Sunday, 24 December 2017

Cabbage, Bengal and Sandstone

After a week of reflection and relaxation back at home, all in the wake of some chaotic travel scenes, I am still dreaming of that golden Kentucky sandstone. That pocketed, perfectly shaped rock, full of colours, streaks of black, orange, and golden yellow. Vast curving, steep walls, formed over millions of years by the beautiful Red River that carves its way through the gorge. A place we lived and breathed for a month of our lives and called home.


Everything about this place is simplicity at its finest and so well set up. There are literally thousands of routes here with huge new crags being discovered all the time. Routes up and down the grading scale, featuring all types of climbing styles and for all level of abilities. You are guaranteed to have a good time here. Full stop.
From our base at Lago Linda’s in the southern region, you are never more than a 10-20 minute drive down the road to the various sectors. If you are stuck for partners then Miguels Pizza is the place to be. A true climbers hub. No trip to The Red is complete without a visit to see Miguel and to sample some of his world famous pizza. This guy has been selling his mouth watering dough for 30 odd years and the famous yellow sign is recongised in climbing circles throughout the world. Who could forget a place that offers over 50 different pizza toppings!?!?

Fellow Brit Jerome Mowat on potentially one of the best 7c+'s out there.
'Death By Chocolate'

Access for popular areas has been secured by the Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition. A non-profit organisation dedicated to securing and protecting open, public access to rock climbing in the Red River Gorge.
Since 2004 these guys have purchased over a 1000 acres of land in Lee County, Kentucky, enabling free access to hundreds of world class crags for climbers and all future generations to fully enjoy.

We are dedicated to securing and protecting open, public access to rock climbing in the Red River Gorge area of Kentucky and promoting conservation of the environment on the lands where we climb.
Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition

Every morning I would wake with a huge sense of excitement to go climbing. Whether this was a day that we would be checking out a new area or returning to one the ‘usual’ spots. The Motherlode, Drive By, Gold Coast, Bob Marley, The Chocolate Factory. All world class crags harbouring routes as good as anywhere on the planet, with each crag hidden within an almost enchanted forest. Trails and tiny paths lead through the secluded woods, all in various directions with small wooden signposts pointing the way through the leaves and tree roots to each sector. Suddenly you will turn a corner, swing under a tree branch and be greeted with towering waves of bullet hard sandstone, glistening in the southern sunshine and under a blanket blue sky. Enough adjectives there for you…

Black Gold (8a+)

Scanning over my tick list for the month I can honestly say that each route scribbled down was a undeniable gem and an utter pleasure to climb. Not a single bad route among them and impossible to pick a favourite.
This place is without a doubt somewhere I would happily return to year after year.
I cannot say for sure when I might be returning to the Deep South of Kentucky, only that I know I will be back. Hopefully sometime in the near future so we can once more do battle with those steep walls and tackle the famous Red River pump!

'50 Words for Pump' (8c+/5.14c) 

Having such a solid and supportive climbing partner on a trip like this is crucial and I’m really grateful to Mina for asking me in the first place but mainly for putting up with me for a month and making our trip so thoroughly enjoyable and one of the best I have ever been on.

Here she is on a true Red classic. Golden Boy (8a/5.13b) 

US climber Claire Buhrfeind takes down 'Southern Smoke' (8c+)

Big thanks also to everyone else we met along the way who all contributed to making our trip so memorable. The scene is incredibly vibrant, friendly and seriously strong too with everyone reading from the same page. Everybody is here to have a good time and go rock climbing.
Wake up, climb, eat, sleep, repeat. Life is really that simple.
A special shoutout to local strong guy Dru Mack who offered his guidance, knowledge and hospitality throughout our stay. Cheers bro and you are welcome here anytime. You know where we are!

I would like to think I’ve had a pretty big and successful year from both a climbing and work perspective, however right now it’s time for Christmas and some much needed quiet time, before we begin hatching plans for 2018…

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Welcome to The Red.

