An introduction to Interval Training for Power Endurance

A Pumped Climber shaking out wishing he’d done some Interval Training!

Interval Training is one of the most popular techniques for increase power endurance, or the amount of time we can sustain an extremely high power output. To help develop this the training involved repeating a routes a number of times at the top end of your climbing ability interspersed by resting intervals. However this isn’t the only way to improve your Power Endurance.

There are three main routes (See here for an overview of training basics):
1. Raising the point at where the Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation occurs
2. aerobic conditioning.
3. Becoming physically stronger

Whilst Interval Training will help you improve anaerobic endurance;it will not necessarily help with things like clipping quickdraws or improving technique when you are fatigued. Other methods like self-talk or imagery will help this I have another entry specifically on keeping good technique when pumped.

One of the many question I get asked as a coach is what grade of route should I start at? The answer is a typically political answer in that it depends on many things.

First of all find a route that is at your absolute limit, it may have taken you a couple of goes to link on lead but you should feel happy leading it, if fresh, if possible the route should be sustained rather than have one hard crux section.

On each session you are going to do a power endurance session, start by having a really thorough warm up. By this I mean climbing at least 10 routes that don’t make you feel pumped in the slightest, even it it means just top-roping the most basic lines. Only do a maximum of 2 Power Endurance training session a week to start off with.

To start with on Day 1, lead up this hardest route, and lower off, whilst timing yourself on the route. When you lower off allow yourself the same length of time rest as it took to climb the route. Then top rope the route, repeating the rest procedure until you reach failure. By failure I am talking you give 110%, you should feel like you are about to be sick. Often this first session you’ll make it up three times or less before failure.

On Day 2 you aim is to improve you performance from day one in terms of the number of repetitions of the route you can make. You should have the same aim of improving on the last time for each subsequent session, in that you are aiming to increase the number of reps until you reach around 6 reps before failure after a long warm up.

Once you have reach 6 reps on this one hard route, you can still apply overload through reducing the time you rest for (interval). Carry on this regime for a few more sessions, before adding more overload by changing the route you use to a harder one. You may find you have to step backward on this harder route in terms of repetitions.

-Climbing a route at your limit
-Rest for the same length of time as you climb
-Look to apply overload every session (Number of Reps, Reduced Rest, Increase Grade).
-Max of 2 sessions a week to start with.
-Have a mini goal to aim for during each session

Crash Pads: Reducing the grades to my level!

Route or Highball Boulder Problem?

Now if you haven’t read it already, and i would hope to high heaven that James Pearsons Blog has a greater following than mine, after all he can actually climb. James has some interesting things to say about much of the grade debate that has raged around his routes, and I’ll leave that to him. However I would like to take up the debate from the point he makes about crash pads.

In essence James argues very well and it is undeniable that the use of crash pads on gritstone routes does downgrade the risk, however some might say upgrades the experience. Mainly due to the reduction in the ‘real risk’, when falling off doesn’t just become possible but an almost essential part of the process the E grades must have to change. As something that was at the frontier of adventure before has been switched to an elaborate form of play.
Now E grades probably still need to be there, after all, some of the heights people are falling from are getting stupid. I remember lobbing off reaching for the break on Poseidon Adventure an E4 (or highball V4?) at Bowden Doors, with just one old DMM mat to fall on, it looked like postage stamp when i fell off and felt like I had pile driven myself into the earth when I landed. Getting up to do it again seemed reckless, but a friend and I still did it, managing to clear the crag of climbers in the process.
If I returned today, I would want to have ten pads, my age and a generally increase in common sense and the number of available pads has lead to that (Although I still don’t own my own pad!). The added confidence you’d would expect to gain in using multiple pads as a safely cushion means that general performance would be much better as well. In fact I would imagine that it would actually be fun, and that you’d happily go for it again and again in a teletubbies fashion.
Now whilst James has chosen the ethical high ground of trying his new routes without pads, you have to question his logic, as he himself says that pads reduce the grade, and that modern climbers turn up on mass with two pads each, and therefore the grade has to be reduced by his own logic. Just because he wants to have an E10 experience on a E7/8 doesn’t mean the rest of the world wants too . As such is James acting a little like King Tut trying to oppose the ‘tide of change’, which is well and truly behind the use of as many pads as you can carry.
Think back to a few conversations when the Heights was a good pub, discussing some of Paul Pritchard’s routes, specifically one of the Red Walls Broccoli lines that was originally given E8, mainly because of an upside down RURP belay, whereas six foot down and left was a much better and safer belay, which as a result reduced the grade and the notoriety of the route. However for Paul and his partner the route was E8, but mainly because of blinkered thinking and unneccessary danger. Is making something deliberately more dangerous a valid approach to high E grades?
I am sure that climbers have moaned about technological advances in climbing equipment over the years. From the when the Reverends William Bingley & Peter Williams used a trouser belt to aid their ascent of the Eastern Terrace of Clogwyn Dr’r Addru. Ever since then each subsequent advancement has brought about the reduction of risk. From hemp rope, karabiners, slings, nuts, pegs, hexes, wires, harnesses, kermantel rope, rock boots, sticky rubber, Friends (camming devices), all have made climbing safer and safer. So what makes a crash pad any different from any of these technological advancement?
I am from a  generation with an ethos of ‘why tear your arse when you can fart’ mentality. As such we want to find the line of least resistance to reaching a goal, if this means using pads to reduce or totally eliminate danger then so be it. What James is right about is that when we do this we need to be honest about the grade, Ulysses with ten pads is not E6, it would be a very, very good high ball boulder problem. 

Totally Insane! He survives BTW, he is the person moving around in the dark at the beginning of the video.
If we want quality of experience over danger then I have been thinking, and investigating the future, and its already upon us, we have just not engaged with the technology. Athletes have regularly been falling over 5 metres on pads for years during the pole vault, and Stunt men have been jumping off building for years onto little more than stacked up cardboard boxes. They have evolved to use crash mats and air bags, and can fall safely from 100ft. I have looked into this market, and you can get a porta-air bag, as well as some very substantial pads. Given enough man power, I am sure we could get any of these to below a gritstone route. I have put a couple of video’s on to give you an idea of the potential, LPT anyone?
Even Madder than the first video!

Outdoor Education for the Disabled

My involvement with outdoor education has spanned over 15 years now, and in that time I have enjoyed introducing people to a variety of apparent ‘extreme’ and ‘life threatening’ situations. However on the other side of the illusionists mirror that risk is not physically there, and often only really exists in the mind of the people I instruct, or as a PhD thesis I am sifting through at the moment would say, facilitate.

Much of my work not matter what has a certain amount of reward, be it helping someone lead their first rock climb, or getting a group of kids to work as a team and help each other over a high horizontal log. Now according to T.T. Ristimaki (2008) in the (Im)Possibility and the Pragmatics of Empowerment, what I do through persuasion, via the creation and blending a series of contextual frames, is manipulate in a positive way, a pathway to empowerment.

In other words I help people develop and grow. Now today would have been no different for me, if it wasn’t for one thing. One of my group in the afternoon had spine defect that has meant that she has been a wheel chair all of her life. In a way I felt that this had defined her for so long, that her wheel chair had become part liberator and part prison. This afternoon we were going climbing, she like most students trying something for the first time was nervous. Despite never having come across this challenge before had to set up some form of framework she could understand. “Impossibility is just the possible poorly framed!” Mark Reeves 21/1/09.

Armed with pulleys and a very elaborate working knowledge of hoists from my Yosemite days, I constructed a 9 to 1 pulley system, to a free hanging belay, and set to work teaching a her how to use jumars and gri-gri’s, and after forty minutes of hard and determined effort, one young girl who had rarely ever been above shoulder height, was thirty feet in the air, beaming from ear to ear. She then abseiled back into her chair, and went onto help her classmates belay each other.

