Today I passed my SPA (Single Pitch Award) Assessment at Glenmore Lodge after working at Cummingston (yesterday) and Kingussie (today) in glorious May sunshine that arrived just when most needed. Need to keep this short (and have to be careful about what I say here), but very, very happy to report that my assessor said some nice things at the closing interview and is strongly encouraging me in my ‘medium term’ goal of going for MIA (Mountaineering Instructor Award). :-)
PS Sorry (adding this half an hour later), but I really meant to say thanks to Ice Factor staff (especially Jamie B and Chuck), Al Halewood, David Hooper, Outward Bound Loch Eil and others for help and encouragement along the way.
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Today I was up at Polldubh assisting Outward Bound Loch Eil with climbing and abseiling sessions for our own first year pupils from Kinlochleven High School. So the May weather still wasn’t great (alternating sunny spells and heavy showers), but I set up this morning’s abseil and ran the bottom rope for our climbers on SW Buttress, then set up another abseil at the same venue and ran that this afternoon. I was working with Alex and Hannah this morning, and Alan and John this afternoon (hope I’ve spelled everyone’s names right!). All very useful practice with the SPA Assessment now just days away, and a nice chance for the pupils and me to work together outside our normal classroom environment.
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Haven’t done much running since pulling out of the big race three weeks ago, so not much to say here except that it was a timely decision. Have managed approximately weekly (rather than daily) runs since, with back-to-back outings yesterday and Sunday, but definitely still carrying some kind of niggle to my right hamstring and surely would have been struggling to cover the necessary May mileage even without my current climbing commitments. Also met the cavalry (or maybe just about half a dozen horses with riders) on Sunday where the top end of the ‘white’ trail meets the Mamore track at NN 190632, and think that’s a first for my runs out of the village!
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Not long after I got home from work this afternoon (and was just starting to think about making use of a fine evening to mow the grass), Daniel rang to ask if I fancied going climbing. So I quickly realised that the grass didn’t really need doing after all and ten minutes later was heading up the road to Polldubh, where we climbed Pandora and Bullet (both Severe).
Now Pandora might be one of the classic Polldubh Severes but, having previously only done the first two pitches as an approach to Phantom Slab, I don’t think I’d ever done the top pitch before and was keen to remedy that omission. So I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed the climb as a whole, shouldn’t have neglected it for so long and also thought Bullet a great little route, being more sustained and maybe even better than the regular start to Three Pines, which it joins at the eponymous trees. Might add that the midges (the first I’ve really been conscious of this year) were out in force and threatening to send us scurrying home by the time we got onto Bullet, so it’s not really Pandora who was doing the biting at all (just a silly title for this post!), but happily we managed to complete the route, find a pleasant breeze on top, pack up below and escape to the van relatively unscathed in the end.
It was only when I was halfway home that I remembered tonight was the night for Heatwave in the ’50th Anniversary Game’, but must say I found myself strangely unbothered by that because I didn’t get many of the Anniversary climbs on the right days in the end and ultimately wanted Pandora more tonight!
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So perhaps I regard myself as a solid VS leader these days, but occasionally (currently just twice in eighteen years!) one bites back and last night it was Crybaby…
While getting out for our midweek Polldubh Club meet seemed improbable for much of another uncharacteristically miserable May day, we managed to snatch a reasonably dry evening from the rain and Geoff, Wesley, Random Jon and I found ourselves splitting into two pairs and gearing up for Knucklebuster (Severe) and Crybaby (VS) respectively up at Black’s Buttress. But the Knucklebuster team retreated on failing to find sufficient protection for the still slightly greasy conditions, and I have to admit that the start of Crybaby also rather got the better of me as I struggled to match my damp soles to the demands of the delicate footwork required. So I’m afraid I dogged it by taking one small fall as I tried to reverse a sequence back to a low runner and two more tiny slips from just below the triangular niche, but completed most of the route clean and would say that it’s spot on at VS 4c (feeling a grade easier than Shergar on the same buttress) and should be very pleasant when completely dry.
Meanwhile Geoff and Wesley had set up a top-rope on Shergar, and Jon might have joined them but wanted to lead something. So we set off (at nearly 9:00pm!) towards High Crag with Enigma in mind, but ended up skirting its base to Secretaries’ Buttress for a quick ascent of the Direct (Severe) in fading light. And Jon led the first two pitches comfortably in good time before I led through to romp up the easy ridge above, and we were done by about 10:20pm and back to the road (just as the rain came on) about twenty minutes later.
And it’s been chucking it down again for much of today!
