Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Climbing triumphs over work

Breaking news.... my employer has seen the light and agreed to a 3-month sabbatical so I can go CLIMBING! The danger now is that 3 months isn't enough, but it'll be nice to have a pay cheque to come back to.

7c by Christmas....?
Maybe I'll start by finishing this one at 7a.... (pic courtesy of HotAches Images)

Monday, 28 May 2007


On Saturday night my phone ran out of battery. Although there was no signal at Mar Lodge, this was still important because it meant I couldn't take any pictures. In turn, this too was important, because when I went a-wandering on Sunday, what should I see but lots of amazing things that I wanted to take pictures of. Typical. So this is a text-only post. I won't be offended if you don't read it.

Apathy set in on Sunday morning and I couldn't be bothered to do very much. I thought the forecast (for torrential rain) was going to provide a valid excuse to do nothing. But the forecast was wrong. It turned out to be quite a nice day. Eventually I got over hte guilt of not "doing something", but it took a while....

I wandered up to some boulders just off the track from the Linn of Dee. The one big boulder would have been entertaining if it wasn't covered in enough vegetation to grow potatoes in (actually, isn't that what your mum says about your dirty finernails?). I clambered around a bit, very conscious that I was on my own, with no bouldering mat, nobody knew where I was and my phone was out of juice.

Bored and mission-less I wandered further up the hill in amongst the heather and the Scots pine trees, and it struck me how much one misses about one's surroundings when on a mission to do something. This is when I got over he guilt of not doing something". I walked about 2 or 3 miles in a couple of hours or so, and saw two red squirrels, four deer, an owl (I think it was, anway), a greater spotted woodpecker, 3 red grouse, a black grouse, a huge stag beetle, 3 fish (salmon I think, but hard to tell), a mini-venus flytrap type thing, Butterwort (in flower, no less), a big shelf-like fungus, some amazing red moss, a massive seething ant heap and some tourists (but they didn't see me). I also spent a while picking the ticks off my jeans and watching them race across my hand. I counted 9 in total, and putting my hand in the river didn't wash them off. But they do float if you can unstick them from your hand.

Not being able to resist any climbing opportunity, I also clambered along the layered rocky river bank. In two places I found the remains of (what I can only assume was) a small hydro-electric scheme. In fact there were two of them. Both had clearly been dilapidated for a while, but I did think what a shame it was to have such things fall into disrepair and disuse. In today's world of energy crises, surely it makes sense to use "clean" sources of energy wherever possible? Here is a source of power rushing past us unharnessed. A small hydro scheme doesn't do any damage, doesn't create any noise, doesn't cause any pollution, and yet someone at some point has decide it isn't viable. Admittedly, hydro schemes are weather-dependent and therefore, by definition in the UK, inconsistent (I hesitate to use the word unreliable; it seems unfairly damning), but surely any supplement to fossil fuels and nuclear power is a good thing?

Mountains of Frustration

We had grand plans for Saturday, unfortunately they remain unfulfilled. We set off from Mar Lodge in good time, aiming for Eagle Ridge on Lochnagar: three of us, two ropes, one rack. All good until we topped the col that drops down into the Corrie of Lochnagar, whereupon we were pelted with hailstones. The temperature dropped dramatically and the wind was icy.

Eagle Ridge from the top of Lochnagar

We picked our way down the slope towards the lochan and stopped for a confab and a look at the route. It's certainly an impressive line and looks as though it deserves it's 3 (or 5, depending which book you read) stars. Unfortunately, I am unable to pass any further judgement than that, since at this point my companions (who are well seasoned and experienced climbers) proffered the suggestion that it was too cold, and that traversing the snow slope at the bottom of the route was a bit too hairy for their liking. So we bailed.


Instead, we walked up The Ladder and round to the top of Lochnagar, along with the world and his wife (or rather half the population of the north east and half the population of Germany). Everyone who wasn't running the Edinburgh marathon on Sunday was at the top of Lochnagar on Saturday. We stopped for some food and were approached by a german chap who seemed confused; he'd lost his friend, and his friend had the map. He didn't know which was was down, appeared not to be able to see anything (except that he had a pair of binoculars...) and was more intent on repeating every word we said (regarding the directions he had asked for) than listening to which word came next. Very odd.

