Sunday, 28 December 2014

The year in numbers.

Just because. This year I've mostly failed on exploration, trips away, and new venues, but I have done a good variety of Scottish and Northern England stuff, and maintained a fairly pleasing standard. The hardest things I've done in order:

Wheels Of Fire E4 6a *** (Bowderstone Crag)
Exquisite wall-climbing with wild reachy slapping way out from gear. Exhilarating.

Masterspy E4 6a *** (Wilton 1)
Action packed sketching with two hard cruxes. Rewarding.

Thelonius E4/5 6a/b *** (Mungasdale)
A long term ambition over several visits. Wonderful climb with a very hard bouldery start and great jug-hauling above.

First Of Class E4 6a ** (Far Hill Crag)
Really good, bold committing face climbing that I really had to go for it on.

Strangeways E4 6b ** (Reiff)
Great climbing with positive cranking, the crux is placing gear without blocking holds, I outwitted that by placing a wire that fell out as I went passed it!

Boxed E4 6a *** (Mull)
More great positive cranking, really good steep climb that I had to use all my reserves of determination on.

Scorched Earth E4 6a * (Burnt Crag)
Well-named on a hot Easter day. Wild and weird, squirming into a groove then leaping for a jug ledge in front of a some amused Lakes old-timers "did you see that? he fookin jumped for it! move of t'day, that!"

Sunshine Superman E4 6a * (Meikle Ross)
Fiercely thin greywacke slabbing with a very precarious crux. Very cool even if my feet didn't forgive me until the next day.

Inquisition E4 6a *** (Reecastle)
Typically brilliant Reecastle face climbing, two cruxes, one bold and one wild and goey. Maybe ran it out a bit too much, but lovely route.

Instant Muscle E4 6a ** (Diabeg)
Good but surprisingly hard slab climbed on a beautiful November day. Had to really go for it.

Ambalite E4 6a ** (Iron Crag)
Marble Staircase's scarier twin, still delectable but even bolder and more intricate. Good headgames!

Wee One E4 6a * (Glen Nevis)
 (Up from E3). Fierce and continuous bouldering to an on/off final crux. 6m of every move being 6a!

Snorting Quack E4 6a ** (Mull)
So many RPs to fiddle in, so little time. Not the usual Ardtun crack romp, quite intricate indeed.

Wet Pussy E4 6a ** (Craig Stirling)
Atypical Aberdeen schist - easy to protect and not a gruelling pumpfest, instead a technical delight with a very committing and thoughtful crux.

Mingy Metro E4 6a * (The Souter)
(Up from E3). Testing, brutally hard to place crucial RPs and sliders. Very good climbing though.

Marble Staircase E4 6a *** (Iron Crag)
Good value bold and committing wall-climbing. Delectable.

Dry Grasp E4 6a *** (Falcon Crag)
Fantastic wall-climbing in a fantastic position, postive cranking with with a bold start, switch brain off and bravery on.

Stand and Deliver E4 6a ** (Gruinard Crag)
(Down from E5 and steady for E4). Great face climbing high on the crag and quite amenable with a bit of go for it.

The Smouldering E4 6a * (Glen Coe)
A hidden gem with a steady but thin crux and a lonely wall above. Quite similar to many Lakes climbs I did.

Edge Of Insanity E4 5c ** (Glen Croe)
Never has a ladder of jugs felt so committing or exposed! Easy once you've done it, but space-walking.

Fever Pitch E4 6a ** (Dumbarton)
Also fairly easy once you've done it, but it doesn't feel like it looking down at the RPs beneath your feet after the goey crux! A grand line and a great trad feel.

Clementine Variant E4 6a ** (Dome Butress)
Outwitting the filthy and lethal central section with a small detour, but still technical and elegant low down and scary high up. An underrated crag.

Lorelei  E4 5c ** (Loch Tollaidh)
Another beautiful slab. Reasonably steady, reasonably protected, consistently great climbing on great rock.

Velvet Glove E4 6a *** (Limekilns)
Neil said it was easy, I didn't believe him and pretended it was hard, until I just did it the easy way. Less of a crack thrash, more of a fun jug romp.

Thumper E4 5c *** (Eastby)
Quintessential E4 5c head-games. Delicate crux at 10m, good gear at 5m. Classic!

Frustration E4 5c *** (Glen Shian)
(Down from E5 and steady at E4). Beautiful climb up a beautiful slab. As good as bold crimpy slabs get!

Armalite E4 5c ** (Raven Crag)
A weaving romp up a nice wall. Full of surprisingly good holds and unsurprisingly good moves. Really pleasant.

Noble Savage E4 5c ** (Ardmair)
Felt rather scary as an E3 warm-up, worth it's upgrade. Okay but not the usual Ardmair calibre.


And the hardest things I haven't done, in order:

Pockets Of Excellence E5 6a ** (Glen Croe)
A bit damp, a bit unclimbed, a bit fucking hard and blind. Did the first crux to the big and wet pocket, then no idea above.

Run From Home E5 6b * (Glen Nevis)
Nails razor-crimping past one BD 0 offset? Ran out of psyche for that.

??? E5 6a *** (North Yorks)
Fierce crack, good but hard, bad conditions, bad wrist.

Blade Runner Direct E4 6a *** (Auchinstarry)
Did all the hard/bold climbing on the direct (which is easier than the higher crux of the original), did the higher crux and fell of the final tricky bit I'd done before as part of Nijinski. Too warm weather but still ARSE!

The Pugilist Dir E4 6a *** (Floor's Craig)
Climbing was piss easy and very good. Placing the crux cam was horrible and desperate. Waste of good moves.


A few things I can note about this list:

  • A lot of the harder routes I've done have been really solid at the grade, maybe half of them in total, and few are regarded as the upper limit.
  • I've done a couple of so-called 6bs on lead and they have felt like 6a.
  • I've done quite a lot in the Lakes and despite the Lakes reputation for hard grades, the routes have been spread very equally through the list.
  • Out of all those hardest routes, almost all of them have been really enjoyable and satisfying, with only a very few being not quite pleasurable enough (Mingy Metro awkward gear), Clementine Variant (dirty), Noble Savage (pokey)).
That's all for now.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Slipping it in.

This winter season I've been inspired to focus on the gritstone, because there's lots of it, there's great new guides, I feel pretty confident after another decent trad year, and it should be a bit more feasible logistically than Scottish winter cragging.

There may be a high correlation between that decision and the weather being relentlessly cunting awful.

I think this is the worst start to the grit season I can ever recall. Sure there have been a few decent days - sandwiched between storms, showers, and continuous rain - and very rarely adjacent enough to warrant a trip down. My browser is getting worn out refreshing the Metoffice forecast for Skipton and Hathersage, although it is forecast to be glorious on Christmas Day. When I will be in London. Fucking arse!

Actually it's got to the stage of putting up with ludicrously inefficient and expensive single day trips down, albeit only as far as the most Northerly crags e.g. Slipstones.

So we headed down on a rare day of amazing conditions with the plan to warm-up gently, do some highballs and soloing and maybe the odd lead if it was warm enough, or some harder frictional bouldering if it was cold enough. It turns out that conditions were a bit too amazing and the wrong way round - the bouldering end was just sheltered enough to be warm, the routes end was just exposed enough to be bloody freezing. And I forgot that the sheer clean grit of Slippys was generally steep and the seemingly positive crimps were generally cruel on the fingertips. It's a beautiful grit there but a strange sort of grit. Still it was good fun and I got inspired for more action there, which might happen in 2018. No complaints about the beauty of the day though:

And that's that. I might be able to sneak something in around Christmas if the weather allows. Otherwise I will be furiously considering a trip abroad as soon as possible.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The wrong side of the pebble.

I think I have improved as a climber since living in Scotland. I have more experience, more mileage on a variety of rock-types, more knowledge of dealing with climbing outside of my comfort zone, more tricks and tactics to use, more confidence due to falling practise, more ability to crank through moves in lead, more awareness of climbing challenges and how to deal with them.

However. I'm not any taller and my skin isn't any less sweaty and I don't have any more ability to hit the ground and bounce rather than break.

So when I go back down to the gritstone and expect to apply all I've learnt and all I've improved at, it's not necessarily going to mean SHIT. Sure last winter I had a pretty good trip at exactly this time, but the luck-based scrittle is as fickle as it is frictional and rounded and success and confidence on one trip / day / route / move is no guarantee of the next. This was well demonstrated on our Stanage day when I spent longer on the single crux move of Count's Wall (HVS/E1) than I did on the entire route of Counterblast (E2/3). Rhyme or reason?? None at all. After a couple of sketchy days I did manage something cool that reminds why grit is worth persisting with, Thumper @ Eastby:

 Still too warm despite being -2'C in the shade at the car.

Run out like a trout.

 Aside from that, this mini-trip was hampered by various things including too much driving, some poor route choices (morpho shite like Dracula) and some slightly poor conditions (thick clart on a first Eastby visit, dank top-outs at Crow Crag). So I've learnt a few things for next time:

  • Minimise driving around.
  • Be wary of under-climbed routes.
  • Have plenty of back-up routes at crag.
  • Have some technical warm-ups / problems.
  • Plenty of stuff to keep feet clean.
  • Long sling for quicker abseiling for gear.
  • Start earlier in the morning if possible.
  • More stretching.
  •  Don't pick morpho routes.
The few glimmers of success and trusting smears have maintained the psyche to go back down as soon as possible too. If the weather allows. Despite being better than the West of Scotland, it doesn't always end up looking like this...(sorry I can't upload that photo here as Googles fucking disgracefully awful intrusive photo enhance shit utterly ruins it even if I pre-tweak the saturation down.)

Thursday, 27 November 2014


A while ago I wrote about people claiming their "First E-whatever!" whilst actually failing on standard mid-grade routes, or rather pre-failing by not even trying to climb the route, instead avoiding it by headpointing / top-roping. I actually seemed to get some hysterical bleating in response, well at least I think I did, I gave up reading when there was the first whiff of the usual "but people can do what they want" waffle. Strange how some people put the effort in to get their knickers in a twist about something so common sensical, but then don't bother making any other comments on the positive stuff I write about Scottish climbs and scenery (at least a couple of people have noticed I post that too)... All very Daily Mail reader, but perhaps not so surprising. What was surprising was a friend who said he appreciated that particular blog as it made him think a bit about his climbing and his current temptation to headpoint a few routes, and that maybe he could resist that temptation for a while and find other ways to progress with his climbing.

Which got me thinking - I'd posted about the failure of headpointing mid-grade trade routes (which both posts apply to, NOT to new routes, cutting edge routes, esoteric early repeats etc), but not about how to avoid that failure, avoid that temptation in the first place - THAT could be something useful. So, some ideas on how not to pre-fail:

Firstly, the main reason for pre-failing:

"I think this route is too hard for me to climb now"
(Therefore I won't try to, I'll avoid climbing it by top-roping etc etc)

I'm sure most other reasons will boil down to that. In particular the kneejerk counter of "But it's just what they want to do" is immediately counter-countered by considering why one would "want" to headpoint etc: Because it's personally preferable to onsighting that route. Why? Because there must be something about the onsight that makes it less preferable, and that's almost certainly *some* difficulty with the onsight, meaning: "I think this route is too hard for me to climb now".

So taking that reason, one can break it down into overlapping constituent issues:

"I think" - perception / information.

"this route is too hard for me" - difficulty / ability.

"right now" - current situation.

And try some suggestions how to overcome those issues:

1. Gather as much information as possible.
No necessarily enough to spoil the experience, although a beta-flash is still a good effort. Sometimes the guidebook info is well researched and you can rely on it to know the route's challenge, but not always. If there is any doubt then check forums, ask for general information, speak to people who have done it. Find out the sort of information that would make an accurate guidebook description.

2. Inspect the route from as many natural angles as you can.
I.e. gather as much of your own information as possible. Look from the sides, look from the top, do adjacent routes. If there are sections that put you off onsighting, see if you can get a better look under your own steam. 

3. Get your partner to abseil down, clean and check it.
If the route really needs checked out or cleaned, then get your mate to do it (assuming they don't want to do the same route!). It's that simple! They can give it a thorough scrub and make sure the information is accurate. In all 3 information gathering options, the route will still have some essential mystery but there could be crucial hints so you KNOW rather than THINK about it's difficulty.

4. Analyse what the main difficulties are on the route and what abilities you would need to improve.
If the route is too hard, or you're simply not good enough to do it, work out why. Too bold? Too pumpy? Too technically hard? Etc. Rather than trying to avoid that real challenge, work out why it is tempting to avoid it, and what you would need to improve to actually tackle it.

5. Train towards the route(s).
Following from the above, actually put the effort to BE good enough to do the route. If you're looking at routes that you're not certain about onsighting, you should be wanting a challenge and you should be willing to improve and try hard to do so. Train physically and mentally to improve to meet that challenge.

6. Stack all the odds in your favour.
Use all the usual tips and tricks with optimal gear, chalk, shoes, clothes, belayer, warming-up, timing, weather, etc. Many small factors can add up to make a big enough difference to make the route feasible, so analyse all aspects of your preparation and logistics to make them optimal.

7. See if it is possible to engage with the route at all.
If it's a general challenge, see how far it is possible to climb up and downclimb. See if there is a ledge or good rest to get to to evaluate how feasible it is to continue. If it's bold or dangerous, see if there are any places with good protection, and how far past it you can go before either having to commit into danger or being able to fall safely. Even if the whole route seems too daunting it might be possible to start it, and maybe then finish it.

8. Be prepared to try and fail.
Failure is always a possibility, it's the risk associated with any challenge. But it's not a certainty unless you've already failed. Given a choice to try and fail, or fail by not even trying, choose the former. Once that's accepted, at least you can give it a go, it's better than giving up in the first place.

9. Heed conditions and choose the right time.
If the route seems to be too hard right now, maybe the timing is wrong. Some of the odds refuse to be stacked when you want them - weather and personal condition especially - so keep that in mind and be prepared to choose the right time. Learn the factors needed to make Plan A work....and have a Plan B too.

10. Take a longer view and save the route for the future.
The route will always be there and for most people the opportunity to try it properly will crop up again. Unless you're an OAP and about to permanently move abroad, there's no need to be impatient and not give yourself and the route a chance. You don't HAVE to headpoint the route now, see what you're capable of in a month or a year or a decade.

And if all else fails....just don't do it. There's always a choice. There's always the option to simply accept the route is too hard and walk away. There is no shame in that honesty and acceptance and respect for the route and respect for good style.

Apologies if any of this isn't as clear or as ethically strict as it should be, I've been trying to write this for ages and got bored of it. As usually, any complaints can be forwarded to The Department Of People Who Give A Shit, Somewhere Far Far Away, thanks.

Friday, 14 November 2014

More trad fannying...

Someone was asking what I'd been up to recently, so here it is:

Dunkeld: Went to do some of the easier Extremes on the right, they were all seeping apart from Tombstone which is jolly good fun but I'd already done it. So Plan B was to climb up to the crux of High Performance, fiddle in loads of flared wires, pull up disconsolantly a few times and then take all the wires out and reverse comfortably to the ground, just like the previous 2 attempts. Something went wrong with this plan, I got hampered by some excellent cool conditions on the sparse dry rock and the after effects of a V5-flashing session at Ratho the previous day and forgot to downclimb and upclimbed instead after only a few tentative pulls. Still one of the harder moves I've done on trad and harder than two apparent 6b cruxes I've been on. Amusingly I have a sporadic climbing partner who claims it's "not hard for 6a". Even though she has been a classic under-performer and did it as her first English 6a lead before spending a spring in Spain and onsighting F7c (or maybe it was F7b+ I forget, anyway far harder than I've managed in 16+ years of pushing myself climbing), and basically wouldn't know an easy 6a move if it came up and bit her skinny strong arse.

Meikle Ross: Some guy on the interwebz had been posting pictures of him "climbing" Sunshine Superman as a headpoint with the gear in place (!) and upgrading it to E5 (!!) and somehow contrary to all that is decent and respectable people were actually praising this failure. I had to go down and correct this.....error, and despite being hampered by sweltering early November heat and being a hard E4 onsight, I did:

Quite rewarding as although it's eliminate to start it's brilliant to finish with some fierce steep slab moves around the overlap. My feet were killing after spending quite a while hanging around working out moves and getting in the right gear, but thankfully my spare comfy shoes were good enough for Corridors Of Power which was a bit primitive compared to the usual greywacke crimping delights:

All in all a very nice day down at the seaside...

