Yesterday was historically ‘Polldubh Day’ in more ways than one with the arrival of my first edition Klaus Schwartz/Blyth Wright guide, the first regular outdoor meet of the Polldubh Club and some 50th anniversary ascents of Ian Clough’s Wanderlust.
Now, I already had several Polldubh guides including the 1978 revised Schwartz and 1985 Grindley versions (both of which I’ve been using since times when no later guides were available!), but a chance stumble over a clean-sounding copy of the 1970 Schwartz/Wright original (first published guide to the Crags) at Cotswold Internet Books while Googling some related string or other was simply too good to miss. So I ordered it on the spot, received it in absolutely pristine condition yesterday (surely a propitious omen with the Polldubh Club meet and anniversary ascents in mind?) and have to say it’s fascinating. Might add that it’s not the first time I’ve seen a copy (Noel Williams has one), but I’d forgotten how different it was to its superficially similar successor with nothing listed at above VS (ah, the famous ‘Scottish VS’!), numerous choice historical observations and tidbits lurking in the descriptions, and a charm all of its own.
And so to the meet, where we were lucky enough to get a fine evening’s climbing after two days of less settled weather than we’ve been enjoying recently. So it’s pleasing to report that we got a substantial contingent up to Scimitar Buttress and Wanderlust (V Diff) got several ascents including solos (presumably in keeping with Clough’s FA since only his name is listed?) from Chuck and me and a roped one from Graham and Andy. Don’t know if anyone else did it after that because Rich, Chuck, Jamie and I headed over to Styx Buttress, but a potentially interesting situation appeared to be developing with Ed on Razor (VS), Mark on Diagonal (VS) and Graham on Wanderlust all converging on the same few square feet of crag…
As for the Styx team, it was also VS night on this great VS crag, with Rich and Chuck doing Resurrection (leaving Broos because it was wet) and Fidelity, and me doing Curse (surprisingly good route with some interesting moves taking a kind of hanging gangway/slab thing through the overhangs) with Jamie. And we’d certainly both give that the star it doesn’t get, but that’s all I’ve got time to say right now because the calf‘s feeling a little better and it’s running time tonight!
Having spent quite a few days of the past fortnight rock climbing but kept myself running on every day I wasn’t out on the rock, I’d hoped to manage a run on absolutely every day this week including something short before tomorrow evening’s proposed first Polldubh Club outdoor meet. But, after starting as I meant to continue last night with a favourite (sub) 60 minute hill circuit taking the ‘yellow’ trail up past the Grey Mare’s Waterfall to where it meets the landrover track at the Hugh McNeill memorial bench before following the track back past the estate cottage, Mamore Lodge and TV mast to descend the West Highland Way, I found myself with this slight niggle to my left calf. Possibly something to do with Sunday’s slightly harder climbing (feels more like I’ve been front-pointing steep ice than climbing rock!) and probably not very serious at all, but maybe enough to stop me running for a couple of days (had to skip tonight) and a bit annoying when I was fully prepared to kick myself out of the house come rain or shine and quite late into my busy evenings (taking my group at the Ice Factor yesterday and meeting parents at school tonight).
Still intending to go climbing tomorrow (have a massed 50th Anniversary ascent of Ian Clough’s Wanderlust in mind) if it’s outdoor weather, but will tread carefully, skip it if indoors and hope to get running again ASAP after that.
