Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Made in China - Tom Newberry

Made in China - Yangshuo

A coach, a plane, a minibus and a sleeper bus took us on the 36hour journey from Exeter to Yangshuo, China. I'm completely blown away. Yangshuo is a very unique place, unlike anywhere I've ever been. The city itself is buzzing and has become a booming tourist attraction for Chinese travellers; hotels, touring services and restaurants number in the hundreds, 95% of them targeting the Chinese traveller, given that the number of westerners visiting is still relatively low. The city has built up in and around a totally surreal landscape of karst towers that stretch as far as that day’s air pollution index will allow the eye to see. Beautiful, limestone pinnacles are a dime-a-dozen around here, ranging from slabs to dramatically overhanging and single pitch to 5 pitch monster outings. Rock climbing in here was first put on the international map in the early 90s when Todd Skinner, Sam Lightner and Mike Tupper established some of the still-standing mega classics, routes like Over the Moon 7c which climb out the incredible Moon Hill formation. Since then the area has seen a number of rebirths and cycles of popularity- most recently influenced by a segment in Dosage 5, visits by Chris Sharma on the Evolv tour and more recently a stop on the Marmot Lead Now Tour. While Yangshuo is an incredible adventure for any level of climber, the amount of difficult climbing here has increased rapidly in the last few years, with a good number of routes in the eighth grade to go at.

Climbing/travelling outside of your zone always takes a little adjustment. Climbing on the other side of the world can take some serious adjustment. The comforts around Yangshuo for a western traveler are fairly well established, but still, this is definitely China. Being aware of this fact and also traveling on a strict budget, I gave myself a couple days to try and get settled in before I aspired to really push myself. The first week saw me sorting accommodation (apartment for £30/month!), getting to know town, finding proper cheap food joints (damn, proper stir fry is so good and for £1 who can go wrong!) crag snacks were a little trickier. I also learned the rules of the road (that there aren’t any) and therefore how to stay alive whilst driving a moped with no lights, brakes, exhausts or working dashboards. It took a while to get used to the lack of enforced traffic laws, and even though doom seemed ever present, there weren’t too many close calls. We did however seem to have to visit the garage a lot, but the bill usually was in pence rather than pounds.

Our arrival saw unseasonable hot and humid weather more akin to that of southern Thailand, so to kick off our try hard in Yangshuo we headed to the shaded Riverside which features a nice collection across many grades. After a warm up, I moved my rope below the start of Flaming Hornets 8a+, managing a send on my second try of this incredible crimp and compression test-piece; a good confidence boost and great way to get stoked to try some harder lines. Over the next few days, I continued to work through the many classic 7’s and low 8s. Red Dragon 8a+/b stands out as one of the best lines. The mad moves and crazy rests through the steepest part of the Moon Hill arch were simply amazing to climb, unfortunately I failed to get this redpointed as Moon hill is now banned and the police (whom were more than likely fairly pissed off that again they have had to walk 45 minutes uphill to kick climbers off who again have ignored the numerous no climbing signs) made it known that climbing here is not an option.

Lei Pei Shan, one of the big three crags in Yangshuo, (and my personal favourite) is an immaculate 40m wall with the perfect mix of little in-cut crimpers, tufas and hueco pockets. Despite some still tropical weather, my impatience got the better of me and after ticking the first of the big routes that tackles the high headwall, No Guaranty 8a/+ (incredible route!), I was psyched.  So I headed out to try one of my aims for the trip China's first 8b+ and one of the truly world class routes that Yangshuo has to offer, Thunder. The routes begins with an incredible 7c to a good rest before passing through a series of super technical cruxes involving a balancey sequence followed by a huge dyno off tiny crimpers into a sinker hueco. Having mostly been doing ~15m routes in the South West, I knew I would have to step up my fitness game to send this 40 meter beast. But, after 4 goes working the moves and tweaking beta, I happily clipped chains on my first redpoint go, managing my endurance at every opportunity and not taking any rest for granted. Back again after a day off and the neighbouring route, Lightning 8b/+ was the next obvious challenge. This beast goes on forever with little rest bite, technical climbing on crimps, pinches and pockets continue up the headwall after the anchors of a challenging 8a. Again, I clipped chains on my 5th try total, after frustratingly dropping the last hard move on my first redpoint. I finished the day with a few more classic routes and looked forward to a well-earned rest day complete with traditional Chinese massage. 

