Oliana 2015

My trip to Oliana had been booked at least 6 months in advance; I had managed to get 24 days off work so I wanted to try something that would really test me both physically and mentally. As we all do, I put a lot of time into trying to make sure I was in the best possible shape: training, eating well, sleeping lots, turning down days on the grit to slog round the circuit board etc. It was my one trip of the year and I had to make the most of it. As much as I tried to ignore it, it is hard not to feel the pressure when you have saved up most of your annual leave for one trip and have been training all winter this in mind.

Beautiful village of Coll de Nargo

Beautiful village of Coll de Nargo. Photo: Rob Greenwood

The routes at Oliana are big: 50m of cliff, 50m of pump! No amount of Climbing Works circuit boarding can prepare you for the incredibly harsh build up of lactic acid, it is a pump that I have never been able to replicate in any indoor training facility. It really hurts but it is always one hell of a good battle. I love seeing how many more moves you can actually bust out when you think all hope is lost; if you really dig deep you can always do one more move.

Fighting the pump on Mon Dieu 8a+, Oliana. Photo: Alex Haslehurst

Fighting the pump on Mon Dieu 8a+, Oliana.
Photo: Alex Haslehurst

To cut a long story short, it did not go to plan. The lead up to the trip was far from ideal, and without going into details, I arrived in Oliana feeling pretty physically and mentally under prepared. I tried to force the psyche but I started to feel that awful redpoint dread after just two sessions on my potential project. Simply the thought of the mental effort this route was going to require was putting me off already. My heart wasn’t in it this trip and, after fighting the usual feelings of guilt, failure and disappointment, I decided to be kind to myself.

Belay friends! Photo: Rob Greenwood

Belay friends!
Photo: Rob Greenwood

I have never been one for deep and thoughtful reflections about my climbing, as it was always just ‘going climbing’ for me. However, it is almost impossible not to reflect on your character and personal climbing after an intense redpoint battle, which I had just experience the Autumn before when I climbed Mecca (8b+). The amount of pressure redpointing brings is unbelievable; sometimes years, months, weeks or days of preparation for two minutes of elation when you clip the chains. Swiftly followed by thoughts of “I can climb harder than this”. It is a funny thing we choose to spend our spare time doing. As if life doesn’t already have enough pressures, we then decide to use our down time, when ‘normal’ people take this time to relax from work and life, and put ourselves through a mental and physical battle that means we turn up to work after our holiday even more tired than when we left! Yet we keep coming back for more no matter how hard it kicks us down.

After some days of considering whether to continue redpointing, I realised that all I really wanted was to have a holiday with no pressure, to hang out with my friends, and most of all laugh! Luckily I had the perfect people with me to make this achievable. I did a lot of it as well! It felt good to laugh at myself; to laugh at getting powered out on bouldery 7c+s; pumped out of my mind on sustained 8a+s; laughing at how high my elbows were, how I fell off the “cruxy 5b” top section and the big whippers after missing clips. After all climbing is supposed to be fun.

The classic 7a warm up at Oliana. Photo: Rob Greenwood

The classic 7a warm up at Oliana.
Photo: Rob Greenwood

A big part of my holiday was how much satisfaction I got from seeing my friends achieve some of their biggest climbing goals; it was amazing to ride on their wave of elation. We were loud, enthusiastic and probably pretty annoying at the crag. We screamed the crag down with encouragement and did a lot of running and congratulatory jumping on people. It was amazing to share those few minutes of intense excitement with people. Taking satisfaction in other peoples success has to be one of the simplest pleasures in life.

Good team (plus Neil, Tanya, Mum, Dad and Pete but they weren't around for the photo) Photo: Rob Greenwood

Good team! (plus Neil, Tanya, Mum, Dad and Pete)
Photo: Rob Greenwood

There has always been more to climbing than the numbers, nobody ever starts climbing for the grades! I have a very vivid memory of saying to my Mum that I would be happy climbing E1s forever simply because they were so enjoyable! But, as ever, our goals and lives change and the last year or two my sport climbing has been skewed to focus more on numbers as this is a good way to push yourself and see progress. When the focus is on this you learn a lot about your drive, personality and what you actually want! Yes it is wonderful to clip the chains of hard and testing project, but looking back at my last year the best memories have come from adventures and experiences with friends, the climbing is almost a secondary part, it is just the glue that brings us together.

