Tom Randall (UK)
Tom Randall is one of those guys whose committment is incredibly admirable and what shows through in his climbing (and on his CV) is his love of climbing - of all types and in all places. A crack climbing fiend and a real trad climber, he's a perfect guy for Wild Country to help us test new gear and to give it some hammer in a lot of grim places!! Not only incredibly keen but very well travelled Tom's experience ranges from big walls to gritstone E7 and includes some hair raising activities such as (with partner Pete Whittaker) the most routes done in a day in the UK (and possibly the world) of 550. YES 550 routes in a day!!!!
Tom's at present working as a route setter in Sheffield at one of the climbing walls and I for one can only thank god for the others who train there that there are no cracks at the wall!!!
In His Own Words
The most common question I get asked about my climbing and career choice is, “what’s wrong with you?!” It seems that the position of having to create and grade indoor routes is not exactly envied…. Then again, neither does it seem that people much fancy hanging by their legs in another upside crack wondering if they’re going to be sick.
Ever since a teenager I’ve not really been one to stick to the rules or follow what everyone else does or says is sensible, which I suppose has translated into climbing in some ways.
I started off my rock climbing with the usual trad apprenticeship like many others, but after injuring my heel quite badly I took some time off to explore the weird world of big walling. Most of my mates at Sheffield Uni thought it was sacrilege to be pulling on gear and risking myself on body weight placements over a period of days. But, to be honest I was just happy to be climbing somehow and even more happy that no one agreed with what I was doing! I had some amazing trips to Yosemite and climbing Mescalito clean with my mate was one of my most fond memories as it was just a day by day battle and we weren’t quite sure if we knew what we were doing…
After spending quite a bit more time out in the States and getting into crack climbing, I felt a draw towards the slightly wider variety. It’s probably because I was so crap at it to start with and also because everyone seemed to shun this style of climbing that I was attracted. Now that I’ve found a climbing partner back the UK (Pete Whittaker) who’s well up for this kind of thing, I’m really psyched. I’ve got an offwidth cellar built underneath our new house and we have massive training sessions down there just dangling upside down and building our tolerance to the blood rush! It’s pretty silly really, but I’m all about having a laugh and just not taking anything too seriously because life’s too short for that.
You asked for a bit from Kim – I asked her in bed and she said
“You’re a freak, who loves pain and is a total masochist.”
Then she came up with a more measured response this morning
“Tom’s energy and motivation for climbing, like most aspects of his life is incredibly infectious and we’ve had some amazing times together on the end of a rope. Unfortunately as a consequence of his obsession he’s become a little lacking in the common sense and map reading department! I find the hardest part of the day for me is making sure he gets home ok, as it’s not unknown for him to drive back to completely the wrong city from the crag!”
Climbing achievements (last 5 years)
- Repeats of classic Yosemite routes such as Astroman, West Face of El Cap, Rostrum, Separate Reality, Dog’s Roof and Hangdog Flyer. 3 El Cap routes – Mescalito (clean), Tangerine Trip (clean) and Zodiac.
- Trad routes up to E7 in the UK, but mainly a focus of big days out on mid E-number routes climbing everything that I can possibly fit in, in 12 hrs!
- New routes of up of E6 in the UK and also in Red Rocks in Nevada.
- First ascents of a number of UK boulder problems including Britain’s hardest crack climb - All Elements, V11/8A
- The only repeat that I know of, of Cedar Wright’s hideous off-width roof crack (as seen in First Ascent DVD) in Yosemite – The Cedar Eater.
Some More Climbing Achievements - last 2 years.
- 1st Ascent of possibly the UK’s hardest offwidth, Melvin Bragg V8.
- 1st Ascent of I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead E5 6b, Valle d’Orco.
- 1st Ascent of Chelsea Pensioner E5 6c, Millstone.
- 1st Ascent of Shape Shifter E6 6b, Millstone.
- 2nd Ascent of Gobbler’s Roof E7 6c, Harborough Rocks.
- 2nd Ascent of Fessura Impossible E6 6c, Val di Mello.
