Five short videos (edited along the way) from my epic road trip with INTU friends, 5000 kilometres in 20 days across half of the South America! Amazing!
Five short videos (edited along the way) from my epic road trip with INTU friends, 5000 kilometres in 20 days across half of the South America! Amazing!
Nick Bullock should need little in the way of introduction. One of Britain’s finest alpinists and rock climbers, known for bold and audacious ascents, a writer and occasional poet. A man who had already opted for one of life’s tougher careers as a PT instructor for HM Prison Service only to give it all up, along with the regular salary and house to live in a van and pursue his passion for climbing.* Ian Parnell caught up with Nick to chat about pushing boundaries, living out of a van, plans for the future and upcoming second book.
Nick, you’re best known as an alpinist and winter climber, and in terms of rock for very adventurous climbing – what made you want to try the Tremadog test piece Strawberries, isn’t it far too solid for you?
Yes, it’s certainly too solid and that’s why I have not yet climbed it clean! Have I been placed in a pigeon hole then? Can I not try hard and technical test piece climbs? Strawberries is a Welsh classic with undoubtedly a great history and as a climber who spends a lot of time climbing in Wales I thought it was about time to see what it was all about, plus as my rock climbing is improving I thought I may now stand a chance of getting up it clean… obviously I was mistaken! It does make a great project to get fit on next spring though.
You’ve written about how the element of doubt – not knowing if you can get up a route is one of the key elements of adventure. How important is this for you in climbing?
It has to be one of the most important factors, or at least on climbs that are close to the top of your personal ability, especially if pushing your boundaries is one of the key aspects of climbing. I try to focus on the whole experience of the climbing day, not just the end result, so entering into the unknown is all part of it and it’s all part of challenging myself and life in general.
Do you think it’s something missing from modern climbing, what with the ground up approach largely eliminated from the cutting edge by head pointing?
Not really, climbing is for the individual and if you chose to have an adventure, you can at whatever level. If you had rephrased the question and asked, is the general approach to climbing changing and does it appear to be becoming tamed, I would then answer yes, and I do feel people who have not experienced the adventure side of climbing or do not realise that there is a side of climbing that can be something other than a controlled experience, are possibly missing out. As for top end, well each to their own, I’ll just keep doing my thing thank you and try not worry about what others are doing, well, not unless it has an effect on what I do then you will be the first to hear!
What do you think are the fundamental reasons why you are drawn to adventure?
Good question although answering it is quite difficult. What makes one person live differently than another, what makes one person like punk rock and another like techno, why does one person like Shakespeare and another Fifty Shades of Grey? Life is an adventure, it’s a one time around affair, now we are here, then we aren’t. For me, pushing my personal limits, be it a ten metre route on the Vector Headwall and to be seen falling, or climbing a one thousand metre mixed climb in the wilds of Canada or writing a brutally honest piece of prose that opens myself up, is life enhancing, it makes me look at myself and be honest with myself – its memorable, and for me, especially as I have grown older, I have found this is the only way, the healthy way, the most satisfying way. We are on this planet for such a short time, so why faff around being dishonest and doing stuff that does not feed the soul and enhance life?
What would be your perfect day out climbing? (where, with who, what etc)
A remote sea cliff in the North of Scotland with crisp and sunny autumn conditions and a breeze to keep away the midges. Nearby would be a deserted beach with Oystercatchers and a huge horizon. After a great days climbing some multi-pitch esoteric pile of choss, where my climbing partner and I would escape by the skin of our teeth, we would park up my Peugeot Boxer Swift camper van on the beach and spend the evening eating salad – avocado, toasted seeds, Olives, Feta cheese, sundried tomatoes, Balsamic vinegar, vine tomatoes, etc and drink a Leffe beer before a bottle of wine – an Argentinian Malbec, and settle down for the night to watch the sunset… and did I mention my climbing partner would be Anne Hathaway.
In the US the ‘climbing-vagabond’ lifestyle – living out of your van to maximise climbing etc is widely excepted, but here in the UK you are one of the few British climbers still committed to that way of life – why do you think that is?
In Britain, especially since the Thatcher era, many people in the UK have been led to believe owning things makes their life better. They have credit cards and loans to buy these things and mortgage themselves to the hilt to buy a house. People have been told owning a house is where it’s at, no-matter the personal price, and when you move into that house you surround yourself with stuff, and this shows how successful and happy you are, but it doesn’t stop, because we are brainwashed into believing we have to continue to buy and buy and buy bigger, faster, better, larger, quicker – when really this is not necessary, and all of this buying provides a prison cell with debt as the jailer. Owing money to big business also places us in a position where we can be controlled by people in power – the bankers, the politicians, the multi-millionaire business people, the multi-national companies. Today, many people in the UK live scared, scared of not owning stuff, scared of falling behind, scared to actually live… and also scared of not being able to pay back the interest on the loans and debt they have accrued. It is my opinion this is how government wants us to live because this fear stops us from living to our true potential and makes us work for big business and the politicians..