Attempting the burly Marroncita 8b, Oliana Photo: Alex Haslehurst

Attempting the burly Marroncita 8b, Oliana
Photo: Alex Haslehurst

After returning from Spain I read an interview with Stephanie Bodet where she said, “I understood that the real failure was to no longer take pleasure in climbing these routes that I loved.” This struck a cord with me. It summed up in one simple sentence exactly how I felt. I may not have achieved everything I wanted but instead I did what made me happy; there are very few trips I can remember where I have almost cried with laughter everyday. Life can’t be that bad hey!

Happy days!  Photo: Rob Greenwood

Happy days!
Photo: Rob Greenwood

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The best bits…

There was never any doubt 2014 was going to be a good one. The run up to the start of it was a jammed packed grit season which was the best and most enjoyable I have experienced. The weather wasn’t even that great, it never really got cold but the psyche was incredibly high and I spent every free moment driving around the Peak in search of anything that was dry. The icing on the cake was achieving a life long goal of mine by climbing the beautiful gritstone line, Gaia at Black Rocks. So I went into 2014 very psyched and it didn’t disappoint, here are my best bits (mainly in photos) …

Oliana, Spain

oliana

In February I headed out to Oliana in Spain with another goal in my mind, to climb 8b+. I wasn’t really sure if this was going to happen but I thought it would be fun to try anyway. Much to my surprise I managed to climb ‘China Crisis’, a beautiful grey streak up a 35m limestone wall. I was out with a great group of people who made the experience all the more rewarding and fun.

china crisisAlways happy to be pulling on pockets!! Photo: Nathan Lee

perlesLooking down at the little village of Perles

Whistler, Canada

I work for Arc’teryx on the European marketing team and I am lucky enough to attend two sales meetings a year in Canada. This year was extra special as it was Arc’teryx’s 25th birthday (as it was mine!) so they held the sales meeting in Whistler! As if it couldn’t get any better, the ski season was extended by a week and so we booked our flights either side of the weekends and squeezed in 3 or 4 days on the slopes. This was topped off by the fact that the hotel made me gluten free pancakes for breakfast and they had a hot tub!!!

ski seanSean at the top of Blackcomb

ski katyTrying to get to grips with skis

ski pancakesThe delights of staying at the Four Seasons Hotel!

ski timPsyched Tim!

Pabbay, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

This was one of my favourite trips. The trad climbing is insanely good, perfect 100m gneiss sea cliffs with bomber gear, in totally wild positions. What made it one of the best though, were the people I shared this experience with. Some I knew well and some I didn’t. There were 18 of us on a remote island for a week, it could have gone either way really! Luckily though it was hilarious, even the miserable, misty rainy days were made sunny by the games and banter of everyone people squished into a 10 man stronghold tent, which gradually turned into a smelly compost heap from so many people cooking in it.

pabbay tentThe wonderfully social stronghold tent

pabbay frisbeeFrisbee on Mingulay beach. Photo: Nathan Lee

pabbay great archClimbing on Pabbay with The Great Arch in the background

pabbay puffinMr Puffin

pabbay teamTired looking team selfie on Mingulay

Chamonix, France

Another part of my job is to help organise the Arc’teryx Alpine Acadmey in Chamonix, so I headed out to France a day after arriving back from Pabbay. I have never been before and driving into the valley and looking up at the mountains totally blew my mind. Most of my week was spent working with little sleep and long days down on the valley floor, but luckily Jo was heading out for a week of climbing after I had finished work.

Basically neither of us knew what we were doing on snow! It was a week full of mishaps, confusion and hilarity but we figured it out together, which made it a very special and memorable trip.

cham mountainsBeautiful view from Chamonix valley floor

cham ridgeSussing out the snow ridge from the top of the midi

ChamonixCamp10-224Jo and I watching the sunset/mainly laughing under the midi. Photo: Stefan Heiligensetzer

ChamonixCamp10-419Psyched to top out Voie Rebuffat. Photo: Stefan Heiligensetzer

ChamonixCamp10-441Descending the Cosmiques Ridge. Photo: Stefan Heiligensetzer

ChamonixCamp10-480So happy. Photo: Stefan Heiligensetzer

The Diamond, North Wales

I try to visit the Diamond every year, as I think it is one of the best climbing areas we have; it is also a bit more adventurous due to the tides and Via ferrata approach.

Ryan and I headed down for 5 days. On day 1 we found a gluten free fish and chip shop in Llandudno and that was it for the next 4 days. I ticked nothing on a diet of deep fried potato’s but Ryan was back to his Lancashire roots with a chippy tea diet and managed to smash in Diamond Dogs (8c+), which was awesome to watch. So, what better way to celebrate than with another round of fish and chips!

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The beautiful wall of The Diamond

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This was actually a chip butty ‘pudding’ after already eating a chippy tea!

