NOT FOR FREE!

This summer for me has been about focusing on set projects that I committed to at the start of the year following the winter season. I wanted to set myself 5 goals for the summer season. Dream routes that I knew were within reach and some that were possibly not, but touching on all disciplines of summer rock, from Trad, Big Wall, Boulder and Sport climbing.

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In setting myself medium and long term goals, I was hoping that the medium goals would be reached this year but with the long term goals being something that I could work towards this year and then possibly send into the next.

I've never really gone about planning a year like this and have normally kept things spontaneous, so it was also a bit of an experiment to see if I was more productive and could perform better in having a structure to my projects, therefore to my training.

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With a year out from expedition climbing I really wanted to think of the best order in which to approach the 5 projects, helping towards the next one only once the previous project was complete. Building fitness throughout the summer to maybe being fit enough for my long term and final project at the end of the year. 

In addition, the order in which to do those 5 projects had to be worked out and attempted at the right time of year to find the right conditions. Basically there was a lot to think about if I was to get even close to completing all or at least some of these goals.

Now that my summer is over and I look back in hindsight, I really recommend this approach in goal setting, It helps keep the focus, a structured training plan, and motivation high even through the dark days of injury and self doubt. Write them down and put them somewhere you will see everyday, the key is to maintain the psych levels and to come up with realistic and reachable goals thoughtout the year that you can tick off as you go, adapting your training accordingly rather than have just having one distant dream. But remember none of this comes for free, commit to those goals and train your arse off to achieve them.

CREDIT Mirte van Dijk (@mirtewashere)-MATT oliana9512.jpg

Its now almost the end of the year and its time for me to start thinking about my next set of projects for 2018, So maybe its also time for you to start thinking about yours too... 

Below are my 5 projects for summer 2017.. if interested!


 1. First Ascent of the Avon Gorge, "Ramp Super Challenge" Bristol.

On the 13th June myself and Rhoslyn Frugtniet in the full on sun and blazing heat completed the very "local" and quite eccentric "Ramp Super Challenge" The original Ramp Challenge was envisaged by the late Johnny Woods on the Upper wall and was completed in November of last year.

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With the release of the New Avon Gorge CC guide, the bar was raised to climb in one session from 11 starred routes with a total of 50 E points to 15 starred routes and 60 E points (!) packing in 286m of climbing from E2 - E6. The idea is to climb the routes in the order of the guidebook.

We did it by the skin of our teeth, but unfortunately on the final move of the whole project, I badly pulled my finger flexor unit in the forearm, which put me out of action for the next 6 weeks. For any team wishing to give it a go, it gives a really hard challenge but I would wait for a much cooler day! Thanks to Richard Emerson, Ollie Kynes and Paul Twomey for capturing the action on film watch it here.... 

https://vimeo.com/234109694


2. Free Ascent of "PressKnodel" 7c 480m Cima Ovest, Dolomites.

Having been out injured for over 6 weeks it was time to get my Dolomite fix. I really wanted to free a route on the North Face of Cima Ovest. “PressKnodel” was a route I had my eye on for a while. A beautiful looking line up to the right of the big roofs. Twelve long pitches, most 50m in length and very sustained in the mid and high 7's throughout.

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I met up with my mate Nick Bullock for 3 weeks but due to my injury I was really reluctant to climb anything hard for the first 10 days. Just super paranoid I would rip open again my healing forearm, so we spent some time climbing in the stunning Tofana Di Rozes area, climbing some very cool routes, some loose and often bold but on the sunny south faces. 

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We then switched our focus to Tre Cima and to a project. "PressKnodel" an on-sight was out of the question, due partly to me not wanting to try too hard but mainly due to the savage cold on the North Face. 

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We agreed on going for a look, to see if the climbing was any good and worth some effort. The biting north wind blew right onto us, freezing our hands and bodies to the core, mid pitch myself and Nick often experienced brutal re heats, the rock was cold we where like blocks of ice. After 4 pitches we descended, but on a big overhanging face that’s easier said than done. 

We returned to the base after all sorts of rope work techniques, ropes rubbing along sharp edges and scary lower outs to not leave us hanging in space, to reach the next belays to get us down. Once safely at the base we both felt the intensity of the descent and agreed that for another look at some of the higher pitches, we would need to fix some rope to make the descent back down the face less stressful. 

