Sunday, 27 January 2013

Scottish bouldering...

As winter continues and inspiration ebbs and flows and swirls around as chaotically as the weather does, my knowledge of the diversity of Scottish bouldering grows in proportion to the pile of printouts, mini-guides, hidden online topos and cobbled together problem listings that I now carry on many an expedition into the wilds. Whilst Scottish Bouldering provides a characterful and occasionally accurate exposition of the vast breadth and variety that Scottish bouldering has to offer, further investigation into the murky, secretive and highly insular covens of local scenes reveals that SB could just be one volume of many. Consider for example:
  • The Rankin Boulder @ Galloway
  • Dam Boulders @ Glen Lednock
  • The full amount of bouldering in Glen Croe
  • The full amount of bouldering in Glen Nevis (600 problems in the local guide, most of which are easy and trivial bollox tho, but my own explorations revealled enough potential)
  • The full amount of bouldering in Glen Clova
  • Monkey Boulder @ Cambusbarron
  • Erraid @ Mull
  • Laggan Boulders @ Dalwhinnie
  • Farr Boulder, Scatwell Boulder, Loch Meig boulders, the full amount at Brin Rock @ Inverness
  • Optimus Prime Boulder @ Cammachmore
  • Sharma Roof @ Aberdeen
  • The full amount of bouldering in Torridon
  • Sandstone boulderfield @ Sheigra 
Bear in mind these venues vary from a singular boulder with just a couple of awesome lines, to full venues with a full awesome circuit. And that's ignoring the un/under-developed potential of the Trossachs, Cuillin Boulders, Carn Liath, Tollie Crag, Creag Nan Shomarlie....oh and the other Inner and Outer Hebrides...
Another full guidebook?? Yes please. A definitive guide?? Yes definitely. Would John Watson be up for the monumental task?? Maybe not if he has any sanity left. But it would be nice to see all the greatness of Scottish bouldering compiled in full and in-depth - at the same time one could easily reduce eliminate bollox like Lower Boltsheugh, Wolfcrag Quarry and Agassi Rock to footnotes, along with micro-blocs micro-venues like the Luath Stones, quality should take precedence over locality.  
As always it offends my sense of fair play that Dumby and Porty are so myopically over-subscribed whilst most people I know haven't even heard of some of the fine venues above. Despite the weather and the midges and the vast amount of travelling and the under-used rock and cleaning required and highly disparate climbing scenes, Scottish bouldering is excellent as a totality and should be celebrated as such. People should be promoting the value and virtures of new and rediscovered venues, not leaving the information to languish just as some of the boulders do. And for those who want solitude and hidden blocs there is always the next hill, the next glen...

Friday, 25 January 2013

Inverness Interlude.

Just what it says on the tin: Lovely weather, lovely conditions, good choice of boulders, exploring and puntering around on one day and savouring the ace friction at Farr on the other day (which was pretty much as good as winter days out get :)).


Perfect winter's day at Farr.

So Farr boulder is off my ticklist, and very worthwhile it was too. Another classic Inverness venue. I seem to have had quite a few days out without making a dent in my project problems list, oh well, the weather looks gash for a while but I'm sure there's more proper winter to come...

Monday, 21 January 2013

Getting Puzzled at Garheugh Point.

While most of the country is blanketed with snow, it's mostly pretty damn dry and cold in the West of Scotland. But it's not as easy as it looks to follow my bouldering inspiration despite that:

Brin - too far away.
Farr - too farr away.
Laggan - just in the A9 corridor snow zone.
Clash/Cammach - fully in the East coast snow / arctic death zone.
Clova - ditto.
Ogle - too dank with even a little snow.
Nanairn - possibly snow and definitely fucking cold.
Arran - too much of an epic mission atm.

