Sunday, 28 April 2013

Challenge #2 - Smith's Arete.

I'm dispensing with the alliteration for now, which is probably a relief. I've got a few more challenging inspirations for Scottish climbing this spring/summer and I guess I've already started with them. Cleopatra's Asp at Reiff would count as #1. 4 weeks later my minced hands have just about recovered, just a few small scabs left.

So Smith's Arete at Ballater is #2. The most distinguished line of the crag on the cleanest, if smallest, buttress. I'd already muffed the grim and sketchy Peel's Wall so this was the last thing I really wanted to do at Ballater - now I have and I don't have to go back again ;). I've learnt to be wary of the conditions on the shiny, slopey granite, so made good use of yesterday's fresh and cool weather on a 5 hour round trip to Ballater. Warmed up on Blutered and Larup Head, both good. Ate an obligatory egg sandwich, rested, faffed around a lot and did Smith's.

It was a bit different to I expected - rather than being quite sketchy and serious above the skyhook, it was surprisingly brutal and reachy getting to the hook, then surprisingly reasonable past that.  Due to the style of the route I bouldered out the start, partly to re-warm-up, partly to get that part on auto-pilot so I could focus on the scary bit past the hook, partly to get the hook in place and tensioned off well, and partly because it was pretty damn hard! At the time I found this style a bit dissatisfying (and it did feel an adjectival grade easier), as well as uncomfortable landing like a sack of spuds on my "bouldering hoodie", but in retrospect I think it is okay for this sort of route - especially getting the crucial hook tensioned down. Without a gri-gri to hand, hanging around while the belayer tries to tension a clove-hitch on his own while belaying at the same time would be unpleasant. Anyway with the faff out of the way it was very enjoyable - cool, switchy arete moves past the hook, bomber gear at the break, and the delicate finish as a bonus.

Now the weather is showery bollox again, and although I'd be up for the mighty R for some falling practice, in the absence of any offers I'll probably just go the gym and rest my tweaky A2s. I still feel fairly confident about more quick hit challenges though.

Thursday, 18 April 2013


Need to go on a cheese much good though. Last day today but a 9:30 flight from Kos allowed for a 6:30 ferry and thus almost as full a day's climbing as previous days (which were invariably curtailed by sunshine, soreness, or satisfaction). Another strong coffee, another colossal multi-kilo chocolate croissant from Fani's mini-mart, and another 5 good routes including Callipso, an intense tufa-bulge-razor-slab-crimpy-micro-broccoli horror that ensure my fingertips and sanity were ready to end the holiday on a high and tired note.

Overall it was a bloody great trip. Great varied climbing in a beautiful and convenient location, good company and fairly simple logistics, fine weather and nice food. Climbing on the stalactite-mushroom parades was why I wanted to visit Kalymnos and it was well worth it for that. Any trip where the debriefing includes "favourite mushroom" and "favourite kneebar" has got to be good. My climbing went very well, despite a harsh first day. I certainly feel climbing fit as much as climbing fat ;).

Simple Scottish trad next, I hope...  

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


Still going....somehow....starting to get a wee bit tired. The penultimate day, yet more tufas, yet more funky rests, yet more pockets, yet more pump. I did a couple of very fine routes today and also tried something a wee bit harder, above my usual confidence level. Boulder problem crux and then I somehow contrived to slip off a good big pocket after the crux. Suffice to say I win the Finest Crag Tantrum Of The Trip award, and thanks to Jade for retrieving my shoe from it's distant landing place. When I calmed down I was still angry but also reassured that I'd come pretty close, and curious to very slightly reassess what my current limits *might* be - it showed potential at least. On the subject of which, all of my aches and tweaks are feeling a lot better, no doubt because I'm climbing loads ;).

Monday, 15 April 2013


3.a. Scooters are fucking terrifying as a passenger. All I could think about was ending up as long streaks of Fiend paste smeared along the road.

3.b. Ghost Kitchen is a great name for a very fun crag.

3.c. Any route described as a "stalactite-mushroom parade" has got to be awesome, and indeed was.

4.a. Scooters are a lot less fucking terrifying as the driver. So much so that I went for a cruise for fun in the afternoon and got to grips with it pretty well, despite never having been on a motorised two-wheel anything except the previous evening's coaching. However there "might" have been a chicken incident on the way back.