- 3rd Ascent of Greenspit 5.14a, Valle d’Orco.
- 6th Ascent of Senora del Tampax 8a/E7 6c, Val di Mello.
- 6th Ascent of Ray’s Roof E7 6c, Baldstones.
- Record for most routes climbed in a day (550) with Pete Whittaker.
- First duo to complete the Brown and Whillan’s Challenge, with P Whittaker.
The Cobra Bites Back - Week 2: close but not close enough...
After a a period of reflection brought on by excessive rainfall and British style weather, we've come to the conclusion that Cobra Crack is not a 'if' but 'when.' Unfortunately the 'when' part could be very interesting as we only have 9 days left and right now we're staring at weather reports that predict 5-7 days of rain. Is this the Curse of the Cobra striking into the heart of a European crack obsessive yet again?
Everyone seems to be leaving Squamish at the moment and offering us chances to climb in warmer and drier climates at incredible destinations. We have to sit it out though, denying ourselves any chance of enjoyment or satisfaction. Our monastic dedication is reflected in our waiting for that Brit style window of perfect conditions to capitalise on. It's all or nothing. Cobra or no bra.
In the UK we are used to our miserable conditions; dank dark winters and scoping out that couple of hours of prime friction when the temperatures drop and the wind comes in. Just before that next lethal downpour, everything is perfect and topping out just as the first few 'spit spots' hit the rock is paradise. It all seems very optimistic to take this approach on the other side of the Atlantic, as we could easily go and tick some classics in another area. Instead, we keep our fingers crossed having both now come tantalisingly close to success.
So how is it leading the route? It's probably easier then trying to top rope it and way more fun. The rope above you doesn't get in the way whilst trying to get your feet above your head, the gear is quick to place and you get to take big whippers!
|Pete using the Faveresse Heal|
Most of the gear is in comfortable positions to place, with just one piece placed on the headwall. Being British we ditched the usual tactic of placing friends on the headwall, got the wires out and have gone for one bomber nut, which takes about 5 seconds to place. This is useful, because we're weak and we can't be hanging around up there! We've gone 'fast and light' Ueli style (again) only using 3 pieces for the top 25m of climbing.
|Tom placing the solitary nut on the headwall|
Each are having there own dilemmas on the the lead. Tom has an issue with one move no one else has ever had an issue with, which is strange. In the last session though, it started to get better and he was able to start execute the move - once this is done, the route will surely be in the bag! Pete has been gradually getting higher higher on each redpoint with the last go getting right up there falling just past the famous Faveresse foot above the head beta. So things are getting very close, but currently 'no cigar'.
If you'd said two days ago that in the last 9 days we would get two days of good conditions, I think we would have both written the route off. Now with the rain set in, two days would be a luxury. Please bring us two good days of conditions Squamish Weather Gods, we are very close now.
It’s funny when you sometimes reflect on where you were years ago. In the late 2000s, whilst developing new routes in Orco Valley with Pete Whittaker, I came across this mega steep roof next to a waterfall in a small side valley called Val Piantonetto. From the road I could see there was a crack in it, but until I walked up to the base I couldn’t see the size of the amazing splitter right through the centre. Oh my God, it was like my own European “Cobra Crack.” A route that I maybe, just maybe wanted to do one day had it’s own little sister in Orco Valley. What it lacked in length, it seemed to make up for in steepness. What a find!
Since that year, I have on and off tried this route with Pete on various trips. Even during the year that we’d both successfully redpointed Greenspit we couldn’t do the crux moves and I think both of us wrote it off in our minds as just two powerful for the weak trad climber punters that we were. As a consolation prize Pete did a brilliant line that came in from the right to join the final roof of the project called “Fat Tony” which was pumpy, steep and well protected 7b+/7c climbing with an offwidth-box finish. Proper good fun!
