Gaia: Onsight or flash?

Well there is always something going on on UKC, this time it seems that the discussion of what is and what isn’t an on-sight, this time though the controversy has come because the person who climbed the route downgraded his ascent to a flash, not claiming the Onsight because of he’d seen Hard Grit, where in the opening sequence we see a visiting French climber try and break his leg by falling off it!

Now Alex Honnold, has torn us a new view of trad climbing in the UK. I reviewed The Sharp End, and American film where Alex ripped up the Czech Republic. From this film this guy has not only balls but no shortage of climbing ability as well. Whilst I feel it is a noble act for him to put his hands up and say well I saw someone climb in on a video a while back, he still hadn’t touched the holds or felt the moves.

Now there was a lot of talk of how seeing someone climb a route could totally blow your on-sight of a route. Now whilst ethically this may be the case from a scientific stand point observation can have several effects. In particular seeing someone climb a route allows you what is describe as observational learning, by seeing a video of a route, and watching it over and over and then using this to aid you imagination of that route will help you remember the key crux sequences before you get on a route. Imagery as it is called is one of the most common mental skills that any athlete athletes use to enhance there performance.

However in the report on Climb Magazines website, Alex mentions only seeing the film on TV, he doesn’t talk about watching it repeatedly to analyze the sequence. Similar effects of imagery can be had through simply looking at the route from the ground, and carefully planning and mentally rehearsing your attempt before you head off.

Now for most people when we climb observation of another climber on the route can also improve our confidence to be successful. We often do this subconsciously by judging the person who we are observing against our own perceived ability. So if we see someone succeed and we perceive them to be less able or equal to ourselves then our confidence in achieving that route are increased. There is a lot of research that points to an increase in confidence leading to an increase in physical performance. Again given that Alex won’t have know Jean-min from the Hard Grit film he can’t judge his own ability from that.

As such all the bully about whether or not it could justify an on-sight ascent by many of the armchair critics on UKC (see thread), is just unnecessary. I have never meet Alex, and can’t say if he is a nice guy or an arsehole. However his climbing speaks for itself, I’d give him the on-sight as improving on his style of ascent in this case is going to require us to know exactly how many times he saw Hard Grit and when take was, which just beggars belief.

Good luck to Team America on the rest of their stay in the UK, and I hope they ignore many of the comments on UKC

Snap Shot of my Minds Eye – How was it made?

A few people have ask how it was made, in an attempt to answer this question, I am going to concentrate on the last Deep Water Soloing section, which was by far the hardest most intensive section to produce. It all start with a friend who had a poster by Dave Hockney, he did some famous photomontages. I was out climbing Electric Blue and decided to try and make a massive photo collage. I eventually after two days got all the photos for the collage (over 100 images), it took days to stick all the images to a piece of A1 card!

I lost the collage several years ago. However I still had the negatives, a week of scanning on a flatbed scanner later, followed by a week putting them together with adobe Illustrator, and I had the ‘master’ collage. It then occured to me that I could take a photo away, then save as a Jpeg, and keep doing this until there were no photos left. I would then be able to use each image as a form of stop animation.

I then used Final Cut Pro to zoom in on each JPeg and animate them. This took about two weeks of work, as each frame had to be animated individual. Meaning that each frame had to have an X,y vector start point, a %zoom start point and then an x,y vector finish point and % zoom finish point. The next frame would then have to start at the exact coordinates at were the previous frame finished. So it was an slow and fiddly process!

It wasn’t until several years later that I film people slowing, which happened to be from a similar location, it was then possible to simply add it to the collage.

So that’s how I did it!

Mount Snowdon?!

Well this week on UKC the debate over how the media refer Yr Wyddfa or Snowdon. Now typical any journalist worth their salt on BBC or ITV will refer incorrectly to Wales highest peak as Mount Snowdon. Now obviously this has the potential to get proper mountaineers backs ups. 

Now simply adding a mount in front of the name is nothing to the damage the average Englishman can do to the welsh language. I was once ask for direction to Dolly-girl-loo, it took me a while to realise they wanted to head to Dolgellau or Dull-geth-lie.
However, I want to start a new campaign to rename Snowdon, to simply The Mountain, its a concept that comes from Talkeetna, Alaska. Where all local refer to Denali (notice I didn’t call mount!) as simply The Mountain. You get great conversation like “you going up the mountain”, “No, I just been up the mountain”. It gets real fun if you not going up THE mountain, but going up A mountain, it certain turns head.
 It would also stop all problems with pronunciation.

