Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Alternative

The arrival of winter sends me out in search of primo bouldering conditions.  I did one winter route last week, enough to remind me that I don't really like mixed climbing.  Too much grovelling, shuffling and digging and not enough actual climbing.  No doubt if I climbed harder the balance of interesting movement would start to tip in my favour, but I'm not very good, and for now not that fussed.

Here's a few from the last two weekends of flaskhugging-toefreezing-fingerrasping rock desperation:

Highball Arete at Cummingston, normally a good bet when it's cold and snowy inland.

Rich and Paula's new arrival, Bronwen the crag spaniel.  Lock up your Smartwool socks!

What it's all about: 
Cold, blue sky days in the North West.  Stac Pollaidh shimmers above Reiff in the Woods.

Rich in classic TP&QC pose at Reiff in the Woods

Necessity is the mother of invention: Rich cleans snow from the top of Gale Force at Laggan 2

Saturday, 10 December 2011


While transferring files from my old laptop to my new one I stumbled across a load of forgotten video files. They were all of boulder problems that I've done in the random and obscure places I've found myself across Scotland over the last few years. I wasn't sure what to do with them, but in the end decided to edit them together into the wee film linked below. I think it's a nice testament to the amount of untapped potential there is out there and also a display of how desperate I must have sometimes been!

For some reason embedding from Vimeo isn't working, so the link is here.

Thursday, 1 December 2011


A 2 goes on anything, anything goes on a 2. You can only play lower than the card underneath a 7. 8 is transparent. 9: miss a go. 10 burns the pack. First to lose all their cards wins. No finish on a power card. Aces high.

When you add it all up, you spend more time on climbing trips resting and travelling than you do at the crag, especially on a budget Euro sport climbing holiday. You've got to find ways to pass the time: good books, nice food, a pack of cards. The game du jour at Jordy's refugio in Margalef was the schoolboys classic; Shithead. The evenings and rest days just flew by.

I tagged onto the last week of a three week Spanish sport trip of a Scottish-Welsh team who'd started in Margalef, moved north to Terradets and then returned to Margalef when I turned up. I knew the Scottish contingent - the Fyffe, Fat Tony and Young Gun Murdo - and vaguely knew Guy from his days at the Ice Factor, but Baby Dave, the John Orr Boom Express and Youngest Gun Callum were all Welsh-based and new to me. One of the great things about being a climber is you instantly have things in common with other climbers, so I had a great week getting to know them, exploring the crags and, naturally, playing endless amounts of Shithead. It was on my last night that I realised that I was the only one of us that hadn't onsighted E6 or Scottish VIII, or both. Punter.

Who killed the dog?

The boys pick up another random dog

As I've probably complained about recently, I've not really had a chance to climb much in the last couple of months, so I was pretty psyched to get out there, clock up a few routes with low expectations and see how things went. The weather generally played ball, with a few showers to begin with but enough dry rock to get routes done, then a mega-wet day to rest, then three days of cloudless skies to burnout, then home-time. I was pretty pleased with the final score - daily 6c onsights, a 7a onsight (or 2, depending on which guide you look in) and taking the lob with my hands above the chain on a 7a flash (or 7a+, depending which guide you look at)

Dave redpointing 7c+ at The Hermitage.

It's a great place, climbing on funky pocket-and-pebble conglomerate limestone, with tonnes of different crags, so many routes of differing styles, and even more crags that are still untouched. I'm already excited about the return.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

My Autumn

The Autumn seems to be passing in a blur.  It's only a matter of time before the northerly wind brings the snow to the hills, but it seems like only yesterday I was lapping up the summer sunshine.

I guess I have been pretty busy; Sarah starting a Masters in Edinburgh, my new job, organising and attending Steve's Stag, then his wedding to Fran, the OMM and all the training that requires, then trying to climb on any free time left over.  No wonder it's gone so fast.

                            Sam Loveday enjoying Stag Do 'activities'

Athletes at work: Duncan and Konrad's interpretative dance workshop at 0300 at the wedding.

The OMM is my annual concession to being a runner - an autumn crusade to get fit and fast.  As in the last 8 years, from late August to the end of October I increase my weekly running mileage and head out for some long runs in the hills.  Fortunately my last few jobs have kept me in reasonable hill fitness, so I've got a good base to build on.  The highlights of this year's training runs included a round of the Drumochter munros, a link-up of 5 of the Alder/Ardverikie munros and the Pentland Skyline (I couldn't do the race so ran the course on the Friday before).  Duncan, who I've been running the OMM with for the last 6 years, is now a proper runner, he's in a club, competes regularly, and has even been crowned the South of England Senior Fell Running Champion, so I was acutely aware of my relative lack of running.

The race was this weekend just gone, based near Comrie in Perthshire and based round the munro Ben Chonzie and it's surrounding classic OMM wasteland of bogs, steep glens, deep heather, peat hags, hills, mires, fens, swamps and flushes.  Running in Elite again, we were chuffed to see the straight line course was only 38km on Saturday and 29km on Sunday (relative to last year's 51km and 36km), however hilly terrain and rough ground meant we were out for almost as long.  Saturday's weather was also suitably OMMish - low cloud, heavy rain and a strong wind. Lovely.

In the end we were really pleased to finish in 6th, our highest ever place and behind a load of beasts (i.e. proper runners that win big races and are known names in the circuit).  It never fails to amaze me how we do it, but somehow we do.  Well done Duncan!

     For Athlete's like Duncan Steen, re-hydration is key.  Tequila is optional.