After getting really psyched for finger cracks this year, myself and Pete have devised a new training programme of the usual ridiculous methods. As we emerged from the cellar and into the Spring it was time to see if the “pinkies” and “index monos” were on target and we booked some trips. Pete went to Sweden and crushed. I went to Italy and it mostly rained. I mustn’t complain too much, as I did get some stuff done, but ultimately I was really disappointed to not do the project that we’d found all those years before.
This last week, after a trip to Poland and Czech Republic to get scared on the sandstone towers, I headed out to Orco Valley for one last push on the project. My diary had practically no time left in it, and squeezing in 5 days of redpointing seemed a little optimistic, but when there’s no other choice…. what do you do? I partnered up with an Argentinian (but Italy-based) crack climber called Lucas Iribarren who I’d met on a previous trip. If you think you’ve met the most psyched climber ever, well this guy is more psyched! An exceptionally kind, motivated and driven partner is always brilliant and I got bags of it from him in those five days.
We split our time evenly between the FA finger crack and the “Pura Pura” project I’ve also been trying. Good progress was made on the first couple of days and both of us were making good links and Lucas was using his Thai Boxing skills (that boy can fight!) to totally school me in fist-jamming. By day three though, I was red-lining and I could barely face another jam. A rest day was in order.
Day four, I felt a lot fresher and decided to start having redpoint goes on the finger crack.
GO 1: Waaaaaaay too shaky. Nervous as hell and pumped.
GO 2: Much better, but made a silly mistake and slipped mid crux.
I now had to make a decision. I had just one day left (the next day), but only 4 hours of climbing as I had to leave the crag at 2pm to catch a plane. Despite my inner rage at having fluffed the sequence on my previous go, I held back and decided to go all out on the final day. Just two redpoints, all eggs in the basket. Go big, AND go home.
The next morning, I ate just a small breakfast hoping to keep light and went for a run to warm up my body and mind. Walking up to the crag, I felt the usual nerves that you face when picking up exam results. I played through every scenario in my head. The potential success (and various permutations) and also the feeling of disappointment if it all went wrong. Whatever happened though, I knew I’d give absolutely everything. To give myself even more advantage I decide to climb on just one side of a Sterling 8mm half rope and cut the gear down on the crux to a single small nut protecting the deck. Why not, I thought. I’ve got my BMC insurance booked, right?
GO 1: Good start and feel fresh after the first third. I enter the crux, slight twist of the hips on the hardest move, then I’m at the last move. Shit, the last hard move! Throw long…. throw long….. aahhh! NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Fingers slap the break but I’ve not given it enough.
FINAL GO: Ok, I’ve got just two hours before leaving to the airport and we still need to get “set-up” shots with film maker Adrian Samarra. As I pull off the ground I tell myself that this is it. No more messing. As I approach the hard move to gain the rest at one third I look down. Bollocks, I’ve forgotten the Friend 4. It’s on the ground. Bollocks, bollocks. I run it out, praying that I don’t fall on this section. Entering the crux, I snatch my way through the moves to arrive at the final throw from a terrible 2-finger lock. YESSSSSSSSS……! I latch the hold in the break. Oh God……………… for some reason I can’t contract my forearm muscles and I can’t hold the break. What? WHAT?! Screaming out in anger I swear at every person and think I can think of and realise that I’ve blown it. No redpoint, no glory, and at least a month of despair until I can return.
Back on the ground, both Lucas and Adrian are mega supportive. I can see they’re gutted for me and look as disappointed as I feel. Looking at my phone, I see the time and know that we have to leave in just over an hour. As I look at the clock on my mobile, cogs start to whir in my brain and I begin to rationalise that somehow I can fit in one last go. One final, final desperate fling. I know I’ve not got time to rest properly and I know I’ll be making Adrian sacrifice on his set-up shots, but I can’t bare to accept the failure.
Working out a minute-by-minute timetable, I tie in for the very last time with Adrian already preparing the fixed ropes and cameras for when I fail. I know all hope has gone, but at least now I’m free of the pressure and I can try without the realistic expectation of succeeding.
