Climbing diary: where I have been, what I have done
1972Pretentious or precocious? Whichever, I was eight years old when I decided that I was a 'climber'. My first ambition was Benchoona, a striking 2000' summit straight above the family holiday cottage in Ireland. Over the next few years I bullied my father up hills all over Connemara and elsewhere in Ireland and Wales. Around the same time I also started bouldering - solo climbing on small rocks - on sandstone walls and sea cliffs around the Atlantic peninsula on which our cottage stood.
1978At school I had the opportunity to climb properly. My first trip was to Froggatt Edge in Derbyshire in October 1978. I remember that I needed help on a Diff but seconded a Hard Severe, Diamond Crack cleanly, demonstrating an inability to perform consistently on rock that has stayed with me ever since. Over the next couple of years school trips took me back to Derbyshire, to the Wye Valley, the Isle of Man, Wales and Skye. By the end of this period I was leading around severe. In April 1980 I had my first unsupervised climbing trip: four days based in the campsite below Stanage with a friend, James Fenner, from school.
1981By my last year at school opportunities to climb became quite frequent. In January I had a week of skiing and easy snow and ice climbing in the Cairngorms. In March I notched up my first leader fall whilst making an - unauthorised! - attempt on a slimy VS at Symonds Yat in the Wye Valley. In April I completed an inescapable sea-level traverse in Connemara that I had been trying for years - 100' of slab climbing to perhaps English 5b standard.
My fall earlier in the year had two results: I got a better rack and started training obsessively at buildering and pull-ups. In July armed with the (unnecessary) ability to do 16 consecutive pull-ups I led my - and the school's - first VS, Mutiny Crack, at Burbage. Later in the same month I led my first HVS, an obscure 5b finger crack, at Simonside in Northumberland. The summer saw me in the Alps with a school party climbing peaks in Switzerland including the Weismeis, Rimpfischorn and Monch. James came to Ireland with me later in the holiday. We went a bit crazy unearthing new crags and routes, most with hindsight not worth recording.
1982The year started with me free of school but living in Hertfordshire and unable to drive. Fortunately a more mobile friend, James Wheaton, was also available and keen to climb. We made numerous trips up to the Peak, failing to push our standard much but ticking lots of classic routes up to VS. Later in the year we climbed in Ireland and in the Alps. We managed one traditional Alpine epic getting caught in lightning whilst descending a loose rock peak above Arolla, culminating in a jump/ controlled fall onto a very steep snow face from a rock ridge to accelerate our descent. Our best actual ascent was the traverse of the Pigne d'Arolla and Mt Blanc de Cheilon in sublime conditions. We also stopped in Fontainebleau on the way out and back.
In October I moved to university in Bristol, a city with climbing of a kind - the esoteric Avon Gorge - on the doorstep.
1983Unsurprisingly my climbing improved in Bristol and within my first academic year I had led my first E1, Limbo. Stereotypical student minibus trips also took me to Wales, Cornwall, North Devon and the Peak. In the holidays I went back to Ireland again and also back out to the Alps where Martin Silcock and I wandered up two fairly easy north face ice routes again near Arolla. In November with Martin Perry I led all the pitches on Coronation Street at Cheddar, one of the UK's greatest climbs.
1984In the Avon Gorge I led my first E2, The Preter at Avon and started falling off E3s and foolish soloing on HVSs. Elsewhere in the UK, memorable excursions included winter routes on Ben Nevis, Desolation Row in the Great Zawn in Cornwall and my first routes at Pembroke.
In the summer I travelled to Boulder, Colorado - via a 48 hour, $20 bus ride from New York! - with Phil Baker. We climbed several classics in Eldorado Canyon like the Yellow Spur, Outer Space and Rosy Cruxification and the Maiden on the Flatirons. I also hitch-hiked around Colorado visiting the Black Canyon and the desert.
1985I started the year climbing Tower Ridge on the Ben in deep slush with John Vlasto. On the strength of this very modest achievement we planned to climb in the Himalayas after graduating. My climbing lapsed slightly this year as I flirted with Tai Chi and other distractions. Best leads were at Baggy Point where I led all of the stunning Heart of the Sun and my first E3, Terrapin.
In September John and I flew out to Kathmandu. I had talked John out of his plan, to try to climb in Afghanistan ( that year a war zone between the Soviet Union and nationalists), in favour of a 'soft-touch' scheme to climb peaks in a restricted-access, lawless area of the Ganesh Himal by the Nepal-Tibet border. Ultimately we failed to reach any summits but overloaded on excitement both on the mountain and the 12 day walk-in including having to hide from guerillas, lose most of our frightened ethnic Nepalese porters, be possibly one of the very first westerners into an ancient Tibetan monastery, finding our porters had eaten most of our food before dumping us alone for four weeks at the Ganesh glacier, and, for myself, fall into a crevase on the summit ridge of Ganesh VI whilst climbing solo then survive a long fall trying to get down the next day.
