Wednesday, 28 August 2013

aHoy there!

Top tip for new dads struggling to get out climbing: bundle your wife and kid off to Kenya (n.b. it might help if your wife is Kenyan and has family there). Well it worked for PJ so we could get a fairly sustained period of climbing in, including Little O Wall (good new Aberdeen trad venue - no spurious jumping for the bolt gun up here), Brin Rock sport crag (I've now completed the triptych of the finest mid-grade challenges at Brin: Gold Digger on the trad, Brin Done Before on the blocs, and The One And Only on the bolts. TOAO required me to do a full on lunge for a good hold from a slopey pinch with the bolt quite beneath my feet, a somewhat miraculous feat for me), Long Slough to get full appreciation of the coast being too greasy to climb, and The Mound to ensure we just missed the last ferry to Orkney.

Thankfully an early ferry the next day got us to the mist-blanketed archipelago and started a mini-adventure that sated one of my minor desires for this year, exploring Orkney. The first day in the grey gloom at Yesnaby was an eerie and bleak experience, and battling tides and imminent sea-smeg slightly subdued the otherwise fine and convenient climbing. A lie-in during the next rainy morning started a planned rest day to recover syke before two glorious and rewarding days. A return visit to Yesnaby started omniously with Phil battling the hardest sandbag I've ever seen while I planked and squirmed on the hanging belay to only just avoid the incoming swell. Even on second I needed a lie down afterwards. But the day got better and better through realistically graded routes, steep cracks and grooves, mellow evening sun on dry rock and a lovely delicate arete to finish in the sunset.

Since we were there and had another dry day and needed a rest from proper climbing (technical single pitches) at Yesnaby, it seemed fair enough to do the Old Man Of Hoy. But not, of course, by the tedious polished trade route of The Original Route, strictly the preserve of tourists, munro-baggers and other such riff-raff. Instead we stepped out onto the South Face for a jolly jaunt which involved "rock" that evolved from very sandy to fragile plates and bulges to hanging death blocks, obscure route-finding up indeterminate shelves and hanging chimneys, the obligatory fulmars to weave around, and a nice grass slab too. I can't recall there being ANY good climbing on the route, but it was a good adventure. We got away scott-free with only the tiniest of fulmar droplets on my adidas trackies, but then again a massive graze inside my armpit from catching myself when a foothold broke. The much-publicised abseils back down went very smoothly and quickly, the walk out up to the mainland was utterly murderous on my legs, and the stomp back over just got us to the last ferry to Orkney and the relaxed and comfy charms of Brown's Hostel.

Yeah well, go fuck YOUR face.

And the next day we did the Old Man Of Moy on the way back to Aberdeen.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013


It's like a giant partially bolted Churnet Valley, crossbred with Nesscliffe and Helsby, scattered throughout a forested sauna, and topped with a mini-Oktoberfest.

36'c a ridiculous temperature. By my standards 26'c is a ridiculous temperature and 10'c hotter is 10' more ridiculous. Driving around somewhere that looks a lot like middle England and getting out of the car into heat I've only ever experienced in Africa and the Caribbean was quite surreal. It's like stepping through the heat curtains you get across shop doorways in winter, except the heat just continues. Mid-week it cooled down a bit, I remember saying to Colin that it was much nicer at 26'c and he wisely pointed out that was still 10'c too hot for hard climbing. So there was precious little of that. Instead it was exploring and punting. Colin did a lot of chimneys, corners, and horizontal squirms, I did a lot of cracks, faces and the odd arete. We visited 21 crags in 10 days, and nearly as many summit ticks. I had to rest my skin but not my mind, despite the heat the syke held out well, helped by siestas!

Preposterously Proportioned Protuberances
...are an essential part of the Pfalz experience. The sandstone varies in quality, coarseness, features and angles, but the crags stick to formations that are distinct in character and distinct from the surrounding terrain. Spires and summits, towers and ridges all protrude from the forest that covers 70% of the surrounding countryside. Sometimes proudly visible on hilltops from miles around, sometimes only a vague summit hints at the potential that is revealed to be overpowering 40m walls shaded by 30m trees. Any protruberance that overhangs the base is an essential tick and I did a few of those. Abseil descents and summit books were mandatory. The quality of the rock and climbing was not always as immaculate as somewhere like Siurana, but the fun of the experience was hard to beat.

Weissbier und schnitzel
...are highlights of the area, along with a gargantuan selection of pastries and pretzel products (pretzel croissant nom nom nom). It is not a place to go for a diet and the amount of calories expended climbing and trekking around only just justified the amount put in at dinner and breakfast. Weissbier on tap re-defines "refreshment", 9 Euros for two chunks of schnitzel, a mountain of papriked chips and a bowl of well dressed salad persuaded us away from camp cooking on a few occasions, and by the end the staff of the local bakery knew us as regulars and smiled at our 8 items order each morning. The campsite was not bad for 9 euros each a night in peak season, flat ground and a good shower - despite the campsite fuhrer who bollocked me for accidentally driving on the wrong side of the road, exceeding 5kph (which the car wouldn't do any less than, even idling in 1st), and driving after 10pm, despite it being the restaurant's staff's fault for forgetting my SCHNITZEL. Dragging me away from my delayed dinner, thanks you grumpy old fuck. Further humiliation came on the campsite's crazy golf course with Colin owning my arse by some of the biggest numbers seen on the trip.


Return match needed
The sheer fun, diversity and character of the area just about compensated for the heat and lack of challenging climbing....JUST ABOUT. It was an excellent trip to explore, do a lot of fun stuff, and get the measure of an area that is complex but scarcely 30 minutes drive tip to tip. But boy am I syked to return. Drop the temperature to sending temps, and there are many inspiring grade 8s that are as attractive as anything I've seen anywhere. Now I've explored fully, a long focussed weekend would do. God knows when reliable cool weather is in spring or autumn, but whenever it is, I want to be there!!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

It's War.

The most brutal, intractable war, the war within. The human mind is the most complex, most powerful, most potent thing....I only wish I actually got on with mine. 30+ years and it's still a stalemate.

So far, so teen angst. The issue is that while I am mostly a climber, some parts of me are not a climber. Some of those other parts are positive, if sometimes distracting, desires into other hobbies (yes, painting toy soldiers IS that genuine), and some of those other parts are inhibitive, self-sabotaging, anti-parts. Throw it all together and sometimes the result is a seemingly irresolvable maelstorm of thought spirals, desires, ambitions, inhibitions, indecisions and confusion.

I try to strip away the bullshit and the trivialities to just get on with the pure pleasure of climbing, but as I once said to a good friend who was jesting about my climbing obssession - the problem is, I'm not obsessed enough. Part of it is good stuff that gives me a wee bit of a rest and a bit of balance, part of it is self-destructive stuff that uncomfortably contradicts the bulk of the truth about myself. Desire vs destruction....the war within. I wish for clarity of mind but I'm slowly accepting it will never happen, so I keep fighting....a war of attrition, aiming to grind my mind into positive spirals.

Anyway, I have had a lazy, slothful, and confusing week, and have generally anticipated feeling weak and useless. I went to TCA and felt knackered - except then did a PB of 4 pullups on the smallest Beastmaker rungs. I went to GCC and felt very slow getting into things - except then had as good a session I've ever had. Apparently the body isn't as weak as the mind! That still doesn't excuse me from keeping training it though...

Friday, 9 August 2013


...from 10 days in Pfalz.

It was ace. Far too bloody hot, but ace. I will write plenty more soon, but in the meantime, here is....