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Having posted a pre-SPA Assessment appeal on the UKC Forums for work experience opportunities within reasonable travelling distance (quote ‘would certainly consider anywhere in Scotland and possibly northern England’), I was fortunate to get the offer of an interesting day working a charity abseil from Carlisle’s 41 metre Civic Centre with well-known MIA David Hooper. So yesterday, after a small mishap to my van (of which more anon), I borrowed my mother’s car to get down there, and have to say that the experience was thoroughly worthwhile. As I’d expect of a good MIA, David proved to be friendly, knowledgeable and full of enthusiasm for climbing… and, as an approved provider of SPA Training and Assessments himself, very helpful with much good advice on things to look out for. Since we also had 43 people abseiling from the Civic Centre roof over the course of the day and David let me run the rope for most of it, it really was a priceless opportunity. For which I’m thankful, because it’s going to cost me a fair amount of money…
So what happened to the van, then? Well, on Friday evening a camper van (?) with sticky-out mirrors took my driver’s side mirror and half its bracket clean off a couple of bends north of Tarbet, which basically marks the end of the worst stretch of the notorious A82 Loch Lomond road. Since I couldn’t just stop there to run northwards after another vehicle that might not have stopped either (or maybe even realised what they’d done?), I parked at Tarbet to assess the damage, phoned my mother, continued with concern for my enforced lack of awareness of the road behind me and called at Helensburgh Police Station (where I was told I’d done the right thing) to report the incident. Fortunately the excellent Andrews Garage (practically next door to the Police) was still open and I was also able to discuss the possibility of a repair tomorrow (can’t go anywhere with the van missing a mirror!), which is now on after confirmation that they can get the part. But it looks like it’s going to cost me a fair bit with the other party being unidentified and the excess on my own insurance probably ruling out a claim on that. :-/
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Ask anyone familiar with Polldubh to list its VS classics and you’d expect to see Phantom Slab and The Old Wall high up alongside Damnation and Resurrection. So, having done the first pair just once each and not been on either since 1991, I was keen to revisit them and teamed up with Jim at last night’s breezily sunny Polldubh Club meet to climb them again. Approaching Phantom Slab the ‘normal’ way via the first two pitches of Pandora, I made sure to snaffle the first pitch so I got the slab, and have to say I’d forgotten just how good it is (and, oh yes, it’s good!)… Of course that meant Jim got the lead for The Old Wall (surely quite some sandbag at its original 1963 grade of Hard Severe!) but, given its very different character (a steep and slightly intimidating first half leading to a delightfully run-out jugfest), I’m not too sorry he did.
Now, we met this couple Gary and Karen (who’d just done Storm and had been hoping to do our route) at the base of the climb, but they moved onto The Anniversary (E3 5c!) when they found us gearing up for it. And Gary led this much harder route, finding it quite dirty and offering Karen the option of following before abseiling down to clean the gear. Having asked him the grade and yelled a casual ‘well done!’ (to which he said thanks, but he’d done it before) after just assuming they were part of our Club group, it was only during a later discussion at the Nevisport Bar that it dawned on me that he was Scottish climbing legend Gary Latter. Who I should have recognised because I’ve got both his Scottish Rock guidebooks (must check to see if there are any photos with that funny woolly hat in there) and had obviously done The Anniversary (not at all difficult by his standards) previously because he made the first ascent with Dave Cuthbertson in 1985! Which probably all adds up to an amusingly embarrassing (but repeatable) little tale to set alongside being watched/photographed on Secretaries’ Super Direct by Dave MacLeod last October without being aware that he was there… :-O
Back on the Onich Slabs this afternoon with Chuck, Lorenzo and seven primary school pupils, we managed a sunny and successful abseiling/top-roping session with everyone (including several of Monday’s contingent) looking more comfortable and having a great time.
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It’s been an uncharacteristically miserable start to May, but things are looking better with what appears to be a drier spell starting yesterday…
Saturday was just plain wet, so our ‘outdoor’ children’s session at Polldubh (starting with an optimistic, but uncancelled, morning rendezvous up Glen Nevis) was promptly brought indoors to the Ice Factor. But Guy, Lorenzo and I still managed to cook up an ‘indoor outdoor’ session for the kids, setting up and running releasable abseils, teaching some belay building and generally providing something a bit different for them as well as more helpful to me with the SPA Assessment getting closer.