People who dare to live different and kick against the type of lifestyle I have written above are generally condemned by people in power and big business, who then use their power to spread the word and convince a large part of our society this type of lifestyle is not acceptable or worthy and words like sponger and fraud and benefit cheat are used like weapons because the politicians and bankers know if we all live free from debt, if we all suddenly bought out of buying in, we would not be controllable anymore. People who kick against consumerism are vilified in the right wing press and by politicians and bankers and made to feel like outsiders by a large part of society, because the people with money want to continue controlling and making their millions. These people want the general population to be scared and it makes me sad to think many people will wake up when they are in their autumn years and realise they have been duped and have existed but not actually lived and all they have is stuff that on the whole is not really worth anything.
I know I live in a society that is run by consumerism and yes I much prefer this than some of the alternatives but I wish this system we live by was more fair and open and there was less inequality. The very nature of big business is to continue growing and getting bigger and amass more and control and consume and I don’t include the smaller climbing companies which include my sponsors, I am talking about multi-national behemoths who often have politicians and the people who run our country on their board of directors. My philosophy is to live with less – live healthier and happier with more understanding for fellow human beings and to speak out against inequality. Time is our most important commodity and that time should be used wisely to experience. I also know living this way of life is made easier by having great friends who are very supportive and I do realise I’m very lucky to have these people. I’m also fortunate to have had a solid and stable childhood which gave me a strong work ethic and has given me confidence and a platform to take risks and expand. Some people have not been this fortunate and will never be confident enough to take that leap no matter how much they want to, and this is important to realise and understand also.
I think different to many people in the UK and almost from the time I first found climbing, I have structured my life to live the way I now do and I do understand for many people this way of life is not possible because of choices they have made or their upbringing, but I do believe many people could live a more happy and healthy and rewarding life if they dare take a few risks and possibly make what they perceive as sacrifice which may not be much of a sacrifice once they have made the move.
I do think many climbers think differently than a lot of people who are not climbers but to take the plunge, to live no fixed abode and climb full time is a big and scary step, one which takes strength. Times and attitudes and climbers have changed, some for the better and some for the worse and living a nomadic climbing life is possibly less desirable in the rush and push of our society today where commodities and trophies appear more desirable than experience. I made a plan and worked full time after leaving school at 16 and for a majority of that time I was in a job that I hated, but I continued to see my plan through and I am fortunate to own a house that I bought when house prices were low, in comparison to what they are now, and I have savings from working in the prison service. Whether these things will see me through to the time I die I don’t know, but I firmly believe if you have courage to take a leap you will make your own luck and it will work.
I have had fortunate breaks, luck and received great support from friends, family and sponsors. I have trained and I have fitness and determination and health on my side and I appreciate not everyone will be this fortunate or can be this focused.
If I died tomorrow I would not have regret and I have done more in my twenty or so years as a climber than I ever imagined possible, so this, in-itself, has made any small discomforts worthwhile.
Finally, to return to the original question, I suppose experiencing and witnessing and living with everything going on in the prison service made me really appreciate how testing aspects of life can be and when the chance became available to jump and live a different life, a much better life, I grabbed it with both hands and experiencing that previous life make me appreciate and has given me the courage and strength to continue doing what I now do. It probably isn’t so easy to make a big change if the life you are living is ok, but not brilliant, for me it wasn’t an issue.
You’re maturing well as a climber how long do you think you can stay committed to this way of climbing and living?
I don’t know is the honest answer. I love my life and I’m very happy. I still enjoy being able to go anywhere at any time, sleeping in my van and waking up to peace and a new view and the time to try to climb anything I wish, but who knows when poor health or old age may curtail my lifestyle or when the right lady may walk into my life and I decide to stop sleeping in my van because I prefer being with someone I love in a fixed base. All I know is, I feel very privileged and lucky to have lived the life I have and when it changes, so be it.
How is the writing going? There are rumours of a second book?
Love the writing and yes, I’m working on book two as we speak.
What’s in the pipeline for you for the rest of the year?
I’m in Chamonix at the moment but I’m just about to head south to clip bolts at Gorge du Tarn before heading out to Canada for a month of writing at the Banff Centre after being awarded the Fleck Fellowship, which fully supports me and allows me to work on book two. Greg Boswell is meeting me after the writing and weather permitting we are climbing for three in the Rockies. Winter will be Scotland and Patagonia or the Alps and next year Paul Ramsden has decided to take a sub-standard partner after climbing with Mick Fowler for all of these years and we are hopefully out to try something in Tibet.
