Monday, 15 December 2008

The Arch

Maybe I'll buy a season ticket to London.

After Tuesday's train journey to London I flew down on Friday instead. I flew because the train times weren't going to get me to where I needed to be in time, even if I started out at 05.50 again. British Airways worked a treat. It was an easy journey, with not a muppet in sight. My conscience did prick me, though, as I suffocated on the CO2 emissions. My return flight on Sunday, by easyJet made me think that catching the train was infinitely preferable (for my blood pressure, at least) until I remembered Tuesday's 17.00 service from King's Cross.......

Anyway, I didn't sit down to write about planes, trains and automobiles. I sat down to write about The Arch, London's newest (?) climbing centre at London Bridge.

Since it was apparently leaking water out of the sky all day and everywhere on Saturday I didn't feel so bad about climbing indoors. The Arch was easy to find, easy to get to and definitely to be recommended at weekends. I met Tamsyn there, who has regularly found it a friendly place to climb. She tells me it is rammed solid after work during the week, but pleasantly empty at weekends. On Saturday we were the only two there for a while. Fantastic!

On the positive side, the problems were good (if sometimes seeming a bit height dependent), the staff were very friendly and we had the place to ourselves. And they have a nice shower.

On the less positive side, all the bolt on holds were filthy, so filthy it was nigh on impossible to tell the difference between yellow and black. I kid not, it was bad. To counter this, though, I understand that the whole place is closing over Christmas and New Year for a complete clean, re-set and re-paint. I'm sure if I'm wrong on that, someone will correct me.

Given that my regular haunt is Alien 2, I still come back to comparing everything with it, and to date, I still think I have the best deal on it. The Arch is similar in size ( or maybe a wee bit bigger) than Alien 2, but it has fewer problems. There are vast expanses of shiny emulsioned hardboard with very few holds and no features! It's frustrating to think that there could be so many more things to go at - why do they leave so much space? Am I missing something? The Leeds Wall was like that too. I like Alien 2's featured walls, and the sticky surfaces. They make for more interesting problems, with a variety of solutions. So why don't other walls have these things?

Interestingly, The Arch uses V grades. I have very little experience of these, so it was quite fun to not know where to start, whether to throw myself at V6 or start at V0. Tamsyn was a good guide. She set me on all the things she couldn't do. Some were ok, some spat me off first shot, but it was enough to allow me to find my feet and I reckoned after a few problems that my limit was probably around V6. I don't really know how that relates to anything else, but next time I go to The Arch I'll know where to start!

All in all, definitely worth a visit, and highly preferable to roaming London's busy shopping streets in search of Christmas presents. One last comment, their campus board might be signed by the great and the good of the climbing world, but it isn't a patch on Alien 2's new one ;-)

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Siurana Sunshine

Although I knew I wasn't feeling quite right about my climbing, I hadn't realised exactly how low my psyche had got until I spent 3 days in Spain with the two Daves, Mike and Alicia. What I can't work out is whether it was the place, the company or a combination of both which restored my psyche.

The crew had set up base camp in Cornudella and were dividing their time, it seems, between Margalef and Siurana. While I'd missed much of the excitement, there were still projects on the go, yet to be sent and plenty more to be found. I went out on a flying visit with no expectations of myself which was quite liberating. Usually on trips I find myself building up the pressure to climb something harder than I've ever climbed before, or at least as hard as I've ever climbed before. But since most of this year has been full of things which are a distraction from climbing, I figured that such an attitude was only going to end in tears and disappointment.

Mike on 8a+ at Cova Boix (I think?)

While I was very much looking forward to returning to Siurana, I was also very conscious that the last time I was there Caroline and I had already spent 10 weeks climbing constantly. I was certainly at the top of my game then, and I worried a little that Siurana was really going to kick me into touch. Only a few weeks earlier I'd been very close (oh so painfully close!) to redpointing Law of Gravity (the 7a+ version - I can't reach the 7a version) at North Berwick. But since last year I reckon I had lost touch with what 7a and 7b felt like in general, let alone on Spanish limestone and mores the point, in Siurana. It strikes me now, writing this, that this proved to me how much I (and quite probably others) rely on grades to keep us steady in measuring both our progress and our current ability.

There are so many debates on grades; just check the forums on UKClimbing. It gets boring reading other people's nitpicking and petty quibbling about the grade of some new route, whether it's E8 or E9, E10 or E12, 8b or just 8a+. But, unless climbers bother to grade things justifiably, it is very hard to maintain some idea of how well one is climbing. In fact, there might as well be no grading system at all, since the point of a system is to provide a means of measurement and why measure how hard something is, unless the intention is to also measure an individual's progress or achievement by it? As an aside, I would rather the grading be done by concensus in a public forum, and I don't mean an internet chat forum.

Team Margalef

Anyway, I digress. I had no idea whether I'd be able to climb 7a in Siurana, so the most sensible option seemed to be to abandon all expectations, and go for the bolt-to-bolt, climb-in-the-sunshine options.