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Over the course of the next week, we fixed rope, looked at some of the harder pitches, froze our arses off and took some rest days waiting for temperatures to warm up before we could try to climb the route free in a day. On the 27th August with a good forecast we went for it, dropping the fix ropes behind us to the ground as we went. 4 pitches from the top the clouds darkened and the claps of thunder started to reverberate around the Tre Cima north walls. Rain started to fall from the sky, the anxiety built as the thunder claps got closer and we could see lightning ground strikes near by.  It was like being hounded by a pack of wolves. Will it get us ? 

We topped out on the last pitch just in time and sheltered from the passing storm before descending greasy limestone off the south face and back to the van, heading back round to the bottom of the face to collect our fixed rope. Without a doubt, for me the finest multi pitch alpine rock route I have climbed so far.

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3. 2nd Place at TCA winter series boulder comp.

I've never been into competition climbing, and I've always shied away from entering any.  Maybe the fear of failure held me off! I was back in the UK to commit to a trad project in Pembroke, and spent my time training at TCA in Bristol. I always trained on the circuit boards and never really bouldered, why...because it was my weakness. I had a word with myself this year to get out of my comfort zone, so started to boulder……lots.

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Due to my climbing projects where naturally I don't want to fall because I may hurt myself, my climbing style has always been very static. I had the power and a deep lock off, but I needed to find the “snap" so over the course of a few weeks I really worked at my weaknesses and found super quick gains.

19th October was time for the TCA boulder comp.  Friends there had expected me to show up to take part but in my own mind I was still undecided. I showed up 1.5hrs late, mainly because I thought no, I’ll just train instead but as soon as I got through the door the TCA team already had me signed up before I could think of an excuse not to.  I warmed up and got stuck into the qualifying problems working my way through them. I love the route setting here, the problems feel like "real climbing" and not like some of the parkour type problems set in other walls, Before I knew it I was in the final and came 2nd overall.

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I've no idea where that came from, in not being a pure boulderer.  Maybe it was from just letting go of that fear of failure, or maybe because most of the other strong boys where on holiday! but It’s was a big lesson to me....fear of failure is often the biggest thing holding us back from success! 


4. "Point Blank" E8 6c, Stennis Ford, Pembroke.

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At the start of the year, I spent some nice days climbing at Pembroke. Being next to the sea for me is escapism from the mountains and I love it. Days spent with my mate Sam, van living, climbing until late, is pretty much as good as it gets, I spent time just on sighting, ticking though my black book of climbs I have to do in my lifetime. I love the UK, the climbing community and the diversity of climbing there. Over the past 10 years I've been away a lot, but during the last couple of years I find myself coming home more often. For the all round climber there is nowhere better!

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One route that captured me from the time my friend Dave Pickford did the first ascent in 2009 was "Point Blank" in Stennis Ford.  A dramatic wall with sustained climbing and long run-outs. However a huge drop zone means you'll only clock up air-time if you drop the final hard section. The climb takes in the crux's of "From a Distance" before stepping left and following the line of holds leading out into the centre of the wall and taking the headwall above.

8th October I was there with Sam on pretty much the last weekend of the trad season, before the weather really changed for the worse. I wanted to head-point the route, abseil the line, look at the moves and the gear before going for it, placing all gear on lead. For me this was the best style I could wish for, days before it had rained. Now it was cloudy with no wind and the tide had not been out for long, but the forecast for the rest of the weekend was dodgy, so to wait until the afternoon for conditions to evolve was too risky!  The rock felt soapy and the friction bad. Climbing through the crux's of "From a Distance" felt droppable. I continued across the traverse, and placed 2 cams in the pocket that protects the runout crux. The rock greasy with every touch I climbed through with a few shaky moments and topped out, so psyched to have climbed this dream route.  For me, its a real masterpiece of a line.


"Fisheye" 8c, Oliana, Catalonia.

To climb a route at your limit, everything has to be in your favour, the style, the length and the conditions need to be perfect. "Fisheye" a 50m 8c in Oliana was a route that would suit my style, a full power endurance/endurance effort. 

CREDIT Mirte van Dijk (@mirtewashere)-MATT oliana9545.jpg

Conditions in Oliana were tricky.  It was too warm in the sun, meaning that for the first 10 days of being there, the climbing window was only 3 hrs a day to be able to climb in the shade.  Progress was slow. To work every move on a 50m route takes time!  After 7 days of effort to work all the moves out, I felt that it was time to start going for the red-point. 

