Friday, June 17, 2016

Ogawayama - Japan

Watching the big boys go at it was a great experience!
Stepping off a plane in Tokyo is pretty routine, you cruise through customs, pick up your bags and then head down to the train station to catch the express into the city. And this is where it goes straight to defcon 5. The train station is like stepping into a human ant farm. There are people everywhere, scurrying around you, past you and almost over you. However, amid the chaos is unbelievable organisation. Tourist information booths help the bewildered fools find their way to the correct train and offer advice on how best to make it to your destination. Tokyo is an enormous, sprawling metropolis, unlike any city I have visited before. But the train system makes it a breeze to get around, even with zero Japanese and a heap of luggage, the trip is not too arduous, though a packed Tokyo train is quite an experience. The words jammed in like sardines barely does it justice. You cannot move and it is a fight to not get caught up with the human tide as people try to decamp, just hold a handle, plant your feet and let the tide break around you. We arrive at our ryokan feeling a little washed out, it's evening time, I'm hungry and a little bedraggled. A ryokan is a traditional guesthouse, you sleep on tatami mats, the rooms are tiny, but its cost effective, comfortable and they have their own version of an onsen (Japanese bath) upstairs. We get freshened up and hit the streets to find some food. I'm not quite sure what the story is, but it seems that there is a restaurant or a hairdressers in every second shop, so if you have hair (unlike me) or are hungry (definitely me), you have enough choice to make you walk on and on just to see what is available. The options for food are endless, mostly you can be lead by pictures, but every now and then its great to just jump in, go native and see what happens...

After a couple of big days in Tokyo, having the sensory overload that one expects, as well as checking out some sweet sumo action, it's time to head to the blissful countryside and get to grips with some blocs. We had a little trouble with car rentals, mostly that we couldn't rent a car from any company without an international drivers license. Now, I have rented cars in at least 10 different countries all around the world and have never had to show an international license before. But, if there is one thing that the Japanese love, it's rules. And, the rules say that you must present your international license to hire a car, so it's back to the train for us. I was pretty pissed and a little apprehensive about catching the train, it involved 3 changes and then a phone call to the hotel in the mountains to ask someone to come and pick us up. I needn't have worried though, a little prep with google maps and a subway ride to Shinjuku station and we were on our way. All up it was a pretty pleasant journey, great views of Mt Fuji and very clean and comfy trains. We made it to our destination and exited the train. We were essentially in the middle of an industrial farm town. I went off hunting for supplies, as we had been pre warned that lunch and breakfast food was in short supply up in the mountains. I got robbed blind by a seemingly lovely old lady who cackled through the whole exchange, but ended up with most of what we needed. Next up was the phone call that I had been dreading. I was unsure what I was going to say and how well our little parley was going to go, but after lots of nodding and saying hai, I hung up and hoped for the best. 20 minutes later our ride showed. Result! Kimpu Sansou was to be our home for the next week and on first impressions it was a little like stepping into the Shining. It was a large place, devoid of other guests, big, old and airy. Holy Shit. What had I done? But, after a cursory glance at our room, we dropped our kit and went to check out the boulders.

I gotta admit that I was a little underwhelmed to begin with, the boulders seemed few and far between and there were no real lines to speak of. I had purchased the guidebook in advance from Japanese Amazon, but it didn't help much, since it was entirely in Japanese with only a few pictures and indecipherable topos. Lucky I had purchased two copies by mistake and at an exorbitant cost... We only had an hour or two of light left and hadn't organised to hire pads until the following day, so we took the opportunity to scope out the hotel a little better and make use of their bangin Onsen, resplendent with mountain views. Dinner followed, a banquet of assorted classics, miso to begin, some sashimi, a whole char grilled fish, some other side plates and of course, the obligatory rice. A couple of Asahi and some sake to boot and I was primed for bed. Morning comes early to the mountains and that's not some romantic, coloured view of alpine starts or anything. It starts to get light at around 3am, which is not something that I am used to, especially when the curtains look and act like rice paper. So by 7am I was itching to get cracking.

