Monday, 12 November 2007


This morning saw the first proper ground frosts of the approaching winter and I feared that my bike would find a rogue patch of ice as I flew down the Achintore hill to work. Fortunately I arrived unscathed. The view of the Ben from the office is as impressive as ever today. Wintery blue skies are contrasting with the soulless grey screes of the summit slopes. Maybe it won't be so long until those screes are hidden by the season's snow.

This weekend found me in Edinburgh, visiting Jones and hanging with yummick types at Chad's 30th in Loveday Towers. A good bruising party I must say. Poor Mrs Leith downstairs wasn't so impressed though. I guess you can't blame her, but it's not like it's a regular event.

Chris and I were keen to head to North Berwick Law for a seige of Fogtown, a 10 metre F7a that we had tried a few times back in the early summer. Having moved away, and significantly increased the amount of 'strength' type climbing I've been doing (aka. bouldering on the Heather Hat roof), I was intrigued to see how it might feel. The route is only a few degrees overhanging, but the holds are all pretty small, wee crimps and edges with no good rest for its length. I think 'sustained' sums it up nicely. Would I be able to get the redpoint?

Chris beavering away on Fogtown

I've never considered myself a sport climber, so the idea of working a route until it's wired seems some-what foreign, but then I realised I do that on boulder problems all the time, so whats the fuss? Obviously the on-sight would be awesome, but by aiming for a route that's far harder than I've on-sighted, and isn't that much of a classic that I'd rather save until I'm good enough, it's good fun and really good training. One other benefit from red-pointing something hard would be that I might fall off. It's hard to believe, but in four years of climbing, rock, plastic, snow and ice, I've never lobbed. Sure, I've rested on gear, but I've never actually taken a fall from above it. Everyone says that to climb harder you need to be more confident at taking falls, and its definately true. I want to be there pushing the boat out, ready for a screaming pisser, so it's about time that I start falling off. There's loads of times I've thought I might fall off, but have always just got through or rested on gear.

I started by putting the rope up the route, bolt to bolt stylee, and then we set about top-roping. On my first go on top-rope I very nearly linked it, but ended up pumped silly and falling off on the last hard section before the finishing jugs. So, I had another go, and again, pumped silly, I fell off even lower down. However, I was impressed. The route felt like it might just about go, I just had to make sure I remembered the sequences, and maximised the shake-out time on the few bigger holds. Focus and breathe.

Learning the moves: Where are the holds?

Between my goes Chris was looking good on it too. He's definately stronger than last time, but still has the odd issue with the opening moves. On his last go he had it nailed though and was going well with just that old enemy 'the pump' to contend with. Alas pump won, but Chris felt happy because there was clear improvement from our last tries those months back. Bring it.

Then it was back to me. We pulled the rope through, and those quickdraws looked very lonely hanging up there. It was time to get the lead done. Fogtown. 7a. Focus and breathe. The first moves are probably the hardest, but once they are done its a sustained attack from edges moving out right. Stopping to clip adds a good dose of lactic acid to the fore-arms, so a brief shake-out is needed before the next long move into a break. Amazingly I was still there, breathing hard. Bolt three was clipped, then its right along the break, and an off balance move with the right hand into a small pocket, left hand into a thin lay-away, right foot onto a small edge and left foot up and left into the break. No, further left into the break. The bolt is level with your left foot now. One move, out of the lay-away and balance over the left foot, pushing off with the right hand in that small pocket. One move, left hand arching left to the jug rail. Its easy from there, I've done it with ease a few times now. Swing along the jugs and round the arete. Stand back round the arete on the rail and clip the lower off. It's easy. Stop. I'm still trying that last hard move. But my fingers are uncurling. My foot is in the wrong part of the break. Move it 6 inches left to where it's deeper. Focus and breathe.

On the lead in the gathering gloom

Then I'm swinging free. The bolt's above me and I'm giggling like a kid. It was so close. One move and it's in the bag. But I took the fall. I'm not sure which makes me happier, the thought of redpointing my first 7a or taking my first sizable lob. Either way, it was bloody good fun and all adds to the redpoint process.

Seems to me that it's just another reason to keep training hard on these long dark Lochaber nights.

All photos by Jones. Top banana.

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