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.