Saturday, 12 November 2016

A matter of values.

There was another minor retro-bolting debacle at Ratho Quarry. Ho hum. I didn't even notice it until B pointed it out during a mutual sieging session on the notoriously addictive grey stamina circuit at TCA, and once I did, I didn't feel it enriched my life in any way. Basically Buz put up a new 7b or c or something up an old Robbie Philips / Lincoln / Small project that included two bolts in an old, starred E3, and an "enhanced" hold. There are many things to say about this of varying lack of interest, such as Smally popping his head out of his dark horse's stable to condemn the matter, Buz once again thinking he could get away with it by not having any public consultation and present it as a fait d'accompli, and the usual myopic morons (and an off-target McGeek) throwing a spanner into the works with such red herrings as dismissing anti-retro-bolting concerns because apparently approving a lower-off on Pettifar's Wall to avoid the grim and created-by-the-M8 extension earth cornice is "hypocritical". What, as hypocritical as abseil points at the Cromlech, Martin Crocker suggesting pre-placed belay ropes in the Rhinnogs, an abseil chain at Sharpnose, recommended pre-placed belay ropes at Carn Gowla, bolt lowers before the unclimbable shale band at Anglezarke?? It takes a special kind of fucking imbecile to think that lower-offs are incompatible with trad climbing, but the Scottish sport climbing scene seems to attracts such idiots like flies around dogshit.

The upshot of it all is that - ignoring the chipped hold / heavily cleaned break for now, something probably quite similar to the ""heavily cleaned"" holds on John McCain F6b (I'm quite proud of my UKC factual analysis "If you want man-made routes, the ones inside the arena are usually better") - it boils down to one bolt that should have been placed 2' to one side, making the 7c a bit more run out on 6b ground and the bolt suitably off-route for the E3, something which is quite bloody obvious and would have avoided all the fuss if Buz had actually bothered to consult a selection of the climbing public rather than just Ratho Wall regulars. SIGH.

What is of more interest is discussing this with Craig on a trip over to inspect the nonsense, get rained off, and enjoy those man-made routes inside the arena (a particularly nice red 7a with slopers). He - possibly with his mind addled by the ominous and imminent onset of "Scottish Winter Season" - whilst not supporting retro-bolting, expressed a more relaxed attitude to the ethics of the situation because (forgive me Craig if I paraphrase this wrong) "they are just grotty quarries and local training crags". Obviously this is fallacious reasoning as a reductio ad absurdum would see Master's Edge etc bolted, but his further explanation was that size, grandeur and the beauty of the mountain environment are what he truly values in rock climbing, and even I am forced to admit that for all their 3 star qualities, Shear Fear and Wally 1 don't really have those.

This highlights an interesting difference in values. The ethical side isn't of much debate - good trad climbs are good trad climbs and shouldn't be fucked with without a lot of due consideration and consultation. But what makes climbs really mean something to someone?? Ben Moon or was it Malc "didn't climb to be in beautiful places", and I don't either. I climb to have beautiful trad experiences and that can be finally committing above the skyhooks and RPs on crisp dolerite edges in the mid-December sun on Wally 2, despite being sandwiched in by the monstrous fire escape, the EICA arena, and the distant hum of the M8, or it can be slotting in the next satisfying jam (#16 in a series of 40) on the soaring Whispering Crack, alone with PJ, the mid-summer sun and the endless serenity of the ocean and distant Hebrides. Of course, I like beautiful places, but the main value of my rock-climbing doesn't depend on that, it depends on the intrinsic quality of the climbs themselves, and the surroundings are an enhancement.

Similarly, for me size isn't everything. According to some people you "can't have 3 star boulder problems". Funny that, I thought I'd done hundreds of them (including a couple of national class problems in a grotty local training quarry). At once extreme, climbing is still just Training For The Greater Ranges, the bigger and grander the better, irrespective of the actual climbing qualities of the climb. At the other extreme, climbing is now just cross-training for the Beastmaker and it all boils down to the move, the challenge, the incremental progression. I'm somewhere in-between, but I do errrr towards the joy of movement and technicality and the quality of the climb rather than the setting, context, history etc. So yes, Wally 1 is brilliant whether it's in Ratho or Reiff, the laybacking on Shear Fear is great 10m above a quarry floor or 100m above a mountain hillside, Nijinski is as unjustifiable to ruin by top-roping adjacent to a carpark as it would be high on a Yorkshire moor - these experiences all have value.

