Wednesday, 22 December 2010

F@©king Friction!!

The video below is based on a true story, well indeed it IS a true story.

I've always known how important conditions, friction, dry skin, chalk, etc etc are, but seldom have I experienced it with such shocking clarity. I was genuinely bemused and boggled how much of an effect it can have, even after all these years as a sweaty bugger.

This boulder problem is one I tried last time I was at the boulder, with a distinct crux making a steep crossover from a LH angled sloper/seam to a RH juggy pinch. This was shutting me down before but I was feeling pretty close to it when the evening had cooled down. This time I started off feeling very un-close to it, unless one defines close as "hugely distant with no chance of doing the bloody move". A source of much consternation given I'd planned to use the so-called -8'c to wrap this one up and move on elsewhere. But instead I had to wait and wait and wait and bank my hopes on it feeling easier once the evening cool returned.

Those hopes not so much came true as thundered down upon me and the boulder in a cataclysmic strike of cold air, truth, justice and bouldering righteousness. I don't think I'd fully grasped just how crucial the feel of the left hand-hold was until I went from woefully floundering at the move to being able to cruise it comfortably most goes, and thence did the problem first proper attempt. I swear as the sun set the problem must have dropped 3 grades in 15 minutes, for me it was from impossible to easy. And also "kinda okay" to "rather enjoyable".

Conditions and friction: dry hands + less sweat + less chalk needed + firmer skin on the rock texture + firmer rubber on the rock surface = a huge difference. It's SCIENTIFIC FACT, bitches.

P.S. Now I've got bloody gayflu and might not have anything to say before Spain.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Gym'll Fix It.

Sorry. Very sorry. I can't be trusted with a blog. Nor the internet. Nor a keyboard.

Anyway. Training, again. I have got some syke back for it. Which might be why my body has politely requested a rest day.

Thu - Gym
Fri - Ratho routes
Sat - (rest)
Sun - Ratho bouldering
Mon - Gym
Tue - Ratho routes
Wed - Gym
Thu - (rest)
Fri - Gym
Sat - Fat Buddha bouldering
Sun - Transition routes

Not bad. The gym is featuring heavily, it is reasonably convenient, I can do it on my own, I can do fitness training I can't do outside, it balances out the climbing, it doesn't aggravate my finger, and unusually I am actually vaguely motivated for it - this last factor being a radical break from tradition. I tend to do 25 mins recumbent cycling, either 20 mins rowing or 10 mins rowing and 2x7 mins arm cycling, and 30 mins mixed weights. This seems to be a relatively un-tedious combo, at least when backed up with an adequate supply of DnB mp3 mixes. What effect it is having on my weight, health, and climbing fitness, I don't really know, but I feel good doing it - so it probably is good. I'm going to keep going this week, mix in some outdoor bouldering, and probably be forced to have 3 rest days over Xmas, BLEH.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Snow down / slow down.

It's a fairly odd time at the moment. I am shit but still syked. It snowed a lot. Then everything was covered in snow and ice apart from the things that weren't and were too warm. Now it's all melted and everything is damp including Ratho which has streams pouring out of the old comp wall. I've been taking things steady down the wall through necessity, same with the bouldering too - certainly not pushing hard and crimping like a demon. So my 2003-tweaked finger has come back and retweaked HOW THE CHOADING HELL. I'm getting syked for training and going to the gym too. This has had the noticable benefit of me feeling at least as unfit and tired on routes if not more so. It's not making any sense.

One thing that is making sense is that I've got a mini trip booked to Costa Blanca between Xmas and New Year. Look, I've got email confirmation from Easyjet. So that's real. My climbing out there could be surreal, unreal, or just plain fictious. God only knows. It's what I'm training for anyway. A shining beacon of merely possible failure, gleaming through the dank fog of certain failure.

Other than that I want to make some more exciting plans abroad (thinking of Malta and Morocco at the end of Jan), keep bouldering and pull my finger out and push myself as much as errr that finger allows, get out tradding too, keep exploring, keep fit, get some vestige of stamina back. Not much to ask when it's all inspiring despite the lack of sense ;).

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Really balmy at the Rankin Boulder.

I visited the Rankin boulder in early Autumn, it was too warm. I visited recently in the middle of the apparent deep freeze (deciding that 1'c and sun in Galloway might be preferable to -10'c and sun in Glen Nevis), and it was too warm.



The Sun:
Was warm and strong and shining straight onto the rock out of a clear blue sky. Truly it was gorgeous, a perfect winter sun. However while everywhere else emphasised the winter, this location emphasised the sun. The rock basked in it all day making for an exceptionally pleasant situation but unexceptional friction. Until the sun set, which heralded a valuable drop in temperature which was chased by a less valuable drop in light levels. Alas the latter caught up with the former before I could tackle the more inspiring problem there, a curious bulging prow which starts as for the easy central groove and rapidly gains good holds and steady if slappy ground on the rib. I found despite appearances that rapid gain is also an abruptly difficult gain so I'll have to go back for it sometime.

The Rock:
Is both good and bad. The rock is good, a sizable and shapely stone with a clean aspect, generally good landings and decent lines. The rock is bad, a belligerently abrasive granite with a texture that shreds more than it grips. Thus a combination that promises a bit more than it delivers - captivating from a distance, coarser and cruder closer up. Again, conditions-dependent, for pleasure as much as power.

The Climber:
Was okay! I struggled with the warmth and the rock. Then I didn't. Then it got dark. And I got a flapper in my thumb. And my shoes full of snow from the walk-in. But I did okay, I only flashed a couple of the easiest problems (both completely randomly overgraded). The others I could have done in colder conditions. The harder one inspired me more than I initally thought. One bonus was my tweaky finger (tweaked years ago and randomly recurring because I haven't been pushing it and I haven't been crimping hard, WTFingF??) felt fine, much better than it did down the wall on previous nights. I am also continuing the strong theme of colour coordinated bouldering garb. Whether this actually works, I don't know.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Little bit of krushing at Loch Katrine.

Taking advantage of the OMG-snow-end-of-the-world-winter-apocalypse-/-awesome-bouldering-conditions weather, I've had a wee visit to the Loch Katrine boulders. This is rather long overdue - not least because they are GOOD. Good lines, great scenery, superb rock. Nothing like the usual flakey bollox, but a delightfully rough and butchly clean-cut schist. The walk-in is potentially a bit tedious but I drove down the private road and waved my "On Warfarin due to bilateral DVTs" medical card and politely asked to park there to save my poor wee legs, which worked and was the first part of a very fine session. The second part was seeing the inspiring lines and scenery. Third part, chalking my hands and touching the rock and oh my god the friction. Possibly the best conditions I've ever bouldered in, I felt I could just mollusc my way up things. Not much different to my usual climbing style then ;).

The fourth and conclusive part was climbing pretty well, flashing a few good problems and effectively flashing another (note to self: read guidebook properly and aim for the true and easier line not some harder version). The only disappointment was not managing the classic butch sloper problem "Fight Club". Curiously I was wondering if I was doing so well earlier on solely because of the conditions, but FC is totally conditions dependent and still felt nails. So as usual the grades are nonsense. But the climbing is good and probably the best bouldering session I've had since spring 2009.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

On The Merits Of Being Shit.

At the moment, I am shit.

My fitness is shit - I feel physically sluggish in general, I am a tigger without a bounce. I've slacked off on the CV training and with my leg issues I can't afford to do that.

My climbing fitness is shit - I get pumped and tired so much quicker than normal. Not just on routes, even on boulder problems, I get out of breath.

My weight is shit - I'm the heaviest I've ever been, more than a stone heavier than 3 years ago. And not all of that is pure beefy muscle :(

My strength is shit - Probably due to the weight issue, but I really can't seem to haul my lardy arse in an upwards direction. I dread to think how few pullups I can do.

My skin is shit - but that's normal heh.

My attitude is shit - I still think I can climb as well as I have during the better points of this year....deluded, I go into each session kidding myself I'm better than I currently am. I'm not adjusting to my new physical needs, I'm not dedicated enough to training in various ways.

My technique....isn't any more shit than usual - I do feel I'm moving okay on rock and in touch with what balance and footwork I usually have.

My finger strength....isn't as shit as the rest - I do feel that I can hang on smallish holds, just can't pull very far on them.

My inspiration....isn't shit - I do feel happy that I've got so inspired by bouldering over winter, AND I'm getting syked and getting ideas for next spring too. Definitely "true to self".


As Duncan Disorderly is fond of saying, "You can't have fun when you're weak". I could never really identify with that. But now, for the first time ever, I might even be weaker than Dunc. That is a dirty, sordid feeling with an unwholesome air of inherent wrongness.

Basically I have to wake up and put some fucking effort in. The good thing about being weak is you can get strong, the merits of being shit are that you can improve, progress, and learn. What I need to learn is to get into good habits of overall physical activity and training - not just climbing, but general training that will crucially benefit my health and undoubtably benefit my climbing too. IF I can learn to that, that will be very good. If I can't, I will just have to keep trying and battling with my bad habits.

I think my climbing desires are in touch with the season.

I think my climbing needs are also in touch with the season.

I now need to address those needs so I can meet those desires.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Terrific Torridon, Righteous Reiff.

