Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Road

Today, something very strange happened.  It's something that I've been working towards for years; an ambition that has taken me on a long and winding road, and finally, somehow, today I brought it to reality.  I still can't quite take it in. 

I first set eyes on Malcolm Smith's Arete on the Ship Boulder in Torridon on a muggy Sunday in July 2008.  Blair, Jenny and I had been midged off a day of trad climbing on Seanna Mheallan and were kicking our heels in the glen, not wanting to call a premature end to the weekend and have to drive back home to start the working week.  We ended up strolling round the Celtic Jumble, the chaos of boulders where Liathach falls into Loch Torridon, and straight away were drawn to the most aesthetic feature there: a curving arete forming the righthand prow of a rippled pink block, soaring above a perfect flat landing.  It screamed out to be climbed.

Of course, those of you that have read this blog before will probably know that the seed that was sown on that day germinated into a giant's beanstalk that I've been trying to reach the top of for years. I'd love to be able to quantify the energy that I've expended on it - not just attempts on the actual problem, but every time I trained with it in mind, every time I talked about it, every time I tried to envisage success, even the times I dreamed about it.  I strongly recall a time while a priest was saying prayers at a friend's wedding (they will remain nameless) when I escaped into my own spiritual reverie and tried to work out a new sequence for the crux.  It didn't work.

In those first few years it was clearly an objective that was way beyond me, but for some reason I decided to keep trying.  The first breakthrough came when I learnt how to use the sidepull crimp (Rich's advice to face Applecross is right), but then I couldn't reach the slopey shelf.  Then we worked out a way to use a heel to lock you in rather than jump, and with two small intermediates I could just about bump to the shelf.  Then came the long barren years of reaching the shelf and getting no further.  THE MOVE: a throw to the sloping lip at the very apex at the top of the arete, feet popping off, pirouetting backwards.  I recall reading a blog from Mina Leslie-Wujastyk in which she described failing on a move almost becoming part of the sequence.  That definitely happened for me. For about three years Malc' Arete meant jumping, slapping, spinning and hitting the pads. 

The inevitable pirouette. (Photo: Rory Brown)
I've always tried to keep going with good humour, but along the way there have been a few black days when I've seriously doubted myself and toys have been thrown around.  Why was it so hard?Why was I so weak?  What did I have to do to get up this bloody bit of rock?  Why had I sacrificed so much time and energy on something that was so clearly beyond me? Who was I kidding? For a while I genuinely thought I'd never do it, that there was something about that move and the geometry of my body that meant it was fundamentally impossible.

However, something kept dragging me back.  There are a load of reasons why it's such an enchanting line - the history of the legendary first ascentionist, the prime location in pole position in one of the most beautiful bouldering venues in the country, the holds, the landing, the height, but most of all for me, I think it's the visual appeal of the line.  It's just a beautiful regular curve that stands out in a landscape of jagged edges.  Added to this, the positivity and seemingly blind faith of the small band of Torridon devotees who kept telling me that one day it would happen.  I couldn't let them down. 

Positivity from Anne and Nige

I guess it would be fair to say that I've been pretty motivated for it this season and I've been trying to be serious with sessions on my board.  I'm probably slightly stronger than before and now able to use a slightly higher foot that had been no help in the past, which meant I could push further with less likelihood of the foot cutting.  Straight away it felt better and I got a flutter of hope that a new door was unlocking. I set a problem on my board to replicate the move and went from not being able to do it to doing it almost every time - each go learning a bit more about how I was positioning the rest of my body around the holds I was using.  

After I wrote my last blog, I had a session in good conditions and had my best go yet - the last of the day as I held the lip for a millisecond, the foot cut and I spun off, missing my pads and landing ankle-deep in the bog.