She had got there not through me or her friends hauling, but through her wish to succeed in reaching her own summit. I offered no help but encouragement, and technical support. The response I got was heart wrenching, a day that I hope neither of us forget in a long time.

If you would like more information on Climbing for the disabled or if you’d like the oppotunity to try, the either search for information on the BMC, or if you come to a dead-end then please contact me and I’ll do my best to help you find a solution.

Anti-Doping article

I have just written an overview of doping issues in light of recent activity in Ireland, including a historical perspective, and overview of what’s legal and banned, as well as a few relevant links over on my life in the vertical blog

I was torn between putting it up on this blog and my more conversational one in the end I felt that due in part to its content I preferred not to place it here, due to my belief that I take on climbing as my DNA made me, whilst I would never criticise anyone for taking legal performance enhancing substances like Creatine, I believe that a good diet and proper training can lead to the grades that I am more than happy with.

Who knows one day I might change my mind, but for the time being I am neither greedy nor overly competitive. If you are interested in some background knowledge then jump across and read the article, I just didn’t want people thinking that I was an oracle of doping knowledge, as it was just one of the many topics I covered in performance physiology as part of the taught element of my MSc.

Citius, Altius, Fortius – A brief overview of Ergogenic Aids

With the news this weekend of the Mountaineering Council for Ireland (MCI) having its anti-doping policy banded about the papers and internet forums. When a member of the committee that arranges the Irish Bouldering League (IBL) tipped off climbers on a forum about possible tests, because the MCI ask that they have the paperwork in place for random drugs tests. (see the IBL/MCI anti-doping policy)

This testing seems to have been almost sprung on the competitors in the IBL, and there are many questions that need answering and asking. Whilst the MCI have had the anti-doping policy since 2003, it appears as yet they have been able to implement any testing, especially and this ‘local’ level of competition, where many climbers are there simply for the crack[sic!]. 

In sport taking an substances that can positively affect physical or mental performance, including pharmacological, physiological, nutritional, mechanical or psychological aid, are commonly referred to as ergogenic aids. Arguably even water is ergogenic aid by this definition, however more often the public think of anabolic steroids when performance enhancement and doping is mentioned. 
Whilst Ben Johnson was famously caught and banned for doping in the 1988 Olympics, the dopers until then had manage to stay one step ahead of the enforcers. It wasn’t until the death of three competitive cyclists in 1998 whilst using ergogenic that the International Olympic Committee started to consider the issue widely and the independent World anti-doping Agency (WADA) was set up in 1999. This organisation set up a policy that rules which substances are banned for ethical and medical reasons and was first applied at Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

With the recent recognition of the International Federation of Sport Climbing, by the International Olympic Committee has lead to the situation that we are seeing in Ireland, whereby it seems that the MCI under the guidance of the Irish Sport Council anti-doping rules have suddenly started to implemented the WADA policy that has the ethos removing an unfair advantage and levelling the playing field, for those athletes who didn’t want to win at any cost.

Despite WADA’s efforts to stem their use of anabolic steroids a 2003 study by Boyce into sport in the US estimated that there was 1 to 3 million users, that 67% of Elite Athletes where on the ‘juice’ and more concerning was the result that 1-12% of males in High School were users. An explanation offered is the pressure of gaining an Football scholarship at University is so great that they will go to any length to beef out.

One of the reasons for using ergogenic aids comes from old research carried out behind the iron curtain much of which was destroyed during the fall of the Berlin Wall, which showed that a female shot putter given several months of Anabolic Steroids could throw three metres further, and that by removing the drug before the competition the effects would last whilst the evidence would not.

If you think it was only a minority of competitive athletes then if you saw the drop off in distance attained in the strength dependent female throwing events after doping controls became more effective due to better testing in 1988; where both the world record thrown that year and the average distance attained by the top ten athletes takes a dramatic drop, after that landmark date.

