Photos of Historical Climbing Gear

So I am starting to write a collection of articles on the evolution of climbing gear for Climber Magazine. I can’t say what they are on but they will start in next months Climber Magazine. I am therefore desperately in need of decent hi-res images of any old and by old I am talking preferably pre 1980’s climbing equipment, that you don’t mind being used to illustrate these articles.

So things I might talk about are:

  1. Climbing Irons/crampons/ice axes
  2. Carabiners
  3. Protection
  4. ropes
  5. slings
  6. harnesses

But basically I am really keen to see what people haven their own collections to then maybe share with the climbing world through these articles.


The Safety Revolution?

So I have just finished watching newish video by Grivel. It was longer than needed, but I prised my eyes open with matchsticks and saw it all the way through to the end. Apparently its length was to avoid translation issues (read expenses!), but with the ‘connected society’s’ attention span stretching to all of two minutes I am not sure if they lose more than they gain with that approach! Right at the end the tag line was ‘Join the Safety Revolution’. Which was rather bizarre, as I would like to think I was very much a part of that, but marketing people need to come up with a way to help push their brand ahead of the rest, and in this case use fear as a selling agent. A weapon that governments use well to control us!

In many walks of life there is a famous phase of polishing a turd, which whilst not really getting to grips with the exact problem here, it is close. As climbing equipment has evolved over the years to be primarily safer, lighter and easier to use. If you design something that does not in someway improve one or more of these fields you have made a retrograde step in evolution.

So is the Grivel twin gate a retro grade step in evolution or is it trying to solve a problem that is of negliable importance. First off it doesn’t look lighter. Secondly despite Grivel’s claims that it is easy to use which are probably well founded, I argue that it is never going to be as easy to use as normal snap gate, so in that respect it is a retrograde evolution.

Finally I can’t deny that it is safer than a normal snap gate. However my point is going to come back to the “Safety Revolution”. In all my years climbing, I may have heard that ropes have come unclipped from bolts or pegs, through what I dub the phantom unclip. I have only seen it happen once in literally thousands of routes both climbed and observed over the years. I have never heard of someone dying or being injured as a result, but as I have seen it happen we can assume that people have. My argument is that the chance is so unlikely that does the added encumbrance of a double action gate make it a viable solution to a virtually insignificant problem?

I will leave that up to you to decide, as my idea of safety and using those ‘dangerous’ snap gates that we have all been using for the last 50 odd years, is obvious going against Grivel’s “Safety Revolution”. However maybe your safety net is higher than mine, maybe you know someone who was unlucky enough to have the phantom unclip at the wrong time and like a born again evangelist want to save us from ourselves.

Below is the video, did you watch it all the way through? What did you think of the new device? More importantly are you going to join the “Safety Revolution” or do you consider yourself to already be part of it without this device?

Don’t Look……..Down

Last night I caught the documentary Don’t Look Down on Channel Four, it was another look at the extreme with a big X. Like all these things they tend to hype up the activity when jot isn’t really extreme. If you remember the Base jumping documentary ‘Men Who Jump Off Buildings‘ then they had to do little in the way of egging the pudding.

On this documentary they had to make climbing up a crane seem like a very dangerous thing indeed to do. To all intense and purposes they don’t climb the crane instead they walk up the stairs that the crane operator uses to get up there and the head along a children’s playground an extreme jungle gym if you like. Yet we are to believe that this is extreme.

I have to say they soon show you what’s what, when they start hanging off the structures by their hands. Although again this is little more than a circus trick. Given the UK had seen no deaths in this branching of Free running, I wonder how long till we do now the documentary has promoted this past-time. The trip they make to the Ukraine makes them seem just as nuts as one might perceive them, all with a death wise with 16 young men dying so far.

That journey to Ukraine is something of an eye opener, although the final sequence up the Moscow Bridge makes it look fun. As the ascent looked more like climbing than anything you’d previously seen, followed by a series of stunts by both of the guys. One a real sign of trust and the other a backflip on the top certainly had the wow factor. Interestingly I had a friend whose party trick was doing a backflip on a small round bar table.

Don’t get me wrong the show was certainly nauseating in terms of the exposure in the footage. However whilst they big up climbing along a crane. They made little or no comment on balancing along a beam 160m in the air. Which given that I have tried high lining, you can’t understand how much harder something becomes when you add in the height.

I am wondering how long before someone does a documentary on high lining as you can see from this link it is certainly exciting. Something like the video below!

SKYLINERS – A Documentary by Seb Montaz from sebastien montaz-rosset on Vimeo.

