Saturday, 30 June 2007

The Shire

In order to sort out my things for the eventual move to Fort William I've come home to Somerset for a few weeks. The train was only delayed by one and a half hours so it could have been worse. On the wednesday eve before I left the burgh Chris and I had a play at North Berwick Law Quarry. Nothing very exciting happened, except that I was very cold when I tried Fogtown (a F7a that I've tried a few times and fancy as a redpoint target) and didn't get beyond bolt 2. Ach well, serves me right for not warming up. We did some of the easier routes and generally had a pleasant time.

So now I'm back in Somerset, with grand plans for a few weeks climbing, but I fear that, as ever, I won't get much done due to a lack of belayers. The bouldering and soloing is OK, but I've done lots already. You see, I started climbing here in the Shire, with my mates Luke, Johnsey and Sarah H, four summers ago, and we used to get out quite a bit one way or another, visiting lots of obsure and esoteric crags (the major crag of the area, Cheddar Gorge, was mainly closed to climbers over the summer, which was when I was back at home, and Avon Gorge never appealed when we were surrounded by crags in the countryside). Within a half hours drive there are loads of crags: North Quarry, Sandford Quarry, Croscombe, Dinder Wood, Fairy Cave, Goblin Combe, Bourton Combe, Brean Down, Sand Point, Portishead, it goes on... But nowadays its hard to get a belay. Arse. Johnsey is in Canada, Luke is less interested in the rock, and works quite a lot, and Sarah is frequently away. So I seem to spend my time dragging a crash pad around.

Yesterday was no different. I started at Croscombe, a sweet, short limestone crag in woodland the other side of Wells from me. It's steep and pocketed and there are some good wee routes and boulder problems, except that yesterday it was pissing. Just about every bit of the crag was wet, dirty or a combination of the two. I played around for a bit, and am getting closer on a problem of old that Luke and I discovered a while back, which is nice, because the first move used to be a bitch, now its pretty easy. Jumping for wet holds isn't great though so I'll go back when its dry.

The Cave at the Toll Road Crags: The roof is often wet. Bum.

Later I went to an under-rated wee bouldering spot known as the Toll Road Crags. They are a section of wave-washed limestone cliffs under Weston-Super-Mare's Toll Road. There are a surprising collection of walls, slabs, caves and roofs, which generaly dry quickly and catch the sun all afternoon. Just check that the tide is out. Yesterday it was and I got deep down and dirty in the cave area. The Cave roof has a line of jugs that finish half way to the lip, so a long-standing project of mine is to link them and carry on out, but its very hard, and the jugs are a drainage line, so you need a long dry spell for them to dry. They were wet yesterday, but it was worth a go. I also found a wee problem I hadn't spotted before and got close to sending it (as they say), except the crux move requires a long pull round a roof from a heel hook, and if you don't latch the hold and fall off backwards you're gonna be hitting your head on the rock platform below, pad or no. A spotter is required. Maybe I can get my Dad to come along....

Yesterdays new project: mmmm, nice.

Over the last few years I've done quite a lot of nice wee problems at the Toll Road, all of which I'm sure have been done before by someone better, but I've never seen another climber there (except friends of mine), so I always get a feeling of it being my own little spot.

I went on a wee run up Crook Peak yesterday eve and felt no knee agro so things are looking up for next weekend's Saunders. I'm gonna go on a bigger run today (its wet, no climbing) and see how it holds out. Fingers crossed....

Monday, 25 June 2007

#8: Rain, Ravensheugh and dissapointment.

Well, the rain abated long enough on Saturday to allow a brief session at Agaziz Rock in Blackford Glen. It was nice to get out and I felt that my stamina/power endurance/whatever was vaguely improving because the R-L traverse felt pretty easy both times I did it, and the L-R traverse is getting easier, until the last few moves, which are very much the crux. Its probably just familiarity allowing more efficient movement, but it felt good what ever it was.

