Monday, 29 October 2007

The Pay-off

Its monday morning and I'm sat in front of the computer in the office, ready for a day of mapping the distribution of ethnic groups in the US for a GIS course I'm doing. Its crisp and cold outside with mix of clear blue and ominous grey in the sky and there is fresh snow down to about 800m on the Ben, CMD and Aenoch Mor. Also, I hurt quite a lot. No one area hurts the most, its just a general ache. From the blister on my left heel, up through my leaden calves to my dodgy knee and tight thighs, past the mole on my back that gets really sore by the rubbing of my rucksack to the tender bits on my shoulders where the sack rubbs up and down.

Winter?: Snow on the hills.

Thats right. It was the OMM this weekend and it was a good one. Saturday was a race-planners dream, starting clear and fast and turning into a trudge through 50 mph winds, thick hill-fog and endless miles of tussocky hillside. Duncan and I started our first A-class campaign well at 08.41 and were going strongly for the first five controls. Perhaps too strongly though, because as soon as we turned from control 5 to 6 we were headed into the wind for the rest of the day and we faded fast. The winds increased, the cloud thickened and no matter how many cereal bars, jelly babies and monkey-cum energy gels I loaded I felt drained. To make it worse my left knee started to play up and running on the tussocks was a no-go. Duncans feet started to get shafted too and it all felt very bleak. Mind you, we kept moving at a fast walk, concentrating on our navigation and making sure we made no mistakes and the controls were steadily ticked off. Walking/falling/sliding/hobbling down the last hill to the over-night camp was a knee twisting love affair, knowing that soon it would be over. I worried that it would all be for nothing though if I couldn't walk tomorrow.

The over-night camp at a mountain marathon is always an amusing place to find your self, especially when the weather is utterly vile. Everyone has their own strategies for comfort, nutrition and hydration, but the one thing that binds us all (besides the mutual misery and suffering) is 'plastic bag chic'. You are no-one without two plastic bags to keep your changed socks warm and dry inside your very wet running shoes while hobbling to and fro. Without them you are nothing.

Dunc and I were rather surprised to discover that we were lying in 14th over-night, especially since we had walked from half-way. The terrible conditions must have slowed everyone down, and our good navigation must have earned us brownie points. It made me even more worried though, because with a good position we should try to work hard on the Sunday to keep it, but my knee wasn't well. I just chewed my scrounged ibuprofen and put it out of my mind. Food, sleep and trying to keep things dry was enough to occupy us for the next 12 hours. Buddies from Edinburgh, Konnie and Kiwi Steve (both recently mentioned on these pages for Alpine endeavours), were 2nd in our class by just 30 seconds. Game on for them.

Sunday morning started as usual with the 6.00 bagpiper reminding you of the farce you are in the midst of. We readied for our 08.36 start and hoped for the best. The weather had cleared up and it was looking promising. Clear and blue, clouds scudding on the morning breeze. Maybe it was possible to push through with some dignity. Navigation shouldn't be too much of a problem, just the usual issues of route-choice and finding fast ground.

Some where on the first wake-up-call ascent my knee stopped hurting, and bouyed with the sun on my face I started to feel good. Duncan was moving fast too, and the game faces were back on. We could do this. As usual, Dunc was there with good route-finding all the way, and by making sure we were always thinking one control ahead the checkpoints began to fall. That way as soon as you reach a control you already know which way to head off to the next. A longish leg between controls 7 and 8 meant it never felt like it was nearly over until we were legging it down the track to the last control, number 10. Duncan's power-shouts to keep back the tears bemused the teams we were flying past, but we didn't care. We were both digging very deep to keep moving fast over those last kilometres. Then it was over. Crossing the line and back into the real world. All the stresses of finding little controls in re-entrants and at stream bends just faded away.

We knew we had done well because we had been overtaking teams that were placed above us over-night, but it wasn't until we had got in, had a change of clothes and some food that we realised we were up to 8th. Nice one Duncs. The Power Bar Carbo-drink never tasted so sweet!