Happy days. It worked! Siurana is a beautiful place, and I had forgotten how pretty that part of the world is. I really enjoyed being back there. It was just as cold, just as sunny, and just as inspiring as it was a year ago. With only 3 days to climb, I was happy to tag along with the others and climb whatever was available. We started off in Margalef.

The trees in Margalef itself were a beautiful colour in the late afternoon winter sunshine

We had only spent one day in Margalef last year and it was hot. So hot, Dave refused to climb until it was almost dark! OK, not quite, but you get my drift. This time, not so. It was very chilly in the shade, but pleasantly warm in the sun. While Mike and Dave R headed to Dave's project at Laboratori, Alicia and I went to the dark side and pretended to warm up....on 6c. I say pretended to warm up, because it was baltic! I had brand new shoes on, hadn't climbed for a week, hadn't climbed outside for 6 weeks, and we picked 6c as a starter for 10. And I went first. With all those excuses I think I did very well. I even fell off and didn't scream, which is quite an achievement for me. I can only assume that my lack of expectations for the trip extended to completing routes and falling off! Anyway, the 6c went first redpoint, having decided that I was simply too cold to to anything other than bolt-to-bolt on the first try. Next up was (for me) an onsight of a 6b+ route that Alicia had done earlier in her trip. See, my expectations were so low, I can't even tell you the names of the routes!

Alicia ticking her project

Next up was Alicia's project - the 7a+ tufas overhanging the valley road. It was a lovely looking route, which she cruised easily first time, although I am told she'd had a bit of time working it before I arrived. Her ascent looked pretty effortless to me, particularly after it threw itself at me! Spanked. Well and truly. It was nice to be in the sun by this point, so I was warm enough to warrant an attempt. The first move is like that cold shower at 6am - a bit of a slap. Standing on a precariously placed rock atop a very unconsolidated conglomerate bank, there is a tiny left hand crimp under the mini-roof, and a long reach over the top for a jug. Feet are just about on the kickboard above the bank, but for me (and Alicia I think) the next move is to cut loose and swing a right heel up, cross over with the right and pull. Hard. Yes, it's a grunt move. In all honesty it wasn't that hard. I easily had the strength to do it. The problem was the lack of stamina to get beyond the 7th move.

Reaching for the 4th clip on the tufas

So I fell off. Ah well. For the sheer satisfaction, it was probably worth doing that move several times more. But that wouldn't have got me to the top of the route! A few (vaguely impressed, ego-stroking and very welcome) oohs and aahs from Dave and Mike, and suddenly I felt like the Old Pretender, slightly ashamed that I couldn't deliver what my had been promised from the starting block. Still, it was fun. Thus my first Margalef project was born. I haven't climbed tufas like that before. They were pretty powerful and two days later I worked out a very different sequence from Alicia's. It'll go next time. With a bit of training.

La Rambla

The following day we headed to the valley crags of Siurana itself. In celebration of ticking her tufa project the day before, Alicia had proven her capacity for consumption of rotten grapes and had a hangover. But today we were destined for Mandragora, that fabulous orange streak visible in all her glory from the road up to Siurana. Caroline and I had looked but dare not touch last year. Today, Alicia, took her hangover up to the crux and decided enough was enough. So I followed her up to that point, clipstick in tow, and managed all the moves, with a little bit of thought and re-try, up to the first belay. I had been slow, and the crowds were gathering so I forewent the opportunity to explore the upper section.

I really enjoyed it. The crux section was hard, on very tiny crimps, and polished!! I guess this is Siurana, so 7b is the warmup route. No wonder it was polished. Having said that, we moved round the corner so that Dave could have a look at La Rambla. He later told me that that too has some polish on it, probably due to Dani Andrada's 300 redpoints!

7b was harder than I remembered it being, but with a bit of stamina training, Mandragora might go too next time. Project number 2. I've also added this to Caroline's tick list (if she has one) although she won't know that until she reads this ;-)

Mike's damaged skin from Margalef's sharp pockets

I can't write about this trip without mentioning Dave's last ditch attempts at his 8b+/8c(?) project at Laboratori, Margalef. To avoid the circus of local families there on Saturday and the heat of the day, he resorted to turning the car headlights on full beam. Unfortunately, this meant having the engine running.... thereby filling the Laboratori ave with diesel fumes!

Cool enough to climb, but too dark to see! Mr Redpath in the zone.

Four flights and two days travelling was definitely worth it for three days climbing. I came home psyched to climb more and more. I'm not sure I'm so psyched for the training involved, but maybe aiming for anothter spring trip to Siurana might spur me on further.

Team Margalef, high on diesel fumes at Laboratori!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

I want to go home NOW!

