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.


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

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