Friday, 20 December 2013

Dolerite Days - The End Of Two Eras.

Warning, this is even more long-winded, over-opinionated and anal-retentive than usual. To help read or more likely avoid some parts of it, I've highlighted some paragraphs as below:

[Æ] - analysis of ethical issues
[ß] - beta alert
[¢] - climbing report
[Ð] - dishing out the pain on idiots


1. Wally 2, Ratho.

One of the temporarily retro-bolted and thankfully repaired routes that I'd always wanted to do but at the time of bolting....

    ...I haven't done it because I've been exploring the rest of Scotland and have saved it for a short local day.

[Ð] One of the most farcical moments in the whole debate was when one of the pro-retrobolting / anti-consultation / anti-trad protagonists - let's just call him The Liar, not least because of his fictional claims to "enjoy both trad and sport" (well demonstrated by doing sport 90% of the time) - somehow claimed that I was making this up. Well that's an impressive way to sabotage one's entire arguments by somehow contriving to disbelief a truth so obvious and self-evident. What next, doubting someone who claims "I go climbing indoors when it's raining" or "I go on sport climbing trips in winter when it's cold and dark in the UK" or "I like going to the west coast when it's windy to keep the midges away"??

Suffice to say the truth of my statement came to pass the other day....a short local day when I wasn't exploring the rest of Scotland. Cold but pleasant around Edinburgh, wet in the west and too little daylight to go further east. I'd actually been for a look at this route a fortnight before: I'd got on it just before dusk, got pumped placing the gear, reversed down for a rest, then the sunlight went off the wall and my fingers got frozen, and I backed off. So I was itching to get back on, and a sudden skyhook revelation had restored my confidence in the otherwise minimal gear at the start. Gear? Yes, gear. A young kid in the area had led it when it was a sport route without clipping the bolts, and claimed:

    Wally 2 is a solo when climbed without the bolts. Best left alone?

[ß] More falsehoods that hardly encourage sensible debate about a route's trad merits. Of course as a pure trad solo it would still have merits and not warrant retro-bolting, but in fact it is quite a steady lead. I got 11 bits of gear in, ran out of quickdraws *and* RPs - the total tally being: Tied down skyhook (easy to place), RP0, HB0, HB2, Camalot 0.25, Camalot 0.75, HB2, RP1, RP2, Peenut 1, Camalot C3 00. The Camalots are very obvious from the ground, the RPs are very obviously crucial if fiddly gear. A solo?? Errrr. No.

[ß][¢] Anyway it is a great route that I really enjoyed leading in very crisp conditions. Bouldered up to place the first gear, bouldered down to rest and tighten the skyhook, back up and straight into the steady run-out moves up the fine groove to good holds and good cams at mid-height. Explored up the wall above past innumerable RP placements to a steep finish, reversed back down for a rest, committed out right into pumpy but steady moves onto a nice clean top-out. As sensible and normal as trad gets. Then we both did the new sport route to the left which was also good up another elegant groove - a worthy addition that compliments the trad on this wall.

[Æ] So that should be the end of a sordid but ultimately satisfactory saga. There is one more retro-bolted route that I'd like to see repaired, the Slow Strain arete, but that seems less likely as no-one else is campaigning to have that fixed, and it was done with the first ascentionists blessing (although that is only a necessary factor, and by no means sufficient). Given the relentless stupidity I and others have faced when arguing against the retro-bolting, I doubt this will be worth more hassle. Aside from that, that situation is very good: Classic trad routes have been cleaned and re-climbed, Pettifar's has a useful lower-off, there are good new sport additions in-between the trad, and there has been excellent tree and path clearance, the quarry has got more publicity, and with the state of the Ratho wall roof, it's probably drier than the indoor wall!

Victory for the forces of righteousness and justice, then.

And I've done my main inspirations in the quarry....but then again I do like the climbing there....and thinking about it there's a few more things to go back for: Blue Rinse, Alopecia, Slow Strain boltfree, Oroborous Direct, Strongarm, Rebel With Claws, This Septic Heil. Well it's useful to have some inspiration for short local days...

2. Nijinski, Auchinstarry.

And you thought the previous entry had too much ethical waffling on. Oh dear...

[Ð] So Nijinski, THE line of the Central Belt. The Edge Lane / Master's Edge / Archangel of Kilsyth. Sort of. It is, for a lump of rock jutting into a ned carpark in an urban quarry on the bend of a busy road, a beautiful bit of rock. A beautiful bit of rock with a beautiful reputed climb -delicate arete climbing a long way out from small and tenuous RPs. Thus a quintessential lead challenge, the sort of experience one is either ready for or isn't, one either does or walks away in acknowledgment. The one thing one NEVER does is to non-climb the route by top-roping it. Top-roping a route like this is of course is the most utter sort of failure, both a failure to even try the route, and a failure to engage with or even acknowledge it's true quality.

[Æ] I led it, just about onsight, but with a slight impurity that leaves me pondering. I did pretty well: I deliberately didn't do Bladerunner first, I didn't watch anyone on Nijinski in any style, I didn't ask for specific beta, I didn't abseil down to clean it, I didn't watch my mate when he abseiled down for me, I didn't use a pad on the bouldery start. But neither did I just read the guidebook, get syked, and blast from the bottom to the top.

[Æ] Firstly, I had attempted this route before, been up to the crux, been unsure about the line and quite sure it was too warm, reversed down and escaped up the Nijinski Is The Hunter link. Reserving to the ground is normal procedure for me and for many people pushing their onsight limits - cleanly backing off a route under one's own steam and trying it again later. Standard procedure and of little interest. Trying a harder route that breaks out of an easier route, reversing and finishing up the easier route, also fairly standard and also of little interest. Think starting up The Mincer to try Smear Test, getting half-way along Smear Test, not liking it and reversing to finish up The Mincer. Or Pebbledash/The Swan or whatever. So far, so normal - especially in a situation like N where you hang around on the massive resting Triangle before engaging with the full arete.

But in this case, NITH is not a particularly established route - it doesn't appear in the guide, only on UKC, and only with a few ascents. So is it a contrived cop-out that makes a mockery of trying Nijinski onsight?? Is it something no-one would ever do except to escape Nijinski if they are not good enough to do it nor reserve to the ground cleanly?? I'm not sure, but in it's favour, NITH is the easiest line that goes all the way up the frontal slab, and links an highball E3 5c start into a bold, reachy E2 5b finish, by delicate E1 5a climbing, and thus is pleasingly continuous and more balanced in difficulty than DITH (E5+ in to E2) or N (E3 into E5-). It would probably be one or even two stars in it's own right, and a worthwhile climb in it's own right. Would it be a contrived cop-out to start up NITH with the idea to give N a look, and continue up NITH otherwise?? Maybe not...

[Æ] Secondly, while the line of Nijinski is obvious, the line of the climbing is less so. You start the arete on it's right, but above the Triangle, mostly climb it on it's left....but there is one crucial point teetering on a slim quartz ripple whilst blindly grasping a pocket around the corner, where it seems natural to fall rightwards around the corner and layback the arete on it's right. This is where the holds lead, but then seems to bring you into Bladerunner, or at least the Bladerunner holds, for a couple of metres. It looks possible to layback the arete purely on the left, this would be a cleaner line but obviously much harder. Given this sort of route is at my limit with no margin for error, I couldn't continue on my previous attempt without knowing the default way, and I didn't want to get on it again without finding out.

So I asked around. A couple of friends said "yeah you swing rightwards". But they hadn't done it. A few people on the internet said "No you stay on the left all the way". But one person had only top-roped it, and the other two didn't elaborate. A video of someone doing it on YouTube showed them swinging rightwards (I very carefully only skipped through the video quickly to see what line they ended up on, and didn't get any beta). But this was only someone shunting. Someone else on Facebook said they "reached around to the right then up direct". But it was a decade ago and their picture only showed them above the crux. Typical Scotland - hard to get clear information even about a roadside mega-classic! Finally I had a good chat with Alan Cassidywho remembered the situation well "yeah there's that hold around the corner, you swing around on it, it's well sketchy, that felt like the crux". Okay, something that makes sense from someone who has done it recently enough.

[ß][¢] Finally, on to the route. Boulder up the arete, it's harder now the lower block has gone and I have to pounce for the Triangle. Trot up to the gear seam, it's muddier than before, but I have a wee kitchen knife taped next to my nutkey. Scraping around, hard fiddling and firm tugs, and I have my nuts resting in the dirty crack. Nice. As before I have placed loads and two of them are just about good. This time I have a new slider but the bugger still doesn't fit. Perfect thin parallel seam, it annoys me so I step back down to the Triangle. Shake my toes out, and up to the ripple of doom. Hmm it's a bit thin, did I really get on this before and reverse it?? I guess so, because I do again....and again. The second time feels even more precarious, I'm teetering, flicking glances left to the gear (which I feel happy with), right around the corner to what little I can see (not much), down to the minimal footholds (gulp). I very nearly committ then - either I will fall off and at least I won't be on this fucking ripple any more, or I will do the moves.....and at least I won't be on this fucking ripple any more. I reverse by the skin of my teeth for another rest. 3rd time lucky, well it has to be: Firstly I realise the top of NITH is wet so I can't escape again. Secondly I throw down by bodywarmer (but not my £1.69 beanie, today it is matching a purple t-shirt and I'm not giving up THAT advantage), so I can't reverse as I will freeze solid. Onto the ripple, right hand in the pocket, change my geometries and fall around the corner, smearing my left hand as I go - it is a brilliant move, very much a poor man's Kaluza Klein (see 5:45 here). Layback the arete, reach good holds up and right, cruise to the top.

