Petestack Blog

22 August 2011

Half-marathon on half a stomach

Filed under: Running — admin @ 11:07 pm

Think I got what I deserved here when I was barely on the rebound from three ultras this summer, can’t say I treat road running seriously at the best of times (preferring to run hills and trails with little formal speed work) and found myself inexplicably battering the ‘last-minute self-destruct eating button’ on Thursday and Friday, but Coll is Coll, the Half-Marathon’s a great excuse to go back and I was committed long before doing my best to sabotage my own already fairly unpromising prospects. So I was up at 4:00am on Saturday to meet Eileen and Donald in Oban for the 7:00am ferry as planned, arriving on the island to clearing skies later that morning after a bumpy, grey crossing which did nothing to make me feel any better. Just about survived the race, however, completing the last 11 miles with a churning gut and recording my worst time yet at 1:42:14 (previous worst 1:41:29 at Coll 2008) for 19th place from 107. But it’s a tough, tough course (hardest half I’ve ever done) and, considering how my general distaste for ‘road’ running (in quotes because you also get a nice, slow track through the machair from Totronald to Ballyhaugh here) impacts my training, I’m pretty OK with that. And Donald did well in his first serious race at any distance (?) to record 1:46:24 for 29th place, so he’s buzzing!

Not really much else to say except that my £10 ceilidh ticket never got used as my stomach told me to head for my tent instead, so missed all the fun with friends old and new including Zoe Newsam (ex-Fly crew) and Ian Anderson (WHW Race ‘family’). But must add that the name of my grandpa Glover (‘doctor on this island for fourteen years’) had already worked its customary magic in introducing us to Ewen McGee, who promptly produced a photo of my aunt Eppie (Eileen and Donald’s mother) on a small boat to Tiree donkeys’ years ago! So we were talking long before leaving the island about coming back next year (which will be the first with the new An Cridhe community centre open), I was checking the web to find the results already up on getting home last night, saw that entries for 2012 were also already open, thought (despite my general distaste for ‘road’ running) ‘go on, just do it’ and was astonished to find another two names (no, not Eileen and Donald… yet!) up beside my own this morning. So that’s that, of course I love Coll and will now just have to see if the fortnight’s gap after the Devil o’ the Highlands (which I’ve been stupid enough to enter as well) works for or against me in taking me to my (presumed) best mean, lean shape (no last-minute self-destruction, right?) that close without leaving me too wasted to buck the trend of my ever slower halves!

(Photos from Donald’s phone by Eileen and Donald.)

10 August 2011

Ready for the Storm!

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 11:44 am

While there are many great rock climbs at Polldubh, Storm (HVS 4b,4c,5a) is the undisputed classic in taking a compellingly natural and sensationally exposed line in three pitches of increasing difficulty up the biggest and best wall on the crags. And I’d done it just once before (22 July 1990), with my 21-year-old memory of gibbering up it on second remaining a demon requiring exorcism through leading now I’m back climbing again and promising to expand my leading horizons beyond measure if I ever plucked up the courage to get on it. So I hummed and hawed about it for a couple of years, but still couldn’t quite see it happening with that half-imaginary great shadow to cloud the issue until suddenly deciding (maybe after listening again to Dougie MacLean’s Ready for the Storm?) one unexpectedly sunny day last week that it was time. But I couldn’t find a partner, the weather turned again and it was ultimately just luck that brought me the combination of a fine evening (last few hours before the rain, with enough breeze to keep the worst of the midges at bay) and a willing accomplice in the very steady Johnny MacLeod last night…

So I gave Johnny the first pitch (no gimme at 4b with a couple of awkward moves low down), with the master plan being for me to lead the big crack pitch (if that’s not a misnomer when you’re basically climbing a wall with holds up the crack line rather than the crack as such) and crux groove while retaining the option of Johnny leading through to take the crux if I’d had enough. Can’t say I was quick on the crack, but kept it all under control with the climbing steady rather than hard and moves exciting more for the situation than their technicality. Then must admit to wavering with another party on the route behind us (‘we’d be quicker if you just led through and we didn’t have to rearrange this hanging belay, Johnny’) before taking the plunge… except that it wasn’t a plunge but more of a silly slip from the crux bulge as I missed a foothold and felt my stupid hands let go when all but over it. So I could have backed off and turned my agenda for the climb inside out by letting it all get to me, but one crucial foothold and two good nuts (to back up the two ‘blind’ cams that caught me) later and I had it below me, yelling ‘ya beauty!’ and finding it surprisingly straightforward in the end. A pity about the fall (not the first Johnny’s seen me take!), but still pretty chuffed and not letting that take too much of the shine from such a cathartic experience! :-)

