Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bouldering in Scotland 2007

With the new edition of Stone Country almost ready to go to press, it's been a year where it's fair to say I have maybe not been reflective about the bigger picture, having been swamped in detail and numerous new venues, repeats and quality new lines. It's the time of year to sit back, pour a glass of port and mutter on about all the good things we did...

That said, what strikes me as possibly a watershed in scottish climbing activity is the army of young boulderers coming out of the walls and finding their own way, that is, exploring their own abilities in a wild landscape. Trad may not exactly be dead, but everyone wants to do something new, and if you're young and keen (or just old and know no better), bouldering is a Yukon of gold rock and new possibilities. The amount of new venues that get mentioned to me (usually casual hints as I'm about to print a book!) is encouraging and it's good that Scotland is providing new impetus in mountaineering circles to continue the explorative tradition. It's indicative of the mountain spirit that bouldering should be developed in such landscapes - it's a simple need to do personally meaningful things in big places... climbing Font 7c on a remote stone in the Highlands is no mean feat, considering the midges, the bogs, the humidity and the darn cussedness of the Scottish weather systems! So I'm glad so many strong young (and old) boulderers are out walking the glens with big mats catching the wind...

The new bouldering guide then will feature this spirit of development: recording the 'big new secrets' of the boulderer... the Craigmaddie gritstone revelation (drive out of Sheffield, gain the M6, go north 300 miles...), the meteorite chaos of Carn Liath on Skye, new 'red grit' classics at Torridon & Reiff in the Woods from a strong northern crew, Cummingston sandstone, Cullen quartzite, Clashfarquhar schist (near Portlethen), Inchbae granite, the bizarre Mushroom on Arran, the endless problems falling out of Brin's rocky forest... so in terms of geology it's been an exhaustive year. In terms of the quality of problems, here are my highlights of the year, (apologies for missing anyone's personal favourites):

Sanction Font 8b Dumbarton
A truly awe-inspiring line from Dave MacLeod before he packed his bags for Fortwilliam, climbed early in the year (February). We maybe get too used to Dave pulling off another world-class cutting edge feat of strength and seeing it online or on the screen, but no-one can touch him for versatility, resilience, dedication, training and mental fortitude... 'chapeau', Dave, as they say in Font. Scotland's hardest problem to date.

Put My New Shoes On Font 7c Brin
Ben Litster, before heading off to Magic Wood all summer to turn into a clone of Chris Sharma, did just what his problem says and got his sticky new heels on the wicked slopers of this blank lip at Brin. Pointed out to him by the all-seeing eye of Dave Wheeler, this was a fine effort from Ben and the first hard line since Dave Redpath's visits a few years before.

The Mission Torridon Font 7b
...and what a mission it was... Richie Betts enduring cold, rain, swamps and patio-building to finally claim this impossible-looking line on the rippled face of the Ship boulder. A bizarre sequence of 'french' moves, contortions and reachy, tenuous balance manouevres, this problem is truly a pencil-chewing maths equation of kinetics and levitation.

The Zealot Glen Ogle Font 7b
Glen Ogle's 'Holllow' boulder had puzzled me for years, such a great looking roof surely should have been climbed? It was duly scrubbed, brushed and flossed, then sent by a rather surprised John Watson, proving of excellent quality (the problem, not the boulderer). Mike Tweedley did a quick repeat and Richie Betts typically found an easier tall man's sequence, but neglected the sit start... no points there boyo.

Cubby's Traverse - Etive Boulders - Font 7b - Cubby had been missing in 'inaction' due to hip operations, but quietly got himself back climbing in his unassuming and modest manner, quickly showing his technical nous and finger-strength was still there. This excellent granite lip traverse on the Etive boulders was the highlight of Glencoe bouldering (it doesn't have many!). I'm still trying to get a name from him for it, really it's too good just to be another 'Cubby's Lip'!!

The Dagger - Duntelchaig - Font 6c+
Duntelchaig is usually too midged, damp, boggy, wet or simply minging to boulder, but on a good day it is terrific for finding new problems in the jumbles. Richie Betts discovered this elegant problem on a fin of rock supposedly impossible to find, even with GPS. A perfect example of what you can do if you look hard enough.

