Monday, 27 September 2010

Finding Stones and Losing Bothies

Sunshine points the way to the Coire na Arr boulders, Applecross

At last! Sunshine!

Our meteorological masters have granted a reprieve from the incessant rain: time to pounce.

Richie was keen to head out to the mythical Applecross peninsula to explore some sandstone beauties he’d spied last winter. I’d seen this picture of them on his flickr page and was PSYCHED. So, at 9 o’clock on Saturday the team assembled in Inshes Tesco car park: Richie, Blair, Jenny, myself, a stack of pads, tarp, brushes, flasks and plenty of skin. Oh, yeah, forget the last bit – my tips were already shredded after a prolonged wrangle with micro-holds at Burnside in the week, and I’d shut the car door on them on Friday night. Fool. But anyway, off we trotted.

Ignoring the well-documented Kishorn Boulders, our destination was a fair poke up Coire nan Arr, lurking in the the shadow of the towering Sgurr na Choarachain. It’s at such magical places as these that real treasures lie for those willing to put in the effort of reaching them, and we were not disappointed: cresting the final boggy hummock half a dozen big free standing blocks of the cleanest Torridonian sandstone hove into view. As Richie gave us the tour-du-bloc the roar of the stags rumbled down from the hills above, setting the scene for a perfect day.
The official advert for Scottish bouldering: Richie on his own creation with Cioch Nose beyond.
Concentrating on Blair's central slab problem; the real line of the slab still awaits an ascent...

Richie's Flickr site has more, better pics.

Afterwards my weekend took a rather less successful turn. I'd planned a big run round Loch Arkaig on Sunday, so on Saturday night ran into Invermallie bothy in Glen Mallie, only to find that it wasn't there. I spent a moonlit hour searching high and low, near and far. I re-traced my steps, checked and re-checked the map and never found it. Being half ten at night I decided to run back to the car, sleep in it and do a slightly different run the next day. But alas, as reliable as my Kia Rio has been since I bought it last year, it's no good for sleeping in. As I tried to rub some life back into my cramped and folded legs I realised that I wasn't going to be in a good state to run anywhere in the morning, so bleary-eyed and somewhat peeved I decided enough was enough and started home at 4am.

A bit of googling the next day informed me that a new track has gone into Glen Mallie and isn't on the OS maps, so, the bothy was the best part of a kilometre from where I was, which, it seems, is a long way in the dark. Arse.

After a quick snow-evading run into Coire an t-Schneachda in the morning I went for a sunny afternoon's bouldering up at Burnside, where, two strange things happened. Firstly, I managed a project I'd tried but failed on before, but secondly, and even more excitingly, for the first time ever, I met some other climbers there! Madness!

The first ever queues at Burnside.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Tis the season

Some punter doing the 2009 Pentland Skyline. Photo: Bill Fairmaner

I'm pretty sure I've written a blog entry at this time every year for the last three years saying the same thing; but really, where did the summer go?

It only seems like yesterday that it was June and I was dangling off a very big rope half way down a large Hebridean cliff, and now look at it: the leaves are turning and the first dusting of snow has been reported on UKC. Surely it's only a matter of time before someone claims a winter ascent of Pygmy Ridge. For me, this time of year means donning the lycra and heading out running in the hills. Yes folks, it's OMM season.

I've done the OMM, or KIMM as it was, every year since 2004, so despite it being down on Dartmoor this year (mountain marathon, seriously?) I'm signed up again. I've run it with the same chap, Duncan Steen, for the last 5 years, each year doing better than the last, so the aim is high and the training is in full affect. I try to do one big hill run every weekend for the two months leading up to the race at the end of October, which means I generally don't get too upset if the weather is too crap for climbing (which it seems to be), and I get to bag one or two otherwise unheard-of Munros. Runs I've got lined up in the next few weeks are a circumnavigation of Loch Arkaig, which I've wanted to do for ages for some reason, and the Pentland Skyline race down in Edinburgh. Psyche.

