Thursday, 27 September 2012

Laid Low

Once again I come back from a good climbing trip (same with Gibraltar, same with Caithness) in good spirits and good climbing fitness and the fucking punterflu. Caithness I caught it off Geoff, but Gibraltar I was virtually living on sunshine and fresh fruit, whilst Cornwall, despite a couple of days raving, the last few days were an intensely rewarding mixture of exercise, fresh sea air, and lots of sleep. It doesn't make any sense and it means instead of carrying on with my good form and good climbing, I've been a bit wiped out, not badly so but enough to miss the good weather last weekend and feeling I have to crawl my way back into things. I've started doing that with two short TCA sessions and an even shorter run (mostly to use the standard DVT-derived chest-wrenching exhaustion after 10 mins try to clear my lungs), all of which have been "okay".

My body is very slowly getting back to normal, but my mind is still ailing: The combination of this abrupt end to a good climbing period, an even more abrupt change to cold dark autumn, a poor autumn forecast, ponderings on whether I am staying in Glasgow or moving back South, and a cancellation of a potential trip abroad has made me feel detatched and distant from the climber's path in a surprisingly short period of time. Faffing around waiting for a cold to settle with no significant exploration planned and no obvious inspirations to follow due to time and weather doesn't feel right to me. I think I am also suffering from SAD a bit these days, I never used to but then spending more time in the frozen and dark wasteland that is Scotland might have some effect.

Anyway the plan is: Keep active and keep training while my cold is recovering, look for any opportunities to get to my remaining Scottish inspirations, be aware of suitable transitions into more wintery climbing (sandstone, gritstone, short technical routes), and try to get a trip abroad organised ASAP. And try to get some power back into my blood....

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Whilst in Cornwall... would have been rude not to do some climbing. Downright disgraceful in fact, given the exciting array of both adventurous and refined sea-cliff climbing that lies along the invariably scenic and geologically tortured North Devon and Cornwall coastline. Personally I tend to eschew the honeypots of West Penwith, simply because I have less inspiration for the granite, and prefer the austere pleasures of culm sandstone and the intrigue of pillow lava and the Atlantic coast. Thankfully I met up with local veteran Mark Kemball who was up for exploring "wherever", so I could sample a variety of coastal and inland crags. It went thusly:

Diamond Wall, Lizard:
(deep water solo)
Still terrifying, although a choppy swirling sea didn't help: Highly syked plans to do some F6bs here to warm up for F6cs at Nare Head were as rapidly abandoned as my attempt on a F6a to start was rapidly abandoned into a F4+ escape. I felt at least as scared above the sea as I would above the land, and especially wary of the rock, line, grades, and errr everything. I still want to get to grips with DWS but it certainly didn't happen this trip!

Carn Brea:
Good lines, decent rock, nice situation and great landings made this a suitable evening quick hit before getting my rave on. The conditions although cool-ISH were pretty mediocre for frictional granite, but I managed a few good easier problems including Classic Arete (below) and a nice "V3" crack that was more like "VS".

Kilmar Tor:
(recceing, soloing, walking, bouldering)
After bouncing away until 4am this was really just to meet up with Mark and hang out with his bunch of merry men. The walk-in was knackering, the wind ferocious, and the rock rather coarse and gravelly. I just pottered.

Kellan Head:
The first proper day out, after only bouncing until 2am ;). I'd been to Kellan ages ago and done a couple of routes, and got some inspiration for some standard but attractive pitches on the Waterslide Wall. The pillow lava was nice, the warm-up route was well worth it's appealing line, and the harder Rock-a-by Baby had a wild and exciting crux (once we'd worked out the photo in the book was unspeakably bad beta!!). A very chilled out evening at the campsite followed.