Diesel Canary - Lost Valley - Font 7a+
This may not have been a first ascent but this bloc has always looked so alpine and un-Scottish that it deserved a bit of attention. This line climbs the right-hand crimp line. All down to how you hold the crimp, and when the sun hits it!

Clach Mheallain - Reiff in the Woods - Font 7a
Ian Taylor has quietly bagged everybody's favourite projects anywhere near Ullapool, because he lives there and he can! This excellent arete means 'little stones' (ie 'hail') in gaelic, which gives you an idea of local conditions... but a superb line and one of too many to name at this excellent venue.

TP & QC Reiff In the Woods Font 7a
Okay, another one at RITW... Lawrence Hughes solved this 'Technical, Powerful and Quite Committing' roof, throwing heels in, using odd shoes, and topping out the highball arete... impressive and lusted after for a long time.

The Catch Scatwell Font 7b
Young Mike Lee has slowly been gaining muscle to his thin frame, though still insists on a studenty 'legoman' hairstyle, maybe that's the youth these days. Anyway, he bagged this powerful problem at the excellent new boulder at Strathconon near the Scatwell slabs. Richie Betts wins the prize for the best-named problem of the year... 'Road to Domestos'

The Susurrus Brin Font 7c
Stolen from under the nose of Ben Litster, Mike Lee unashamedly campussed out the desperate finish to this soaring roof at Brin, when Ben had been trying a forlorn heel-hooking method for months. Oh well, c'est la vie... they now share a flat together. I'm surprised they don't poison each others' cornflakes.

Sweet Cheeks Clashfarquhar Font 7b+
Tim Rankin has quietly been producing hardcore problems in Aberdeen without the aid of Dumbarton! He found an excellent steep boulder at Clashfarquhar and put up some hard problems up to Font 7c, but probably the best is this classic powerful clampy arete. These puppies are desperate for the grade as well, must be that NE air!

Abracadabra Craigmaddie - Font 6c+
The new gritstone/sandstone venue near Glasgow has produced a heap of classic wall and roof problems for the jaded volcanic afficionado of the Central belt. Colin Lambton worked out the proper sit start to this long and infuriatingly complex roof lip. Very easy to fail on!

Buddha's Choice Cummingston Font 6b
Dave Wheeler is the Buddha of Brodie, if you didn't know, and the quiet master of all things Cummy... this is one of his fine additions to the Cummingston roster of classics, a lovely technical roof tucked in an echoey cave... Dave has thousands of these and I can't be bothered listing them all... one day I'll cruise Bird Man as well!

Deep Breath Glen Nevis - Font 8a
It's apt the year should end with a deserved 'deep breath'. Dave MacLeod finally climbed this notorious steep wall at Glen Nevis, providing the glen with its first 8th grade problem, and deservedly so after so much mythology of hard problems existing here... Dave's ascent was incontrovertible and impressive, repeating it first time for the cameras, indeed three or four times for the hell of it!

Notable repeats:

Tom Charles-Edwards cracks Turbinal Nose at Glen Croe, saying it is maybe 7b+ if you're tall... proving a popular project problem and one of the gems of Glen Croe. I still think it's 7c, Tom.

Dumby - King Kong falls to Godzilla, masquerading as Alan Cassidy.

Dumby - the enduring strength of Mal Smith sees a quick repeat of Pressure, but you knew I was going to say that. Is he now our elder statesman of bouldering?

Niall McNair, in his usual onsight style, continues to destroy any boulder problem he comes across, repeating almost at will with a Duracell-bunny-style full attack mode, quite remarkable to witness. Some of his repeats: Lock, Stock ... at the Trossachs (7c), The Victorian (7b) and he nearly picnic-onsighted the desperate Out of the Blue at Loch Lomond... jeezo

... well, that's all I've time for now, Happy Festive Fun and here's to an even better 2008!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fontainebleau Redux

November may be autumn in the forest but it's a time of revival. Waking in the tent at 4am, I wriggle about in my cocoon a bit, wrapped in a chrysalis of decaying dreams. A rain of leaves whispers on the skin of the tent... the morning chill snapping them off the birches. I am beginning to go numb, so I crawl out, open the car and wipe my breath off the dashboard thermometer: -10 degrees.