Konnie and Steve ended up as winners in A class. Hell yeah. Go team. Although their high altitude training must be cheating, surely! Seriously though, a really good effort by those two. Just think how good they'd be if they navigated well!

Jones and Will got round well in C class, gaining about 20 places on day two, so top banana to them and to all the other yummicks who braved the utter ming of the OMM 2007.

It seems that my training: sweating up, down and round Cow Hill, the Ring of Steall, the Five Sisters of Kintail and riding home from work up the hill to Upper Achintore every night seems to have worked out alright. Just let these aches go away and bring on the winter climbing season.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Tick Tock Tick Tock

That sound is the clock counting down to the start of the OMM this weekend. It's gonna be da bomb. The week leading up to it is always a good one. Like the excitement of waiting for christmas when you're a kid, but just a painful, muddy, wet christmas with cardboard flavour cous-cous instead of roast turkey and spit and bile instead of chilled champagne.
I'm so excited. 3 days to go. I've already got most of our food. Just a few dilemmas to clear up now. Do I run in shorts and keep my leggings dry for the camp or do I save the weight and run in leggings?

This weekend found me doing one last training run in Kintail. I hooked up with the yummicks in their bothy, Glen Licht House, and Duncan (part of the dream team), Tom OG and myself ran the Five Sisters ridge plus Saileag (the first of the Three Brothers). It was probably around 20km and we made good time and I felt pretty good the whole way. I ran the 5.5km out to the car the next day and felt fresh as a daisy, which is always a bonus.
Duncan Steen: Stud

TOG at high speed on the way down to Bealach an Lapain

I've been getting a bit worried recently bacause small runs have been beginning to hurt more than I think they should, but the run on the weekend made me realise that when I'm on my own I actually run quite fast. Running with others means I can pace myself, relax and enjoy it much more, rather than just worrying about getting it done. Also, I've been doing lots of short, fast runs of late and I was worried that these might dent my ability in a longer, slower event. We'll see this weekend.....

In climbing news: The weather afforded one evening on the Heather Hat last week and I was able to reach my 'high point' on Midnight In a Perfect World a few times, but still can't link it into those last desperate moves. The toe hook is actually quite painful when you weight it, and I could only have a couple of goes at a time. Its looking like Midnight... is earning its grade and what with the nights drawing in its gonna be a struggle to get it done before the end of the contract. However, as soon as the OMM is over it's gonna be 100% psyche for climbing and getting strong. New tools for the coming Scottish winter season and some new house-mates too in the form of climbing instructors Rob Jarvis, of Highland Guides, and Danny Goodwin, of Mountain Plan. I just need a couple of bright dry days on a weekend and it'll go.

Outside of my rather small-rock orientated world, Sam Loveday and Konrad Rawlik made an alpine dash last weekend and climbed The Ginat on the North Face of the Droites in a 36 hour round trip from Edinburgh. Superb work I must say. However, on a rather cynical note, maybe it's things like 'EasyJet Alpinism' that's making classic routes come in to condition less and less. Discuss.
Viv Scott and Kiwi Steve Fortune are currently out in the Alps getting up to some sort of mischeif, though I know not what. I suspect Viv will let everyone know in due course....

I'll post some pictures when I remember to bring my camera to work.
Love and eco-freindly hugs all round.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007


Just a few of them this time.
Mike and Karen were happily married on Sunday. Twas a pleasant day at Creiff Hydro, ending with lots of alcohol. Top marks all round for all involved.
Last week the weather wasn't great so I didn't get up to a whole lot. One evening at the Hat was brought short by slimey conditions. One evening at the Hat later in the week saw me doing the last moves of Midnight.. (all cool people shorten the names of familiar routes/problems, so I will too, okay?) for the first time. In isolation they aren't that bad, but when dribbling and shaking with the exertion of the rest of the problem they are a tough wee cookie to crumble. Adding to that, a committing toe hook is going to make a tumble onto the big rock underneath you one to remember. However, I'm chuffed to have got this far in only a few short evenings in a few weeks. Now it feels like the stage is set and I just need to go away, get some endurance and some balls (or a spotter), and get a-sending.
To that end I went to the wall last week for a wee session and I'm planning on another one this eve. If only Kinlochleven wasn't so far away....
Chalky psyched hugs to all.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007


You could never say that the weather up here isn't varied.

