Friday, June 29, 2012

Expedition to the Dolerites

Just had a wee expedition to the Dolerites in the company of Jim 'Faither' Hall. It was my first time there in 5 years and it was great to be back.

For those who haven't been, Auchinstarry Quarry is close to Glasgow on the doorstep of Kilsyth. The crags surround a cute loch created by the quarrying, with fishermen dotted round the landscaped shores. At first glance it looks pretty idyllic. From the climbers' point of view the crag features 20- 25m high Dolerite buttresses with some real classic routes from Severe to around E5.

It's very popular- mainly because there aren't many good crags in the Glasgow area. Consequently, it's a bit polished and it can also be a bit sandy in the car park area.

However, the main downside to the venue is its close proximity to Kilsyth. Many Scottish small town crags are magnets for local 'wine connoisseurs' and Auchinstarry is no different. Groups of them can often be seen sampling a cheeky Chateau Buckfast (or three). Regular Auchinstarry devotees develop Zen abilities to zone out on the sound of screaming and smashing bottles. The worst case scenario is if they start throwing objects down the routes- but luckily that's not the norm. It's all a bit like the pub in Star Wars, but the creatures are uglier and they wear tracksuits.

Jim Hall on Spirogyra (VS)
One reason I really like the place is that Spirogyra (VS) was one of my very first leads back in the early '90s. At that time I was desperate to get into lead climbing so I killed two birds with one stone and bought my mate Danny a rack of 8 wires for his birthday. It was a very expensive present but it wasn't really that altruistic- I couldn't afford to buy gear for myself and get him a present. I felt a bit ashamed, but quickly swallowed my guilt and 'borrowed' the wires almost as soon as the gift wrap was off. I led Spirogyra with the 8 wires and 5 screwgates. I remember tackling the crux and finding it quite tricky. Despite carrying a rack that could sink the Titanic it still felt nippy 20 years later.

During the afternoon Jim dispatched the popular routes Slinky Lizard (HS) and Trundle (VS) in good style despite wearing the cheapest, nastiest Decathlon kippers money can buy. 

Leading Walk on the Wild Side (HVS) photo by Jim Hall
Last route of the day was a return for me to the route Walk on the Wild Side (HVS). It's quite a bold slab climb on crimpy edges and I think it's one of the best routes of its grade anywhere.

It has a justified reputation for seriousness. The start is very bold, with the first tiny micro wire placements appearing around the 7-8m mark. The gear improves as you gain height but it's still a route that requires a cool head. All your weight is on your feet, on tiny edges throughout, and if you tense up it's easy for your calf muscles to cramp up and Elvis to enter the building (and stay there!).

I've led it a handful of times and it never feels trivial, even when I'm going well. On this occasion I felt pretty good and moved as quickly as I could between gear placements. However, on this ascent I was wearing very soft smeary shoes. I hit the jugs at the top with my feet in agony while my arms were completely unpumped...

A check of the watch while coiling the ropes up top revealed it was half past beer o'clock, so we decamped to the Kirky Puffer for a nice pint of real ale. A great wee re-union with the Dolerites!

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