Monday, October 30, 2017

"oh how brave you are as a guide"

The life of a Climbing Coach

A few years ago I was guiding some clients on a multi-pitch route on The Penon, Costa Blanca. I was moving independently so I could observe them whilst allowing them to climb and place gear. What I did not expect to see, was them completely strip "my belay" leaving me solo. At least I was on a large ledge, however, it didnt stop me from holding on with a vice like grip.

At the time as I was watching, I could have shouted over and stopped them, perhaps I should have, but the teaching point of “think before you act” would have been lost. There was actually very minimum risk so I took the hit and stayed silent. 

When I pointed out what they had just done, their response was brilliant and totally unfounded. They said “It must be great being you, being totally unafraid of heights”. 

I had to think hard about my response, because their perception of me is totally inaccurate. Put me on a 10m ladder or up some wobbly scaffolding and you’ll see me scared, but a 280 metre rock face with an almost zero risk of a fall is my comfy office chair.

This is what I said in return...

Imagine a trainee fire fighter, the first time he goes into a burning building with a respirator on. It is going to be an almost overwhelming experience, but once they are seasoned and been doing it for some time, the experience becomes less overwhelming and they can operate more efficiently, safely and slicker. 

They would also have a greater understanding of the risks and more confidence in their procedures and equipment. So does this mean an experienced fire fighter is unafraid of fire? I suspect not and I’m just as scared of hitting the ground as everybody else.

Their response to my explanation after the event changed their thinking enormously, it created a thought process with every act having a consequence and therefore worth understanding before being carried out. Their acts, particularly on belays, became slower than before, but their over all time decreased as they became “slicker” and more confident in their actions.

Indoor climbing has exploded over the last 20 years and the numbers of people using walls like gyms for fitness has also exploded. A proportion of these new indoorers are quite naturally moving into “the real world” and touching rock for the first time. 

A great opportunity for an instructor for sure, but all is not that easy. With questions like; What colour would this route be at my local wall? Why are the bolts 2 metres apart surely that’s dangerous? Which holds can I use on this route? These are genuine questions I have had. 

Other issues that are really off putting for these folk; 
Wind. There is no air movement indoors.
The sudden view moving above trees or over the top of a feature.
The route lengths that break the glass ceiling of their indoor wall height, all really strange things to try and coach people through.

This year is my 30th year of instructing and coaching rock climbing, the situations can potentially be very serious, I’ve come to expect the random and irrational acts of people, I’ve been scared, intimidated and confused, suffered frost nip twice and heat stoke once, caught malaria and been severely emaciated. 

But when asked do I still enjoy it, or if I could ,could I change anything? The reply is always, “ No way, what a rush!” Being an instructor/coach isn’t really a job, it’s an adventure!

Rich on his day off! 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Come work for us?

That was the question I asked about 4 weeks ago and to be honest the response surprised even me! I only used facebook, but I guess the power of social media these days is quite scary, and does have its uses!

Firstly, can I say a massive THANK YOU, to the people who tagged mates and shared and then another massive THANKS to those that took the time to get in touch and say that they had an interest in the role.

The managers position for this season has now been filled, however, it has been filled by only one person. An "Orange" who has worked with us for many years has stepped forward and is going to do the whole season.

"oranges" having fun giving out an award for daft climbing antics! 

So, as he is alone we do need more normal "oranges" to help him out.

I will be putting people in touch with him to decide who to take and not etc, however, we took on everyone that asked last year and we had some great people helping us out.

Below is a little detail about the role of an " orange" and some golden rules.....

Work is mainly cleaning rooms and communal areas, bathrooms, toilets and much more.
Gardening depending on what the state of the land is at the time of your visit.
Making beds.
Answering guests questions about the area, climbing, shopping you name it they ask it!
Empty the bins and recycle. Keep an eye on the place.

The time asked for is around 3 hrs each day 7 days a week! You can do all the work in a few days or do it each day. If you are clever and arrange your time properly you can then have plenty of time to go climbing or to rest!