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Sunset over LPT

Mecca – The Mid Life Crisis, Raven Tor

Oh Mecca! What a fight it was, I spent alot of time down the Tor battling away with Mina, as she was trying the extension. You can read about our Raven Tor woes here. I am not sure this was my favourite couple of months but I am proud I managed to push through the ups and downs and get it done.

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Busting out the crux move into the bottom of the groove on Mecca. Photo: Neil Mawson

Finally, 2014 was finished off with plenty of parties with great friends and family; the perfect way to finish my best year yet.

me and mumSnowy walk with my Mum over Christmas

2014

2014 started with a wet and windy walk on Higgar Tor…

2015

… and finished in a very similar way

Here’s to an even better 2015!

Mecca the mid life crisis!

During the summer this year I made the fatal mistake of saying to myself “it would be nice to climb Mecca this autumn”. Before I knew it this little thought had become a major goal and suddenly I was spending two days a week down Raven Tor in literally all conditions, determined to give it my best shot. I had a deadline, the middle of October I was due to go away with work, so I reluctantly kicked off the Tor season in August!

Luckily Mina was trying Mecca Extension at the same time so we spurred each other on through the hot temps and claggy conditions the next month through at us.

I had tried Mecca in the spring and found it hard. To begin with I could barely string together a few moves but by the end of the spring season I had made it through the redpoint crux and up into the top of the groove only to totally shock myself and wobble off!

I really felt like I was back to basics again this autumn, finding all the moves nails. I made quick progress to begin with, then it slowed to snails pace as I began falling off the same move over and over again, session after session. I had to focus on the minute progress and came away from sessions telling myself “I had held the hold for a second longer than last time”, or that “I got my foot on better this time”. It got pretty boring! But I had invested a lot of time and I am pretty stubborn, so I just pushed on until I knew my deadline was up.

I was struggling with a bad back through out this period due to doing some dodgy deadlifting, for anyone who knows me I think it is pretty obvious weight lifting does not go well with body type. Looking back I think this was having a big impact on my performance and it was only after going to see a chiropractor (Matt Pigden) that my climbing drastically improved.

I had literally run out of time, it was my last session at the tor before I went away with work and I didn’t even want to go, I had basically given up. I only went so that I would have no regrets about not giving it 100% of my time and effort.

I felt quite relaxed at the crag, distracted from my redpoint thoughts by chatting away to a good friend. I gave it a go, some how I managed to get through the crux and up the groove only to fall going to the sloper at the top, I had tried hard but I didn’t give it everything. I knew I had enough energy for one last go and gave it max (power screams and all). It worked, I was suddenly at the chains not quite believing what had really happened. Happy days!

KatyWhittaker_Mecca

KatyWhittaker_Mecca_2

Photos thanks to: Rainer Eder

Chamonix

In June Jo and I headed out to Chamonix to go ‘alpine climbing’. This trip had been in the pipe line for many months, ever since I found out I was working at the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy in Chamonix.

It was one of those plans we came up with in the pub! The plan was for Jo to come and meet me after I had finished working out there. As the date crept closer and closer we realised we had absolutely no idea what we doing! Jo had been to Chamonix once as a kid and I didn’t know anything about it. So we asked around a lot of friends if they thought we would be okay being alpine newbies, plus having no idea about Chamonix and we quite deservingly got laughed at a reasonable amount of times!

It is quite desperate trying to plan a trip to an area you know nothing about and especially when it involves a style of climbing you are pretty clueless about. Anyway after some research we got the general gist of the areas/mountains/rock faces in Chamonix and after taking peoples ‘you will be fiiiiine’ on this route advice with a pinch of salt we made a vague plan. The plan involved me stipulating that there was absolutely no way we would be going to the top of the Augille d’midi and walking down the scary snow ridge – I told Jo we weren’t ready for that!!

We borrowed a ton of kit and guide books off various people and had a fast track crevasse rescue course in Rob’s front room a few days before leaving. By the time Jo arrived in Chamonix I was absolutely knackered after working at the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy. It was an amazing event but I was working long hours and not getting much sleep. Jo insisted we would take it easy at least for the first day so after an epic morning (that involved missing the bus, hitch hiking into town, forgetting gas and suncream, realising all the shops closed at lunch time and not having enough money on my card to pay for the train) we finally got on the train, relaxed, and headed up to the Mer de Glace. I can safely say that the first day was not “taking it easy” and was probably the hardest day we had all trip. We headed up to the Envers hut with full camping kit, climbing gear and food for three days. It took us 6 hours and was a massive slog but we were psyched out our minds to be walking up a glacier and climbing the big metal ladders that lead us up the mountainside.

