If you are feeling the need to be more adventurous, books are a great way to feed your imagination. You don’t have to be planning to summit Everest, free climb El Cap, or BASE jump desert towers to be inspired by these women and their adventurous approach to life… Continue reading
2014 is over and I’m already anticipating everything 2015 will bring, but before I race too far ahead I’d like to take a moment to appreciate some of the best bits of this year. Here are my five favourite climbing experiences:
- Camino del Rey, El Chorro, Spain – 1 January 2014: This is a via-ferrata-type experience on a
crumbling concrete and rusting iron walkway. It was built more than 100 years ago to allow hydroelectric plant workers access around the gorge, but fell into disrepair and became accessible only to climbers. Having never done via feratta before, and having a sheer drop to the valley floor between my feet from the first move, initially I was scared and backed off the Caminito. Left on my own at the start of the walkway though, I realised I didn’t want to miss out, and I made my way across polished limestone and rusted iron bars to catch up with my partner. It was a unique and atmospheric experience, never to be repeated as the authorities in Spain have since rebuilt and reopened the walkway as a safe and accessible tourist attraction.
- Via Media (VS 4c), Stanage Popular, Peak District – 1 March 2014: This was one of those days that remind me exactly why I climb. In spring sunlight with clear blue skies Stanage looked beautiful. Stanage Popular has an abundance of routes, but I always notice Via Media. It’s a 10m route that starts with a thin straight crack on a flat wall and it went on my wishlist as soon as I saw it, even when I thought the grade was way beyond me. It doesn’t happen often, but on this day almost all my climbing partners were out and at the same crag, creating a happy atmosphere. Clio belayed for me, I always feel particularly proud to climb routes with her as we don’t often see two girls leading routes together. All around me routes were being ticked, and I ticked mine, no drama, just an enjoyable climb at one of my favourite places with some of the best people.
- Doorpost (HS 4b), Bosigran, Cornwall – 18 April 2014: When I first learned to climb I would
happily second every route, but now that I’m learning to lead I feel the need to pull my own weight a little more. Alt-leading is such a rewarding climbing experience, combining the luxury of seconding pitches in fantastic positions with the challenge of leading. Doorpost is a classic three pitch route at one of the most popular sea cliffs in Cornwall, and Jonny was able to lead an E-grade first pitch to make the route more interesting for him. I led the second pitch, technically the crux but really very straight forward, and Jonny led the final pitch. We spent a long long time at the first belay ledge, due to a slightly over-confident third person in the party ahead of us realising that he actually couldn’t second HS in trainers. All the more time to look out at the sea, watch for seals, and enjoy the Cornish sun.
- Slam the Jam (6a), Horseshoe Quarry, Peak District – 15 May 2014: I wouldn’t recommend this route to anyone, the bottom half involves a broken up groove which in Horseshoe Quarry style feels like it could collapse if you stand on the wrong part of it. The bolt that would protect the crux felt a bit too high and resulted in shaky precarious clipping, much slack, and a nervous belayer (Clio). But the finish is no-excuses hand jamming for several moves through a roof and up a rightwards slanting perfect hands crack. This is when I realised that I really had learned to jam! I was so amazed I led it twice, just to check that I didn’t dream it.
- Nutcracker 5.8, Manure Pile Buttress, Yosemite Valley – 15 September 2014: Yosemite granite schools us and schools us again. This time the lesson was that one litre of water is not enough for two people on a 150m 5 pitch climb during a heat wave. We had just arrived from autumn in the UK and hadn’t anticipated just how much heat would radiate off the rock. This is one of the most popular routes in Yosemite, so we should have realised when it was deserted that conditions wouldn’t be great! The route follows a series of cracks, the first one being the hardest with a pumpy and slippery layback round a roof. After that the climbing is never too hard, but certainly interesting, including a very intimidating looking mantle up a slightly overhanging corner. Long multipitch is what climbing is all about for me, we don’t get to do it very often in the Peaks where the longest route is around 35m. I didn’t lead any pitches, so thanks to Jonny for this experience.
Now… Onwards to 2015 and all it’s adventures, planned and unplanned, bring it on… Happy New Year!
In September this year I was fortunate to travel around California for the best part of a month, and I was looking forward to the holiday as a period to take time out and reflect on the big questions I felt life was asking me.
It’s the longest time I’ve travelled and I was able to take so long because, as a result of the continuing public sector cuts, I was offered voluntary redundancy. After five years at the same place the time felt right to move on and I saw it as an opportunity. But needing to take potentially life changing decisions naturally caused me to question… What do I really want to be doing? Where do I want to be heading? What am I doing with my life??!