Well, today it was the end of the road. This happened:

A huge, huge thanks for all that have helped me along the way, but in particular to Rich for the shared psyche (and the video), to Anne and Nige for the note they put on my windscreen when I was going through a dark patch, to Dan for his beta while I tried to onsight the top-out, and to Sarah for listening to my babbling about a little rock in a glen on the west coast for the last six years.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Biding Time

No matter which choices I make, when it comes to climbing they often seem to be the wrong ones.

Being a lonely misanthrope I decided that my wedding in mid-September would mark the transition into the bouldering season.  In past years October has brought periods of great cold and dry conditions. Last year I was away in Australia getting pumped on sweaty trad routes and missed all the happy social scenes in Torridon, so this year I decided I'd start preparations early so I could be steely fingered as soon as the weather changed. Of course, what actually happened was we had the warmest October for years and all the sensible people have been climbing routes while I've been greasing off my projects.  Still, its been fun getting back into the swing of things.

I barely tried my arch-nemesis Malc's Arete last year so I'm engaging it once more with renewed vigour.  This must be at least the 6th season of trying, which smacks of desperation, but the old minx keeps teasing me. The one time I've been there in OK conditions this year I had some pretty good goes with a slightly different sequence than in the past, leading me on to hope that there might be a way to do THE MOVE keeping a foot on, rather than an all out jump.  Watch this space (again).

In the interim, I'm still amazed at the number of problems in Torridon that Rich and co. have done in recent years that I've still not done.  One of the benefits of being a punter is that you have to project everything, which eeks out the joy.  On the last couple of visits two great problems in the 6B-6C range have really stood out and deserve more acclaim.

A few years ago I remember sniffing around a boulder to the west of Torridon village when I was doing some survey work in the glen. I never got round to climbing on it but Rich did the obvious arete a year or so after and gave it one of my favourite names around: Sticky Damph. Conditions were suitably warm and damp when I did it.

Sticky Damph

Even more years ago I remember pointing out a cool looking highball wall in a bay hidden behind some lovely old birch trees on the level up from the main jumble.  As per usual, Rich did the obvious problem quickly and called it Bay Crack. I didn't doit and then forgot all about it.  Last year Rich did a harder sit start into the original and gave it another quality name: 50 Days of Grey.  Reminded by this, I went back and did the easier original last week.  The highball rounded top-out felt a bit committing on my tod, but at least our new addition was there to spot me.

The day we found Bay Crack (photo: Murdoch Jamieson)

On that note, I finished the last blog entry with a cliff hanger about road-testing a dog.  We took the plunge and are now busy teaching her the dark arts of spotting, as displayed here:

Photo: Anne Falconer

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Moray's Finest

Just back in from finishing off a short and fiery love affair on the Moray coast.  On Sunday Mrs M and I headed down to see what all the fuss was about at Primrose Bay, a supposed Cummingston 2.0 with a prettier sandy beach and clutch of recently developed boulder problems. Something for everyone.  We weren't dissapointed.

The hidden sandy beach is flanked by orange sculpted cliffs.  They have the appearance of the Grampians in Australia, but sadly lack the structural integrity.  However, hidden through a cave in a second pebbly bay I found the crag classic: Amateur Acrobatics.  I think Hamish Fraser and others have been developing problems here for the last year or so, and from what I saw this problem stands out as THE line.  That's one of my complaints about this coast: it doesn't really have that many lines, just lines of holds, and more often than not you jump off at an arbitrary jug.  Not this one though.

Here's Hamish on it:

And here's Bettsy:

I was on a flying visit on Sunday so didn't expect too much, but got dead excited when I linked into the crux after a few tries.  That was it for that session though.  The crux seemed to be using a high heel to flick round the lip into a big slopey pinch thing, but I couldn't hold the swing. Again and again and again.

I was so impressed and excited (and the weather, tides and fickle coastal conditions were too good to miss) so I came back with the lamp the next night after work. After failing to hold the swing for the umpteenth time I started asking questions of my sequence and rapidly realised that the burly heel could be replaced by a cheating kneebar, which made the reach to the slopey pinch thing static. Hamish, I apologise wholeheartedly for ruining your creation with wack beta.  Blame Alex Barrows. Still, by the time I'd worked this out  I was so goosed that I still fell off with my fingers tickling the top-out.