[¢] So I did the line in accordance with the slight majority vote, in accordance with someone who described it clearly, in accordance with the line of least resistance, and in accordance with something that had bloody great moves on it. After all the faff and escaping and enquiring, the moment that really mattered was that swing around, the moment of mid-motion and smearing my hand to control it. A beautiful manouvre for a beautiful line.

[Æ] If Nijinski is supposed to take the eliminate line letting go of, or ignoring, the crucial pocket and staying purely on the left, sobeit. This would be a worthy alternative for a guidebook footnote and perhaps best named "Nijinski Direct", and still worth 3 stars. If the line of least resistance I took is an easier grade, sobeit. With enough gear in the crack, it felt easy for the grade for me anyway.

Now I can move on.....Bladerunner/direct, Surface Tension, Gold Bug await....


Saturday, 14 December 2013

To pad or not to pad...

...that is not the question. Any more than to cam or not, to RP or not, to chalk or not, to Stealth rubber or not. Pads are default, de-rigeur protection, I use them and so does everyone else...

I'm still standing on the slopey ripple, as I have been for over 20 minutes. I could reverse down and jump off at any time. I could retreat and walk away at any time. I could bring the pads over and boulder it out. I look across at them stacked beneath Tris. He is getting close to Sithee Direct, pushing through day 6 tiredness from the undercling to an overhead press, a brilliant move. It provides a welcome distraction whilst my brain refines the sequences above, slotting together information gained over several tenative forays. Left foot edge - no. Right foot smear - no. Left hand gaston - no. Left hand over to top sloper - no. Right hand to sidepull pebble - no. Exploring options, discarding dead ends, running out of excuses to not do the remaining optimised moves.

The conditions are pretty much perfect - hovering around zero at dusk after a fresh sunny day - and the rock feels great. My skin feels less great. My tips went numb at first, now they are glowing and rippled from the grit grains. Each time I'm surprised I can stick onto the top slopers without pinging straight off - I have no intention of doing so and need to get this right if....when I do it. I look down at the flat pile of my rope bag and down jacket. My tips are still sweating so my swiftly-discarded hoodie adds a few millimetres of cushioning. I keep my beanie on, I just got it in the Hope Spar for £1.70 and it's muted stripes would go well with grey, purple, or blue. I'm wearing a blue t-shirt so the beanie gives me confidence.

A couple of climbers appear with several pads to join in the fun. Would I like their pads thrown down beneath me? No, I want to do this the way I had always desired. They happily pile them beneath Torture Garden, but I don't want to hold too many people up so get back into the crux position with a few percent extra motivation. Smear my hands on the slopers, dig my foot into the pocket....and this time take the handbrake off and step up into the subtle left foot pocket. Calm and committed, left hand into the flake, right hand to the good edge, left foot onto the flake and scamper with glee to the top. The climbing is delightful as is the pleasure of doing it in this way, it's possibly the highlight of several days and a dozen good routes on the grit.

So I did an easy micro-route without pads, just like a million climbers before me in the bad old days. So what?? Except for me, it IS a challenging style of climbing. I'm short and sweaty and sketchy on smears and slopers, I land with the grace and impact of a pissed hippo and the skeletal resilience of a balsa model. I also had the very sensible option to do the climb as a highball with good pads and spotting - which in my experience makes a lot of difference to my safety and confidence - just like a million climbers do in the good current days. Except I chose not to....


Or maybe:

Was it more enjoyable at the time doing the climb in that style than doing it in a highball style??

That's an easier question because the answer is a simple yes. The increased focus, the precision, learning the moves, dealing with the mental challenge by becoming increasingly familiar with the physical situation - all were more enjoyable for me than if I'd felt safer and more comfortable above pads. The sweaty skin from a lot of up-and-downing wasn't but that was a minor detraction.

Is that justification in itself??


But at the same time I'm always interested in the issues of motivation, and the issues of climbing style. Highballing is the new, normal climbing style. Micro-routing isn't. Pads are the new, normal climbing protection. It takes a particular effort to conciously ignore and actively avoid using them. So why would anyone bother to choose the harder, more dangerous, more time consuming option?? When the convention seems a very natural approach to shorter protectionless routes, increasing the safety yet still retaining some of the feel and committment required, it seems ridiculous to fly in the face of that convention - even when top climbers like James Pearson do it (from what I understand his motivation was partly to have clarity about the nature of the challenge in comparison to other grit trad challenges).

For me personally, I take all the opportunities I can get to deal with trad challenges, and I take my protection rack of C3s, RPs, Peenuts, Superlights, Ballnuts, HBs, Tricams on most bolder routes. So why don't I put the protection of pads beneath my feet??

It boils down to inspiration (god, not THAT again!) - how I was originally inspired to do a climb. Most of my inspiration is old inspiration - I'm a crap climber so it takes me many years from first desiring a route to actually feeling ready to try climbing it. Old, deep, entrenched inspiration. If I was inspired by a climb in the old red-spined Stanage guide, then chances are I'll still be inspired by it now (and might have avoided it for decades due to being too scared). If I was inspired by a route as a micro-route and/or a bold solo, chances are I'll still be inspired by THAT challenge and THAT style now. Which means although it will be harder and scarier, it's how I actually want to do it - for the reasons of the enjoyment listed previously.

I have quite a few routes I have always wanted to do in this way. I might relinquish my inspiration and throw a load of pads down in a month, or a year, or a decade. Or I might stick with what I want and do them without. Or I might never do them, I might just accept I can't do them how I want, and just walk away. Is it silly to deny myself the climbing?? I don't know, I've got a couple of decades to change my mind if I want to. Conversely there are many similar climbs I was never previously inspired by that I'd get inspired by now purely as highballs, and never consider doing them in a different way.

There is no conclusion to this, there is no point I'm making, as the issue can be as simple as it first seems: It's now a rare and esoteric choice to solo rather than to highball, but it is still a genuine choice and can be undertaken for genuine reasons.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Peak Practice.

It's taken me a good 4 years to get over the horror of gritstone climbing and get some syke back for it. Living in Sheffield for many years, doing over a thousand routes on grit, continuously battling the slopey, rounded, frictional, reachy, pumpy and utterly committing climbing than plays exactly to my weaknesses, ensured that I didn't miss it one bit. Until this winter when I haven't shaken off my trad syke - bored of bouldering and still utterly revolted by the very idea of ""Scottish Winter Climbing"", the prospect of coming back down to play on the optimal winter rock suddenly became appealing. Plus I'd missed the slabs and aretes and technical delicacies that are very sparsely spread in Scotland, and well-established, well-climbed routes with clean holds and clear lines that are also often a rarity in the barren wastelands up here. Finally I had a card up my sleeve - the confidence I'd gained from falling practice was still lingering and I felt inspired to try to put into action of some committing but hopefully not dangerous grit routes.

As it happened, we had to battle the weather as much as the climbing. Chasing the "panic about tidal surge" hurricane down, we left Glasgow on a glorious crisp pre-dawn morning, hit gloomy cloud by Preston and swirling hill fog and sleet leaving Glossop. In the ensuing days, the weather slowly perked up through mizzle, clart, murk, haze and finally crisp sunshine, all driven across the edges by punishing breezes, meaning our crag visits went something like this:

Shining Cliff - great nick when it was sleeting at Stanage and showering at Curbar.
Curbar day 1 - damp in the morning, then okay nick....until it rained.
Curbar/Froggatt day 2 - bone dry at Moon area but too strong gales to climb. Froggatt not as crisp but dry enough and at least survivable.
Roaches - glorious sun, decent breeze, and almost entirely green and sodden. Only bits of the Skyline and HD were in decent nick.
Stanage High Neb - almost perfect nick on the rock but again a howling wind limited feasible route options.
Stanage Popular / Plantation - absolutely perfect nick with a cold morning and evening, glorious sun and cool breeze in between.

...restricting both crag and route options, meaning my mini tick-list was downsized to this:

Flyaway E1 5b * - steep, steady, and fun
Marathon Man E2 5c ** - good fun safe cruxy climbing
Lazy Day F6b+ *** - great line and good climbing but an odd experience with the old aid bolts
Four Pebble Slab E3 5c * - a bit eliminate but a nice run-out with pure friction moves
Shortcomings E1 6a * - an unexpected pleasure that I never thought I'd bother trying, I was tall enough to place the gear but short enough to have to reach the flake the hard way
Hunky Dory E3 5c *** - excellent route, the perfect blend of powerful bits and committing bits
The Beautician E3 5c ** - with the blindingly obvious en-route runner that's 18" left of the hand-holds you start the crux slab with, safe and steady but good proper slab moves
Pig's Ear V3 ** - a rare occasion for me to keep the pads down, worth it for a fine wee highball
Fate E2 5c * - another unexpected pleasure which I had tried but backed off, I'm not sure how as this time I did it at dusk in about 3 minutes
Stanleyville E4 5c ** - perfect morning just as the fog lifted, good committing crux
Constipation E4 6a ** - took quite a bit of up-and-downing to find the sequence, proper grit trickiness
DIY E3 6a *** - onsight no pads, amazing conditions with just enough skin left, great committing moves and really rewarding

Ones that got away: The Bear Hunter (hurricane conditions), King Kong (too cold and unbouncy for the mantle), Wolf Solent (escaped off the super-safe crux with cold hands and the easy chimney 2' away), Comus (brutally hard and reachy, backed off).

