that I would hit Chris by peeling out of the crack I eventually sat on the gear. A real shame. Reassessing the moves I pulled back on, threw my shoulders into the crack, turned sideways (catching my helmet on the rock at both sides) and wriggled further in. Precariously balanced in the crack, I fought to bring my foot in and then it was over. Cam placed and I pulled round and topped out. Chris managed first time on the second. Good effort. Instead of finishing up Nea, we abbed off, the best of it over (and we wanted to get more routes in). 
Chris tackling pitch two on Spectre.
Chris coming up pitch three post-crack manoeuvres.
After a lunch stop, we re-racked and looked up Hangover. Making sure we were on the right route, Chris set off. The route starts with a leap, quite scary with no gear. He made progress up the corner, with the crack at its back running with water. Pulling over the top he had a sign of relief and set up the belay. Climbing to meet Chris was interesting as I’m a few inches shorter and the jump at the start was difficult. Swapping over at the belay I was slightly nervous as I really wanted the onsight and after failing on the previous route things did not seem promising. Ready to go I set off, I committed to an airy step to the right and then stuck my hand into the vertical crack line, placed a cam and got going. Powering upwards I reached the next ledge. A complex step left off the ledge and a continued push upwards resulted in topping out. Chris loved the route on the second. 
Chris on the first pitch of Hangover.
Looking down at the belay from halfway on pitch two.
The second half of pitch two.
Ready to abseil off the top.
Us and the Grochan.
We then had to catch the bus back to Llanberis (no motorbike is a real pain), got a quick beer at the Heights Hotel Pub, then another bus to Bangor.

So life could be worse…

Some links:



11/05/2012

Swing Life Away


Last Friday (04.05.2012) came round far too quick. A week dominated by essay writing, all done and finished by 17.00. A relief. But then I had to manically pack and load the bike, the Peak District was calling. What had happened was I had organised a post-essay, pre-exams BUMS peak trip and I thought that I would have finished on the Thursday when planning, but as the Robert Burns’ poem goes ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley’ (To a Mouse). With a rather laden bike and a pillion I met the rest of the BUMS at the SU and we set off. Three hours and a bit later we arrived at my house (where we were staying for the weekend). It was cold and past midnight. 
I think I could fit some more kit on somewhere.
On the Saturday morning, after lots of cups of tea and scrambled eggs, we headed out to Black Rocks. Warming up on the Railway Boulders provided an interesting introduction to gritstone slabs and friction. Tentative steps were made up Route 1 (HVS 4c) and Route 2 (VS 5a) (both boulder problems despite the trad grade). The Island of Sodor (HVS 5c) involves a series of steps on basically nothing but rough sandpaper. Good fun and a steep learning curve for those who had not been on the grit before. 
Lewis on Island of Sondor.

Dylan playing on a link up.

Chris on Route 2 and Ellie on Route 1.


We moved up to the main cliffs. James and Jordan went round to the front, doing Central Buttress (HVD 3c) and other easy classics. Lewis and Ellie started on Birch Tree Wall (VS 5a), a safe but thrutchy route, with a great balancing traverse section towards the end of the route. I started on Birch Tree Wall Variations (HVS 5a) a harder version of the above. Hand jams and delicate footwork were required in order to get up to the start of the traverse. You get your feet in the break and gentle steps to the left then make a controlled lunge for the birch tree that protrudes from the crack (the cause of the route’s name). If you go under the tree you can wrap a leg round it and get a hands free rest. Once unravelled from around the tree you get back in the groove and make progress to the end of the route. Dylan and Chris follow up on the second, both making easy work of the route. Next Chris made a quick ascent of Birch Tree Wall. 
Me (wrapped around the tree) on Birch Tree Wall Variations (when being photographed make sure your helmet is on sideways).

