Monday, 25 August 2008

Pottering at Shaftoe - Sat 23rd Aug '08

A really quiet week on the climbing front. Drove one of my non climbing friends down to Ashington in Northumberland to visit her boyfriend who is working there for 6months and managed to escape off for an hour or so and go check out some bouldering. The drive by passing Edinburgh was stressful with me getting lost and performing illegal U-turns on the road! I hate big city roads! The roads in Northumberland where I was were much smaller and more like the country roads I know and I managed to find Shaftoe Crags really easily. I had instructions to park before the cattle grid, walk round the pond and straight up the hill to the boulders. Well, I parked, walked round the pond and headed upwards but got distracted by what looked like possible boulders off to the right. And ended up bog hopping like I'd never left Scotland!!! Only I could drive a 4hrs drive down to England and end up in a fecking bog! And the boulders there were crap, green and chossy. Crossed a field of cows, carefully, waiting for the horrible beasts to charge any moment and came across some better boulders. Off with the boots and on with the rockshoes! Hmmm, this is awfully harder than it looks, and it's awfully high and I've no mat and there's a not so great landing. Hmmm, traverse about for a bit instead but get mightely bored of backwards and forwards with sections that are just too hard.

Over on the left (and back through another boggy section and bracken!) looks like some other boulders so I get hopping again. And this is much better. I've found a lovely clean slab and manage to do 4 problems, one up the arete, one over an overlap, one up the right of the slab and one diagonal, crossing the previous. All quite easy apart from the moves getting off the ground! Then, to my delight, I found 2 big flakes jutting out of the boulder behind the slab, creating a squeezy chimney between them. In I squeezed and udged my upwards a little. Hmmm, not sure about this now, udged back down. Ach to hell with it and squeezed back in, it was a bit of a struggle but easy in the sense that you were so jammed in that you couldn't fall out but progress upwards was fought for! Back down again and up the knife edge arete of the left hand flake itself. That one was easy peasy but nice and fun! Then around the front of the boulder where I tried some more traversing that was too hard! One move off the ground and I can't move any further, too steep! Come down and try further to the left, too steep again and this goes on right the way across!

The rock was lovely sandstone here. Very rough and the skin is starting to peel on my fingers and I've developed some lovely calluses and that's just after an hour and half of play!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

A weekend of midgies, rain, travel, scary seacliffs and VS onsights - 15th-17th August

I'd been hoping for some more mountain routes for my last long weekend of the summer, but alas it wasn't to be.
Thurs saw Chris and I drive up to Torridon with the ever hopeful 50/50 chance of some dry weather. Got a phonecall from Andy as we were approaching Inverness and he said the forecast had changed some and it wasn't looking too great for the NW. I was ever optimistic though (or foolish!) and we arrived at Loch Torridon in the dark and pitched at the side of the road. Well, Chris did, I had forgotten my tent poles, so it was a bivi bag for me. Drat!! Some swearing ensued and telling myself off for being such an eejit! I was quite comfy though with Chris' spare Thermarest on top of my rollmat. Woke at 4 in the morning though to the sound of rain and a little pool of water at the top of my bag where I had left an open bit to prevent a feeling of suffocation. Then woke again some time later to a scratching feeling on my face, midgies!!! Sod the suffocation, the zip got pulled right up and the bag sealed! Woke later in the morning to the pitter patter of midgies bashing off my bag and a loud whirring noise that suggested there were a cloud of them outside. I somehow managed to get fully dressed, get my coat on, put on a midge net and tuck it into said coat, get my shoes on, tuck my trousers into my socks whilst being enclosed in the bag before braving the outside. The net was a lifesaver and I hardly got bitten at all! My jacket and trousers were black with them however! We quickly dismantled camp and set off for somewhere midge free for some breakfast and a brew. Further north there was a bit of a breeze, but some breccy and a brew later it started lashing it down with rain and poor Chris had to do without his morning coffee, oh dear.............
Past Gairloch, past Gruinard, past Dundonall and onto the Braemore junction, where we stopped to phone Andy for a weather report and decided to head down to his house and not risk Ullapool and North of there. We gathered ourselves together back down Aviemore way and checked all the forecasts. The best place seemed to be up on the Caithness coast so off we went! The drive seemed to take forever. Caithness really is tucked away in it's own wee zone and seems to be in the middle of nowhere! Finally arrived at Latheron and went to check out the cliffs so it was all easy to find the next day.

