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.

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 arĂȘte 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. 

08/06/2012

'It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves'


‘It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves’, Sir Edmund Hillary

The quote by Hillary is interesting as it can be widely applied to things in life. The challenge often is defeating the doubt, the pain and the lack of motivation. These aspects we develop in our minds, often they are greater than the issue that is faced. Upsetting our personal status quo is difficult and appears risky as most humans are risk-averse. Climbing and long distance hill-walking force these aspects to the front of the mind, to succeed they must be confronted head on. Humour helps. 

The last couple of weeks have been busy; end of exams, friends that are free all the time, and weather that is playing ball half the time, so it has been possible to get in lots of climbing. The only reason this is actually getting typed because Bangor is having some of the worst weather it has seen in a month or two. The weather is grim today. So an update is in order. 

On 20/05/12 the BUMS visited the RAC Boulders. The collection of rhyolitic blocks provide a range of problems, from simple slabs to the classic pump traverse (V4). Warming up on the easy slab routes I then moved to slightly harder routes and some mess-around eliminates. Stops, Lewis and others attempted to run up the main slab, a few succeeded. Having seen an offwidth route at the crag above the boulders Mikey and I grabbed a couple of pads. Some others followed hoping for a laugh. The route is called The Lightning Bolt (HVS), from a distance it certainly matches the description, a jagged split in the rock, ominous and dangerous looking. At the base of the route we arranged a couple of pads and Mikey opted to go first. Speedily lay backing raced up a few metres and then threw himself into the crack proper. Then the traditional struggle in a full, body-consuming offwidth began. A little higher up and the crack drops flat and to the right, then it turns up again. Balancing precariously above the pads he tackled the zig in the crack and raced to the top. My turn, mimicking Mikey start, I laid back rapidly moving hands and feet whilst simultaneously trying to work out when the point to turn and throw myself into the crack. Once in the difficulties had only just started, as with all large offwidths they are not so much about refined movements but more to do with little manoeuvres and thrutching (a term used by climbers to describe the kind of progress is made with a lot of effort and little height gained, typically used for offwidth crack climbing). Once in the crack a dilemma is faced, you pull in right shoulder first resulting in the body facing the wrong way, you need to turn around. With shoulders free enough to move about ninety degrees I span so I was looking out of the crack, only to notice that the rest of the group (that were meant to be bouldering below) were sitting on the boulders looking up at me; half stuck and grunting as if I were in a strong man competition. And then I said it, with a half laugh, ‘Er, guys, I might be stuck’. No offers of help came, just laughter and ridicule. Not wishing to be defeated by the rock I wriggled upwards, turned fully round then faced pulling out of the crack to tackle the zig in the rock. A scary position. I cleared some plants and moss from the block I was about to pull onto, poorly aiming (most of it landed on my spotters, sorry) and half belly flopped on to this block. A mad swing with my right foot and I stood up. Quickly padding to the top, I had a momentary cheer, turning around the group on the boulders all clapped. Thanks! A few problems later we set off home. 
On one of the problems.

Mikey getting in the crack.

'Now I'm in what do I do?'
Hard work!
'Er, guys, I might be stuck'.

'Well, this isn't a marked problem, but I'll try to stay just in the scoop' (Probably V2/3).

BUMS at the Heights Hotel, Llanberis.

A planned trad day (21/05/12) with Pete, turned into a boulder session with Pete and Jez at the Cromlech boulders. The Cromlech boulders are a cluster of rocks in the Llanberis pass and (conveniently) right next to the road. After doing some warm up routes including Brown’s Crack (V2, sit start), Pete suggested we all tried Brown’s Mantel (V0+, but I think it is upgradeable, you can do it or you can’t. No matter how well you climb it does not help on this problem). It is a slightly angled block, about a metre and a half off the floor, with little to grip onto. Grunting, wriggling and lots of laughter later I managed it. Pete did as well. A great route and worth seeking out, best done in a large group so ridicule can be made of everyone. We also did Scoop Lip (V4) and I worked a bit more on The Edge Problem (V6, if including the sit start which is not too bad). 
Pull.

Pete: Almost there...

Pull even harder.

Jez having a go.

And a bit higher up.




The Tuesday (22/05/12) was a BUMS trip to Castle Inn Quarry, a great place with a range of grades and literally no walk in (as the tarmac stops at the base of the main cliff. Pairing off with Libby we jumped on some sport routes. Then we did the route I had come to do, Pioneer Cracks (E1 5b). Racked up and ready to go I pulled on. The first half of the route is quite gentle, with solid holds and jams. A quick shake-out before the overhang and clustering some gear meant I was ready. The steep section started, the fore-arm pump kicked in and the race to the top began. Some fiddly gear near the top made the route just that little bit harder. Pulling over the top I wooped and set up a belay. Libby struggled valiantly up the route, a good effort for someone who has only seconded one E1 before. I also had a shot on Crosswinds (F6c+) and after several attempts I reached the top, one to come back to and get clean.   
Me setting off on Pioneer Cracks (E1 5b, in red) and Henry working As You Like It (F6b+, in blue).
© Thea Eldred.
 After a late start, via Pete’s Eats and a car boot sale of climbing gear, the Sunday (27/05/12) turned into a great day. After a quick warm up and a couple of attempts on the Edge Problem, I wanted to get some trad climbing in. Trying to work out where and which routes would work best as a three, as I was with Bede and Charlie, we settled for Clogwyn y Grochan. Sights set on a couple of routes, we saw that Wind (HVS 5b) was free. Knowing that it is one of the classics of the crag I was keen for the onsight, with Charlie and Bede wanting an introduction to the rock type. Wind follows an obvious vertical crack line. Placing a large cam near the start of the route I bashed on. The hot weather was not helping progress, repeated chalking up made it easier as my hands were sweating like mad. The climbing is fairly steady with a great hand sized pinch about half way up. Pulling through the crux moves felt ace. Once the difficulties were over I raced to the top. Charlie, who is rapidly improving her trad grade pulled the rope through and came up on my gear. Bede seconded up. After three fairly rapid abseils we were done. 
On Wind (HVS 5b)


The new parts for the motorbike have arrived, so I’m able to drive it home. However really it could do with a new gear-box to front sprocket transmission shaft, which means taking the gear box apart, which in turn means taking the engine out (and to do that the fuel tank has to come out and the engine disconnected from everything). It is going to be a mucky job! A learning experience.  

So get out there and conquer your own mountains.

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