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?