There's a big field full of sheep and about 20-30 Shetland Ponies by the seacliffs and there were Gulls, Cormorants and some kind of bird of Prey hovering too (sea Eagle perhaps?) I was gleefully snapping pics with my brand new camera :o)
We weren't too sure of the Bedrock area as the cliffs were pretty Lichenous and slippy, and the Big Wall Area was tidal and scary looking but the Pinnacle area seemed ok for us. Back to the car, pitch tents, eat, tan some wine and bed.
The next day though, the wind is up, the tide is in and the swell is booming and crashing! Blast! It had seemed so friendly the night before but now seemed too scary for me to feel overly happy. We started off on a VS which wasn't a great idea as I got pumped straight away due to the steep and thuggy nature of the rock. So downgraded to Severe and had an epic on the hardest severe in the world! (Footloose, total sandbag!) Chris struggled on lead and I backed off on second! Chris ab'd down for the gear and we both were pissed off and demotivated. Had some food and egged Chris on to lead the nicest looking VS there, Fancy Free. He led this very well indeed and I managed to second it ok, apart from my arms screaming, again very steep! After some discussion we decided to drive back down the road with the plan to climb in the Cairgorms if dry and head back home to Ballater if not. I was eager for some mountains, I think the last 2 weeks have spoiled me and I pine for the hills if I can't get out into them!
No joy though, so Ballater it was. We had discussed what we wanted to climb whilst camping the night before and enjoying our tea, chocolate and more wine sat at a bench where we had parked up. I would warm us up on Ping Pong, the severe, then Chris would lead Original Route, a VS5a he had wanted to lead for some time, then I would have a try at Convoy which I had been told was a soft touch VS for a first lead and Chris would then have a look at either Brute or Strawberry Ripple. I was starting to feel nervous about this VS lead and running through lots of excuses in my mind. But I really wanted to do it! It felt like one of those now or never moments and I had to just ignore the negative thoughts and get on with it. We stuck to plan and warmed up on Ping Pong with no problems. Chris cruised up Original Route, his 1st 5a! I seconded the reachy start with no problems whatsoever and actually found the top bit a lot harder! Then it was my turn, shit!
Don't look at the route, you know where it goes.
Don't study it too much or you'll start thinking about all the horrible things that could go wrong!
Just get on it, and get on with it!
Gear up and ready to go.
The start is awkward and I find it difficult to get up onto the big ledge that the route shares with Flake Route next door. Chris commented later that he thought it was nerves, but I did feel awkward and reachy to me and I didn't climb that bit very well and used my knees, putting myself into an awkward position to get back onto my feet again! The next part was no problem and before long I was at the slabby bit before the crux. Got in a runner to the left and got it 2 runners low down on the right. Not happy though, the 2 runners on the right are a no2 and no3 nut and I don't feel overly confident in them and they wouldn't stop me from hitting the ledge below if I came off. I can see the positive, flakey holds on the right side of the roof that I have to surmount but they are miles away! I try various different ways of getting up there but the holds are small, the moves feel unbalanced (ugh!) and I don't feel confident.
I'm up and down like a yoyo trying different combinations but nothing feels right! There are 2 wee flakey edges that I have to use to then reach a flat hold on the right. I need to pull myself in on this and lock off to reach the next wee flakey bit (and I don't know if this is positive or not!) I can't commit! I take out the gear and climb down, away to finish off on Flake Route instead. NO NO NO, c'mon Sonj, you can do this!! Back up again, re place the gear and have a fish about for more. I find a bit that looks like it might take another nut but it's awkward and reachy to place. Get it in though, and yeehah! tis utterly bommer, oh yes! I feel much more confident about these moves now that bit of gear is in! Both hands on seperate flakes to pull myself into wall, right hand on flat hold, feet up, pull in and lock off, left hand to smaller flake. Ooooooooooh it's fecking tiny! Move fast and lunge up for the big flake, oh yeah that's good! Lay back up the flake and get my right leg up high onto a ledge, then move right hand onto a rounded side pull and try to back step with my left leg onto the top of the roof. Can't f*cking reach with my foot, aaaaaaaaaaaarg, c'mon c'mon c'mon!!!! Udge a bit and it's there, heave over to the left and woooooohoooooooooo, I've done it, my 1st VS onsight, hurrah!
I'm shaking like mad and heart is going like the clappers and it takes ages to calm down! Oh I dunno how often I can do this pushing myself malarky! By the time we've got back down to the bags I'm eagerly discussing when we can go to Limekilns to get on some of the VS's there!
Strawberry Ripple. Chris seems tense, he thinks he's going to find it difficult. But it didn't seem to pose him any problems and other than a wee scrabbly leg moment at the top he cruises it! It's been a real pleasure to see the transformation from a tentative beginner to VS leading to the more confident approach he has with them now. Hopefully I will follow suit :o)

