Monday, 19 November 2007

The Build Up

I took this photo at work, its patches of a crustose lichen on a hazel stem. Pretty cool.

As another warm front passed over the West Highlands, the weekend was a complete wash-out. There was not a lot to be had round here, but Chris fancied a change of scene from Edinburgh so braved the wetness.

Saturday night was a bizarre one. We headed into town for a few drinks and found our selves in a charicature of a Wild West saloon. It was all swinging doors, spit on the floor, brawls, bottles flying overhead and the sheriff throwing people behind bars. And who said the locals weren't welcoming. Thats right, it was me. Just to add a surreal touch it was all to a soundtrack of cheesey dance and Runrig.
The Hat.
Sunday was no drier than Saturday but we fancied a chance to blow away the cobwebs so headed to the Glen and the Heather Hat. The roof is substantial enough for the majority of the great Maisie Gunn to be dry so Chris got to work as I got very rained on taking photos. I was impressed by his moves. He 'sent' the part of it that was dry in good time, which was all the more awkward because every thing, except for the rock itself, was wet. Later we headed to the wall and had a nice wee boulder.
Chris trying to keep himself dry under Maisie Gunn

I'm beggining to get an air of anticipation about the coming winter season. There has been a very slight covering of snow high on the Ben all week, and the weekend's precipitation seems to have been falling as snow higher up because it's whiter now than it has been yet this year. My housemate Danny, of Mountain Plan, walked in to the norries on both Saturday and Sunday and found conflicting conditions on both days. On Saturday there was no snow so they left, on Sunday there was loads but they could hardly stand up for the wind, so they left again. Fair enough. There have been routes done though, by those who can just nip in for a look at the drop of a hat, or as I like to call them, bastards.

Last year was my third season as a winter climber and I felt like I reached a level of climbing that I was really happy with, and that I feel like I should be able to build on this year. I've even got some new tools in the form of the very sexy DMM Rebel and am ready for lots of figure -of -fours up the likes of Black Spout Gully. Bring it.

The winter game is quite a funny one. It's certainly very addictive and very sado-masichistic. Maybe thats why all the handy winter climbers I know are weired perverted types, or Polish. It certainly falls into Viv Scott's 'Type 2 fun' category, that is, its not fun while its happening, but when its over and you're reflecting with a nice pint of IPA next to the fire, its more fun than you have ever had.
Sado-masichist?: Sam Loveday mid-epic on Red Guard last year

Polish: Konrad Rawlik 'enjoying' Observatory Buttress

Waking up in a frozen sleeping bag in some random car park at 4.00am and sleepily stumbling through the dark towards a vast slumbering hidden hill, head torch beam picking out the frosted grass and walking poles sparking off the rocks. Crunching onto the first patches of snow as the day begins to dawn and the ice smeared faces loom down at you. You are insignificant, ant-like, crawling across the snow slopes to where your line of turfy corners or iced slabs laugh at you. You shiver, you yawn, you get ice knocked on you, you feel sick as you start to move off the belay and blood surges into your numb fingers. Sometimes you walk all that way, and find nothing. The crag has won. The stark nakedness of the rock is an indecent joke. Sometimes though, and if you're canny and know a thing or two, you'll find deserted 400m ice lines that seem to go on all day, with not a soul around except you and your friend. Perfect hero neve that sucks at your picks and front-points, almost magnetic. Perfect granite cracks and flakes to hook and torque up.

Late season ice oozing over the Ben

Now, I'm a keen rock-jock. I love the feeling of movement on rock, pulling off hard (for me) moves above gear or a pad, and I really like the idea of training to get better (a very unfasionable thing in the winter world) but last winter really cast a spell over me. The whole experience of Scottish Winter Climbing seems much fuller than a similar day on the rock. For the most part, the exciting, scary and exhausting parts of a day on the rock are the brief periods of climbing. In winter you can get that on the walk in, the slog up to the foot of the route, the route itself and the descent. It never fails to immerse me under a tsunami of emotions, from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. Since the 1st of April last year, when I did my last winter routes, I've been looking forward to the onset of the cold, dark months of crisp snow and frozen turf. Now I live up here, under the Ben, I can actually see the build up beginning and I'm getting very excited. You should be too. So, dust off your tools, maybe even sharpen then up a wee bit in homage to the coming season, and get ready, because in a few short months it will all be gone again.

Anyone fancy a look in the norries next weekend?

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