We flew into LA, driving for hours through hellish traffic to arrive at Joshua Tree national park in the dark, grateful to find a free space at the Hidden Valley campground. Our headtorches illuminated the bulk of the boulder-like formations that the camping spaces nestled beneath.
We were woken by coyotes howling, one group yelping frantically nearby and another replying from somewhere in the distance. It was 6am, but with an alarm call like that there was no way we were going back to sleep. The sun had just come up, and looking around at the unfamiliar rocky landscape I felt I had travelled to another planet.
Scrambling to the top of the tall ridge that formed the far side of the campground, I looked back down and saw an expanse of white sand and pale yellow-white granite. Over the other side lay a vast and perfectly flat plain crowded with the Joshua Trees themselves, their unusual shapes poised like joyful dancers.
Joshua tree is beautiful and like nothing I had ever seen, and as the sun rose, the mountains on the horizon glowed a deep wild-salmon pink.
When you’re car camping in California, life is simple. Finding it too hot in the south, we travelled up Highway 395 through Inyo County, the High Sierra mountains always visible to the West. Passing through Bishop, Mammoth, and on to Yosemite National Park, we stopped off at Pleasant Valley, Twin Lakes, and Tuolumne Meadows campgrounds.
The days assumed a rhythm that started with the ritual of coffee. I love that solitary time in the morning before most people wake up, listening to the muted blaze of the stove for the moment that the pot bubbles announcing the arrival of coffee. The day seems suspended in that moment of waiting, perfect in its possibilities before caffeine catapults me into action.
Each day we would climb, locating new crags, navigating walk-ins, and tackling the routes. Or I would hike, almost disbelieving at the start of the day that I really would be at that highest point of the horizon, and back again before dark. As darkness fell the various climbers, boulderers and hikers would reconvene at the campground to hear about each other’s days and plans for the next day. Food and drink tastes better when you’ve earned it, and as we clustered around the blue stove flames to cook we savoured the taste of local brewed ale, inventing ingenious ways to remove the bottle tops.
Some nights the milky way would appear bright in the clear sky, and I watched its rotation feeling insignificant, peaceful, and incredibly lucky. As each day started with coffee, it ended with making the beds, another ritual which involves clearing the back of the car and making sure the roll mats are smooth, creating pillows out of down jackets, laying out the sleeping bags in the exactly the right position. And then – glorious sleep.
Moment by moment by moment, I was absorbed. I didn’t think about the future, or worry about what might or might not happen. As a way of living, it felt so simple and so pure, focusing all my attention on each event in my day as it happened. I know it’s not possible to be on holiday constantly, I don’t want to run away from my life and become a rootless traveller. There’s a danger in living for future plans, as much as there is in living in the past.
I went away thinking that time out would give me perspective, and I came back wanting the opposite of escapism. I want to be present right here, right now. Too much reflection can become a distraction, so maybe I did find the answer to the big questions… stop questioning.
I have mixed emotions when I look at this picture. It was posted on UKC and was voted into the top 10 two weeks in a row. The route is Bony Fingers and as you can see it’s a continuous finger crack on an otherwise blank granite face which is dotted with round black ‘knobs’. What you can’t see is that I was crying with fear and frustration as I struggled to second this route.
The day started full of promise in the Pleasant Valley Campground just outside Bishop, with a drive through towns with truly American names like Independence and Lone Pine. The road climbed steeply into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and in no time we rose from an elevation of 4,000 feet to over 8,000, Highway 395 less than a hairs’ breadth in the panoramic view of the valley we’d left behind. At Whitney Portal, granite towered above us on all sides, framing the jagged peaks of Mount Whitney.
The walk-in began on a beautifully soft trail of pine needles where in the higher altitude and thinner air an uncompromising clear blue sky contrasted against greywhite rock and occasional vivid green pines. Looking up we saw The Whale, the hump of rock split by our route, but we missed the approach and the walk in became a sweaty and frustrating ascent through a boulder field. We finally reached the route feeling dehydrated and testy.
The 90 meter finger crack is undeniably beautiful. And yet as I watched my partner lead the first pitch, beginning with a hard thin slab and then a run out traverse, I just felt a flat sense of dread. As much as I’d trained, I find finger cracks painful and difficult to climb. I’m scared of traverses and this one definitely required as steady a head for the second as the lead. I began climbing already defeated. I struggled, I pulled on quickdraws. We left gear to protect me on the traverse. I was terrified, and couldn’t muster the spirit to climb English 5c move after 5c move. Something about the whole experience overwhelmed me, and just below the first belay my partner lowered me off with tears in my eyes.