Konrad Rawlik cranking at Agaziz Rock

So, from one day of positivity I sunk to depths of climbing despondancy yesterday. Edinburgh was, once more, awash with heavy rain so with trepidation Chris, Steev and I drove south in search of dry rock in Northumberland. Somehow it's normally dry somewhere in the County, and if it was really crap we could just go to Kyloe-In where the steepness and trees keep much of the crag dry. By the time we got to Berwick there were blue skies and no sign of recent rain, so we decided to be adventurous and head to pastures new.
If you look up Ravensheugh in the NMC guide, UKC and Rockfax you get told of the Counties best crag with the best routes and best outlook. Well, I'll grant it the latter point, but it was a very dirty, wet, hard place yesterday. No-doubt recent weather has taken its toll because there was lots of seepage, but many of the dry routes were filthy with moss and lichen. Bummer. Many of the routes are undercut at the base, giving a sporting start and quite a few I looked at looked sparcely protected. Oh well.
In the end we spent all our time on the Parallell Cracks wall, getting a severe bruising from the short, powerful and very dubiously graded face climbs. I tried to work Little Idi (E1 5b, my arse!) to no avail. In the end my total was a Diff and a VDiff. Hmmm. It easy to blame the route, the gradeor the crag, but maybe I should stop the excuses and admit I was just climbing badly. I guess some you win, some you lose, but I'm not going to be racing back to Ravensheugh. Not until I'm solid on E4, and then I might be able to climb some of the E2s. I'm not bitter, honest.
Chris Edwards attempting Little Idi (E1 5b, 6a in real money!)
Just one of those days I guess. Maybe I should have just grown some balls and gone for the lead on something, rather than wanting to solo shorter routes. As compensation, it was a beautiful place, perched on a hillside on the Simonside Hills, near Rothbury, overlooking a huge, flat-bottomed valley with very little sign of human habitation.
Some you win, some you lose.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

#7: Success and rain

Yes! At long last. Its been over a year of looking for jobs or PhDs, and finally I have one! I've managed to wangle may way to getting the graduate placement at Lochaber Native Woodlands.

I got the train up to the Fort (again) on thursday night and yesterday (friday) went out with Gary Servant to visit a timber extraction demo by the Northern Sunart Woodland Owners Group. The Sunart oakwoods are a large area of very interesting (and now relatively rare) Atlantic oak woodland. This type of habitat is only found on the Atlantic coast and is very rich in rare 'lower' plants (mosses, lichens etc.). During the 1950's much of the woodland was underplanted with conifers, namely Sitka Spruce, creating plantations for timber production. However, now there is much interest and activity attempting to reverse the changes and revert the woods back to their semi-natural state. This has been done by engaging and involving local communities in practical woodland management and local use of the woodland products (not just physical products, but other services like recreation and education). The demo we visited showed the low-impact equipment the communities have bought for the small scale clearing and thinning they will do.

Gary also drove me round parts of Ardnamurchan, Ardgour, Glen Uig and Moidart, to illustrate some of the projects and local area that he has been involved in. I had never been round these bits of the West coast before and it was beautiful, and dutifully accompanied with sporadic rain followed by blue skies and sun. "Such fair and foul weather I have not seen", or something like that.

I also spied a few sweet looking boulders and a crag that you would have to canoe across a wee loch to reach. Hmm, projects me thinks....

Anyway, on to climbing. Chris and I had planned to do something today (Saturday), but since it hasn't stopped raining all morning we are going to get out tomorrow. We hope..... I'm definately super-psyched after checking out the Hot Aches Productions blog.

They are just back from Pabbay with lots of tales of cranking. Its good to see young Dan McManus getting coverage. He's a super strong lad from North Wales who's at uni in Edinburgh. I was president of the uni Mountaineering Club when he turned up as a fresher and got to know him that way. Infact, on day one of freshers week (before any of the freshers events had taken place) he found my number and contacted me about meeting up for some activity. I was busy so ended up just meeting him at the Crags. At that stage he was solid at E4 and said he was breaking into E5, now he seems to be solid at E6, with a number of badass E7s under his belt. He's only 20 and has climbed the Eiger Nordwand (with Tony Stone, another name to look out for), and his second winter route was Intruder in Stob Coire nan Lochan (VI 7)! He now stays in Lutton Place, my old home for three years,which is now a hardcore climbers flat. Good to hear.

