Petestack Blog

27 July 2011

Another day in crag heaven

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 1:00 pm

Summer at last and you might think this the ‘wrong’ time to be sitting inside blogging, but I’m between climbing days, it’s on the hot side for mid-day running and (without looking at any wholesale waste of the weather) I’m happy enough to be hiding from the noon sun right now. So time to tell you about another good day yesterday and a surprising first visit for Noel (who’s climbed just about everywhere else I can think of!) to the Ardnamurchan Ring Crags.

Now, where better to start than the lovely VS slab of Greta Gabbro on Dome Buttress which, having led three times before, I had lined up as a nice wee lead for Noel? Followed by the steeper neighbouring (H)VS of Claude which, having seconded just once and remembering nothing about the moves, looked like a good tick for me. And it’s a great wee route with some surprises up its sleeve, being essentially non-pumpy where it looks strenuous, with good rests (the one thing I could remember clearly) and gear but some quite tricky climbing. So VS or HVS? For what it’s worth I can see the argument either way, with the rests and gear maybe suggesting VS but some of the moves (undoubtedly 5a) just feeling sort-of HVSy! And, having climbed both harder VSs and easier HVSs, I’m still on the fence here.

Anyway, after I’d abseiled back down Claude to get two hands and a nut key onto the walking Master Cam 0 that Noel couldn’t retrieve single-handed on the way up, we moved over to Meall an Fhir-eoin Beag (aka Creag Meall an Fhir-eoin) for the essential VS crag classic tick of Yir, which I’d expected Noel to lead before finding myself back on the sharp end. But Noel led the lovely curving crack (second pitch of Cuil Iolaire) above to keep things nice and even. And then we headed up to the summit knoll of Meall an Fhir-eoin for Fear of Flying (VS) so I could get on something I hadn’t done before (the lure being Gary Latter’s Scottish Rock description of ‘a good route in a wildly exposed position for the grade, following parallel cracks running horizontally left above the overhanging wall’)… but who knows if we did it right or not? So there are three cracks leaving the corner of Pyroclast, with the first being an obvious foot ‘ledge’ along the top of the wall but threatening an increasingly tricky escape upwards and the others (just a few feet higher and more obviously ‘parallel’) which I took being fingery and very, very naughty for 4b (felt closer to 5a)! Not quite what I was expecting either way, with these thin cracks being short-lived but exciting when I’d had this vision of fatter cracks going on for longer, and arguably a somewhat contrived way to leave the more logical Pyroclast corner, but still another good lead for me. And perhaps we were just spoiled by starting with three of the absolute Ardnamurchan classics, so… another day in crag heaven? Overall (with four good routes on perfect rock, stunning sea/island views from our progression up the hill and a perfectly-timed return for the second-last, 9:00pm ferry), you bet!

21 July 2011

The Autobahnausfahrt Enigma

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 11:11 am

So yesterday might have been Wednesday (who knows when you’re on holiday?) but, graced by the fine evening which Tuesday lacked, it made a good surrogate Tuesday for the Polldubh Club at (guess where?) Polldubh. And I climbed the first three pitches of Autobahnausfahrt on High Crag with Noel, finding them dirty and feeling harder than their given grades of 4a, —, 4b, with the route apparently needing more traffic to keep it ‘nice’ (NB we’d both soloed it before, but not for many years and neither of us would have done last night!). So it came as no surprise this morning to discover a note (re. the middle tier of High Crag) in Gary Latter’s Scottish Rock stating that:

The routes are a little bit dirtier than the more popular shorter routes lower down, but not unduly so.

However, this post is not so much about Autobahnausfahrt as Enigma (a fine Sullivan/Clough route on the cleaner upper tier of High Crag), which searching this blog should tell you I’ve climbed far more often. But it’s also a route that appears to have been accidentally ‘airbrushed’ from the history of Polldubh climbing and (through cumulative misreading of something started with the best of intentions) completely swallowed up by Autobahnausfahrt. So let’s take a look at the strange history of the ‘Autobahnausfahrt Enigma’…