The mad myopic german, and non-marathon runners behind

So we got to The Top, but by a rather circuitous and unintended route. No trip is a wasted trip, so I have at least done some training for carrying gear up mountains, and exercised my frustration genes well. I have also made a mental note about who to climb with and who to do recce missions with.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Fire and Water

Sunday dawned, grey and foreboding, and Dave, Sam and I set off again for the Anvil (it's starting to feel a bit like a habit!). This was Sam's first visit, and my first attempt at the drive-walk-climb-walk-drive combination. As we began the long walk in, it started to rain....again. Sam was still keen: "Are we there yet? Is it here?....Is it here?". You can just see him storming ahead in this picture:

When we got to the crag, it was still raining, but the chill and the slight breeze had mercifully appeared to frighten the midges away. Friendly Fire (my 7a project) was even wetter than last week - positively dripping. I must admit I was pretty disappointed; I was psyched to do it today, feeling strong enough, rehearsed the moves in my head time and again..... but there was little point if the top section was actually running with water. I'm not interested in scaring myself silly on wet rock.

The top of Friendly Fire...dripping

Sam was quite excited by the whole thing, which was really good to see. I felt a bit like one of the chosen elite, that I had already climbed here, when someone as strong and dedicated as Sam hadn't. All very exciting, sharing new playgrounds. So the big news of the day happened pretty quickly! Having warmed up by doing the first section of his project a couple of times, and testing the crux just once or twice, Dave managed to complete his project, now known as Fire Power (F8b) holding the crucial swing, and continuing in fine style to the lower-off. I was belaying and was acutely aware of paying out enough slack to not allow Dave to use the rope to hold the swing. To me it was so obvious that he hadn't been on the rope, that I couldn't understand why he was asking. I kept thinking, "just keep going, just keep going, don't stop now!!". Sam testified later that there was no use of the rope, and Dave was quietly but clearly glowing with the full brilliance of success. At last! :-)

The Big Swing!

Just one tiny slice from sharp quartz; even on the final
attempt the Anvil couldn't resist drawing a little bit of blood.

Dave was a happy man! Well done to him, too. This is the first time I have witnessed first-hand someone working a route at this level. It's been eye-opening, fascinating, inspiring and scary to watch. The intensity of effort, the persistence, the determination, the sheer bloody-mindedness of it is incredible. At times I feel a bit over-awed by it; I'm not always convinced I am capable of trying as hard as that.

So Sam had a pop at Shadowlands (F7c), and would have got it on first redpoint if it hadn't been for the puddles on the top holds. The Wrong Kind of Rain had obviously been plaguing the Anvil since our visit the previous week. Shame for Sam, but he did say it was a nice route.

Sam just above the crux of Shadowlands (F7c)

Sam also completed Heavy Metal (F7b), an impressive ascent, and strange to be able to stand so close to take pictures - it starts half way up the roof, off the huge boulder.

Sam looking strong on Heavy Metal (F7b)

With some of my psyche gone since Friendly Fire was wet, I thought I'd have another grapple with Shadowlands. Having done all the moves last week, albeit one by one and with many forced partings with the rock, today was a very different story. Up to the ledge was fine; I did it first shot (although I made an enormous hash of it three times later in the day). I even managed to work out an easier means of jumping for the spike (which is a long way away for me - and quite precarious). But I couldn't do the crux for love nor money. I owe Dave a lot of thanks for his patience, as I went for the hold time and again but couldn't pull on it, or hold it to make the next move.

Goundhog Day on the crux of Shadowlands (F7c)

Shadowlands again....

I seemed to spend an eternity trying to cross over with my right hand, flag my left foot, stand on the spike, let go with my left, all in some random order, none of which felt right this week. I don't know how I did the crux last week. I can't remember; I just did it. Clearly I need a lot more strength all round before I'll be able to complete this route. (Having said that, I reached the top of the campus board tonight, for the first time ever. I'm wondering how much stronger I need to be!!)
Playing chicken as usual, below the clip on Shadowlands

Not content with one 8b in one day, Dave got straight onto some of the moves on Body Blow (F8b+), which he made look pretty straightforward. Amazing how success can open your mind to new ideas!

Dave on the start of Body Blow (F8b+)

Body Blow again. One day I want to be able to do this!

