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!!