Tonight I was climbing with Al Halewood on Scimitar Buttress at Polldubh, where we did Nutcracker Chimney (steeply awkward HS 4b, and Al’s lead because I’d done it before… in 1990!) and Diagonal Crack (simply steep VS 4c, and my lead).
Now, Al’s already got a very prompt report with some photos up on his blog, but what he doesn’t tell you is that I fell off Diagonal. And quite spectacularly after building myself a nice little nest of gear at the crux (so did I really call down ‘sorry about the gearfest’?), latching the last big hold of the last real move above that, finding that my hand just didn’t want to stay where I’d put it, catching a leg in the ropes and being unceremoniously flipped to take the first upside-down fall of my life (beautifully fielded by Al)! After which I got straight back on it and finished it somewhat more stylishly in the full knowledge that the move I fell from wasn’t even that hard…
So perhaps I might add that I’ve been having a bit of finger/hand trouble recently (RSI, arthritis, whatever, I don’t know) and consequently finding my grip suspect from time to time, but I’m also aware that I’ve caught the rope below me round a leg before and need to watch that in future. On the plus side, while it’s naturally deflating to take the fall at a grade that’s technically quite straightforward, it’s almost liberating (when I hate falling at all at all) to know that I can take a fall like that onto good gear from steep routes without getting hurt when feeling better about that might (strangely enough) help me to stay on next time!
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Having serious intentions of improving my technique with both personal climbing and coaching youngsters in mind, I’d bought Dan Hague and Douglas Hunter’s The Self-Coached Climber back in January and started to read it. But then I’d largely moved outside for rock climbing with the coming of better weather at Easter, and only just started to work systematically at the exercises this week with some rainy summer holiday days to tempt me back onto the wall. So I’ve spent a couple of sessions concentrating on Chapter 4 (Turning and Flagging), which takes you through various backwards and same-side-in traverses, flagging and drop knee exercises before making you try to apply them in one final trickier activity (passing your farthest point), and can see myself repeating these regularly now that I’ve got the gist of them and understand what they’re doing for me. But it’s going to be difficult to work equally systematically through the next chapter (Controlling Force: Movement Initiation and Movement Centers), which starts with several exercises requiring ‘a slab with many large, comfortable footholds’ that I’m simply not going to find on the slab-less Ice Factor walls. :-/
For the interested, The Self-Coached Climber was enthusiastically reviewed by Dave MacLeod a couple of years back and I’d certainly agree with everything he said on the basis of what I’ve read, tried and watched (on the DVD) so far!
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Taking a long drive north in search of the best (least bad!) conditions yesterday, Jamie Bankhead and I set off with Skye in mind but finally diverted (after spying the Cuillin shrouded in thick cloud) to the Stone Valley Crags on the south-west side of Loch Maree. Where we climbed Roman Wall (S 4a), Rum Doodle Arete (HS 4a), Helga’s First Time (S 4a), the superb Open Secret (HS 4b), steep and sustained Lucky Strike (VS 5a) and more delicate Cheesegrater Slab (VS 5a), with Jamie leading the first, third and fifth of these and me leading the second, fourth and sixth. Which is about all I really need to say here except for explaining how Jamie got his new name…
It’s quite simple really, but not actually that funny. While it’s fully deserved for his constant facetious banter and propensity for trying to climb everything he sees by bridging the whole crag, it would have stayed as a private joke but for Jamie saying he liked the name, me jesting that I’d blog it, he saying he’d look forward to reading it and me saying, oh well, perhaps I’d better actually do it then. So there you are, I was climbing with Mr Facetious Bridge and he’s looking forward to reading that! :-/
Yesterday was also the first outing for my new DMM alloy and brass offsets and I was most impressed, placing several and already finding myself wondering how I managed for so long without something so obvious. Flared nuts for flared cracks, well, who’d have thought of that?
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Yesterday Anne Petty and I took a slight chance on an indifferent forecast to traverse the Aonach Eagach, which she’s been looking forward to doing for some time. And it was alternately cloudy and clear, showery and dry, but thankfully never thundery! While damp rock always makes things more awkward (not least when the holds are as polished as those on this ridge), we went over just about everything (as I usually do, even when some of the smallest ‘pinnacles’ are avoidable), Anne appeared to be quite comfortable and the rope stayed in the bag.
With several other parties on the ridge including a family with a dog (well camouflaged against the rock in that cloudy first photo), we hope everyone had a good day and the dog managed all the more technical sections OK!