Ardmair and Diabeg: Were the also down by the seaside (or close enough!) for the only other trip of note, a surprising post-match bonus up again around Wester Ross. Glorious weather stolen from the rest of the drizzly country, a last minute plan, a night in the Ledgowan Lodge bunkhouse sampling whiskies from the hotel, and conditions that were too warm for my plans at Ardmair and too warm for my plans at Diabeg but I pushed on through yet more foot-pain with the latter and managed Instant Muscle:

Not bad I guess although I am still mopping up my dribble in anticipation of using the two new epic Yorkshire Gritstone guides but someone needs to start mopping up the fucking drizzle first as the weather is pretty dreary across Scotland and even worse down there (surely that ain't right) so although the grit has been called it hasn't justified the drive down yet. I live in hope as it's what excites me most this winter - hurrah for new definitive guides (until I get sandbagged to fuckery and start moaning about them...;))

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Whinging trad fanny...

It's now past the year anniversary of the successful resolution of The Great Ratho Retrobolting Farce, in which the fine result of removing most of the retro-bolts and highlighting the quality trad and clearing up the quarry vied for prominence with highlighting the idiocy of some of the myopic sport climbing fanatics. An amusing contrast came from people who claim to like both trad and sport - as if that's justification for retrobolting!? - but doing the bare minimum of trad climbing presumably only when Dunkeld and Dumby are a bit too warm, whilst at the same time equally deluded members of the pro-retro-bolting faction were dismissing pro-balance / pro-consultation climbers as, and I quote, "whinging trad fannies". I'm trying to recall anyone I know on the side of the common sense as being a pure trad climber doing just the bare minimum of sport, and I'm struggling. Big Bob who was just off to Sardinia, warming up for his F8a plans at Costa Blanca in Easter?? Jamie Sparkes who bolted Balgone Heughs and the quarry opposite Ratho (aptly showing the potential without retro-bolting)?? Hmmmm...

As for myself. Well, here's the Scottish sport (and mixed) crags THIS particularly "whinging trad fanny" has climbed at:

The Camel
Brin Rock
Moy Rock
Creag Bheag
Creag An Amalaidh
Creag Nan Cadhag
Creag Nan Luch
Goat Crag
Glutton Crag
Glen Ogle Sunnyside

Glen Ogle Darkside
Comrie Crag
Cambus O May
Red Wall Quarry

The Keel
Legaston Quarry
Ley Quarry
Rob's Reed
Kirrie Hill
Elephant Rock
North Berwick Law

Ratho Quarry
Balgone Heughs

So, about that line of argument that our side didn't understand Scottish sport climbing and the need for it's development again................???

Friday, 7 November 2014

Hard Grit, Protectable Grit

Something that may be of use for the talented outsider looking to get an gritstone experience without resorting to truly dangerous routes or even worse the humiliation of headpointing. Most of these should be safe to onsight but they do assume all the usual tricks of the trade i.e. your mate abbing and cleaning it, skill placing a variety of gear, running belayers, coping with long falls etc etc. The list is cribbed from guesswork, 2nd hand information, guidebook descriptions, and some feedback in this thread. It's designed to give a good authentic gritstone experience with plenty of slopers, smears, rounded aretes, blank slabs, brutal cracks etc (so no quarried grit), on routes that should be in good condition (so not much esoteric stuff). Have fun.


Giggling Crack E6 6c ***
 - Offwidth nearly climbed by Joe Brown in 1950s
The Bottom Line E7 6c **
 - Steep rounded and thrutchy
Megadoom E5 6b **
 - Wild hanging prow
The Great Flake E6 6b ***
 - Technical steep blunt flake
Desert Island Arete E6 6c ***
 - Big burly arete
Milky Way E6 6b ***
 - Relentless steep crack
Fast Forward E6 6c ***
 - Steep rounded and thrutchy


Barriers In Time E6 6b ***
 - Definitive friction arete above good pro
Northern Comfort E6 6c **
 - Hard reachy moves with massive fallout zone
Thing On A Spring E6 7a ***
 - Hard reachy cranky with good falloutzone
Against The Grain E6 7a ***
 - Ditto
Painted Rumour E6 6a ***
 - Huge roof with lying down rest and cunning gear
Counterstroke To Equity E5 6c *
 - Smooth slab above good pro
Nature Trail E5 6b **
 - Ditto
Master Of Reality E6 6c ***
 - Stunning gritstone tufa above good pro
National Acrobat E6 6c ***
 - Very safe gruelling thrutch
Ray's Roof E6 6c ***
 - Offwidth roof crack

Peak District:


The Crypt Trip E6 6b ***
 - Lots of fiddly pro wall climb
Flight Of Ideas E6 7a ***
 - Mega arete above good pro
Pete's Arete L of FOI E6 6c **
 - Ditto but easier
Scapa Flow E6 6c **
 - can't remember
Carpe Diem E6 6c **
 - can't remember
The 9 O'Clock Watershed E6 6c **
 - Technical prow above good pro
Master Of Disguise E6 6c **
 - Burly bulge pulling
Little Women E7 7a **
 - can't remember
Groove Is In The Heart E7 7a **
 - can't remember
Sad Amongst Friends E6 7a ***
 - Steep gruelling mantle
Warmlove E6 7a *
 - Ditto but worse


Balance It is E7 6c ***
 - Mega arete with good fallout zone and possible RP
Life Assurance E6 6b *
 - Steep slab needs running belayer
Offspring E5 6b ***
 - Face climbing in space
Lost World E6 6c **
 - Safe reachy pebble undercutting
Pulsar Direct E6 6b **
 - Very steep burly wall
Linkline E6 6c ***
 - Ditto
Moolah E5 6b **
 - Thin face cranking
New Mediterranean E5 6c **
 - Ditto
Trout E6 6b ***
 - Definitive grit slab above great gear
Salmon Direct E6 6c ***
 - Ditto
Salmon E7 6c ***
 - Ditto
Smoked Salmon E7 7a ***
 - Ditto.....down from 7b...


The Screaming Dream E7 7a **
 - Short, steep, and very hard
Beau Geste E7 6c ***
 - Hanging arete, safe with cunning
Epiphany E6 6b **
 - Bold to start but safe arete above
Crack And Slab E6 6c *
 - Hard crack, reachy slab, good pro
Mensa E6 6b **
 - Arete with enough pro
Slab And Crack E7 6b ***
 - Highball start, crucial RPs above
Rigid Digit E5 6b **
 - Tricky groove climbing.
Janus E6 6b ***
 - Ditto but more so, great line
Moonshine E5 6b ***
 - Bulging rounded thin crack

Gardoms-Cratcliffe-Black Rocks:

Mickey Finn E6 6b ***
 - Burly roofs, may need a clean.
Spanish Fly E6 6c **
 - Burlier roof, pre-placed good RP at this grade
Perfect Day E5 6b ***
 - Steep rounded wall above great pro
Make it Snappy E6 6b ***
 - Safe enough arete
Reticent Mass Murderer E5 6b **
 - Brutal thin crack
Genocide E6 6c **
 - Sheer reachy wall above good pro
Kaluza Klein E7 6c ***
 - Classic arete needs jumping belayer
Discombobulator E5 6c **
 - Thin cranky wall
Untoward E5 6b **
 - Techy arete
Camel Hot E6 6b **
 - Steep arete with decent gear

There may be more...

Monday, 3 November 2014

Four Stars?

Turn the amp up to 11, Scotland. The jingoistic pride of the SMC and Gary Latter demands that alleged superiority of climbing in Scotland is marked with one extra star compared to the rest of the still-United Kingdom. And who knows they may have a point, it's pretty good up here. Well of course it's pretty good down there too, no-one with half a brain will claim the best of Scotland is inherently better than the best of The Roaches, The Cromlech, Sharpnose etc. But one can agree with the accolade of 4 stars in theory....of course once such a thing exists, it's then there to be mis-used and inappropriated. A brief discussion with Tris and Stu on the concept of 4 stars turned from dismissal of the idea into skepticism of it's application, and further thought gave the following ideas:

New four stars:

Yir VS 4c, Ardnamurchan - Possibly the most perfect easy route i've done in Scotland. A great line, great location, and a full length of varied quality.

Whispering Crack E3 5c, Skye - astonishingly good line searing up a blank wall, with sustained climbing to match. As "must climb" as it gets.

Mother's Pride E4 5c, Skye - Wild, wonderfully positioned and shockingly easy for it's line, as good as jug-hauling gets.

Sarclet Pimpernel E0 5a, Caithness - An "esoteric" gem that laughs in the face of established classics with it's impeccable line above the sea, fascinating rock and delightful climbing.