A few years ago we made the mistake of having too many "oranges" all at the same time and it didnt work as they formed a "pack". This meant they didnt socialise with the guests and they all wanted to climb at the same time!

They also treated the place too much like "home" and I found we needed an "orange" to clean up after the "oranges". As you can imagine that was a pain in the arse and I asked them all to leave at the same time and said no more would be working here!

I have mellowed a tad since then and the last few seasons with a select few it has worked well. This winter season will be the same and we hope that people that come realise how important they are to the whole feel and vibe.

Min time period is 2 weeks, this allows us to plan around the roles needed and for you to get a feel for the place.

Boys playing with trees! Maybe they need to eat more! lol!!!

Maximum stay is as long as you want really, as long as the manager agrees!

Accommodation can be an issue depending on how busy the house is. We have a dedicated basic bunkroom, but that can sleep upto 5/6 people. If you would like to be private then bring a tent. If the house is quiet you can take a room aslong as cleaned afterwards.

Catering, you have the use of the outdoor camping kitchen, now this is where things can not get messy, as you MUST clean up as you go! We do find that lots of people leave food behind, so if you are on a tight budget then you can manage by spending very little money.

Climbing, the manager has the use of a staff car so you might be lucky and get a lift to the crags, another option is to make friends with the guests and get lifts with them (please offer to help with fuel even if they say no).

Any further quesions or if you want to apply for the role of Manager in the future I suggest to try to spend some time with us this season and see what the job is all about.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Super whipper averted! Parle re-bolted.

Some of the bolts on Parle were starting to show their age, so last month I decided to do some maintenance and replace them. Walking past the hoards on Toix Ost in the afternoon I was confident I'd have the sea cliffs to myself. But no, three groups of two strung out in various stages of fear induced utopia adorned the crag. About time it got re-bolted then.

Having just checked my own topo, (I must be getting old) we started work on this section in 2002. Almost fifteen years ago.  Three quarters of the bolts are still in good condition and showing little or no warning signs.
Parle is protected by a series of Fixe stainless steel glue-ins and stainless steel expansion bolts, ten of the expansion bolts were rusting considerably faster than all the other metal work. 

A quick spray of WD40 and the first two nuts are removed easily and spites hammered in to the hole. The next few bolts the nuts' edges shear quickly and the nuts are seized. Plan "B" hammering for 15 minutes removes the bolts. Even though the nuts had substantial rust I would have confidence that these bolts would easily stop a fall.  

This is the scary bit. Three of the bolts near the base of the crag sheared under the weight of the spanner, these failed at something like 10-20kg! They appeared to be in the same condition as the much stronger bolts.

So what was going on? 

Well I don't know for certain but I think some of the spits had been mixed up with non-stainless spits. I am now very careful to avoid cross material storage, and have been for many years.

With bolt locations which are closer to the sea you would expect an accelerated rate of decay, but perhaps not with such a wide range of failure strengths. Most were easily capable of holding a fall whilst three barely capable of holding the weight of a carabiner.  

The metal on the spites which were removed by hammer seems dull, evenly coloured and smooth.

The metal on the spits removed under the spanner seems shiny with pressure ridges running away from the centre.



Parle is now safe with all Stainless steel protection. I am seeking further advice and analysis, I will post the findings when I have them.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Rope which rope??????

Depending on what you are planning will influence which ropes will be best to bring

Single Pitch Sport.
For the vast majority of routes a “single” 60m will be adequate. Where the pitches are long, a secondary lower off is usually in place so a 60m rope can still be used. If you want to climb some of the harder routes at Rincon Bello, Cabazon or Wildside, you should consider a thinner “single” 80m.

Multi Pitch sport.
A “single” 60m will do for most routes. Most route are geared for 30m pitches, so ab’ing off should be OK. Check the descent description of your chosen routes some areas have communal descents which may require two ropes for longer ab’s. Via Gene and the other sport climbs at Cabazon are an example.

