Sunday, 28 January 2007

UK National Mixed Climbing Championship

The Ice Factor at Kinlochleven, Scotland was the venue this weekend for Britain's major annual mixed climbing competion sponsored by Go Fast Sports and Beverage Co. Once again the BBC were in attendance, recording the action for a 50 minute program to be broadcast in March [BBC plus Satelite channel]. (I will update on the exact date and time of broadcast nearer the time).

Kev Shields on his way to competing the ice route in the men's final [all pictures Hot Aches Images]

This year Dave MacLeod and myself spent a very long day route setting in both the Ice Wall and Rock Climbing areas. In fact Dave Mac's day was particularly long; starting at 4:30am in Birmingham where he had been lecturing the previous evening, after a flight then coach journey he joined me at lunch-time and we laboured through until 2:00am - setting, testing and tweaking the routes to make sure that we would split the field up. Jo and Tom from Cubby Images were also on board to help out with setting and testing.

Competitors preparing for competition at The Ice Factor

I hadn't really appreciated before just how hard route setting can be. Competitors want good, interesting, challenging routes that test the whole range of skills of the particular climbing discipline. We also need to split the field up, ideally with only one climber reaching the top of the routes in the final, and with the rest of the field all reaching different high points. The pressure was definately on us, particularly with the TV covering the event. For the TV, they really don't want the winner to be falling off halfway - or having to explain to the public the intricacies of countback; just one climber getting to the top of both of the routes in the final was our brief!

On Saturday morning a large field of eager climbers assembled. Good news was that a combination of decent prize money and appalling weather had tempted many of the country's best climbers away from their winter climbing objectives towards the challenge of competition!

BBC filming - Dougie Vipond and Duncan McCallum commentating.

The qualification round went pretty much to form. 6 routes ranging from easy to "brick-hard" split the field up nicely. On to the finals consiting of the combined score of a route in the Ice Wall plus a route on the Dry Tooling wall...

Fiona Murray heading to the top of the women's final ice route.

In the women's competition Fiona Murray, fresh from a great performace in the Ice World Cup the previous week, topped out easily on the final Ice route and carried a substantial lead through to the final dry tooling route. The men's competion was much closer, with 5 climbers getting very near or finishing the ice route.

Alison Banwell in the women's final.

Onto the Dry-Tooling final. Once again Fiona cruised to the top, to win by a big margin. Anna Wells pipped Alison Banwell into third place. However the mens competion was wide open, any of the top 7 men could potentially win.

One of the great things about The Ice Factor climbing wall is that the lead wall angle is adjustable. By the press of a button it can be moved from slightly overhanging to VERY OVERHANGING!

So Dave MacLeod and I had a long conference after watching performances on the ice route. How steep to make it? We took a decision, 2/3rds steepnes - grade M9, and watched on nervously, conscious... "BBC - just one person to reach the top please".

Blair Fyffe (Lochaber avalanche forcaster) in the men's final. Tells the BBC he is "now a better climber than his [legendary] father"!!

In reverse order, the first few climbers reached between 1/3 and halfway. Then Edinburgh Fire-Fighter Ali Robb, a very stong all-round climber, climbed fast and looked certain to reach the top until a small mistake spat him off just three holds from success. The next few climbers got pretty high too, but when Edinbugh student Tony Stone started climbing, expectations were high. Tony is one of the strongest climbers I know. I've trained with him a lot and though he is not keen on competition climbing he would definatly "cut it" if he were to do the Ice World Cup curcuit. I had telephoned him to pursuade him to enter. "You need the prize money - youth".

Ali Robb heading for second place in the men's final.

The BBC interviewed all the contenders during the final. Classic moment of the day was definately when they asked Tony "What's the hardest route that you've climbed"- a rather cliched question. Tony thought for a moment before replying "probably The North Face of The Eiger a couple of months ago". The interviewers jaw visibly dropped "gosh".