We hit the blocs early and started warming up. First thoughts were of a mix between Squamish and Castle Hill, big rounded blocs, with soft texture and not much friction in places. Warming up was fun, we found some great little classics and seemed to get by ok. There were a couple of things that I had spied some local crew having a lash at that looked a little harder, so we went and had a look. Temperatures were rising, but it didn't seem that warm, but when I went to try the first, highball classic, I was dismayed to feel just how slick the holds felt. I had a few goes and had my ass kicked off each time. I started to feel a little despondent, I was weak, too much ramen, too many asahi and anyway, my wrist hurt, so whatever. Oh and the conditions sucked. I had a little chat with myself and decided I would give it a couple more goes. Maybe give it a brush and then give the holds a couple of minutes to cool off and then have another lash. Turned out, it was a good idea and I soon found myself reaching for the top holds and standing on top of the bloc. That's more like it, time to try some harder things. We did a few other bits and pieces before retreating to the hotel for a bath, beer and dinner. As we were dining, a random English guy wandered in and started having a little yarn with us. Thankfully he had some good knowledge of where some of the more popular blocs were and gave us a bit more of an idea of the areas where we should be heading.
The buffet at the Hotel was pretty awesome after a big day, the Asahi was better though.
My favourite problem from the trip, no idea on name etc, but a great line.

Another classic in Ogawayama, river of forgetfulness I think it's called.

Easily the coldest swim I have ever had, but a stunning mountain river.

A sobering view of ground zero in Hiroshima

Turns out most of the better blocs were located down next to the river, all of about 100 metres from our room. Safe to say, we spent most of the next 5 days bouldering next to one of the most pristine mountain rivers that I have ever seen. The blocs are more of the river washed varietal, so the texture is smoother and some of the footers slicker than a grease trap, but it was still a lot of fun. It seemed that this was the most popular spot, especially on a weekend, where dozens of boulderers would descend and set up camp. There are some classic lines on some pretty big blocs, many of which have spicy topouts, which is one of the things that I normally love, however when the pads you have hired are as thin as a supermodel and your spotter weighs in under 50kilos, it sows a little doubt in your mind. I still had very little idea about names and grades, but that was kind of liberating. It was nice to just pick a line and start going for it, not being limited by how hard or easy something was. I got pointed in the direction of a couple of harder lines by one of the local guys who was pretty psyched to try them with me. We did one stellar problem on the bank of the river, traversing along the front side of the bloc on desperate slopers and some slick crimps before a high top out above an ankle snapping landing. It was a great feeling to have to try really hard on all of the moves. I had a nightmare with the start, good holds through a roof, but with a techy toe hook on polished rock that I just couldn't manage to make stay where I wanted it to. Being the tech wizard that I am, I eventually figured out a slightly different sequence that made the hook work for me and kept myself together for the rest of the moves. Another riverside classic done. The week we spent in Ogawayama was great, sure, it's not one of the must do destinations for any aspiring rock jock, but if you find yourself in Japan and are desperate to crush then it is one of the more beautiful places to pass a week, that is for sure. There is other climbing nearby that looks to be as good or possibly better, but without a car it was a no go. Mount Mizugaki is the name and is on the list for my next visit for sure.
Another contender for best problem!

So, down to the nitty gritty. How to get there, where to stay, blah blah blah. So, it's best to fly into Tokyo, from there it's all available to you. You can either hire a car from one of the larger train stations, ideally a little toward the west of the city, or you can catch the train and get the pick up from the hotel. Whilst having a phone conversation is not the easiest, if you email the hotel and they have a rough estimate of your arrival time, it should all run smoothly. It's best in May, but not the first week, as that's Golden Week, so much of the country is on holidays and therefore accommodation is at a premium and there are people everywhere. Ogawayama is not just a bouldering venue, there are walkers, route climbers and fly fisherman vying for space, so avoid Golden Week and visit before or after. Just remember, you are at 1500 metres, so it gets proper cold, be prepared for some chilly evenings, especially if you choose to camp, rather than stay in the hotel.
For the train journey, you need to get to Shinjuku Station, from here, it's the Chuo Line Limited Express to Kobuchizawa Station, change and then head to the Shinano-Kawakami Station which is on The Koumi line heading to Matsumoto. Get off and head for the phone booth. Trains run frequently and on time. If you are using a JR pass (which you have to buy before you get to Japan and have delivered by mai), it's free, otherwise it's somewhere in the vicinity of 6,500 yen or $75AUD one way. All up with smooth changeovers it's about a 3 hour journey. Make sure you pack lots of snack food for the week and all of the food that you need if you are camping. The hotel sells a limited amount of random as shit snacks, but best to bring your own. Also, word to the wise here, if you are staying at the hotel, the breakfast and dinners are included in the price, but you can negotiate to have both, one or neither. I suggest sticking with dinner, but giving brekkie the flick. Rather, bring some muesli etc and get friendly with the chef, who will allow you to store yoghurt and milk in the fridge. Also, bring your own coffee maker and supply. If you are like me and will murder someone merely for breathing in the morning before caffeine, you will be surrounded by corpses in no time, as they neither stock nor supply coffee. You've been warned!!! On the upside, you can buy as much beer and sake as you like for not much and it feels completely civil to have an ice cold asahi at 3 in the afternoon out of the vending machine in the lobby. Pads can be hired for around $10 a day, but they are pretty old and well worn. However, if you have to catch trains in Tokyo, bringing pads is going to be somewhat of a nightmare, you decide. Book them in advance by email.
Here's the details for the lodge, 546-2 Kawahake, Kawakami, Minamisaku District, Nagano Prefecture 384-1401, +81267992428,

Thursday, May 21, 2015

New Zealand

Annie Oakley
It had been a long time between visits, not since 2008 had I been back to Castle Hill. I was well psyched to get back there. Previously, I had visited a bunch of times, always with a big crew of mates, partying hard and egging each other onward and upward on the invariably high and mostly tricky problems that grace this incredibly beautiful area on New Zealand's South Island. This was going to be a slightly different trip, just my girlfriend and I, heading away for a well-earned break after a hectic summer in the restaurant. Obviously a climbing trip still, but with a pretty healthy focus on chilling out and enjoying ourselves.


It didn't start well. Flying in from two different cities, we had coordinated our flights to within 15 mins of each other. Sadly, with the 50 year storm pounding Sydney, Amy's flight was delayed by more than 3 hours, leaving me with some pretty serious silver tongued work to do in Christchurch. Convincing a rental car company to hand over a car in someone else's name is quite a task, not to mention purchasing 10 days worth of food and drink and squeezing it all, along with two pads into a Mazda 2, the Aussie equivalent of the classic fiat punto rental, ie. minuscule and as powerful as an aging gritstone climber... (Apologies to Adam Long for that dig)...
Anyway, by the time she arrived, the poor lass was exhausted, apologetic and mildly aggrieved. Castle hill village is about an hour and change from the airport and in daylight is a spectacular drive into the southern alps, a very European vista enticing you the entire way. However, at night, in heavy fog, it is dangerous, slow and about as exciting as a speed climbing contest. Thankfully our accommodation was amazing, a cool little two bedroom house with an incredible view of the mountains and all of a 3 minute drive from the crag.
We awoke to glorious sunshine, vivid colors and psyched out of our tiny minds to lay our hands on some rock. This lasted for about half an hour, enough time to walk into the crag and warm up. I chose to visit one of the classic areas at the back of spittle hill, one of the two main areas that make up castle hill. For those not in the know, the rock is limestone, and limestone gets quite polished over time, especially as the effect is compounded on boulders. We started on a classic highball called beautiful edges, a stunning face climb with a crucial pinch for your right hand near the top. As I transferred my weight across on to my left foot to squeeze the pinch, I heard a noise that I had never heard from a hand hold before, a loud squeaking, almost like fingernails on a chalkboard. The hold was so polished that my hand actually created the sound. Slightly unnerving to say the least. It didn't get much better as we toured around, most of the problems that I had done before felt a couple of grades harder and some of them felt unclimbable. I might be a bit spoilt by the amazing rock that the grampians has to offer, but it was ridiculous. I don't mind getting my arse kicked by the rock (not entirely true), but when it's because there is no friction I get pretty disheartened pretty quickly.
We decided that we would be better off venturing a little further afield. We had been told of an area called wuthering heights, situated high up on a hill about 15 minutes further on from quantum and spittle. After enduring the calf busting walk, we were greeted by towering blocs, grassy landings and not another soul in sight. But, best of all, the blocs still had friction and some lovely grainy texture. We spent the next three days throwing ourselves at some of the classic problems that this area offers, including Ronin, the Thin White Line, Johnny Mo and Annie Oakley. As with the rest of castle hill, none of these problems are easy pickings, most are technical, tall and contain some form of trickery that will confound any would be ascensionist. Most notably of these was Annie Oakley, a tall v7 with a stand start. It looked pretty obvious and was a striking feature that I was eager to crush. Anywhere else in the world and I would consider this easy pickings, but nope, not NZ. I threw myself repeatedly at it, falling off the same move over and over. I was becoming increasingly frustrated, Amy had suggested using one of the obvious crimps as an under cling about 10 attempts before, which I had dismissed, almost scornfully. As usual, I was forced to eat humble pie, a quick transition with high footer and I slapped the top sloper comfortably. Lesson learned, do as suggested...
As was inevitable on any trip, after five cracking days, we were greeted by torrential rain on the sixth. To be honest, I was pretty grateful. Five days on, trying really physical problems, was more than enough for me. I could barely raise myself from bed. So we did a couple of days sightseeing, including driving over to the west coast and also checking out Christchurch. Sadly, Christchurch is still struggling to rebuild four years after the massive quake that reduced much of the city to rubble. Though, there are lots of plans afoot and some pretty cool improvised areas, including a cafe and bar district constructed from shipping containers. Hopefully, it will one days be as beautiful as it once was.
Anyways, it was back to the blocs after that, a day of dodging showers at spittle, a great day at quantum field and a long walk day up to flock hill. Flock is probably the most impressive crag of all, perched on a hill a little ways from the rest of the castle hill, flock is full of towering lines and majestic views. Sadly, it too is somewhat polished, which was a bit surprising, considering the 45 min walk in, but was still an enjoyable day out. Sans guidebook, we wandered around and just climbed a bunch of great lines, in a stunning locale.
All in all, a great trip, a little sad to see the rock so damaged, but still a beautiful place for a visit. Plus, it's always nice get a bit of an arse kicking to inspire you to train harder. Anyways, I've got to hit up the fingerboard and get strong for rocklands...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Moon Interview 2015

