Friday, January 30, 2009

Handicap Bouldering (grades)

Okay, this is all a bit of fun, and grade-obsession in climbing only disillusions me, but a comment on the ever-entertaining Sam's World of Pain popped out at me, and being older and heavier than most boulderers these days, I thought I'd develop my own grading system! According to Sam, via Steve McLure, half a stone (7lbs or 3.2kg) is equivalent to half a grade (a 'plus' or 'minus' grade eg. 8a to 8a+). This got me thinking, is there not a handicap system out there, like there is for horse-racing? In my world of new grades, skinnies should be climbing with weight-belts and fatties get a numerical headstart!

1. Work out how many half stone you are above or below average weight.

The 'average man' principle:
The average man is allocated 110 lbs (50 kg) for the first 5 feet (1.524 m) in height. Thereafter, he is allocated 5½ lbs (2.495 kg) for every additional inch (0.025 m) in height.
Thus, a man 6 feet tall (1.829 m) would be allocated 110 lbs (50 kg) plus 12 x 5½ lbs (2.495 kg), which comes to 176 lbs or 12 st. 8 lbs (80 kg).
Females are allocated 100 lbs (45 kg) for the first 5 feet (1.524 m) and 5lbs (2.268 kg) for every inch thereafter. Therefore a woman who is 5 ft 6 ins (1.676 m) tall would be given 100 lbs plus 6 x 5 lbs, which totals 130 lbs or 9 st. 4 lbs (59 kg).

2. Subtract or add one half grade for each half stone above or below average weight. Half stone = 7 lbs = 3.2kg

3. Whatever grade you last achieved, add or subtract the plus or minus handicap for your 'real grade'

I climbed a 7a last week so via the new handicap grade system, where I am rather astonishingly 2 stone 'overweight' (it's still post-Christmas, okay?), I 'really' climbed 4 half grades harder, therefore I maxed out at 7c... for January that's a big yeehah! If you are 2 stone 'underweight' and did the same problem you maxed at Font 6b... weakling, eat some creatine!

Therefore, to achieve 8a, that magical bouldering grade where you suddenly turn into some levitating guru (or a boastful arse),  you can be average weight and do it, or you can be 3 stone overweight and climb a 7a. If you are a stone 'underweight', you'll have to climb an 8b to get the 8a!

This will no doubt displease and demotivate you hard-campussing skinnies and delight the genetically-challenged heavyweights...but hey, welcome to reality according to Stone Country!!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

January Bouldering News

Hopefully we'll see a few more new problems once we get less stormy weather, but Mike Lee informed me he had completed the Scourguie Woods project, which has fallen at the reasonable grade of 7b+ and is known as Walk the Dog. Knowing Mike's lighter-than-air abilities, I'm sure this is value for money!! The video makes it look very flat and staightforward, have a look at the pic to get an idea of the steepness, then imagine crimping up that!

Tim Rankin managed to repeat Twilight Princess, which is a tremendous start for the year - he confirms it at the 8a grade, anyone for a third repeat? Tim also reclimbed Crimp Like a Chimp on the Portlethen Sports Wall, which he says is now 7b+.

Richie Betts continued the theme of broken holds and returned to Malc's Arete at Torridon Ship Boulder, scene of a recent finger-crime. The crucial half-height ledge holds snapped but the problem was repeated at 7a+ and for the crouch start you now get 7b without change.

Tom Kirkpatrick has also been working through new areas and repeating stacks... he did the Barrel Extension project at Portlethen at about 7b+. Here's a video of some of the classic problems at Glen Lednock by Tom...

Friday, January 23, 2009

As the Days Lengthen...

Not Scotland... Punta Grande Patagonia

An old woman in Ullapool stopped me in the street over New Year and said 'As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens...' and she shook me by the elbow like it was some portent of doom. But she is quite right and the old saying rings true in Scotland... as the days stretch imperceptibly in January we tend to get a cold moist period with high level snows, it seems the hills will be freeze- thawing this month, quite nicely thankyou very much. So in between sessions at the local wall trying to get some fitness for the year, I've dug out my old battered Quasar axes and will be sharpening them with anticipation of days like these photos. 

