I was a latecomer to Podcasts. I don’t think I owned a smart phone until 2013 and have never owned any Apple products. When I was travelling through Canada in 2015 I wanted a distraction for some of the longer sections of the journey and someone mentioned Podcasts.

The daft thing is I’d been listening to radio and audio books for years. I used to work as a sales rep and spent hundreds of hours a month in the car listening. Yet it had never occurred to me to download a podcast.

I got off to a good start – with an episode from This American Life which then pointed me towards Season 1 of Serial. I was hooked. I was engrossed in the style of the story telling, the mix of good journalism, story structure and emotive interviews. I’d also discovered that there was an enormous backlog of free content to download and listen to, new shows to discover, offshoots from existing shows and more. There’s a whole world in there that I didn’t even know existed.

A few months in it occurred to me that this was what I’d been looking for. Not as a listener (although I had) but as a journalist. I’d grown frustrated with the nature of working in news journalism and couldn’t see a way forward that would get me to writing and sharing the stories that were important to me. I was disappointed that the long form journalism that I loved seemed to be so niche, in any form, in the UK.

While this obsession was growing I started sharing some of the pieces with my Grandmother. She’s 93, with failing eyesight but a sharp wit and a wonderful curiousity about the world. I copied some of the episodes to CD to post to her. Then I realised that I could also record some chapters from books I’d read, or short stories. I began making recordings of some of my own writing, adding in pieces of music and learning the difference between the word on the page and in your ears.

It took a while to dawn on me that I could do this professionally, that those This American Life documentaries that I loved required a little bit of equipment, a little bit of knowledge and a lot of enthusiasm to learn along the way – That really this was the avenue for my writing that I’d been looking for for the past decade. So I’ve taken the plunge.

Tasermiut Route Database

There’s part of me that’s reluctant to post this, as it was a lot of fun to research the area before our trip in the summer. However, I thought it would be useful for the climbing community to have the information recorded here. Hopefully it can help teams to locate possible first ascents and to improve on the style of previous ascents.

Information was gathered from the Alpine Club library in London, Tony and Sarah Whitehouse, numerous blogs and reports and finally from a collection of topos and other information kept in Nanortalik by Niels Jepsen. Niels also helped us to organise boat transfers and shipping and provided a point of contact in Greenland in case of emergency.

One issue I encountered in Greenland was that the lack of information about routes made choosing ascent tactics very difficult. With a detailed topo and pitch grades you can estimate times and decide whether you will need to take multiple days, whether you’re going to need aid gear, whether to carry bolts and pitons and so on. I had never really appreciated just how much information a guidebook gives you in these terms. Even knowing how to approach the routes is tricky.

The main peaks in the Fjord using the climbing community’s names.

The logistics of climbing any of the routes with a vague topo or no pitch grades meant that it was very difficult to pick a good objective for a repeat. It’s also useful to have an indication of whether bolts will need to be replaced, as carrying a makes a big difference over a one day attempt. As I found when drawing the topo for our new route, getting all of this information into a topo is very hard on a long route!

I share this database so that if you’re visiting the area you can glean some useful information from it. If you’ve been to the area you can add comments to the sheet to update and I will add these in when I can. If there’s information mentioned in it which you can’t find then let me know.

A side note to this is that I was shocked at the number of bolts in Tasermiut. It’s not like there are sport routes, but it is the norm to bolt belays and add bolts to runouts on pitches. We clipped plenty of these, many of them were necessary to make the climbing feasible. I felt troubled by this all the same. It seemed like many of these adventures wouldn’t be possible without some of the bolts, but that the act of new routing in itself is seen to justify littering this beautiful landscape. While this is a wild and unusual place to visit that impact is minimal, but it can only grow. We were lucky to not need to place any bolts on our new route. Natural belays were always available and we were able to descend a neighbouring route. I’d ideally like it to stay that way. Leaving our route bolt free makes for a more committing ascent and the simple fact is that they aren’t necessary on this line, given the chance to descend nearby. I was doubly glad that we didn’t need to place any bolts as in retrospect the bolts we took were not suitable. They would have served our own needs, but rusted quickly and potentially not been of use to future parties. If I were to go again I would take a drill and 12mm bolts, the only responsible thing is to place equipment which will last – the other teams present appeared to have better bolts than us in this regard.