Towards the end of the day, the weather cleared and it was a beautiful evening. My last shot at Shadowlands was in glorious sunshine. I don't care so much what folks say about the heat making rock greasy, I love climbing in the sunshine. In Scotland it's warm enough to enjoy and not too hot to need to hide from. Lovely. The midges weren't so bad this week, either. With the aid of Skin So Soft, I think I only have 6 bites. Not bad....

Carrick Castle in the evening sunshine

Lochgoilhead in evening sunshine

One final mention for this little fella. This is Einstein. Diff and I went to see him on Saturday night, whereupon he tried to run away with my watch, and behaved like a 6 year old on 3 pints of Orange Squash. But how can you be cross with a face like this....? He also appears in his own podcast. Famous at 4 months, huh?!

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Ratho Bites Back Too

In keeping with the recent theme of gore on various blogs, I thought this picture of Bong's finger should have an airing. This was the result of today's session at Ratho. It bites too.

The Anvil Bites Back...

Having come tantalisingly close to success last Saturday, I might have guessed my luck would run out this Saturday. Dave Redpath and I went back to the Anvil, he for another shot at his amazingly difficult project (8something???), me to complete Friendly Fire (F7a). The weather wasn't looking great for Saturday morning so we thought a late start would give the crag time to dry. This meant the traffic was heavy going through Glasgow, and we didn't get there until 2.30pm. Just as Dave switched the engine off, the fuel warning light beeped on. It was raining....a bit. Everthing looked wet. But it was brightening.... we thought, hopefully.

We cycled in; wow, was that an effort. Just a wee bit too much of Dionysus' finest libation on Friday night, and I was about fnished by 3pm. The top 4 moves of Friendly Fire were dripping water, and it started to rain again.

Then the attack started.

You guessed it. Midges. Lots of them. Vicious little buggers. And it's only May! I mean, come on, give us a break, eh? It's cold enough to still be wearing my downie, and there are MIDGES! This might mean the end of the Anvil season too, which is a shame, since I left my gear there.

I don't know which picture is best, so I'm going to leave both in. My hands look like they have chicken pox; and they're just about as itchy. My ankles and even my face have been attacked too!

We persevered. The air was damp, still and the sky overcast. But the rock wasn't too damp, and the roof was still dry. Dave made some impressive efforts on his project, while I dogged my way up Shadowlands with enthusiastic encouragement from Dave (F7b+ - or F7c, depending which bit of the Scottish Climbs Wiki you read. Either way it was very hard). I was surprised to be able to do most of the moves, although I need considerably more strength to be able to lead it. As a result of being feeble, I've left my quickdraws up there. So if you see them, please don't nick them. I'm going back to get them, with Skin So Soft and a midge net.

The evening mist settling in the valley above Lochgoilhead

Time flies when you're having fun. We didn't leave the crag until 8.45pm. We flew back on the bikes, which was much easier than the cycle in, and left Lochgoilhead at about 9.15..... remembering as the ignition fired that we were almost out of fuel.

Loch Goil

Loch Goil, mirror-like in the evening dampness

The petrol station in Arrochar shuts at 9pm. The next one, we thought, was Dumbarton, 35+ miles away. Hmm..... so we tootled along at about 45mph hoping that the guage was wrong, while Diff, on the end of the phone, had his googling and mapreading skills tested. Bless him, he found us a 24/7 petrol station in Jamestown, only 15 miles away. We prayed hard until we were at least within walking distance (well, I did!!), and following Diff's excellent instructions (we didn't have a map...) we whooped with relief as the neon BP sign appeared in view. ("Isn't the internet wonderful? Aren't mobile phones wonderful?!") We reckoned there was 30 miles left in the tank; Lochgoilhead to Jamestown is 31.1 miles. We probably were running on fumes! Incidentally, The AA Route Planner can show you all the petrol stations on your route!

More bites....

An epic day; we got home at about midnight. Thanks to Dave for driving, and for making me try routes I wouldn't have contemplated in a million years. If we have a sunny and windy summer I might be able to retrieve my gear!

By the by, I just noticed that the Avon website is selling it's magical Skin So Soft Dry Body Oil (aka Midge Repellant) for £1.50 a bottle. I saw the same stuff in Tiso for £5.50 !!

