Thursday, 6 November 2014

Haglofs Gram 7 Rucksack Review

I received the Haglofs Gram 7 Rucksack this summer with the view of using it as a running pack, after starting fell running in July. It has mostly been used for this, but I have also found it useful as a small climbing pack.
The basic rucksack design is pretty standard, with 2 comfortable shoulder straps, waist and chest buckles and pockets on the hips. The bag features a large main compartment with a small valuables pocket and a pouch for a hydration system.
Running sack (Photo Credit: Esk Valley Fell Club)
To be any good as a climbing or running pack it needs to be light. The Gram 7 weighs in at a mere 395 grams, which isn't too bad at all. It has a compact design preventing it from flapping around when running, or getting stuck whilst climbing.
The fabric which the pack is made from seems pretty strong, so I'm not too worried about scratching around against rough rock with it on.
Winter climbing sack (Photo Credit: Robert Taylor)
This is a small bag so there isn't much room. I have been unable to find any quoted sizes, however I suspect it might be 7 litres, thanks to the name. This is perfectly big enough for fitting in your fell running kit or a jacket, guide and some food for a climb.
There is nothing that special about this bag, but it doesn't need to be special. It was worked perfectly for everything I have used it for.
I give this 2 thumbs up!
The Haglofs Gram 7 is available from with 40% off! Yes nearly half price.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A busy weekend

This saturday saw the first round of the 2014 British Tooling Series at Beacon Climbing Center in North Wales. The British Tooling Series has evolved from the popular Scottish Tooling Series, which has been running north of the border for a few years already.
The Beacon put on a great show, with additional excitement thanks to it also being their 20th birthday weekend. Happy Birthday Beacon! The day saw, in addition to the tooling comp, a fun boulder comp, a talk my Tim Emmett and Will Gadd and an Indian meal.
The dry tooling competition took place on 8 qualification routes. These were a combination of routes using Alpkit figfours and normal axes and had something for all abilities.

There was a good turn out on the day with some old STS faces as well people new to tooling and others that are just starting out in competitions.
After all the competitors had tested themselves on the qualifying routes it was time for the finals. There were two finals routes, one for the female finalists and one for the males. Both of these looked thin and sketchy and generally pretty hard, but what else would you expect being set by the master of sketchy climbing himself, Nick Bullock.
The female finalists were Anna Wells, Katy Forrester and Megan Beaumont, while the male finalists were Tim Mueller, Will Woodhead, Matt Pigden, Dave Bowes, Scott G and myself. I was second to last out so I didn't watch any of the female finals, however the competition was won by dry tooling guru Anna Wells. I didn't see much of the mens finals for the same reason either, so we join it at my attempt.
Walking out of isolation I didn't know how everyone had done, so I just had to do as well as I could. There was no time limit for the final, it was just who got furthest, which suited my slow style of climbing. I made very slow progress up to the last hold on the route, which I ended up ripping off while getting into a position to clip the lower off. Scott was last up and climbed the route with ease, but got the rope caught around a hanging pipe, causing terrible rope drag. This eventually caused made him to fall off. If it wasn't for this I'm sure he'd have won, but it in the end my attempt was just good enough to win it. DMM very generously donated a rope for each of the winners.
The British dry tooling scene is a really cool thing to be involved in at the moment with loads of psyched climbers. Its shaping up to be a really good series and started in fine style at Beacon Climbing Centre. Get involved!
Despite being really tired from the comp on saturday I was not done with competing for the weekend. Sunday was the British Fell Relays, held on Middleton Fell, just north of Kirby Lonsdale. I was running as part of York Knavesmire Harriers A team. The other team members were Neil Stabbs, Chris Roberts, Giles Hawking, Tom Ratcliffe and Simon Collins.
Mass start for leg 1
The race was in 4 legs. 2 short legs, run first and last, a long leg run second and a navigation leg run third. I was on the final short 10k leg.
The race started at 10am, and about 3 hours later it was finally my turn to run. The rest of the team had put me in a good position, although we were never in contention to win we could achieve a respectable position.
Knavesmire (yellow and black) at the end of leg 2
The weather wasn't great for my run with strong winds, low cloud and rain on the tops of the hills. Despite this I tried my best and brought Knavesmire home in a respectable 57th place, running my leg as the 50th fastest.
It was all together a good weekend, although I was very tired on monday morning!
There are a distinct lack of photos for the amount of text, but I was busy doing things.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

