Check out V12’s sponsored athlete competing in the hardest race in the world!

nashOn Sunday at 11:30 CET in Salzburg, Austria, the Red Bull X-Alps begins. The idea is to get from there to a floating pontoon in Monaco bay, a straight line distance of 1038km, by either flying a paraglider or by foot carrying the paraglider. Competitors can race between the hours of 05:00 to 10:30 with one night pass, they have a supporter who can meet them and supply food and general support. They have to travel via 10 turnpoints;

The Gaisberg, Austria,

Dachstein, Austria,

Aschau-Chiemsee, Germany,

Lermoos Tiroler Zugspitz, Austria

Brenta, Cima Tosa, Italy

St Moritz-piz, Corvatsch, Switzerland

Matterhorn, Switzerland,

Mont Blanc, France

Annecy, France

Peille, France

As you can see an impressive tick list!

The Red Bull X-Alps is a unique race held every two years. One that you cannot just enter, you have to be selected. Four years ago Steve Nash, V12’s sponsored competitor and local boy entered but was unfortunately disqualified for an airspace infringement when well into the race. Now he is back and desperate to get to the finish.

You can follow all the action, as it happens live! Once the race starts their is a live tracking page where all the athletes show up in real time as they all have to wear trackers, so you can get an overview of the race, see who’s flying, walking, sleeping, see if they make it down before the night curfew is called! Beware, it is highly addictive though and you are prone to get square eyes.

Obviously we are rooting for Steve and Richard, his supporter,who are the only British team and will be watching daily. We hope you are inspired by what the athletes do and enjoy the spectacle of Red Bull X-Alps.

Check out the Red Bull X-Alps webpage here: Red Bull X-Alps


Review- The North Face Storm Stow Jacket

Review – The North Face Storm Stow Jacket

The North Face Storm Stow Jacket – this beauty is a super  lightweight and 100% waterproof specialist offering from TNF which is just so small when packed into its own sleeve with a super smart little draw cord concept and light and comfortable to wear all day if necessary.

It feels light when u pick it up and features a panel or two of bright colouring so you can be spotted out there without making you look like a beacon of light in the rainswept landscape.

The pack size of it and the 2 ply material making it so light weight means in disappears into ones running bag nicely and you don’t feel aggrieved at having to carry it as a matter of course “just in case” .

I have probably run around 200km in it so far over the last few weeks.

Its been tested on the Fellsman in awful weather and in a host of other mountain runs around Snowdonia recently and is seriously a great bit of kit-It doesn’t rustle, its got a near waterproof zip on it, has a great snug hood design that keeps in on your head even in the strongest winds and doesn’t restrict head movement and vision or hearing for that matter.

The jacket doesn’t flap and rattle in strong winds which means you can still hear what your mates are saying even when fully tucked up inside it, and it doesn’t suffer from that usual disorienting sensation you get when your hood is up.. I ran for hours with the hood up during the Fellsman and can attest to the comfort and waterproof nature of it for sure.

The drawstring elastic on the back of the hood is really easy to cinch up to adjust to whatever head covering you are wearing..

As it is so light however it will be interesting to see how long it lasts under heavy usage, but its worth the potential sacrifice of some durability for the portability of it. I will feed back on the jacket over the next few months but so far under lots of use ( loads of rubbish weather in N wales currently) it still looks and functions as new.

Very impressed so far and this bit of kit is going to accompany me through the season, used as a waterproof and just as a windproof layer out in the Alps for those long days out when weight and function is a premium and my legs need to be carrying as little as possible…

Verdict:- 9/10


Review – Hoka OneOne Rapanui 2S Fell running / Trail Shoe

Hoka OneOne Rapanui 2S trail shoe - light nimble and plush with great grip

I gave the Rapanui 2S a good testing when I headed out with Brian Wills, from Capel back to Llanberis over the Glyders, a real broad mix of terrain from bogs to tussocks then good rocky terrain across the tops of the glyders, onto rolling singletrack across Y Garn and Elidir, with a grass descent running onto hard packed slate chippings track descent through the Dinorwic quarries

First of all I must thank the Hoka Rep for providing me with these shoes to test out and also thanks to V12 for getting him over to the shop to check out the range of shoes. V12 are planning to have  a number of the shoes in stock, both mens and womens, technical trail fell running shoes and some more all rounder trail running shoes , and so I was keen to be able to test a pair of Rapanui 2S shoes out and give some feedback.

The shoes are something I would not ordinarily have considered as I prefer generally more minimalist shoes, but the fact that these were pure cushioning and still low heel to toe differential meant I was ken to try them out as theoretically they would be great for long distance stuff…

The actual super technical fell shoe that will be stocked by V12 will be the Karl Meltzer signature Speedgoat Shoe which is an amped up version with more stability on technical terain than the shoe I tested. It will be a lower profile upper and really dialed into the UK Technical fell running market… There is a Youtube video here to check them out….

So back to the review of the Rapanui 2S:-

Technical details first – the Rapanui has a 6mm heel to toe drop, which is comparable to the technical fell running / trail running shoes of Salomon ( Sense SG and Sense etc) and the Adidas Adizero Trail XT4. The low heel drop means that they are good on technical terrain and encourage a natural rolling running style. The overall shoe is of a neutral design but the amount of cushioning / padding in the shoe would compensate for a small amount of over pronation it seems.

Hoka One One Rapanui 2S - Big stack height but the heel to toe drop for these beauties is only 5mm meaning the shoes still feel natural to run in and are great in rough terrain. They feel dialled in and nimble whilst being super plush and are wicked for straight line descending on steep terrain - the heel to toe drop is similar to the Salomon Sense SG at 6mm. The uppers are lightweight and don't stretch in the wet, draining quickly on the run and maintaining support.