I don’t know if I defeated myself, or if the route defeated me. I left Bony Fingers disillusioned and frustrated – unsure if I even love climbing any more. One of the things I do love about climbing is the places it has taken me to. Although I didn’t have a great time on what should have been a classic route, my lasting impression is the feeling of experiencing that place for the first time – the sheer expanse of granite, the sense of distance from the valley below, the summit of Mount Whitney another 6,000 feet above us, looking so near and yet so far. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but Mount Whitney is not only the highest peak in mainland USA, it is also the start of the John Muir Trail. I still haven’t figured out how I feel about climbing, but when one door closes another one opens. I have a feeling that next time I go through that Portal the journey might end in more Happy Isles…
Does anyone else have shoes that they use as both approach shoes and trail shoes? Which shoes do you use for running on rocky terrain and why? Here’s my review of the best shoes I’ve found so far…
I had been searching for a while for multipurpose trainers that could be used as approach shoes and for trail running. I’m not sure there is a shoe designed for both, but I was finally recommended the Adidas Adizero XT4 by experts at my local running shop www.frontrunnersheffield.co.uk .
The first thing I notice when trying on shoes is the style – it’s not the most important factor and functionality always takes precedence for the final choice, but I still want to look and feel good in my gear! Women’s shoes generally aren’t made in my size, so in the past I have had to buy shoes in chunky masculine styles. The XT4’s orange white and black colours are gender-neutral, and I love orange so I was excited to wear them. They look enough like ‘normal’ trainers that I was happy to wear them with jeans in the day – this is important to me when I’m travelling and I need to take the smallest amount of luggage.
Adidas shoes generally have a slim fit, my AdiZeros are size 8.5 when I would usually wear size 8. I have long skinny feet, and have had problems in the past with shoes that are too wide, meaning that my feet slipped around inside them. The AdiZeros felt secure with enough space to be comfortable, but they didn’t come loose or rotate around my feet, even on rough terrain. The fit is perfect for me, but might not suit people with broader feet.
I really tested the AdiZero XT4’s performance on a month long trip to California – with only this one pair of shoes! Encountering a heat wave I covered around 10-15 miles a day hiking and trail running. They were comfortable from the start and didn’t need wearing in, I never had any blisters despite long hot days, and the mesh over the toes means they’re breathable and felt cool. They were perfect for hiking and running on the granite and sand trails, although the mesh uppers meant that on dusty sections the toes quickly filled with sand.
When the heat wave passed I managed to get on the rock and climb, and for cragging and longer days the XT4s were exactly what I wanted in my approach shoe. The Continental rubber soles are super sticky, and I felt confident even on smooth granite slabs and domes. They aren’t stiff enough to be perfect approach shoes, but they don’t claim to be. I prefer a lighter and tighter fitting shoe so that I can feel the rock under my feet, and I found them grippy enough to scramble where necessary.
One of my favourite features is that at 280g the shoes are really light, which is a bonus when travelling with luggage restrictions. After a long day I never felt that they were weighing me down, and they are perfect for attaching to a harness. I was concerned that the gear loops and stitching appear flimsy and may pull out over time, although it hasn’t been a problem so far.
Back in the UK, and the XT4s became my trail racing shoes.There is a section of sharp spikes in the centre of the sole which I really noticed in wet conditions when I knew that they were biting into mud and grass. I used them for routes over grass, woodland, and short bursts on the road – you can run on tarmac in them if you want to, although the rubber will wear faster and there isn’t much cushioning so it feels pretty harsh.
Now the clocks have gone back, I have been using them as fell/trail running shoes in the dark, rain and fog around the Peak District. In previous trail shoes I have slipped while running in the rain, but I have learned to trust the Adidas XT4s, and feel confident in them, even on wet rock. After running through streams and bogs my feet felt warm again quickly and there was no disgusting squelchy sensation. The light and airy construction of the shoe means that they dry quickly. My main gripe is that the laces come undone frequently, and perhaps textured laces or a different lacing system would be better.
The shoes have taken a hammering over the past few months but in spite of the light construction and several layers of dirt, there’s not too much wear yet. My favourite features are how light they are, the sticky rubber soles, and the look of the shoe. The slim fit won’t suit everyone’s feet, and you would want to buy more specialist shoes if you have a specific purpose, particularly for fell running. They are in the mid to upper price range (RRP is £80), but for me although they are sold as trail shoes, they have replaced separate pairs of approach shoes and trail shoes.
What shoes do you use and why? Please comment and let me know… I can always use an excuse for new gear…