Of course, by Craig's values, stricter ethics should apply to the mountains and wilderness and presumably Tunnel Wall and Creag Nan Cadhag and the wee crag beyond Ardmair should be de-bolted. Coel already advocated that for Creag Nan Cadhag, and they may have a point - not necessarily one I agree with, but it's always nice to have people taking stronger ethical stances, maybe doing so will keep the Ratho-style nonsense at bay.

 A very trad climb with a bolted lower-off in a grotty quarry.
A convenient bolted sport climb in a wild beautiful environment.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Bristol Calling.

Training - the way I do it, only semi-structured, bouldering and routes indoors, but pushing myself and my limits hard, listening to my body, working some weaknesses, keeping some awareness of relevance - is fun. The pleasure of playing with movement, piecing together puzzles, crushing challenges. But it's also training for something. Sometimes that's something specific, upcoming trips, particular plans or route inspirations. Sometimes it's just keeping strong and fit, which is a worthy goal in itself. My mate PK, a semi-recent convert to not training and not pushing himself at all, sometimes berates me "yeah wot u training for tho?". Well not being weak and unfit and useless for a start!! 

So there came a time recently when my TCA sessions turned into a Ratho session full of surprisingly decent performance and easy falling practise which was confirmation that a planned Bristol trip was inspiring again. This was in theory going to coincide with getting to Cornwall in colder conditions and getting on crisp granite, but it didn't, alas that will have to wait for next spring, hopefully a reasonable grit season will be enough preparation for that. In the meantime I took advantage of much more local climbing and a much cheerier vibe than one would ever find around the Central Belt, as well as splitting the journey up following some inspiration from the shiny new Lancashire Brick (more on that almost excellent volume later). So it went a bit like this:

EKU28 or The Russian at Wilton 4 (since they are essentially the same route in a "use the crimp with your left, or right, hand" sort of way). This was highlighted in the Wilton 4 clean-up film earlier this year and despite a slightly green appearance, it was in the fabled "mint nick". A lovely wee solo, probably E2 5b.

Fiend Alone with Jeanette, Pots And Pans Quarries. An old inspiration from an old photo. Another E2-ish 5b solo in another minor quarry. This one was a bit eliminate avoiding the arete, but smearier and scarier. Reaching the top in the encroaching gloom, whilst actually alone, was quite satisfying.

Whilst I was down in Bristol, PK made good on his long term threat to take me to the Frome Valley sandstone. This is esoteric and specialist even by my perverted tastes, although admittedly the climbing would be quite fun if it was clean. Maybe his imminent guide will replace cobwebs with chalk and moss patches with polish? This wee route for example, was 6m of juggy roof climbing. Not bad for something 20 yards from a busy footpath. That busy footpath saw the farcical scene of PK and I hurtling along it at dusk, trailing gear, rucsacs and 50m of rope, frantically trying to escape the above wasp that was cunningly embedded inside my vest. One emergency disrobing and 8 stings later it met it's well deserved fate. The stings were itching for days, the wee cunt.

Two fun sport routes at The Gap. The first is a groove, the second is an arete. Two sides of the same feature, I like that. Both very nice fun routes that belie an initial slightly flakey and grubby vibe, very typical of the area which has seen minor quarries transformed into worthwhile sport venues. Very soon these will transform into overrated honeypots due to an imminent Rockfax guide. Unfortunately the same PK was due to write a proper independent / local activists guide to the area but other parties didn't get organised in time, so this Rockfax purchase will actually be justifiable for a change.  

