Sunday, 27 July 2014


Sometimes, it's just great. Sometimes a climb transcends the organisation, faff, logistical nonsense, massive amounts of driving, conditions, weather, midges, fear, doubt, uncertainty, and effort with such unarguable conviction, that it seems the quality of the climbing experience and the validity climbing lifestyle should never be doubted again  (until it rains or one gets injured or plans fall through or.....).

Lorelei was one of those such climbs. A slab at the end of the Loch Tollaidh agglomeration of humps, domes, buttress and crags, it wasn't what I was in the area for, and all I knew was: Stripteaser on the same slab had been good, if fiddly and bold; the guidebook said it was good but protection took some hunting (not true); it had had a couple of ascents recently (hmmm what did I expect, chalked holds and worn gear slots?), and it was in the shade most of the morning (crucial when the mini-heat wave made even lounging around in the sun exhausting, let alone trying to climb). So I went over and gave it a look...

Despite being in the shade I was a hot sweaty mess just from 5 minutes walk over from the first buttresses. It looked lovely but all I could think of was sweaty fingers sliding off slopers and swollen feet cramping up on smears. Loch Tollaidh is often in "good nick" so why not leave it for a cooler, fresher day when I could enjoy it rather than just get up it?? To delay the decision further, Steve fancied the rarely climbed E1 to the left, but the book had said it tended to be dirty so I offered to lead up, ab down, and scrub the holds and gear cracks to get it in more acceptable condition. A short while later and it was a relatively pristine E2 5b sandbag with some tricky moves and a hair-raising wee runout in the middle. Armed with a more accurate assessment, Steve went for it anyway, fought hard whilst I muttered encouragement down below whilst eyeing up my running belay flight path (steep and boggy) and got to the top with a fine effort.

Partly morally inspired and partly figuring I'd used up quite a bit of nervous energy on that attentive belay, I decided "just to give it a look", which usually ends up with me being so engrossed in the climbing process that the look becomes a committed involvement and actually climbing the damn thing. That wasn't really the conscious plan this time but of course it happened anyway.

I stepped up into the initial scoop, steady moves luring me up and left into less steady moves to exit the scoop. I took heed of the "protection takes some hunting" and stretched out to get a tiny flared offset out right, instructing Steve to perch as far right as possible so that when it inevitably ripped it would take a little bit of the force out of the bouncing groundfall rather than none at all. Luckily although continuing up left required some slopey stretches, I could see good holds so I just had to crank hard and knew I'd make it to respite and some better gear, well a tiny peenut in a hollowish jug, anyway. So far, so fairly serious, but with great rock and great slab climbing.

A pause for thought had me furtling around in a seam above, resulting in a classic "cluster of bollox" ((c) Pylon King 2004): RP1 slid in the back and held in place by smooth lichen (bollox), super shallow camalot resting on a quartz lip at the front (bollox), 00 C3 crammed and wedged behind some crystals (a bit bollox but took so much fiddling it should bloody stay in), and a 1 C3 in a slot that was actually, completely normal and decent (woot!). As predicted I ended up a hot sweaty mess from locking off and faffing around but this is the benefit of slabs with holds in hot weather, I could cool down enough to realise that with that much gear, I had better climb the damn thing now.

More excellent and elegant moves, a perfect combination of positivity AND friction had me standing above the break, and a final crank had me on a decent hold. This led to another vintage trad moment of faffing in more gear in a hollow undercut above before making the obligatory "one VS move" to a perfect seam and gear so deep it was half-way back to Loch Maree. The usual slab pump (?) was mounting at this point but with gear and holds getting better and better I just aimed upwards, pulled and rocked over and suddenly was in the blazing sunshine at the top.

What had gone from a definite abandonment, to a postphonement, to a tentantive attempt, had turned into a steady ascent that was pure pleasure from the start to finish. That was enough justification and enough effort for the day so after a couple more belays it was time to chill out:

Of course, I don't have any climbing photos, so here are some cows lounging on a beach:

I'm quite glad it's cooled down now. I'm sure the cows are happy either way, though.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Fatigue, Frustration, Fun.

