Monday, 26 July 2010

Diggory, Diggory Delvet

Look who we saw by the River Esk on the outskirts of Musselburgh! Out for a stroll on a fine Sunday evening, and this little fella had his nose in a hole next to the path. He was snuffling about and wiggling his tail, clearly looking for something interesting. He came out of one little hole and went snuffling into the next. As he did so, out of the first hole at breakneck speed came an enormous worm. No kidding, it was 7 inches long and of commensurate girth. And it was legging much as a legless creature can.

Diggory Delvet then snuffled out of the second hole and right onto the tarmac in front of us. He wasn't moving very fast and of course his tiny eyes meant he couldn't see much, but his little pink nose was twitching nineteen to the dozen. He didn't seem in the slightest bit scared by two giant omnivores standing over him, but sensibly he turned round and snuffled right back towards the exploratory digging he'd done on the side of the path.

Diggory, Diggory Delvet,
Little old man in black velvet
He digs and he delves,

You can see for yourselves

The holes dug by Diggory Delvet.

from Appley Dapply's Nursery Rhymes, Beatrix Potter

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

One special climbing trip - Part 1

Diff and I recently had a two week tour of the north west, doing a bit of climbing and a lot of eating. We had a fabulous time and some fabulous weather (as well as some not so fabulous weather - we didn't get that lucky!). It was a trip we can never repeat, but we would love to explore further the places we found and certainly to do some more climbing. It's too much to write up in one post so this is just the beginning....

We hired a vintage VW campervan, a bright yellow splitty called Hannah, from Classic Campers in Carlisle and after the party in the Lakes, set off on our 30mph adventure. Aiming for Glen Coe, we got as far as Gretna on the first night. Well, we were tired, not in a hurry and it had been an exciting two days. Having realised that 35mph on the hilly M6 wasn't going to get us to Glen Coe that night, we relaxed into a slower pace of life on the road.

Everyone thinks they know what needs fixing, even if nothing needs fixing.

From Gretna we aimed for Glen Coe, deciding that the safest route (with our maximum speed) was right through the centre of Glasgow. We had a lovely (if hot) drive past Loch Lomond, stopping for tea in Inveruglas, with lots of other drivers waving and tooting at our trusty mechanical steed. A van with 1967 hydraulic brakes certainly brought a new meaning to the phrase "exciting to drive". I had to leave my seat to make her stop. I definitely need to eat more pies. Accidentally over-filling at Dumbarton, meant that we drove to Glen Coe with a strong smell of petrol in the cab. A concern that she was over-revving had us calling the AA man to the Red Squirrel campsite the following morning. I don't remember what he twiddled with but it worked and we did the next 900 miles without any trouble.

The weather was holding for us, so we headed across the Corran ferry for Ardgour and Garbh Beinn. Our objective was Butterknife, a 4-pitch VS topping out at the summit of the hill. The guidebook gave us two approach options: the 2-hour scenic stroll or the 1 hour brutal slog. We opted for the scenic stroll.....but it was more like 3 1/2 hours than 2! Finding the bottom of the route was pretty hairy. The guidebook instructions didn't make much sense to us once we were there and looking up at the massive wall of Garbh Beinn. We ended up scrambling up some steep slippy grass slopes above sheer drops in order to reach the bottom of the right terrace. We felt more secure once we started climbing.

Diff did pitches 1 and 3 an I did 2 and 4. This means I got the crux corner pitch and the last one. The corner was pretty good climbing, but things moved in it! Having not done much trad (ever, let alone recently) I was probably concentrating too hard to really enjoy it properly, but it was good. The top pitch was a bit random. It started with a big pull over a little roof - an unusual move for me at about 200 feet up the route! After that, the gear and the holds got very thin and I continually wondered whether I was going the right way or not. Eventually the rope drag was so bad I had to find somewhere to belay. What I didn't know was that instead of going 15m I'd gone 50m and there was no rope left anyway! I'm sure I set out in the right direction, but where I lost my way, I'm not sure.

Cooling off on the hot walk in to Butterknife

When we reached the top, the whole of Scotland was laid out before us. 360 degrees of clear skies and sunshine. By this time it was about 8pm. We thought we'd go down the quick way, rather than the way we'd come up the hill. Mistake. It wasn't quick. No path, craggy, was 10.30 by the time we got back to the van. And then we had to fight the midges over dinner!

Starting Again

It seems like a long time since I've been out bouldering. In fact, I know how long it is. My bouldering mat was still in it's shrink-wrapping from my last trip to Font in September last year. So much has happened since then....

Having had a busy couple of months I found myself on Friday looking at the weather maps for the weekend and wondering whether my intended trip north to Achnasheen was really worth it or not. When the levels of predicted precipitation run not just to blue but through yellow and well into the red zones on the map, one does wonder whether putting a giant umbrella over the house wouldn't be a good idea. A 5pm phone call at work on Friday made the decision for me. I wasn't going.

