Getting back on the horse

Mo Farah’s double double, Usain Bolt’s triple triple, GB women’s hockey gold and many more sporting achievements have dominated recent headlines. But two individuals have made a particular impression on me this last week. In the Olympics, 58 year old Nick Skelton made show jumping history when he won his first individual gold medal. In itself, a remarkable achievement – made all the more incredible, given that his career seemed to be over when he fell from a horse and broke his neck 16 years ago.

Twid-Blue-Sky-Saddle-Head-2266

Twid climbing the 2** Sea Mist, Saddle Head, Pembrokeshire, less than a year after breaking his back while climbing in Morocco.

In Pembrokeshire, a long way from the Olympic spotlight, I watched another person getting back on a metaphorical horse. In October 2015, IFMGA mountain guide Mike Twid Turner broke his back in a fall at a remote location in Morocco. Now, less than a year later, after two major operations – he is climbing again.

Twid’s climbing CV is truly hardcore with over 75 E7/8s, numerous first ascents, plenty of sport F8as, alpine icefalls and winter WI 7. He has established more than 50 new lines in the greater ranges, and climbed some of the hardest mixed and rock routes in the Alps.

Nigel-Gurning-Blue-Sky-2nd-pitch

Nigel happily gurning into the bright sunshine on the 2** star classic HS “Sea Mist” at Saddle Head, Pembrokeshire. Picture by Mike “Twid” Turner.

Twid has a penchant for exploratory climbing in harsh, remote locations around the world – with multiple visits to wild places like Patagonia and Alaska. Despite this pursuit of gnarl, as an IFMGA mountain guide and MIC instructor, his “day job” for the last 23 years has involved patiently guiding and coaching countless climbers who are generally more “recreationally” inclined. Throughout this time he has passed on his sense of adventure and passion for climbing, along with hundreds of essential tips for climbing efficiently and staying safe.

Alun-abbing-St-Governs-3378

Alun Richardson abbing in to climb with Twid at St Governs. Alun is a professional photographer, writer and Mountain Guide. It is well worth checking out his website here.

Last weekend, friends and fellow climbers came from far and wide to gather around a BBQ in Pembroke and celebrate Twid’s forthcoming 50th birthday and return to fitness. A great time was had by all. We even managed to watch Mo Farah’s 10,000 metres victory on Paul and Emma’s telly at 2 o’clock in the morning. Then of course, a few hours later we headed for Bosherton to go climbing.

Connor-and-Pete-enjoying-the-crack-3385

Conor and Pete enjoying a laugh with Twid at St Governs East.

There were no E7s on this occasion (thank god!) but watching a mate confidently tackling steep HVSs so soon after recovering from such a show stopping injury brought smiles to all our faces.

Twid-belaying-Alun-Ganymede-3386

Twid up for the craic at St Governs East.

Twid’s catch phrase over the years has been “Eat lard – pull ‘ard”. A maxim that he lived up to last Sunday. His preparation for this careful return to the vertical world was to stay up late, eat twice his own body-weight of charred BBQ sausages, washed down with copious amounts of ale and then sleep in the back of his car. Given what he’s gone through in the last 11 months, this surely deserves a medal!

Twid is sponsored by DMM, has worked as a qualified British Mountain Guide  all his working life (now a registered Swiss Guide) and runs The Mountain Guiding Company.

N-coiling-Blue-Sky-Saddle-Head-Bosherton-2276

The end of a memorable day’s climbing on the stunning sea cliffs of the Pembrokeshire coast. Photo by Mike “Twid” Turner.

Pembroke Rock – 1000 selected rock climbs by Emma Alsford & Paul Donnithorne and published by the Climbers Club (2016) is a great place to start if you want to savour some of the best climbing in Pembrokeshire.

KragRags is a family run business dedicated to making ethically produced clothes for climbers. When we’re not out climbing, we’re busy creating comfortable, high quality, eco-friendly clothing, from 100% organic cotton, using green renewable energy, ethical Fair Wear employment and ecologically friendly farming and manufacturing practices. Click these links to see our unique designs for men and women.