As for climbing, well that's been on the back burner for the last few months, but I have spent a fair bit of time hanging from my rock rings at home, as well as a few visits to the Betts training dungeon.  I did add a new problem to Laggan 1, and had some fun trips to Moy, ticking some of the raft of new routes.  A quick redpoint of the new F7a One Man Went to Moy reminded me that things aren't too bad, and a day lobbing off Primo (F7b+) at Am Fasgadh reaped some rewards with new sections linked and crucial beta found.  I'm off out to Catalunya with a bunch of wads from Scotland and Wales in a few weeks, so quite keen to get fit.

I'm never satisfied....

Friday, 16 September 2011

Unsung Heroes: The Wellie Boot's Story

Most of the year we live in the car boot, sandwiched between an ever-changing array of kit from Gaz's life.  Most of the time we're untouched, forgotten, unloved.  Forsaken for smaller, for smarter, for more expensive.  You'll never read about us in magazines, or online, or in gear reviews, and you'll never see us for sale alongside swanky specialist gear.  But the truth is, we're one of the most important bits of kit that Gaz and many of his friends own.   Without us they'd be wet, cold, miserable, and probably wouldn't bother.  With the changing of the seasons, our time approaches.

Take today, the 16th of September.  There's the slightest chill in the air, and a grey sky, and the merest hint of the leaves turning.  Summer has passed, and with it the last of the swallows and house martins.  Autumn lies ahead, running season for Gaz, and bouldering.  And that's when we come out and play our part.

We've been untouched in the car boot for months, sliding from side to side round bends and roundabouts, travelling the length of the country and never once being allowed out.   But today was different.  After Inverness the road felt familiar, the twists and turns - Contin, Garve, Achnasheen, Kinlochewe.  After that the steady stop-start of passing places on the way down Glen Torridon and finally the crunch of gravel under the tyres as we halted in the regular parking spot.  And then the boot opened and there was the view.  The view!  Mountains and rock and water and sky.  Familiar, but always different.

As Gaz puts us on he gathers up the usual bouldering paraphernalia - pads and shoes, flasks and brushes, tape and towels, and another unsung hero, the tarpaulin.

Today is no different from the usual Torridon bouldering session, it's just special because it's the first of the new season and Gaz is impatient to get  back on the sandstone.  Splishy-splashing through the burn and the bog to the tumble-down rock jumble and the old friends and enemies that lie hidden there.  So many stories, successes, failures, ongoing sieges.  The scene of torments and of frustrations.  But most excitingly, the scene of so much potential, for Gaz personally, as there is still so much for him to try and to complete,  to train for and to mark as notches in his progression, or not. Potential for others too, as they hungrily quest across the hillsides in search of the new, the perfect and the hard.  After a while on the classic warm up circuit Gaz takes us down to the Ship Boulder and uses us to keep the tarp from blowing away as he takes continual falls from Malc's Arete.  He's still not very close to doing it, but closer than last season, so I expect we'll be back with him quite a bit this year.

Eventually the expected rain arrives, so Gaz packs up quick and puts us on and traipses back through the mire to the car, where we go back into the boot, and wait in the dark, until next time.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Don't worry, I haven't dropped something on the keyboard, that word is 'climbing' in welsh, which sums up the last week's activities pretty well.

After an anarchic late night show at Edinburgh's Fringe on Saturday night, winter-scratcher and part-time rock-jock Viv Scott and I started the L-O-N-G drive south to Pembroke on Sunday, eventually getting to St. Govan's Inn in Bosherston in time for last orders. I've concluded that despite not being all that big, Wales must be very dense as it takes a long time to move through. Finally fed, watered and fighting fit (or maybe fighting fat), we were ready to kick off our wee trip, and stumbled down to Stennis Head the next morning to traverse out above a rather angry sea on Riders on the Storm. After neither getting wet or falling off, and finding solace in some of the biggest holds known to mankind I decided that Pembroke is rather fun, and we set about ticking more classics, with Viv on Cool for Cats and me on Manzoku, and then headed down into Huntsman's Leap for Viv to take a good lob from the crux overlap on Beast from the Undergrowth - be warned, the photo in the Rockfax guide of someone making 'the stretch move', is complete anti-beta. Well done. Meanwhile, Blair was working his way up Just Another Day/Scorch the Earth only for it to start raining (a running theme of Blair and
Nona's trip), but he waited it out and topped out in the dry. Good work Fyffe.

We started the next day on First Blood at St. Govan's East, followed by Calisto, then swung round to St. Govan's proper and I had an amazing time on Deranged, which was possibly the best route of the trip, and Viv romped up the super-classic and super-polished Army Dreamers. We were tempted by a final route to finish the day, but instead decided to eat ice cream, explore St Govan's Chapel and then go to the beach. Slackers.

Wednesday dawned overcast and windy, and after a pot of tea at Ma Weston's we decided to up sticks and explore the crags round St. Davids, eventually reaching Carreg-y-Barcud in time to climb Beyond the Azimuth and The Great Valerio before the tide did for us. Both of these were great routes on thin (ish) slabby sandstone, and the antithesis of South Pembroke's steep limestone, so we decided to stick around and return the next day. In the mean time we ate more ice cream (I recommend Blue Lagoon flavour) and deep/shallow water soloed the perfect Red Wall at Porth Chlais, before retiring to The Farmer's Arms.

