Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Zealots and Serums

Perfect late March spring weather, cool mornings and sunny afternoons, the friction still good on the rock, everything dry and crisp - Scotland owes us a few weeks of this after the winter!

Malcolm Smith has done a variation 8a+ at Dumby called the 'Serum of Sisyphus', which climbs the Perfect Crime start and then escapes up the Good Nicks crack.. an easier alternative (well, more achievable I guess) than finishing up the desperate Sabotage. It's another good addition to Dumby, which now has a feast of 8a and above problems. He gives this variation three stars...he should know! Nice one Malc.

On his return from Spain, a lean Dave MacLeod has also completed the full cave traverse of the Home Rule boulder to give Sosho Font 8a+..., the boss sequence into Hokku 8a... it's an awfully long problem Dave, you sure it isn't harder? Seems like the 9a Spanish roofs have made this seem more achievable for Dave - it went very quickly on a fine evening in March... another excellent high end problem at Dumby, surely the rest of Scotland has a few more??

John Watson took advantage of the fine weather to work a Glen Ogle project and complete the excellent roof fight called 'The Zealot'. On the giant and accessible Hollow Stone, this should be a popular 7b... a couple of mats and a spotter make it less of a heart-squeezer through the crux layback on the crimp. A deeper cave start will make it 7c... plenty of other projects remain in the glen, but the rock is a little suspect and takes time to settle. See the wee vid below...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Cullen Caves

Just before the crux throw on Flower Power, Font 6c+, Cullen

The forecast was for blizzards and I was sipping tea in Inverurie and wondering if I'd get a weather window to get back to some projects in Moray... thankfully a lull before the storm was forecast, with a worryingly warm 13 degrees tipping the scale out of the boulderer's comfort zone... still, it would be dry on the Moray coast I figured, before the icy squalls from the counter spinning vortices of a NE low pressure and a SW high pressure put paid to any comfort... I made my excuses, zipped up through Huntly and Keith and found myself in the dark quartzite ears of the Cullen caves.

There is remarkably good bouldering here, but it's steep and only for troglodytes who like to work their biceps... the first cave was still damp and needing to dry a little (it's a good summer venue when the quartzite dries out) so I headed round to Jenny's Well and St Stephen's cave... here a delightfully steep orange wall holds about half a dozen quality boulder problems from 6a through to 8a projects. The air was balmy and the quartzite was feeling a little damp... it was still holding moisture in its depths and warm fingers darkened the chalk with drawn-out moisture, and plenty of chalk and toothbrush diligence failed to prevent a few spectacular wipe-outs from sudden loss of friction - I was snapping out of full body-tensioned heel-hooks like a pinged playing card. It made me glad I'd brought three mats... they're also good for resting on and watching the eider ducks ride the waves like corks - this is a place where you can power out very quickly so it's important to know how to relax and chill out... this atmosphere is added to by the unusual graffiti of flowers and celtic symbols and all sorts of hippyness that pleases those susceptible to such leanings.

By the end of the afternoon I'd worked, 'settled' and added a few more problems & was pleased by the quality of the lines, having expected large chunks of quartzite to snap off, or at worst ruin the diligent artwork! The back of the cave is worryingly loose, creaking and green, but the front orange wall is fairly solid and has jump-off jugs before things get too high. There are plenty of quality problems left to do here at Cullen, but so far the highlights are the curiously decorated Rose traverse (a good Font 7b), which itself finishes up the 3 star straight-up arete of Flower Power (6c+)... also the frustrating 7a dyno of The Thorn... full details in the Stone Country Companion end of the year - if we can get a bit more traffic here there should be enough for the dedicated boulderer. Maybe someone stronger than me can crank out 'The Rose & the Thorn' together... very, very powerful and one of the quality lines in the north east. Get pressing those weights!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Classic problems - Brin Rock

Here's a short video of a classic Font 6b at Brin Rock... 'Spank the Ramp' - the demonstrator is Ben Litster.

Friday, March 09, 2007

New Shoes at Brin

Put My New Shoes On - Font 7c - Brin Rock

Ben Litster has been beavering away at Brin and succeeded on the hardest problem to date on a wall of clean rock just up from the 'other' project roof... Ben took advantage of breaks in the weather and in between shifts at work - it's a slopey traverse that requires hard heel-hooking and powerful technique. He calls it 'Put My New Shoes On' and it's a hefty Font 7c to complete. Here's what Ben says...

'It's a slopey frictionless traverse of a boulder. I think it's about font 7c but if your taller it'll be easier because you'll be able to keep your heel on the only bumpy part on the route. All the stupid grading stuff aside it's a fantastic wee climb on immaculate rock with some really cool moves! It's very brutal on the heel of your shoes and actually ripped the heel clean off a pair of mine so I had to get new ones to do the route...'