Back to the story. Tony cruised up to halfway. At the first real crux that Ali Robb had made look easy, Tony had to dig deep and crank really hard. But then he switched back into cruise mode reaching the top with plenty of time to spare.

Tony Stone on route to victory -despite an unintentional ice axe juggling act, nearly dropping an axe near the top.

Last out was the joint leader Kev Shields. Fresh from a great world cup performance Kev had cruised the first Ice Route. However this time he just climbed too slowly, deciding to figure of 4 on several occasions when he could have used his feet eats up time. At the halfway point he had only 90 seconds left and despite switching to sprint mode he was never going to make the top.

So one male and one female reached the top. BBC very happy. Easy for the viewers to understand. This year there is going to be a lot more climbing on mainstream TV (more info here in months to come). Some people may think that this is a good thing, others disagree. I deal with the media on a regular basis and really make it my mission for climbing to be represented as WE understand it, rather than sensationalised or trivialised. Sometimes it feels like banging your head against a wall, but the BBC team at this comp really are very good. The same team produced The Climbers and The Edge series for the BBC. Hope you enjoy the TV program!

Jo and Jamie - It was a long night...

Full results will posted soon on Scottish Climbs

Dave B.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Ice Climbing World Cup - Italy

After 3 good days climbing at Ueshenen we headed for Val Daone hoping that the normally cold venue of the first leg of the Ice World Cup series would somehow manage to still have plenty of ice despite the warm temperatures elsewhere. 110 competitors were due to turn up for the biggest event ever.

Fiona Murray in the women's final -All Pictures Hot Aches Images

As it turned out the ice structure was in good shape, right up until the morning of the mens qualification. Then the temperature rose to +18c and warm strong winds devastated the prospect of climbing much on the ice. So instead the organisers bit the bullet, reduced the number of qualifying routes and got an army or joiners out to transform the structure into a huge dry-tooling wall. – Not as good as normal, but at least they managed to still stage a good event.
Scotland's Kev Shields (right) during the qualification round

Hari Berger
Hari’s absence this year was so noticeable, having dominated the event for the last three years. He was remembered by a film presentation, and hopefully a considerable amount of money was raised for his family.

Hari Berger winning the Ice Climbing World Cup, Norway 2006

Kev Shields
Scotland’s Kev Shields climbed remarkably well in his first international competition, finishing in 34th place out of about 85 men. Remarkable because Kev has no left hand and is only able to use an ice axe with a prosthetic attachment developed by Glasgow University Prosthetics Department and with support from Black Diamond. Despite the prosthetic he is still at a major disadvantage by not being able to swap axes and use other techniques. Kev’s achievement certainly impressed the organisers as well as other competitors and he was awarded him a medal for achievement!

Kev Shields on the second men's route

Kev receiving his medal (he didn't get a kiss from Barbara - to his eternal regret :)

Fiona Murray
Fiona was in good form and continues to improve. In the qualifying round she was timed out one move from the top on the first route, and did fine on the second to qualify for the finals in 6th place. Called “mama” by the other women climbers on account of being almost double the age of some of them (she’ll kill me when she reads this) she didn't climb as well in the final and finished in 8th spot.

Fiona Murray shaking out during the qualification round

Comp Results
The men’s event was dominated by the usual suspects. There are about 6 men, all of whom are capable of winning on their day. This time Markus Bendler pipped Simon Wandeler courtesy of an out-of-bounds decision that I thought was a bad call.
Markus Bendler during the men's final

In the women’s event Jenny Lavada from Italy, an 8c sports climber, was well ahead of the rest of the field and topped out on both final routes. Last year’s leading female climbers faired less well, notably with Anna Torretta having a torrid time.

Jenny Lavarda

Full results here

I had a terrible comp myself, although my exit was a bit ‘Peter Sellers-esque’; a third of the way up the route an advertising hoarding cut loose in the wind and engulfed me. I spent a minute or so hanging upside down trying to get the damn thing off me, getting more and more pumped. When I was finally free I moved onto the next bollard only to realise I’d left an axe on the previous one. No way back!

