Saturday, 24 December 2016


The annual retrospective blog post: what have the 2016 pebble-wrestling highlights been?

This year in particular the haul feels pretty insignificant - lots of bouldering, a bit of sport, very little trad.  It's strange that despite really loving bouldering, in my own scoring system I still attribute more personal value to climbing routes, and more for trad than for sport.  I mean, it's not about one being better than the other, I love them all, but when I look back on the memries, I do feel like I still get more reward from a good trad fight than a sport redpoint or a worked boulder.  I can't really put numbers on it - is an onsighted E3 more valuable to me than a redpointed 7b? Probably. So, because of this weird skew in my head, it feels like I've not really had a good year, when in reality I've done a load of really good things. Here's a single highlight from each month:

January: Clach Mheallan 7A, Reiff in the Woods
An unexpected start to the year. I'd looked at the obvious steep arete a couple of times before but the low start always seemed impossible.  The necessary change was Ian being there to give me the beta, so basically, I cheated.  Regardless, a top tick from one of my favourite bouldering venues.
Reiff in the Woods

February: Changed Days 7B, Kishorn
Chronicled here.  I'd actually gone to Kishorn to try The Universal but I never even got to it as this little number sucked me in.  It eventually took three sessions plus an aborted attempt when the road was blocked with snow. Totally worth it.
Changed Days

March: The Tippler, E1 5b, Stanage
I backed off this at about 8am one cold misty morning in March 2012, the last time I was at Stanage. So, on this trip it was imperative that I didn't get shut down again on a mere E1.  If I'm honest, it was still pretty touch and go but I somehow clawed my way to the top.  It was my first trad route of the year and I was confident that it heralded the start of a long spring and summer of battling, but of course, life intervened.
Getting horrifically pumped but somehow only 5 metres off the deck. Photo: Phil Applegate
April: Little Minx, 7b, Zed Buttress, Brin
April is always a tricky month for climbing. It's the peak period of capercaillie breeding so I go semi-feral and spend most of my time out in the forest counting them at their leks. Doing Little Minx doesn't feature in the list due to it's quality (it's good fun but fairly forgettable) but because it was a triumph of localism - a couple of quick sessions at Inverness' nearest sport crag, squeezed in between nights spent sleeping in cramped hides. Enough to keep the rat fed.
Brin - Zed Buttress

May: Town Without Pity, E2 5c, Ardmair
Going on pure numbers, in May I had one of my most unexpected successes when I somehow squeezed my way up Rich's The Scientist boulder problem at Brin, but going on that skewed value system I seem to have the fight I had when I did Town Without Pity at Ardmair definitely comes out as a more worthy victory in my memory. Strange, eh? To be fair, it is bloody brilliant.

June: Throw Lichen to the Wind, E2 5c, Ashie Fort
Another nod to localism and probably the most esoteric route on this list.  I'd never trad climbed on conglomerate before so was a little un-nerved by the whole process, but the rock was solid and clean(ish), the crag was sunny and the route was pumpy and safe. And then we drove to Dores Inn for ice cream by Loch Ness.

July: Over the Hills and Farr Away, 7a+, The Camel
I think this only qualifies as it's the only route I did in July that I'd not done before.  Not the best route at the crag, but to be fair it does pack a punch.  It was a typical July climbing day: overcast, mild, midgy and showery, trapped in that dark gully, belaying in midge nets and duvet jackets. One of those days when getting anything done is a victory in itself.

August: Pink Wall, 7b, Brin
If you'd asked me on the 1st of January what routes I wanted to climb this year, Brin's Pink Wall would have been one of the first on the list. There aren't many three star 7bs in this part of the world, but this is definitely one of them.  This probably marked a high period of my climbing year, as two days later I managed my Conon DWS project.  Within the week I was off sick with a viral infection.

September: Scorchio, 7a, Am Fasgadh
The weird viral infection hung around for a few weeks, affecting my balance and making me knackered, so September was a bit of a low point, but I did manage a fun day out with Tess to Am Fasgadh.  The three routes on the right side of the crag are normally wet when I'm there so I'd never tried them but this time they were in and I managed to come away with all three - resorting to doing the best one, Scorchio, second go.
Am Fasgadh

October: South Groove, E1 5c, Trewavas Head,
I'd not placed a wire since July, but a family holiday for my Mum's 60th in Cornwall offered the opportunity to blackmail a belay from Sarah ("we can't come all this way...").  Trewavas Head fitted the bill for a non-tidal crag within a short drive of our accommodation, and it was a beautiful spot ticking all the Cornish cliches: golden granite, turquoise sea, wind-clipped heathland, an old tin mine and chattering choughs overhead. I only did a couple of routes, of which South Groove was the more memorable due to it's non-hold granitey weirdness crux, but both were well worth the trad faff, reaffirming my trad> sport> bouldering value system.
Trewavas Head

November: Teasel, 6B+, Bus Boulder
When Ian gifted me the Bus Boulder for development back in the Spring I had concentrated on looking for a way up a steep wall and hadn't paid much attention to it's vague left arete.  But then one day, with a slightly tweaked perspective, I spotted that there was a line to be done but that the top needed a serious clean. I eventually got round to getting on a rope on a horrible wet day and did my best to clean it up but then didn't go back for a few weeks.  Eventually I got there in the middle of a really good spell of cold high pressure, when the trees were white with rime, the rocks by the river were shiny with verglass and Ben Wyvis resembled a giant meringue. I'd originally envisaged a sit start, but that seems pretty futuristic for now. However the stand is a cracker. The day before, Teasel the family's 16 year old Jack Russell terrier was put down, so the name seemed like a fitting memorial.
Bus Boulder

December: DIY, 6B, Stanage  
Similar to March's top tick, on that trip to Stanage in 2012 I tried and failed on a lovely highball called DIY, so it was on top of the to-do list for another quick trip in early December.  It's possibly the definition of my perfect climb: just off-vertical, high enough to be exciting, short enough to be safe above pads.

So, all in all not too bad a year.  Here's hoping that 2017 brings more, and hopefully a bit more trad. But there's a winter of bouldering still to come...

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