  • Enigma was climbed at Hard Severe by Terry Sullivan and Ian Clough on 11 April 1959, with Enigma Direct (the better way) added by Clough in 1962 and described in the 1970 Schwartz/Wright guide (the only place noting the distinction?).
  • Autobahnausfahrt was climbed at VS (with combined tactics and a point of aid over the upper tier roof) by Klaus Schwartz and Brian Chambers on 2 September 1969 and again described in the 1970 Schwartz/Wright guide (possibly also the only place with a clear description of the third pitch).
  • With the aid being removed from the upper tier roof of Autobahnausfahrt by Kenny Spence and Rab Anderson in 1981 to produce the much harder Auto Roof, Autobahnausfahrt is described (to produce a consistently-graded combo) in the 1985 Grindley guide as finishing up Enigma. But, with the note explaining this unfortunately not on the same page as the route description, the accidental elimination of Enigma has begun…
  • Skip forward another five years to Kev Howett’s Rock climbing in Scotland (1990) and we find a Kinloss Grooves/Autobahnausfahrt combo that’s actually a Kinloss Grooves/Enigma combo, with first ascents credited to Clough/Sullivan and Schwartz/Chambers when they should be Clough/Sullivan and Sullivan/Clough!
  • Forward again to the SMC’s Highland Outcrops (1998) and the Autobahnausfahrt description gives the unacknowledged Autobahnausfahrt/Enigma combo, where looking up 1969 in the separate first ascent list will tell you that the FFA of pitch 4 (as Auto Roof) was by Spence and Anderson, but not that pitches 4 and 5 are actually Enigma. And yet the information is buried there (where no-one not in the know will be looking for it) under 1959, where you’ll find the solitary reference to Enigma in the whole book (it’s neither listed as a route in the main text nor mentioned in the Autobahnausfahrt description) as ‘now included as the second last pitch of Autobahnausfahrt.’
  • Forward again to the SMC’s Scottish Rock Climbs (2005) and Latter’s Scottish Rock (2008) and you’ll find both describing the whole combo as Autobahnausfahrt (credited to Schwartz and Chambers), with Enigma conspicuous by its absence and the accidental ‘airbrushing’ complete.

So does it matter? Well, I say yes! Both Sullivan/Clough and Schwartz/Chambers partnerships are important to the history of Polldubh, but Enigma’s a great little route in its own right (the best and cleanest part of the new ‘Autobahnausfahrt’) and deserves to be recorded properly. So (making an open plea to future guidebook writers here) please can we have Enigma back?

17 July 2011

First athletics prize for four decades?

Filed under: Running — admin @ 2:46 pm

While my original, post-WHW Race plans for this ‘summer’ included a possible crack at the Rigby Round (think Cairngorms equivalent of the Ramsay), that’s been looking fairly improbable since early November, when No Fuss Events received my entry (the very first, to show support for a great new local event!) for ’10 in the Glen’ (yesterday, 16 July) instead… with this multiple circular tour of Glen Nevis being a running version of their popular mountain biking ’10’ events (soloists or relay pairs, trios or quads trying to complete the most laps of a loop course within the 10-hour time limit) and my interest inevitably piqued by tackling this inaugural event the hard way (ie alone)!

Now, it was wet (at times very, very wet), which was probably fine for those taking part in the simultaneous/neighbouring Glen Nevis River Race, but certainly impacted underfoot conditions with swollen burns, plenty of mud and a technical, rooty downhill section to negotiate every time round. So I managed 10 laps (recording just over 53 miles and 5,800 ft of ascent) of a course falling some way short of 10km since they took the top corner off what they’d originally planned, but should also point out that, being allowed to count the lap you’re on at the 10-hour limit so long as you make it back in under 11 (see one poor guy sprinting for the line to be timed out by 2 minutes!), it actually took me just over 10:15 to do that. Which (while not crowing about it too much when the field for this inaugural running wasn’t that big and the event deserves to grow beyond the point where I’m a potential prizewinner) was good enough for third place in the male solo category and what’s probably my first athletics prize since receiving a yellow plastic Concorde with pencil sharpeners for engines for second place in the sack race in Primary 2!