Hoka One One Rapanui 2S – Big stack height but the heel to toe drop for these beauties is only 5mm meaning the shoes still feel natural to run in and are great in rough terrain. They feel dialled in and nimble whilst being super plush and are wicked for straight line descending on steep terrain – the heel to toe drop is similar to the Salomon Sense SG at 6mm. The uppers are lightweight and don’t stretch in the wet, draining quickly on the run and maintaining support.

The front of the shoe has 29mmm of cushioning and the heel area has 35mm so the shoe is well cushioned up. These are what seem to be termed as maximalist shoes rather than minimalist, but are still designed with technical trail, fast movement and long distance in mind.

 

The weight of the shoes is still low and surprising (given that they look kind of big and heavy) – a pair of  size 8 – 43 European size comes in at 292g per shoe  – they feel very nimble/ agile and precise in use too and any weight issue is offset by the premium amounts of cushioning and the way ones feet feel great even after hours on the go….

The lacing system is god and the speed lacing system works very well, being secure and clog free during hours of bogs and mud on the recent Fellsman I completed ( 101km, 16hrs 48 minutes ) – the shoes remained securely fastened . There is an elastic strap halfway down the tongue where one can tuck the extra laces when they are cinched up, and this works well, especially if you fed the end all the way through this and back up to the top elastic right by the speed lace system.

Hoka One One Rapanui 2S - V12 will be stocking the Karl Meltzer Speedgoat Shoe which is an amped up lower profile upper version of this shoe which is even more tuned for the UK fell running market..

Close up of the speed lacing system on the Hoka One One Rapanui 2S. This seems to work well, and doesn’t slip during long runs, once tightened they stay put and seem to keep free of clogging mud on boggier ground. Simple but effective. On the new Karl Meltzer Signature shoes that will be ariving to V12, there are more eyelets for the laces and I would expect an even more dialed in fit with a slightly lower profile upper to really dial the shoe in to a UK style of fell running terrain. There are another pair of eyelets above where the laces go, that could be utilised. This would entail cutting the laces and re threading them through the eyelets but to be honest I found that this was not necessary.

If ou really want to lock yr heels into the shoe then there are an extra pair of eyelets that you could further thread the laces through after cutting then rethreading the speed system, but I felt this was unnecessary. Again a surprise as I usually like my feet truly locked in at the heel. The shoes fit well enough not to require any fiddling like this…

The soles feature a set of 6mm lugs well spaced out over the generally flat and wide profile sole with some indentations, the rationale being that this will shed mud and debris easily, avoid clogging on poor terrain and maintain grip. The spacing of the lugs also seems to allow the shoe to grip brilliantly on uneven rock surfaces too . The lugs seem to be hardwearing so far, on other shoes with similar lugs, I have seen more wear than that which I see on the shoes so far for equivalent amounts of use.

Being that these are a continental / US style shoe I was concerned that the grip on them may be substandard even with the lugs on, but I was definitely wrong about that. So far I can’t fault the grip in a wide range of terrain and technical situations – super steep wet grass descents and traverses, they definitely compare with the Salomon SG Sense series and the Adidas Adizero XT4 shoes which I rate highly for grip and have spent many a mile in on all sorts of terrain….

Hoka One One Rapanui 2S Review - Tread Pattern

Open Tread with great lugs on the Rapanui 2S, the lugs are brilliant on all the different terrain I have tested them on so far. I was very surprised at the good grip and seemingly hard wearing tread so far after probably 230km use in a few weeks.

The Speedgoat shoe that V12 will actually stocking has a more shaped sole with some cut outs along the front foot area and in the back heel, to give the shoe more adaptability on steep side traverses and really uneven ground, and I suspect this will be a really good – I did find on a couple of occasions, especially early on in a run, that on a steep side traverse the she felt a little unforgiving and slid around the foot, pushing into the ankle. However with use and further running this seemed to lessen and I didn’t notice it at all on the Fellsman, where my feet remained feeling great through bogs, tussocks, rocky and grassy trails and non trails….

My legs seem to have recovered better than I would have thought too and I have no where near the amount of Muscle soreness I would usually associate with a long run like the Fellsman.

 

So to summarise:-

I was originally skeptical but fascinated by the concept and after having doubts about the shoes I am pleased and surprised to report that I really like these Rapanui’s and am really looking forward to getting my hands on a pair of the Speedgoat 2015 shoes when V12 get them in – This years version of the Rapanui will be an amazing dialled in version of the shoe, ideal for UK fels and trails.

The ground feel is still good, the stability on technical terrain is great and the nimbleness and lightness is really a surprise to me. I really am liking these shoes, contrary to all my original ideas and I am looking forward to getting more miles out of them on a wide variety of terrain. The way they feel when descending is great and they climb well too.

I have some more races lined up for the summer – The Cadair Idris Race, the Courmayeur Gran Trail 90km ( 5400m ascent), Royal Ultra on Gran Paradiso Northern Italy ( 54km 400m ascent) and hey who knows, even the Paddy Buckley is still under consideration as I am beginning to feel stronger and confident currently… Non of these will be done in anywhere near winning times etc but hey its about having fun out there, and as such the Hoka OneOne’s are going to be a large part of those fun times I reckon. I would recommend giving them a go – it may well be a hugely positive surprise….

Oh and by the way V12 are also going to be stocking a more trail oriented version than a techincal fell shoe, more suitable for mixing it up on roads and trails, and also 2 womens versions of the shoes, which all look amazing….