The last day at Stanage showed just how much cool stuff we could have done if the weather had been more amenable - but then again I'd have probably run out of fingertips in a couple of days!! So not so many spectacularly challenging routes, but a nice blend of fairly classic and fairly tricky routes done fairly confidently, and minorly tricky routelets done with a surprising minimum of fuss. Slabs felt very steady, bulges felt bloody awful (maybe due to the relatively humidity on open rounded holds?), and I certainly need more hospitable weather, more warming up, and more beefing up to tackle anything steep down there. At any rate it was mighty good fun when we got on dry rock and my next return visit might be in 4 weeks rather than 4 years...

Grit sport climbing at it's best on Lazy Day

Enjoying a tasty mini-runout on good ripples on Hunky Dory. 

Monday, 2 December 2013

Why so serious?

It might look crazy from the outside. Someone goes out on a nice warm Sunday afternoon in December, tries a really cool looking climb, does the hard bits fine, gets tired and nervous on one easy move before a rest, rests on the gear and lowers off. A seemingly insignificant event, but his reaction to this is as follows: firstly swearing and shouting, then upon abseiling to remove the protection (and confirm the situation was as easy as expected and it was his failing not the climb's difficulty), briefly loses his temper and throws several bits of climbing gear around, then collects them all in a cold hard rage. He maintains enough composure to explain and apologise to his climbing partner, who is thankfully human enough to understand the emotional stresses of climbing, and belay him on another route. After this his anger stays seething all the way home, and he even has a couple of rare drinks to try to calm down. Later on it just about subsides to crossness and disappointment but takes another night and day to fully dissipate.

So that was me then and this is me now, trying to make sense of it.

Why so serious? Why does it matter so much? Why such a strong reaction to something so trivial as failing on a climb? After all it's not like I broke my legs, or crashed my car, or came back to find my flat broken in to, or had a family member diagnosed with cancer, or had a helicopter drop on my head when I was out for a casual Friday night drink... Why so angry?

(Although when I was lying in hospital with multiple DVTs due to an unknown cause, swollen legs and a massively spiking CRT, and scarcely able to walk to the toilet, I wasn't angry at all, just resigned.)

Some people understand, some people don't. Sometimes I don't feel I understand, but all I know, contrary to how it might seem to some people, the feeling is completely natural and totally genuine. It's not made up for effect or exaggerated for drama. It's not chosen or contrived. It is real and it is how I really feel. No amount of "why should you be angry?" / "it's only a climb" / "aren't you overreacting?" / "think how lucky you are" will change that. No amount of realising it's counter-productive and not wanting to be so angry will magically switch it off. If I had a Control Emotions switch I wouldn't be human.

So it matters, it is serious, it is a genuine response.


Because climbing is a brilliant and fantastic activity that I am passionate about, so I invest a lot in emotionally because that's how it works for me. For some people it's just a hobby, just a bit of fun, just....whatever. For me it is that, but it is more - and it engages me BECAUSE it is more. It's serious because this much fun is a serious business, this is what really matters! The downside to the emotional investment - the inspiration, the dedication, the passion, the excitement, the satisfaction, the engagement, the fun, the physical expression - is that if I betray or sabotage that, I can be as upset with myself as I am excited with myself when I do it well.

Most of the anger is that the route I failed on was very good, it would have been a very nice, interesting, enjoyable, exciting, stimulating experience to climb it all. It was a precious and positive experience that I engaged with and then chose to throw away due to giving in to my own inadequacies. I had something great and then ruined it for myself - and in the area, that is a limited resource. If it had been something less inspiring, more trivial, more common (there aren't so many good climbs at that standard in that style that are accessible to me), less special as an experience of pleasure, then I could walk away a lot calmer. But abseiling down I could see just how much pleasure I would have got from continuing and completing the climb. Throwing away a really good climbing experience....that is why I was angry.

The other most of the anger (yes, there was THAT much) is that it was my own lack of determination that let me down. The route is not a very hard route, and besides I had done the hard bits. If I fail on something because it is genuinely hard, because I get beaten fair and square, because I am just not good enough, then I could walk away a lot calmer. On this route I was good enough, but for a moment I chose not to be, I chose to give in to the pressures of pump and nervousness instead of fighting through them, even when I was so close to just doing it.

The one thing I can perhaps take from this experience is a reminder that it does matter to me, that it is serious fun, and that I will get really pissed off if I mess it up for myself. Maybe because I haven't done much of that this autumn, I've got complacement and forgotten how pissed off I can get. So next time keeping the consequences of failure in mind might give me that little bit of an edge when my positive desire for success and enjoyment gets blunted.

Hope this makes sense. Posting now because I'm fed up of trying to write/edit it!


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Fail Train.

Dunira or Die, Dunira - failed - did the lower wall fine, got to the crux roof, discovered it's a full grade under-graded and a massively reachy and blind slap, and pretty much gave up in disinterest. Not much I could have done and not much I particularly care about.

The Hard Shoulder, Goat Crag - attempted - wanted to try this for years, and had a very prolonged play around on it recently. A great line but the route doesn't quite do it justice, swinging around to within easy reach of a corner before lurching back onto the line. We tried direct and I got very syked until realising which way it went, at which point the syke diminished but the groundfall potential didn't and eventually I lost the committment. Maybe I will be back, maybe not.

Juggernaut, Goat Crag - failed - got on this late in the day after spotting surprisingly good gear. Got engaged with the crux, realised I needed a different sequence. Came down and rested, went back up ignored my revised sequence, got over-optimistic with my feet and all out of balance and fell off. "Doh" being the technical term. Should have been steadier and more methodical with trying to work out the best sequence.

Master Blaster, Rothley - failed - very cold rock and not perfectly clean. Got my partner to abseil down chalk and brush it. Climbed up easy ground to the break. Climbed up tricky moves to the crucial cam pocket and placed it. Downclimbed and rested until I could feel my hands again. Climbed up past the cam and furtled towards the arete. Too damn cold. Downclimbed past the cam and my foot slipped off and so did I. Fuck. Was going to back off anyway due to conditions, and maybe that's the crux of the day. With warmer drier weather and I might just have pressed on and engaged the crux, or might not have slipped off a hold. Too much inspiration and too little consideration trying it when the last sun it got was probably September and the last ascent god knows when.

Getting home from Rothley with both wing mirrors attached - failed - narrow two lane road en-route to Otterburn. Going down into a dip, another car comes over the brow 1/2 a mile away with snazzy halogen fullbeam on into the same dip. I'm slowing down to try to pass safely but as I get close the last thing I think is "Fuck ME that is bright, that's still full beam, I can't see the verge" and then there's wing mirror flying everywhere. We both pull in, I go to the other car and check straight away to confirm the full beam is still on...

Me: You had your full beam on all the time, I was blinded and couldn't see how far to pull over.

(This is even assuming that it was partly my positioning to blame, which isn't certain)

Other driver: You were going too fast.

Me: I was slowing right down to pass you, I was braking all the way down the hill.

OD: Slowing down to 50 or 60 maybe... Anyway it's only a wing mirror, we can just accept it's an accident.

Me: Yes I will accept that. But did you turn your full beam off when you passed me??

OD: *flaps around evasively* I turned it on just now...

(Fiend thinks: If you're going to lie, at least do a better job than that. Did you turn it on as the obvious first reaction to hitting a wing mirror, or did you turn it on as the standard procedure for pulling in on the side of the road?? Uh HUH.)

Me: *shakes head* You had it on all the time. That makes it hard to pull over safely.

OD: You were still going too fast, you need to slow down more so we can pass each other like gentlemen.

(Fiend thinks: Surely a gentleman would admit to his mistakes and not lie to pretend he didn't do anything wrong.)

Me: And you need to turn your full beam off, as it says in the Highway Code *walks away*.

And then it was just a few more hours of relentless bumbling on the A68 Traffic Jam Road Of Ultimate Shit, going through an entire tank of screenwash with the dirt spray, and getting a sore neck checking to overtake safely on the motorway. Not the most successful climbing day ever.


Update: Lying awake in the middle of the night still thinking about Master Blaster. I'm actually quite upset about messing this one up, because it's one of very few climbs in the County, or indeed North of the grit, that is both at a level of challenge I can just about aspire too, AND is very bold but just about safe. The perfect style of climbing waaaay out from good gear and committing to tricky moves that could result in a massive scraping swing rather than a massive breaking groundfall (as is more often the case in the County!).  The others I can think of are Endless Flight @ Great Wanney (which definitely has to be left for drier weather) and Greenford Road @ Sandy Crag (which is a fucking hike so well off the radar).

Master Blaster could have been the perfect one and I could have done things so much better. Even aside from leaving it for a better day, I could have downclimbed earlier to see just how reasonable the gear situation is (and then maybe committed anyway), I could have marked the foothold so I got my foot in better and didn't slip off, I could have taken the cam out and had a much easier downclimb (a new tactic I really need to keep in mind!!). I could have got the day's plans organised a damn sight earlier and had more time to deal with it. A lot of little things I didn't do right and one little footslip and that's a brilliant potential climb lost for now - I'll have to wait a while for "the onsight to grow back" with this one.