We travel to these places because they are wild. I, along with other members of my team, felt a sense of guilt at even being there. Basecamp is littered with small paths, there is cave stuffed with useful bits of wood, chairs, fishing rods and even a table. Each of these impacts on their own is small, but the bigger picture is that if we aren’t conscious of what the limit should be then we lose some of the reason for going. At the bottom of Ulamertorsuaq there was a surprising amount of detritus, old carabiners, an old water canteen, a broken trekking pole, long lengths of tat. It’s true that recovering something dropped from the face is a difficult task. I can hope that these objects were simply newly uncovered remnants from the past and that other teams remove some detritus in their turn too.

It’s unfortunate in mountaineering and climbing that the old mantra of “Leave nothing but footprints” is so hard to follow. In order to carry out our task safely some bolts do need to be placed, if only for descents. I think we should be troubled by that still. We need to recognise that everything we have to abandon on a hill is litter and limit it to what is necessary and what is durable. I’m certainly not innocent – we had to abandon tat, some nuts and cams on routes while we were out there.

Our new route. It was climbed in a 13 hour push with a bivi on the summit and a 6 hour abseil descent. Pitch grades were hard to decide, but there are a few sections of E1/2 climbing in the first half, with most of the route being sustained at VS and HVS. It starts at a shallow right facing flake line 50m left of the heart on Les Temp Sont Durs.


A Grand Day Out

I have an article on climbing the Grand Wall in Squamish in this month’s Climber Magazine for anyone interested.
Harry on Pitch 3 of Grand Wall, 5.11a, Squamish, British Columbia

The article is about capturing the deep sense of well being that I get from climbing. It’s elusive. I don’t seek it every time I climb, but it is the thing which makes climbing special for me. Those days spent with friends where you feel a real sense of peace with the world, and that paradoxically, a seemingly stressful hobby can actually produce a very calm result.

Aldous Huxley writes in his introduction to later editions of Brave New World about how he sees it as a flawed piece of art. He adds that he considered changing it, but ultimately felt that those flaws are important markers. I’m not sure I feel the same with this. I like this article, but I’m not sure it conveys the same message in someone else’s head that it does in mine. There are phrases which jar, words which repeat at awkward intervals and an odd mix of use of “I” and “We” – there should be more “We” in this really.
Anyway, if you get the chance to read it I hope you enjoy it.

Pembroke Dreaming, part 2.5

So, the real reason I was so keen to climb in Pembroke this Easter, and also keen to get a few quiet days there, was to investigate my pipe dream.

Oli Grounsell on From a Distance, E7 6b, Point Blank follows the chalk to the top of the photo, and then heads left.

I feel like I’m always saying “I’ve wanted to climb this for years!” – which is true, but perhaps a sign that I’ve been climbing for a long time now. Routes in Pembroke like Pleasure Dome, Bloody Sunday and Zeppelin were on my horizon for a long time before I climbed them. I’d seen photos of all of them before I saw them in the flesh, and knew they were the classics to aim for at a grade which seemed attainable.

Point Blank is slightly different. I first became aware of the line when I walked past Stennis Ford for the first time a decade ago, before it had been climbed. It’s the first really impressive face you see as you walk west from the carpark, and it was the first really impressive, steep and blank bit of rock I’d ever seen. I was totally struck by the smooth wall. “Cauterised by a laser” is how Tim Emmett puts it, it’s such a striking challenge. I was amazed that it hadn’t been climbed – I never really thought I’d be able to climb it, but I’d never been so struck by a challenge like that.

