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 away....so 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 times....so 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.