Photo: Dragging Along, Cheddar
© David Pickford

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

No Money No Fun

I was feeling on a high after having sent Progress then dropped straight back down to earth when I looked at my bank balance. Tricia and I wanted to go on another trip before she had to return to work from maternity leave: we needed to make cash and fast! We devised a plan: I would go to work!
But how would we save any money?
We devised a second part to the plan: Luckily my dad owns a pretty tatty house need the centre of Bristol which was being rented out to some climbers and their mate Jim (Jim most definitely not a climber but knows all the lingo). There was a spare room going so what better way to save money than to move in for the summer – cheap rent and shared bills would mean we could save up pretty fast.
Luckily the boys agreed to having a baby in the house with the proviso that we wouldn't complain about the mess!

Ciara: complaining about the mess!

So through July and August I was general dogs body helping my friend out doing a loft conversion. I did a little bit of climbing in my old haunt of Avon Gorge, including onsighting Dick Hall's new route, Ares E5 6C, but apart from that I took a climbing chill out.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Yorkshire Limestone Please Don't Spank Me

I love living in Bristol, but one massive downside is the fact that you're five hours drive from the best sport crags in the country. I'd always wanted to spend a good chunk of time in Yorkshire but had never had the opportunity. Whenever I'd gone travelling I'd always opted to go somewhere hot. I'd never heard of anyone going “travelling” to Yorkshire. But then I had one of my famous Eureka moments: I'd do just that!
It was too hot in Spain: Yorkshire was the perfect antidote: cool air, thankfully settled weather and dry rock.

Tricia and Ciara hanging out in Haworth
We found a little house to rent in the village of Haworth: bills all included for £600 a month. Now to us Bristolians this was a real bargain. When we arrived the house was definitely on the characterful side: in fact it was totally wonky tonky. But it was bright and had a big front room which Ciara could roll across til her heart's content. It also had bunk beds which made us feel like we had entered into the realms of “family accommodation”. Still somehow we managed to use the words “bunk-beds” to persuade our friends to come and visit.

Ciara and me hanging out in the wonky tonky house

My big goal was to climb an 8B+ or an 8C. I had True North in mind, but having spent only a couple of days at Kilnsey before, I thought it would be right at the limit of what I could achieve. Also Malham and Kilnsey have big reputations and legendary hard grades: I felt intimidated by the prospect of climbing 8C at either of these crags.
At the beginning of my trip I nearly onsighted Soft Option 8A and almost flashed Grooved Arete 8A+ so my confidence grew. I then jumped straight on True North. I found the bottom section (Full Tilt 8B) quite hard but a few days later realised that my sequence was rubbish. With the new easier way of climbing this section, I had enough power to do the whole route. Reaching the chains on True North I felt happy but knew I could climb harder.

The impressive North Buttress at Kilnsey:
here I'm on True North
I gave Northern Lights 9A a couple of gos. I could do most of the moves but felt I wouldn't have enough time to complete it during the to come back for?
I diverted my attention to ticking some of the other classics at Kilnsey including Ecstasy 8B, All Out 8B+ and Yorkshire Ripper 8B.
I found I still had some time left. I decided to try Northern Exposure 8B+ and found the style didn't suit me but I got a good look at the route to the right: Progress 8C+. I spoke to Steve Dunning about it. He has tried the route in the past and gave me some really good beta. This, excuse the pun, speeded my Progress and it was great to send the route after 6 days effort.

We met some great people in Yorkshire. After feeling intimidated about climbing at the great northern crags it was brilliant that the scene was actually really friendly.
Of course we had to have a calamity with our van: this time it was the handbrake failing on a steep hill. We felt we had got off lightly with a smashed bumper: fortunately the van had rolled into a wall rather than another car or the busy road below.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A Week in the Peak

I'd rushed back from Spain because the heat was getting to me, I was feeling low about Woody's death and also missing my baby. I winded up spending a few days at Tricia's parents' house: they are very hospitable but they live in Bedfordshire and it's very flat. I think I need hills or mountains around to walk or climb up or I start to get itchy feet. So I proposed to Tricia that we should go and spend a few days in our old trusty van - just like old times. There's something about staying in our van that has always made us both feel really happy (apart from the time in North Wales when I locked her in the back because she was annoying me – I'd just scrapped another car and she wasn't too pleased – it was the kinder surprise's fault).

The weather was glorious so we headed up to the Peak.

I re-visited some places I hadn't been to in years with some old friends. It was pretty sunny so at times really relaxing, but as the clip below shows being a climbing dad can be quite challenging. I've never really liked Tricia's singing but Ciara loves it. Usually a few songs in Tricia's angleic tones will settle her down...but not on this occasion...

Heatwave at Raven Tor

Saturday, 12 March 2011


Climbing in Mallorca may not be world class but it is top class.

It's a great venue to go to with babies and young children: easily accessible crags, friendly locals who are happy to help out with belaying and beta, cheap accommodation. One of our favourite places to go was Les Perxes: an impressive cave that you could push a pram right up to. Not much of worth under 7B but some classic 8s: including Commando Madrid 8B. Just missed out flashing this one: despite sending Tricia up to the brush all the holds (first time I've ever tried this but wouldn't recommend it – for some routes you just have to man up. Flashback: when I was trying El Membre in Sirauna I got it into my head that I needed to preserve all my energy for the route. The route didn't come into the shade until the afternoon so one day I spent the morning refusing to lift anything and got Tricia to carry all the gear to the crag: she was very over-laden! With hindsight it must have been quite funny to see her struggling down the path to the crag and me marching ahead. But I was so in the zone I didn't care. When it came to trying the route I had my worst session. Conclusion: the route needed me to man up!)

