Monday, 29 June 2015

Challenges By Jen Wilby

It's half way through 2015 and, for some of us, we’ll be looking at the next half of year ahead and for the rest of us we’ll be looking at how the last 6 months have gone. You may have set yourself some challenges, whether it be climbing or lifestyle related. Personally, I set some challenges for Climb Out which were a mix of climbing and lifestyle related.

When looking up the definition of a challenge, I got the following:

1.       A call to someone to participate in a competitive situation or fight to decide who is superior in terms of ability or strength.
2.       A call to prove or justify something
3.       Dispute the truth of validity of
4.       Invite (someone) to engage in a contest.

All of this strikes as being very ego orientated, with the use of words like competition, justify, validity and contest. Were these words what you have in mind when you think of your challenges? I understand we chose our goals to help push our boundaries or to face our fears. However, think deeply and most of the challenges, ultimately will prove or disprove something, we could go on to say that the challenges are a way to prove or justify something to ourselves. This clashes with my beliefs somewhat. One of the reasons we moved up North was to get away of the talk of who did what, what colour someone did or did not do, of the staring eyes etc. etc. I admit, we have not got away from it, however, we have many more options to be able to go to remote crags with no one else about, to enjoy climbing the way I love it – remote, peaceful with a select few of close friends with the same ideals. So why have I set challenges for myself? Yes I want to get better, I want to improve and push myself, but why set challenges for that?

Looking at the challenges I set for 2015:
1              10 Pull Ups
2              1 x 1 arm pull up
3              5 x tri dips on the rings
4              Turn my phone off more
5              Be more committed when climbing
6              Learn a new language
7              Spend more time in the van with no technology around, my true          love.
8             Get back onto routes
9             Grow more veg this summer
10           Improve shoulder strength to do a hand stand.
11           12. Spend less time in Bar T’at

All of these challenges seem a bit disorientated and focussed on different things, so I am starting to question why I set them. It seemed fun at first. Bingo, fun, that’s what it should all be about. At the end of the day if it’s not fun why flippin do it? So lets take a look at them again:

1       10 Pull Ups: This is the ability to prove to myself that I can do pull up’s and I am not a total floppy mess when it comes to doing them. So for now, this one stands I am enjoying the process, the gains, the set backs and pushing through. This is all about the climbing for me, I see lines that are just too powerful for me, so this is staying in the aim to try more fun lines.
2      1 x 1 arm pull up: Not sure about this one, I’ll need to think on it a little more.
3      5 x tri dips on the rings: As #1
4      Turn my phone off more : The aim of this was to be more mindful about where I was at any point in time and not be distracted. However, I enjoy reading through social media sites, keeping abreast of things and people. Basically I am nosy! However, I do turn it off when I want some quiet time.
5       Be more committed when climbing: Is this ego based? This will prove how I can climb when I really try, and yes, I have been going 100% when I when I climb and have seen huge gains. It’s also totally exhausting, showing how much I really have not tried. This one stays as I have fun when I climb, so why not be 100% at that each time?
6       Learn a new language: This is being removed. I’ve had some time of work recently and honestly don’t know how I have time to work. I’ve got way too much stuff going on in my life right now, which can be very stressful trying to juggle it all, so why add another thing to do in to the mix. Removed, with a clear conscience.
7       Spend more time in the van with no technology around, my true love: enough said.
8       Get back onto routes: So, I detest the summer. I like the long nights and mainly the early mornings, however, hayfever is a bitch, add killer midges which frequent the UK crags and its just not fun. So I’m not going to force myself, if I fancy doing it, I will, if not, then hey ho that’s just the way the cookie crumbles!
9      Grow more veg this summer: Same as number 6, although I did try, most of them died. So on to doing something else with the time and move on.
10     Improve shoulder strength to do a hand stand: I will stick with the shoulder strength, so I can climb more varied lines, but why the heck to do a hand stand?!
11     Spend less time in Bar T’at: I’ve never spent so much time in a pub, but I love it and I love meeting the people there, so whilst it’s not as often, I’m not going to feel guilty about going 

So as you can see, some of the challenges are no longer relevant. It was not until I had some time off that I realised I have filled my life with way too many things. So days off work have been spent trying to catch up, which means when I move on to the next day, I never felt rested or content as the list just kept growing. So personally, reviewing the challenges was about changing my priorities. Challenges are great, the help you maintain progress and focus, however, they should be organic and evolve with you. I now have some clearer focus for the next 6 months and it feels great!