Had a fun long weekend on my own exploring bouldering in the mighty North West. Was due to meet a guy to do some routes with but he had to pull out so I just kept bouldering. Staying in a nice hostel (well, pretty crude hostel but attached to a rather swish hotel which I was allowed to lurk in....sitting in front of a roaring fire, supping in a cask strength 20yr old Jura under the stern gaze of several stag heads, pretty nice ;)), driving many miles around, enjoying great weather, beautiful scenery and the probably the best bouldering in Scotland.

Not much more to say. It's cool. I'll be back.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Romping about at the Restil Boulders.

I quite like the Restil Boulders. Although there are very few of them, the lines are good, the rock is a good schist, more compact and square-cut rather than contorted and flakey, the walk-in although revoltingly tussocky is suitably short and the surrounding views are pretty dramatic.

They're also good in winter as those same surrounding views transform into heavily snowcapped peaks, the sometimes boggy ground freezes into manageability, and the boulders stay fairly clean and sunny....if you're there when the sun is still on them. I wasn't so I had to make do with shade - and correspondingly good friction :) - but it was still a good, if brief session. If only there was a bit more there...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

County account...

...has been opened. For bouldering at least - I've done a few routes there before. One of my favourite self-indulgent stunts is waiting for people to ask me, an outsider, if I've ever climbed in Northumberland. "A little bit....only Back Bowden, Berryhill, Bowden, Callerhues, Corby's, Crag Lough, Curtis Crag, Drakestone, East Woodburn, Goat's Crag, Great Wanney, Jack Rock, Kyloe In, Kyloe Out, Peel Crag, Raven's Crag, Ravensheugh, Rothley, Sandy Crag, Selby's Cove, Simonside and South Yardhope" I answer with a poker face but without modesty. I still want to add Howlerhirst and Linshields to my list.

I've also done a few boulder problems there before, mostly at Kyloe In (when recovering from golfer's elbow) and Hepburn Out (when recovering - or thinking I was recovering - from DVTs). Both really rather good. Of course there is so much more than that, indeed a whole guidebook full of hugely innaccurate grades and "not to scale" maps etc etc, and to optimise winter climbing I've realised I need to explore the County a lot more. I've started with a visit to Dove Holes (the bouldering venue, not the Dove Dale caves nor the village near Buxton), despite a deluge overnight it was sunny and idyllic and indeed a bit warm for bouldering as shown in the video below, but pretty good fun. Alas I ran out of daylight / courage for the better and higher problems but I'll be back for sure.

In a generally very fine afternoon, one disappointment was my renewed punterness. This time I didn't need stamina of course, but did notice that I seemed to get tired and out of breath even on boulder problems. Partly due to the penis-grinding mantle top-outs, and probably partly due to not breathing well enough, but it is still rather odd. Particularly since I went to the gym on Thu night and had my best recumbent cycling / rowing fitness session so far. So why do I get so tired on 1 minute of strenuous bouldering?? Maybe this is the same issue as getting so tired in Arco?? Anyone got any thoughts??

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


I'm back from a long autumn sun bolt-clipping weekend in the Italian sport climbing mecca of Arco. There were many cool things over this mini-trip... Exploring a whole new area, the gorgeous scenery around the top of Lake Garda, 3 days of warm sunshine, hooning around in my tiny Fiat Scroto hire car (dropping it down into 2nd at 70kph to overtake being quite ineffectual fun, as well as trying to slide on mountain hairpin bends), eating ace pizza and other Italian delicacies, hanging out with my old mates and their wee monkey boy (e.g. after knocking over ice cream dish in a face-pulling contest: L: "Daddy are we BOTH idiots??"... D: "Yes....yes we are.") in a tiny little cabin, endless choadly banter and a fair bit of chilling out.

Note that something is missing from that list...the climbing?? Yes, the climbing. There was some. Not as much as I would have liked, and I was rubbish at it. I did a few routes, tackled a few challenges, and most of what I did was pretty good. Most of what I failed on was pretty good too, and there was more of that than I would have liked. D wasn't on form either, and so aptly put it "punters in crime" ! There were some general issues - the consensus was the grades were stiff, some areas were fairly polished and ludicrously overchalked, with their clientele having a particular bad habit of chalking every shite undulation on the rock EXCEPT the best holds, and climbing in the warm sun didn't help. Despite this I felt I was climbing technically fine, and with a fair amount of conviction (albeit the usual fear of falling even on sport routes). But I just seemed to get very pumped and rather tired pretty quickly, and I'm not really sure why.

Even before I left I was rubbish at Ratho and at other training. It seems odd that after a reasonable summer climbing I'm *less* climbing fit than before. The only possible suggestion was that I might just need a wee break. Maybe this is right although with my fucked up body it's really hard to tell what's best for my fitness. However....I'm doing that for now and will see what happens.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Changing seasons, changing styles.

The previous weekend in Aberdeen definitely heralded the arrival of autumn, and possibly winter too as the bleaker seasons tend to blur together up here in the windswept wastelands. Leave were swirling off the trees, the sun's lazy low angle made the warmth of it's light exceed the warmth of it's glow, the air felt cool in the lungs and the rock cold under the skin. I was still syked for trad as it is objectively and factually the best, most fun and most rewarding form of climbing, but I got an increasing urge to sample the friction and power of bouldering (and sport, to a lesser degree).

So although I'm keen to maximise the trad potential this winter, I'm just as keen to mix it up with bouldering as the conditions dictate. In the end I've explored a fair amount of good trad this year, and the few outstanding (in terms of unvisited status AND quality) venues won't be suitable in winter, so when it really is too grim for trad I'll turn my exploring urge to bouldering. I've very rarely travelled far to boulder, apart from Font it's just been one weekend with Ogs in Wales, and a couple of the Official Lads Bouldering meets. But you have to travel far to get the best out of Scotland and bouldering is no exception. Thus trips to Mull, Inverness, Torridon and Reiff are being planned, as well as Northumberland too. This should hopefully mean more time on the rock and more fun :). Mix and match and go with the flow.

Related to that, the other good option in winter is of course winter sun sport climbing. As always my urge is exploration, particular atypical options away from the homogenous Euro-limestone. I'm still gathering ideas for that, but in the meantime, Sir Choadington Choadalot of Choadsbury is out in Arco with his family, and I've got some time to take a long weekend out there. Thus another change in style, back to some last minute emergency training. Recent Ratho visits confirm I'm not fit....but getting fitter. It's nice to have something to work towards, and that thing itself will be a good top-up for now too.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Going okay at Glen Ogle.

I dashed out for an evening this week. Everyone in Scotland was getting all giggly and dribbly that "winter" had arrived (removal of brain cells being one of the best weight-saving tactics for Scottish winter climbers). They're not wrong. JB called the grit and conditions were pretty ace for bouldering - crisp cold and dry. I even kept my t-shirt on, well, sort of t-shirt. The main thrust of the video below is to show off the new threads rather than show off the actual problems. I'm sure you'll agree it's a winning combination...hmmm...

Glen Ogle is like most schist bouldering and indeed some general Scottish bouldering, a bit crap really...but kinda okay too. Glen Ogle doesn't have too many of the usual detriments, access is fairly easy, walking around the boulders is tolerable, the lines are okay as are the landings, and it's not too lowball. The rock is a bit flakey and there's a lot more boulders than good boulder problems but it wasn't bad for a wee easy circuit. Just nice to play around on rock on a fresh evening. The most aesthetic problem is also the most gruesome - Pyramid Lip, a campus traverse into a haemorrhage / hemorrhoid-inducing mantle onto a slab - a brief play on this confirmed it wasn't as randomly overgraded as the other problems and will require some serious effort a later date. Worth going back for I think. Overall it was a good opening to the winter season :).

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Aimless although amiable amblings around Aberdeen.

Bit late with this, I've been lazy / busy (delete the latter as applicable). Last weekend I had another weekend in Aberdeen to escape the Wet(-ish) West. The Aberdeen coast is a sometimes good and often useful climbing venue, sheltered from the regular soakings that afflict most of the mountain areas in Scotland by, errr, most of the mountain areas in Scotland. It was criminally missed out of Gary's Scottish Rock books, his "reasoning" that it's often birdy or greasy being particularly insubstantial given that the rightly much-lauded Highlands And Islands are pissing with rain 33% of the time, submerged under snow 33% of the time, and heaving with midge death squadrons 33% of the time. Not even the slightest mention of Aberdeen or the Costa Del Moray Coast as useful alternatives, instead the space being taken up with gimmick photos of Mull non-move-wonders and verbose page-filling descriptions of exact protection for mountain E7s....hmmm....

ANYWAY. I went there. It was fairly dry. It was also fairly cool, a brisk south-westerly meaning it was either cold in the sun or cold in the shade. Not really a problem for me but it made it tricky choosing the right venues overall. In the end I did a bit of bouldery trad at Long Slough (short but quite fun and interesting rock), a bit of bouldery sport at Cambus O'May (not as bad as I feared, quite inspiring for Aberdeen sport climbing), a bit more bouldery trad at Clashrodney (nice enough although not much choice left there for me) and a bit of bouldery bouldering at Boltsheugh (fun but very limited easy circuit).