* Mountain Equipment
I’ve been shooting at sunrise for over 60 days straight now, it’s hard. And finally I’m happy to share with you for the first time just a few images from my ‘First Light’ photography project.
This is also my pledge to #GetOutside and shoot more images and be more creative this year as part of the Ordnance Survey‘s campaign, launched to urge people off the sofa, to ditch the car and to enjoy the Great British outdoors.
Mind you though, I will be travelling all over the World.
Have you ever wondered if you’re missing out on something by not getting up before the sunrise? The world in the morning looks different… sometimes tranquil and beautiful… sometimes miserable and wet! It’s a creative challenge for me personally but I’m also hoping to showcase a world ‘rarely’ seen. There’s a running joke among photographers that shooting sunsets is cheating, therefore I have decided to shoot sunrises for at least the next 6 months… Everyday I get up before the sunrise and I try to shoot at least one picture, if the light is good definitely more. At the moment I’m concentrating on the beauty of the morning light but over the next couple of months I would really like to explore more what sunrise means to different people.
At the end, I would like to present a story of beauty and morning struggle,and perhaps hope too, because simply sunrise marks the beginning of a new day and I would like to explore human relationship with this particular time of the day.
From sunrise above the Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia to my local back yard in the Peak District National Park, Cape Town’s penguins to aerial view of the West Coast of Sweden – Morning light can be so beautiful!
All Rights Reserved – Lukasz Warzecha
The great brooding limestone cliff of Kilnsey is recognised as one of the UK’s most impressive crags. Its most distinctive feature is an enormous roof that caps the already severely overhanging South Buttress. This feature was first aid climbed in the 50s but shot to prominence in 1988 when it was freed by Mark Leach to give Mandela – so named as ‘they said it would never go free’. This summer Neil Gresham added his own take on Kilnsey Main Overhang but at a much higher grade with his route Freakshow. 8c in difficulty Freakshow is very different to your typical British sport route – almost 40m in length and with 18 clips the route climbs like the Spanish ultra endurance routes currently defining modern sport climbing. Success for Neil came after 14 days of effort. Ian Parnell caught up with Neil to find out more about this brilliant new route.
Congratulations on your new Kilnsey route Neil, how did you find such an impressive unclimbed line at one of the UK’s premier crags, were there other suitors to the route and did it surprise you that such high quality routes are still there for the taking?
Thanks Ian. I guess the thing I’ve learnt in climbing over the years is to keep an open mind. People say there are no decent new lines left in Yorkshire, but having had a fifteen year break from British sport climbing, on my first day back at Kilnsey I spotted a gap that was almost too glaringly obvious to be true. The horizontal break that Freakshow follows can be seen from half a mile away and is even more prominent than the break that Mandela follows. I guess it just looks hard to get to it and to leave it, which it is, but my experiences of bolting new routes in places like Cuba, China and Kalymnos have taught me that you just have to go and have a look. If you get shut down then they make nice presents for your strong friends!
The route climbs out through the main overhang at Kilnsey – one of the most dramatic features on British rock, but at 8c the climb is also close to your current sport limits – what motivated you most about this climb – the aesthetics or the difficulty?
It was certainly both those things but there was a third factor that was even more important. When I first arrived on the Peak and Yorkshire sport climbing scenes in the late 80s, all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, I had missed the boat as far as new routing was concerned. The likes of Moon, Moffatt, Atkinson, Leach and Dunne had already bagged all the best lines and they were also climbing way harder than me. It was reading about these guys and their new routes that inspired me more than anything else at that crucial stage in my climbing. I think that deep down, I always hoped to follow in their footsteps and climb a decent new line on one of our top sport cliffs. Of course, it’s not for me to say whether I’ve managed this and the critics will always have the last word.
Describe how the route breaks down, and where you found the biggest challenges on the redpoint?
