Don't forget to check our Facebook page for ad-hoc activities/ informal meets.

Frictional Events

posted 22 Nov 2016, 01:33 by Steve King



The BBC’s spectacular Rio Olympics coverage verified that there’s still mileage in Greek ideas about the aesthetic drama of the human form. As one couch potato took in the high-definition and ultra-slow motion footage, occasionally making his own strenuous efforts to reach for the remote control, it became apparent that several sports take place inside a soft white fog of chalk dust. It rises from the hands of gymnasts, weight lifters and hammer hurlers – a pallid mist captured by thousand-frames-per-second video, following gently in the draught of an athlete’s movements as if sad to have been turfed out of its resting place.

Gymnasts’ chalk is always magnesium carbonate (MgCO3), but beyond that baseline fact there is a variety of recipes and forms, with users developing understandable loyalties to whichever version best prevents them from colliding with the mat. The goal is consistent: judiciously control friction, stop sweat, and kill bacteria, a delicate balance that magnesium carbonate turns out to be ideal for. Actual chalk chalk – the calcium carbonate used to write on blackboards – tends to be more soluble in water, making an unintended descent from the asymmetric bars all too likely once a gymnast’s hands start to perspire.

The pool of scientific research into chalk’s role in gymnastics is shallow, though its use is backed by a vast programme of empirical testing in gyms throughout the world. The same rule holds outdoors, where rock climbers also use chalk and where the penalties for loss of grip can be rather more severe than missing out on a medal. Climbers can in theory use chalk more judiciously, applying it when they feel the rock under their fingers is slippery and greasy, or to counter the body’s natural sweaty reaction to anxiety, an occupational hazard.

There is historical overlap between the two arenas. John Gill, considered the father of modern bouldering – the kind of ascents carried out without ropes or harnesses – was a gymnast before he tackled rocks. Starting in 1954 by climbing Stone Mountain in Georgia, US, Gill honed his technique by seeing rock climbing as a gymnastic activity rather than an extension of hiking, one that should involve what he called ‘a serious use of momentum’. ‘No gymnast would work on challenging releases without chalk – neither should a climber,’ he once said.

One consequence of this has been the appearance of magnesium carbonate in locations where geology didn’t originally put it, in the form of hand-sized patches on otherwise naturally formed and weathered rocks. This has led to a question of physics acquiring a more ethical dimension. Chalk plus sweat plus weather can equal a slimy layer of muck on the rock surface, an eyesore if not a permanent marker, and a potential conflict with the broadly ecological mindset of outdoor sportsmanship. David Black, an author and climber, once said that ‘there is no real ethic regarding chalk, possibly because modern climbers have no ethics’.

While climbers may debate that, the less adventurous among us might note the symbolic potency of human hand prints anywhere on natural rock, examples of which are among the oldest signs of human existence going back nearly 40,000 years. The global ubiquity of the stencilled image of a hand, outlined in a spray of pigments like iron oxides, kaolin, or manganese oxide, ties the ancients and modern climbers into the same dialogue via pigment or chalk: a palmate proof of life. ‘I was here,’ says the climber’s hand print. ‘I was here first,’ says the rock.

2016 AGM

posted 21 Nov 2016, 05:49 by Steve King

The 2016 SMC Annual General Meeting will be held at

The Wheatsheaf Alehouse, Newport Street, Old Town, Swindon


Tuesday 29 November

commencing at 8pm

All past, present, and potential members are welcome to attend.

Annual Dinner Weekend 2016

posted 23 Oct 2016, 15:20 by Steve King   [ updated 25 Oct 2016, 02:52 ]

October can mean but one thing. No, no Halloween, but the SMC Annual Dinner Weekend!

This year's, organised by Chairman Steve, was once again held at Priddy, on top of the Mendip Hills, just a few miles from Cheddar Gorge. The weather was much better than last year too (once the morning fog had burnt off!). Indeed, some members even went climbing in the Gorge. Others contented themselves with a ramble, and a few went caving. The dinner itself was held in the Queen Victoria Inn in Priddy.

