Monday, 26 April 2010

Fucking crap at Floors Craig.

If these 10m mid-grade routes are just a wee bit steep, then why are the ab ropes so bloody far out from the cliff??

Because they're a bit more than "a wee bit" steep. More like ridiculously bloody steep. I've not really been on anything like it, nor seen much like it apart from Sanctuary Wall. Yeah this is like a mini mid-grade Sanctuary Wall. Sport climbing without bolts, and all close enough to the hard rock platforms that every bit of gear is crucial, you've got to get it right and get it right ASAP, oh and it's schist so all the holds are blind and obscure despite being generally good. Throw in a lack of chalk and a whiff of haar and it all adds up to a climbing experience which is utterly hostile to my climbing style.

I want to like this climbing, I really do. I like the coast, I like the rock, I like the look of it....I like the theory of it. I'm just crap at it. Fucking crap in fact. I think I've got my arse at least slightly kicked every time I've visited Aberdeen, and I don't mean a night out baiting the onshore offshore workers. This time swap "slightly" for "utterly" and you get the gist. 3 fairly steady warm-up routes failed on, and the bigger challenges that inspired me might as well be left for my next lifetime, preferably one where I'm reincarnated as a sea-gull. So that all sucked.

What it all boiled down to is some obvious weaknesses that are exposed - and brutally buttfucked - by this sort of terrain:

1. Fear of falling.
2. Fear of committment to a position where I might fall.
3. Lack of faith in what might lie above.
4. Lack of faith in my ability.
5. Slowness and faff placing gear.

So as always I need to learn positively from this to gain more climbing pleasure. I need to tackle this sort of terrain more, I need to do more falling practice, focus consciously on placing gear smoothly, and train my weaknesses. I also probably need to spend more time on the coast and get to grips with the rock and hopefully progress (up to square one, hah!) on it and truly enjoy it. I expect the usual "wet in the west" weather will give me some opportunity to do so.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Antics at Arbroath, exciting rubble at Elephant Rock.

Scotland is hardly internationally, nationally or even sub-nationally renowned for it's sport climbing. Nevertheless what it lacks in outstanding quality it makes up for in variety. From sea-cliffs to mountain crags, from pastoral outcrops to urban convenience, you can clip bolts on basalt (Dumbarton, Dunglass etc), dolerite (Benny Beg), quarried dolerite (Ratho), schist (Glen Ogle, Weem, Dunkeld etc), quarried granite (North Berwick Law), sandstone (Arbroath), quarried sandstone (Ley, Legaston etc), conglomerate (Camel, Moy Rock), rhyolite (Tunnel Wall), gneiss (Gruinard River Crags) and volcanic "stuff" (Elephant Rock). Last Saturday, with North West bouldering legend Richie Betts, I got to sample two of the more distinctive sport climbing areas...

The weather was equally distinctive - distinctive as in raining despite a dry forecast, then raining out of a clear blue sky, then gloriously sunny but with all the fields furiously steaming and sending up swirls of micro-haar. Somehow the rock - despite steaming a bit on our arrival - was in fairly good condition. Which is fortunate given that Arbroath issomewhat unnerving by sport climbing standards. How can 10m bolted routes be unnerving?? Well, slopey rounded sandstone and abseil approaches into hanging belay stances just above the sea, that's how. Like many such situations, once one touches rock, feels the holds, pulls some moves and gets the vibe, it's all jolly good fun in the end, and indeed it was. 4 short but valuesome routes were rattled off on short order, including a classic wee F6c, and neither us nor our kit ended up in the drink. Hurrah.

No pole, no tick. Climbing rules might seem arbitrary, but consider the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law and it all makes sense. This was actually the hardest move of the day. There should have been harder ones pulled off, but Elephant - which somewhat joyously really does look like an elephant - faces North-ish, and the harder routes tend to follow impressive but potentially greasy cracks. Now I love a bit of greasy crack action me, but not on overhanging F7as that look like bolted Gogarth. So we left those for another day, and rattled off another 4 mid sixes in short order. Elephant is described as "a mixed volcanic intrusion" and one can't really argue with that. Mixed and weird and interesting and fun because of all that. I will be back in dry weather that's for sure. A good and interesting day out!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Hip HOP.