 

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Jo and I on the Mer de Glace.

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Jo climbing down the initial set of ladders to reach the Mer de Glace

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Leaving the Mer de Glace and heading up the ladders towards the hut

Once we had arrived and pitched the tent it then proceeded to snow, rain and be pretty dam cloudy and chilly for the rest of the night! We crossed our fingers for a beautiful alpine morning and set the alarm for 5am. It was not beautiful! I think we were both secretly quite pleased that we could turn the alarm off and go back to sleep though. After a bit of a lie in and realising the drizzle was not going to relent we sacked it off and bailed back down the mountain into sunny Chamonix.

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The view from our soggy tent in the cloud, looking across at the Envers hut

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A brief clearing in the clouds

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The next day we climbed on the Aiguille Rouge side as the weather look dodgy, we very quickly learnt some lessons:

  • 1) We are ridiculously slow at climbing
  • 2) The last chair lift down is at 4.30pm – so you either have to be fast at climbing or bail off the route!
  • 3) You have to climb with a backpack and it is heavy, especially when the person seconding is trying to carry everything in one bag and can barely move.
  • 4) Some snow slopes sometimes more like ice and are very, very slippy.
  • 5) Don’t carry the guide book in your mouth and try to talk at the same time (kinda obvious!)

DSC00605Beautiful view from the Aiguille Rouge side looking over to the Aiguille du Midi and the Dru

So after what felt like three failed days due to weather, our inexperience and slowness we packed our bags once again, this time for two days in the mountains. We headed up to the Plan de L’Aiguille (the half way station on the Aiguille du midi) and set up camp. I suggested we should do a longer but easier route that would be in the sun called ‘Arete des Papillons’. It was a really cool route that had lots varied climbing and absolutely amazing views.  It took us ages again but we made it down just in time to cook our tea under the truly impressive Aiguille du Midi that was bathed in red light from the beautiful sunset.

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Camping spot

140622ChamonixCamp10-149-2Arete des Papillons. Photo by Stefen Heiligensetzer

140622ChamonixCamp10-239Beautiful sunset over the Aiguille du Midi. Photo by Stefen Heiligensetzer

Over the past few days Jo had some how persuaded me doing a route at the top of the Midi was a good idea. So we set our alarms and got on the first lift up, I was absolutely bricking it and neither of us said much in the cable car up so I assume Jo was too!

Once you get off the lift at the top of the midi you walk through some concrete tunnels and across various viewing platforms and finally stop to ‘get ready’ in a small ice tunnel full of people who appear to know what they are doing. I don’t think I have ever felt so out of my depth!

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The decent down the ridge. Photo by Stefen Heiligensetzer

We roped together and stepped out of the tunnel to the most amazing view. It was a clear, crisp, blue bird morning with views over the mountains for miles. As you walk onto the ridge the left drops straight down into Chamonix and the right drops down to the Vallee Blanche. It begins as a pleasant enough walk along the ridge but then it just drops and gets flippin’ steep (I am sure to most competent people it feels like a stroll). It was only the second time I had worn crampons and I felt clumsy in them, I slowed to a snails pace and a big queue grew behind me on the ridge – everyone waiting for me! Anyway I made it down ALIVE, which I was pretty pleased about. We trooped round underneath the south face and then walked up to Eperon des Cosmiques to climb ‘Voie Rebuffat’.

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The crux pitch ended up being Jo’s lead, she was a total hero though and cruised through the roof making it look pretty easy compared with some of the men up there who were aiding it! We arrived at the top in record time (for us!) at 11.30am and then with the help of some kind friends (we met the day before) descended the end of the Cosmique Ridge going against the busy Saturday traffic. This again probably should have been a relatively simple task but I had visions of myself tumbling down the snow slope and bouncing off all the rocks on the way down – bad times. Anyway we slowly made it down and then trudged back around and up the snow ridge.

140622ChamonixCamp10-277Climbing across to reach Jo at the first belay. Photo by Stefen Heiligensetzer

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Jo happy to have crushed the crux. Photo by Stefen Heiligensetzer

140622ChamonixCamp10-306Photo by Stefen Heiligensetzer

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The best belay spot. Photo by Stefen Heiligensetzer

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The start of the decent down the Cosmique ridge. Photo by Stefen Heiligensetzer

140622ChamonixCamp10-461Feeling pretty gripped on the down climb. Photo by Stefen Heiligensetzer

140622ChamonixCamp10-449Photo by Stefen Heiligensetzer

I have to say we were in a pretty sorry state waiting for the lift down, a mixture of altitude, no food, a few sips of water between us and running on a ridiculous amount of adrenaline all day had taken its toll!! I thought I was going to puke and Jo was struggling to stand up. We missioned it back to our tent then melted and drank snow until we felt human again. We had had a totally amazing day and one of the best experiences of my life so far.

