Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Uncle Tom

It's funny how knowledge cascades and fashions form.  Tom Riach, the conglomerate erratic boulder up near Culloden has been the flavour of the season for Inverness locals this summer. I blame Nick Carter, who worked out that he could fit in a good session in the three hour gap he has between dropping and collecting Lily from nursery, so he started going down and getting keen, and then he told someone, and they told someone, and they told someone, and so on.  I've not long started a new job so at long last have free evenings in which to train, rather than fester in strange B&Bs.

As a bouldering boulder it's not really very good, with no real lines and nothing above 6B+, but as a local's training venue to try and get some fitness it's pretty handy.  The traverses of the South West and North West faces are both good problems and contrast nicely in style, with SW being a bit steeper on bigger holds and NW being very thin and fingery.  Being on conglomerate it's pretty friendly on the fingers too, unlike Ruthven which has also become popular among sideways shufflers in recent times.

Another sweaty after-work lap.  Photo: Alpha Mountaineering
Over the last two summers as we've been getting more familiar with the boulder a number of Tom Riach challenges have emerged, so here's a rundown of the current classics.  Grades are complete guesses, but are based on an assumed consensus of the Stone Country and UKC grade of SW Face being Font 6C+. I've done it so many times it feels about 6A, so have no idea:

  • SW Face traverse R-L from a sit start, finishing up arete, aka 'There' - Font 6C+
  • SW Face traverse L-R from a sit start, finishing up arete, aka 'Back' - a bit easier, maybe Font 6C?
  • There & Back (SW face R-L then L-R, sit start) - F7a route grade?
  • There with Butcher Finish (SW face R-L, finishing up Butcher Lefthand, rather than easy arete) - Harder than original, so Font 7A?
  • NW Face Original (R-L, stand start, finish up arete) - Font 7A (route grade F7b?)
  • NW Face Deziree's backwards way (L-R) - Font 7A?  I've not tried it.
  • The Link (sit start SW face R-L into NW face R-L, finish up arete) - F7c route grade.  
  • The Knil (reverse of The Link) - F7b+? I don't think it's been done yet.
I was well impressed when Nick did The Link for the first time back in May, as I was still falling off NW Original.  But as the sessions kept coming I started ticking through the list until The Link was the obvious challenge left.  Murdo tried it when he was tired and reckoned it was hard, but then came back rested and did it quickly, mooting a route grade of about F7c.  For me it's about 45 moves long with a couple of pretty poor rests and the crux right at the end moving past a cool 2-finger edge. Brilliant power endurance training.

Before I go to Australia for a month of climbing I told myself that I had to do Giza Break at The Camel and The Link at Tom Riach.  I nailed the former on my second session in early August, but the latter held out over quite a few sessions in sub-optimal conditions until last night and the first breeze we've had here in weeks.  

Hopefully now I'll be partly ready for the ego-bruising sandbag grades Australia will throw at me.  Or not.    

Saturday, 6 September 2014


Way back when, on a showery day in March 2010, I clipped the chains of  The Warm Up at Am Fasgadh.  I'd been trying it over a few visits to the crag that winter - the first winter that I made a point of dropping out of winter climbing and knuckling down to all-year rock climbing. It meant quite a lot to me as it was my first 7b and I saw it as a personal justification of my decision to quit the winter game.

Later that day I had a quick play on Curving Crack, a 7b+ which is the first section of the 7c Primo, scooching off right to an intermediate lower-off.  It felt absolutely untouchable.  I think I made a comment on this blog at the time, saying that it was the first time I'd been on a route and not been able to do all the moves in isolation.  But something about the route attracted me and I decided to work at it as a project.  Like many of Am Fasgadh's routes it's short and powerful, intricate and technical and there's not really anywhere to rest. Almost all the hard moves are on sidepulls and layaways so it's all about footwork and body position.

Since then I've put quite a few sessions into trying Curving Crack.  I was briefly distracted in the 2012/13 season when I tried and eventually did The Shield, but in total I must have spent at least 12 sessions over the four winter seasons trying it - far and away the most time I've spent on one route.  It took me a while to pin down a sequence for the crux, and then the problem was having the fitness to execute the moves.  I could do it in overlapping halves, getting to the quartz jug and clipping and going for the next move, then falling off, resting and going to the end.  It's been like that for the last few years.

Today me, Murdo, Ian and Tess sneaked up to the crag while it was still in it's summer hibernation, tucked beneath it's blanket of bracken.  Showers washed over the West coast all day so this was the only dry rock for a long drive in any direction.  We're right on the cusp between Summer and Autumn now, still with some heat in the sun but the air is cooling and the hill slopes and leaves have a tinge of gold. We were all hoping that a stealth attack so early in the year would find the crag still slumbering, and with it's guard down it would allow for some rare successes.

Over the last few months I've been trying to concentrate on endurance and fitness as I'm off on a trip to Australia in October.  Usually at this time of year I'd be starting to think about the approaching winter bouldering season and trying to get strong, but instead I've been keeping up the circuits and foot-on fingerboard routines from the summer.  I've noticed some good results over the last month or so, doing the long stamina routes of Giza Break (7b/7b+) at the Camel and The Clansman (7a+) at Moy pretty quickly, and getting pretty close to doing The Link (7c?) at the Tom Riach Boulder.  In addition to this a fairly regular dose of fingerboarding will hopefully have added some steel.

To illustrate, here's a photo of the door that I have the key for to Rich's board in his garage.  Clearly no 45 degree power bouldering for me this summer.
I'm not sure what it was, either my training or catching the crag unawares, or a combination of both, but something worked because earlier today, and I still can't work out how, I managed to climb from the ground to the lower-off without falling off. You absolute beauty!