Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Crawling along

Endless sport climbing - hard not to improve!

Sport climbing trips out here in Spain or France have been a staple of my yearly climbing diet for nearly ten years. I come for lots of reasons, to relax the mind (these days), to replenish the body in a less harsh climate, to enjoy the climbs here also. But mainly I come here to train.

Trying to achieve a very high level of rock climbing fitness in Scotland is very like being pinned down in a game of chess - lots of potential options, but all of them blocked. We have a world class climbing facility at Ratho, but those who could really use it the most can’t afford to train there enough. We have a handful of wee sport crags, but not enough to make a platform for the best climbers to step to the next level (this idea is called a pyramid progression). 

For a while, cheap flights made it easy enough for those at a medium level to put a patch of fitness in their game a couple of times a year. Maybe this day is already passed. Some more bolts in local crags might work out better environmentally than the carbon footprint of a twice yearly migration of the sport climbing population. On this trip, I’m coming round to thinking that this migration might be losing it’s appeal, both in terms of cost, and effectiveness.

It worked to get me from 8c to 8c+ and even helped me scrape into 9a. My current goal is to get 9a+, both for it’s own sake but also to assimilate this level and apply it in my mountain trad and winter climbing. Training strength in Scotland is no problem. With some good training I’ve got strong enough to do 9a+, but endurance is a stumbling block.

I’m not saying it’s impossible. I intend to personally prove otherwise. Rastko said those who crawl cannot be brought down. So I’ll keep on crawling my way to 9a+ and the resultant E11s and winter projects. Some changes might help break into a walk though. Some ideas:

Scotland’s rock climbers would really benefit from another sport crag or two that really works for training - steep sustained and often in condition. There are crags. It could be time to go and open them. Even just one sector like El Pati in Siurana could be enough to kickstart some exciting things in both sport and trad. I know that I couldn’t have done Echo Wall without the bolts on Steall Crag in Glen Nevis where I put down the foundation of fitness on Cubby’s old ‘controversial’ project.

A lot of the other things are potentially terrain where our sport’s governing body - the MCofS - could help with. If there was a special membership package that included free entry to any climbing wall in Scotland, I’d certainly be buying that as a christmas gift for a teenage son or daughter who’d recently discovered climbing. Parents would be gifting access to the world of climbing safety and environmental advice and training etc plus unlimited access to their new pastime/obsession.

As a 16 year old I managed to get my three sessions a week in the Kelvin Hall because every third visit I’d pluck up the courage not to buy a ticket and keep an eagle eye for the attendant all through the session. It’s rarely so easy for the young and keen to increase their training volume with this method these days.

Out here in Spain, we keep finding ourselves saying ‘it’s hard not to get good at climbing here’. In Scotland it’s a lot harder, so we better make it as easy as possible.


  1. Which crags are you thinking of for bolting?

  2. The universal wall pass is a great idea.
    Personally I'd like to see more mid-grade sports crags in Scotland. The way things are just now seems so elitist - why are only routes in the F7+ range bolted, apart from on the east coast?

  3. Personally I'd like to see more mid-grade sports crags in Scotland. The way things are just now seems so elitist - why are only routes in the F7+ range bolted, apart from on the east coast?

    I'd guess because it's because high grade climbers are more intense about climbing than mid-grade climbers, so they are more motivated to go and bolt stuff.

    There are mid grade routes in central and west Scotland as well though - Benny Beg(3-6a), Dunvira(?5-7a), Glen Ogle (6a upwards), Strathyre Crag (a couple 6bs), Stronachlachar (6b upwards?). A few other trad venues have a few sport routes in the sixes .. cambusbarron, ratho quarry .... this is just off the top of my head, I'm sure there are lots more.

    With the exception of Benny Beg, which is fairly well attended, whenever I've been to these venues, no one else has been there. Glen Ogle, for instance, would be much more accessible if enough people went there in the first place to trample a path through the bracken.

    So I guess when calling for more bolted routes, you have to consider realistically what use they would get. Probably Scotland being more sparsely populated, wetter, more midge, makes it less amenable to the development of popular quality sports crags than sports climbing hotspots elsewhere in europe. How many climbers would use a proposed new route how many times, given skill level, travel distance, weather? Maybe the harder routes are more common because they are better value, getting redpointed a lot?

