We are not unaccustomed to dealing with peer pressure at Outside.
Many of the staff have learned over the years that it is easier to cancel plans with friends and loved ones than explain to James Turnbull why they can't come head torch bouldering. However that is climbing and we are easily swayed. Running is a very different proposition...
A team of 9 from various Outside locations intended to run the Nine Edges, a route starting at Fairholmes carpark and ending 21 miles later at the Robin Hood in Baslow. The route follows Derwent, Stanage, Burbage (N & S), Froggatt, Curbar, Baslow, Gardoms and Birchen edges.
With two weeks to prepare and not having run consistently for months, I decided that some intensive training was needed. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one. Usually I don’t enjoy running as it's hard, but watching Steve run a lap of Burbage in his Kuhl trousers having forgotten his shorts certainly made it more enjoyable. I should have made him run it in his vest and pants for forgetting his PE kit!
The conditions leading up to the run were perfect, two clear nights, no wind with a full moon. This could not have been further from what we experienced. We started at 6pm once the shop had closed, and so did the snow.
An excellent pace was set as we headed along Derwent edge; I found myself slipstreaming Chris ‘the Spartan’ Harle to try and conserve as much energy as possible. This would have worked well if Chris wasn’t considerably fitter and quicker than me.
We made a quick stop at Moscar to refuel and pick up supplies from our support team who had kindly given up their evening to make sure that enough staff survived to open the shop the next day.
As we headed along Stanage the snow got heavier, the wind picked up and the puddles grew colder and deeper. By the time we reached Burbage North, the temperature was hovering around two degrees with a decent covering of snow. Whilst this doesn’t sound too bad, when you're only wearing running tights, baselayer top and a waterproof it’s a different story. Fast and light….should be called fast and flipping freezing. However the conditions were perfect for testing the head torches which Petzl had donated!
The next edge was Froggatt which to my mind is flat, but the message being sent from my legs conflicted with previous experience. The boys at the front were starting to pull away and I was definitely slowing down. I was now doing little more than a shuffle similar to that of Ozzy Osbourne. However pride was at stake; dropping out would have ended in weeks of ridicule. That same pride started to sting when Paul slowed down to check I was ok. At least it took my mind off other areas of my body that were also stinging.
By the resupply at Cubar Gap car park, I had eaten my own body weight in Clif bars. Thankfully they started to kick in as we set off for the last leg.
What I thought was an energy boost soon turned out to be a short lived downhill section to Gardoms. Either way I was thankful for every moment that it lasted, which was not very long. The boggy, uneven and uphill section to Birchen was knackering but the thought of how many man points I would gain upon completion somehow got me to the home straight.
All in all a cracking effort by the entire team, no drop outs and at 4hrs 40 a decent time considering the conditions! I would like say a special thank you to Outside for offering to pay for the resulting knee and hip replacements.
John Bradley works for Outside in HathersageTweet
In early October I headed to the south west with Neil McAdie from Rab, with worrying routes in mind. We went straight for the big one, the infamous Pat Littlejohn route, Il Duce (E5 6a) on the tiny peninsula of Tintagel. This 4 pitch route is in a very serious position directly above the sea with the first down ward traverse pitch making retreat something not to consider. Neil dealt with this well considering the damp conditions.
This lead round to the intimidating overhanging crux pitch. A very greasy crack lead up to a huge leftward roof chimney crack. The pitch was not just damp but properly wet and I considered bailing, but decided I may not be back any time soon, so cracked on. Unfortunately under the roof the damp got the better of me and I hung on a cam to dry the holds, before struggling onward to the belay. I'm 90% sure I could have done it all clean if in better condition. Neil fought his way up behind me having a fairly hard time in the wild positions.
He arrived at the stance and looked at the next very bold 5c corner pitch and quickly handed back over the sharp end to me again. Gulp. This starts steadily but soon the corner closes, the gear stops, the holds become spaced and everything becomes sandy. In a very serious situation looking at a huge fall I gibbered my way to the ledge. And.....relax...... and finally Neil’s lead. We had heard terrifying things about the last mega lose 4c pitch but Neil had no troubles with the giant booming rock mushrooms and soon we were on top of a rarely ticked Über-classic. Chuffed to say the least!
The next day we headed to Lower Sharpnose where Neil had pretty much ticked the crag back in the day and I had been rained off twice without climbing a thing! We sat in the van watching the rain, "not again!" Luckily it soon stopped and out came the sun. This still left the crag base very wet so we started gently with the brilliant Misery Goat (E2 5b) and Last Laugh (E2 5c), which were quite exciting in their soaking lower reaches!