Pay attention to this one and trust me. If you like or even merely tolerate hip-hip-hop, you need this in your life. It is bigger than big.

Swollen Members - Armed To The Teeth

[ Listen to samples rudebwoy. ]

Swollen have always dished out some great hip-hop in their previous albums (Balance, Bad Dreams, Heavy, Monsters In The Closet & Black Magic), with deep heavy beats from Rob Tha Viking and dark quirky lyrics from Mad Child and Prevail, and they've always been a firm favourite of mine.

This album however is the next step up in dopeness. The lyrics have gone downhill a bit with much more of a gangsta style and less wierdness, although plenty of catchy choruses make up for this. The beats however are so PHAT they'd need a lifetime subscription to Weight Watchers. Not only phat but well varied from rude underground stuff to dark melodic stuff to stomping party stuff, Rob Tha Viking should be made a Saint of Sickness. Things hit the ground running with "Reclaim The Throne" and generally get better and better until track 13 "Flyest" hits and OMG BASS, I just have to rewind this one every damn time. Oh and it's all good till the end too. 2 okay tracks and 16 great ones, can't ask for much more. I listened to it 4 times in a row, nuff said. Just get it.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Abortive attempts at Auchinstarry, determination at Dunglas.

I've been to Auchinstarry 3 times in the last few weeks, with the intention of trying something a bit more challenging i.e. Nijinski. Day 1 - warmed up, showered off. Day 2 - warmed up, showered off. Day 3 - warmed up, showered....but it passed. Oh hurrah. That meant I actually had to try it....obeying the inexplicable exhortations of my soul.

[Talking about souls, or rather the lack thereof, one thing I notice when reading about Nijinski is the vast hordes who have top-roped, or most usually attempted to top-rope it. This is....both highly vulgar and even less explicable. It's THE standout line and classic bold head-game LEAD testpiece of the Central Belt, what on earth would possess someone to waste such a quality climb by top-roping it, at very best a pointless no star muscular exercise?? As it happens when I turned up, lo and behold there was someone dangling off the end of a rope, scuffing their way around the crux with clearly no concept of the challenge involved nor the ability needed. I couldn't resist and politely suggested that if they can't do it, there was the obvious alternative of not doing it (why do people always miss this option?) and instead doing one of the superb mid-grade leads scattered around the quarry. They probably thought I was a complete cunt - "Hi, I AM a complete cunt" - and there was muttering to that effect, well, I have strong beliefs in aiming for quality climbing experiences and encouraging people to do so, rather than low quality abuse of something they shouldn't be anywhere near. This isn't a fucking climbing wall and Nijinski isn't a 3 star classic for fucking aiding your way up on a top-rope. Thankfully they packed up pretty shortly and disappeared....a bit of a sour taste was left but not as sour as if I'd kept hush and not put my real life money where my online mouth is.]

Later on I got on the route for a look. Many years ago I'd watched Grimer starting this (onsight but with pre-placed wires IIRC) and thought the lower arete looked quite worrying. When it formed in my mind as a possible idea, I was more worried about the highball start than the crux - but protected - finish. I was wrong both ways, the highball start is piss as is gaining the gear slot, and the upper crux seems inexplicable, blind, and very hard. Having teased in no less than 8 microwires into the so-called gear rack - of which 2 were actually good! - I felt fine with the fall potential but not with the failure potential. I got stood on the quartz ripple a few times (and reversed), but got bored with not knowing what to do next, so finished up Death Is...