Tryfan, Glyder Fach and Y Garn in the distance - Hoka One One Rapanui Tread view

Done about 250 plus km in these shoes now and although at first I was skeptical due to the thought of the thick cushioning, I’m well pleased with how they feel. I was concerned also that they may rub on my outer ankle on a long run but having completed the Fellsman last weekend in them (101km and 16hrs 48 minutes later) I can attest to my feet feeling great at the end and also the Delayed onset muscle fatigue pain that I expected has failed really to materialise again a positive result of the cushioning in the shoe. Living the Dream as ever………..

 

 

 


Mountain King Trail Blaze Poles 2015 Review

I completed the Fellsman this weekend ( 25th April) and was lucky enough to have got my hands on a pair of Mountain King Trail Blaze Poles – Ultra Light Fast Packing / Trail Running Poles that are made by a British Company.

The Camera got wet hence a bit of a bur in the midle - The Trail Blaze Poles were great

Mountain King Trail Blaze Poles at Fleet Moss Checkpoint on Felsman 2015 with Dunc and Dave. A wet windy cold day that included snow, turning to clear skies with frost later. The majority of the route is on boggy ground or tussocks, with minimal amounts of hard paths and trails..

I have previously had a pair of BD Ultra Distance Poles so it was going to be interesting to  test these Mountain King Trail Blaze ones out (I snapped my BD ones a few weeks back whilst scouting for the Fellsman event)

The poles are certainly minimalist. They have a small but comfortable cushioned hand grip with a non adjustable wrist loop, again comfortable on the wrist. A small cord runs through the centre of the 4 sections and when pulled hard out of the top of the poles allows the poles to slot together then locked in place by slipping the manufacturers pre fitted knot into the little groove at the top of the pole. The Poles come with 2 detachable baskets (screw fitting so don’t just try to rive them off), and also 2 rubber type covers for the carborundum/tungsten tips of the poles if you dont want to click on rocky terrain. Personally I leave the rubber tips of all the time but would be likely to use the baskets on the poles in winter or in the alps.

Trail Blaze Pole Mountain King 2015 Review

Metal tips showing detail of the screw fitting thread for the light weight but effective and sturdily attachable baskets in case you require them

The poles are made up as an aluminium centre overlaid with a wrap of carbon fibre, and I imagine that this is what has given them their strength without compromising on weight – especially at the joins between the sections on poles

120cm long - weight 250gms the pair - 40gm lighter than the BD Ultra Distance Poles at 120cm

Trail Blaze Poles folded up with velcro straps in view, tidy and compact and very light

The poles arrive with a small mesh bag to hold them in and they are both fitted with a small but ideally sized velcro loop to keep the poles under control when they are folded away and stashed on or in your bag.

Pull the cord whilst dangling the sections of the pole and they pull into place, and then clip the knot into the slot on the top of the handle for a light weight locked out pole.. Quick and easy. The handle is well cushioned and is not noticeably les comforrtabe when ts soaking wet (as it was for most of the Fellsman event)

Pull the cord whilst dangling the sections of the pole and they pull into place, and then clip the knot into the slot on the top of the handle for a light weight locked out pole.. Quick and easy. The handle is well cushioned and is not noticeably les comforrtabe when ts soaking wet (as it was for most of the Fellsman event)

At first glance look and feel very fragile, but after having used them a number of times and trapped them between rocks on trails or had them stuck in a bog and get unfeasibly pressured as I bent them over whilst stopping myself to extricate them, they seem to be robust enough to last – this has dispelled any worries about fragility.

Aluminium ferrule slots into carbon sleeve on each section of the poles - Mountain King Trail Blaze 2015 design change apparently

Aluminium ferrule slots into carbon sleeve on each section of the poles – Mountain King Trail Blaze 2015 design change apparently

The joins in the poles feature an aluminium ferrule one end and a carbon sleeve at the other side. As far as I understand it this is a part of the poles redesign since last years model, to improve strength without compromising on weight, and so far so good, no splits or cracks despite rather a lot of abuse in a short time…

I intend to use these poles plenty over the course of the summer, both here in Snowdonia and in the Alps. I plan on a number of longer runs hopefully including the Paddy Buckley Round here and some other Sky Races out in Northern Italy  and have loads of confidence in these poles.

They have proved themselves so far – lightweight, easy to fit together and quick, comfortable hand grip and an perfectly adequate wrist loop that is also comfortable. Very impressed and would recommend them for sure. Oh and by the way as far as lightness goes, they are 40gms lighter per pair for the 120cm length than the BD Ultra Distance Poles – Perfect…..

For future reference and if I would suggest any improvements that could be made then I would suggest a slightly less stretchy or a tighter fit for the centre cord, as a number of times the poles were pulled significantly apart when pulling them out of sticky turf terrain whilst running and this caused me to be a little concerned that they would pop apart.

I would also suggest that the padded section on the handle could be made another 4 cm longer to be really sweet when ones wrists are engaged into the loops and to give a bit more flexibility to hand position and comfort.

However both these issues are minor tweaks and should not put one off these amazing poles

VERDICT:- 9 /10 – EXCELLENT

 

 

 

 

 

 


Fellsman 2015 Weather Forecast and TNF Storm Stow Jacket

Now then true to the usual weather patterns around the Fellsman weekend (according to folklore built up from over 50 yrs of the event being run) the weather is going to be a bit grim:-

The Met Office Weather Forecast for the Fellsman 2015 Saturday 25th  – Click here

This means navigating will be fun in the rain and low cloud with winds upto 50mph gusts, plus a bit of rain..