As promised I took myself out and ran the Ring of Steall on saturday and couldn't see a thing. It was cold, wet, windy and the cloud was down to about 600m. Oddly, no photos were taken. I felt pretty good though, doing the round from the car and back in about 4 hours, and much of the ground isn't good for running. The compass came out a few times to make sure I didn't do anything daft and all in all it went smoothly. The initial ascent up An Gearanach felt good, despite going on a bit.

I'd been meaning to do the Ring of Steall since moving up here (it is pretty much on my door step) so it was cool to see it off. Mind you, it was fairly dissapointing since it's well known for its exposed ridges and good views and I could see dick all, and its not actually that far so I didn't get much of a working. I'll just have to go back on a good day and do it twice.

Getting an early start meant getting back to Banff Crescent in time to see England beat the Aussies in the Rugby World Cup quarter finals. A turn up for the books for sure. Come on my son and all that. Jones was up for the weekend and had been for a descent sized run too and was looking snug and smug when I arrived as the whistle blew for kick off.

In stark contrast, Sunday was a truly georgeous day. The early(ish) morning mist was just hanging in the glen above Loch Linnhe and from our eyrie in Banff Crescent we looked down on it as it swirled and spiralled out towards the sea. After a very leaisurely start Blair picked Jones and I up and we headed to Tunnel Wall on the Buachaille. He had been working on Fated Path, a classic, long F7c+, earlier in the week and was stoked for another go. I was just along for the ride as belayer as I was fairly certain that with the easiest route being F7b there was nothing for me. However, the Fyffester put a rope up most of Uncertain Emotions (F7b) and I got involved. There is a lower-off about three quarters of the way up the route so he clipped in there, telling me that if I was getting there with ease I shouldn't worry too much about the top section. Hmm.

Looking West from Tunnel Wall, Buachaille Etive Beag and the Aenoch Eagach
The outlook from Tunnel Wall is absolutely spectacular, looking down into the mouth of Glencoe to one side and across to the back of Rannoch Moor to the other, and Sunday was one of those amazingly clear days that you only seem to get when its cold and fresh. And did I mention the rock? Shit. It's not actually as steep as I had expected, being either dead vertical or just over, with bulges, small roofs and thin grooves. Eveything about it is subtle. There are no wild overhangs, no big corners, no ledges, no big cracks. Its just a big expanse of rock covered with lots of little edges. From my one afternoon of experience, the climbing is subtle too. Its about precision and technique, not about burling your way from jug to jug.

Looking along Tunnel Wall

These routes are BIG: Blair on the lead

Blair put a rope up Fated Path, top-roped it once and played on the moves a few times, ensuring they were all there, then was ready for the lead, or as he put it "I guess at some point I'll have to tie in to the wrong end".

I'd never belayed someone on a hard route before and was a little nervous of getting in the way or not giving enough slack or too much, but it went without a hitch. He made it look like a breeze. F7c+. Nice one Mr Blair. There was one moment when he gave a power grunt, but he never looked like coming off. Respec.


Between Blair's goes on his route I had a couple of goes on Uncertain Emotions (with a tight top-rope of course). I surprised myself by being able to do all the moves. Linking them all was a different story though. However on the second go I was linking bigger sections. Maybe all this bouldering down the Glen is getting me stronger. Or maybe I've just never really pushed myself to try harder routes so don't know what I can do. Probably a bit of both. Its gonna be a long time until I'll be able to lead the route, but it felt good to know that one day it could be possible.

The only other sport route that I've seriously thought about red-pointing is Fogtown, a F7a at North Berwick. Over the summer I'd top-roped it with just one rest and felt that if I'd carried on I'd get it done one day. Uncertain Emotions felt about the same difficulty as Fogtown did then, though Uncertain Emotions is supposed to be no gift at 7b. Can't help but think that I should get down and get dirty on Fogtown. The only problem is that North Berwick Law is a bit of a shit hole and Tunnel Wall is about as georgeous as crags get. Oh well, nothing like a spanking for ones ego, as it were.

