Monday, 22 November 2010

Holy Buck

Time was short this weekend. All activities centered around a mad dash to and from Glasgow on Saturday night to the Buck65/Holy Fuck gig at King Tut's - Sarah was working on both Saturday and Sunday so we had to be there and back in one night. A bit of a mission but it was well worth it. There's a bit of a Canadian band invasion over the next few weeks and there's another night-raid in store when the elusive and truly god-like Godspeed You! Black Emperor play at Barrowlands on Dec 8th. It's no exaggeration to say that seeing them will be the realisation of a life ambition. Oh yes.

So, not enough time on Saturday to head oot west (and not much decent weather) and not enough wakefulness to join the Am Fasgadh Sunday session. So, I took a gamble with a local venue I'd been keen to explore for a while, the Creagan Soillier boulders at Laggan. Mike gave them a brief write-up in his local guide, saying something about them making a good wee spot if people made the effort to climb there and keep them clean. So, armed with several wire brushes (the Homebase Value set is a bargain at £2.98 for three different sizes), ipod, flask and gardening gloves, I was all ready for a voyage of discovery.

Now, I'll admit that in my keenness to get out in the past I've been guilty of cleaning and climbing on some pretty desperate bits of choss, and my fear was that these would be just another non-venue - dirty, small, eliminate - but in all honesty, I was impressed. Set on the slopes below the broken crags of Creagan Soillier, above the oft-driven through village of Laggan is a small boulder field: cleaved from the hillside, debris from geological history. Most of the blocks are too small to bother with, but amongst them are five or six big beasts, worthy of bouldering note anywhere, let alone the backwater of Strathspey.

I spent Saturday hiding from showers under a blank highball leaning face - a project for the travelling wad - with more convenient lines up either side (although sit-starts will bump them up to meaty grades). Between showers I took a few strolls around, checking the other blocks for the next visit on a dry day.

And Sunday was the dry day. Blinking through the fug of sleep deprivation, a looming cold and fatigue from trying the same move fifty-times in a row the day before, I staggered back up the hill to the blocks. So, I had a bit of a circuit boulder - working my way through the boulders, trying lines, failing on most, getting up others. The only problem I kept coming up against were damp mossy/licheny top-outs. I did what I could, but next time I'll do more brushing and less climbing. It won't take much though, and with a bit of publicity and the passage of more feet this should become known as a decent, accessible central Scottish venue. If only...
Where I hid from the showers for most of Saturday: Two well-chalked holds and lots of steep blankness.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Working at it

Just another brilliant wee problem we found in Torridon (Photo: Richie Betts)

The annual brief punt at being a runner is over for another 10 months so it's a chance to try to fulfil my ceaseless ambition to actually become an OK climber. I've got high hopes for a winter of training and getting strong, but lets be honest, I've had this hope every year for a while and I'm still a weak and scared punter. To get psyched for the OMM I got into reading lots of Mark Twight's thoughts from the Gym Jones website: maybe it's time to take his advice, turn up the punk rock and get all medieval on the fingerboard. Quotes like

"Acquiring the spirit necessary to win, which includes a positive acceptance of pain, is difficult in a society where comfort is more highly regarded than capacity. When genuine physical fitness is the norm for so few it is hard to avoid being dragged into the morass. You become what you do. How and what you become depends on environmental influence so you become who you hang around. Raise the standard your peers must meet and you'll raise your expectations of yourself. If your environment is not making you better, change it. We did."

get me all psyched for a Fight Club-style rebellion, quit my job and live the dream. But who am I kidding? Difinately not my bank manager. Just got to fit the beastings around the rest of life.

Last winter - the winter of all winters - I made the strange choice of ignoring the cold stuff and concentrating on trying to be a rock climber. I justified the decision to myself when I redpointed The Warm Up at Am Fasgadh and started to discover the wealth of brilliant boulders in the North West. I feel like I'm still on that trajectory from last winter, still exploring, just on the edge of getting up some routes and problems that might herald a new standard for me. I just need to apply myself a bit more.

Saturday saw a tiny bit of progress on Malc's Arete in Torridon - still failing at the same place as before, just failing slightly better. Train, train train and return. Sunday was the first of (hopefully) many winter Am Fasgadh Sundays, with the local beasts wadding about in typical Am Fasgadh style (i.e working hard projects). I had my first look at The Shield, which will hopefully become a winter project, so long as it's not too wet. First half OK, second half hard. My lack of consistent route-climbing really shows in a) getting pumped 3 metres off the deck, and b) being scared of falling. I think the latter is really the thing that holds me back the most in all my climbing and is something I need to confront.

In Highland boulder news, strong munro-bagger and Scotrail-sponsored youth Murdo Jamieson (I stole that quote from Richie) made the second ascent of Richie's monster prow The Essence in Torridon, after three specific weekend raids from Glasgow. Beast. I'll post a video ASAP. And just in, Richie added a sit start to his own Applecross creation The Universal in Coire nan Arr yesterday, making it longer and "proper 7b". Like I know what that means. Video here.

Murdo in heaven on The Essence, looking out at Liathach. (Photo: Richie Betts)

Thursday, 4 November 2010

A Warm Glow

3, 2, 1, go - run - check the map -run - check north - fight through the slow starters - wrestle with the over sized map, finally fold it into a manageable shape - confer with Duncan, confirm control 1 - run - link tracks to sheep trods, line up the walls and the tor on the skyline - run - there's the river, find a crossing point - run, the first deep breaths up the first hill - check the next leg - reach the tor, Control 1 - Beep - Go.

And continue....

It's been a few days now since I got back from the OMM. Enough time for the dust to settle and the worst of the pain to subside. Enough time for the worst of the misery to be forgotten, leaving only the spirit-soaring highs. I'll say this much: it was a long old way. Dartmoor isn't blessed with big hills, and it's got it's share of fast terrain. To make it hard the organisers just had to keep us going. And going. So that's what we did.

52km on day 1; Dunc and I laughed when we first saw it printed on the map - we almost cried between those last painful controls. At least it was clear and dry, making for easy navigation and route choice. The weather turned that evening, making for a long loud night of wind and rain howling and beating at our cocoon.

Day 2. We stirred as the heavy showers continued and started the admin - breakfast, blister plasters, hydration, the queue for the portaloo. Slowly, gently, wake up the legs. Pull on the wet shoes, hope the blisters don't bite too badly. Join the hubbub and excitement at the start line. 3, 2, 1, go.

5 hours 22 minutes later we emerge out of the cloud and stumble over the finish, a wet, wheezing mess, miles of bog and hill behind us. An overall time of 12 hours 45 over the 2 days, just shy of 90km in a straight line, more in reality, puts us in 8th place behind the big guns. Happy days.

Same time next year? I expect so.