Saturday, 19 January 2013

Snow Week aka Torridon Diaries #5 & 6

Rich's garage on Sunday morning, cup of tea steaming, fending off Bronwen the dog who's after the socks I thought I'd hidden in my trainers.  It's sleeting outside. My hot breath hangs in the cold chalky air.  Black undercut to yellow crimp, grey crimp, step through, paste the feet, push to take the shift in weight, launch, miss, fall.  Just another session on the board.

My phone buzzes into my attention, it's the boss.  Do I fancy taking the week off - lieing snow is going to make surveying deer dung pretty tricky?  I scan a few forecasts.  Cold, high pressure, blue skies, sunshine.  Yes please!

Monday: A wet day before the good stuff arrives.  Admin in town, drink coffee, buy a shoe rack, build a shoe rack.  Head to the wall in the evening with Sarah.  Another day of the dream. 

Tuesday: Rich has taken the day off.  Will the forecast deliver?  The initial plan is a tour of the Coire nan Arr boulders, below towering Sgurr na Choarachain in Applecross. Everywhere else is cloudless blue, but here a band of cloud hangs round the hills.  Arrival at the first on the list, The Universal block, tells us that it must have rained last night as this north-facing beast is still damp.  I slide off the warm-up a few times before it succombs while Rich does laps. The next dry thing turns out to be a cracking little problem, somehow pulling into and out of a corner.  It's actually not that hard but it takes me ages to work out, especially when I watch Rich do one move that I have to do in about four.  Typical bouldering.  I eventually beach myself on the top and we sack it off to Torridon where it's sunnier.
Despite the sun, the breeze has picked up and it's baltic, but the grips on Malc's feel sticky so I set myself up again: tarp, pads, brush.  Is this it?  No, of course it's not.  Still, another small improvement as I actually manage to hit the top and hold myself for a split second a couple of times, before pirouetting off.  It's enough to keep the flame of hope alive.

Wednesday: Am Fasgadh.  The other project for this winter is The Shield, the 7b route at the winter sport crag du jour.  I had two quick sessions on it before going to Spain in November and it felt do-able, but since then it's been wet.  Weekly texts from Ian and Tess have kept me updated with the state of the seepage on the headwall. The seemingly endless mild dampness made me start to doubt that I'd ever get back on it this winter, but then came this cold dry snap.  I got the shout from Andrew that a team were going over so jumped aboard, fingers crossed.  Snow flurries on the road sparked the fear of the dribbles, but on arrival it was plain to see: game on.
My first go on The Shield back in October (Photo: Ian Taylor)
Last week, doubting that I'd be on the route in the near future, I wrote down my sequence for the crux on the back of a receipt.  On re-acquaintance I was amazed how well I had remembered it, despite not trying it for two months.  It felt reassuring to see the configuration of holds: the sharp ear-shape crimp, the wiered finger-lock that I can just reach into, the little edge out right that unlocks the move to the final crozzly crimp.
It was cold.  No sun and a light breeze meant for a real struggle to keep warm all day, let alone warm enough to pull on small holds.  Fortunately, The Shield has a ledge at half height where you can stop and take off both hands and get the blood flowing again.  Mid-redpoint hot-aches is a new experience, but I guess that's the price of winter rock climbing. 
First redpoint I blagged my way into the crux having dogged past to get the clips in earlier.  I knew what to do but didn't have the holds well enough to shift rightwards and pop for the last crimp.  Second go, the left thumb on the last sidepull was the difference and I felt tight and strong as my right foot moved out and I went for the crozzly crimp, adjusted on it, pushed with the right foot to move the left higher up the crack and reached for the jug and success.  Another project dissolves into happy memories.