Here is a copy of the interview that I did this week for the Moon website. Once again, I am very appreciative for all the support that Moon gives me and am super chuffed to be on the team again. Thanks Guys. Show them some support and check out their website and buy some product.

Making the FA of The Whoop Chute, Area 51, Grampians

Ben MOON sent the worlds first ever 9a and you are now part of the MOON team, how will you contribute to the legacy of the MOON brand? 
Sadly, I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to emulate the difficulty of Ben’s routes, but I bring my own unique enthusiasm to the MOON team. I am driven to travel, develop constantly and crush as much as I can, all whilst enjoying myself as much as possible and not getting weighed down too heavily with expectations. 

Aspirations and ambitions are key drivers for all top climbers. But how do you deal with defeat? 
I just try as hard as I can as often as I can and when that doesn’t work I lose my temper and blame my spotter… Ha Ha. I just try to train for whatever move is stopping me or try to work out another way to do the thing that is holding me back. I spend a lot of time reflecting on sequences and trying to improve them in my mind, so I can do them better on the rock.

“Train Hard – Climb Harder” is a MOON motto. Share one of your secrets with us. 
Train hard, but make sure you enjoy the process, if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t improve.

What will you change in your training regime for 2015 to improve your climbing standard? 
More finger boarding. My fingers are definitely my weakest point!

We all say we climb for fun but be brutally honest what is really driving you? 
I climb for the money and the groupies!!! Really, for me it is what I’ve always done. I have never found anything that I enjoy anywhere near as much as climbing. Being outside in beautiful areas with great friends all around the world is a pretty amazing way to live and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

If you have to put a number to your ambitions for 2015 what would that be and are you raising the bar enough to be uncomfortable? 
I think this one answers the next two questions. I’d love to climb some more 8b blocs or maybe an 8b+, but I would much prefer to send some of my long term projects, whether they turn out to be hard is another question entirely. I’m sure once I do them one way, some young punk will find an easy way to repeat it…

What is important? To achieve a new grade this year or send a long standing project? 

