Sunday, 29 July 2007

Shaftoe Sunshine

Sunshine! At last! I know bouldering in the sun is supposed to be rubbish because the rock is sweaty and you fall off. But after so much soggy weather, how could we NOT climb in the beautiful sunshine of a July Saturday? We were lucky enough to have the time to climb, so we should be grateful and make the most of it. Besides, I like climbing in sunshine.

We went to Shaftoe, since it was on my way home and seemed logistically sensible. Despite an interesting detour to avoid standstill traffic on the A1 through Newcastle (how were we to know there was an Air Show, a Flower Show, Ladies Day at the Races AND an accident??) we got to Shaftoe with plenty of time to climb. Having been once before earlier this year, I knew that following the guidebook was difficult. But that was early spring....before the bracken sprouted. Now the rocks looked as though they had been marooned on a desert island for several years, missing their regular hair appointments and in desperate need of a shave.

The rock was a veritable garden of weird and wonderful flora

Identifying where we were was a challenge enough. The hairiness of the rocks themselves was a different prospect altogether. Those ladies who climb in sports tops (the ones with a built-in "support shelf") will know how it feels to have bits of moss, grit, lichen and soil nestling on the shelf just beneath it's intended occupants. One ends up with a line of gritty grime where grime usually isn't to be found. Gentlemen, don't be surprised if the ladies begin to adjust their attire in an unusual manner. It's pretty uncomfortable, and needs to be sorted! Well, you're allowed to adjust yourselves without comment; why can't we?

This was the Warm Up interesting traverse from flat holds under the nose on the left, along to the next bulge, matching on a mossy sloper, and mantling up between the two small overhanging butresses face first into the heather on top. We eliminated the tree root directly above the deep cleft on the right as cheating! Now you see how we accumulated enough organic matter to grow culinary herbs from our sports tops!

Having Warmed Up (for once!), we moved onto the Crucifix Boulder and found a very green traverse there too. We plonked some chalk on various holds which instantly made the problem look more friendly. Sarah's ability to hold sandy slopers defeated me, so I reinvented the problem into something I could do. It still took some trying to trust both my right hand on the not-very-good sloper (which seemed to be Sarah's friend and definitely not mine!) and my right foot on an undercut smear I couldn't see from above. At this point I really learned the meaning of sucking hips in to the wall. Wow, what a difference it made. Suddenly I could balance enough to hold the next slopey (and small) pocket, and hold that long enough to walk my other fingers up to the lip at the top, which was much further away for me than for Sarah. She appears to have elastic arms! Either that or I am shrinking with age (like my grandma) already.

Traverse on the Crucifix Boulder

Then we found an excellent three (girly) finger pocket which added a satisfying sitting start to the problem. I had a real sense of achievement linking one set of moves, adding more, and linking them too, until we'd exhausted all the options. The descent route made for an interesting change...

Trees was where I started climbing...many moons ago!

We then moved on to the Lost Arrowhead Cave. By this time Sarah was quite excited by how much bouldering there was, and a little frustrated by tiredness and lack of time. I was rapidly running out of finger skin (no need for pictures of this - those of you who have read this blog before will be familiar with my skinless fingers from previous posts! This time was no exception - 2 days on grit and now Northumberland can imagine the pinkness for yourselves.) and we were both running out of steam generally. We did a lovely, but strenuous, route starting from crimps under the roof (which I had to stand on tippytippytoes on the mat to even reach) and a fantastic heel hook out along the lip of the cave, finishing up the slab at the opposite end. My slightly more diminutive stature meant that I had to scrape my heel out of it's bomber position to even reach the hold out along the lip of the cave. I have a very sore ankle now, and I still didn't finish the problem: too tired. So we lay under the edge of the cave with the sun streaming in, sheltered from the wind. Yes, I did nothing for at least 20 minutes! Some of you may find that hard to believe ;-)

With time looking short, I suggested we tootle about on the easy slabs just below us, before heading home. These too were sheltered from the wind and faced the late afternoon sun. Beautiful. We felt good just being on the rock, and being in the sun was an extra treat. This patch is a great place to take beginners - sticky slabs, of not more than 10 feet in height, with lots of ridges for fingers and feet. Certainly, it was a useful place to practice trusting our feet, and the height (or lack of) meant that beginners shouldn't freak. Having said that, Sarah's face in this picture looks like she might be freaking! Maybe it's because she's not a beginner....

I have no idea what the problems were called or how they were graded. We deliberately didn't use the guidebook. Knowing that it was hard to follow anyway, we abandoned it. We revelled in not knowing what we were climbing, not getting hung up about the grades or reputations of problems. Everything was reduced to things we could climb and things we couldn't climb. This minimalist approach seemed to breathe fresh air into my climbing, and I started to pay more attention to how the moves felt, whether they were hard but workable, or just plain impossible! It's a bit like judging a book by it's cover. If a book doesn't have a cover, one might start reading it to find out what the cover might look like. If it has a cover, one is more likely to judge the quality (or substance) of the writing without actually knowing anything about it.

I am still baffled as to why Shaftoe doesn't appear to see more traffic. On Saturday we only scratched the surface of what's there. Diff and I saw much more of the place earlier in the year (although we had less time to climb then - maybe it was just easier to find without the bracken). There are oodles and oodles of problems - traverses, highball, crimpy, slopey, easy, hard, steep and slabby. I would thoroughly recommend a visit, but take a brush to clean holds with (but mind that the sandstone is very soft, so be gentle with it). I don't mind if you don't go, though - it was a beautiful spot when we had the place to ourselves.

By the by, does anyone else remember the song about Bobby Shafto? I have memories of singing it as a child, along with some dubious pictures of the lad himself in a nursery rhyme book.... typical sailor in a stripey shirt, trousers rolled up, with blonde curly hair, bearing a strange resemblance to Doris Day. Maybe all that sunshine has gone to my head....
Bobby Shafto's gone to sea,
Silver buckles on his knee;
He'll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!
Bobby Shafto's bright and fair,
Combing down his yellow hair;
He's my love for evermair,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!

1 comment:

diff said...

> "Well, you're [men] allowed to adjust yourselves without comment; why can't we?"

Hey, its' complicated down there!