The Red River Gorge. Where to begin? Like many people I was first made aware of this place by watching the Petzl Roc Trip way back in 2007. That Youtube video blew me away and I remember watching it over and over again. All of the rock climbing worlds royalty battling it out on perfectly sculptured sandstone, busting out gravity defying moves to the ascending sound of ‘Allez, Allez’ and taking monster whippers through the air. I knew all the classics inside out. 50 Words for Pump, Thanatopsis, Omaha Beach, Black Gold. The list goes on and on.
That video was one of those that fuelled my climbing psyche as a teenager, at a time when I was just beginning to delve into the world of hard sport climbing and to know what it felt like to try your hardest.

“… the biggest holds you will ever fall off”

Ever since then this sport climbing paradise has been a distant pipe dream of mine to one day visit. So this past summer when I got a call from my good friend Mina Leslie-Wujastyk asking if I would be interested in hooking up for a 4 week trip out here in the autumn, I jumped at the chance. Plans were made, flights and accommodation booked, and guidebooks brought. This would be an opportunity not to be missed. My first trip to the USA!
Coming out here I had no firm agenda other than to just go climbing. I knew of The Red’s reputation for the pump. The type of pump that will blow your forearms to kingdom come. “The biggest holds you will ever fall off” seemed to be a theme amongst most people I spoke to who have been out here.

Thanatopsis. (8c/5.14b)

We’ve been here a week so far and I think I can safely say that this is turning into the best climbing trip I have ever been on. Ceuse 2014 will be a big one to top and that crag will always have a special place in my heart but The Red is going to seriously push it all the way.
The crags out here are phenomenal. The routes on another level and the rock like nothing I have ever seen before. The textures, friction and the whole geology of the place is simply mind bending. For me, every time I pull on, the grip and feel of the rock feels like one of those perfect gritstone days, with minty fresh, crisp conditions. Those days when everything feels like you are basically cheating. Pockets and pinches, jugs and crimpers, are all sculptured in such a way that they fit your fingers inch perfect. These sandstone walls were made for climbing, no doubt about it.

Piotr Schab goes for Pure Imagination.

Life out here is pretty simple. We wake up to glorious morning sun shining through the frosty windows of our cabin. The heater goes on. We brew up, have breakfast, pack lunch, enjoy the morning rays some more, before throwing bags and ropes in our beast of a 4x4 and driving the short distance to the crags. We climb until dark, head back to our cosy hobbit hole setup, cook dinner while all the time chatting about our day, discussing beta, and making plans for the next day. Then it’s feet up, we update our tick lists, pour through the guidebook, maybe watch a film before hitting the sack for a good nights sleep but psyched out of our minds knowing that in 8/9 hours time we’ll be repeating the whole process again.

Safe to say we are having a pretty good time out here right now.


Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Trilogy

Hajj is the name for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. A fitting name for a route that brings to a close the entire Mecca saga for myself. It is a journey that started back in 2013 when I first climbed that famous 8b+ groove line at Raven Tor that so many people aspire to. 
Later that year I managed to pull myself up the ‘Mecca Extension’ and with it my first 8c. Next on the list was the neighbouring and much harder extension, Kaabah, 8c+. Over the course of a couple of seasons, the first of which just about mentally broke me, I finally made it up that section of wall too, in early June of 2015. This one was a serious emotional roller coaster for me and probably the only route that has ever had me on the verge of tears when I finally made it to the top and clipped the chains.

So that left me with just Hajj. The far left extension. Much less travelled than its two sister routes and rumoured to be 'tough'...

At the time I pretty much had no interest in trying. I think it had only ever had a couple of ascents at that point still and to be honest I’d kind of seriously had enough of that whole piece of rock.

Fast forward to spring of this year. After a year of many changes involving work and moving into my own place in Tideswell, I found myself in a truly fantastic and privilege position of finally being able to go climbing properly again. I am of course incredible grateful to my long term sponsors Mammut for their unwavering support and for allowing me the freedom to pursue my climbing career and dreams. They really are a terrific team to work with and I honestly cannot thank them enough.