Coaching Workshop for Climbers and Instructors

There are a series of workshops on offer for climber over the coming winter months. These workshops focus in on different techniques and skills that climber will find invaluable when it comes to improving there own climbing. The concept of the workshops are they will give climbers the tools to go away and improve their own climbing, by giving them a few simple exercises and activities to use whenever climbing.

The workshop can be book via the beacon climbing centre at the cost of £10 per person per session. The topics and dates of the workshops are:

The Training Basics – Tuesday 25TH November
Before you rush head long into training it is vital that you spend the time available focusing on what is important to YOU, and the climbing you want to aspire to. This workshop looks at methods to identify your needs and how to set goals that will keep you motivated. We will also look at warming up and the types of training you might need.

Improving Technique and Aerobic Ability– Tuesday 2nd December
Having a large aerobic capacity, and being able to save energy whilst climbing, will make all the difference to you climbing. This session will show you ways to improve both you aerobic and technical ability every time you go climbing.

Improving Strength and Power Endurance – Tuesday 9th December
This workshop looks specifically at all the ways that we can use the climbing wall to develop both strength and power. We’ll talk finger boards, campus boards, lock off, dyno’s and lunges. We will also look at ways to fight the pump and develop your tenacity when the going get tough, through interval training.

Introduction to Mental Skills for Climbers – Tuesday 16th December
Sport Psychologists have shown that the best athletes have several key mental skills. So whether it be imagery/visualisation, self talk or the ability to cope well on the sharp end of a rope. Here we cover several key skills that will help your mental performance. So if you freeze when above a runner, or just can’t seem to remember a sequence, here we cover a few of the most basic psychological skills.

Coaching Workshop of Instructors – Monday 16th February
Further to these workshops for climbers, there is also a Coaching Workshop for Instructors, this 2 hour workshop looks at how instructors can improve there coaching, by looking at the underlying core coaching principals, the psychology of anxiety and performance, whilst relating them back to teaching climbing and adventure sports.

Workshop FULL – If you would be interested in this workshop then please contact the Beacon at the above link and register your interest. If there is enough interest further dates will be laid on.

The Very Big and the Very Small

Pete Robins was close to having one of the best days climbing it is possible to have in North Wales. To start with Pete rocked up to the Rainbow Slab and very narrow missed out on making a much converted ascent of Johnny Dawes The Very Big and The Very Small a F8b(+) slab. Failing that Pete nipped up the Pass to try a boulder problem that is at the other end of the vertical spectrum, ‘Pool of Bethesda’ first climbed by Paul Higginson is the hardest roof problem in the pass if not North Wales.

Despite trashing his fingers on the painfully thin slab, Pete got the ascent of Pools of Bethesda. If your interested in where the name comes from it is in reference to the famous picture of a load of dogs playing pool, and the story goes that Paul walked into a bar in Bethesda and saw that exact scene! Still its not as bad as the full name given to and reference to Manchester Dogs another of Paul’s problems at angel bay.


I was out with a friend climbing the other day, and he was trying an extremely hard slab route, rumoured to be F8b/+ slab on Slate. As I took photos he climbed with confidence to the crux, however after failing several times to link through the crux he said that he couldn’t do it today, because he didn’t believe his foot would stick to the crucial hold.

Whilst it might sound a little bit ‘Matrix’-esque the fact is that self belief is a key ingredient to so many thing to do with climbing that you simply have to believe. In particular lack of belief brings about doubt and that doubt starts a negative spiral in thoughts and then actions that can only lead to failure.

The trick is to identify what doubts you are having and why, if they are irrational then try rationalising them. So my foot won’t EVER stick to that, to, my foot won’t stick to that ALL the time but it WILL stick one in every four attempts. Which to the sensible people among us would mean that in theory we to have at least 4 attempts before you start to get frustrated.

So if you find yourself saying or especially thinking things like i will never, its impossible or similar totally irrational thoughts. Shout STOP, then write down those thoughts, have a look at then at a different time and try to rationalise them.