Steroids which famously can have some androgenic (male building effects) with certain types of steroid there is greater or lesser amounts of male building to muscle building (anabolic), the safest one being Nandrolone that Lindford Christie was banned for in 1999. The Earlier anabolic steroids had greater male building effects and lesser anabolic effect. Leading to the concern over these drugs was the questionable sex of female athletes, Jackie Joyner Kearsy and Florence Griffith were described as a gorilla and a man respectively during the 1988 Olympics.

In terms of climbing the use of anabolic steroids may well benefit bouldering, however since until now we haven’t been tested, there has been no way of telling whose doped up and who’s natural. Indeed the problem of enhanced physique became so problematic in bodybuilding that there is now natural bodybuilding federations, allowing those that don’t want ‘roid rage’ to compete amongst equals.

Now with our shift towards the Olympic movement although small may potentially mean that climbers will need a growing understanding of the WADA code. As there are many supplements that we can use legally, that may enhance a climbers performance. However there are some more everyday substances like various cold and flu medicine that are on the banned list. Caffeine for instance has been shown to have a 3% increase in short and intense activities, however it is banned substance if there is more than a certain level in your urine.

At present few if any supplements have been tested specifically looking at climbing, meaning that whilst they might aid running, weight lifting or cycling performance, due to the complexities with the all important power to weight ratio they might not be as beneficial as you would hope to a climber. Creatine for instance is a legal muscle/strength building supplement, that is often mentioned on climbing internet forums, however it increases water retention, so despite making you stronger, might lead to added unwanted weight gain. A second supplement a posh amino acid, HMB offers a similar level of weekly increase in muscle mass to Creatine that may be better for bouldering performance?

Another legal aid is Sodium Bicarbonate, aka baking powder, what this does, other than make you sick, is help buffer against blood lactate accumulation. Through a process that is carried out in the kidneys. This might help improve performance in power endurance, however the sickness effect will make it far from pleasant to use. However given the lengths some athletes have gone to, who knows?

The final physiological drug/method I am going to talk about is EPO and Blood doping, both are virtually undetectable in urine. Simply because Blood doping relies of transfusing out your own blood whilst training at altitude and then re-transfusing it in just before a competition. Therefore the only thing your adding is your own blood that is fortified with red blood cells from being at altitude.

Some clever boffin realised the process that altitude causes and synthesised the bodies natural trigger for producing red blood cells, EPO, as such it is virtually impossible to trace this kind of doping. The only way is literally to catch someone red handed like in the Tour De France a few years back where hundreds of doses where found or through testing the heamocrit level in the blood, which if above 50% is deemed an unnatural level. As higher levels of red blood cells thicken the blood and increase the risk of stokes and heart attacks the phrase ‘Better Dead than second’ was coin about EPO doping by Eichner in 1992.

A psychological active drug that I have seen mentioned on UKC forum are Beta-Blockers, these are often cited as being misused in ‘control’ sports like archery, shoot etc… In climbing the concept is that they may well help you remain calm and focused by essentially switching of your bodies reaction to adrenalin, by blocking the beta-adrenal receptor in the heart. Again like EPO and Blood this method is illegal.

Alarmingly the notion of performance enhancing drugs and therapies is virtually at the cutting edge of medicine, in fact a representative of WADA said “The same kinds of people who cheat in sport today will probably try to find ways to misuse genetics tomorrow”. There are three possible futures that sport scientists are keeping an eye on one is a genetic disorder in humans that leads to myostatin suppression that in turn results in increased muscle growth. Other experiments with mice has lead to what on You Tube has been dubbed Supermouse. Further research might well come from the new altitude research into the mounting evidence that suggests that some people are better at transporting oxygen there red blood cells than others.