On return to Kathmandu John set off back to the UK to join the army whilst I carried on to the south of India.
1986Full-time climber! I flew to Jakarta from Mumbai halfway through January. Going to Indonesia was a a spur of the moment decision brought on meeting an Indonesian mountaineer in a cafe in Kathmandu. He'd mentioned that there was a rock climbing scene there that seemed interesting to check out. Via a complex chain of contacts I ended up in Bandung in Java climbing for a week on limestone cliffs with local climbers there. As far as I could tell I was their first western climbing visitor. After this I flew on to Sydney and spent the next six months in Australia.
After misguided attempts to find work in Sydney and Canberra where I did manage side trips to the Sydney sea cliffs (notably seconding The Fear as my first Oz climb), the Blue Mountains and Booroomba, I ended up hitch-hiking to Arapiles where I lived in my increasingly fetid tent for the next 3 months. Despite a very leisurely pace I climbed around 100 routes at Arapiles and the nearby Grampians. Thanks to the prevailing ethic of anything-goes prior to a successful ascent I pushed my grade to perhaps UK E4 on routes like Milk Blood and Iron Void. Other achievements included getting back on and leading the serious Auto-da-fe, after spraining my ankle from a 10m fall from the crux, soloing the thin multi-pitch slab Brolga and the obligatory solo of D Minor by moonlight.
To avoid the winter four of us from Arapiles migrated to Queensland to climb primarily at Frog Buttress: myself, James Falla, Hirofumi Mikami and Peter Grey. The relentless long crack climbs at Frog didn't suit me and my best effort was the classic Child in Time in dubious style. James and I instead spent several days at Western Wall putting up new lines including a possible classic Wasting the Dawn. At end June we headed back south via the little-visited but sensational granite area, Girraween, and a quick ascent of the famous Exhibition Wall in the Blue Mountains. Back in Melbourne I discovered my father was very ill, scrapped plans to continue on to the US and - abruptly - flew home.
Back in the UK I moved to Bristol for a while. A little fitter than when I left I was able to at last work through the classic Avon Gorge E3s like Think Pink and the stunning Them. I also spent time at Swanage with Crispin Waddy where he was 'inventing' Deep Water Soloing. I shook my way up The Congar in that style. In late summer Crispin and I went to Ireland to check out the Aran Islands which I had figured from geological maps to be a probable major climbing area. On the way I managed a quick ascent of Left Wall in the Pass.
Aran was bigger and wilder than our most optimistic expectations but had opportunities at least for Crispin for new routes. An E4 Back to the Sun was the best of these. I cleaned and led most of a 300' E3 Ride the Snake. Crispin returned with other partners several times over the next few years.
After Aran I spent a few days back at the family cottage in Connemara where I pre-practised and finally led a wild overhanging line at Little Killary: Drown in the Sky, since confirmed at ~E4 5c.
1987In my last few months in Bristol I led several more Avon Gorge classics like Peril, Low Profile and Mirage. Out of town I was dragged up Black Cleft, my last ever ice climb, and led a number of well-known classics around E3 like Quietus at Stanage and Silly Arete at Tremadoc.
In the summer I moved, fatefully, to London to start a computing job. The pace of climbing inevitably slowed but I did get out to Cornwall to lead both pitches of the legendary Dream/ Liberator in Great Zawn with John Vlasto and Dave Lyon (who tragically died in a motorbike accident a year or two later). I also joined a BMC invitation trip to the surreal and superb Czech sandstone area, Adrsprach/ Teplice, for a week during the annual film festival there. The other British climbers were the infamous Dennis Gray and two stars of that time, Tony Ryan and global magazine cover boy, Craig Smith - both excellent company.
1988From London climbing became a weekend-only pursuit with the Peak, Pembroke, Wales and the South-West being the obvious places to head for. At Easter I managed my first E5, Track of the Cat, at the Roaches, solo after one top-roped ascent. With Duncan Tunstall I ticked some classic Welsh routes including the historic Great Wall at Cloggy and the tottering Mousetrap at Gogarth.
In September I headed out to Croatia (then part of Yugoslavia) to climb in the limestone Paklenica Gorge with Catherine Evans. We took a bolt kit and added (hand-drilled) a couple of lines, one of which Bears on Toast, named after a mis-spelling in a cafe in Derbyshire, being a major 60m line around F6c/ 6c+. I posted details of our routes to a climbing club in Zagreb and was amazed 11 years - and a decade of war in former-Yugoslavia - later to find both routes correctly documented and attributed in the new guidebook.
1989In February I travelled to Spain and climbed on limestone at Chulilla and Montanejos. Later in April I visited Finale in Italy for the first time, managing the atypical but sensational roof crack Il Portale as my first route. The pace of weekend climbing in the UK was pretty intense this year: my first routes on slate including Comes the Dervish, The Sweetest Taboo and Collossus, harder routes at Pembroke like Trevallen Pillar, Bloody Sunday and the terrifying Sunlover Direct, the classic Mortlocks Arete in the Peak and, highly memorable for its missing and vital in situ gear, Shadow Walker on the North Devon culm.
