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Saturday, 29 January 2011

Ormesman of the Week: Neil Carson - Brit makes a Big Bang!

Rewind to the mid 90s. Ondra was crimping hard on his rattle developing sick early finger strength, Moony was banging on about overgrading and Mcclure had just had an epiphany that clipping some bolts might be a good idea. Sport climbing was being fronted by the big hitting global names of Huber and Rouhling. Four 9as, a 9a+ (Hubers Open Air originally graded 9a) and Rouhling's Akira 9b were at the top of the pack. 9a was the new elite level which only a small number of climbers worldwide had achieved. Down on the shores of Lower Pen Trwyn in North Wales a little known British 8c redpointer was about to thrust British climbing into the global spotlight and leave his mark on sport climbing history. The year was 1996 and the climber in question was Neil Carson.
Neil Carson is an Ormesman who had a more transient relationship with the Ormes but whose achievements were extremely significant. This is not a story of a long term campaign of climbing in the area. Neil Carson is a North Walean however and grew up near Tremadog. He started his climbing journey with the usual trad apprenticeship and didn't even clip a bolt for 5 years. Ben Pritch commented to me that Neil seemed to hit the hard sport climbing scene from nowhere. One minute he was wandering up mountain E5s and the next he was climbing 8c. In 1995 Carson got stuck into the Orme and added a handful of quality new routes. Stark (8a) and Pas de Deux (8a+) were great additions. Carson straightened out Moon's Seagulls Dilemma with a direct start to give The Walking Mussel (8b+). The most significant of his additions however was Infanticide (8c). This started right of Liquid Ambar and shared the finish of Youthanasia. A great addition but Carson was acutely aware of the possibility of the direct finish which added more steep crimpy climbing to a good pocket before a horrendous crimpy slab of doom to the belay. He continued to train hard and this became his new goal. After another year of sustained specific structured training and climbing and after relocating to help him tick his dream route Carson topped out on The Big Bang in late summer 1996. Carson describes the process, frustrations and obsession in an interview in OTE 65:
How much mental and physical effort did you need to complete that route?
Far too much. It was extremely frustrating actually. I trained quite specifically over the winter and when i got back on the route at the beginning of '96 i was pleasantly surprised. I had gained enough power to do all the moves comfortably, making me think it was going to be a fairly straightforward process exercise to get it completed. I was hoping to get it done before the arrival of the hot weather, giving me time to concentrate on my preparation for the competitions. I kept going to Pen Trwyn and getting so close, then it all started going backwards. I ended up leaving it for quite a long time while the weather was hot. Mentally it was very annoying. I constantly wanted to get down there when the conditions would be right. There was a problem of not knowing when the next good day would be, whether to rest or do some training. It was driving me mad. When i eventually did it, i wasn't massively over the moon. It was more of a case of 'bloody hell thank god'. Just a total relief.

I'm sure most hardened redpointers can identify with these sentiments. Often when you've invested so much time and emotion, relief is the overiding emotion. I doubt at the time Carson would have thought his route would still be unrepeated over 14 years on. You can probably count the number of potential candidates who have tried it on one hand. Ben Moon had a look and described it as "sick hard". He called the crux slab boulder problem Font 7c+. Steve Mcclure's had a quick look too but didn't fancy putting any further effort in. In recent times Infanticide ascentionists James Mchaffie and Pete Robins have both checked out the upper sequence but both have yet to invest any serious time and effort into the route. The lack of repeats has given Big Bang a notoriety with a certain global website who know nothing about it speculating that it could be 9a+!!! With the recent LPT renaissance i think its about time this route got repeated. So any wads out there who are thinking about it you have until the start of August to get it crushed. After that i will use my remaining pennys to bait and fly Ondra over for a day to bag the 2nd ascent. And no more complaining about sharp holds!
Moony on Big Bang, Photo by Keith Sharples

