Neil Gresham talks ‘Freakshow’ with Ian Parnell – NEW 8c at Kilnsey – EXCLUSIVE

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.

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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?!’

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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.

Read more.. Friday, August 7th, 2015

Bonita Norris for Ordnance Survey

New set of images for the upcoming Ordnance Survey‘s campaign with Bonita Norris.
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Read more.. Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Beautiful Peru

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.

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Read more.. Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Maravilloso Perú! – Photography Workshops in Cordillera Huayhuash

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).”

Read more.. Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

TOP 5 (6) Trekking/Camping Outdoor Gear for Photographers

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.
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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!
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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.
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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.
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JULBO – sunglasses
Need of protecting your eyes in the outdoors especially in the mountains is nothing new! Julbo offers great products, sleek designs at great prices. You will look cool, guaranteed!
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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!
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Read more.. Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Sophie Christiansen for Women’s Sport Trust

Portrait series with Sophie Christiansentriple 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.
Sophie Christiansen for Women’s Sport TrustSophie Christiansen for Women’s Sport Trust

Location: Mill House Farm Stables, Buckinghamshire
Producer: Danielle Sellwood, Women’s Sport Trust
Photography Assistant: Jimmy Hyland

Read more.. Monday, May 18th, 2015

Top 5 Adventure Photography Tips

‘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.
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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.

Read more.. Sunday, May 10th, 2015

Shauna Coxsey portraits – Red Bull

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Read more.. Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

#BeAGameChanger Awards – Imagery of the Year 2015 – FINAL

Our ‘Wild Women’ video series produced for EpicTv is in the final three in the #BeAGameChanger Imagery of the Year 2015 Awards.

The “Wild Women” series was born from a simple viewpoint – that there’s so little video content with strong female athletes and this was an opportunity to tell some of these great stories. The idea was to create genuine films to inspire others and showcase the personalities and abilities of the characters.
All 8 episodes you can watch here.

The awards will be decided in a public vote and we need your support, please follow the link below and vote… All winners will be revealed on Thursday May 14th, 2015.
Thank you.

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Read more.. Friday, April 10th, 2015

My TOP 5 Winter Season Outdoor Gear

Winter is almost over and honestly, I’m looking forward to all the Summer adventures ahead… climbing, paddling, mountain biking and scuba diving.
I had a fantastic season skiing in Chamonix and as I’m unpacking and sorting out the gear, I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite bits of kit I’ve been using this winter!

EXPED – CLOUDBURST 25 Backpack
The Cloudburst 25 combines a waterproof fold drybag and lightweight pack and its perfect for all those days when you’re accessing off-piste skiing using lifts. Your avalanche kit, spare gloves and jacket fit perfectly and it would be really hard to find another waterproof backpack under 300 grams. Of course you wouldn’t try to attach/carry your skis strapped to this pack as the fabric and the pack construction is too weak.
Overall is a very comfortable backpack and since it’s so small and light when empty it’s just perfect for travel.
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MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT – BASTION Jacket
A cutting-edge synthetic mountain jacket combining insulation, protection and mobility in one streamlined package.
In one word this is my go to mid-layer insulation piece when I’m shooting or just being active in the hills in winter.
Overall it’s a simple technical jacket without the bells and whistles that works, it’s warm, windproof and absolutely essential!
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LA SPORTIVA – SPECTRE Ski-mo Boots
The lightest 4-buckle Alpine Touring boot on the market, the Spectre achieves the greatest range of cuff rotation in its class. The patented design allows a full 60 degrees of ankle movement and the Vertebra construction adds support for downhill performance.
The most comfortable and lightweight ski boot I’ve ever had a chance to use, I also love the funky buckles with micro adjustments.
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LOWEPRO – Toploader Pro75 AW II Camera Bag
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.
If ever I was only allowed to buy one camera bag it would have to be (without doubt!) the Toploader Pro75 AW II!
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PETZL – NAO Headlamp
Ultra-powerful, multibeam rechargeable headlamp with REACTIVE LIGHTING technology that automatically adjusts brightness and beam pattern.
Compared with my first Zoom Petzl head torch (absolutely classic over 10 years ago!) NAO headlamp is from another planet… I love the fact that it adjusts the brightness depending on the environment and being able to charge it through a USB port on my laptop means I never ever have to carry spare AA batteries!
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Read more.. Wednesday, April 8th, 2015
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