In the summer I gave up work and set off to visit the Verdon Gorge, driving down with several side trips with an Indian climber Mohit Oberoi who'd responded to an ad I'd placed at the climbing wall. Verdon proved hard and didn't suit me. My best effort was a flawed ascent of the classic Surveiller et Punir with Darrell Crilley. Later we all moved to Buoux where I redpointed my first F7a TCF.
After France I returned to London then almost immediately set out again to climb on the sandstone again in still-communist Czechoslovakia with Dan Donovan, climbing some of the time with Matej Holub who we'd met earlier in the year in London. Fit from the French trip, and still young and stupid enough to handle the runout climbing, we covered a lot of ground including the classic Letecka on Milenci/ The Lovers and single pitch routes up to czech 9c at Cross Hill. Returning home via Prague we had a car accident resulting in a surreal and appropriately Kafkaesque visit to Prague central police station. From there we limped home via a few days in the unpleasant Frankenjura.
1990Less climbing this year due to several factors: my father's death, property ownership and a wrist broken in a stupid fall at Raven Tor in the Peak. I managed two more trips to Buoux and several classics there: Camembert Ferguson, Les Diamants sont Eternal and Courage Fuyons. In Wales the great UK classic, Right Wall on the Cromlech, proved highly enjoyable and surprisingly straightforward.
1991Another euro-cragging year. In January I went back to Finale where I was primarily pleased to flash Schifinix a very steep pocket-pulling route, graded just F6c but a stopper for everyone else. Over Easter I had an unpleasant trip to Spain visiting Montserrat, Suirana and Montanejos plagued by poor weather and 24 hour spaniards. In the summer four of us crowded into my small hatchback for a tour of crags in Germany, Switzerland and North Italy. By far the highlight was my ascent with Edoardo Demarchi of Motorhead a 17 pitch long granite face and crack climb at Eldorado in Switzerland. We made a fast ascent and avoided a thunder- and rainstorm that engulfed Noel Jenkins and Catherine Evans on a parallel climb. After witnessing the 1500' crag turn into a waterfall and rockslide, Edoardo and I were both stunned and relieved that both emerged unscathed.
In the autumn I was again quite fit and had some memorable weekends on UK rock mainly with Noel leading Darkinbad the Brightdayler on the Great Wall at Pentire, perhaps Britain's finest crag, my first routes at Lower Sharpnose including Break on Through and in a burst of extreme confidence soloing several full length E1 and E2 routes at Pembroke including The Arrow and Incest is best.
1992An especially fruitful year aided by voluntary unemployment and being mostly single. In April I visited Japan and climbed with Katsuhisa Koyama, a friend of Hiro from my days in Australia. We climbed at the excellent tuff crag, Horai, where I climbed several 5.11s but most memorably became involved in extremely dangerous samurai boulder jumps when a steam blocking our exit from a crag was swollen after a rain storm, and on granite and volcanic rock around Kofu.
Back in the UK Dan Donovan and I spent a long sequence of weekends tackling hardish sea cliff climbs including The Moon at Gogarth, West Face at Great Zawn, Il Duce at Tintagel, Fay at Sharpnose and likely my hardest ever naturally protected lead Black Magic at Pentire.
We also made a jinxed trip to France suffering vehicle breakdowns and very poor weather but managing some climbing at the stupendous Ceuse. In France we met up with Katsu and his friend Yasu who then came to the UK. Dan and I took them on a slightly eccentric week-long tour of British climbing in the South West (Torbryan Quarry, Hay Tor, Berry Head and Sharpnose) and the Peak/ Yorkshire (Millstone, Kilnsey and Malham). On the northern leg I was pleased to collect two classic 1970s ticks: White Wall at Millstone and Central Wall at Kilnsey. Later Katsu and I met at High Tor to climb Flakey Wall.
1993For several years in the mid-90s I predominantly focused on sport climbing and my competence at bold traditional climbing started to wane. That said in 1993 I did manage a reasonable collection of British classics especially in Wales with ascents of Resurrection with its direct finish, Cream and Void. Sport climbing achievements though were more impressive. I pushed my standard to around F7b climbing routes at Pen Trwyn in Wales like Night Glue, Face Race, Mean Mother and Axle Attack and at Chapel Head in the Lakes War Games. All of these were with combinations of John Zangwill, Peter Craig and kiwi eco-warrior Steve Moore.
I didn't travel much to climb this year aside from a week in Sardinia with Edoardo Demarchi. Our best effort was locating and - less hard - climbing the classic 300ft limestone pinnacle at Cala Goloritze via the Spigolo Turchese route. We also climbed on the excellent ultra-pocketed and almost marble-hard cliffs at Isili.