Sunday, 6 May 2007

My First....

...7a !! I have had the most awesome day today, at the Anvil; the best climbing day I've had...maybe ever. It's been a long day, I'm very tired, but still buzzing from near triumph. Sarah, Dave and I drove across this morning and walked the 4 miles from the road to the crag (I thought this is why I'd bought a bike!), to find the two other Daves working their projects. I swear they could wallpaper the ceiling using powers of levitation alone.

Dave Redpath making some interesting noises...

Concentration in the extreme! Dave Macleod on his 8somethingveryhard Project
(photo courtesy of Hotaches)

Sarah led Friendly Fire first, to get the rope up. It looked pretty scarily overhanging to me, and the first couple of moves were off little sharp quartz cystals, but there is a big pixie picnic ledge in the middle. So I top-roped it, three times in all, and with persuasive encouragment from all three Daves and Sarah, I had a shot at leading it. Despite some very long Zen moments on the pixie picnic ledge, I didn't get the redpoint clean. There are two cruxes, one just below the second bolt (which is clipped), and one apparently tenuous cross-through to a quartz vein above the fifth bolt (which isn't as hard as it looks). In fact both are fine and I did them both without any trouble. On my second attempt at the lead I did the first section clean, had some timeout with the pixies in the middle and then promptly fell off just two moves from the top! I just ran out of strength. Too much bouldering apparently...
Dave B on the first crux of Friendly Fire

Dave B stepping out right onto the top section. This was scary enough!

Timeout with the pixies...
(photo courtesy of Hotaches)

The Top Bit...where my stamina gave out.
(photo courtesy of Hotaches)

There are more pictures on the Hotaches blog and on Dave Macleod's blog.

Sarah also had a shot at Spitfire (now 8a+), which was very impressive. Dave B confirmed it was nails too. All very interesting to watch, especially with the first ascensionist on hand to advise! Oh, another first for me.... belaying with a Grigri!

Sarah on Spitfire (8a+)
(photo courtesy of Hotaches)

Dave B on Spitfire (8a+)

Sarah belaying Dave on Spitfire

Today was also a first for outdoor lead falls. Not big ones, thank goodness, but enough to make me feel ok about them. Jonni, if you're reading this, you'd be proud of me; I didn't squeal with fright...just with frustration!

Me and Dave Mac hangin' out!
(photo courtesy HotAches)

So, I can do all the moves quite comfortably. I just need a bit more stamina, and another attempt. While frustraing not to complete it in one day (given the two hour drive and the 4-mile walk!) I am much encouraged that this is clearly well within my capabilities. All this in spite of an injured rib, and no training for a week. I think Jules the Fizzy O would go nuts at me....

How's this for a place to climb...?

So much for leading 7a by Christmas; as Dave M said, "Christmas? 7a by 3 o'clock!"

Thursday, 3 May 2007

The Trial of Skinned Knuckles

I've been slow to post pictures of Sunday, thinking I'd wait for my broadband to be connected. It's here! I will no doubt now waste a lot more of my life twiddling with things on the Web. At least uploading these pictures will be much quicker! I can't believe I've held out this long....

We went to Bowden Doors on Sunday, with me injured and not really psyched to do much. But we did have a go at the real Dog Eat Dog (6b) (see previous post!). It was hard! I went up to take pictures from the top. This problem has a reputation for having a very, very sandy topout. Oh how true. It was scary enough just standing up there, let alone pulling up from below with only hands for friction above a nasty landing. Maybe next time I'll feel brave enough to try it!

Sarah making good progress on Dog Eat Dog

Caroline hanging in there...

Then we went further along to the crimpy things we tried at Easter, now identified as the aptly named The Trial - a route at E3 5c, but no boulder problem grade. We both had another shot at it, whereupon we both suffered the same injury, in the same place, from the same bit of rock! Pictures of finger injuries seem to be a bit of a theme here, so I might as well carry it on! This time I took off, not only the skin on my knuckle, but also all the scar tissue I'd grown since Easter. It's still sore now, 4 days later.

Knuckles....congenital weakness? Or just a nasty bit of rock?

No climbing this week since Jules the Fizzy O thinks I have pulled a rib out of place (again!). Unfortunately, no climbing equates to beer-swigging and cake-making. Shame.