Hanging by a thread

Here is some atmospheric, unedited video footage taken whilst abseiling (rappelling) from an Abalakov thread down an ice climb in Morocco. There was an extra sense of urgency because moments earlier, the icefall on our left had collapsed as the warm sunshine loosened its nocturnal, frozen grip on the mountain.

This sort of thing gives an insight into why most experienced climbers regard abseiling more as a necessary evil than a leisure activity. Unlike when you are free climbing, abseiling is one of the few occasions when you are entirely reliant on the rope and anchors. It is also the time when you are most likely to reflect on the age and durability of your harness, rope and slings. On particularly sketchy descents a voice in your head might say something like “Please let me survive this one and I’ll sell all my gear and never climb again.” Fortunately, this internal dialogue is usually forgotten or ignored once you’re safely in the bar drinking beer with your friends.

Anyone who tells you they aren’t frightened when they are making abseil descents like this, is either lying – or has not understood the situation. This is worlds apart from those charity abseil events down the side of an office building, from solid anchors, backed up with a safety line 🙂

KragRags is a family run business dedicated to making ethically produced clothes for climbers. When we’re not out climbing, we’re busy creating comfortable, high quality, eco-friendly clothing, from 100% organic cotton, using green renewable energy, ethical Fair Wear employment and ecologically friendly farming and manufacturing practices. Click these links to see our unique designs for men and women.

Cuba – climbing out of the past

It seems a lifetime ago now but just ahead of the US presidential visit, we achieved a long-held ambition to visit Cuba.

When I saw Obama’s entourage on the news, sheltering from the torrential rain under their umbrellas, I thought of the dozens of families living in this derelict building next door to us in Havana. I knew they’d be getting wet – because you can see the sky through their “roof” and this grand, colonial structure no longer has any doors, windows, or proper drains.

A dozen or more families live in this dilapidated building in Havana.

A dozen or more families live in this dilapidated building in Havana, a few doors along from our Casa.

Thousands of people live in similar conditions in Havana and Obama’s carefully managed tour definitely didn’t include places like this.

We stayed in Centro Havana, not the swankiest part of town but close to the old centre and everyone we met was very friendly.

We stayed in Centro Havana, not the swankiest part of town but close to the Vieja (historic old town) and everyone we met was friendly and made us welcome.

We only had a week, so we decided to focus on Havana. We didn’t want a sanitised, tourist experience and we wanted our money to go directly to the locals who need it most (the state, still owns or controls almost everything in Cuba). So, rather than staying in an international hotel (as depicted in “The Godfather”, many were run by the US Mafia before the revolution), we sought out a little “Casa Particular” (a private home with a bit of space to rent). It was very basic but we could not have been made to feel more welcome.

Green-car-0060

Havana is a visual feast, held together by rhythm, rum and sunshine. Go with an open mind and you’ll meet great people and come home with memories to last a lifetime.

I’m looking forward to going back to explore the climbing in Valle de Viñales.

Che-Book-stall-0021

Our Man in Havana (Buildering)

“Our Man in Havana” mantled onto the ledge, high above the Cathedral square in the heart of Habana Vieja. His distinctive red T-shirt was the perfect disguise in a country still celebrating Che Guevara and El Revolución.

In a few days, Barack Obama would become the first serving US President to visit Cuba in ninety years. The Presidential party would enter the Catedral de San Cristobél just below the ancient tower. It was essential that “Our Man” completed his mission before the Americans arrived.

Our Man in Havana gains a perfect vantage point, overlooking Plaza de la Catedral, ahead of the historic US Presidential visit to Cuba.

“Our Man in Havana” gains an ideal vantage point, overlooking Plaza de la Catedral, ahead of the historic US Presidential visit to Cuba. The tower was the perfect position to take the shot.

The USA don’t have a good track record in this part of the world and “Our Man in Havana” was determined to complete his mission before history repeats itself.

From his secret vantage point in the Cathedral tower, "Our Man in Havana" had a clear view of the ancient Plaza. He was determined to get his shot in before it was sullied by the gaudy hoardings and golden arches of another bloody MacDonalds.