Motivating myself to go climbing without company is always hard. With Diff away working for most of the weekend and other buddies, sick, injured or out of the country, I needed some pretty good weather to coax me out. It was my lucky day! Bored with driving I opted for Berry Hill and found that lots of people had had the same idea. It's a lovely spot, south facing with a good view of the hills. Asking permission to climb is (according to the guidebook) imperative, but a knock at the door received no response. As an aside, what is the protocol in this case? Is the default position to climb without permission and deal with it if a problem arises, or is one supposed to not climb because one has not obtained permission? Anyway, I opted for the former.

I was the only one bouldering among several parties of traddies. A very nice chap with lots of tattoos and gold teeth came over to chat and offered that I could climb with them if I wanted. I hope I didn't offend him by declining his offer. I was quite keen to just potter on some boulders and get moving again rather than worry about gear and ropes and being too high up!

There's nothing particularly difficult at Berryhill (although some things were a bit tricky!) but it was a good day for cruising through 16 problems, reminding my skin that it needs to grow and reminding myself how to climb. Some warm sunshine and a strong wind made for a pink face, but I went home very content.

Monday, 5 July 2010

One special climbing trip - Part 2

The next stop on our wee tour was Achmelvich and one of the most exciting routes in Scotland (I reckon). The weather was rotten first thing in the morning and we sat around thinking we'd just go have a look. The more we sat around, the better the weather got. "Shall we just go do it?" "Yeah, might as well. If it's wet when we get there we can always come back tomorrow." So we went.

The Old Man of Stoer looked pretty manageable from the cliff-top approach. How hard can it be? Famous last words! The trek down the cliff was pretty hairy. There was already a rope across the channel but Diff went first and came perilously close to getting soaked, even at low tide. So he rigged another rope for us, especially having seen the state of the in situ rope at the other end!

Diff set off on the traverse pitch with me watching, feeling a bit anxious. When it was my turn I flipped. The rock was greasy and salty and green, my feet were tucked somewhere underneath me where I couldn't see them. I wasn't happy. But we couldn't go back. Not now we were here. Diff willingly agreed to lead every pitch so that we could carry on. I was clearly having a bad head day.

Adventure was definitely the theme for the day and I'm very glad we did it. It wasn't windy, but the swell was pretty big and the noise of the waves crashing around below us was intimidating to say the least. The climbing was harder than I expected, with some pretty airy moves. Although they weren't as hard as they seemed at the time, the exposure made a significant difference. Ironically, the supposed crux was just a matter (for me) of working out how to get my leg up that high!

We watched the gulls riding the wind level with us, peering at us with beady eyes and suspicion. We were lucky that there seemed to be only two nests along our route and both only hosting eggs rather than chicks, so we avoided any nasty encounters with the contents of seabirds' stomachs.

Abseiling off wasn't so bad (after we convinced ourselves that the million layers of salty tat at the top would be ok!) but we did end up in the water...high tide! I had a near miss abbing down between the two nests. Since I am not heavy enough for the tope to slide freely through my belay plate, I have to feed the rope through. This doesn't make for a smooth abseil. Aside from the potential safety issues there, the other downside is that I can't move down very quickly. Just as my feet ceased to reach the rock, the wind was blowing me sideways, straight into the sharp beak of a sitting fulmar. How I managed to avoid swinging straight into it in a Milk Tray style rescue effort, I have no idea, but I was mighty relieved to be well below the nest and hanging in space.

Hannah by the Stoer Lighthouse

It was a bizarre experience standing in the water and coiling a sodden abseil rope. We managed to keep all but the end of one rope out of the water, with some crazy-fast coiling. The other rope was soaked. Despite a shaky start to the day I felt fine and confident sorting everything out and making sure we were not standing in the water any longer than necessary. I was super impressed by my Mountain Equipment Combin trousers. Although the water went up from the bottom, it didn't go through them and they were dry within minutes of being out of the water. Superb.

Poor Diff struggled to do the last, and sixth, tyrolean traverse. Clearly, he was exhausted, and he was carrying all the gear, so was hanging much closer to the water than I was. I felt quite ashamed of myself for not pulling my weight more. Going back up the cliff was infinitely easier than going down it, and at the top we looked back at what we'd done. Definitely a Type 2 experience for me.

Friday, 25 June 2010

9 Lives

I couldn't leave this little BBC news item unshared. It gave me an especially nice Friday feeling. If you were a cat, how bad would it be to have no back feet? Lucky black cat Oscar could tell you; I'm sure he'd tell you how great it is to have them back too.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Sun-seeking in Spain

The start of this year seems to have been dominated by all things which stop me climbing. Work, mostly. When an organisation loses a key member of staff it is bound to have an impact on those left behind. But I hadn't anticipated it would involve such an escalation in workload. Never mind. It has and longer term maybe it will be good for my career. I hope so!