Crimpy sandstone sport climbing is quite fair training for crimpy quarried grit trad climbing, as evidenced by a fun start to a glorious Saturday at Lower Montcliffe. Unfortunately this fun turned sour as we were kicked off this delightfully sunny but newly owned quarry, albeit after a conversation that turned from typically bullheaded "git orf my land" to a useful discussion of possible progress, respect, and future access with permission. It turns out the situation is somewhat more complicated and hopefully will get resolved sooner rather than later, as LM is a fine example of hidden gems away from the big Lancashire venues. Big venues such as Anglezarke where we finished off the day with a couple of decent routes although frustratingly a re-failure on Tangerine Trip, approximately 0.5 inches from the finishing handjam after me climbing, and pushing past terminal pump, surprisingly well. At least I'm now experienced enough to know that if this is E3 then Supercrack and Wilton Wall are solid it's not. Still I came away from the weekend with enough inspiration for more Lancs suntraps until it gets cold enough for proper grit (i.e. not long probably!)

Missed off this list was a bit more sport dicking around, and an exciting day at Avon doing Yellow Edge (apparently suitable for ambitious E2 leaders, I think I'm a decade and a half beyond that and it was tough, sustained and dangerous as an E3 thanks) and Last Slip (apparently suitable for people who find grit E4 5cs easy and also ignore guidebook bullshit like "lots of small wires". Yeah, lots. All 2 of them. In the same fucking shallow slot. Well below your feet on the 5c quarryman bridging crux. Thankfully the weather was crisp enough to get it done with a lot of deep breaths and my eyes half-closed). An evening celebrating with Kwak beer and a fantastic amount of in-house cats at the Bag Of Nails pub went down very well.

I also got to Fairy Cave and didn't get halfway up Balch's Slide.....but I know someone who did....

HPI Savage XS Bristol Bash!

Back in the game.

This post is proudly brought to you by...
...slightly compensating for Fiend's fucking awful skin since October 2016. Any products mentioned in this post will be subject to 100% bias on that basis.

Somehow I underestimated the time it took me to get back into training and climbing. Usually due to legs, weight, damp-susceptibility etc, any more than one rest day results in doubling number of days on  (either outdoor climbing or alternating indoor wall with general exercise) to get back to my previous form. 2 days off, 4 days on required. 3 days off, 6 days on required. Approximately. Anyway this time it wasn't so bad. It turns out that while toy soldier painting videos are bloody terrible warm-ups for training, disassembling and reassembling RC cars with constant fiddling and screwing (uhuh) is a pretty decent warm-up for the fingers. I expect to see Dave Mac espousing this pretty soon.

On the other hand it doesn't seem to make a great different to skin quality so that was an immediate frustration down at TCA, resulting in a useful discussion with TCA's High Empress Jackie in which she recommended regular, rather than sporadic Anti-Hydral use. Years ago I got a bit over-excited when fatdoc from UKB started importing AH, and bought 6 tubes of it, which I've probably used a handful of "emergency" times in the intervening decade. I always thought it shouldn't be relied on and was a specialist treatment only for real weirdos with freakishly bad skin.

Of course, I AM that real weirdo with freakishly bad skin.

What an idiot - what the fuck have I been doing for the last decade??

So I've started using it - tiny spots rubbed into my tips before bed - most days a week with a day or two off, and fuck me it works. My skin isn't feeling dry, or leathery, or's feeling fucking NORMAL. N O R M A L. What a revelation. This had the amusing side-effect of going down to TCA, not greasing off the holds, and falling off them cos I couldn't hang on. It's amazing how much WEAKNESS is exposed when it's not masked by excessive sweating. Then pretty soon, since I was pushing the limits of my muscles not the coefficient of damp friction, I started feeling pretty decent pushing myself at the wall - as well as increasingly psyched to see how well normal skin would do on the rock. Of course my own personal damp is not the only moisture around and Saturday's forecast is saying no grit visit this weekend :(. But in the meantime I can keep training okay - at the moment I'm sticking mostly to bouldering to start the winter, and will transition to routes and stamina later on.

Also pushing the limits of friction is this wee beast:

Savage XS Skatepark Smash

This sort of relaxed driving style is why it needs so much maintenance and what keeps my fingers warmed up pre-climbing ;)