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