It's been a good few weeks, with a good few days out. The weather gods have been unusually merciful and the typical sunshine and showers bollox has been interspersed with days of decent dry weather instead of days of more persisent rain. Of interest to me:

Fun / Fatigue - Iron Crag:
I've been a bit obssessed with Iron Crag this summer. Partly because I was never really aware of it until getting the very useful new-ish Eastern Lakes guide seeing a good crag for the first time is always exciting, and partly because having thoroughly revised that crag section and been recommended it by the old boys we met at Burnt Crag, I've been rather inspired by the bold and tasty wall climbing on offer. After several aborted chances I finally got down there for a good afternoon out, managed the crucial 15min (25min) final walk-in crux up a grass slope so steep you could turn it into granite and call it Etive, and managed to rattle off the two adjacent classics of Marble Staircase and Amabalite in reasonable order. Both were rather involving with delicate and intricate climbing and thoughtful and well-spaced protection. Classic Lakes-style wall climbing, and curiously enough as enjoyable as the routes were, they took enough out of me that I actually got a bit of mental fatigue and was happy enough not to climb the next day. Maybe I got a bit spoilt by the climbing-wall-style join-the-dots climbing at Reecastle ;)

Frustration / Fun - Glen Shian: 
I've been a bit obssessed with the Glen Shian slab for 3 years now. With the typical obscurity and obfuscation of the Scottish climbing scene, this delectable slab of rock was made famous with a Dave MacLeod E10 7a and two videos featuring that route and an adjacent E7/8 repeat, yet not publicised in any useful form. UKC added well to the confusion by providing no crag details but mentioning it as "at Glenfinnan, a few miles west of Fort William". It's at Glen Shian, 25 miles west of Fort William and 10 miles from Glenfinnan itself. GG!! Anyway I managed to scour a minimal topo from somewhere online, approach details from Kev Shields, and a couple of addition routes from people's blogs and Andy Nisbet. Finally I got there the other week, and it was worth the effort.....just. "Just" because of the effort involved, not because of the climbing. The effort being a god-knows-how-many-fucking-hours round trip to collect the Spaniard from Falkirk, then hoon across half of Scotland to the slab, then climb all afternoon, then drive back to Crianlarich, have the great idea to post the Spaniard back on a train from Glasgow, saving us both a bit of bother.....then get stuck with a completely unmentioned 15 minute delay at the Pulpit Rock roadworks, leaving us with about 45 minutes to do a 1 hour journey to the station. Suffice to say we made it, but I'm not proud of my driving - slowing down to errrr 90 to take bends safely is a bit much even for me.

Anyway, the climbing. It took a bit of experimentation to work out the correct onsight grades and make the most of this fine sheet of rock, but in the end we had a cool day out. Things didn't start so well, falling off a so-called slab route that ended up with desperate footless jamming, lowering off RPs on a so-called E4 (E5+) only to rip two RPs and a cam and snap another micro-wire, gulp. Then it got a bit still and midgey and I still wanted to give the mega-classic Frustration a go....well I got on it "just for a look" and then the first tied-down skyhook was pretty bomber and I could see some good quartz blobs to go for and suddenly there was no frustration at all and all the weirdness of previous encounters was washed away in a clean tide of pure slab climbing pleasure. To have the same experience, here's all the details.

 Crucial Times...


Fatigue / Fatigue - Binnian Shuas:
Finally something a bit out of my comfort zone. I know I can do 1 hour flattish walk-ins from semi-regular trips to Reiff's Leaning Block, I didn't know I could do that THEN stack a half hour uphill walk-in on top of that. Turns out I can, I think the early flat traipsing helps me warm up. Turns out I can also climb a mega-thuggy 40m crack pitch after all of that and after having crag supplies of the day consisting of: 1 small bread roll, a few spare salad leaves, some grapes, and a can of Red Bull ... But only just. Anyway BS just seemed like the right choice for the day, too warm for Creag Dubh and too far to drive elsewhere for a day, I only had one route I wanted to do (recently cleared by the legendary Iain Small, I'll be sending the bill for my finger skin grafts to him...) and the rest of the expedition would be good training whatever. Anyway I was mildly fatigued by the walk-in, very fatigued spending 30 minutes under the crux roof of Delayed Attack, trying to milk the cramped non-rest for what it was worth and wondering what the fuck was going on until I removed my wire from the crucial finger slot and removed a large chunk of skin from my finger pulling on it, and fatigued to the point of hallucinating beer and fish and chips at the end of the 4 mile walk out. Thankfully the Pitlochry Chinese/Chippy stays open late and freshly fried dinner ensured survival after all. Coping with the exhertion might open up some other possibilities (Creag Glhas, Stac Pollaidh) but I might restrict myself to once a month for such slogs, even when my legs can cope my sanity can only take so much plodding along!

Monday, 30 June 2014

On the concept of "6a" and other strange creatures.

