Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Soft Rock Review

Would you believe it, it’s been just over a year since Soft Rock was born? Aye, time flies, especially when you’re having fun. I have to say it, but it has been a good year.

Inspired by my then house-mates, Sam’s Seasonal Affected Disorder and Steev’s Stevious Says…, I quite liked the idea of archiving my activities. As a climber you spend a lot of time traveling to new places and drowning yourself in emotional experiences which really lends itself to the written or spoken word; small wonder mountaineering has such a rich history of literature. Combining my whittering with pictures, videos and web links, it’s very easy to create something that looks half decent, and sitting down for the weekly blog session has become something I really relish. If anyone out there does actually read this, then cheers, hope you like it, get in touch. I’ve discovered that I really enjoy writing, so even if no-one reads this, I’ll keep going.

So, the last year. Twelve months ago I was just nearing the end of my monster 10 month doss at Loveday Towers in Edinburgh (I will give you some money one day Sam, honest, but I’m still very skint!). Four days a week I worked in Peter Green & Co. Wine Merchants, the rest of the time I was trying to climb. However, with no car and no money, Edinburgh isn’t an easy place to get lots of climbing done.

A typical evening in Loveday Towers: Big Brother, tea, beer, brown sauce.

My big break and the biggest change of all, came when I moved to Fort William in July, starting a graduate placement with Gary Servant’s Upland Ecology, which lasted until Christmas. I rapidly discovered that Highland life was something I was well suited to, and can’t really see any reason to ever work anywhere else: life really is too short to put up with the things you don’t like. I discovered the delights of Glen Nevis, both the exceptional climbing and pure beauty. Laying siege to the Heather Hat gave me some of the most intense and enjoyable climbing I’ve done. I know on sight trad climbing is where it’s at, but there’s no denying that the feelings of exhilaration and pride rapidly fade. Projecting something hard provided a whole new, deeper, experience. Just another thread in the tapestry, I guess. My contract with Gary ended, and along came the winter season.

A Fort William Winter: are you tough enough?

Fort William turned into the place to be. Coming down for breakfast you’d trip over a slumbering dosser on the kitchen floor. Strolling around town, bleary eyed and red-faced from a day on the hill, your eyes would meet with some other rosy-cheeked, greasy-haired climber type and we’d share a knowing smile. The scene. For three months I subsisted on a few mornings work with Blair for the Avalanche Service, and the pay-out from writing my car off – rock and roll, man. Luckily, as things started to look desperate, and the snow started to look like melting, a job fell into my lap. As a black grouse fieldworker for the RSPB I spent my early mornings surveying the forests and glens of Lochaber for lekking birds. Up before dawn, finished by nine thirty. Not bad. At this time the sun started to shine, and the cragging season began in earnest. Then along came my current contract, and I’ve moved over to Abernethy Forest in the Eastern Highlands. The climbing has continued, and at the moment I’m feeling pretty good.

Searching for enlightenment on the Heather Hat

This time has been punctuated by a few stand-out moments: Johnsey’s wedding in Nova Scotia in August was an alcoholic hill-billie roller-coaster ride, as was my brother’s in October, just with less hill-billies and more kilts. Topping out on Midnight In A Perfect World was the final piece in a five month jigsaw, and a real lesson in self belief, persistence and some of the more mental aspects of climbing. Taking my first decent trad fall was utterly enlightening too. I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders, and a sudden confidence: falling isn’t that bad (sometimes!), and this realization has since allowed me to strap it on on a few occasions that I would have bottled in the past. One final defining moment was the starriest night I have ever seen. Jones and I were camping in Glen Muick, planning to climb Lochnagar’s Eagle Ridge the following day. The combination of time spent with Jones, the slumbering mountains, the prospect of a days climbing and an endless view of those distant galaxies was damn near perfect.

Jones high on Eagle Ridge
Throughout the year Jones has been a pillar, gamely putting up with all my climbing spray and obsession, supporting my decisions as I moved around for work and not minding when I buggered off to play on stones. There’s no denying that not seeing her as often has been one of the biggest challenges of the year, but hell, if you want things enough, they’ll work out.

All in all, not a bad passage of time.

Much of this reflection was brought on by the last weekend. A decidedly unsettled Highland forecast sent me South to my old haunts in Edinburgh, and as much as I still love the place and all the friends still there, it definitely felt like a stranger to me. The whole time I just had this nagging feeling that what I’d left behind in the hills and glens of the Highlands was the world I now inhabited, and that a city boy I was no more (was I ever?). I guess I’ve just been spoilt by having it so good up here. Living in the stix isn’t for everyone, I’ll admit, but it’s what I’ve come to love. Let’s just hope that I can continue to find work up here.

Chris and I headed down to Back Bowden on Saturday. I had hopes to do battle with a few routes I had tried before and failed on. Starting on The Witch (E2 5b***) I found much better gear than last time round, but proceeded to go the wrong way and took the lob. Next time round I discovered that if you go the right way it’s actually pretty easy. What a twat. Look away now if you want the on sight: don’t traverse the bare slab beneath the overlap, step up high and undercut the overlap all the way from the gear. Big holds make it easier than no holds. Next up: The Sorcerer (E1 5c***). I failed on the long reach on the initial boulder problem a few times, but when I finally latched it the rest all came together. Over a year ago I had had a comedy wobble before falling off when pulling round the lip, but this time that bit went on the first go. At the end of the session I did The Magic Flute (E2 5b**), and am indebted to the guy that lent me his cams for the crucial gear. None of mine fitted, and he threw his up. Surely that’s not beta, I only knew what kit to place when I was at it. Anyone? No? Fine.

On Sunday we went to Stirling’s answer to Rosyth Quarry: Cambusbarron. I had been informed that it wasn’t too bad a spot, but let’s be honest, a dolerite quarry is a dolerite quarry: there’s no folklore and mysticism like the slate quarries here, it’s just a shit hole. It didn’t help that we had to share the crag with an aged Def Leppard (sp?) lookalike in lycra who would not shut up. I’ll be frank, maybe even snobby, but I don’t particularly enjoy spending my weekends in the company of weird old men in dirty holes in the ground. Chris had a valiant effort on Easy Contract (hard HVS 5b**), I did The Doobie Brothers (E1 5b**), and we both decided to sack it and bugger off.

The day before I was inspired to climb. On Sunday, despite being offered numerous quality(ish) routes, I was not. I didn’t mind though, I don’t really think I’m missing much by not going back to Cambusbarron.

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