Progressing in climbing is impossible with out some sacrifice’s, what is going to have to take a back seat in 2015 in order for you to make that goal happen? 
I’d love to say work was going to suffer, but I’m not sure my business partners would approve!! As usual, I will probably see less of my friends and family than I would like, but that balances out nicely with seeing my climbing friends a whole lot more.

What will you do in 2015 to help inspire those who follow MOON? 
I will continue to develop as many blocs as possible in the Grampians and climb as hard as my limited abilities will allow. I’ll also try to write about these in an amusing way, as there are way too many people taking themselves seriously in this little world of ours. And maybe snap a few pics and videos as well. I’m psyched for 2015, I was a bit limited by injury in 2014, so ready for the comeback!!!

We all follow climbing gossip and news. What inspired you in 2014 and what pissed you off in 2014? 
Seeing some of the determination of the young up and coming crushers was pretty awesome to watch. Seeing Mirko and Ashima in Rocklands was cool, those guys are punishers. And to meet Megos and see how humble and chilled he was. What a hero.
On the downside, some of the really well known people who travel professionally did some really shitty stuff, like climbing in closed areas and ignoring requests for them to desist in doing so. Really disappointing from people who should know better!

Ok its time to have an opinion. Is it ok to improve the style of a climb and shop off bolts on a route with out asking the FA for permission (given you sent it on natural gear)?
How much energy does it take to ask the FA their opinion on the matter? If you don’t agree with what they say, then that’s another discussion entirely. If the bolts are completely superfluous, sure lop them off, but if it’s a dangerous route without and people enjoy climbing it with the bolts, let them co-exist…

Tell us what you think will be your most ambitious and inspiring projects for 2015.
I have a long term project in the Grampians that I tried a lot last season. I should have done it, I fell after catching the final hold a couple of times, but totally punted it. Then, I broke part of the crux hold, it’ll still go, but it’s going to be a battle.

Tell us what is the most hyped route or boulder you ever climbed that was actually just hyped and not at all that good or as hard as perceived? 
Tough question!! I don’t really have any particular routes or problems that were so bad that they were memorable. However, the whole area of Arco was pretty underwhelming, so polished, as was the machinodromo in El Chorro, total choss heap… 

Suggest a few routes or problems you think any climber with some self-respect should have on their bucket list. 
Any of my problems would be a good start ;-)
There’s so many good problems and routes out there, but my favourite is fake pamplemoose in Brione. And End of the Affair at Curbar. Amazing!!

Ben Moon was my hero when I was growing up, so to be sponsored by him and his company is an honour. I still get excited whenever I get an email from him. Ha Ha.

Plus, their kit is A1, great clothes and the best crash pads around!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Best 7a in Rocklands?
Well that was pretty fucking awesome! I had reservations about heading to Rocklands, but they were clearly unfounded. What an amazing place it turned out to be. I had always wanted to visit the boulders, which so resembled the sandstone of the Grampians that I know so well. But, it was with some trepidation that I booked my ticket to Cape Town for the start of July. 

These days my holidays are pretty restricted to a certain time of year. When you have a business that relies heavily on summer tourism, you'd better believe that you aint getting a break until winter comes around. Well, unless you're a complete moron and then you can take holidays whenever you so desire. And when it comes to the middle of the year, there are only so many places that are any good for crushing purposes… North America is pretty much out, much of Europe is steaming. Switzerland is a go, but I have been there a couple of times now, Norway and other scando nations  seem like they’d be cool, but it’s a long way and bullshit expensive. 
So, anyways, South Africa was halfway for my English mates and I and seemed like the perfect place to meet up. Sam and Lu, however had made a wee life change since last I saw them. They had an 18month old maniac in tow, by the name of Arnold. A little blonde wrecking ball with boundless energy and a new found ability to walk. A dangerous combo. We met at the airport and it was fantastic to be hanging out again. We crammed our not insignificant amount of stuff into our hire car and we were away. We didn’t get carjacked on our way out of Cape Town, which was somewhat of a surprise to me. No doubt, any would be attacker was put off by the fact that they would have needed a crow bar and some lube as well as the usual tools of the carjacker trade to pry any of us loose from our cocoon of infinite squeeze.
Cape Town itself is a really spectacular city, with Table Mountain peering down from above, it’s one of the more picturesque places that you can fly into. But, driving away from the city there is not much to look at. The scenery is eerily similar to Australia in a lot of ways, especially the presence of eucalypts, our very own national treasure, that are scattered wantonly along the edges of the paddocks full of grazing sheep. If that doesn’t bring memories of Australia flooding back, then you have clearly never visited our fair shores.

