Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Summit of Ama Dablam (6856m)

(photos not currently working but will be uploaded shortly, check @bonitanorris on twitter for pics in the mean time...)

Having had a few days back in the UK i've finally had some time to digest what has been an incredible expedition to Ama Dabla, which was kindly sponsored and supported by Karrimor and Tag Heuer, and a trip that has never made me feel so alive and so grateful to be a mountaineer.

Ama Dablam is truly the most beautiful mountain I have ever seen, and being face to face with it- climbing that perfect Granite, was just WOW.

The trip didn't really start off this way however!

After long delays in Kathmandu nerves were building, by the time myself and my team (emma, rosamond and tim) had made it into the Khumbu and were spying Ama we were absolutely terrified- looking at it, you'd think it was almost impossible to climb.

I said to myself again and again: "this will be the last, no more expeditions, just finish this and then get a normal job which has a higher chance of survival"

It made me feel better to think that I would never have to endure the suffering that was about to unfold again. I KNEW what was coming, i think that was the problem.

We finally made it to base camp and Ama loomed over us- at night it's white flanks were illuminated in the moon light and the stars shone about it. It was always there. Even lying in my tent at night i was aware of its presence and was thinking: "will this be the one where my luck runs out?"

The route takes a never ending rocky ridge line up the the summit fields- where the angle is steep to the point of needing to front point on your crampons. The hanging glacier (dablam) sits precariously to the left, and the final top out is a straight push up steep ice and snow. The summit is crevassed and will one day collapse. The entire route is fixed with anchors which in the UK i wouldn't dream of using as protection- the mushroom ridge for instance, boasting stakes wobbling like jelly in loose, sugary snow.

The day before the summit push i had a wash at basecamp, i emptied out the bowl of dirty water, turned around and saw a familiar face: "lakpa?" it was lakpa Wongchu! The climbing sherpa who had been with me on Everest summit day, without his help would i be here today? Not sure. I owe him and others my life. We hugged, and then i duly burst into sobs of tears. Nice.

This trip had made me realise just how much that day still haunts me- more than anything i wanted to climb this mountain to prove to Lakpa and to the people who helped me that day that i was capable of descending without getting injured. It's a vulgar word but this mountain for me was about 'closure'... putting an end to the demons that have haunted me ever since the 17th May 2010.

The real climbing on the mountain starts after camp 1. When it comes to expeditions i am very anal- if we say we're leaving at 8am i am walking out of camp at one second past 8. Luckily, Lakpa Wongchu was also ready and thus we had a great head start on the way up to camp 3- nobody in front of us for the entire route, no waiting around at anchors. Just the two of us climbing in unison and moving quickly over the terrain that Lakpa new so well.

I said to Lakpa that if he took lots of photos he could have my cannon 500D, which he happily agreed to- so all these photos are his, and he did an awesome job.

The climbing from camp 1 to 3 is great fun- lots of rock, the most perfect granite i have ever seen and if this mountain was at sea level it would have some fantastic climbing routes on it in the VS to HVS range.

The route follows the jagged ridge line up to the bottom of the summit pyramid. Theres lots of traversing, short pitches of climbing and also the infamous yellow tower (HVS rock climb) and grey tower (scottish grade III gulley)both were exhilirating- especially the top of the yellow tower where you are presented with an overhang- i threw my hand over the top, found a hold and just hauled my body over onto the platform, thousands of feet of air and cloud beneath me- just wow.

The grey tower was more exhausting- by this point we had put on crampons and whilst this had its benefits it also made my intuition when trying to climb a little confused- anyway, i scratched my way up and used the jumar to ascend when i had the energy- though generally wherever possible on the mountain i tried to use my hands and feet to get higher- jumaring reguires far too much brute strength and i find that after 2 or 3 (sometimes 1) pull on it and i am gasping for breath- plus it aggravates my back, so i climbed as much as possible, using the jumar as a safety and anchor for resting on route- which is nice!

Throughout the trip i was using a karrimor X-Lite rucsac which was perfect for this terrain- the lightest pack i have ever used and very slim so that it didn't get in the way of the climbing. I was also wearing a Karrimor baselayer (pink) which is quite a novel colour in the hills!

Finally made camp 3 and the morning dawned on summit day- we decided to leave at 8, and so we were- bang on. Lakpa and I moving at our steady pace, soon we were ahead and had nobody infront of us all the way to the summit- looking up, the mountain was all ours.

The climbing in the early hours was tough, the altitude (now above 6000m) was beginning to bite, and the blinding exhaustion as lactic acid builds up in your body after a few moments of effort started to become the norm. it was also very cold- but i had my headphones on (playing chase and status, naturally) and could see the halo of the sun up above me, I could also see the golden tint to the snow up ahead which signalled warmth- it drove me on, and i climbed as fast as i could until i was bathed in that beautiful sunlight.

At around 10am i got a call over the radio, Lakpa passed it to me. it was Henry from BC, he said: "Bonita, you're about to pass a dead body. Please remember that there's nothing you can do- the soul has gone. Stay calm and go past it, just stay calm. I'm here if you need me."

