Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Southstone rock: a local cliff for local climbers

If you don't live in Worcestershire and climb the following is likely to be of very little interest. You have been warned!

Frost crystals on the walk up to Southstone

Southstone Rock (pdf of the guide available here for a quid) has a bit of a shitty reputation even amongst local climbers - it is definitely not somewhere you would recommend climbers travel to visit, but it is a geographic oddity - flowstone limestone popping up in an odd place. It has also always been a spooky place as well - deep in dark wood, with strange religious or perhaps even occult paraphernalia left in one of the caves when I first went there some decades back. A place where an older England; of fear and superstition, brutality and ignorance, feels not so far away. The next steep stream system down the valley is called "the Hell Hole" according to the OS map.

Southstone's main face and the left-hand subsidiary buttress

Anyway I walked past the cliff yesterday and was surprised to see that tree clearance had taken away much of the 'deep, dark woods' feel, and a lot more light will now be falling on the cliff.

The main face containing the crag 'classic', Madonna's Groove, HVS 5a

The rock is still its old swiss-cheese-am-I-really-brave-enough-to-put-my-hand-into-that-deep-pocket?-self that Southstone veterans will appreciate, but at least when some previously unknown-to-science deadly spider bites you, you can fall off and lay there gasping for your last breath in warm sunshine rather than the deep, forest shadows. So that is nice...

A far left buttress with obvious overhanging bouldering potential

Years ago I soloed and recorded a bunch of micro routes there, normally climbing up to where I could grab some kind of tree at the top, stick a sling around it and then abseil back down. Re-visiting the cliff now, most of these now look to my contemporary eye as obvious, easy, highball boulder problems. There are also many buttresses that are not particularly high that look to offer huge amounts of bouldering potential.

The back wall in the 'canyon' - potential short sports routes using natural threads

So I reckon any adventurous boulderers in the West Midlands, looking for first ascents, could do a lot worse than bring their pads, brushes and some sturdy gardening equipment to Southstone in the spring time.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Extreme weather warning!

I'm in England and there is an inch or so of snow, so of course all blogs posts will be delayed. We apologize for any inconvenience caused and completely unnecessary Wire references.


Happy Christmas Y'all!

When the North East wind doth blow there shall be a wee bit of snow and bloody Baltic temperatures!

Back in da' rather bucolic hood.

Ramblin' wid my homies.

Yo! Omar comin'! OMAR COMIN'!!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Finland, NATO and terrorists

I spent a lot of time at the start of week commenting on the Stockholm terrorist attack to the Finnish media. Of course they all ask the unanswerable questions like "will there be a terrorist attack here?" For various reasons my answer has evolved to "not likely, but you can't say that it is impossible"; so it was quite surprising to hear the Finnish president say mid-week that it is only a matter of time before there is a terrorist attack in Finland. But by the end of the week, YLE reports the government doesn't agree with the President and is saying that the risk of terrorism is low, although they note that:

"...the embassies of large Nato members may become terrorist targets"

Which is odd, considering that whole not-being-a-NATO-member-saves-you-from-the-terrible-terrorists thing doesn't seem to be working so well for Sweden currently.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gaiter-haters

All you gaiter-haters out there - yo! You know who you are! With your little elastic boot straps on your softshells - thinking you look sooooo dope, sooooo fly. Well you don't, cuz'. You look like you've got wet feet, fool. So to all my nylon lower legged homies out there - still rockin' it old school - this one is for you. You know what time it is - dry feet time!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sore shoulders

But some good climbing today. Thanks to Diana and Toni for coming out; Diana for belaying and Toni for getting photos for an upcoming review. Below is some geezer in posh coat quite scared on his first steep bit of ice of the winter!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Glass houses, stones and all that.

Republican Congressman Peter King is very very angry, and thinks that Wikileaks should be classified as terrorists. It's worth listening to Mr King as he knows a lot about terrorists, after all for many years he vocally supported one terrorist group and was involved in one of its overseas support organisations that according to the the US and UK government channelled money to that terrorist group for weapons. In fact, Mr. King has been "paling around with terrorists" -drinking in pubs with them for example- probably more than any other US politicians, so should know a thing or two about them.

Tracks in the snow

Some pictures taken on brief stroll on snowshoes this afternoon in my local area.

Getting the snowshoes out for the first time this year.