6a (English technical grade, by which of course I mean the likely challenge and physical difficulty that entails rather than the mere number or any spurious status associated with quoting that number although at least technical grades seem less hyped up in the "OMG first E3 (Lead dog)" bullshit) is a strange beast to me. Since it's been at the perceived limit of my onsighting / flashing ability, it's always been a bit uncertain what it actually entails. 5c I'm usually sure I can do (physically, whilst still retaining a reassuring potential to fuck it up spectacularly with cowardice or pump or both), 6b I'm usually sure I can't do (or at least not with enough percentage success rate to make it worth attempting), 6a I think I can, I hope I can, but then again it might actually be HARD. Okay so that's what I'd be trying it for, and all the associated kinaesthetic pleasure, but it's still quite daunting! 6a always seems a bit uncertain and I'm never sure of my success rate.

Since I've moved to Scotland I've done 96 6a route moves on lead (80 in Scotland, 16 elsewhere). I've failed on about 7 (that's where I've actually tried the move and failed because it was too hard or I messed it up, rather than wimping out), including a few foot slips, a couple of missed holds, and a few where I simply didn't have the power. I suppose that's a fairly decent success rate?

I'd say out of those 90+ cruxes, I've found maybe 1/4 really easy and just like 5c, 1/2 reasonably tricky but comfortable enough, and 1/4 properly hard battles. I've been constantly surprised recently getting on 6a routes and finding the moves feeling steady (recent examples including Boxed @ Kintra, Stand And Deliver and Uijet @ Gruinard), despite my power to weight ratio being the worst it's ever been. I suppose I've been a bit like the numpties who are in awe of the concept of "doing an E1 and breaking into EXTREMES OMG" - blinded by my preconceptions of what the described challenge might entail. Perhaps I needed a good solid 5d grade to bridge the conceptual gap?

Maybe I have finally defused the fog of mystique surrounding that technical grade....

Maybe I'm running out of excuses to actually try some 6b routes....

Maybe I just to find some that really inspire me....

Or maybe I need to train more and get a bit stronger first....;)

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Mulling not moaning.

So after a month of scrappy climbing and tedious whining about it on here, I've actually done some good stuff. What I really needed was a few days away in great weather with plenty of routes to choose from and lots of mileage potential to get back into things before pushing myself a bit. So we went to Mull, my second trip there and every bit as good as the first. The North West breeze kept the midges away the entire time, the sun kept us very warm on the first day and the crag orientation kept us mercifully in the shade on subsequent days, climbing days started with a stove-top coffee pot and finished with a firm dram of Oban 15 yr old, in between they were packed with a lot of delectable wee granite routes and a final switch to Ardtun dolerite when our tips got too sore. We traipsed through a lot of bog and tussocks, I had bog foot every day but quite liked getting more walking training. We met stubborn highland cows in the middle of the road, cute puppies at the campsite, and mutant 4-horned sheep at Kintra.


And of course we admired the beach at Erraid although were too tired to sit and relax on it:

Overall a great trip. I do like getting a ferry over to climb somewhere too - it feels like a nice wee adventure, but all very civilised with a decent Calmac service and surprisingly fairly priced "pub grub" on board.

Since then I've also had a flying visit to Reecastle crag and rattled off a few routes in very quick succession: Gibbet Direct (nasty crux of the original, lovely finish), Thumbscrew (great fun moves, steady but bold) and Inquisition (rather exciting, two committing cruxes one bold and one physical, chuffed with this). Everything was bone dry with chalked holds and worn gear slots - quite a contrast to the cobwebs and heather of Scottish 3 star classics. Pity the crag isn't a mile long as it is truly brilliant. Hopefully more Lakes action soon.


Oh and before I forget. If you get wound up by something you read on my blog (probably not *this* post), you DO have a couple of options:

Option 1:

1. Think of a number between 4 and 8.
2. Double that number, and convert it to inches.

Option 2:

1. Move your mouse cursor to the cross in the top right corner and close this window.
2. Go to your browser options and "Delete history", just in case.
3. Never ever visit nor read my blog again.

I.e. if you don't like it, don't read it. This applies to anyone who gets wound up by it, whether you're a "big number" climber or a non-climbing groupie.

P.S. Options 1. and 2. are not mutually exclusive!

P.P.S. There is a hidden Option 3: Accost me personally and engage in sensible and vigorous debate about it...

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The ethics of failing.