I’ve not blogged for the last couple of months, mainly because the grit season finally came to and end. So it was time to sit back, chill out and not train. It’s been awesome! However, its only half a year until the next season so it will soon be time to get back on it, and have fun.

It’s been great wondering about Ilkely, but I do get itchy feet so we’ve gone to some more crags and had a few epic adventures along the way! We’ve headed to some new crags in the Lake District and North Wales and after a few adventures out, I’ve seen how stunning the UK is and how quality the climbing is. If the weather was stable I’m certain we’d have a lot more people making the trek to climb here!

The most stunning place was Lad Stones, it was absolutely stunning and worth the trek up there. The blocs are huge and have some real, proper problems on them and you won’t find another soul about! Bliss

As usual I’ve made some vids, have not managed to get the Lad Stones ones yet but these should keep you going for now.

Andy Browns Wall:
Sweet Dreams and Superset:

Happy Climbing!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

It’s on…It’s off…It’s on…. By Jen Wilby

The stunning Lake District

Blah Blah Blah. So the last blog was about how the Grit season was not over. We spent a long weekend in the Lakes and came back to what felt like summer. Spending evening’s lazing on the pads in between training sets. Then I declared the Grit season, was indeed over.
So time was spent coming up with a training plan to take me up until the end of January 2016, which is mental as normally thinking 24 hours ahead is too much hassle. Last year, there was a rigid plan which saw me fall off the rails and fall out of love with climbing. (Nice read from Leah here: Looking back, I think part of that was due to moving up North. Living down South means you only head to the rock when you know the weather is going to be good, and its all planned. You have no rock to head to after work, its all about the weekends.  Therefore you know when you can train, as its most of the time. Heading North for 3 hours each weekend takes its toll, it’s easier to train when you live South. Living here, in the stunning Ilkley means you are no more than 30 mins away from all of the good Yorkshire Gritstone crags, there is the opportunity to head out for a couple of hours each night, heck, when it’s dry you can go out every day of the week. There is an abundance of different crags which offer shade, sun, shelter, exposure, the lot! Trying to train and continue to project outside can take its toll; mentally and physically. In order to focus on training, something has to be sacrificed and living up here, it has to be the time out of the rock. Well, it depends on your goals of course.

So I sat down and thought about what I was committed to for the rest of the year, how much rest I needed and what needed to be trained. The plan I have come up with is not rigid in terms of time, sets etc, its flexible and the one thing which will determine what I do and when, will be my mind and body. Let’s see how that works out this year.
It’s started well by managing my time, due to a stressful and demanding job, I can work 12 hours a day if I let myself. However, the balance has to be found. So I now work to enable training to take place at lunch times. Only ever an hour long, whether it be finger boarding, flexibility, strength. Then sometimes with another two sessions in the evening, obviously targeting totally different muscle groups.
It’s great to be focused but not under pressure and it’s really enjoyable.

Getting to grips with the 30d board @The Depot
Then the temps dropped! Arrrgggh! Get out, get out, go go go! That’s what it’s been like up here this month. It’s been relatively dry but there has been a real mix of it being really hot, or really cold! Sometimes, it’s a punt going to the crag. I’ve been to Caley when folk have thought it was too hot, we’ve been to Earl Crag, when admittedly it has to have been the coldest place on earth at the time! Then this weekend, with the rain radar looking like something out of Independence Day, we shot over to Earl Crag early on Saturday morning. The crag was empty and we got an amazing two hours of climbing in before the heavens opened. The time will come where it will be back to full blown training and sacrificing the outside time.

This month has also been a month of adventures in the Lake District. The Lakes is a stunning place and we’ve taken some time to get out to new crags when its been raining rather than just sitting in a cafĂ© somewhere. The first, Nettle Crag on the way to Dow Crag. It’s a sweet little crag with a couple of good lines on it which we will go back to.

Dow Crag, “why would you want to go there to boulder when the amazing routes are  there”, this is what we always heard when we mentioned Dow Crag. My response to this, because it is a stunning place and it does not matter if you do trad, boulder or simply sit by the Tarn, its an amazing spot and everyone has a right to experience it. As for the 50 minute walk in, that is a total lie. However, do not let that put you off, it is worth the walk.
The view from high up at Dow Crag 
The other one we went to was Gillercombe in near the Hamlet of Seathwaite. The first spot is where Cloud Chamber is. This is an awesome, large bit of rock with an awesome climb on it. Now, the question once you have done this is whether you hike up to the top of the hill to the main crag, or drive over the back to Honister Pass?