Cautionary Tales

For the purpose of these stories various facts about the incidents have been changed, their are no names, no location, no mention of the victims sex and even the cause and details of incidents have been altered to protect the anonymity of the victims and highlight other possible causes of similar accidents. The tales are based on real events from across the globe some of which ended in death, serious injury or just embarrassment. What each incident highlights is thin line we all walk as climbers and the choices that we make can have effect on the outcome of an incident.

The first incident starts at the end of a route, the climber is satisfied and content with what they have achieved, sitting at the top of the cliff the climber removes his helmet, loosens his rock boots and brings up the second. Ropes coiled, the pair set off towards the descent, a misjudgement leads them down the wrong gully and one simple slip on damp grass results in a long tumble. He comes to rest and is rescued his helmet clipped neatly to his harness, the question is; would he have fractured his skull if he’d been wearing it?

This climber made a full recovery over time, and still climbs to this day. Its just nowdays he wears a helmet until he is all the way down. I go further and recommend that at busy crags, especially in the mountains and at sea cliffs that the helmet should be worn until you’re out of the fall zone of debris. I have seen some very near misses at Gogarth and Cloggy with large falling rocks narrowly missing those sat waiting at the bottom of routes. On the international meet in May this year I witnessed a TV size block narrowly missed a climber scrambling to the base of a route, not that a helmet would have made much difference if it hit them, but it might make a difference with the accompanying debris.

The second story starts at the top of a crag before an abseil to gain the start of a route leads to tragedy. What happen to the climber between the top of the cliff and their final rest place could all be conjecture, and most of what follows is. However importantly any of these could have resulted in the same serious or even fatal consequences.

The abseil was retrievable, the incident was a catastrophic failure of the belay or simply abseiling off the end of the rope. Unfortunately all could have been prevented, and whilst you might think you know whom this incident refers to, there are several incidents across the years that this could have been based upon. What I want to concentrate on here is the ways in which a repeat of this can be prevented.

The climber was abseiling to get to the base of the next route and was about to climb back up to the belay. Even if you aren’t returning to the same belay then consider backing up exsisting abseil tat. I have on more than one occasion thought, no I won’t leave a sling, a nut, a cam its too expensive. I have used this argument when abseilling off a big wall on a trip where DMM gave us a rack. On reflection I equated my life being worth less than a cam, wire or sling that had been given to me. We are all worth that extra wire in an improvised retreat in bad weather, a sling to back up that rotten sun bleached mess round a tree.

An alternative hypothesis to the belay failure is abseilling off the end of one or both ropes. Either would have led to the same end; a simple over hand in the end of of both ropes would have prevented the climber abseiling off the end of the rope.

Even if they had done that they could still have caused a failure if the ropes were unequal lengths and the had fed one rope through the belay device whilst locking off the other, to make either side of the retrievable abseil equal. This would have resulted in the tensioned rope working like a saw against the belay, if it was rope on rope or rope on sling it could have quickly sawn through the tat, much better is to feed the rope through a mallion or carabiner

I did this when I was much younger, when trying to lower off a bolt using a prussic, the prussic lasted 5 metres of lowering before it cut through. Fortunately a handy tree cushioned the climbers fall on that occasion. I now keep all my old krab’s for ‘Bail out biners’ on sports routes.

I guess the take home message is be cautious when abseiling in any situation, and be extremely careful when making a retrievable abseil. Use a deadmans handle as a rule rather than an exception.

Another type of incident I have encounter, heard about and witness the pain of is the result of lowering someone off the end of the rope or nearly doing it. One of the most serious was when I was belaying a friend on Colossus wall, a 45m+ cliff. The climber lead up the route but a water streak high up made them take a large fall. A slight lapse in my concentration, meant that some rope slipped through the belay device before I arrested their fall. The climber was 40 metres up the route, the rope that I had let slip through meant that there was only 5 metres of rope left before it would have disappeared through my hands and up the cliff, and the climber taken a 20 metre ground fall. I have heard of similar things happening on long single pitch routes with only inches of rope left before disaster.

The solution is simple, if I had tied into the end of the rope it would have been impossible to let the rope run through the belay device. If you are on a route where you think the length of a pitch is near to or greater than half the length of the rope, tie into the ends. I have seen people be lowered off the ends of a rope on sports route and walk away as the rope was only 3 metres short. I have also see people with broken bones where the rope was 10 metres short, this is getting more common with 35 metre sports routes in Europe where you need a 70 metre rope. All preventable by tying into the ends of the rope.