Minus ten in the forest, a star-studded sky that's already going from black to purple with the promise of perfect egg blue at noon... everything is frozen: the olive oil a thick lime-green cake in a bottle, the water taps spilling out their clear mutant forms. I feel invigorated with hidden movement... the bouldering will be perfect. The stove roars up a protest against the silence and the coffee acts like oil for the diesel engine, we begin to throw our arms in circles to loosen shoulder tendons, crack fingers outwards, begin a slow rhythm of waking to the forest, an old friend... a place of limitless dreams and movement.

For a week we move through the forest silently, onsighting whatever problems look good, quietly conferring with parties of similar folk, swathed in golden rock and cold sunshine. Failure is never a disappointment and only a spur to move on, to keep moving, to absorb as much of the forest's circuitry and telemetry as possible. Fingers begin to grow steely and what was once hard feels open and accessible, bodies seem to grow into the stone's simple reasoning and movement becomes precise and economical, doing just enough and applying the purest equations of pressure and release.

This is the internal clockwork of Fontainebleau which ticks away in the long months of absence from this magical place, its memory a perpetual reflux of spinal memory: of throwing for sloping holds, of tensioning on crimps, of the body tightening round a sculpture of stone, or toes twisting on the faint squeak of friction... I come away from each visit reinvigorated, lighter spiritually, uncluttered and repaired by a simple landscape of tree and sand and stone...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Stone Country Reviews

We are gearing up a little for Christmas and providing a few offers if anyone is looking for gifts for that keen boulderer!

All items can be bought securely through the STONE COUNTRY SHOP :

Stone Play - The Art of Bouldering £19.95

'The prints excellently portray the many aspects of bouldering, from aggression, technicality and confusion, to calm, subtlety and mastery. The essays complement the prints, taking the reader into the minds of some of bouldering's main protagonists – old and new. Overall this is a thought-provoking book for any climber, prompting personal reflection on one's own style, attitude and habits.'

Dave Redpath

Free additional T-Shirt with each T-Shirt order (£9.99) ie. two for a tenner!!

Stone Country Edition 1 - NOW ONLY £9.99 !!

Free draw - win the new Bouldering Guide!!

The new full colour edition of Stone Country will be available by February 2008, and I'll be entering everyone who gets in touch in a draw to win a free copy, deadline is Dec 31st 2007.

Just send an email with your name and address to

Also in the shop, I'll be selling more guidebooks and DVD's. To start with, there's Pete Murray's Chains at £16.99... Pete is currently working on a new film which will beavailable through Stone Country in 2008. Pete always provides an intelligent angle on our climbing world, showing us that there is deeper meaning and personal politics to our obsessions in climbing...

I was also sent a copy of the new Hotaches film Committed Vol.1 and enjoyed it thoroughly... it was another palm-wringing adventure through extreme British trad climbing and I hope it is the start of a fine documentray tradition of DVD's from the Hotaches crew. The production was excellent, the routes jaw-dropping and some of the fall footage is becoming legendary... these should come with an X-rated warning that you will spoil yourself, especially the footage of Meshuga in the new film! Congratualtions to Dave and Paul and the crew for continuing a high-quality independent film company... it's a hard shift traveling and producing and editing those thousands of minutes of footage - they deserve our attention and a little of our Christmas money! The film (and the excellent E11 movie are both available through their website).

Next year will see a busy production schedule for Stone Country guides. We'll have local bouldering guides, individual area topos available laminated and online, as well as Pete Murray's new bouldering movie. There will also be a guide to a European venue and quite possibly a collection of essays on Scottish Traditional climbing... so keep checking back on the blog.

Let's hope for a cold, crisp, sloper-sticky Christmas and New Year.