FINAL FINAL GO: First section goes badly, but importantly, I do remember the Friend. I feel weak on a hard fist jamming move, but my mind feels free as I know I’m climbing crap and I’m tired. At the recovery point though, I feel light and the temperature of the rock is perfect. I pull through the next sequence of hard finger jams with conviction and despite the lactic acid in my arms, I reach the final throw again. This time, there is no doubt though. I hit the hold perfectly and although I still struggle to hold it, I grimace a little harder and success is in my grasp. After a shake out, I fumble my way through the upper E5/7a-ish offwidth section (I’d not climbed it for 3 years so no idea what I was doing!) and top out with a huge smile across my face. What an end to the trip. With so little time left! With no time to bask in the glory, I immediately start rigging ropes and gear ready for Adrian to film further sequences. Just 30 minutes later we are down at the car, playing AC/DC at full volume and laughing our way to Turin Airport. What an end to a trip!
So the essential details of the routes? I’ve named it “Anna Kournikova” after the lovely tennis player that graced our screens for a few years. I’m going to go with the grade of 8b+ as it’s certainly the hardest bit of crack climbing I’ve done away from Century Crack. Relative to the other two hardest cracks in Italy (Greenspit 8b & A Denti Stretti 8b/+) I thought it was a significant level above as it took me quite a bit of time and never felt easy even when I did it. Compared also to other things like Profundo Rosso 8a+ and The Doors 8a+, it’s in a totally different league. Although it’s quite a short route, it really packs a punch and I always felt like there was an easier way to do the crux, but none of them worked once you actually climbed into the sequence! All in all, it’s a bit like Mecca at Raven Tor, but in a finger crack. Lovely huh?!
So far this winter I’ve struggled and struggled. My two projects have seen sessions of no success and to be honest I’ve been feeling a bit frustrated. It’s not like the training isn’t going well – my fingers (and specific training goals) are the best they’ve ever been and I regularly PB, but it’s still not quite enough for success on the given line. I guess, I’ve got to be patient. The best thing to do when this happens though, is to get out and do something – something that will give you a bit of a buzz and feel like progress. That’s right isn’t it?
I decided I wanted to see how my projects and finger strength compared to something on the hard grit circuit and thus see if progress from last year really was being made. The Zone, E9 6c at Curbar kind of fitted the bill. Nice wall climbing, fairly challenging sport grade (not the usual gritstone 7a+ frightener) and bold enough to thrill. This route was put up by British climbing legend John Arran and one I remember the first ascent of it well, back in the day.
This weekend, I finally bit the bullet and called up Pete Whittaker and told him I’d man up if he promised to hold my ropes and carry me to my car if it went pear shaped. As usual he was totally psyched for it – I already felt stronger just listening to the enthusiasm on the phone! It’s way easier to commit to routes like this when you’ve got a good mate who’s going to bring the right vibe to the crag on the day and who knows even less about skyhooks than me.
The first half of the route is a highball boulder problem up to a series of flatty edges where you can arrange some skyhooks. This highball V3 takes a little of the edge off the nerves to start and settles you into a rhythm, which you then immediately break by spending 10 minutes trying to place the hooks. In fact I got totally pumped putting them in place and the ensuing down climb of a few moves was desperate in this state – a big reminder that I’ve not done any AeroCap for about 3 months!
Photo: the 2 poorest hooks – my mind needed them though.
After taking a few hours of resting, faffing, waiting for the holds to stop being warm and procrastinating I finally went for the lead. I’d moaned for the previous 2 hours about how the crux hold wasn’t cool enough, but somehow I felt that I’d probably sketch it out if I really needed. Climbing the bottom section felt reassuringly solid the next time and arriving at the hooks for a shake out, I bolstered my confidence by only eye-balling the good group of skyhooks. I couldn’t face even a glance at the bad ones as I knew they were there only to make me feel less scared.
Photo: the good grouping of hooks – surely these are ok?
