Sunday 29 April 2007

Hostile Habitats review

The Scottish mountaineering club are best known in the climbing world for a) stuffy gentlemen looking down their nose at the modern climbing scene, and b) lovingly produced and highly detailed climbing guidebooks. But despite this polarised image of the SMC as an organisation, its love and appreciation for the Scottish landscape and its climbs is undoubted. The fact that the SMC continue to dominate the market for walking and climbing guides in Scotland is testament to the ongoing improvement and passion for making lovely books. So it’s really quite a treat that they decided to bring out a book looking at the detail of the Scottish mountain environment itself. Whether they are ‘into’ landscape and wildlife as an interest in itself, no Scottish climber can honestly claim not to have appreciated the glories on offer just by travelling and climbing in Scotland; its just too beautiful, as they say.

The new Hostile Habitats book is a rough guide to everything natural that meets the eye in Scotland. But this is no dry environmental science textbook, its aimed at walkers and climbers, so its content is focused on what we see and are most likely to find interesting on out highland and island travels. The book covers in separate chapters Scotland’s geology, landforms, vegetation wildlife and human influences on the landscape. Few of us would sift through each of these huge disciplines in turn just to get a better feel for what we are seeing out there in the hills. After all, climbing is just a pastime for many of us. But with everything laid out in one book, well illustrated and supported by accessible text, we can educate ourselves and enrich the experience all the more, for the sake of a quick reference in one place. The idea here is that knowing that little bit more about the seasonal life of the mountain landscape, our eyes will be opened a little wider and we will get just a wee bit more from the day on the hill.

Surely all of you have been out climbing and been sat on a rock eating or belaying, starting to look more closely at the rock, the vegetation, or the shapes of the mountains and thought “I wonder…”

Anvil battling continues

More blood spilt at the Anvil yesterday in persuit of nails hard projects. Above is Dave Redpath's hand, ripped up after getting ever closer on the Heavy Metal project. My extremely irritating hole in my index finger only allowed me to warm up before splitting again. Al's super glue saved me from having to fully sit it out on a day of perfect conditions and sunshine. But with all the splitter inforced rest this week I have lost the edge (and a bit more!) off my endurance and didn't even regain my highpoint on the roof project. I always try to find something positive even if it's been a bad day, and I did get very close to the highpoint despite wobbling like a fool through the lower section which last week I could path. I also ran an experiment the night before to see if I could still drink a moderate amount of alcohol and still climb well the following day. Not possible! Two pints of beer, not even finished was enough to take a full grade off my ability.

Alan Cassidy dispatching Spitfire, which was seen off shortly afterwards by another man with big muscles; Robin Sutton. With 4 ascents now the route has finally seen its formal upgrade to 8a+.

Beautiful clear spring air looking across to Carrick Castle. The arete on the left is Anvilfire 7c+, already upgraded once because noone has managed to repeat it yet. Come on guys, get on that one next time and we can see if it's creeping towards 8a??

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Back to reality

Return of the westerly winds of friction, but it didn't make any difference!

Spring is great when the fresh westerlies return - sunshine, clear air and nice ambience
Today was back to my normal climbing experience - getting slapped by the desperateness of my project. I got a little excited by getting over my mental block on the big dyno at the end. I did the move again and it felt ok. Now all I need to do is climb another 25 moves into it! The mental block came from 2 things - taking a bad fall, nearly breaking my nose and dislocating my pinky. And also because the harder I try to resist the wild swing the more I can feel my skin ripping on the tiny spike for my left. I was feeling stronger again after three days rest to recover split tips. But seems like my fears on the spike were justified as I split my tip once again on this hold and it was game over for another day (and the next two).
So, back to plasters and office work until the weekend, and worrying about loss of endurance for the Anvil project. Hopefully one handed fingerboarding until Saturday will restore some sense of not being a couch potato. I need to save the frustration to unleash on the Anvil roof on Sat...

Thursday 19 April 2007

Its down to the last one now!!!!