I don't do this very often, travel to London and back in a day by train, but I'm very glad I don't. The 05.50 train this morning was fine. But the 17.00 from Kings Cross is an absolute nightmare. Why is it that people SHOUT at each other? This is a (very) confined space. I can hear people 30 feet away! And the BEEP BEEP nonsense they talk about is unbelievable. Yak yak yak yak, shouting into mobile phones, gossiping about Julie on reception, or Gary in Sales or Darren in marketing. "I like Diana, and what's that blonde girl without the shoes all about then". DING DONG. Then there's the coughing and sneezing. Everyone in here is sick! BING BONG, another mobile phone at a gazillion decibels. I swear that wearing a sharp suit and too much offensive aftershave makes you DEAF. Why else would your phone be on BRRRRING full volume? Or is to make sure that the entire train (I think I counted at least 10 carriages) knows exactly how important you are? I just ATCHOO phoned home briefly (usual progress update) and I can't hear Diff and Diff can't hear me. I just about caught "can' But...lots...other...". And to top that, if I sit back in my seat, the phone is behind BING BONG the wall of the carriage between the windows, so the signal goes BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEEEP BEEEEEP (repeat). So I have to sit forward and practically shout AHEM into the ear of the person in front of me. I don't feel good about this. But they're all BRRRIINNG shouting anyway, so maybe they don't notice.

The wifi is free, but no wonder. You wouldn't pay baked beans for a service this slow. I resorted to UKC, thinking that loading one web page would give me plenty to read, without having to load more pages. Then I read this: Now, clearly this evening is not going well for me, but this thread almost made me want to stop climbing altogether it was so depressing. Maybe it's just that tonight EVERYONE is chattering absolute twaddle as far as I am concerned.

Only two and a half hours to go.........

Monday, 10 November 2008


We made another less than ideal call on the weather last weekend, having other stuff to do on Saturday and opting to climb on Sunday. Ah well, such is life. As we drove down the A1 towards Northumberland the sun was shining and we could see miles out to sea. Caroline commented that she'd always wondered what that coastal view looked like! But as we turned off the A1 it started to rain, and we realised that above the road we were driving along was a line - cloud on the left, sunshine on the right. We were turning left.

Sam had sent Sarah a text message saying that it was pouring at Kyloe so they'd headed to the shelter of Back Bowden. We ploughed on to Kyloe thinking , how bad can it be in the trees.

It stopped raining by the time we got there, but the ground was pretty soggy. Some problems had dribbles of water down them, and some holds were damp but a lot was climbable, and pretty ok actually! Cold and dry.....the elusive "great conditions"!! Wow....this could be exciting ;-)

Then is started raining again. But it was so good to be back on real rock. It felt like ages and ages since I was in Spain, and somehow warm Spanish limestone isn't quite as satisfying as cold, sticky County sandstone. Now why is that?? Am I just strange?

So, amidst lots of sitting about under Cubby's Lip, Sarah managed a proper pop at the sit start to Monty Python's. It was so dark that it took ages to get this photo of her. Eventually I took it about a full second before she moved, which just about gave my cold little camera time to think, charge and flash at the right moment!

For the first time I managed to complete that mammoth traverse from the easy way down leftwards. Caroline too managed it, which surprised her (but not me!) since she's not been climbing for a wee while.

Watching Sarah from the shelter of the Jocks sit start

While the rain was splashing away we thought it might be a good excuse to try the sit start to Jocks and Geordies. It's so hard (for us) that we wouldn't seriously give it a go without a sound reason to do so, probably preferring to concentrate on the standing start (first things first, walk before you run, and all...) But in the rain, it seemed sensible to lie on our backs, feet on the back wall, and just pull hard directly upwards, and from there work out which hand would hold longest if we let go with the other one.

I have to say, that these sorts of sit starts are not my forte. We came up with lots of options, none of which were successful, or even promising. Then someone showed us The Way. It helped, in that we then had something to aim for, but still wasn't enormously successful! I'm just not strong enough yet...
Early attempts in April 2007

When it stopped raining, we crawled out from under the rock and attempted the standing start. I had a go at this in April 2007 and was a long way from reaching the top left hand crimp. To my surprise, this time I managed to get both feet much higher, and wriggled my fingers over the edge of it. Pheewwwwweeeeeee! How exciting was that?! Having done that, I would have gone home quite happily then. To top that, next pop I managed to slap for the top sloper. Big slap. I couldn't hold it, partly because it was a bit.....what's the word? spoogee!, and partly because I didn't hit it quite right.

Looking back at the pictures from April 07 I realised that this time round, I was back-stepping with my left foot rather than twisting my knee in. Maybe that explains the height gain this time round. Ah, the wonders of technique!

So I went home with sore fingers and a smile on my face, psyched to come back and try again.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

New beginnings

It is probably not as long as it seems since we were basking in southern Spanish sunshine, too hot to climb (for me at least) but fantastic to be on holiday. In many ways it felt as though our trip as doomed from the start what with the booking, re-booking, missing and re-re-booking of flights, change of climbing buddies etc etc. For this reason I think (for me) it was the most expensive climbing trip ever. But that was entirely my own fault. The Ryanair chap at the desk said "I've seen people a day late for their flight, but never a week late....."