Half way through the second week saw the arrival of rain and a welcome drop to the previously boiling temps. This meant I finally got to check out White Mountain - which is unquestionably the area’s best crag. Set in ‘Rural China’ this beautiful wall rises above a sea of orange trees.. no road noise.. little pollution to speak of.. routes from 6b to 9a… amazing. I warmed up on a couple awesome 7b+s and quickly followed with a second go tick of Gin and Tonic 8a/+. The slick slopers were a dream on my worn tips as a teched my way up the golden 30+ meter wall. Next day, Karate a muerte en Torremolinos 8b, a bouldery number, had worked its way to top of the to-do list. 3rd day on and tired I wasn’t optimistic, but the moves suited me well.  A foot slip ended my second go but I managed to pull an ascent out the bag on my next try, waiting till almost dark for optimal conditions. I left feeling psyched and inspired. After a rest day maybe it was time to try hard and get a project.

Week 3 was projecting week, and after sending Axeman 8a/+ I noticed its awesome looking neighbour China Climb 8c - this was the one to go for. This test-piece features a wickedly crimpy crux and powerful ~V9 moves. It's burly, it’s ferocious, it’s awesome. The only down side was the rather sharp holds that took some careful skin management to keep my chances up. The crux took some working, but after a few sessions tweaking the beta, I managed to fight through to the chains skipping the final 3 draws (I took the full 20+ meter lob too, as my arms ground to a halt on the penultimate move). Woop, woop my second 8c of the year, and a world class one too!

The fourth and final week saw me finally get to Bayan Tree to do the Dosage classic and China’s first 8b, 9 deep, 1 shallow. Another stunning route hosting some brilliant moves on unusual features; one I won’t be forgetting any time soon. I then wound it down a little with some on-sighting mileage, eager to experience as many Yangshuo classics as my tired muscles and sore skin would allow for. The funky chicken 8a, Smackdown 7c, Over the Moon 7b+, Yangshuo Hotel 7b, Tod Skinner Line 7b, Lily 7b, Dragonfly 7a+ are all highly recommended and worth seeking out. 
I’m now sat in the airport killing time before the 11hour flight home super motivated by my success here in China and plotting my next adventure – Hmmmmmm…. Mexico, Chile, Cuba??? Too many choices…

PS. My Nexxos worked a treat on the steep rock here! Love these shoes! Review and more thoughts on these soon…

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Waiting Game – By Jen Wilby

Sat in the forest at Apremont, having a conversation with some locals about British Climbing. We expressed excitement, how quality the gritstone is and how awesome the lines are. The recipients of this excitement, at first, appeared shocked at how we described it, then they began to get intrigued and eventually keen to visit. It wasn’t long before the word “weather” was mentioned…excitement soon evaporated. British weather is a huge topic and there was a fantastic article in this months “Climb” magazine about the weekend warrior and that by Wednesday, the forecasts and being checked and the discussion begin.
It’s very true, British climbers have a very small window of opportunity to get decent conditions to be able to climb in, especially on the Gritstone.

Finishing off Westside Story at Burbage West
In 2012 we spent a significant amount of time in Font and managed to climb for about 14 of those days (Here’s a link to the last Font Blog http://climbersblogs.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/little-french-beers-pan-au-chocolats.html). It was time to put those daemons to rest. Our two weeks in Font was booked very last minute, based on the weather forecast and it paid off. We had about 1.5 days of rain, which meant we had about 1.5 days of forced rest. It was fantastic to go to the forest with no training or expectations. It was stunning and a good break! Although Font is very close to civilization, it is a truly magical place and offers something different every time you go. I’ve been lucky enough to preview Out of Sight 2 where Jackie discusses the fact that the climbing in Font is a turning wheel. You discover boulders which may have been first climbed over twenty years ago…but lay untouched for years. So next time you are in the forest, go for a wonder, go and get lost…you’ll uncover some gems!
Here is a short video of our trip:

Watching Out of Sight 2 also got my heart racing about climbing again, and I could not help but smile all the way through! I know in the last blog I said I was back…but I really am J I had a lot of positive response to the last blog, so thank you to those who persevered and read it. Since then I’ve become a supporter of Climb Out. Climb Out is a medium to help people discover that anyone can climb or enjoy the outdoors, anyone can make their dreams a reality”. If you want to read a little more about it, check out their facebook page here:

The weather since we have been back in the UK, has been less than ideal.

Cow & Calf should be up there somewhere
I’d like to say we are lucky to live where we do, however it was a conscious choice based on crag locations. So we are so close to many amazing places. Including the Lake District. So with a forecast of fog filled, damp weekends, we got away back to Carrock Fell and managed to pull these two of out the bag:

With the forecast not looking to improve in Yorkshire, I expect we’ll be looking to explore bouldering around the Lake District some more.

Whilst I’m not training as much – taking a “pick n mix” / “take it or leave” it approach to climbing – which is amazing, sitting here, curled up with the dogs, eating jaffa’s totally guilt free. I’m still keen to aid my recovery (no mention of the jaffa’s!). I tried out the Whey Protein before, which Marco also tried. He’s since stopped taking it for the next month to see what the difference is and he’s noticed a significant different in that he is not recovering as quick. I finished my stash of the Whey so I decided to try the Collagen Protein.