Wall Of Flame E4 6a, Diabeg - Maybe a slightly personal choice but surely as good as slab climbing gets - like a quadruple size grit slab with holds and gear.

Brave New World E2 5c, Diabeg - Undeniably perfect, a grand line in a beautiful location, solid safe jug-hauling with the crux right at the top.

Arial E3 5c, Loch Maree Crag - If Spirit Air deserves it's 4 stars then so does this. As good and sustained as wall climbing gets, a day's climbing packed into one route.

The Fuhrer E4 5c, Creag Dubh - The Great Wall at Creag Dubh is 4 stars in itself and this route balances out the usual boldness with exceptional quality, with 3 distinct sections of individual excellence.

Pump Up The Jam V5, Skye - The best jamming in Scotland, without question.

Spanking The Monkey V6, Cambusbarron - The best slabby arete climbing in Scotland, without question.

Gale Force V7, Laggan - A stunning line, with continuous technical, powerful and committing climbing above a good landing.

Brin Done Before V5, Brin Rock - Geometrically irresistable, a definitive old skool E4 6b style highball.

Justified four stars:

The Pillar E2 5b, Diabeg - A stunning sheet of rock with the perfect balance of sustainedness and boldness. Any idiot who waffles on about it being one gets 2 stars maximum.

Monkey Man E3 5c, Sheigra - Dominating, brutal and butch, that gives the Second Geo veteran something meatier to aspire to.

(Grey Panther E1 5b, Skye ) - Stunning line and clearly a stunning climb.

Rat Race E4 6a, Dunkeld - In one pitch, a fantastically meaty and varied pitch, with a bit of everything and a lot of challenge.

The Hill Direct E2 5b, Creag Dubh - The plum line of the fantastic Great Wall, epitomising it's perfect bold jug-pulling. As good as soloing a Ratho F6b!

Romancing The Stone F6c+, The Camel - Why Scottish sport-climbing is far more than lapping Cave Crag routes. Classic conglomerate and perfectly named.

Storm HVS 5a, Glen Nevis - Seems the perfect mid-grade cragging experience, with great climbing and good rock.

Freak Out E4 6a, Glen Coe - A much better climb than I was a climber. Surely the dramatic South East nose is visible from space, and this line is the pick of the crag.

Not four stars:

Acrimonious Acrobat E0 5b, Ardmair - Good. But simply not that good.

The Bug E2 5b, Tollie Crag - Definitely 3 stars, but doesn't quite have the fly-on-the-wall experience of The Pillar.

Bloodlust Direct E2 5b, Sheigra - The worst E2 on the Second Geo wall, a direct finish to better lines with the crux fiddling in cams.

Afterglow E2 5b, Rosehearty - A fine line and elegant introduction to Rosey, but pokey to start and quite short.
(Spaced Out Rockers E4 5c, Reiff ) - Okay it's a great line, but it goes the wrong way!

Marlene F7c, Dunkeld - Painful and not a classic line of weakness.

Silk Purse F7c+, Dunkeld - Ditto.

Over The Hill E3 5c, Creag Dubh - More direct, but fiddly moves that spoil the balance of The Hill.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

6th time lucky...

Mungasdale. Thelonious. Typical North West gneiss 15° overhanging thuggery, albeit on a much underused crag. A slightly off-piste inspiration, but that's nothing new for me I guess.

Visit 1, Spring 2012 - First visit, neat little crag, not strong enough nor accustomed enough to Scottish thuggery. Didn't even do Walking On Water.

Visit 2, Spring 2013 - Starting to climb quite well, did do Walking On Water, but too tired / too warm to try Thelo.

Visit 3, Spring 2014 - Far too muggy and midgey. Didn't climb at all, unless backing off Monkey Tribe counts.

Visit 4, Summer 2014 - Far too boiling hot. Tried to get morning shade under the illusion that the "south-west" facing was accurate. SSSW more like so no shade and no chance. Walked straight out.

Visit 5, Autumn 2014 - Perfect cool fresh conditions and the main wall was entirely seeping on every route. Did Monkey Tribe and then sacked it off yet again.

Visit 6, Autumn 2014 - Scarcely a week later and brief Indian Autumn and crisp fresh Easterlies gave a bone dry crag and perfect Gneiss conditions. 5 layers on to belay and one power vest on to climb, and finally...

A ridiculous amount of effort and dedication to a 2 star, split grade, 15m route that no-one's climbed, hardly anyone has heard of, at a crag few people have visited?? Yes. But a ridiculous amount of satisfaction unlocking the desperate boulder problem start and a ridiculous amount of pleasure pushing past the pump and yarding up steep jugs all the way to the top.

This was one of the highlights of what is probably the final reliable jaunt to the North West holy grail for this year - although I am still hoping for some technical trad suntrap action on the pseudo-grit of Ardmair and Diabeg if conditions allow - and once again the area was stunning in the autumn sun:

Unbeatable :)

Edit: Eagle-eyed readers might notice these photos are over-saturated. This is because Google / Blogger has a shitty "Auto-Enhance" feature specifically implemented to give you less control over what you upload and fuck up your photos. After a bit of searching, it's not possible to disable this without joining googleplus and thus no doubt opening up another world of bullshit and social media herding. In short, Google can suck my fucking balls until they choke and I'm sorry on their behalf the photos don't look quite right.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Souter Syke!

One visit in two decades, then two visits in one month. This is based on the sudden realisation / rememberance that it's really a rather nice spot and there's loads to do in the mid-extremes and the sneakily gruelling walk out is good training for my puny legs without being tiring before climbing and it's a good 45 mins closer than The County. There's even been a few new routes added since the guide albeit some of those have been grossly overrated by the FAs so aren't as big a draw as the established greywacke mini-gems and micro-testpieces. I've worked my way through several of these but still have many to go, depending on tides and conditions of course. This last visit the tides were decent and the conditions were perfect, a brisk westerly blowing any moisture back into the depths from whence it came. Thus allowing a satisfying ascent of the distinctly non-mini-testpiece Fast Bleeder, admittedly the bulk of the challenge of this climb is packed into the last 8m but those 8m are relentless enough to preclude any complaints about brevity...

Other days out have included Creag Dubh's Barrier Wall to which I've had two visits and two cancelled visits previously, all of which were because it was too hot / sunny / still to climb the harder stuff. This time the rock was in perfect condition and the howling gale raking across the crag prevented even thinking about harder stuff. FFS. A retreat to Farrletter confirmed that idiot bolters and idiot de-bolters have left the crag in a pointless mess, although a few of the routes are still fairly climbable, albeit not when it's getting dark as it happened on Too Farr For The Bear. FFS. The brisk winds were as good for conditions at Ratho as they were at The Souter, so I managed to keep working my way through the quarry's classic trad (in addition to belaying Smally on some distinctly nu-skool trad with his likely E8 first ascent of the blank wall where the Strongarm/Wally protection pillar used to be), specifically Diverticultis which plays nicely to my weaknesses of struggling like a stuck pig on blank bridging corners. Somehow the struggling went upwards enough to deposit me on the rest ledge and easier finish, after I'd rested a good couple of minutes for the pain in my left foot to ease off. Now the weather is pish of course and as much as I'd like to train (too much trad is making me even weaker!) I've slightly strained my forearm dicking around doing a first joint pinky mono pull rockover seconding at The Souter (my own stupid fault) so I best rest for a bit. FFS.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

This, and that.

High point recently was doing Edge Of Insanity at Glen Croe after backing off previously. Looking down at the insta-rip hollow flake RPs at my feet and then the good gear 2m below that had me asking again "how much do I want this?". Obviously enough because I somehow stretched up to the "just out of reach" pocket and swung out onto the arete and glory. Jug-pulling on a short outcrop route doesn't usually feel quite that exposed and scary! Low point was failing on The Screaming Dream at Weem, under the illusion that it's recent downgrade was remotely suitable (it's not, at all, pure bullshit) and that the description of jug-pulling after a crimpy start was accurate (it's not, there's still plenty of burly reachy moves between the jugs). I never really stood a chance. Thankfully I got more fun out of the former than frustration out of the latter.

Bored of words, have some photos:

Friday, 19 September 2014

A change is a good as a rest.

Resting makes you weak of course, as does trad climbing, but exploring makes the spirit stronger. In the words of the guru Simon Panton, extolling the virtuals of straying off the beaten path and sampling a wide array of rock:

 New ground is like cold water to the desert-trapped man - essential.

