Climb de Rock

Climb de Rock: A Climber’s Guide to Bermuda is available from the Bermuda Bookstore and on Amazon in paperback and ebook versions.

15/1/22: Pretty much any piece of rock will do

This is a great interview of Gerry Lopez by Alexander Haro that was published on The Inertia website. For me the key quote is this: ‘The longer you surf, the more you begin to appreciate that pretty much any wave will do. It’s not so much the actual ride as it just being there.’

It’s the same in climbing, pretty much any piece of rock will do. Just like you can have a 5* day while out in 1* surf you can have life changing experiences on crappy bits of rock and I’m talking about positive experiences rather than life altering accidents although they happen too. This is particularly applicable to places like Bermuda where a lot of the cliffs are small with less than perfect rock but, crucially, they are highly accessible and are situated in a stunning natural environment. I’m not sure if there is a word for that place on the waterline of a cliff where the rock meets the sea but it is a special place to be. Anyway here is the interview:

“I like men who have known the best and the worst, whose life has been anything but a smooth trip. Storms have battered them, they have lain, sometimes for months on end, becalmed. There is a residue even if they fail. It has not been all tinkling; there have been grand chords.” – James Salter, Burning the Days

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Gerry Lopez by Art Brewer.

Gerry Lopez speaks very slowly.  You can tell that he smiles through his words. Each is measured carefully before spilling out. He pauses mid-sentence often, and, in the course of a 45-minute conversation, I interrupt him a few times, thinking that he is done speaking. He isn’t. He is merely thinking about his words before he speaks, something that, surprisingly, is very rare. And although his words are slow, the content of them is not. His words have a presence – a quiet confidence bolstered by the fact that he knows exactly what makes him happy, and he has spent his life living the way he wants to.

His influence on surfing is almost beyond comparison. One of the first to master the Banzai Pipeline, Lopez’s style and casual approach to one of the most dangerous waves on earth struck a chord, and continues to do so today. Years spent searching for – and finding–  perfect waves opened up the public’s eyes to whole new horizons. And yet, through all of it, his easy smile and quiet cadence remained the same.

He is quick to impart the knowledge he’s gained on the road he’s traveled, but quicker to explain that there is more than one road for each of us. Here is some of the wisdom from his road.

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Jeez, in the early ‘60s, the Pipeline had already killed a surfer from Peru, so there was this specter about it. But, you know, a good wave is a good wave. If you had the chance and the space that we had back then, then you got to enjoy it. I had a long affair with the Pipeline. Twenty-five Pipe Masters events. I got to surf against guys that hadn’t even been born when I surfed in my first one. It was a spot that, I guess, I was intimidated with at first, but I got to know it, and eventually became pretty comfortable there.

In the ’80s, if it hadn’t happened in the last two years, none of the surfers knew, or even cared, that it had happened. Now there’s been a trend, as time’s gone on, for a lot more interest. Guys want to know what it used to be like and who used to be there. I’m surprised that I’m more well-known now than I was in the ‘80s. My surfing was kind over then, you know?

I’ve been married for thirty years. The key to a happy family is respect and appreciation for everything that they do. Life is all about relationships with people, and when you choose someone to spend your life with – if you really choose to do it – then you’re going to make it work. A lot of people, like in everything, don’t put the time or focus into making that happen. It’s a mutual thing. It’s a team.

I surf as much as I can, but not as much as I used to. The longer you surf, the more you begin to appreciate that pretty much any wave will do. It’s not so much the actual ride as it just being there – just being able to get out there and go through the whole experience. If the waves aren’t that good, it’s still good fun. I still enjoy it as much as I ever did.

I don’t think surfing’s ever boring. I’ve gone through different phases in my life, like when windsurfing came along. I mean, there was a while there where I didn’t even throw the surfboard in the car. I’d just throw the windsurf stuff in and go windsurfing all day. That gradually faded, and I’d start surfing more. With snowboarding, it was kind of the same thing. When we first moved over here to Oregon, I thought, “Man, this is better than surfing. There aren’t any crowds and the bottom turns are endless.” Eventually, the surf thing works its way back into my consciousness, and I realize that surfing is, always has been, and probably always will be, the foundation of who I am. It always comes back and reasserts itself.

The first twenty years of surfing was just a test to see if I was really interested. Then the wisdom of all the lessons that I was learning started to reveal themselves. Surfing is one of the best metaphors for life. Out in the surf, everything’s moving; everything’s happening. It never holds still, and life’s the same way. It doesn’t hold still for you, either. If you don’t move with it, life, just like the wave, will pass you right by. You have to be paying attention; you have to be spontaneous; you have to be able to go with the flow. If you can’t… I don’t know, maybe you better find something a little more static.

Everybody was a hippie. There was a lot of pot being smoked. There were guys that were making money by selling drugs. That’s because there wasn’t a surfing industry, really. I had an epiphany one day when I went to the beach, and the surf was really good. The only guys out were us – a bunch of kids – and a bunch of old guys. The best guys weren’t there, because they were all working. I didn’t want to be like that. I didn’t want to miss all the waves. I figured if I got a job in the surfing industry, I could surf when the waves were good, but the surfing industry was basically just a few guys who were making surfboards in California. A bunch of guys like me could go and strip down an old surfboard, reshape it, glass it up, and sell it to somebody. So we kind of had jobs, at least a little bit. But there were more and more people that were getting interested in surfing, and they had to get creative about how they wouldn’t have to work a regular nine-to-five job. Most of the jobs like that at the time were illegal.