After two days of rest I was back again tonight.  I had the lamp, but really I was racing the sunset as I had a dog in tow that we're road-testing and might be re-homing.  I didn't want it to get dark and then lose her on an unknown beach.  Fortunately, things came together nicely and I topped out as the blue Caithness coast disappeared beneath an orange burning sunset.

All told, I probably drove the best part of 300 miles doing three round trips to Primrose Bay in the last 5 days.  And for one problem.  But was it worth it?  Without a doubt.

And I didn't lose the dog.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Whinging Part 3

Sarah's hen weekend meant I had a full two-day pass with no wedding admin.  I'd lined up Robin Thomas for Saturday and since we'd not climbed together before I thought it would be a bit selfish to ask him to slog up to Brin to belay me on my project.  So, the west coast and Diabaig gneiss it was, or at least until the wind died and the midges forced an early retreat. Murdo was lined up for Sunday and I didn't feel quite so bad about making him go to Brin. Even then, I was still praying for an iffy forecast that would rule-out the trad climbing F.O.M.O.  In the end it worked out well because Murdo is working The Force at Zed Buttress, just down the hill. We agreed that I'd have the morning redpoint shift while Murdo gently warmed up and then we'd head down for his turn in the shade.

It would be a lie to say conditions were optimal that day: hot august sun beating onto a south-facing crag, but a strong easterly took the edge off and made it worthwhile.  Building on gains from the previous sessions I made another babystep forward: discovering a knee twist that makes the penultimate move in the crux sequence more manageable, and on my best go I pinged off going for the last hard move before the rest.  Enough progress to keep the dream alive.

More importantly, Murdo made his best links yet on The Force.  I hear the send-train a' comin down the line.

Diary scanning after that showed an alarming lack of time for potential Brin trips before the wedding bells ring out but luckily for me Mhairi was happy to squeeze in an evening session on Thursday.  It won't be long before there's not enough daylight left for after-work sessions and I could feel the pressure mounting.  I decided to be canny after a full redpointing session on Sunday.  Monday: rest. Tuesday: session in the shed trying a sustained 10-move problem trying to replicate the length of the crux sequence. Wednesday: 40 minute run but no climbing.

Thursday came along and I was concerned about the lack of time I'd have at the crag to get the clips in, warm up and still have time for a couple of redpoint goes.  Seeking inspiration from Murdo I remembered him talking recently having really good sessions in the afternoon after light fingerboarding in the morning. Something about recruitment?  I still don't understand physiology.  I guessed it could either work well or ruin me, so in desperation I raced to the wall in my 45 minute lunchbreak and dangled from the campus board for a bit before racing into town to pick up the waistcoats a friend has made us for the wedding and then back to the office for a few hours.

Driving to the crag I implored Mhairi to ignore the drizzle tickling the windscreen: "it'll be bone dry in this wind".  I tried to sound confident.  Luckily I was right. Putting the clips in and resting bolt-to-bolt  I could tell the rock felt much better than Sunday and things were looking pretty good, although if anything there was a danger of it being too cold. Also, in the back of my mind I was very aware that I'd not actually done the full link from the rest after the crux to the top. Between the 5th and 6th bolts there's a stiff pull that I could imagine coming unstuck on if I didn't get much back from the rest.  Still, nothing ventured...

It all came together on the second redpoint that evening.  After clipping the second bolt I downclimbed into the niche and sat looking out over Strathnairn and the relentless motion of the Farr Windfarm turbines sailing round on the wind. I closed my eyes and ran through the 11 move crux in my head.  Even though I was climbing in my mind, by the time I hit the flake jug at the 4th bolt I was pumping with adrenaline and had to take another minute to get my heart rate back down.  As is always the way, when the time came to move it all flowed and before I could think I was bowling over into the jug and milking the rest for as long as possible. When you rest, you rest.  When you climb, you climb. Eventually, when I got some blood back into my fingers, I flicked the switch between the two states and swarmed through the top section as I'd hoped, yelping into the wind as I clipped the chain. Another journey over.

