Sunday, 27 July 2014


Sometimes, it's just great. Sometimes a climb transcends the organisation, faff, logistical nonsense, massive amounts of driving, conditions, weather, midges, fear, doubt, uncertainty, and effort with such unarguable conviction, that it seems the quality of the climbing experience and the validity climbing lifestyle should never be doubted again  (until it rains or one gets injured or plans fall through or.....).

Lorelei was one of those such climbs. A slab at the end of the Loch Tollaidh agglomeration of humps, domes, buttress and crags, it wasn't what I was in the area for, and all I knew was: Stripteaser on the same slab had been good, if fiddly and bold; the guidebook said it was good but protection took some hunting (not true); it had had a couple of ascents recently (hmmm what did I expect, chalked holds and worn gear slots?), and it was in the shade most of the morning (crucial when the mini-heat wave made even lounging around in the sun exhausting, let alone trying to climb). So I went over and gave it a look...

Despite being in the shade I was a hot sweaty mess just from 5 minutes walk over from the first buttresses. It looked lovely but all I could think of was sweaty fingers sliding off slopers and swollen feet cramping up on smears. Loch Tollaidh is often in "good nick" so why not leave it for a cooler, fresher day when I could enjoy it rather than just get up it?? To delay the decision further, Steve fancied the rarely climbed E1 to the left, but the book had said it tended to be dirty so I offered to lead up, ab down, and scrub the holds and gear cracks to get it in more acceptable condition. A short while later and it was a relatively pristine E2 5b sandbag with some tricky moves and a hair-raising wee runout in the middle. Armed with a more accurate assessment, Steve went for it anyway, fought hard whilst I muttered encouragement down below whilst eyeing up my running belay flight path (steep and boggy) and got to the top with a fine effort.

Partly morally inspired and partly figuring I'd used up quite a bit of nervous energy on that attentive belay, I decided "just to give it a look", which usually ends up with me being so engrossed in the climbing process that the look becomes a committed involvement and actually climbing the damn thing. That wasn't really the conscious plan this time but of course it happened anyway.

I stepped up into the initial scoop, steady moves luring me up and left into less steady moves to exit the scoop. I took heed of the "protection takes some hunting" and stretched out to get a tiny flared offset out right, instructing Steve to perch as far right as possible so that when it inevitably ripped it would take a little bit of the force out of the bouncing groundfall rather than none at all. Luckily although continuing up left required some slopey stretches, I could see good holds so I just had to crank hard and knew I'd make it to respite and some better gear, well a tiny peenut in a hollowish jug, anyway. So far, so fairly serious, but with great rock and great slab climbing.

A pause for thought had me furtling around in a seam above, resulting in a classic "cluster of bollox" ((c) Pylon King 2004): RP1 slid in the back and held in place by smooth lichen (bollox), super shallow camalot resting on a quartz lip at the front (bollox), 00 C3 crammed and wedged behind some crystals (a bit bollox but took so much fiddling it should bloody stay in), and a 1 C3 in a slot that was actually, completely normal and decent (woot!). As predicted I ended up a hot sweaty mess from locking off and faffing around but this is the benefit of slabs with holds in hot weather, I could cool down enough to realise that with that much gear, I had better climb the damn thing now.

More excellent and elegant moves, a perfect combination of positivity AND friction had me standing above the break, and a final crank had me on a decent hold. This led to another vintage trad moment of faffing in more gear in a hollow undercut above before making the obligatory "one VS move" to a perfect seam and gear so deep it was half-way back to Loch Maree. The usual slab pump (?) was mounting at this point but with gear and holds getting better and better I just aimed upwards, pulled and rocked over and suddenly was in the blazing sunshine at the top.

What had gone from a definite abandonment, to a postphonement, to a tentantive attempt, had turned into a steady ascent that was pure pleasure from the start to finish. That was enough justification and enough effort for the day so after a couple more belays it was time to chill out:

Of course, I don't have any climbing photos, so here are some cows lounging on a beach:

I'm quite glad it's cooled down now. I'm sure the cows are happy either way, though.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Fatigue, Frustration, Fun.