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CREDIT Mirte van Dijk (@mirtewashere)-MATT oliana9577.jpg

9th November on the 4th burn I found myself clipping the chain, a huge release of emotion and the best way to top off my summer season, now I'm fully game on for winter!!

" SO COME ON AND LET ME KNOW..SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO ? "

Almost 3 weeks had passed since my abortive trip to Scotland. I'd flown over from the Alps to meet with Nick Bullock for 2 weeks of action only to be closed down by an unexpected melt only a day in. With flights and hire car paid for to cover the whole period and the cost of extra flights to get out, only one route in the can and 750€ lighter, it was an expensive melt. Not only for the mountains but also for my pocket!

The following weeks passed with warm and windy weather in the Highlands, bringing hardly any decent mixed climbing conditions. The Alps were similar, very mild and not much snow and the mountains dry of ice but still there were a few good days out on the skis with clients to be had. It was a good period to guide and train. Countless sessions in the "pain cave" hang boarding and down at the wall pulling laps on a power endurance circuit I'd worked out that had become the winter indoor project for many for much of the season. It's nice to work out moves for others to enjoy. I can see how route setters get some satisfaction from this. As well as indoor sessions, it was warm enough to climb on the rock which is always good for early season fitness...

Keeping a close eye on the forecast in Scotland, it looked as if conditions would turn for the better from the 27th February with temperatures dropping, high wind, low wind, snow but then maybe no snow...ah should I stay or should i go ?  However, nothing is for certain in Scottish winter mixed climbing and the call to book flights and a car were left until less than 24 hours before departure. To be spontaneous is key! Thanks to Cath and the team at SAIS for your forecasting and images on the blog. Your knowledge becomes our power!. My trusty partner Jon Bracey managed to pull some time out for himself to give us 4 days of possible product on a quick hit. Looked like game on!!!

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Landing in Edinburgh it felt like t-shirt temperatures as the rain bounced off the runway. We collected our gear and headed straight to Ratho wall for a few routes at this fantastic venue. Plan was to go for a "light" session but for sure we got a little carried away and spent hours there getting spanked. (Thats pumped, or trashed, or beasted my U.S and European friends and not spanked as in "spanked" ok!!). We then headed west for a few days with open plans and minds. The rain came down hard as we drove over Rannoch Moor with hardly any snow in sight!  Fingers crossed for the morning then...

Thankfully we awoke to snow down to low levels and decided to head up to Glen Coe and slap up to Stob Coire Nan Lochan. Not knowing conditions, we somehow ended up on "Unicorn" VIII/8. With the rock well rimed and the cracks verglassed, the first pitch was as hard, confusing and bold as I had heard. Very "fall off-able" in those conditions but thankfully I managed to somehow stay put in the corner without a fall. I really didn't fancy the look of my gear too much to test it !  Jon followed and climbed through to the second pitch, still giving hard and sustained climbing but brilliant. I then took us to the top on yet another verglassed "un-fun" section with a steep pull to finish, topping out in beautiful evening light with stunning views before heading down to the Clachaig for a good feed in front of the fire.

After a nice work out on "Unicorn" we decided to climb a classic route that we've both always wanted to do, mainly because it has a cool name. "Neanderthal" VII/7 is on Bidean Nam Bian on Lost Valley Buttresses at the head of the Lost Valley. A long approach through old woodland and waterfalls brings you up to a plateau like valley, steep sided but a beautiful place to be. We waded in deep snow to the buttress. A steady 1st pitch gave way to 2 excellent pitches. Again the crag was heavily rimed once we pulled out from the cave so time had to be taken in cleaning the rime off rocks to give way to hooks and gear. We thought back to the first ascent in 1987 by R.Anderson and G.Nicoll, climbing with Terrordactyl axe ices back then, a fine effort that.

We topped out to the most amazing views that I think I've ever experienced in Scotland. It's hard not to be blown away by the beauty of the Highlands at this time of year when the suns out!. Late afternoon light is almost bronze in colour and really worth all the effort when conditions finally come good. 

Day 3 for a change of scene we headed to the Cairngorms. The early morning start from Roy Bridge for me felt savage but for Jon I think it was still a lie in, not having his kids around to wake him up. Besides which, I'm not the best morning person. We walked into Coire an Lochain and headed up for another classic we both had on our wish list.  "The Vicar" VII/8 on No.3 Buttress. Again the crag was well rimed up and a little verglassed. Jon gave me a belay to cross the Y Branch gully in case of windslab. I continued up the first pitch, which was steady but still ground that I had to take my time on. Jon then continued through and climbed the short but pokey 2nd pitch, doing well to dig out the hooks on a deep lock off to pull into the belay.