I could see him up ahead, on the route, tied into the fixed lines. He had died 48 hours previously. All i could think was: his family. And then: 'i want to speak to my dad. I can't do this until i've spoken to him.'

Lakpa, patted my back and signalled for us to carry on. When we got above him at an anchor we both said a prayer and poured water into the snow as an offering. Then we carried onto the summit, i couldn't stop crying.

Finally, we made it- Lakpa and I stook on the top of Ama Dablam at 11.45 on the 17th November 2011. We had made it 3.45minutes out of camp 3- a great effort, but in the back of my mind i was already thinking about the descent- we were halfway.

First of all we sat and ate chocolate, then stood up on the big, flat plateau that is the summit and took photos of each other. I put on my karrimor down jacket to keep warm whilst we weren't moving so much.

When we sat down again we were looking at Everest. I said to Lakpa: "you saved my life over there, i know that" He didn't look me in the eye, but nodded. It was closure, finally- exactly 18 months to the day since it had happened.

We descended back to camp by abseiling and arm wrapping in around 2 hours, and the next day back to base camp.

I came into base camp ahead of the others for no other reason than that i wanted to walk alone. When i arrived in the evening twilight Pasang Tempa grabbed me by the bum and lifted me in the air! Henry said to me: "Bonita, you've done a 360- the difference between this and Everest is a 360, well done"

That night i got into my tent and laid down on (wait for it) a thin tent mattress, karrimat and a thermarest- it was THE most comfortable bed i have ever lain on and as i sunk into it all the stresses and worries and doubts that you take with you on the mountain melted away. I was blissfully happy. it was a perfect ascent and i had Lakpa and Henry to thank for it. I thought about the man we had passed, said a prayer and then thanked God that i was still alive.

As we flew back to Kathmandu a few days later from Lukla I surveyed the Khumbu from above- this little known part of the world has become by chance the most important of places in my little life. I know i will visit again, many, many times.

I thought as we flew away from the Himalayas and back to the city- this trip, this mountain, this country- taking the risk, knowing that i could fail utterly- but getting to climb with Lakpa and thank him for what he did as we looked across at Everest from the summit of Ama Dablam- the whole experience has simply bought me back to life.

I'm ready and psyched for the future, my love affair with the hills has been re-ignited and I can't wait to take on more challenges in the mountains in the years ahead.

Taking the risk on Ama bought me from the dark back into the light. Never give up on what you love. There will be good times as well as bad- and both are needed to truly live.

It begins again in the spring! Lhotse is calling.

Standing by for now...

Bonita

Thank you to Henry, Lakpa Wongchu, Jabu, Dorje, Pasang Temba, Kumar, Kame, Emma Tim and Rosamond for this incredible trip, one which I will never forget.

Thank you to Karrimor for supporting this expedition and for providing kit which i wore throughout.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Base Camp

After delay upon delay due to bad weather over Lukla, my team and I (Emma, Tim and Rosmund) decide to charter a helicopter from Katmandu to a lower village in the Khumba. Reports are 300+ trekkers and climbers stranded at both ends due to the stagnant cloud, meaning that domestic flights are grounded. Today (9th) flights have finally resumed. We, the lucky ones, are now at our base camp at the foot of Ama Dablam (6812m). It's a spectacular mountain- absolutely beautiful. Base camp is at 4600m and we're all feeling great. It's fairly cold- I'm wearing my karrimor down jacket, especially in the evenings. The sun disappears behind the mountains and a chill settles- the clouds fall and the moon rises over Ama Dablams left shoulder.

We've seen shooting stars and the Scorpio constellation (my birth sign) dominated the night sky. The days- we have high pressure so brilliant blue skies and little wind. The sun rises and finally tips over the peaks at about 8am and the air temperature rises rapidly. Last night, the first in my tent at BC, was particularly cold and despite my minus 40 sleeping bag I was kept awake by the night time freeze.

Today we had our Puja and went through kit for the hill. Things will start to move fast from now so I won't have a chance to write again. I'm feeling strong- no coughs, colds or injuries yet and no headaches or altitude related problems so I'm optimistic about going higher. The route looks very cool, and nothing like I've seen before on Everest or Manaslu- so a whole new challenge awaits.

Standing by for now

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Ama Dablam

Just about to head out the door to Heathrow- a whirlwind of kit bags, check lists, passport, tickets- I think i'm there.

Flying to Doha tonight then on route to Kathmandu tomorrow. Looking forward to being back in the city for the third time, it's a crazy place- where faith, religion, culture, consumerism, west and east collide.

For climbers its a special place- lots of bars, restaurants and small shops built up over the years as our gateway to the Himalayas.

Fly into the Khumbu valley on Monday. One of the world's most dangerous landing strips awaits. Then we start our trek to base camp, staying in tea houses, eating daal Baht every night and craning our necks to see jagged tops of the Himalayan giants standing over us.