Climbing is a pretty simple activity. Go to a crag, pick a route you like, read the grade and information from the guidebook, have a good look at it, get on it and try to climb it. If you're good enough to do the route you'll get up it and succeed, if you're not good enough you won't and you'll fail on it by falling off or resting or whatever. If it's a new route or an unrepeated route then there won't be the same / any information about it so you might need to inspect it further rather than climbing it normally, the same if it's a cutting edge of difficulty that hasn't been climbed normally (an extremely obvious distinction that needs no further comment, it applies throughout this post). But usually you'll turn up, climb from bottom to top and than you've done the route - and done the level of challenge the grade entails. Except:

First E5!!!! WOOOOOO ( Lead RP )
First E5 fail.

Worked on rope then went for the lead. Very happy first e5.
First E5 fail.

Probably could have onsighted this, but wouldn't have :) First E4!
First E4 fail.

First E4. Went okay after I found my sequence on the rockover. ( Lead RP )
First E4 fail.

first e4 stoaked!, although made a hash of placing cams low down in the crack and came off,
First E4 fail.

My First E2! Got it second go.
First E2 fail.

After Working, what a way to claim First E2!
First E2 fail.

First E2- took a tumble on the crux, got back on the horse and got it 2nd try.
First E2 fail.

seconded up it before then lead. first E2 without bolts!
 First E2 fail.

Ummmmm..... In an ideal world UKC would replace "Lead RP", "Lead dog", "Lead dnf" and of course "TR" with "Fail".

What is so difficult to grasp that if you're doing a route at the grade given for an onsight, you've do the route as an onsight?? I presume that if someone is running a 100m sprint, they know that the time recorded is from starting at the starting line and running to the finish line, and to do that time you don't start part way along or ride a bicycle?? It's just the same and just as simple in climbing, to do that grade you do it in the context given. Sure the grade is given to the route not the ascent, but equally bloody obviously it's given for doing the route in a particular style - not worked, not with a ladder against it, not bolting on holds, not aiding it or anything else.

Anyway, there's nothing wrong whatsoever with trying and failing. It's part of the process. God knows I've failed on more routes than most people have succeeded on. It annoys me when I do it but it's nothing to be ashamed of - if I've failed on a route I haven't done it, sobeit.

Of course.....there's a world of difference between trying and failing, and not even bothering to try at all, by choosing to top-rope first. Failure to do a route is one thing, failure to even try to do it is something else. To acknowledge a challenge, to see it and be inspired by it, and somehow deliberately choose to not engage with that challenge is....very strange behaviour. Why bother to go near it at all?? If you can't even try to do it, then simply don't - there are so many more other routes to actually try.

In the context of all this common bloody sense, it was quite perturbing to see people failing to top-rope dog a mega-classic Lake District E5 trade route at a clean, dry, roadside crag the other day. It's the incomprehensibility of it that gets me. At first I assumed they'd be on a much less ascended E7 next to it (given that's getting towards the realms of "rarely climbed normally"), but no....mega-classic trade route at a very normal leading standard. Sometimes I think I'd like to know the reasoning behind this "Oh I can't do this route, so I will not do it by hanging on a top-rope", but it's such an alien concept I'd have better luck trying to understand telepathy with a squid or a patch of moss. What about "Oh I can't do this route so I'll get more skillful from doing some of the other few thousand routes in the area and get fit slogging up hills and get strong at the Bowderstone and then actually try it"?? Pass the moss-squid, it might be able to grasp that concept.

Of course "people can do what they like as long as they don't damage the rock". Sure WHATEVER. Yawn, snore, etc. What a drab response that misses the point of the climbing experience: the experience is about pleasure, about excitement, about tackling challenges....about quality. And the quality of the routes is about the experience of climbing up them, not the non-experience of not-climbing them by top-roping/working. Top-roping doesn't just eradicate the challenge and the grade, it eradicates the quality and the star rating. Sure people can choose to not-climb something, they might claim to "enjoy" that, but it doesn't make it any less weird - people choose to have sex with animals too and claim to enjoy it... And yes that is an entirely fair and accurate comparison. Cheers!

Is This The Best View In Scotland??

....says the sign at the Highland Wildlife Park, overlooking the same entirely familiar and fairly mundane vista of the Cairngorms that everyone sees everyday driving past Kingussie. No it's not even in the top 20, nor probably the top 100 depending how detailed you want to go with your best views. It's not even the Best View Of The Cairngoms From The A9 - that accolade goes to driving back down from Inverness and seeing the Cairngorms covered in snow above the intervening countryside. Admittedly within the park itself, the view of a pair of enormous polar bears flopped out on their haunches, chilling out nibbling on meat and carrots just a few yards away is a contender for the best view. But taking the Scottish landscape alone, here are a few of my favourites:

1. Kinlochewe - the view down the valley to the end of Loch Maree:
2. Neist - the panorama of the Outer Hebrides with the pinnacle of An Teallach in the foreground.