Viv going sideways on The Great Valerio

Enjoying big holds and big sea on Red Wall

Back at Barcud the next day I started us out on Sinecure, a fingery wee number, and Viv styled the crag classic Kitten Claws. There was then just enough time before the impatient tide and approaching showers to nip up the soft touch Stingray. We then headed back into St. David's for some culture and a look around the 12th Century Cathedral. Those that know me will know I don't exactly have positive leanings towards religion, but there's no denying that from a historical perspective it's a truly stunning building; full of ancient tombs, shrines and ornate decoration, and well interpreted so oiks like me can understand what I'm looking at. In particular it felt nice to get to know a bit more about the place we were visiting than just the crags, pubs and campsites.

Following up Kitten Claws

After another flourescent blue ice cream we hopped in the car and headed north for stage two of the trip...

On arrival in Llanberis, it was rather wet, and remained rather wet for a few days. Rob Greenwood very kindly put us up in his nice new house (within a pebble toss of Pete's Eats), which made life significantly better than mouldering away in a soggy tent. Rob took us on a brilliant run up a hill above town, whose name I will never remember except that it sounded like Noel Edmunds, which was a timely reminder that OMM training should start about now.

Each night we made a vague plan to do some routes in the slate quarries the next morning, then to head up the Pass or out to the coast, but each morning the plans were re-written by the drizzle. On Saturday we ended up going out to Llandudno, guided to Craig-y-Don on the Little Orme by Rob. I lead up a classic venture called Hydro, and Rob then casually strolled up Frozen Moment/New Wave and Nimitz. By now the tide had gone out and LPT was good to go, so we went and clipped shiny seaside bolts. My aim was to do the classic 7a The Pink Pinkie Snuffs It, which I'd fallen off on a very quick onsight attempt a year and a bit ago. Rob kindly put the clips in for me, and I managed it first go this time, which was nice. I then got nauseatingly pumped onsighting Under the Boardwalk and spent the rest of the evening not doing much. Meanwhile, Rob redpointed the rather savagely sharp sounding La Boheme.

And then it was Sunday and the last day of the trip, and since it was drizzling in town we hatched a Gogarth shaped plan and headed for Holyhead. Other than The Strand on Upper Tier last year, I've never climbed at Gogarth, so was keen for my introduction to be solid and relatively safe and stress-free, so I managed to persuade Viv out of going straight down Red Walls and over to Castell Helen, where we did the brilliant Atlantis/True Moments/Freebird link up. Despite this being amazing, I still didn't feel ready to up my game to proper choss-shuffling, so pursuaded Viv that the slate would be dry by now and to bail back inland. Luckily for me, he assented, and the slate was dry, so I finished off the trip with one of the routes I had most wanted to climb in Wales, Comes the Dervish, which, rather unsurprisingly, was bloody brilliant. Celebratory beers in The Heights ensued, followed by a Pete's breakfast next morning, and of course, as we drove away the sun was out and folk were out climbing in the Pass. Typical.

Viv traversing out on pitch 2 of the Atlantis link.

Excited about the Dervish

The End

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Eight Days

To get out climbing you need the holy trinity of factors to align at the same time - time, weather, and someone to climb with. A big stroke of luck has brought these all together over the last week and I've finally managed to start getting some routes done. A nice high pressure system coincided with my contract finishing earlier than expected, and with graduates and teachers being on holiday.

It started last Friday night at the Camel with Jim, when I redpointed Final Straw, the last of the sub-7b routes I still had to do there. Jim did likewise, and we both warmed down on Stone of Destiny, which never seems to get any easier. A good start.

On Sunday morning I met Murdo in Contin and we motored oot west (as the Canadians might say) to Loch Thollaidh crags near Gairloch. Despite their Northerly aspect and sometimes feeling dark and cold, this is one of my favourite places to climb. All the routes I've done here have been brilliant and the Lewisian Gneiss is beautiful to climb on. My highlights were climbing Water Lily and Strip-teaser, both of which had been on my must-do list for a while. Murdo only has a couple of routes left to do here, so after seeing off Wild Iris, a bold E4 he'd been putting off for a long time, was ready for battle on Old El Passe, one of the Cubby/Anderson E6s on Gairloch Wall. After a prolonged and painful tussle with the brutal steep starting cracks he decided to call it a day though- a good reason to come back.

Me on Seams Obvious at Seanna Mheallan. (Photo: Murdo Jamieson)

Next day out was Tuesday, and Murdo and I fled west once more, this time up the vertical heather slope to Seanna Mheallan in Torridon. I'm coming to realise that sandstone climbing is hard - mainly because I'm crap at jamming - so it was a good opportunity to work on my apprenticeship. I managed a couple of good E1s - Sandpiper and Seams Obvious, but failed on an E2 called Mark of a Skyver - mmm mmm, sweaty jams. Hey ho. Again, Murdo has pretty much ticked the crag so only had a few things left to do. He ticked a couple of E3s he'd not done and the notoriously tricky E4 Hunter Killer. Despite all the hearsay about trickiness and shonky pegs, he made it look a path. The boy is on form. Next time he's up there he'll have to do Dave Mac's E8 Kolus.

Murdo about to start moving right to the arete on Hunter Killer.