Which leaves local bolleaux like Inversnaid, Craigmaddie (not so inspiring so can wait), or maybe Glen Nevis (tedious drive at the weekend)....or the ever reliable Garheugh Point, which was mostly bone dry, nicely cloudy for the slopers (check out the right handhold at 0:13 - lovely stuff :)), and fairly sheltered from the bitterly Easterlies:

Stretch Armstrong

The puzzlement lay with the grades. I'd come to attempt Snow White """V5"""(!? lolz) which starts in the same place, spans out to a proper sloper on the lip and pulls onto the slab direct. I'd tried this before and it is the most stupidly morpho reach-dependent lank-fest of a problem I've encountered in Scotland (albeit rather a good one despite all that). But I thought with the 0'c sending temps I might be able to work something out with the sloper. MEH. I managed to work out the finish from the sloper which is a powerful, dynamic V5 IN ITSELF. That only leaves the crux move to the lip which would probably make it V6 if you could span comfortably, at my height it is fucking desperate and much harder than any V6 (I can only just keep my feet on the only footholds on tiptoes), and if you were any shorter it might as well be V16.

To warm up for this I'd dicked around on Stretch Armstrong which at "V7" was probably going to be too hard but worth a look for future reference. I'd worked out some cool moves but was stumped by getting the arete. After spending ages realising that Snow White was somewhat ludicrous (it still might be possible....eventually), I thought I'd finish off in the dusk just playing around a bit more. Shock horror I worked out the crux sequence using the lovely nothing sloper, just as it was starting get dark. A few panicked attempts and it was done, at least a grade EASIER than Snow White. V7 < V5 errr nope the maths don't add up :S.Great problem though, on cool rock features with a lovely greywacke texture.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

2013 goals....What now?

2013 goals:

In rough chronological order:

1. Climb some inspiring boulder problems over winter at: Brin, Farr, Laggan, Clash/Cammach, Clova, Ogle, Nanairn, Arran, etc.

It's winter, it's cold, I'm syked. Nuff said. There's some amazing mid-grade lines in Scotland, especially away from Dumby / Porty, and I want to do them :). It's just a matter of keeping fit and keeping an eye on the weather.

2. Go skiing this winter (ideally Alpe D'Huez or Val D'Is).

3rd year in a row without a ski trip?? I bloody well hope not. I really miss it. Hopefully a friend or acquaintance will be up for it, otherwise I might just have to syke up to go on my own.

3. Go to Berdorf in spring - autumn.

Sandstone awesomeness. Just need a dry forecast for Luxembourg and a syked partner - contact me if you fancy it. Oh, and for the website to actually reply to my email about purchasing the guide.

4. Go to Pfalz in spring - autumn.

More sandstone, even more awesome. Sport and trad too! Again just need a dry forecast for South West Germany and a syked partner - I'd like to go for a long week for this one....again contact me.

5. Go to Lewis for a week.

3rd year in a row without getting over there?? I bloody well hope not. Well this year I won't be trying to get to Skye or Sheigra or Caithness or Reiff as much, so when the usual weather window appears, I want to get over there ASAP. Again, if anyone is up for a week there at shortish notice, get in touch!!

6. Climb some inspiring harder trad at: Glen Nevis, Creag Dubh, Wester Ross.

Exactly what it says. The relative accessibility and popularity of these areas should mean it's okay getting on the routes in the odd 2 day weather windows, I just need to be prepared mentally and physically - fitness training, stamina training, trad mileage, and FALLING PRACTICE.

7. Keep up with a general high level of activity - climbing, training, gym, etc, AND FALLING PRACTICE.

As before. I did okay with this last year. With my legs it is utterly fucking essential I keep at it. Climbing-wise it's the usual training and I really want to keep up and improve the falling practice.

8. Be dilligent and look after and hopefully reduce my injuries.

A flying visit to Siurana and two weeks climbing in Morocco has done my elbow and finger a lot of good, with much less pain than a couple of months ago. So obviously these are not just frivolous climbing trips but essential theraputic treatments. My shoulders are a bit achey but that's mostly funny sleep. If I keep dilligent with taping, theraputic treatments, warming up, massage, etc, I should be okay for the trad/travelling season.

9.  Possibly go to Sweden and/or Hatun Machay in summer.

Not sure about fitting either of these in: Sweden is less of a priority than the Sandstone but it would be nice to revisit. Hatun Machay is super-uber-syked-inspiring but complicated and expensive and god knows if I could get someone to go out there climbing. So they are just possibilities.