Amidst the piles of paper and frantic phone calls I found time to say yes to Bong's suggestion of a trip to the Costa Blanca in March. I looked forward to it all year, every week promising myself that this week I would start training for the trip. I blinked and we were on our way to the airport. So much for training. Feeling ill prepared for anything hard I resolved that this would be a sun-seeking, mileage trip, a chance to chill before another busy 4 months.

There is a lot to be said for adjusting one's expectations. Despite my early resolve I spent the first couple of days feeling inadequate, despondent and almost ashamed that I was struggling on so many things I had found so easy in the past. We did two days at Sella, where I've spent a fair amount of time and done all the easy routes and most of the semi-easy ones. On this trip, the harder routes felt out of my league. Eventually I picked myself up (metaphorically speaking) and top roped A golpe de pecho (7a+). I'd looked at it previously but have no idea why I hadn't tried it. The bottom section looks blank and thin, but in fact it was pretty straightforward. The crux, reaching over the bulge on some small and far-away holds was less straightforward and I'm not sure I cracked it in any kind of repeatable or sustainable fashion! I seem to remember bringing my feet up ridiculously high (to the point where my hamstring was pinching painfully) and only just being able to reach the right hand side pull. It would have been good to go back and do a bit more work on it, but as luck would have it, we didn't return to Sella this trip.

After 2 days at Sella, we headed for Gandia. Nice move. Already tired, we opted for brutal, overhanging, tufa-pinching in direct sun! Sweet. We certainly got our years' supply of vitamin D. We also go bitten by some sneaky things with sharp and grubby teeth. My arm swelled to at least a third bigger than it's usual size. I didn't feel a thing until it was too late but it was scary enough to warrant a trip to the pharmacist who sold me a tube of steroid cream that was 500 times stronger than the same stuff available in the UK!

Anyway, we finally got to go through the Tube! So easy and yet so exciting! After 2 days of chilly semi-greyness it was nice to see some bright blue sky.

I'd not climbed with Amanda before this trip, but I think we made a very good team. While I maybe have more experience of sport climbing in Spain, Amanda is infinitely fitter and stronger than me. A wonderful cool-headed climber.

Pepestroika 6b - hanging on to the hanging dong.

Having done the tube route we opted for a long-looking 6b+ called Asquerosa coincidencia. Amanda went up first, looking very smooth. Some of the reaches were enormous. Amanda has a longer reach than I do, so I watched carefully wondering how I was going to grow the extra 3 inches I would need to make some of those moves. About 3/4 the way up Amanda (after a good fight) decided one move was going to defeat her. So I went up next, bolt to bolt (ish). I too struggled on the same move but being slightly fresher from having the clips in already (thanks Amanda!) I got through it. Thereafter the rest of the route turned into a desperate epic! I suspect it was a mind over matter problem and having crossed a line in my head that this was hard and I wanted it to be finished, it seemed to be an eternal battle just to stay on the rock and work out which way to go. I am not ashamed to say that having crossed that line I pulled on gear and stood on bolts, anything just to get to a point where I could lower off safely. It got harder and more run out, and there seemed to be a bit of bushwhacking necessary at the top (which makes me think I went the wrong way). I haven't been so glad to come off a route in quite a long time! So, no pictures of that route, unsurprisingly!

Day three was a rest day and day 4 we went to Olta. This was a new crag for me and I'd heard much about this route:

Amanda on Tai Chi - possibly the most photogenic route I've ever been on. Although the crux was pretty sketchy and I was pumped as anything by the time I got to the jugs at the top, this was a fantastic route!

This is the kind of route that freaks your mum out! Penon de Ifach and Calpe in the background.

For some reason I don't seem to have any pictures of the following two days in Echo Valley. I'd only been to Echo Playa once, in October 2008, when we did many of the easier routes there. This time Bong and Jonni were keen for Monsters of Rock and Bands of the 80s. Lots of jokes abounded about doing George Michael and Led Zepplin in the same day as Judas Priest and Motorhead. While Bong and Jonni moved on to Monsters of Rock, Amanda and I did the easiest 6b in the world: Swing Out Sister. A lovely route but very soft at the grade, particularly in comparison with New Order to it's left which had us shredding tips and flailing around for quite a while.