My wall

This summer I have been busy. Mostly I have been working but I have also had chance to do a bit of climbing. My major achievement of the summer has been building my own wall in a spare shed at home. Well when I say spare a few bits had to be moved around but there's space for it now.
The wall consists of a 40 degree board up against another board with is just slightly less than 40 degrees.
The steeper wall is made to the same specification as a moon board and I have been using this for rock climbing, while the slightly less steep board is covered in sheets of old ply, which I have been using for drytooling.
Moon Board
I have used the old ply as a cover to allow me to use my crampons without needlessly damaging the wall.
Tooling Board
The wall has made getting climbing much easier, as I don't live particularly close to any commercial walls, and it saves me a lot of fuel money not having to drive through to York every day.
This past weekend I competed in the Buxton Thunderdome drytooling competition and came third, which was much better than I expected given the strength of the field. It looks like the wall is having the desired effect on my ability. Hopefully I can continue improving and do a bit better at the 2015 UIAA Ice World Cups.
Buxton Thunderdome

I have had a lot of help with this wall, mostly from my dad who helped me build it, or rather I helped him as he probably did most of the work. MKM Driffield were a big help giving me a discount on wood, as have been Red Goat Climbing Wall, in York, who have generously supplied me with loads of old holds for tooling on, t-nuts and bolts!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Grivel Plume Quickdraw Review

The Plume quickdraw is Grivels lightest offering in the world of Quickdraws.
They come in a range of sizes with slings from 11 to 23cm. These slings a made of 10mm dyneema, which is pretty standard for quickdraws, decorated in Grivels gold and black. 
Both ends feature a plume karabiner, which has a wire gate, a nice clipping action and a large opening. These karabiners are colour coded with black on the gear end and a fixed gold biner on the rope end.
This all looks very promising, however the proof of the pudding is in the eating, or climbing in this case as they are a bit tough.
Plumes in use on The Diedre, Kilnsey (and Alex)
I have used these quickdraws quite extensively since getting them, from limestone sport crags to gneiss trad sea cliffs, and lots in between. In all of these setting they have performed very well.
Some Plume draws on my harness somehwere
These draws are very lightweight, meaning that they feel very light on your harness. Less weight means the potential to carry more gear, or just be lighter.
The large gate opening means that these quickdraws are very easy to clip. This has come in handy when you really don't want to fumble a clip, like during the awkward crux of Silkie on Dun Mingulay!
The easy clipping also makes them great to use whilst sport climbing. Grivel do a version of these with a plastic dog bone style cover, making the sling rigid. The idea behind this is to make them easier to pull on whilst working a sport route, but honestly I find these much harder to hold onto than just the basic sling.
Plume Draws in use at Traprain Law (and Elaine)
I couldn't find any faults with these quickdraws until, disaster! One of the gates became sticky and stopped springing closed. This has only occurred on one of the karabiners, and will occur in time with any wire gate karabiner anyway, although it has happened rather quickly with this one. Maybe its just the runt of the Plume litter. A bit of WD40 should sort it out.
All in all I think these are great bits of kit and deserve a place in anyones rack, however for the sticky gate I can only give them 1 thumb up, otherwise it would have been a definite two.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Petzl Ange Finesse Quickdraw Review

Over the past couple of months I have been testing a few sets of quick draws. The first of these to get a look over by my "expert" eye are the Petzl Ange Finesse Quickdraws.
As with any other draw these are made of 3 major components, 2 carabiners and a sling. The Ange carabiners are quite an interesting design featuring just a single wire for the gate. You can think of it a bit like a very narrow solid gate biner. This should have made them rather light however, weighing in at a 28g for a small or 34g for a large, gear wads will know that this is hardly groundbreaking. To lock the two end of the carabiner together when closed the gate fits into a groove in the nose of the biner. This prevents the rope getting stuck in the gate while clipping. Nice.
In quickdraw form 2 different colors are used for the biners. Blue or orange are used to indicate the rope end and silver indicates the protection end.
The quickdraws come in a range of lengths, all using the same width slings. Pretty standard really. These slings are heavily stitched, which must add a bit to their weight, and ever little helps when going super-light. When you compare these to other quickdraws in their price range, then these really aren't that light.
If you are a sport climber then you dont want these! Firstly the thin gate is very difficult to clip and secondly they don't work with clipsticks!
Despite me being quite excited about getting these to begin with they have largely been relegated to attaching my climbing shoes together.
I give this a rating of 1 thumb down. For being advertised as a super-light draw they totally disappoint.