10. Keep meeting up with climbing partners and fostering positive partnerships.

Always a slow process in the trad-climber-droughtland that is Scotland, but I've got a few good partners to climb with. Except some of them insist on having babies. So I'll still have to keep finding more partners and hopefully keep having good trips with them.


11. Go raving more.

2009: Dave Clarke & Jeff Mills @ The Arches.
2010: Bolt Thrower @ Leeds
2011: Industrial Strength 20th Anniversary @ The Arches
2012: Aphex Twin / Current Value / Producer & Hellfish / Starscream / Wisp etc @ Bangface

Maybe I'll try to get to more than one rave/club this year!! As long as I keep up with the style and quality of the music above, it will be cool :).

What now?

Since it's still winter I don't have to worry too much about route performance yet. Instead I can focus more on bouldering, fun, general activity, and getting plans together for the routes season....

  • Get out bouldering whenever it's dry.
  • Put feelers out to see if anyone is interested in skiing / Berdorf / Pfalz.
  • Get the 7aMax sport climbing guide in preparation for a transition into spring trad.
  • Get back into the habit of going to the gym.
  • Train indoor climbing but mostly for fun, being careful with injuries.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Last bit of Morocco stuff.

Video of bloc:

Morocco Quartzite Bloc FA.

I was waiting to use this name all week after seeing "a little bit" of bouldering potential (while driving back from multi-pitch crags :)). It all got a bit exciting when I checked out the block at dusk, then realised I had to at least brush and pull on the holds, then had a play and realised I could do all of it but one move, then committed more to that move and realised I had to do the bloody thing before it got dark and we flew out the next morning. A classic compression problem above a good smooth rock shelf, and probably worth ***.

Some pictures:

I took fuck all pictures of crags and climbing, partly because there was just two of us and partly because the guidebook had enough pictures of that stuff. I wish I'd got more photos of the cool boxy-housed mountain villages though.

Final bit of advice: Take a big cam (Camalot 4+). Even if you aren't dicking around with wide cracks, it's useful.

Also if you are planning to go in late autumn / early spring, take me with you :). I want to get back to do more of the North-facing stuff....

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Tafraoute route updates / feedback.

As of January 2013:

With reference to What Steve And Katja Did On Their Holidays (aka "Moroccan Anti-Atlas North"), as opposed to What Emma And Paul Did On Their Holidays (aka "Moroccan Anti-Atlas North 2012 Update" aka "Moroccan Rock Jebel El Kest"):

Lower Eagle Crag:

Walk-in should only be attempted direct to Black Beauty or from the left. The walk-in from the right towards Infinity is murderous brambles.

Descent is down the closer slabby gully at the right end of the crag, there are cairns marking the way and this avoids most vegetation.

Infinity E4 5c *** (correct) - amazing first pitch, one of the best in the area, bold off the deck but easy overall. Abseil possible, full route is very unbalanced but fine combination.

Griffin Rock:

Walk-in is more like 5 minutes.

Dennis The Menace HVS 5a ** (not E1 5b) - partner said it was easy.

Grasshopper Arete HS 4b ** (not VS 4c) - partner said it was easy.

Crackerjack E2 5c *** (easy for E3) - brilliant top pitch, steady with good gear and jams etc. Watch ropes on abseil.

Profusion of Protusions E1 5a ** (not E1 5b) - steady crack leading to steady jugs, a bit fragile in places hence worth E1.

Anammer Crag:

[x] Anzar HVS 5a (not *) - not an obvious line, HS groove to the right much more natural.

Jericho Road VS 4c *** (correct) - solid at the grade, slightly fragile rock but nice position, steep climbing, and summit tick.

Park End E3 5b ** (not ***) - easy for the grade, not a devastating solo, good gear before leaving HVS crack. Solid star for the line and another for the climbing, but not independent enough to be worth ***.

St Clements VS 4c *** (not HVS) - partner said it was steady, nice line and lovely finish.

St Aldates VS 4c ** (not HVS) - nice, steady, not quite as good as StC.

Ksar Rock:

Abseil down from Catwalk to Cannon Buttress is a full 25m+ NOT 20m.

Sahara HS 4b *** (not VS) - safe easy jug pulling with just one 4a/b move to finish. Very nice route.