Phew. Now I can get married.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Whinging Part 2

I know you're dieing to ask: How am I getting on with my wee project of redpointing Whinging Consultants before my wedding on September 12th? Well, it's still a project.  That's the short answer.  The long answer is that it's starting to come together.

I've now had three sessions on the route.  The first was with Tess, on one of our seemingly regular 'it's wet in the West, Brin is the last resort' days.  I'd not been on the route before and was very glad of use of her clip-stick to dog the draws in, otherwise I reckon I'd still be projecting the third clip.  That day I had a couple of tries on top-rope, sussing where it all goes, quite how powerful the crux is, and how easy it'll be to pump-out on the top wall if you can't get much back from the rest.

The second session was an evening after work with Mhairi, and it's fair to say that work that day wasn't hugely productive as I started piecing together the route in my head. I'd not done an evening at Brin before, and what with the Vietnam-style bracken slog it's hardly roadside convenience, but Mhairi had an appointment with One and Only, so was keen.  My aim that session was to work a sequence for the crux and integrate clipping into it.  I guess in that respect it was a success.  It's tedious reading other people's waffle about sequences and holds, but in summary the crux section of this route boils down to working round a roof and having to use a righthand gaston, matching it and turning it into a layback to pull up into a distant undercut.  The difficulty comes from the complete lack of footholds that you really want on the left which would allow you to lean out rightwards from the layback, so instead you're all bunched up using feet straight beneath you. I told you it was tedious. Above the crux there's a half decent rest (only half decent, mind you), followed by easier but brilliant climbing. More importantly, Mhairi redpointed One and Only.

Andy Wilby showing how its's done, and seeminky using a totally different sequence to me.
 (Photo: Dave Douglas)

On my third and most recent session I was joined for another post-work jungle-bash up the hill by Andy Moles, a man that I'd last seen throwing shapes in a sweaty tent at Tiree Music Festival. The aim this time was to start redpointing and making links, which I guess could be described as successful too.  There was an initial false start when I found the hardest move impossible despite doing it in previous sessions - having matched the gaston and worked the feet up to turn it into a layback (hooray for dismal climbing chat!) I just couldn't stand up into the undercut. However, Moles was on hand to talk about flagging feet and counter-balancing and I think I've now got the crucial knowledge.  On my third go (first to get the clips in, second to warm up) I linked from the floor into matching the gaston flake, which seemed a million miles away when I think back to my first session nine days earlier.  Just two more moves and then it's a rest. More importantly, Andy onsighted One and Only.

Whinging consultant Dave Douglas entering the crux (photo: Ian Taylor)

Time was tight this weekend (wedding admin, aka 'Wadmin') but I was all set up for a Saturday morning session but rain spoiled play. I'm lined up with Dr Clarkson, one of the route's namesakes, for tomorrow night but there's rain in the forecast again.  I'll keep you posted...

Sunday, 9 August 2015


I've heard it said that the temperature in Inverness on midsummer's day this year was the same as on midwinter's day last year. I've struggled to find the data that backs this up, but given the general cold and wet summer we've been 'enjoying' I can well believe it.

Trying to turn a negative into a positive, I've pretty much given up on thinking of going trad climbing this year - a measly 13 routes climbed so far - and I've mainly been spending my minimal climbing time picking the low hanging fruit by filling in the gaps at local sport crags.  At Brin this meant the 7a+ brace of Despicable Me and Vagicil Overdose.  The memory of the lonely runout slab at the top of the latter in a howling gale will last long in the memory.  At Moy Ian T's new Kite Mark (6c) is a worthy Flat Wall addition, and a week or so later I voyaged into the dusty realm of the less-travelled Forbidden Forest at 7a/+. All good fun, but over rather fast.