Still, it’s been a good week for all, good routes ticked and a lot of good photographs too. Now I’m back in the UK and this week will be route-setting for The UK Ice and Mixed Climbing Championships hosted at The Ice Factor next weekend

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Tool Time

Today Fiona Murray succeeded in a quick (spurless) ascent of Tool Time M10+ at Ueshenen, Switzerland.
Fiona Murray, preparing to send Tool Time M10+

"Hardest" is a word that we seem to have been using quite a lot recently with our filming and photography, however this ascent is right up there as well. It is not only Fiona's hardest mixed ascent, but also several notches above anything else by British females. I really don't know where it stands by world standards; in the past there have been female ascents up to M12, but under the modern standard of climbing spurless the top grades are much lower. I'm sure a few must be climbing harder - certainly Ines Papert, but very few.

One third of the way up Tool Time, an awkward double handed fig4

With only three days in Switzerland, red-pointing a hard route was going to be a tall order. After two days of hard mixed climbing we all really needed a rest day, but with only one day left it had to be "send day".

Fiona Murray on Tool Time

I actually managed to send the route first myself, which is definately not something that should be seen as a precedent by the people we film or photograph, if you are reading this, Dave MacLeod or James Pearson etc.. then don't get any ideas -jumars are our prefered mode of ascent... It nearly killed me, not danger, just the sheer physical effort.

Fiona then stepped up and despatched it with far more style and technique. And she's still buzzing now as I write.
Lowering off the route

Next stop, Val Daone, Italy for some competition.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

The Promise E10 7a

I was lucky enough to witness and film James Pearson claim the first ascent of the ‘last great problem’ at Burbage North; The Promise E10 7a. This footage will be part of our new UK wide hard trad DVD expected to be released in October 2007.

After another alpine start from Edinburgh we got to the Peak thanks to Michael Tweedley. Seen below using the latest in hands free technology known as the ‘smart beanie’.

We filmed the ascent using 3 cameras; I was hanging off the top just to the right of the route, Michael was filming on a large boulder from tripod, he was also operating another camera on a fixed tripod pointing at the belayer. I think the footage we got is some of the best we’ve ever captured, it’s tense, well shot and of course the climbing is nails.

Here are some of the video frames:

When I witness a great piece of climbing like this, it makes all the driving, lugging gear, hanging around in the cold etc all worth while. I really get a great buzz from it.


Monday, 15 January 2007

Searching for Ice

Back in the UK Diff has been getting more impressive ascents on film. More news of that to come soon.
Meanwhile I have been chasing around Europe in search of climbable ice. A kind of free holiday, do some climbing then go to the ice world cup and get some good photos to pay for the trip. That's the plan anyway - if we find anything climbable

We landed in Italy and drove to Innsbruck, only to find it in the grip of a heatwave. In fact the whole of europe (apart from UK) is having ridiculously warm weather. So after walking up to the crag at Drylands, Innsbruck we decided to bail and go to Kanderseg in Switzerland instead. In fact I realised something was wrong when we passed a guy rock climbing with his shirt off next to where the mixed climbs are meant to be. Fortunately, over here in Switzerland it's a bit colder. Most of the ice climbs have dissapeared, but at least the mixed crag at Ueschinnen is climbable - if somewhat lean. In fact the ice was actually on the way back to building up again today.

Fiona Murray warming up at Ueschinnen

Kev Shields climbing an excellent M7+

Fiona Murray working the moves on ToolTime M10+
Tooltime turns out to be one of the best routes at the crag. Fortunately it doesn't need any ice, although a fat ice curtain at the top would be a nicer way to finish it for sure.
So two more days at Ueschinnen before we head to Italy.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Another Hard Trad Route In The Can

We managed to get another good route filmed today - but only just. It's good news as we have a lot more filming to fit in over the next 8 months with a range of climbers, all part of our new trad climbing film due out in October 07.

This time we were back in The Peak on a day raid to film Dave MacLeod try and send Blind Vision, Adrian Berry’s route graded E10 7b.