Friday, 13 June 2014

A Scottish Bouldering Odyssey

Over the past couple of weeks I have been driving around Scotland exploring and climbing on lots of boulders and short outcrops. I would have liked to have split this post up into 3 separate ones but with a trip to the islands looming over me I have tried to do it all in one big abridged post with lots of pictures.
All of these trips have been inspired by the Bouldering in Scotland guide, published by Stone Country. Stone Country produce a nice selection of guide books for Scottish bouldering and also have an interesting blog.
Scotland features lots of interesting rock types, which allows for lots of different styles of climbing in a small area. If your a crimp fan then the schist found at Weem or Glen Nevis might be more to your taste than the rough slopers, typical of Skyes's Gabbro. I personally have tried to just climb on as many things as I can. Glen Clova and Inchbae, both with a granitic composition, although neither strictly being granite, have been highlights of the trip. I liked the solitude which can be found at Inchbae, despite being so close to a major road, coupled with some brilliant climbing on lovely blocs. Some of these can be quite dirty but once uncovered the climbing is generally very good. If your ever driving between Ullapool and Inverness then stop off and seek out some of the problems here. My personal favorite was "Long Winning Streak" on the double boulders, however everything described in the guide is worth doing.
Long Winning Streak, Inchbae

Colonel Mustard, Inchbae
West Wall, Glen Clova
Glen Clova is another good venue to visit. It is less on the way somewhere than Inchbae, but it does have a lot more to go at making it worth a special visit. There is a good guide on the Scottish Climbs Wiki, which features lots of good problems. There is a lot of potential for new routing here too. My favorite climb here would have to be Lady Sam, a brilliant font 7a+ in "The Hollow" area below the sentinel boulder.
Lady Sam, Glen Clova
Climbing out of the Darkness of the Hole of Weems, Glen Clova
Torridon is a particularly popular bouldering venue for the highlands and even has its own guide book produced by Stone Country. I have visited the boulders in Torridon on other occasions but I have just gone to the classics of the Celtic Jumble and the Ship Boulder. This time however I decided to have a look at one of the outlying boulders close to Annat. The Balgy boulder is a Torridonian sandstone Erratic sat upon a Gneiss platform. The guide describes two problems, one of them the brilliant font 7a The Balgy Prow. If you attempt this problem then try and stay as true to the line of the prow as you can. It is easy to escape out left after a few tricky moves, and I guess you will have climbed the line, but with a bit of work the direct line up the prow becomes possible. You might loose a lot of skin, but it is totally worth it!
The Balgy Boulder, Torridon
Other very good venues include the Gneiss boulders found at Loch Buie on Mull, the Torridonian Sandstone boulders of Loch Kishorn and Reiff and The Gabbro boulders in Coire Lagan, which are totally worth the walk!, and of course the classics such as Dumbarton and Glen Nevis! Ill let the pictures speak for the rest of these though.
Lucky Break, Coire Laggan
Snake Attack, Coire Lagan
Hook and Go, Loch Buie
Nipple Attack, Loch Buie
Dannys Wall, Loch Buie
Dannys Wall, Loch Buie
The problem with summer scottish bouldering

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A Quick Trip to Yorkshire

Last weekend I took a short trip to Yorkshire with Anne Peale, Liam Ingram and Alex McMillan.
On the way down from Edinburgh on Friday night we stopped at a crag in Northumberland which none of us had been to before, called Widehope. This crag is just a bit further down the valley from Redheugh, which I was at the day before, and is also composed of the same cross bedded Carboniferous Fell Sandstone.
Redheugh turned out to be quite soft and snappy in places with lots of sand on some holds, however we did climb some nice problems such as Horned Arete, Widehope Arete and Chicken.
Widehope Arete (Photo Credit: Alex McMillan)
Horned Arete (Photo Credit: Alex McMillan)
Saturday was going to be quite a warm day, so after consulting Oli Read on what might be a good crag to go to we decided upon Simons Seat, close to Skipton. Simons Seat is a grit stone outcrop sitting on top of a hill. Simon Seat is composed of Carboniferous age Millstone Grit, like that found in the Peak District. More accurately it is of late Mississippian age. It was quite interesting to notice the difference in the rock from one side of Simons Seat to the other, with a well sorted sandstone on the South which contained lots of concretions, and a more poorly sorted pebble rich sandstone on the North, which also appeared to show less concretions. Further north again at Lords seat the pebbles seem to disappear again. I spent too much time climbing to really gather enough information to indicate what the cause of this difference was.
Simons Seat (Photo Credit: Alex McMillan)
I did most of my climbing on the Southern side of Simons Seat. Here I climbed the classic E3 Ill Bet She Does, which takes a line of chicken heads up a steep wall, and a font 7A called Galaxy, which takes a line of good chipped holds up to a horn. Below Galaxy I found a block which showed signs of some sort of trace fossils.
Trace fossils in a block 
On the north side I soloed the classic line, and apparently the best E2 in Yorkshire, A Question of Balance. This route takes the right arete of a steep slab after an initial steep jamming crack. We ended the day on Lords Seat, however a lack of skin stopped play a bit here.