Mainly, though, its an excuse to wear short shorts and lycra.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Cake Shop Block

My my, it's been rather quiet here at Soft Rock Towers of late. Life seems to be getting in the way of most of my attempts to climb: people to see, places to be, work and weather. Same old for 99.9% of climbers I guess.

Last weekend I was visiting the folks down in Somerset and had a morning on the sport routes at Brean Down, the Costa del Bristol, and was suitably impressed by the sun-drenched continental style limestone. Resting between routes, with the August sun beating down and the grasshoppers chirruping nearby I could have easily mistaken the place for any Mediterranean sport destination. Warming up on Brean Dream and Coral Sea allowed for a quick redpoint of Pearl Harbour, a good F7a that contrasts a start on steep buckets with a thin balancy climax. Of course, all too soon it was time to pack up and head to Bristol for the Old Duke Jazz Festival. Nice....

But, anyhoo, time for the exciting news you're all clamouring for. As hinted at in the last Soft Rock I've been cleaning up a new bouldering spot near Aviemore, and it's about time I showed it to the world. So, here's the beta:
Last winter, while working on the RSPB's National Capercaillie Survey I stumbled across a rather large, rather green, crag in Inshriach Forest, only a few hundred metres from the road. Well, after realising that Aviemore was in dire need of more evening venues I eventually went back this summer to see what was what. After walking the length of the jungle/crag (a few hundred metres) I finally came across a wee cave at the far end and set to work with trowel and brush. They say that the great sculptors can look at a rough block of stone and see the shape of their creation already inside it. Well, it wasn't exactly like that, but I knew there was promise from the start, so over a few weeks I made it my wet-weather project. And now, a month or more later I think it's more or less ready for public consumption.

So, with all the normal disclaimers and caveats: this is a Strathspey bouldering venue, it isn't Font or Rocklands or even Dumbarton, this is a dank, north facing schist crag in the middle of a forest. However, if you happen to be hanging around the area for any length of time and are looking for somewhere to provide an hour or two of pleasure, you'll probably have a good time at The Cake Shop Block (so named because it's close to the truly amazing Potting Shed cake shop at Inshriach Nursery. Consequently I accept full responsibility for the sickening cake pun problem names.) As a bonus, for some unknown reason, it isn't midgy. Wahoo!

The Cake Shop Block. NH 868062 (ish), called Creag Ghlas-uaine on OS Explorer 403.
Directions: Head south from Aviemore on the B970, passing Inshriach Nursery and Inshriach House. A few hundred metres after Inshriach House there is a small layby, leading to a grassy forestry track (closed green gate) on the left. Park here and head up the track into the forest, circumventing a large fallen tree, after which the track turns left and becomes indistinct. Here strike off uphill until a long vegetated crag is seen ahead. The easiest thing to do now is follow the crag eastwards (left) until it peters out and an obviously cleaned cave is found. (That's not actually the quickest way from the car, but you'd definitely get lost if I wrote it down, trust me).
The crag is a rough schist (similar to nearby Farletter, but rougher) and consists of a long low roof at the base of a slab. The best independent problems all breach the roof one way or another and are all pretty straight forward. The obligatory lip traverses are probably the hardest and best problems, and as with all 'local' boulders the scope for eliminates is pretty big. The back wall under the roof does seem to seep so wait for a good period of dry weather, but this doesn't affect the best problems (lip traverses).
Steve hanging a fat sloper.
Problems so far are:
The Black Forest, V4/5. Right to left lip traverse without feet on the back wall, starting at the far right of the roof, finishing up from the central square jug.
Sloper action on The Black Forest. (Photo: Steve Crawford)
The Filling, V2. Based around two small slopers on the lip near the right end. Climb direct from as low as seepage allows.
Eplekake, V0. Left to right rising traverse. Start from the corner and pull through the roof from the central square jug.
In The Gateaux, V4/5. Left to right low lip traverse without feet on the back wall. Sit start in the corner and finish up from the central square jug.
The Cherry On Top, V4. Up the hill left of the main bouldering area is a short steep wall: climb edges from a sit start.
The Cherry On Top, (Photo: Steve Crawford)