Dave MacLeod climbing through the gloom on the upper wall of Blind Vision E10 7b. [Note, so dark, shot at ISO 1600 F4.0 1/3sec IS] All pictures Hot Aches Images

The route at Froggatt and it starts off up the boulder problem, Slingshot. The first move has something of a reputation. When first put up by Jerry Moffatt in 1988, it was hailed as “the hardest move in the world” and given the mythical british 7b grade.

Video Still: First move of Slingshot / Blind Vision

Dave had managed to spend only about 3 hours in total on the route spread over several rain interrupted days during the last fortnight. Nevertheless he was confident and psyched to get it done today, this being the last chance for a while due to other commitments.

We arrived in the peak at midday to discover that the weather forecast got it wrong again. We sat out the showers for a few hours after and well after the point that most people would have bailed... the rain finally stopped and we sprinted to the crag. One hour of daylight left. It gets dark at about 4.15 so the action was pretty manic, however we managed to get it shot well, 6 camera angles. The only downside was that when Dave topped out at 4.40pm it was ridiculously dark. No time for re-shoots or cut-aways. . Pack up and nurse the ailing car back to Edinburgh.

For more news about Dave’s ascent of Blind Vision see his blog.

Dave MacLeod after topping out in the gloom, 4:40pm long after sunset.

Tony Waite had come along too for the 18 hour round trip, to help with filming and to belay, so thanks Tony.

Dave MacLeod again - Relief

Some more pictures from the previous week in The Peak:

Raven Tor

Hot Aches Productions - Filming at Froggatt during a previous rain interrupted day

Ape Drape V5, Froggatt

Slab at Froggatt

Next stop for me is Austria on Friday for some mixed climbing, then off to Italy for the Ice Climbing World Cup. Diff we be in the UK, hopefully filming, if we get any decent weather?

Dave B

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Filming in the Peak - Part 1

We finally made it down to the Peak District for what looks like being the first of several visits this winter. Despite the swamp-like conditions both of the climbers we are following managed to make good progress on their respective projects. Now just waiting for a weather window.

Scottish optimism. A visitor "enjoying" Burbage South. (All photos Hot Aches Images)

Lesson 1.

My perfect climbing day is when I can feel the sun on my back and a gentle breeze. Perhaps I'm not alone, for on a couple of days last week there were probably only two people daft enough to venture out climbing, both of whom we happened to be filming.

Climbing hard on grit is a pretty tough ordeal. Aside from the technical difficulty and the danger, the weather logistics are staggeringly challenging. I've now learned that you need different conditions to work (some) routes than to then send them. What does that mean? Well, basically to work a hard route you need to be able to feel your fingers and toes, whereas to send the route it needs to be baltic.

On one potential send day it was +6 degrees with a 40 mph wind (that equals windchill factor of minus quite a lot), however a weak winter sun was "warming" a crucial sloper. We waited a few hours for the clouds to come in... which they did but unfortunately so did the rain (again).

In fact, for 5 days in a row we ended up getting rained off the crags. Getting back to the bunkhouse felt like it does after a day winter climbing; ropes hanging up to dry and gortex dripping.

Lesson 2.

If you think you are climbing fit, don't go to The Climbing Works in Sheffield.

This is unquestionably the best bouldering wall I have ever visited, by a mile in fact. It is huge, great range of angles and the routes setting is so so good.

After another day rained off the crags we all headed to the wall. Diff and I were like a dog with 2 dicks, or should that be 2 dogs with 2 dicks, or 2 dogs with 4 dicks? Well, you know what I mean. We weren't licking each others, just our own...... Anyway, after 3 hours of thrashing ourselves stupid (on the boulder problems) we retired gracefully. Our Scottish visitor meanwhile had recreated the crux move of his project. He spent a long time doing the move over and over again, adjusting the angle to make it harder and harder.

Back on the crag on the next two days both the Scotsman and the Local were progressing well. We'll be back.