I suppose the copper lining is yet more learning. Learning about complacency. Learning to keep up with my usual dilligence and planning. Learning that there's a reason I wake in the night thinking about these things, because they are meaningful and matter to me, and deserve respect and attention to detail.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

NOT backing off at Back Bowden.

Back this, Bowden that, whatever. Suffice to say I've redeemed myself from my previous punterage and shoddy strategies, and went back and did a couple of fine routes:

On The Verge has inspired me for 10 years or so. It just looked cool. Very much a grit-style bold slabby arete, but I've never been routing there in grit-style weather. Well the other day was a perfect grit-style winter's day: Below zero at dusk, snow on the roads, frozen ground, searingly crisp air and soothingly warm sunshine. Gentle slabby bouldering got my feet warmed up and faffing with gear got my mind warmed up. Stepping into the slab was a bit of a child-bearing-hip manouvre, above that it just flowed smoothly to the top.

The Tube has inspired me for 10 days or so - from the last visit. It just looked so weird and sketchy previously - crabwise shuffling along a break that's bound to be alarmingly shallow and inconvenient, otherwise it would be an HVS shuffle, which it isn't. But closer inspection on the last visit showed a lone foothold partway along and a very obvious slit to aim for that the finish. Suddenly I had to do it! Taking advantage of the low sunlight caressing the break, I was able to pump my way along without getting too cold or scared and ended up in a fit of giggles using knees, elbows, chin and tongue to grovel over the lip. I can now see why it is such a classic County experience :).

Now, on to the grade geekery. Yay! The Tube is spot on. A bit bold, a bit pumpy, a few quite tricky moves. On The Verge seems to be following the bizarre trend in the latest definitive guide, along with Outward Bound, by going up a grade when it's one of the few County routes that should go down a grade. E2 5c move to get stood in the crescent + E3 5b move to place the cam by the good hold + E1 5b/c to finish, all on a restful slab = E3 5c. It's science, motherfuckers. In fact it's such obvious, clear-cut science that it makes me wonder if the blindingly obvious cam placement you go for "isn't in". Except:

1. The guidebook says "bold and committing moves lead up the arete until a crack is gained which provides an easy finish". There is only one crack to gain and although you don't actually use it to climb (the arete slants away so it would be harder to fall into it than to keep laybacking the arete!), it's a crack that can be used for gear.

2. The crack is right next to a crucial arete hand-hold:
This is not off-route, the route is climbing the left arete of that crack when you reach this point. I'm a short wee stunty and while it felt precarious to stretch the cam in, if I can manage it it's hardly an obscure manouvre. Ignoring the gear 6" from your hand would be like climbing The Executioner at Reiff but not placing any gear in the crack the arete forms part of! (Conversely, the side-runner on Auto Da Fe at Berrymuir requires traversing a metre or so away from good holds and into another route to place...).

So what does it all mean?? Either OTV follows the true line and is a steady E3 5c **, or it's an inferior eliminate at E4 5c *. The way I did it was very nice anyway :).

Monday, 18 November 2013

Backing off at Bowden AGAIN.

This weekend I went back to Bowden (but not Back Bowden). Hazy cloud and light winds after a previously dry day promised good conditions without being too bitter, which was about right. I'd hoped to try The Gauletier and maybe Posiedon Adventure, but came away empty handed. Warmed up gently on easy solos and going up and down routes. No dicking around trashing my skin bouldering - I'd already done enough of that the previous day, training on slabs at TCA, just for these routes.

Got on TG, went up and down working out the first crux getting stood on the low gear break. Committed to that, and thin crimps above. stood one move up nibbling foot edges, and wondered why all I could reach was a slopey seam below the main break. I pondered smearing and slapping for the break, and I pondered breaking my ankles with the ground too close for comfort, and I jumped off in control instead. A sensible but disappointing decision - I just didn't know if I was going to hit the ground or not, even with Brian running to take in rope, and I shouldn't do a slappy move with that uncertainty.

Then it got a bit still and humid and my fingers were dripping sweat after hanging on crimping and even looking at PA terrified me slightly, so all that was left to do before the drizzle came in to season a 2+ hour journey of incompetent twats hogging the overtaking lane at 60-fucking-mph was: What could I have done differently to get up the route?? I could have risked the move, I could have fallen off, I could have hit the ground. The problem was simply: I didn't know whether I was in a groundfall situation or not - without a running belayer I definitely was, with a running belayer I "might" be okay.

So what I could have done was had better information. I've done plenty of falling practice at the wall, but generally I've tried to go for the longest falls my only-very-slowly-diminishing cowardice will allow, with the more rope out and the softer fall the better. Outside and relatively low above a hard landing is a different matter, and while I've been in running belay situations before - for example, which involved a much easier move, a better move height to gear height ratio, an easier angled slab to take the sting out of the fall, and much more time for the belayer to react - I don't know how much I can get away with to stay safe. So maybe I need to take some practice falls outside (or even inside with a low bolt) to gain that knowledge. Then maybe I could have made a different decision on the climb....or made the same one...

Friday, 15 November 2013


YYFY!  Finally seen them live. Since my UKB sparring partner in death metal discussion, GCW, enjoyed it so much, I think I should celebrate too.

So, Carcass. I first heard them - and recorded them to cassette - on the John Peel show, playing Exhume To Consume I think. Pretty rabid stuff and I didn't follow them so much at the time. Later on I remember buying the first issue of Thrash n Burn magazine in a wee shop in Castle Douglas of all places, and I'm pretty sure it was them who reviewed the legendary Necrotism: Descanting The Insalubrious album, rightly hailing it as a milestone in death metal, and even drawing comparisons to classic music in how complex yet tightly structured the tracks were (a fair point, albeit one that uncultured oafs who dismiss metal as too noisy won't get). Suffice to say Necrotism and it's follow-up Heartwork became firm favourites. I skipped over the much maligned and more accessible Swansong, partly because it came out as I was getting more exclusively into hardcore and gabber, and consigned Carcass to historical legends.

Upon getting back into metal recently I re-purchased some albums and was of course very excited about the release of Surgical Steel, buying the actually rather good Swansong to get me warmed up in advance, and then Symphonies Of Sickness to round of my collection. Having seen my other long-term favourites Bolt Thrower live, it was great to see Carcass too....I'm not really a gig person, but will get tempted by top quality death metal. They were supporting flamboyant Viking battle metal masters Amon Amarth who also played a great set, so didn't play as long as I hoped (and I still can't believe the immediately catchy Master Butcher's Apron is missed out), but aside from that it was a great gig - Class of 85 provides a perfect intro, CJQ was as frantically groovy as expected, Exhume to Consume was pleasingly rabid with backdrop images of diseased penises, Bill Steer was clearly having a great time on guitar, and the catchiness of many of their tracks was firmly hammered home. \m/ enough said \m/

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

How come I can do it??

Bear with me on this one. It involves both grades and comparing myself to other people - two ugly and uncouth aspects of climbing. But there is a purpose and of course it's absolutely nothing to do with ego or willy-waving - it is just trying to understand a bit more about my climbing, my strengths and weaknesses (and thus how to keep progressing and/or keep enjoying it).

So I've climbed with several good climbers through my time in Scotland (yup I eventually managed to find climbing partners, albeit away from the trad climber drought in Glasgow). Some of these people I consider my peers, some of these people I aspire to climb as well at. Almost all of these people I get on well with and have a good time climbing with, so I respect them as well. They are all experienced trad climbers who also do other disciplines and usually train and try hard. When I climb with them down the wall (where I sometimes flash 7a maximum) and outside, I've noticed a trend:

Climber 1: Can do quite a few power problems I can't do despite not focusing on bouldering. When fit climbs similar indoors but slower and smoother. Tallish, light, very hill-fit.
Comparative trad: 1-2 grades lower.

Climber 2: Warms up on 7a indoors, flashes 7b maybe harder. Tall, very mountain fit.
CT: ½ a grade harder usually but similar recently.

Climber 3: Regularly flashes 7b-7c indoors. Very light.
CT: ½ a grade harder usually.

Climber 4: Laps 7b+ upwards indoors. Flashes at least 7c+ outdoors. Very strong.
CT: 1 grade harder usually.

Climber 5: Can do quite a few fingery / cranky problems I can't do despite not focusing on bouldering. Tallish, light, fit.
CT: 1-2 grades lower.
Climber 6: Warms up climbing Teddy's 7b+ clean, flashed top half of Silk Purse after two falls on lower crux i.e. very sport fit.
CT: ½ a grade harder usually, I assume, but similar recently.

So it seems that comparatively, I do better than expected in trad. Or worse than expected indoor sport and bouldering. This is a small sample but my other climbing partners do little to contradict this.

Now bear in mind that I am traditionally a weak trad climber: I'm too slow, I faff around too long, I spend ages backing up gear, I get pumped far too easily, I struggle to commit to moves, I struggle to commit into the unknown, I'm terrified of falling and even getting into a position where I might fall. I've always been better physically rather than mentally, and performed better in bouldering and sport, especially indoors where the holds are obvious so I know what I'm committing too.

So how come I can do it?? How come I can SOMETIMES climb relatively well on trad despite it being my "weaker" discipline?? Well I can think of a couple explanations:

1. Inspiration and determination - I'm so passionate about trad and so inspired by it that I keep pushing hard and keep fighting to do the challenges I enjoy, both in preparation and on the route. Obviously other climbers do....but maybe I do it a little bit more??