Arnie, chief hold brusher
Rocklands is about two and a half hours from Cape Town. We stopped in Clanwilliam to get some supplies, mainly beer and meat, probably the two most popular staples in the South African diet, along with copious amounts and indiscriminate use of MSG. From there you head north into the Pakhuis Pass and some of the most surreal and stunning landscape that you will ever see. Boulders start to appear as you drive steadily towards the pass and before you know it you are in amongst a seemingly never ending cluster of rock, not dissimilar to what some, as yet undiscovered, sandstone planet would look like.  
We arrived at our accommodation just after dark and quickly got ready for a big days climbing, by doing what we do best, getting drunk and catching up on the good old days…
We awoke early, mostly thanks to Arnie’s early morning excitement, a behaviour that was repeated pretty much daily for the entirety of the trip. 7 am is not a particularly social time to arise on a climbing holiday, but he didn’t seem to understand, nor care about my objections, no matter how many different ways I phrased them.

Timeout, primo 7c
So, it was out to the boulders with a slightly foggy head, but the usual excitement that accompanies any new adventure into the bouldering wilderness. The fogginess disappeared as we walked in to the first area. I was struck by the beauty of the landscape and how completely different it is to anywhere I had ever been before. Even though the rock resembles closely my beloved Grampians sandstone, it climbed completely differently and it stands openly on flat, sandy bases, unencumbered by spiky bushes and overhanging branches. The texture is grainier and the holds can be surprisingly sharp. It certainly takes a little time to get your skin into condition for some of the problems, something that became sadly apparent the longer the trip went on. Not surprising to people who know me well, I was entirely unprepared for the technical heel hooking and dirty crimps that many of the hard problems contained. I had trained for the grampians. Big moves on good holds with some serious tension. I hadn’t bothered to consult anyone about the actual climbing because it looked the same, it must climb the same. Ah well, whatever, it was still amazing, it just took a little longer than it should have to get into the zone. But, even days where you were not getting much done, it was hard not to be happy just being there. I was in Africa after all. Usually I rant on about some problem that took me ages or some particular line that stood out in my mind above all others, but that seems like a tough ask when it comes to Rocklands. There are so many proud lines and some of my favourite problems weren’t even close to the hardest ticks. And the best bit is that I barely scratched the surface, paving the way nicely for another visit in 2015. I can barely contain my excitement already, thoughts of grippy sandstone overwhelm me at random moments throughout the day. The tough bit is going to be convincing my business partners that a four week break is not nearly long enough!
It’s kind of hard to try exactly pin point what the best areas or the best problems were, so here is a list of some of the cooler stuff that I dragged my batty up over the course of the trip:
Hole in One, 7c+, so much fun!!
No late benders, 8a
Shallow cave, 8a
No late tenders, 7c+
Hole in One, 7c+ (Awesome dyno)
Purple Nipple Clan, 8a
Cedar Spine, 7c (One of the best aretes anywhere)
Minki, 7b
Timeout, 7c
Shadows of Ourselves, 7c
Born into Struggle, 7b+
Stalker on the Horizon, 8a but felt 7c
The Rhino 7b+ FUN!!
Vlad the Impaler, 7c
Last Day in Paradise, 7c Flash
Question of Balance, 7b
The crew, beachside
Some of the incredible rock art on display at Travellers Rest
Day of the Jackal, 7c+
Poison Dwarf, 7b
Arch Babysitter, 7b

Cedar Spine, 7c

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Griping and Grading...

This is a copy of an article that I wrote for VL magazine a few weeks ago. Before you charge through it though, I'd just like to clarify a few things. I am shit at grading, clearly!As such, I am taking a hiatus from grading any new problems, in a Sharma-like fashion. I am also a very front on climber. Usually when I do things, I do them quickly with a minimum of trickery. No heels, perhaps a toe here and there, but I live by the mantra 'front step and pull.' So, if you find some other way to do one of my problems, well done, glad for you, but that's probably not the way I did it. Does it make the grade wrong? Maybe. In the scheme of things, does it matter? Hells no. Is it still a good problem? I hope so. So enjoy the read and let me know what you think...