So what now? Time is getting tight before our wedding in September, and after that I expect my mind will start wondering to Torridon and boulders, so I'm fairly limited in my options. So, I've decided to use this pressure as an opportunity to focus on a project. I feel like I've been coasting along over the summer, going through the motions but not really having an aim, so now it's time to change gears. After scouring the local crags I've settled on a gnarly little 7b+ called Whinging Consultants at Brin - brilliantly named after the oft-voiced opinions of Dr Pete Clarkson and Mr Dave Douglas, two NHS employees and active local climbers. I've had two sessions on it so far and it's slowly moving along the spectrum that starts at impossible and hopefully ends in clipping the chains. Time will tell. It's got a really sustained and powerful crux round the 3rd and 4th bolts, followed by a half-decent rest and then easier but pumpy climbing to the top.  If I can make it to the 4th bolt I'm hopeful I'd be able to keep it together for the top, but getting through that crux is bloody desperate.

Watch this space.

Ps. If anyone in the Inverness area is keen for Brin evening sessions let me know, I'll repay belays with witty banter, lectures on capercaillie conservation and rehearsals of wedding speeches.  What's not to like?

Friday, 3 July 2015

Two days of Summer

Circumstances finally came together  to merit exploring a local riverside micro-crag above a deep pool last night (i.e. two days with temperatures above 15 degrees).  If you've ever driven into Strathconon from Contin you'll have driven past it, just right of the wee bridge after the turn off to Glenmarksie. I forgot to pack a belay device and discovered that down-jumarring is possible but a pain in the arse.

By the time I'd scoped a line and given it a scrub the black clouds had gathered and it was pouring with rain, but the steepness and trees at the top kept it dry, and it was pretty easy, maybe Font 5/Brit 5b?  It was so much fun I ran round and set up the camera to record a second lap.  If there's more hot weather I'll scrub some more lines as there's more to do.

Conon Wall from Gareth Marshall on Vimeo.

Friday, 19 June 2015


I think I write this exact same blog post this time every year.  Summer stagnation.  To be fair, I've probably picked a good time to have a slightly tweaked A2 pulley and to be planning a wedding, as the weather really has been unhelpful.  It's not been crap in a dramatic, torrential downpour kind of way, but more in an insidious, cold, blustery showery kind of way.  I mean, you probably could have got out quite a bit if you had endless free time to sit out the showers, but for me it's just been easier not to bother. C'est la vie.  You can hardly live up here and complain when it rains.

Murdo sitting out another shower between gardening and hot aches at Duntelchaig
Don't get me wrong, I've done odds and sods: time spent cleaning forgotten local routes and exploring for hidden rock. I'm yet to find the new Ship Boulder lurking in the woods, but I've not given up yet.  I've even managed a bit of climbing too (in addition to laps of open-handed circuits on the board).  The trad highlight would probably be The Hill at Creag Dubh, a great voyage through the center of an impressive historic wall.  On the sporty front the best (and only?) route for a while would probably be Shakin Like a Leaf, a classic Cheddar Gorge 7a that I did on a balmy West Country evening while down south visiting family.  Due to a slightly tweaky finger I've been laying off the bouldering recently, but while south I visited the Forest of Dean's sandstone blocks at Huntsham and came away impressed. Local classic The Golden Bicep 6C+, with it's slopers straight out of Fontainbleau, was probably the best of the day .

As ever, the dreams of an endless sunny summer haven't materialised quite yet. My cunning plan had been to bite the bullet and learn how to jam, and I was looking forward to dropping the ego and getting mauled on routes with lowly grades.  It's something I've always shied away from and am pretty bad at, having always been drawn to the thin, delicate end of the spectrum rather than honest burly tussles. I think that my trip to Arapiles last year really showed up my lack of competence and confidence in climbing in this style and the reality of trad climbing is that you need the full repertoire. I'm hopeful that the sun will eventually shine for long enough on a weekend and I'll be able to traipse to the sandstone west and have a fight.  In the meantime, is that a something between the trees?