2. I'm actually crap indoors - I'd just got the wrong perspective about my climbing. Maybe instead of being strong indoors and scared outdoors, I'm actually kinda weak indoors and kinda skilled enough outdoors. Or maybe just well balanced (in climbing styles not in mental harmony)??

In terms of this pondering being of any use, I guess it works in the context of "play to your strengths, work your weaknesses". Keep determined and inspired, but also realise my weakness might be weakness, and keep training hard...

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Narrowing the focus.

Went to see Gravity the other day, in full Imax 3D. Really good film, tense and thrilling in many parts, beautiful and serene in others, (and obviously a smidgen implausible in a few, but so what), with very palatable and tastefully done 3D. Definitely recommended, the atmosphere stayed with me for a few days after. One strong feature is how tight the focus is on a couple of people and their immediate environment, amongst the grand and expansive scale of works well...

On the subject of narrow focuses, that something I need to do now - hone the focus of my roped climbing down from the vast and varied expanse of Scottish (and Northern English) cragging to what is actually feasible at this time of year. Quick-drying suntraps, preferably with a bit of shelter and technical wee routes rather than arm-busting hand-freezing staminathons. Oh and some routes to inspire me :).

Current list looks a bit like:

Weem (if not seeping)
Rob's Reed
Arbroath (on the sunny bits)
Back Bowden
Kyloe Out
Aberdeen suntraps
Gairloch area (only if glorious)

All sensible stuff I hope. Obviously to be mixed in with bouldering, trips further south, training, gym-work etc etc as appropriate.

I tried one of those today - Back Bowden. Forecast was glorious unbroken sunshine all day. Got to Berwick, it was pissing down. Got to the parking it was dry. Got to the crag it showered on us. Uh HUH. Thankfully that blew over and the crag lived up to it's suntrap potential well, so much so that warming up bouldering wore down my my skin enough that when I got on one route my tips were sweaty and condensed on the cool rock and I had to back off as I was chalking every single bloody hold. Hardly maximising conditions eh. So basically I did fuck all except get very inspired for a couple of routes there and learnt that as well as warming up well I need to keep my skin intact whilst doing so. Lessons lessons.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Older and colder.

Anyone got any Ibuprofen?? Not just for the tender fingers, sore skin, tweaky elbows and aching shoulders - but also for the strained neck from the whiplash of deceleration as the temperature, dryness, and climbing opportunity hurtle to an abrupt stop. From the most beautiful of autumn sunshine in the West one weekend, to the most foul of sodden storms the next weekend, to the most bitter bone-cracking breezes the next.

Emergency stop on weather and climbing, I wasn't wearing my belt and got caught out with a full repetoire of aches and pains. With the shitty weather of course I wanted to train, but then it's even getting out of Ratho season so being indoors is a laborious process. From feeling I can jump on anything a month ago, it now takes longer to warm-up than it does to climb. Even doing so, I'm feeling quite an old man as the niggles are niggling away - generally achey fingers, stiffening shoulders, and a worrying flare up of my 2008 LH golfer's elbow (the 2012 RH golfer's elbow being okay so far). Carefree climbing is having to be replaced by methodical maintenance.

During all of this, I'm not really sure what I'm training for. The last proper time out climbing was brilliant and of course all I wanted was to keep going with that, but now I can't and I'm using the full force of my mental inflexibility and stubborness to resist it being bouldering season - particularly as I got so much done last winter season and can't think of much left for this season. Suntrap trad, where art thou?? I keep hoping and checking the weather and drawing up a list of venues but it's all very limited up here. To give myself the slightest fighting chance I do need to keep fit for that. Otherwise it's scrabbling around for climbing trips abroad - I'm feeling pretty relaxed after some good trips this year and am quite happy to go along with other people's plans....well that would be nice in theory....climbers who actually go away climbing and would invite me along, where art thou??

I do have one kind offer over the Christmas period so maybe that can give my something to focus on. In the meantime, I guess I need to get genuinely inspired for training in it's own sake, and learning to cope with all the tedium and faff of lengthy warming up, warming down, stretching, active rest, blah blah can't I just pull hard on small holds?? Guess I better go back to TCA soon...

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


Life is a learning process, a wise woman once said. Except maybe that woman hadn't learned from her mistakes, because a few years later she birthed my younger brother too ;). Still she is ace and wise enough and the principle of learning still stands. This year I have climbed the best I ever have, have climbed amazing and inspiring routes, and got into a state of confidence and happiness with my climbing that I always aspire to be in but that is often difficult to reach. I don't expect this state to last but want to be able to regain it, so I want to know:

"What can I learn from this?? How have I got into this state?? How could I replicate it in future??"

Pondering on this further I have come up with a neat 10 11 12 factors. I've tried to make these as clear as I can (for my own benefit!) but have found them a bit tricky to write about. Hopefully it makes sense...

[Edit: I have gone through my logbook for this year and tried to work out how each day fitted in with these factors or any others, and on reflection it's probably 90% due to Falling Practice......]

Falling practice:
By far the most important factor - in fact more important than ALL the other factors put together, so at least 50% of what helped me. Although I had done it sporadically during many previous wall sessions, this year was the first time that I have done it every time. Every wall session without exception I have done between 3 and 12 practise falls, some small, some larger, some very hard to do, some feeling very natural. Sometimes during the summer I was feeling in good climbing fitness but still wanted to visit the wall just to practise falls. Simply put, this worked. Slapping for a hold with a bolt below my feet on The One And Only at Brin Rock, looking at a cluster of okay gear on Neart Nan Gaidheal at Ardmair and knowing I'd be okay if I fell so climbing through the pump instead of backing off it.
In the future, keep doing falling practice ALL the time, building up if necessary.

Climbing quickly:
This pretty much derives from the confidence gained from falling practise. With the confidence to press on and risk falling off, I've started to climb quickly through difficult sections, through the pump, through poor holds and positions to gain respite. This has compensated for my natural stamina and lack of faffing and has been a positive approach that has almost invariably worked - often by ensuring I get committed which is something I can be inhibited about but once committed I can usually cope with the actual climbing.
In the future, try to keep aware how well this can work, although falling practice is a pre-requisite.

Uncluttered focus:
I.e. If I'm intending to do specific challenges, focusing on those challenges during a day or trip, and not getting distracted with mileage or other routes or anything other than the minimum necessary warming up. This differentiates between exploratory or mileage trips where I want to do plenty of routes, and challenge trips where I might only do one or two routes in a day. Narrowing my focus enabled me to have a clearer and more relaxed mind with more time to deal with the challenges presented.
In the future, be clear if I want mileage/exploration days or challenge days, and have a clear focus to avoid one impinging on the other.

Good conditions:
I climbed well at Easter and early spring when it was fresh but not too cold. I climbed rubbish in summer when it was either too hot, too humid, or sometimes too windy. I climbed well again in autumn when it had cooled down and was still dry. One day backing off Colder Than A Hooker's Heart at Creag Dubh because I was having to chalk on every hold, and another day where I almost committed without even downclimbing to warm up because the conditions felt so much better highlights the difference so well. It's not just about cold crisp grit conditions, it's about making sure for any route that the conditions are in my favour.
In the future, keep aware of conditions, use them if they are good and adapt to them if they are bad.

Regular climbing training:
You never fail on a route from being too strong nor too fit. A lot of the harder routes I've been doing are steep and strenuous or sustained, this is partly a Scottish speciality but probably more common to routes in the UK that I've previously anticipated. Feeling physically confident has made me more mentally confident, and it is something I can keep training.
In the future, keep training. I enjoy it anyway so it should be easy to stick to!

Well-established routes:
I.e. Sticking to boring old polished chalky Rockfax-picked trade routes. The advantage being that there is a chance of them being polished and chalky and having a clear line to follow and clean rock and accurate grades and descriptions, none of which are essential and I can have plenty of fun exploring the wilds of Scotland without those factors BUT when it's something at my limit it has been very beneficial to climb something logistically reliable.
In the future, be aware of how much difference route-reliability can be, and adapt my inspirations as appropriate.

Accepting the chance of failure:
This season I managed to accept failure, both as an overall possibility in trying harder routes, but also on certain routes themselves - a few of the best experiences I had were tackling routes I assumed would be too hard and I was sure I'd not get up, but I gave them a go anyway just to see what happened, and got up them move by move, section by section. As much as I hate failure it's been important to recognise it as a risk I take trying harder routes. Incidentally the end result has been failing on very few routes indeed...
In the future, remember that failure could definitely happen while trying harder routes and acknowledge it as a natural consequence.
Weathering out low periods:
To reiterate, I climbed well, I climbed rubbish, I climbed well again. The low period of climbing rubbish was nowhere near the worst I've climbed, but coming so abruptly after a period where I was climbing the best I've climbed, it was certainly one of the biggest drops in standard and confidence. Accepting this was hard and reverting to the then-undesired mileage climbing was also hard, but it gradually worked and enabled me to keep climbing enough to keep my hand in, to get necessary mileage, to slowly work my confidence back, and to even enjoy puntering along. Being patient with, and dealing with this period felt essential to coming out of it.
In the future, remember that I can come out of low periods and persit through them as best I can, using the mileage-focus that generally works.

General fitness and rest:
Good levels of general action and activity and whatever fitness training I can force my legs to do, along with sensible periods of rest before climbing days, and trying to get plenty of good sleep. Although singular challenging climbs tend to be relatively short periods of activity, background fitness training and good rest helped me feel more ready for them and more alert on the day.
In the future, keep active and keep well rested, try to keep doing this with the inspiration that it will benefit my climbing eventually.