Re…..Introduction to Trad Climbing

For some reason it happens every year to a greater or lesser extent. This year it seems greater than before probably because I have turned to a new sport to see me through the long dark nights and short invariable wet days. But today the swell was insignificant, and the sun was set the shine, so there seemed like I had run out of excuses and had to jump back on board the trad climbing horse.

I worked out it had been over three months since my last trad climb. I think that might be a record, as I usually have a few days climbing work even in the autumn/winter. This year I have had essentially three months off, after I worked myself hard getting North Wales Climbs to the printers in time for christmas. Surfing also gave me much need time of climbing to recharge the psych a little.

So today dusted off my rack and set to racking up at the base of Tremadog. Which was disappointing damp. We chose to start up Striptease a steep and engaging VS, that was slightly damp in places but still manageable and pleasant. Gear went in with relative ease although I was all fingers and thumbs initially, it was possible the awkwardness of placing a cam behind my left ear that made me nearly drop a cam!

Anyway after that we abseil down and cherry picked the top pitches of One Step in the Clouds, which it lap 1 for this year. It is still amazing as ever. llion climbed through the usual belay after the fresh remains of a jackdaw were strewn everywhere. I hope no one is squeamish but the bottom photo is for gross out factor, One for the Crows!

Anyway, the sun came out, rock was climbed and I re-introduced myself trad climbing. Something that is good to do each year after the winter. Ticking easy and familiar routes that dust the cobwebs away. If you want to get the best out of your trad climbing year then I advise you try the same, or better still come on a Performance Climbing Course with Snowdonia Mountain Guides, where we can set you off in the right direction on the correct path to give you the best chance of climbing those routes you have dreamed of climbing for years but never seem to have developed the confidence to lead them.

Llion following striptease
Llion on One Step….
…one of the crows!!!!

Mountain Training Release statement on Transceivers

I have just read the Mountain Trainings statement of transceiver use in Scottish winter. It is interesting giving the post I made a few days ago about possible Unintended Consequences that using avalanche transceivers might have on Winter Skills Courses in Scotland.

The MT statement emphasises that the training of instructors for scotland should be on avalanche avoidance rather than the use of aids to finds and rescue. Its main reason is that trauma is more likely in Scotland with thin snowpacks. So being avalanched should be avoided as you are as likely to die from injuries as burial. The full report is here.

Free Wales… or Open It!

The welsh assembly government are set to review access laws in Wales. Whilst we have pretty good access, the law could go further to opening up the land for responsible recreational access.

One example is The Coastal Path for instance is a joke in bit of Wales as land owner have forced it to divert hundreds of metres inland. So much so many part of the path the sea is not actually visible. Also access to many sea cliffs is problematic because of this.

At the moment the powers that be are trying to judge public opinion, with meetings and online feedback. What you need to remember is that whilst people like me that are pro access there are many equally vocal landowners who will be fight and campaigning to curb additional access.

What we need is to garner all the people like us and get them to visit the BMC’s website. Where there is a page with a short article and a button at the bottom that says click to support the Open Wales campaign. You all need to click this and if you blog or use social media get your friends to do the same and then get there friends to do the same.

So show your support to an Open Wales and then share the website on you Facebook page, twitter feed or blog. All it takes is a click.


Skool Daze

So I have been working with some kids teaching them to climb, well using climbing to promote team work, communication and self confidence. That or some other educational aim in that I might have summed up one session after we ran out of time for a second roped climb that “climbing was like life, you only get one chance so make it count!”

I think the philosophy of that statement was lost on 12 year olds. The other ‘funny’ thing I did today was overhear two of them talking about how Hilter was bad because he killed kids. I had to correct them and say, “he didn’t just kill kids he killed so many he had to industrialise the whole process.”

“What do you mean he industrialised killing?”

“Well he killed so many people he had to make a factory to cope with the number of bodies he was dealing with”. Apparent the holocaust isn’t in the history syllabus till next year, the kids look so horrified, I decided not to correct myself by saying sorry I meant factories! Anyway good fun working with the these guys and I have another  day and a half to go

Splits Tips, Talent and Training

So I have been doing more climbing than surfing recently, to the extent that I was back to winter form at the beacon. However all that training has meant I split a tip, not worn through to nothing but one of those annoying tears across. I have been religiously super gluing in shut for as long as possible and had several intense sanding session. Harsh as it sounds it is the best medicine, if i patients is not your thing.

So instead of boulder I have been using the rings and peg board. It is funny how easy it is to see progress in raw strength when there is no technique involved. For most people focusing on good footwork will be far more beneficial than getting strong, but at least I can use these with a split tip.