Wednesday was slab day, and after Murdo and Guy did Thor on Shelterstone's Central Slabs a few weeks back, Murdo was keen to go back and do Cupid's Bow. This sounded like a good plan, as it has an easy HVS/E1 entry pitch that I could lead, then dangle from some rusting pegs (and other good gear) and Murdo could style the 6b crux. And that's pretty much what happened. The Central Slabs are an awesome place to be - an intimidating sea of flawless granite, traced with corners and grooves, perched on high and looking straight down the length of Loch Avon. Once the route was over, my heart had stopped racing with fear, and we'd finished the three abseils back to our kit, we strolled over to the Lower Slab by Hell's Lum and I finished the day with the pleasant E3 Cerberus, while Murdo thought about trying Firestone, but decided against
it under the burning July sun.
A timeless classic climbing image: Murdo's arse starting the crux pitch of Cupid's Bow.

The terrible view from the Central Slabs.

Then Friday, another sandstone apprenticeship day, this time at Ardmair with Steve. In this vein I went for some mileage on the E1s Sunstroke and Tunnel Vision and the HVS Friendly Groove (which felt the same grade as the others). Steve dug deep with an ascent of the classic
Acrimonious Acrobat, an inspiring fight to watch. About halfway up the route he was clearly having psyche-up issues, and ummed and arred for a while, then suddenly declared "basically, I'm being a pussy and need to man the fuck up", which he promptly did and grunted his way to the top. Props!

Lastly, yesterday I was hired as a guide by Sarah and Sofia (and paid in fish and chips, ice cream and pub credits) and took them up Ardverikie Wall on Binnien Shuas. I first did this as my first Scottish multi-pitch route in 2004, when I'd only been climbing for about 6 months, and it felt fairly full-on. It was great to return on a beautiful summers day, to feel relaxed and satisfied after a good week of great routes, and to just enjoy the climbing, the scenery and the company.

What a lucky bastard I've been!

The girls getting psyched for a day of micro-granite wonder on Ardverikie Wall.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Time for another coffee

Nursing my second steaming coffee of the morning, a steady drizzle falling outside, the trees bending on the stiff breeze. I sit here, typing, waiting. This is the problem with working on mountain-top bird surveys, the good weather you need is pretty rare. Sitting out bad weather is just a part of the job. It was the same yesterday, and the day before. A chat with the Cairngorm rangers on Tuesday confirmed that I was right to not bother trying - winds gusting to 70mph make hearing and seeing birds tricky.

All the forecasts point to an improvement at some point today, so for now I'm just waiting, checking webcams, staring out the window. My packed bag waits by the door, boots ready to go.

To kill the time yesterday I started playing about with some of the clips I've taken from my trips to the Laggan 1 boulders this year. I was trying to make a short intro for them, a taster of some of what's been done. Here's how it ended up:

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Strongbow, and other tales.

Strongbow at Laggan.
Who said there's no good bouldering in Strathspey? (Photo: Dave Macleod)

It's with continual jealousy (and awe) that I do my endless rounds of website checks - blogs, forums, news updates, video sites, photo pages - and find out what people have been climbing. Whether it's mates of mine, international uber-wads or folk I've never even met or heard of, there's a constant feed of psyched climbers out there, getting out, pulling down, and documenting it - a continual source of inspiration for lowly weekend warriors like myself to tap into. Of course, it works the other way too. When the rain is pattering on my window for the third day in a row and I haven't ticked anything of personal note for some time, it's a torment to see the blue skies and big ticks, a mockery of my live-for-the-weekend attempts at being a climber.

With this in mind, I have to sit and think hard about what I've been up to, what's of note and whether any of it is worth blurting out to the blogosphere. I'm hardly setting the place on fire, and between the constraints of the working week and the recent Highland weather I'm pretty pleased that I'm managing to get anything done.

Last weekend Sarah and I took a quick trip to Gairloch, and after a morning admiring the arboreal verdance of Inverewe Gardens and enjoying coffee and cakes, climbed a few routes in Gruinard Bay. The highlights were Right Charlie at Jetty Crag and Root Beer at Inverianvie Crag - both routes I'd been aware of but not done on previous visits. I'm finding more and more that to improve at trad climbing you need to do lots of it and build up momentum, and given the crap weather that's not really been possible yet this year, so it's nice just to keep ticking over.

After being drizzled off trad routes at Loch Tollaidh on Saturday, Steve and I headed to Creag nan Luch for some redpoint action. We've had a succesful few sessions here after being rained/frozen/blown off trad crags, and this time I opted for Murdo's 7a+ slab Unfinished Business and was surprised to get it first redpoint. I think the grade is a bit contentious as it be easier the taller you are, but I definately found the crux pretty dang hard. Steve ticked the pumpy 6b Astar.

I'm just back in from ticking my summer project - a beautiful steep curving arete at Laggan called Strongbow, and weighing in around the V7/7A+ mark. I'd half-heartedly tried it a few times earlier in the year and knew it would climb really well, I just couldn't do it. Dave Macleod then did the first ascent when I showed it to him in April, and since then I've had 5 or 6 sessions up there specifically trying it. Each time I've come away one step closer to the tick, refining the sequence and getting stronger and smoother on it. On my last session I kept failing on the same move but could do all the others almost every time, so this time I had a good long think and totally changed my foot sequence and hey presto! It worked. It's a big tick for me, as it's a brilliant problem - steep, technical and great moves - at my own little stomping ground of Laggan, and despite Dave doing it first, I found, cleaned it, and worked out the moves, and it's my first 7A+! (Dave reckoned that was the grade, and who am I to argue? Can someone come along and repeat it to confirm please?). I've taken quite a bit of footage of my sessions, so will edit something together and post it soon, but here's Dave on the FA:

Monday, 13 June 2011


I could feel the hold crumbling under my fingers and knew I was off straight away. The familiar lurch backwards, the milli-second flap of stomach butterflies, the sub-concious grab of the knot, the peculiarly unattached "what's going to happen next?" sensation. Of course, all that happened was that I fell a few metres onto a nice shiny bolt, but taking a lob is still always exciting. Serves me right for using the wrong holds.