This year's prize winners were:

The Altitude Award
- went to Lee for summiting Stok Kangri in the Indian Himalaya; a magnificent 6153 m.

The Photo Competition
- went to Andy D (again!!!) for a picture of Ed in the Mont Blanc range taken this Summer.
Ed in the Alps

The Fancy Dress Prize
- for the best representation of a 'climber of yesteryear' went to Martin who not only donned a tweed jacket with a hank of rope, but had also managed to source a 1946 pocket book on mountain climbing!!! Apparently you should always make sure your climbing partner is 'a stout fellow' !

Chairman's Meet 2016

posted 9 Jul 2016, 03:58 by Steve King

Mainly due to the Chairman's busy work schedule and general unavailability(!), this year's Chairman's Meet became a day meet on the south coast near Swanage on June 18th. Rather than heading to 'Subluminal' (again), Lee suggested Winspit as an alternative.

Around the end of the working week it was looking odds-on that 11 people would be attending, but by breakfast on the Saturday this had reduced to 6. The excuses given by the no-shows were all honest and understandable, even if one bordered on the 'must try harder next time'.

Winspit is not a crag I'd been to before (technically it's an abandoned quarry/mine), but it was clearly popular. You climb from the level of the coast path, set back from the cliff edge, and there are faces with easterly, westerly and southerly aspects. Each is slightly overhung so the faces are protected from seepage (and drizzle!). Though you could climb trad, there are lots of bolted routes from grade 4 up.

Several of the routes had lower-offs I'd not come across before, twisted pieces of stainless called 'pigstails' or 'cowstails'. Once you overcame your nervousness about relying on an anchor that your rope only went over and not through they were fine (and clearly an advantage over untying and tying back in)!

My personal feeling is that the guide books were under-grading a bit (eg, there was a bold step up to finish a 4+, and the bit from the penultimate anchor to the top on another route was well into the 6's - IMHO - despite the climb overall being graded 5!).

Sadly we didn't get the weather we paid for: it was thick overcast for most of the day with a chilly northwesterly at times meaning we all ended up putting clothes on. And certainly no one was brave enough to venture in for a dip!

(Photo: Steve - yes, that is the Club bouldering mat in use!)

Thank you to those that came, it was a good day out in good company! And always good to try somewhere new!

The Climbers: Steve, Theresa, Lee, Sarah, Andrew R & Simon

2016 BBQ Meet

posted 9 Jul 2016, 03:31 by Steve King   [ updated 1 Aug 2016, 10:05 ]

It is a SMC tradition that during the summer there is a BBQ Meet. The location this year was near Mewslade Bay on the Gower and held the weekend June 11-12th.

A few words from trip organiser, Rick:

"Tracy and I had both booked Friday off work in order to arrive early and get some climbing done. We arrived at Port Eynon around mid-day and walked to Boiler slab where I managed to lead three routes and caught a rare sight of the lesser spotted Tracy on the rock face. We then went into the Smugglers Haunt in Port Eynon for a well earned pint and a takeaway pizza. We arrived at the cottage, pizzas in hand, and scoffed them in the sun lounge admiring the view with a Blandford Flyer. Shortly after everyone else started to turn up and once they were all here and picked their beds attention turned to what we were going to do tomorrow. We decided to try an area called Devils Truck at Fall Bay as we had bad tide times and this place had a non-tidal platform. 