Chris (post-crux) on Birch Tree Wall.
Lewis and Dylan went off to work some hard routes and possibly attempt The Angel’s Share (E8 7a). They managed to get up Golden Days (E3 6a), a difficult route that is sometimes done as a highball.   An impressive lead, resulting in shredded fingers and several whippers.They dropped a top rope down The Angel's Share and quickly backed off, Jonny Dawes (who did the first assent) hats off to you it looks so hard. I went with Chris round the front, he lead up Stonnis Crack (HS 4b). A quick and fast lesson in jamming. He did a great job, using his six foot plus frame to his advantage. Watching James try on the second to get up without jamming was funny, he quickly changed tactics as progress was severely limited. I led up the route next and being that bit shorter found a couple of the move tricky. There is a great kneebar near the top of the route, but only great until you try and move. As normal at Black Rocks thrutching was called upon to make any progress. Jordan made a successful second, although he struggled to smear with his hard bouldering shoes. 
James on Stonnis Crack.
Next route up was Sand Buttress (VS 4c) a complete sand bag of a route. Every time I visit Black Rocks I try to get on this route as I find it is a real test piece for the grade. I can honestly say I’ve done easier and less scary E1’s. Getting up the first crack is all ok, some good hand jams and great placements for the feet.  Then you place a big cam in the horizontal break and then move like one-o across to the left. In a precariously balanced position place a wire and make progress up the vertical crack. Watch out for rope drag. Once at the top feel the relief that you made it. I love the route, the fear just makes me feel alive. Chris seconded up and agreed, it is very hard for the grade. 
Me on Sand Buttress.
Photo by Jordan Senior ©.
We called it a day, went home and started on the beers. Shattered, knuckles grazed and suitably humbled by the gritstone we had a great evening in the pub and then around the fire. 

Sunday we had another large breakfast and headed out to Birchen Edge. Traffic was bad, bank holiday and Chatsworth house on the route made for a long journey. (Why do people like looking round rich family houses from eighteenth and nineteenth century? All that pointless wealth, maybe if they shared some of it the current depression might be eased.) The sun was out and the weather was brilliant. Time to get a load of routes done. We all started off doing a series of solos on easy, short routes. It was a really laid back atmosphere and we all got loads of routes done. Dylan and Lewis looking for something hard went off and attempted Midshipman/Plain Sailing (E2 6a). Henry joined them later. The route spat them all off on the upper crux moves. An impressive effort by all. 
Lewis on Midshipman/Plain Sailing. Photo by Jordan Senior ©.
Then off. Photo by Jordan Senior ©.
Ellie, Jordan, James and I took the bouldering pads to tackle Dane’s Delight (V0 5a) and several other routes in the same area. Typical gritstone bouldering, friction and how you use it makes all the difference. The day at Black Rocks the day before was highly useful. I soloed Topsail (VS 4c) it has a tricky crux move with a set of moves from out of the roof. Well deserving of three stars. That feeling of complete control with the risks being so high is great, it is like being on the motorbike and taking a fast corner. Brilliant. Chris and Jez also did Topsail on the Sunday.





Getting the rope and gear out, Thea jumped on Trafalgar Crack (VD 4a). Nicely led she was calm and smooth all the way. Stops seconded the route. Well done to the pair of them.
Thea on Trafalgar Crack.
Collaring Ellie for a belay I got on Orpheus Wall (HVS 5c), described as being ‘one of the most frigged in the Peak’ (Eastern Grit). So the challenge was set, would I get the onsight? The initial moves were hard, then I reached the large horizontal break placed a pair of cams and considered how I was meant to reach the next good hold. Pumping up and starting to think I would have to rest on the gear desperation set in, I attempted heel hooks and various high leg manoeuvres. Nothing was working. I looked at my gear, looked at the next hold, told Ellie to watch me and jumped. I… missed. Then fell. Suddenly the gear caught me. Thanks for the catch Ellie! A quick rest and I pulled back on. The leap worked this time. Hanging on one arm I sorted out and finished the route. The route lived up to its reputation. Henry quickly jumped on the route after me and did it with far more grace. 
Me lining up for the jump on Orpheus Wall.
Later I did Ratline (HVS 5b). A great route and completely opposite to Orpheus. The crux involves a challenging move, changing an undercut/sidepull to a slap up for a small ripple on the rock. Balance must be maintained all the way. When I slapped up I missed the good hold and a rubbish small edge (smaller than half a fingertip) and being precariously balanced I could not adjust the hold and just had to pull through. Then it was all over. An excellent route. 
Me (pre-crux) on Ratline.

Thea coming up on the second on Ratline.
Other occurrences during the day included meeting Chris Fitzhugh, a seventy-four year old climbing veteran who was on a soloing mission. He took some of the group to do some of the more esoteric routes on Birchen. He authored Pieces of Eight (found in Froggatt to Black Rocks, BMC, 2010, pp. 263). It is a series of eight variants of a route, including a feet first version. Chris (Ripper) managed to do all of them in the day. Chris Fitzhugh is a prime example of keeping going, of not getting old and having a blast with the one life that you get. I wish him many more happy years of climbing. Thank you for your time Chris. 