A motto to live by as a climber if ever there was one. Coincidentally I have something to report for Simon, more on that later. In the last few weeks I have ignored all my oft-intimidating Scottish ambitions and rollercoasted around a collection of new / old / off-piste venues, sometimes with new / old / off-piste friends (including a lucky chance meeting with The Pylon King)...

  • Raven Crag Langdale
  • Wilton One
  • Upper Falcon Crag
  • Gouther Crag
  • The Souter
  • Tyddyn Garreg
  • Barmouth Quarry
  • Sunbeach
  • Ffridd
  • Moelfre
  • Y Foel Penolau

...and done some fascinating and varied routes, from the most classic of classics to overrated micro routes to thrilling hidden gems. Highlights would be hard to pick out, but maybe the zenith was arriving tired and sweaty to the col in front of the Y Foel Penolau summit and letting the stunning location and atmosphere soak over and refresh me. Truly why it is worth driving that 30 minutes south from Tremadog polish and queues to the should-be-irresistable Rhinnogs.

Here's some photos to speak a thousand words:

 Armalite @ Raven Crag. Soft touch and relaxing.

 Master Spy @ Wilton 1. Sandbag and exhausting.

Some F6b+ arete at Barmouth. Quite pleasant. 

 Some F6c at Sunbeach. Minor but fun.

Ogwen Valley from the Menai Straits. You can smell the bumbly even from here.
 Purrfection @ Y Foel Penolau. Recreating the guidebook photo complete with rubbish beta.

Purrfection showing the correct way. Amazing place.

 Brand new 3 star classic arete in the Rhinnogs.

Now all I want to do is get back to Mid Wales. Bloody 5+ hour journey though...

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Yob climbing.

A great phrase coined my old friend and swearing partner The Pylon King, referring obviously to brutish, nearnderthal climbing rather than the rather civilised Ogwen valley VS Yob Route. Something I was reminded of recently, pondering on forthcoming plans in which Diabeg slabs seemed a likely option. Despite fairly graded challenges, I felt little concern about getting on tricky slabs, they might be tricky but at least they are manageable. Unlike yob climbing, which I still feel well out of touch with, but still want to get to grips with. Hooliganic battles, perfect for climbers with biceps bigger than their brains - yet there is a certain pleasure, especially involving pulling off powerful moves in wild positions. It's still a bizarre feeling doing that on trad, but maybe it can become a familiar one?? Clearly this will involve a large amount of steepness, but not all steepnesses are equal. For example:

Steep and wild but not actually steep at all.
E.g. The Moon @ Gogarth, Dreadnought @ Berry Head
Where the whole crag and indeed route overhangs massively, but none of the climbing actually does. Generally fantastic fun and I tend to relish these as I know pretty well when I'm not overhung.

Steep in a gently impending way.
E.g. Wall Of Silence @ Reiff, Lady Charlotte @ Dunkeld
Where the route isn't hugely steep but it's consistently overhanging. Can be home to the dreadful "protection is good if you're strong enough to hang around and place it". A Scottish speciality due to the well featured rock on schist, sandstone and gneiss. Initially quite hard to deal with but fairly easy to train for and get used to. I'm getting there after 4 years.

Steep overhanging ladders.
E.g. Raging Bull @ Floors Craig, The Rasp @ Higgar Tor
When the rock is hugely steep and the holds are hugely huge. Pretty much a matter of being in the right attitude. Feel good and climb quick and they're easy, although again swift protection can be the key. My attitude varies as wildly and so do my successes. 

Steep reassuringly traditional thrashes.
E.g. Walk Like An Egyptian @ Reiff, Space Monkey @ Ardmair
Where everything overhangs in enough dimensions that the battle is partly transferred to the lower body and the imagination of what appendages can be used. All over body pumps likely, but not as likely as swearing and crying. I'm semi-rubbish at these and don't know if I want to get any better.

Steep and wildly flamboyant.
E.g. The Sloth @ The Roaches, Mother's Pride @ Elgol
Where the rock is steeper than steep but the holds, protection and logistics mean the challenge is just a matter of being "out there" and dealing with the wildness. Similar to the overhanging ladders but even more fun when it works. Partly why I do the falling practise, to be able to switch off the phantom fears and switch on the yarding out from gear.

Steep and bouldery.
E.g. Bob's Overhang @ Long Slough, Bratach Uaine @ Creag Dubh
Where there is steepness and powerfulness combined. Again assume the logistics are fairly sensible which is useful as the moves can be bloody hard. Bouldering on a rope, sport climbing with good cams instead of bolts. I want to be able to do this sort of climbing, pulling hard on small holds is good at whatever the angle.

Steep and just plain hard.
E.g. Quietus @ Stanage, Pugilist @ Floors Craig
Where the steepness makes everything desperate, not least because most of the above challenges are combined. Very much a specialist subject for the yobbiest of the yobs. Excess body hair might be the key to success, as well as the ability to climb 2 grades harder than given. I have neither so I'm probably fucked.

So how to get better?? I tend to do plenty of steep bouldering indoor and out, and a fair amount of steep routes indoors to train (I've deliberately increased the angle since moving to Scotland). I guess I just need to do more, and of course more falling practise, always. Placing gear in steep pumpy situations is another factor entirely and I'm not sure how to deal with that apart from doing more of it. Maybe I need to relish slightly easier but still steep routes simply as good training??

Monday, 1 September 2014

"Never save any route"

....the wise words of Britain's top sport climber and seemingly all-round nice bloke Steve McClure. I was lying in half of a fold-down guest bed in Brad's house in Aberdeen - the other half being determinedly occupied by Atlas, one of their fine tabbies and although considerably smaller than me in size, somewhat larger in charisma and bed-hogging ability - and reading through lots of back copies of Climb. Plentiful inspiring articles about legends like the Sharma, the Ondra, the McClure, even an interview with Neil Gresham that was actually interesting. Always great to read about top climbers when they have ideas and inspirations that are as interesting as the big numbers themselves.

Steve's article and comment struck a chord with me as I am very prone to saving many routes for the optimum time, often having many crag visits and delayed attempts before properly trying them. Of course "never save any route" is a fine motto when you're a F9a+ climber, at least F8b+ onsighter, fresh from onsighting Britain's least on-sightable safe E7 Strawberries, weight about 9 stone, are fit as fuck, on a flying visit to Scotland, up the Cobbler in great summer weather and you're trotting up an easy classic like Dalriada which is probably not too far out of the comfort zone. When you're 1. Crap and 2. Actually trying things physically and mentally hard for you, saving routes can seem like a sensible option and indeed the only tactic that gets me up some routes. If I hadn't saved half of my hardest leads last year from at least one previous aborted visit until actually trying them, I doubt I could have done them.

This weekend's saved route was Running Wild. Utterly inspiring and potentially utterly desperate for me - on paper, beyond my current limits, although maybe possible with enough focus. I've now had 4 crag visits without getting on it: first was far too greasy, second was amazing conditions but no-one to climb with, third was good conditions but a brief shower made the access inaccessible and waiting wasn't ideal, fourth started with decent conditions and then got a bit too smeggy to be comfortable. So I walked away again. Sure if I was Ste Mc and I was beneath a greasy E7 6c on a flying visit to Aberdeen, I'd never save any route, get on it, and piss up it. But I'm not so I didn't.

On the other hand, sometimes everything seems right. You don't save the route, you get on it, and then...

Let's rewind a bit. I've recovered from the punter-flu and the shock of BRD. I've started getting motivated and moving again: Day -4: Long bouldering session at Ratho, especially steep stuff on sharp holds. Day -3: Good varied gym session, partly to rest fingers and skin. Day -2: Short trad session with steady pumpy warm-up and then a good steep trad classic (Velvet Glove at Limekilns, which I did dick around on for too long before realising the crux is easy and the whole route is really rather great). Day -1: General Aberdeen mileage - nothing too hard so not getting at all tired, but good exercise throughout, also recced the next day's challenge: Pugilist Direct.