So yeah, I asked people to not top-rope it in the context that it really should be led onsight, tried to lead it onsight, and had to escape off. What a cunt?? Well, no, not really. I was prepared to put myself out, to commit to it, to give it a go, to try to raise my game to the level the climb deserved. I was there standing on the ripple with a collection of tiny wires a few yards to the left, not sitting on a rope from above. I didn't manage it this time but I have a strong belief in the experience I am aiming for and aspiring to....I think I'll wait until I'm a better climber before I go back.

And next...

Next day I was bored with quarried basalt and trad too (a bit jaded after two good weekends at Northumberland and Polldubh) and fancied a change rather than a rest so what better than confusing, blind, over-bolted, loose, green and freezing cold esoteric sport climbing?? What better indeed. We went to Dunglas for a few hours and played on the new micro-sport wall. A bit like many such places, it's a bit crap and a bit good at the same time. It's everything I wrote above, but it's also hard, powerful, and pumpy for short routes, and therefore good training, which is sometimes all you need. Did a few routes and a couple I had to fight a bit on, so that's good. Not sure what's next but mixing it up is definitely the way. Although as usual it looks like the weather will have the final word in the near future.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Perfect days at Polldubh.

One of the main, but not only, reasons for being in Scotland is to be able to explore the awesome, diverse, and beautiful cragging with normal weekend trips rather than the 8 hour missions from Sheffield. The winter, variable weather, and even more variable climbing partners has made this a sometimes frustratingly distant dream even when the crags are considerably closer. But now, spring has sprung (it's raining outside as I type), the ski season is over, and the snow and ice is finally fucking off the crags.

So the cragging season is starting (well, continuing, for me) in earnest. In the recent heatwave, I managed a 2 day dash to Polldubh. I'd been years ago, an abortive 12 hour round trip of sunshine and showers and rain and midges and general utter bollox. THIS trip was considerably better. Two days of superb sunshine and terrific temperatures and classy cragging in stunning surroundings - I'd never made it up to see Steall Falls damn cool is that area?!

[Land Ahoy on Black's Buttress - 15m of intense and immaculate 5a - 5b climbing to reach the first gear. Not the sort of "gritstone legbreaking horror" I usually choose these days, but a great experience nevertheless, very interesting keeping calm on fairly steady climbing in an increasingly serious position.]

Day one I seconded plenty of easy routes until late in the evening when we trekked up to Black's Buttress and I did two great slabs. Day two we trekked up to Wave Buttress - my main inspiration - first before it got too warm, and I did the legendary Edgehog (well worn, well chalked, join the dots trade route) and the adjacent Walter Wall (no chalk, less gear, a much more satisfying journey), and then finished off lounging and belaying in the sun - I got sunburnt! In the Highlands! In spring! This is the sort of trip that makes it all worthwhile, and hopefully there'll be many more when the weather allows. Basically, even more RAD, even more SYKED :D

Friday, 16 April 2010

Going well at Great Wanney, climbing languidly at Crag Lough

So after Sicily it was onto Northumberland for Secret Squirrel's Secret Weekend - with only a minor diversion driving to fucking Glasgow to get spare climbing kit and warfarin. Thanks Ryanair you cunts, I really appreciated the extra 4 hours driving and a total of 3 hours sleep. Genuine thanks to Red Bull and to the climbing posse for being leisurely enough that I met them at the crag parking. That crag was Great Wanney (Squirrel wisely chose to base us in Bellingham to explore the equally interesting but underused southern Northumbria area), and that name filled me with a certain amount of trepidation, because I've been wanting to do the minor classic Thin Ice (below) for years and that doing probably meant getting scared and faffing and stuff.

In the end, however, it didn't mean that at all!! After warming up on the opposite route (Broken Wing - almost as good and an essential warm-up), the World Famous Helen Rogers - as well as providing the usual excellent company AND plenty of amusement getting to grips with Wanney's easy classics - was kind enough to abseil down and clean Thin Ice (north facing crag, bit of lichen, likely first ascent of the year etc etc). And so I got on it and skated up it with a quite frankly shocking lack of fuss. This might be because it's a full grade overgraded, or it might be because it was really inspiring and just drew me on - the crux (below) being the best sequence in Northumbria, surely? Or it might be because I'm climbing well....but let's not get too silly...