Remembering my last visit to the Costa Blanca and the snow we'd seen on the Puig Campana, I had packed my duvet jacket and my thermals. I was delighted not to need any of them (most of the time). It was 30 degrees easily, and way too hot for even me to climb.

Our previous expedition to Forada was aborted on the basis that a) there was no way my little car was going to make it up the rest of that dreadful track and still get us back to Scotland and b) it was December, blowing a hoolie and freezing cold despite the sunshine. So this time, with a hire car and it being too hot to climb in the sun, Jonni and I figured Forada was a good bet. We hoofed up there (yes, Jonni was driving) and did a couple of routes on the sunny side before heading to the Dark Side and the Superheros wall. The sunny side was sharp. Proper sharp. Ouch. The Dark Side was Dark. And cold. And suddenly I was glad of my duvet jacket.

The Sunny Side at Forada

Jonni on Starman

Jonni made short work of Starman. I had a burn on top rope, but it really isn't my kinda thing. For one thing, I didn't have the stamina or the strength having not been climbing nearly enough recently. For another thing, I don't find these kind of overhanging, thuggy, juggy routes particularly entertaining. There's a lot of strength involved, but nothing that feels interesting, or intricate; there isn't much to work out. It's all pretty straightforward. Just hard.

When the girls arrived three days later, the sun was still shining. I had no idea what they were expecting. They'd never been climbing on real rock (bar one day at Pembroke in the pouring rain).

The first morning was spent on the balcony, with make believe chains, bolts and everyone tied into an end of rope somewhere. It seemed like a bit of a muddle looking back on it, but at the time it made perfect sense. We went over it, over and over and over again. How to clip in with a cow's tail, which knot to untie and when. Time and time and time again. It was time well spent.

Our first afternoon at Sector Final, Sella, went swimmingly, until Dina decided she was comfortable enough to lead "something harder". How about that 5+ there? For those of you who know Sella well, "that 5+ there" was Speedy Gonzales - fairly sraightforward once you're past the third bolt. Getting there is a little more tricky, as Dina discovered with her first epic. Good on her, she sat back after the first freak, regained her composure, and carried on. The second freak was a little less easily contained. The nervous laughter from below wasn't helping. First there was the panicked voice, then the shouting, then the hysterical screams, and amongst all the I can't reaches and I can't hold ons, was the desperate cry "WHERE AM I?"


Dina, post-trauma

The gang at Toix TV

Tamsyn seemed to have a knack for picking routes with caves in them....she spent a lot of time crawling into them head first. While the back of the cave would be treated to the pleasant view of her pretty face, the rest of us had a rather different view from below and behind!!

Tamsyn at Pego

We managed to climb in various places during the week before the weather turned foul on us. We had an expedition to Pego (great place, pretty stern on the grades but a bit of a nightmare to find), and another one to Echo Playa, where I tried one pitch. The rope drag was so bad I messed up the finishing wall, which was a shame, because it's the best bit of climbing on the route; the rest of it is a bit of a vegetated scrabble. I could hardly pull the rope up standing with two feet on a flat bit and using both hands. It was impossible to pull through to clip whilst hanging off fairly small holds with one hand and the rope with the other. Ho hum. Oh, and there is a massive loose block at the very top, which was quite worrying.

Lisa leading at Toix TV.....doing superbly well for someone who had never led anything at all 2 days previously.

Another day we went to Toix TV, which was very hot, but made bearable, even pleasant, by the sea breeze. I repeated a few things I'd done there last December, some of which seemed easier and others harder. So much of it is dependent on frame of mind.... Tamsyn decided she would top rope 6a, so she picked the reachiest one there, and the one that couldn't be done without smearing.....when she had almost no rubber left on one shoe. I turned round to dig out the BabyBel thinking she'd be down in a minute and the next thing I know she's 3/4 of the way up!! Must be all that Super Red Juice she drinks.... ;-)

In between the climbing, we had some entertaining evenings. I couldn't resist posting this one. Maybe it was just funny because we'd emptied the bottle, let alone the glass.... There are other more embarrassing pictures, but I won't risk putting Dina, Lisa and Tamsyn off climbing altogether by posting them here. I don't want them to think that all the dodgy antics of a climbing holiday are posted on the web by default!!

Jonni beasting it up some mega 6c thing at Pego, surrounded by dozy wasps....

I had completely forgotten how much one gets beaten up by the rock when one starts out. These are some pretty impressive bruises. I guess that with experience, practice, a bit of strength and maybe some technique thrown in, I've managed to avoid this kind of damage over the last couple of years. I know chicks dig scars. Do guys dig bruises?? Not sure about that one.....

