Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Keep Calm and Carry On

This website came to me, in relation to work, from a friend:
Keep Calm and Carry On: http://www.keepcalmandcarryon.com

After the last week or so of office life, it seems like an appropriate thing to remember, but I also wondered whether the phrase applies quite nicely to climbing...

But also on that website I found this:

‘There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a cup of tea. ’
Bernard-Paul Heroux

I need to remember that.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Kirriemuir Sports Day

As the promise of Saturday dawned bright and clear, we headed for the wide open skies of Angus and Kirrie Hill. Many people have talked about Kirrie. I wouldn't say it was quite acquiring legendary status, but certainly there has been enough mention to make me curious. Bong said it was a suntrap like North Berwick (which I always find encouraging) and that it had plenty of 6b/6c/7a type routes.

What I didn't know until we were sliding down the steps towards it, was that it's sandstone. Fine, I thought. Northumberland is sandstone. But there was a wee niggle in the back of my head reminding me that the only bolted sandstone I'd climbed on was the Arbroath sea cliffs, and that isn't on my list of climbing highlights.  But it was a beautiful day, and it felt as though I hadn't seen one of those from outside an office in quite a while. 

For those who haven't been, I think this is a former quarry, judging by the drill hole lines visible on the rock face. It's much bigger than I expected, but a reasonably decent height, and plenty of it. According to the wee guide produced by Awesome Walls in Dundee there are between 50 and 60 routes there (with new ones being cleaned and opened while we were there).  The bolts seem to be in all the right places and all look pretty good. And yes, it's a lovely little suntrap.

Demonstrating the lack of reach

True to form we started on a 5+. This was the first time Diff and I had been climbing (rather than bouldering) since our washout trip to Siurana in March.  I must say I didn't have any hopes for anything harder than this, thinking that my leading head would be well underground by now. But apparently a degree of nonchalance about leading seems to help. We nailed The Hill Has Eyes at 5+ good and proper. Nice.  On to Never Never Land at 6a+, but not so nonchalant now. The first half was dead easy, but it nailed me good and proper at the first crux. First off, the slopers were damp. In fact, everything was slightly damp. "Spoogie" I think is the word Sonnie and Cory used about Dumbie in May 2008.

Second, I couldn't reach either the intermediate crimp let alone the good edge of the flake in order to pull up over. It was one of those annoying situations where strength wasn't lacking, and technique seemed of little help to me with short arms and short legs. Having tried everything, this way, that way, left and right, I came down, thwarted and despondent.  Diff and Bong both scooshed up it, but then they are both considerably taller than me.  I'm sure there is a way to get around it, but I couldn't fathom it, not even on a rope. Eventually I went up and just pulled on the draw to get past that section. Ah well. Another time.

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf’s a flower” Albert Camus

Another one of my dubious explanations of why I can't do something

Next up was Bong on What Every Woman Wants (6c). This looked good, and much more my thing.  There's a proper hands off rest in the middle before the real fun begins. When I say real fun, I didn't anticipate it would take so many forms. The first 3 bolts are great, but sandy as you like, which is a bit frightening. The ledges were big enough, but I realised that on anything small I wasn't going to trust my feet.

Having watched the lanky two get past the crux moves I was dubious about how I might re-work that section.  I opted for the cruise sideways followed by a long stretch upwards with the right, before latching the good pocket over the lip with my left hand.  However, on my exploratory cruise left I pulled on something gently which promptly came away in my hand. I didn't pull hard, so I didn't ping off, but what was left behind was a lovely little ledge just the right size for 3 of my fingers. From this, with a high foot and a mega-growing-stretch, I could reach the bad scoop (one could hardly call it a pocket) and pull up to the good pocket. to clip the next clip. Hurrah!


I couldn't work the very top section out, so I left it for another time. On short winter days I am conscious that other people want to climb too and that taking my time redpointing isn't always a friendly thing to do.

Our fourth route was, I think, a 6c+ called Dig Deep. It looked fine, but the amount of rock raining down on us while Bong was climbing was alarming.  At one point a huge chunk exploded in his hand and showered crumbs of sandstone upon us. Feelings of guilt and alarm featured equally prominantly as I too started up this route. Diff wisely left it well alone. For the first time I started to question the integrity of the rock into which the bolts were sunk, although they looked fine from the outside.

Diff belaying in the winter sun

Our final route was a 6a+, which I didn't identify a name for. By this time I really wasn't trusting my feet; my arms were tired and my head was somewhere else. I just couldn't work out how to climb the overhanging start. Frustration got the better of me and toys were on their way out of the pram. Diff and Bong cruised it, of course, and the sourpuss in me put my failure down to lack of concentration rather than lack of ability! I am the master of excuses when I want to be.

Diff being inventive on the 6a+

Bong last up in the evening light

As we were leaving, I reflected on how good the climbing actually was. I really enjoyed it; a combination of getting out after so long, being able to (mostly) climb something, not being cold (even on 31st October!).  The routes are good routes. The rock was questionable. I realised how much I rely on my feet being solid and how much it unsettles me when they're not.  I was less worried about handholds breaking and more worried about my feet sliding off, although clearly both were equally likely. Maybe it was a little too damp, maybe we shouldn't have been climbing because of that (although plenty others had made the same call as us and the crag was almost busy!). Maybe the crag is just "new" (as much as Early Devonian sandstone can be new) and the routes just need more traffic to stabilise them.

Most of all, though, I realised that I missed Caroline.