If you know the way, go over Honister Pass, it’s a lovely walk. If you don’t know the way, go straight up the hill from Cloud Chamber else you’ll end up in a world of pain dragging your mat’s over walls and fences and generally having no idea where anything is. You’’ll get to the boulders very late and be too tired to climb anything. Speaking from experience! Ha! 
View from Gillercombe

Hamlet of Seathwaite

Not another climber or walker in sight. 
Gillercombe is absolutely stunning and worth a visit whichever way you go in.

I did a short video of the two crags which shows the locations and hopefully will make you want to visit.

Lake District Video:

The main thing I took away from this month was a boost to the confidence on the sit start to Titfield. I had my eye on it for a while and thought it would suit me and I was right. I know it’s a soft one, but everyone has to start somewhere.

Titfield Thunderbolt Sit Start:

I also managed to get this vexing problem done up at Carrock. It really is frustrating until you do it!

There has been quite a lot of development going on in the Lakes, including the unearthing of this bloc, once called the disappointing bloc.

Toe Jam and Earl:

This month has also meant a new delivery of some goodies in preparation for the Summer season. Thanks to Beyond Hope. The biggest surprise was the Nexxo. I know they have been out for ages, but I’ve always considered them too aggressive for me. However, they are fantastic. Yes they are toe down, but they are so comfortable and quick to wear in, they are now on par with the Shamans for me!

Testing out the Nexxo on the small holds

That’s the end of another month, and the next few months are going to be manic with  my birthday, another year younger, weddings and stag do’s. So it could be some time until the next blog, you’ll have to find something else to send you to sleep.

Happy Climbing.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Grit Season Is Over…Jen Wilby

Stunning sunset at Brimham Rocks

The Grit Season is over is what someone said to me only a week ago. My face must have been a mix of confusion and amusement…that’s a look you don’t want to see often!  
The past few weeks have been amazing conditions, not too cold, not warm and perfectly dry. It means we've been able to get out and about to a few different places and complete some blocs which I've had my eye on whilst they have been sopping wet. This also means that I've not been training as I've been totally wasted for 3 days following the weekend’s antics and I've not wanted to push myself before the weekend. This is the great thing about not having a training plan! My plan is listening to my body and letting it tell me whether I should be training or not. Those of you who follow the blogs will know I had a bit of a melt down with training last summer and it led me to ditch the plan and just do what I felt like doing. This has paid off! No longer am I bound by the guilt of not training when my book tells me to, no longer do I push when my body is in pain rather than aching. It’s amazing!

So the question is, with spring almost here (it’s still been snowing up North!) what do I want to do now? We have a long haul trip in the pipeline for early next year and I want to be 100% fit for this, to be the fittest and strongest, and lightest I can! Thinking about it, the only way this can be achieved is by following a plan. So how do I go about that without totally burning out? When do I start it? Not training is starting to take its toll – with feelings of less energy and lethargy creeping on. However, the weather is still here, the Grit season could have another good month or two or more! Decisions! Either way I’m flipping excited!!!

The only thing….

Pushed it a bit too far for a bit too long
A few weeks ago, when it started to heat up, I panicked! I started to go out whenever I could and would literally thrash myself at my projects. This was 99.9% successful with success on most of them! I've been working problems which are my weakness and its been amazing to see successful attempts! Proving that my weaknesses are getting so much better – and my strengths are still improving!
Except Crystal Method at Caley, which has to be one of the hardest blocs I've ever been on, and I mean ever. It’s nails from start to finish…and one which I am focused on trying to finish before the season is actually over. Secret Seventh Caley 

The issue with the panic, is I nailed my skin! Whenever I touch rock at the moment, it just bleeds. This always puts me in two minds when I check the weather forecast. Last week I could see it was going to rain for some time over the weekend – so I took a chance, even though my skin was poor and went out to try the sit start to Titfield Thunderbolt at Brimham Rocks.
Within a few attempts the skin split and I thought it was game over, but the forecast just kept playing on my mind, so I carried on – with success! Titfield Thunderbolt Brimham