I was keen to get stuck into something hard again and give myself a real test. Hajj suddenly came into the forefront of my mind and the psyche began to bubble up inside. After all it seemed rude to not get involved, especially as I now live only a 2 minute drive from the cruicble of hard Peak limestone…
After spending a short period of just enjoying having the time to climb again, I turned my attention to project mode. Mecca went down again with relative ease, considering it had been close to 2 years since my last ascent.
Hajj itself however was a different story. On first acquaintance with the crux, I was barely able to pull on the holds let alone do the moves. It was a shock to the system without a doubt. 


The hand holds on that vertical shield of black limestone are perhaps some of the most horrendous grips I have ever pulled on. Made only worse by the sheer lack of initial footholds. It is probably about as close to standing on fresh air as it gets. Add into the mix that they are also the sharpest, most painful holds I have probably ever pulled on, and we have quite the feast. A series of razor blade, credit card thin fingertip crimps and tenuous half pad undercuts in the vertical world make for a serious treat (if you have a fetish for that sort of thing) and roughly gives you a HARD font 7B+ ish? boulder problem to negotiate.

But despite all of this I was psyched regardless and within a couple of sessions I had linked the entire crux section to the top. It felt good to be back trying hard again. Seeing that progression all climbers thrive off, from virtually impossible to maybe ‘just’ possible to okay I can do this. The project process. We all know the story.

I had a feeling that with a small bit of luck it might not actually take that long to redpoint. Especially considering how wired I had the bottom 8b+ section and with the bonus of having time on my side again…
However routes like this rarely go to plan and I spent the next few weeks, which slowly turned into the next couple of months, battling my way literally inch by inch up the final 8ft section of rock. It was certainly not going to go down easily. 

These routes require patience, tenacity, commitment and full body engagement, not to mention the right air temperature, breeze etc along with the ability to feel zero amount of pure mind numbing PAIN! We battled with conditions that included everything from extreme heat, and jungle like humidity to the freezing cold and blasting arctic winds. Actually some of my best attempts ended up coming during absolute monsoons. Bizarre.

I slowly started coming to the conclusion that these type of routes are just simply not my style. Or maybe they are, I no longer can really tell. Maybe I was just too eager? Maybe I was taking the wrong approach or it was all simply just a head game.
However with each passing session I was getting clearly getting fitter and still making obvious progress. Whether this progress was doing a big link, finding some new and intricate way to hold on or even just an obvious sense of feeling stronger on individual moves and the route in general.
Finding a new marginal foothold, making a tiny fingertip adjustment, all small pieces of encouragement to take home, think on and keep the psyche burning. 

In the end it was one of these micro beta changes that probably made all the difference.

I was so appreciative of having the time and freedom to go climbing that even on the worst of sessions I remained as upbeat as possibly and reminded myself that this was meant to be fun. 


Kaabah taught me a lot of things about myself, my climbing and how to deal with the pressures of performing at your limits. Having that experience to draw upon helped hugely. I didn’t beat myself up over falling, I refused to let my mind wander off and be distracted by failure, but tried to keep a clear head, clear of all doubt, bad vibes and completely focused in on the end goal. It would go when it was ready.

It's more than likely that constantly keeping a clear state of mind and blocking out any negative thoughts was potentially harder than doing the crux moves of the route itself!
It could have easily gone about a month ago and maybe it should have, but for some reason or other fate decided to drag the process out by another few weeks.

All in all it took close to 40 attempts and in the process taking my Mecca account to 122 ascents. Some will look at that and call it madness, obsessive, ridiculous, blah blah blah, but for me it was worth it.
It was worth all the pain, both mental and physical, all the early morning starts, all the split fingertips and every frustrating fall.

I am pleasantly satisfied but reckon I am well and truly done with that section of wall now!

It should go without saying that special thanks should go to my Dad who was there to hold my ropes for pretty much every session along the way. The whole process would have been a million times harder and more than likely longer without his ever readiness to belay and support at the bottom.

What’s next? I dunno. One thing for sure is I will not be making my Hajj an annual thing!