I got the route, Match if You're Weak, next go. Another of the great routes on Moy's Big Flat Wall ticked. Now that the trees are gone this place seems to be becoming the most popular crag for miles around, especially now Mr Nisbet has added a couple more easy routes. Apparently it's not uncommon on a sunny evening to see a queue for Little Teaser, the crag classic 6b+.

Other than a couple of exciting-but-safe run-out routes at Farrletter on a sunny evening last week, the weather hasn't been conducive to getting out much. ***(As an aside, why do people only seem to top-rope at Farrletter? It just polishes the routes and drops a load of shit on them when the rope erodes the top of the crag. All the routes I've done or tried have been safe enough. Either man-up and lead or bugger off to somewhere the routes are easier, like Kingussie. Rant over)***. I'm getting plenty of exercise doing montane bird surveys (basically paid Munro-bagging and bird watching), so shouldn't complain too much, I guess. I'm hoping that when my contract finishes at the end of July there'll be a month of brilliant weather to play with, but if August is anything like last year, I won't hold my breath.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Stevie Johnston nipping up The Unknown Soilleir at Laggan 1 before another band of rain comes from the west.

This photo sums up the last few week's of sporadic activity.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Make Hay

Getting a bit toasty in Torridon.

Was that the summer? I bloody hope not.

The Strathspey weather seems to have fast-forwarded straight through to the horrible sunshine and showers we usually get in high summer. I'm not fretting too much yet, as there's normally a few high pressure systems to play with each summer, but still it sucks.

Murdo on Neart Nan Gaidheal at Ardmair.

That old saying about making hay while the sun shines definitely rang true when it did, with desperate flurries of texts going back and forth among the Inverness area climbers, making plans, arranging partners and lifts, checking forecasts. I don't feel too ashamed with the way I used the good weather: finally putting Mactalla to bed, pleasant routes at Seanna Mheallan while Torridon blazed below, evening sunshine at Kingussie Crag, skin-loss and body-pump at Ardmair and shower and midge dodging at the new(ish) sport routes on Creag nan Cadhag, Stone Valley. But of course, just as I'm starting to feel like I'm getting into my stride the rain intervenes. I guess it's a good time to go back indoors to keep up some strength.

Jones seconding Right Hand Crack at Kingussie.

Monday, 2 May 2011


Redpointing Mactalla
(Photo: Murdo Jamieson)

I remember first hearing about Goat Crag when I lived in Fort William. I was climbing with Blair quite a bit, and every so often he’d slope off to the north for a weekend of sport climbing and come back raving about amazing routes, perfect Lewisian Gneiss and the beautiful North West. He also kept telling me about this one route called Mactalla - I would love it and should get myself up there ASAP.

Not long afterwards, Gary Latter’s Scottish Rock North guide came out and I got another glimpse of this place. I couldn’t fail to notice the four stars Mactalla got, and the “one of the best routes of it’s grade in the country” description. The only issue I could see was the grade: F7a+. At this stage I’d only just redpointed a couple of F7as and was pretty sure they were soft touches, so the jump up was going to be a big deal. Never the less, everything about this route seemed like a perfect line to aspire to: the location, the rock, the grade and the reputation it was steadily acquiring. I just needed to get on it!

It wasn’t until the spring of 2009 that I had my first experience of the route. While waiting for wet trad crags to dry in Gruinard Bay I dragged Steve up to Goat Crag for a look. I knew straight away that I'd have a battle on my hands as this was clearly a long, steep, stamina route - something that a slab climbing boulderer isn;t very good at. I played on the first few clips but before long the sun came out and we headed off for some trad routes.

It was about 6 months later that I next went to Goat Crag. I'd hoped to get on Mactalla but it was wet most of the day so I amused myself on the easy warm ups and watched Blair and Iain make everything look easy, and this heralded the start of a period of about a year and a half when I was desperate to do Mactalla but circumstances kept delaying me. Often it seeps in the morning, so quite a few times I got on another route first and was too spanked by the time I tried it in the afternoon. Sometimes I was out with folk for whom Goat Crag didn't offer much scope so we went elsewhere. Sometimes we drove all the way to Gruinard Bay to find it clagged in and raining. Compared to it's neighbour Am Fasgadh it's an exposed icebox in winter and can be a similar baking sun-trap in summer, so I stayed away for big chunks of the year. But during all this time Mactalla was in the back of my mind, niggling away as THE route I most wanted to do. Even last year when I managed the similar and sensational Paralysis by Analysis at the Camel, it was just a substitute and preparation for Mactalla, which was spending the summer dribbling under a rain cloud. My fervour was fuelled all the more by starting to climb with the Goat Crag locals, Murdo, Richie, Andrew, Ian and Tess and seeing them waltz up the route in all conditions and all styles (last time I was there with Murdo he down-climbed it after leading it).

But this spring I decided to get a bit more serious and to be a bit more sensible. I've specifically tried to get as much sport climbing done and tried to get better at falling off and 'going for it' in extremis - being happy taking falls has always held me back, so whenever I've climbed indoors I've made sure that I lead and tried to take a few practice lobs - that sounds like a total punter thing to write, but it's definitely made a difference. A winter of bouldering has meant that I'm moving OK on rock already, rather than having to start all over again after months of winter climbing. And, importantly, when I went to the crag and the line was wet I waited for it to dry and then got on it rested and fresh. Finally, after all this time, I started my redpoint mission about three weeks ago.