The Cheesewring:
(sport, trad)
Coastal options were limited the next day as a very brisk nor'wester precluded the more interesting North-facing crags, so the variety and general shelter of the Cheesewring was proposed. This was a mixed day - falling off the first move of Warrior through sheer carelessness was shockingly bad, somehow smearing and pressing up the desperate crux of Trouble With Lichen was shocking I managed it at all, the hardest corner climbing I've done. A few easier leads and seconds surrounded this, and confirmed that I'm not a huge fan of quarried granite per se. Like inland limestone and central highlands schist, it has some great climbs but they have to be specifically chosen, unlike gritstone or gneiss which are intrinsically good.

Cow And Calf:
Back on the sheer and stylish sedimentary sandstone of the Culm Coast, where every crag has some interest and every good climb has it's fair share of wee crimps and RP protection seams. C&C is steeper and more dramatic than some crags, and a recce 5 years ago had inspired me for the two brilliant climbs I managed: Dark Side Of The Moon was a great big swaggering pitch with a proper technical crux and a good fly on the wall feel, while Elisa Johanna was the most intense lead I've done this year - exciting and bold climbing with spaced protection, that took almost all the committment I had. Very satisfying. On the way back out we walked out past the Elisa Johanna itself....820 tonnes of metal torn into pieces by 30 years of the sea's relentless ravaging....pretty wild...

...200m later...

So overall a great wee trip, and I got very inspired to get back down there. I love the feel of the coast....everything feels like a hidden gem :). While I was down there my elbow felt mostly fine and didn't really need tape, my shoulder felt completely healed....but I tweaked my back putting my tent back in the car, and got a minor bout of man-flu to slow me down this weekend. Both easing off now will see what more I can get done in Scotland before autumn closes in too far...  

Bangface 2012!

Hard to resist with a line-up like that. 90% of time I look at festival / weekender line-ups and at best there are 1 or 2 artists I would be tempted to see, the rest is mundane indie dance student semi-alternative bollox. Bangface always seem to hit properly hard though and in the end this proved too much to resist, even as a solo mission with a lot of driving.

Unfortunately that amount of driving resulted in me arriving late on Friday night, setting up camp several miles from the rave, and then not having enough petrol to get there and back and not enough energy to dick around with taxis and stuff. If I'd known that night's line-up was: Dave Clarke > Venetian Snares > Bong-Ra > Outside Agency then I'd have tried a bit harder....clearly I am pretty pissed I missed that lot.

But I got good value raving on the next two nights, catching, in order:

Renegade feat Ray Keith Live:
Pretty good job of a live set and pretty good jungle overall, although a bit stop/start and I'd have preferred more old-skool Ray Keith stuff.

DJ Starscream (ex-Slipknot):
(techno, dubstep, jungle, breakcore)
Good and surprising set, I thought this dude was just relentless breakcore but he mixed it up pretty well with a full spectrum of styles, building up to the proper mashed up stuff, all pretty good.

(electronica, jungle, hardcore)
The surprise of the night, I only caught the last part of this set but it sounded really nice, bleepy trancey melodies with fast jungle and hard techno beats. Not sure if the whole set was like this but would happily see more of Wisp.

808 State:
(oldskool, breakbeat)
Another surprise, I didn't really know much about 808S apart from them having done some old skool / housey anthems, but despite the least charismatic frontman ever, they did some good breakbeat stuff, and some of their newer tracks which were nice solid drum and bass styles.

Current Value:
(hard drum and bass)
Excellent! Proper hardcore Current Value style, but not all pots and pans, with a few abstract and dubsteppy bits thrown in amongst the mayhem. Set of the weekend for me and great to dance to. I find some of the modern hard dnb a bit relentless on CD but it works great in a rave.

Producer & Hellfish:
(gabber, breakbeat)
Good stuff, exactly as expected, I used to catch Producer loads in my earlier raving years, and he's still going strong, mixing it in well with Hellfish and some hip-hop and breakbeat styles with proper pogoing gabber beats.

DJ Yoda:
(hip-hop, funk, dubstep, audio-visual)
Well put together set of slick and entertaining audio-visual mixing. Entertaining stuff although not my sort of thing to rave to.