Dan Mcmanus: Concentration itself. Slack lining over the cold Atlanic on Pabbay, June 2006.

About this time last year I went out to Pabbay and Mingulay with a team from Edinburgh plus some other veterans. It was an amazing week of what I think is called 'adventure climbing'. Big abseils, big seas, big cliffs. I climbed with Rik Higham and we had a great week, doing The Preist (E1/2) and Spring Squill (E1), among others, on Pabbay, and a suspected new route and an attempt at the subterranean traverse of Ghursey Beag on Mingulay.

The Priest (E1/2): Me starting the crux with the roof of the Great Arch to the right.

Looking pleased after the crux pitch of The Preist

We managed to do what we think is a new route on Mingulay, having abbed into what appeared to be the wrong bit of the crag, we followed a line of corners to the top at around HVS. Whether a first ascent or otherwise it was climbed in classic "where the fuck are we and how do we escape?" style and we felt justifiably proud. We called it Fulmars for Effort in honour of all the punning that had occured all week, and the fact that my shoe vomited on by said beast.

Fulmars For Effort: Looking down pitch 2 of our (new?) route.

And so, with psyche high I guess I'd better stop writing and hang from the bar for a bit. What else is there to do in such shite weather? Fingers crossed for lots of sun tommorrow.

All photos by Rik Higham.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

#6: Back Bowden in the mist

Chris and I decided to try to make use of the long days by going to the County last night. Not stopping at Morrison's in Berwick is definately the way to speed up the journey. It only took about an hour and a half to get there, giving us about three hours of climbing.
The Harr was definately in on that North-East coast, and the whole Bowden/Kyloe area was wreathed in whispy grey. All very Wuthering Heights.
We headed to Back Bowden, Bowden's far less-frequented sibling crag. Its a nice wee place, but not as friendly as Bowden - darker, broken in places, not the best landings, and did I mention the slime?
It all started well with Chris soloing Hazelrigg Wall - a wee HVS 5b. Its a highball problem, but you wouldn't want to fall from the top so I think the grade is appropriate. I pleased myself by soloing Pinup, the E2 6a next to Hezelrigg Wall. I'd tried it before but didn't feel strong crimping the bizarre nipples through the overhang. This time it seemed much easier. Maybe I'm crap at grading things, but I'd say its more HVS 5c. You could fall from the crux safely enough, and if I got it second go it can't really be a Northumberland 6a! Like its neighbour you wouldn't want to fall from the top but it's a jug-fest so thats unlikely.
I went to try The Sorcerer (E1 5C***), but this time couldn't hold the long move on the starting boulder problem so gave up. A bad excuse I know, but it was dark under that roof, making it harder to measure where I was aiming for. If you don't know the move I mean, its BIG. The holds are really good, just far apart and it's steep. Instead I went to try The Witch, a three star E2 5b. Now, the weather hasn't been great recently, and its a dark, sheltered crag, but why is a three star route at that grade so filthy, wet, and slimey? I got through the crux and into the top flake, but the pump, the dodgy gear, the wet flake and the slimey footholds all conspired against me. OK, more excuses and I'm abit annoyed at myself, but I backed-off with about three metres of climbing to go. Arse. I'm going back during a sustained period of DRY weather to do it, with lots of zero cams.
Chris later backed-off Bottleneck Crack (MVS 4c) for similar reasons - dirt and slime. I think Back Bowden is mainly used for bouldering nowadays, like Kyloe-In, so many of the routes (especially easier ones) don't get any traffic and become minging. Its a shame, but what can you do, besides climbing everything with a big brush.
Ach well. It was good to be out and about, and Pinup made the trip worthwhile for me.
No photos this time because it was too dark and misty and the flash just picked up the water vapour. Great.

Monday, 18 June 2007

#5: Interviews and Lochaber rock

Well, the interview can't have gone too badly because first thing next day I got a call from Gary Servant, the chap that is Lochaber Native Woodlands, and he asked me to come up to the Fort next friday for another chat and to go and see a timber extraction display in Sunart. Very chuffed. The prospect of real work in a the ecology world excites me. Especially if its based in Lochaber.