We had a BBQ and beer on the return home. Another chilled evening with great friends. Next morning was slow as the weather was forecast for rain. We all relaxed worn out, physically and mentally. Watching the First Assent series was a good end to a brilliant weekend. 

Thank you to all those who came along. I hope you all really enjoyed it. It was a lovely to be able to ‘Swing Life Away’.  
The 'gang' at Birchen.



Some videos:


 
Kiwi or not Kiwi (Castle Hill bouldering in NZ)    One of the reasons I cannot wait to get to NZ

10/05/2012

Why do we fall...


‘Why do we fall, sir? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.’ Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine, in Batman Begins).

Falling down (well at least off) has been a theme recently. With two consecutive trips to the Great Orme (21/22.04.2012) on a grey and damp weekend a group of us worked a series of routes. Pete, Henry and I after warming up in Split Infinity cave tried Split Infinity Direct (claimed to be F6c, but took trad gear to make safe and felt harder than any 6c I’ve done). Requiring a leap to start and then frantic moves through a series of roofs it is an inspiring line. The moves between each roof are hard. Each of us took turns on progressing up working the moves, little progress at a time, each time getting a bit further.  Moving to clip to last bolt and insight of the belay bolts the rain started. Play stopped and the route had to be abandoned. One to come back to. 
Pete tackling one of the roofs.

Grabbing the jug and getting a rest.

Me lowering off in the rain.

We moved into Parisella’s Cave to have a go on some of the harder boulder problems. We all played on the left hand wall and Parisella’s Original. Again falling off was the main feature for all of us. However with perseverance progress was made, with all of us making significant steps on the problems. Time and light levels caused us to leave before we finished the problems but we’ll be back. 
On the Left Wall Traverse.

Attempting Parrisella's Original.

Pete doing the same.

The next day I meet Dylan. He was psyched for cracking on with hard routes (and being tried after two days of climbing I was happy messing around on a top rope). Dylan’s inspiring redpoint on You’ve Had Your Chips (F7b) meant that I had the chance to attempt a route that I would never had tried at the moment. I made little progress and fell of numerous times, but I battled on and still did not finish the route. Trying things that are beyond your limit and that you have a tiny chance of succeeding with can be highly demoralising, that is if you let it get to you. If you approach the situation as the quote from Batman Begins suggests, that failure is only failure if you do not get back up, then trying something challenging leads to development, rather than annoyance at not completing it. Also attempted that day was Cage Full of Budgies (F7a) and Werry's Woof Woot (F7a+), the latter I did on the redpoint. It was great to have finally succeeded at the end of the day on something that I thought was beyond my limit, but it was only achieved by getting back on the route after failing several times. 

A quick fix on the Friday night with Dale was secured with an evening at Bus Stop Quarry. It was a great break from the stress of essay writing. First we did Solstice (HVS 5a), a great route, which gets the arm pump going quickly. Dale came up on the second loving it. We tackled Bosch Stop Quarry (6a+) and Bish Bash Bosch (6a+) a pair of good routes if slightly poorly bolted (Bosch Stop requires you to clip halfway through the crux, if you’re a bit short like me). Last we got on Gnat Attack (E1 5c) protected by a Cam and a pair of bolts. Designer danger and a real blast of a route. Due to the sun setting the rock was going cold and I could not feel the tiny holds. Trusting my feet I went for it. Suddenly it was all over. Dale went on the second, a practice run for leading. He fell once on the crux moves, got straight back on and finished it. 

Next day a phone call from Matt and Jack resulted in another visit to Bus Stop Quarry. This time Fool’s Gold (E1 5c) got repeated. Jack took some really good pictures of me on the route (so a big thank you goes out to him). Fool’s Gold is an amazing route, one of my favourites. Safe as houses but with amazing moves. You stand on a good ledge, place some gear, then step up and out on to the main face then through a series of jams and face holds make progress up the crack line. Just brilliant. 
Hiding under the lip before stepping out onto the main face.

Stepping out.

And up we go.

Get in the groove.

And push for the top.

Getting back up and attacking the situation again is important in life, too many people get knocked down and do not stand back up. Going guts for glory can make all the difference in whether you succeed or fail. Once the risks have been weighed up, a measure taken, then all that is left is to commit. As Mark Twain said ‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’.



N.b. The essays were finished in the following week, several short nights sleep occurred. I think I’ll start them earlier next time. Roughly 10,000 words in a week was not fun.  
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