Pangboche is the last village below Ama Dablam- our Quarry. At 6856m it's a beautiful peak. We will spend the rest of our time in the Himalayas trying to reach the top of it.

I'm climbing with a friend from my first trip to the Himalayas- Emma Jack, we're using logistics from Himalayan Guides and climbing with a small team. Thank you to my family, friends, supporters and sponsor karrimor. My dad- my rock.

Who knows what awaits. Another adventure begins... psyched!!!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Summer



So September has crept up on us and another summer has come to a close,though here's hoping for a few more days out on the rock before it gets too cold :)

And what a summer it has been, for me it began after returning from the Arctic Circle and our team's successful last degree expedition to the North Pole. We skied in average temperatures of minus 30 and the sun never set. Arriving home in May I pretty much drove straight to sea cliff climbing at Swanage (Hi mum! Bye mum!), had a bit of an accident descending into a route using a fixed rope and ended up in A&E with a very painful foot!

Days later I was back the airport on a flight to Toulouse for some hot rock in the Pyrenees with a climbing buddy, Rich. We were met at the other side by Rich's friend's Adam and Dawn and spent a great week driving around France visiting various crags, getting tanned and climbing pristine rock with the sun on our backs. I managed to onsight a 6a line and went home very chuffed considering that my foot was still swollen and didn't really move much! Thanks Adam and Dawn for hosting us :)

By June England had some hot rock of its own and some great weekends were spent down in Devon at Baggy Point on the 40m slabs that jutted out of the Atlantic ocean. A fun afternoon was spent with fellow Karrimor athlete David Pickford on the Promentory Slab getting shots for our sponsors. Nights were spent sleeping in caves at Hedbury, long evenings messing about on the boulders at Froggatt, days swimming in the River Test, some speeding across the Solent on a RIB and weekends bivvying on the summit of Mt Snowdon.

In between weekends of climbing work was super busy- i've been hot footing it between Leeds, Sheffield, Harrogate, Newcastle, Wiltshire, London- the list goes on. One minute it's speaking at a corporate event in the city with spectacular views overlooking the London skyline, the next i'm kicking off my heels in the car and heading straight off for a weekend of sleeping in a tent. Sofa surfing and hotel rooms have become the norm and i've been lucky enough to meet some sporting legends such as Peter Shilton, Tim Henman and Graham Bell, who are also supported by Sports Direct, along the way.







Once July was out my work diary for August was a massive blank, with 4 weeks to play with this was quickly filled with trips abroad.

First up- some Alpine climbing for Trek & Mountain magazine. Accompanied by editor Chris Kempster i packed my rucsac and headed to Chamonix, where we firstly met with BMG Chris Ensoll and bagged a 4000m peak (the Weismeiss in Saas, Switzerland). I somehow managed an AD route called the Dri Hornli traverse with a raging hangover after the Les Houche pub quiz with the lovely Emma Jack, who was a great friend when we climbed an 8000m peak together back in 2009. We attempted Mont Blanc with IFMGA guide Tim Connerley but were twarted by the weather and only got as far as the Gouter hut- third time lucky next year i hope... check out Trek & Mountain magazine for the full details of that very sketchy 24 hours on the Blanc!

Back from the Alps and i was pretty much straight back to the aiport for a trip to Norway, again for Trek and Mountain Magazine. We spent 4 days being shown around the Fjords by the lovely Hanne- we trekked up a mountain, ate lots of good food and got to visit a UNESCO world heritage site. All i can say is: Visit Norway! It's an incredible place.





Finally, 48 hours after getting off a plane from Alesund i was back at T4 pushing a huge kit bag through departures on my way to Africa- Tanzania to be precise, to attempt Kilimanjaro with a team raising money for the charity Cash 4 Kids through Radio Wave 105.

We trekked the Lomosho Glades route and were blessed with great weather. Summit day went smoothly and 9 out of 11 reached the sign on the edge of the huge crater which marked the summit. I'm psyched to be leading two teams out there next year on the same route, but very much missing the people i've spent the last 10 days eating, sleeping and experiencing such a beautiful place with, aawww!

Back from the mountain that day, a few of us summoned the energy to visit the infamous night club, la Liga, in Moshi. We partied until gone 2am, taxied back to hotel, woke the rest of our team and went straight to the aiport- no sleep! An internal flight, a 4 hour stop over in Nairobi and finally a last 8 hour flight to heathrow and we were home and straight out for drinks with the Reading Climbing Centre team (still no sleep). A big thanks to Camps International for supporting my place on the trip, and to our fantastic team of guides, cooks and porters lead by Kassim. Visit www.rjseven.com for more info on climbing Kili :)





And that leads me to now- sitting on my bed, uploading a summer's worth of photos onto my computer and remembering some great moments but also planning some new ones for the winter. I'm hoping upon hope to get out to the Himalayas in November to attempt a peak just shy of 7000m, but for now its back to work with a very busy September of talks at schools and businesses across the country, including a 3 peaks challenge at the end of the month with Artillery, whom i gave a talk for in the city a few months ago and have gotten a bug for climbing of their own- can't wait for what should be a fantastic weekend!