140622ChamonixCamp10-480AMAZING end to the day. Photo by Stefen Heiligensetzer

On our last day we thought we would take it easy with a multi pitch sport climb at the Brevent, we decided to climb the classic Poeme a Lou. As usual we ended up having a slight epic getting to the route and traversing across a steep death gully. The climbing was pretty dam good and the rock quality really solid. We were pretty exhausted and I don’t think I have ever tried so hard on a 6b pitch, we spent a lot of the climb talking about some bounty bars and sweets we were going to eat at the top. Only to top out and realise we left all of our packed lunch at the apartment, all we had was 2 tins of tuna and a bag of nuts – bad times.

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Jo admiring the view one last time

Anyway we had an amazing trip and learnt a lot. It was a good taster of alpine climbing and I would love to go back and do more at some point. Certainly couldn’t have done it without Jo, we made a good team – thanks buddy!

Pabbay and Mingulay

At the end of May, 12 of us from various parts of the UK headed up to Oban to board the ferry and take the 5 hour ride across to Barra, Outer Hebrides. From here we were met by Donald (who was pretty flabbergasted by the amazing amount of kit we had brought) and headed out in his little, and very full fishing boat to Pabbay.

bags

The lovely staff on the ferry informed us we had to carry everything on in one go rather than shuttling it. This proved to be impossible for certain people who had brought a stack of crates full of food with them.

We didn’t have the best welcome to the island as the cloud was down and it switched between drizzle and rain. It continued like this for the next 36 hours until the weather relented and we could mission across the island in the drizzle just in time for it to clear up for an evening climb.

team tent

The team in the big stronghold tent that got rather messy with 15 people cooking and basically living in it when it rained.

Frisbee

Morning frisbee on the beach, the crags didn’t dry out until lunch time so we would spend the morning chilling then head out and not return until dark, luckily that was around 11pm.

Photo: Nathan Lee

boat

Donald’s buddy picking us up from Pabbay and taking us to the fishing boat.

The island is shaped like a wedge, so you camp down on the beautiful sandy beaches where it is nice and flat and then walk up and over to the massive 100m sea cliffs on the opposite side. The cliffs are steep, solid, have bomber gear and big hand holds. Jo and I climbed a ridiculous looking line that went right past The Great Arch, it looked impossible from the headland but was actually a four pitch E2 called ‘Prophecy if Drowning’ on the most exposed sea cliff I have ever climbed on.

The Great Arch

Jo and I climbing Prophecy of Drowning next to The Great Arch.

Photo: Rob Greenwood

skewer

This guy is a Great Skua who along with about 7 or 8 other Great Skua’s were fully dive bombing Jo and I when we walked close to their nesting area. It was pretty scary, they are really aggressive and big birds.

The weather was pretty much mint for most of the trip apart from on our island transfer day from Pabbay to Mingulay.

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Lovely beach on Pabbay

Jo and I went on an E1-E3 rampage and I did some of the most amazing trad routes ever, truly world class.

The hightlights:

Spring Squill E1 5b ****

Prophecy of Drowning E2 5c ****

Voyage of Faith E3 5c ****

Sula E2 5b ****

puffin shouting puffin flying puffin

We watched hundreds of Puffin’s for about an hour one evening. We just sat amongst them all as they went about their evening duties, they are such cool little birds.

The whole experience from the people to the climbing to the wildlife made it one of the best trad climbing trips I have ever been on.

ferry team

Ferry ride home!

The Gritual

I have finally bitten the bullet and decided to create a blog, it has already taken me 2 days to hit the ‘create blog’ button and a week to write this so bear with me! Now where to begin… it seems like perfect timing Guy Van Greuning has just released his new film The Gritual available for free via BMC TV. For me this film sums the grit season perfectly, I had the best winter to date and got to share it with some great and very psyched people. Guy managed to capture a few shots of me climbing Paralogism, Gaia and Knockin’ On Heavens Door in his recent film. So to see what we all have been up to over the winter check out The Gritual

http://tv.thebmc.co.uk/video/the-gritual-part-1?current-channel=all-channels

http://tv.thebmc.co.uk/video/the-gritual-part-2?current-channel=all-channels

Paralogism

Paralogism (FA Simon Nadin 1987) Photo thanks to: Simon Wilson

Gaia (FA Johnny Dawes 1986) Photo thanks to: David Mason

Gaia (FA Johnny Dawes 1986) Photo thanks to: David Mason