Chahala sit start, Font 8a. first ascent, Dumbarton Rock. (photos: Claire MacLeod)

Last week's project; Set in Motion, Font 7c+

Another couple of Dumbarton bouldering projects have gone down this week, so its just the 'big yin' left to go. Latest to go was the very steep arete SS to Chahala, a well known project that a good few of us had played on over the years. I never really tried it until last week, but it surprised me by being much easier than expected and went in a couple of days. So Dumby has another classic Font 8a which is sure to get a lot of attention. Much foot clamping, as with so many of the rock's hard problems is the order of the day. The other wee one was a SS to Tam's route. A wee font 7a slap off a small undercut.
My new lighter frame is now too weak to climb the finishing moves of my one remaining project, so a couple of sessions have yielded a gangly skinny malink sequence with less burly jumping across the roof and more inching and horizontal shuffling instead. It adds an extra 4 moves where I used to just jump in one, so god knows how it'll feel on the link??
A small hurdle in my way has occurred after I split my finger open climbing over a fence yesterday. It's unbelievable how a tiny cut in your fingertip can interfere so much with a full on climbing schedule. It's hanging in there just now and hopefully ready for the Anvil weekend raid. I'm off for some beauty sleep to grow a nice strip of new skin cells on my index finger tip that might just be the key to a new F8c????


Finishing 'Kayla' on the Portlethen boulders (Photos by Stuart Stronach)

After yesterday's coaching in the north east, I had ten minutes at the end of the day to do a little bouldering before jumping on the train back home. We were at Portlethen and so I jumped on the hardest problem there; Kayla, a problem I'd heard much about in the climbing media and was keen to try. I wasn't exactly sure of the exact line on the headwall and if an underut on the left of a line of crimpers was 'in', so figured I better not use it. After a few minutes Stuart annouced it was time to leave and run for the train so I had to do the problem there and then or not at all! There's nothing like a deadline to galvanise your effort.
It turns out the undercut is allowed so I guess I did a slighty more direct variation just using the crimps at about Font 7c. The venue is quite small but it was good to see an active scene with lots of climbers dotting about with mats, and a crazy dog doing a sisyphyus impression by trying to push a barrel up the shore repeatedly.

Monday 16 April 2007

Holmfirth talk - doh!

If you were planning to come along to my lecture in Holmfirth on thursday, sorry! The organisers had to cancel it. Bit of a bummer but unavoidble I'm afraid. If you already got a ticket then give the crag rats a call to get your cash back!


Anvil day 4

The long morning walk and psyche up again

Downfall from the final move of the roof project

Iain Hutchinson on Amateur Hacker 6c, a rather balancy bit of climbing!

Chris Boutell on Way out West 6b

Iain on Hammertime 7b+

Iain about to complete Hammertime 7b+

Redpath's elbow turning slowly out above the crux of the Heavy Metal project

Resting arms but destroying my toes on my roof project

Rested and going for it! Well actually I was still pumped solid, but going for it anyway...
Closer still on the big roof line at the Anvil... touched the good hold on the end of a big dyno... but didn't hold it. The belay is one move further. Work will prevent any visits until next weekend. Until then!
If Redpath's shoulders get any wider they'll have to widen the forestry track down Loch Goil, but the training seems to be helping him stick the huge moves on his project with increasing regularity, with power screams that scare off the local sheep.
Iain seemed to enjoy the fingery Hammertime, but pointed out some sandbag grades for the other routes. Shadowlands is leaning towards 7c now. I wonder what he would have thought of Spitfire, the hardest 8a in the west?

Friday 13 April 2007

Anvil project day 3

Today's highpoint on the Anvil roof... yes, above the last bolt. A good place to get to, but a bad place to know you have to return to many more times. Such is the routine of sport climbing. Tomorrow hopefully I'll be back staring at those last two hard moves at least three times...

Stunning today; sunshine perfect temps, sleeping in the sun between attempts. A huge contrast to yesterday's 14 hours in front of the screen working. need to go and get some more hours work done into the night to justify tomorrow's climbing...

Wednesday 11 April 2007

Next week's lecture

Next Thursday I’m doing a lecture in Holmfirth near the Peak District. I should have some good wee bits of video and pics of new climbs and a couple of really big projects for this year I’m working on for y’all. If you want to see the lecture it’s quite important to get your tickets in advance for this event, from the Cragrats theatre. Just give them a call on 01484 691323 to get tickets. Full details of the event are on my lectures page.


You might be wondering why I’ve had nothing to talk about except work and bouldering on Dumbarton Rock for the last wee while. Well, there is a reason other than I just like climbing there and have slight workaholic tendencies at times. I am planning to move to the highlands quite soon, well, June to be more specific. If all goes to plan I’ll be leaving behind my wee basalt climbing playground. So much work needs to be done to earn cash for the move. But I won’t bore you with that. The main deal is that I try to finish some wee niggling projects on the boulders before I leave. There is one problem in particular I’d like to do, but I reckon it’s too big an ask right now and some commuting back south may be required next winter to see it off. However, it’s not the only project left to do. So hopefully I’ll come away with something for my efforts over the next month.