As much as actually getting out on the rock, the highlights of the weekend were hanging out with some of the friendly posse around Aberdeen, both deliberately and inadvertantly, and sampling the hospitality of The Neuk and Newmachars, and also making a new best friend in the tiny rotund form of Sir Voleington Volealot Of Volesbury:

They're not very good pictures as the wee bugger was all of a frisk and fond of frolicking around in dark clefts. He was exceptionally cute tho and no slouch on the routes either, here he is on the first ascent of Vole Corner VS 4c ***

Ho hum.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

It's really great at Inverpollaidh Rock Gym!

And the winner of the Best Designed Crag 2010 Award is....

Inverpollaidh Rock Gym

  • Great steep mid-grade gneiss wall climbing - check

  • Good holds and good gear and good routes - check

  • South west facing so plenty of sun and fresh breeze - check

  • Idyllic flat grassy base - check

  • Gorgeous location complete with sea-view - check

  • Enough of a walk to keep the drones away, but flat and non-tiring - check

I've been wanting to go to Inverpollaidh for years, god knows how many years. I think I saw it in a magazine article and I know I was inspired by it straight away. The epitome (well, one of them) of delightful Scottish cragging. Many years later, on a particularly fine October day, I finally got there and as usual my hunches and inspirations are spot on - it does exactly what it says - I got really quite giddy when we popped around the corner and saw just how nice the setting was. The routes aren't anything radical nor outstanding, but it's all good and a great mileage crag.

This particular gem was part of a very pleasant weekend away with Phil, Mumbi, and Inverpollaidh tour guide and local strong lass Tess Fryer (much needed as the walk-in is entirely blind - but I know the secrets now ;)). In fact the weekend started early with a long overdue visit from The World Famous Helen Rogers - famous for running more businesses than the city of London, and for an unhealthy penchant for crabwise traversing. I tried to cure her of this with a Friday morning session at Dumby, but disappointingly she got on with it quite well, there weren't any tears and she nimbly outwitted most of the more heinous highballs (although did get successfully fooled into The Blue Meanie). I dropped Lady R off at Glasgow Queen Street at 1:20, and got to the far side of Ullapool at exactly 5:20. Just enough time for a bit of beach bouldering at Ardmair...

Saturday was Inverpollaidh, Sunday Phil needed to check out some sandstone, and wisely chose the infinitely superior Ardmair over Reiff. This provided a good contrast and the usual seemingly unlimited supply of strong, steep and well-featured climbing. The classic Skeletons was dry for a change, so I did that. However the previous days started to take their toll (campussing Wed, 1km swim Thu, two bouldering sessions Fri, long trad day Sat...) and we decided to leave after a few routes to go bouldering. Thus finishing the weekend with a quick session at Rhue which is more like gritstone than gritstone is - brutal rounded pebbly nonsense that I moved 200 miles to avoid having to climb!! Still good fun tho. Fish and chips and back to Glasgow in 3:40 somehow. Long may the cragging weekends continue!

The view from Ardmair. Not bad for the Highlands in October...

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Return to Ratho.

Ratho is perhaps the only indoor wall I can be bothered to write about. Ratho is the only wall where I don't begrudge having to go indoors rather than outdoors. Ratho is the only wall where I've actually gone there to train on a dry sunny day (only the once mind you!!). It is vast, the routes are very long, you get very pumped, the angles are good, and the walls are a nice plain colour rather than ghastly toddler primary colours. It is a place where I can just get on and lead routes without any rigid schedule, and know I am still training.

A year ago I went down for the first time. I struggled up F6as, had to rest on F6bs, and after each route/attempt I ended up doubled over gasping with exhaustion - not due to the altitude at the lower-offs, due to the exertion and lack of fitness. A few months later I was back up to leading F6cs okay, which felt like a fair standard of fitness. Several months after that I had an emergency training session and managed 3 F7as including the hardest indoor route I've lead. Which was nice. I did okay this summer, maybe it's all related.

Fast forward to a year after the first visit and I'm back in training - last year was just getting my climbing fitness back up....this year I'm going to get BIG AND STRONG....ish. Obviously the training is needed as after a fairly sluggish week I wasn't big and strong at the wall I was FAT AND WEAK. Not as bad as a year ago but definitely lacking in wall fitness. This is fine because to get big and strong one initially has to be less big and strong i.e. fat and weak to progress upwards. It certainly felt good to give my climbing muscles a workout, and I'm looking forward to trying hard and progressing in future sessions...

Friday, 1 October 2010

Preparation, planning, and plotting.

The end of the September and the end of a fairly dismal summer. The good weather in May/June was on schedule, as was the miserable monsoon in July/August. So far so tedious. But the Indian Summer in September was more like an Indian Week and bonus weekend - good for what it was, but hardly a worthy reward for sitting out the endless away-trip-preventing sunshine and showers. Once again - despite a few consistently ace trips - I am behind schedule for ticking Scotland ;).

Which leaves October, autumn, and winter.


Cunning planning is needed to make the best use out of this off-season. Cunning planning to maximise climbing time AND climbing pleasure. Because this time, I'm not missing out - Scottish cragging is too ace for that.

The plan is:

Stay combat ready:
Opportunities where time and weather and partners coincide are sometimes rare and, thanks to the weather, always unpredictable. Thus one needs to be able to go whenever, last minute - having flexible plans and having everything waiting, ready, to hit the crags. Patience in the meantime (maybe for a long time) and action when opportunity arises.
What I can do is keep my shit in order. All relevant and irrelevant logistics up to date, bags packed, car fuelled, guidebooks out and one eye on the forecast. Not much different to normal really!

Knowledge is power:
Related to the above. Shorter days, colder weather, and unpredictable crag conditions all demand making the right choices to optimise climbing. The right choices means knowing the relevant information, options, and logistics for any situation. From seepage lines to bogginess of approaches to ferry times to which hostels are open...
What I can do is revise and find all that out. Get everything detailed for all the suitable areas, so when the times come, the trips will work.

Rally the troops:
As always the two biggest challenges with climbing are not time nor transport, they are climate and companions, precipitation and people. Finding the right people who are good to climb with with AND up for exploring and taking advantage of opportunities is so important. Thankfully this time I do know quite a few more climbers in Scotland, and unlike last year's debacle where I met some people who were initially welcoming and then decided for no obvious reason to all but ignore me, many of my current partners are genuinely welcoming and friendly. Hopefully we can share a good winter cragging season!
What I can do is regularly keep in touch with people, be clear about possible plans and positive potentials, and try to be a good partner in return.

So let's set Metoffice as the homepage and get ready!!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

A warning.

I got warned the other day. What the warning is about is for me to determine, by writing this post.

After getting back from Skye I had a brief day at Dunkeld with the lovely Lyons and others. They were on the sport but my fingers hurt too much for that, not least because of two cut fingertips: one courtesy of a cat, one courtesy of a razor-spike-half-pad-mono-gaston-flake (ya rly) on a rather tricky route at Neist. Instead, eschewing the obvious choices, I fancied doing something bold but steady, involving myself in the intricacies of schist wall climbing without it being too hard. So that was a good start, proper inspiration was there.

I got on Ratcatcher, the easiest route on a steep wall, up a vague groove system, with a couple of spaced pegs and apparently not much other good gear. I warmed up, climbed steadily past the first low peg and some minor gear. Got established on a ledge in a shallow groove. No obvious gear. A shallow cam slot for a size I'd already used. Hmmmm. I place a skyhook on a deep quartzy incut. It stays on. So far, so not great. I have a look around. There's easier ground a bit higher, but not very easy ground to get there. The groove is a bit shallow and slopey. There's bigger holds out right, chalked but I'm not sure where they go, it's not so obvious a line. Feeling around I find a constricted pocket and fiddly a wire in blindly. Pulling up I find it's very shallow. But it stays in.

The gear feels purely psychological. To use Arno's term, I am in a No Fall situation. But that's okay because I'm not going to fall, I'm just going to move up to easier ground. But the confusion remains - up the sketchy grooves, or deviate right onto bigger holds?? There's an old skool gnarl guy below who did it earlier, hanging out with his wife and motley pair of hounds, but I feel a bit daft asking him. It's not that hard, it should be the obvious line. So I move up....briefly....very briefly as my foot skids off dusty rock....and I slump onto the skyhook and half-in wire....which takes my weight for a second before I hurriedly grab the rock. Having failed on the route I have no intention of going up and less intention of testing the gear again, even to lower off, so I manage to downclimb to the peg and lower off that.

I'm a bit shocked - "No Fall", but I just did. I'm not happy about not doing the route, I was liking the vibe of it. I'm not happy that I was in a risky situation and fell off. Obviously the gear was better than I thought and collectively safe enough. But I'm not a "safe enough" person, I'm a fucking coward and properly fussy about gear. I sometimes do bold climbing but it's carefully planned and controlled. It has to be - I don't want to hurt myself! Thus I'm worried about the risk that occured in this situation.

So what went wrong?? What did I do wrong?? What can I learn from it??

1. Biggest mistake - not asking the guy below about route finding. Why the hell not?? Sure he's a bit stern and seemingly unapproachable, but doing and enjoying the right climb is more important than social niceties. Sure it spoils the journey of discovery a wee bit, but when the situation is confusing and ambiguous and with dodgy gear, that's not as important.

2. Big attitude mistake - not being focused enough, not taking a serious climb seriously enough. I trusted that I could do the climb fine given I'm on good trad form at the moment, but I should have thought more about all the challenge it entails - including checking what routes were nearby and exactly where it might go.

3. Related mistake - underestimating the schist. It's not my speciality and it is blind and confusing. Knowing exactly which path of deceptive bulges, blind knobbles, obtuse pockets, blunt flakes and hidden edges leads to victory is rarely obvious. I should have been more aware of route-finding. Heeding the larger chalked holds and where they might lead would have helped.

4. Other factors - possibly tired after a 6 hour drive from Skye and 5 hours sleep.

So the warning, and the lesson is: Take serious climbs seriously, regardless of how well I'm climbing. Heed the rock type, stay focused on what the challenge requires, and make use of any options that deal with the situation. I guess it is a matter of awareness and adaption. I will remember that!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Swift strike on superb Skye!!

AT LAST!! My 3 main goals for this year were Skye, Lewis, and Caithness, and in the last round, last minute of "summer", I finally managed to get a couple of days exploring the Skye sea-cliffs, and yup I was right they are awesome and well worth visiting, as is the island itself but everyone knows that.

The forecast was glorious and sunny so on 2 out of the 3 days at Neist it was grey bleak and bitterly windy - the wind however keeping occasional light drizzle well away from the rock. The other day at Elgol was generally sheltered and toastily hot in the sun until evening. We managed a good sample of excellent routes at both areas and of course I'm even keener than before to get back and to explore more!!

Things of note:

1. Neist is the furthest West point in the whole of Scotland you can drive to without taking a ferry!

2. The climbing there is really very good, better than Elgol in fact. Big sheer lines on truly superb rock in places.

3. Supercharger (yup it's that pillar) looks just as ace in real life and will be mandatory in warmer weather next year.

4. Seals are waaay too cute and need cuddling whether they like it or not.

5. Skye is pretty much it's own separate country. I'm surprised you don't need passports. I'm also surprised just how populated and civilised it is, albeit in micro-hamles in the arse end of nowhere. It also takes a long time to get anywhere, and I don't think it suits a quick autumn hit, but we did a pretty good job.

6. Skyewalker and Waterfront hostels are both nice.

7. Elgol is very nice and has a great view, the climbing is a bit more "Gogarth" than "Northumberland" in the harder climbs, but still very good.

8. Neist has a better view though, wall to wall Hebrides, awesome.

Errrrr that's it. Roll on the next settled weather spell, I'm syked :D

Monday, 20 September 2010

Dermatological grating in Dumfries and Galloway.

Mixing and matching, I had a couple of wee bouldering sessions recently. Firstly back down to Garheugh Point, where the scenery is lovely, the air is fresh, the rock is aesthetic, and the problems are actually quite good. Apart from Life Is Beautiful which is a great line, a nice piece of rock, a good name, but an utterly foul problem. Truly horrible and uninspiring snatching along a painful finger-break with cramped smearing on awkward footholds. It is actually even worse than The Edge Problem at the Cromlech, which I didn't think was possible. Naturally Scottish Bouldering hails it as a classic, and in other mis-description deception, describes another 3 star classic nearby which doesn't actually exist. Bravo. Needless to say I did neither of those and instead finished off Bowfinger which is pretty cool techy/cranky stuff with thin handholds and blind footholds and a good couple of grades harder if you can't lank it from the first stand-up position:

Note that I am Climbing In A T-shirt gasp shock horror. It was bloody windy down there, I'd forgotten my beanie and forgotten I had a spare beanie in my sac, anyway my sac was rather chilly and after a bit more sloping around I left while I still had some skin intact.

So Garheugh was cold, fine grained, and trashed my skin. Conversely, the Galloway Forest's elusive Rankin Boulder was hot, sharp grained, and trashed my skin. It's actually pretty good for an esoteric boulder, but the inimical conditions prevented a true appreciation of this. I'll go back in winter to sample it's frictional properties, but in the meantime did one pretty decent easy problem:

One thing I have realised is that these videos are a bit shit really - they just show me doing some random problem somewhere. Sometimes I've taken clips of stuff that climbs pretty cool (Spanking The Monkey) or that I'm personally chuffed with (Monkey Spanking). Very occasionally I've got something that looks kinda aesthetic. But mostly it's a punter puntering. Punto, ergo sum. Hmmm. Well, I guess one thing they do show is some hidden gems, some venues that people don't often go to, and problems people don't often do. And maybe that is of vague interest?? A picture says a thousand words, maybe a thousand consecutive pictures in one video says a few words: "Pretty cool boulder, go climb it"...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Attack successful on Aberdeen sea-cliffs.

Last September, I went for a weekend climbing in Aberdeen. We visited both the granite and schistose sea-cliffs, and I climbed a total of 5 HVSs with a fair amount of struggling, of which I rather enjoyed two of them.

This September, I went for a long weekend climbing in Aberdeen. We visited both the granite and schistose sea-cliffs and I climbed a total of 2 E2s, 2 E3s, and 2 E4s, with a fair amount of struggling, of which I enjoyed all of them.

Somewhat of an improvement in quality of experience, pleasure of climbing, and living up to challenges! My experiences with the diverse, accessible, and useful wet weather retreat cliffs of the Aberdeen coastline are quite variable and alternate between climbing okay and getting my arse utterly kicked with frustrating regularity. However the balance seems be tipping towards climbing okay and making the most out of the area. This time I managed to commit myself (even more crucial here than elsewhere, it seems) on the rounded and blind granite and the super-steep and confusing schistose stuff, and reaped the rewards of fun and satisfaction. I also continued my trend of methodically dismantling the Scottish coastline by pulling a breezeblock-sized block off one of the routes "...a wall of the finest pink Longhaven granite..." hmmm!! No damage done apart from a grazed hand, but I think I need to start checking the rock on easy ground, while there's some rock left!!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Usual nice stuff up North.

Northern Scotland cragging is simply brilliant. Great rock, great choice, great scenery, great weath....oh no wait the weather is fucking shite most of the time. Thankfully I managed to make some use of the week's respite from the monsoon aeon, and got to explore both North East and North West.

Caithness culture:

Latheronwheel was yet another lovely Caithness crag, combining the typical qualities of funky rock, delightful cragging, easy access, and tranquil scenery. Perhaps the highlight was sitting belaying in a wave-worn cave basking in the warm sun just above the sparkling sea - it seemed almost a pity to spoil it by moving to climb. Although getting moving was pretty important....challenging redpointing being no preparation at all for Easy Trad!

Sarclet is rapidly becoming one of my favourite Scottish crags. The rock is fascinating, the architecture dramatic, and the climbing intrisically thrilling. As with a previous trip, my tickedlist grew but my ticklist outgrew it. I will be back - and also to Mid-Clyth where storm winds prevented access to the ace climbing there.

Ullapool culture:

Reiff is very popular and pretty cool, rather than pretty popular and very cool. Well, the Leaning Block area is very cool but also a very long way from the car! Ah well, needs must, it was worth the Tardis-esque stomp. Although not a patch on inland sandstone like Ardmair and Torridon, the fine choice of climbing and diverse aspects will keep me revisiting - especially as a winter suntrap.

Loch Tollaidh IS perhaps my favourite crag in Scotland. Maybe. Probably. All I know is I always enjoy climbing there and each time see more and more routes that look good. The amount of choice a mere 10 mins from the road is entirely enticing, as is the obligatory nice gneiss, and also on this trip the westerly aspect which provided essential shelter from easterly gales - "90 mph gusts on high ground will make walking almost impossible"....but a light breeze curling around the domes will make climbing just fine :)

Okay so now I'm warmed back into trad, I want to get on with it some more....if someone can just turn the shower off...

Sunday, 5 September 2010


Doing a hard redpoint was an interesting experience. Doing an interesting redpoint to a deadline was a hard experience - often hard to keep going, and sometimes only the pleasure of the moves kept me going. In this context I like to see what I've learnt from it...

1. I'm not climbing to a deadline ever again.
Too much stress, too much focus on the goal rather than the process. I'll happily do more redpointing though, over a more relaxed period.

2. Hard redpointing is not "true to self" for me.
Easy Trad™ IS, exploring IS. Redpointing is good fun and a good compliment but it's not a core aspect for me. I enjoy it most as "dicking around on a rope", rather than being obssessed with it.

3. The issues I find hardest on a redpoint are similar to those I find hardest on Easy Trad™.
I.e. confidence, fear of falling, stamina, fitness. I can work out moves and memorise them well, and am not too weak. But the mental and fitness sides, as with trad, are still hard for me.

4. Quality is everything.
As with any aspect of climbing, the quality of the climb has to be inspiring enough to be worth the effort. I couldn't have done it unless it was a cool climb as well as a challenge.

5. External factors are crucial as usual.
I got I made a sensible decision. Choosing something that was cool, shadey, semi-perma-dry, at a popular crag that it's easy to find people to climb with and mix and match plans. Weather and people....often elusive, always crucial.

Nothing really new there, I guess more of a confirmation of my path in climbing and what I need to follow and deal with along it.

Friday, 3 September 2010

6a to 8a in 365 days.

Fucking grades, what a load of toss. The least important motivator, the least important end result, the least important social trophy. Fuck 'em.