Saturday evening saw Jamie Bankhead and me heading for Ullapool in the expectation (or just hope?) of a fine north-west Sunday and, despite some lingering rain on the drive up and not quite dry roads in the morning, we were rewarded with what we sought. So we hastened to the fine sandstone sea cliffs at Reiff, skipping the popular climbs (and supposedly obligatory solo of the V Diff Moonjelly) closest to the road since there was a heavy swell breaking halfway up the crag, and fetching up at the more sheltered Seal Song area. Where we soloed up and down Guttersnipe (Diff) before climbing Overhanging Crack (Severe, and Jamie’s lead), Moody Blues (VS, my lead, and definitely worth the two stars and ‘superb’ awarded by Gary Latter over the SMC’s failure to highlight it at all!) and The Grateful Dead (Severe, and back to Jamie). After which we moved on to the Pooh Cliff, where I led Sticky Fingers (short ‘two star’ VS, but not as good as Moody Blues) and Jamie led The Ramp (Severe) before finishing at the Minch Wall. And here I got well and truly spanked (or maybe hanged?) by Judicial Hanging (HVS 5b according to SMC and VS 5a, which it’s not, in Latter), a nice-looking crack line with a baffling boulder problem start. So I managed to get into a few weird and wonderful positions including lying down (yes, I know, but it was a ‘no hands rest’!) in the slot between the undercut lower slab/wall and crack above, but failed every time to pull through into the crack. Could still be HVS 5b with some nifty trick move that I just couldn’t work out, but could equally be a rare VS 5c (have to say that because I should have been able to get it if it’s 5b!) because it’s just that sort of route.
The photos show John Bull from Macclesfield and Martin Silcock from Northampton (our only company all day!) on Moody Blues (the corner crack taking two steep steps and more airy ramp above), with the parallel line of Overhanging Crack obvious to the left and below.
And so to another scheduled outdoor children’s session at the Onich Slabs this afternoon, when Chuck, Ben and I took a group of eight younger kids abseiling and top-roping after school. The weather was fine and the venue right (apart from a desperately muddy descent/ascent path brought into the equation by some overawed children backing out of abseil or lowered descents), so it’s nice to be able to report that even the most nervous enjoyed some climbing in the end. Now hoping the weather plays ball for another session scheduled for a slightly older age group on Thursday because they’re not likely to need quite so much coaxing (if any!) to get them going. :-)
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Having done the West Highland Way Race in 2007 and wanting to give it another go sometime but not immediately, I’d found myself drawn back for 2009 after assisting at the Kinlochleven checkpoint and through the Lairig Mor in 2008. But, despite taking a somewhat reluctant decision to leave the boat ashore again this year to give me some chance of notching up the necessary training mileage, things still had to run (no pun intended!) to a pretty tight schedule to get there with other competing interests like climbing back on the agenda.
December 2008 was a write-off, with a month-long cough/cold thing with headaches keeping me off work for several days (missing all my Christmas concerts when I’d never missed *one* in twenty years of teaching) and restricting my running to an unprecedented solitary outing on Hogmanay. January and February went rather better, and I was running quite a lot (though perhaps still a month behind my 2007 schedule) by March. But things started to break down a bit again in April with the coming of some sunshine to go rock climbing, the loss of three days’ running to a calf tweak two weeks ago and similar time out for a hamstring niggle (on the opposite leg!) last week.
Now we’re into May (NB at this time in 2007 I was running my 60 mile quadruple Lairig Mor), and I’d been depending on some big, meaty hill runs to really test myself before tapering off in June. But I’m either climbing or supervising climbing groups pretty well every weekend in May with my SPA Assessment booked for the last weekend of the month, and there’s just no way I’m going to knock up 50+ miles a week (with 20 mile hill rounds?) on weekday, working evenings. So that’s it, really! Perhaps I should have pulled out sooner, but I’ve been reluctant to do so for face-saving reasons (which is silly, and no reason to run!) while there’s still been a chance. And, while I believe I could still do the race and complete the course as things stand, I’m simply not up for it with negligible chance of matching or beating my 22 hrs 15 mins from 2007. The fire just isn’t there this year, and I’m not sure I want to commit to 2010 either with the boat quite simply begging for attention. So maybe 2011, because I am still keen to give it another real go before I slow down too much…
So what now? Have to contact race organiser Dario so he can offer my place to someone who’s been training hard enough to appreciate it! And talk to my projected support crew, on which note I discussed everything with Angus (who agreed) last night and must contact Eileen and Jon ASAP. Might also consider something else (like another, faster Tranter’s or even an optimistic crack at Ramsay’s Round) in July to fill the void, because I’m still pretty fit really and enjoying running without immediate pressure. Just not able to commit to 95 miles as soon as June!
Anyway, that’s it. I’ve told the world. It’s been coming for a week or two, the decision was effectively taken while nursing that hamstring niggle round the Mamore track on Friday evening and confirmed during last night’s conversation with Angus. It’s already final and I’m comfortable with it, but the moment I hit that ‘Publish’ button it’s irrevocably official.
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