As far as surf companies being founded on drugs – I don’t think that’s true. There are always two sides to every story. Depending on who you’re talking to and which side of the story they’re telling, they could sound like two totally different stories. I think that any company is founded on guys with vision and hard work, being lucky, and being in the right place at the right time. There are always circumstances that surround what happened, but the interpretation of it, depending on who’s doing the telling, can sound like two totally different stories. I guess, you know, the real truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

I guess if you’re alive, that’s a pretty great thing.

I got to work on Big Wednesday in the late ’70s. That was the first time anyone from the ’70s generation got to really see Hollywood. It was kind of a good thing. It was better than when Gidget came to beach in the ‘60s. That was totally bogus. You know, even though at the time Big Wednesday was kind of rejected by surfers, anyone who looks at it now thinks, “Oh man, that’s pretty authentic.” In a way, that’s kind of how it happened. That was best and most authentic try that Hollywood made at surfing. Everybody thinks surfing is the coolest thing in the world. In some respects it is, and in other respects… well, it’s not.

Gary Busey is fabulous. The funniest guy in the world. Every once in a while, he’ll call up and leave a message. I wish I kept them all, because they’re hilarious. It’s a tough existence. Being a professional surfer is hard, but being a professional actor is even harder.

12 Jan 22: A’ Chreag Dhearg

My new book is now available from the Scottish Mountaineering Press.

A’ Chreag Dhearg

Compiled by Grant Farquhar

‘Like a wreck that once held high office, the fine corner of Monster Crack suffers from a lack of grander context. If it were set like the Hoodie Groove amidst Carn Dearg Buttress, fame would be assured. But tucked in a shady recess of Lower North-West crag in Glen Clova, it is a connoisseur’s pitch. Bridging, stemming or laybacking with good technique or bad it is possible to imagine, just for a few moves, that you are poised in one of the great corners of Britain’s crags, with the walls of the Cromlech stretching out on either side, or the sweep of Shelter Stone Crag falling away ten pitches below. Refocusing with a shake of the head and a sigh, you wipe damp mud off your fingertips, wiggle some loose flakes and continue.’

Compiled and co-authored by veteran climber Grant Farquhar with contributions from a range of voices within Scotland’s close-knit climbing community, A’ Chreag Dhearg traces the rich climbing history of the Angus Glens.

Although less frequented than the forbidding ramparts of Glencoe or Skye, the crags and gullies in this unique area of the Cairngorms harbour classic summer and winter lines that have attracted some of Scotland’s most respected climbers over the course of a century. In this engaging collection of vignettes and photographs, the origins of many of the glens’ best-loved routes are described in intimate detail in an entertaining style that will appeal to both local climbers and those seeking new venues to explore. The authors have woven the distinctive dialect and humour of this corner of Scotland into the narrative, imbuing it with a quality that is, by turns, both edgy and wistful.

Despite the deceptively narrow scope of this story, the breadth with which it is considered here captures the way that climbing has developed in Scotland over time, and how this history is often exceptionally localised. A’ Chreag Dhearg is both a tribute to Victorian pioneers and latter-day trailblazers and a poignant reflection on formative, youthful endeavours.

About the author

Grant Farquhar was born in Dundee and began his climbing career in Glen Clova. At the time of publication, he is a Bermuda-based psychiatrist who sees clients both in person and remotely via Psychiatry-UK. He offers climbing therapy via deep water soloing in Bermuda and has previously published three books about climbing. You can read his blog at climbderock.bm and contact him at grant@atlantis.bm.

11 Jan 22: Not so random fucks

Here is an excellent piece by John Redhead that was recently published on Footless Crow in which he touches on the religious aspect to climbing. In the 21st century God is dead at an intellectual level but humans retain a fundamental need for transcendence that science cannot provide. However climbing can meet this need; the cliffs are our temples, portals to other domains. Every climb is a ritual journey from the profane to the sacred that occurs mentally on a different plane from simply moving over the rock. The druids were onto something when they worshipped stones.

Give us this day

I woke up the other morning and found my teeth chattering. I wasn’t cold, far from it, still warmly embraced in half-sleep. Mornings are not my thing and it can take a morning to realise I am not dead. The chattering was just a nervous impulse. I tried to control it, and of course I could by closing my mouth. But something intrigued me and I concentrated on the tapping. It seemed significant, like messages sent by Morse code. Perhaps my organs could decipher the language innately and let the message roll as I rolled into the day with thoughts of what made me…and for sure what made the universe also made me…and the day is in!