On the other hand, the nitty gritty, the nerdish minutae of abstract discussion, comparison and analysis can be quite entertaining. If you're geeky enough - and if you aren't, why do something as obsessive as climbing??

So I did something that challenged me recently. It had a grade that roughly estimated that challenge. That grade is of interest in only 3 ways - as a marker of my improvement in the year since being hospitalised with DVT, as a virtual mooning to Duncan "Fiend you're gay, Easy Trad™‚is gay, sport climbing is where it's at, you're too weak and GAY for it" Eagles (I'll take 7c+ for it in general, but 8a for him :)), and for a geekish analysis in this post, after which it can fuck back off, as I will fuck back off to Easy Trad™.

Anyway, I don't know what grades really correspond to that at that level, but unlike most people who don't know what grades correspond to at any level, I am not a bloody idiot. Thus I have a vague idea about how it fits into the distinctly ungrand scheme of things I have experience of, and that definitely shows how much things can vary when you're pushing your physical limits (unlike trad grades which are a matter of objective fact as to the existence of gear, rests, position, rock quality etc).

From what I've tried / done, in descending order of difficulty.

The Boltest, Long Tor Quarry, F7c (F8a+++) - beyond nails, 7 moves I couldn't do, 3 of which I couldn't imagine ever doing, desperate clips few shakes.
Silk Teddies, Dunkeld, F7c (F7c+?) - brutally hard start and sustained for many metres, had to aid most of it.
Sufferance, Dumbarton, F8a (F7c+?) - bouldery and crimpy but not too desperate, got all moves bar crux quickly in one session, crux next session.
Marlena, Dunkeld, F7c (hard F7c?) - almost as hard as Sufferance, very sustained and lots of finishing cruxes. Might be easier if it ever got cool conditions and a good brush.
Laughing In The Rain, Cowdale, F7c (F7c) - ridiculously hard boulder crux but pretty easy after that.
The Squealer, Lorry Park Quarry, F7c (F7c) - steady, felt closest to benchmark 7c out of the Peak stuff, bouldery but reasonable. Would have gone okay if I hadn't got DVT.
Another Choadside Attraction, Raven Tor, F7c (F7b+?) - pretty soft and would be F7b+ if it was properly bolted.

Make of that what you will.

I think the route suited me (big rockover moves on small crimps), I think it helps that it's often in good condition, I think it is likely a borderline grade. I also think it is a great and classic route with brilliant moves all the way....which is why I did it :)

As a reward for sitting through that drivel, here's a video of an early attempt, up to falling off the crux jump to a jug (I refined my lower sequence after this):

And that's that...

Thanks to Amanda, Andy, Graham, James, Jonnie B, Jonnie B (yes there are two), Liz, Mark (and thanks for the support and encouragement), Peter and Phil for climbing with me while I was working the route.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

My Year.

The timeline...


T -2 Weeks

22/07/09 - Onsight F6c+ at Kilnsey (burning Lord Log off), working F7b+.
23/07/09 - 40min run comfortably.
24/07/09 - Trad puntering.
25/07/09 - 1.5 hours slog up to Kinder, more trad puntering.
26/07/09 - Redpoint first F7c - Another Choadside Attraction at The Tor.
27/07/09 to 02/08/09 - Mild but persistent lower back pain. Go running a few times, but only 25 mins due to 30'c heat in Spain.


03/08/09 - Struggling to walk, can only walk a few yards due to severe hip pain. Doctor initially diagnoses sciatica. Prescribed strong painkillers.
04/08/09 - Painkillers help but right leg swells up (later weight tests indicate 5kg of excess fluid) and has blood rash in evening.
05/08/09 - Revisit doctor who is concerned and sends me to hospital. Admitted to Ward O2, Royal Hallamshire.
06/08/09 - Doppler scan reveals extensive Deep Vein Thrombosis around femoral, iliac and pelvic veins.
07-27/08/09 - Remain in hospital with occasional days out allowed. Struggling to walk, on max dose of coedeine daily, regular injections, blood samples, and tests. Doctors keep trying to find the cause of DVTs.
18/08/09 - Worst point of the illness: hunched over, can hardly walk, difficulty sleeping, left thigh extremely painful, scared to walk 10 yards to hospital toilet. Break down and am given morphine. Things start to improve.
23/08/09 - Go swimming with my dad. I can swim quite well but it's very difficult walking to and from the pool.
26/08/09 - Have MRI Venogram, the last in very many tests I had.
28/08/09 - Discharged from hospital. Can walk a few minutes with difficulty.


T +1 Month

31/08/09 - First day out climbing! Lead 2 F6as and HVS 5a. Tiring!
01/09/09 - MRI Venogram results reveal I have a sealed vein in my chest (congenital aplaisic IVC) which has slowed the blood flow from my legs and allowed clots to form. Will be on Warfarin for life, climbing not recommended.
07/09/09 - Go swimming with Duncan Choadstable. Swim 1km for the first time ever! Can't walk up steep road out of pool so Dunc has to collect me.
12-14/09/09 - First weekend away climbing! North Wales - Lead 3 E1 5bs and 1 E2 5b, a total of 7 5b pitches. Boulder V3. Very hard walking up hill. Have to rest a lot with legs propped up.
19-20/09/09 - Second weekend away climbing! Mid Wales (Rhinnogs, yay!)- Lead 2 E1 5bs, 2 E2 5bs, 1 E3 5c. Very hard walking up hill, but can walk on flat fine.
21/09/09 - Start moving to Glasgow. Extremely difficult due to sorting out house in Sheffield, finding accomodation in Glasgow, and lots of difficulties with partner.

T +2 Months

05/10/09 - Move to temporary accomodation in Glasgow. Things still very difficult.
??/10/09 - First local climbing in Scotland at Weem. Have to rest on the 5 min walk-in and dog up a F6a+ due to general exhaustion.
20/10/09 - Go to Ratho for the first time. Rest on F6b and feel dizzy and exhausted.
29/10/09 - Finally get settled in a wee flat in Glasgow after a generally traumatic time.

T +3 Months

07/11/09 - Lads Bouldering Weekend at Hepburn. First V5 since illness.

T +4 Months

12-13/12/09 - First weekend away to North West Scotland. Amazing place with perfect winter suntraps. Lead 3 E1s and 2 E2s. T-shirt weather in December!
18/12/09 - Getting better at Ratho. Flash 2 F6cs despite (or because of?) Arctic conditions. Do falling practice.
27/12/09 to 01/01/09 - Climbing in Spain, 5 days continuously no problem, lead several F6cs. Walking uphill still desperate.

T +5 Months

09/01/10 - First time back skiing!! Did fine, cruising reds, legs a bit tired especially on lifts, but manageable.
14-15/01/10 - More skiing, fine.
22-30/01/10 - Climbing in Tenerife, 8 days continuously, 42 routes, many F6cs, a few F6c+s, and maybe 2 F7as.

T +6 Months

03/02/10 - More skiing, fine. Getting stronger at it.
07/02/10 - Attempted hill-walking, 40 mins with rests every few mins, desperate.
13/02/10 - 2nd day out trad of the year, first E3 5c in Scotland. Epic and cold but good.
17/02/10 - After various short running/walking sessions, attempt the longest time I can run. Can only manage 10 mins, down from 40 mins before DVT.
18/02/10 - Have consultation following 2nd MRI Venogram. Confirms the IVC is sealed and unopenable, and the clots are still present in my legs, blocking my pelvic veins. Prognosis is that they will likely stay sealed with minimal blood flow and the surrounding veins will have to take up the work. Will take a long time to get back to any sort of leg fitness. Get cross.
19/02/10 - Still cross. Book skiing holiday out of a mixture of passion and rage.
20/02/10 - Still cross. Do hardest boulder problem ever - first V8 - after 5 days effort. Raaargh.

T +7 Months

06-13/03/10 - Skiing in Meribel!! Best ski-trip ever. Hard and fast every day. Legs no problem (apart from a wee walk uphill to the lift in the morning), skiied as good as I ever have, including every black run in Les Trois Vallees (only Grand Couloir is tricky).
14/03/10 - Lads Bouldering Weekend. Flash V4 at St Bees and V5 at Bowderstone.
23/03/10 - Climbing outdoors at Ratho, first E3 6a in Scotland, hardest route since coming out of hospital.
27/03/10 - Out clubbing to Dave Clark and Jeff Mills. 5 hours dancing no problems. Techno, yay.

T +8 Months

??/04/10 - Climbing in Sicily. 21 routes in 4 days. Several F6cs.
??/04/10 - Climbing in Northumberland. First E4 6a since illness, although probably only E3 5c. Amazing moves though.
14-15/04/10 - Climbing in Glen Nevis. Get sunburnt in Highlands in April!! First E4 6a in Scotland, great route. Survive 30 mins walk-in to Wave Buttress.
21/04/10 - Local sport climbing, first F6c in Scotland.
25/04/10 - More sport climbing, two more diverse F6cs.

T +9 Months

01/05/10 - Improving at Ratho, 3 F7as onsight, including possibly the hardest I've climbed indoors.
7-9/05/10 - Another awesome weekend away in North West Scotland. 2 E2s, 2 E3s, 3 E4s, F6c/+, and another V4 flash. Feel great climbing and totally inspired.
15-16/05/10 - Finally get to grips with Aberdeen climbing, 4 E1s, 1 E2, 3 E3s including the hardest moves (6a fisting!) I've done on lead since illness.
22/05/10 - Hill walk in to Ben Ledi. 2 hours. Fairly desperate but lots of rests taken.
24/05/10 - Doing well at Cambussbarron, E3 6a and E4 6a, climbed fairly well.

T +10 Months

??/06/10 - Hardest walk yet - 1.5 hours up to Aonach Dubh (should be 45 minutes). Utterly exhausting. Attempted E4 6a, properly fell off due to terminal pump, total body exhausting.
??/06/10 - Long weekend in North West Scotland, 1 E1, 6 E2s, 1 E3, 2 E4s, some great challenges.
??/06/10 - Good couple of days at Creag Dubh, 2 E2s, 2 E3s, 1 E4. Walk-in possibly the hardest bit.
??/06/10 - Keep doing various good climbing, the highlight being an awesome E3 slab at Rosehearty that I got completely freaked on, pulled it together, and enjoyed a great climb.

T +11 Months

4-5/07/10 - Training at Rob's Reed. First 2 F6c+s in Scotland.
17/07/10 - Back to Weem again. Did the walk-in without resting, although collapsed with exhaustion on reaching the crag. Retro-flashed the F6a+ I dogged (F6b and badly bolted). Lead F6c slab, desperate and sketchy but did it.
24/07/10 - Rob's Reed, first F7a flash in Scotland.

T +12 Months

05/08/10 - Saw a vascular surgeon in London for a 3rd opinion. No change. There is nothing that can be done medically / surgically / chemically to improve my blood flow, my pelvic veins will remain sealed, and any blood flow will be taken up by the surrounding veins....very slowly. However we did discuss useful ideas for exercise...
08/08/10 - Afternoon at Loudon Hill, hadn't climbed trad in ages but managed a cool E3 6a with little problems.
09/08/10 - First gym CV training session - 20 mins on recumbent cycle machine and 20 mins rowing, got a good workout but almost no problems with legs!
21/08/10 - Sport climbing at Strathyre, second F7a flash in Scotland.
29/08/10 - Went for first run for ages. 11 mins with a few walking bits, as crap as ever!
30/08/10 - Redpointed first F8a (soft) - Sufferance at Dumbarton, culmination of many days effort.


That's my year since having DVT. From my first day back climbing after getting out of hospital to my most recent day out. In that time I've led trad as good as before, flashed sport as good as before, redpointed harder than before, bouldered harder than before, and skiied as good as I ever have. I can't walk to the bloody crags but when I get there....I think I'm doing pretty well :).

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Strong-ISH at Strathyre.

Had a pleasant day out today with Phil and Mr 6a to 8a in 180 days. I am currently trying to be Mr 7a to 7a in 360 days (it will make sense soon...) and today was a successful day. I warmed up the grey cells trying to navigate to the crag, warmed up the fucked legs walking the 5 steep minutes to it, and warmed up the arms on a short steep pokey 6b and thence a shorter, steeper, and pokier 6c (which defied belief how an 8m route covered in big holds could be so pumpy, but it was, so it served it's purpose). Over-warming up by dogging a 7b was cut short - quite literally - by the biggest reach to the worst hold I've encountered in a very long time. Thus it was onto the main meat of the semi-classic Electrodynamics, which in a radical break from the crag tradition was....errr....very short and very steep. But it had a cool line i.e. an arete. Gave it a blast, got involved with the steepness, found a sneaky handjam, and it was in the bag. Tried an adjacent 6c+ up a radical hanging, leaning, and perplexing micro-groove - the Quarryman of Strathyre crag - but after a series of improbable contortions all of which I was sure I was falling off, I didn't quite make it. Still it was all good training....which will hopefully pay off soon...

Monday, 16 August 2010

Ticking over but not ticking.

Another week of doing a lot yet doing little. With some inspiration to get bigger and stronger, I have been training a fair bit and pottering on sport climbs a fair bit. The latter being good training in itself, both physically and more importantly psychologically, the main benefit being doing sketchy moves on lead. I haven't actually climbed anything BUT I am feeling a bit leaner and meaner, okay the latter might just be my latent misanthropy (probably reactivated by my continual bewilderment and incomprehension of the Scottish climbing scene). This is a good thing and may feed back into short term results and long term Easy Trad desires too.

One notable aspect of climbing has been GOING TO THE GYM. In particular to do CV exercise - something I've always rightly disdained, the ludicrosity of paying to trot along on a running (or cycling) machine inside when there is, well, the entirety of Planet Earth's landmass to run (or cycle) on outside, for free. However now I am....minorly disabled....there are some important benefits, for someone in my situation at least...

The other week I went to see a top vascular surgeon in London. No news is not really good news and he confirmed what the other specialists have said - leg veins are now blocked too, any blood return will have to be done via minor surrounding veins, these will develop over time but (in my estimation) this could be a very slow process - decades rather than years. BUT one useful issue was discussed, as regards to how crippled I am fitness-wise for walking uphill and running. The surgeon highlighted the importance of leg orientation for improving or inhibiting blood return, in particular the difference between vertical exercises and prone exercises (fnaaarrrr).

This apparently was a beneficial aspect of swimming that I hadn't considered, and could be applicable to other exercises. Thus I have been trying rowing and recumbent cycling at the gym. And, hurrah!! Both of these exercises I can do a lot better than running and walking uphill. At first I thought this might be because they were too easy....but then I realised I was dripping with sweat in an air conditioned room. So I must have been doing something right. Combining this sort of exercise with a bit of weights and some prior fingery climbing training seems to give a nice rounded feeling and avoids errr having too much of a nice rounded feeling ;)

Monday, 9 August 2010

Lethargic haze at Loudon Hill.

[insert obligatory moaning about stupid fucking showery weather here]

A very mixed day yesterday. Not mixed as in the weather (which is still mixed over the damn country overall), which was generally very nice. Hot in the sun, cool in the shade and breeze. But mixed in the climbing I did and the syke I felt. This is often the case for me with local climbing - generally it is less inspiring and the "always there" doorstep accessibility makes it harder to feel the urge to get things done unless I have a specific desire.

At Loudon I did have a couple of specific desires - see what the harder routes looked like, get Epitaph Bloody Variation done (backed off it before), and err that's it I guess. The harder routes looked green but good. I pottered around seconding for a while, then tried Epitaph Sodding Variation in the baking sun and backed off again. I still don't like it. Following this I got in a lethargic haze and lounged in the sun until I got pins and needles in my arm and realised I only wanted to do Epitaph Fucking Variation to warm up and to get it ticked. Not the best motivations. Nor indeed the best state of mind to get on something harder, but inspiration + determination >>> ticking. Also, fresh cool breeze + shade >>> hot sun. So I stood beneath Lunge, realised although I felt a bit wobbly I really had to engage with it, did so, did the route, and enjoyed both the climbing and getting to grips with a decent challenge. So that was nice. Not a particularly energetic day out though so I need to do some more training now and get fitter and stronger.

More lethargic hazing at the end of the day, being invaded by sheeps whilst waiting for other members of the party to finish the splendid Edge:

Sunday, 1 August 2010

There is a Plan B.

The waiting game continues - the weather still too rubbish and unreliable in the all-important North West and Isles - sunshine and sodding showers, glorious dry days alternating with torrentially wet ones, preventing the multi-day trips that such inspiring yet remote venues require. Although expected from a Scottish summer, and an all too familiar bane of the syked trad explorer, this still sucks festering goat arse. Thus something is needed to alleviate the tedium of the waiting and "keeping one's hand in" game.

That Plan B is coming in the form of inspiration to push myself more physically. There are other reasons for this (I will explain later), but also taking advantage of local crags, sport crags, wet-weather crags, venues that are considerably less interesting but much more reliable. Finding some solace in the joys of movement and the thrill of intense challenge and the dark art of redpointing. For me this is all a side-line but it is an interesting and rewarding one....and one which will hopefully feedback into my trad climbing, firstly as valuable physical (and sometimes mental) training but also too keep my trad syke undersatiated and unjaded.

Time to stop being weak, I think.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Warfarin second ascent.

I'm taking it. I suspect the FA was on the medication but I'd be very surprised if any subsequent ascentionists were. No anti-coag, no tick ;). I did it in one pitch on a mild still day and had the sweatiest ropedraggiest experience I've had for a long time. At one point my belayer could see sweat dripping off my back. At the end I had to crawl to the belay, hauling my own body weight on left rope. Bleh!! Good route tho, a fine adventure for an outcrop.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Wee bit of fun at Weem.

One of the first places I climbed when I moved to Scotland, apart from a fairly mediocre trip to Aberdeen, was a fairly mediocre trip to Weem. I met up with Mister Guidebook Writer Gary Latter, asked him why he had missed out the entire Aberdeen and Moray coast, didn't get a satisfactory answer, struggled to walk up the short hill to the crag, bumbled around a bit, and had to dog an easy warm-up route. I didn't go back to Weem, he didn't reply to any further emails about meeting up for climbing...

This time I managed weedeem myself and get a wee bit of weevenge on my weeturn (okay I'll stop this now). I stomped up the hill in one go (and nearly fainted when I reached the crag), got on said easy warm-up route - I'd forgotten enough to warrant doing it again, indeed I had plenty of surprises on route, including how utterly SHITE the bolting is, out of 7 bolts I think only one of them is in the right place, the others are so obviously misplaced - and did it despite that nonsense and it being completely undergraded. I did another route which was completely overgraded, and then tackled one of the main slab pitches, Confessions Of Faith. Gary had fallen off this one when I was there previously, so I was expecting a challenge and I wasn't disappointed in that nor the quality. A nourishing core of fairly desperate slab moves on underclings and blind feet, wrapped in a meaty coating of general crimpy slab climbing and a crisp outer shell of a sustained and surprisingly pumpy finish. A perfect Scotch Egg of a route - really tasty and highly recommended.

That was it for the day as I had a young lady to "attend" to, but it was enough to keep my hand in while waiting for summer to return....

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Grinding away at Garheugh.

The weather is still stopping away trips, so I'm alternating between indulging other hobbies and the occasional training session. This weekend was visiting my mum and mostly a very chilled out time drinking strong coffee and painting toy soldiers, but I also diverted back to Glasgow via Garheugh. It's a nice wee greywacke crag opposite to the Stranraer peninsula, short on routes but long on bouldering, which is actually, surprisingly, consistently good. I've been a couple of times for both styles but not really tackled the bouldering when I'm fully fit.

Bouldering versus routes. It's all a matter of scale.

This time I had three goals: 1. Go somewhere nice and scenic to climb. 2. Train myself hard in preparation for trad trips. 3. Do some of the classic problems. Well, two out of three ain't bad. The only thing I really got up was repeating my own problem, Brunch. I wasn't sure how good it was, but looking at it on this visit, it's clearly a good if minor line, certainly better than some of the described problems (like the chossy wall to the left). I wasn't sure if it was worth the grade, but reclimbing it on this visit, it's clearly a taxing enough move, certainly worth the effort. Naturally it's missed out of the Scottish Bouldering guide to make way for some wank eliminates and overhyped non-classics elsewhere.

I should have also had a video of the crag classic Bowfinger (which is a great bit of rock and not overhyped!). Instead I had dozens of videos of me falling off it. This is a cool, committing, and very Font-esque problem, graded V4/5 (Font 6c wtf that means). I regularly go to Font and do V4-V6 problems in a few goes, often after driving 12 hours and 1 hour's sleep on the ferry. Naturally this so-called """V4/5""" took me a few hours and I still couldn't do it. There might be some issue with the top being highly morpho (reaching a seam with feet under a bulge in another seam, or not reaching as the case may be), but I suspect the main issue is the grading being typically Scottish i.e. fucking shite. Still it is cool and now I have some vague idea of the Numbers (it's desperate to work as you can't pull on, only climb it), I will be back. Nice venue.

Returning to Glasgow past the watchful gaze of Ailsa Craig.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Perthshire power.

Due to unfortunate weather my hugely desired plans to get to Lewis, Skye and Caithness are postphoned for a bit. The usual sunshine and showers bollox, wet in the west and okay for local trips but not trips away. Disappointing as my inspiration lies firmly in the Western Isles, but in the meantime it's a good excuse to train, so that's what I did....

Day 1 I went to Rob's Reed, a newish sport climbing crag near Forfar. Like many such venues it is Scottish climbing at it's unfinest, yet it is also quite cool and interesting - a long, sheer wall of conglomerate sitting on a sandstone base, all shaded by trees but thankfully not too sheltered so conditions were reassuringly fresh. The sandstone provides thin bouldery starts, the conglomerate provides blind and pumpy finishes, and detachable pebbles provide a delicate yet pungent seasoning. Amazingly, given my recent track record, I didn't pull anything off. I even managed to stay mostly attached myself, and did a few good routes. Unfortunately my partner needed to leave so it was a somewhat truncated session.

Flashing The Peel Sessions in a bright yellow t-shirt and Bolt Thrower beanie. Naturally I first heard Bolt Thrower on the John Peel shown when he played this.

Evening 1 I tried to get some Aberdeen locals out to the sea-cliffs but to no avail, thus I headed off into the wilds of Glen Clova for a spot of bouldering. This was one of the many areas on my winter bouldering ticklist last year, but as it turned out I didn't really need to go in winter - a fresh breeze was blustering down the Glen and made for excellent conditions for July. I booked in at the Glen Clova Hotel hostel (which is the weirdest fucking place I've ever stayed, I stayed 6 years ago, it was bizarre then and it's just as bizarre now. A completely enclosed airless kitchen behind the drying room, surrounded by box rooms that have a door into a shower/toilet on the outside - complete with single curtain rail to ensure the toilet gets soaked during a shower - leading into a similarly airless and lightless bunkroom cell. The faint hissing of some malignant air conditioning rounds off the prison-like claustrophobia nicely and ensures the all important unwelcome feeling and sleepless night.) Anyway, checked in, headed up the Glen, no-one there, had a great evening bouldering on my own. Unlike most Scottish areas the bouldering is actually half decent, the main problem is the guide is bollox as usual. Once I found the actual lines, I pulled hard(-ish) and felt I was training okay.

Black Dyke resident disapproving of us as much as we disapproved of him:

Day 2 was back to Rob's Reed, via a lengthy detour Aberdeenwards to check out The Black Dyke. Unfortunately two of the better-looking warm-up routes were nesty and my partner was not inspired, so after much ummming and ahhing we went back for more training. Armed with a handwritten guide I explored more of the crag and had a better session. Pulled hard, got pumped, nearly came off one route on a wild gaston through to pocket, gritted teeth and held it. All good training for the greater Isles...

Wednesday, 7 July 2010


Climbing is fun. Trad climbing is fun. Placing gear (except when in extremis) is fun. Placing weird, deviant, obscure and cunning gear is fun - and a fun I can particularly revel in. Part tactics, part engineering, part gameplay, part perversion. I like the idea of playing within the trad onsighting rules and using all the tools, tips, and protection available to go to the limits of those rules to make serious and bold routes safe and feasible.

Running belayers with ground anchors with DMM Revolver crabs in, cumulative collections of several individually poor RPs, slings over blunt spikes with fingertape holding them in place (strips of tape taken up on helmet), skyhooks tied down to ground anchors....all of these I've used to good effect. I have more ideas in the pipeline, but here is a picture of the latest:

This is Stella, a really cool wall/slab at South Yardhope, but a really bold one without some....cunning. There's an obvious flakey jug mid-way through the tricky climbing, but this is also both thin and sloping. Thin enough that a wire would pull through and a cam would snap it off, sloping enough that a sling would slide off. Thus a sling tied to a rope that goes through a sling on a boulder way out left and back to the belayer. So I get up to the flake, place the sling, the belayer pulls the rope tight, keeping the sling pulling leftwards onto the widest and most solid part, rather than down, right, and off. Whether the flake would definitely hold I don't know, but it gives it, and me, a fighting chance. Lucky too, as the next moves are still a bit sketchy. Great route, good cunning :).

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Taking the tick.

Generally, I like the onsight climbing experience and accepting the challenge that entails. Start at the bottom, use only the information from the guidebook and your own eyes, and climb just that route to the top under your own steam, using the safety system for protection only. This gives the joyous journey of discovery up the climb, seeing how it unfolds and relying on yourself to deal with that en route (which is obviously what makes onsight climbing objectively superior to any other form).

It also, for me, involves the challenge "as described" and "as intended". If I'm tackling a particular challenge, I am tackling THAT challenge, in the normal and intended conditions. If I can't manage that challenge as is, I accept that. If, however, something outside of the remit of that challenge occurs, I will give myself some leeway as to whether I feel I've satisfactorily tackled that challenge. I.e. if I fail, or rest, or whatever due to external or abnormal circumstances, and I get straight back on, knowing that I was climbing the challenge and would have completed it, then I will continue as normal and consider that I have done that climb. Not a perfect ascent, and not as enjoyable an experience, but a fair grey area.

For example...

It rains.
A sheep falls on you.
Your belayer falls asleep.
You stick your finger in a pocket and get stung by a bee.
Or attacked by a hairy Baboon Spider (this happened :( )
You go off-route due to white herrings or guidebook misdescription.
You or your belayer get hit by a freak wave contain several irate seals.
You pull a hold off a supposedly solid climb.
Etc etc

...are things in the grey area that are outside one's control, outside one's climbing skills, and outside the challenge one tackles.

Obviously - see previous post - the "pulling holds off supposedly solid climbs" issue is on that's foremost in my mind. Both of the two climbs I completed after pulling holds of and falling off, I will write them in my logbook as I climbed them - I was climbing them, I was pulling onto easy ground, and I would have done the move fine. I had tackled the challenge intended, and unexpected hold detachment was not part of that. This did get me wondering, would I feel the same climbing at South Stack or the Lleyn?? Well I think different rules apply there - those venues are not "supposedly solid" :), and one has to tackle that terrain in different ways, it IS part of the challenge.

Remember, spirit of the law, not letter of the law...

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The Destroyer

3 weeks. 3 routes. 3 holds pulled off - one small crimp and two brick-sized blocks. 3 falls taken.


Am I too strong? Too fat? Too unlucky?

