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 jug.......in 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....