Sea cliff Toix.
A “single” 60m rope is good for all pitches. I suggest an old “single” or “static” 60m for the ab’ in and leave it in place. These routes could be done with half 50m ropes, for ab’ing in and then pulled. But this is not recommended the ab’ bolts are usually not set up for this and it leaves you without an escape route.

Multi/pitch traditional mountain routes.
Puig Campana, for two people most routes are good to climb with a “single” 60m, but escaping may prove difficult. For three people half 50m are slightly too short to run easier pitches together so half or twin 60m are better, which also means escaping is more straight forward.

The Seria Bernia has nothing more than 20m ab’s so a 40m single is ok.
Realet. Best to climb on 50m or better 60m half ropes, solely for the ab’ at the end.
Realet into Castells. I would always recommend two ropes of at least 60m
All other ridges 60m single.

For all the popular canyons a thin 45m static is long enough. You could use a dynamic rope, but it will wear super fast and you’ll spend half the day coiling it.

Deep water solo

Get real! It’s called solo for a reason and no access via ropes are necessary.    

Friday, August 26, 2016

Sod climbing I’m going Caving!

As climbers we often refer to very steep crags as caves, but usually these features are just the beginning of a cave forming on a cliff face and not really caves. We’re all seen the Petzl video of Moon Mountain or the Zhangjiajie which were the inspiration for the film Avatar. Futuristic almost alien landscapes and a rock climbers “wet dream!”

Jan Bauer photo

I never thought there could be something like this in Europe, short hall just 3 hours flying time from the UK, in a country that is full of surprises and cheap to visit. Wizz Air flights to Sofia start from £30.

Karlukovo village sits about an hour North of Sofia high above the banks of the Iskar River. Perhaps an unremarkable village which you could easily drive through and not give it a second thought, but you’d be missing a trick. Like a lot of things in Bulgaria local knowledge and knowing where you’re going is going to help. As the road winds North after the village a nondescript dirt track leads off to the right, down a short hill to a large parking area in a field.

Still with little clue as to what is lurking in the trees, a short path leads into a hidden amphitheater with a elegant “hour glass” pillar in the centre. Once you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, you can proceed into the cave.

The cave is only 300 m long but it feels longer, about 45 m high and to enable us to all climb in the caves’ centre geology has created two large holes in the roof, know locally as “the eyes of God”.

So, this is climbing in a cave, an actual cave, not a super steep section of cliff. Therefore the climbing must be super hard warming up on F7b/c’s for the main action on routes in the high F8’s or even the odd 9a! Well you could partake in this activity if you’re name is Steve McClure or have tendons of steel. For the rest of us the routes start at F5 with a nice even spread all the way though the grades.

Topos listing 95 routes can be found here,

Karlukovski prolom or Karlukovo - Prohodna

Grades and lines can be a little out so be prepared to be able to bail out or start aiding should things get trickier than expected. A standard 60m rope and 14 draws should see you right for most routes. Some routes have extensions but all these have lower off’s at the 30m point.

4 of us went over last week and had a great day! Blake had his first real rock climb and what a day to remember. Anyone wanting guiding over here then get in touch, we can arrange transport and accommodation so all you need is the flight!

The eyes

Rich belaying Jan, nice temps even when 40' outside

No, Blake you cant stay in there all day! 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Ponoch closure update and New VF in Albir

El Ponoch up date. CLOSED

We reported earlier this year that the popular Via Ferrata on Ponoch had been closed by the police until further notice, no accident was reported.


The Ponoch lies in the Nature reserve of “Puig Campana and El Ponoch” and is therefore regulated by the Generalitat Valenciana. The Via Ferrata was officially installed and funded using local government funding in 2008. But notably without the support of the Generalitat Valenciana.

The rungs are all glu-in resin 14mm re-bar and are safe and secure, however the Generalitat Valenciana have attempted to remove some of the rungs at the base. The plastic coated wire is the main cause of concern. The issue of plasticised wire first became an issue in “mountaineering” in the mid 80’s when Wild Country produced wires which were coated. These wires whilst still relatively new started failing in normal use, the problem being water ingression and retention under the plastic which was not visible. The plastic on Ponoch is clear and therefore the deterioration is very visible.