Lucky I have got my North Face Storm Stow jacket – a super lightweight waterproof for travelling fast in grim weather – 100% waterproof and taped seams. It packs down to almost nothing, stashed inside the end of its own sleeve with a little drawstring – very neat and tidy (plus very small and light).

V12 has these in stock for £150.. I have used it loads in the rain and snow so far earlier in April before the weather got better and it performed excellently.. Even the zip is water sealed to reduce the damp patch down ones front and the hood has a built in drawstring to tension it brilliantly onto the head to stop it blowing away… Action shots of the jacket, plus poles and my shoes will inevitably find their way onto this blog shortly, there is just the small matter of 61 miles to run in the meantime….


Trail Shoe Review- Adidas Adizero XT4 Trail Shoe – Fast, Light, Neutral, Positive, Grippy and Firm

300 miles plus and still going strong. The Adidas Adizero XT4 is seriously impressive for a load of reasons

trusty Adidas Adizero Trail XT4- doing great after 300 plus miles - low odour, good fit, plenty of grip and cushioning, and still bright blue and orange. I love 'em

Adidas Adizero XT4 Trail Shoes

General

These shoes are great. Generally thats what I would say. I was skeptical at first as they look very minimalist but subseqiuent use finds them really quite well cushioned and protected against rocks underfoot whilst still feeling fast, fun, light and super grippy, fitting like a glove and wearing really well.

They make me feel like running quicker and seem to lighten my foot strike…

They are definitely a minimalist inspired shoe, and are neutral with  very little support but they are so snug and hold the foot so well that you feel really well connected with the terrain, whilst still being protected.

The 6mm heel to toe drop feels good and keep your foot strike natural when you get tired, being the same as the Salomon Sense range and 2mm less than the North Face competition. I really like 6mm and its a bit of a sweet spot for me, I find 6mm just keeps my feet rolling quickly and naturally.

The furthest I have run in these is 36km in one outing but I have done plenty of 30km outings in them as well as hill sessions and flat sprint stuff, in a wide range of settings from North Walian chill to Cambodian and Uganda Tropical sweat zone stuff… They are great all rounders and with a ton of grip.

For most of my mountain and trail runs these shoes are brilliant . The onlt time I feel I need more cushioning is if I w2ere engaged in a really long day out as even though I am a fan of minimal style shoes, I appreciate a bit of extra padding for a big run / all day job. That said, if it was up in the mountains these would be great as the changing terrain angles that give your feet a break, more than compensate for the thinner cushioning / firm ride of the shoe above 40 to 50km distance.

Build Quality

Build quality is faultless in my opinion. The hard wearing XT 4 has fit like a glove since the day I got my hands on them, and has worn very well indeed.

The sole has lasted and has brilliant grip , on a wide range of surfaces, and despite the dust . sweat, mud and microspikes that have been ground onto them they continue to maintain shape and fit and the integrity of the upper and midsole is still great.

For such a light shoe it seems remarkable that they wear so well. The microfibre upper is really well designed and maintains odor free status after all this time somehow.

Hammered but not beaten yet - plenty more miles - I hope to get another couple of months out of them

Still plenty of tread, the lugs are still well functional on wet terrain, although recently its mostly dry dusty dirt roads and trails, with lots of loose gravel and stones

Tech Specs:

These shoes are definitely lightweight, coming in at around 600gms for size 10 shoes.

The heel drop of 6mm from back to front makes them feel natural, without putting stress on your achilles for anyone who is not used to a minimal style shoe, and I personally like this feature , as I feel I need a bit more heel drop as I run a lot at work on flat or rolling dirt roads, and this seems to help for whatever reason. The 6mm drop and low profile feel of the shoe seems to make you want to run quickly and seems to enhance running form, which for me can only be a good thing.

The lightness of the shoes however does not compromise their build quality and there ruggedness. As you can see from the photgraphs these are still looking in great condition, the uppers and the sole after a lot of beating , dust,rocks, mud and sweat…

The Adiprene cushioning on the hell and the Adiprene + cushioning on the forefoot are light and not thick but offer enough shock absobtion without compromising ground feel, and on anything but flat tarmac, your feet feel great all day in them. The odd time I have run any distance on tarmac they do feel a little lacking in padding but then they aren’t made for it , and I am not the most light footed runner, having once been a heavy pronator, I am now definitely more neutral but not too light on my feet..

If you are a heavy heel striker thenm these may not suit, unless you are in the mountains rather than on groomed trails, but for anyone else I think the minimalist  feel of these shoes makes them a delight to run in – loads of fun and agressiveness without beating yr feet or losing the feel for the trails and rocks.

The Continental Sole on the XT4 is great, with aggressive and hard wearing lugs, thaat I have used in everything from steep grassy fells, frozen Snowdonia mountains with lots of snow and Kahtoola spikes on, tropical dirt tracks and trails and boggy rainy season runs in East Africa. A great all round sole, and the only shoes comparable for grip I have come across so far are the Inov8. I also find the XT4’s more forgiving than INov8’s too, and on the smell test the XT 4 still score around 3/10 on the smell scale, and are bearabkle indoors, whereas all my other running shoies (except the Adizero Bostons – to be reviewed later) are consigned to the outhouse generally and score 8/10 on aroma value!!

I guess the light and synthetic materials udsed for contrsuction just dont hold sweat and foot grime , which is amazing..

These sythetic microfibres also mean that the XT4 fits really well, and needs no adjustment during a run even in the wet – Just recently I was running in Cambodia and was splitting my run with a swim in a waterfall, in my shoes and kit before returning to where we were staying, and there was no stretch in them at all. Super comfy and fast drying too..