So what else can I say? Well, of course most soloists are going to get lapped now and again by most relay teams and I don’t think I’ve ever been overtaken by so many of my fellow Lochaber AC runners in my life (not least Susan-Jane Ross, who somehow managed to pass me three times on what felt like consecutive laps when she was running one lap in three as part of a trio which only did two laps more than me)! Also had a bad spell in the middle with tightening calves and (despite regular food and drink) a hungry/dizzy half-lap that left me struggling desperately up the final incline of the fire road and unable to trust my spacial awareness descending that technical, rooty trail, so huge thanks to Donnie and Marie Meldrum for pasta etc. and some wondrous oil that rejuvenated those calves enough to get me going again for my final few laps. Congratulations to all winners and participants alike… sorry I don’t have everyone’s names but the winning pair managed 14 laps (!) and my solo class (won by Jim Meehan) might have been decided on time with the first three all completing 10? Which all seems ample justification for raiding the Co-op for beer and pizza on the way home… not, perhaps, for daily consumption when I’ve already put on weight over the four weeks since the WHW Race, but not exactly going to kill me when I’ve just run 53 miles and got my first athletics prize for 41 years to celebrate! :-)

Prizegiving photo by Donnie Meldrum…

10 July 2011

Ardnamurchan again

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 12:34 pm

Something of an impromptu Polldubh Club meet at Ardnamurchan yesterday, with Johnny and myself heading west to join Geoff, Tony and Phil (who’d been there overnight) on the Ring Crags. So we started at Achnaha Buttress because they all wanted to try it, Johnny fancied a look at Wheesht and nobody seemed to believe it wasn’t very nice, but a quick look was enough to convince Johnny that my two-year-old memory of ugly, sharp-chipped rock was spot-on and we left the others to climb Plocaig Rock while heading straight to Sgurr (Sron?) nan Gabhar. And here we set about the trilogy of HVS crack lines, with Johnny leading Ozone Layer, me leading Solar Wind (quite taxing for my first day on rock since October!) and Johnny taking over again for High Plains Drifter (which, having spent so much on Solar Wind, felt harder than I’d remembered from 2009), while Geoff, Tony and Phil arrived to do Thor, Mjollnir and Ozone Layer. After which we found ourselves back at the superb Meall an Fhir-eoin Beag, where I’d had my eye on Volcane as a possible E1 lead but, still not wholly trusting my fingers after a minor struggle to get established on the initial 4c crack, handed the 5b crux pitch to Johnny, who despatched it very nicely before declaring an interest in Minky at E2 5c or E1 5b depending on which guide you’ve got. So I said OK, if it’s the SMC’s 5c you might find me struggling to follow but I’ll probably be OK at Gary Latter’s 5b, Johnny made a very nice, steady lead of this lovely direct route up the rib to the right of Yir and I found most of it surprisingly amenable (NB the photo of Dave Cuthbertson in the SMC’s Scottish Rock Climbs doesn’t look like Minky!) despite being quite impressed by the thin and run-out crux. As for the grade, it just didn’t feel like 5c but it’s harder to judge when seconding so better ask the leader, and Johnny’s thinking appears to be along the lines of 5b but borderline E1/2. So I also led the easier, upper pitch (taking the steep, straight crack directly above rather than curving crack of Cuil Iolaire to the side when I’ve done both before and you could argue that both Minky and Yir are slightly compromised as classics by having no compellingly logical continuation pitches) and we left Geoff and Tony (who’d just done Crater Comforts) finishing the comparatively unsung VS of Not Today Dear (up the arete to the left of Oswald) while we headed for the road.

Now, having read all of this, you might just be wondering why I was jumping straight on HVSs and E1s (top grades for me as ones I rarely lead) for my first outing of the year when I could have been climbing myself in with something a little easier. And here I can only say that it cuts both ways, with some warm-up climbs sounding good in theory but also giving me the chance to bottle out when it’s so easy to talk a good climb till you’re actually there and looking at it, and in some ways easier just to get straight on before any such inhibitions get to you! So we had a great day of satisfying climbing even if I was both taxed by some of my leading and inelegant in its execution, but I’m under no illusions that I need to be climbing more regularly at these grades to give myself any chance of becoming truly comfortable with them. :-)

Photo of me on the crux of Minky courtesy of Geoff Hewitt and added 11 July.

7 July 2011

Last OMM product I’ll be buying!