Rust showing in the metal!

When the installation was finished a team of locals ascended the VF in order to remove the plastic at the bottom of each section of wire to allow water to escape, this has gone some way to elongate the life of the wire. Unfortunately after only 8 years the local authorities have now deemed the wire “unsafe” and closed the VF.

Replacing the cable is going to be a specialized expensive and time consuming job. The local town halls of Polop and La Nucia having differing options on the matters and the Generalitat Valenciana is opposed to it repair, preferring to see it removal all together.

We spoke to David Mora the local mountain guide and friend about the issue to get the latest information.

"Yes, the Polop Town Hall (the Major) is going to send the info to Conselleria de Medio Ambiente to have the official permission for the via ferrata. I think in October I'm going to change all the wire. They want to promote the VF and have decided to make it all legal.

David's website which has his contact details is this link

So that sounds like good news, however as we all know things don't move fast in Spain and David is alway super busy so this may not be open again until 2017.

NEW - Albir Tourist VF

Whilst the Ponoch Vf is out of action we can report a new one in Albir. However this one is aim at a different level but I could still be a fun afternoon out and a break from the climbing/hiking!

It was a friend that told us about this and we have not visited yet since we moved to BG. This website link really shows it in great detail and about to find the location etc. Worth a visit to Altea if you are in this area as its the nicest town along the coast! Head to the Church at the top!

Albir VF
Here you can see a really nice little you tube video

Keep you eye on the Facebook page called Via-Ferrata-Costa-Blanca for any updates on the new VFs and when Ponoch does reopen.

Monday, December 7, 2015

No more "oranges" after so many years!

Many years ago we had a couple of young American guys who camped, trying to think back I am sure it was 2003, so right back at the beginning. Odd to think its over 12 years ago, seems like only yesterday!

Anyway I digress! Well they came to us and said as they had a very tight budget and could we put them to work instead of them paying! We laughed and said" well I suppose so as we have lots of jobs ongoing". In the early days I remember we expected people to just keep working until all the jobs got done and we did have some horrible jobs to get sorted!

One quite well known early "orange" who painted alot! 
We met some guys camping in Font and they too came and stayed with us, lovely Lewis worked so hard with Rich to build the outdoor showers, Simon built us sleeping platforms, Pepe did just about everything we threw at him, Marijne helped to manage the place and so many many names I just can't list them all. " Two now live in American with 4 kids after meeting here along time ago!

A few years ago we decided to make it more formal and asked for only 2.5hrs each day stayed with us. Some said that was soft but when we had great workers that more than kept the place ticking over! We then allocated roles so even more formal!

The idea of "oranges" wasn't just to help to clean and look after the place though. They also created a nice atmosphere when the house was quiet and of course provided climber partners to single clients staying with us. Also in the early days it allowed me time off from the questions like "what is the best crag for 6a routes?" lol

How many "oranges?"
When we then started our house build 3 years ago having more hands to help seemed like a good idea and yes it was! In the early days like when we did the foundations it was amazing and a massive THANKS to everyone that helped on our house. All built with love and laughter....

Well after all this positive stuff why have we stopped the scheme as we know it!

I think the main issues was having too many all at the same time. This caused many problems, one been that as they had other "oranges" to climb with they became very insular and stopped interacting with the guests.

Also, even though we expected an amount of work to be done, many came with the idea that it was a holiday. Which of course it was, however that meant they would stay in bed until lunch time and then squeeze in the work and then want to go climbing!

Another issue was that they took up sleeping space and used the outdoor kitchen. Now don't get me wrong I am very grateful for the people that have helped us over the years. BUT when it caused me more stress to go around and clean up after "oranges" then we had a problem.

So now what? To be honest I am not sure what is the best way forward? We have a few "oranges" booked to come for this season but only one at a time which will be great for us and I do hope they don' get too lonely!

Once again a MASSIVE THANKS to the "oranges" that have gone before, we really could not have done as much as we have without them. More important we have made some amazing friends for life.

Watch this space and lets see what we come up with next season......