At the 3/4-way lower off after a fight

Midnight update: I'm still falling off the end of Midnight In a Perfect World but have got two (count them) two foot moves further. Wahoo!

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Lochaber Dreaming

What have I been up to since I last logged on?
Not a lot would be the general conclusion. The yummicks came up two weekends back for their Freshers Glencoe meet. As usual the weather was pretty pish. Sam, Vet Tom, Sheffield Dan and I decided to break the mould and cross the Corran ferry and try to climb Great Ridge on Garb Bheinn. It seemed like a big VDiff would be just the ticket if the weather wasn't quite E7 quality. For the second time in five days I found myself wading up the 'path' into Coire an Iubhair. It was still as shit as the last time.
By the time we got to where we thought the route should roughly start it was pissing with rain, cold and bloody miserable. It wasn't really the day for climbing mountain rock, VDiff or otherwise, so we jacked it in and trudged back to the car through very strong winds and horizontal rain. Bum.

Great Ridge in the ming

As per, the evening involved getting drunk in the Clachaig, beating Freshers and Committee in the Boat Race and general tomfoolery. Tradition therefore decreed that we breakfasted in the Ice Factor. Tasty.
A few of us headed for a boulder down the Glen in the afternoon. Viv Scott very nearly made an impressive flash of Maisie Gunn (V4) on the Heather Hat, Clare Muir cranked hard on Theory of Relativity and I got a few moves further on Midnight in a Perfect World. Nice.
The rest of the week was same old, except for a 10 mile race on the Great Glen Way on Wednesday eve. I managed a fairly respectable 1hr8mins which pleased me since I hadn't run on the flat since about 2004. I also attended a very weired Congress in Glasgow about 'Intellectual Assets' - don't ask.
I managed to escape that early on Friday, before the 'speed networking', I kid you not, and headed East to the burgh and Jones. We headed across the water to the Limekilns for the afternoon where I bagged two VSs and two E1s. Only one of the E1s wasn't a repeat for me but I'd been meaning to do it for a while as it was the only E1 left there I hadn't done.
VE Day (E1 5c) is a fairly thin face climb with no (good) gear for the crux and I'd say its quite hard 5c. It took a bit of hanging around trying to place something worthwhile. In the end I stuck in my trusty zero 4 cam, knew it was shite and commited. It was one of those great moments when you know that if things go pete tong its gonna go quite badly that way, but if you even started to dwell on that then it would become even more likely. As soon as you latch the hold you're after it's feet up, re-balance, place that expected bit of gear, clip, breath. Then its a stint of heavier breathing, shaking limbs and quick climbing to better gear, better holds and sunlight over the lip. Beautiful.
Saturday was my big bro's stag-do, which involved guns and beer. Wahey. Paintballing, clay pigeon shooting and then some militant hockey team drinking games in the back of beyond (Spitall of Glenshee) made for a good send off to the boy. He's marrying Karen in two weeks time and I'm really looking forward to a big family gathering, Infact, it'll be the first time I'll have seen both sides of the family together. And of course, lucky old Jones gets to meet them all!
I've been down the Glen both nights this week as I'm getting keen on Midnight in a Perfect World. The first section is nailed, and linking it to the second section is getting better. However, the last few moves of the second section are proving tricksome, not lease because there is a big rock underneath them. When I eventually come to link it all its gonna be a blast, but I'm gonna have to be stronger. All this playing on roofs must be doing my body tension a world of good though.

The first section of Midnight In a Perfect World

October evening sunlight over the Ben

I was chatting to Fort William's own Blair Fyffe last night and we might be heading down to Tunnel Wall on the weekend. Very hard (for me), steep sport routes that stay dry in the wet a-go-go! Psyche. Also I need to get out running a bit more so I'm gonna do the Ring of Steall on the day that I'm not pulling down.

Hugs and kisses.