Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Learnings.


 

Some sleep, some time relaxing and downloading some top quality dark minimal techno means my thoughts have....shifted on from the trouble of yesterday. They make a bit more sense than before, and I've learnt some stuff:

Taking a beanie for rest ledges is a pretty smart idea.

I can still do one leg squats from cold, sometimes the best warm-up!

My new tiny BD Offset swedges are nice and a bit more inspiring than the brass versions.

I can do an alleged 6b move on lead, probably because it's easy 6a. So that technical grade should be as widely encompassing as 6a is.

I can do an alleged E5 section of climbing well, probably because it's only E4 with a skyhook and common sense.

I can get myself into the state to commit to both of the above even when feeling a bit perturbed and ropey.

I can commit to moves and pull reasonably hard on holds....if there are holds. I was pulling pretty fucking hard yesterday but there weren't holds for 3 of my limbs, and that was the problem - features and friction and gritstone style climbing. I was fully going for the moves and if I'd had any sort of pullable hold I might have got through it. So if I keep wary of grit-style dolerite at the moment, there is hope.

As always I'm doing a lot with logistics and tactics to compensate for being fat and weak. This is good but I need to do it right. I was complacent with the upper part of BR/N because I'd done it before. I was casual and rushed into it because I "knew I could do it". Casual is good for safe easy ground and complacent is good for nothing. Preparing a bit better would have helped - not the gnawing away like I did with the issues of the other cruxes, but at least an acknowledgement that all of a challenging climb requires attention. 

I might feel calm enough to put some of that into action...

Monday, 25 August 2014

Time to try??


I think?? I don't know. I thought I did but maybe I don't.

I've been a good boy this summer. I've realised that my physical ability is waning whilst my trad climbing ability is holding steady, so I've kept training and tried to keep fit. I haven't had many days out but on most of them I've done a challenging route or two. When I've trained in the meantime I've felt I'm holding steady with all physical aspects, rather than regressing. So far, so groundwork.

I've still got many inspirations in Scotland, albeit fewer than before last year's great climbing. As the numbers dwindle, the numbers increase - most of the remaining routes are "hard for me". I haven't wanted to get on them in mid-summer but now the weather is cooling down a bit, the window of sensible attempts has opened....but of course it will shut again in a couple of months.

So maybe now is the right time to try a bit harder, get on some more desirable and incidentally more difficult routes.

Except after this evening's debacle I'm not so sure. I tried something "hard for me", Bladerunner Direct at Auchinstarry. I put a lot of thought and attention and emotional turmoil into this - visits spent just looking and playing around on the bottom wall, visualisations of sequences and logistics, buying a BD Offset Swedge for the one bit of possible gear as my old HB 00 offset looked too soft. I played around more and worked through worries about the lower wall (supposed crux) and the Bladerunner mantle (supposedly serious without the very high BR siderunner). The evening was dry with a cool breeze, my partner was actually the first ascentionist of BR, I'd reassured myself that falling off the lower wall would still give me the option of doing BR itself, so the omens were good enough to get on it.

The supposed lower crux was committing but easy, the mantle was committing but easy. I was thrilled to get those mental hurdles out of the way, although in retrospect they add nothing to the objective difficulty of the original route, but maybe a bit to the quality? Resting for ages and fiddling gear for ages in the "just out of view for the 5'8" climber" micro-slot, I recovered almost all my poise and focus. Now I just had the technical but protectable crux of BR....which turns out to be the overall crux of BRD and it's pretty hard but eventually I cranked through it to the pocket where Nijinski joins the route....I never had any worries about the final moves from there, I'd already done them blind and with distant gear. Except....except....I'm on the pocket, tiny cam in, doing the layback....except I'm not, I'm sliding, my left-hand is slipping one slap up one slap down my foot won't go on the ripple I'm compressing so much I'm surprised my wrists don't crack and I'm OFF.......

I can't believe it - and those are the only words I can say for several minutes. I'm not angry, I can't even describe my feelings, my mind and vocal chords incoherent with shock and disappointment. So much mental wrestling and determination invested into three anticipated cruxes and I somehow fell off the easy bit. Actually, I DO know how. When I did Nijinski it was December and crisp, today was August and although there was a cool breeze it was warm rock from the prow's usual sunbathing - fine for gaston rockovers and positive mantles and square-cut layaways to pockets, but obviously unsuitable for slopey arete layaways when all chalk has been ground off by the previous powerful crux. My friend Tris and I had discussed harder dolerite and concluded to treat it more like quarried grit....and like quarried grit the oft-positivity can fool you into getting involved when warm edges feel okay and suddenly surprise slopers don't. I abseiled down and the arete felt rubbish.

