Sunday, 18 May 2014

Taking stock.

Sporadic blogging, sporadic things of interest to write about. I've been climbing in a variety of places, done some nice climbs, and have to think a bit harder to actually remember them all. It's been that sort of May - it started well by pissing it down but even the weather has perked up enough I don't even have that to moan about. So here's the current crag review:

Balgone Heughs - a demoralising pile of rubble that perfectly blends the aesthetics of the worst Peak limestone crag with the rock quality of the worst Central Belt quarry. HOWEVER the climbing is actually quite good fun, and it's a far better use of bolts than any retro-bolting nonsense in the Central Belt. I only had a fleeting visit but felt pretty confident climbing despite the weird rock.

Bramcrag Quarry - a demoralising pile of rubble that perfectly blends the aesthetics of the worst Central Belt quarry with the rock quality of....something considerably better. The aim was a mixed trad/sport hit and we did well to get any trad in as it was in the process of being retro-bolted as we climbed. I think they have done a couple of routes too many, but overall it is more suitable than any retro-bolting nonsense in the Central Belt (RBing is being done by the FA, most previous trad routes were not so classic, many of them relied on pegs and spaced bolts, trad is not as precious a commodity as it's surrounded by 2 guidebooks worth of classic Lakes trad, and clear delineation between quarry and nearby crags precludes bolts spreading). Did a few pleasant routes and left the harder sport for a breezier day.

Armathwaite - an appealing crag of aesthetic rock that is somewhat more traumatic to climb on. I'd visited a few times over the years, worked my way through some classic leads, and got inspired by harder lines. Unfortunately those lines tend to be bold and rounded and smeary with worrying "half-in" gear and it's all pretty spooky terrain for getting on the lead. Thus I'm less enamoured with the place and will file it under the "late Autumn pseudo-grit death route" wishlist.

Bleater's Wall - an appealing crag of aesthetic rock that is somewhat more traumatic to climb on. It's a fine sheet of Arrochar schist at it's most obtuse, with blind fingery holds and hidden and spaced gear and a strong sense that none of the harder routes get onsighted, at least neither at the grade given nor by people who climb the grade given. I certainly didn't manage that much apart from a lot of furiously crimping up and down the start of routes trying to place tricams and C3 cams quicker than they fell out under their own weight. Thus is the price of straying 30 mins drive from the Central Belt / honeypots of Cambusbarron / Dunkeld / Weem to a sunny idyllic crag with a 10 minute walk-in and a nice grassy base.

I think I want to go somewhere vaguely normal now...

Maybe Gruinard Crag, Stone Valley, Creag Nan Luch, Goat In The Woods, Mungasdale or Reiff?

Maybe Iron Crag, Castle Rock, Reecastle, Goat Crag, Falcon Crag, Bowderstone Crag, or Gouther Crag?

Maybe Creag Dubh, Stac An Eich, Glen Nevis or Creag A Mhuilinn, Tunnel Wall or Aonach Dubh if it gets warm?

Maybe my wrist is better enough to get on some harder stuff too. I've had reassuring sessions down Ratho, pretty much at my previous standard with pretty much not much pain. It seems a while since I got on something solidly and reliably challenging (Easter) so I am getting those urges again....May has been a bit headless chicken so far and I want to feel more focused.

Monday, 5 May 2014

It's just the newness wearing off...

A classic phrase from a classic climber, George Smith. I think it was used in his excellent article about Lleyn climbing a few years ago, and I had good cause to use it on a recent trip to the Far North, which is far north of the Lleyn but certainly has the potential for similarly high quality experiences. In general North Scotland lacks good choss compared to North Wales and North Devon / Cornwall sea-cliffs (apart from the Old Red sea-stacks), but it seems there is enough lurking around the fringes if you know where to find it. My partner Steve knew where to find it, except he didn't know he knew because he sold the cliff to me as "clean and beautiful", well one of those is certainly true. Actually the cleanliness is partly true, it's just the occasional bit of cleanliness likes to detach itself to reveal more potential cleanliness underneath.

So the Far North in general. I'd been to Creag Shomarlie before and I'd been to Scrabster before, but never the section of coast in between. It was cold and desolate and beautiful when the sun came out. There's just enough civilisation up there even if it doesn't stretch to two-lane roads and cafes in every hamlet. Ben Hope and Ben Loyal provide a dramatic backdrop to the coast, or is it the other way around as the coast is spectacular in itself. It reminded me a lot of Devon and Cornwall, the difference being you can feel the emptiness and solitude at your back, compared to D&C where a few miles inland and you're in back to back villages and towns and back to back caravan jams.

We didn't actually do that much climbing up there, due to driving, cold weather (belaying in t-shirt, windproof, bodywarmer, hoodie, downie, snood, beanie and gloves and still freezing?? Yup welcome to May!), crag complexity and the need to balance out the Cocoa Mountain cafe with the Craggan pub, but it was certainly interesting exploration. The most interesting being The Tiger....for which I went through as many motivational fluctuations as the stripes on the cliff. The first photo Steven sent looked kinda scruffy - unpsyched. The next photos shown in person showing the scale and dramatic rock markings - psyched! Abseiling over the grassy edge onto highly variable terrain - unpsyched. Belaying at the bottom and looking at all the potential lines - psyched! Following up and encouraging the newness to wear off a bit quicker - unpsyched. Lying in the Tongue hostel thinking about the next line I spotted - psyched! Standing on the headwall with two shallow cams at my feet, two more okay cams 6m further down, looking up at fragile rock leading to a final smooth gearless groove - ummmmm..... Well I spotted a tiny bomber C3 placement under an overlap and topped out and it was a bloody brilliant adventure up a bloody dramatic cliff. You're not going to mistake it for mundane honeypots like Sheigra...

Who Rattled Your Cage? E3 5b ** 45m
Requires a non-provocative approach and a double set of cams. A fine adventure up the central black stripe with good climbing but spaced protection and variable rock.
1. 5b 12m. Start as for TT or on a rock left of the blowhole, depending on swell. Gain the smooth wall at the black/orange boundary, where fine bold climbing leads to a good foot ledge and large cams above. Belay or on the ledge just right useful to prevent rope-drag.
2. 5b 33m. Continue up the orange/black boundary to the overlap and traverse right beneath this on quartz rails. Pull over leftwards (medium cams) onto a block. Step left to avoid dubious blocks then climb boldly to the final slim quartz groove (tiny cam on left). Finish delicately up this.