Next day, after actually participating in another leisurely morning of eating bacon and stroking cows (mmm cows), the remaining members of the party sampled the diversity of the area by visiting the vaguely Tremadog-esque Crag Lough and Peel Crag. My highest aspirations at this crag were also lichenous and there was no Helen Rogers to get her brush into action, so I could relax and sample some other options. Except, in the perculiar world of grades, styles, and climbing variance, both the other options I did felt as hard as anything the previous day. Good onsight challenges, and one was a great route. And that was that. Feel very chuffed, drive back to Glasgow, battered haggis and chips and SLEEP.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Silly Sicily!

[IF, somehow, you don't want to read all my rambling, scroll halfway down for more succinct details...]

Actually there was nothing remotely silly about it, unless one counts driving through the night to Liverpool airport to fly out there, or Ryanair deciding in their infinite wisdom to leave my bag sunning itself and no doubt ticking big numbers in my abscence when I flew bag into Liverpool.

First things first, the World Famous Helen Rogers asked me to take loads of pictures, so here is a picture of a goat:

And here is different picture of a different goat:

Hope that helps. It was quite cool to have herds of these moseying around beneath the crag, merrily clanking away in discordant disunion. To borrow the legendary George Smith's phrase, an ascent without goatbells is an ascent without dignity.

So, unsilly Sicily. Lots of people have been asking about this so I'll try to give some useful information. Firstly, my trip: Last minute plan, following the usual "doomed to failure" attempts on UKC and email to drum up some interest in more diverse climbing areas, which the Titt brothers (Portland and Swanage veterans) had seen and suggested I join them in Sicily. Very kind of them but not nearly as kind as their hospitality, guided tours of the best climbing, interesting old timer debates / ranting and Scott's supplying of good coffee. Thanks guys. Despite an initial "ho hum more Euro-Lime" thought, I had an ace trip, 21 long routes in 3 1/2 days. No huge numbers but some great - and surprisingly diverse - routes and some good challenges. Plus plenty of sleep and some nice food....trio of smoked fish with olive oil parsley and lemon nom nom nom.

The vaguely informative bit:

Now then, some info. The area we were climbing in is San Vito, this is the local town:

Not bad eh. That "crag" in the background is a few hundred metres high, almost roadside, and has a mere handful of routes that go all the way. The photo is taken from a peninsula that juts northwards into the sea between two spectacular bays each flanked by such mountains. On the peninsula there is a very good campsite which has a load of facilities and is....well put it this way if you got some of the closest pitches, you could belay from the tent although you might get ropedrag. Otherwise you have to brave a 1-5 minute walk. Brave a 10-15 minute drive (San Vito town is 5 mins) and you have dozens more varied crags, including the world class Never Sleeping Wall which had the best F6a+ and F6b+ I've ever done - 30m of pure tufas and blobs up a sheer wall.

Trying to keep it succinct:

Pros of Sicily:
+ Great campsite with choice of pitches, caravans, and nice wee bungalows, good showers, bar, pizzeria, swimming pool, kiddies swimming pool, and climber-friendly owners.
+ Coast is 2 mins walk away.
+ Nice town and great beach 5 mins drive away.
+ Local crags are IN the campsite.
+ Loads of crags nearby.
+ Very varied climbing for Euro Lime, all types of lime style and angle, and length from 15m cave routes to 300m mountain routes.
+ New routes being put up all the time - and all well bolted by the Titts & Co (I did the second ascent of great F6c crack that had been bolted the week before).
+ Loads of great easy routes - the Titts like putting up good easy ones (I did the second ascent of a cool F6a slab that had been bolted the day before)
+ Good diverse harder routes.
+ Masses of new route potential - including some very hard potential.
+ Crags facing sun and shade.
+ Good climate throughout autumn / winter / spring.
+ Much less crowded and polished than Choada Blanca. Plus no Benidorm in sight.
+ 50 mins easy drive from airport.
+ Cheap direct Ryanair flights.
+ Apparently there are porcupines near the campsite.