The final story is one of particular significances, and one where luck if you want to consider this person ‘lucky’ played a valuable role. The climber was leading a route, and like many of us took a tumble. Now a hold could have broken on them, a foot could have slipped, they might of been off route or even simply been out of their depth, either way the leader fell from pitch two of a route.

As they careered downwards protection exploded from the rock as they passed the belayer the ground approaching fast. Other than the belayer the one thing that potentially saved both the climber and possibly the belayer was a good first runner. As well as keeping the climber off the deck it also prevented all the force of a factor two fall impacting the belayer and of course the belay.

Picture yourself out climbing with friends, I am sure that at one point or another one of them has weight the rope, fallen or needed to be lowered off after you have lead a pitch or you top roped them up a short route. How much harder is it to hold someone when belaying from above then when bottom belaying at a climbing wall? Now imagine a climber taking a lead fall in that manner. I doubt any of us could effectively hold a fall that way.

It is also the only possible way that the belay can fail by having a factor two fall impact upon it. So get some gear in early when on pitch 2 or above on multipitched climbs, it totally changes the dynamics of the systems.

The now imagine that the belayer in this incident is a novice second, left holding onto the ropes, unable tie a belay plate off let alone escape the system. This is not uncommon, I often see the more experience climbers leading all the pitches, with the second just along for the ride. Now stuck at the belay the second could have become reliant on passers by to come to his assistance. Would you have been able to sort this situation out if alone, would your second? As a Mountaineering Instructor I have taught many people the basics of self rescue, however it is far from easy, it requires practice in a safe environment and better still proper instruction from someone qualified.

More importantly, does the ‘passer-by’ have a level of knowledge with regards to first aid. Those first 5 minutes are often the most important for anyone who has had a serious accident, and getting some first aid training is vital for anyone walking the line like we do as climbers. Even assuming the best response of a mountain rescue team you should expect a 30 minute minimum response time, perhaps even considerably longer! Would you be able to take the simple actions requires to save a life?

I am an instructor now, many of the incidents mentioned that I was specifically involved with occurred when I first started climbing. I was oblivious to the dangers, in my case I got away with a few near misses, all of which have made me a better climber and instructor. However several of them could have been much, much worse. An old instructor adage is ‘it’s the risks you don’t know your taking that are going to kill you’.

KNOW HOW TO HELP YOURSELF – Get yourself on a self rescue course
KNOW HOW TO HELP OTHERS – Get yourself on a first aid course

Review: Who’s Who in British Climbing

I had previously published this review on another website, and one of the comments, obviously came from the writer or publisher of the book, that comment that a. I was not interested in climbing history, which is true, b. I had used the term several biographies, when to be factually correct it would have to be several hundred pointless biographies, and thirdly I was bitter I hadn’t made the shortlist, which is true, I had to go see a councillor to get over the pain and mental anguish of not making it into this book. Given time the scars will heal!

This is my previous review:

As a photo contributor to this book, I was given a free copy of this mighty tomb, but my excitement as the book fell through the door was short lived. Judging a book by its cover Colin appears to have used a first-year design student to layout the cover, with a photo montage that most 10-year olds can knock together in five minutes.

Whilst the title “Who is Who in British Climbing?” is inticing whether you’d like to hear Colin Wells take on the answer to that conundrum is another matter. The concept of the book is several hundred well-researched albeit opinionated biographies of various climbers from across the ages of British climbing. Whilst some character flaws are glossed over others have had quiet an unnecessary amount of dirt brought up from the past. I guess some of those featured must have previously upset Mr. Wells, fortunately I doubt there be a second edition, so I can attack with impunity.

For the better known climbers, all the entries really do is act as spoilers for anyone who actually wanted to read a full autobiography or biography on that person. For the lesser known climbers you will ask the question, who the hell is that and am I bothered?

To be fair even Colin identifies four groups of people that will hate his book

1. Everyone in it
2. Everyone not in it
3. Bearded men in comfortable cardigans who attend mountain literature festivals
4. People who post on internet forums.

Which begs a question who wouldn’t hate this book, a colleague has made it through to P in this book, but he likes cricket. For me I think it will be little more than a waist of 2 inches of bookshelf, although i do have a picture that needs hanging and no hammer.