Saturday, 9 August 2008


Just back from a weeks holiday and if I thought nothing could top last weeks fun, I was very wrong indeed! Drove up to Andy's house near Aviemore on Sunday so we could make plans for the following day and sort out our gear etc. Back when we did Crypt Route, Andy had told me of a new route he had spotted in the Fisherfield area, one of the most remote areas in Scotland and I was very keen to go in with him for a looky. I'd prayed for good weather for weeks and it seemed we were to be rewarded :o) The plan initially had been to walk in on Sunday eve and climb on Monday, but the forecast didn't look too clever for Mon, whereas Tues (and possibly Wednesday) looked just fine.
Monday morning we went for a wee climb on Jetty Buttress, up near Gruinard. I'd climbed here a few years back and found it pretty unpleasant, the routes indistinct, the rock unfriendly and the atmosphere highly midgie! I warmed to the place better this time round after trying out a few more routes. Andy led most of the routes, a HS which I found quite unbalancey, called Route 6, then an HVS 5a called North-West Arete. I didn't manage to do this clean as there was one piece of gear that I simply couldn't reach as it was placed too far out rightwards, was pretty frustrating as the moves were nice and they felt do-able to me. Next I led a V.Diff called Doddle, which was just as it's name says and then Andy led a severe beside it called Bus Stop. I'd wanted to lead this one but wasn't too sure as it looked a bit steep and scary! Looks were deceiving though as the climbing was easy enough, chicken that I am!
Time was getting on though so it was time to drive around to Corrie Hallie and start the slog with heavy sacks, into Shenavall, this was after stopping off at the Dundonnell Hotel for a delicious bar meal AND chocolate pudding! I'm sure this heavy dinner added a few pounds to the journey! Once up most of the uphill and round past the SE spur of Sail Liath, the drop down into Fisherfield starts opening up and the sun was casting a warm orange glow on the surrounding hills, almost like an alpen type glow, it was very warm and welcoming and I felt happy to be there. We finally arrived at the bothy, to be welcomed by a bloke and his son who were there for some fishing, an American and his friend and later a mass of Germans! Luckily we arrived in time to squeeze into the back room and get some floor space so we didn't have to bivi out and brave the midgies. I didn't sleep too well though, too noisy, too smokey and probably a bit of nerves thrown it for measure!

Up at 7am, we set off for the 2 river crossings of the Strath na Sealga and the Glean na Muice. Andy kept his feet dry with boots, I had to go across bare feet as I only had my trail shoes on. River was low though and posed no difficulty other than a bit of cold and hassle by midgies taking my shoes on and off. The plan was to walk up Glean na Muice itself (the glen not the river!) right up to the head of the Glen and then cut up to Stac a'Chaorruinn, a high rocky outcrop of A'Mhaighdean. Ling and Glover had attempted a direct route up this buttress in 1909 and had failed on the route and scrambled up to the right instead. I was excited at the prospect of following in their footsteps but hopefully succeeding where they had failed! The buttress here was pretty damn steep and scary looking but Andy sniffed out a way to breach the steep wall with his keen nose and shortly we were off climbing 110m of V.Diff climbing. The 1st pitch followed an awkward ramp come groove and then thin walls of delicate climbing above onto an easier finish. Wow! I had been nervous about this whole new routing business but was keen to lead something, but scared too as you couldn't really tell what was above and I was scared that I'd get into difficulties and into more serious ground than I could handle in my inexperience, so was happy enough to have Andy do all the leading.
Next followed a trot up to the summit of A'Mhaighdean itself (munro no 80 for me, and something ridiculous like munro number 100 and something for Andy's 5th round of the munros!!!) We then descended down Pinnacle Gully and climbed a new route on the slabs down there. There was one route already climbed there called Gladiator (S) which went from the right edge of the slabs and up a leftwards rising traverse. Our new route went direct up the left side of the Slab at about V.Diff. It wasn't a spectacular climb and a bit grassy in places (which you were able to avoid thankfully!) but I was happy to be leading my 1st ever new rock route and picking out the way I wanted to go was fun! Andy however was getting grumpy below, being seriously eaten alive by midgies! I eventually managed to find a thread belay to bring him running up in relief and then it was my turn to be eaten whilst he led the second pitch up a series of chimneys, walls and onto easier ground. We called this route White Louse, after seeing quite a few of these plants with the same name in the vicinity, which were quite unusual, as they are normally purple. The other route we called Ling-Ylang as a tribute to Ling, and following the plant theme of the day! We were both pretty knackered by this point, but managed to squeeze in an ascent of Ruadh Stac Mor on the way back to the bothy, were Andy made a brew and I cooked up some tuna pasta and we fell exhausted into our sleeping bags after a 13hr day on the hill!