It’s been quite a week for both personal climbing and the future of the sport in Lochaber…
On Wednesday I attended the inaugural meeting of the new Polldubh Club and came away with a place on the interim Committee, a website to design (not much there yet!) and partners arranged for Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday Geoff Hewitt and I took advantage of the glorious spring sunshine to pay a long-anticipated visit to the superb gabbro ring crags (basically the rim of an ancient volcano crater) of Ardnamurchan, where we fortuitously bumped into fellow Polldubh Club founders Dean and Gary. Following a recommendation to head for the nicest-looking buttress at Meall an Fhir-eoin Beag and jumping straight on the crag classic Yir (VS), I also led Geoff up something the SMC guide thinks is one of two Krakatoas and Gary Latter’s book gives as An Deireadh (sort of Diff with a Hard Severe finish either way), the beautiful concave slab of Greta Gabbro (VS) on the neighbouring Creag an Fhir-eoin (aka Dome Buttress) and the venerable-but-not-so-classic Cuil Iolaire (VS, with a first pitch described by Gary as a ‘gardening route’ that I doubt I’ll ever do again). Dean and Gary also had a good day, ticking Greta Gabbro (which they were on when we arrived), Claude and some other routes in the VS/HVS bracket, but perhaps the real hero of the day was Geoff, whose efforts to tape his disintegrating rock shoes back together finally resulted in him losing his soul (yes, I know, sole…) to the much nicer second pitch of Cuil Iolaire! The day ended with the four of us howling with laughter as we drove straight onto the 8:00pm Corran Ferry to hear the ramp going up (nice timing or what?) the moment Dean’s wheels had crossed it. :-D
Sunday’s planned day out with Rich Parker started unpromisingly with his callout on a rescue (paraglider missing overnight east of Glen Coe), so I took my camera down to Caolasnacon to explore some vaguely promising small crags I’ve occasionally heard of folk visiting before. But, with Rich back from a successful rescue (a remarkable tale of crashing, a night on the mountain with no phone signal and starting to walk out in pain this morning) by midday, our visit to Polldubh to savour the still perfect conditions was back on. So we did Promises (Hard Severe, my lead) and Dundee Weaver (HVS, Rich’s lead) on Dundee Buttress before heading upwards via Rubberface (E1, and definitely Rich’s lead!) on After Crag to Secretaries’ Buttress for me to contemplate the possibility of leading Twitch (E1 and shunted clean last Sunday, but I left it today…) and crossing the Sky Pilot terrace on High Crag to finish up the brilliant Shergar (HVS, my lead and I’m still smiling!) on Black’s Buttress. :-)
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So here I was, on my last day of Easter holiday, leaving a *sunny* Lochaber early yesterday morning to go cragging a good three hours’ drive away up Glen Clova and wondering who to blame… Sonya Drummond from Angus, for telling us all that Proud Corner has got to be the BEST single pitch VS EVER? Simon Davidson from Edinburgh, for hijacking my Polldubh Anniversary thread on Sunday evening to suggest climbing together? Me, for listening to Sonya and suggesting Clova to Simon when he was happy to meet me at a more convenient Weem, Dunkeld or even my home patch of (sunny) Glen Nevis? Or maybe even all three? :-P
Whatever, it got greyer and greyer (which it’s not supposed to do!) as I drove east, with little bar a late re-emerging sun as I turned north at Kirriemuir to convince me that I hadn’t just made a *big* mistake. But it was actually quite nice up Glen Clova in the end, with plenty of sunshine and blue sky slightly tempered by a sometimes chilly breeze. And the climbing’s very good, if somewhat (nay, considerably) steeper than my slabby comfort zone. So we did Wandered, Proud Corner and Centipod, and Simon led all three. Thought I was going to lead Proud Corner myself, but offered it to him after finding Wandered (steep, fairly physical HVS which he led very nicely and I really couldn’t have led right now) quite exciting! Think I’d have been OK if we’d just jumped straight on it because it’s all there and never strenuous like Wandered, but it’s steep enough and could give some VS leaders a stiff test. Also took a look at the Upper North-West Crag (still a bit wet in places and definitely on the steep side for me!) before being seduced by the guidebook photo of Centipod into trogging up to High Crag (nothing like as far as the text makes out) to do that. And it’s a nice wee route (probably only just HVS) at something more like my angle, but wanting some traffic to clean it up a bit.
So, like last week’s trip to Cummingston, it was another long day for a few pitches of climbing, but another good one. I got to climb somewhere new, with someone new, and look forward to climbing with Simon again on some proper slabs where I’m up for sharing the lead at 5a and 5b. Because I might never get off the blunt end if we stick to the steep stuff! ;-)
Have to say that the Polldubh 50th Anniversary Game took a bit of a nosedive yesterday with a nice morning developing into a wet afternoon just when I was about to go out (meaning that I had to go running instead!), but I still took myself up there today and did two of the four Sullivan/Clough routes ‘scheduled’ for yesterday. Started by shunting Iche (I swear that overlap’s easier than Damnation’s!) and soloing Pine Wall before heading up to Secretaries’ Buttress to shunt Twitch (John Cunningham’s brilliant little pitch of Etive-style padding) and finishing by soloing Enigma on High Crag.