This month I've also gone out climbing on my own a lot, due to my climbing partner having worse skin than I and different projects. Climbing on my own was a new experience for me. I normally like going out with a few close friends (nothing too manic with loads of people) and I enjoy climbing with them and talking to folk. Climbing on your own brings a whole new experience and focus. All of a sudden, you are there, on your own, with only one goal – to climb that bit of rock. No banter, no one to spot what other beta you can try, no one to fill in the rest times…just you.
The first time I did this I was super nervous! Why? No idea. Now, I love it and it suits my personality, the calmness and the focus is amazing. Everyone should try it, at a quiet time at the crag, it makes you listen to yourself and makes you see clearly, why you do climb. Some of you might hate it – but it will show you what you love about climbing. A valuable lesson. I now have no fear of going it alone (unless it’s a high ball and want a spot – even then I’d give a whirl!). The freedom is amazing!

Another new experience this month was my first ever boot demo at the Depot in Pudsey.

I've never really been a geek about my climbing shoes, I stick with what I love and believe that being strong in the mind will make any shoe you wear obsolete and the fact we all have totally different feet makes the choice up to you. Some shoes you love and some you hate ! Listening to others talk about shoes was interesting. The new Luchador made its appearance and both were good! If you get chance to head to one of the demo’s give it a go.

 Now the Easter holiday approach’s, the van is packed and the plan is to head out somewhere, wherever the weather looks good.

After this – its time to come up with a Summer plan and how to do it without being totally burnt out!

Some other vids of the last month: Close to the edge Woodhouse The sherrif Wood house Something of some grade Woodhouse Slapstick Arete Caley

Happy Holiday everyone! 

Friday, 20 March 2015

The three eights

The Three Eights

Over the past two years my vague goal has been to complete the three eights, that is E8 (any tech grade), French 8a and Font 8a. Just because I think its worth while being an all round climber and each discipline aids the other two, also 8 seems to be a good bench mark of ability. I say vague because I had big doubts for my bouldering and focusing too much on a goal can be a little stressful, and despite mainly being a trad climber I handle stress quite badly...

I managed E8 a good while before the other 8's. Dawes rides a shovel head was my first E8 (blog:
I never planed to do E8 first, to be honest Id rather have done it last so that I knew I had the strength to do the moves, aw well, the route seemed to good to put of, a bit like half a cheesecake that you know wouldn't be the same after a night in the fridge, so you "pig-out" while its fresh.. Moving on

Next up was French 8a, there were a few problems with this, I live in the middle of the lake district now and have access to four sport routes, and I broke the crux hold to the 8a+, needless to say, it was not going well. However, a quick check on UKC revealed good news, there happens to be an 8a link up in thrang quarry. The three eight plan is back on track.. I returned to the quarry/ big damp hole in the side of a hill.
The route is called "kept woman" and climbs brilliantly, probably due to the drilled holds. I did all the moves on lead first go, taking rests at each bolt. After a while of resting it began to rain, the rain forced me to make a hasty attempt at the route, only by pushing through horrible flash pump did I make it through, slight episodes of power scream toward the end, and happily on to the worlds dodgiest looking chains.

Nexxo's warming by the fire at thrang crag,
 nice sticky rubber for the send 
 2 down, one to go.

So, Bouldering. I actually really like bouldering,but I've just found it really quite hard to get any better.. Id been climbing 7b+ for a whole year prior to the past month, despite a fair amount of indoor training. Happily I finally broke the grade by sending Brad pit at Stanage, a well deserved classic 7c, although my experience of it may have been slightly tainted by 3 inches of snow and ice on the top out and jug. In the end it only took a few goes as it really suited me.

Brad pit, at around 12pm 

Bouldering was looking up now, so on to the 8a. Myself and the manic fingerboardist Eli Cartwright decided to aim out efforts at the much sought after "Tourniquet" witch went at 7c+ till a hold broke, now it settles at a hard 8a, The moves are nothing but mad, the problem is more or less centred around one hold, which cripples your wrist into place. To get a feel of how to hold it, try twisting your wrist till you can go no further, then get someone to twist it more, then hang off it with your feet above your head.. and if your loving that, get on down to kentmere! Besides this hold the problem is amazing, and flows well.

We worked out the beta in the first session, which is no simple feat, a bit like sudoku really. By the time we had a good sequence we were burnt out, but still put in good attempts. The second session saw good progress and badly split tips for me and a send for Eli.