Thursday:  Being not very good means I have a huge list of boulders and routes that I still want to do - more than I could ever have time for.  On top of this is a list of new places I want to go to and develop.  Finding time to visit these is even harder as they take much more effort.  So, a week of brilliant weather, feeling tired but happy after two good days, I thought I'd head to a boulder I'd seen last year when out hillwalking.  I won't go into too many details yet - it's a work in progress, and normally I show my new toys to my friends and they do them before me.  In the end, an 'easy day' turned into a full day working a problem that I still didn't manage (it requires some body geometry that I couldn't fathom).  I did one good problem (pic below) and the stand-up version of the one I couldn't do. Brilliant rock and a lovely forest location.  Looking forward to a rematch.
A new thing in the woods
Friday: So much for a rest yesterday.  Despite the rest of the UK floundering under snow, the North West is in glorious sun again.  It's too good to miss so I head back to Torridon, hoping that the Malc's obsession might be nearing an end.  A few text exchanges tell me it's really windy, but I can't think of any good excuses not to try so keep going. 
Arriving in the glen I begin the see their point.  The fire-stunted pines by the road are rocking in the roaring gale.  I warm up doing a new thing on the left edge of Angel Walls, the rock feels amazing.  I don't.  I head to the Ship and sort my kit out, pegging down the tarp and standing on my mats to stop them blowing away.  It feels like hard work, and I can already tell that it's not going to be a good day.  A few goes confirm this.  Tired arms, sore skin.  Boo hoo.  I'm joined by a couple of guys that had slept through their alarm to go winter climbing (sounds sensible).  I'd met one before, John McCune, and show them some stuff on the Ship and they try Malc's.  I decide that I'm better cutting my losses for today so head up to Another Level which is out of the wind.  I've still not done Rich's Worry Bomb - a plumb vertical wall on small holds.  After John show's the way on the long top reach I take a while losing skin on the sit start but eventually get it, holding it together for the top out.  A good consolation prize. 

Later, home and showered, I look at my grazed hands and pink fingertips.  I can feel the building tightness in my left quad after too much heel hooking.  I can feel the red wind-blasted glow of my face and my heavy eyelids wanting to close.

Rest day tomorrow...

Monday, 14 January 2013

Torridon Diaries # 4

This wasn't my fourth trip to Torridon this season. It's more like the 5th or 6th, but the last few just involved sitting in the car watching the rain, sitting in the cafe watching the rain, walking round the boulders in the rain and driving home in the rain.

This time was different, for a nice change.  Freezing fog in Inverness eventually petered out on the Strathbran Autobahn near Achnasheen, giving way to a blue sky punctuated with whisps of high cloud. Sarah dropped me at the boulders then went off for a run from Diabeg.  Walking to the Ship I could feel the dry crispness in the air - that perfect combination of atmospheric and human factors aligning, being here, now.

I warmed up at Angel Walls and on North Wall on the Ship, taking my time, enjoying it.   I then went up to a lovely slab of Mike Lee's called Straition Slab.  I'd seen it on a wet walk back in December and got all excited about a hard looking slab problem (something fairly lacking in Torridon) only to discover Mike had done it and given it Font 4.  After a few joyous smeary laps I guess he's about right.  A few degrees steeper and it would be a different kettle of fish all together.

Naturally, it was only a matter of time until I was down at Malc's for the usual ritual: laying out the tarp, weighing down the corners with pebbles from under Squelch, aligning the pads, brushing the holds.  On my first go I popped off the right hand crimp scar but every go after that was solid to the slopy rail.  Of course, that bit's not the problem, it's what comes next.  The move.  Ann took the photo below of one of my better goes of the day, my fingers curling over the top before the momentum from my right foot coming off rips me backwards.

Ready for another rapid dismount... Photo by Ann Falconer
As far as I can work out one of two things needs to happen for me to hold this move. Either my right toe stays on,meaning I'm more in control and can get away without catching the hold perfectly (this isn't likely unless I grow a bit, but I could work towards it with a mega strong core), or I catch the top perfectly in true mint conditions, meaning I can cut loose and stay on.  The latter option seems more likely, at least I can work on the jump, on my core, on my contact strength.  The thing is though, I could honestly imagine trying this move forever and still not getting it.  I guess that's why I do it.