We then headed round to the main event, the middle fin. The proper biggies are Fay (E4 5c) and Pacemaker (E5 6a), both well protected but pumpy wall climbs of classic status. There was no chalk on the wall at all from the rain earlier but I started up Fay with very sandy feeling holds. Conditions improved with height and the climbing was incredible. A stiff couple of pulls with old pegs for protection formulate the crux and soon I was grinning at the top of the very narrow fin. Neil followed without trouble and when we abbed to the deck Neil suggested that, as he done them all before, I should lead Pacemaker too. I did really want to, but was feeling the strain from the day before and 3 steep routes that day, but life’s too short. I set off. Things started well, but nearing the top and the crux a deep pump kicked in and things got scrappy for me. I was about to rest on the gear but decided to tell Neil "watch me!" and lay one on for the break. I was sure I was off and was very surprised to still be in contact with the rock! The final few metres were a desperate fight, with little technique and no strength to place gear. It was not pretty, but it was onsight, JUST!
As Neil followed I could see the tide approaching in the other bay where, stupidly, I had left my shoes. I urged Neil to hurry but there is only so fast you can climb. By the time we abbed off my shoes where getting a good battering in the wash, and I got pretty wet getting them back, the socks were gonners! Of course we still needed to climb out! So with the oncoming tide I sprinted up the very well named Out of the Blue (E2 5b) and enjoyed a great sunset on the walk out with very wet feet!
We did have one day left but with bad weather forecast we headed to Cheddar Gorge hoping to climb something there before the rain arrived, we were wrong! We climbed a 4 pitch bolted route of which 2 1/2 pitches were done in the rain and it barely warrants a mention. However it was a fun, damp end to a memorable short trip!
This seemed to mark the end of summer cragging, but then, after a few weeks of rain, Grit Season hit the Peak hard! I managed to make a fairly fast head point of the brilliant Cool Moon (E6 6c) at Curbar with use of the side runners to drop it from the scary E7 grade and later in the day (night?) made a fun ascent of Offspring (E5 6b) at Burbage South. This was an odd affair as the idea was to climb the route at night with a headtorch so my friend Phil could get a long exposure photo when I fell off. All went to plan, maybe too much so. I fully expected to fall anyway with it being hard and dark but some how I ended up with my hands on the top of the crag first go. So I asked for slack and let go plunging into the darkness and myself and the lights took the swing on what is probably the safest route on grit! Great fun.
Next up, I was lucky enough to be involved with Super Sunday! The 10th of November was one of those perfect grit days, blue skies, morning frost and light winds. Some complained it was too warm, but then they were trying VERY hard routes. We headed to Curbar again as did many others. Hard routes were ticked on a seemingly low gravity day. Dom Lee climbed the test piece Moonshine (E5 6b) which I was very pleased to onsight later in the day. My friend Bart styled his way up Finger Distance (E3 6b), Oli Grounsell made an extremely impressive ascent of Linden (E6 6b) but as the sun set Rob Greenwood stole the show by headpointing the harrowingly bold End of the Affair (E8 6c) in beautiful evening light. A truly memorable day, whether you were climbing hard, having a potter or taking a stroll, you couldn’t help but smile. Well done everyone.
James works at Outside in HathersageTweet
It’s Saturday, it’s raining (a lot), and Steve suggests a trip on the River Churnet in Staffordshire. The accumulation of green slime is wiped off my kayak, and with Jane’s logistical help, off we go to The Boat Inn at Cheddleton where the landlord kindly allows us to park.
Although monsoonal rain and a swollen river greet us, I’m expecting an easy ride down the picturesque Churnet Valley. But we are soon using a sort of limbo dancing technique to scrape under low bridges, pipes and fallen trees. At Consall Forge I bottle out of the doing the canal overflow connection with the river and opt for a more sedate seal launch from the bank further upstream. I watch Steve bounce down the steep and narrow overflow with no regrets.
Trees are definitely now a hazard and we are forced to portage around a group that have completely blocked the river. Without too much warning we are dropping down a rocky grade 3 falls. I fluke the correct line while Steve is tipped over by a hidden rock. He resurfaces with an elegant roll and a broad grin.
Jane warns us that getting off the water at Frogall is a problem but with no other option we escape over a high gate, and awaiting transport back to a welcoming pint at The Boat. An unexpected mini-adventure and great sport for a wet weekend.