In conclusion then these shoes have definitely found a way into shoe collection and I will be investing in another pair when they wear out.  Very imprerssed all round with fit, wear, weight, cushioning and grip. I wouldn’t recommend them if you have to run a lot of tarmac km to find trail and dirt as the sole may wear quickly – the tread is really designed for agressive grip, but otherwise wicked shoes and reccomended for sure… And the bright orange and blue combination of colour is actually good too.

Detail showing lightweight yet strong build materials and firm adiprene cushioning

Adidas Adizero XT4 Trail shoe - showing the Adiprene cuchioning. A neutrl and firm ride with a 6mm heel to toe drop, giving it a minimal feel but with enough cushioning for the rocky sections on the hills

Adizero XT4 Trail running shoe sole detail - Continental / Adidas Combo

Great grip with hard wearing lugs, closest thing to Inov8s for grip I have come across yet with enough heel drop and cushioning for long days out on the hills.


3RD Rock Clothing

It’s always a pleasure to get something new in, it’s much more of a pleasure and even a little bit of a shock (in a nice way) to get something that you can really get passionate about because it has that something special; that thought and care, that attention to detail, where you can see the dedication, love and spirit that the designer has put into it.
3RD Rock clothing falls well and truly into this category. Even more surprising is the fact that it is a climbing clothing brand. This is it’s first outing and if first impressions are anything to go by it’s certainly not going to be it’s last!
More surprisingly, it is the women’s clothing that is front and centre. There is a very good reason for this and that reason is called Jessica Taylor. She has a passion for what she does, I spotted it the 1st time she came around to present her clothing. She knows it inside out because she designed it, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to improve it still further and that for me shows the mark of a good designer.
Items such as the Apache leggings and Cybele hoody

3RD Rock Apache Leggings

3RD Rock Cybele Hoody

are stand out pieces, they have those little touches that make such a difference to what would otherwise be just another pair of leggings or hoody.
To understand why the clothing is so good you need a little bit of perspective. Jessica studied fashion at St. Martins design college in London where she went on to make rather expensive clothes for rather expensive people. Feeling this was not what she was about, Jessica left it all behind to go travelling. While doing this she found climbing and that’s when all the pieces fell into place.

It definitely shows too, you can see that thet’re not just clothes designed for climbing, they are clothes designed by a designer for climbing and living.Then there is that other dimension, one that puts them on a different level to most other climbing clothes.
Take the afore mentioned 3RD Rock Women’s Apache Leggings, made from 95% Organic cotton and 5% Elastane, the fit is unparalleled with a print design that makes it stand out from the rest of the crowd but not too much. The touches come in the form of the schoellor panels on the rear, knees and lower legs to give it longevity in the correct places, especially if you’re climbing. The art comes in the comfort of the fit and the look of the legging once they’re on, tying it altogether to make a product that works.

3RD Rock Saturn Bra Top

The 3RD Rock Women’s Cybele hoody is the same, the underarm design means you can move around in it and it doesn’t pull on your arms as you do, it also stops you getting cold kidneys every time you raise your arm for the next hold because the same design gives you enough room for the movement without the waistband riding up. Then there is the hood. It’s construction allows the hood to turn with your head rather than your head turning in the hood, simple enough when you say it but to put that into practice and have it fit well and look good, well, that’s almost a dark art. All this in two items of clothing and there’s more.

3RD Saturn Bra Top Rear

3RD Aurora Bra Top

3RD Aurora Bra Top Rear

We’ve already sold quite a bit in store and the feedback has been excellent, the favourite so far has to be the 3RD Rock Himba Leggings, the locals who have bought them seem to be living in them and that for me is the best accolade you can get.

It’s not available in too many stores so if you want to try it, and I am assured you need to, as once you do that’s what really cements how good it is. We have some at our Liverpool and Stockport stores as well as at the main store in Llanberis. So if you’re fed up with the same old and want something with that little extra, you know what to do. Check out our entire range here.

Also check out 3RD Rocks promo video of the spring/summer 2013 collection


Black Diamond Ultra Distance Poles – Review

I was just thinking about what runs I plan for when I get back to the UK and musing on the fact that I am really missing the mountains.

Right now the thought of lots of ascent is just so alluring, as I am seriously  only running in flat places right now. The need to feel the steepness in my hamstrings, calves and quads is omnipresent, as I know this sort of fitness is lost quickly…

This then got me to thinking about my Black Diamond Ultra Distance Poles and how much I like using them. I have been a skeptic with regards to poles, assuming that they would drive me crazy, be bulky, hard to fold away and serve little purpose, so I resisted investing in a pair until earlier this year. I have in mind that ultimately, when I finally get around to a Paddy Buckley attempt that is not scuppered by heavy snow or storm force wwind and rain, then they will play an integral part in keeping me on my feet over the distance…

Behind Middleberg looking towards the valley to Crystal pool just after I missed my turning for Algeria. BD Ultra Distance Poles, Salomon S Lab 12 Bag, and plenty of dried mango kept me going

I used these every day in the Cederberg, the steep climbs and technical descents meant they were really useful and definitely saved my quads for the next days running

I am now a convert to the wonders of poles, and specifically these poles. Black Diamond have created such an amazing, light weight pole, that they just become extensions of ones arms in a way and really help me on steep steep ascents it seems..

So lets start at the top. The Black Diamond Ultra Poles handles are made out of a great dense foam with two levels to grip ( an extended handle) which I find really great when descending as well as when climbing. The handles are comfortable and don’t feel sweaty after use, and have not so far caused blisters , they just seem to fit the hand so well.