Me threading the rope at Echo Playa

While this was more of a holiday than a climbing trip for me it was very interesting, and very good for me, to take a step back and remember what it was like learning to climb for the first time. I really enjoyed passing on what knowledge and experience I have, and I hoped I managed to pass on a little bit of the magic that for me comes with climbing. It's a wonderful feeling to see someone else, particularly someone I've known for so long, as excited by my little climbing world as I am. Fingers crossed we can climb together again very soon. I think they're keen to climb again......

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

That's gotta hurt...

Cruising around the blogosphere I came across the Crippled Climber's blog. Intrigued by the header I went to the very first post to establish why this guy had started his blog. Check out his first two or three posts here.

Without wishing to spoil the read for you, the basic premis seems to be that indoor bouldering is bad for your health. Don't look at the pictures if you are remotely squeamish. It makes any of my skin injuries look as pathetic as they really are. I haven't had a chance to read more recent posts properly, but it sounds as though he made a pretty good recovery. Phew!

Dave Redpath's flapper courtesy of the Anvil. A mere scratch.....(Pic. thanks to Hotaches)

Monday, 22 September 2008

On location....

Being injured, Caroline wasn't climbing at the weekend. Instead she was learning to be Action Camera Woman, and learning to prussik up a rope in order to take action pictures. We were fortunate to have the quarry to ourselves at North Berwick so we set up a line further along the wall, so that Caroline could take pictures from a different vantage point.

I think she found it hard work, but she should also have some interesting pictures....particularly given the stupid faces I was pulling at her! All in the name of studying colour, contrast and composition, of course. Once the photographs are developed (yes, Caroline was shooting with real film!), we might see some of the results here in a few weeks.....

Law of Gravity

The weather has blessed us recently, enough to have two good afternoons on my project at North Berwick. With so much else going on at the moment, it was nice to be able to have just an afternoon out climbing, rather than committing to a full day and spending it fretting about not getting other things done.

I say "my project" but in fact it's probably not project material for a lot of people, including Sam's hardcore Alien 2 crew, but being only 5'4", everything at North Berwick is project material for me. The mission? To grow/stretch/reach at least 3 inches more than my current maximum.

The facial expression here says everything. This is Darkness Falling (6a+) in the corner of the slab. It's only 6a+ and yet every time it feels like relearning my times tables: should get easier but is always an immense and painful struggle. Just reaching the first clip is a mental and physical battle. After that, there's one hard-ish move and then it's ok.

Jonni, looking cool as a cucumber in his new sunnies, gracefully reaching for the good hold on Darkness Falling 6a+.

Moving through the corner and onto the other wall, we concluded our usual warm-up sequence with Law and Disorder (6a+). I'm sure this is well known for it's dynamic start, but I have to dyno off the large block to the right; any minor error of judgement on this would see me hurling myself off the ledge entirely, landing 10 feet down in a pile of nettles which, incidentally, hide a very large rock. Jonni can reach the first hold just by standing on tiptoes.

Jonni on Law and Disorder, smirking about something...can't think what!

Having messed about on lots of fun stuff, I then realised that it was my turn to climb and I couldn't escape the reason I was here: Law of Gravity. The 7a start is too reachy and the nettles under it pose a greater risk than the alternative, so I usually opt for the 7a+ start. The last time I was on this was May, I think, when I managed to link all the moves on a top rope. Bong was dyno-ing for the two long moves low down, which completely freaked me out about leading it. My climbing isn't especially dynamic at the best of times, let alone when I might have to flail around somewhere in the heavens for a tiny wee ledge that is clearly beyond my reach! Anyway, this time I was cornered. Nobody was going to put the clips in for me.

The first two clips went fine, much to my surprise. Thereafter it became a bolt-to-bolt affair. Injured and therefore not climbing, Caroline was along for the ride and to practice her photography skills, so I have some interesting pictures!

This is the second of the two very long moves just above the second clip. Although, having said that, they're all pretty long moves for me. I think I missed the good hold on this occasion, getting the left hand end (which is slopey) rather than the right hand end of it (which is much more jug-like). The right hand end is about an inch higher....not much but when you're almost at full stretch anyway, it makes a difference. Never mind; you know what they say. If you're not falling...

Bolt-to-bolt was good until I got to the last one. That's when the scare factor really kicks in for me. I was talking to Martin at Alien 2 about it, and he said, "Nice move at the top where you get the two undercuts and just stand up." Just stand up??? The damned holds are above my arms at full stretch!! I have to stand on the big ledge with both feet, get the left hand slopey slippy sidepull, tuck my left toe into a tiny hole in the wall above that big ledge, push down hard with my right hand and tighten every muscle in my whole body to get my right foot up onto a tiny ledge so that I can let go with my right hand and reach the other side pull. After that, it's ok. But mustering the courage to tuck my toe into that tiny hole, praying hard that it will stick, is an icky moment.

Dislocating a left hip, crimping hard with the right hand and reaching left hand up for the little black triangle in the break above my right hand. It's a looong way, with nothing else for my right foot.

This is a first, and wrong, attempt at the icky moment move. The tiny hole for my left foot is somewhere behind my left knee in this picture.