The snow isn't actually that deep but the snowshoes helps limit how much goes into your boots.

Low winter sun, - 15 at lunchtime.

Snow in the birch scrub.

The first skiers have been out but not much base yet.

It would be nice if these were Lynx tracks but it was probably just a fox.

Hopperty-hop. Hare tracks.

I wasn't quite sure what had been digging in the snow here, perhaps a dog or a fox looking for a mouse under the snow?

Is it everywhere in the world that farmers feel they have right to chuck all their broken machinery into the corner of fields and leave it there?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Ice

 The frost that started last week, carried on all this week - with many parts of Finland recording some of the coldest November weather for decades and in a few cases, a century. On Tuesday the wind to whipped up and brought more snow, but it was still pretty cold and the snow was light and feathery meaning a blizzard all day as the wind blasted it about. The trams were all in a total mess after a crash so I ended up having to walk the last coupled of kms to work.
The height of the storm corresponded with the office Christmas party that evening. This turned walking from the restaurant to the bar afterwards into something of an epic Arctic style expedition. Helsinki normally looks pretty and seasonal in the snow, but that night it just looked wild.
Waiting for the bus home was character building. Fortunately Helsinki buses are pretty good at running to timetable so as long as you know when the last one leaves, you can minimise your time standing outside at the stop!
But by the end of the week the winds had died away, the sky cleared and the temperature dropped further.
Friday morning dawn (which means 8.30 at this time of the year!)
 So once the weekend arrived it was time to go ice climbing. I climbed with Sari, the two Janis and Ville. We started off trying Nuuksionpää. The easy left hand line was OK and I led it placing a few screws. There was less ice on the upper section than normal, so that was less pleasant climbing not very safe frozen vegetation rather than ice.
Placing my first ice screw of the winter 10/11!

Jani tries the main wall.
The main wall at Nuuksionpää isn't well formed yet (see the photo of Jani climbing). Jani tried leading it, but there was no protection possible yet. We all top-roped a couple of lines though.
Ville at Kauhala

After that we drove round to Kauhala. The left-hand fall was climbable and I felt the ice was thick enough to happily solo it a couple of times. The others put a rope down it and did a couple of different lines.

Heels down Sari!
 I was climbing in the Climbing Technology Nupste crampons that I'm reviewing for UKClimbing. They aren't really designed as a steep ice crampon, more of an all-round mountaineering crampon. You have to really push your heels down to get the secondary points to engage, but actually that makes you focus on your feet in a positive way. So, with that in mind, Sari then had to put up with me continually reminding her to keep her heels down to get her crampons to engage better. I'm sure I would make a really tedious instructor... sorry mate!

A chilly stroll home

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A foreign-born billionaire wants your country... but which one?

Which billionaire, that is, not which country. Most of us live in countries that are just too boring for foreign-born billionaires to bother with... It's just so complicated this modern world. Surely puppets and arrows on a chalkboard will help me understand!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
George Soros Plans to Overthrow America
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorThe Daily Show on Facebook

I guess to many Americans, Glen Beck is a very odd public figure, to most non-Americans he is both fascinating, utterly bizarre and quite scary. He reminds me a bit of characters in James Ellroy's books - particularly the Underworld USA trilogy. Of course the fictional characters like Wayne Tredow Sr are very ugly; Tredow is a 1950's right-wing pamphleteer, Bircher and KKK-supporter - but then again the fictional characters didn't have national TV shows. When I read the New Yorker piece on Beck last month, it all made sense.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Weekend climbing: winter is here

I've been a bit jealous that over in Scotland, my old stomping ground, they have been having a great start to the season, with all sorts of routes - easy and hard, old and new - getting done. I last rock climbed in Finland two weeks ago and it snowed whilst Simon was trying to second the route, but then the weather has been pretty lousy since then, cold and rainy. Well, this week, the wind turned, we got 10 cms of wet snow and then it has been freezing since. Things are looking rather wintery.

How the bathroom floor should look like after a good winter weekend

I didn't think that there had been enough days of frost for any icefalls to be climbable yet, but I had an old mixed project (i.e. climb I have tried but fallen off finding it too hard in the past) in my mind. I had been contacted by Sari, Sheffield's hardest climbing Finn until her recent move back to Finland, who was looking for people to climb with and she was suitably enthusiastic (possibly naive!?) to get out there and see what things looked like.