Oli on Ill Bet She Does
Liam on Dog Lead
A Question of Balance
Chilling at Kilnsey (Photo Credit: Alex McMillan)
That evening we ate at the Nelson Inn, near Harrogate, and then headed over to bivi underneath the overhangs at Kilnsey. Kilnsey is composed of the Garsdale Limestone Formation, of middle Mississippian age. Anne, Liam and Alex had all just come back from Kalymnos so were feeling pretty psyched for sport, which Kilnsey is quite well known for. Liam kept on claiming that he is in danger of becoming a sport climber, so naturally Anne and himself started the day on a classic E2 called The Diedre. Alex and I attempted to climb some of the shorter single pitch routes. Having spent most of my time recently climbing on sandstone I found reading the limestone quite hard. I had a good attempt at a 7b called Witches Brew, however in the end Alex and I only managed to get up The Diedre clean.
Alex on The Diedre
This trip was really a trip around the Mississippian, a sub-period of the Carboniferous, sedimentary succession of northern Britain, with the deltaic Fell Sandstone of northumberland being oldest, followed by the limestones at Kilnsey and then the younger Grit of Simons Seat. By the Carboniferous Scotland had already joined to England following the Caldeonian orogney, Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh was an active volcano and the North Sea had not yet rifted. The British Isles sat much further south than they do today. To the North of the region existed highlands providing the sediment for the sandstones. The rocks we climbed on all represent different depths of water, with the limestone being deepest, grit shallowest and the fell sandstone somewhere in the middle.

Friday, 16 May 2014

More Geology than Climbing

I made a short evening trip to Redheugh in Northumberland yesterday. I had hoped to try some of the harder problems there, but I wasn't really feeling it. So despite a nice few problems such as Easier, which is a quite scary font 6a, I spent much of the afternoon checking out the geology. The sandstone here is Fell Sandstone, deposited in a deltaic environment, similar to that of the current day Mississippi delta in America.
Trough Cross Bedding
A bit more trough cross bedding
The cross bedding in the previous two pictures are formed by river channels depositing sediment so building up layers. I didn't have a hand lens with me so I couldn't really tell whether there was any grading but it did give a hint of slight coarsening upwards. The orientation of the cross bedding shows that the palaeo-flow direction was in or out of the crag, however just from this information I couldn't tell whether it was going into or out of the crag.
Iron Concretion, formed diagentically by fluid flow 
Trace fossils
I quite like fossils as they give a sense of what was happening when the sediment was being deposited. The trace fossils here are long thing traces on the left hand side of the small block. These are probably burrows, possibly formed by a worm. 

Something I found 
The Holly tree and Cave 
On my way back to the car I had a quick climb at the Caller Boulders. These seem to be quite neglected and the Main Boulder was totally overgrown, and despite being quite steep didn't have any chalk on them! I climbed two very sandy problems and returned to the car just as it was getting dark.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Sports Nutrition for Mountaineering