So the following week, I got straight on it, bolt-to-bolt first to remember the moves swiftly followed by a first redpoint. All good, cracking through the long moves, psyched for leading the top move, and what happened? My foot SLIPPED out of the diagonal crack lower down. There are no words strong enough to express the frustration. I've made stupid mistakes on redpoints before, and many of them. At least they provide a legitimate reason for screwing it up. But I don't believe I've ever just slipped like that. My fingers can only just reach the bottom of the crack above, so there isn't much purchase there to be able to just hang on and pull harder.

Here is the slippy left foot: I'm at such a stretch it's really hard to see exactly where to put my foot....I guess I put it in the wrong place which is why it slipped. I need that extra wee step up to get a proper grasp on the right hand. Alas, this time it was not to be. Gravity was calling loud and clear.

The failed redpoint...

So, next time it should go. Dave suggested (tongue in cheek I think....!) that for short people like me it should get 7b not 7a+. I'm not sure about that, but I am left asking myself how the grade can be anything but altered by one's height. Clearly, someone with a longer reach than me is going to find this route easier. Does this just mean that I have to be stronger and technically more competent than my tall counterparts in order to climb the same routes? ;-)

Saturday, 20 September 2008

The Leeds Wall

Finding your way around a strange city by bus is always a daunting experience, but on this occasion I found the bus driver unusually pleasant and helpful. It's amazing how many things bus stops don't tell you - like fares, route direction (on a map - place names are no use if you don't include all the intermediate stop names), whether the bus gives change or not (in Edinburgh they don't), whether you can buy a return ticket etc etc. I set out for the Leeds Wall not really knowing where I was going, but the 20ft sign on the building helped quite a bit.

Disappointing. It's the only word for it. The higher leading walls look fantastic. Hundreds of routes, steep and slabby, and all of a decent length. In complete contrast, I found the bouldering totally uninspiring. Most of it is steep, and if you're not into steep, or not strong enough for steep, you might as well just walk away. On the vertical sections I reckon 3 extra problems for each one there would easily have fitted into the space available. It sure wasn't easy to invent your own problems with so few holds on the wall. To compound this problem, the walls were just painted - with gloss paint it seemed - and smearing was just not an option.

The most disconcerting thing, though, was the chalked up, rubber-coated, dirty holds. It was sometimes impossible to tell what colour each was, and at most was a challenge to distinguish blue from purple from green. The problems looked as though they had been set in the Dark Ages and not moved since. They were slimy and greasy, no matter how much I scrubbed at them with my trusty little brush.

I got chatting to someone who looked like he might be "local", who told me that he tried hard not to train here; he had a board at home and would even go to Sheffield rather than come here. He also told me that the feet on most of the problems don't change; all the small green screw-ons are permanent fixtures, and any new problems just have to use those feet, no matter whether they are in the right or wrong place. It took me a while to identify the green ones....they all looked mucky black-grey, not green!

Having paid my £3 registration fee (for which I was given a nice new chalk ball - bonus!) and £7.50 for a session, I thought I would just rag my skin on stuff that was way too hard for me. I quit because my skin was sore, not because I'd managed to achieve anything. I made good use of the excellent shop there, though. - lots of ladies kit and a decent range of shoes. Having been told that Sharma's new Pontas shoes were only available from sizes 6-11 I was delighted to find them in my size there. They weren't right for me, but I wouldn't have known that without trying them on. Unfortunately, they didn't have the Heras, which I think are the replacements for my beloved Athenas.

I haven't been to the Climbing Works in Sheffield yet, but in the meantime, long live Alien Rock :-)

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Hepburn in the County

Despite being a very Keen Bean, Sarah is good at civilised starts (unlike Caroline!). We eventually left Edinburgh around 11am the Saturday before last and tootled down the A1, three of us and three mats in a Metro. The car alone reminded me of school days and putting £2.50 worth of petrol in the car because that's all you could afford! Fantastic!

Hepburn, for those who haven't been, is right on the top of a hill. There is plenty of Forestry Commission parking, and a well worn path up to the boulders. They're pretty high (and therefore pretty scary) with some very not-so-great landings, but the quality of the rock is very good. It needs some more traffic though; many of the problems were a bit dirty. We had copies of both the new and the old Northumberland Bouldering Guides and having the new one made all the difference. The old guide was laughable in comparison, but I guess these things serve a purpose at the time.

Having only just started to recover from some lurgey I picked up on the bus I had low expectations of the day, hoping that just some fresh air and natural light would make me feel better. It did, but then I managed a couple of problems too which was a big bonus! The grading seemed pretty stiff to me, and Rob and Sarah agreed. Having said that, Rob had forgotten one of his shoes, and still, in one shoe, managed to make very light work of things I found very hard!

Rob in one shoe....

Rather than picking particular problems, I took to following Sarah around, on the basis that I couldn't be bothered to read the guidebook, and Sarah is usually pretty good at picking interesting things to try. I can also be fairly certain that whatever she chooses will keep me busy for a while, even if it takes her 5 seconds!