Cons of Sicily:
- Coast next to campsite is mostly jagged limestone.
- Some of the crags next to the sea can be greasy on still days.
- Choice of airports serving Trapani / Palmero is limited.
- The very newest routes can have very sharp rock.
- I didn't see any bloody porcupines.

Basically as Euro-Lime goes, it's pimp. The Titts want people to visit (nice people, not mindless hordes) and even as a sceptic I concur they have a good point. So there you go.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Nice thrutching at North Third

One of my vague Scottish sub-plans is to climb at least a route at every crag with starred Extremes in the Lowland Outcrops book (apart from some of the Galloway Hills nonsense with 3 day walk-ins). Not necessarily for top quality climbing but for the interest and diversity and love of esoteric wee crags. The other weekend I had an unexpected chance to do just that, and got both an esoteric wee crag and top quality climbing.

This is North Third, where we hadn't planned to go to. We had planned to go to Cambusbarron Quarry, which was looking increasingly implausible as I drove through heavy showers to get there. A sopping wet carpark dissuaded us from even wasting the 2 minute walk-in. After some musing on plan B (drive down to Ratho, climb outside if dry or inside if wet), Mike from Dundee decided it was too much extra driving, but said he was going to have a recce of North Third. I was curious so drove along too, "just for a look". Curiosity rewarded the cat and the crag, being considerably more open and exposed, was actually dry.

Thus (after an abortive and somewhat "steep learning curve" jamming lesson attempt by Mike) I managed to get to grips the jamming classic Jezebel, which was great, and then Flying Dragon opposite (and above) which was even greater. Jamming at it's best, at a crag with a great location and really unusual vibe, like few places I've climbed at in the UK. So I got unexpected dry rock, an unplanned esoterica tick, and undeniably good climbing. Win!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


Soon! I've been climbing.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

This, and that.

Not a lot going on at the moment but that's going to change pretty soon. This week I have had gayflu and it has been pretty gay but fairly shortlived. After a pleasantly energetic week last week I knew it was best to rest and did so quite diligently - the mediocre weather helped too.

The cold has mostly abated, still a bit sore and snuffly but it's out of my head now. Somehow I seem to have missed the "feel considerably better but still hack up great solid lumps of phlegm" stage which is a little disappointing.

Last night I went bouldering at Dumby. I'm really syked for routes at the moment but then again also syked to get a couple of hours out full stop after a day stuck indoors. It had changed from a glorious spring day to a cold spring evening. I kept my t-shirt on and just managed to warm up by the time it got dark. Cold fingers, very sluggish, no energy after gayflu. Only to be expected really. Naturally Dumby is particularly harsh punishment for someone in this ailing state, so I was rubbish. But it was exercise and there was some good news - my tweaky finger has been feeling better all week and was fine last night despite a few crimpy and pockety things. That is good. I reckon it was raving the previous weekend - 4 hours of wild mal-coordinated arm-flailing must have got plenty of blood to my digits.

This week I do have some exciting plans - going out to Sicily from Tuesday morning to Friday night to join a veritable clan of veteran climbers out there who invited me along. More Euro-lime is not my first choice and if the weather was remotely decent (naturally it's not) I'd rather just have a couple of days in the Highlands BUT given the forecast and the opportunity and it does look rather nice in the photos, it would be churlish to refuse. Coming back on Friday night I go straight up to Northumbria for Squirrel's weekend bonanza which might be an Official Burd's Tradding Weekend or something of the sort. All of which is cool but it is avoiding actually climbing in Scotland which is partly why I'm up here!! Hopefully mid-late Spring will be good.