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Remember to charge the battery!

I put together a very rough video compilation of some of this season's local (ish) boulder problems. Naturally, I ran out of battery or forgot to press record when I did some of the year's better problems, so it's a bit of a random assortment.  If anything it's perhaps a showcase of what's lurking out there if you can be bothered to put in the effort.

Highland Boulders: Winter 2014-15 from Gareth Marshall on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Clearing the Decks

My job as Capercaillie Project Officer for RSPB, SNH and Forestry Commission Scotland means that around now things all get a bit hectic.  There aren't too many of these elusive forest grouse left in Scotland, but for those that are still holding on, mid to late April is business time.  Capercaillie breed by their peculiar lekking bahaviour, when all the males in an area get together and have a battle to establish who's the biggest and baddest and gets to pass on his genes while females hang around the sidelines and decide on the winner. It makes for a pretty dramatic spectacle, but in a rather antisocial manner all this happens deep in the woods and within the first hour or two of daylight.  In order to get an idea of capercaillie numbers from year to year, it's part of my job to spend the next two weeks sleeping out in hides, or getting up very early to get into position before dawn and, naturally, they don't have weekends off. The data we get from the famously grueling two weeks of lek counts are the basis for much of the rest of my work, and as this is my first year in the job, I'm pretty excited. 

Still, from a climbing perspective the next two weeks are going to be a sleep-deprived caffeine-fuelled write-off. I've known this was coming for a while, so have been trying to get out as much as possible in the last month or so to make up for it. As luck would have it, there's been some pretty good weather up here lately, as the state of my fingertips bears testimony.

The routes season started with two glorious March Saturdays in a row at Goat Crag, and despite tying-on for the first time since Australia in October I came away with a nice haul of amnesia onsights and a redpoint of Too Old to be Famous, my first of the original Goat 7bs. Next weekend I joined Dr Dave for a guided tour at Zed Buttress at Brin.  This is Andy Wilby's latest sport development crag, with about 15 routes bolted between 6b and brick hard, and home to his piece de resistance and the areas hardest route; The Force, at a possible 8b. Ouch.  As per my first visit to Crag One at Brin, I was well impressed with the work Andy and co. have put into the crag - cleaning, bolting, occasionally reinforcing suspect holds, and generally making it a cool place to be.  I managed not to disgrace myself by onsighting the warm up (phew) and then flashing future area classic The Rockness Monster Returns, a morpho 6c/7a/7a+, depending who you talk to.  It all went downhill shortly afterwards of course, with a failed siege on Little Minx 7b(+?) in the hot sun.  Next time? There's plenty there in the grades I'm approaching, so I'm psyched for a return.

Andy on The Force 8a+/8b (Photo: Murdo Jamieson)

On a sunny evening after work last week I put two long-held boulder ambitions to bed: the high but not too hard Brin Done Before 6Cish, which I had walked under to get to Zed Buttress a few days before and could hear it mocking me: "call yourself an Inverness boulderer? Not without me on your ticklist".  With another hour of daylight I raced over to Ruthven and put paid to White Russian/Mike's Problem 7A+, which I first tried in 2013 but lacked the power.  It's nice to see some things changing.

The olden days on Brin Done Before (Photo: Rich Betts)

Betts doing White Russian.

Nearly up to date: this weekend I made 3 trips across the Dirrie Mor towards Ullapool. It was Reiff in the Woods on Friday afternoon for another battle with The Crack, an unsung 7A+ gem that I still can't do, then Saturday and and Sunday turning left at Braemore Junction and heading to the church of Am Fasgadh with Tess and Murdo respectively (see why I've got no skin?).  I was keen to do Warm Brown Streak, with it's crux of three long powerful moves after a strenuous clip.  I'd been on it late last year, but that was before the shed regime.  On Saturday I was close, but puntered myself by working out better beta late in the day when I was too tired to perform.  I managed to persuade Murdo he wanted to go there on Sunday and eventually got it done by the skin of my teeth on the 3rd go.  I'm not sure about the grade.  If The Warm Up is 7b then Warm Brown is 7b+, but who know's what The Warm Up is? Regardless, it's enough to keep me happy and the FOMO at bay for the next two blurry weeks. 