This problem was graded 6a, but it was pretty tough at that; Rob did it in one shoe! I don't know whether it just took me a while to warm up, but for ages I couldn't even do the first move. Probably bored with my flailing around, Rob and Sarah went back to a highball 7a on the Orthopaedic Boulder, and left me to my own devices. After a bit more flailing I managed to get off the ground, reach across with my right hand to hang awkwardly on the sloper while I worked my feet up enough to reach the little ear-like scoop with my right and swing for the jug with my left. After that it's all over (almost!) but the jug looks a very long way away from where I was hanging off a sloper and a crimpy sidepull!

Another 6a arete with a mean start...

We took a wander along the edge of the wood to the Roof boulder, which was pretty impressive. Even Sarah didn't have a pop at it! We also found some other very gnarly looking problems on the two boulders next to this one; some very crimpy starts with nothing-ness sidepulls higher up; some very blank looking vertical walls; some postage stamp landings - small and with crinkly edges. I couldn't get off the ground on the harder ones (6b, 6c maybe?) so I spent a while trying a 6a arete. You know how you can have days where things just don't make sense until someone spoon feeds you the answer? Well, I was having one of those days. I could not, for love nor money, work out how to get off the ground on this one, until Sarah showed me. The solution was some weird inverted upside down twisted hand positions, manageable for just long enough to slap for the Sarah's long-limbed, Inspector-Gadget-arms world. I had to bounce my left hand via a non-pocket to be able to reach the jug. Welcome to my short-limbed, Little Miss Short Arms world!

Sarah on a stretchy highball 7a - if she couldn't reach, there wasn't much point in me trying!

We then followed Sarah's nose through dense pine woodland (think Wild Wood and sharp sticks - interesting with a bouldering mat strapped to your back) for what seemed like hours until we found a very Font-esque boulder with a mossy 7a slab on it. Sarah was the only one with enough energy and enough shoes(!) to have a shot. She made good progress, but it needed a bit of a clean and probably needed to be cooler and drier for her to succeed.

We were being eaten not just by midges but by bigger things which looked suspiciously like mosquitos, so we tootled home. I didn't think they had managed to creep this far north, but maybe they have. Nasty things. I have a bite which is still itchy 2 weeks later. As the weather cools a little and the bugs go back into hibernation, Hepburn is definitely somewhere to go back to.....with a stiff brush and lots of mats and lots more spotters!

Neilston: E2 or not E2?

Caroline and I headed for Neilston a couple of weeks ago. We'd seen the chat on Scottish climbs, and the new topo seemed to spur us on. Arguably it was a bit further from Edinburgh than we had anticipated, and much smaller than I had come to believe (having not looked at the topo myself - totally unprepared, me!). We followed numerous diversion signs, wondering exactly how far out into the wilds this wee place was, but eventually spotted the quarry with it's scary iron sentry. It's a delightul wee place.

Not quite the Eiffel Tower....

We've done a ton of sport and bouldering, and we both enjoy indoor climbing too, but trad is still a strange and mysterious world to us. So we started on HVS, neither of us ever having led HVS before. Why not? It looked ok. In fact it was very nice and pretty straightforward, much more so than I thought it would be. The climbing itself was fairly easy as far as we were concerned. We did both Punk Rock and Curved Crack at HVS 5a, placing as much gear as was humanly possible, just for the practice. Then we did Willie's Route, which is marked in the book as Severe, with an E2 6a variation. After much debate (see below) we followed this with a VS route to the right, unsure whether it was the VS 4c or the VS 4a....

Having admitted that we are not trad bunnies, we are slightly confused by Willie's Route and it's variation. Some friendly chaps there before us, who seemed to know the crag pretty well, said that the Severe went up the crack and then to the right of the grassy scoop. There's a good bit of gear in the back of the scoop, and the right hand option looked pretty easy and with lots of gear.

Always up for a challenge (!) we opted to go straight up the back of the scoop, and straight up the slab above. This fits the Lowland Outcrops description of the E2 6a variation as well as we thought it could, given the brevity of the description, but seemed pretty easy for E2! We thought E2 was meant to be Hard and Scary! We wondered whether the variation might have avoided the broken crack from the ground to the scoop and gone up the slab to the left of it, but that sounded more like the E3 between Willie's Route and Curved Crack - a proper scary-sounding route! Diff also rightly pointed out that in order to be a variation, the E2 option needs to share some parts in common with the original Severe option. Usually a "variation" shares the start, otherwise it's known as a "direct start", which would presumably share an upper part of the route.

Willie's Route (S) marked in red. The line we took (the E2 variation??) in yellow. Punk Rock (HVS 5a) in blue and Curved Crack (HVS 5a) in green.

