Monday 13 July 2009

Present Tense

Where’s that foothold!!!?? Pulling hard on the crux of Present Tense E9 7a, Seanna Mheallan. Photo: Claire MacLeod. Click on the pics for a bigger view.

Since I last blogged, I have been on several amazing pieces of rock. One of them could yet be another E11, and a very special one at that. Perhaps I wouldn’t be good enough to climb it right now, perhaps I could get good enough? Thinking aloud already… More on that as the summer progresses… But my impatience in the short term has been to return to Seanna Mheallan in Glen Torridon and the two other beautiful sandstone projects there.

Left of the arete of Kolus I climbed a couple of weeks ago, the front face of the buttress is steep and bulgy with two lines to climb, going up past a fridge sized block neatly stuck on with only a good undercut below it and a perfect friction sloper hold on top. One line was to bear-hug up the fridge block and do a weird rotation palming move into the niche on the left - sort of like the move at the top of the groove on Gaia, but a fair bit harder. The day after I was first trying the line, I was wrestling an old 1970’s Kelvinator fridge out of my new house and into the back of my Micra (which is at least 80’s!). It reminded me of the day before on the project!

So first off, I headed back up and got that one led - Kelvinator E8 6c. It was raining steadily  (but lightly) for the entire day, but I was allowed about five minutes of dryness and the now familiar baltic Torridon ‘summer breeze’ to make my chance.

But the direct line above the fridge block continued to seem impossibly technical. Another day spent with Michael dangling on the ropes in the rain allowed me to at least find a way to make the holds work for one particular move, squeezing pathetic sidepulls while clamping the Kelvinator block with your feet. The link felt like solid F8b. Originally I suspected this would come in at E10, but the discovery of two highly unlikely micro wires eased back the chance of a 15 metre groundfall from the crux to something noticeably under 100%.

Yesterday, Claire and I rendezvoused with Jamie and I was feeling very confident and determined I wasn’t leaving without the route under my belt. I’d planned my tactics well for the order and timing of warmup tasks, as you can for this sort of crag. So many more things are under your control than on big mountain crags. I really noticed that. If you are on top of tactics, you can get a lot more out of yourself. 

So, as you might expect, after much to-ing and fro-ing, running around to get to a good temperature, and getting rid of some nerves, I found myself on the sharp end of the rope, staring at the hard moves. My game was to say inside that the wires were solid, and this was a sport route. That was all fine until I stood up out of the block, left hand not perfect, body position wrong and I couldn't feel that crucial good bump in the rock under my right toes. Where is it! Where is it! A long three seconds passed while I fumbled the foot, fingers opening. Nothing for it. Options are gone. Throw for the hold in the next second or you are testing those micro wires. At this point, I struggled to hold on to my hypnotic delusion of safety. Time to grit the teeth and stay alive!

The next move was a mess, But then I came off the other side of the adrenaline spike and the inevitability of it kicked in. Keep fighting and see if you come out the other side. I did, shaking and laughing at suddenly waking up on the easy slab, Claire beside me on a rope still pressing that camera shutter like nobody’s business. 

The sun comes out just as we arrive back at the car, after the whole day in the rain. Thats Scotland!

It’s at least a week before I can travel back to the aforementioned E11 project. This week I am working for my sponsors at the outdoor trade show in Germany. See some of you out there maybe? 


  1. Anonymous16 July, 2009

    Excellent effort doing a E9 so soon after doing an E8, mucho impressed. When doing this kind of thing (or just training in general) do you monitor your heart rate?? Been watching the Tour de France and they use it as a measure of fitness so just wondering how it comes into play in a climbing context.

    Scottish Eddie

  2. Anonymous17 July, 2009

    Nice work as always Dave, great to see you having some time away from the monitor etc.Love the photos, the light has been captured so well, lovely stuff.Top shot made me think of an Idlewild lyric from their 'remote part' album. 'we stop in every passing place to watch the world move faster than we do'. Im missing thon highlands muchly.keep up the blogs and le cranking.


  3. Anonymous19 July, 2009

    Superb photos, keep up the good work!