Right, I'd better get some sleep.          

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Clamour

You'll never find this.
The changing of the clocks is supposed to herald the arrival of Spring, bringing the promise of sunshine, dry crags and getting pumped. Instead, as I write there's fresh snow falling on the hills just outside the house, which makes me think that the winter bouldering season is lingering on.

The generally crap weather has meant limited trips to the West coast sandstone Meccas: I think it's only been one day at Torridon and Three at Reiff in the Woods.  I've been getting withdrawal symptoms. If you're a boulderer living near Inverness these really should be your first choice venues. Amazing rock, genuine national standard quality problems across the grades and in a truly beautiful setting. And they're really not that far away.  I'm not entirely sure why I'm banging the drum, because I like them as the quiet, unspoilt places that they are, but with more and more people bouldering at the wall in Inverness and all the current clamour on Facebook for better indoor climbing facilities, I find it strange that all these 'climbers' aren't actually doing it out in the real world.  The truth is, you're more likely to meet climbers from Sheffield at Torridon than from Inverness.

Rare sunshine on Wild is the Wind at Reiff in the Woods (Pic: Richie Betts)

Closer to Inverness, where the weather can be a bit more reliable, there's still quite a bit of half-decent stuff in Easter Ross that I'm pretty sure 90% of boulderers using Inverness wall will never have heard of.  Having moved out of Inverness to the sticks near Muir of Ord I've spent a fair bit of time exploring these esoteric delights this season and I can't help but think that some of them deserve more people knowing about them.  The vast majority of it isn't hard to find out about, with topos, pics and videos all online.  And if you fancy some development, there's still stuff out there, if you're willing to do some walking and cleaning.

I'd already visited Scatwell quite a few times before moving house, but it's now very much my local boulder.  The Richie Betts classic 7As of Road to Domestos (bunched up slapping into graunchy mantel) and Scatwell Massacre (scary heel-toe or biiig jump?) pave the way to the Mike Lee 7B crimp-fest The Catch.  Highly reccomended.
The Domestos graunch.

Back out towards Contin, on a lone block underneath Glenmarksie trad crag is the singular attraction of Super Beetle, a great 6C crimp rail traverse into an exciting rounded top-out, another Betts number.  Cross the Meig dam back into Strathconon and you've got the Meig Boulders, developed by Rich Betts (see the theme?) and Nick Carter.  I need to go back and give them a spring clean before getting stuck into them for a good local after work circuit, but I did Nick's 6B The Lone Ranger on a flying visit and it was a little corker. Here's Rich showing the way:

On the way back from an abortive soggy Am Fasgadh session a while back I visited Inchbae for the first time and did the crag classic Long Winning Streak.  Not a bad spot.

Suffice to say, I've never met anyone else at any of these places.

This weekend I was up Strathrusdale (where?) and did two really cool granite slab problems that I cleaned up a while back. Probably a 6B and a 6C, but who knows.  Good slab problems, forest bouldering and granite are all rare in these parts, so I was pretty chuffed.  When I first found boulders up there a few years ago I did the problem in the video below, and there's more to be done for the keen.

Somewhere in Easter Ross from Gareth Marshall on Vimeo.

 No-one will ever find them, which is a shame, but that's Scottish bouldering for you.  Oh yeah, I forgot about all the keen climbers clamouring for a new training venue in Inverness.  They'll be straight there....

Wednesday, 11 March 2015


It's hard to know what was different on the last go.  Sometimes things just click.