Now for most sports that is where the WADA anti-doping policy effectively finishes, you aren’t going to get Chris Hoy smoking a fat one. However climbing is more anarchic, take Chris Sharma who was found positive for cannabis in 2001 and stripped of his world championship medal and winning. This problem of recreational drugs will be an issue for climbers and boulderers. I am not saying that everybody who climbs hard uses illegal recreational drugs, but I would hazard a guess that there are more than a handful.

Indeed research into the types of people who engage in risk-taking behaviour shows that they are statistically more likely to do things like take drugs, drive recklessly as well as pursue a hobby that can result in serious injury or death. We are naturally predisposed to engage in those type of activity, as such we have run a mock for a long time now, and the announcement albeit through what many sporting circles will see as an unsporting whistle blower, that urine tests are starting to be carried out has knock some of the competitors for 6.

Rock Star enjoying a Spliff

Whilst I agree that having an anti-doping policy is important for our sport if we want to be taken seriously by the IOC, I do feel that since these appear to be the first tests, and there appears to have been little to no guidance from the MCI into what is and isn’t allow. That they need to be thoughtful with the punishment, which can be anything from banning an individual from competing for life, to never being allowed to hold a position with the MCI or just a simple reprimanded.

It seems that whilst MCI adopted the Irish sports councils policy in 2003 along with there testing regime they have done very little to police it in the intervening 5 years. Whilst in the short-term this could potentially lead to a drop in participation as climber ‘stay away’ in fear that their until now private life’s become a potentially public and personally damaging story. Although having met the odd Irish boulder I think possibly they are a few more likely to wear a positive test as a badge of honor or kudos, like ASBO’s in inner cities. Unfortunately, the papers are already onto this and I can almost fear the headline ‘Irish Rock Climber: Stoned!’ I guess that if you are going to introduce drug testing to a sport like climbing then you have to expect some kind of teething problems

The BMC is in the middle of trying to decide whether to get fully behind the Olympic bid from the IFSC. As well as develop a new coaching structure to the instructional qualifications. At present there is no information of the BMC website about doping, so for the time being there appears to be a big difference between Ireland and the Britain. The BMC gets a lot of funding from the English Sports Council, and I wonder how long it might be before they are force to implement drug testing at events like the BMC Leading Ladder?


Random Video’s

View from Cwm Y Glo today

Well I was in V12 today and managed to stop any work in there for a minute or two! In that time I got shown a few classic YouTube moments that revolve around beatbox and breakdancing dancing. Cheers Rob, Jim and Jack for the rant. We had a chat about rites of passage as well, but I might have to save that one for another day.

I did manage to get to the wall after weighing myself down with a Pete’s Eats Lunch. Which incidentally made everything way harder than it should be as my body turn all its energy resources to digesting sausage, egg, chips and beans. I got back late this afternoon and have been trying work on a drug taking post inspired by the Irish doping scandal, I still needed to read it through several times as it took a degree of getting my head round. Maybe I’ll get it online tomorrow.

Bangor University Recognises Adventure Sport Athletes

As one of the best universities in the UK for participating in Adventure Sports, Bangor has always been one of the first choices for aspiring climbers, kayaker and fell-runners to choose. Having such a vast array of world class natural resources mean that much climbing and canoeing talent has been nutured here, with alumni in recent years including Tim Emmett, James McHaffie, Pete Robins, Noel Crane, Adam Wainwright and many more older and famous names.

So it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see two £500 scholarships going to a Kayaker and a Fell Runner. However receiving free training advice and the free use of Maes Glas Sport Facilities were

Receiving the Bursaries were:

George Ullrich of Kendal, a first year Design & Technology student at Bangor University. As a traditional Lake District climber, 19 year old George recently featured in the Dave Gill film ‘Call it What You Want’. (Trailer below)

‘Call it what you want’ Official Trailer from SteepMedia on Vimeo.

Nineteen year old Sam Hamer of Pocklington, studying Environmental Management. A former member of the British climbing team Sam has a broad climbing experience and having climbed in Europe, Africa and South America. His training involves a lot of climbing on an indoor wall and specific training such as fingerboard, campus board, bar work (any self deserving climbing needs to do bar work, usually involves pints of beer though), running and gym work. Commenting on the Bursary, he said, “The rock climbing in north Wales is some of the best in the UK and Bangor’s situation is perfect with the sea and the mountains on your doorstep.”