Set in Motion

I sneaked out to the boulders after work tonight and straight away felt the benefit of the Anvil day. For sure the Anvil is an excellent place to get in shape. It probably matches Dumbarton in this respect actually! I completed a new problem I’d looked at last week and tried a few days ago. It starts in the Mugsy roof, left of ‘Spam’ on an obvious three finger incut. If you know the roof it’s the one you use for your foot on Mugsy traverse. Anyway, you do three desperate moves on crimpers to get the Mugsy Traverse rail and finish up this. I’ve not idea what grade it is as its ages since I’ve done a boulder problem that only took two sessions to complete! Let’s say 7c for now and I’ll point Malcolm in its direction if I see him down there. There’s nothing like a boost of confidence and next up I repeated Malc’s new problem ‘The Serum of Sisyphus’. As with most things it felt OK in the end but reckon its still Font 8a+.

The rest of the night was spent dodging neds and trying moves on some other things. It’s unbelievable that these boulders keep yielding new lines to climb, but they do! Now I have another burly line to keep me busy for the rest of the good spring conds, maybe 8a+ again but we’ll see? This one has six or seven British 6c moves one after the other. Better get some good nights sleep over the next two weeks…

The new prob:

Set in Motion Font 7c

Sit Start at the incut three finger crimp in the roof under Mugsy Traverse, in the middle of the passageway underneath the boulder. Crimp desperately upwards to grab the Mugsy Traverse slopers (hard to hold the swing). Finish up Mugsy.

Monday 9 April 2007

Anvil season begins

The Redpath and I began our spring pilgrimage to the spiritual home of mica schist roof crimping; The Anvil. The atlantic finally struck back at the high pressure which has given us such unaturally gorgeous weather for over 2 weeks. Normal Scottish service was resumed with drizzle, damp, wind and cold. Even still, the Anvil was inspiring, and still bone dry. The angle of rain attack was such that even the less steep sections avoided the wet (just) and a wee project I bolted up last year could be dispatched. My first redpoint didn't go so well; at the crucial moment as I lurched for the finishing jug a gust blew a big faceful of rain in my face (Ah now thats Scottish sport climbing fur ye!) and I went flying. Next time, I reached the belay and another Anvil 7c was born. Those of you who have been on the routes will know what 'Anvil 7c' means.

The rest of the day was spent refamiliarising myself with the the line formerly known as 'project mcfuck'. Now that its secrets have been revealed it might have to be demoted to 'project a wee bit nippy' at a mere 8c. Once again I was noticing the absense of my lost half stone, and the holds were feeling a touch bigger than last September. The psyche is on.

Sunday 8 April 2007 - new photos

I've made a new gallery page on my main site with various photos of climbes over the last six months or so. The one above is of Sanction at Dumbarton, by Claire MacLeod. Below are several pics of the coaching clinics I ran at the Tower Centre in Leicester. Thanks to Amanda McKenzie for these!

Saturday 7 April 2007

A night on the mountain

Kev, Steve and myself headed to the Ben for some work and play. We needed to take photographs of some new Bivvy Bags for Mountain Equipment, so we trekked up into Coire Leis at midnight and bivvied out in pissing rain for the night. Next morning the slowly receeding Nevis ice was briefly refrozen. I soloed up Tower Scoop as I waited for the boys to follow me up the long slog of Observatory Gully and reminded myself how to climb ice.

Rise and shine big man

The ice is still good for Easter

Gardyloo Buttress, good friday 2007

Indicator wall, good friday 2007 with teams on Psychedelic Wall

Kev entering the cave belay on Clefthanger V,6
I started up an unlikely looking overhanging wall and stuggled desperately to find gear and hooks. But as always, a determined approach resulted in some progress to within spitting distance of a dribble of fine ice above. But after an entertaining display of footless sketching that would have fitted in nicely in 'Cliffhanger' I finally fell off. No damage done, but everyone was getting cold, so we opted for more photography on an easier route just down the hill - Clefthanger. This route is actually really good. I've never seen anyone on it but more folk should do it. I seem to remember the book saying something about mixed climbing, but right now its a pure ice route.
So another new route on the Ben attempted, another failure. It would be nice to top out on one of these projects sometime. I think that next time I can do something good??

Wednesday 4 April 2007

Quiet night in the house

One of the scenes that would have gone in E11, but got dropped, of me having a qiet night in at my hoose in Dumbarton, comtemplating my next attempt...