On my third visit, after a week of great weather in which I'd clocked up a long stamina F7a redpoint at Moy, two ascents of Stone of Destiny at the Camel and an afternoon of showing some punter called Macleod round the Laggan boulders, and as royal wedding bells rang out across Westminster, I found myself eyeing up the last of the hard moves again. A deadpoint to a good jug, the scene of my previous failures. Gathering myself for the launch, braced for the fall, I squeezed the lefthand crimp, fired upwards, and the journey came to an end.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

More of the Same

New York Girls - Laggan from Gareth Marshall on Vimeo.

Just stuck this wee clip up on Vimeo. I went back to Laggan 1 last week and got psyched to see it all dry. The seam in the steep wall to the left of the problem in the video is 'THE LINE' of Laggan 1, but it's way, way too hard for me so I'm keen for someone to come and destroy. There's a project nearby that I'd love to be mine, but how do you stop other folk without being an arse? I guess the beauty is that no-one ever goes to Laggan. For now....

I've still not fired up the trad yet but have climbed more sport routes than ever before at this time of year. The Ticks Ate all the Midges went down quickly at Moy and on Sunday I did the V5-into-F6a 'B-Movie' at Am Fasgadh before falling from the last hard move of Mactalla twice in a row. So close, but yet... Yesterday was the first tick of the year of the stupendously good Stone of Destiny at the Camel and I'm off up there in a bit for more stamina plodding in a bid to train for Mactalla. Hopefully all this sport will make trad feel marginally less stressful when it begins, but I won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


Murdo working Blair's traverse 'Beyond Communication' at Ruthven.

Seems like spring is here at last. Actually, it's arrived pretty quickly this year, with very little snow left on the tops already and lots of plants emerging and migrant birdies arriving for their summer holidays. Today I heard my first cuckoo through the dawn mirk in Strathconon, the welcome springtime alarm melding with the distant bubbling of a black grouse lek I was there to track down. Later, back by the road, I heard my first wood warbler of the year calling through the emerging birch, and yesterday morning we started our survey in Strathbran to the chirruping of the year's first grasshopper warbler. The swallows, swifts and house martins are yet to arrive in decent numbers to Strathspey, but it won't be long now.

Murdo again, this time on The Joker (?) at Goat Crag.

It's in the warm, dry spells at this time of year that I should be pouncing on the Highland trad routes, before midges and summer rain write them off. Before the onslaught really begins I'm keen to climb the wondrous Mactalla at Goat Crag. It's a route I've known about for ages and had a few quick goes at when it's been dry over the last couple of years but never spent enough time on to get stuck in. It's a fairly sustained wall, so if I can get up it I'm hoping that means I'll have a bit of fitness in the arms. A few weekends back I had my first proper session, falling from the second to last clip on the first go. I was so surprised to be there that I failed to stop at the rest, pressed on and promptly dropped off. Oops. After that it got very hot and slimy so I didn't make any more progress. Now it feels like it's just a matter of getting stuck in. Excited.

On the trad front, I've only had a quick evening session at the mighty Huntly's Cave, climbing the cruxy Diagonal Direct, one of the last of the routes that I've got to do there before having to really pull my socks up. One night last week I met Richie for some Strathnairn bouldering esoterica followed by a wee line at Pinnacle Crag, Duntelchaig. This last weekend the Tollaidh Triathlon got in the way of other climbing. It's such a great wee event, but I'd forgotten quite how uncomfortable cycling is, especially uphill into a headwind. Other than this it's been bouldering, trying to catch up on sleep, wrangling with the lack of climbing partners in Aviemore and working at silly o-clock in the morning. Hard times.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Dawn Patrol

Blair Fyffe on Yellow Wall at Laggan.

I'm back to the dawn patrol, surveying areas of Easter Ross for black grouse. I'd forgotten the amazing sense of privelage you get when you're out in the hills watching the horizon glow and grow with the day's new sun, and the peculiar evocative bubbles and cough calls these birds make as the males strut their stuff to show off for a mate. I'd also forgotten the soul-sinking feeling you get when your alarm whips you out of bed at 0400. Swings and roundabouts.

On the climbing front, the bouldering has been ticking over fine. I've just been visiting local crags between the showers. After the scrubbing I gave Burnside back in January it's looking spick and span. I managed the sit start to Gale Force at Laggan today with Blair Fyffe. I can't grade for toffee, but it bumps the grade up a notch from the standing start so depending on what that was it's now 7A or 7A+. I guess if it goes from a sitter you might as well do it. I had a day getting thrown off Primo at Am Fasgadh with Murdo a few weekends back, but otherwise I've not done much with a rope since the grit.

Gale Force going from the sitter. The stand start is great, but this makes for a much better problem.

And finally....

We were lucky enough to be invited down to Wales for Richie and Paula's wedding in Llechwedd Stale Caverns. A very cool place to get hitched and a really good day. Congratulations guys!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Quick Grit Hit

Chris styling Wild Thing at the Roaches. (Photo: Adam Gill)

Having spent my winter working hard, scrubbing boulders on my own and generally having to put in a good bit of effort for the minimal gains Highland bouldering often provides, it was nice to have a few days down in the Peak District on the grit. Chalked, clean, established problems and routes as far as the eye could see, and an abundance of pysched climbers. Happy days.