The university reports that “Sorle Haywood is 20 and in her first year studying Sports Science & Outdoor Activities at Bangor University“. However Sorle is a twenty year old man and a keen climber. Winning the Welsh Universities Climbing Competition in 2008 and coming third in the British Universities’ Championships. Sorle is a bit of a local strong man who has developed his immense strength at the Indy Climbing Wall. Even more amazing was that last year he had a very nasty accident removing the tips off a couple of fingers. Here’s a video of him climbing at the Great Ormes making the first ascent of Breck Road Link

Crag of Today: Clogwyn Y Grouchan

Once referred to as the Valley of the Tigers by the more gentile climbers of the Ogwen Valley. Llanberis Pass has a long history with climbing, dating back to the late 1800’s when the ‘mountaineers’ of their day pioneered new and courageous lines up the high mountain buttresses and ridges. Many of these are now considered scrambles. It wasn’t until the great Colin Kirkus and John Menlove Edwards visited the valley in the 30′ and 40’s that the true potential of the low level cragging was unearthed.

Stepping up on Wind, HVS

As one of the closest crags to the road, with a series of abseil points that have popped up over the years means that you never more than one 50 metre abseil from your bags and minutes from the car. This means that the horrible descent gully can be avoided, and that many of the pitches can be cherry picked. The crag has a series of test-piece across the grades, but is probably most famed for the lower grade routes like Brant Direct, Phantom Rib, Spectre and Nea.

Out there of the Stunning and sustained Stroll On, E3

A south facing aspect make this a prefect place to spend an evening after work cragging, before a trip down the pass to the Vaynol Arms for a pint and some banter. Such is the nature of 9 to 5 work in North Wales. Popular with visitor and locals alike, many people will find themselves repeating these route over and over again to relive those special moments like stepping up onto the Phantom Rib, traversing out onto the headwall of nea, being eaten alive by the man size crack of spectre, or pulling over the roof of SS Special to battling up the corner of Brant Direct; Every route a different memory.

Looking up the initial slab of SS Special

I wrote this because after reading climber I thought there crag of the month article simply didn’t do the crag any justice at all.

BMC Vice-president Nick Colton running up Slape Direct 

At the top of the stellar Brant Direct

Phantom Rib VS ***
An amazing route with sustained interested throughout, and some perplexing climbing. At the left hand end of the crag is a raised terrace, start by scramble up on here to directly below a crack with a tree growing out of it.
1. 13m. 4a. Climb the crack past the tree to a ledge
2. 13m. 4c. Step up and right onto the amazing rib, climb this delicately to reach another ledge above.
3. 28m. 4c. From the ledge scramble rightwards to below a couple of hanging grooves near the arete, climb up to the left-hand one and then make a puzzling move right and then back left, before continue up to a large sloping legde, follow this rightwards to the top and a belay/abseil point round a small tree.

Nea VS ***
Another great route, that follows the obvious corner system to the shoulder. Although often looking damp at the start the climbing seems to avoid any drainage line. Start of the same terrace just right of Phantom Rib.
1. 18m. 4a. Follow the corner, mainly of the left wall to a niche, arrange gear and move rightwards round a rib back into the main corner, and move up to a small foot ledge and optional belay.
2. 20m. 4a. Follow the now slabby corner/ramp to the blocky shoulder.
3. 18m. 4b. From the blocks move down to a small left facing groove, and make bold moves back up the groove, to arrange some gear (not particularly inspiring) where a series of large holds lead left and up to the finale groove and the first decent gear

Spectre HVS ***
Possible one of the best routes of its grade in the Pass, the majority of the difficulty comes in eh form of various jamming sections. Start at the toe of the crag.
1. 8m. 4a. Climb the short groove and crack to the right hand side of the terrace, and head right to belay on a good ledge below the corner crack by a holly bush.
2. 24m. 5a. Climb up the corner crack, which can feel a little insecure, where the crack closes up and the corner gets steep (peg) a traverse out left leads to a line of holds lead onto the slab above. Head to the large fissure, and belay below it.
3. 8m. 5a. Move up to and do battle with this short and intense off-width slot.