Seems obvious that we humans are out of control and a little mixed up. And yet everything we really need is arranged before us as if we are dreaming and wishing in a fantasy world. We are totally dependent and supported by the air and water provided, the earth’s soil and the distant sun for food and survival. Somehow, by chance, it all worked for us. As wriggling creatures wrapped warm in the female womb after sperm and egg have done their juicy bit, we all wrestle in self-importance, in the culture we create, oblivious within the elements of nature that brought us here. And for that we don’t have a clue. And for sure, this life before us, we didn’t ask for it. We have not chosen the direct bus to human central. We cannot. It is an unknown timetable and destination. As we have zero control over that which our basic premise began, we sure as hell gonna demand attention for the lifeform wriggling before us, that is us, in the stories we tell and enact. From the sacred roots of myths of the planet and the pushing and pulling of faith, legend and folklore, some explanation of birthright and essence is sought and needed. But, as essential as the earth, the galaxy, the universe and multiple universes are to this ‘human central’, abandonment to other stories have been fixated and dwelled upon. Sometimes when I dwell on this randomness, the way we appear to be, the multitude of stories that attempt to fix a belonging, a genesis, a rationale, the fairy tales, a moments succour to that awesome void called creation… I glimpse why I entered climbing the way I did. The culture that we order and enter and rule and the nature in our bones are thus separated and defined? It wasn’t the heroes or guidebooks that drew me into movement on rock…perhaps only Crowley throwing himself at K2 was remotely interesting!

From the third eye perspective with its resident objective view, a bizarre world emerges. As climbers, we can argue the ethics of working a line and discuss the grade of a route, say, The Indian Face on Cloggy. And for the sake of this story, we can argue and discuss the sacramental validity to the making of ‘altar bread’ for what is called ‘Mass’. Both seem utterly ridiculous from this third eye, although a progression from climbing trees and seeking a vantage point seem more natural than ‘drinking’ the blood and ‘eating’ the flesh of a cult hero…? Or is it?

Eaters of their hero need assurances that this bread is prepared properly, as regards to the symbolism of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, its ‘valid matter’, the bread, being the body of the victim and ‘correct form’ and the liturgical text being required. Now, sit back in the company of everyone, and I mean everyone who cannot say who they are, and tell me the joke…?

I took a near ground fall, climbing to my own naive parameters on Tormented Ejaculation, and others, more motivated than I, who practiced, fiddled gear and top-roped this piece of rock. Sit back in the company of everyone, and I mean everyone who cannot say who they are, and tell me the joke…? Likewise, we discuss the ‘valid matter’ and correct form in the terminology of ascent as if biblical. We need the assurances to prove the story. If this valid matter and explanation do not meet these assurances, does it really count in the game?

Wheat bread with gluten is judged to be the valid matter for the catholics. These flat discs of wheat are known as ‘hosts’ and ‘hostia’ is Latin for victim. Victimhood and bread are synonymous ingredients of this weird cult of idols. The perfect duo for a perfect chronic poison. That bread is a powerful drug leading to repetitive cycles of cravings for more bread has consequences for how we view the world.

‘Give us this day our daily bread…’. No one can worship God on an empty stomach, it seems to say. Or, more likely, keep eating this shit and collude passively to the scam…

Descartes called the pineal gland the ‘principal seat of the soul’, the master-gland. Tucked into a groove near the centre of the brain, this organ, the size of a grain of rice has a massive blood flow, has become known as the ‘third eye’. It has been proven that this organ of alternative vision and spirit cannot function correctly when the body is fed wheat bread on a daily basis. Perhaps this is why the Pope insists that bread is the sacramental ‘valid matter’ that in reality clogs up our ‘true’, alternative sense of perception?

As I refer to Cloggy for climbing’s ‘valid matter’, I quote a leading exponent and friend indicating that for him this rock is an idol…

For me the Indian Face came as the final realisation of a dream held solid and perfect some years ago. A purity of expression that was able to be so personal that it could transcend the obvious cosmic futility of life; friendship and activity are some compensation for a deep seated hopelessness, but only climbing appeared to have a germ of profound depth in all its excited little plays of life and death. Cloggy’s east buttress was the idol. So the beauty of the Indian Face lies not in enjoyment or achievement, but in the rejoicing of the exorcism of a self-made destructive cage…’. Johnny Dawes.

For me, Cloggy is more like a cauldron where you gather around the rich brew and feel the heat in your belly. I have my own account of this Face, written for ‘…and one for the crow’.

Dave was insisting that we climb. Climb and become fit for only one line. There are no routes I want to do. I cannot climb. The line seems not to be a climb? Why paint pictures for the sake of? Did the ancient hunters kill for its own sake? But what about preparing for the work? The ‘work’ seems to already exist. Sketched beyond me. Pre-empting training. Mileage is not training for this type of operation’.

Of course we differ and the concept of ‘futility of life’ is a difficult and sensitive one. I think Johnny’s comments are interesting and brave, coming as they did in the soul searching introspective-melee for his book, ‘Full of Myself’. In being honest in his cry for help, and the cathartic potential that climbing offers, he has transcended ‘himself’, to become ‘full’ in the searching that others also do. He was not alone in this dream, just more talented, visionary and driven. ‘Give us this day our daily climb’ could have been his mantra…and is the valid matter that makes climbing a sport…and for me its greatest difficulty, and bete noire. If climbing is seen as a prop can you metaphorically ever walk again? If climbing is a medicine you better watch the dose… or become ‘full of others’.

I would rather be gnashing my teeth on the sidelines, faithless and Godless and in grave doubt than be a convert to some religion, some system, to some brethren where every question can be answered and every answer brings a warm and cosy, complacent, self-satisfied smile’. ‘…and one for the crow’.