    In Scotland it’s a lot harder [to get good at climbing, than Spain], so we better make it as easy as possible.
    That's true for sports climbing, but is it also true of all styles of climbing? Is it a lot harder to get good at mixed climbing (for instance)? I'd guess that Scotland is a better place to get good at that than southern european countries? If more needs to be done to develop Scottish climbing/climbers, should we also aim to encourage the styles of climbing best suited to the Scottish environment? More dry tooling crags? Do you need to train for winter climbing outside of winter months, if so how do you do it?

  4. MCofS and EICA do have a heavily reduced access initiative in place for their wall, which runs in conjunction with Edinburgh Leisure's Performance Access Scheme. Every Scottish child that achieves a top 5 finish in the Youth Climbing Series recieves reduced entry (100% free for top 3 finishes). Thats 60 kids from accross Scotland gaining reduced access. These climbers also recieve heavily reduced access to any Edinburgh Leisure fitness facilities throughout city. All British team members (another 35+ kids & numerous adults) also recieve free entry to the centre also. Granted this initiative is geared towards competition climbers, but with MCofS looking to open up it's Scottish team to talented young climbers out with the competition set up, a greater range of talented climbers will recieve support through access to training.
    Ratho is not exactly a steep Spannish sports crag, but it is pretty well equiped for training to visit these crags and any other style of crag, except maybe Craig Borys, unless Robbie has been setting that is!.

  5. Come on Dave, fess up, which crags?
    I've wracked my brain but can't think where you mean although the Inverness boys seem to be developing a few spots and if the birds would quit the Orchestra cave then Aberdeen's superb venue would be even superber. Neil

  6. Rastko - Rastko Zakic, a Serbian writer.

    There are not more F6 graded Sport routes in Scotland because no-one has gone out and opened any. That is the only real reason. People tend to think of it as someone else's job to develop the climbing.

    Yes it is true that it's easier to get good at climbing in Spain. At high grades, fitness really matters a lot. And to get fitness you need volume - hundreds of steep long routes one after the other. To train for Scottish winter I go to Spain and clip bolts. I'm just back from a trip now, and feeling more ready for my project on the Ben.

    To the Anon commenter about Ratho - Yes Ratho certainly is a damn nice substitute for a Spanish sport crag. But you highlighted yourself the problem - unless you are a comp climber you are out in the cold. Sometime in the future to change this is too late. There must be a way to tick the funding boxes now, or find some other way to make it financially neutral at least and get it sorted. Surely there is a way to tinker with the pricing of long term memberships to create an incentive for the half-psyched to pay the same or slightly more, but allow the desperate to reap the rewards of really showing commitment to training. Supermarkets do it so successfully with BOGOFS. Why not copy this - make more money for the facility to grow, while letting the super psyched train more for less.

  7. More on the walls thing - If walls can cooperate enough to let the British team train for free, they can cooperate to let anyone with a upgraded MCofS membership train for free under the right arrangement, financial, supportive or with some other means of recompense.

    What I'm getting at with this idea is the ability for folk to train easily at different walls without much cost. It's in seeing a lot of different walls and good climbers all over the place that sets talents from the far flung geographical corners on fire.

  8. I have an annual membership at my local wall in Glasgow which costs me £300. I would love to climb at Ratho more often but I don't feel I can justify the cost on top of what I already pay. Hence I really like the idea of a universal wall pass.

    As for my point about mid-grade sports crags, I was under the impression that there were problems when people tried to bolt easier routes. Weren't the bolts pulled from that crag in Glen Lednock for that reason? Or have I got the wrong end of the stick?

    I'd be happy to bolt easier climbs near Glasgow if anyone would like to suggest some?

  9. I think the Glen Lednock chopping was more of a personal thing and about the way in which the original bolting was done.

    I'm sure you'll find good crags if you do some homework and legwork. Every new sport crag in Scotland has a long history of both.

  10. Sorry Dave, I didn't mean to put you on the spot about Glen Lednock, I understand it was a bit of a touchy subject at the time!

    Thanks for your reply too Keith.
    OK, the search begins...

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