I climbed the 3rd pitch. Steep to start but on good hooks, then pulled out left into cracks all of which were again buried. It took time to find the good gear and hooks. At the top the guide book mentions to pull back right to the arete to continue to the top but I got lost and went direct up this loose, verglassed, gear less, nasty off width,  which almost took longer than the harder moves below as I was trying hard to not take a monster lop onto a distant hex below. Scary stuff...

We met Graeme Ettle in the bar afterwards. He assessed me in my Scottish winter guides test 10 years ago. Now a friend, first winter ascentionist of "The Vicar" and total sand bagger,  he told us a good story of that ascent back in 1992, saying it was easy and was given 7 in the "old" grading system at the time. Don't listen to him, it felt more like VIII/8 to me. 

With one of my heals ripped to bits by my boots, a windy forecast and with both of us feeling a little jaded we head back into Coire an Lochain on day 4. With the wind in our face the walk in felt for me like a bit of an effort especially with my heal getting further ripped to bits but listening to the  Clash on my iPod got me in.

We headed for "War and Peace" VII/8. Jon took the first lead up the slabby but unpositive corner with me taking the 2nd pitch through some steep overlaps. Jon continued up a nice hanging corner till I came though on easy ground to the top. Given the conditions, we got out as quick as possible back to Glen Mor Lodge for a cheeky coffee and cake !

So the trip gamble paid off this time. If conditions stay in I will be back at the weekend. It's hard to beat this place when conditions are working with you.....

EPHEMERAL FRUSTRATIONS

A life time of training for something so ephemeral as winter climbing can be challenging on the mind. Are conditions in, not in ? Will it be good in a few days, maybe a week ? Should I play it safe and just go rock climbing in Spain ? For sure I'm fortunate to have these dilemma's in my life, and It’s something I don't take for granted.

That’s why making the right choice in what I'm doing and when, stresses me out! Climbing is my life, the only thing I know and something that brings me happiness (and pain !) Trying to balance fitness for rock climbing, mixed climbing, and alpinism all around the same time is an impossible task, to be performing at the level in each discipline that I want to be at is something I need to accept rather than constantly beat myself up about.

After weeks of looking at forecasts and blogs, the Alps were dry and Scotland looked to be coming good for a while and worth a trip. Besides which, I was more keen to maximise some winter conditions rather than go to Spain at this time. Winds coming from the north brought snow Wednesday through to Friday, then temperatures where due to stay cold for at least a week, bringing the cliffs into condition. Game on...

Being able to be spontaneous, I boarded a flight to Edinburgh and met up with Nick Bullock in hope of some quality product. We’d both committed for 2 weeks, so psych was high driving up to the CC hut in Roy Bridge that evening. Nick had already arrived. Walking through the door I was confronted with “Have you seen the forecast?. It’s changed. A thermo nuclear meltdown on Sunday is now on the cards! Looks like we have one day... two at the max.”

Still optimistic, we headed into Stob Corie Nan Lochcan in Glen Coe on Saturday. The mountains were covered in snow and in the morning sunlight looked stunning as we approached the crag.

It was great to be back out with my old mate again and the walk up seemed to fly by as we caught up on each others news. The crag was “in”, looking white if not possibly a little verglassed! We decided on climbing the “East Face Direct Direct” VII/7 on the central buttress. A route I’d never done and that Nick had always wanted to do. The line looked fantastic. Conditions on the route where tricky with verglas, so felt pretty solid for the grade.

Protection and placements were hard to get and what might have been good foot placements were covered by bullet hard clear ice, so climbing was at times a little unpredictable and “wiggy”. With the turf in places not being fully frozen it made for a few exciting pulls! We topped out and arrived back at the car just before dark.

Checking the forecast that evening made for disappointing reading. The warm spell was incoming and looked to be staying put for a while moving west to east.

The following morning we drove to the Cairngorms, watching the outside temperature gauge of the car go from 0c to 5c, back to 1c in Aviemore to 3c and rain at the car park! We stepped outside to get a feel for things but already both knew we were fucked! Nick said “I don’t need to go out in that” and I agreed. The cliffs would already be black and out of acceptable climbing condition, so we bailed and headed down to Glenmore Lodge for a coffee and catch up with Matt Pycroft who was up for some filming and Calum Muskett. Callum had been in the car park just before us with Dave MacLeod and had also decided not to bother which helped ease my anxiety about our decision !