It is my opinion that if climbing can be construed as a medicine or indeed a religion then keeping a distance, keeping the joke, keeping its ‘hosts’ at arms length, staying almost hidden behind the life-affirming and/or crippling addiction, behind the conquests, makes sure that this perfect chronic poison doesn’t speak of conversion, or instil into more potent aspects of human activity.

And of course the third eye often fails and after forty years since moving through Cloggy’s mystic rituals, the joke wears thin. It is as if one lives as if already dead, indifferent to the moves of success or failure. But what connects Johnny to myself are those moments when the playful-self, the ego, the group persona, the character were naturally eliminated in the unconscious, effortless, almost entranced connection to the rock as if another being were doing the moves. Perhaps this is what is called ‘satori’? What you choose to do with it, or how long it takes to register, depends on how you relate to the language of the joke…?

My ‘principal seat of the soul’, when not acting ‘sticky’ and silly in a yeasty sketch after scoffing two croissants and a pain aux chocolat, can often see that climbing and indeed all sport can be a unique attempt to ease and relieve suffering, ominously sanctioned in the manner, the vital matter of religion and belief. Hilariously, when the wheat has been totally binned from my diet and the ‘penny drops’ and the pineal ‘blings’ into action, the mystical verbiage becomes more intense and the artist overdoses as if suddenly being free. Here, my perception feels that the training for achievement further inflicts the core values of a redemptive belief in suffering as a destructive and addictive tool – for self and for self it is.

From here I can only assume that the commercial rise of ‘sport’ has greatly increased what I see as the casualty rate of the human soul…but life goes on and despair becomes brave and for the artist who tweeks the ‘moving parts’, sensing this anomaly becomes manifest. They go to ground.

But who can say? Crisis, despair and alienation seem to be major players in the quest to excel and be creative. The outsider role of the artist fills this space. It is this ‘excel’ business what inspires folk to do more and more, which strangely provokes me to do less and less. I took my experiences and worked them through in the studio to my own restless need to create some ‘other’, some rationale, from the chaos. For chaos it is. Art comes from alienation.

For the catholics, a munch of their ‘host’ is quite honestly born from chaos – that God is a sham and we are throwing dice as a desperate act to reason. For a climber, the use of chalk and top-roping is quite honestly born from the same chaos – and that its goals and achievements are inadequate. For an artist to immerse in the ‘inadequate form of existence’, in shams and destructive elements is quite honestly also born from chaos. That the Anthropocene is upon us is effortlessly portrayed, the human impact irreversible.

The difficulty of the wall is not physical but emotional and so the ‘voyage’ remains substantially intact though to have frayed edges on something so beautiful is perhaps to have not so much…’ letter from Johnny.

The shape of my paintings, the connecting of forms, present an atavism as inherent as the shapes, buttresses, slabs and walls that constitute Clogwyn Du’r Arddu. Its black bulk floats through pools, amassed for the soul’s release…I cannot climb…too many hours in the field…too many negotiations…I need to paint’. ‘…and one for the crow’.

I can’t say I wasn’t attracted to the ‘gibbet’ side of climbing, cos that’s the interesting bit, the trigger point that says something more than the moves and moves onto something else. But the bigger part of me knows the flaw. Joining bits of rock into movement can be fluid and beautiful, and Johnny was a devotee and master, and with training and time the language develops grows into an art. And here we are, a person playing with a ball or a person behind the wheel of a racing car can develop the same process. When your health depends on the chosen activity, you are sure as hell to take it seriously…to succeed at the game even though we are defined by a total lack of belonging. When death features as a construct in the game, it is little more than denial of a death already taken place. 

My particular grain of rice is the bastard, dwarf organ that tells me of the futility. I call it the Gnostic chip. It converts ‘normal’ into the ridiculous. But don’t get me wrong, this is also the joy and hope we obviously so desperately need. As ridiculous as eating victim bread to symbolically devour the flesh of one who has apparently suffered to save mankind, to continue the suffering and persecute and kill for the sake of, progressing to ultimate species annihilation. So when I have stated in the past that E9 6c, the given grade of Indian Face and its valid matter, is being enacted out on the streets every night in Liverpool, believe me, it is the knowing, groaning of the possessed, the savage spin-off…We are such random fucks.

John Redhead. Lous Maners, Costoja. February 2020.

29/12/21: Merry Yule

Here is an excellent essay by Will Gadd published on Mountain Life Media about risk in climbing.

Risking It All: Are the Mountains Worth Dying For?

One of the Rockies’ best-known adventurers riffs on life and death in the mountains. Words :: Will Gadd.

We go into the mountains to find meaning. Deep, all-absorbing meaning, the kind where you don’t think about anything but the here and now, and the world makes sense in a way it doesn’t in normal life. The mountain air is a ZEISS lens for what often seems like an out-of-focus, out-of-sense existence. That clarity is gorgeous. Some call the mountains their temple, the divine in rock, snow and ice. Up high the light is brighter, skies bluer, emotions and friendships stronger. 