So you know what’s sitting in the CD tray this morning and will be spinning again as this gets posted? That’s right, The Essential Dougie MacLean

But I am ready for the storm, yes sir, ready
I am ready for the storm, I’m ready for the storm

1 August 2011

Butterknife and Centurion

Filed under: Climbing — admin @ 1:09 pm

‘It was the best of times (pitch 2 of Butterknife), it was the worst of times (pitch 2 of Centurion), it was the age of wisdom (choosing Butterknife), it was the age of foolishness (considering Centurion even if Johnny couldn’t make it), it was the epoch of belief (leading the jugtastic steep Butterknife corner), it was the epoch of incredulity (finding the equivalent Centurion corner to be steeper and more sustained than I’d thought)’… och, stuff that, it’s not original and not even all true when (despite one or two of those ‘just get me out of here’ moments) Scottish mountain rock climbing simply doesn’t get much better than Butterknife and Centurion on consecutive days! So perhaps it wasn’t necessary to misappropriate and mangle one of the most memorable opening paragraphs in English literature to say so, but somehow ‘we went climbing on Friday and Saturday’ just doesn’t carry the same evocative weight as ‘we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way’…

So we (Isi and I) went climbing on Friday and Saturday with two four-star mountain crag classics in mind, heading first for Butterknife on Garbh Bheinn of Ardgour then (roping in Johnny to look after us on the hard bits!) Centurion on Ben Nevis. And (to deal with Friday first) our ascent of Butterknife was absolutely the ‘best of times’, with the stunning corner of the second pitch as good as it gets at any grade (some say VS, but we thought it Hard Severe 4b) and the one fairly nondescript pitch (the third) in four not detracting significantly from a route of the very highest quality.

Butterknife photos mainly by Isi, with first and last cropped by me and that corner unmistakable below/right of centre in the first…

Now, you can’t really top Butterknife in its own way, but Centurion’s bigger, meatier, two full grades harder and just as good in taking the central corner of the mighty Carn Dearg Buttress to some easier (but breathtakingly exposed) middle ground before breaking through a crown of overhangs via two stunning final pitches. So you start up this deceptively tricky little wall (given 4c in the SMC guides but 5a by Latter, and led by Johnny after I turned it down), then it’s straight to business with the big corner pitch at no-nonsense, unlikely-to-be-bone-dry 5a. And Isi bravely took this on, making steady progress at first but finally running short of quick draws at some slimy impasse about two-thirds of the way up, taking a hanging stance and bringing up Johnny to finish the pitch with the pair of them doing well to sort things out up there. By which time I’d had long enough to start getting both lonely (with the ‘queue’ below dissipating to try other routes) and suitably apprehensive at the first stance, found it exciting enough just to follow with my comparative lack of recent rock mileage and (perhaps disappointingly when I’ve not been backing off so far this year) subsequently declared myself content to remain passenger/photographer for the day. So Isi led the airy 4b traverse across the corner’s left wall and Johnny naughtily ran the 20m 4b pitch up the flaky wall above into the following 40m 4a groove thing on our 60m ropes to land us below the so-called second crux. Which (according to the master plan) he led and I might have gone second, but had to send up Isi first to re-clip the crucial runners from her red rope to my blue rope with a potential swing to kingdom come facing me if I came off the way things were. And it’s a great 5a pitch, feeling both more my style than the big corner and surprisingly amenable to follow but, just when you think you’ve unlocked the door and are almost home dry, you’re confronted with the most improbable-looking seventh and final pitch up a 4c ‘spiky arete’ and bulge which Isi coolly despatched to log a thoroughly deserved ‘alt lead’ for the climb as a whole.

Centurion photos currently all by me, but still hoping to get one or two of me from Isi…

So that’s Centurion, and what a great day we had despite (or perhaps even because of) those ‘moments’ we’d ultimately all miss if they never happened! Must just add that there were teams enjoying routes all over the Ben including (we believe) something new and hard up the right wall of Sassenach, but also some major rockfall incidents (we heard two) with the helicopter apparently lifting someone from Tower Gap as we were tackling our final pitch, so obviously hoping those involved are recovering OK.

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