What an amazing place to be though! The views from A'Mhaighdean are spectacular, and the surrounding cliffs are out of this world. I fall in love a little more with the NW of Scotland every time I go, if that's possible. And to follow in the steps of the likes of Ling, and to be in the company of such an adventurous and knowledgeable climber, I felt truly humble and so lucky for the opportunity.

DAY 2 - Up early again, after a bit of a better sleep this time! Not so far to walk this time though. I shan't mention exactly where we were climbing our new route on this day, other than to say I felt a bit more intimidated by this route than the others! It looked steep and it looked hard and half of me was hoping that the grayish looking clouds above would bring some rain so I wouldn't have to try and climb the damn route! Thankfully it didn't rain though and all my fears dispelled once I started to climb. This route followed a system of flakes up to the most terrifying traverse I've ever done! I had to climb up a bulgy bit to remove some high gear that Andy had needed to protect himself and then downclimb the same section and now I wasn't protected against a fairly big swing! I was apprehensive to say the least! I felt quite safe in my present position with OK holds for hands and feet and I wasn't entirely sure what level to traverse to. Andy mentioned a scoop, but all of a sudden there were lots of scoops!! Which was the correct one?! But I couldn't just stand there all day, I had to commit to trying to get across. So I tentatively tiptoed across and just at the end was a thank god hold, oh yeah thank god!! But the excitement was far from over! Next came a very steep slab which Andy had said was a bit thin. Hah! That was an understatement and a half! I'm just a wee punter, I canny hold on to holds the size of nothing!! But hold onto them I did, until I got the crux of our route. A blank corner with nought but smears for the feet and horrible minuscule, rounded holds for the hands until you could reach what Andy had called a jug, but in my mind was more of a crimp!! In his defensive it was a very positive crimp! It was no use to me however as now I was at total, full stretch and couldn't see where to smear my feet, and was flailing like a fish out of water! A tight rope was called for and I half thugged, was half dragged up the damn and blasted corner, belly flopping with loss of dignity over onto the slab above! Andy the beast, with a wee laughing twinkle in his eye!
The next section didn't pose me any problems and went straight forward enough at 4c, and the very top pitch was easier still up a lovely wee chimney shared with another route there. It looked a bit dirty from below but the dirt was inside the chimney, and the chimney was climbed by bridging outside, moving over right to a slab and then back left across the top of the chimney with an awkward move onto the wall above. We then moved left and onto clean slabs of rock above which went easily and pleasantly.
Another new route done, and my first ever mountain HVS (even if I needed a wee tug at the crux!)

A chilled walk back to the hut for some food and a long and dreary plod back out of Shenavall and to the car. The walk up hill seemed to me to take forever, Andy was going well but I was hot and knackered and moving slower but we finally got there and drove back to Andy's for a much needed rest day! And very conveniently, our rest day happened to fall on a day where it was raining.

FRI, DAY 3 - Andy had asked if I wanted to climb on Beinn Eighe? Oh yeah, I was well up for that, there was a few routes I'd like to do there! 'What did he have in mind?'