These acts of crag dismantling have hardly been on Lleyn style chossheaps... One of those routes was an unstarred route, albeit an obvious line at "Scotland's most important roadside crag". Another was on a quiet crag, albeit a 3 star route. The other was only a 2 star route, albeit a photo tick in a well used guide. Not exactly what one expects. Maybe it is the harsh winter and freeze/thaw - I expect the coastal crags saw their first snow for the first time in ages. Or maybe it is just Scotland full stop....stepping into the wilds, compared to Rhinnog popular end ;). Maybe I should stick to Lleyn style chossheaps, at least that way I'd expect it and climb accordingly!!

Friday, 2 July 2010


I've been on and off the UKC forums for years. On with a lot of ranting and belligerence and generally being, for better or worse, a bit of a UKC personality, and off getting banned twice, avoiding them during non-climbing periods, and generally getting exasperated and staying clear until needs (Lifts and Partners) must. I think I've got to a stable state of play now where I stick to finding people to climb with in Scotland and the odd bit of Scottish information, and stay out of the rest.

The article above is my swansong, partly an acknowledgement of the climbing community, partly something I've been meaning to write for ages in response to my own experiences, but also seeing many experiences from many friends and just the climbing public in general. Hopefully it will be a useful reference guide for people, and a fitting conclusion to my previously major involvement with the forums.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Backlog Blog.

Previous weekends as follows:
Sorry for all the number bollox but it's been a mixed run and I can't be arsed to write anything more interesting.

Puntering about at Pass Of Ballater
Not a lot to say about Pass Of Ballater. I went years ago, lead a VS, belayed someone up an 8m VDiff for an hour, then it rained. This time I came back a wee bit fitter and stronger and syked for some harder routes there. However it seems like every harder route seems to involve a ridiculously hard start up the natural line and an indirect rambling bollox variant, or an unstarred easier variant up the natural line and a highly starred and unnaturally harder rambling bollox variant. It's all a bit odd. The most inspiring lines are in the nasty-little-gritstone-ankle-snapper vein and although cool need to be left for a cooler day. So in the end there was a lot of anger on Anger and Lust (mistakenly thinking the finish would be hard and getting very stressed before realising it was piss, just like the route overall), errr and also I swallowed a fly whilst belaying my partner on his crucial crux move. Hmmm.
Anger And Lust E2 5c ***
Rattlesnake Variant E2 5c **

Wee bit o'bumbling at Weem boulders
Trying to mix and match and do a bit of training to progress with the ever challenging and all important trad onsighting, I diverted to Weem to try some of the bouldering there. Initially impressions of a sheer clean wall above a lovely leafy landing in a sun-dabbled glade are very promising, but like almost all Scottish bouldering venues, there's some crucial deficit - in this case, most of the lines are properly highball with blind, rounded finishes. Not hard but not very enticing for the lone boulderer with two soggy mats. I puntered around, got good at reversing from the top, and had a promising play on the eliminate and arbitrary but kinda fun (and reassuringly lowball) "The Chop".

Some fun at South Yardhope
People sometimes ask me if I've done much climbing in Northumberland... "Only at Back Bowden, Bowden, Berryhill, Callerhues, Corby's Crag, Crag Lough, Curtis Crag, Drakestone, Great Wanney, Goat Crag, Jack Rock, Kyloe In, Kyloe Out, Peel Crag, Ravensheugh, Rothley, Sandy Crag, Selby's Cove, and Simonside", I answer casually with a smug lack of modesty. I do like the County and I do like exploring around it, and I got to do so this weekend, continuing in strict alphabetical order with South Yardhope. Like many "off radar" Northumberland crags, it has great lines that are currently in rubbish condition and need a keen local to clean them up, and a few classics that have stayed climbable. I warmed up on one of those, and got to grips with the seemingly not-classic but actually almost-classic-apart-from-fragile-flakes Stella. This provided a good logistical challenge, good climbing, and a tasty dose of fear. A fine route.
The Arete HVS 5b ***
Stella E4 5c **

Back to Scotland and way up to Rosehearty...

Rock heaven at Rosehearty
Back to Rosehearty after many years. Like Ballater, I'd been before, had a wee bumble, and got inspired to come back and tackle some meatier fare. This I did. The meatier fare was tough, punishing, but good Aberdeen-style steepness. I seemed to spend ages hanging around resting on grim semi-handjams. Well it worked. There was a moment of madness on ...Roses when after a huge effort to deal with the pump and gear and stuff, I pulled a hold off the top. Yet another one!! Strong or just fat?? You decide.

The highlight of the day was a more atypical experience, though: At the end of the day, after a lovely comfy belaying session in the evening sun with waves lapping nearby, I fancied a change so ventured onto the slabbier inner walls. Despite being quite familiar with culm/greywacke style slabs, I ended up a bit of a gibbering wreck on my chosen climb. Resting at a 1/3rd height break, trying to make sense of the maze of seams, dimples, and micro-flakes above, I got myself completely syked out. How could I commit when there seemed to be so little to go for?? "I'm not feeling the love..." I said. But....I eventually took one step to stand in the break. Unnerving. Another step up onto thin footholds. Hmmm. I'm in balance. Okay there's a wee cam. And a wire. Another step. A pocket for my hand. Nubbins for my feet....they're sticking. A good RP. Crimps....hey I'm doing this....hey I'm loving this. Bit by bit I tip-toed up the climb, and tip-toed back into the passion of climbing. Stepping outside the comfort zone and into the pleasure zone, it was a great experience.
Afterglow E2 5b ***
Coming Up Roses E3 5c ***
Tango On The Black E3 5c **

Extremely rubbish at Elephant Rock
It was one of "those" days A L'Heffalump. Great weather, good conditions, dry rock, chalked routes, low tide, plenty of time, good company, feeling fine. Climbing....utterfuckingbollox. Scraped up a warm-up. Got on something harder, couldn't do the start. Got on something a bit easier than something harder, couldn't do the start (think a hold might be missing). Got on one of the main inspiring challenges, put in some effort, foot slipped, I fell off. Arse. Everything stacked in one's favour except one's ability to climb. The only obvious factor was the grindingly painful rock on the warm-up route, which set an offputting sore hands theme for the day. A day in which the highlight was playing with a hermit crab - no bad thing in itself I suppose, hmph!!
Beware Of The Wellyfish F6b **

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


I very rarely take trad (or indeed sport) leader falls while climbing. I am far too cowardly for that - scared of falling, scared of the prospect of falling, scared of committing to a situation where I might fall. Although I'm not actually scared when I am falling, the transition from attached and climbing to detached and falling is too much for my poor wee brain to handle. This is probably the biggest hurdle in my climbing and holds me back the most out of any psychological issue. Hence a constant battle to overcome it, and hence semi-regular falling practice at the climbing wall.

Curiously, I have taken more trad leader falls in the last few weeks than I have in the previous decade, as follows:

Thing Of Beauty, Aonach Dubh - short jump off onto gear after going off route due to fucking useless guidebook description and ambiguous line, and getting too pumped to reverse.

Freakout, Aonach Dubh - proper fall due to terminal pump and literally not being able to hang on.

Legover, Creag Dubh - proper fall due to pulling a hold off.

Susan, Mid Clyth - small slump onto gear due to pulling a hold off.

Curiously, although perhaps unsurprisingly, this hasn't made me any less scared of falling. Booo. The Freakout fall was the best and most properist, several metres due to rope stretch, and at the time I was going for it and trying to do a move knowing that I might well fall. The others were pretty minor, maybe this is why - I'm getting used to dropping onto gear but not getting used to committing a long way above it. My fear is quite in proportion to the length of the fall, even though the falling sensations and safety are no worse at all with longer falls. All of which leads me to conclude....ummmm....ahhhh....oh well. Back to the drawing board...

Monday, 21 June 2010

Very little climbing at various lovely crags.

Climbing trips - sometimes you win 'em, sometimes you lose 'em. Recently I've won a few, so in the grand karmic balance it's not that surprising to lose one.

In recent years I've become very inspired by the Caithness area - lovely looking sea-cliff outcrops, reasonable approaches, peaceful area, benevolent (for Scotland!!) climate, what's not to like?? Finally I got up there butr due to various circumstances the promised mega-ticking-trip didn't happen. The climate had a moment of malevolence, mixing midges and mizzle in equal quantities - it was climbable, but not captivating conditions. And there were issues with the abseil approaches and a loose block falling onto my partner's (thankfully helmeted) head. Despite this there is a lot of great looking stuff there and the few routes I did confirmed the quality. On the plus side, I got a good recce of many great routes, the Wick campsite is very nice and very cheap, and there's a good curry house in town.

In recent days I've become extremely inspired by the Caithness area....and will be back soon!!

Retreat was beaten via: Strathconnon - okay but too hot and too midgey; Cummingston - kinda cool but too late and too greasy; Cullen Caves - ugly choss but good fun power bouldering, unfortunately Cullen Skink in Cullen was somewhat disappointing; Luath Boulders - nice rock but rubbish micro-bouldering; and finally Glen Clova - lovely evening, fairly inspiring, but so knackered due to low-level gayflu that I quit after seconding a couple of routes.

Thusly a rather flaccid non-celebration of midsummer. Long trip, lots of crags, little climbing. Best just to view this as a recce and recuperation time - I think a wee break to let the gayflu settle, then a guns blazing return with maximum SYKE is the best plan. Raaargh.