Oli Grounsell on From a Distance, E7 6b

Dave Pickford made the first ascent in 2009 – leaving From a Distance after its second crux and questing off leftwards into the blank wall. I was surprised that it was “only” E8, not a superhuman grade. It still seemed off the radar, but I slowly got fitter from sport climbing and it turned from a pipe dream into something which only my own indiscipline and motivation could prevent me from doing. After climbing Yukan II last year, and getting close on Body Machine, I decided I should target at least giving Point Blank a good go this year.

My first foray was a brief visit on a cold, but sunny, day in December. I abbed the line and checked the gear and some of the moves. Verdict – It seemed feasible.

Selfie in Stennis Ford – Point Blank is the face slightly left of the pink rope

Then over Easter I abbed it again, this time looking more closely at the upper wall, which I’d avoided before on the basis that if I couldn’t climb the first 2 cruxes, what was the point in trying the third? This time I looked closely, I brushed a bit of chalk on some of the harder-to-see holds and worked out a plan. I wasn’t very hopeful, it was covered in poor footholds and sidepulls, it looked a bit unlikely. I decided next go to just try as hard as I could with the sequence I thought would work, and really surprised myself by linking the section from before the last gear to the end of the hard climbing. I was totally elated! It was so unexpected I couldn’t believe it. I had another go and refined the sequence, but this was really starting to feel possible.

Looking down the wall from the finishing crack of From a Distance

The following week, after the bank holiday crowds had left, I dropped the rope down it again. Over the weekend it had seen a number of ascents, ground up attempts too. It was well chalked and this helped me to see some other possibilities. I started to work on the lower section, with one particularly hard move, and tried to link from the good rest through to the easy climbing, with limited success. I think I’ve had a better idea for how to shake on this section though, and despite my initial concern, I found a way to clip the good thread at the end of the runout before doing the hard sequence past it.

So the state of play at the moment: I reckon I could get From a Distance done on the next visit – I’m a little undecided about whether to do this and take the safe tick, or to just go all out and go straight for Point Blank. The latter makes sense, but it’s good to have progress markers to motivate you. A few fruitless trips could be frustrating.

The headwall on Point Blank

So now, I can’t get the moves out of my head. I’m nailing it every time I visualise it, which is promising, I’m nursing a minor wrist strain at the moment, it remains to be seen if I’ll get a chance to head back before heading for a summer in Squamish, but I’m looking forward to returning.

Tired but positive

Here’s a short video of the headwall:

Notes: I’m using two ropes – one’s a static line that I’m attached to with a Petzl mini-traxion directly to my belay loop, the other is a dynamic rope with a Petzl Grigri. The rock is very rough and I didn’t want to risk stripping the sheath off a rope, so wanted to make sure I had a back up. I was also quite keen to work this route on my own – I guess partly because it seems like such a pipe dream that it felt embarrassing to ask anyone to waste time holding my rope on it, but also because it’s probably easier to work it this way as you can rebelay at a few points and keep the rope away from the roughest rock.

Pembroke Easter

I just got back from a great week in Pembroke. Despite a shaky start the weather came good over the bank holiday and we had some fantastic days climbing.

On Saturday I climbed with Dani, an Israeli climber I met briefly at the BMC meet a few years ago. His climbing partner had injured his shoulder and Dani was keen to try some harder routes. We went to Mother Carey’s and had a great day ticking classics, Rock Idol, Brazen Buttress and Zeppelin. I also had an aborted attempt at White Heat, an E5 on the White Tower, I thought it was nails!

Abbing down Brazen Buttress
Evening sun at Mother Carey’s

Manzoku, E1 5b, Stennis Head

Sunday we headed down to the Castle. Dani warmed up on Manzoku on the way past, then we queued to get on one of the E4s. I managed to onsight Downward Bound, with a bit of a wobble on the crux and confusion about where to go higher up! I was pretty pleased with that.

