Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The North West Tapestry

Steve decends Cadh' an Amadain, The Fools Pass, starting the long way back to the car.

Beinn Dearg near Ullapool was the stage for Steve and I to act out our little adventure on Saturday. Walking in to a crag you've never been to before is always exciting, which is probably why the fairly long approach felt quick and easy (I'll take a bike next time). The relatively rarely formed Ice Hose contrasted a couple of icy pitches to start with a couple of mixed pitches for seconds. Easy snow then led to the top of West Buttress, where we both sat, partially blinded by the bright midday sun, drinking it all in. The view from the summit cairn was unlike any I've seen before. All the north spread out below, from the undulations of Assynt and the snowy Summer Isles in the west, to Ben Loyal and Ben Hope on the north coast and all the way east to the North Sea: from the Fannaichs to Fisherfield to the Flow Country, all clad in brilliant white.

Steve on the brilliant 30m icefall starting Ice Hose

Steve starts pitch 3, the start of the mixed ridge.

The view north west: down Gleann na Sguaib to Loch Broom and the Summer Isles.

Enjoying sunshine on the top with the Fainnaichs beyond

Another team start Ice Hose below the moon.

Sunday began with a false start; almost asleep at the wheel on the way to Applecross, snoozing in a layby, then after peering into Coire na Poite through binoculars deciding to cut our losses and go sport climbing. Exchanging steel tools for steely fingers we met Ian, Tess, Andy and Rich for sociable sunshine at Am Fasgadh and Goat Crag. We narrowly missed running out of petrol due to the lax West Coast filling station hours but Rich saved the day with an emergency jerry can. Lesson learned for future Sunday trips to the north west. Despite the ambient air temperature being only a few degrees above freezing, the sun trap of Am Fasgadh provided real unseasonal heat, even allowing tops-off-for-power redpoint attempts. I got to within a few moves of the chain on my first go on The Warm Up, which turned out to be my best shot. Positive progress and a genuine surprise, so something must be going right in my not-so-rigorous training regime. Watch this space....

Richie and Ian have pics on their Flickr websites, useful sources for north west rock motivation, as if I need it.

Hot Rock at Am Fasgadh:
Andy cruises The Warm Up for the umpteenth time, although he did tell me he projected it for two years before success.

Steve on the classic long corner of Teepee, up the hill at Goat Crag.

Monday, 15 February 2010


Warming up for The Warm Up (F7b) at Am Fasgadh.
I've been bitten by the bug. Once again I'm in deep, to the end: a muerte, as the Spanish say. It's funny how patterns form in life. It sounds incredibly crass comparing love and life to climbing rocks, but when you spend equal amounts of time obsessing about both it starts to make sense. Miss Sarah Jones is back from the other side of the world and back in my life and I'm a very happy bunny indeed, also, I've found a climbing project and I'm super-dooper excited about the roller-coaster journey ahead. A flame has been re-kindled and I'm as psyched up as I've ever been.

So, those rocks. In an attempt to become a proper Highland climber I'm trying to infiltrate the ranks of the northerners, to learn their tricks and climb their routes. That trip to Rhue with Rich a few weeks back has made me want a bit of their remote and beautiful pie. The problem is that they're all much fitter, stronger and braver than me. So, how can I become like them?

After extensive research and undercover surveillance I think I've discovered the source of their power, the place that they come to train and pay homage to small holds and steep rock. It's called Am Fasgadh, or The Refuge as us Sassenachs might have it. A short, sharp, savage sweep of overhanging gneiss; south facing and dry in all but the worst rain. With grades from F7a+ to F7c+ this isn't a place for begginers. Static crimp-master and Am Fasgadh devotee Andy Wilby gave me the tour-de-crag last weekend and I came home inspired. Knowing that most of the locals have ticked almost the whole crag I suddenly realised why they're all so bloody good. I've got work to do. I got on the classic initiation route called The Warm Up, and though it's graded F7b this isn't an ironic name, it really is the easiest worthwhile route here. I didn't do it, but I could do all the moves almost first go and know that it's not too far off.

Now, a week later I find myself thinking about it; those moves and holds, where to clip from, where to try to shake out. I had a day off and went back in the week, bolt-to-bolting as the Atlantic fell on Wester Ross, and that's when I think it happened. I got that electric feeling in my belly. It's on. Since then I've been thinking about it before I fall asleep and as I trudge through the woods at work. Working through the moves as I go about my day. I have an obsession. Once again, I've fallen.
Winter Continues

Steev and I about to play on the Ben

Steev starting Compression Crack

Perfect steep blue ice on Compression Crack

After a sickeningly early start Murdo and I were the first on Creagh Meagaigh this Saturday, climbing Smith's Gully then nipping up Last Post. Here's Murdo high on the latter.

The end of a great day.