Getting used to terrain:
Not so much the general trad climbing terrain, nor specific rock types - both aspects I've got enough experience to be ready for, but more particular types of climbing and types of angle. Both Scotland's typically merciless steepness and occasional and recent slabbiness, I have felt the benefit of either warming up to those sorts of angles, or even over-training the steep angles - i.e. getting very familiar with 20° overhanging training so 10° overhanging trad doesn't feel quite so shocking. The same could apply to hold size too.
In the future, recognise that some terrains can be specifically challenging and prepare appropriately.

Warming up steadily and/or on start of routes:
Two ways have worked for me. Either getting a long steady warm-up on a variety of routes (most suitable when there is plenty of time and plenty of logistically easy routes), and/or warming up and down on challenging routes themselves (most suitable with less time or less suitable warm-up choice) . The latter is a double edged sword: On the plus side it has made many routes more approachable due to getting used to the route, getting pumped, and placing some gear, and having a clearer focus. On the down side it doesn't feel as elegant and somewhat tarnishes the exploratory onsight journey. But it's sometimes appropriate, especially if the route starts with relatively easy ground to a rest.
In the future, remember the importance of warming up and choose the right approach (lots of easy routes vs. starts to harder routes) according to situation. 

Pacing, resting, placing gear or pressing on.
Part of a natural process of stacking the odds in my favour and doing the best I can on routes, but it has been often proven to be very beneficial when climbing close to or at my limit. Getting carried away means I can forget this and bull-in-a-china-shop my way up some routes but I need to keep paying attention to what I'm doing and make the most of my tactics.
In the future, stay smart and keep using the tactics I know that work well.

Hopefully that should be useful for future reference....

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Scottish Bouldering Favourites.

Phil Jack asked me to list them so here they are. This is a list of personal favourites at a grade range I tend to enjoy most,  although there might be a high correlation with "personal favourite" and "pure fantastic". They are all pretty well acknowledged as great problems, and I've highlighted my most favourite with a star, some of these are properly fucking amazing although I did struggle to draw the line so have been quite strict.

The list varies a lot from single mega-problems with little else in the area, to a cluster of gems close together, to areas where I really liked one or two problems but there's a fine circuit to go at. A few of them are my own problems because they are good, any complaints about that BITE ME. Some of these are off the beaten track and off the guidebook radar and it's up to the reader to find them, although I have included a couple of nice problems at Portlethen and a few from Dumby even though most boulderers visit those areas 90% of the time (the other 10% of the time spent trying Malc's Arete @ Torridon).

I've included any video clips I've taken to show the aesthetics of the line, fat weak midget beta, and occasionally some other problems in the area. Obviously there's loads of classics I haven't done and lots of areas I've been to that are good but didn't stand out in particular. The main advice is go EXPLORE. And take wellies.

North West:

Romancing The Stone V6 * (Reiff) - techy wall - superbly tentative.
Salt Pans V5 (Reiff) - techy arete - fine climbing.
Haven V5 * (RITW) - techy wall - subtle and delightful.
Watch Your Back V4 (Ardmair) - roof - cool tricky roof fun.
Slipstones Thing V4 (Torridon) - techy wall - precarious and balancy.
Squelch V5 (Torridon) - steep prow - proud line with butch climbing.
A Long Winning Streak V5 * (Inchbae) - steep slab - brilliantly thin and balancy.
Colonel Mustard V3 (Inchbae) - arete - classic pure arete climbing.
Good Ass V4 (Kishorn) - techy wall - good fun on good features

North East / North Central:

Slap And Tickle V5 (Porty) - steep arete - sharp but a good line.
The Prow V4 (Porty) - steep arete - the other good line at Porty.
Yukon Afternoon V4 (Clash) - groove/bulge -  varied and exciting.
Clash Arete V7 * (Clash) - crimpy arete - fierce and subtle at the same time.
Outstanding V4 (Ruthven) - overhanging wall - burly fun.
Razor's Edge V6 * (Ruthven) - techy arete - excellent and elegant.
The Dude V6 (Ruthven) - overhanging wall - more burly fun.
The Slippery Slope V5 (Ruthven) - bulge - disarming friction climbing.
Brin Done Before V5 * (Brin) - roof - high, wild and utterly inspiring.
Excitement In The Buoys V6 (Farr) - slopey arete - frictional and tenacious.
Right Arete SS V4 (Farr) - arete - lovely steady slopey climbing.
Forever Unfulfilled V4 (Farr) - steep slab - thin and delicate on ace rock.

Central West:

Gale Force V7 * (Laggan)  - arete - the best line and problem in Scotland? World class.
Black Orc V6 * (Glen Nevis) - bulge/mantle - sculptural and brutal. Skin graft needed.
Thousand Year Egg V4 (Glen Nevis) - wall - delicate pull-over on nice rock
Bear Island V3 (Glen Nevis) - wall/groove - cool fun on nice features.
The Wall V5 (Glen Nevis) - techy wall - excellent committing climbing.
Pump Up The Jam V5 * (Skye) - roof crack - the other best line and problem in Scotland? Best handjamming ever.
Diesel Canary V5 (Glen Coe) - steep wall - cool wall cranking.
Helipad V4 (Glen Coe) - steep wall -  cool wall cranking.
Various problems at Loch Buie (Mull) - lovely spot, cool bouldering, just go.


Le Toit Du Col Du Mouton V6 * (Glen Clova) - roof - awesome and improbable roof climbing.
Sheep Pen Groove V4 (Glen Clova) - groove - bizarre technical and precarious.
Peel Sessions V4 (Glen Clova) - wall - cool crimpy cranky wall.
Jawa V4 (Loch Katrine)  - steep slab - pure and delicate.
Tourist Trap V4 (Loch Katrine) - steep arete -  good cranky arete.
The Nose V4 (Loch Katrine) - prow - nice steep climbing.
Powerhouse V6 (Loch Sloy) - bulging arete - technical and tensiony.
The Economist V5 (Loch Sloy) - steep wall - good committing cranking.
The Persuader V4 (Glen Croe) - steep arete - burly but aesthetic.
Butterboy V4 (Glen Croe) - overhang - good fun jug yarding.
Snapster V3 (Glen Croe) - wall - excellent delicate crimping.
The Nose V4 (Glen Croe) - roof arete -  thoughtful burly climbing in a fine situation.
Autumn Arete V6 * (Achray) - steep prow - brilliantly sustained and powerful climbing.
Pyramid Lip V5 * (Glen Ogle) - roof lip - irresistable and great fun problem, hernia-inducing.
White Matter V6 (St Brides) - steep wall - sharp but excellent and powerful cranking.


Monkey Spanking V8 (Camby) - pure steep arete - amazingly pure line with very hard holdless climbing.
Spanking The Monkey V6 * (Camby) - pure slab arete -  highly aesthetic and hilarious sketching up a slab.
LDV V3 (Camby) - pure slab arete - the easier version but still great fun.
Retroclaim V6 (Rankin Boulder) - bulging arete - powerful and diverse prow.
Bowfinger V6 (Garheugh) - slab/wall - thin and technical.
Stretch Armstrong V6 (Garheugh) - bulging prow - excellent fun on cool features.
Big Growly Thing V5 (Garheugh) - bulging prow - burly and bonkers.
Blue Meanie, Mestizo, Gorilla, Slap Happy, Mugsy (Dumby) - all good.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Grades grades grades.

"In reply to Fiend:
Have you noticed that a lot of people don't agree with your totally objective and correct views on grades? What do you make of that?"

What do I make of that?? They are fucking imbeciles a bit mistaken of course (barring the few occasions where I am either trolling or speculating - and if you don't have the brains to work those out you don't have the brains to be discussing grades. Nor reading this blog, actually.).

Funny how some people can get so wound up about grades. Even leaving aside the desperate scrabbling of the ego and it's hollow numerical attainments (which, for this issue alone, is fair enough to leave aside as people's wrongness does go both ways, either side of a route's grade), people seem so perculiarly attached to a number. I suspect this is where the antagonism comes from, having to give up pre-conceptions and entrenched viewpoints, the painful wrenching into reality as the objective truth of a grade is revealed and reiterated.

And thus people shoot the messenger. I, like others, don't have any special views or opinions on grades. I don't create them or set them in stone. I merely recognise their objective truth and the reasoning behind them, and pass that on to others where needed (or where I really want to stick my fucking oar in and see what happens).

For therein lies the hardest truth about trad grades:

Grades are not a matter of subjective opinion, they are a matter of objective fact.

If people accepted that it would make their lives a little bit easier. And mine too. This is for trad grades of course, technical/sport/bouldering grades are based less on the unchangeable rock and are more influenced by morphological factors, thus necessarily a bit vaguer. Of course like the factual nature of grades themselves, the factual nature of grading is more acceptable if it is backed up with reasoning. Thus:


The adjectival trad grade is made up of various factors:

  • Protection - quality, spacing, existence thereof
  • Sustainedness - existence or otherwise of rests
  • Continuity - of difficulty regardless of physical sustainedness
  • Rock quality - solidity or otherwise
  • Exposure - and general atmosphere
  • Obviousness - or blindness of climbing, line, protection etc
  • Landing - if appropriate
  • Technical difficulty - obviously
  • (there may be others)

These are a matter of FACT. A piece of protection will either exist or it won't - and thus contribute to the grade. The rock will either be solid or it won't - and thus contribute to the grade. The line will either be simple and obvious or will be obscure and devious - and thus contribute to the grade.