The rest of the day was spent catching up with friends and drinking huge amounts of coffee. A day later I’m sat on a plane heading back to the Alps.

I will return to Scotland once conditions come good again. Some folk may wonder why all the effort for something that is so condition dependant and unreliable. The answer is simple. Scottish winter gives the best mixed climbing in the world. The mountains may be small but the adventures are far from that. We’re also lucky in the UK to have a great community of climbers sharing the same passion and enthusiasm, looking out for each other and sharing information when things come good. A strong scene. 

Thanks to Nick for some of the images above, already looking forward to the next hit mate....

NEW ROUTE "ROTATORNATOR"

It's been a dry Autumn in the Alps. Sure, there was one big dump of snow in November, to get everyone excited for a big winter, but as yet there is nothing on the horzion in terms of precipitation. A high pressure in the Alps brings day after day of blue skies, but along with that polluted valleys, filled to the brim with wood smoke and diesel fumes, all trapped like a caged animal until a low pressure becomes more dominate to realise its toxic air away from the valleys, and up into the higher atmospheres, and to then most likely, make all of us again forget what we are doing to our planet, out of site out of mind, maybe so! But its still there, still infecting!

To escape the smog on the 2nd December, the opening day of the Skyway lift in Courmayuer, Italy, myself along with Stu Macdonald took the ride to the top, skied and skinned into Cirque Maudit to go and check conditions, and to look at a few new route possibilities I've had in mind. To no surprise conditions where dry, limited amounts of usable ice and from what I could make out, no transformation of snow on the existing routes, only powder!

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Route choice for a climb later in the week was limited, but I had one cool line in mind, a line that to me stood out on the l'epaule NW de la Tour Ronde and as far as I was aware, unclimbed. The following days I spent hours looking through old guide books and going through the route files at OHM Office in Chamonix to confirm or not as to if the line had already been climbed. Weather it would be or not, it looked cool, something different to go at in an area where the potential for new routes are now limited, especially in these conditions.

7th December, with the first lift at 8.30 at Skyway, and with short daylight hours, myself and Stu didn't even have time for a coffee when the lift docked into the top station (very unusual). With a slight breeze but under a blue sky we skied, then skinned back up into the Cirque Maudit, rounding the bend the breeze stopped to leave a calm day. Perfect weather gave way to some perfect mixed climbing, cracks, corners, and caves with just enough snow to hold together some loose ground, and with just enough ice to let us creep up smooth slabs, but with the rock lending itself to solid hooks and great protection. At the top of pitch 5 one below the top we where consumed by darkness. Pitch 6 I took a right hand corner leading to a roof, which I pasted on the right with zero feet! Bringing us to the side of the buttress and a logical finish of this line at a large spike, revealing beautiful views over to the south face of Mont Blanc in a moon lit sky.

We rappelled the line to the top of the 4th pitch, but from here rappelled the falline for a further 3 rope lengths to the glacier, on blue cord ( you can't miss it!!). I have to say that the climbing to the top of pitch 5 was really excellent, pitch 6...."not so fun" but it was dark! I think if anyone's keen for a repeat either call it good at the top of pitch 5 and rap, or rather than go up and right where we went, go up and left, this could be a nicer finish!! Maybe....  Oh and take a number 4 cam, 2x number 1, 2x number 0.75. This will keep it fun. 

Once back at the base and after a short chat with Stu, about either battling down the toula glacier in the dark after a re-freeze, or stay in the hut and have a shite nights sleep, there was only one good option.... We skied the Toula! It was "skiable" to the mid station to where we then carried on down to the valley with only 15 minutes of walking at the end back to Skyway and Pizza, result!

I've checked in with a few Italian and French local area experts and everyone believes this is for sure a new winter line, with only one other route on this face being the rock route from Jean-Marc Boivin and Patrick Decorps in 1980. It's possible other folk have rock climbed up there before in the area but nothing is for sure. Either way it's a line well worth seeking out when all the classic mixed routes are mobbed. Enjoy.....

"Rotatornator" 250m Scottish VII (M6/M6+) . l'epaule NW de la Tour Ronde, 7th December. 2016 Matt Helliker/Stuart Macdonald

NEW BLOG!

So here goes...I'm going to attempt to keep a blog for the occasional times where I may have something of interest to share. So if you need a challenge and are able to fight your way through my dyslexic posts and take what you read as it comes, then good luck, you will definitely need it.....