4.b. I can get my leg into the Kastor hole at Arhi cos I'm short. Alas all the tall people in the group were both elsewhere and much more beastly so I didn't get to gloat too much.

4.c. When jumping off a sizeable rock into the sea, there are a variety of recommended landing postures, of which "sitting back in an armchair" is definitely not one. Fuck me my slapped butt hurts.

5.a. I had enough tactics, pacing, and determination to do my main Kalymnos inspiration of the boring standard honeypot trade route DNA. It's very steep!

5.b. Also did Trella (draining!), Taz and Les Amazones and generally had a fine day and feel I've really got into Kalymnos-style climbing.

5.c. My slapped arse still hurts and has spectacular warfarin-exacerbated bruises.  

Friday, 12 April 2013


Well what do you know, 10 hours sleep does help... Ably aided by a fine Greek dinner of "cheese with fire" (just what it says, what more do you need??), kalamari and doulmadi. So today went a bit better, it was still hot, sweaty, pumpy, and surprisingly grindy on the skin compared to the endless stream of tufa jugs I was expecting. I was also vaguely expecting the sales-pitch generous grades, well that is complete horse cock, the old Rockfax grades are general sandbags and even the new guide grades are solid, I've done one soft-touch in 12 bloody routes, this is hardly Ardmair is it!! Today's half a dozen were a characterful and fun selection, I'm still keeping it mostly steady but getting inspired by enough stuff for the rest of the week. Rest hard enough and I might climb some good stuff ;)

Thursday, 11 April 2013


"Yeah let's go for the 8am ferry, sure we have to be up at 7am to get a bit of breakfast but it's two hours time difference so that's like 9 UK time..."
After 8 hours of travelling, a Mythos, and a good quantity of Haloumi and chicken Slouvaki, no-one was thinking deeply enough to remember the time difference was the other way. So the 5am (UK time) start was somewhat shocking, no thanks to the dawn chorus that revved up at midnight and the appalling Nescafe filth to start the day. Thankfully the coffee scenario was vastly improved by the in-situ team at the apartments, but the residual knackeredness has lasted all day and when combined with the sensible but surprising heat and a lack of recent training, has combined in the phenomenon commonly known as "Punterdom". I had to keep reminding myself of these factors as well as the usual "first day warm up" procedure and not get too demoralised, but still did some decent routes, albeit easy ones by the skin of my teeth. Someone later described Sector Odyssey as "old fashioned sport climbing" and I think that's a fair appraisal. Although I did use a hand-jam in a tufa early on, albeit on a route I failed on by slipping off a foothold.

On the plus side, here is a really cool tiger kitty from the harbour:

Keeping a grip...

Today I'm on a flight to Kos and tomorrow I'll be on the first ferry to Kalymnos - this is a last minute sub-£100 flight plan, thanks to Jade and Ross for inviting me along :). Having realised we're allowed to use laptops on board, I'm pondering more on climbing potential this summer, whilst listening to melodic industrial hardcore courtesy of Embrionyc, and before playing as much Torchlight 2 as I can before my eyes explode or we land, whichever is first.

I feel I'm onto a good thing so far this year with climbing. As well as an excellent trad trip to Morocco and probably my best bouldering season ever in terms of quality, diversity and consistency, I feel I've got started with my Scottish trad climbing pretty well. After a few variable but mostly good years exploring the breadth of Scottish cragging, I can focus my attention on a few select explorations, and a few straightforward areas to push myself in.

Of course, the feeling that goes in tandem with this is not wanting to let that good thing go! Climbing well and confidently goes so naturally with the passion and inspiration I have for it, maintaining that is an obvious desire. So I'm considering what could get in the way, and how to deal with that. In rough order of likelihood:

Bad weather: The spring so far has been spectacular where it matters i.e. North West Scotland. Truly inspiring but we can't rely on it lasting. It could be as great as 2012, as dire as 2011 or as reasonably average as 2010. While I have some tricky desires - Lewis especially - most of where I want to push myself is logistically simple if the weather is haphazard: The North West is fine for a weekend, as are the Moray and Aberdeen coasts, whilst Glen Nevis and Creag Dubh are day-trippable. Put enough LPG in the tank and it should be manageable.