The day itself: Good start with strong coffee and just as strong satanic death metal in the car. Belay Brad for a while, good conditions and nice climbing temps. Warm up well on the brutal Italian Stallion, pull through the steepness confidently and climb extra-slowly to finish to maximise the pump. Rest, then start steeply up PD to the jug and gear, spend a while here getting a mini-pump, checking the sequence, chalking the holds. Reverse down to rest and recovery with my hoody on. Never save any route....and get on with it. Piss up the great moves to the rusty peg. Fiddle in a back-up wire, enough to do more great moves to the slot before the top ledge. I've been warned that placing gear and moving past it is hard....but now I DO have a bit confidence to move past gear, so surely that's okay. Except of course, the cam is fucking annoying to place. Theoretically bomber, but out of view, no footholds to pull up and seat it reliably, hands in the way in the slot. I'd love to slam it in easily and move past but it's the typical "gear is good enough if you're strong enough to hand around and place it" horror. If you don't get it right and fluff the moves, you could easily rip the peg and back-up or even just hit the ground on the rope out. 10m above serrated rock ledges, if you're lucky you'd die quickly, rather than being a crippled vegetable until the doctors pulled the plug. So I DO get it right enough and fire in a super quick back up, just in time for my hands to start clawing up and slap ineffectually for a non-hold. Pulling back on, I scarcely need 10 seconds swearing on the rope to have a good mini-shake, and the move to the ledge is as piss as the rest of the route - the crux of both grades has been placing the damn cam. Fucking specialist coastal bollox.

Even though everything seemed right....maybe I should have just saved that route anyway...

Tuesday, 26 August 2014



Some sleep, some time relaxing and downloading some top quality dark minimal techno means my thoughts have....shifted on from the trouble of yesterday. They make a bit more sense than before, and I've learnt some stuff:

Taking a beanie for rest ledges is a pretty smart idea.

I can still do one leg squats from cold, sometimes the best warm-up!

My new tiny BD Offset swedges are nice and a bit more inspiring than the brass versions.

I can do an alleged 6b move on lead, probably because it's easy 6a. So that technical grade should be as widely encompassing as 6a is.

I can do an alleged E5 section of climbing well, probably because it's only E4 with a skyhook and common sense.

I can get myself into the state to commit to both of the above even when feeling a bit perturbed and ropey.

I can commit to moves and pull reasonably hard on holds....if there are holds. I was pulling pretty fucking hard yesterday but there weren't holds for 3 of my limbs, and that was the problem - features and friction and gritstone style climbing. I was fully going for the moves and if I'd had any sort of pullable hold I might have got through it. So if I keep wary of grit-style dolerite at the moment, there is hope.

As always I'm doing a lot with logistics and tactics to compensate for being fat and weak. This is good but I need to do it right. I was complacent with the upper part of BR/N because I'd done it before. I was casual and rushed into it because I "knew I could do it". Casual is good for safe easy ground and complacent is good for nothing. Preparing a bit better would have helped - not the gnawing away like I did with the issues of the other cruxes, but at least an acknowledgement that all of a challenging climb requires attention. 

I might feel calm enough to put some of that into action...

Monday, 25 August 2014

Time to try??

I think?? I don't know. I thought I did but maybe I don't.

I've been a good boy this summer. I've realised that my physical ability is waning whilst my trad climbing ability is holding steady, so I've kept training and tried to keep fit. I haven't had many days out but on most of them I've done a challenging route or two. When I've trained in the meantime I've felt I'm holding steady with all physical aspects, rather than regressing. So far, so groundwork.

I've still got many inspirations in Scotland, albeit fewer than before last year's great climbing. As the numbers dwindle, the numbers increase - most of the remaining routes are "hard for me". I haven't wanted to get on them in mid-summer but now the weather is cooling down a bit, the window of sensible attempts has opened....but of course it will shut again in a couple of months.

So maybe now is the right time to try a bit harder, get on some more desirable and incidentally more difficult routes.

Except after this evening's debacle I'm not so sure. I tried something "hard for me", Bladerunner Direct at Auchinstarry. I put a lot of thought and attention and emotional turmoil into this - visits spent just looking and playing around on the bottom wall, visualisations of sequences and logistics, buying a BD Offset Swedge for the one bit of possible gear as my old HB 00 offset looked too soft. I played around more and worked through worries about the lower wall (supposed crux) and the Bladerunner mantle (supposedly serious without the very high BR siderunner). The evening was dry with a cool breeze, my partner was actually the first ascentionist of BR, I'd reassured myself that falling off the lower wall would still give me the option of doing BR itself, so the omens were good enough to get on it.

The supposed lower crux was committing but easy, the mantle was committing but easy. I was thrilled to get those mental hurdles out of the way, although in retrospect they add nothing to the objective difficulty of the original route, but maybe a bit to the quality? Resting for ages and fiddling gear for ages in the "just out of view for the 5'8" climber" micro-slot, I recovered almost all my poise and focus. Now I just had the technical but protectable crux of BR....which turns out to be the overall crux of BRD and it's pretty hard but eventually I cranked through it to the pocket where Nijinski joins the route....I never had any worries about the final moves from there, I'd already done them blind and with distant gear. Except....except....I'm on the pocket, tiny cam in, doing the layback....except I'm not, I'm sliding, my left-hand is slipping one slap up one slap down my foot won't go on the ripple I'm compressing so much I'm surprised my wrists don't crack and I'm OFF.......

I can't believe it - and those are the only words I can say for several minutes. I'm not angry, I can't even describe my feelings, my mind and vocal chords incoherent with shock and disappointment. So much mental wrestling and determination invested into three anticipated cruxes and I somehow fell off the easy bit. Actually, I DO know how. When I did Nijinski it was December and crisp, today was August and although there was a cool breeze it was warm rock from the prow's usual sunbathing - fine for gaston rockovers and positive mantles and square-cut layaways to pockets, but obviously unsuitable for slopey arete layaways when all chalk has been ground off by the previous powerful crux. My friend Tris and I had discussed harder dolerite and concluded to treat it more like quarried grit....and like quarried grit the oft-positivity can fool you into getting involved when warm edges feel okay and suddenly surprise slopers don't. I abseiled down and the arete felt rubbish.

Anyway I tried a bit harder and found the easy bits can be as hard as the hard bits. Logistics and tactics are often about the planning and pacing and balance of easy and hard bits and god knows how I feel about that now.

Hmmmm. Mostly....tired, I think.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Aberdeen Angles.

Steep, steep or steep?? I did find a nice slab but I was on my own and although it was vaguely soloable the jagged rock-shelf landing sloping straight into the sea with whatever broken limbs would still be attached put me off so I moved swiftly on to the next day with PJ and onto the steepness. The highlight of the day being some good honest Wet Pussy, a route that curiously enough is described (presumably in the Deep Water guide) by Rockfax as "soloable" despite jagged rock-shelves perching below the 8m high off-balance crux as well as a rib to bounce off before you get there. Maybe at a high tide you might have a metre or so of water to not-cushion the fall, but the obvious conclusion is: Rockfax can be fucking idiots and the inability to edit their fallacious descriptions on the UKC database is a fucking farce. Anyway I led the route - if the amount of faffing around and up-and-down-climbing I did can be described as a conventional lead - and it was very good with a fully committing crux.

Since gently overhanging trad is not nearly enough, we retired to Long Slough to attempt Bob's Overhang. I tried to warm-up by traversing around and climbing up and down to the crux a couple of times which resulted in a feeling exactly like trying to warm-up at TCA on Core and Holdz holds - raw hands, sore inner joints, and a rapidly diminishing will to climb anything. I've been training a lot recently, indoor leading, bouldering, and gym-work, just to get strong enough for this sort of malarkey, and lo and behold it still seemed utterly fucking desperate. So I backed off, PJ went for it and fell off, and we concluded it was nails and I'm only coming back after several weeks of prior 30 & 45° board specific training, obviously what I'd expect to have to do to get up a route at a grade I climb every week this summer????

Of course this is the coast and the usual rules don't apply - which keeps the locals happy but does mean that normal climbers have to change their perceptions a bit. I haven't pushed myself in the area for nearly a year (I blame my friends up there for spawning and thus having much less time to climb) so it will take a bit of getting used to again. I'm not sure why I've neglected Scotland's most significant rainshadow but I've got some psyche back now and it goes like this:

Running Wild, Craig Stirling - because I like the style (boulder problem to a rest to a wild finish) and it's an amazing line. I'm still quite worried how desperate the start looks, I've taken a photo of the lower wall to train for it!
The Pugilist dir, Floor's Craig - because despite failing on the original way starting up the MM groove, I never even got the to Pugilist proper so the arete direct start is game on! And it looks cool.
Prehistoric Monster, Earnsheugh - because I really like Earnsheugh climbing, this looks great.
Necromancer, Earnsheugh - Same as above, I've abbed down it many times with my gaze averted, but glimpses across from Death Cap make it look great.
Pow Pow, Pow Kebuck - because I've finally found it on this weekend's recce, and it looks really rather cool, a nice off-piste aim.
Who Dares Wings It / Where Seagulls Dare, Johnsheugh - cos Johnsheugh is good and I want to do more there.
Bob's Overhang, Long Slough - because....I don't really know. It still might be possible. Maybe.
Africa Face, Longhaven - because now I've learnt to slap for holds above gear, this might be possible for me, plus it's a great bit of rock.
Waltzinblack, Red Tower - because I tried before and backed off just because it was too warm, I'm sure it would be fine and a nice bit of rock.