Friday, 28 January 2011

First Round, First Second

Another hard week on the crags. I bolted two lines on wednesday. One was a big roof which looked really good but hard to assess from the ground whether it went or not so a bit of a gamble to bolt. It was hard work sorting it out on my own but i did it in a few hours. Then i shifted to the other crag and bolted a short steep bouldery thing. The holds looked ace and i'm sure it will be a nice boulder problem on a rope. The next day i was out with Norm, he did a new 6a crack and i tried my roof bolt to bolt. It was flipping cold! The roof section turned out to be ok but getting over the lip seemed hard but doable, ace! Then i jumped ship again and bolted a not very steep rib feature which looked very thin. It was almost pitch black as i was sticking the belay in. After i went to Matts board to see how things were strengthwise. I haven't worried to much about training yet as i was more concerned with getting my arms used to climbing again. It been a good stategy as i've been enjoying my climbing. I was predicatably shit on the board but took heart from the fact that i could almost do the moves on my roof even though i couldn't yet climb den 7a. Mule did a hard problem, wouldn't it be nice to never be weak! Today i went out with Robins and Ian. It was Pete's 3rd sesh on my old project but he pissed it first redpoint today. The grade is 8a+ and as another Sharma route name parody he's called it First Round, First Second as its shorter than the original and a bit easier! Really cool route and style.
First ascent here:

For the sake of comparison here is the original:

I went to work on my rib project. It had looked very thin when i bolted it with small holds. I had imagined it to be like a Homosapien (pen trwyn 7a+) affair. It turned out to be much harder. I worked out a sequence that seemed pretty tricky but i could do. It wasn't very steep but the holds were pretty bad, not really my style. Before i had a go i set the technical master loose on it to ensure i hadn't missed anything. Sure enough Pete scrapped two of my moves straight away and used (yes thats right, you've guessed it) a HEELHOOK! I tried it again and it was much better. I fell off the last hard move a few times on redpoint then punctured my soft skin in two places so had to stop. I've had a great time getting out in the last few weeks. I've enjoyed bolting and checking out new lines despite it being hard work. I've been trying to appreciate it as it won't last forever and i'll soon be back on those same old holds in the cave or LPT!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Black Wednesday

Abbing down a line and being the first person to touch a hold or guess a sequence is really cool. Its ace how mother nature supplies us with holds and features and its up to us and our imagination to connect them. Abbing down the Big Crunch on LPT was cool as that will be another hard classic one day. Although i guess Carson or Moffatt may have checked out every line down there.
Yesterday i did the other line i bolted left of Shakin Stevens. This turned out to be a bit easier but brilliant and probably 7b. I haven't done that many new routes but this is one of the better ones i've done. A cool crux starting sequence leads to two jugs and then a hard pocket move. The finish is what makes it though. The wall slabs in then steepens out on big undercuts and the stiff last jug to jug pull is a great last move. It went down first RP luckily. The name is Black Wednesday. For those North Waleans who may have been wondering where this place is we're gonna keep it under wraps while development is ongoing and there's still lines to do. It is on private land and although we have a verbal access agreement its worth testing the water a bit longer to see how it pans out. When it does get publicised properly strict parking arrangements will have to be specified as that was one of the farmers main concerns.
Then i went to the other place on a bolting mission. There is a line that is akin to a George Smith overhanging Gogarth E6/7 but limestone. A diagonal undercut groove feature that trends leftwards. Really cool and unique for a North Wales sport climb. It was epic sorting it out! Because most of the way underneath me was an undercut roof i had to have my legs high placing a lot of pressure on my hips which were already weighed down with bolting equipment. I had to dust of my trad rack so i could aid along on cams. I had a quick go on lead which was also epic, a big block i was standing on gave way and i was left swinging. I was also left swinging when a cam i was clipped into ripped. Seriously i can't believe i used to be a trad climber, its so dangerous! Climbing up massive cliffs and hoping bits of metal that have been stuffed into cracks don't come out when you fall off. Whats that about, i must have been brave back then. It climbed really well but the easiest sequence was far from obvious as the whole route is basically a hold. I figured it out anyway but it was dark at that point and the old king had had enough. Tricky one to grade, it could feel 7b for the redpoint or flash but i think a pure onsight would be significantly harder and may feel 7b+. As climbs are graded for the onsight i guess that makes it possibly 7b+. Mmmmm, answers on a postcard.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Ormesman of the Week: Norman Clacher, 5 decades on the Orme.