Chris is Outside's Book ManTweet
Ben grimaced. He looked like he was struggling. He muttered something about not making it. I gave a few words of encouragement to him, something to ease the pain. No matter how hard he tried the pedal just wouldn't budge. We were trying to dismantle Ben's bike in the middle of his central London flat. This was the last piece of the puzzle in order to make his bike fit into the worryingly small bike case and for over an hour we had thrown all our body weight at it. Several allen keys had met their fate. "Bang", something gave and I looked at Ben...his shoulder seemed intact, as did the pedal spanner. We both looked at the pedal and it had freed up!
The adventure began with us walking two bike bags through London to ride the tube at rush hour. We managed to weave our way through tube stations against the ebb and flow of the masses. It was with some relief that we arrived at Heathrow and checked in. Ben's bag was clearly well over the weight limit and he was hit with an oversized luggage fee. With my bag too big to weigh, the lady at the check in asked how much my bag weighed to which I replied, rather predictably, "around 20kgs". She just smiled and let my bag through!
Our next stop was the Czech Republic. A friend and former colleague, Andrea, who worked at the Patagonia store in Covent Garden had persuaded us to enter the Rallye Sudety 2013, a mountain bike race in East Bohemia, which, it turned out, was the culmination of the Czech mountain biking calendar and claimed to be "pretty hard" due to its distance (110KM), height gain (3100m+) and technical nature. Luckily we were well prepared. Ben had been doing lots of road biking and had recently clocked a very respectable time in the Ride London 100 and I had. . . well I had had my mountain bike serviced. At least I would be able to change gears and brake on the scary descents.
Andrea and her brother met us at Prague Airport and, fortunately for us, they had a car that could fit all our luggage in. We made our way to Trutnov, our base for the week, about 2 hours north east of Prague. We seemed to have survived the journey and with the re-building process much less time-consuming than the dis-mantling, we turned our focus back to our training regime. . . cheap beer and tasty food!
With 2 more days before the race we managed to sneak in some climbing on the awe inspiring sandstone towers of Adršpach-Teplice Rocks. I can only describe it a bit like Fontainebleau on steroids, the very strong ones. Towers and cliffs rise some 30-40m out of the pine forests in every direction which gives way to some fantastic climbing. Most lines are bolted due to the nature of the rock, however this is also the reason for the sparse nature of bolting, with the first bolt generally being 8-10m off the ground and then spaced every 6-8m. This requires a very cool head and having faith in the use of knotted slings or monkey fists as nuts if you should want any more protection.
Jane, Ben's fiancé, joined us on the Thursday evening for a short break, having finished her medical exams, plus we needed a team medic with us. . . just in case! Friday, the day before the race, was left for our final preparations, tweaking our bikes and then eating lots and drinking more beer. We registered in the evening and tucked into the food provided by the event at the Noodle party.
Saturday morning 5:30am arrived far too soon as we struggled, bleary eyed, out of bed. Ben and I sorted our kit and cycled the flat 5km to the start line. This would be the longest flat section we would ride all day. The mist hovered low above the fields. It was 4 degrees and the wind cut through my top and gloves, chilling my core and numbing my hands as I struggled to pull the brake levers. The predicted forecast of clear skies and 26 degrees better come good, I thought to myself. We found ourselves at the Starters' breakfast tent, shivering and hunched over a plate of bread, meat and cheese that would see us across the start line. With an hour still to go we did last minute checks on our bikes. A couple of laps of the main street loosened the legs off after stiffening in the cold. The surrounding hills kept the rising sun at bay and so, like reptiles, we went on the search for a sunny spot to warm our chilled bodies.
Competitors for both the 110km and 60km races were soon lining up so we made our way to the start line. Somehow most of the 1000 entrants were in front of us and we started at the back of the field. The sun was sneaking over the hills now radiating its warmth down upon the field. The next thing I knew we were off, racing out of town and up a long windy road. I passed the first mechanical casualty of the day, a puncture to the rear wheel. The field slowly opened out as we found ourselves flying down tracks and across open meadows. We passed many more punctures early on. . . was this a sign of the brutal nature of the race to come? The trails flowed through small villages, pine forests and open fields, with the odd technical section thrown in to keep you on your toes. An ambulance raced along a track from the opposite direction as it kicked up a cloud of dust. We reached the first feed station in good time and I swapped my long sleeve top for a short sleeve one as the sun was now beating down.