It's been a good few weeks, with a good few days out. The weather gods have been unusually merciful and the typical sunshine and showers bollox has been interspersed with days of decent dry weather instead of days of more persisent rain. Of interest to me:

Fun / Fatigue - Iron Crag:
I've been a bit obssessed with Iron Crag this summer. Partly because I was never really aware of it until getting the very useful new-ish Eastern Lakes guide seeing a good crag for the first time is always exciting, and partly because having thoroughly revised that crag section and been recommended it by the old boys we met at Burnt Crag, I've been rather inspired by the bold and tasty wall climbing on offer. After several aborted chances I finally got down there for a good afternoon out, managed the crucial 15min (25min) final walk-in crux up a grass slope so steep you could turn it into granite and call it Etive, and managed to rattle off the two adjacent classics of Marble Staircase and Amabalite in reasonable order. Both were rather involving with delicate and intricate climbing and thoughtful and well-spaced protection. Classic Lakes-style wall climbing, and curiously enough as enjoyable as the routes were, they took enough out of me that I actually got a bit of mental fatigue and was happy enough not to climb the next day. Maybe I got a bit spoilt by the climbing-wall-style join-the-dots climbing at Reecastle ;)

Frustration / Fun - Glen Shian: 
I've been a bit obssessed with the Glen Shian slab for 3 years now. With the typical obscurity and obfuscation of the Scottish climbing scene, this delectable slab of rock was made famous with a Dave MacLeod E10 7a and two videos featuring that route and an adjacent E7/8 repeat, yet not publicised in any useful form. UKC added well to the confusion by providing no crag details but mentioning it as "at Glenfinnan, a few miles west of Fort William". It's at Glen Shian, 25 miles west of Fort William and 10 miles from Glenfinnan itself. GG!! Anyway I managed to scour a minimal topo from somewhere online, approach details from Kev Shields, and a couple of addition routes from people's blogs and Andy Nisbet. Finally I got there the other week, and it was worth the effort.....just. "Just" because of the effort involved, not because of the climbing. The effort being a god-knows-how-many-fucking-hours round trip to collect the Spaniard from Falkirk, then hoon across half of Scotland to the slab, then climb all afternoon, then drive back to Crianlarich, have the great idea to post the Spaniard back on a train from Glasgow, saving us both a bit of bother.....then get stuck with a completely unmentioned 15 minute delay at the Pulpit Rock roadworks, leaving us with about 45 minutes to do a 1 hour journey to the station. Suffice to say we made it, but I'm not proud of my driving - slowing down to errrr 90 to take bends safely is a bit much even for me.

Anyway, the climbing. It took a bit of experimentation to work out the correct onsight grades and make the most of this fine sheet of rock, but in the end we had a cool day out. Things didn't start so well, falling off a so-called slab route that ended up with desperate footless jamming, lowering off RPs on a so-called E4 (E5+) only to rip two RPs and a cam and snap another micro-wire, gulp. Then it got a bit still and midgey and I still wanted to give the mega-classic Frustration a go....well I got on it "just for a look" and then the first tied-down skyhook was pretty bomber and I could see some good quartz blobs to go for and suddenly there was no frustration at all and all the weirdness of previous encounters was washed away in a clean tide of pure slab climbing pleasure. To have the same experience, here's all the details.

 Crucial Times...


Fatigue / Fatigue - Binnian Shuas:
Finally something a bit out of my comfort zone. I know I can do 1 hour flattish walk-ins from semi-regular trips to Reiff's Leaning Block, I didn't know I could do that THEN stack a half hour uphill walk-in on top of that. Turns out I can, I think the early flat traipsing helps me warm up. Turns out I can also climb a mega-thuggy 40m crack pitch after all of that and after having crag supplies of the day consisting of: 1 small bread roll, a few spare salad leaves, some grapes, and a can of Red Bull ... But only just. Anyway BS just seemed like the right choice for the day, too warm for Creag Dubh and too far to drive elsewhere for a day, I only had one route I wanted to do (recently cleared by the legendary Iain Small, I'll be sending the bill for my finger skin grafts to him...) and the rest of the expedition would be good training whatever. Anyway I was mildly fatigued by the walk-in, very fatigued spending 30 minutes under the crux roof of Delayed Attack, trying to milk the cramped non-rest for what it was worth and wondering what the fuck was going on until I removed my wire from the crucial finger slot and removed a large chunk of skin from my finger pulling on it, and fatigued to the point of hallucinating beer and fish and chips at the end of the 4 mile walk out. Thankfully the Pitlochry Chinese/Chippy stays open late and freshly fried dinner ensured survival after all. Coping with the exhertion might open up some other possibilities (Creag Glhas, Stac Pollaidh) but I might restrict myself to once a month for such slogs, even when my legs can cope my sanity can only take so much plodding along!