Infact it was a really nice day on thursday. I went up, had the interview, then hopped on my bike and rode down Glen Nevis for a spot of bouldering. I'd never really climbed there before. I say 'really' because Sam and I got rained off the first pitch of some crappy Severe last summer when the start of Storm was all minging. The rock is actually really good, when it looks like it should be green, friable and flaking apart. I did some really good easy problems on the Cameron Stone (Jazzamataz & Wooly Jumper) and tried my luck on the roof of the Heather Hat, but without a mat and spotter I didn't really fancy falling onto the big rock under Maisie Gunn. Then I bog-trotted across to Pinnacle Ridge and soloed this. It seemed very easy for Severe, but maybe I'm just fucking hard. Ahem.

I then did Silver Slab, which was nice.
Then on the train home I got 'approached' by the worlds most under-sexed drunk gay man from Oban. He decided to join me at my table and the first thing he said was "I'm off to the gay bars in Glasgow, are you in the gay scene?" and proceeded to comment on my strong handshake and 'defined pectorals', before telling me that I should go with a man 'on the side'. Full marks for effort and proudly waving the flag, but sadly his gay-dar wasn't on form that day. Nice chap though.
Friday was another day in the shop with the usual friday night tasting - some nice italians (wine, not customers).
On Saturday Chris and I had a very late start and eventually got to Etive Slabs by about 16.00.
We decided that given the time and passing showers we should do Spartan Slab (VS 5a). It was great, and maintained interest for all 5 pitches. I really love granite slab climbing so am very biased though. We made a mistake by starting up the first pitch of The Pause but it was straight forward enough to traverse right onto the correct line. Infact it was a good start at about 4c/5a. Chris' hangover really started to kick in when he started leading pitch 2, so he came back to the belay and swapped the gear and I was able to lead the whole route. Apparently a flake has fallen off from the crux, so everyone has to do the 'short persons 5a' moves, as opposed to the lank's 4c reach. Its well protected though so there's never really any fear involved.

"When will it all end?" Not for a while yet. Chris atop pitch 1 on Spartan Slab.

We had hoped to do Minus One Direct on the Ben on Sunday but it dawned with a lot of cloud over/in/on the North face. After a cramped night sleeping in the car at the Aenoch Mor car park we decided to get a Morrison's breakfast and head up the Ben to see what was what. We could have gone cragging down Glen Nevis but we both fancied a bit more of an adventure. The cloud was impressively/deppressingly thick, and we couldn't see anything that was further than 20m away. Tower Ridge was decided upon as the logical greasy classic choice. I won't bore with the details but its a brilliant, long, easy day out. Get on it and just follow the crampon scratches to the top. The thick cloud made it all very atmospheric, especially when it briefly cleared, allowing glimpses across to the Orion Face and Indicator Wall. Everthing looks so much bigger and steeper in the summer than in winter.

Gorrilla In the Mist: moving together on Tower Ridge.

Anyhoo, despite not leaving Edinburgh until about 13.00 on Saturday we got two big 4-star routes in and had a jolly spiffing time.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007



Tommorow is interview day up in Fort Bill. I'm getting the sickeningly early train at 4.50 and won't get back 'til 00.50, but its cheaper than paying for accomadation. It's for a graduate placemant with Lochaber Native Woodlands, a forestry consultancy based near Spean Bridge. Fingers crossed. I've spent the last year and a half looking for and applying for jobs and PhDs, and am yet to get anywhere. I've been shortlisted and had a few interviews, but its pretty disheartening when you seem to be spending all your time waiting to hear back about positions and never getting them. Then you start looking once more and the cycle continues.

I guess thats the problem with wanting to be involved in conservation or ecological work. There's no shortage of people fighting for positions and only a few knocking around. Most people have to do years of voluntary work to gain experience. But with no money how can you support yourself while volunteering? I've done a bit, but not as much as many out there. Mind you, this is a graduate placement so I presume there will be training and less expectation of vast experience. Hmmmm....

