80s sport climbing 'stamina merchant' Mick Lovatt has been active on the precariously loose Craig Doris, on the Lleyn Peninsula. At 59, Mick made an impressive third ascent of Stevie Haston's steep Requiem for a Vampire (E8 6b), shortly after Nick Bullock made the second ascent. The pair also climbed Bam Bam (E7 6b), making the fourth and fifth ascents, before Nick got to work on establishing a new E8 6b, which he's named Pushing for Rail. Starting up the tower between Melody and The Gross Clinic, the line follows the steepest section of the lower mudstone wall via a tied-off peg to a half-way ledge, before leading up a headwall with a 7b/+ crux.
In his heyday, Mick established hard sport routes such as Vogue 7c+, Climb of the Century 8a+ and Energy Vampire 8a+ at Malham Cove, and Mirage 8a at Gordale. We sent Mick some questions to find out his secret to pulling hard - but not so hard as to pull crumbly holds off - at 59...
Nick also weighed in on climbing with Mick, aka The Perfect Man - his nickname of 30+ years.
'I read about Mick a long time ago in the book, The Power of Climbing. I was impressed by his sport climbing ability, especially as, even then, he was quite old. At that time I was more into the Paul Pritchard and JR scruffy look, so I was not so impressed by his muscle vests, tights and coiffured bouffant, it even looked like he might use skin care products! I'm glad to say the tights have now gone, replaced by jeans, and the hair is a little less Vidal Sassoon, and, at last, he appears to have found his true vocation in climbing. Gone is that terribly solid Malham, hello Dorys death choss. Maybe the skin care is more valid now because he appears to age every time I pick him up to go climbing. Credit where it's due though, his psyche and enthusiasm and ability are evidence that age should not hold you back!'
In his blog, Nick also described the appeal(?) of climbing at Dorys on the Stigmata buttress...
'Stigmata takes climbing to a different, intense and psychologically bruising place, and the reward to the climber is also different. Having never taken drugs, apart from prescription and alcohol, I imagine climbing on Stigmata is akin to smoking crystal meth and possibly as addictive. Every little hold, every change in the colour of the rock, each creak, each slight movement (that's of the rock, not you), every pinch and pull, is dissected, inspected, respected. Every hold is viewed with heightened consciousness and paranoia. And when you pull over the top of the crag, the colours of the world around, pour into a brain near the edge of explosion.'
Mick, you've just made the third ascent of an E8 at 59. How much climbing are you doing these days, and was it a particular goal to climb Requiem for a Vampire?
I've been climbing for 44 years starting back in the dark ages when the use of aluminium for carabiners was seen as innovative! Keenness over that time has never waned, so now having given up work back in 2015 I can climb more frequently. A typical week would be climbing Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, running Monday and Wednesday and riding my bike (road) on Friday. Of course if the sun shines I could be tempted to go to the beach to top up the tan.
With regard to climbing Requiem for a Vampire, I was definitely led astray by Nick Bullock! I moved to the Lleyn in 2016 and have the pleasure of living just a mile from Craig Dorys. I was inevitably drawn to the crag and always wondered how it might feel to top out on Stigmata Buttress. Well, I guess I now know! As Nick says in his blog, if the rock was marginally better it would be the best cliff in the country!
What about your sport climbing grade - have you had to lower the intensity and focus on bigger trad numbers instead?
It's clear that to succeed at modern trad climbing, sport climbing fitness is essential. I don't think I'm improving on the sport grades I've achieved in the past but I am maintaining a decent level. I first climbed 8a back in 1987 and have climbed at least that grade every year since. The main factor for me in climbing hard either trad or sport is motivation, not motivation for the grade but motivation for the route, the line, the quality of the climbing or the quality of the experience. This year's 8th grade is still to come, but with a few irons in the fire I'm optimistic!
I think the key to success lies in being systematic in approach; train hard, climb hard (ashard as you are able), rest well, eat well and listen to your body, basically if it hurts don't do it! By that I don't mean the pain from pump or sore finger skin from a bouldering session, I mean tendons, ligaments and joints. Injuries can and will happen when least expected so I find a balanced approach works best.
Craig Dorys' Stigmata Buttress doesn't boast the best quality rock. What was it like to climb on? Were they good lines despite the choss?! In Nick's blog he mentions that you started dreaming of broken holds...
Haha, the quality of rock on the Stigmata buttress is a matter of opinion or legend! It's basically like climbing on Weetabix with a handful of Brazil nuts thrown in for extra crunch! The secret is to learn to climb like a gecko and slither between the Brazil nuts!
The dream (or nightmare) I had was about a section of Bam Bam about 2/3 the way up. I was happy to load the first decent crack for a while with cams until Nick said it expands. In the dream the whole pillar that the crack was part of fell down and I woke with a jolt! Needless to say I didn't use it after that.
The whole attraction with Stigmata for me is the quality of the lines, routes looking like that (on better rock) would have long queues.
"You know Paul Pritchard's introduction in your first book, the bit where he calls you a fucking nutter? When I first read that I though it a bit harsh, but he's spot on." - Mick on Nick, from Nick's blog.
What's it like climbing with Nick?
Haha...What a question! You're probably asking him the same question about me so I'd better be kind!
We've climbed together on and off for 6 or 7 years. The first route we did together was Skinhead Moonstomp on the Main Cliff at Gogarth. I didn't know him well at the time but since then I've been increasingly impressed with his dedication to climbing as a way of life and his ability to turn his hand to all forms of the sport with relative ease. He can tell a good tale too, I hope you've bought his book(s)!
What style did you and Nick climb Bam Bam and Requiem in?
We both headpointed the routes, placing all gear on lead.
I'm well aware of the ground up/on sight ethic of Llŷn climbing and where I can adopt that style I do. For example I did on sight Tonight at Noon E6 6b to the left of the Stigmata buttress. Nothing was chalked and my only prior knowledge was a few words from Nick.. 'the start is a bit wiggy' (colloquialism for a trouser-filler) and the move into the upper groove was a fight. I overcame the 'wiggy' bit by some tenuous wide bridging and approached the final groove with a big smile thinking I don't get pumped on holds this big! How wrong I was, within a few seconds the smile became a grimace and the fight ensued with me coming out on top by the skin of my teeth! Bam Bam and Requiem are of a different order, some devious gear placements, unstable rock and uncompromising steepness required a different approach from us anyway.
Are you still climbing with the Lancashire group from your heyday?
Sadly not, we keep in touch and bump into each other from time to time (Jerry Peel, Mick Johnston etc.) and snatch the odd day out whenever they find their way to Wales. Having said that I do get out more frequently with Dave Kenyon and Streaky Desroy who also live in North Wales and I went to Spain with John Dunne last year. (not that he's from Lancashire). I do keep in close contact with the guy that started me climbing back in the 70s, Steve Wilcock, he's sill active and always good for a day out and a bit of banter! Great friends, great days.
What's next for you?
Well, choss-meister Bullock is away on holiday for a couple of weeks and Streaky should be back from his euro-sabbatical so normal service resumed. Wait a minute though...bird bans are off the Red Walls next week so maybe not, and then there's always the Olympics in 2020...hahaha!
What advice would you give someone in their 50s and 60s who might want to push their grade/set themselves a goal to reach?
Advice? For the elderly activist? From me? Wow that's a tough one! Age is just a number (cliché). I think it's all about how you feel, and if you feel good don't stop! Because if you do stop, you will stop...