This afternoon I put on my 2007 WHW Race top (the one I earned by running the race rather than sweeping the final stage) and set out to run my favourite section over the Devil’s Staircase to Altnafeadh and back as my own little personal tribute to Dario. And, while I’m by no means in race shape right now, my legs did feel that little bit lighter through thinking I’d better keep going and make a good job of it for him! So, when asked (as I reached the cairns at the top of the Devil’s on my way home) if I was going for a PB, I was able to reply that, no, I was a long way outside that but I was running today for a special reason, and explain what that was.
As soon as I was able to get a mobile signal after that (pretty well at the footbridge in the dip where you turn left towards the Penstock), I tried to text Ian because I felt like sharing. But perhaps I’ve got the wrong mobile number for him in my phone?
The camera was an afterthought in the sense that I backtracked from my front door on the way out to pick it up. But there are two pictures here, with the first taken at the start of the descent to Glen Coe on the outward leg and the second at the start of the descent to Kinlochleven on the way home. And I’d like to invite all my readers to look at them and spare a quiet moment’s thought for a man who changed lives.
While there have been many tributes to Dario published over the past few days and there’s only so much more I can add to them now, perhaps there’s still room here for a few thoughts of my own…
It was yesterday afternoon that I logged onto my computer down at my parents’ house to read the news on John Kynaston’s blog with stunned disbelief. And yesterday evening that I drove home to Kinlochleven up Loch Lomondside and much of the West Highland Way Race route thinking about Dario every mile of the way. A drive that I’ve done hundreds of times, but has never been the same since completing the race (a life-changing experience) in 2007 and will never be the same again after this. (If I could have turned the van off the road at the Devil’s Staircase and driven home over the hill I would, but will have to content myself with running that favourite section again for Dario ASAP!)
So what can I say that hasn’t already been said by others? Not much, but perhaps Dario’s five appearances in my 2007 Race Report might strike a chord with more than just me:
- it was good to meet organiser Dario Melaragni
- So this race is a true team effort in the competitive sense, but it’s also a staggering shared experience for absolutely everyone involved, and that’s not something any of us are likely to forget easily. From Dario and his team (without who our efforts would all also be for nothing) to those who turned up to cheer their runners home, I’m sure you’ll know what I mean if you were there…
- where Dario called me up to receive my finishers’ goblet with a memorable remark about my medical records being ready at the Kinlochleven checkpoint if required
- As I wrote to Dario that day, ‘it messes with your head as well as your body’, and perhaps nothing will ever be quite the same (in the best possible sense) again.
- didn’t Dario introduce the prizegiving with something about a room/hall full of winners?
Which should tell you that he was friendly, he was funny and he never stopped working for this race. He’d done it himself, knew what it meant to so many folk, counted them as ‘family’ (yes, the famous WHW Race Family!) and had the personal touch for every one of them. And he truly believed that he had a hall full of winners after every race.
Now he’s gone, just like that, on what was supposed to be a fun day out with friends on Lochnagar and the neighbouring hills. Leaving behind a very big hole for such a wee guy. And nothing will ever be quite the same again. But he’ll never, ever be forgotten!
Finding myself on my own and wanting to make use of a glorious summer Friday with poorer weather forecast for the weekend, today’s original objective was to solo Castle Ridge (Mod), after which a descent by Ledge Route (Easy) should follow naturally. But somehow (thinking ‘why stop there when it won’t take that long and there’s plenty more to do on the Ben?’) my wishlist for a perfectly-formed day soon grew to take in the ascent of Tower Ridge (Diff) and traverse of the Carn Mor Dearg Arete. So that’s what I did…
While I’d never descended Ledge Route or done the CMD Arete ‘backwards’, Castle Ridge was the only part of this itinerary I’d never done at all (excepting last winter’s floundering attempt in deep powder). But it’s straightforward enough in dry summer conditions so long as you keep the head for the steep, exposed crux (see photo with my rock shoes, for which I’d changed my Inov8 Roclites at the first steep, polished groove below), and I was soon up at the Carn Dearg cairn changing back into trainers for the descent of Ledge Route. Which all went very easily apart from crossing the water-streaked slab low down where the Roclites weren’t so reassuring (to which I might add that I’ve somewhat gone off them for scrambling since some mostly successful trials in the Cuillin last year because the studs can ‘spin’ on smaller holds).