Salamander Gully

Crest Route, Glencoe

I've always felt that winter days can provide the rarest quality mountain experience in all the climbing disciplines. They are usually the most memorable because your senses are sharpened by proximate mortality, freezing your ass on belays, torture-rack hotaches, smashing your nose in with the adze or some such lesson of the snows...

The odds of a perfect blue day that you recall so inaccurately are generally the romantic distillate of abandoned days, poor conditions, getting lost in blizzards, forgetting your harness, scraping off onto a Grade 3, abbing from a shoogly peg because there's 'nae gear'...there's never enough gear in winter, it's all a con(fidence) game!
                                                                   Beinn an Dothaidh Ice

So why the hell do we do it? Simply because it's a challenge, it shakes us out of the lazy lethargy and comfortable numbness of city life and mod-cons. Nothing like getting up at 4am because you're too gripped and cold for another hour's kip, then walking in through sleet in the vain hope the blizzard will clear to blue skies and perfect chewy ice...

just sometimes though...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Craigmaddie Mystery

Anyone who has walked the low sandstone hills around Craigmaddie, sandwiched between the volcanic plain of the Clyde and the volcanic Campsies to the north, may have noticed some odd things. To the west of the crags there is an arena-like hollow with a triplet stone known as the Auld Wifes' Lifts. This is a heavily carved stone, mainly stencilled with the excessive initials of vigorous Victorians, suggesting it was a popular tourist attraction at one point. Jill was here, apparently, as was 'JR'.

The Auld Wifes Lifts

The myth goes that three local 'wifies' from neighbouring villages had a competition to see who could carry the biggest stone in their aprons. The third managed to set the biggest on top of the two smaller ones, with a smacking of her fat hands no doubt. Local traditions suggest the space under the main capping stone was crawled through by women to ensure they did not die childless, and no doubt the classic 'wedding' tradition of crawling through a hole together would ensure a fruitful matrimony. 

Craigmaddie variously translates as 'the rock of prayer' or the 'rock of God', or 'crag of the dog/fox' (indeed, I have often seen a fox disappear into a sandstone bolt-hole in the heavily eroded rock) The Auld Wifes Lifts themselves are most likely a natural sandstone erosional feature rather than man-made, but they are certainly visually dramatic and form a natural 'druid-like' centrality in a hollow surrounded by raised platforms of rock. There is evidence through palynology that at one time a circle of oaks stood round this naturally sacred site. On the rock itself, rather ghost-like, older faces have been carved on the the blunt aretes of the capping stone, including a 'Fat Nose' face, a 'Monkey' face and a 'Keyhole Mouth' face - some of these are perhaps very old but the extensive 'graffiti' suggests some are more modern additions and copies.

The area here has been quarried in the past for millstones (one of which is seen in the wall of the farm below). This millstone measures the same as the pecked circular form on a rock plinth on top of the main quarry, though this formation has been suggested as a sundial (it has an off-centre staff hole and markings on its circumference, next to a strange T-shape, see below). Whether this is a quarrier's millstone mapping and doodle, or a serious gnomon is hard to determine.  As usual, archaeology invokes the cloudiness of interpretation and highlights are more romantic leaps of intuition - were the petroglyphs simply carved by quarriers on their lunch hours, perhaps, to impress their children and family on Sunday picnics? Why should that be less sacred than a druid intoning over a gnomon?  The features of some of these markings, as well as the mason marks near the main quarry, suggest a playfulness and mischief-making - there are 'fairy footprints' and an 'all-seeing eye', but could it also be some of these carvings are a lot older? Whatever, it appears Craigmaddie has had a longue durĂ©e and a natural palimpsest of petroglyphs has evolved. There are many mason marks on a block of stone under a low overhang to the east, next to names and more modern graffiti (J. Neilson 1866 and A. Cairns). 