Jedi Groove HVS 4c *** (correct) - classic pitch, easy for the grade but just about merits it for position and 5a crux.

Cannon Buttress Direct E1 5b *** (correct) - steady at this grade and very nice. Much better done in one pitch.

O-Zone E2 5c ** (correct) - good fun steep climbing, not low in the grade as there's some bold stretches above the crux flake.

Days of Thunder E3 6a ** (not ***) - solid at the grade, thin wires are okay but goes on for longer than expect. Some crispy rock and cramped location so not ***.

Breaking Strain E4 6a *** (probably not **) - excellent line with intense and strenuous climbing, possible *** for pitch 1. Abseil down from P2 is easy 45m not 55m. Description is wrong, crux is the middle of the groove and safe (but thin!).

Finger And Thumb:

The Snake E3 5c *** (not **) - definite ***, one of the very best E3s in the area, two great pitches (bottom one is E2 5b) and a summit tick. 50m abseil towards Thumb over smooth dead tree.

The Tortoise E0 5a ** (HVS/E1?) - HVS climbing with an E1 vibe, safe but committing crux. Just worth ** for nice rock and a very pointy summit.

Robin Hood Rocks:

Call To Prayer E1 5b ** (not *) - solid at the grade with technical climbing and just enough gear, good line and continuous interest so worth **.

The Sword Of Damocles HS 4b ** (correct) - fine at the grade and nice getting into crack.

Down And Out E0 5a ** (HVS/E1?) - steady and good gear so not E1, maybe HVS though. Nice climbing and better than it's blocky nature indicates.

Hello Picasso E4 6a *** (correct) - brilliant pitch, steady but great moves with good rests and adequate protection, quite fiddly in the middle section. One of the best outcrop Extremes.

[x] Dead Arm On The Panic Button E4 5b/c * (not E3 5b ***) - worth * for the climbing but only recommended as a way to cut short your Morocco trip and test your medical insurance. Not what one flies abroad for.

Take If Easy HS 4b ** (not ***) - good solid climbing but a bit short and blocky to be ***.

Lying Eyes VS 4c *** (not **) - worth *** for the line, rock, and interesting climbing.

Orbital E3 5c ** (correct) - good route, pushing ***, not soft touch for the grade as crux gear is small and fiddly, and the whole "wrong foot rockover" message is complete bollox.

Bishop's Balcony HVS 5a *** (correct) - good fun climbing in an exposed position, good jams and holds, maybe ** as a bit short for ***.

Live And Let Die E2 5c ** (not E3 6a **) - stiff at this grade but not much harder, great gear and good jams, and the thuggy crux is short-lived.

Die Another Day E3 5b ** (correct) - well worth stars for the general style and funky rock, does exactly what it says on the tin.

[x] Die Another Day Direct E4 6a *** (not **) - looks like a great addition to the route, but a hard onsight especially in the afternoon heat and without a hanging top-rope anchor.

Dwawj Wall and Slabs:

Dwawj Wall approach is 15 mins and gruelling.

Rock The Kasbah E3 5c *** (not **) - could be E2, easier crux than Crackerjack but more tiring overall. Worth *** for excellent line and continuous climbing.

Shagadelic E2 5c ** (correct) - solid at this grade, almost worth *** for the wandering but committing first pitch with an excellent crux. Abseil station needs replacing.

Jewel In The Crown VS 4b, 4b ** (not 4a, 4b) - first pitch is the technical and adjectival crux, second pitch is easier but a fine towering rib. Could be *** for fine rock and nice climbing. Both 50m abseils but second one needs care on boulder.

In the W.E.A.P.D.O.T.H. book:

Deep Well Pinnacles:

??? E4 5c *** (correct) - spot on, bold and blind climbing with a good easy arete finish.

??? E1 5b *** (probably more than **) - two very fine pitches with a comfy belay pinnacle and easy abseils.

Dragon Buttress:

Firesword E1(2) 5b *** (correct-ish) - top end of the grade, or E2 without a Camalot 4+ for the death chimney on pitch 2. Excellent classic route with very substantial pitches.