I received a selection of sports nutrition products this winter from High5 to test out while climbing.
High5 makes energy packed foods for high intensity activities, and recovery supplements such as protein for after. These sort of items are usually associated with things like Triathlons, not mountaineering. Im not trying to say climbing and mountaineering isn't hard, but I don't really think they are generally in the same league of intense exertions of energy as triathlons, although I suspect some people may disagree with that. Also, not trying to take anything away from triathlons here, but mountaineering is probably more mentally demanding. Hard climbs cannot always be overcome by shear brute force and excessive use of energy, and this is especially the case in mountaineering.
Energy Gels
I decided if I was to properly test out the usefulness of sports nutrition in Scottish mountaineering I would have to have a rather big day. I have a few of these things planned in the Scottish mountains, some involving an arbitrary number of routes and others of more historical significance. In the end I settled upon attempting to climb all the major ridges on Ben Nevis in a day. This involved over 2000m of climbing, at least the same amount of descent and lots of walking. I managed it, well within a day (see my article from earlier), using an arsenal of sports nutrition.
During the day I consumed the High5 products; EnergyGel, EnergyGel Plus, IsoGel, IsoGel Plus and EnergyBar.
Each of these energy snacks work in a slightly different way. EnergyGel's are your standard energy gels designed to give you lots of energy. You are however required to consume a lot of liquid to be able to use these, which isn't always possible while climbing. IsoGel's are a bit like EnergyGel's, however they also contain some liquid, making them suitable for use without consuming much extra. I generally find it quite difficult to drink much water whilst climbing, therefore I think IsoGel's are probably the better of these two for a mountaineer. They are also slightly easier to consumer due to them being a bit runnier.
EnergyGel Plus and IsoGel Plus are like the conventional gels, but with added caffeine. Im not massively convinced by them. They might be useful to give you that added kick at the end of a day, but the caffeine does seem to do something slightly unpleasant to the taste. I would still choose the standard gels over these.
The High5 energy bar, imaginatively named EnergyBar, is a dense chewy sort of snack. I found it quite hard to eat and a little bit unpleasant. I have no doubt it contained lots of useful energy, and that others may find it quite nice, but for me it was a no!
In my opinion the standard IsoGel could be very helpful for climbing trips. Its energy giving and slight thirst quenching properties would be useful for someone like me who prefers not to take a water bottle with them on routes. There has something to be said for having a full stomach as well so I do like to take something on the lines of a sandwich too (ham, cheese and mustard for me).
The future of mountaineering nutrition?
Different things work for different people so go out there and try things out, but definitley give High5 IsoGels a go.
At the end of the day I was tired but I didn't have any cramping muscles, so I guess the energy gels and bar did their job quite effectively.

Some new, Some old

It has been a while since my last post. In this time I have been attempting to climb as much as I can to get some mileage in preparation for the summer. Over this time I have also been doing my final exams, which are a lot less stressful than people might make you think. With almost all of the work which goes towards my final degree already handed in the pressure has been kinda off really. Despite this I have spent much of my time in Edinburgh, making lots of trips to the citys local crags.
Most of my time has been spent at Agassiz Rock, a small but steep crag composed of Pyroxene Andesite in Blackford Glen. Agassiz rock is a pretty famous locality thanks to the Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz who interpreted the striations on the rock surface as being created by ice. If you are interested you can read about it here. After a bit of time working out how to use the Scottishclimbs wiki grid topo of this crag I managed to climb lots of problems here. My best effort has been the Low Traverse, weighing in at font 7b. This is quite long and probably deserves something like a 7c sport grade too. My usual warm up here is the problem Last Gasp, which is a long pumpy font 7a, which also gets a 7c+ sport grade apparently! So maybe the training is paying off.
Craig at Agassiz
Further down the glen from Agassiz Rock is Corbies crag, the neck of an extinct volcano and of the same unit which Agassiz Rock is composed of. I had never climbed here despite often walking past it to climb at Agassiz. There are a few easy routes which make for a nice way back to the flat from the glen. I climbed a very nice Mod called Retromingent Ridge, which I can highly recommend, and a Diff which follows a gorse filled gully, called Sunny Scoop, which I can't recommend.
Other local Edinburgh adventures include a quick trip to Traprain Law, where I climbed a few routes I hadn't done before with Elaine, and a couple of trips to the Salisbury crags, where I also managed a few new things.
Elaine on Great Corner Direct, Traprain Law
Further afield I made a quick evening trip to Oxen Wood in Northumberland, which is only really worth an evening trip. There isn't anything very hard here, although there is a nice font 6c, called Oxen Wood Traverse, which is probably worth seeking out.
Oxen Wood
Oxen Wood Traverse
Again in Northumberland I made a very unsuccessful trip to Bowden where I managed to climb a grad total of nothing, and a wet afternoon at Heckley, near Alnwick, where I managed a few nice things. Heckley is a bit of a strange crag as there was a f5+ which I spent a while trying to do but to no avail, but then I managed to flash a few 6c's. I can only think that some holds must have broken. The dead rabbit at the base of it added to the atmosphere.
Greg on Staggered, Bowden
Andrew on Vienna, Bowden
Dark Times at Bowden
Heckley in the Rain
Further south in Yorkshire I had an afternoon soloing at Scot Crags in Scugdale, where I managed to climb 60 routes! Most of the routes I climbed were between HS and HVS, however I did also tick a few E numbers, including an E4 which you really wouldn't want to fall off!
The Prow, Scugdale
So yes that has been my life recently. Hopefully I will be able to make some bigger trips soon which merit their own post, so you don't have to trawl through an essay to see what I've been up to!
Also here is a song I like: Metric-Waves