So Iche and Enigma might strictly have been a day too late for the ‘game’, but it was a nice, sunny day (odd spits of rain just as I finished rigging Twitch, then some more as I drove past Corran Ferry on the way home) and I got my first 5a and 5b pitches of the season, so it was definitely worth the trip. And it’s still game on AFAIC, because at least I made the effort! :-)
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Today Jamie Bankhead, Rich Parker and I headed north-east from a wet Lochaber in search of dry rock. With Plans A & B to visit Duntelchaig or Glenmarksie crags still looking like damp squibs after smartly bypassing the former and optimistically driving to Strathconon to look at the latter, Plan C finally took us to Cummingston on the Moray coast, where climbing that’s steep, juggy, sandstone and ‘different’ (home of the overhanging Mod?) can be strangely compelling even for a delicate slab creature like me…
Not too surprisingly, we took it in turns to lead, with Jamie choosing Doubtless Wall (Severe), me taking the central corner (VS) of the logically named Left, Right and Centre trilogy and Rich attempting (and eventually backing off) the supposedly soft E2 of The Prophet. After which Jamie led Bombproof (Severe), I took Doddle Diedre (same grade) and Rich the spectacularly spiky neighbouring arete of Stegosaurus (VS), which I’d found striking enough on my only previous visit to say (after a single look, and despite not normally ‘doing’ steep) ‘I want to do that’ and done that day!
So it might have been a long way to travel for a few short climbs but, driving smugly back into the rain along Loch Laggan side after a very satisfactory chippy in Aviemore, I’ve no doubt we all felt it had been worthwhile.
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After taking a few days off to go climbing with Jamie H and Angus, I’ve been running again since Monday and feeling stronger for the break. So this afternoon I ran over the Devil’s Staircase to Altnafeadh and back in good conditions (sunshine and light showers), and came home with my first ‘sub-2’ in a while (not in my top four or five at 1:58 or 59, but still my fastest since 2006). Also pleased to report that I ran absolutely every step of the way (not always the quickest thing on hill runs, but satisfying self-discipline for training) and turned straight round without stopping when I hit the roadside in Glen Coe.
There’s fresh snow on the hills, but not quite down to the top of the Devil’s, so I’d put the snowline at about 650 to 700m. And the walkers are starting to return in force, along with a few mountain bikers.
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Today I climbed Styx Right Wall (V Diff), Resurrection (VS) and Three Pines (Severe) at Polldubh with Angus, 50 years to the day after Resurrection’s first ascent by Clough and Lakin. Have already posted an account to the UKC Forums (under the title of The Polldubh 50th Anniversary Game), so quoting that here:
Something I’d noted last autumn and kept in mind for some motivation to get back onto rock when the ice starts to melt (as it’s being doing for the past week) is the number of Polldubh routes from the great days of Ian Clough and Terry Sullivan coming up for their 50th birthdays this spring. So the first one I had in my diary (yes, really!) was the beautiful slabby ramp of Resurrection, but never expected to get it today after yesterday’s rain and a miserable forecast. However, we woke to something (sunshine!) far more attractive than expected, checked another couple of forecasts, thought a drying Polldubh more enticing than melting ice or pulling plastic and headed up. Got there about 11:00, had to wait an hour or two for a 10ft weep down the crux narrows to dry up, so popped up Styx Right Wall and grabbed a quick bite to pass the time before deciding things looked good enough. And they were, with just a few damp spots at the narrows and some more obstinate wetness to make the chimney fault above a little more awkward than usual, and we did it…
A very special ascent of one of my favourite climbs by a climber whose story continues to interest me, and all the more satisfying for being accompanied by my brother on what I think might be his first VS. Have uploaded a photo here and will be back to link it in or link to same on my site if I get today blogged before the photo gets approved.