Eli, walking the crux of Tourniquet 
After a day of rest and rubbing pure vitamin E into my fingers, I headed back for another go before the rain came. I made the walk in (just) with four pads, but the toe hook was soaking wet due to rain the day before. Not to worry, like a boy scout, Im always prepared. Out came the beer towel and I got down to some serious drying activity, followed by star jumps, partly to warm up, partly for fun..
My first attempt was surprisingly good, I got passed the crux and slapped for the last hold, but fell all the same as before. More similar attempts followed, including an attempt that caused a slight chip in one of the holds (no change to he difficulty though, damn it). I went for a walk around the area to calm down and think a little. Once I got in the zone/a bit bored of walking aimlessly in a small copse of trees, I got back to the problem. More star jumps and drying activity followed before, finally I sent it, feeling stronger than ever.

I finished my two year goal.

Working on Tourniquet, Kentmere 
On to the 9's!... or a few more eights or something    

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

SquarePants By Daragh O'Connor

Well. Its been a while. For me this year has already rocketed by, ever since taking some time off after the world championships in Munich last summer everything has been a bit of a blur... I'm in my final year in school and June is going to be the month the earth stands still for me. 13 days of 7 subjects of exams... But sure thinking about it wont do anybody any good will it?
So climbing wise (only 'wise' that is important) things have been going great, i don't know why it feels like a surprise but its nice to know i can continue to stay on form and keep on top of everything else all at once.

So, CWIF went well you could say, I qualified in 12th after doing all bar 2 problems (one of which i should have done) and was psyched beyond belief to be making it into Semi's the next day. Semi's is always where the real fun starts. My warm up went perfectly, I took extra care in making sure my shoulders and back were loose so when i pulled on the wall in iso things were smooth from the get go. By the time i was called out I had entered that glorious low gravity state which we all seek.

Its hard to describe the actual climbing because you don't really know whats going on at the time anyway so i wont even bother trying. My score came out with enough tops to make it into finals (only 1) but a silly rushed attempt and not getting bonus's cost me my place. I'd say go watch the replays of the semi's but the cameras were not interested in my ugly mug so not much of my climbing was gotten and who can blame em?

Oh yeh, almost forgot! IM GOING TO THE ROCKLANDS!!!!!! Flights booked from the 8th on July to the 12th of August! This trip kinda comes with the year, with my exams and all (even being on form at the moment) i have decided to take the summer season of the European and World Circuit. It was a hard choice to make but i would want to be at 130% going at the Worlds and i worry i wont be at that. But i think it will be good, and it eaves 2016 as the year im going to go at the worlds ready to fight it it out!

Major results as of my last update : 
G Force Open - 2nd Place, Irish Bouldering League - 1st (joint), CWIF - 13th.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Find Your Inspiration - By Jen Wilby

Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.Swami Sivananda

Sunset at Almsciff - Always worth the wait
This month has been all about inspiration and inspiration can come in many forms. This month has been a very hard month. The first week I was so psyched for climbing. I began taking Friday’s off and had a whole three days of climbing outside each weekend. A whole three days of grit stone made me realise how unfit I am! This got me thinking about the trip, how we tried to climb something, somewhere every day…for the love of it. To be back in the UK, fogged out and being forced to be as far away from climbing as you could get totally sucked.

To make every minute of your life count towards climbing, to then have something occur which takes you away from training and climbing is the type of situation which can trigger a life change. What occurred meant I couldn't train or climb at all for a week. Some might see this as a week’s rest, and rest is good because that’s when you get repair and get stronger, but when you don’t sleep for the full week, the week was totally wiped out and it took me another week to recover add the fact the weather was good and I didn't know when I would get chance to get out again - was a test of sanity!  During this time, hours were spent watching old climbing video’s, looking through old photo’s, looking at what other's were out doing…looking for that inspiration. Often when you stop something the hardest part is getting back. I found the inspiration. My other half spends most evening’s looking at climbing videos or guidebooks and this has always bored me, but at the start of this month it gave me some light and inspiration to reset and get back on it.