I dispensed with the wrist loops after the first 5 minutes of running. People may be a fan of wrist loops but personally I found them immediately a bit of a hazard and it reduced the dexterity of the poles. If you haven’t got loops on them you are much freer to put 2 in one hand, shift your grip, sling them over your shoulder or keep them to one side / chuck them up when you are on a technical scramble section. I felt also that whilst descending one could snag the poles, and with wrist loops on then you would grind to a standstill or snap the poles, or worse.

Probably for walking then loops would be great but I definitely prefer them without. Personal preference. They are easy enough to remove or refit.

The BD Ultra Poles come with 2 sets of end pieces, one softer and the other a hardened carbon steel insert, again very easily changed depending on what terrain you may run on, although I have the carbon steel ones in permanently.

The mechanism for assembling the poles is brilliant, basically you hold the pole vertical and then pull on the handle taking up the slack in the internal wire and the poles straighten out and then the metal stop pin just below the handle pops into place and voila – less than 8 seconds to assemble/ dissasemble each one. While I am out on a run, I generally keep them out and assembled until I hit the final stretch of tarmac . They are so light I don;t mind carrying them in my hands. Equally they fold away small enough that I can stash them in the sides of my Salomon S Lab Bag securely and quickly.

Looking into Duweisgat with Smallberg on the left, a remote and trackless valley that time forgot

A steep rocky climb led to this beautiful valley with a snaking single track rolling along in a splendid position. This is a view down into Duweisgat, about 600m below, an inaccessible trackless valley,probably full of undisturbed wildlife. Amazing place. The BD Ultra poles are great for switchbacks and fighting through dense overhanging triffid like fynbos vegetation, and they even disturbed a Black Spitting Cobra just ahead of me, meaning the snake got out of the way, alerted by my clattering poles as I rolled along the trails

I was wondering about the longevity of the poles, as they are carbon and I thought they may become damaged easily. However the only damage I can see after 4 months is superficial scratches on the lower 1/4 of the poles from rocks, which is amazing considering how they have been used and abused. On my recent trip up Sneeuberg I had to throw them down some vertical sections so I could climb down, and I often hold them in one hand whilst scrambling so they get a battering.

So far so good with my poles and I will certainly be using them on some of the races I have entered next year. Long days out in the hills are definitely assisted by poles. Not every time in every location but there is now definitely a time and a place for these BD Ultra Poles for me….


Ceuse Holiday Sun

The start of the month saw Keith and I driving south, to the French sport climbing Mecca of Ceuse. Perched high up in the foothills of the Ecrin, overlooking the town of Gap, Ceuse literally strikes you as the jewel in the crown of French sport climbing.

Owen Davies warming up on the classic Bleu comme l'enfer (F6c+). Photo: Jim McCormack

Though sport climbers are not renowned for their love of long walk-ins and big “uphill” thighs, climbing at Ceuse begins with a 45min-1hour long walk in, uphill all the way. Fortunately for me, having just spent a week up north on Skye (see the Cullin Ridge report), I was well prepped for the walk-in, and could enjoy the stroll and its beautiful views (yeah right?)! The walk does have its advantages though, getting you well warmed up for the hundreds of immaculate pitches that the crag has to offer, meaning you don’t have to waste too much time warming up on easy routes!

Pete Harrison on the steep start to Vagabond d'occident (F7c). Photo: Jim McCormack

While it is in essence one long crag, Ceuse takes a horseshoe shape, which means there’s always the option of climbing in the shade or in the sun…whatever tickles your fancy. Each sector offers slightly different styles of climbing, from steep & juggy pump-fests to long & technically sustained vertical routes with big exciting run outs!

Keith on a redpoint attempt of La Chose (F7c) at sector Berlin. Photo: Jim McCormack

Through the course  of the two weeks there was ample time for many outstanding routes, massively pumped forearms and numerous big whippers…the highlight in many ways though wasn’t the climbing but getting to watch Adam Ondra climb (very sad, I know!).

Adam Ondra in the thick of the hard climbing, on the first ascent of Jungle Boogie (F9a+). Photo: Jim McCormack

There was a real buzz when he was attempting stuff at the crag, and you could see people gaining motivation from the obvious effort and energy he would put into each attempt on a route. Watching him do the first ascent of Jungle Boogie (F9a+) was the fist time I’d seen him climb and it was a real inspiration. His style of climbing is super bendy and really fluid – it’s pretty cool to watch the way he just flows up these routes that sit at the current limit of climbing’s standards. What I found equally motivating however was the effort he put into his flexibility. We’re always given the impression the he’s just naturally bendy, but every evening when he got back from the crag he’d devote a good while to stretching whilst cooking dinner…it was reassuring to see that as naturally talented as he obviously is, he still puts some effort in too!

Ondra on the easier upper section during the FA of Jungle Boogie (F9a+). Photo: Jim McCormack

His by-now legendary flash attempt on Biographie was also something to behold. Keith & I were on a rest day but had a good view of the crag, which even from a distance is easy to spot climbers on all the popular lines. But as the cool evening conditions came, all the normally busy lines were totally vacant, not a single person was climbing. Instead, everybody was congregated below Biographie, which by now was fully rigged for the cameras for the main event of Ondra’s trip…it was a pretty strange scene that I’m pretty sure doesn’t ease the pressure!!