I chose this protein as not only do I want to recover quicker, I also have some serious skin issues. I’ll do a day of climbing and my skin just flakes away. The Collagen protein is designed, among other things, to revitalize skin, so I’m looking to see how this promotes skin repair. So watch this space!  (PS if you want 10% discount to give some of the stuff a try use discount code “jenwilby” … cringe!)

Now it’s time to wait.
Happy Climbing!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Evolv Nexxo review by Tom Williams

With a glove like fit the Evolv Nexxo provides infinite precision and power, the notorious love bump giving comfort, yet an enormous amount of control and sensitivity. In short this is a shoe which gives an amazing amount of feedback but is still comfortable enough that you don’t want to take it off after every attempt of a problem.

This has become my ‘go to’ shoe on overhanging terrain, the power in the toe box means you can really pull with your feet. They fare well on vertical wall problems as well, not suffering with rounded knuckle box of the Shamans quite as much! The only time I’ve recently switched to my Geshidos is when it all got a bit slabby. There is ample rubber over the top of the toe making toe hooks feel incredibly easy; even the most precarious ones.

As the shoe lends itself to a lower profile foot I've found the heel has a lack of security that was found with the Shamans, this doesn't mean the heel is bad, it’s just not the same as the Shamans. This been said it never feels like it’s going to peel off, however this being said, I've spoken to other people who have absolutely no trouble with the heel. As ever, it really is a case of if the shoe fits your foot.

Ultimately the Nexxo is ‘the’ shoe in the Evolv range for me.

To see them in action check out the video below:

Sunday, 26 October 2014

So It Begins It May Be Getting Darker But The Light Is There. By Jen Wilby

Autumn is finally here, it has been taunting us over the last month or so. The leaves began to change, but few of them fell. The species known as the Boulderer, watching and waiting. It never came.

Autumn has to be the most beautiful of seasons; the colours and the dramatic change are fascinating and signal that time of the year when the nights draw in, hibernation begins and the birds leave for warmer climates. However, for the boulderer, it signals the beginning.

I’ve thought a lot about this month’s blog and whether to write what I am about to write. Most of the blogs are written with my heart on my sleeve, not registering that people actually read them. However, I am very conscious that this one is personal and very public.

I’m not aware if readers have noticed a change in the last couple of blogs, reading them back, I can see a change, and uncharacteristic one, an uncomfortable one. One which may be relevant to this forum, or not. Depends why you are reading this.

About ten years ago I was diagnosed with Depression; it was a dark, tough place. A deep, muddy, murky pit that can consume you, swamp you and take you down. Thankfully, I got myself out of that pit without any assistance medically. I have no idea how, I’m just thankful that I did. For twelve years, swimming was my life. I’d be in the pool for forty sessions a week, plus gym time and comps. This left little time for a social life outside of climbing and little time for anything else, including school work :D I loved it, I didn’t need waking up at 5am, I was up and ready to train, often having days off school (oops Mum!) so I could rest ready for the next session. School classes were sacrificed on Fridays, to ensure I was fully rested before a weekend comp. When you live by such a time specific scheduled, you know nothing else. So when this is taken away from you, you find yourself lost. With no structure or routine to guide you. That is a scary experience and can drop you deep.

Climbing played an important part in the recovery. Although boulders are static, you have to think on your feet, figure moves out when on the rock, come into contact with many different types of people and it was all about challenging yourself and having fun.

At the end of the last bouldering season, I made a decision to stick to a very specific climbing schedule. I’ve done it before, so I could do it again. The aim of this schedule was to improve my weaknesses and geshido ! (Pun totally intended).

The wheels soon fell off; I became tired of climbing, tired of training. It got to the point where I didn’t want to be near a climb, talk about climbing or look at anything climbing related. I almost hated it. This coincided with the pressures of work mounting up – it’s been manic and very time consuming. So I threw myself into work, working on an evening and during weekends, paid or not. It gave me an escape from climbing, the one thing I was trying to avoid. Don’t get me wrong, the work needed to be done and there were just not enough hours in the working day to do it all.

Climbers, by nature are obsessive. Obsessions can be positive and negative, there has to be a balance. Once I’d given up on the climbing, I became obsessed with working. This switch put me into that dark, muddy place. At the time, I’d rather have sat around doing nothing, than have anything to do with climbing. I’d gone, the soul and heart seemingly empty. This lasted for what seemed like an eternity. Unable to see the light at the end, how was I going to get out of it (once I realised I was in it!?) Starting to climb the way I was, would take a lot of hard work and commitment, I wasn’t ready to train, I wasn’t ready to be shot down on moves I used to be able to do in my sleep. What on earth had happened?