Sari on the crux

The cliff was pretty snowy and there were surprising amounts of ice forming in various places - boding well for later winter and making me feel like my proposed line would pass even a Scottish mixed climbing ethics panel let alone a slack Euro one!

What you looking at? Me, retreating into standard winter hide-in-your-hood-mode.

I had a first go but didn't get too far before grinding to halt, then promptly popping off holding one ice tool in my slightly surprised hands and the other stuck in the crack some way above where I was now hanging.

Finding some gear...

Sari took over, quickly getting to my high point, dislodging my tool for me then carrying on putting in a sterling performance to top out, doing probably the first winter ascent of the climb (I've climbed some year ago in its much easier summer form). I managed to second the route cleanly, then it was home for tea and medals.

Heading for victory!

All in all, a good quick trip to start the season of hot aches and scaring yourself silly. As to the route itself, Sari and I couldn't agree: she thought it was technically easier than the Message, a route that she had had something of a minor epic on. I thought it was harder than the Message, having climbed that route in OK style but now having fallen off trying to lead this one twice! It's a funny old game, particularly considering when your common reference point is one small route about a thousand miles away in the Cairngorms.

Friday, November 19, 2010

One more bike


I had moaned about the rubbish bike parking outside Helsinki station the other week, so I thought I better balance it with better biking infrastructure that the city have put in place not far away. This bike parking accepts that you have to lock the frame of your bike to a permanent structure for it to be safe. It even includes a chain to help you keep your front wheel safe. Very good stuff. I thought this bike looked great as well. Interestingly Pinnacle, the make, is the house brand of Evan’s, a London chain of cycle shops. I guess someone has imported this one – maybe a Finn coming home from London or perhaps even another biking Brit in Helsinki?

People reckon dog owners pick mutts that resemble them but what can you guess from a bike about its owner? Pinnacle: so someone from or who has lived in SE England? A sensible city bike (great brakes and gearing) using a high quality lock and the good bike park: someone from a city where if you don’t look after your bike, it gets nicked. The bike parking is very close to one of the big, private language teaching firms – where I once worked many moons ago – so possibly a TEFL teacher? Studded tyres and mudguards in place perhaps a bit earlier than necessary – first winter riding in Finland? So my money is on a relatively-new-to-Helsinki English teacher previously living in London. If you know that the bike belongs to a 50 year old Finnish piano tuner who hasn’t been to the UK since a brief holiday in the early 1970s, please feel free to leave mocking comments at my wannabe-sleuth skills.

Meanwhile, whilst still on biking vibe, Coming Thru points out the problem of bike vandalism in Helsinki and how smashed up bikes just get left to rot and scare away other cyclists from leaving their bikes in the same place. Say what you want about civil liberties, but do that at a train station in the UK, and you’ll be on film. Finland seems to have a bit of problem as to whose responsibility it is to move such abandoned things: for years I noticed the huge numbers of abandoned cars all around Helsinki. They slowly would become more and more vandalized – it just seemed to become ‘normal’ to just leave cars where they had broken down – even on the hard shoulder of major roads. Helsingin Sanomat eventually did a big ‘expose’ on the issue and it seemed to be that the city, highway authorities and police all argued that it wasn’t their responsibility. Broken bikes – particularly locked ones – seem to fall between similar gaps.

It is ‘proper snowy’ today, but here is a pretty picture from Sunday, Fathers’ day in Finland, whilst out cycling with my son and Dad.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blood, sweat but no tears: here come winter

This is a fantastic video. Even if you aren't an ice climber, you should watch it just because it is so ace. I'm never going to be as good as these guys, but I do enough ice climbing to totally identify with those "oh, for fuck sake..." looks...


Big up to the film makers, climbers and Black Diamond for sharing it with everyone. Meanwhile, here in the soggy, dark, south of Finland - it looks like winter might be about to make its presence felt.


Time to get those ice tools out of the shed?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

October climbing

I've been remiss with the blogging lately. Apologies to anyone who drops by once in while looking for a minute's distraction to find the same old same old. It's November, it's raining, I'm miserable, I'm tired, blah, blah, blah. Whatever... anyway, here's an update with some climbing photos.