Some steep, slow ascents followed before we reached the first testing bit of riding - a narrow single track that made its way up through a pine forest. Pine needles scattered the floor, whilst tree roots crossed the track. I dropped into an easy gear and just kept turning the pedals. There was little room for manoeuvring and over taking so whenever somebody up front fell off or decided to walk, it was hard to cycle around them. The lady in front slipped on a root and fell to the ground, cushioned by the layer of pine needles. I panicked trying to unclip my foot from the pedal and in doing so also fell to the floor. Luckily it was a soft fall and I continued on. From here the 2 races split and things turned noticeably technical as we descended a steep corner down a narrow rocky track. My braking fingers were getting a good work out as I hit a protruding rock and my bike bounced into a bush. I somehow managed to keep riding and found myself at the bottom of the descent and, to my great joy, another feed station, where I took on some cheese and meat and waited a few minutes for Ben to arrive.
The hardest part was trying to enjoy the spectacular scenery whilst avoiding trees, rocks and other cyclists. The route was brilliant. Fast single track descents and wide open spaces with big views enticed you enough to forget about the last hairy rocky decent, but only for a while. Crowds gathered at the more technical sections, cheering us on and doing well not to get hit by the less reserved rider. This all added to a great atmosphere. The route was very well signed apart from the section where I took a wrong turn with a couple of other riders and we ended up going up a very long rocky hill, only to realise our mistake. . . at least the downhill was worth it! Ben had passed me at this point but had thought I was up ahead so just ploughed on hoping to catch me up. The miles passed by with little let-up in the hilly and technical nature. I saw Ben in the distance over some rolling hills and eventually caught him up. He was surprised to see me. We kept thinking that every town in the distance was the finish but it dawned on us that we had longer to go than we thought. Luckily the well- stocked feed stations kept us going.
The only major mishap I had was on a sandy, rocky descent where my wheel slipped from the sloping track and turned 90 degrees as I was flung over the handle bars. Luckily both feet unclipped and I landed on my feet, but the seat post clamp had taken a knock, which I didn't realise until a little while later when my saddle decided to point to the sky. Not a pleasant way to ride a bike and so every few miles I had to adjust the loosened saddle and tighten the bolt as hard as I could. As we drew closer to the finish we could hear some loud music through the trees and, thinking this was the finish line, we sped up, only to discover a wedding going on in the grounds of a private manor and not the finish line at all! Feeling a little deflated we carried on and came across the most technical section of the ride.
I had seen this section on youtube and was amazed at how steep it actually was. . . needless to say I walked down. We rode into the town where we had set off from, finishing in 11hrs with bikes and bodies intact!
We met the others who had been watching the race in various locations and went for some food and a well-earned beer. We managed to fit some more climbing in, some more good food and had a bbq with Andrea and her family, all of whom had been so warm and generous in receiving us, on our last night in Czech.
Phil works in Outside Hathersage and Ben manages the Patagonia London StoreTweet
After a couple of winter Alps trips plagued with -30 temps and buckets of snow, it was time to have a summer rock Alps trip. Aiden, Rich, Bart and I headed to the Dolomites. We had 10 days off work and with such a long drive, time was limited.
As normal we arrived to pouring rain and so we started with some quick drying single pitch, where we ran into friends from Sheffield, Ryan and Duncan; small world. They said they were having a rest day as the next day was a good forecast and they had their sights on the mega classic Brandler Hasse on the Cima Grande. So this instantly sorted our plans and we all headed up to the Tre Cime car park. We started early on a very cold clear day, Ryan and Duncan on the Brandler Hasse and, in two teams (Bart and Rich and Aiden and I) on the classic of the North Face , the Comici Route.
We started climbing as the sun rose around 6am and quickly we were at the first crux, which with very cold fingers felt like a rude awakening. All went smoothly though and we were really pleased to be first on the wall as other teams arrived. The next 6 or 7 pitches were amazing with steep positive climbing and good rock (for the Dolomites!). Duncan and Ryan seemed to be moving well too, and the views were spectacular. As normal the upper chimneys were pretty wet but they definitely could have been worse and lead up to the exposed and very serious 30m traverse. Aiden kept very cool tiptoeing out across the huge drop with very little gear, heels hanging over 500m of air! It wasn’t much safer seconding the pitch!
Before we knew it we were at the finishing terrace for 12.30pm and traversed round into the sun and waited for Bart and Rich to join us before the scramble to the summit and again stunning views. The descent was fairly painless considering all the loose rock and we heading back to the van for beers. What an amazing route. As we opened our second beer we wondered how long Ryan and Duncan would be as their route was considerably harder. At that moment they walked round the corner grinning from ear to ear, they had climbed it all free (many resort to aid on the hard and often wet crux pitches) and in a fast time! A successful day all round!