Earlier neolithic and bronze age/iron age occupation is suggested by a burnt mound, chambered cairns, cup-marked standing stones and various other archaeologies (see the Association of Certified Field Archaeologists Occasional Papers 25)

The All-Seeing Eye of Craigmaddie

Craigmaddie is certainly a perfect outlook for a neolithic settlement or later fortified site and there is plenty of evidence to suggest serious settlement and early farming before the peat formed and swept over the wet centuries of the iron age. A complete view of the Clyde valley would have been a fair site in neolithic, warmer climes, with fine viewing platforms such as the alp between the two tiers of crags. Here indeed is an old chambered cairn and a triplet of standing stones (one with faded ancient cup-marks) which suggests this was certainly a neolithic or bronze-age settlement, with the now vacant tombs of the chambered cairns lying in ruins nearby.  Water is abundant locally and there is a carved trough in the main crag cave which looks like a man-made 'basin', carved by an early farmer for his stock? But mostly the area is pitted with the large cog-wheel depressions where millstones were quarried from the bedrock.  The predominance of these suggests most of the petroglyphs and graffiti (on the Auld Wifes Lifts top surface, for example) are a result of more modern chisels.

Mysterious 'Staff Hole and Circle'

It's hard to tell, though/ Above the quarry crag is a fantastic 'viewing platform' with a  very curious set of carvings on flat gritstone plinths. The main one is a perfect 'pecked' circle with a deep 'post-hole' bored into its bottom hemisphere, with a distinctive letter H pecked out beside it. Outside this lie strange V marks carved into the sandstone and 10 feet a way a curious T-shape has been carved. These may be quarriers' orientation marks or outlines for their millstones, but might they possibly be earlier carvings to mark solstices and sun and moon positions - more research is required! Certainly the T shape mirrors the position of the standing stones quite eerily and is aligned on a rough east-west plane of the summer sun's ecliptic. As mentioned, it is hard to distinguish between quarriers' marks and earlier ritualistic carvings.

Millstone 'cog-wheel' pits

The mysteries and silence of Craigmaddie Muir may have been noised-out by Victorian tourism and quarriers, but the place retains the indelible stamp of a deeper history, like a faded signature. The place is a template on top of which modernity has copied emblems of what it sees as playful and meaningless. Separating them may now be impossible but at least the area, if you walk round it, retains some mystery in the low evening sun as the carvings pop-up in bas relief and surprise with you with their silent secrets.

If anyone can come up with a grand unifying theory, I'd like to hear it!

Millstone in Craigmaddie Plateau

The Mysterious 'T' Petroglyph

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sunshine on Lith

The stubborn high pressure system that has been sinking cold air all over Britain has been a rare treat for lithophiles. The rock has been sticky as the sides of a freezer and the boggy approaches in Scotland have been rock hard, allowing an approach in dry trainers, though some comical Billy Elliot moments occurred on great tongues of ice and frosted top-outs.

Ben More Coigach Stone Pavement

I was in the sunny North West over New Year and continued development is apace on the red grit and on some obscure granite boulders. Even interlopers like myself can find projects galore. I enjoyed a session at the excellent Rhue Blocks, managing the crux crouch start to the Forge before falling off on the slab, by which point my skin was too shredded to continue!

Ian Taylor at Reiff in the Woods

In the south Tim Rankin has been busy repeating the harder Thirlstane classics and finally working out how Paul Savage's problems work best. He repeated Tied Up and Swallowed at a 'short-man's' verion of 7b+, mantling up to the crimp with the left hand and standing on the shelf to cross through to the break. Tim has also discovered an exciting cave with 'immaculate rock' and we await summer development!

Sun and Ice

Back in Glasgow, I visited the old quarry venue of Windyhill above Johnstone and found it to be an excellent bouldering wall, catching all the sun going and with grippy orange basalt. Most of the lines are straightforward but eliminating holds makes it a worthwhile work-out, good for a couple of hours strengthening the fingers and honing the footwork.