Moving onto the top sequence of the route I kept thinking about the mental tricks that I learnt on Century Crack last year. The moves glanced by so sutbly that even when I got the crux hold and it felt terrible I didn’t think much of it. Adjust thumb, sit on right foot, bump right hand up a touch (go further than you think), throw for pebbly-boss…. OH SHIT….. that was nearly off. In someways I felt like I’d actually fallen off the route, but there I was feeling gripped on the last hard move. Pete was telling me I was looking smooth (good liar) and all I had to do was crimp it up. Index finger on, crimp that finger first, adjust hip left a little, feel toes inside boot, move foot across, share feet….. ah. Ok all over.
Photo (Mike Hutton): bottom V3 highball – great problem in its own right. Luverly.
Topping out on the route was such a disappointing feeling though. I’ve never done a headpoint before where I only did it to progress my headspace. I’d always done them in previous years because I wanted the route so badly. This time, I’d taken my obsessive approach to training and self-progression to a headpoint and it didn’t work. Trying dangerous routes in this style for me has to be about how much I want the experience, not just as a tool for progression. A real lesson learnt this weekend. In the end I just ended up thinking about what I really wanted; to do those other projects!!
Many thanks to Mike Hutton for the photos…
Tom writes 'It looks like the grit season is nearly upon us. Both Pete and I have put up a new route each (obviously very dubious in style and quality) which normally marks the coming of better conditions! Those lovely frosty mornings, long johns under the trousers and duvet jackets really get me pysched. I think it’s the thought of all the routes I’m going to get terrified on and the foraging around obscure crags looking for new bits of rock to climb. It’s totally backwater and obscure but I flippin’ love it.
Tom Randall on the first ascent of King Ellmore E6 6a/b, Millstone Edge UK
I’m always at Millstone taking a quick wonder round the bottom of the crag with my daughter in tow (advanced babysitting, whilst trying to look responsible) and for once I spotted something that caught my eye. I’ve abbed down most bits of the crag, but the wall above Xanadu had always appeared blank. A few days later I was back with a rope and found that wall had a bucket load of holds all over it (promising) but quite a few missing at the top. Never mind I thought, it’ll be easy. After a couple of sessions of cleaning and working, it was apparent that most of the route is a cruise, but the top move is a bit of niggler. A nasty shouldery gaston-press in a certain deck out position. King Ellmore E6 6a/b is the man for you!
Going back to lead the route one evening after work was actually a bit trickier than I thought. I’ve not done any bold routes for absolutely ages, so many of the usual mind games played away. It just goes to remind me how much you can train the body, but if you forget the mind you’ll be a whole load of trouble. Unfortunately my mind and body are both a little off the pace (my pulley injury is still being a bit of a nightmare) but I can feel them both heading in a good direction now. The crack progression is really hopeful for me at the moment and I’m getting the planning done for some trips next year for some crack shuffling of the very loveliest kind. Oooh, so excited!'
On a completely different note, I’m finally able to put some pictures from a fashion shoot that I did with the Sunday Telegraph Magazine earlier in the summer. It was for a climbing/Yosemite themed editorial (why the heck choose The Peak you may ask???!) which meant I got to mince around at Stanage for a couple of days showing some of the London boys how gnarly it is to solo VDiffs. I kept trying to get them involved with something a little more tricky, but they loved the VDiffs, so that’s where we stuck! I think my highlight of the two days was to get one of the FHM male models stuck in an offwidth doing an armbar in a £800 down jacket. It was so ridiculous, you just had to laugh. I never thought I’d be able to persuade a photographer that it was a good idea, but there he was in all his glory – lichen covered armbar and all!
Tom in all his modelling glory...
Wild Country are proud to unveil their 2012 UK climbing team - a group of reckless and hardy individuals who help us test and promote our gear whatever the danger and cost to themselves...! Well, it’s not exactly like that, but, led by James Pearson, the Wild Country climbing team is peopled with climbers that we feel help represent the values and ideals of Wild Country across the spectrum of the sport.
So, leading the way with a slew of hard ascents in 2011, from almost flashing E10 to multi-pitch monstrosities like Joy Division and flashing 8b+ is James Pearson, now living in France but originally a Buxton lad and working with Wild Country since 2004. There’s a superb video of James in action on his E10 flash attempt here - http://vimeo.com/25140891.