I think October is the best month for climbing in Finland. The colours are great, it's cold enough to stop you sweating and it means good friction for your feet. Camping is always fun once it's dark and you can sit round a camp fire, but there is still enough daylight for a good day's climbing. The weather often seems to be pretty good. And for photographers, it is the 'golden hour' for much of the day - the low sun illuminating the leaves on the trees and the rock. All the photos below are 'clickable' or bigger versions.

Early October: Dave, Simon and I go to Olhava. Always fantastic. I liked this snap of a fellow climber taping up. It's the way to go if you are going to try and do some full days there. I think she is just concentrating on the taping, because she cruised Salama (E1 5b) with ease and grace straight afterwards so I don't think she was needing to do much psyching up (p.s. if that is you, leave me a comment as I have some nice pics of you on Salama that I'd be very happy to email you if you would like!).

Dave leading Suuri Leikkaus (E1 5b). I remember him seconding this route the day I first met him about 13 years ago! But still he had never led it. Over a decade our much expanded joint rack of large cams has made it much less unnerving an ascent than it would have been back then.

Sunday morning. The one thing with colder nights as autumn comes on is that it's harder to get out of your pit in the morning.


Dave suffering from the same not-quite-ready-to-get-out-of-the-bag syndrome. Simon has been strong and managed to struggle out his bag by this point. Some morning person has already relit the campfire though, the star!

Leisurely breakfasts and cups of coffee whilst using the excuse of "we're waiting for it to warm up just a little".

Sunday: Dave leading Finland's most aesthetic route - Kantti (E2 5b). I second it again and once again realise I still don't have the balls to lead it. Maybe next year...

Mid October - Kustavi, SW Finland. Another beautiful sunny day, but even colder. The crag is deserted besides us. I put one of those chemical handwarmer sachets in my chalk bag having read it as a 'top tip' in some climbing mag once. It works really well, and the I need it with the rock being so cold.

This crag, Isonittu, is all about the cracks. We do 11 pitches in the day, all except one sports route follow crack lines. I'm testing Camalots versus Dragons for UKC. It is the perfect testing ground - we place one or two nuts all day, the rest is just cam after cam after cam.

There is something vaguely Californian looking about this photo, but it wasn't the temperature. Dave leads Sankariheviä, VS 5a. The crack is perfectly jammable. The strong of arms but weak of pain tolerance layback it instead. Wimps...

Pulling through the overhang on Täysjyvä, VS 5a. Note the camtastic crack that the line follows. Isonittu might have the best collection of mid-grade trad routes of any crag in Finland. It can be a bit shady and dank in summer, but by late autumn virtually all the leaves have dropped and much more sun is hitting the section of the cliff in the woods.

10 routes into the day and the sun is setting. Not much time left before dark and coldness sets in. There was just one more route that I wanted to try before we called it quits...

This is crappy photo, but I just wanted one of Kaunokainen - which I reckon is about HVS 4c but it's an offwidth, so who knows what grade it is really. The crack is so wide, only the cam you can see in the picture fitted (and for most of the route -only just) so as I squirmed and slithered up it, I had to push the cam before me as the only runner. Leg jamming and chicken winging are the way to go. Skin was shredded, small amounts of blood were spilt, but that's how it should be. It ain't pretty, but upward movement becomes possible.

Late October: Havukallio. We are in no rush to get to the crag knowing that it is bloody cold out of the sun, but still everything is frosted when we park mid morning. It was so cold I wasn't climbing in a particularly inspired way but it was still great to be out.

It is a bit hard to see but on the left of the photo is the first bolt with quickdraw attached of the first climb of the day, Vanha vihtahousu, F5+. On the right, ice dribbles out of a crack. As the day went on and the sun came round we actually saw some lumps of ice that had formed from seeps at the top of cliff break off once warmed and come crashing down the cliff. It was nothing that couldn't be easily dodged, but not something I remember seeing before whilst cragging!

Jody battles frozen fingers and numb toes on Vanha vihtahousu, F5+. It was mainly a loosing battle, and it seemed just racing to the lower-off and getting back down on to the ground for gloves, trainers and hotaches was the best tactic.

Later the sun came round and the cliff at least looked gold and warm, even if the difference wasn't actually so great. Here Jody climbs an unnamed crack, just to the left of the route above, that goes at about VS 4c.

All in all, what more could you want from a month?
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