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 **