I went down with Chris after work on Tuesday and stayed at his folks' place in Matlock. After a 2am arrival, day 1 started with coffee and bleary eyes as we wended westwards to the Roaches. The perfect slabs of the Skyline area was the plan for the day, and didn't dissapoint. Chris made quick work of Mantis, Wild Thing and The Staffordshire Flyer, I somehow got to the top of San Melas, Triple Point and Wings of Unreason. These were three routes that had been on my radar for a long time so it was good to get them done.

Almost fluffing the Wings jump. (Photo: Adam Gill)

After a day of bold routes we opted to boulder on day 2 and made a tour linking Mother Cap, Owler Tor, Millstone and finishing at Burbage South. Not much skin left at the end but some good problems climbed. I can't claim Technical Master at Millstone as I jumped off at the jug - that top-out is pretty high! Golden Arete at Owler Tor and Attitude Inspector at Burbage South were the highlights.

Day 3 - the last day - was Stanage, and I had my heart set on a couple of routes and problems, but as soon as I topped-out on Crescent Arete at the start of the day I knew the thin tips would put paid to my plans. I gave Satin a good few tries, but those crimps weren't very friendly. After the fun highball Pullover I tried Wall End Slab Direct but ended up climbing back down after commitment issues. There's always next time.... After a quick play on some easy numbers on the Plantation Boulders we packed in and bailed out for coffee and muffins in Hathersage.

Still so much to do!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Grit Calling

Winter has returned with a mega dump in, on and around Aviemore. After the last two weekends of sport climbing and sunshine it was a bit of a shock to the system, but I stepped up to the horrible weather and hit the pistes with the crowds.

It's the last day of my latest contract tomorrow, then I'm off to the Peak District for a few days. Very, very psyched for some scary highball/trad slab action, but we'll see what the weather allows.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Winter of Discontent

The Winter of Discontent - Laggan Bouldering from Gareth Marshall on Vimeo.

Over the winter I've been cobbling together one or two clips of some of the problems at Laggan 2 and have finally finished sticking them together in this wee film. It's a bit boring as films go but it's an attempt to illustrate what I've been up to, and hopefully to generate some interest and/or more traffic.

I've also put together a first draft PDF of the main scree field so get in touch if anyone would be interested in seeing it.


Friday, 25 February 2011

More Winter Sessions

Laggan 2

I had the pleasure of some company at Laggan 2 last Saturday. Aviemore Tom and Edinburgh Chris came out to see what I keep banging on about and I think they were pleasantly surprised. Chris did a sterling effort patio-ing the boggy base of The Dock Block and diverting a tiny trickle around it, providing a good landing to Laggan’s best and worst named problem: Trowel Moat. Oh yes.

Sunday was a Torridon day. I finally managed to do the original version of Slipstones Thing after putting a hole in my finger on it last time round. I still can’t do Malc’s Arete, but I’m hitting the dish every time now. Just a matter of holding it. Oh, and then doing the hard bit. Hmm.

This weekend was a good one. After a mid-week lantern session at Laggan 2 I was armed with the beta for the start of the king line, Gale Force. I saw Mike Gale do this a few years back when there was a bit of an Aviemore scene exploring the local boulders, hence the name. In my memory he made the top bit look easy, but it's far from it and took me a fair few lobs from on high before I unlocked it's secrets. It's definately the hardest and best problem at Laggan to date, until someone strong cleans up (in both senses) at Laggan 1.

Now I'm just in from the first venture into sport routes for the year. Mactalla at Goat Crag was seeping most of the day but the brilliant Hydrotherapy was in great nick and I was surprised to do it on my second proper go. My flash attempt ended with a good lob, deep pump and slight nausea. Roll on the spring.


I've been meaning to upload this video of Murdo Jamieson repeating The Essence in Torridon for ages, so here you are Murdo! I've just opened a Vimeo account so I'll start uploading a load of old videos I've got lurking on my hard drive on it. It's here.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Fruit

A video still from Laggan 2: Gunfire Font 6b(ish)

Not too much to report of late. I didn't get the job I interviewed for so it's looking like it's back to survey work this spring and summer - really enjoyable work but generally not very well paid. After that, who knows.

I've been trying to train a wee bit since I've had lots of time off so far this year, in the hope of making one or two gains on the rock (a man can dream). I've been mixing up a combination of deadhangs and repeaters, and a few basic strength exercises at home, running, bouldering and circuits at Glenmore Lodge, bouldering on the savage Bettsmaker, and occasional leading at the Grantown wall. Mostly though, I've been getting out bouldering as much as possible.

Cleaning up the local rock has kept me really psyched over these last damp few months. I've started writing up the Laggan boulders but there's still plenty to do down there. At Creag Ruadh, aka Laggan 2, aka Laggan South, I've counted about 20 problems that have been done or are waiting to be done, all weighing in around the Font 5-7a grades - the makings of a really nice wee circuit. I've still not fully explored the crags above the boulders so there might well be more.

Despite visiting it first, I've not done as much at Creagan Soillier, aka Laggan 1, aka Laggan North, but I think that's where there will be more harder problems.

Anyway, here's a few more pics from some of the Laggan 2 problems:

Sobotka's Neck, Font 6c+ ish

The Detail, Font 6a

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Robert the Bruce

The Sanctuary, Bealach na Ba, Applecross.

What's that old legend about Robert the Bruce hiding in a dank cave and watching a spider trying to spin it's web? Try, try and try again. Success will come if you try hard enough.