It seems that there are a lot of things that create serious angst amongst us climbers. When am I going to get out next? Who am I going to climb with? Has my pulley healed sufficiently to bear down on that hold? Does my arse look big in this harness? (Yes.) And, most importantly, what grade is the boulder or route am obsessing over at the moment?
The Quickening, V10 my way? 9 yours?
Who Cares?
There are few subjects as personal or divisive in climbing as grading. But, more importantly, there is also nothing as subjective as the grade of a boulder problem. What may be easy for you could be bullet-hard for someone of similar talent but different build. And what you find impossible, perhaps a delicate slab, may be a piece of piss for an old Font master who can barely wipe his own arse without the assistance of a full-time carer but waltzes up V11 slabs with ease. (Note: the author may have been witness to such events in the past and may harbour some insecurities as a result.)

Big Al bringing a consensus grade to
Blackbeard's Delight V8
What is often forgotten in any grade debate is that the most important thing is the quality of the problem, not the number. Of course, as human beings, we want to measure our own progress (and, occasionally, the progress of our friends), and because of this overwhelming need for comparison, we create grades. In my mind, grading works in the following way: the first ascentionist suggests a grade, people repeat it and eventually a consensus on the grade is reached If you come along and don't agree with the grade – and the problem has been repeated a million times – you're either weak or a beast, you decide. But, whatever you do, don't take it out on the first ascentionist.
Return of the King, Unrepeated, so still V10
Now, let me educate you a little about first ascents. When someone does a new problem, they normally splurt out a number that is an indication of how hard something felt for them. And let me tell you, if you have spent an age working a problem, you're probably going to give it a big number to soothe your fragile ego. However, more importantly than the grade, they are thinking of a kick-ass name that highlights the issues plaguing the world on that particular day: who is so hot right now or what film they got baked and watched last night. NOT TO MENTION BEING THE FIRST TO FIGURE OUT MOVES?

I am sure there are people who lie awake at night and think long and hard about what other people are going to think of their latest addition to the world of bouldering. I, however, could not possibly give less of a shit about what other people think. I climb because I love it. I climb because I love to be outdoors. I climb because it feels right to me. But sitting around and discussing grades for prolonged periods of time moves away from all the things that I love about climbing and, in all honesty, it becomes a massive wank in the end. If the grade of a problem is so important to you that you can't possibly move on, then you are probably in the wrong game. There is no exactness in climbing. Problems cannot be measured in the same way that a run can be timed or a bike ride recorded. The best you can ever hope for in bouldering and climbing in general is a firm consensus. Even then, how often have you heard the following conversation or similar around the campfire? ‘Man,’ or perhaps ‘Dude’, ‘that thing is so soft, it feels like v9 to me.’ ‘Are you serious esé?’ (I like to sit around Mexican campfires) ‘That thing is fucken hard, I can barely touch that sloper.’
Just ease up before you start spraying on your 8a.fuckwit account about the FA's idocy, maybe the developer is a short arse (like me), or perhaps they are completely beastly when it comes to crimping (unlike me). Most importantly remember this little pearl, take it all with a grain of salt peeps and enjoy the sport for what it is, climbing fucking rocks. That's what we do, nothing more, nothing less.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The times, they are a changing...

FA of Hippo at the Gate
Throwing down on some Southern awesomeness
Chooky on You're Eating Worms Michael
FA of Swedjen

Holy shit folks, it's winter! And it has come from nowhere... It seems like only last week that we were enjoying long hot days and longer hot nights. Could it just be that I have been working like a little worker bee and I failed to heed the signs? Or am I becoming one of those old fucks to whom the seasons fly by and everything is "remember when" this and "the youth of today" that? By christ I hope not... Anyways, it definitely is winter. How do I know this? Besides the fact that it's now May. I know, because I am sitting in a cafe, wearing a down jacket and I'm only just comfortable. Sucks huh? Well it would if there weren't a bunch of positives to go along with it. Because, winter to me is a synonym for awesomeness. Cold, dry conditions maketh the boulders feel good and stuff. It also means that there is a bit of downtime from the restaurant and this year a big stint in South Africa. It was going to be a second summer in Squamish, but the stars refused to align and therefore I'm off to Rocklands. Not just me either. I'm meeting up with two of my fav people on the planet, Sam and Lu and their new little edition, Arnold. It should be a proper adventure, featuring some amazing stone, as well as a whole new place and a wee bit of culture to boot. It's not often that I'm too fazed about doing much besides crushing when I head off on a climbing trip, but SA looks crazy fun, with everything on offer, from game parks to Table Mountain and everything in between. But, for all that, my main focus is still going to be the boulders and crushing as hard as I can... In preparation I have even been doing a little training on the plastiche as well as getting out and putting up the odd problem. There has been some great new development in the Grampians in the last couple of years, with the usual results. Find an area, clean the probs, send, let peeps know where it's at, sit back and wait, and then....... nothing. However, when a fire comes along and demolishes the Northern Grampians and all the associated areas, it means that people have to step out of their comfort zones, and perhaps even clean a thing or two of their own. It has been cool to see people visiting some areas that were established years ago, but are rarely visited. It has been even better to see people taking it upon themselves to go out and establish some quality new lines in some world class areas. To those people, I doff my cap, and say, keep up the good work...

Thursday, February 13, 2014


There are times around the Christmas period when I start to feel a little down. Now this is not because I am a sad sack who has no family or mates to pass the festive season with. Its more to do with the weather. Whilst you Northeners are passing the days in blissful conditions, sub zero, dry hands, sticky rock type stuff, it starts to get really hot down here in the So Hem. It's not unusual to have a Christmas where the mercury peaks at around 40degrees. In other words, it's terrible conditions for climbing. Now, it's bad enough that its fucking hot already, but to make matters worse, this year, for the first time in 7 or 8 years, I have to work all summer. So, not only do I miss out on climbing, I can't go travelling, I can't hang on the beach all day and party all night, Well I guess I can party all night, but fronting up to work hung over in your own restaurant all summer is probably not a great look, not to mention a shitty way to pass the days. So, yeah, I'm feeling a little low, well I was until I started thinking about trips for this year, the trips I have taken in the last 12 months and all of the other amazing opportunities and experiences that climbing has afforded me.

I think as a group, climbers often forget just how blessed we are. We live in a sub section of society that is barely governed by rules. We travel extensively, we meet incredible people, we stay in incredible places, we skive, we chill, we discover, we live... I look at people who 9 to 5 their lives away and I genuinely feel sorry for them. No matter how much money they have, no matter how big their houses or nice their cars are, I wouldn't trade them a single day of the outlaw lifestyle. For over 20 years I have been gifted with the opportunities to climb and travel, I have met people from all facets of life who will remain friends until my last day. All of these thoughts will keep me going for the next few months as I slave the days away over a hot stove (always wanted to say that) churning out paella, linguine and snapper for the masses, or swallow the fierce retort (for which I am infamous) as I deal with some unpleasant little shit sack from Melbourne in overtight jeans who doesn't think that the milk is hot enough in his half strength decaf soy mocha.

For this summer I will have to content myself with living vicariously through others. I will have to make the fingerboard my best friend. I will up my jiu jitsu training to everyday, because I can't sit still, but through all of that I will be dreaming of the next time that I grasp cold rock, the feeling of tension that passes through my body as I desperately cling on through the outward force at the end of a deadpoint, the laughter that will be shared as I fall off a delicate slab move, (much to my friends mirth) and the unspoken love and camaraderie that is an omnipresent companion wherever I go in the climbing world.

So, where will it be in 2014? Do I head to an old favourite, such as Switzerland, check out Magic Wood and all that it has to offer? Or maybe this trip it will be Norway and Sweden, taking in the fjords from a boat and scoping out new lines. Perhaps we will join the masses and head to the wilds of South Africa. Then there's always the Grampians, my playground. I could always just pass a couple of months there, putting up new problems, walking, brushing and crushing. Who knows? Whatever happens, my enthusiasm for climbing, travelling and meeting new people and experiencing new cultures remains undiminished. And as always, it is with a huge thanks to all of my sponsors for all the help that they provide me in continuing to live the dream, always nice to know that someone understands you...