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.