I'm planning to take my bike and when the interview is done I'll ride down Glen Nevis and do some bouldering and maybe some solos. Fingers crossed for no rain or midges. I'm super psyched for climbing at the moment. I've been down to the County so much recently I can't wait to get on some bigger routes elsewhere. Hopefully the classic County sandbag grading will stand me in good stead. Bowden VS = somewhere else's HVS? Certainly not all the time, and not everywhere, but there are a few line in the County that might not be graded that way elsewhere. I've done loads of climbing in the suspect Limestone quarries of Somerset (ah, home) and there are some serious soft touches knocking around. I guess thats the beauty and beast of grading.
Soft rock, soft grades: This photo is of me on Premiere (E2 5b) at Sandford Quarry, Somerset. It's a proper shit hole but being only 10 minutes from my house I'm not complaining.
Last night Chris and I ended up down at Agazi's Rock in Blackford Glen because it started to rain before we hit the road to the Limekilns. Managed to get a good pump on so mustn't grumble.

So, wish me luck for tomorrow.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Soft Rock #3

As promised I made my way out to Mallaig on Thursday, ready to catch the CalMac ferry to Rum on Friday. I was helping Justin Grant with the Sea Eagle 'chick' tagging, both on Rum and then on Canna on Saturday. I use inverted commas because even at 6 weeks old these beasts are bloody enormous. Bigger than a fully grown Buzzard. I was there as the rope-access safety guy, helping to set up the abseils and give a hand with admin in the nest if needs be. Check out this photo of Justin getting a DNA swab on Canna: I'm really indebted to both Justin and Martin Carthy for inviting me along to help, and for supplying me with food, drink and a bed.

It was so nice to be back on Canna, seeing some of the old faces and places and getting to see what its like at a different time of year. I'd like to go back with some more time and see if the bouldering on Coroghan beach is still rocking it up. The basalt is mainly crap but I managed to find some wave-scoured blocks that were worthwhile. Ive even got a wee project out there and all, but I think its a bit too far to travel for one boulder problem!

After the Sea Eagle on Canna we walked over to ab in to the Golden Eagle nest. If there was more than one chick we were to take one for the Irish re-introduction programme. Lets just say it was a beast of an ab. Now - climbers, I know what you're thinking - an ab is an ab, how exciting can it be? What we weren't aware of was the fact that this crag was overhung at the top by a good 5-6 metres, and the vast majority of it's 90m length was spent free hanging. Thank fuck there was no jumaring to be done! As we abbed past the nest we could see there was only one chick, which was great because there was no way we were going to get near it - not without a lot of swinging, some dodgy gear in crap rock and missing the ferry. Justin took this picture of me on the way down:
I got back to the burgh last night after sitting on my arse for the 7 hours back from Mallaig.

This morning Jones and I went out for a run in the hot, hot, heat in the Pentlands. Its a nice wee round that I do lots when I'm training for the Original Mountain Marathon. Thats in November. We were training for the Saunders, which is in the perishing heat of July. Oh shit. Infact I'm quite worried because something is up with my left knee. It started out fine but towards the end of the run it was killing me and I've been hobbling ever since. I've got the frozen peas involved at the moment so fingers crossed it'll go away. A very similar thing happed when Jones and I were up on the Cobbler the other week. I hope it doesn't spell a big rest because that would mean the end of the Saunders and maybe screw up mine and Duncans chances in the A Class of the OMM. Ha!

Oh well. I think Chris and I are gonna get some cragging action tomorrow eve. Dunno where but I doubt the County, what with how long it took last week. We'll see though. Psyche.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Soft Rock #2

A very late start got us to Bowden with about three hours of climbing before it was too dark. Had a good time anyway. Managed to do Pitcher Wall (HVS 5a), which I'd backed-off the start of before. This time I found a fiddly but good wire to inspire enough confidence to crack on. Its a good route, if a little short-lived (what isn't at Bowden?).

