Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A crow starts from the spruce

A crow starts from the spruce, rasping call and black flapping away.  Crunching through frosted grass, the cows steam in a huddle, lowing loud.  Despite the chill I sweat up the slope, through the fence marking the divide between the farmed strath and the heathery slopes.  Part way I stop and turn to drink it in: the frosted flat expanse of upper Strathspey. Smoke hanging above cottage chimneys,  green belts of fir and pine and golden stripes of birch and beech, and down by the river the sheep flocks grazing, as ever.  Then above, the hills rise and rise.  Late November's snow in patchwork with the brown of last season's plants, then above, perfect uniform white.  Beinn a Chrasgain and the rest of the Monadhliath, once more in winter's grip.

Pushing on, the ground levels out and I follow paths made by sheep and deer through the heather.  A raven honks overhead, and for a second I'm transfixed by the rush of sound of it's wings beating the air, nearing and retreating.  Grasses rustle and the Allt na Cubhaige burbles round ice-petalled pebbles.

Yesterday I went back to Laggan.  It was my first visit for well over a year, since moving from Aviemore up to Inverness.  I'd been meaning to return for a while, partly to try a few problems I'd not previously managed, but partly just to go back, to see the place and remember its shapes and colours, and the times I've spent there.  So far this bouldering season I've been more involved in the siege process than ever before, determined as I am for this to be the year of Malc's.  I'm still relishing the battle, and starting to see some benefits come through, but there's no doubt that the more you focus on the specifics of holds, moves, conditions, skin, the less you open your eyes to your surroundings.  Yesterday it was good to re-connect with a place, to remind myself of the journey this microcosm of obsession has come from: the mountains and glens, the woods, the rivers, the fields.

And, I could barely do this move a year ago.  Which was nice.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Coming of Age

I remember back in the autumn of 2007, not long graduated and not long living in the Highlands, over in wet Fort William. Plying my attempted trade as an ecologist, one weekend I went up to Kinlochewe to join a group on a lichen identification training weekend (no sniggering at the back, lichens are way cool). I was staying in the bunkhouse at the Kinlochewe hotel and one evening, while I overboiled my pasta, I picked up a copy of Scottish Mountaineer magazine left behind by a previous incumbant. Flicking between the stories of bearded heros in snowy couloirs and gatered wonderers on their favourite Munros, the pages fell open on an article about bouldering. The peice was describing the Celtic Jumble in Glen Torridon, describing a scenic circuit on perfect sandstone, tucked between the towering mass of Liathach and the lapping shores of the sea-loch. I remember one photo in particular, of a tall skinny guy stretched out on a problem called The Mission on one of the most awesomely shaped rocks I’d ever seen.

Little did I know how much that place would come to mean to me, how much time and effort I would pour into that rock, and that that tall skinny guy would soon become a good friend.

Bouldering in Torridon is now one of my favourite past-times, my default setting whenever the weather looks right. As any Soft Rock reader will know, I’ve been locked in a wrestling match with one of it’s most famous problems for the last few years, and during that time, when I’ve not been sat beneath it trying to envision my eventual success, I’ve spent hours exploring the boulder jumble, climbing it’s sandstone shapes.

Rich had told me a few years ago that him and Ian were thinking of putting a guide together. It makes perfect sense since it must now be one of the finest bouldering venues in the U.K, and people deserve to know about it. The location alone makes it special, in the quiet Highland solitude between mountain and sea, far from major population centres but only a short walk from the car. The rock is as good as you could dream, both on the scale of the lines and the holds – sculpted sloped edges, pebbles, pockets. And the range of problems: friendly lowballs, ankle-searing highballs, Font 3, Font 8A.

And it’s happened, Ian and Rich have put together a real labour of love: the comprehensive guide to the main boulder jumble and local outlying areas. The boulders have come of age. No longer must people rely on whisperings, blogs and half rememberances. It’s the full shebang: photo topos, lots of large scale maps, well researched descriptions and quality action shots, and all bound together with Ian’s dry wit. Personally, I think it's great that the two guys that have put the most into developing the area have gone to all this effort; recognition of the world-class bouldering and documentation of the psyched wee North West scene.

Besides wellies and a tarp, what more could you possibly need?

You can get yours here.