James Pearson seen here on his flash attempt on Muy Caliente E10
Hot on his heels are the incredibly talented ‘Wideboyz’ team of Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker, who as well as tackling the worlds hardest offwidths – and the first ascent of Century Crack E9 (as you may just have heard about) have produced a load of awesome grit routes in the past few years filling some very cool gaps on the Peak District edges – you can see some Century Crack footage here - http://vimeo.com/35270800. Sheffield based there’s also Ben Heason who’s been working with Wild Country for years and is still sending 8b+ and E8, and the enigmatic Miles Gibson – the quiet man of the legendary super-desperates ‘Superstition’ and Superbloc’ on the gritstone. Also Peak based the youthful Hamer brothers have both been performing superbly in 2011: Ed probably outdoing his brother Sam with his fantastic results in the youth world cup climbing comps with a couple of 2nd places – but Sam showing he’s no slouch winding his neck out with few E8’s on the grit to even the scales – see the Hamers’ in action here - http://vimeo.com/26593785.
Last, but not least, long term teamer, Katherine Schirrmacher is hoping to build on her hard trad and grit E7 ascents after a year out to have a baby and build a very successful guiding business and will be starring in and sharing her technical knowledge in Wild Country’s ‘how to’ video series later this year.
Then up in Lancs the super psyched Jordan Buys is joined this year by his wife and partner Naomi to make an all action team. Both are multi discipline masters, mixing bouldering, trad climbing and sports climbing to a very high standard Jordan to 8c and E9 and Naomi to 8a+ and E7. See Jordan in action here: http://vimeo.com/34862987
Over in Yorkshire, Jenny Woodward, has an incredible resume and after a bit of a stop start year last year after having a baby and suffering a few injuries and only sending up to 8A+(!!!) has some even harder projects on the go...watch this space!
Further north, in the Lake District, Dave Birkett and Adam Hocking are both climbing at the highest level and still doing stunning new trad lines and bouldering at the highest level – there’s a great video of Adam on a new E8 here – http://vimeo.com/25808567
New team member Naomi Buys in action on Snap Decision E7 6C Ilkley...
Meanwhile in Scotland the evergreen Malcolm Smith of has been relentless on rock with a recent new 8c+ Blood Diamond, while the fearless Kev Shields simply sets new standards for his bold soloing and some great winter ascents. And across the ‘pond’ in Ireland Andy Marshall has been representing Wild Country and has also sent some pretty rad lines including E8 2nd ascents and plenty more.
Our boulder team (thought that terms a bit restrictive as they’re more than that) is headed up by the amazing Ned Fehally who seems to be taking bouldering up a notch as well as blurring the lines between highball and routes making some very hard ascents in 2011 including Samson E8 7a, and the Prow E9 7a both solo. See Ned in action here: http://vimeo.com/33103583. Nigel Callender also manages to continually impress, sending 8b+ - http://vimeo.com/20435941 - while studying to be a doctor in Newcastle and taking advantage of the awesome sandstone of Northumberland. Then in the south east the strong Ben Read is helping establish a new wave of sandstone desperates as well as writing guidebooks and promoting the excellent climbing around there. Joining these guys this year is year is Stewart Watson, a very strong climber who’s been competing internationally in boulder comps for a number of years and is adding 8c ascents to his pretty awesome bouldering CV.
We also have some young climbers doing well and with Tara Hayes we have one the most up and coming of the UK junior competition climbers who in her first year managed to grab an overall 6th place in the European Youth B standings.
So a big thanks to all those I’ve mentioned and anyone else who’s been flying the Wild Country flag - and you can see more about all Wild Country’s UK team at our website here:
And to get any news from the team first and fastest you can follow Wild Country on:
Twitter - @wildcountryuk
On our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wild-Country/97486098594
Or to watch all our videos our Vimeo page is here: http://vimeo.com/wildcountry/videos
Here's young gun Ed Hamer doing what he does best - climbing very very well on something that's very very steep!!!!!!