1994Again I hardly climbed abroad this year and used my holidays to keep in contact with new girlfriend Shoko who was then living in Japan. At weekends I spent an extrordinary amount of time at the less than aesthetic sport area, Portland. Best ascents this year were the Portland classic Englands Dreaming and the viciously hard Avenging the Halsewell at nearby Winspit. In one brief break from sport climbing I also ticked the superb Star Gate at Pembroke.
1995Shoko and I climbed for the first time this year for an afternoon at Smith Rock in Oregon during a drive from Seattle to San Francisco. Unfortunately a too-rushed explanation of the operation of a belay plate resulted in a 50ft free fall down most of our first climb Easy Reader when Shoko lowered me off. Luckily I only suffered some bruising and cuts on my chest, which I was able to hide under my shirt so as not to discourage her. However we didn't climb again together for three years!
In the UK an - unrelated - week of enforced medical 'rest' from work enabled Steve Moore and I to enjoy mostly stunning conditions in Cornwall. My best lead was Grand Plage at Carn Barra. We also had a major epic on Bow Wall after Steve's ropes jammed after leading the top pitch and a rainstorm blew in. I managed a scary combination of a short abseil on the remaining free rope plus down-soloing to escape. Also in the south west that year I led the very thin slab Down to a Sunless Sea at Spekes Mill and held the ropes and seconded an impressive lead by Dan of Coronary Country.
In August I managed to add climbing time to a business trip to Japan to climb again with Katsu and Yasu. They took me to the classic granite area Ogawayama. The highlight amongst a plethora of good climbs and bouldering was an ascent of the 5.11 crack Spider Line. We also spent time at Katsu's home crag Tachioka where I redpointed the hardish 5.11 Punks in the Darkness.
1996I started the year in Las Vegas for a conference and enjoyed my first trip to Red Rocks, climbing sport routes at The Gallery. In the spring I had some time at Finale in Italy with Edoardo Demarchi and at the Chinese Wall in the Austrian Tirol with John Vlasto.
In the summer John and I headed out to the then-fashionable Rifle in Colorado where John gave me a red-point masterclass. Despite his coaching my best efforts were not-quite redpoints of Pretty Hate Machine and the brilliant Drunken Monkey both around 5.12c / F7b+. I did flash Fossil Family a 5.12a / F7a+ wall. Later I climbed for a few days with ex-Bristol expat Andy Donson in Boulder notably having an exhausting quasi-alpine climbing day climbing Notchtop in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
In the autumn fitness gained from the US trip translated into some reasonable achievements at home including red-pointing Rhyme Intrinseca a tough F7b at Portland and Pumpido a soft-touch F7b+ at Bassiano in Italy visited with John Zangwill.
1997Career-frustration and other turmoil got in the way of climbing this year. In January I visited El Chorro in Spain for a few days managing fairly little beyond a red point of Rock the Kasbah a technical F7b wall climb. During the summer I managed a few weekends away notably to: the North Pembroke coast with Dan where we made a very memorable and foolish convoy solo of Twinkler, a steep 200ft VS with the crux at the top; to Gogarth's North Stack wall seconding Hugo Glover up The Cad and leading South Sea Bubble and again with Dan climbing several good routes in the Peak including Pearls at Chatsworth and Boot Hill at Cratcliffe.
1998Shoko's move to London in early January made it much easier for us to travel and start to climb together. We visited the volcanic cliffs on Tenerife in January and the far more inspiring limestone cliffs at Phra nang in Thailand in February. Shoko climbed well at Phra nang seconding routes like Massages Secretes F6a+ without falls. I flashed the very upside down F7a+ Lal Bob. In April we contrived a trip to Smith Rock in Oregon before a business trip to the Bay Area where we also climbed at Mickeys Beach. Shoko seconded a 5.10 cleanly to win a bet requiring me to play golf.
In the summer we found and established new routes at the previously unclimbed Dromore Head at Inishturk in Ireland. Straight after the irish trip we spent a week in the Seychelles where I bouldered on the stunning beachside granite rocks on La Digue.
1999Another carefully modified business trip saw Shoko and I in Las Vegas from 1st January climbing at Red Rocks for several days in glorious crisp sunny winter conditions. My best effort was the thuggy 5.12 roof, Sweet Pain. In March we had a less successful trip to a too-cold Mallorca. At Easter I finally ticked Bow Wall at Bosigran with Duncan Critchley in a rare re-involvement in traditional climbing. In May we managed long weekends in Italy - climbing with John Zangwill at Sperlonga near Rome - and in Spain at the crags around Suirana, where I was particularly impressed by the ultra-long wall climbs at El Falco. Also around this time I red-pointed Psychic EMF a long standing ~F7b project at Portland.