Spectrum E2 **
A nice main pitch which has a sense or urgency about it. Start to the right of Spectre below some shattered overhangs.
1. 8m. 5b. Boldly climb the overhang to a shallow groove that provides an exit to the ledge above.
2. 25m. 5c. Step right onto the steep slab and follow a thin crack to an overlap, continue on head out towards a rest on the arete below where a crack lead diagonal up and left across a steep wall. Sum up the bravery and commit to the crack, a jug at its end provides a target. Continue up to the large fissure of Spectre, and finish up this route.

SS Special E2 ***
One of the nicer E2 on the crag. Start just to the right of the large goat gully that splits the cliff at a thin crack
1. 36m. 5c. Climb the thin crack up the clean slab, to a broken ledge, head directly up the steep broken ground to a point where it is possible to break through the over hang and make in on the easier ground above. Abseil off.

Sickle HVS *
A nice route that traverses across SS special and often used as an alternative finish in the event of not being able to muster the courage and muscle to make it over the overhang. Start just left of the obvious corner of Brant direct by a 4 metre high pinnacle
1. 15m. 5a. Start up the left hand side of the pinnacle, from the top follow a line of weakness up and left and then right, to arrive at a sloping niche with a couple of pegs (belay)
2. 30m. 5b. Step down and left from the belay and make your way left below the overhang, and follow the wall up and left, until it is possible to follow a groove to easier ground, and then head back right to a block belay. Abseil Off.

Brant Direct HVS ***
A stunning pitch that is a rite of passage of any climber, steep and awkward this pitch often just mentioning its name brings back the fear and dread that this corner can conjure up.
25m. 5b. Climb the steep corner to a sloping ledge at the top, and then traverse right to a battlement belay. Abseil off.

Slape Direct E1 **
This route has taken many scalps, and will continue to do so. Start five metres down and left of the ‘Sentry box’ at the start of brant.
1. 20m A well protected but desperate move leads up a thin crack, to a short right facing groove. Reach the base of the groove is the crux of the matter,

Brant VS **
A good route, that does climb the whole cliff, however after the first pitch the climbing deteriorates. Start at a pinnacle below a sentry box.
1. 22m Climb up to the sentry box and then make a slightly rising traverse left, to gain a ledge. Climb up past a perched block and holly tree to reach the belay. Abseil off.

Rites of Passage

The Hallowed Ground of Rainbow Slab

A rite of passage is a ritual that marks a change in a person’s social status. It is a universal phenomenon which can show anthropologists what social hierarchies, values and beliefs are important in specific cultures“. – Wikipedia

Now whilst climbing doesn’t have any true rites of passage like an indigenous tribe, we do have acts of bravery and fool hardiness that elevate us amongst our peers. A very quick survey of a handful of climbers who had been well oiled with wine and beer led to the several suggestions for key rites of passage for the climber.

Whilst your first rack identifies you as being keen enough to own your own equipment, only using it on your first lead confirms you as a climber as you have made that commitment to being on the sharp end of the rope. From here each grade you breakthrough is a major achievement, however one key rite of passage is your first leader fall on gear you have placed. This key moment shows you that you’re willing to push yourself enough that your willing to fall off trying to attain a grade or route.

However what became apparent very quickly was that just like tribes, different geographic areas have different rites of passage, each passage is aimed at elevating a climbers social status. By that standard should the rite of passage to ascend to the dizzy heights of a Climber in my home village would include having climbed at least one route one every major crag in Llanberis pass, Cloggy, Gogarth and the Ogwen Valley, such is the level of obsession.