Adam Ondra on his third attempt at Biographie. Having already tried to flash this legendary F9a+ first climbed by Chris Sharma, he came agonizingly close to doing it on both of his subsequent attempts before having to leave Ceuse and head home! Photo: Jim McCormack

The outcome has been well publicized, but the effort and research that went into such an audacious attempt was pretty interesting; watching videos of previous ascents while someone abbed the line, chalking and brushing all the appropriate holds on the way down, was not your typical build up to a flash attempt. But this wasn’t a typical route to try and flash, so I guess that’s what it takes to try and push global standards by more than a grade!

Jim not pushing sport climbing standards on Cent Patates. Photo: Keith Scarlet

With all the Ondra excitement going on it’s easy to be super-psyched for “at-your-limit” onsights & redpoints, but as our last day came around we avoided the temptation to keep pushing the single pitches, and stick to our plan of finishing off with one of the multi-pitch routes on the Grande Face. Multi-pitch sport is always super good fun, often with plenty of exposure but still with the sport vibe! Inesperance didn’t disappoint on either front, with 4 big pitches of increasing difficulty (6a+, 6b+, 6c+ & 7a) and plenty of space beneath your feet, especially on the steep and tricky third pitch. Topping out into the afternoon sun from the cold updraft was amazing, and the landscape on top of Ceuse is both beautiful and slightly surreal (as someone told me – strangely reminiscent of Telly Tubby Land!). After a quick bite to eat in the afternoon sun we still had time for a couple of routes before the long drive home. Though the arms were tired, we had finally developed some “Ceuse fitness” and still felt pretty on it, so quickly bagged a couple of routes, including the ultra classic Blocage Violent. Pumpy all the way and with some pretty spicy run-outs, I thought it was a bad sign leaving the ground feeling pretty pumped, but somehow I managed to clip the chains with exactly the same level of pump…why is it you only get that level of fitness on the day your trip ends?

The view from the top of the Grande Face. Photo: Jim McCormack

Keith on a last day attempt of La Chose, a nails (ie. not) F7c. Photo: Owen Davies

The view of Petit Ceuse in the evening light from sector Berlin. Photo: Jim McCormack


Fontainebleau guides – what’s new?

Adam Hocking on Rubis sur L'Ongle 7B+, Gorge aux Chats Photo: Si Panton

Fontainebleau is undoubtedly the best bouldering area in the world. Each year climbers from all over the world make the pilgrimage to the sandstone boulders hidden in the forest 30 miles south of Paris. It is a huge area with thousands and thousands of problems spread over many different venues. To the uninitiated it can be confusing; how do you engage with something so vast?

Over the years there have been various guides produced to the area, although there was always the feeling that we were not being told the full story.

The first guide produced by a Brit was Steven Gough’s Bleau guide back in 1997. This was quite a landmark for British climbers; fired up by repeat viewing of the Real Thing (Jerry Moffatt and Ben Moon’s 1996 film which featured the boys cranking hard problems both at home in the Peak and out in the Forest), the Brits descended en masse clutching said guide, keen to experience the ultimate boulder problems.

There then came a few French guides, such as Escalade a Fontainebleau/Fontainebleau Climbs in 1999/2000 and the slightly better Fontainebleau off-Piste in 2006. Both books were popular, but vague descriptions and poor maps ensured that many of the forest’s best kept secrets remained exactly that.

The 7 + 8 guide, released in 2002, was a revelation; arty, minimal design and a strict criteria (no problems less than 7A and no traverses) meant that it appealed only to elite climbers; nonetheless it sold well. An equally popular revamped version came out in 2007.

In 2006 Jingo Wobbly produced Fontainebleau Magique which focussed upon the lower grade circuits and then in 2008 Stone Country released Essential Fontainebleau, a competitively priced (only £10) mini-guide which served as a good introduction to the area (it is now out of print – but see end of article for news of a second edition).

In 2010 Bleau en Bloc was released. This German language production is very comprehensive; at 646 pages you wouldn’t expect anything less! However unless you can read German its practical value is limited.

Fast forward to 2012 and even more guidebooks have emerged. What follows is a quick appraisal of the new kids on the block:

Fontainebleau Fun Bloc (David Atchison-Jones, Jingo Wobbly) £30 320 pages A5 portrait

Following on from the Fontainebleau Magique guide, David Atchison-Jones has returned to the fray with another, more comprehensive guide. There is an impressive amount of information packed into the new book, with 45 areas and over 7000 problems given full overhead map topo and photo topo coverage. Grade 7 + 8 specimen hunters and lower grade circuit followers are both catered for (it even includes 17 kids circuits); classic traverses are also shown.
The maps are excellent, arguably the best of any current guide to Fontainebleau.

On the down side there are no problem descriptions (even the briefest of beta – like you get in the 7 + 8 guide – can make the world of difference) and no indication of quality for individual problems. There is no mention of conditions (which are the quick drying crags?) or advice about skin friendliness either. There are also no crag summary or individual crag introductions. If you want to work out the best venue for a given day you are, to an extent, left to your own devices.

The information trail in the book is also slightly counterintuitive – If you wish to go to Elephant you don’t go (as you might reasonably think) to the start of the Elephant section, rather you have to check the page number (page 307) on the initial opening spread map. A small map on page 307 gives page numbers for each of the areas, which are described in the pages before the map. Which is all a little strange but I suppose you will get used to it, and to be fair to Mr Atchison-Jones it does allow for some very page efficient layout (i.e. you get to carry a lighter book as you trek around the forest).

Who should buy this? Despite the quibbles mentioned above, this is probably the best ‘single’ guide to buy at the moment. It will suit a group with mixed abilities well, with something for everyone from first time kids to seasoned visitors.