3. Ardmair - the view of the bay, islands, and massive ridgeline framing it:

4. Steall Meadows - the view of the meadow and the waterfall as you pop out of Glen Nevis gorge, or better still, pop down from Wave having walked up the other way:

5. Ben Ledi, Eastern Trossachs, and Ochils - the view as you pop over the hill south of Stirling on the M80 and see the start of the Highlands open up, not the most amazing but the sheer amount of hills and mountains just after leaving the Central Belt.

6. Erraid - the view of the utterly perfect beach beneath the main climbing areas:

7. Sulliven - the view either from the Leaning Block cliffs or from Ledmore Junction. Either will do!

8. Loch Torridon - the view back from the viewpoint en route to Diabeg:

  9. The view back up Gruinard River from Goat Crags:

10. Pick one of the following: Loch Linnhe up to Fort William from the Mull ferry, looking South along the coast from Aultbea to Gairloch, Glen Torridon itself, the Buckle above Rannoch Moor, any view around Gruinard Bay, any view around Stac Pollaidh, the panorama of the coastline around Tongue with Ben Hope and Ben Loyal towering in the distance, the view from Diabeg over Applecross and Skye, or any of the other thousand amazing views....

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Athletic Attitude.

Embarassing as it is, I do actually know some non-climbers. Some of them are unavoidable (family), some of them are due to odd circumstance (a few friends). Quite often they accost me with bizarre proclamations:

"You're looking fit."
I might look *whatever*, but that is irrelevant to me. Half the time I look okay I've still been too lazy and inactive.

"You seem to have lost weight."
No I haven't. I've put on 3 pounds since you last saw me and have been desperately failing to shift it.

"You're heading back home to go to the gym? You're crazy."
No, I'd be crazy NOT too. I have to keep fit and I have to keep training. That *should* be normal for me.

"You're like the Duracell bunny, you never sit still."
No. I really wish this was true, but it's the polar opposite. I spend far too much time sitting on my fat arse, being inactive, badly motivated, and disorganised.

"Stop moaning about being weak, you're much stronger than normal people."
So? I don't care about comparisons with normal people, I care about what feels right for me, and what is right by my standards and the standard of the activity I'm involved with.

"Don't worry about not exercising today, you can have a day off."
No, I absolutely cannot and must not. I MUST keep exercising for my own health (DVTs + seeming high tendency to weight gain) and my own sanity (passionate about an activity that requires fitness and strength).

Basically non-climbers look at me and think I'm doing great physically. This highlights two things to me: Firstly that their standards are the utterly wrong ones for me to pay attention to and judge myself by, and secondly, when I consider their comments by the correct standards, then whilst I am generally doing "okay" physically for myself and my climbing, I'm not doing "great".

I am a CLIMBER*. I am passionate about and dedicated to a challenging physical (and mental) activity, and I enjoy pushing myself and progressing (or maintaining) my ability in that activity. It's not something I "do", it's something I "am".  The standards I judge myself by are those of an athlete - albeit an amateur punterish athlete, but an athlete nevertheless. Ideally I focus on that activity, I do it a lot, and I train both generally and specifically for it. Ideally I would have an athletic attitude, to get the most out of what I enjoy doing physically.

Except, of course, I don't: * - I am a climber but that is sort of mixed in with being a geek, being a gamer, being a depressive sort, oh and being a bit of a cripple too. My attitude is tainted with a whole load of issues that you fuckers don't need to know the details off but that inhibit my desires and motivation and encourage me to sink into ruts of inactivity, whilst my tangential other interests allow me to wallow in those ruts all too easily. Hardly the attitude of an effective athlete, is it??

I need to have that athletic attitude. Not in a rigid, dry, monotonous, excessively regimented and scheduled sort of way because whilst I want to be a better person I don't want to be that sort of better person, and the regimentation doesn't really work with my climbing passion. This is why I'm writing about ATTITUDE, the attitude of training and exercise and activity being the complete normal status quo. It's more of a generalised way-of-life thing. In which I am fit.....I do maintain (or even lose) weight.....I go to the gym often because that is totally normal.....I don't sit still all the time....I do keep strong.....and maybe then, with the right attitude, I could even afford the occasional day off because it will be in the context of regular, normal, dedicated action and activity.