In a radical departure from my usual form I've had a successful week: topping out some great problems in the lonely wilds of the Highlands and being offered an interview for the previously mentioned RSPB job. I've even scraped some cash together by writing articles for a mate who does something to do with web marketing (I still haven't grasped the particulars). Something about lights and tunnel ends springs to mind.

After a fresh fall of snow the Bett's and I had a whitey and backed out of our plans to go to Hell's Lum on thursday, giving way to one of the best day's North West bouldering I've ever had. Richie's text on wednesday night says it all about our winter vs. bouldering motivation: 'fuck ledge shuffling i wanna pull on some sick slopers'. I don't doubt that we'd have had a good day on the hill, but would it have beaten a day on Torridonian Sandstone in Applecross, under a cloudless sky? Who knows. As it was, conditions couldn't have got much better: cool, frosty, still and sunny, so after a warm up on the Kishorn boulder we hunted out The Sanctuary on top of the Bealach na Ba (I shook my fist at Blue Pillar as we drove past). There's a pdf topo of this cool low roof on the new Stone Country site and it's definitely worth visiting if you're in the area, just make sure you've got strong core muscles as the problems all start lying down! I managed a dubious tick of The Sanctuary problem (starting 1 hold out, but seriously, why would you bother starting lying down? I was bouldering, not caving!). I'm taking the tick.

On the way back down the hill we visited the Dam Boulder on the lip of Coire nan Arr and after receiving maximum beta from the first ascentionist (Richie) I ticked the brilliant left arete of the roof. Two 7As in a day? Perhaps, perhaps not.
The King Line on Dam Boulder

After a full day of interview prep yesterday I've back down to Laggan today, managing to
fill in some of the un-climbed (certainly uncleaned) lines. One of which, though I say it myself, was a bit of a peach - short, sharp and powerful and something I thought was a long way off when I last tried it about a week ago. Just goes to show what trying can do.

Some of the Laggan beauties

Monday, 24 January 2011

What's in a name?

Steep moves on the big face, Creagan Soillier, Laggan

Sod's law. After I bigged-up the Laggan boulders on Soft Rock Richie and Steve were keen to come down for a look and, of course, it rained. Not to be put off (there's not much else to do once you've driven to Laggan) we walked up to Creagan Soillier for a look-see. The big face remained perma-dry so we had a play on the right-hand problem and strolled about in the drizzle looking for lines.

Richie rain-dodging

As I've previously mentioned, Mike Gale et al. did some of the problems up there back in the day and he wrote them up in his wee 2006(?) Strathspey bouldering guide. However, no names were given to problems, which I think really detracts some of the poetic mystery and appeal from the adventure. "The 6c up the arete" doesn't get me excited or make me curious, but by giving it a name it becomes definite, a real identifiable problem with a character - and the same goes for routes. Deliverence, A Dream of White Horses, Orion Direct - there's no doubt that these names all mean something more to climbers than simple lines up rocks. As you may have noticed, I'm really keen to develop the Laggan boulders and spread the word, but feel like a bit of an arse if I go giving other people's problems names, so what's the deal with retro-naming other people's problems?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Lonliness of Obsession

Strange days these. I've been working contracts for the RSPB for almost three years now, but my last one ended at Christmas so I'm starting the year with lots of time on my hands but no money to spend on fuel for adventures. When I'm working I always complain about the lack of time to get out. Oh the irony! The application closing date for what could potentially be my dream job came and went on Monday so all I can do is sit around and hope I get the call offering an interview.

In the mean time I've regained my status as the only/keenest/most desperate boulderer in Strathspey. Armed with rope, jumars, prussicks and all the wire brushes I can carry I've spent this week visiting some of our small collections of boulders and giving them a spring clean. The sad truth is that I'm probably the only person who'll benefit from all this work, but it's already paying off with one or two good new problems and lots of oldies in better nick.

In particular the Aviemore local's favourite, Burnside Bouldering Wall, has had a face lift and now you can top out all the problems. The desperate crimpy wall in the middle finally gave in to my attempts. I'm sure Mike Gale and the old school will have done this years ago, but at least now there are holds rather than moss at the top. I also went to re-aquaint myself with Jules' find at Creag Pityoulish and the highball wall at Creagan a' Mhuilinn, both of which are typically Strathspeyian, to coin a word: quite an effort to get to but actually pretty good once you get there. Also typical of round here there are very few proper hard problems (proper hard for me means into the Font 7s), but lots of good mileage 'circuit' problems up to about Font 6C. On paper the Cuca Boulder sounds like it should be what I'm looking for, with a smattering of two and three star 7A/7A+ problems in John Watson's Bouldering In Scotland guide, but the sad truth is that every time I go for a look its dank, dripping and uninspiring.

However, this all pales into insignificance next to the Laggan boulders. There are two seperate areas either side of the village and I know that over the years a few of the locals like Mike, Jules and Scott Muir have been up and climbed a few of the lines, but for some reason word has never spread to the rest of the Scottish bouldering fraternity. It seems mad when folk are out scouring the high mountain corries in the remote North West for the last great problems when these perfectly good venues are right next to the road in the central Highlands. Quite bizarre really, given that they're as good a collection of problems across the grades as any places I've bouldered in Scotland. Now I either need to get very strong and good very fast, or gather a gaggle of handy climbers to mop up the projects, and then I'll try to write up a wee guide for them. It'll give me something to do to while away the hours.