Will keep this updated on whether i make it out to the Himalaya. If you'd like to catch me at an event in the next few weeks i'm speaking at the Night of Adventure in Bristol in October, which raises money for a great charity- Hope and Homes for children. Check their website for tickets :)

thanks for reading... B

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

VocaLink North Pole Challenge


If there is a moment from my recent North Pole expedition that sticks out it is the moment I stepped off of the Oslo flight to Longyearbyen at 78*North.

I gulped down the fresh air as we were herded onto the tarmac- and it was that first breath that sent a shiver of fear down my spine.

Like swallowing a thousand knives, the bitter air at minus 23*C was a deadly comparison from the warm aircraft- I choked at the shock. Within seconds of stepping off the plane I felt I was in the coldest environment I had been in my life. Everest didn’t seem to compare.

My mind reeling, all I can remember thinking was ‘what on earth am I doing here?’ The thought of heading even further North onto the barren sea ice seemed ridiculous. Impossible even.

But, it is testament to the human body- within a day my team of intrepid skiers and I were walking around town in ‘little more’ than thermals and Karrimor windproofs. We even began taking our gloves off! And yes- Everest reaches far lower temperatures but when heading into the death zone one is often more prepared for the cold than when stepping off a plane.

78*North is an odd place- the sun doesn’t set until 2am and even then leaves behind a scar of orange on the horizon. There are no stars. The community is even odder- it’s expedition season and so in every bar, every guest house and lingering in every aisle of the co-op is someone involved with or embarking on a polar trip of some sort. Gossip is rife, especially when a place like Longyearbyen becomes host to Prince Harry and the world’s media.

I even bumped into a Chinese chap in the equipment store who stood on the summit of Everest the same day as me. We had never met but had stood on top of the world together- and now again next to the jet boilers and sporks.

I was a member of a team lead by Alan Chambers MBE. Chambers was the first Briton to reach the North Pole unsupported from Ward Hunt Island in 2000 and his MBE is in honour of that expedition.

Our team was an eclectic mix of Brits all wide eyed at the prospect of reaching the top of the world. We waited with baited breath for the ice and weather to settle so that a camp and runway could be established at 89*N.

After a week the call finally came: ‘be at the airport tomorrow morning’. Not exactly a scheduled flight, but credit to the Russians they get things done.

I wish I could say that that flight went smoothly, but it didn’t. The Russian Antanov plane crammed full of sledges and people was moving steadily towards to ice runway when just before the last ground checks were made the ice began to move and a 3 metre wide crack in the runway appeared- exposing the black depths of the arctic ocean beneath it.

The drama hit the world’s press and within hours the web was full of stories of the plane landing and nearly crashing through the ice. The flight onto the ice is the most dangerous part of the expedition and the media hype only served to make us more nervous.

A week later we finally landed safely at our start point. The Russian chopper lifted off in a whirlwind of white and then, quite suddenly, we were left in to survive in a silence like nothing that I have ever experienced before.

The expedition had begun. Within hours of skiing we were setting up camp- the sun was skirting around us, never rising or falling, just encircling us and offering little warmth as we struggled over the infinite white.

That first night must have been one of the coldest of my life. My sleeping bag simply wasn’t up to the job of keeping me warm- I didn’t freeze, but I didn’t stop shivering either. With my bobble hat pulled down tightly over my eyes and a hot water bottle I must have managed a few hours. ‘Man-up’ I can remember telling myself- though not really taking on the advice.

The routine of the day was always the same- breakfast, pack, tents down, ski, snack breaks, tents, food and then sleep. It can get monotonous. We were efficient- a ten day expedition was quickly reduced to four days as we skied for long hours, took few breaks and kept a strong pace.

The ice and weather had been good to us- by the final day it felt like we were home and dry, but like heading towards the summit of a mountain, I kept telling myself ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over’- anything could happen right up to 90*N, and in fact- it did.

At one point crossing a frozen over lead (channel of open water) a sickening crunch split the graceful polar silence. We froze in fear but the ice had begun to move. Water suddenly appeared- bubbling menacingly around my team mate’s skis. He was half way across the lead and the solid ice he has stepped onto was now morphing before our eyes to liquid.

We retreated as fast as we could on skis with heavy sledges. Looking back to where we had tried to cross the landscape has completely changed. This happened twice that last day to the Pole- we really were on thin ice as we covered those last few miles. The spring melt was on its way and where we stood would soon be ocean- it was time to reach the pole and get out of there!

The moment finally came after a long day- our team lined up on the crest of a small ridge and surveyed the flat plain of ice beyond us. I imagined all the lines of latitude gathering in this small area- this was the point where all time zones met, where you can ‘walk around the world’ in a matter of seconds and where for a moment or two you can stand with the entire planet beneath your feet. But first we had to find our goal of exactly 90 degrees North.

The sea ice was moving fast and so we seemed to skirt on the edge for some minutes- finally Alan got the exact reading on his GPS- this was it! We hugged, we cheered and I think some even got teary eyed. A toast was made and as the shot of cognac hit the back of my throat it burnt like fire- the liquor had almost congealed to syrup in the cold. I felt sick for a good half an hour.