WILL GADD ON TEMPLE OF SILENCE, AB. PHOTO: JOHN PRICE / RED BULL ILLUME

Then someone dies, and in the cold, sterile, fluorescent light of the aftermath we look into the void and have a different problem: the lack of meaning. Why did they die, and what does it mean? Why did I live, and they died? What does death mean? Was that climb worth it? Of course not. Each death is a tragedy. But is it a tragedy when it’s a reasonably expected outcome of going to dangerous places? And if it is a reasonably expected outcome, that must mean it will happen again. And, most of us at the trailhead aren’t comfortable with that and don’t want to believe it will happen to us, so we call each new death an anomalous “tragedy” and move on, comforted by the belief it probably won’t happen to us. 

Hope is not a plausible risk-management strategy. To admit life hinges on hope is to admit we don’t control the outcome. And that reality won’t do in our, risk-managed, twenty-first-century minds; we like to think we’re behind the wheel. In Europe, the Himalaya, South America, Asia, death is expected both in life and in the mountains—shit sometimes just happens. People don’t seem to have the same North American belief that we control our own destinies. https://www.youtube.com/embed/ydkJ1zG9r4c?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mountainlifemedia.ca

Every year dozens die in avalanches, but when someone close to us dies in a slide it’s a “freak accident.” If it’s possible to die either through human error or galactic happenstance at any given time, it means we are out of control, and that notion is unacceptable to the modern mind. But they are all freak accidents. And it is a tragedy to those left behind, especially the kids, whether the person was “doing what they loved” or not.  

Every year dozens die in avalanches, but when someone close to us dies in a slide it’s a “freak accident.”  

The instant and final razor of death doesn’t split mountain odds neatly into the heads and tails of a spinning coin. A beating, warm pulse and cold, flat skin cooling with every minute of CPR were both always there, the same odds, spinning in the air. Are you a Buddhist or a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic? Reincarnation, heaven, nothing, no idea, respectively. You’ll get your answers on death when you die. What is clear to me is those who believe humans are fallible and the divine is infallible deal more gracefully with death. They have a ready-made explanation for it. Yet, most mountain people are atheists, experientialists, and don’t have a plan for being “taken too soon.” I’m not saying turn to God, but if you believe, then belief might make random seem organized, and “everything happens for a reason,” a comfort. 

I don’t have that comfort, but I envy those who do. I think shit happens. I’ve seen so many wrecks and smart people die I don’t believe I’m superior. That means I can die out there too. And that is a very cold and pointy truth to hold in a warm, soft mind. Hello, dissonance, my old friend.https://www.youtube.com/embed/E_XGZcZE3zI?feature=oembed

Why this matters, beyond perhaps encouraging examination of our high-risk mountain pursuits, is that how we treat mountain death depends on our perspective on all of the above. I don’t think many of us are truly honest about our relationship with, or closeness to, death in the mountains. Me, I’m with Reinhold Messner, who doesn’t get the credit he deserves for saying: “Mountains are not fair or unfair, they are just dangerous.” 

Mountains are chaos. Messner, who lost his brother and multiple partners to the mountains, is right—they are just dangerous. I try to find the calm places where death’s razor can’t reach me while I race across the halls of the mountain kings. I dance between safe spots in the mountains and find meaning in moving well amongst the ambiguity. I welcome it all: bluer skiers, crisper air, a fuller heart, a stronger bond with my friends, family, and friends that become family. My kids are better outside. Trail rage isn’t a thing.

WILL GADD CLIMBING A FIRST ASCENT ON A MIXED ROUTE AT HELMCKEN FALLS IN WELLS GRAY PROVINCIAL PARK, B.C. PHOTO: CHRISTIAN PONDELLA / RED BULL CONTENT POOL

Fragile specks blowing in the wind shouldn’t expect fair or unfair in chaos. Humans resist anarchy. Religion and politics are both a quest for order. Tame the untameable. Buy insurance. Wear your seatbelt. Vote. Invest. Control. 

Before heading out, when I check the weather forecast on my screen at home, I see a list of 25 dead friends hanging on the wall next to my computer. Not one died in a car wreck. They died in the mountains. But here I am, bag packed, again. Poetic skies and relationships are one thing. Is this lifestyle… are these moments worth losing it all? Is everything enough to counterbalance nothing? 

Is it danger that provides meaning for us mountain folk? We could play Russian roulette if all we wanted was adrenaline. No, for me it’s facing and avoiding the danger, seeing it for what it is, and dancing for all I’m worth in the most intense places in the world. Now that is meaning, and that’s what it fucking means to be alive. For me. It also means I may die, no, will die, either in the mountains or not. No one gets out alive. I’m not okay with that, and that’s where I find my meaning, the spaces where I can live while death sits over there sharpening its razor with the click of rockfall, the buzz of lightning and the silent accumulation of plaque in my veins. 

But that’s me. What’s your answer?  

17/11/21: Time to sheet your pants

With a northerly wind and low humidity today conditions were perfect at the Great Head. Dreas and I climbed a route that I have been meaning to do for ages which gives a three-pitch expedition that feels much harder than 5.10a, although there are no hard moves anywhere. It has a great line, mostly good rock, big holds and wild exposure; it climbs through territory usually reserved for 5.12s and must be one of the best 5.10s I’ve climbed in Bermuda – Bermuda’s equivalent of A Dream of White Horses.

Sheet Your Pants starts in the foreground and eventually finishes on the right-hand skyline. Photo Grant Farquhar.