New Routes:

Tassila Canyon:

[x] Flash Flood E4+ 6b ** (not E4 6a ***) - hard, reachy and slopey, albeit with perfect protection. Radical rock and a cool concept, but the footless thuggery crux is too grim for ***.

Escape Pitch E2 5b * (correct) - short, bizarre, fun shallow water solo that will shock any VS leaders looking for an escape.

Les Amaniers confirmed as good and comfortable, but an hour's drive to most areas.

Kasbah Tizourgine confirmed as good, characterful and much closer, but no wifi and COLD bedrooms.

Samazar Valley dirt road IS very poor as warned, it is possible to reach Dragon Buttress in a small 2WD but it is VERY slow and rougher than a night out in Glasgow's East End. Any climbers planning to visit regularly should hire a 4WD.

In winter it can get fairly hot in the sun but very cold in the shade and at night (i.e. permanent frost some days).

Most abseil stations are good but take plenty of spare tat as walking descents are often rough and tedious.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Morocco #5 - the last few days.

Morocco - favourite things:

1. - 7. The outrageously belligerent braying of the valley donkeys.

8. The wide variety of good climbing.

9. The ridiculously sooky skinny black cat at the Kasbah.

10. The Berbers wandering around in their pointy-hood wizard robes.


The last third of our trip was spent in the alternative Anti-Atlas climbers' basecamp of the Kasbah Tizourgine. This is considerably closer to the Northside crags, and is a partially converted hill fort of great character, squinty corridors, an authentic feel and a welcoming and friendly communal restaurant. It also has only small communal bathrooms and bloody cold rooms with no heating. This was a bit of a shock after the regular heated bedroom lounging in Les Ammaniers that took the edge off the chill nights, but tactical overheating at the lounge stove has helped. There is also no wi-fi hence a late update and summary of the last few days thusly:
  • We climbed the Finger And Thumb pinnacles, the former by a brillant route, two get two good summit ticks. This was in the shade all day and the thick frost patches beneath the crag didn't melt at all.
  •  We drove down to Dragon Buttress and although the 4-pitch Firesword was very substantial, the real challenge of the day was the 50 minute drive down the disintegrating patch of rubble that masquerades as a dirt track, when we returned to the main single track road I kissed it and praised merciful Allah.
  • I befriended the skinny black Kasbah cat with pancakes and omlette and couscous and got a lot of nudging and nuzzling in return. Apparently it eats scorpions. I only saw it eating moths, albeit with great determination.
  • The donkeys have become increasingly entertaining and are almost making up for the lack of guidebook-promised trees full of goats.
  • After two days in the icy shade, we basked in the sun at Ksar Rock. Despite feeling very used to the sun after 11 continuous days of it, I still managed to burn my fucking love-handles. We then retreated to the shade to do the well-named Breaking Strain which almost broke me but somehow I managed to fall upwards quicker than downwards and thus did one of the hardest climbs I've done in the last full year.
  • And on the final day we went to a nice wee area, did a couple of cool routes, went to explore a recent new route down in the eerie Tassila Gorge, backed off it due to relentless thuggery, escaped up a weird dynamic polished slab deep water solo, and finally, to punctuate the trip, put up maybe the area's first "official" boulder problem up a funky compression prow. Rad, dude. 
Back home now. Final reports up soon...

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Morocco #4 - rest day.

I'm not usually the biggest fan of rest days on winter trips, especially trad ones, as you get rest evenings, rest nights, rest drives to the crag and back. But after 7 days continuous climbing, it actually seems like a good idea. Although I might have to sneak in a couple of blue routes when we visit the painted rocks nearby. Actually it's not the climbing that's been tiring recently, it's the windy single track driving, descending and ascending scrub and prickles, relentless sunshine and shivering at night.

Yesterday I did my first hardish route of the year, which had the best pitch I've climbed out here (Infinity at Lower Eagle Crag), startled a wild boar on the walk-in, tried to follow it and discovered that boar paths through dense brambles might be suitable for 2' high quadrupeds but they certainly aren't for 5'8" high bipeds, did the big route which took all afternoon, enjoyed the evening sun and view down the valley and regular donkey braying, met a very cute kitten back at the car, and fed it fennel infused breadsticks (a firm favourite of mine). Not bad at all.