The next few days had pretty poor forecasts with rain due in the afternoons, which meant we could not commit to big routes. We climbed on the south side of the Tre Cime and up at Cinque Torre where, amongst other routes, we did the stunning 4 pitch sport route Columbus (7a).
With only a few days left of the trip we had a weather window coming and we definitely had the pysche for something big. We headed to the Marmolada. We walked into the hut the day before but with no view of these huge 1000m buttress as it was covered in cloud. We had optimism on our side bolstered by the hut custodian telling us "if it doesn’t rain again today it will be fine tomorrow". An hour later, it rained - a lot!
The next morning we set off for the Vinatzer/Messner combination anyway, leaving well before sunrise as 3 teams of 2, with Aidan and I up front. The first few pitches of chimneys in the dark were intimidating but went well. The sun rose and the pitches got better and it looked like a lovely day was in store, but it didn’t last and soon we were back in thick cloud. I may have climbed the South face of the Marmolada, but I’ve still never seen it!
We carried on despite not being able to see much, but soon we hit the wet, not just a little damp, nearly running water wet. I thought we may go down but as usual Aidan quested on like the hero with no ego he is and freed the pitch. I followed but found it desperate in the conditions as did the others. A fine effort. The damp was set in all the way to the top of the Vinatzer and the half way ledge but with more positive and brilliant crack and chimney climbing, it was all great fun and banter with a good group of friends.
When we arrived at the very lose midday ledge we carried on up the Messner finish which was very different to the first half. The route finding got hard, rock quality became varied from pitches of perfect limestone pocket pulling to choss corners, but the run outs were certain. BIG. I cost us a lot of time on a F5 pitch as I could not believe where it was heading for the grade! The moves, even though easy when you commit, were tenuous and hugely bold. English 5a with a 20m runout anyone? It felt like E2 5a! Upon reaching the last few pitches another team topped out on a neighbouring route and we were showered with scree, it was terrifying and the screams from the guys below made me think the worst. I shouted "everyone ok?" as it sounded bad. The response from Rich (who had been swearing and screaming) was a calm and very, very Yorkshire "yeah sound". This had us all in stitches and the fear was gone and the banter was back.
The last two pitches of the route were stunning. The guide read 6a+, which we all think of as steady when bolted. After 800m of wet, loose climbing, in the cold, with packs on, it looked intimidating again with the run outs. 35m with a thin crack in a steep wall and 5c moves all over the place. It felt like Left Wall (E2 5c) on the top of a 1000m face with an odd gap in the clouds to soak up the exposure. Once again fate had it as Aidan’s lead and he dealt with it in his normal cool way and we all thoroughly enjoyed following it. One more excellent crack pitch lead to the summit and the encroaching dusk.
Aidan and I topped out first with some light to spare but by the time all the others arrived darkness was upon us. We considered our options. The guidebook said it was a 3 hour descent across a glacier, and even if we did head down we would have had to hitch back to the van at midnight. We decided the safest option was to bivi in the lift station. When we opened the only unlocked door our heart sank. One tiny room, about the size of a double bed with a concrete floor. There were 6 of us, only 1 under 6ft tall, with no bivi gear whatsoever. It was a long night! Big thanks to Rich (who loves to suffer anyway!) and Duncan for sitting up all night so the others could lie down. As it was cold and cramped we were up at first light and instead of waiting for the cable car we walked down. It may have been a grim night but I would not have changed it for the world as the views the next morning where incredible. We headed down the snow with ease and a little over an hour later we were at the road, such a simple descent. What was the guide on about!? Coffee and breakfast at the cafe were very welcome.
It had been a stunning, adventurous and memorable day and we were shocked to read in the guide that Reinhold Messner did the first ascent of the top section in 1969, solo but with a little aid. The thought of this on the head wall is truly shocking with only a small amount of aid possible. It must be one of the greatest achievements in the Alps.
We spent the next day refuelling and dozing in the sun after the sleepless night and chose the convenient Sella Towers for our final day as they could be climbed in the morning and we could start the long slog home in the afternoon. Aidan and I chose another Messner route, it had many of the same qualities as the last, steep, exposed, brilliant and hugely run out. It was only short but we decided it was one of the best routes of the trip with steep rock, good holds and bags of exposure. That’s what the Dolomites is all about.
That afternoon we headed back but the banter didn’t stop, summing up another amazing trip with awesome mates! Thanks guys!
James works in Outside in HathersageTweet
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