Anyway I tried a bit harder and found the easy bits can be as hard as the hard bits. Logistics and tactics are often about the planning and pacing and balance of easy and hard bits and god knows how I feel about that now.

Hmmmm. Mostly....tired, I think.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Aberdeen Angles.


Steep, steep or steep?? I did find a nice slab but I was on my own and although it was vaguely soloable the jagged rock-shelf landing sloping straight into the sea with whatever broken limbs would still be attached put me off so I moved swiftly on to the next day with PJ and onto the steepness. The highlight of the day being some good honest Wet Pussy, a route that curiously enough is described (presumably in the Deep Water guide) by Rockfax as "soloable" despite jagged rock-shelves perching below the 8m high off-balance crux as well as a rib to bounce off before you get there. Maybe at a high tide you might have a metre or so of water to not-cushion the fall, but the obvious conclusion is: Rockfax can be fucking idiots and the inability to edit their fallacious descriptions on the UKC database is a fucking farce. Anyway I led the route - if the amount of faffing around and up-and-down-climbing I did can be described as a conventional lead - and it was very good with a fully committing crux.

Since gently overhanging trad is not nearly enough, we retired to Long Slough to attempt Bob's Overhang. I tried to warm-up by traversing around and climbing up and down to the crux a couple of times which resulted in a feeling exactly like trying to warm-up at TCA on Core and Holdz holds - raw hands, sore inner joints, and a rapidly diminishing will to climb anything. I've been training a lot recently, indoor leading, bouldering, and gym-work, just to get strong enough for this sort of malarkey, and lo and behold it still seemed utterly fucking desperate. So I backed off, PJ went for it and fell off, and we concluded it was nails and I'm only coming back after several weeks of prior 30 & 45° board specific training, obviously what I'd expect to have to do to get up a route at a grade I climb every week this summer????

Of course this is the coast and the usual rules don't apply - which keeps the locals happy but does mean that normal climbers have to change their perceptions a bit. I haven't pushed myself in the area for nearly a year (I blame my friends up there for spawning and thus having much less time to climb) so it will take a bit of getting used to again. I'm not sure why I've neglected Scotland's most significant rainshadow but I've got some psyche back now and it goes like this:

Running Wild, Craig Stirling - because I like the style (boulder problem to a rest to a wild finish) and it's an amazing line. I'm still quite worried how desperate the start looks, I've taken a photo of the lower wall to train for it!
The Pugilist dir, Floor's Craig - because despite failing on the original way starting up the MM groove, I never even got the to Pugilist proper so the arete direct start is game on! And it looks cool.
Prehistoric Monster, Earnsheugh - because I really like Earnsheugh climbing, this looks great.
Necromancer, Earnsheugh - Same as above, I've abbed down it many times with my gaze averted, but glimpses across from Death Cap make it look great.
Pow Pow, Pow Kebuck - because I've finally found it on this weekend's recce, and it looks really rather cool, a nice off-piste aim.
Who Dares Wings It / Where Seagulls Dare, Johnsheugh - cos Johnsheugh is good and I want to do more there.
Bob's Overhang, Long Slough - because....I don't really know. It still might be possible. Maybe.
Africa Face, Longhaven - because now I've learnt to slap for holds above gear, this might be possible for me, plus it's a great bit of rock.
Waltzinblack, Red Tower - because I tried before and backed off just because it was too warm, I'm sure it would be fine and a nice bit of rock.

Gah, that's quite a lot (cunningly all non-tidal and mostly quick drying, god knows I'll need all the help I can with the ever-fickle conditions up there). I better keep training then!!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Distilling it down...


If the pleasure of a whole single route is not specific enough, how far can one refine and distill down the experience?? 

Starting...the day...

A quick hit single day trip down to the Lakes, sandwiched between two days of relentless summer showers, the only evidence of which was one tiny 18" long seepage streak on an otherwise bone dry crag in fresh breezy conditions. A clear plan with Adam, easy back up options, a reasonable start and a triple shot of coffee crammed into one Costa Express Regular size cup. Some high quality techno and a relatively lack of Lakes bumbly driver queues got us to Bowderstone Crag in good time.

Distilling it further...the crag...