SHEET YOUR PANTS 70m 5.10a R

Don your brown trousers for this superb spacewalking expedition. There is no hard climbing but it is a traversing route that is run out in places and you will fall into space if you come off. 1. 15m 5.10a R. Follow Johnny Rotten to belay on the large ledge at half height (The Roost). 2. 20m 5.10a R. Traverse rightwards under The Roots Wall (as for Roots Manuva) clipping threads and bolts to belay on the ledge on Roots Controller on the lip of the cave. 3. 35m 5.10a R. Climb up and right as for Roots Manuva to join the final pitch of Three Sheets to the Wind and reverse this all the way to the large ledge with a two-bolt belay. 4. 5m. Scramble up and right to finish. Grant Farquhar and Dreas Ratteray 17/11/21.

Dreas Ratteray after the first ascent of Sheet Your Pants. Photo Grant Farquhar.

15/10/21: From Glen Clova to Bermuda

I did a ZOOM talk yesterday for the NEMT to promote my forthcoming book A’ Chreag Dhearg. You can watch it here:

7 Oct 21: Nanga Parbat Pilgrimage

Nanga Parbat from the Karakoram Highway. Photo Grant Farquhar.


There is a lot of stuff on the internet at the moment about Tom Ballard who died on Nanga Parbat in winter in 2019 aged just 30 years. This has mainly been generated by the recent film The Last Mountain which documents his story. There is also an earlier film, Tom, about his winter solos of the six north faces which gives some insight into his outstanding climbing abilities. I had thought that some of his achievements such as the solo first ascents on the Eiger were too good to be true but this film dispels any such doubts. He resembles a climbing Spartan warrior. Regions of the Heart by David Rose and Ed Douglas is a very well written biography of his mother, Alison Hargreaves. Finally there is this thread on UKClimbing.com which discusses some of the controversies that have been generated and mainly revolve around Tom’s father, Jim Ballard. The films and the book are well worth looking at and they raise some uncomfortable questions about the forces that drove him – ultimately to his death.

22/9/21: Redemption Song

REDEMPTION SONG 5.11d 11m

Stop upsetting people and redeem yourself on the right-hand finish to The Upsetter. Follow The Upsetter to gain Bonsai Pipeline. Continue up The Upsetter to the crux move off a crimp to a good hold up and right. Match this and head up and right to join and finish up Verdigris. Grant Farquhar 22 Sep 2021.

15/9/21: The Upsetter

With a 10 knot SE wind conditions were good at Hogfish Bay today. Photo Grant Farquhar.

This route fills the last remaining gap on the wall. First go my left hand pinged off the crux crimp depositing me in the drink but next go I made sure to chalk up for that move and it went down. On another note two climbers died deep water soloing in Mallorca yesterday. No further details as yet however something catastrophic must have happened to them.

THE UPSETTER 5.11d 11m

Now it will be tough
For you it will be rough
I promise you the right and the left
And there’ll be the uppercut
I am the avenger
This is the upsetter  

The Upsetter. Lee Scratch Perry   

The direct on Pidgin Politics is the last major up route to be climbed on the wall. Start along Death by Bongo Bongo and then follow Fungus Rock to join Bonsai Pipeline at the good pockets. Continue directly above to join Pidgin Politics at the final moves. Grant Farquhar 15 Sep 2021. RIP Lee Scratch Perry (1936-2021)

28/6/21: Romantic Pottery

Great conditions after work at Clarence Cove today. Here is Morgan Beckles taking on Romantic Pottery.
Photo Grant Farquhar.

26/6/21: Bad News

Grant Farquhar and Jazmyne Watson bouldering at John Smith’s Bay. Photo Andrew Burr during the visit by Climbing magazine.

Unfortunately, according to today’s Royal Gazette, the natural beauty of John Smith’s Bay is threatened by a proposal that would also completely destroy the climbing area. I’ve read the, limited, information on the Dept of Planning website and the reason given is for prevention of erosion. Ironically this is one of the most stable cliffs in Bermuda. I have been climbing there for 20 years and it has not changed in the slightest – no bits of rock have fallen off it. So if there has been no erosion at this spot whatsoever for the past 20 years, why the concern now?

There are very few good bouldering spots in Bermuda and this is one of the best and certainly the most easily accessible. Beach bouldering is an uncommon and sought after type of climbing and one of the major attractions of Bermuda climbing which brings in a regular stream of climbing tourists every year from the US and elsewhere. Destroying this venue would be a disaster for the natural beauty of Bermuda and also Bermudian climbing.

It’s difficult to see the point of this proposal:

  • There has been no erosion for at least 20 years.
  • No bits of rock have fallen off and landed on anyone, so there is no significant safety issue for the public.
  • Artificial Longtail nests surely would be better sited on any of the many remote sections of coastline rather than on a busy public beach.
  • There would be massive and irreversible impact on the natural environment.
  • It’s going to defile the natural beauty of that part of the beach which, by the way, is unique – no other public beach has flowstone caves like these.
  • It’s a waste of public funds which could be better spent elsewhere.
  • It will destroy one of the most popular and accessible climbing areas in Bermuda.

Here is the RG article:

‘Environmental groups have balked at a plan to fill in a cave at John Smith’s Bay as part of a coastal protection effort.

But Government has defended the project, arguing that it will reduce potentially hazardous erosion.

According to the application, submitted earlier this year, loose sand and debris would be removed from the “severely undercut” areas.