(electronica, ambient, techno)
Again another nice set but not really that energetic and dancey. Some of the earlier parts were excellent listening ambient / downbeat.

Aphex Twin:
(acid techno, industrial electro, breakhop, neo-jungle, noisecore)
Good set....maybe a great set. Slightly marred by early technical hitches (15 mins late start, then 15 mins downtime just after starting), and being bloody boiling in the rave so I had to chill out even when he transmogrified into the jungle stuff. But the actual music was often great, some classy acid techno, the vibes were mad (5 lasers + 15 giant inflatable dolphins at one point) and the breakcore finish was amazing. So yeah good stuff...
(Terrible sound but you get the idea)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Autumnal Aberdeen

It's feeling pretty autumnal at the moment.... The changing of the light is particularly noticable - when the grey cloud smothers Scotland it feels especially gloomy, but when the sun burns through the increasingly low angle of it, whilst slightly perturbing, produces pleasing golden light that brings a certain romance to the landscape. There is little friendliness in the weather overall though: the Indian Summer has firmly hit Scotland in the way Scotland does best - a gale is lashing through Glasgow and Western Scotland is lucky to get one dry day a week. Something that England-based (currently dry) climbers would do well to remember when they whine about their "poor summer" compared to Scotland's good early summer - just bear in mind that last year when England had a decent summer and good autumn, Scotland had shit-all apart from rain for both...

In these conditions, once again the East Coast saves the day with all it's percularities and quirks and shelter from the Atlantic lows. As much as the changing of the seasons has made me feel a bit perculiar myself (despite usually liking autumn a lot), I'm still syked and inspired enough to keep trying hard, with mixed but pretty decent results. This time, despite concerns about my shoulder, it eased off surprisingly rapidly with a day's climbing, and I tackled the following climbs of personal note:

Red Army Blues @ Sickle Row - a route that doesn't seem to get much attention, but it should as it's bloody great. I started this in a strangely sedated state of mind and spent ages on it getting my determination to match up to my rising syke and awakening body. Eventually it did and despite all the faff I really enjoyed the stylish line and some great moves.

Sair Fecht @ Floors Craig - the one at FC that I was pretty sure I could do, and yup it worked just like that. Straightforward gear but good cranky crimpy moves made for a nicely cruxy climb compared to the usual schistpumpfest horror shows.

The Pugilist @ Floors Craig (failed) - the one at FC that I was pretty sure would be twatting desperate, and it was. Obvious steepness, overrated holds and awkward gear, leading to it being brutally pumpy. Not a the sort of route that suits me trying to push my standard on, I fell off downclimbing to ground but my heart hadn't been properly in it anyway. Fair enough some styles of route are going to be too hard, all I can take from it is learning that I should try to stack the odds more with warm-ups and feeling fresher, to give myself a fighting chance on routes that fight dirty.

Photos of Sair Fecht:

Monday, 10 September 2012

Creag Dubh Diversity, Brin Rock Rambling.

Another weekend not in the North West, but not that far away either. The sinuous A9 pass bisects the Central Highlands and the Dalwhinnie to Inverness arc curves determinedly enough from the Fort William direction to the Ullapool direction to align itself with the North West, the quality of the climbing available confirming that. Weatherwise it seems somewhere in between and guessing the forecast for Creag Dubh is a matter of triangulating the Aviemore, Fort Augustus and Fort William forecasts (old Metoffice site, of course), and having a little faith.

That faith was rewarded this weekend, with dry and breezy weather and reasonable conditions, even a bit warm in the sun on Saturday! So how did I end up completely drenched mid-afternoon? Belaying under the Waterfall buttress waterfall, that's how. Whilst the climbing was dry the breeze was strong enough to provide intermittent showers and spray at the base....the novelty wore off by the time my downie was soaked, and put me off doing any of the harder routes there, although I am more inspired than ever. I did manage a couple of fine and highly contrasting routes in other areas: Case Dismissed on the Barrier Wall is steep, safe, and super-pumpy, only a crucial hand-jam got me up this, whilst Ticket To Ride on the Lower Main Wall is sheer, juggy, and steady but super-bold higher up. Having had a good explore and reacquaintance with the crag, I am declaring Creag Dubh season open and am determined to go back soon!

