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....


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