The night was spent drinking hot chocolate and whisky and calling friends and loved ones on a satellite phone. One of our team mates nearly set his sleeping bag on fire in excitement and could have died in an inferno, which would have been quite ironic considering.

Back in the UK I am missing being on expedition already. These environments really are accessible if you can save hard, train hard and are willing to suffer a little. The things you see you will never forget- the sun surrounded by a halo of light, the infinite expanse of white and blue and the transformation in yourself as you adapt to life at minus 30.

For now I am back on the rock and looking forward to a summer climbing in the UK and in the Alps. That’s the great thing about these cold places: even England feels like the Caribbean when you return… for a few hours anyway.

http://www.vocalink.com/bonita


Even though I completed my challenge, by reaching the North Pole on the 13th of April, you can still help me to raise up to £10,000 with my sponsors VocaLink by topping up a pay as you go mobile phone at an ATM, during May 2011.

Thank you to my sponsors VocaLink, MPTU and YourCash for making this trip happen and enabling the public to donate to such a worthwhile charity.

Friday, 25 March 2011

VocaLink North Pole Challenge

The time of year has come again- last March i was sitting on my bed, looking at an explosion of kit on my bedroom floor, and a year on it feels like De'ja Vu.

It's not the Himalayas i'm heading off to this time- though i hope to visit again soon. I am in fact heading North to the arctic circle to a place called Longyearbyen, then onto a Russian base called Camp Barneo and after that (fingers crossed) the North Pole.

This last degree expedition is in aid of a great charity, The Forces Children's Trust.
The trust supports families who have lost a parent in the British Armed Forces- that may be Afghanistan or Iraq, or even closer to home.

The trust provides counselling, days out and even adventures- such as taking a group of bereaved children to Lapland to meet Father Christmas. My sponsor VocaLink, alongside Mobile Phone Top-UP at ATM and Your Cash have a bold target to raise over £10,000 for this fantastic charity- and thanks to their support we are well on our way.

But we need your help too- whilst i am on the expedition (31st March to 15th April) everytime you go to an ATM and top-up your PAYG phone a few pence goes directly to the FCT. This is such an easy way to raise huge amounts of cash. We raised £10,000 from your Top-Ups for Global Angels whilst i was on Everest, and that money has made a huge difference to children in the UK and in Africa.

So please- help us. Go and Top-Up at an ATM. Together we can make a difference.

So i leave next thursday from heathrow, and hope to reach the Pole around the 11th of April. I'll be guided by Alan Chambers MBE, the first British man to reach the North Pole from Canada unsupported alongside a team of other intrepid adventurers from the UK and one from NYC- hi Rob! This trip has been organised by Charity Challenge, who took the celebrities up Kilimanjaro. If you want to go on a crazy adventure they are www.charitychallenge.com.

One last thing- thanks to VocaLink and my family for being the biggest support. Without you this wouldn't be possible. I am very lucky.

You can check out www.vocalink.com/bonita for more details and also keep up to date with the trip via my twitter feed @bonitanorris. Finally, this blog will be updated whilst i am away with our progress.

Let's hope the weather holds...

B

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Spring climbing

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photos courtesy of Rhys Jones

What a glorious weekend for the nation's climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers- blessed high pressure meant brilliant blue skies, bright sunshine and not a cloud in the sky.

Taking full advantage of this mid-march anomoly Rhys Jones, Becky Bellworthy and myself headed down to the south coast for two days with high hopes of ticking some good routes and maybe even getting a tan.

Saturday saw us and what seemed like the world and his wife head down to Portland (sportland) to clip some bolts. Our threesome scrambled down past the cliffs of Blacknor Central to the jumble of slabs and boulders that seemed to be constantly battered by the swells.

We climbed pretty much every route on three of these slabs- including the diamond slab and ticked classics elsewhere such as The Bolt Factory. Good fun, but easy climbing. The waves crashed below, we played some tunes from Rhys' speakers and had many proud moments as Becky had her first experience of climbing and leading outdoors.




Photos courtesy of rhys jones

I found a huge, loose fossil which could be a 100million years old- i have no idea. I wandered whether i should take it home but instead hid it well under a boulder- if it has been there for millions of years without being taken then i suppose its not really my place to remove such a beautiful piece of history from the shoreline.

Day two Rhys persuaded us girls to head to Swanage for some trad climbing. Another great day and it was also nice to chat to Dave Pegler over sandwiches- he has provided all these of us with our kit for our Everest expeditions so it was nice to thank him in person.

I lead my first Severe climb- Inspiration S 4a. I had a long run out at the end after placing a sold nut and cam half way up the route. I knew i wasn't going to fall. That was a nice feeling- getting to the top with a smile. It's gotten me psyched for future trad days, Rhys you'll be pleased to know!