There is no gear that we could find on the slab above the back of the scoop (along the yellow line above), even for side runners as suggested by Lowland Outcrops. Getting out of the scoop and onto the slab above wasn't a particularly hard move, either. The slab at the top was quite airy, I suppose, but nothing like balancing on the fairy sized ledges of any slab in Font!

So what is E2 6a supposed to feel like? Did we get the right route and it genuinely isn't as hard and scary as we had thought it would be? Or were we completely off route? We'd love to know, if only as guidance for what else we might try. Clearly routes of the same grade can vary enormously, but if this really was E2 we might try some other routes which previously we had written off. I hear warning voices in my head already not to get too cocky - pride comes before a fall, and all that - but maybe I should try things like Grasp the Nettle, Dead Ringer and Elgin's Crack. Caution has previously limited me to anything VS or below, which now seems a bit daft, especially given that on bolts I'm at least up for trying anything up to 7b (on a strong day!). Maybe I should be a bit more adventurous. It would certainly open up a whole new world of possibilities!

Chocolate coated star biscuits only from Gregg's in Barrhead. Yummy!

Out and About

It seems like forever and a day since I wrote the last blog post. So much has happened in the last year that I think I will still be reeling from the motion for another wee while. I thought I had found something that I wanted to do more than anything else, and that nothing would ever stop me choosing anything else over climbing (given the choice, of course) but I have been proved wrong. Life just takes over sometimes. There are lots of things to do in life. Making the decision what to do first is a dark art, that I am not convinced I will ever master.

So, despite the fact that I have a storage problem at home, stuff everywhere, a house to organise and a pile of filing, I went out climbing. Although my regular trips to the wall have dwindled significantly over the last 6 months, I've still managed to get outside whenever the decent weather (what decent weather??) has coincided with a weekend. This hasn't always meant climbing, but then better to be outside than in, no matter what you're doing.

Three of us trotted up Ben Venue in June, hoping to escape the late afternoon rain. As it was we got drenched, but it was fun anyway. The summer greens and the smell of wet bracken on the walk up was beautiful, and a huge relief from a stuffy office. We found a cute wee frog hiding in the grass too, and nearly got blown off the top.

Greenery and water - themes for Ben Venue

Rescuing the frog from thundering boots

Soon after that, I had a glorious walk up Beinn Iuthan Mhor with Andy. We walked from Dalmunzie House Hotel, up the glen running parallel to Glenshee. In fabulous hot sunshine and a warm breeze it didn't feel like the full 12 or 13 miles. It felt like real summer at last and it was nice to be able to enjoy it.

The view northwards, through the Lairig Ghru, from the top

Early in July we spent a day in Glen Clova. Another glorious day, with tops off, sunburnt shoulders and enough warm breeze to keep the midges quaking in fear underground. We were bouldering this time, with John Watson's new guide to Bouldering in Scotland. It's a beautiful book. At first I thought it might be disappointing because there appeared to be so much rock to climb, but so little of it was documented in the book. But I changed my mind about that, instead finding it pretty inspiring to look at, run around like a nutter and invent my own things to climb. We found a few things first, and then realised they were written up in the book.

Caroline on a nice little vertical crimp-fest

In fact we spent pretty much all day on the Peel Boulder. With Andrea's technique, my slightly foolhardy bravery and Caroline's strength we managed between us to work out the sequence on the Peel Sessions. Given that it was a joint effort I don't think we can claim the Font 6c+ tick! I managed to complete it from standing, but couldn't touch the sit start for love nor money. Andrea cruised the sit start but (probably sensibly) withdrew gracefully from the mad scary top out moves. Caroline too opted to come down rather than go up, as is her wont (ask her about retreating from the highball problem at Bas Cuvier). Instead she proved that her daily trips to the wall are worth it by cruising a tough move to pull from the ground, over the lip of a small roof and onto the slab above.

Diff had some work to do further north so we headed to Inverness for the weekend. The weather looked very flaky for the Saturday so I stayed home with friends, hung out in the garden, played with train sets and watched Cbeebies. It turned out to be sunny where I was and rainy where Diff was. Ah well. On the Sunday we headed south via Huntley's Cave.

Thinking it would probably be running with water our expectations were low. It's a lovely spot, although not ideal for Scottish summer climbing, being down in a gully, by the river and surrounded by trees. Prime midge country, and probably not a quick-dry location, but very pretty. We had Diff's original Highland Outcrops guide which resulted in some interesting route-finding. We also had minimal gear and only one cam! We started on the classic Cave Route, and then moved on the Diagonal (accidentally finishing up the last 3 moves of Cave Route). By the time I was half way up Slot Direct, it was raining. I didn't realise this until I looked down to see Diff with the rope tarpaulin over his head; I was bone dry under the roof of the slot. Good job I did look down, because the top holds were pretty wet and a bit slippy by the time I got to them. Despite not doing much, we discovered it was a good place to go back to. The chippy in Grantown was very nice too!

Somehow in amongst all this I have managed to unpack most of the boxes from our move. What I haven't managed to do is put the contents of the boxes anywhere other than the floor....