Lack of partners: Always an odd issue in the scattered and minimal Scottish trad communities, and a couple of my climbing friends, Brad and Phil, have now dropped the K-bomb so are less available. Hopefully those who remain, with Ross and Robert joining the ranks of Tris, Simon, Brian and Jade, will keep the syke up. Additionally I'll have to keep in touch with people well and rely on the simple venues as harmonious climbing choices.

Lack of confidence: I felt confident Easter weekend, bloody hell I even committed to an unfeasible move and took a fall. All of 3m or so, go me. This is a rare treasure I don't want to let out my sweaty grasp. It could slip out due to circumstance, or being away from regular trad, or getting worn out, or whatever. The one thing is to keep up with the falling practise - this has been my main purpose of indoor leading recently, and seems to have worked subtly on each trip out.

Getting injured: Or MORE injured. I did pick up a slight A2 tweak at Post Crag boning the fuck out of a crux crimp, although after a near week's rest it is feeling better. With careful taping I'm sure it will be manageable especially on trad. My shoulder is still an annoying and persistent tweaky little fucker of a niggle. Generally it is fine on climbing and variably tweaky on anything else, sleeping being the main culprit. I will keep up with the various exercises, stretching and sports massage and keep very aware of any other tweaks creeping in.

Being unfit: Or being MORE unfit. Suffice to say that my bouldering prowess has hardly enabled me to break the crucial 12 stone barrier this year. I'm still overweight and my legs are still fucked, although from recent ambulatory ambling they don't seem to be getting any worse. I must keep up with all the usual tiresome and demoralising bollox exercises to maintain this low level....I'm climbing okay with it so mustn't let it get any worse.

Other personal / life issues: I can't predict them but I'm sure they're there, lurking. If I maintain a calm concentration, persistent patience, I should be okay....

Prepared, persistent, patient, passionate....well I can aspire and aim for that I guess!!

Edit: Couldn't fucking sign into Steam's offline mode, no Torchlight 2 for me :(

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Excellent Easter at Ultimate Ullapool...

A long overdue update from Easter! After a semi last minute panic not having anyone to climb with (the usuals being offshore / new-ish parents / away / winter climbing and other such strangeness), the weekend was saved by The Tightest Shorts In Ratho (you know who I mean ;)). A veteran climber who had slightly intimidated me by his seeming seriousness as much as the shorts, but turned out to be good company with the all important SYKE as well as safe climbing.

So we had a long weekend that went something like this:

Moy - amazing weather, did several good routes including some challenging and pumpy ones.
Reiff - amazing weather, did several good routes including some of the harder trad I've done this year.
Ardmair - amazing weather, did several good routes including some decent challenges.
Mungasdale / Post Crag - amazing weather, did two good routes and failed on one only due to missing a finishing hold.
Glemarksie - amazing weather, only did one route but yup it was really good again.

You might notice a theme with the weather....I think it was both the best conditions ever in the Ullapool area, dryer than Asahi Super Dry, crisp and warm in the sun and icy in the shade, and the most beautiful I have seen the area, with surrounding snowcapped peaks providing the ultimate backdrop to the mellowly sunlight crags and heather. Although warm in the sun, it was bloody freezing at night (literally, -4'c some nights), and I was very glad of Short's SMC membership getting us into the revamped and swanky Naismith Hut. A snip at £9 a night, and with morning views like this:

Climbing-wise, this was one of my best early season starts ever. I think I've learnt from last years concept that I will live up to challenges if I actually tackle some of them, and combined that with decent bouldering strength and some residual mileage from my Morocco trip, so I felt both a bit confident, and a lot motivated. I did some mighty fine routes and have the scars to prove it. Apparently there aren't any resting jams in the top break of Cleopatra's Asp at Reiff, but no-one told me that so I concocted some anyway and did the route by the skin of my teeth and that's about how little skin I have left on my hands. The only slight niggle was an over-confident school-boy error on the excellent Scoobie Dubh at Post Crag - at the top of the warm-up route, I speculated on having a quick look at the rounded finishing holds but SOMEHOW decided not to do that. An hour later I'm sliding off a desperate slap onto the impossible sloping top....all of 4 bloody inches from a finger jug. NOOB. Learnt my lesson from that one I hope.

Hopefully this good climbing will continue. I'm sure the weather won't, I'm sure climbing partners will be variable, I'm sure things won't go as smoothly as one good weekend, but if I stay uninjured, keep doing the crucial falling practise and fitness training, I might do pretty well on what inspires me. Tendrils crossed.