We watched the sunset from the top of the Agglestone in Studland- this great fiery orb sinking before our eyes behind the horizon. In the twilight we messed around on the sandstone and eeked out the final few moments of a wonderful weekend.

As we said goodbye to Becky, Rhys had to remind her- climbing in the UK is NOT normally like this! We've experienced gales in Scotland, frozen toes in the Lakes, cold hands pretty much everywhere else and not forgetting drizzle and wet, slippery rock.

But that's why weekends like that are so unforgettable- maybe they only come around once or twice a year, and to have been able to make the most of every moment is really what it is to feel alive.

Sheffield Adventure Film Festival

For me, one of the most important things about climbing is the community that has spawned from such a complex and varied sport. From the highest mountains to the smoothest boulder, climbing takes us to environments that require every ounce of our being, but have so much to give in return. It is no wonder that people from all walks of life and of all different levels of experience feel a need to come together and be amongst those who cherish the adventure, danger and grace that makes climbing such a unique sport.

Every year across the UK various festivals showcase films, lectures, awards, outdoor retailers and competitions to celebrate mountains, adventure and get the climbing community together for a good party, the pinnacle of this calendar being the Kendal Mountain Film Festival in November.

When spring comes around it’s all about the home of the world famous grit stone. The Sheffield Adventure Film Festival took place from the 4th to the 6th of March this year and saw not only some amazing films showcase but also an electrifying bouldering competition which took place over two days at the Climbing Works.

Friday evening kicked off the festival with a hilarious talk from Andy Kirkpatrick. Andy manages to make his atrocious mountain epics sound side splittingly funny. He has been consistently trying to push the boundaries of big wall climbing with solo and winter ascents of some pretty big rocks- El Capitan and the North face of Fitzroy to name but a few. His talk was sold out, along with Kenton Cool’s, who was on stage after. It was in fact Kenton’s lecture about Everest at the Royal Geographical Society that first inspired me to climb the great mountain. I have since been lucky enough to climb that same hill with the man himself, so be careful if you’re seeing him speak soon- you might leave and turn your entire life upside down like I did.

The next two days were a whirlwind of films such as The Prophet and lots of short films from across the spectrum. Kayakers, cyclists, skiers, swimmers and runners all showcased breathtaking films and the screenings were consistently packed out despite the beautiful and tempting anti-cyclonic weather- perfect for an afternoon on the grit!

When not spell bound at the showroom cinema we were down at the climbing works for the qualifying round on Saturday and the finals on Sunday of the CWIF competition. The qualifiers saw over 300 competitors- some there to give it a go, some there to win. It was a great atmosphere climbing amongst some of Europe’s best. With 30 problems to get through the competitors had their work cut out- there was everything from technical slabs with almost non-existent holds to pumpy overhangs requiring almost impossible amounts of body tension.

Sunday loomed for all but the 32 semi-finalists with sore heads after a night at the showroom for the official festival party. Semi-finalists included Reading Climbing Centre regulars Jen Wilby and British bouldering team member Jon Partridge. Only six competitors from each category made the grand final which took place to round off what was a fantastic weekend long celebration of climbing and adventure.

I watched from the 200 strong audience as Katie Whittaker clinched the women’s title and the Slovenian machine Jernej Kruder flashed all but one of the four problems, which were set by Britain’s manliest man Jason Pickles.

By the end of the final the Works was so packed that people had to stand in the street and watch through the windows. It was a fantastic atmosphere and everyone came home with a humbling appreciation of the pressure that these climbers are under and the skill it takes to climb at this level.

With the last trophy handed out it was back south to another normal week. After a weekend of so much inspiration from the speakers, films and climbers themselves I am more excited than ever for my own projects over the coming year. That’s what it’s about I guess- inspiring yourself to be the best climber you can be- whatever being the ‘best’ means to you.

On that note- It’s time to go climbing!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Karrimor





Great news to announce: i am now working with the great British outdoors company Karrimor.

Since our first meetings last summer i have been wearing Karrimor clothing out climbing in the hills of the UK and can say that i'm very proud to be associated with a British brand that has dedicated itself to creating fantastic outdoors wear for the past 40 years.



Karrimor originally sponsored the British Everest expeditions lead by Bonnington and have been the leading British rucsac brand ever since.

I am honoured that this great British brand invited me to join its team of ambassadors. The team is made up of some of Britain best and most well known rock climbers including Dave Pickford (editor of Climb Magazine) Jude Spanken and James Mchaffie.






Over the next 12 months i'll be working with karrimor on various projects in the UK and in the greater ranges, and will be reporting all the adventures in a monthly blog on www.karrimor.com



So in the mean time, check out the website and their spring/summer collection of rucsacs and boots. Karrimor are focussing on creating technical kit for alpinsim and rock climbing- so keep posted on developments with their already iconic rucsac line.




In the mean time- i am still working with VocaLink and MPTU at ATM on a new project to a very cold place- more details to be announced in the next few weeks! But please get ready to support me and my charity Forces Children's Trust on the next VocaLink expedition!