No amount of bleating, whining and handbag twirling will change whether a route is consistently overhanging by a certain degree or has a red camalot at the crux or has a resting jam to fend off the pump or whatever. The rock isn't going to change to reflect what grade people might want to apply to it, so the grade has to reflect the rock and the route. Although grades are a human construct and thus might seem to be prey to human fallibility, they are a piece of information that describes the rock, summarises what actually exists on it, and that is a truth as hard as the rock itself (does that mean grades at Gogarth/Lleyn/North Devon should be squishier to match the rock there?? Food for thought.)


The adjectival trad grade of any given route fits in to an overall system and progression of grades.

E - M - D - VD - HVD - MS - S - HS - MVS - VS - HVS - E0(MES) - E1 - E2 - E3 - E4 - E5 - E6 - E7 - E8 - E9 - E10 - Ewe'llrepeattheseandmakelotsofsubtlecommentsabouthowtheyareeasierthanotherroutesbutbesopoliticallycorrectwe'llrefusetoactuallycorrectthegrades

Unsurprisingly whether it is a purely linear system with equal spacings or not (more equal with E0 of course), it is a system of progression. Governed by the factual factors above, a harder route will be given a higher grade, an easier route will be given an easier grade within the system and in comparison to other routes in the system. Obviously the system has somewhat bastardised origins, obviously it is an aesthetic mish-mash (which is entirely irrelevant, you could replace the alphanumerical grades with straight numbers or roman numerals or increasingly sized fruit for all it matters), obviously there is a certain vagueness due to comparing apples and oranges, but the system is established and it works.

Thus, routes have their place in the grading system, and if you try to fuck with the truth of their grades then either the result will be clearly farcical OR you'll have to regrade so many accepted routes and completely break the system. If route X and route Y have a similar angle and technicality of climbing, but route X is shorter, has obvious and perfect protection, and resting jams, compared to route Y which is longer, has fiddly gear, and no rests, then route Y is simply higher up the grade system. Try to change the grade of either and you'll not only have to change the grade of the other, but all the nearby routes that surround it in the grading system. If route A has one technical move, good rests, and a bit of steepness next to easy gear and route B has two harder moves in much steeper terrain, with no rests and slightly spaced gear, route B is simply higher up the grade system and again trying to interfere with that direct comparison will change everything around it.

Reject the correctness of some grades and you reject the entire comparative and progressive grading system and you might as well not bother trying to convey and information with grades at all. Of course people could come out with spurious waffle such as "but it's just a matter of opinion the grades of route X and route B (maybe seasoned with macho posturing for extra self-sabotage), but then they can get swiftly referred back to point 1. - the system is built on facts.

Accept those facts and you will have more accurate grades, and will be a happier and more peaceful climber - fact*

(*N.B. this fact alone might be complete bollox)

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

C#-13-14-15: On The Beach, Triode, Risque Grapefruit.

Finally it happened - sooner than expected this autumn, but a long time after the first inspiration back in early 2010 and trying to get everything right ever since. The mythical weekend in Glen Nevis when I'm climbing well, know what I want to do, am well prepared, and the weather....well the weather started off at 0'c and a thick frost in the morning, to 12'c t-shirt sunshine, with a cool north easterly casually licking around the crags. Slightly warm, but 90% perfect will do. And so I got to do yet more big, brilliant inspirations, climbs of desire that went a bit like this:

On The Beach: Maybe the biggest one in classic status? 4th time lucky going up to Wave Buttress to do it. Despite the challenge I felt fairly comfortable about the style of the route - off vertical, reasonably protected crack in the lower half, big runouts above some protection in the upper half. Well that confidence came back to bite me on the arse: The runout was as big as anticipated....but the holds weren't! Fantasies of a positive crimpy slab were washed away in a runnel full of rounded side-pulls and bridging smeary knobbles - all above 2 RPs, of course. It wasn't desperate but after several metres of continuously precarious climbing I was shuddering with relief by the time I got to easy ground. The obligatory whisky later on was less to celebrate and more to calm my nerves!

Triode: Only 3rd time lucky for this one. Well the first visit I really wasn't going to get on it, but I got syked enough just doing Diode next to it. Similarly to OTB, this involves thin slab moves with a large runout from the gear. The crucial difference being that both the gear and holds are more obvious - and the latter are clearcut and positive. Which meant that instead of gibbering my way up, I managed to relax, work out the technicality of the crux, and genuinely enjoy some great slab moves. Less fear and more FUN.

Risque Grapefruit: Almost an afterthought and potentially an epitaph. Surprisingly enough this was by far the most serious route of the lot, with a 6m groundfall potential off the first crux and a 16m groundfall potential off the second. The former I got involved with almost too quickly to realise it and I sketched around the corner to the lone gear slot that pointlessly protects a load of easy moves in the middle. The latter I had plenty of time to contemplate and ask myself "how much do I want this?" Enough to pull on some small crimps, smear on some knobbles and lurch over into a blind mossy scoop - but I'm not sure if that was the right answer?? I could do it, I did it, I liked the route overall, but maybe a little bit too much genuine risk.

A weekend of fear, fascination, and fun then...

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Coffee on the go.

Petrol station / take out coffee review:

Starbucks: Arsebucks. Weak, bland rubbish that somehow perfectly captures the authentic taste of instant coffee made with brine. A horrible, embarassing fate for a coffee bean.
Verdict: A disgrace to coffee.

McDonalds: Coffee quality that truly matches the McBarrista quality. The quintessential "hot milkshake with a coffee bean at the bottom" that ensures a better coffee experience would be had licking the inside of Costa's bins.
Verdict: Avoid like the plague it is.

Wild Bean: Wild as in "Stig of the DUMP" not wild like a lion running across the Kenyan savannah. Harsh, ugly pointless coffee from beans that are burnt to a cinder for that essential bitterness.
Verdict: Drink out of the toilet instead.

Coffee For Life: Coffee for giving up on life. The empty hollow taste of cheap milk powder and boiling water is entirely unspoilt by the lone coffee bean or two, and only enhanced by woody notes as the cardboard cup leaks in.
Verdict: Unspeakably vile.

Costa: Choose a regular cappucino. Place the cup under for all the coffee shot, then move to get only half the milk (or less). Reload for extra shots if needed. Hey presto, actual good coffee from a machine - tried and tested several times
Verdict: Proper coffee with a proper taste, just keep the milk halved.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Challenge #11 & #12: Colder Than A Hooker's Heart and The Final Solution

That was something I put on to clear my mind in the car, and so my soundtrack to the day, until I started climbing that is... God knows I needed my mind clearing as I'd been thinking too much about these two routes on and off for two days. Mileage previously, Ratho training especially on crimps, rest days and gentle runs...trying to stack all the odds and attain some calmness through that.

 Out of all the routes on my ticklist, these two had kept swirling around my mind because, unlike any others, they are actually dangerous in places, albeit easy places, but I didn't know that until I actually did them! I first went to Creag Dubh in 2010, did Over The Hill and The Fuhrer amongst others, really enjoyed the steady, positive, distinctly bold style of climbing, and lusted after slightly harder routes on the crag. But with those harder routes there's more chance of not walking I spent several trips this year walking away. Last time I started up the first easy bit of Hooker's but having to chalk on every move, I knew I couldn't risk continuing.

This time the weather had cooler down a lot - it was still strangely warm, but also dry and fresh. I climbed up exactly the same start as before and got a few holds into the tricky bit before realising it....and knew I was going to continue. I reversed down after this warm-up, let my skin cool down, watched as more thoughts started to creep into my mind, and stepped back onto the rock before they could. Climbed the route, abseiled down and did the same with TFS. As simple as that, no fuss, no drama - I think I'd used it all up in previous imaginings. It was a great pleasure not just to be climbing intimidating routes, but to be climbing them calmly enough to genuinely enjoy them almost all the way. There was one short section getting into the niche on TFS where I was a bit sloppy with my feet....2m of dissatisfaction in 90m total of good climbing, I'll take that!

I walked away from the crag elated but also a little sad that I don't have much more I want to do at this brilliant wall climbing venue....but then I was drinking my coffee this morning and pondering....Harder Than Your Husband starts up TFS and I know that and apparently there is a bit of gear on it and if I don't like it I can just do TFS again and....oh....maybe I will be back ;)

Thursday, 3 October 2013


8:30am, Erskine Bridge roadworks traffic jam, en-route to Glen Nevis and super-syked for Triode or On Some Beach. Except the sun is out, it's already 15'C, and the forecast is for more sunshine and only a light Easterly breeze at Fort William, that will leave the relevant buttresses sheltered and baking. Balls. Wish I'd suggested Creag Dubh or somewhere else instead. Ah well...

4:30pm, Nameless Buttress in Glen Nevis, and super-syked for Triode. Except any trace of warmth is disappearing behind the clouds, the "light Easterly breeze" is a gale howling down the valley and right onto the buttress. I nearly got blown off the top of my warm-up Cathode Smiles (a fine route and a total sandbag with sustained 5b/c a long way above the gear to finish). I take off my belay garb of t-shirt, hoodie, downie, snood, gloves and two beanies, keep the obligatory vest and windproof, and step on the rock. Partway up the lower wall, I pause for a very long time - I am so inspired, I so desire to commit to the next moves and engage with this route. The rock feels great under my fingers, but the tsunami of wind is too much. Balls. I reverse down and we retreat down the horrendously steep walk-in to lower buttresses. Ah well...