This quite encouraging re-acceleration of climbing activity came to a screeching halt in June when Shoko discovered she was pregnant. In her first few months Shoko did climb a little more: in Ireland we visited the Ailladie sea cliff in Ireland and did the classic Pis Fluich and during a two week summer drive around Europe had a few days back on the bolts at Buoux.
In October a distinctly big Shoko with my nephew Jeremy's help organised champagne and cake to celebrate my birthday amongst the boulders at Fontainebleau.
2000Predictably fatherhood restricted me from climbing for most of the year. I did manage to fit in short trips to Fontainebleau and Suirana in Spain while Shoko and Leo were visiting Japan. We made a family trip to Italy where I climbed with Edoardo Demarchi on a sport crag in the Simplon Pass. Mid-summer we travelled around Norway where I had hoped perhaps to climb in the Lofoten. In practise bad weather and non-availability of climbing partners restricted to me some (very good) granite bouldering.
In September I organised to leave Shoko and Leo in Japan for a month following a business trip and travelled to the US with Dan Donovan to climb in Utah. The intention was to tick a number of the classic sandstone towers. We were more successful than we anticipated - entirely thanks to Dan's super-effective crack climbing - managing six multi-pitch towers: The Rectory, Castleton Tower, Ancient Art, the awesome and very memorable Standing Rock , Washer Woman and Moses all by their standard routes. We also made side trips to the weird conglomerate sports crag, Maple Canyon, and the 'crack-mecca', Indian Creek, where Dan led and I followed the painful Super Crack of the Desert.
2001Very little climbing this year and of that mostly abroad. In February I organised perhaps the world's most contrived ever weekend climbing trip: booking into a conference in Palm Springs so as to justify an eastwards flight across the Pacific to Las Vegas following a business trip to Japan, meeting John Zangwill there who had 'overshot' on a flight west from the UK to Houston. We enjoyed three days at Red Rocks of sunshine and snow.
In May I managed a weekend at Fontainebleau, otherwise demands on time from Leo and my unwell mother restricted summer trips to virtually zero.
In October I flew back to Las Vegas to meet Dan Donovan for a two week tour of Southern California/ Nevada climbing. We started at the surreal and fabulous Needles, ticking various classics around 5.10 including Thin Ice and the highlight for me, leading the straightforward but long main pitch of Love Potion 9. On a rest day I stupidly damaged my hand falling off a slack line and was unable to climb for several days. We moved to Bishop and climbed at the excellent Dike Wall above Mammoth and in the maligned but fun Owen River Gorge. After this back to Vegas and Red Rocks again climbing some of the multi-pitch classics like Delicate Sound of Thunder and Levitation 29 with Dan predominantly leading the hard pitches.
2002Quitting work late in 2001 created the opportunity both to leave London and take an extended holiday with Leo. We flew to Australia in early February. Out of Sydney I managed a day in the Blue Mountains at Shipley Glen with expats Mark Shingler and Donald Gibson. Then after driving down into Victoria I had a nostalgic two weeks at Arapiles, even catching up with locals James Falla and Peter Grey whom I'd last seen in 1986. I was relieved to find that my climbing was slightly more competent than on my previous trip and managed a number of 22s and 23s in good style. My best effort was Intransience a run-out, sustained wall at 23/24. The highlight though was the very easy but wild Kachoong roof which I had feebly avoided on my previous visit. On the boulders I was pleased to sort out the classic 3 Moves to Glory.
After Australia we flew to Japan where Shoko organised two days at Honjo, a limestone sport crag near Oita. I redpointed Batman a stunning 30ft, 5.11c ceiling just before we left.
Back in the UK had a few productive weekends in Wales and Pembroke. Dan and I went up to Suicide Wall in Idwal both for the first time. I led Suicide Wall Route 1 and Dan Capital Punishment. Elsewhere led a few E3s fairly competently of which Centrefold at Rhoscollyn was the most memorable. In July Dan and I managed to get back to our secret island of crags in Ireland with Glenda Huxter and Emma Alsford. We added a 120m E4/5 climbed over two days with an epic midnight jumaring incident the first night. Briefly back on the mainland we visited Little Killary the local crag to the family cottage. Glenda then Dan onsighted Drown in the Sky my route from 1986 at ~ E4 5c.
Almost straight after the Irish trip I flew up to Lofoten in Norway for a 'blind date' with Toby Archer, a Helsinki based climber I'd met on the internet, plus his Finn friends Toni and Toni. We had a full week of perfect weather and were able to climb not only our main objective, the 12 pitch Vestpillaren route on Presten, but also several other Lofoten classics including the multi-pitch thin/ friction slab Solens Sønner and the supposedly 5.11b/c finger-width Doseth Crack.
In the last months of this pleasantly idle year I managed a number of short trips, mostly to the south-west. Best moments were flashing the steep Root of Inequity at Brean Down and shaking my way up the high-ball Rippled Wall on Dartmoor.