Monday, 31 January 2011

Lakes








By glorious coincidence Rhys Jones and I must have chosen one of the best january weekends on record to go to the Lakes- beautiful anti-cyclonic weather.

We arrived friday afternoon and headed down to Shepards crag. The Brown slabs are hidden just off of the roadside in a woodland and were bathed in pink light evening light.

Rhys breezed up a rib just off of a VD route which followed an obvious line. Our route was slightly harder but as it wasn't listed in the guide book (guide book was 20yrs old) so we are calling it a first ascent! That proud FA is called 'lunch box sarcastic'.

I followed Rhys up and found him sitting on the top of the crag with the most stunning view over Derwent Water and the hills beyond. The sunset was reflected off of the water in beautiful dashes of colour and it was a peaceful moment sitting up there on those rocks watching the day end.

Saturday dawned bright and clear- the sky a brilliant blue as we set off on another day of rock climbing- this time an attempt of a 140m multi pitch D/VD route on Gillercombe crag.

We could look out at the valley below and see not a soul for miles, and save for the occasional jingle of nuts and cams on a harness or our own 'safe' and 'climbing' shouts to each other, there was not a sound. It was worth a 45 minute walk in- the roadside crags would have been heaving on a day like this.

The route itself was fantastic. We took alternate leads on the 5 pitches which started by following a corner, then moved left up a clear chimney line. We always tried to climb on the ribs in the sunlight, where the climbing was more technical and exposed, but the sunlight was warm on our cold hands.

The second pitch was by far some of the most odd climbing i have ever done- the route dissapears behind a huge stone, meaning that you have to crawl into a hole and push yourself up into a crack no thicker than my chest- put it this way, if i was a stone heavier i wouldn't have fitted through- it was caving on a rock climb!

You re-appear into the glorious sunlight after being stuck in the very claustrophobic and damp crevasse and have to haul your body out- Rhys aptly named it a re-birth.



Onwards and upwards, i led the next pitch. Mentally i am not strong on lead- sport climbing is scary enough, so leading and having to find gear placements and having to place gear so that you are safe is a whole new level of climbing.

I began tentatively making my way up the rib next to the chimney where the route officially follows. I know i am capable of far more technical climbing, but as soon as my feet where off the ground my heart started to race.

6 feet up I placed a cam- i knew i would still hit the deck if i fell.

The foot holds were good but the rib was pushing my body away from the wall- i was hugging the rock trying to find a decent hand hold to the left- there wasn't one. I found myself shouting to Rhys 'i don't think i can do it'.

'Yes you can. Stop being an idiot and get on with it.'

There was nothing for it- I couldn't face defeat- i pushed onto my good left foot and held the tension in my upper body, the extra height meant i found a good hold with my left and and with a great sigh of relief i pulled up to a good stance. PHEW!

We topped out a few hours later and walked back to the car, both extremely happy with such a fun and adventurous route ticked.

In the rock gym it can get boring if you're not pushing yourself technically and physically all the time, but out in the mountains enjoyment comes from the exhiliration of seeing such beautiful views, touching the cold rock with your hands and working out your own route without brightly coloured holds- yes its easy climbing in comparison to the gym, but they are almost uncomparable in the experiences they each offer.

Sunday we nipped up Helvellyn via Striding edge, it seemed that quite a few parties turned back but we found conditions to be fine without crampons and only used axes to descent from the summit onto Swirral edge. The weather by this time was closing in on us- the top was windy and bitingly cold- i put on a wind proof jacket from Karrimor which was super lightweight, i wasn't sure if i should have taken a more heavy duty one, but it worked fantastically. It also had a hood- i recommend not buying a jacket if it doesn't have even a simple hood.



We descended in bad visibility onto Swirral edge, there was no 'cop out' path, we climbed with our hands and feet for 30 minutes over ice, rocks and snow (it felt very alpine!) until finally we emerged back below the cloud line and could spy the valley and our car way below.

As we jumped in the car, ready to begin the 5 hour drive back Rhys said rather depressingly 'don't you hate that moment when you press 'navigate to home' on the sat nav? Its the moment when you realise you have to leave again.'

With that solemn press of a button, the sat nav whizzed into life and pointed our way home. it was back to the real world, until next time.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

2011




happy new year to all

for me, 2011 ended with a bang and 2011 has started with a blow

First- 2010. Myself and a group of mates including Rhys Jones (who lead us in the hills) headed up for a taste of the famous Scottish winter. Any British climber worth their salt has heard of or been on a trip north of the border over the winter months to try their hand at ice and mixed climbing.

Last year in 2009 i was having far too much fun in London partying on New Years Eve to think about a week in Scotland- Everest was ahead of me (even though at that point i didn't have the money) and i was 22 and SHOULD have been getting drunk and partying, right?

Fast forward to 2010 and NYE was nearly spent in a snow hole as we topped out of a grade II/III route far too late in the day and had to navigate back to the car park in the dark. We got a bit lost, but found the glorious lights of the ski lifts in the distance and so an epic was narrowly avoided.

We all fell asleep before the clocks chimed 12.

Then i got the flu.

