Sunday, June 3, 2012

Beating the Pies, and the A'Chir Ridge

Been back in Scotland for 2 months. Unemployment has been good so far. The fact that it hasn't rained much since we got back has been a great way to break us back into life back home.

Since I've not been working there's been plenty of time to dedicate to get a routine of running and training for climbing going. The targets are- drop 2 stone to get back to my fighting weight and get the fitness up big- style for climbing.
I'm running three times a week (25 miles on average) at the moment- which is the most I've ever run in my life. Despite the running schedule and almost complete abstinence from beer the Pies are proving very resistant to eviction. I ran 99 miles in May but I've only lost a measly 2lb!
Beastmaker 1000 with Argos stopwatch

Having spent the last four years in Bermuda climbing short, steep juggy routes I'm struggling with two of my big weaknesses. It's the old troublemakers- finger strength and stamina. I've been going to Ibrox recently with Erick and it's apparent that overhanging F6c is at my limit at the moment. The moves aren't desperate but I'm boxed clipping the lower- off.

I've got a Beastmaker 1000 set up on a plank of wood screwed into the hall cupboard doorway and I've been using it if I'm not going to the wall or bouldering. I've seen the threads on UKBouldering where people post about feats of strength on their boards. Good on them for getting that strong but the 'Beasts' can all relax because there's no danger I'm going to be threatening their achievements any time soon. I'm starting to see some slight improvement using my 'beginner's' 1000 series board. It's a great bit of kit, but I'm taking it very slowly dues to a combination of being too weak to do anything hard and not wanting to get injured. I've never finger boarded until this year and I really don't want it to end in tears.

One thing I am very pleased with is that I am now properly going for it at the wall and taking falls, where before I would have shouted 'take' or down- climbed. Fear of falling off was and is quite a handicap for me, but I'm finding it's less stressful to just take the lob- and I'm wishing I'd started doing it years ago....

Beinn a'Chliabhainn, Brodick and the Holy Isle- from an easy bit on the A'Chir Ridge
Recently, me and my wife went over to Arran and did the A'Chir Ridge  during the heatwave we had in May.
I've done the Ridge a few times over the years. Coming back to it again with a non- climber was a bit of an eye- opener.

On my first traverse around 20 years ago I remember being gripped scrambling up the 'Mauvais Pas' crux- a 'bad step' involving a steep and very exposed wall above the Fionn Choire. The fact I was carrying a 60 litre sac with full camping and climbing gear didn't help much. Mistakes were not an option- thankfully none were made. Once atop the crest I was glad that the difficulty relented a bit after that initial excitement. On a subsequent traverse I had nothing more to carry than a water bottle and a windproof top but the bad step still required my full attention.

My wife had cruised the Aonach Eagach and Curved Ridge before so I expected the A'Chir wouldn't be that much trouble for her either.  However, my memories of only one point of real difficulty at the 'Mauvais Pas' turned out a wee bit rose- tinted. After last week's traverse I'm now convinced that the A'Chir is a big step up from the mainland scrambling magnets mentioned above. It's much harder, the route finding can be tricky, it's very exposed and consequently it's much more serious undertaking.

I had taken the precaution of carrying a short rope and a few bits of gear for occasional belays if needed. Luckily, I did because if we hadn't taken the rope we would have had to abandon the traverse for safety's sake. In the passage of time I'd forgotten how slabby and almost completely lacking in jugs it all was. Wearing road running shoes, Julie was not finding it easy to trust friction on the granite and there were a good few moments of stress before she gained confidence in her feet. Over the course of the Ridge her confidence improved though as she discovered the 'joys' of thrutchy body wedging and bridging that are required for many of the downclimbing sections.

We used the rope a lot overall and it was a good decision to take it. My memories of the 'Mauvais Pas' remained true. The fixed tat and pegs seen at this point are quite welcome sights, reassuring you that you are on route, providing security and also giving the sense that you are not alone in feeling the exposure here.

The Rosa Pinnacle of Cir Mhor
One of our options we'd discussed for the day had been the four star classic Sou' Wester Slabs (V. Diff) on Cir Mhor. Julie hasn't done a lot of rock climbing but the stuff she has done has been of equal difficulty. I offered her the choice and she decided against the V. Diff reasoning that she that hadn't climbed in a long time. Ironically, I reckon she'd have cruised Sou' Wester Slabs in rock shoes! I don't think there's much gap in difficulty between the routes. The fact that there's no thrutchy, exposed down- climbing on Sou' Wester Slabs would probably make it a far more pleasant excursion for someone who isn't a regular climber...

Still, we had a great day out on the A'Chir. You can't beat Arran in sunny conditions like this. The only casualties of the day were Julie's H & M leggings which had not proven thrutch- proof. They were pretty trashed by the end. We were both sunburnt to a crisp (we didn't take suncream because we thought we were used to the sun from Bermuda! Ooops) but no long term damage was sustained. Hill days in Arran tend to be big days in my experience and this one turned out to be around 10 hours long. We were tired from our exertions but thirst and hunger spurred us into a record breaking descent down Glen Rosa- all that jogging paying off at last!

Walking back down Glen Rosa

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