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: