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......

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bulgaria here we come........

"Why have you moved to Bulgaria?" we said.

"Because it's cheap, and there's endurance horse racing, and it's cheap, and there's climbing!" she said!

"It's only cheap because no one wants to live there!" we said!

"Come visit then!" she said.

So we did!

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from an ex Warsal Pact country, poor roads, poor food rotten infrastructure maybe a suspicious population, were but a few of the thoughts to cross my mind.

Lets deal with the negatives first, the roads are bad. There must have been white lines at some point but little evidence exists to suggest so. Some of the pot holes are so big and deep they double up as extra parking spaces. Once you know the roads, you can drive like a local and avoid the holes on your side, and slow down when the holes are on the other side to avoid the oncoming traffic. (This is referred to locally as "redpoint driving.") The cars seemed to be less dented than Spanish ones, I never used the horn, didn't even hear a horn being used. So once you get used to it driving isn't a hardship.

Infrastructure does look a little shoddy around the edges, with many derelict government buildings dating back to the Cold war period. But this isn't really a bad thing either, in fact it's quite fascinating with some of the buildings and monuments being super impressive. 

Some may well feel it is worth a visit just to see these. We used trains and taxi's which were clean and punctual with friendly and helpful staff.

The language is tricky and roads signs are no exception, but once you know a few rules and are familiar with the new letters it's not so confusing, a little like reading code and perhaps being slightly dyslectic helps.

It was the first time I'd travelled outside of the English or Spanish speaking world in over ten years so not speaking a single word did feel weird. "Bunglish" and miming works well, and just about everyone was prepared to try and teach me new words, perhaps they were just doing for the comedy value!

At one of the properties we looked at the neighbours appeared suddenly and started assisting us with the hacking of vegetation to help us gain access, it did feel a little "Hansel and Gretal", but what a lovely old couple. The word of that day was "thank you" which translates to " Благодаря", I know how are you supposed to say that!

Ok whats the climbing like I hear you ask?

First crag was Vratza, this compact area has one of the only paper guide books to climbing in BG. You can order the book online, however we did order if using a friends address and a paypal account, I think if you email them and ask them to send to a UK address and then give them a credit card you could be ok. We did find on Amazon but was more expensive and I am not sure who much of the cut they take!

This is an impressive looking area and close the main airport of Sofia. Wizzair, Ryanair etc....

Roadside routes up to 300 metres and all grades. With just about everything you could image from super steep sport cliff, and easier sections, to super long almost alpine length mountain days.

Second crag, and I use the word loosely, we visited was Karlukovo which is more of a through cave than a cliff. Futuristic and as of last week BG's first 9a, but not by me! The cave has two sky lights which are rather famous and more tufas than a tufa factory! There are also routes of all grades which is nice to see at a hard crag.

The eyes!

Here is a link to a Petzl road trip page which shows how cool the thing is!

We visited many crags around Veliko Tarnovo area which is in centre of the country. We didn't realise that this area is "the Llanberis" of BG, except much prettier and with better restaurants, we didn't find the "Pete's eats" equivalent

Gaz and Rich enjoying the shade on a hot day!

Really looking forward to exploring a fascinating country, visiting existing climbing areas and developing some new routes. Watch this space for Orange House BG possibly!!!!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Not so many new routes. Yet!

The new route at Mundo Perdido didn't go quite as planned. The top of the first pitch has a very hollow sounding rock shield which is 5 metres tall and about 3 metres wide. The line I had in mind goes straight through the middle of it. I really didn't want to place a bolt in such marginal rock so I opted for a large run out instead! What could possible go wrong?

 I spent two days cleaning it and was happy that it would go at a high 7. Myself and Agustine Gomez had first go but the sequence through the steep fragile shield eluded us both. I think the fear factor was working us hard.

Trying to figure out the crux sequence through the shield.

The second pitch shed a large foot hold that narrowly missed Agust and sent me flying past him, can't remember the last time I took a fall greater than a factor 1.

Rich Mayfield on the crux of the first pitch.

I returned with Matt Warner a few days later, with the cunning idea of mostly avoiding the shield by climbing rightwards where the rock is more solid. I placed a high bolt in good rock.

I lead the first pitch at a surprisingly amenable grade of 7a+/b 28m. The second pitch goes at 6c+/7a and a looooong 44 metres of slightly overhanging crack and face climbing.   

Je Suis Charlie 72m   7a+/b

Agust on Fiesta de Sella 6c
I also climbed two other routes which we bolted last year but hadn't gotten around to leading. The Crow Eaters 6c+ and Feist 7a.

Topos to follow on the Miniguide page

I've also been spending some time climbing with Gaz Parry a little further North, new caves seems to be popping up all over the place.

The new route count for January is a lowly 3.