We'd left the others doing easier routes at Echo Playa, so Amanda and I had the crag to ourselves. I noted with interest my reaction to the boys not being there. Suddenly things were calmer and I felt more at home and more able to concentrate on what I was doing. While it's lots of fun to climb next to people who are really psyched, I find it hard to climb as well as I can. The banter between those two is hilarious and I really enjoy their company, they are two of the best people ever to have on climbing holidays. But it proved to me that there is time and place for everything: sometimes it's good to spend some time on a route, enjoy figuring it out and gaining the satisfaction of completing it in one go; sometimes it's good to just throw yourself at any and every route, not caring whether you've "ticked" it, not caring whether you cheated or not, just enjoying climbing with your mates.

On the morning of our last climbing day I heard something I thought I would never hear. Bong said he was too knackered to climb. I was stunned. Actually, what happened was that I cricked my neck yawning and stretching in bed that morning and it was really painful, so much so that I suggested to Bong I might not be able to climb. His instant reaction was that he didn't think I should and that I might do myself more damage if I did. That was odd in itself. The later admission that he was too knackered explained it in full!

Rather than sack it off totally, we headed to the Altea Hills. What an epic to get there - the guidebook says go past the security guards without attracting their attention. Er... not easy when there are barriers across the road! Having felt a bit like jailbreakers skirting past and sizing them up as opponents, we discovered that they were very approachable, very helpful and directed us straight to the crag! It was a nice looking bit of rock too. Shame that it was 6 feet from a new building site with bolts that had certainly seen better days!

Would you climb on these? Thought not.... The routes looked like good fun but I wasn't so keen on tackling anything with bolts that looked like they might just slide out. With the housing developments encroaching ever more on the climbing space, I can see that this nice wee crag might just get blasted out of existence one day and end up as the floor of a swimming pool.....which would be a great shame.

So instead, we went to Toix and did multipitch!! Wow, what excitement. We paired up and picked our routes. Gary and I took the adventurous option of 4 pitches of 5, 5+, 3(!) and 4+. The climbing was pretty straightforward for both of us, but I must admit to feeling grateful for it when I realised I was about 20m up and had only just reached the second clip! Airy is one word for it! We ploughed on and inevitably found we'd left the route-finding brain cells in a sealed jar at the bottom of a rucksack back in the car. So what should have been a pretty straightforward 4 pitch route turned into 5 pitches, a ridge scramble, 3 abseils and a walk off!! It was probably a bit hairy but actually I really enjoyed the adventure. It wasn't hard, it wasn't beyond our means, but it was definitely exciting! This little red word next to one abseil point just summed it up really:

Just as we got back to our bags, removed tight shoes from hot, sweaty and sore feet the rain began to fall. Pitter patter. Perfect timing. And a pretty cracking end to a great holiday.

Encroaching development...where will it stop?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

More Snow!

I didn't think we could be so lucky as to have two decent-weather-days on consecutive weekends, but then it seems it is possible to get lucky after all! On Sunday we opted for a 12 mile trek through the snow which wouldn't (we hoped!) require the use of ironmongery. The hills on the south side of Loch Tay don't seem particularly appealing for most of the year, but in the low wintry sunshine and lots of snow they looked ethereal. The wind was biting (something we hadn't missed the previous weekend!) and hands were frozen solid within seconds of removing gloves. As a result, I felt better about not trying to go climbing. I would have been just too cold. Even the sheep looked cold here!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Cruach Ardrain

These pictures are for Caroline. While she's been shooting things in California, we were crashing through deep powder near Crianlarich. We didn't get to the top, running out of time and daylight (never mind energy) but we had a fabulous day. It's rare that we get to enjoy days like this in the hills when we're at work Monday to Friday. Yesterday was a delight, absolutely delicious. Wading back through the corrie was exhausting; every three steps one leg would disappear entirely into the snowy depths, usually to be eaten by the hidden but unfrozen bog beneath. Today I feel like I have been swimming in treacle. Everything hurts.

We found some potential bouldering spots just above the col between Cruach Ardrain and Stob Garbh. I'm not sure I'd want to haul my big mat all the way up there (except that it would be good, for what?) but if I had my shoes and a wee brush it would definitely be worth a potter.

Team 2010

Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy hills in the sunset

Cruach Ardrain in the background

Big Brothers: Ben More and Stob Binnein

Good bouldering in the summer? High enough to be cool and windy so maybe midge-free? Needs cleaning....

Guy in his element

Icicles. Amazing how much colder it was out of the sunshine

I don't usually make New Year resolutions, but this year I might make an exception and make a few (to make up for those years I haven't made any, maybe). One of these is to climb more. It's started well with a couple of trips to the wall already. I need to lose half an inch around my waist (which is more difficult for me than for many) and regain some self-respect with my climbing. There has been too much work and not enough play recently. That has to change. Might as well start now! Happy New Year.....

Christmas Snow

Here is my excuse for not getting out nearly as much as I should have done over the Christmas hols.

First day of hols and what happens? I wake up early to THIS and my lie-in is well and truly busted. Way too excited.

Solar hats...?

Safety-conscious Frosty