The caves would then be filled in with concrete backfill with “shotcrete” used on the outside to give the new rock face a natural appearance.

The project would also include the installation of at least seven longtail nests in the new rock face 8ft above the high water line.

The Bermuda Audubon Society filed an objection to the plan yesterday questioning the need for the project.

Janice Hetzel for the BAS wrote: “The application does not provide any indication as to why this project is necessary.

“The caves that they intend to fill are an interesting and iconic feature of the John Smith’s Bay park and part of Bermuda’s natural heritage.

“They are the only areas on the beach that offer shade and beach goers often enjoy setting up in those locations. It is also a popular spot for our rock climbing community.”

Ms Hetzel questioned if any studies had been done on the state of erosion on the beach or the safety of the caves as no such studies were included in the application.

She also said the application did not include an environmental survey or an impact assessment.

“If public safety is the issue, then a simple and cost effective solution would be to rope off the area and post appropriate warning signage. This could be done in a way that is sensitive to the natural appearance of the area.

“If in fact structural protection is necessary, then creative measures need to be considered that provide the required stabilisation with the least impact on the visual beauty and environmental features of the area,” said Ms Hetzel.

The Bermuda National Trust said that an environmental impact assessment was needed in a letter of objection yesterday.

Myles Darrell, conservation officer with the BNT, said: “All applications for work on the coastline and coastal reserve are required to include an EIA.

“This property is particularly sensitive considering its proximity to the coast and our understanding of the future effects of climate change.

“Ultimately, we want to be sure that decisions are appropriately informed so as to avoid the need for mitigation of potential adverse effects associated with this development.”

Mr Darrell said the rock face was “iconic” and that the proposal would threaten a popular spot for recreational bouldering – a form of free climbing.

He said the application should be rejected until further investigations can be carried out.

“It is reckless to place a valuable coastal area at risk without following the very process which is designed to ensure we protect our coastal areas,” Mr Darrell added.

“As a small island, we cannot afford to take risks with the safety and security of our coastline.”

In a letter of concern dated June 24, Kim Smith of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce raised concerns about the proposed work, which will take place in a cave protection area and coastal reserve-zoned land.

Ms Smith said: “Unfortunately, we don’t have the technical expertise to adequately assess what is being proposed for this coastal protection work but we do understand that concrete and limestone behave very differently.

“Add this to the fact that John Smith’s Bay is severely impacted by hurricane-force winds and seas, we are concerned that the concrete will fairly quickly be broken, dislodged and become veritable missiles resulting in further destruction of the coastal environment.”

Last night a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Works said the project was necessary to stop erosion and protect nearby properties.

The spokesman added: “As a standard practice, the department of planning is involved in ongoing environmental consultations with stakeholders.

“The ministry will take steps to minimise the impact on the environment as much as possible. For example, the existing rock face will be replaced with a textured cement face with longtail nesting boxes to recreate their natural habitat.

“Lastly, the ministry is working with the Bermuda National Museum and other stakeholders to preserve the area’s unique characteristics for the future enjoyment of all.”

26/6/21: More Sycophancy

Victor McConnell from Golden, Colorado on Sycophant. Photo Grant Farquhar.
Victor McConnell from Golden, Colorado on Sycophant. Photo Grant Farquhar.

14/6/21: Inklination

Betsy Kline on Sycophant. Photo Grant Farquhar.
Alan Kline on Olga. Photo Grant Farquhar.

Alan and Betsy Kline have been visiting from New York this week and spent a fair bit of time at Clarence Cove. They repeated a load of 5.11s and 5.12s including Persistence is Futile and Xavier. Alan climbed a new route in the gap between Barotrauma and Sycophant as he describes:

‘Hey Grant, Great to have been able to run into you yesterday. You have a great venue and a great local crew here. We had a fantastic time sampling the DWS at Admiralty. We did get out again this morning for a quick session. We couldn’t say goodbye! I got on that line again to try and get pictures for you, but I ended up messing up the beta and falling at the crux move. Betsy happened to snap a couple photos before the fall. Note: this beta is bad as the right hand I am using I didn’t use the first time and kinda throws off your body position. I think I’m gonna name it after my son, whose middle name is Danger.’ 

DANGER IN PARADISE 5.12a/b

Start up Barotrauma to the hold over after the triangle jug on the lip. Bust a hard move left to another small triangle crimp and climb straight through the bulge to the top.

Alan Kline 13/6/21

Alan Kline on Danger in Paradise. Photo Betsy Kline.

13/6/21

Another beautiful day at Clarence Cove.

Clarence Cove. Photo Grant Farquhar.
Xavier Farquhar on Point Counterpoint. Photo Grant Farquhar.
Sam Shadbolt on Night Dive. Video from Sam.

22/5/21

Great day today in Bermuda. The water is 21 degrees C and conditions were perfect for DWS 🙂

11/April/21: The Great Head

As Bermuda prepares to return to lockdown Sam Shadbolt sent me the above video of his late-season redpoint of Power Junky this weekend.

27/2/21: The Great Head

Devin and I caught a dose of the crabs at The Great Head today. Great conditions with a 15 knot SE wind. A very impressive triple-masted old-school pirate-type sail boat came out of the cut with the pilot boat while we were climbing. Once in deep water it put the sails out and then disappeared eastwards beyond the sea horizon so I guess they are heading to the Azores and beyond. Meanwhile, Rob and Ruth were beavering away on Rob’s project in the Great Cave.