2003Aside from a short and uneventful trip to Claret in France in April, I climbed entirely in the UK in the first half of the year. A very marginal ascent of Moonwalk at Curbar and much smoother ascent of Wraith at Sharpnose (my first E5 for eight years!) were highlights.
At the end of June I flew to Helsinki to climb again with Toby Archer at Olhava, Finland's best crag. My first lead there was the boldish local classic, Kantti, climbed foolishly in the rain on the incorrect judgement that the rain might get worse.
During the summer holiday season I managed a few trips around the UK. At Gogarth I climbed Big Groove and Winking Crack with Hugo Glover. Down at Torquay Dan and I soloed all of the extraordinary Rainbow Bridge traverse, one of Britain's finest climbing experiences.
In Ireland Dan and I climbed the Razor Strap, our 'last' line on the no-longer-secret Inishturk. For the rest of my time in Ireland I bouldered obsessively, ultimately producing a new guide for TheShortSpan. One area I developed, Jims Nook, I had been visiting sporadically since a young child, but until that year had not had the finger strength to do the two plum lines, Full Circle and Ghosts, also filmed (4.0Mb).
In December I spent 10 days around the Costa Daurada crags in Catalunya with my nephew Jeremy Large and some students from Oxford, courtesy of new cheap direct flights to Reus from London. By the end of the trip I was reasonably fit and made fairly quick redpoints of a couple of F7a+ routes: Valga'm deu quin Patir at Siurana and No m'enganyis mes at Arboli.
2004I went back for another session in the Costa Daurada straight after the new year, frustratingly not quite fit enough to succeed on my main ambitions but still enjoying getting to know this area better. Exploring the incredible cliffs around Montsant was especially worthwhile. I went back yet again in March with Duncan Critchley, nearly scuppering the trip at the outset by arriving at Stansted with my son's passport, but again enjoying great conditions. I redpointed the fun Delicatessen at Siurana quite easily.
The summer was an unfruitful period. Only two trips stand out. In May, with Duncan's support, I attempted to tick as many of the "Crack School" routes at the fierce Ramshaw in the Peak in one day. I only managed seven with a couple of notable failures on allegedly low grade routes but the exercise was satisfyingly exhausting. In late July I made a ludicrously constrained half-day solo trip to Swanage to take advantage of perfect conditions at Connor Cove. After warming up I soloed both Freeborn Man (a long-desired tick) and the brilliant Conger, the latter a mere 18 years after my previous ascent. In August I did some bouldering and climbing in Connemara. A highlight was discovering a vast area of untouched granite boulders at Derryrush in the south of the region, almost a 'Bishop of the Bog'.
In October, Duncan and I went to Utah together for a fortnight. Our first week was almost entirely taken up with attempts on the Titan in the Fisher Towers, North America's highest free-standing spire: around 900' high. We were thwarted partly though some logistical bungling and bad luck, but also my inability to summon the courage to share the leading on the harder pitches. Away from the Fishers we climbed two brilliant routes in Castle Valley: Honeymoon Chimney on The Priest and Jah Man. The latter was on my 40th birthday and our ascent was thankfully flawless, though my lead of the crux 5.10d section was fairly sketchy. We also had a great day at the 'secret' Mill Creek, a sandstone sport climbing venue, with rock similar to the Czech crags, with a bunch of intimidatingly famous locals. I red pointed the stunning Going the Distance, 5.11d there. Windy, unsettled conditions then upset our plans at Indian Creek, though we did do the fun Easter Island mini-tower on the Bridger Jacks, and then again at the Black Canyon of Gunnison, where it snowed. We had a few days to finish off in Boulder, climbing in Eldorado Canyon. I was delighted to make a clean lead of Rosy Cruxifiction, which felt far easier than my previous (blunt-end) ascent in 1984! We also climbed the easy but run-out Buckets in Space, during which an apalling long fall taken by the leader of the party in front of us added a lot of tension.
Just before new year, Duncan and I went back out to Siurana, where the conditions were once again superb. We covered a lot of ground both there and at Montral. The route I enjoyed most was probably the steep jug-fest Calypso on the Gegantes cliff. I also added to my tally of failed red point attempts on my nemesis, the long, steep stamina climb Alambrado sea Dios F7b+ at Arboli. My best effort saw me touch but not hold the critical edge that ends the crux section, a net improvement of about 3' on my first attempts a year earlier!
2005At the end of January, I moved to the UAE to work in Abu Dhabi. Aware that the climbing season was best during the winter I worked hard to find climbing partners straight after arrival. By the end of May I'd visited both of the major climbing areas, Wonderwall near to Al Ain and Wadi Bih, in the north of the country and much further from Abu Dhabi. At Wonderwall I repeated most of the existing harder climbs, bolted a massive 60m vertical wall project and did the first ascent of a long-standing local top-rope problem, the Monkey Bars at about V3/4 or F6c/7a. With Pete Aldwinckle and Bernard Warren I made the first ascent of Sheikh Yerbouti, an infamous and failed-on squeeze-chimney which we solved by speleological means.