So what of the ’50th Anniversary Game’? Don’t have all the dates to hand because (shock, horror!) I don’t have ‘Highland Outcrops’, but know we’re looking at:
Iche, Fidelity, Enigma and Kinloss Grooves on 11 April (this Saturday)
Pandora on 20 April
Vampire and Secretaries’ Direct on 21 April
Wanderlust on 22 April
Storm, Flying Dutchman and Phantom Slab on 3 May (a Sunday)
Heatwave on 22 May
Spike Wall on 28 June
(NB Three Pines and Crag Lough Grooves were both 50 this March, so too late to include in the ‘game’.)
So did anyone else do Resurrection today and, weather permitting, who wants to play? Haven’t ever done Iche, but took a look today and think 11 April looks like a good day out if it’s dry! :-)
Might add that I never used my chalk bag because it wasn’t warm enough to need it before we left, but did make use of modern rock shoes and protection! Also have to say I found the final groove of Three Pines (which I last did in 1990) polished to ******* (supply your own adjective!), but it’s still a fine little climb.
Yesterday I took Angus to Polldubh to climb Heatwave, Flying Dutchman, Pine Wall and Secretaries’ Direct in glorious spring sunshine for what amounted to a quick ‘best of Polldubh Severe’ tour.
Now, perhaps I’d already climbed Heatwave more often than any other route (at least seven times, including three solos), but all my previous ascents were in 1990/91 and things weren’t quite how I’d remembered them. So the initial ramp felt a little harder (although I’d describe the protection as spaced rather than poor as suggested by most of the guides), I’d forgotten that it landed you directly below the Storm crack and the rightwards traverse from its top looked all wrong. Which briefly confused me into thinking I’d made a mistake, so I took a stance before the traverse, brought Angus up and we abbed off through some holly before realising (as I must have known all along) that of course it was Heatwave and went back to do it again! No problems this time with the traverse actually being much easier than it looks, so we took in the Vampire groove to spice up the second pitch before finishing up the slabs above, and will put the preceding debacle down to a combination of amnesia and first-rock-route-of-the-season-itus.
Flying Dutchman was as good as ever, with its brilliant second pitch traversing under the roof on holds that feel small for the grade, but still positive and all there where you need them most. This time we skipped the VS ‘direct’ finish to head straight up the ridge, which is probably actually more direct!
And so to Pine Wall, which I’d soloed onsight in 1990, repeated in 1991 and not climbed since. While it’s surely overgraded (from a technical point of view) at Hard Severe, it’s not that easy to grade with most of the first pitch devoid of protection and effectively soloing for the leader. Probably just Severe, but a fall would hurt! And it’s still a very nice route…
So how could you improve on a Polldubh Severe day taking in Heatwave, Flying Dutchman and Pine Wall? Simple, just nip up to Secretaries’ Buttress to grab the Direct before dark. Three more enjoyable pitches on the kind of slabby ground I enjoy most (and had also soloed onsight as long ago as 1990 before repeating more than once since), and the perfect ending to a nearly perfect day.
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Yesterday I climbed Tower Ridge on the Ben with Jamie Hageman after a ludicrously optimistic trip to the start of Point Five on the second or third day of a monumental thaw convinced us not to try that, and have to say we were thankful we’d left it when most of the routes we could see (and hear) spent the rest of the day falling down! So large chunks of Smith’s and the Indicator Wall routes were breaking off (it was raining ice down Observatory Gully) and at one stage we heard a stupendous crack from the opposite direction (somewhere over Coire na Ciste way).
Since my only previous ascent of Tower Ridge was when I took my cousin Donald up it in June 1991 (on which occasion we took in the Douglas Boulder by Left Hand Chimney), it was good to get a ‘winter’ (spring?) ascent at last even if the first half was largely rock climbing and the second a mixture of rock and soft snow. But this time (approaching after starting to descend from the base of Point Five and deciding that the ridge looked nice in the sun when we’d all but decided just to go home) we simply sneaked onto it by a right-trending ledge that landed us just above the Douglas Gap. Needless to say (?), that tempting sunshine slowly turned to the usual clag, but it was still a very satisfying day.
There were at least four (possibly five) pairs on Tower Ridge, and another on North East Buttress. Also saw (from the crest of Tower Ridge) some folk heading for the Ciste… no idea what they were planning, but Davy Virdee’s blog mentions ‘a brave team on Comb Gully’!
Think the Point should still come back in with a good freeze, but it’s really ridges/buttresses (with lots of bare rock lower down) only right now.
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