Climbing DVD’s: What’s Hot and What’s Not

hate climbing video’s, which for someone who once chanced his arm making them is a terrible thing to admit. However that said there have been a few films recently that have made me rethink my dislike for the genre. Previously other than Stone Monkey and Hard Grit many climbing film were both poor in term of quality, story and content. The proliferation of miniDV cameras, cheap editing and homegrown cinema did very little to improve on the dearth of real quality. Often the best thing on offer was various footage of climbing something hard, edited like a music video and set to some awful techno.

What these three films offer is a look into what is the cutting edge of rock climbing in 2008. In the case of The Sharp End this is what the Americans have to offer. Now I would usually add a joke about Bush, and arse’s and elbow’s around now, but Obama has saved the day. Now in the UK one of the guys in this video has stirred things up by repeating one of the UK’s hardest routes and having the cheek to downgrade it. Now before I saw this film I had a similar reaction. ‘What is some yank doing coming over to our crags, messing with our grades, bla, bla, bla….’ However the footage of Alex Honnold climbing an outrageous arete in the Czech republic made me question my outrage. As whilst he might not up to date on the UK grading system, he sure as hell knows everything about hard on sight traditionally protected death routes.

Basically this film blew me away, having climbed with many people in Alistair Lee’s On Sight film, many of whom are the UK’s best I felt that a few of these Americans really were in a different league. The sheer audacity of some of them left me speechless. Whilst as a film it was less likely to get an Oscar for its story or narrative. If there was one for the most stupid thing you have every seen anyone survive then this would win hands down. I really don’t want to spoil the content but keep an eye out for Dean Potter BASE soloing routes. Yes that’s right, soloing route with nothing more than a parachute for protection! This is a must see film.

After that it was going to be hard for On Sight to compete, however what you get is a British eye’s view of an honest approach to climbing. Fortunately despite trying Alistair doesn’t seem to capture many true on-sight climbs, instead we see many of the UK’s best traditional climbers narrowly missing out on on sight ascents. Since climbing films are really only good when you see people scared out of their minds, screaming for there mummy and then falling off onto poor gear, this made the film way more interesting than if they all succeeded. For anyone that has seen the opening sequence to Hard Grit and liked it then the start to this film won’t disappoint. As we see Pete Robin’s strung out panting at the top of a classic hard grit route, he looks so scared you can almost hear his heart beating out of his chest.

The film then goes on a whistle stop tour of climbs, and climbers who are trying to push the boundaries of what is possible to climb from the ground up – on sight. No cheating by trying the route on a nice safe top rope before hand. Despite the numerous failures, this film does capture the adventure and the effort that the UK’s leading climbers put into improving the style in which a route is climbed. The star of this film is Neil Dickson, who has really taken concept as far as possible on death routes, his ability to remain cool, calm and collected seem endless. Above all this is a heartening film about what the best climbers in the UK are up to, and in a way it is the antithesis of the head point era that Hard Grit spawned, again a must see film, if only for the education in ethics.

The last film that has been released this month is Dave Macloed’s Echo Wall, a documentary about the work that Dave put in to make an ascent of his project high up on Ben Nevis. The film was Dave and his wife’s first attempt at making a film. Now before we get going on the review please bear in mind that any film that tries to capture one hard route, like Equilibrium, E11 and now Echo Wall, all have one thing in common they focus one climber. As such they are more often than not about as interesting as watching paint dry. Perhaps the only film that focuses on one climber that’s worth watching is Stone Monkey, main because of Johnny’s Dawes charisma, something that Dave lacks. Whilst it might seem interesting to hear the trials and tribulations of one of the UK’s leading climbers, climbing a route that is the hardest, boldest, most difficult to get to route in the country, it quickly loses its appeal.

Now Dave is an awesome climber, driven, obsessive, at times probably excessively so. However whilst Louis Therroux may have been able to capture that insanity I think that as a husband and wife team trying to make there first film, they were perhaps too close to the subject matter. As such this film doesn’t cut the mustard compared to the other DVD’s released for Christmas market. In fact I say if you do get this in your stocking fast forward it to the end, watch the last ten minutes where Dave climbs the route. If you do want to watch a film about one route then the best on offer is another film feature Dave, E11 about his last hardest route in the UK, Rhapsody in inner city Glasgow. I like Dave, but unfortunately I don’t like his film.