Gah, that's quite a lot (cunningly all non-tidal and mostly quick drying, god knows I'll need all the help I can with the ever-fickle conditions up there). I better keep training then!!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Distilling it down...

If the pleasure of a whole single route is not specific enough, how far can one refine and distill down the experience?? 

Starting...the day...

A quick hit single day trip down to the Lakes, sandwiched between two days of relentless summer showers, the only evidence of which was one tiny 18" long seepage streak on an otherwise bone dry crag in fresh breezy conditions. A clear plan with Adam, easy back up options, a reasonable start and a triple shot of coffee crammed into one Costa Express Regular size cup. Some high quality techno and a relatively lack of Lakes bumbly driver queues got us to Bowderstone Crag in good time.

Distilling it further...the crag...

A singlularly impressive buttress that does for harder trad what it's fallen sibling The Bowderstone does for harder bouldering. I'd never been before as it's not exactly the Borrowdale venue of choice for the low-extreme leader, but Wheels Of Fire had been inspiring me for a couple of years now, whilst Adam had the monumental choice between an E7 6b with F7a/+ climbing and very spaced gear, or an E6 6c with F7c/+ climbing and no less than 18 (!) pegs. Scary or sporting? At least my choice was simple, although it took a while to get over the badly timed caffeine crash and get on with it.

Distilling it further...the route...

Two pitches, the bounding corner of the lower half of Hell's Wall, and the shield of rock overlooking it above. I'd seen a few comments on UKC about doing the top pitch only, but of course I wanted to do the whole lot in one go. 30 minutes later hanging on badly placed wires in the god-awful steep, slippery, painful groove perched just near enough to the easy slab below to guarantee twatting it on rope stretch from the awkward and exhausting moves, I could see why people only did the top pitch, given it's accessible by 2 minutes of scrambling. Could I deal with the horror and shame of not getting the full tick?? Well why not do the classic top pitch and see how it feels??

Distilling it further...the pitch...

The belay - already tested from Adam warming us up on Vahalla, another miserably awkward thrutch up a steep slippery corner, with possible the worst move in Borrowdale as the crux - offers a good launching pad and a great view along the hanging wall and the gibbering leader i.e. ME. It seems to be steady climbing to a slabbifying lip and then a sheer crux above. Instead it turns out to be continuously technical climbing even to get out there, in retrospect the high standard of climbing (not a move below 5b) is very good, but at the time it feels like I'm in at the deep end and doggy paddling for my life. But I fiddle in enough gear and contrive some sort of shake-out perched above the void.

Distilling it further...the situation...

I guess the shake-out must have been good because I was there for a typically long time. Calming down, cooling down, fiddling in more gear - 5 bits in the seam to the right of me. On photos on UKC I could see the gear some way right of the crux on one rope, and assumed there must be something on the left rope much closer to the crux.... No, no there wasn't. Sure the gear was good but testing it would involve getting a good view of the Hellish crux a long way below. On with the climbing then.

Distilling it further...the set-up...

The crux is a long reach apparently. The other crux is also a long reach. A high bridge and long stretch gains an unmatchable edge still some way off the next good crimp rail. I still don't want to test the fall just yet, so more shaking and teetering and swapping pump in my arms and feet. My brain isn't too pumped yet as I change to a tinier, closer foothold and make the stretch, and extended scrabbling gets me fully committed on the main rail. It's good but there's little time and even less reason to hang around and think about it.

Distilling it further...the move...

I look up....and higher up still and see the next hold. Feet up and out in another high bridge, but this time it's beyond stretching. I coil up for a lunge....without looking sideways, my brain visualises the gear a little bit down and a long way right, my awareness acknowledges the fall potential, my memory recalls 3 days ago at Ratho, doing falling practise as I do almost every session. Bolt beneath my feet, looking down, dropping into space. The familiarity with that situation quietens down most of my concerns about the fall, and the thoughts have passed through my mind in fractions of seconds. I slap upwards.

Distilling it further...the hold...

Even committing, even slapping, I'm not sure that I will make it. Even getting the hold, I'm not sure that I have. It's good, I think, well that's what half a first joint on the sharp lip is telling me. I micro-slap again, am I on or off? Still on. Another micro-slap, I'm pretty sure I'm on? Another adjustment and match and I've held it. Scream up to a good loose jug, slap a sling over it, spend a couple of minutes hyperventilating and trying to remove the flash pump to do one easy 5b finish move in a couple of seconds.

All concerns or queries or regrets about the first pitch or the faff or anything else are gone. All that matters are those moments of catching and re-catching and re-catching the edge until I had it. One move, one hold, one hand, I can still imagine the feeling beneath my fingertips.

Of course, I am really happy with the route because it is brilliant. 15 metres of top quality wall climbing and spacewalking. I'm even happier committing to a slap above gear. Last year I slapped for a hold with a bolt beneath my feet, this year I slapped for a hold with trad gear beneath my feet. That is pretty special to me. 3 years ago I'd have got to the first crux and backed off it, unwilling to commit to even that. 2 years ago I'd have done the first crux and then slumped sideways off that, unwilling to risk the full fall. Last year and this year I'm able to commit to that move - well this time at least, maybe next time I will be a fanny and back off, but then again maybe not, the potential is there and that is reassuring.

Sunday, 27 July 2014


Sometimes, it's just great. Sometimes a climb transcends the organisation, faff, logistical nonsense, massive amounts of driving, conditions, weather, midges, fear, doubt, uncertainty, and effort with such unarguable conviction, that it seems the quality of the climbing experience and the validity climbing lifestyle should never be doubted again  (until it rains or one gets injured or plans fall through or.....).

Lorelei was one of those such climbs. A slab at the end of the Loch Tollaidh agglomeration of humps, domes, buttress and crags, it wasn't what I was in the area for, and all I knew was: Stripteaser on the same slab had been good, if fiddly and bold; the guidebook said it was good but protection took some hunting (not true); it had had a couple of ascents recently (hmmm what did I expect, chalked holds and worn gear slots?), and it was in the shade most of the morning (crucial when the mini-heat wave made even lounging around in the sun exhausting, let alone trying to climb). So I went over and gave it a look...

Despite being in the shade I was a hot sweaty mess just from 5 minutes walk over from the first buttresses. It looked lovely but all I could think of was sweaty fingers sliding off slopers and swollen feet cramping up on smears. Loch Tollaidh is often in "good nick" so why not leave it for a cooler, fresher day when I could enjoy it rather than just get up it?? To delay the decision further, Steve fancied the rarely climbed E1 to the left, but the book had said it tended to be dirty so I offered to lead up, ab down, and scrub the holds and gear cracks to get it in more acceptable condition. A short while later and it was a relatively pristine E2 5b sandbag with some tricky moves and a hair-raising wee runout in the middle. Armed with a more accurate assessment, Steve went for it anyway, fought hard whilst I muttered encouragement down below whilst eyeing up my running belay flight path (steep and boggy) and got to the top with a fine effort.

Partly morally inspired and partly figuring I'd used up quite a bit of nervous energy on that attentive belay, I decided "just to give it a look", which usually ends up with me being so engrossed in the climbing process that the look becomes a committed involvement and actually climbing the damn thing. That wasn't really the conscious plan this time but of course it happened anyway.

I stepped up into the initial scoop, steady moves luring me up and left into less steady moves to exit the scoop. I took heed of the "protection takes some hunting" and stretched out to get a tiny flared offset out right, instructing Steve to perch as far right as possible so that when it inevitably ripped it would take a little bit of the force out of the bouncing groundfall rather than none at all. Luckily although continuing up left required some slopey stretches, I could see good holds so I just had to crank hard and knew I'd make it to respite and some better gear, well a tiny peenut in a hollowish jug, anyway. So far, so fairly serious, but with great rock and great slab climbing.