Downward Bound, E4 6a, The Castle
Dani had a go at Under the Influence, which was shorter but a little more technical and quite sustained. He did well, but peeled off near the top on the last hard bit of climbing. 
Getting ready to go for it up the steep crack of Under the Influence, E4 6a, The Castle
In the evening, with the tide high, I took the chance to solo Riders on the Storm, an idea I had when I climbed it about 10 years ago. The first part is perfect, over really deep water, the finish gets a little too high to really be considered DWS (at least by me) but it’s solid rock and easy climbing at that point.
Riders on the Storm, HVS 5a, Stennis Head

We took a rest day on Monday and then headed down Huntsman’s Leap in the mist on Tuesday morning. It wasn’t a good day to be in there really, but Dani was really keen to try Bloody Sunday. He started on Beast from the Undergrowth and then got down to business. He climbed well and managed to onsight it, despite greasy holds on the crux – His first E4!

Bloody Sunday, E4 6a, Huntsman’s Leap

Dani chuffed with his first E4
 gave myself a fright when I struggled to second the crux and greased off, a lot of rope stretch on a long route saw me swing quite a long way and I had to get the ascender out to get back onto the rock properly. I got really pumped seconding it and despite Dani saying he thought it was soft I thought it was worth E4 that morning for the grease factor (but maybe I needed an excuse for falling off).

Next up: Headhunter. I’d got the beta for the crux gear off several people, a blind wire. I felt pretty uncertain about getting on it after having such a hard time on Bloody Sunday, and I should’ve followed my gut feeling and done something else. I felt insecure straight off the deck, even though the first few bits of gear are bomber. I left the cracks and landed on some slightly slopey, greasy holds. It was nothing like it had been on Bloody Sunday, but it was enough to spook me a bit, and when the next piece of gear wasn’t that inspiring I decided to bail. I wasn’t sure I could trust it, and the next piece was blind, so it seemed like a rational decision, even though it was really based on nerves more than good judgement about my safety.

Headhunter, E5 6a, Huntsman’s Leap

I was pretty frustrated at backing off, as I felt I hadn’t really tried, I’d just given up at the first sign of trouble – I felt like I was making a lot of excuses for it, when really I was just frustrated that I was scared when I didn’t feel I should be. Still, I’ll go down again when the sun’s been on the face and taken away the grease. We escaped up Shape Up, and Dani and Duncan headed to St Govan’s and I watched the action in Stennis Ford.

Next day we went to Carreg-Y-Barcud for some slab action. This was probably my favourite day of the trip – we got loads of routes done, some great photos and it was fairly quiet. I was pleased to do the Hypocrite and Billy Spragg, two great E3s – although I didn’t follow the line at the top of the Hypocrite, as it seemed a bit too eliminate to be worth it, and instead escaped up the cracks to the right, probably E2 5c this way I felt, with good gear and it’s the most logical way up that part of the wall.

The Hypocrite, E3 6a, Carreg-Y-Barcud

Kitten Claws, E3 5c, Carreg-Y-Barcud
Dani made a good attempt at Kitten Claws. I’d tried to give him some beta for the crux wires, but he wasn’t keen to know anything about it really. There was a time when it wouldn’t have concerned me, but I felt pretty worried watching him approach the crux, a long way out from his last gear (too far to catch him) and unable to find the other gear. He looked really solid though, I had no need to worry, but as I hung on the rope I couldn’t help but remind him that there are good micronut placements before the crux, you just have to work at them a bit! He climbed up and down, unable to get any gear that he was happy with, and then reversed all the way to the deck. I swung over on the ab line to get his gear, then led up Billy Spragg to escape – a great route, more fun that Kitten Claws for my money. A really thin boulder problem start leads to good fingerlocks and small feet until you reach the good horizontal break. The guide suggests it loses it’s way here, but I thought it flowed quite well, after a few easy moves you climb into the finish of Kitten Claws, which has a few unlikely looking moves until you reach the juggy finish.
All in all a great week’s climbing, post to follow on what else I got up to…