Monday, 17 July 2017


The bracken was over head height in places.  A flourecent ocean of summer dampness choking the path, fibrous fronds a haven to the legions of midges, just waiting for their chance to unleash hell. No-one's been to this crag for a while then.  Really, Am Fasgadh is a venue for the short cold days, best approached over browned bracken skeletons, not through the living green mass in late June. It's short tests best attempted in winter-dry friction, not in summer smooge.  But here we were. 12 degrees, breezy, showery.  Where else was going to offer a day of guaranteed dry climbing? The clip-stick came into it's own as a bracken basher, and between that and a bouldering mat dragged about like a tractor-mounted topper we got the worst of it down, freeing the starting footholds from their submersion.

Now we're here, where to begin?

In the bright optimism of Spring I foolishly sprayed a couple of goals I wanted to achieve before becoming a dad.  One was to onsight E5, which, in the reality of a full-time-working-midgy-drizzly-not-very-traddy-Highland-summer, I'm reneging on. Just not enough mileage in the head. The other was to redpoint a 7c sport route, a grade that I'd not climbed before.  This latter goal felt much more realistic, involving far more factors that I could control. I had a handful of routes that would potentially fit the bill and one that I thought I might have a pretty good chance at was Am Fasgadh's Primo. The first 5 bolts of Primo on their own are a fierce little 7b+ known as Curving Crack (AKA C.C. for the rest of this blog). Where perma-dry C.C. slopes off right to an intermediate lower-off Primo keeps going for another 6 bolts through the quartz roof umbrella to the top of the crag. After around 4 seasons of attempts I eventually did C.C. in 2014, boring it into submission.

So that's where I started.  Trying to re-aquaint myself with old friends on C.C. - evil old friends I had spent years battling: the quartz 'jug', the crozzly pinch, the stab into the crack, the delicate cross into the finger-lock. They were as stubborn as before, but at least I knew what to do and that would hopefully just be a matter of persistence to bring them together.

Then there was the top section.  I'd never tried it before but had belayed a couple of folk on it a time or two and had a memory of hearing that it was easier than the lower section.  The first time up that felt like a big fat lie to me.  There was a grim move pulling through a roof on a horizontal hand jam that as soon as you moved up and the hand was level with your foot bit savagely into my wrist, spitting me off in squeaks of pain.  Then the next move seemed like a huge span from a small undercut to an awkward diagonal hold. I went home with my tail between my legs - happy to have at least opened an account on a pre-baby goal, but knowing there was work to do.

A week passed. The board took a hammering and I even dusted off the running shoes.  Surely summer would return and Am Fasgadh would be back off-limits?  But along came the weekend and it was 12 degrees, showery and breezy again.  Back to it.

The C.C. links started to grow that day: ground to quartz jug, off, quartz jug to the crack. Tess' beta got me from C.C. into the quartz roof but then the horror-jam wasn't working so I was stuck.  I eventually unstuck this by a complete fluke, squeezing a toe under the roof to take weight off the jam and turn it into an undercut.  It was so satisfying, turning a stopper into a fairly do-able move.  But then there was the span.  It was infuriating.  Tess, who is shorter than me, pissed the move that day so I really shouldn't have been having a problem. Clearly I was doing something silly with my feet. I made some headway, but didn't feel secure. After that section I was pretty sure I could hold the rest together to the chain.

Suddenly success distilled down to three things: repeating a short 7b+ that I had managed three years ago, getting enough rest below the roof and sorting my feet to get high enough for the 'stretch'. Oh, and getting a notoriously midgy, sheltered, south-facing crag in good condition in early July.

Another week passed. Routes at the wall on Monday, circuits on Tuesday, boulder problems on Wednesday.  Friday I was off work, but their wasn't much wind forecast.  A potential midge-fest.  But then it was looking showery so no-where else was guaranteed to be dry. Mhairi wanted a re-match on I had a keen partner. Sod it, let's gamble.

The gentlest breeze tickled the green bracken sea. The rattling leaves on the aspen tree above the crag - the Am Fasgadh weathervane - gave a slight tremble.  The midges sat tight. I clawed my way through Curving Crack to the semi-rest, to the roof, shook out and shook out and shook out, and then: jam, step, toe, undercut, undercut, step, step, reach... Either I crept past as the Am Fasgadh gods were sleeping or they just got bored of me, but either way, I'm now one step closer to being ready for parenthood.