'Oh, just a new route that I spotted a while back.'
Me - 'What sort of grade do you think it will go at?'
Andy - 'Oh, probably about VS/HVS I should think.'
He then went on to describe how steep the wall was (but it has good positive holds which you'll like, small but good) Hmmmm. Then he slipped in the fact that we would have to abseil into the route, well 2 abseils actually, 2 very steep abseils actually! Aaaaaaaaarg!!! But what the hell, in for a penny, in for a pound right?!
The 'walk' up to the top of the Tripple Buttresses below the top of Coinneach Mor was a really steep pull up heather and yucky scree/come grit and seem to take forever! The sun was blazing and yet the midgies were still being a nuisance! Andy reckoned that if the midgies were bad at the top of the cliff then we would turn around and walk back down. I was half praying that the midgies would be bad so I wouldn't have to commit to this horrible abseil! I was getting more and more scared the nearer to the cliffs we got and it WAS actually midgie at the top, but there was no talk of retreat and I didn't want to back out and let Andy down (or myself really!) Andy later joked that he wouldn't have let me back out anyway and would have bundled me up in the rope and thrown me down to the bottom of the cliff to belay him if need be, lol!
I went through my usual paranoia about the abseil. What were the anchors? Were the anchors good enough? Did Andy maybe want to back the anchors up with another anchor? Is my set up onto my harness correct? have I fastened my harness correctly? Is the rope going through my belay plate properly? Is my belay plate clipped onto my harness correctly? Check, check, check and check again!! Lots of thoughts were going through my head whilst Andy went off down the 1st ab. How long was I going to be stuck up here on my own, thinking scary thoughts? (Andy had to do some cleaning as he ab'd down) What was the next anchor set up going to be like? Was there going to be a big enough ledge for both of us to stand on? CRASH!!!!!!!!!! The cleaning had begun! Andy was trundling big blocks down into West Central Gully below and the noise was awful, truly awful. It's a horrible noise which echos all around and sounds very sinister! Before long it was my turn and after all the above checks I was off. This isn't so bad really! I keep looking down to Andy to see him hanging off the anchors below, one foot on a small ledge about the width of my hand! There's room for one of my feet there too but I have to swing my other leg across onto the wall so I'm almost kind of sitting on Andy's knee, it's all very cozy! But I actually don't mind it, and I relax into the position fairly quickly, it's not so bad at all really, quite comfortable in fact! Andy moves off down the next rope length and the trundling starts all over again. This time I can see as well as hear the blocks fall down into the gully. It's quite sickening to watch! But I can't seem to help watching! It's horribly fascinating to watch big blocks smash onto the rocks below into smaller pieces and then go bouncing back upwards and downwards at the same time, 100's of metres right down into the corrie below! I can see walkers on the path around Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair stop and stare up at the cliffs. They must be able to hear the falling blocks from so far away, it echos so loudly! Finally the deafening crashing comes to a halt and Andy's down. I quickly join him, onto a more spacious belay this time but there's no time for pondering about my situation as Andy is off in a shot climbing upwards and my concentration on the belaying is needed.
The 1st few moves on the 1st pitch are pretty minging to say the least! I struggle on a lot of 5a moves, but wet and slimy 5a moves just seem to get the better of me!!! I fall off the 1st move and swing out into space, giving a right old girly squeal! Try again, fall again! Right, pissed off now, there must be another way of doing this move! It's up into a steep groove to grab a flake which is rounded and slimy and then I have to move up to try and grab a better hold, but each time I try to move up my hand slides off because of the slime. A different tactic is needed! I wedge myself into the groove, covering myself in goo in the process and sort of udge upwards, with a wee back step and then lunge for the good hold, yes got it! Feel good, feel in balance. But I can't move upwards! I have 2 choices. Cross over onto the left wall and round an arete and back into the groove above (the way Andy did it) or straight up, taking the ever so slightly bulging groove direct. Well, I can't do it direct seen as the only helpful hold seems to be a slime filled finger crack of sorts! So, round the arete it is. I get myself onto the left wall and reach around to grab an ok side pull round the corner. The moves are blind though and I can't find anything, just too damn reachy! And I can't peek round the corner to look as it's too far. Luckily, the rope on my right is pretty much above me, so I can swing round and that's just what I do. Reachy 5a/bordering on 5b moves I can't do. The rest of the 1st pitch is clean but still quite brutal and when I get to the belay I tell Andy that if he ever suggests we do something like this again I will choke him with his own rope! He laughs, 'ah but you love it!' before moving off onto the 2nd pitch above.
The rest of the route is just fantastic though! The holds are sooooooooooo small in places, tiny tiny tiny, but Andy was right, they are so positive! And 99% of the moves are all in balance, but it's very sustained! 4c after 4c move on wee crimps and edges, followed by a wee rest here and there, with the odd 5a move thrown in for measure! Up crimpy, delicate slabs, over an overlap, through a gap in between overhangs and up a fantastic crack near the top that's involves some committing and shifty footwork! It was truly lovely and by the time I reach Andy at the top of the 3rd pitch I'm beaming, totally beaming!! Forget what I said earlier about not liking this, I AM loving it, it's amazing, just fantastic!! I'm totally buzzing!!! I yap on and on and on about how fantastic it is and just have to give Andy a big massive hug once back to the sacks, I'm delirious with the joy of it! The climb was amazing! The views up on top are simply stunning and the sun is still beaming (though it did get a wee bit chilly stuck on the ledge near the dank gully at the bottom though) Sadly, there is no time to hang about as the midgies are out in force again!! Wee shites! I'm not looking forward to the descent down the steep hill but it's actually great fun! We don't need to go down on the heathery bits as there are plenty of scree slopes about and with a bit of scree running we are down in no time at all and I only fell onto my bum once!
Quickly nip into the shop for some food and I make us a yummy curry back at Andy's and he cracks open a bottle of wine to celebrate our success over the past few days. We duly stuff our faces and get a tiny wee bit pissed!