A DOSE OF THE CRABS 50m 5.8

The right-to-left girdle traverse of Nereids Wall.

1. 10m. 5.8. Climb the first four threads of Typhoon Arete and belay on the half-height ledge.

2. 40m. 5.8. Traverse horizontally leftwards past multiple threads to the large ledge on the opposite arete. Finish up Hagridden past two threads.

Grant Farquhar & Devin Page 27/Feb/21.

Rob and Ruth equipping a project in the Great Cave. Photo Grant Farquhar.

27/2/28: Here is a great article about climbing therapy from the Climbing magazine website

How At-Risk Youth Are Building Emotional Intelligence Through Climbing

BENNETT SLAVSKY

Luis David leading a route in the La Huasteca Ecological Park.
Luis David leading a route in the La Huasteca Ecological Park.Courtesy Escalando Fronteras

Rock climbing cultivates emotional intelligence. When we climb, we must have confidence in ourselves and in our partners, trusting that our toes will stick to the miniscule foothold and that our belayer won’t drop us when we fall. Escalando Fronteras (EF) uses these lessons to develop self-confidence and social skills in at-risk youth.

EF was founded in 2014 and is based out of Monterrey, Mexico. Monterrey is the industrial capital of Mexico with some of the wealthiest families in the country living there. This sect of the population is a stark contrast to the vast number of families living in poverty—Monterrey has one of the most severe wealth gaps in Latin America. Over 50 percent of children and teens live below the poverty line in Mexico, and 48 percent of teens ages 14 to 17 dropout of high school.

“The mission of Escalando Fronteras is to contribute to the development of children and adolescents in vulnerable contexts so that they become happy and socially responsible adults,” writes Alejandro Medina Fuentes, director of EF.

Confidence in oneself and in others, the ability to control one’s emotions, and the ability to work collaboratively are all invaluable life skills, which in turn leads to a lesser likelihood of drug abuse and other destructive activities. In the six years since its inception, EF has seen definitive results with the children and adolescents they work with—marked changes in their demeanor and general social skills.

In September of 2020, EF interviewed eight mothers of children in the program, seven of which said that they have seen improvements in the emotional behavior of their kids. The only outlier was one mother whose children had been in the program less than a year.

Alicia Flores is the mother of 9-year-old Brisa. The most important shift that Flores has seen in her daughter is a boost in self-confidence:

“It took Brisa’s grief away, because usually everything was painful for her. The first days I sent her [to climb] she told me it was difficult for her… Now she greets the girls and talks to them, and then she comes home and tells me the names of the girls. Brisa is now more able to ask for what she wants. Before she just shook her head, but didn’t tell you what she thought.”

Brisa went from being a hyper-reserved child, barely able to speak to her own mother, to someone who can make eye contact and speak openly after regular climbing outings with groups of kids from similar backgrounds.

Jennifer on an outing climbing near the Garcia caves. 
Jennifer on an outing climbing near the Garcia caves. 
Courtesy Escalando Fronteras

Jéssica Ávila, mother of Jonathan age 10 and Jennifer age 13, said:

“Since Jonathan started attending Escalando Fronteras, he began to develop a lot, he has more friends, he lives it up and talks… Jennifer has always been very cheerful. She feels calmer. Escalando gave her ways to understand that there are certain ways to co-exist.”

While climbing, these kids are faced with intense and very real emotions such as stress and fear, but in a controlled setting. They learn to manage these feelings in a healthy and meaningful way, thus building the emotional intelligence necessary to develop into well-balanced adults.

To find out more, visit escalandofronteras.org. You can help the organization through monetary donation, or you can become a part of EF as a volunteer, ambassador, or supporter.

BY BENNETT SLAVSKY

26/2/21: Climber magazine

I had a six-page article about DWS in Bermuda published yesterday in the latest edition of the UK-based Climber magazine.

6/Feb/21: THETIS

Great weather at The Great Head today. Eli and I girdled Nereids Wall. Thetis was a Nereid who was the mother of Achilles.

THETIS FETISH 50m 5.10a

The girdle traverse of Nereids Wall.

1. 10m. 5.10a. Climb the first three threads of Succubitten and belay on the half-height ledge.

2. 30m. 5.8. Traverse horizontally rightwards past multiple threads to belay on a ledge on Typhoon Arete.

3. 10m. 5.7. This pitch has no in situ gear but there is natural protection available from natural threads, spikes and a tree. Traverse rightwards from the belay then climb up and right to a small tree. Step left past this and continue up and leftwards to the belay at the top of Typhoon Arete.

Grant Farquhar & Eli Cagen 6/Feb/21.

Eli and Dom on Crackhouse today. Photo Grant Farquhar.

23/1/21: THE GREAT HEAD

Today I climbed at The Great Head with Rob and Ruth. I only climbed one route, Shelter from the Storm, but it was a special day because it was the first time I have touched rock since my accident four months ago. Not so special was having to pedal my ebike which is a big heavy bastard and had run out of battery all the way back from St Davids.

Rob Sutherland on Shelter from the Storm. Photo Grant Farquhar.

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