Filed under: Running — admin @ 4:07 pm

Not many gear reviews on this blog so far, but afraid this is one I just have to write. And, while I wish it related to a positive experience, I’m afraid the reverse is true with a tale of initial satisfaction followed by such disappointment, frustration and ultimate letdown that I’ve resolved not to buy from the manufacturer concerned again…

So I needed a top quality lightweight waterproof top for hill running/adventure racing, spent my usual hours and days conducting exhaustive online research and concluded that the OMM Cypher smock looked perfect for my needs. So I bought one (at the end of March), tried it out briefly in April and was impressed enough to write this:

which finally got christened on Cam Chreag after spending most of the day in my sack and looks like a great lightweight shell top. Quite snug (but not tight) in a ‘large’ size (specified for height 5’10” to 6’2″ and chest up to 43″ when I’m 5’11” and would normally buy 42″ for 40″ chest), with a nice ‘drop tail’ and truly excellent hood which somehow manages to provide good protection while overcoming my normal dislike of hoods as making me feel ‘blinkered’.

But then it remained unused for a month with April’s increasingly arid course (only sustained dry spell of the year so far up here!) leaving little need for a top quality lightweight waterproof top until the normally pleasant month of May started drowning under increasingly biblical downpours. And here it really started to show its worth, with a delighted user on the point of telling everyone how good it was until (just seven outings into its life with a maximum of 16 hours’ wear) suddenly discovering it wasn’t nearly robust enough (see photos) for a careful user who’d been treating it with kid gloves because it was new and he loved it…

So it got discussed with/sent back to the supplier, who sent it back to the manufacturer, who (instead of the requested refund) simply returned it to me via the supplier with a letter stating that, despite the ‘inner scrim’ and ‘outer rip-stop material’ being damaged, the ‘laminate shows no damage’… and continuing to ‘suggest that the condition of the jacket is due to something the wearer has subjected it to’ (his further suggestion of ‘a trouser buckle with a prominent prong and under a rucksack harness’ being completely unfair).

Now, while I’d already conceded the possibility of a rucksack (made by OMM!) being involved, this smock had never been near a trouser belt or buckle in its life as my subsequent email to the manufacturer (name of supplier removed) will show:

Peter Duggan wrote (2011-06-11 12:03):
> Tried to ring you yesterday to discuss my Cypher Smock recently returned
> to ********, but was told you were in a meeting, said I had to get back
> to work myself and understood you’d try to ring me back after 4:00pm.
> Would still like (far prefer!) to discuss this with you by phone but,
> given that it may not be easy for either of us to catch you during
> working hours, covering my main points here first (starting with the
> history of the garment’s usage emailed to **** at ********, which I
> hope you’ve already seen)…
> Peter Duggan wrote (2011-05-23 22:10):
>> It was ordered from you on 27 March 2011 (for the Highlander Mountain
>> Marathon in April, but not used there in fine weather), tested once
>> briefly on 2 April then not used again till 10 May. Since then it’s been
>> used another six times (four of them in conjunction with an almost empty
>> OMM Adventure Light 20 sack) for trail/hill running in this wet May
>> weather, totaling max. 16 hours wear, so not washed yet but simply hung
>> up to dry after each run.
>> The delamination (photographs attached) to the front panel was
>> discovered yesterday and assumed to be fresh because I’d have noticed it
>> before. While it has occurred to me that this could be in the area of
>> the rucksack belt, both smock and sack are of OMM manufacture, intended
>> to be used together for adventure racing etc. and there are no
>> comparable marks in the areas of shoulder or sternum straps.
> So, to comment on your letter to **** re. the damage, which I received
> on Friday with the returned smock, you say that the ‘laminate shows no
> damage’ and this may well be true depending on how you define laminate.
> But I’m sure you can see why I’ve called it laminate when what we’ve got
> is essentially a puckered-up outer ripstop layer separating from some
> kind of inner layer whether or not this constitutes the core eVent
> laminate in technical terms.
> Might also point out that I’d already acknowledged the possibility of a
> rucksack belt being involved (see my quoted remarks above), but here I
> must take issue with your suggestion of a ‘trouser buckle with a
> prominent prong’ to state categorically that:
> 1. The smock has never been worn over any belt or such buckle, but only
> with lightweight running gear, all having drawstring or elasticated
> waists with the sole exception of my Montane Atomic DT pants (ironically
> bought from ******** at the same time) which have two *tiny* spring
> toggles on the waist cord.
> 2. The only sack that’s ever been carried with it is my OMM Adventure
> Light 20, and that always almost empty (carried mainly as somewhere to
> put smock/leggings when not worn + single 500ml bottle and some snacks),
> so never really weighted or ‘loading’ the hip belt area.
> To which I’d like to add the following more detailed breakdown of its
> history to amplify my brief description above and clarify how little
> it’s been worn along with *both* Montane pants (if you’re looking for
> anything that could even possibly have caused rubbing damage) and OMM sack:
> ———————————————————————-
> Ordered 27 March 2011 (for the Highlander Mountain Marathon in April,
> but not used there in fine weather).
> Tested once briefly (max. half hour, with OMM Adventure Light 20 sack +
> drawstring leggings) on 2 April then not used again till 10 May.
> Used another six times since then:
> 1. To Blackwater Dam, c.1:50, with Montane pants but no sack.
> 2. WHW to Lairigmor ruin, 11 May, c.1:38 but not worn continuously, no
> sack, can’t remember what leggings (drawstring or elastic).
> 3. Creach Bheinn, 12 May, 2:22, with OMM sack + Montane pants.
> 4. Glencoe Ski Centre/Bridge of Orchy, 15 May, 3:29 but not worn
> continuously, with OMM sack + Montane pants (not worn continuously either).
> 5. Lairig Mor, 20 May, 2:21 but not worn continuously, with OMM sack but
> other (elasticated waist) leggings.
> 6. Glencoe Ski Centre, 21 May, 4:03, with OMM sack + Montane pants.
> NB The ‘max. 16 hours wear’ previously quoted is allowing for periods on
> these runs carried but not worn.
> ———————————————————————-
> Now, given everything said above, I’m sure you can see why I’m surprised
> by both the damage itself and the fact that no-one else appears to have
> reported similar problems. Because from my perspective I appear to have
> bought an expensive top that can’t be worn with a natural partner sack
> from the same manufacturer and/or apparently appropriate partner
> leggings from another when nobody’s said, ‘careful… don’t wear your
> OMM Cypher Smock with anything else because it will damage it’ (please,
> I’m being serious here!). So **** tells me she’s never had any OMM
> products returned before and I’m surprised to hear that given my
> experience with this smock, but thought it was genuinely in your
> interests to hear/see what’s happened to this one and disappointed to
> see your letter apparently blaming me for the damage when I’d at least
> be concerned by my story if I was the manufacturer. To wrap this up (for
> now, because I still very much hope to discuss it with you by phone),
> **** tells me it’s a fabulous product (I thought so too!) but I’ve had
> to tell her that in this case you now have one very disappointed
> customer with 100% dissatisfaction with this particular product.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, after several attempts to contact the company director by phone, I finally caught up with him when I was off work with the inflamed tendon sheath in mid-June and had quite a long and civil chat during which he stressed the integrity of his company, restated that my smock had been the only one returned with this problem, said he wasn’t blaming me despite the suggestion of ‘something the wearer has subjected it to’, offered to sell me another for a reduced price (an offer I first turned down, then turned down again after asking what price he had in mind) and finally conceded that he’d be willing to exchange it if examination by a local supplier concluded that faulty materials or workmanship were to blame. And this, with nothing to lose after otherwise getting nowhere, I accepted… except that he didn’t phone back to confirm as promised and I had to email him days later only to be told (after his apologies for that) that he’d talked to them, ‘felt that it was putting then in an unfair position to act as referee when they were there to provide a broader service to you’ and was suggesting another independent referee in Lancashire. At which point, with ‘hiding to nothing’ springing to mind at the thought of sending the thing at my expense to another unsuspecting third party, I’ve finally decided enough is enough when any local shop would simply have replaced it and OMM could surely afford to do so, am just relating the whole story here instead, will be emailing him to tell him so and doubt I’ll ever buy another OMM product (pity, because I like that wee rucksack and thought I liked this smock). Whether or not you do is up to you, but that’s all I’ve got to say here.

 eventually get hold of the assistant manager, the manager was not in
the shop.  Having discussed the issue with him I felt that it was putting
then in an unfair position to act as referee when they were there to provide
a broader service to you.

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