A pause for thought had me furtling around in a seam above, resulting in a classic "cluster of bollox" ((c) Pylon King 2004): RP1 slid in the back and held in place by smooth lichen (bollox), super shallow camalot resting on a quartz lip at the front (bollox), 00 C3 crammed and wedged behind some crystals (a bit bollox but took so much fiddling it should bloody stay in), and a 1 C3 in a slot that was actually, completely normal and decent (woot!). As predicted I ended up a hot sweaty mess from locking off and faffing around but this is the benefit of slabs with holds in hot weather, I could cool down enough to realise that with that much gear, I had better climb the damn thing now.

More excellent and elegant moves, a perfect combination of positivity AND friction had me standing above the break, and a final crank had me on a decent hold. This led to another vintage trad moment of faffing in more gear in a hollow undercut above before making the obligatory "one VS move" to a perfect seam and gear so deep it was half-way back to Loch Maree. The usual slab pump (?) was mounting at this point but with gear and holds getting better and better I just aimed upwards, pulled and rocked over and suddenly was in the blazing sunshine at the top.

What had gone from a definite abandonment, to a postphonement, to a tentantive attempt, had turned into a steady ascent that was pure pleasure from the start to finish. That was enough justification and enough effort for the day so after a couple more belays it was time to chill out:

Of course, I don't have any climbing photos, so here are some cows lounging on a beach:

I'm quite glad it's cooled down now. I'm sure the cows are happy either way, though.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Fatigue, Frustration, Fun.

It's been a good few weeks, with a good few days out. The weather gods have been unusually merciful and the typical sunshine and showers bollox has been interspersed with days of decent dry weather instead of days of more persisent rain. Of interest to me:

Fun / Fatigue - Iron Crag:
I've been a bit obssessed with Iron Crag this summer. Partly because I was never really aware of it until getting the very useful new-ish Eastern Lakes guide seeing a good crag for the first time is always exciting, and partly because having thoroughly revised that crag section and been recommended it by the old boys we met at Burnt Crag, I've been rather inspired by the bold and tasty wall climbing on offer. After several aborted chances I finally got down there for a good afternoon out, managed the crucial 15min (25min) final walk-in crux up a grass slope so steep you could turn it into granite and call it Etive, and managed to rattle off the two adjacent classics of Marble Staircase and Amabalite in reasonable order. Both were rather involving with delicate and intricate climbing and thoughtful and well-spaced protection. Classic Lakes-style wall climbing, and curiously enough as enjoyable as the routes were, they took enough out of me that I actually got a bit of mental fatigue and was happy enough not to climb the next day. Maybe I got a bit spoilt by the climbing-wall-style join-the-dots climbing at Reecastle ;)

Frustration / Fun - Glen Shian: 
I've been a bit obssessed with the Glen Shian slab for 3 years now. With the typical obscurity and obfuscation of the Scottish climbing scene, this delectable slab of rock was made famous with a Dave MacLeod E10 7a and two videos featuring that route and an adjacent E7/8 repeat, yet not publicised in any useful form. UKC added well to the confusion by providing no crag details but mentioning it as "at Glenfinnan, a few miles west of Fort William". It's at Glen Shian, 25 miles west of Fort William and 10 miles from Glenfinnan itself. GG!! Anyway I managed to scour a minimal topo from somewhere online, approach details from Kev Shields, and a couple of addition routes from people's blogs and Andy Nisbet. Finally I got there the other week, and it was worth the effort.....just. "Just" because of the effort involved, not because of the climbing. The effort being a god-knows-how-many-fucking-hours round trip to collect the Spaniard from Falkirk, then hoon across half of Scotland to the slab, then climb all afternoon, then drive back to Crianlarich, have the great idea to post the Spaniard back on a train from Glasgow, saving us both a bit of bother.....then get stuck with a completely unmentioned 15 minute delay at the Pulpit Rock roadworks, leaving us with about 45 minutes to do a 1 hour journey to the station. Suffice to say we made it, but I'm not proud of my driving - slowing down to errrr 90 to take bends safely is a bit much even for me.

Anyway, the climbing. It took a bit of experimentation to work out the correct onsight grades and make the most of this fine sheet of rock, but in the end we had a cool day out. Things didn't start so well, falling off a so-called slab route that ended up with desperate footless jamming, lowering off RPs on a so-called E4 (E5+) only to rip two RPs and a cam and snap another micro-wire, gulp. Then it got a bit still and midgey and I still wanted to give the mega-classic Frustration a go....well I got on it "just for a look" and then the first tied-down skyhook was pretty bomber and I could see some good quartz blobs to go for and suddenly there was no frustration at all and all the weirdness of previous encounters was washed away in a clean tide of pure slab climbing pleasure. To have the same experience, here's all the details.

 Crucial Times...


Fatigue / Fatigue - Binnian Shuas:
Finally something a bit out of my comfort zone. I know I can do 1 hour flattish walk-ins from semi-regular trips to Reiff's Leaning Block, I didn't know I could do that THEN stack a half hour uphill walk-in on top of that. Turns out I can, I think the early flat traipsing helps me warm up. Turns out I can also climb a mega-thuggy 40m crack pitch after all of that and after having crag supplies of the day consisting of: 1 small bread roll, a few spare salad leaves, some grapes, and a can of Red Bull ... But only just. Anyway BS just seemed like the right choice for the day, too warm for Creag Dubh and too far to drive elsewhere for a day, I only had one route I wanted to do (recently cleared by the legendary Iain Small, I'll be sending the bill for my finger skin grafts to him...) and the rest of the expedition would be good training whatever. Anyway I was mildly fatigued by the walk-in, very fatigued spending 30 minutes under the crux roof of Delayed Attack, trying to milk the cramped non-rest for what it was worth and wondering what the fuck was going on until I removed my wire from the crucial finger slot and removed a large chunk of skin from my finger pulling on it, and fatigued to the point of hallucinating beer and fish and chips at the end of the 4 mile walk out. Thankfully the Pitlochry Chinese/Chippy stays open late and freshly fried dinner ensured survival after all. Coping with the exhertion might open up some other possibilities (Creag Glhas, Stac Pollaidh) but I might restrict myself to once a month for such slogs, even when my legs can cope my sanity can only take so much plodding along!

Monday, 30 June 2014

On the concept of "6a" and other strange creatures.

6a (English technical grade, by which of course I mean the likely challenge and physical difficulty that entails rather than the mere number or any spurious status associated with quoting that number although at least technical grades seem less hyped up in the "OMG first E3 (Lead dog)" bullshit) is a strange beast to me. Since it's been at the perceived limit of my onsighting / flashing ability, it's always been a bit uncertain what it actually entails. 5c I'm usually sure I can do (physically, whilst still retaining a reassuring potential to fuck it up spectacularly with cowardice or pump or both), 6b I'm usually sure I can't do (or at least not with enough percentage success rate to make it worth attempting), 6a I think I can, I hope I can, but then again it might actually be HARD. Okay so that's what I'd be trying it for, and all the associated kinaesthetic pleasure, but it's still quite daunting! 6a always seems a bit uncertain and I'm never sure of my success rate.

Since I've moved to Scotland I've done 96 6a route moves on lead (80 in Scotland, 16 elsewhere). I've failed on about 7 (that's where I've actually tried the move and failed because it was too hard or I messed it up, rather than wimping out), including a few foot slips, a couple of missed holds, and a few where I simply didn't have the power. I suppose that's a fairly decent success rate?

I'd say out of those 90+ cruxes, I've found maybe 1/4 really easy and just like 5c, 1/2 reasonably tricky but comfortable enough, and 1/4 properly hard battles. I've been constantly surprised recently getting on 6a routes and finding the moves feeling steady (recent examples including Boxed @ Kintra, Stand And Deliver and Uijet @ Gruinard), despite my power to weight ratio being the worst it's ever been. I suppose I've been a bit like the numpties who are in awe of the concept of "doing an E1 and breaking into EXTREMES OMG" - blinded by my preconceptions of what the described challenge might entail. Perhaps I needed a good solid 5d grade to bridge the conceptual gap?

Maybe I have finally defused the fog of mystique surrounding that technical grade....

Maybe I'm running out of excuses to actually try some 6b routes....

Maybe I just to find some that really inspire me....

Or maybe I need to train more and get a bit stronger first....;)