I was trying to think of something a bit different i could write about on here every week when i came up with the concept of Ormesman of the week. What better than to start a short feature celebrating those men who have dedicated weeks, months and years of their lives to climbing on the Ormes. One of the first obstacles i came across was that although Ormesman is a recognised title in North Wales there is no set criteria that defines what one has to do to gain a key to the Ormesman country club. Over the years friendships have been broken and many pint glasses smashed in arguments about what constitutes an Ormesman. The truth is that everyone has there own interpretation. There are those who have been climbing on the Ormes for decades and those who have had a brief intense relationship with the place. There are those who just enjoy getting out and ticking some classic routes and then there are those with an insatiable hunger for new lines and leaving there mark. These days bouldering should be taken into account too but it is on the showpiece cliffs of the area that the true Ormesman cuts his teeth. So there you go, as vague as a term it is i shall do my best to celebrate the way of the Ormesman. I'm bound to leave some people out and i only know a limited amount about some so some weeks will be shorter than others.

Norman Clacher

Thought i'd start with Norman as i've been climbing with him recently. In his late 50s now Norman has been climbing on the Ormes since the 70s. It's hard to believe when you see him as he only looks about 45. Obviously after climbing in the area so long Norman has done his share of new routes but he rates Crigyll Outlaws E1 at Seal point as his best. Crigyll is described in the guide as possibly the best E1 on North Wales limestone. Norman has been a member of many a first ascent party and other FAs of his include Five Miles Out e4, Adams roof e2 and Mumbo Jumbo 6a. Norm rates Face Race as his favourite hard route. Today he was telling me tales of his adventures with Andy Pollitt on the Little Orme. Norman recollected how they had been on the Great Zawn traverse with Pollitt when they got stuck due to rainfall. Pollitt then proceeded to attempt a 40ft pendulum on an old peg that was bending and flexing to try and reach an escape gully. Peg failure would have meant a nasty splashdown! They tried to escape by climbing out barefoot but it was in vain. Pollitt made an escape up vertical wet grass and lowered a rope down to Norm. Just an average day out on the Little Orme!
Despite having 13 grandkids Norm is as keen as ever and played a big part in developing the nearby Penmaen head in recent years. Norman must be one of the only 70s ormes activists still climbing in the area today and this is testament to his motivation.

Friday, 21 January 2011


I've been out every day this week in crag development mode. I feel very energized, it is definitely preferable to the sluggish slob syndrome that became me in december, not leaving the flat for 3 days at a time! I have been drilling, cleaning loose rock, chopping down brambles, inspecting new lines and climbing. Its been like a day job, no long lie ins, get up and get out. Caught up with this guy:

and this guy:

Wales very own P-Rob came to the crag today. I was keen to get him onboard as i was keen for someone with small hold techy credentials to do the slate-esque project i bolted last summer. After warming up Pete made the first flash of Three Degrees confirming that the cool jump is unecessary. It must be the worst thing for a first ascentionist when a beautiful sequence becomes redundant (not that i could pull on the crimp he used). Its even worse than having something downgraded (unless of course something is downgraded by two or more grades). As some consolation he didn't piss the big crux move after the hole. He kept coming up and down not wanting to blow it then comitted and puffed his cheeks and did it. He got the moves on the project but by the time he could of done it skin was lacking - one for another day. Norm squeezed in a two bolt newbie at about 6b. I managed one of my projects but not without a bit of a tussle. I really like the moves on this route, really good. Its called Shakin Stevens 7b+. Pete flashed the 2nd ascent. I keep forgetting its only January, shouldn't really be sport climbing nevermind doing first ascents. Its only just doable if theres no wind and even then its a bit chilly on the tips!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Ivan the Responsible

I'm flipping knackered after 2 months of doing nothing more strenuous than push a snooker cue my poor arms have had a shock in the last week! Went to roof crag yesterday with tony. He drilled his route and lead it. Quite a nice 6b, i think he's called it Throaty:

I stuck some bolts in the crux bottom half of the line i had spied. I had a go of the moves, they were really good and perfect for my current level. I was excited. I got back on the ab rope and bolted the top half, on the way down i hung on a jug just after the crux to check the clipping position. Suddenly the section of rock i was hanging off parted company with the crag. The open corner feature was made up of cracked blocks so i went to town on it with my peg hammer until i reached a solid base. Unfortunately its now 5 grades harder, hopefully it will still go but definetely an 8 now. Damn it! Will get on it when i'm a bit stronger. It got dark and we departed.
Today i headed to Three Degrees crag with Norman and my father. Norman has blitzed the place bolting 4 lines. Seeing it look like a proper crag really got me keen to finish it off. I abbed down and bolted a steep wall. It looked really good with holds just where you wanted. I'm gonna have a stab in the dark and guess 7b+ without having tried the moves. Then i did the first ascent of Ivan the Responsible, a long 6b+ that my dad had prepared and bolted. Really good with a crux last move. My arms were feeling fairly jaded. Norman then pulled his project out the bag. Clitoris Allsorts (great name eh!) 7a+ is a brilliant little route, nice rock, moves and holds and quite cruxy. A great addition. Norman is a hoot to climb with, i think my favourite quote when he was in extremis was when he shouted 'come on Norman get a grip you fucking prick'. And he's so well spoken normally! In the list of Ormesman in the 92 Rockfax, Normans entry reads: 'A local climber living in Rhyl who has developed such an obsession with climbing on the Ormes that he has now taken up a night job so that he can be there every single day'. Anyway it was a great effort. I need a rest day now.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Here we go

I went back to Three Degrees of Levitation the other day to give it a belay. It now shares a belay with the project to the left that i bolted last year and tried a few times. The climbing involves long reaches on very small holds - too small for me! I might have to enlist a North Wales slatehead to do this one. I bet it turns out to be 7c+! Anyway the crag is nearing completion but i have two more lines to check out. Then we jumped ship to the latest find. Tony abbed a line and placed a bolt at the top. I had a top rope, my first climb since early November. Two months off climbing may not be unusual for a lot of people but it is a long time for me. It was nice being back on the stone, top of the route was a really nice wallclimb. At the top i transferred to the ab rope and came down checking one of the meaty lines. It was really hard to see if it would go from the ground, i placed a bolt and found a sequence that should work. Really cool route, need to bolt it all now. Crag development is hard work. Cleaning, chopping your way through vegetation and bolting all take it out of you. This day reminded me how much i like hanging out at the crag with pals. A climbing day isn't just about moving on rock. I like getting home feeling worked after being out all day.
Today i went to the Indy for my first proper climbing session. For those who don't know the Indy is a climbing wall on a military base on Anglesey and has the best indoor bouldering in North Wales. Perfect for getting back into it. It wasn't long before my feet, skin, tendons and forearms were aching! I managed a few V2s so hadn't dropped that much. I might start having a couple of months off every year to rest the body and mind. Its certainly been beneficial in getting my mojo back recently.

Friday, 7 January 2011

A World of Opportunity!

After saying in my last post that i wanted to knuckle down and tick something hard i'm not so sure now. I had been thinking about some new routes that i wanted to try and today i've been on a mission with Tony all over the shop looking at untouched white limestone. One of the reasons i like North Wales is that it isn't completely climbed out like most the English sport crags and there are still whole crags with nothing on them. Found this cool Frankenjura style bouldering cave with a handful of problems:

Theres also a meaty crag nearby with some big roofs so keen to check that out too. Then we headed down another valley full of crags and found some good stuff including some very hard looking sport climbs.

All i need now is for some expansion bolt company to sponsor me!
At least i've got plenty of reasons to start again.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

I Tried to Go Climbing

I've thought about going climbing a few times recently. Almost met up with Nodder in the cave once or twice. The place has been a gopfest though and the you can't drive on the marine drive as the gate is shut. They must have shut it when the snow was here but i think its a bit cheeky keeping it shut considering people pay money for a season ticket. The cave will probably be too hard anyway.
Was thinking about what to try and do this year. I guess i'd really like to push my sport grade a little higher. I did Melanchollie (note correct spelling) in 2004 and haven't managed to do anything harder since. You can't beat progress! Unfortunately though there are not many 8b+'s to choose from in North Wales. LPT has The Walking Mussel and Wild Youth. The Walking Mussel is the most appealing option. I had a brief go on it in 2009. Its is basically a hard boulder sequence in the middle of the crag. Very nice crux involving a bony pinch and some undercuts. The route then finishes up the crack of Over the Moon. Now for anyone else trying TWM this probably wouldn't be an issue but i got totally shut down on the crack last year. I saw Smit do it with a different sequence though so should try that. So its a big IF! Got to get strong enough to crack the crux then work out the crack then link it all. I think its fair to say the odds are against me getting to this level but you might as well aim high! Its a good route thats the main thing and its usually pretty easy finding people to climb with at LPT.