Good effort Ben, let's hope you get the other project before your travels.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Hokku - another Font 8a from the machine MacLeod Pic Hotaches

Hokku, Dave MacLeod's new Font 8a at Dumbarton, is aptly named...it's a shorter part of his longer cave project under the Home Rule boulder and is named after a Japanese form of poetry that reflects seasonal moments. It was certainly seasonal: pissing it down, everything was dripping and this was about the only dry thing to climb in Scotland...from a large sharp jug at the back left of the cave, an innovative and desperate sequence allows the central roof 'handrail' to be gained and then the jugs leading to the finish along Mugsy Traverse (itself Font 7b). The full link-up will be a wild adventure and at least 8b+, but in the meantime Dave was happy to name and grade the 8a version, which may be a popular alternative to his original and more extreme vision! The race is on for the second ascent...

The Hotaches team were out filming. Dave Brown had a key-stones cop moment and nearly did a backflip descending the muddy slopes with a few grand of cameras bundled in his arms, but his reactions were remarkable... as Diff said...'bones heal for free, cameras don't...'

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Trossachs - In Praise of the Victorian

'The use of Loch Katrine to supply Glasgow has its origins in Victorian times. In the early part of the 19th Century, a mere 30 public wells - and a handful of private ones - provided the city’s only sources of water. In 1848, after a second outbreak of cholera again decimated the poorest inhabitants, moves began to bring the water supply under municipal control in an attempt to overcome the growing public health problem.
Five years later, John Fredrick Bateman - a civil engineer of considerable contemporary repute - concluded his study to find the best potential source for Glasgow, recommending the high quality water of Loch Katrine. The House of Commons passed the necessary bill in April 1855. The resulting supply system took three and half years to complete and involved the construction of a dam on the loch, 26 miles of aqueduct, a similar length of trunk mains, 46 miles of distribution pipes and the Mugdock storage reservoir at Milngavie. Queen Victoria herself officially opened the scheme - seen as the engineering marvel of its day - on 14 October 1859.'

Lock Stock & Barrel - Font 7c - Trossachs - Dave MacLeod

Some boulder problems, like Victorian engineering, require bloody hard work, pain, long mileage and success against the odds. Ingenuity and opportunity are the key words...this is how I feel about 7 metres of rock that has taken me over 800 miles of driving just to complete. Lord knows why we do it, but I had 'seen' this line as a remote possibility while attempting to repeat Dave MacLeod's 'Lock, Stock and Barrel', a desperate one-move Font 7c. Dave popeyed his cheeks, gave it some spinach and it was despatched...I did the Popeye impression but not much else... however, the right hand prow of this boulder, if I could shift a little boulder scree, I thought might provide an escape from the cave other than the MacLeod power-out.

Loch Katrine was a devious piece of Victorian engineering... invisible sandstone conduits lead from Lochs Arklet to Katrine and then down underground in infinitesimal gradients all the way to Glasgow via Mugdock, where it finally ends up in your kettle or your bath. The stuff that comes out my tap still has the clarity of Trossachs water - a lucid thing brought to us by clever Victorians and the ghosts of hired-hand navigators. It was also the start of the whole tourism thing in the Trossachs... blame Walter Scott for the tinny incomprensible wah-wah sounds from the Waverley as it steams past the Trossachs boulders. It is a painfully beautiful spot in the quiet light of a misty morning.

On this final bright morning, with the mist lifting, I was not expecting success. I had arrived again with my sack of bouldering industria (chalk, wire brushes, mats, poles, cameras, surgical tape), intent on working the problem again. The only thing I didn't need to bring was water, which generously bubbles past the Sebastopol boulder (named after a Navigator camp, itself named after the Crimean war city). Here I lay under the cave contemplating the odds of success on the poor holds I had been given to reach the hanging prow. This must have been at least my tenth session on this problem. It went okay from a start from an embedded boulder, but the real problem was coming out of the cave and getting to this precarious powerplay over the embedded boulder (without wilting and lying back on it in failure). Tension through a heel-hook had to be maintained to get into a position where the painful quartz nubbins on the prow might be gained. I got this several times, strong on it now, but for the life of me couldn't get my heel-lock unlocked to replace as a toe-push and move on... finally an ingenious sequence of unlikely toe-holds allowed me to power out up to the arete, where I wobbled round on to the slab and finished exhausted on the little summit. There was only one name in my head for all the suffering this problem took me... 'The Victorian'.

I sat there, invigorated and lucid, the sky had clouded over, Loch Katrine had stilled itself, nothing moved but the little burn bubbling away. Everywhere the trees and hills replicated themselves in the loch. Only in bouldering does time vanish so easily... I would not have been surprised to have seen a posse of Victorian engineers with their theodolites and stove-pipe hats.

John Watson 'working' The Victorian, Font 7b+,Trossachs boulders