In May I had a very brief holiday in Connemara in bad weather. I went exploring again at Derryrush and found (and named) the 'Chief' (in honour of my new home in Squamish, BC), probably one of the largest and best boulders in Ireland. Annoyingly the rain stopped me doing the best lines but after publicising it on the internet I was pleased that it became immediately popular. One of Ireland's best boulderers said after a visit that "the quality of the climbing and the situation on this boulder is world class, some of the best problems I've been on anywhere in the world."
In July I had a week's climbing in Squamish, BC with Andy Donson. We did a bunch of classics including the Great Game on The Squaw, and Borderline/ Blazing Saddles and the stunning Grand Wall on main crag.
Back in the UAE I got straight back into new routing at Wonderwall. My best addition in the autumn was Circus Sands a beautiful 40m arete feature. I also completed the first half of my wall project Exile to chains at 30m at F7a and a similar more bouldery project Glucosamine nearby. Up in Ras Al Khaimah I managed an 'in-a-day' equipping and ascent of Wrong Turn at Maqta Bridge at the Cleavage.
2006Early in January at a full moon weekend, I attempted the famous French Pillar of Jebel Misht with Mike Olver from Dubai. Various errors on the approach and route-finding resulted in us climbing too slowly and abandoning the route quite low down. However it was useful research and the effort-expended definitely helped my fitness. A few weeks later, I finally completed my main project Exile at Wonderwall to the top of the cliff in a single sustained 60m pitch. The grade felt to be F7a+ or harder. It seems unlikely that I'll ever again have the opportunity to climb a new route of such extraordinary quality. A week or two after I injured a finger pulley at an indoor wall. This held me back from serious climbing for the next four months.
In June I managed to organise to spend three days climbing at Ogawayama in Japan with Andy Donson who was there for a medical conference. We did several classics like Jetstream, Crazy Jam and Imjun River - mostly led by Andy - but I was proudest of negotiating the 3 hour drive there from Tokyo in a rental car without Shoko's help.
Fresh from the Japan trip, back in the UAE I spent several summer weekends at the comparatively cool Hatta Crag, an excellent steep sport climbing site discovered by Pete Aldwinckle. I repeated most of the existing routes and bolted and led an amazing giant ceiling League Of Shadows. I also had a productive family trip to Squamish in August, doing quite a lot of bouldering there and at Pemberton - mostly starred V3/V4s like Titanic, Superfly and In Your Face - and a smaller amount of roped climbing - notably the famous crack Exasperator and Pet Wall's entry-level sport route Pleasant Pheasant.
In the autumn I continued developing new routes at Wonderwall, with two further steep F7a+ routes, Twisted Reach and Ooh Stick You. My son Leo and I also joined a (too)large group exploring the coast of Musandum onboard three dhows over the Eid holiday weekend. I did a number of new DWS solos including Tenacity on a pretty island we called the Golden Stack. The route was repeated (and fallen-off) about a dozen times the same day.
Over Christmas Leo and I spent ten days in Oman with the Vlasto family, meeting various UAE friends along the way. We visited Wadi Daykah east of Muscat for the first time, where I onsighted the classic roof Flying Frog F7a. We also climbed at La Gorgette again, where I did Enciens Interdit, a stunning tufa/ face climb in the most atmospheric part of the gorge.
2007Dan Donovan visited from the UK at the end of January. Unsurprisingly Dan's inexhaustible appetite for climbing made his trip very productive. Most notably, over in Oman we did the seven pitch En Attendant les Lents on the superb Al Hamra towers, then, after a rest day, an 8.5 hour ascent of the 1100m French Pillar of Jebel Misht, which I had failed on in 2006. UAE friends Wolf and Suzanne Weisner, and Tom Kendall, very kindly climbed the mountain from the north to meet us on the summit. Back in the UAE at Wonderwall I finally completed a long-standing problem - F7b or harder - the 'left-hand Monkey Bars' after attempts spread over six days over eleven months (!): Ninja Smartypants (Shoko's nickname). Late in the season I also redpointed one of the area's hardest established routes, Shooting my Mouth Off in Wadi Hilti, my first F7b+ for over ten years.
In March I managed a couple of days climbing at Geyikbayiri in Turkey, during a family holiday. I onsighted several routes up to F6c+ like Mission to Mars reasonably easily. I hoped this fitness would prove productive in Squamish in early June, where I spent two weeks climbing with Duncan Critchley, but the weather was unhelpful. Between showers, we did tick a large number of the shorter trad classics in the area, like Neat and Cool, Penny Lane, Sunblessed and a very wet (and scary) Diedre. At the end of the trip we did get on Grand Wall; my second time on the route. This time I led the intimidating crux Sword pitch. Later in the summer I was back at Squamish but mostly bouldered. With some coaching/ coaxing from locals I surprised myself by succeeding on some of the entry-level sloper problems that I'd previously found impossible, like Easy in an Easy Chair.