A singlularly impressive buttress that does for harder trad what it's fallen sibling The Bowderstone does for harder bouldering. I'd never been before as it's not exactly the Borrowdale venue of choice for the low-extreme leader, but Wheels Of Fire had been inspiring me for a couple of years now, whilst Adam had the monumental choice between an E7 6b with F7a/+ climbing and very spaced gear, or an E6 6c with F7c/+ climbing and no less than 18 (!) pegs. Scary or sporting? At least my choice was simple, although it took a while to get over the badly timed caffeine crash and get on with it.

Distilling it further...the route...

Two pitches, the bounding corner of the lower half of Hell's Wall, and the shield of rock overlooking it above. I'd seen a few comments on UKC about doing the top pitch only, but of course I wanted to do the whole lot in one go. 30 minutes later hanging on badly placed wires in the god-awful steep, slippery, painful groove perched just near enough to the easy slab below to guarantee twatting it on rope stretch from the awkward and exhausting moves, I could see why people only did the top pitch, given it's accessible by 2 minutes of scrambling. Could I deal with the horror and shame of not getting the full tick?? Well why not do the classic top pitch and see how it feels??

Distilling it further...the pitch...

The belay - already tested from Adam warming us up on Vahalla, another miserably awkward thrutch up a steep slippery corner, with possible the worst move in Borrowdale as the crux - offers a good launching pad and a great view along the hanging wall and the gibbering leader i.e. ME. It seems to be steady climbing to a slabbifying lip and then a sheer crux above. Instead it turns out to be continuously technical climbing even to get out there, in retrospect the high standard of climbing (not a move below 5b) is very good, but at the time it feels like I'm in at the deep end and doggy paddling for my life. But I fiddle in enough gear and contrive some sort of shake-out perched above the void.

Distilling it further...the situation...

I guess the shake-out must have been good because I was there for a typically long time. Calming down, cooling down, fiddling in more gear - 5 bits in the seam to the right of me. On photos on UKC I could see the gear some way right of the crux on one rope, and assumed there must be something on the left rope much closer to the crux.... No, no there wasn't. Sure the gear was good but testing it would involve getting a good view of the Hellish crux a long way below. On with the climbing then.

Distilling it further...the set-up...

The crux is a long reach apparently. The other crux is also a long reach. A high bridge and long stretch gains an unmatchable edge still some way off the next good crimp rail. I still don't want to test the fall just yet, so more shaking and teetering and swapping pump in my arms and feet. My brain isn't too pumped yet as I change to a tinier, closer foothold and make the stretch, and extended scrabbling gets me fully committed on the main rail. It's good but there's little time and even less reason to hang around and think about it.

Distilling it further...the move...

I look up....and higher up still and see the next hold. Feet up and out in another high bridge, but this time it's beyond stretching. I coil up for a lunge....without looking sideways, my brain visualises the gear a little bit down and a long way right, my awareness acknowledges the fall potential, my memory recalls 3 days ago at Ratho, doing falling practise as I do almost every session. Bolt beneath my feet, looking down, dropping into space. The familiarity with that situation quietens down most of my concerns about the fall, and the thoughts have passed through my mind in fractions of seconds. I slap upwards.

Distilling it further...the hold...

Even committing, even slapping, I'm not sure that I will make it. Even getting the hold, I'm not sure that I have. It's good, I think, well that's what half a first joint on the sharp lip is telling me. I micro-slap again, am I on or off? Still on. Another micro-slap, I'm pretty sure I'm on? Another adjustment and match and I've held it. Scream up to a good loose jug, slap a sling over it, spend a couple of minutes hyperventilating and trying to remove the flash pump to do one easy 5b finish move in a couple of seconds.

All concerns or queries or regrets about the first pitch or the faff or anything else are gone. All that matters are those moments of catching and re-catching and re-catching the edge until I had it. One move, one hold, one hand, I can still imagine the feeling beneath my fingertips.

Of course, I am really happy with the route because it is brilliant. 15 metres of top quality wall climbing and spacewalking. I'm even happier committing to a slap above gear. Last year I slapped for a hold with a bolt beneath my feet, this year I slapped for a hold with trad gear beneath my feet. That is pretty special to me. 3 years ago I'd have got to the first crux and backed off it, unwilling to commit to even that. 2 years ago I'd have done the first crux and then slumped sideways off that, unwilling to risk the full fall. Last year and this year I'm able to commit to that move - well this time at least, maybe next time I will be a fanny and back off, but then again maybe not, the potential is there and that is reassuring.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Lorelei


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...

Frustration....

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....;)