Wednesday 6 March 2013

Left Edge Route on the Ben

Helen, Harry and I headed back up Observatory Gully to find something nice to climb, with no particular plan. We kept going higher and higher in the hope of finding something mixed in good condition, until we found ourselves standing underneath Gardyloo Buttress. Funnily enough, there was a roof up that way I wanted to look at, but it had no ice on until the lip. So we opted for something more slabby and had a chilled ascent of Left Edge Route (VI,5). The ice was a bit unreliable, and protection pretty bad, so it was a good idea to keep the weight on the feet. Thankfully, once over the steepness there was solid ice and a cruise to the top. On the way down there was talk of rock climbing..

Gorge boulder video

As promised, here is a wee video to show you the problems I did on the Gorge Boulder in Glen Nevis the other day. These were just filmed by myself with the camera on tripod, but hopefully they serve to show you what’s on offer up the glen that’s off the beaten track from the established boulders.

To get to the boulder, park at the Steall car park at the road end. Walk up the Steall path for a few hundred metres to where it starts to steepen a bit. If you look directly across the river, you’ll see the boulder in the trees at the same level on the other side. The river is best crossed quite high up, not far below where it bends round into the gorge where it widens with plenty of boulders to hop. If the river is really high after rain, you might have to walk from Paddy's Bridge (the wooden bridge a km short of the car park). Approach takes 10-15 mins. Get there before the midges do. 

There’s more to be done on the boulder. Feel free to bring a rope and wire brush and put in a few hours. Oh, and take the grades as very rough guides - I've been out of the loop of repeating boulder for a long time so I have no clue if they are even close. BTW after being closed for ages, Cafe Beag in the glen is open every day this year from 8-6. Pretty good place for fuelling up or waiting for rain to stop etc.

Monday 4 March 2013

Perfect bouldering day

Mega new boulder in Glen Nevis which I’ve given a good clean and opened 6 new problems in the easy to mid grades so far. ten minutes walk from the road, yet in complete solitude. I filmed some of them too and will make a wee video and topo shortly. Now the easy ones are done, time to work on the harder ones. This really was a perfect climbing day, great temperatures, great sights and sounds of nature all around, and great climbing. Bouldering above uneven landings was still feeling more like soloing for me right now though. But I am getting slightly more confident.

More great weather and new routes

Nice new route on Ben Nevis, climbed with Helen last week. Once again I was feeling a bit jaded after cleaning new boulder problems the day before, so it was nice to give the legs a workout instead. My ankle seemed to handle the strenuous bridging ok. However, there were some positions it just didn’t like, so I ended up using the old knees a fair bit!

Winter, dry, both or none?

Obviously, the dry tooling route I did on the CIC cascades under the Ben Nevis north face last week was going to provoke a bit of debate. In my mind it’s perfectly suited to climbing in this style and it’s no threat to the traditional Scottish winter routes because it’s so clearly different from them. It did make me wince when I saw include a Scottish winter grade in their headline reporting the route. I didn’t give it a Scottish grade for a good reason! I should have seen that coming I guess, although it was hard to foresee that a casual comment by me comparing it to a similar piece of climbing terrain with a winter grade would mean folk would then take this one as a winter route. A bit like saying an E8 trad route has 7c+ climbing - it’s still different from a bolted 7c+! This seemed to fuel a bit of debate about how it related to the traditional winter climbing game. To me, it’s totally clear the route is a tooling route, not a Scottish winter route. Clear and simple. 

Some folk argued that maybe it should be left alone in case it dilutes the Scottish winter conditions ethic. I personally don’t agree with this. My feeling is that a one size fits all ethic for anything climbed is unnecessarily simplistic. It’s a shame not to climb that crack just because it doesn’t get rimed up. It’s an excellent climb.

More so than any other climbing discipline, Scottish winter climbing seems to be awful scared of losing what we have. Of course it’s special and worth defending. Perhaps because I like going for the steepest routes I’ve spent more than my fair share of days walking in and turning on my heel because the project is not white enough. It’s natural to resist any changes (even if they are only additions) to the status quo, but not always good. Balanced against the fear of losing what we have must be a fear of losing what we could have. To me, the diversity of British climbing has always been it’s greatest asset. A strict and narrow focus on what can be climbed with tools is a strength in upholding a strong ethic, but a weakness in undermining the diversity of climbs that can be done. I just don’t see that the threat to the Scottish conditions ethic is real. Rather than diminished over the years I have been a climber, I feel it has strengthened. The ethic is so strong, it has room to accept some ‘outliers’. However, that is of course just an opinion of one and may be outweighed by those of others, which is no problem. If other folk thought the tooling route was a good idea, very few have come out and said so.

Winter condition or not? What do you think?

A further interesting twist came when the other new route I wrote about (The Snotter) was questioned for not being in winter condition. I must say that took me seriously by surprise. I’ve done plenty of mixed routes that were on the borderline, but it didn’t enter my head that this one wasn’t in good condition. Simon Richardson wrote a particularly below the belt post on his blog which is here. For some reason he didn’t mention my name in it, and is was a little weird that he wrote such strong words and then reported another new route of mine in the very next post. Anyway, the reason it took me so by surprise was the focus on the section of overhanging wall to get between the ice grooves below and the hanging icicle above. I deliberately went on the route because the recent sunny conditions has been good for helping the grooves below the icicles to become iced. In the 55 metre crux pitch, around 47 metres was climbed on water ice, with 6 metres crossing a grossly overhanging wall underneath the roof to get to the icicle. The 30 metres of grooves below the roof were climbed on ice, initially stepped iced slabby ledges, then a thin ice smeared rib and groove, apart from a few hooks on the right of the ice. Once on the icicle, there was a long section (15 metres at least) before the angle even started to lie back.The downside of this mix of conditions was that the overhanging wall itself was pretty dry. My thinking was that this is par for the course for this type of route. The sun helps more ice form, but at the expense of the rime. My interpretation (which may be ‘wrong’ if such a judgement can truly be made) of Scottish winter conditions is that basically the route must be wintery in appearance. If it was nearly all dry mixed with a little ice, it would be outside that definition and I would have come back another time. But the reality was the pitch was nearly all ice with a short section of dry rock. 

A central view in my own new route climbing has always been that I don’t want it to be at the expense of anyone else, even if I don’t agree with their position or motives. Clearly, some folk feel that way. So I have taken away my blog post about the routes and recommend that folk forget about them, if that is what they want to do. They still exist of course, in my memory as great days out and two of the most fun climbs I’ve done in a while. Nothing more ultimately matters. Anyone else is welcome to climb them as first ascents if they feel those ascents are more worthy.