Well it starts up a very pleasant 7a+ bridging-corner called Hardy Annual, which I’m quite bored of now! There’s a good rest at the top of this and then it turns mean fairly quickly. The rock tilts over at an ever-steepening angle and there’s a crux sequence which is about V8 in difficulty and which involves a crucifix move. I really struggled with this last year but thanks to some specific training on the rings, not to mention a new foot sequence courtesy of Charlie Woodburn, it started to feel more do-able. This move takes you to the horizontal break that leads from left to right through the middle of the roof. It’s covered in jugs but there aren’t many footholds so you get pumped. There’s a poor ‘bat-hang’ rest, hanging from a toe-hook at the end of the break and then it gets hard again. You launch out into some crazy horizontal terrain, making big moves between pockets and slots, with poor footholds and you have to skip all the bolts here in order to avoid rope drag. All told this is probably a V7ish sequence, leading through Gaz Parry’s route, Guns in the Sky 8b+ and it’s probably the redpoint crux of the route. You then join Mandela 8a+ in the middle of the crux cross-through move, at which point you’re looking at taking a 40 foot pendulum, so this certainly focuses the attention. The last moves of Mandela aren’t really that hard in relative terms (Tim Emmett joked that they’re probably on V3) and I vowed never to fall off there, although this proved to be famous last words. I actually dropped it their twice before eventually hauling myself round the lip. I think this was probably caused by summit fever more than anything else.
Did you train specifically for this route, and if so what did you do?
It was probably more a case of what I didn’t do. I literally trained harder for this route than any other and this was the main reason I contacted Stevie (Haston) for advice. It’s not that I’ve ever been too lazy or unmotivated to train hard in the past, but more the opposite – I’ve simply been too scared of getting injured. Regardless of all the coaching I’ve done, it’s virtually impossible to apply the same principles to yourself. You just can’t be objective, but with Stevie watching my back, I felt sufficiently confident to ramp things up to the required level. As well as all the usual specific training on replica boulder problems and the standard endurance training on steep circuits, Stevie added a load of pull-up and leg-raise training, some for strength-endurance and some for pure endurance. I’d always worried that this sort of thing would wreck my elbows, but it actually made them feel more resilient! Stevie also got me doing yoga, which is something I’ve always known I should do but have made my excuses in the past. But when you have someone as mean as him to answer to there’s no way you dare shirk out!
Did you have any doubts about the final redpoint and how did you deal with the stress?
It’s funny isn’t it – why is it that no matter how many routes we do, we’re always so quick to think that that perhaps this might be the one we’re going to fail on. That said, I’ve improved so much at this part of the game in recent years. Sure I’ve taken the tips from the greats like Sharma and McClure about removing the end-goal and being process-focussed, but there are so many other little things I’ve adopted myself to diffuse the pressure. For a start, having been living in London for the last decade, now that Kilnsey is just down the road for me, I was pretending that what I was doing was just ‘outdoor training’ and infinitely preferable to being stuck indoors. I was also constantly reminding myself that I managed a route of a similar level in Spain two years ago, and it’s infinitely harder to deal with redpoint nerves when you’re away on a short trip with a fixed time limit. But fundamentally and above all else, I just kept reminding myself that the whole reason you enjoy it so much is because the route feels slightly too hard, or as Like Leo Houlding famously said ‘If it wasn’t hard, it would be easy, wouldn’t it?!’
What is next on the horizon for you this year?
Funnily enough, I’ve bolted two more lines, one at Malham and one at Kilnsey so my hands are still well and truly full. I really ought to take a break and do some trad but I’m finding the sport stuff irresistible at the moment.
New set of images for the upcoming Ordnance Survey‘s campaign with Bonita Norris.
Few pics from one amazing journey to Peru…
I’ll be running photography workshops in HuayHuash in October 2015 and June 2016, you can find out more here.
I’ll be leading two photography workshops in Peru over the next 12 months… one this October (25th – 30th Oct.) and another one in June 2016 (12th – 17th June).
More information below… Come and join us and get inspired!
Book and find out more on our workshops website – www.LW-Worx.co.uk
“We strongly believe that creating a great adventure image is a team effort. During our 7 days of shooting our workshop leader, Lukasz Warzecha, will share his experience of working with some of the world’s leading adventure-sport athletes, and we’ll be able to explore the creative process when working within the mountainous environment. This workshop is the perfect opportunity to learn how to effectively merge landscapes and the human presence. Lukasz will make you familiar with shooting fast and light when trekking or climbing, carrying only the bare minimum of gear. Plus we will also have a chance to explore more complicated lighting scenarios, and learn how to find the balance on what to take and what to leave behind to make the most of your shooting day. In addition to experiencing an unforgettable learning adventure, workshop attendees will receive a goodie bag from Lowepro, one of Lukasz’s sponsors.”
“The Huayhuash mountain range is formed by twenty one high altitude Andean peaks. It is considered one of the most beautiful mountain sceneries in the world, and is protected as a Peruvian Conservation Area. It became world famous by Joe Simpson’s “Touching the Void”.