After recovering in Mambo's climbers cafe in Aviemore and spending all my money in Ellis Bringhams we headed back south for work, talks and training.

I thought about it in the car on the way home- it was the best NYE i'd ever had. In the hills, with mates, a bit of climbing then back to the warmth for tea and medals. Give me a climbing trip over a night club any day. Then again, 2010 had been the best year of my life- who'd of thought that little old me would stand on top of the world? My cousin got married- we all went on holiday together, my dad and his partner found out they were expecting another baby- 2010 will define my life for the rest of my life. How can you top that?

Back south i had a few meetings before heading straight back north for a talk in Mansfield- friday i finally got home and could relax- that's when the news came.

My trip to the sea ice of northern canada has been cancelled. We were set to leave in 5 weeks. it was a ski expedition to Ellesmere island- a 400 mile expedition. We hoped to be the first unsupported British team to do it. Everything was coming together, and now its cancelled. To say i'm devastated is an understatement. Reports we are getting is that the sea ice is 50cm thinner than from 2010 records- it's to dangerous to mount an expedition in early feb as our team had hoped.

The worst thing is that i was hoping to work with an amazing charity on the expedition- the Forces Children's trust www.forceschildrenstrust.org who were recently featured on The Sun's Military Awards.

VocaLink, my sponsor, had been passionate about helping this amazing charity too and its plans for an outdoor adventure week in the summer for the children that the charity supports.

FCT offers kids who have lost a parent in the military the chance to meet up with other children in a similar situation- they go on trips together and get to do all sorts of cool things that hopefully offer them a chance to be a child again despite their grief. I really hope i can support them in the future.

The cancelling of the expedition is a massive blow. i've spent the weekend in a bit of a blur. My life, for the moment, is up for grabs. This could be an incredibly good thing or a very bad thing. What was last week a concrete future is now but an idea. I think of all the hours of training and planning, gone to waste on nothing more than a dream.


Yesterday was a beautiful day. My flu is still rattling in my chest and has weakened me- my arms and legs are thinner. I didn't think it would be a good idea to run, but my head was begging for one.

I parked in the muddy car park of the look out, pulled up the zip on my karrimor to keep my neck warm and headed off into the woods. I don't run much alone in here- i've almost forgotten what it feels like.

The setting sun cast the woodlands in shadow, and the orange rays burst occassionally through the trees. It was a beautiful evening and the air was still and cool. I breathed deeply- it felt good to get some fresh air after a week on trains.

What next? I could be on this exact run in a years time but still in the exact same place. Everything had been so clear, and now- i simply don't know what to think. I tell myself there's no rush- better to take my time to make my next move. But i can't shake the sense of urgency to just DO something.

If i'm honest with myself, my goals are quite simple. Too simple to be more than hobbies- i need proper goals. Big goals. But for me the most important goals seem to be the simple ones. In which case i need to make other goals- money making/ career making goals.

My feet glide along the soft orange sands of Swinley forest. My pace quickens as i head down hill towards Surrey Hill. My favourite hill. I want to climb, run, adventure and speak about the aforementioned. Right now i am lucky enough to say that that is exactly what i do. But what about the future?

I pump my arms as i hit the bottom of Surrey hill, my feet slide on the loose rocks and sand. I look to the top- the orange sunset is gleaming on the horizon- just. If i run fast enough i might be able to catch it. I pump harder- the top getting closer but never quite getting there. My lungs expand, thighs pump. The ground flattens and i am greeted with the most stunning sight.

The sunlight ripples amongst the trees. the fiery orb gives off one more burst of light and then lowers below the horizon. My heavy breathing fills the air. I am all alone here- in fact, i haven't seen a single soul.

People say that standing on top of the world must have been the greatest moment of my life. It wasn't. It was just another moment on an incredible journey. This was an incredible moment- alone in these woods with the sunset all to myself, feeling good on a run. What more could any human ask for? Wouldn't life be so simple if such incredible moments were seen as pinnacles and achievements? I can't make a career running in these woods- if i could i would.

I turn and carry on- into the belly of the beast. I zip up and down the mountain bike trails, my legs leap and bound around puddles and mud. This feels good. It's getting dark, i start to head back.

I suppose there is only one answer to all my questions and worries- if i cherish these moments so much, and want to run and climb and adventure, then i have to fight with every ounce to make sure that that happens. I will go to the ends of the earth for it.

Don't give up on yourself.

I don't know what i'll do next. But i do know that i will continue to push myself as hard as i can. I've got a personal list of ticks for 2011, to run certain trail races and climb a certain grade indoors and outdoors. In terms of the bigger picture i am planning to go to the himalayas again and hopefully china in 2012 on expeditions. Is it enough? I hope so, but i know it's not.


I've got no reason to not pursue my wildest dreams- neither has anybody really. We really are so very, very lucky.

When the time for action comes i hope i am ready- i'm scared of the unknown and of starting from the beginning again, but what scared me even more is that i let opportunities in the unknown pass me by.


Happy 2011- who is going to take a leap of faith with me this year?