The one certainty in life is that we are all going to leave this version of it at some point. So why spend our hours (or most of us) doing something that at the end of the day does not really matter? It’s important we put our all our effort and focus in to what we are doing at any given minute of the day, whether its talking to a friend, out shopping or climbing. Put 100% effort into it – no dwelling on the past or the future – only then can you be truly free. This is especially relevant in the UK with the climate. As climbers, we are unable to plan for anything, you have to live each day relying on forecasts. Which you can argue is totally rubbish compared to somewhere like Bishop where you are guaranteed good weather for the season. However, at the same time, you have to give 100% to what you do there an then and this is the main lesson I have learnt this month and something which I would urge you all to think about. It doesn't have to relate to climbing, but your life in general. Do what inspires you.

Don’t be half focused on many things, be fully focused on one thing at one point in time and you will reap the rewards.
Up at the crag for 0930 to avoid the crowds - fantastic!  
Once I woke up and realised I was only being half committed to many things, I've gone out whenever the weather had been good this month and got on my projects. We've had a really good spell at Caley recently, which has been fantastic and it was a good decision to move down the road. With the 100% commitment headset, I've got on my projects and walked away having made progress every time, which is an awesome feeling. It’s only a matter of time J
Here are some video’s of some problems we've been on over the last couple of weeks:

Red Barron Roof:
Millstone Grit:
Dolphin Belly Slap:
Streaky's Traverse:
Crucifix Arete Eliminate:

I’m also lucky enough to have had the opportunity to test out the new Metolius Session Pad

New Metolius Session Pad
You will probably say I am biased, however, I do really rate this pad. The thing that stood out first was the corner “flap” which covers the corner of the pad to stop everything from falling out. It’s really durable but also it’s elasticated. So no more time is spent ramming the thing around the corner of the pad and trying to pull it into place. It fits really snugly so I am now able to throw things in it without the fear of everything falling out the bottom. Which makes it fantastic for circuiting.

Using the pad on a warm up at Almscliff
The other feature which I noticed was the catch and how smooth it is. Even on some of my other pads, when I’m packing or unpacking it, the lip always catches and I the cord is really rough, so I have to really pull to get the pad closed tight. Not with the session pad, the catch is really smooth as is the cord material, which makes it really quick and effortless to un-catch and tighten. No more fiddling!

The other thing is the foam, I have total confidence in falling on it, I’d take a back slam on it no worries. That’s got the thumbs up from me – I love it!

Session pad underneath the stunning Flying Arete at Almscliff
As always I am fuelled by BulletProof Coffee and their Collagen protein. These are the two products out of many I have tested and will choose to stick my, I totally love them. The coffee keeps me fuelled for days at the crag and the protein is light enough for me to take with any meal and even during climbing as I often add it to my coffee. You can find details of how to get it from the USA here: and can use the discount code “jenwilby” to get 10% off your order! Bargin!

Another awesome time which was had this month was a visit to The Lab MMA Gym ( – Lanch Green tested my strength and fitness with one of her Tuff classes and it was awesome, again another point in time where I put in 100% to every second and walked away feeling awesome!

One of Lanch's promo shots

February has been full of up’s and down’s but a lot has been taken away from it.

Happy Climbing! 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Big-walling in Yosemite by Madeleine Cope