The dragon got hold, it was time to look at what I could do and what I wanted to do. It was tough, making, almost forcing myself to get out of the house and go and do some climbing, because deep down beneath the murkiness, I knew I loved it and it would work.

It was really tough, I didn’t know how my body moved, I didn’t know how to hold anything and I had zero confidence in my ability. The word is persistence; forget what you used to be able to do, forget what you want to do, persist in the moment of what you are trying to do. Back to basics. Time was spent repeating blocs and I made myself sit there and try it until I had done it. It was so hard but it would have been easier to walk away.

It’s also about surrounding yourself with people who have a positive effect on you. It’s not about all this positivity, hippy stuff, but it’s true. Try it, surround yourself with people who bring out the worst in you and you will become that person. It’s for that reason; I’m only surrounding myself with certain people. We have one life; it’s got to be an awesome ride. So take those people and that ride that you actually want to be there and who will laugh with you along the way!

It worked, and I’m back :D These experiences can consume you or you can take them and use them to have a positive, productive influence on your life. I know I love climbing, I know consuming my time with work just drops me. Change my job you say…I actually like my job, it’s just all about the balance.

My attitude now is better than it was when I went into the dark place; I now go out to climb because I want to. Not because I feel like I should. I go out and climb to try certain moves, just one, with no hope or expectation of being able to do anything. This approach has relaxed the way I climb, made it more natural, more instinctive and there is not an ounce of pressure on me, by myself or anyone else at any time; and that feels awesome.

The reason I decided to write this, is because there are so many people out there who are in that dark place, or in danger of going there, or indeed are coming out of the other side. Whether it is years, months, or weeks that have passed. I want to say to you get out, surround yourself with the good, sincere and fun eggs and you will find the light and when you do, it’s flippin awesome.

For those who’ve always had the light, think twice about what you say and how you say it. You never know what rippling effect your actions may have. Be mindful and be fun.  So next time you ask me what I got “ticked” or what’s on the “wish list” – don’t, because the only thing on the “list” is to try some stuff and have some fun. No more and no less. Let’s just see what happens :D

If you are still here, well done. I won’t apologise for the story, you chose to carry on reading. Now – if you were waiting for the climbing bit, this is a climbing blog after all, here it is. Autumn is here and it’s amazing. I described Yorkshire grit last month as being different to that of the Peak and the fact that you do not need baltic conditions to be able to climb. So this month we’ve managed to explore Brimham, Caley, and Almscliff some more. Yes, you heard me, Caley :D No matter how many times you go to the Yorkshire crags there is always something to try, unless you are Sendalottie, in which case you go around trying the things you have already done another way, whilst waiting for me to get my ass up something.

Marco's party trick: https://vimeo.com/110078099
Patta's Arete: https://vimeo.com/110079098

One thing I have loved about the last couple of weekends is getting on problems that don’t suit me – giving a greater challenge.

Trying Red Tape at Brimham Photo: Steve Honeyman

The shocker of this weekend was dragging my butt up Black Chipper Arete at Brimham. I’ve seen this loads – but always believed it to be too hard for me…well, myth busters are us!

Black Chipper Photo: Steve Honeyman
Black Chipper Photo: Steve Honeyman
Video of the ascent here: https://vimeo.com/110028259

Video of the Prow at Caley: https://vimeo.com/109386312

The result of the much improved mindset is the ability to get on anything and give it a go, no matter what the grade. That means over the last few weeks I’ve done loads of stuff I’ve not been able to do before :D That has been the reward for letting go.

With the nights drawing in there have also been some head torch sessions and Steve has managed to get some wicked photo’s

Marco on Black Chipper Sit Photo: Steve Honeyman

Photo: Steve Honeyman
There is something about being out, in the dark when the world is settling down for the evening.

The rest of the month will involve checking the weather for Font. We’ve got two weeks off and have no idea what we are doing! The forecast has looked amazing over the last week, and now shows rain for a full week, starting from when we arrive. Obviously! So we shall see what happens and go where ever the weather will allow us to climb some stuff!

What’s even more exciting than two weeks of exploring and trying stuff, is the ability to check out some of PrAna’s new Autumn / Winter gear.

Axiom Jeans

This stuff really is awesome, I know folk have said it’s too pricy, but it will last years! (Unless you slide down on your ass all the time to get off the top or rocks, then only maybe a couple of years).

Anyhew, happy climbing folks! Come and visit Yorkshire, it really has some world class problems, some, mostly friendly locals, some awesome tea shops for cake after or if your tipple is ale, some nice country pubs with the local brew on tap!

PS: Of course it is all too wet right now, awful conditions, terrible, so I wouldn’t bother.

Podey loving Caley Photo: Steve Honeyman
Photo: Steve Honeyman