Font A Bloc 1 (Jacky Godoffe) £28.95 336 pages A5 portrait

Jacky Godoffe has been an ambassador for Font for the last 30 years. I once bumped into him at Bas Cuvier back in the early 90s and he spent the next few hours giving me and my mates an extended tour, effortlessly cruising up problem after problem as we floundered in his wake. A true gent and an awesome climber.

In the late nineties he collaborated with Jo and Francoise Montchause to produce the original ‘purple’ guide (Escalade a Fontainebleau/Fontainebleau Climbs) and then in 2006, Fontainebleau Bouldering ‘Off Piste’ which surprisingly was given an English translation by arch traditionalist, Ken Wilson.

Jacky’s latest offering, Font A Bloc 1 (released in 2010) is the first of a trio of guides covering the classic grade 6s (V3-V5 in old money) and the 7 + 8s. This guide features the areas close to Fontainebleau (i.e. Isatis, Cuvier, Cuisiniere, Apremont, Salamandre, Rocher Canon, Rocherd’Avon, Gorges du Houx, Rocher Cassepot, Rocher du Calvaire, Rocher de Bouligny, Rocher Saint Germain, Rocher des demoiselles, Mont Ussy – Roche Hercule); the second volume (due out this year) will cover the sectors around Milly la Foret and a third volume will be dedicated to the peripheral sectors around Nemours and the Ferte Alais.

This guide has many of the features that British climbers will warm to, namely problem descriptions, plus hints and warnings about what to expect. Even though the translation was clearly done via ‘Google translate’ I like this sort thing in a guide. The areas also have proper introductions including valuable advice about the character of each venue.
From a design point of view it is rather crude and much space is wasted. The map topos are quite basic too and certainly not as sophisticated as seen in other modern guides.

Who should buy this? This will appeal to the 7 + 8 fans that want more information about specific problems, and are keen to experience the classic mid grade problems too.

5 + 6 3975 straight ups in central and southern Fontainebleau (Bart van Raaij) £29.95 320 pages A5 landscape

The original 7 + 8 guide caused quite a stir when it first came out; indeed on our side of the pond a number of bouldering guidebook producers aped its space lavish design and landscape format.
There were problems though – it was only possible to glean scant information about any given problem. I know from experience the disappointment of searching for an unstarred ‘off piste’ 7A only to find that it was not worth the bother. The horizontally aligned, landscape format was cumbersome too, and certainly not as tough as a vertically aligned, portrait format

This guide applies the same formula to problems in the grade 5 and 6 range, i.e. V1 to V5. For many visitors to the forest this will be the target range, especially if a visit is made during the hotter summer months (when it will be hard to hang the holds on the 7 + 8 test pieces).

The guide uses overhead map topos for problem identification; the absence of photo topos does rob the book of a sense of what is on offer; it also increases the potential for confusion when you are searching for a particular problem.
The two star quality rating system is less specific than the traditional three, four or five star method used by other guidebook producers – indeed, the majority of the problems in the guide receive no star rating at all.
Once again venue introductions, approach maps and details are found in the back of the book. I know this works but I’ve never really got used to it and find the disconnection of information jarring.

Who should buy this? This will appeal to the ‘style-conscious’ mid grade climber who knows their way around a bit already.

Fontainebleau Boulder Maps: Franchard, Bas Cuvier, Apremont £24.95 A1 folded

Getting lost in the forest is a right of passage for any visitor to Fontainebleau; even regular visitors will spend some part of their trip wandering around trying to match what they see around them to a condensed map in an A5 guidebook. In fact I’d recommend carrying a compass just for orientation purposes should you find yourself deep in Blair Witch territory, with no idea of the way home.

On one occasion I found myself in this very situation with a group of mates including Keswickian rock star and erstwhile Llanberis resident, Adam Hocking. I had a compass in my bag but before I revealed which way north was I decided to test the instinctive sense of direction of the group. It was overcast and going dark so there was little clue coming from the sky.
Everyone got it wrong apart from Adam whose internal compass was absolutely bang on; similar tests later on in the same trip saw him repeat the feat with ease. It was only years later that it occurred to me that he had probably done it by looking at which side of the boulders carried the most moss (this indicating the northern side of course).

Anyway, one answer to the ‘getting lost in the forest’ issue is to produce bigger scale and more accurate maps – this is exactly the approach of the Boulder Map series.

The maps do give you a sense of the macro layout of an area in a way that an A5 book will never be able to do. This is especially useful if you are following one of the coloured circuits over a significant distance during the day. Although, if you are looking for a general navigation tool the standard IGN Fontainebleau and Trois Pignon map would be a better purchase.

The boulder shapes themselves are drawn in a fairly nondescript ‘blobby’ style, at best an approximation of what you will find on the ground. That said; there is also a small selection of photo topos included for the key boulders, which should help with problem identification.

The maps are individually quite vulnerable to damage, but do come in a handy plastic folder which will help to protect them when not in use. The £24.95 price gets you three area maps, which makes it quite an expensive way of finding your way around the forest – but then again it’s a small price to pay for clarity, and the maps are quite beautifully done.

Who should buy this? If you are looking to travel light on an extended circuit then this is a good option.

Even more Fontainebleau guidebooks coming soon!

As a final footnote it is worth noting that a third edition of the 7 + 8 guide (with an extra 500 problems apparently!) is due to be published this summer, plus Font A Bloc 2. An updated and ‘fatter’ Essential Fontainebleau 2 is also slated for a release by the end of the year.

Personally, I love the place so much, I’ll be buying the lot!

Simon Panton (currently working hard on the new North Wales Bouldering guide)


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