Blog Archive: 2021

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:https://www.youtube.com/embed/BPchvisF6Yo?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en&autohide=2&wmode=transparent

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.

https://video.wordpress.com/embed/Jc7r1OlH?cover=1&preloadContent=metadata&hd=1Sam 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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