This evening it was apparent that all the training in the world wasn’t going to get me real talent. I once read a story about ‘pedigree’ in climbers. Suffice to say tonight there was a top dog in and I did ask him nicely if he could make some of the problems look hard as he waltz across a V8, with less effort than me on a V0 warm up problem. He then headed to the routing roof, where he probably tore up a few F8 grade routes before joining us in the pit of despair looking like we were about to bust a blood vessel trying to do a dip on the rings!

Anyway, it made me wonder how boring it is when every problem is easy?

As for training it looks like I am going to have to work core and conditioning over the next week or so until the finger sorts itself out!

The Law of Unintended Consequences

I think I have chatted of these before, it just so happened they came up as a result of a chat I was having today about avalanches and preventative actions, and what might the Unintended Consequences be. Before I get onto that thorny subject I thought I would examine the sorts of thing I am talking about.

The biggest and one of the first unintended consequences was the introduction of rabbits to Australia. Where they effective breed like rabbits until they started to cause widespread ecological damage. Although not as ironic as cane toads that were introduced to control pest and became a pest themselves.

One of my favourite and I apologise if you have read this before is the kindergarten that started to charge a penalty payment for parents who were late picking their kids up. Rather than reduced the number of parents who turned up late it increased it. The reason apparently was that the parents thought they were paying for being late so felt less guilty about being late. So perhaps they should have named and shamed the parents to increase rather than decrease the guilt!

There are also arguments that the introduction of Ski helmets isn’t reducing injuries or fatalities (although I have not seen the exact figures) as people feel protected so just go for it on harder, steeper, more dangerous lines. The same is said of avalanche airbags, people dropping slopes ‘safe’ in the knowledge they can deploy there airbag and float down on top of the avalanche. So where something was designed to help keep people safer is actually meaning people are taking more risk in the first place.

Which brings me to a discussion today about a centre in Scotland that had a few avalanche incidents last years, so its answer isn’t to ask what is going wrong with the instructors decision making. Instead they have brought a load of avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels and every group has to be trained in their use. To me it seems like they are putting the cart before the horse.

Now I am not say that the staff are making bad decisions, instead I think there is a need to think long and hard about last year. As we probably had snow lying in deep enough accumulations to avalanche for maybe twice as long as we normally do. So you’d expect that if that statement is right about the length of winter, and you’d need to check, that we’d have twice as many accidents.

However, I can certainly say from a Welsh perspective that I have not seen so much snow since I moved here in 1998. More snow means much high risks of avalanches. So has the SAIS had a look at their data to see whether there were a greater number of ‘higher risk’ days than the previous year(s). Again if this is the case then we’d expect more incidents in an order similar to the ratio of higher risk days last year to normal number of high risk days.

Finally if there are more avalanches than the centre would normally expect but the above two reasons are not accounting for the increase, then is there a problem in the training and assessment of their staff and winter mountain leaders/instructors in general. This could be a problem with entire Winter qualification scheme. I am not say that it has sudden changed or the level dropped. What I think it more likely is seeing that in recent years the winters have been lean. With so little snow the need to make ‘real’ decisions in tricky situation may have been lost to a generation of winter instructors. You can only assess a theoretical knowledge to a point, after that you do need to have interesting snow to see how candidates really behave in tough conditions.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts on it. Whether or not it will help to have every client wear a transceiver, I really don’t know. It will of course allow a more rapid recovery, although given a deep multiple burials in a confined gully, how much quicker that recovery will be is a big question. In shallow single victim burials it will no doubt dramatic speed up recovery. Although how that will weigh against the possible negative effect of added risk taking is yet to be tested.

Having a background in sport psychology I think it would have been a very interesting before and after study on the attitudes to avalanche risk with or without the whole group transceivered up. I can only imagine that at some point faced with a decision whether or not to risk a dangerous slope, that with transceivers it will be much easier for the instructor to say yes to.

Be safe out there, as I am hoping that winter may well be on its way soon. If you are going out and want to have a basic understanding of avalanches for moutnaineers then I have written a basic eBook for Kindle and iPad. I also wrote short piece on the human factors and heuristics in decision making in avalanche terrain on Snowdonia Mountain Guides.

PS EDIT: Seems the BBC documentary on last years avalanches would support the two ideas of more snow and longer winter. I recommend you check it out here.

Coaching Videos

Well I treated myself to a tripod and a mount for my iPad, I headed to the wall a couple of days ago and made a few coaching videos. They are no speilberg epics, but they get the points across. I am hoping to do a few on technique and training to help climbers to improve. I will link them to the iCoach climbing’s performance profiling tool and training library soon.

For now though feel free to visit my coaching blog where I will be putting them up as I edit them. You can get them early by subscribing to my youtube channel.