We all awoke Saturday morning to a dull grey day, and after the maelstrom of eating breakfast and packing gear we all headed to Devils Truck. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the cottage and after a “where the hell is it” moment and much discussion, we found the crag. Lee and Andy D started on up a route each and I decided it would be a good idea to solo above the crag and straddle along The Razor with Andy R in tow. After petrifying myself (and probably Andy) we descended back down to the group and it started to rain so we decided to head back to a little place called Mewslade quarry which is just a big slab that you can boulder on close to the cottage. Whilst everyone was bouldering Javier and myself thought it would be a good idea to explore the caves in the area but after getting to a big drop thought it would probably be best to head back towards the light. Once we had emerged the weather had perked up a lot, so Lee and myself scouted out another location called Catacomb Gully. After we had decided it looked like a suitable location we headed back to the group finding most of them sunbathing and one even asleep! We all grabbed our gear and headed for Catacomb Gully and spent most of the afternoon there. Whilst we were here Emily and Simon had turned up to join us. At around 18:00 a lot of people decided to head back to the cottage and make a start on the BBQ, However Andy D, Simon, Lee, Theresa, and myself thought it would be a good idea to check out King Wall back at Fall Bay as we could probably climb on it now as the tide was out. However the tide was on its way back in and by the time we got to King Wall it was too close to risk it, but as we were on the upper tier at the start of the routes on Lewes Castle, Lee lead up one route and I lead another to get one last climb in. By the time we had got back to the cottage most people were already drinking beer and the BBQ was lit as soon as we turned up. We had quite a banquet with loads of burgers and sausages, salads, kebabs, steaks, Marta’s amazing frittata and my home made BBQ sauce. We had a beautiful evening watching the sunset over the horizon eating brilliant food and drinking beer (my Jägermeister idea didn’t go down too well though!) 

Sunday morning and we arose to another dull, drizzly, cloudy day. After a morning of packing and tidying away Pet and Ed thought they would give Devils Truck another go and got a few routes done whilst the rest of the group did a walk to the Worms Head. Meanwhile Tracy and I cleaned the cottage. Once everyone returned we packed the cars and headed home."

(Photo: Pet)

Many thanks to Rick for organising it!

Wintour's Virgins

posted 9 Jul 2016, 03:24 by Steve King

As the weather in early May had started to show promising signs, Lee organised an impromptu day meet on Saturday 7th. After batting around a couple of ideas during the week about where to go we decided on Wintour's Leap.

Whilst it is true that the forecast wasn't promising unbroken sunshine, we weren't really expecting the slight drizzle that started just after we parked! However, it did stop quite quickly and then the sun then made a valiant effort to poke through the overcast. But as we would later discover the drizzle was an omen...

Somewhat to my surprise, there were several Wintour's virgins amongst us. So naturally enough Lee and I ensured that they got a full Wintour's experience and made them descend by the 'Easy Way Down'! We then spent a pleasant morning climbing the 'Corner Buttress' routes.

After a late lunch we decided to move round to the 'Central Rib' area. But no sooner had the lead climbers geared up and started off than there was an ominous rumble of thunder! Then the rain really came down! As polished limestone in the wet is not to be recommended there wasn't much we could do but pack up. Downclimbing from the base of the climbs, and then ascending the 'Easy Way Down', were in themselves now quite challenging scrambles!

A pity the day was cut short, but it was good to get outside!

The Climbers: Lee, Steve, Natalie, Ross, Rick & Simon.

Introducing our new logo!

posted 9 Jul 2016, 02:56 by Steve King

Well, after two rounds of voting a winner emerged from the 53 designs for a new Club logo. And here it is!

Congratulations to its designer, Andy D. And a huge thank you to all those members who took part in the competition.

Sorry - we've been busy!

posted 9 Jul 2016, 02:47 by Steve King

Oops! It looks like we have been a bit tardy and not kept the website up to date!

Rest assured this is not because of a lack of activity as I hope the next few posts will show!

Tim Peake spots good Munro weather!

posted 27 Feb 2016, 11:16 by Steve King

Scotland, Feb 27 2016, from the ISS. (C) Tim Peake

Click here for the FaceBook link.


posted 14 Feb 2016, 10:57 by Steve King   [ updated 14 Feb 2016, 13:07 ]

At February's Club Social Evening I put some paper and pens on the table and challenged the members present to sketch some ideas for the new Club logo.

Well, the response was overwhelming (even though I think most people had forgotten that I am going to award a prize to the winner)! I'd had two entries emailed to me before I even got to the pub, and four more came in over the next few days. And those were just the tip of the iceberg!

Attached are 17 pages (yes, really) of ideas; 53 designs in total!!!

At this stage all we are trying to do is shortlist the concepts people like the best. Try and ignore the fact that some entries are at a more advanced stage of design than others.

Details of how to vote have been emailed to members.

Chairman Steve

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