Noting some climbing activity on Carn Dearg Buttress (probably Centurion and The Bat) as I traversed across to Tower Ridge, I was sorry not to have brought my other camera with the big zoom as The Bat (?) leader appeared in silhouette right at the steepest visible rock. But I was soon engrossed in a ‘hard’ ascent of my own, finding the nearer West Gully (loose, mossy chossfest with some steep moves) not at all nice as an approach to the Douglas Gap and Tower Ridge proper (so no surprise that the guidebook directs summer climbers to the same point via the East Gully round the far side of the ridge!). That said, I was soon high above, spying climbers on Minus One Direct, passing a team of three on the Little Tower and catching another pair just before Tower Gap. Where I was happy to take five, change back into the rock shoes and use the hold-up to think through this most sensational crux before the leader reported a stuck rope and my offer to help free it fortuitously brought me the chance to climb through. So perhaps I’ve pictured myself soloing the gap for years and wondering how I’d feel unroped in this technically straightfoward but most exposed of positions, but why worry? No snow, no ice, no wind and dry rock is about as good as it gets here, many folk I know have done it and, while there’s no way it’s ever going to be risk free, I was down, up the other side and virtually home dry (bar staying to get some shots of the second descending) in a jiffy!
And so on to the busy summit and beyond, stopping frequently for photos, enjoying an incredibly leisurely pace given the ambitious itinerary, hearing the calls of the now unseen climbers still on Carn Dearg Buttress as I cut back towards the Allt a’ Mhuilinn from Carn Beag Dearg in search of yet more good shots, and finally jogging down the path to get back to the van just seven-and-a-half hours after leaving it. A perfectly-formed mountain day indeed!
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On Tuesday I was back at the Ardnamurchan Ring Crags with Lorenzo and Chuck, but this time on Achnaha Buttress and Sron nan Gabhar rather than the honeypot Meall an Fhir-eoin Beag.
Achnaha Buttress was a little disappointing, with strange rock full of painful little chips and largely uninspiring lines, but we all enjoyed the steep crack of Coal Mining (a brutal VS 5a), which Lorenzo led. After which Chuck tried the even steeper crack of Wheesht! (E2 5c), I led the easier line of Plocaig Rock (HS 4b) and Chuck soloed Nicht Thochts (stiff VS 4c).
Sron nan Gobhar seemed more attractive, with nicer rock and better lines, and I thought Chuck did well to get most of the way up Acting Soft (stiff E2 5c) before escaping up Ozone Layer (HVS 5a). So perhaps I couldn’t follow him up the harder route for more than a couple of moves (NB I’ve never tried 5c before!), but was still able to remove enough gear to get a clean run at Ozone Layer, which I enjoyed and could probably have led despite my usual protestation of ‘I couldn’t have led this’. After which Chuck and I followed Lorenzo up the equally good, but more delicate, High Plains Drifter (HVS 5b in SMC, VS 5a in Latter, but probably actually HVS 5a and another I could have led) and Chuck and Lorenzo repeated Ozone Layer before we all moved up left for one last climb. For which finale I led Lorenzo up the excellent Thor (supposedly Severe 4b, but most definitely HS 4b) and Chuck reported Mjollnir (HS 4a) as VS 4c, which all tends to suggest that (contrary to popular opinion) not all grades at Ardnamurchan are soft!
Last night I climbed at Polldubh with Rich and Kat, soloing the Gutter before thirding (well, you know what I mean?) Slanting Slab (V Diff), leading Eigerwand (HS) and seconding Bullet/Three Pines (Severe).
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Today (with the forecast suggesting potentially showery weather everywhere with the possible exception of the east) Chuck and I decided to skip the long drive and take our chances with somewhere relatively local. So we headed for the intriguing sounding Indian Slab Crag up Glen Gour on the far side of the Corran Ferry, which promised good multipitch VS slab climbing on clean, rough gneiss with poor protection (‘not over protected’, to quote the usual guidebook euphemism!) and ‘dubious belays’. And that’s exactly what we got…
After a substantial, cleg-ridden walk-in (not more than 7km despite the SMC guide’s 10) in promisingly sunny conditions, we started with the excellent Time Lord (VS 4c, but only just), which we climbed in four long pitches with me leading the first, second and fourth. Followed by the equally good single pitch Sun Dance (allegedly E2 5a, but we think maybe ‘only’ E1 5a!), which Chuck led and four pitch Indian Slab (VS 4b, with everything that grade implies), on which I led the first and last. So, if I tell you that we did nine full pitches of climbing (sometimes struggling to build decent belays within our 60m rope lengths) in fine, dry conditions and were surprised to meet even one other party (who said they were on the three-star Severe Mullennium Direct) all day, perhaps that might tell you something about the climbing. It’s good, very good, being the Etive Slabs with better holds and rougher rock for the lower grade climber, but still quite serious at that given the general lack of protection and poor belays, so no place for those not comfortable at the given grades. A true hidden gem in superb surroundings with a fine view back to the Glen Coe peaks, and well worth the effort for those (like me) who enjoy what it has to offer.
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