Commando Madrid, Les Perxes

 Fraguel is one of the classic crags in Mallorca and I managed to tick most of the best lines here. Nice one! Football Fan 8A is simply perfect (so much so that my mate Rupert came back out to Mallorca specially just to try and get it ticked). And if you are a bit sadistic like me and enjoy nasty, fingery cruxs then Amnesia 8B+ is one for you! There's plenty of easy stuff at Fraguel too so the Mrs was able to build up some climbing confidence again post-baby. She says check out Cous-Cous 6C. The only downside with Fraguel is that it's 5miles drive up a big mountain and this burns the petrol as we found out to our cost: After a successful day climbing we couldn't get the van started as we'd run the tank dry. Usually Tricia is very careful about things like this but the incident happened shortly after Woody's death: and death somehow makes you feel that you need to live life to the full and in the moment (like Woody did), and not worry about such things as petrol – just see where life takes you. Well it took us to being stuck. Luckily this odd, but very intelligent man and his dog came past in their 4x4. He managed to toe us to the start of the decent road and then I had to just roll us down the hill with no power: fucking scary stuff with no brake fluid and sharp turns. The odd man then pointed us to a garage and wished Ciara luck with having parents like us! (“No petrol in the mountains?” he repeated countless times in an incredulous voice whilst shaking his head. “I thought British people were meant to be clever” - sorry fellow Brits we let the side down).

Amnesia, Fraguel

The best route I did in Mallorca was Totes Fosca 8A+ at Gorg Blau. One of the most stunning lines I've ever seen, completely solid rock and beautiful moves. Location wise Gorg Blau is a long drive on a windy road but the views on the drive are wild and rugged, a different landscape to the rest of Mallorca.

I also checked out a few new crags that aren't in the guide book including a cave near Calvia called the “Museum”. It's the biggest cave with climbing on the island with routes from 6b+ to 9A. There are two fantastic 7Bs. Definitely worth checking out if you like the steep stuff.

And how did Ciara enjoy her holidays? Well I knew climbing with a baby at the crag was going to make life harder but I wanted to make sure that she enjoyed her days out too. I came up with a few ideas to keep Ciara amused, or even better asleep. Our methods were all quite “home made” and improvised so probably won't be going on Dragon's Den any time soon. Her favourite was using her car seat as a swing which we attached to trees or bolts. As an add on we could attach a length of rope to the swing and run it to the side of our harness then gently sway, creating a lovely rocking motion for her, whilst we were belaying a safe distance away. Check her out, sleeping like, uh, a sleeping baby:
Ciara nice and snug

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Journey to Mallorca

Bristol - Dover
We almost didn't make the boat.

4am The van was packed. We'd cleared the flat out and posted the keys through the letterbox. We were off!! Started driving out the car park. Flat tyre. Shit. Got the wrench out. Only it wouldn't fit properly on the nuts. Double Shit. It was a very old looking wrench and the nuts were on really tight. It kept falling off each time I tried to turn it. I got Tricia to stand on the wrench and jump up and down while I tried to hold it in place. It wouldn't work.

5am. A car pulled into the car park. Two guys. They stood and looked for a while. Scratched their heads. Then turned on their headlights to give us more light. Then they tried turning the wrench. All to no avail. More head scratching. The weed was intercepting the neurones.

5.30am Eureka moment! One of the guys went and looked in his boot and came back with a shiny new wrench. He fitted it on and turned. It worked. Job done and we were off. But not before the guys had shared a baby wipe with us to clean our hands, and these two super heroes turned round and drove away into the night. I'm not sure why they were driving into our deserted car park at 5am (although I could have a good guess)...but they came just at the right time.

But it was when we were on the M4 that I realised that my favourite relaxing CD had been forgotten: Brazilifcation. An argument ensured over whose fault it was that the CD was not where it should be. Well it wasn't an argument over this exactly – it was clearly Tricia's fault that the CD was gone but we argued over whether or not she was the worst girlfriend ever for not having sorted the CDs out properly. Outcome: not the worst girlfriend ever but she came pretty close. Surely I wasn't just being childish?

Calais - Barcelona
But soon we were cruising through France...when this light came on in the dashboard of the van. At this point, Tricia declared that perhaps it was time to turn round and go home. Nothing was working out. She was stressed out anyway: taking a 2-month old baby to Mallorca in a van isn't what everyone does and sometimes she worries about her life not being conventional enough.

But the van seemed to be driving ok so we carried on. Phew!

Barcelona - Mallorca
Finding Barcelona port was a bit of a challenge. And despite being 6 hours early we somehow almost missed the ferry. But luckily the police thought our camper van looked a bit “dodgy” so they came over to check out what we were doing parked between two massive lorries. And then they escorted us into the right queue. Phew! Or that would have been a wasted journey.
The ferry ride was lovely. So smooth compared to an Irish Sea crossing. Or the ferry to Lundy...!

Port d'Andratx Mallorca
We arrived at our apartment at 5am. It was lovely. We fell on to the bed into a deep sleep.
8am. The biggest pecker I have ever seen in my life started digging up the road right outside our flat. The whole flat shook. It was so big!!! You wouldn't believe it if you saw it! And I'll tell you something funny about this pecker. It was with us for the whole two months that we were in Mallorca, apart from the weekends and the times the guy was on his breaks. Tricia didn't know what a pecker was at the start of this holiday but she knew by the end...! On day one we said there is no way the digging can last more that a week..., then two weeks..., then three. And after that point we accepted it was here to stay: it's Spain and they love digging up things and they don't have the concept of noise pollution. But Tricia, ever to look on the positive side, was pleased that it meant we got up and out climbing early everyday!
And so... to the climbing...but first a beer...