Another week slips by, another opportunity to reflect on the passage of time.
I haven’t made much mention of my work on Soft Rock, mainly because I don’t really do much of it, but I’ll enlighten you. At the moment I’m working on a short contract for the RSPB, acting as a Research Assistant on Mark Hancock’s ‘interventions for black grouse and pine at the forest edge’ project at Abernethy Forest Reserve. Black grouse are birds of the pine forest edge, and are pretty fussy about the habitats that they frequent – too many trees, not enough, the wrong species, the wrong age, the wrong ground vegetation, anything to complain about, really. As such, changes in land use over the last century have sent their numbers into decline. Mark’s research is trying to glean an understanding of the best ways to manage the forest edge, in order to reverse the plight of this rare bird. At the same time he is looking at the effect that different management techniques have on the regeneration of the magnificent Scots pine forest here at Abernethy. The management interventions in question are burning patches vs. cutting patches vs. leaving all the vegetation alone. This is where I come in. My boss, Johanna Willi, and I spend our days going to all 60 of the experimental plots (20 burnt, 20 cut, 20 left alone), surveying the vegetation (to give an idea of the habitat present for black grouse to hang about in), surveying the invertebrates (black grouse chick food), surveying dung (to see what species are using the plots at present (grouse, capercaillie, deer, etc.) and surveying tree regeneration. Easy.
Spending my days on the moors just North of Cairngorm is pretty pleasant, and for those with an affinity for nature it’s a great job. Hardly a day goes by when you don’t see something of note or learn about a new species. Today’s discoveries included pulling a dry owl pellet (dropping) apart and finding a fully intact shrew spine, with its tiny tail still attached. Later I learnt about the differences between frogs and toads (a toad’s pupils are oval, frogs are more circular, and toads prefer to crawl than jump, frogs are the jumpers). Yesterday I learnt about Formica ants (wood ants). They spray Formic acid at attackers, which you can feel when you pass your hand over their nest. Last Thursday we saw a 6 day old Capercaillie chick, standing stock still in the blaeberry, not something you see every day.
Much of Saturday was spent drinking coffee in Fired Art and watching the cloud roll up Loch Lihnne. Chris came up from Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon, and it stayed dry long enough to allow an evening’s bouldering up the Glen. Although I didn’t actually try anything new I had a good wee session, very nearly repeating Midnight In A Perfect World and Killer Instinct on the Heather Hat in the first attempts in months. Chris tentatively took the first steps on the long journeys that these Glen Nevis stalwarts can provide. I hope he has as much fun as I did.
All weather forecasts pointed East for Sunday, so we upped sticks and headed to Cummingston on the Moray coast for the afternoon. I hadn’t been to this sunny sandstone beach-side crag before, and was pleasantly surprised. It’s famed for being the driest spot in Scotland, and a good trick to have up your sleeve when the rest of the country is underwater – mind you, even here rain eventually stopped play. For me, the highlight of the trip was climbing The Prophet (E2 5c**), a grooved, roofed arête with good gear – possibly the difference that provided the confidence I lacked on Friday? It’s not really technical, just takes a positive approach and a stiff pull to unravel the crux.
Getting involved with The Prophet (E2 5c**), Cummingston. (Photo: C. Edwards)
Working out the crux of The Prophet. (Photo: C. Edwards)
Chris then made short work of Stegasaurus (VS 4c**), a steep but gloriously juggy arête. Jones deserves particular mention at this point for her clean eduro-second of this pitch. It’s definitely the steepest thing she’s seconded, and she hung in there to the top, at times quite literally, showing some of that fighting spirit that she claims to lack. Grrrrr. She’s a tiger. Finally, as the rain set in, I nipped up Trapeze (VS 5b*) an extended boulder problem, and was very nearly decorated in fulmar vomit for the trouble.
Chris, sandstone and blue sky. (Photo: C. Edwards)
Finally, a wee sesh up at the Link Road Boulder yester-eve saw off a couple of the problems I tried last week. Sadly they’re nearly all one-move wonders, so not particularly exciting.
Coiling ropes at the end of two contrasting days in the Cairngorms.
(Photos: S. Jones)