This pristine mountain environment will be the setting of our workshop sponsored by Lowepro. A unique hands-on experience involving breathtaking locations, extreme conditions, and the chance to learn how to capture human element and outdoors activities. Over the past 5 years, Lukasz Warzecha, our workshop leader (and winner of the prestigious Nature’s Best Magazine Windland Smith Rice Award), has carved out a formidable reputation as one of the top adventure photographers in the world. Living everyday life by his own words that ‘This is the most exciting time to be a photographer ever! He has photographed on 4 continents on assignment for National Geographic, The North Face, WL GORE, Mountain Equipment, Petzl and Black Diamond (among others).”
I’m back from our reccy trip to Peru, unpacked and thought I would share with you my favourite essential pieces of kit for a long trekking/camping trips in the mountains.
It’s the basics really, nothing fancy… So here’s my Top 5 (6) pieces of outdoor gear with some real product pics directly from the HuayHuash base camp!
LOWEPRO – Toploader Pro75 AW II Camera Bag
They have been featured in my last TOP 5 and no surprise, I carry both of my cameras in these top loaders at all times to make sure they are well protected and ready to use!
Built for speed, agility and flexibility, the Toploader Pro 75 AW II delivers a compact and fast-access solution.
Pro75 takes a PRO DSLR with lens attached plus another lens or flash gun and ton of small accessories. It comes with a simple yet effective chest harness which makes it perfect for skiing, hiking or mountain biking. You will never miss the shot as the Pro75 allows you to have your camera well protected but always handy.
MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT – Aurora II Sleeping bag
Aurora bags have been specifically developed to excel in cold, damp and humid environments. Resilient, warm and compressible they bring cutting edge synthetic insulation together with the most advanced sleeping bag design.
Over night at 4000 meters it gets cold (very cold!) and every morning we would wake up to a layer of ice on our tents.
In these damp and cold conditions Aurora kept us nice and warm! Very comfortable!
EXPED – SYNMAT UL 7 M Sleeping mat
The SynMat UL is the ultra light and ultra compact version of the SynMat with slightly lower insulating, puncture and abrasion resistance values.
It packs very small and provides great deal of comfort and insulation.
ORTLIEB – Waterproof Duffle 60l
The Duffle is for adventurers searching the extreme and expecting excellent performance. The waterproof travel bag protects clothing etc. from water and dirt.
When hiking in the Andes or other big mountain ranges you are likely to use donkeys or porters to carry your stuff. Packing everything into a waterproof duffle guaranteed that my sleeping bag and everything else was dry at the campsite.
LIGHT MY FIRE – Meal Kit 2.0
Spork has been around for ages… but this simple kit provides you with everything you need at the campsite. Everything packs into a small package and is 100% waterproof for carrying any type of food inside.
And real bonus… they’re made in Sweden!
Portrait series with Sophie Christiansen – triple gold medalist from the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to equestrianism.
Location: Mill House Farm Stables, Buckinghamshire
Producer: Danielle Sellwood, Women’s Sport Trust
Photography Assistant: Jimmy Hyland
‘Modern digital camera technology has become so advanced, that anyone can now take a good photo.’ – It’s a comment you hear a lot nowadays, and like many headlines there is a grain of truth behind it. Many more people have access to a camera that has the potential to take a quality image, the reality is however that there are still as many bad photos being taken, it’s just they are now in focus and correctly exposed.
As a pro photographer I know that there are no short cuts and that the finest image making takes years of practice to perfect, but there are a few basic points that will help anyone make that step up from snaps to quality photography.
1. Get only the gear you need
It’s easy to fall into the trap that new shiny kit is going to transform your pictures. In fact it can be a hindrance. One camera and one lens is a good start. Learn how to master the basics and get the most out that set up before flashing the cash. Don’t suffer from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).
2. Quality over quantity
With high capacity storage cards there are no real limits on the number of images you could take. However don’t spray your camera around with your finger on the trigger. Take the time to consider when it is the right moment to press the shutter. Make your shoots count.
3. Compose with care
How you frame your image is one of the biggest keys to successful photography. Pay special attention to the edges of your frame. Remember it isn’t just what you include but what you leave out of the shot.
4. Familiarize yourself with composition rules
There are several well practiced methods to good composition. The rule of thirds is one – where if the central focus of the image is placed off centre around the line of a third/ two-thirds, the overall image feels more dynamic and exciting as the eye is drawn away from dead centre. Of course when you’ve learnt the rules – you can start to experiment and break them.
5. Get out and shoot
There is no real substitute for practice. When ever you get the chance pick up your camera. Often it’s the days when there are few expectations, perhaps poor weather or an unglamorous subject, the magic happens.
In the end however photography is a simple business, forget about who has the most expensive kit, or who talks the loudest – your work should speak for itself.