However rather than these more generalised rites of passage in climbing there can be specific routes. For instance can someone call themselves a climber in Llanberis if they haven’t climbed Ed Drummond’s masterpiece A Dream of White Horses or Joe Brown’s historic Cenotaph Corner. As you progress through climbing you keep finding the ‘must do’ route of every grade, from Ordinary Route on Idwal slabs to Right Wall on Dinas Cromlech.

However there are other types of milestones in a climbers upward trajectory through social standings. By raiding other areas and pillaging the great routes of the UK or even the world. So ticking Flying Buttress Direct at Stanage, Standing a top the slender pinnacle of The Old Man of Hoy or scaling El Cap are of such note that they can raise an individuals standing in any climbing community. Several years ago now I was busy trying to improve my standing within this quirky tribe, and had a suitable obsession with climbing slate, and inparticular routes on Rainbow Slab.

Running it out on the Rainbow.

What had started off as my first ever climb in Wales, top roping red and yellow… as it snowed and then moving up through the ranks of Pull my Daisy, Poetry Pink and Cystitis By Proxy. Psyched out by Splitstream, I became enthralled by Release from Treatment and the fabled ‘rainbow lob’. The kind of falls that have become myth and legend, the Slate climbers Rite of Passage.

Now this wasn’t necessarily the biggest lob I have ever taken, coming off the last move of Resurrection on the Cromlech and stopping below half height, still holds my personal airtime record. What was special about this lob was that it was on the rainbow slab, and with it in my mind I entered into an exclusive club of climbers who have taken monster lobs of this hallowed swathe of purple rock.

I was reminded of this by a colleague who had spoken to an old climbing partner who remembered my monster lob as a spectator. I had all but forgotten about it, as the thing with climbing rites of passage is you only seem to be as good as your last trick. Now Release from Treatment climbs up to the pipe on Pull my Daisy where you take a right turn and traverse to the Prow, where Poetry Pink belays.

So standing on a good ledge at the start of the traverse I take some deep breathes and look across at the prow. I have that sinking feeling in my stomach, my palms are sweaty, as I know this is going to be a real gripper, as despite being safe the run-out nature of the climb will mean there is a point of no return. So with trepidation I step off the ledge and to my destiny.

Wes Hunter where angels fear to tread!

The first real milestone is the crack of Cure for a Sick Mind, and is anything but what its name suggests, The only cure it offers is a RP0, looking back across the traverse I see that I am unable to return to whence I came, and the tiny wire, little bigger than a grain of rice, just isn’t offering me any solace. The prow is closer now than the last decent runner, so encouraged on by the possibility of success I manage another few moves before I tie myself into a knot that I know I can’t untie.

Instantly I panic, and see the inevitability of the situation I have got myself into. Gone now are the thoughts bravery, as my breathing quickens and shallows, my thoughts pre-occupied with the fear of the fall.

“Watch Us, I am coming off!”
“No you look good up there”
“Ohhhhh! F@£$ing Hell, Shit, Nooooooooooo!”

Now let me explain that long list of words I got out during the fall, as it seemed to take so much time that I actually had time to think and take a second breathe whilst falling. Now the first “Ohhhh!” was my first reaction, as I fell the RP being so close I was hoping that it would hold. The ‘F@£$ing Hell’ was my reaction to the RP snapping, and the true magnitude of the lob becoming apparent, whereas the ‘Shit’ corresponded with my downward trajectory being rapidly changed to an accelerating sideways pendulum, and the final ‘noooooo!’ was the realisation that despite running at full pelt across the slab, my path was blocked by my ropes that now under tension were a good foot out from the rock, making it necessary to hurdle them.

The good thing is it means nothing now, that rite of passage has long been forgotten, by the people I climb with and after all it is those peers that we try to impress! I guess the most important thing is your out there aiming towards the next big test, or at the very least just enjoying the rock.