I've now been to Bowden so much that I'm beggining to run out of routes to do. I've done pretty much all the VS, HVS and E1s and am trying to get into E2, with last weeks ascent of Yellow Peril (E2 5c). Most of the things left are either complete sandbags at the grade or are just plain hard. I tried Little Red Rooster (E1 5c) but was totally pumped by the time I had the crux (huge) move to do at the top, so I came down again. Ended up doing Black Crack (VDiff) after realising Red Crack (HS 4c) requires huge gear and evil climbing (graunchy/laybacking). Anyhoo, Chris did a good job on Wall Crack (MVS 4c) but is still falling off the top of Y-Front (V3 6a). It gets HVS in the guide but there is nothing about this route that translates to HVS climbing - its just a boulder problem. He's pretty strong so should get it soon. It was very dark when he was trying too. Here he is looking faceless:

I'm stoked. Today I'm getting the train to Mallaig, from where I'm going out to Rhum and Canna to help with tagging this years Sea Eagle chicks. I'm on the team as the 'climber' so I think I might have to set up some abs, but I'm not exactly sure. It should be awesome. I did some voluntary work on Canna last year for 6 weeks. It was for the Seabird Enhancemant Project (rat eradication) and it was such a great place to be. Every day we were out checking the lines of 'bait stations' to check on the rodent activity on the island. By the time I joined the team all the rats were long gone and the project was just in the monitoring stage. It was through this that I met Martin Carthy, who does some work with the raptors, and he contacted me about the work with the eagle chicks. I'll be back on sunday so will update then, hopefully having not been attacked by mummy eagle. Here's a bad shot of Sea Eagles above the Tarbert Road Cliffs on Canna:


Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Soft Rock #1

Well, once more into the fray.

Blogging, I never thought I'd get into this sort of thing. Kind of weired keeping a diary, especially one that millions of people can see, though I doubt they actually will. Never been one for the band waggon but it would seem I'm here.

Anyhoo, the why, who and where:

I'm Gaz. I live in Edinburgh. I graduated in Ecology last year here and have refused to go home since. Home is in Somerset, with ma and pa and three wee mange-ridden currs. I currently live in the most beautiful flat in Marchmont, overlooking the Meadows and the castle. And Sam, my landlord doesn't seem too bothered about the whole rent issue. Its been about 9 months and he still doesn't mind. Thats cool, cos if he did I wouldn't be here.

My very meagre crust is earned round the corner in Edinburgh's (and Scotland's) premiere wine merchant: Peter Green & Co. It was going to be a stop-gap while I applied for proper work in the environmental/conservation sector, but has ended up more permanent than I had hoped. Saying that, I have an interview next week with Lochaber Native Woodlands, a forestry consultancy, so with luck all might change.

Working four days a week means I get to spend the rest of my time doing what I love most: any and all that upwards be. I'm a climber. Rock, ice, snow, mixed, trad, sport, bouldering, outcrops, mountains, quarries. All are fine with me. I get out as much as I can, and living in the burg is great because as long as you have a car you can get to some of britains best climbing within a couple of hours. I don't have a car, but many do! I won't pretend that I'm amazing at climbing, but I aspire to be!

In fact the last few months have been awesome for me.

The Scottish Winter season was pretty crap for most crags, but if you didn't mind walking up the Ben twice a week every week there was lots to be had. I finally got round to doing some of the classic Vs: The Point, Smiths, Zero, Orion Direct, Indicator Wall. Good times.

When the ice started to get thin and the sun started to shine I decided that my winter was done, and on the March 31st/April1st weekend, after 4 brilliant routes I hung up the tools for another year and concentrated on rock. The very next day I sent the Black Wall Traverse - a polished nemesis up a Salisbury Crags which I had tried on and off for three years. The rock season couldn't have started any better. Since then I've got something done most weeks, including:

Three days on the grit - Burbage North, the Roaches, Brimham.

A day raid to Gimmer.

Working Fogtown at North Berwick.

Climbing on Cir Mhor - Arran.

Climbing Pushover on Stac an Faraidh

Climbing a wet VDiff on the Cobbler

Lots of cragging trips to the County

Climbing in the scenic Rosyth Quarry.

Also I'm pretty pleased because last night I did my project at the Crags - a traverse circuit that took ages to put together. A bit dissapointing really cos it felt easy.

Anyhoo, I'd better get to work. Off to Bowden tonight with Chris, Steev and Jones so hopefully I'll get some badass sandstone action.

I'll workm out how to credit the photos but the 1st is by Chris Edwards and the 2nd is by Chris Craggs (yes THE Chris Craggs)