Saturday, 20 December 2014

2014: Top 3

Another year comes and goes and we keep stumbling on.  Queue the annual reflective blog post.

2014 was definitely the year I grew up: getting engaged, turning 30, buying a house and finally getting a job that doesn't mean I'm always away from home.  I'm sure the 20 year old me would be deeply disappointed to see me now: a slave to the wage with a mortgage.  But it seems to me that unless you're very lucky, very talented or willing to live hand-to-mouth from other people's charity there's not much choice. Anyway, we've just bought a cool house in the sticks and I'm doing a job that 20 year old me would be proud of, so there.

In previous years I've listed my climbing, reading and musical highlights, so I'll follow the tradition, but this time I'm doing top three's (in no particular order):

Trad routes:
1. We the Drowned, E5 6b, Diabaig. The realisation of a long-held ambition: a tricky new slab route in the North West Highlands.  I was well chuffed when I heard that Jules Lines had on-sight soloed the 2nd ascent. Nutter!  He agreed with the grade and reckoned it would be 3 stars on grit.  I guess he would know.
Pretty Crag at Diabaig
2. Sumo, E3, Beinn Eighe. A great day out with Ian T who's almost ticked the crag so was happy to be my belay bitch.  Steep, positive, safe climbing and on a crag with one of the best views in Britain.
Sumo Pitch 2 (Photo: Ian Taylor)

3. Kachoong, 21, Arapiles. The only route I'd heard of before we went out to Oz.  I'd blown it up in my head as a must-do, so was pretty relieved not to take the ride.
Quality bumshot (Photo: Rob Greenwood)
Sport routes:
1. Primo (Curving Crack), 7b+, Am Fasgadh. Four years passed between first attempt and eventually clipping the chains, which is quite a long time for a 15m route.
Game face (Photo: Ian Taylor)

2. Giza Break, 7b/+, The Camel.  I totally fluked this on my first redpoint of my second session, three days after turning 30.  Happy birthday.
Starting up the 30m long potato field of The Camel (Photo: Nick Carter)
3. Wicked and Weird, 7a+, Kujho Crag. Spring in the North West Highlands: birds singing, sunny redpointing and no midges.  A punchy little route too.

1. Vapour Trail, 6C, Torridon. On the to-do list for a long time but I'd never plucked up the courage before this year.  Superb.
Getting high by myself.
2. Scatwell Massacre, 7A?, Scatwell.  A classic Richie Betts sandbag ('Betts 6C+') at  my new local boulder, tucked away in the woods of Strathconon.
Lamps out at Scatwell (Photo: Rich Betts)

3. The Link, 7c, Tom Riach.  OK, so it's a long boulder traverse, but I'm counting it.  My hardest link on anything to date, pieced together over a couple of months of summer after-work evenings.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel.  Part one of Mantel's fictional biographies of Thomas Cromwell.  Uniquely written and about an era that it would seem GCSE and A-Level History skipped over. Poor old Catherine/Anne/Jane/Anne/Kathryn.

This is always impossible, so rather than thinking too hard I'll just pull up three from my current 'most-played' list:
1. Remurdered by Mogwai.
2. Marcos by Kan
3. Open Eye Signal by John Hopkins

All in all, not a bad year on the rocks. Merry Chistmas one and all!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


Trying The Catch 7B at Scatwell.  It's hard.
(Photo: Rich Betts)

I know you shouldn't wish your life away, but for the last week or so of our trip to Oz I couldn't help but think about the things that waited for me back at home.  As I've said many times on this blog before, I love the changing seasons and different activities they bring, and perhaps most of all I love the simplicity of winter bouldering.  There's something about the north and winter time that is a big part of me.  From the other side of the world, where it was late Spring and heating up to a balmy 30 degrees in the daytime, the thought of cold days and sandstone slopers seemed very distant, but I couldn't wait to get home.

Talking of which, the weekend after touching down on UK soil Sarah and I got the keys and moved into our new home.  It's the first time we've owned a place, so suffice to say, we're dead chuffed. Proper little country mice now. The board has yet to be built in the shed, but it'll happen. In the mean-time, two campus rungs screwed into the shed rafters are providing me with some good exercise.

In climbing terms, the best thing that's happened lately is the purchase of an XQ Lite FL1188, or in other words, a rechargeable lamp for night bouldering.  My relatively new job means that I'm no longer away from home in the week so having a lamp has revolutionised good weather evenings.  I'm still working out the best venues but so far Scatwell and Cummingston have come up trumps.

The Cummingston episode was a bit of a repeat of last season when I found rare amazing conditions on Gorilla. I got really close in a session but ran out of steam so, knowing how rare the combinations of cold dryness and tide are, I had to go back the next day to dispatch.  This time the problem was Fingerlicker, the desperate thin 7A traverse in the big cave.  Almost every time I've been there it's been humid and smeggy, even when everything else is in great nick, and I'd just about written it off as something I'd never do. On the Sunday it was better than I'd ever seen it, in fact, even the perma-smeg Cave Beast 6A was dry enough to finally do, so after a wee circuit I spent a fair bit of time piecing the moves together under the watchful eye of crag guardian "Buddha" Dave Wheeler. I got to the point of having proper goes from the start, but soon the skin was sore and returns diminishing so I bailed, frustrated. As soon as I got home I checked the weather and the tides for the next few days and put the lamp on charge.  Two days later I was back in the cave after work and it was still in good nick, so I fired up the lamps (I'd borrowed Rich's for some extra lumen power) and got it sent.  The next day the temps shot up and a warm wet front rolled in and the cave would have been back to smegsville.  You've got to cash in.
Dancing with my shadow on Fingerlicker.

Rich on a new problem in the Corridor at Cummingston: Feel the Lumens 6C+(+?)Apparently it has "the nicest hold to pull on in the whole district."  I suspect that means a minging rat crimp.
Photo: Rich Betts