Big-walling in Yosemite by Madeleine Cope

Despite being tired from travelling I felt giddy with excitement when I arrived in Yosemite Valley. Even the arduous task of queuing to get a campsite in camp 4 did not dampen my spirits. I hadn’t climbed for about 7 weeks due to a shoulder injury so I was eager to get climbing. Feeling heavy limbed from 30 hours of travelling we decided to go and climb an easy route. After struggling our way up 3 awkward pitches of 5.9 we rapped down. We decided not to try any more 5.9’s.
One morning, as I walked past the typical camp 4 queue I spotted the Scandinavian duo that we had met on our travels in the States last year. The pair were going to climb a route called Romulan Warbird (5.12c) on Fifi Buttress the following day and prompted us to join them. Fifi Buttress is a welcome island of featured, grippy, shaded rock in the sea of slippy, sunny cracks that is Yosemite. We declined their offer, deciding that it would probably we wise to have a rest day before trying what would be the hardest granite multi-pitch we had climbed.
Fifi Buttress
Two days later we woke at 5.30 am to give ourselves the best chance of climbing Romulan Warbird (12b, 11d, 11c, 12b, 11c, 12c, 11a, 10d, 10d) in the light, taking into account the fact that red-pointing pitches was inevitable. I don't particularly enjoy waking up early to go climbing: its dark, cold and the morning toilet routine is broken, leaving me squirming in my harness later in the day when faced with my crux pitch. However, the sight of the first pitch made the early morning slog all worthwhile.
Looking down the first pitch of Romulan
The initial steep pulls felt a bit harsh on my half-asleep muscles and the pumpy groove required a little grunting but before I knew it I had reached the point where the (slightly OTT) route description said ‘ninja moves’ were required. I started stemming, taking my feet wider, until I felt I had enough height to commit to the long reach leftwards to a side-pull. At the last moment my left foot slipped. Unfortunately, my gear had shifted out of position as I climbed leftwards and I took an exciting fall down the shallow groove. I lowered down, slightly disappointed that I had slipped off the last move, and took a few minutes break before setting off again. I was amazed (and relieved) at how much easier the pitch felt second go. The next couple of pitches flowed really nicely: the granite was steep and the positions wild, but ultimately, all the holds were jugs. The fourth pitch was a stunning 5.12b. This time it was Howard’s lead.
The route description stated that “granite voodoo and Houdini” was required to negotiate the boulder problem start. Next the description told of a pumpy crack and thrutchy exit to reach the belay. The boulder problem was tricky but both Howard and I got through without much trouble (and probably without “granite voodoo and Houdini”). I was pleasantly surprised that when the top of the crack was less than 2 metres away I didn’t really feel that pumped. Then came the thrutch. The top of the crack was in an awkward pod that was hard to exit without simply falling out of it. With Howard half encouraging me half laughing at me (it is always amusing watching someone struggling on awkward granite!), I tried to untangle an arm to reach for the jug. Just as my feet slipped my hand latched onto the jug. Whilst scrabbling my way up to the belay, I thought: “Thank god I don’t have to do that pitch again”.
Having felt the chill of the wind as we set off that morning we decided to take a jacket to belay in. For the first four pitches we enjoyed the leisure of belaying in warmth so I was pretty annoyed when I watched the stuff sack containing the jacket fall a couple of hundred metres to the ground. To make matters worse it was my fault! The remaining belays were less leisurely. The topo we were using went down with the jacket. We worried whether we would be able to make it to the top without the in-depth pitch descriptions: maybe we would forget to use our granite voodoo and Houdini! Luckily, we managed.
Me seconding the crux pitch

After a bit of easier ground came the crux pitch (12c). From looking at the pitch we could tell the difficulties were going to be short and sharp. Howard managed to lead the pitch second go and I managed to second the pitch first go. The three remaining pitches were easier, but being tired from the previous 7 pitches they still required us to dig deep. As we rapped down the light dwindled, as did the chances of finding the dropped jacket. After a few minutes searching in the dark we decided the jacket could wait until the next day... it was pizza time!
Given the grade, we both thought the route would be too hard for us to free first try so climbing Romulan Warbird felt like a big step up for us in granite climbing. Not only was this a great day climbing, it also gave us the confidence to get on harder routes in Yosemite. El cap started to look inviting.
Bouldering in Yosemite poses a wonderful distraction from climbing big routes. The trees surrounding the boulders even politely block the big granite monoliths from view so the sense of guilt is minimal. When faced with a 4:30 am alarm the prospect of being guided around Yosemite’s bouldering playground by James Lucas is extremely appealing and we gave in to this temptation more than once! However, after a while I started to feel a bit like I was drifting: maybe a greater satisfaction lay lurking behind some hardship.

Bouldering in Yosemite

Ever since climbing Romulan Warbird we had been toying with the idea of trying Freerider and we steadily began preparing for the hard labour of big-walling. With the flu virus rampant throughout camp, I started to think we should get on El Cap before we got too ill to climb it. I could hear the sniffs and coughing fits emanating from Hazel and Peter’s tent as we lay there anxiously hoping that the ‘Walmart Special’ was better at keeping out viruses than the rain! We decided to hold out for the cooler weather and after sitting out a few rainy days in Yosemite Lodge canteen, drinking the gratuity coffee, our gamble paid off and the forecast showed five days of cool, dry weather.

Whilst we were holding out for cooler conditions in the valley my mind swayed between being really excited for climbing on El Cap and being anxious about how I was going to manage the big-wall faffs, such as hauling, rope tangles and going to the toilet in a bag! I found the best way for me to keep the worries at bay was to simply start packing and enjoy this first step for what it was (mainly I enjoyed deciding what treats to take for the evenings). Before I really had time to think about being anxious we were climbing. This mental attitude is summed up well in a quote from one of Hazel Findlay's articles, in which a friend of hers says that you just have to “take the gear for a walk”.
Starting the 11d downclimb on Freerider

One of the pitches I was most concerned about was ‘The Monster’, which is an 11a offwidth. Knowing that our offwidth skills were pretty much non-existent, Howard and I decided it would be a good idea to practice the techniques before getting on Freerider. After gaining 3 inches of height on Ahab in 30 minutes, losing about 3 litres of water in sweat and ripping my trousers I had to admit to myself that I needed 3 more years of offwidth practice, not 3 more hours. I was not surprised to find myself aiding past ‘The Monster’ a couple of days later. We spent our first night on the wall at ‘The Alcove’, drinking hot chocolate and joking about our pathetic attempt on The Monster. I think we had known all along that this ascent would be about getting to know the route for a future attempt.
The next day we gave the ‘Boulder Problem’ a go. This pitch is cool and it was fun to be swinging around on a top-rope with lots of air beneath my feet but the labour of the hauling and climbing had taken its toll on my arms and skin I didn’t manage to do all the moves. After a couple of goes each we pushed on to ‘The Block’: our next bivy. We got as comfortable as possible on this small sloping ledge and fell asleep. We woke up in the dark hoping that it was nearly time to start climbing again but we were disappointed, it was only midnight!
The disadvantage of climbing El Cap in November was the short days. The next day Howard linked to two ‘Endurance Corners’ to save time, which meant I had  good chance to check out the climbing on top-rope. Out of the difficult pitches on Freerider these were the two that I enjoyed most. The climbing is more technical than the name suggests and there is a nice variety of jamming, laybacking and stemming. Then it was my turn to lead a pumpy 12a traverse that takes you away from the Salathe headwall. Up until this point I had felt the exposure most on the chimneys which, since they are never harder than 5.9, was not too overwhelming. When I traversed around the corner suddenly about 800 m of air lay between my feet, which were scraping around for footholds in the steep terrain, and the ground. My arms faded rapidly and, guessing that it wasn’t going to be long before I would be dangling in mid-air of the edge of El Cap, I mustered my remaining energy and shouted “TAKE” to Howard, who was belaying out of sight. Not exactly a heroic turn of events but having to jumar back up the rope would have wasted valuable time.
Now only four pitches remained: surely we would be at the top soon. However, as I started up the Scotty Burke I realised that this pitch could take me a while to lead. The 11d start required a bit of grunting but was short lived. Unfortunately, the 10d offwidth section was more demanding. For every inch of progress I made I slide back down half. Eventually I was back where I started! I just had to laugh. Once I had adopted the cams as hand holds progress was much quicker (although still not as easy as I wanted it to be). It went dark just as I set out to second the last pitch. After a bit of battling to get the haulbag onto the summit it was nice to lie down without a harness on and go to sleep. 
After much tugging we got the haul bag onto the summit, although hauling was hard work we couldn't have done it without one!

The beautiful dawn light over Yosemite Valley

Enjoying the morning sun after bivying on the top of El Cap

My hands felt a bit battered after Freerider, but not too bad considering we didn't wear tape gloves!
Although I felt about a million miles away from freeing Freerider I had actually only aided 3 pitches (The Monster, The Boulder Problem and The Scotty Burke) and rested on 3 pitches. Just getting to the top of El Cap was a big step in climbing for me and a learnt a lot. It took some time for me to realise that getting to the top of El Cap was an achievement but when the realisation hit I felt a giddy urge to return to the valley for round two with Freerider.
After Yosemite it was time to relax in the beautiful hot springs near Bishop

Chasing the sun we spent a few days in Joshua Tree (Scar Face, highball V3)
Before we knew it we were lightening our load ready to go surfing in Costa Rica. We packed our cams into a cardboard box in a little post office in Joshua Tree, rushing to fill out all the paper work for customs and checking at least 4 times with the lady at the desk to make sure they were correct. This cardboard box contained the most valuable things that I own and I really wanted it to get home. The fact that the lady did not seem to share my interest in the safe return of the box of dirty looking metal to England made me slightly anxious, but with only 10 hours until our flight and an 8 hour drive to San Francisco ahead of us we had no choice but to hand over the box and cross our fingers.