I'd been there for well over an hour already, my toes starting to freeze in the March night, my fingertips starting to burn. I existed with the boulder in a glowing bubble of white in the inky darkness, spotlit by two lamps and my headtorch, the woods and roaring river beyond forgotten.  I'd never been so close to success, but with each failed attempt I new the window of opportunity was getting smaller: the accumulation of skin loss, fatigue and battered motivation all taking their toll.

This was my fourth session here in two weeks: two on weekends, two on weeknights with lamps. After each one I'd come away with a glimmer of hopeful progress: a new hold reached, a shift of weight. The unknowns becoming known.  I'd occasionally tried the first few moves before, but was no-where near making or sticking the crux move.  It's hard to say exactly what had changed, but building a board at home probably helped.  Tonight's task was to bring them all together in one: a series of static points of contact linked through movement, timing, balance and power. Now, after the umpteenth crash back to the pads, the clock was ticking and I was gearing up for another defeated retreat.

One more go.  This one really will be the last.  I even said it out loud to the darkness beyond my island of light.  "One more go".  Sat on the pads, chalked and ready, a thought crossed my mind. Every time I've done a problem I've found hard I've tried to work out what made the difference on that final attempt.  More often than not I couldn't tell you what it was. Better accuracy? More power? Maybe it's more mental than physical: focus, desire. Sometimes things just click.

On the final go last night something clicked again. A millimeter shift of body weight? An intake of breath? Perhaps. Suddenly I found myself  outside my bubble of torchlight, dark and alone, and standing on top of The Catch at Scatwell.

Dancing in the darkness

Sunday, 1 February 2015


Very little to report on the climbing front of late.  There seemed to be no respite from the January storms, so when the boulders weren't wet from rain they were wet from snow. Not to worry though, I've been busy creating things:

The nearly-finished shed board.  Not long after I took this photo I boarded over more of the rafter space where the campus rungs are to make a bit more height.  The remaining holds are waiting on a delivery of more T-nuts and bolts before they can go on, and then with the addition of a few more shit screw-ons for feet it'll be done.

I spent most of today cleaning up this bit of Easter Ross esoterica to produce a couple of just off-vertical granite crystal teetering beauties.  I've not tried them yet as they were still damp post-clean and that wasn't going to change in today's watery sunshine, but I think they might be tricky.  

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Setup

There are many reasons why becoming a homeowner has been really exciting, but high up on the list is the fact that I now have the space to construct my own board.  I've been living in rented accommodation since leaving my parents and going off to uni in 2002 so I've never been able to drill, saw and generally vandalise my home in order to dangle from my fingers.  I've partly circum-navigated this issue by using temporary kit – rock rings hung from rafters and a Beastmaker mounted on a board that fits onto and off an Argos pull-up bar (a design dreamed up by Murdo, my training guru), but nothing beats the convenience of having your own setup in the garage.

Since Rich built his I've been a regular in the exclusive Bettsmaker user group, and although every session I have there is a general lesson in punishment and humiliation I do think it’s probably given me some gains.  If nothing else, I love the simplicity of board sessions: short, sharp, hard.  In the near future I can only imagine that life is going to get busier, so being able to get in regular good sessions without having to trek into town will be a big bonus.

So now it’s on.  The month of January, a month that’s brought some of the wildest weather for a while, has been put aside for me to convert our big wooden leaking shed into a, um, big wooden leaking shed with a board in it.  At the start of the process I knew almost nothing about construction or woodwork or design, but a couple of weeks in I’m pleasantly surprised at how things are going.  I still know nothing about construction or woodwork or design, but I’m learning that with a liberal application of cement, screws, bolts and half-arsed trigonometry and with regular trips to Wickes, Homebase and Highland Industrial Supplies to buy an armoury of metalwork, you can make things stand up and stick together.

There’s still a fair way to go before it’ll be ready, but I’ll let you know when it’s done and you can start the countdown to my first injury.