The autumn was blighted by an elbow injury that took about two months to heal. After that I focused primarily on two projects I'd equipped in the summer: a spectacular overhanging arete at Wonderwall, Border Patrol, which went a surprisingly amenable F7a and a much tougher steep face at Roadside Crag in RAK. While working the latter over several weekends I also equipped and led the neighbouring Damian's Groove, F7a+, an amazingly varied route with jamming and extreme chimneying through to a wild roof finish. In November I was lucky to squeeze in a day bouldering in Hong Kong on the great tuff at Ha Fa Shan. Over Eid ul-Adha and Christmas I was again in Oman, with friends from the UK but also meeting climbers from Muscat. I climbed at Hadash, Wadi Daykah and some undocumented areas. Highlights included redpointing Gripper F7a at Daykah quite easily and adding a couple of new routes: Stealth Mission, a F6b DWS at Bandar Jissah and a tough E2 trad crack Rockfax needs a Fedex Account at the mouth of Wadi Mistall (unintentionally - it was Tom Kendall's project).
2008 The year got off to an excellent start with success on my Roadside project: Pokemon (subsequently confirmed to be F7b+). After that climbing took a backseat for several months due to the birth of my second son, James. I also had some recurrent tendon problems.
In June I visited the amazing Riglos conglomerates towers in Spain with Dan. We did the uber-famous Fiesta de los Biceps - a candidate for the world's best climb - though I was unhappy with my contribution and feel the need to go back when fitter. We also spent a long day on the terrifying Rabada Navarro, ticked the easy route on the Pison and spent a day at the fabulous Rodellar. In August I was back in Squamish but mostly unproductive with little climbing. Controversially I got benighted on the Chief without a headtorch after doing Squamish Buttress and spent hours battling down through the trees in absolute blackness back to the carpark. Shoko was not amused. More happily I redpointed the superb Mutation at Chek.
The true standout of 2008 was starting development on a wholly new UAE crag, Tawiyan, in late summer. Over the next 12 months I spent a cumulative one month at the cliff, despite the three hour drive each way from Abu Dhabi. Scott Barber found the cliff on an inspired wadi walk and very kindly passed the knowledge on to me. Before the end of the year Scott and I, with the help of Nick McElwee and a few others let in on the secret, had established the classics: Jebel Jebel F6b+, a sensationally exposed arete that later became the cover of the guidebook; Stone Pussy F6c and the fiercely- bouldery twins Bloody as Hell and Burnt to a Crisp, both 7a.
2009 Efforts at Tawiyan continued straight after New Year with Nick forsaking a Shakira NYE concert to establish Laundry Service. The next months then turned into an epic struggle with Echo Beach F7c; probably the most satisfying project I've ever attempted, being both powerful with unusual moves and unrelentingly pumpy. I finally got the redpoint in late March, aided by Toru Yasukochi, a strong visitor from Japan, who also got close to the send. In the spring I managed a very quick trip to Jordan's Wadi Rum, with Wolf Weisner, a long-standing ambition. We did Hammad's Route on Jebel Rum and a long slab on Jebel Burdah.
Mid-summer I ticked the final outstanding line at Tawiyan, the insanely-steep Fujairah Spaceport F7a+. Elsewhere a couple of good DWS trips took place. I was pleased to flash Mike Olver's excellent Diamond Block F7a. Summer in Squamish was slightly less unproductive than the year before thanks to new local partner, Bob Jasperson. We did a few long local classics including Star Chek, The Snake and The Ultimate Everything.
I got the UAE autumn season off to a poor start by fracturing my radius in a stupid fall at a new cliff, Shark Fin. I devoted the last months of the year to cleaning and equipping a unique multi-pitch route, Acquiescence E4 at the northern RAK cliff, Shady Circus, up its central (dry) cascade line. I finally got the lead in early December with Greg Caire - sadly just too late for full inclusion in my "UAE Rock Climbing" guide which went on sale then.
2010Again a stupid accident put back progress for a month or two. Once recovered I focused on the steep cliff Shark Fin, where I redpointed all the existing harder routes: Trencherman, Lactic Labrynthe and Second Life. On one occasion a journalist joined to interview me for the UAE's National newspaper about the guidebook.
In March I had a brief trip to Oman of which the highlight was DWSing at Bandar Jissah, doing a couple of minor new routes. In late April I had a few days back in Geyikbayiri in Turkey, for which I trained quite hard. I was pleased to get my first F7b flash, the full Lycian Highway though the brilliant JaJa City F7a+ which I also flashed seemed harder. Fit from that trip I had a superb day on the Musandam DWS, getting the first ascent of the much-eyed Limah Roof.
During my routine Japan business trip at end-May I was lucky to get taken by Toru to two areas I had not previously, visited: Futago and Mitake. Unfortunately I was too ill to do much.