The next day we went to Brin Rock, which now has a full complement of trad, bouldering, and sport - although in the grand tradition of Scotland's clannish and insular local scenes, the seemingly popular sport climbing, whilst listed on UKC, is not usefully described anywhere, so for an outsider to actually climb there the usual veil of secrecy has to be penetrated....or maybe just ignored. The trad climbing itself seems to be ignored, as we soon found that highly starred routes looked undeservedly neglected. Maybe the approach slog puts people off, 10-15 minutes of boulders and heather is pretty grim although to be fair it's mostly the leg-murdering angle that made it so hard for me, I'm sure the able-bodied could cope with a bit of moral fibre. Anyway the crags turned out to be worth the effort - a pleasant belay perch at The Needle gave access to Gold Digger, an soft-touch but fine and varied route in an excellent position, and a return to Zed Crag pointed us at The Wild Man, an action packed wee route that was good from start to finish. That, and an easier warmup, was all we did, but it was cool to check out the crag. I still have to go back for Brin Done Before of course!

Following this weekend, although my right elbow is feeling okay, I tweaked my right shoulder when my foot slipped seconding Muph Dive, and got stung on my right forearm by a bloody wasp at Barrier Wall, which is still sore and itchy. I'll need to keep up with shoulder AND elbow theraputic weights now, ugh.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Aberdeen Assault

As I suspected the weather has turned to balls in The West - regular checking of Fort William and Ullapool forecasts shows only sporadic days of thick grey cloud and humid south-westerly winds to provide intermittent respite from light or heavy rain as the weather gods deem fit. I still keep my hopes up for the odd two day trip to Wester Ross, or the famed but elusive one day hit for Glen Nevis, but in the meantime I've initiated my Plan B: The East, including the Aberdeen Coast, Moray Coast, Central Highlands and Lowlands. Whilst this doesn't have the seemingly endless choice of excellent rock that the North West does, it does provide a curious variety of interesting rock types (or more like an interesting variety of curious rock types!) and plenty of surprisingly enticing challenges.

Following tangential warm-ups at Covesea and Ballater, and some emergency "steepness over-compensation" training on the Ratho comp wall, I had a few days in the area this weekend, and briefly they went thusly:

Red Tower & Grey Mare Slabs: Nice day by the sea, visited two crags to give Simon a good taster of the gnarly granite, and did a few classic routes - Neanderthal Man and Vulture Squadron both being worth an extra star for their sustained quality. I tried something harder but was a bit too warm. Will be back!

Berrymuir Head: Nice day by the sea but curiously too greasy. Warmed up, failed on some slopey thing, Simon didn't fare much better on his route, so we called it a day after a couple of easier things. Curious that sun and a seemingly fresh breeze didn't give good conditions, but chatting to a local local afterwards confirmed my suspicion that the SW breeze was just too warm and humid.

Johnsheugh: Nice day by the sea and this time much fresher so had an ace day out. This revamped crag is where all the cool kids hang out, and even uncool unlocals are allowed here so I was keen to sample 25m of diverse bulging wall climbing, and certainly did that with a steady warm-up and 3 fine and satisfying routes.

Coble Boards: Nice day by the sea and still pretty fresh, the NWer getting even this crag in decent nick (not quite decent enough for the burly Jihad whose slick angled slopers are tucked under a sheltering roof). Is it a bunch of coblers? No it's quite a cool wee crag in a nice setting with a good viewing platform. The routes are short steep and sometimes pretty weird so classic Aberdeen schist then. We had fun and saw a pod of at least 6 dolphins cruising south along the coast.

Next on the agenda: Berrymuir in fresh conditions, Floors Craig, Sickle Row, Whisky Cliff, Rosehearty...