I walk away with empty hands and a head full of excitement. I've been to Glen Nevis many times and still not quite done the most inspiring lines I want to. Hell, I've walked away from Wave Buttress 3 times - twice too hot, once wrong shoes. I don't want to walk away too many more the Glen will be perhaps my main focus for Autumn. All I'm after are a few routes on a few buttresses. Mostly sunny, quick drying, various orientations to catch the breeze and sun at different times. Easily combined with other buttresses so whichever partners I'm with can be well sated. Doable in a day trip from Glasgow, or easy hostels for overnight. What could possibly go wrong??

Oh yeah, it's the wettest place on Earth. I'm sure there are locations under the ocean that have more dry days than Fort William. Pffffffffft.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Challenge #9 & #10 - Neart Nan Gaidheal & Wall Of Flame.

God I fucking love the North West. Doing cool and fascinating challenges around the rest of Scotland is all very well and rewarding, but doing them in such a special place has a whole different vibe. For a start it's a bit harder to get focused when you're gazing over Ardmair or Diabeg bays in a mellow autumn sunshine....but then the rock and climbing are so good you just have to...

Out of the many stunning areas along the coastline, the bay around Ardmair may or may not be the most delightful. The austere pebble beach arcs elegantly around from the fun bouldering area, leading the eye past the glittering sea and islands to the soaring ridge of Ben Mor Coigach, forming a mesmerising frame for the coastal beauty. But enough of that hippy bollox, Ardmair would be a brilliant crag in an urban quarry, let alone the serene valley hanging above the bay. It's gritstone with jugs, jams, usually great gear, and a seemingly limitless supply of fine climbing. This time I eschewed the previous mileage and focused on one stunning route - Neart Nan Gaidheal.

I'd got familiar with and inspired by the Beast Buttress back in 2010 - On The Western Skyline and Unleash The Beast both being great routes and amenable enough to want to up the ante a grade with NNG....once I was fit, confident, and determined enough. Actually, it's upping the ante a grade and a bit more - NNG is supposed to be low in the grade (which it may be, if one cares), but nowhere near as much as OTWS which is generally relaxing throughout, nor especially UTB which whilst adequately brutal is tamed by easy, perfect protection and useful jams. So NNG feels pretty proper compared to those - whilst it's not technically hard, it's sheer, continuous, and gives plenty of escalating pump through reasonable sidepulls with unhelpful footholds, especially while placing the somewhat sketchy gear in the upper half. I had warmed up, chilled out, recovered from a long drive from Glasgow and an early coffee, waited until it was in the perfect evening shade, and had enough....something to move up when pumped rather than down or off.

Out of the many stunning areas along the coastline, the bay around Diabeg may or may not be the most delightful. Blah blah peninsula blah quaint harbour ruined boat blah stunning outlook to Skye and even the Uists. Suffice to say Diabeg is almost as good as Ardmair and has the added bonus of SLABS. After last weekend's mixing and matching of Scimitar and Rosey slabs with the opposing Rosey steepness, I had got plenty of syke for Wall Of Flame, just about enough to compensate for the sunny, still, but ultimately tolerable weather. There was one slight issue, my partner Steve (from the mighty Far North metropolis of Bettyhill) had a good time at Ardmair but not got on with seconding an E2 5c warm-up. Of course I'm very happy to abseil to strip gear and outwit all of that "Uh I don't know if we should climb together cos I don't climb as hard as you" bollox, but Wall Of Flame has two pitches, and although the last one is only a minor variant on Northumberland Wall, it's still part of the experience. So....give up and abandon it? Force Steve to haul his way up? Bollox to that. A cunning plan is needed.

Firstly we went to Aztec Tower for him to do a couple of leads on this pleasant crag with funky rock. This left us unavoidably close to Gairloch where the recently refurbished harbour cafe needed to be tested to confirm the coffee is indeed very good these days. Then cruise to Diabeg: I lead P1 of WOF, pull the ropes and chuck them down and Steve seconds P1 of The Black Streak with his rack. I lead P2 of WOF and abseil straight back down to the belay. Steve then leads P2 of TBS and does the same because I'm too chilled and my feet are too sore to follow (despite even more cunning putting voltarol on my toes in advance!), and is mightly chuffed with a fine pitch at his level (and effectively ticking TBS), I abseil down WOF P1 to get out all sketchy micro-gear, he follows down as the midges come out, we congratulate ourselves on a slick operation, I'm back in Glasgow by 11 and he's back in a pub in Bettyhill at 9:30. Ta da! And of course, Wall Of Flame is bloody brilliant, I feel well warmed up after the previous weekend's slabs, but it is still intricate and intense with a greatly committing crux, all on perfect crisp rock.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Cleaning / Climbing / Calm / Cold / Condensation / Cocaine

I went back to Cambusbarron briefly the other week with both relaxation and inspiration in mind. After Purrblind Doomster there were other challenges, but less pressure. Much less pressure with the time scale too, so I arrived early and did a bit of cleaning. Nothing too exciting but in light of recent talk about looking after Central Belt crags a bit better to avoid accusations of neglect and temptations of retrobolting, I felt like putting a bit of effort in. Litter picking, branch sawing, fern removing and boulder brushing.

I didn't do anything to the routes as most of the good hard ones are in decent nick, or maybe that's just because they're steep enough to stay perma-chalked?? There was one 2 starred route, Economy Drive that I wanted to try and needed a clean, but Geek was happy to scrub that one off for me as I'd rather be climbing it - that's part of the reason I don't get round to cleaning routes I'm still genuinely interested in climbing, because I'm genuinely interested in the onsight journey.

The journey on this particular route turned out to be a fairly interesting one. Freshly cleaned, it looked "reasonable", Geek said it should be "reasonable" (yeah, I should know by now!!), so I treated it as reasonable....initially. Hard moves off the deck leading into more hard moves above those leading into a rest ledge and adequate gear before more hard moves to a pod. So far so good. Then I got to the hard bit.... Standing in the pod and progressing upwards was looking considerably less likely than getting shut down by a total sandbag. Feeling around on slippery sidepulls and fiddly footholds, I looked failure in the face and, unusually, calmly accepted it - I wasn't going to get up this route, so with fine protection, I might as well fail going upwards rather than downwards. Each move I planned to fall off, and when I somehow didn't, I applied the same resignation to the following move, until, bizarrely, I was near the top. The final moves had been heavily cleaned and I was warned "just take care with the rock, but you'll be fine, it's about Hard Severe here". One more final powerful crux had me lunging for blocks and hauling myself into surprised success. After that I couldn't face any more dolerite sidepulls so left any other routes for another time and had a blast repeating Spanking The Monkey with much slithering and laughing all round.

Throughout the recent weeks, I've been aided and abetted by good conditions (as well as syked trad partners). The weather has cooled down nicely and although I'm still busting out the gut, it's less essential and more about stacking every odd in my favour. But of course it's going to get cooler....and colder. With many inspirations still to go and the season ticking away, I am a bit concerned how to deal with the cold, not whilst climbing but just at the crag. I'm usually reasonably prepared but I think I need to optimise things better....maybe more fleecey layers....over-trousers....hip-flask?? I certainly needed something at the weekend. Down with PJ at Scimitar Ridge, doing a pair of funky bold slabs that took a lot of time and a lot of fiddling in RPs and C3s. It was still and muggy on the walk-in and I thought down at the crag, a windsmock, beanie and snood would be enough. It wasn't. 4 hours later in a hot shower I defrosted. Brrrr. Two nice routes though.

Despite a cold, grey, gloomy day, with intermittent spots of rain and the ubiqituous sea-spray, conditions at Scimitar Ridge were surprisingly good, once past a slightly greasy start the smooth granite was in fine nick. So obviously the next day at Rosehearty, with clear skies, dry warm air, glorious sunshine and a brisk westerly raking on the crag, it was going to be mint conditions all day, right?? WRONG. Once again the North East coast is as contrary and fickle as it can be, and a quick recce of the sea walls saw them dripping in condensation. How. Why. WTF. I had a mini-sulk solely because I could see the Rosey season coming to an imminent end as the sun-drying hours were rapidly diminishing. But as a Rosey virgin, Brad was still optimistic and also had the stylish slabs to try, so we got on those at least, and he ninjaed his way up a couple of fine routes. Lo and behold, back on the sea walls with a few hours left, the sun was working it's magic, transforming dark grey rock into silver, damp smudges into enticing chalk....

(aka Challenge #8) Even dry, the sea walls are steep, as steep as the slabs are slabby, as steep as a really fucking steep thing. I was prepared for that and battled through a fair good warm-up. Brad almost battled through his route but some sustained slab numbers had taken their toll and he wanted to show me how a proper sulk was done. Once the dust had settled, I had enough time to try a bit of Cocaine, the closest I'll come to any drug but who needs it when you have climbing this good...! Thankfully as the warm sun was getting lower, I had managed to hit a sweet spot with the rock fully dry but the late afternoon cooling down, and did the route with reasonable confidence and little drama. In fact it would have been pretty boring to watch me squatted on the overhung rest ledge for ages, but hell it worked and it's nice to feel "okay" on such terrain. Hopefully I'll have another few weeks to put that into action...