From his vantage point high in the tower “Our Man in Havana” had a clear view of the ancient Plaza. He was determined to take the shot before the city changed forever. There will be boots on the ground soon. The shock troops of the cultural invasion will be advertising men. MacDonalds’ golden arches will arrive in the second wave, laying down a massive calorific barrage to cover the advance of Trump Towers and Wall Mart.

One of the few good things about Communism is advertising. There isn’t any. If American culture is on the way to Cuba, then this will change. The writing is already on the wall in Havana but mostly it isn’t trying to sell you the latest plastic gizmo or electronic doodad.

Like any big city the world over people are leaving their mark. Street culture is vibrant in Havana. Not least because they are such sociable people who live much of their lives outside rather than inside their homes.

As in all big cities, people are leaving their mark. Street culture is vibrant in Havana. Not least because they are vibrant, sociable people who live much of their lives in the street, rather than inside their homes.

The USA’s attempts to subjugate the island by force failed – the CIA backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 ended in a humiliating defeat for the USA and drove Cuba even closer to the Soviet Union.

The 100mm self-propelled cannon that Fidel Castro himself, supposedly saw off the US backed forces of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Now standing proudly on a concrete plinth outside the Museo de la Revolucion

The 100mm self-propelled cannon that Fidel Castro himself, supposedly saw off the US backed forces of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Now standing proudly on a concrete plinth outside the Museo de la Revolucion

The whole world held its breath in 1962 as the Cuban missile crisis brought the simmering Cold War to a terrifying boil and the world teetered on the brink of nuclear holocaust. The Cuban trade embargo by the US, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the resultant “Special Period”, brought untold hardship to Cuba – yet ordinary Cubans somehow remain cheerful, unbowed and justifiably proud of their beautiful country.

Our Man in Havana looking North, from Malacón towards the American Dream, contemplating the threats and opportunities on the horizon.

Looking North from Malacón towards the USA, contemplating the threats and opportunities the “American Dream” holds for the Cuban people.

“Our Man in Havana” relaxed, took a deep breath, slowly exhaled and squeezed off the first shot. The Secret Service can relax, President Obama is safe. There was nothing sinister about “Our Man’s” mission to capture images of Havana before it is irrevocably changed. Let’s hope the American Dream doesn’t become a Cuban nightmare.

Our Man in Havana checking out the tower, and doing a little Buildering. Beauty is in the eye of the Boulderer.

Our Man in Havana checking out the tower and taking a few shots of the old town before it changes. And of course, doing a little Buildering. After all “Beauty is in the eye of the Boulderer”

Car-and-corner-2200

People have been predicting change in Cuba for years. Let’s hope it is the sort of change the local people need. Get there quick, just in case Cuba is annexed by Disneyland Florida.

I’m looking forward to going back to explore the spectacularly featured limestone crags of Valle de Viñales. This little video gives a tantalising taster:

Beauty is in the eye of the Boulderer

Red-boulderer-shop-9991

KragRags “Beauty is in the eye of the Boulderer” 100% organic cotton “Climber Change” T-shirts are available in the shop at North London’s iconic Castle Climbing Centre

Sam-bouldering-Orange-9985

These luxuriously soft cotton T-shirts look cool, feel good and the extra psyche you get from wearing one will (probably) make you climb better 🙂

Alpine Blagging – Twid Turner

E6 alpine climbing in plastic boots, with big sacs, baguettes and blankets.

British Mountain Guide, Twid Turner regaled a full house at the Beacon Climbing Centre recently with tales of daring-do, humorous pictures and inspirational stories. This little clip captures some of the fun. Twid’s talk was part of an evening of all things climbing at LLAMFF (Llanberis Mountain Film Festival) and was in support of CAC (Climbers Against Cancer).

Raffle prizes were dished out with wild abandon including chalk bags and ‘biners from DMM, antique nuts, a giant mug from Pete’s Eats and one lucky recipient even carried off a highly sort after KragRags Matterhorn T-shirt.