Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bits and bobs in Monsoon season

After being spoiled by the incredibly dry Scottish Spring, drought has given way to a sucker punch of a Summer deluge that has scuppered many of my Summer climbing aspirations. "That'll teach ye!"- cackles the cruel mistress of Scottish conditions.

Fortunately, indoor climbing walls mean that training can be done regardless of what it's like outside. I'm one of the hordes who flock to Ibrox in the evenings, on a mission to get stronger. I'm a wee bit ashamed to admit that it's been dry on some of these nights (after rain during the day)- but I've chosen to go for the indoor option instead of making the effort to squeeze in a couple of trad routes before sunset. Back in the 1990's Ibrox was virtually deserted on any dry Summer evening. Now it's the real crags that are less busy- and some are becoming overgrown due to lack of traffic. Changed days, and I'm as guilty as anyone.

It's a bit of a conundrum for me- I really want the benefits of the wall fitness but I know from experience that the best thing I could do to help me climb well on trad would be to get as much mileage as possible- on trad!

It hasn't all been plastic and plywood though. Despite the weather and being kept very busy by our wee puppy Brodie, I have managed to do a fair bit of enjoyable outdoor stuff.

Burnsie's First Ascent of the Font 6B+ at 'Fintainebleau'
In 2006, Burnsie unearthed a gem amongst the choss of the Campsie Fells- a huge sandstone boulder perched on the skyline above Fintry. We headed up and did most of the obvious easier routes on the initial '06 sortie to 'Fint'. The Southern Arete ('Fint' 5+) with its slightly unnerving highball mantle finish was the hardest of them.

However, one line resisted our efforts. The overhanging West Wall had some good holds on it, but turned out much harder than we'd imagined. After umpteen unsuccessful 'one last goes' we had to admit defeat, shouldered our pads and stomped back down to the road. We were chuffed but both knew we had unfinished business up there.

In July we perspired our way up through fields of stampeding bullocks, knee deep bogs, and squadrons of clegs to resume battle. Burnsie summitted first, using tiny crimps before making a dynamic move for a large sloping hold. I found eventual success via a highly precarious mantleshelf method that threatened to spit me off into a tumble down the hillside. Luckily I latched the jug at the top! We were both highly chuffed with the new three star Fint 6B+. For the esotericists, here's an approximate OS grid reference- NS 625 888.

Burnsie on the finely positioned 2nd pitch of Ardgartan Arete (VS)
I had hoped to have at least a handful of Mountain routes done by this stage of the season but the Monsoon means I've managed a grand total of one- on the South Peak of the Cobbler.

Burnsie and I did our usual brutally quick, but much less scenic approach via the Rest and Be Thankful. I'd seen a Mountain forecast of pleasant, warm conditions and based on that we hoped to try Gladiator's Groove Direct (E1). Unfortunately, at 600m we entered thick claggy cloud, and by the summit baltic Easterly winds were gusting 30mph and higher. The schist was very slick and damp and the South Peak was invisible only 50 yards away. Not ideal. We sheltered, and waited for a break in the clouds hoping we'd be able to salvage something from the trip.

After lunch the cloud base lifted above the tops. Although the rock dried out, the temperatures stayed low along with the psyche levels. Gusty winds and lack of time made us reluctant to jump onto a reputedly bold E1. So, instead we racked up and got on Ardgartan Arete (VS) carrying our ruckies. The first pitch follows a very thin crack line up a slab and over a crux bulge. The crack is quite blind so it's fairly run- out. Thankfully the climbing is never desperate though, with some balancey moves to sharpen the concentration when above gear.

The guide describes two further pitches but Burnsie ended up running both of them together, which wasn't a problem and this seemed quite logical with our half ropes. Although the first pitch is probably the technical crux, the second was definitely the better pitch- following an exposed and aesthetic line near the arete itself. It was an enjoyable route and definitely worthwhile after our initial weather woes. We then scrambled over the South Peak and zipped back down to the car where the midges had a quick snack on us as we packed up. Ironically it was still and warm back in the Glen.

Burnsie setting off on Arrol's Arete (F6
The other day me, Burnsie and John Sharples visited Blantyre Towers. There are around a dozen well- bolted routes here in a quiet wooded setting next to the River Calder. The routes (from 10- 20m high) tackle the aretes and faces of the sandstone piers that are relics of the abandoned Greenhall Viaduct.

Sandstone railway walls have long been popular as training venues for climbers. This one shares the same formula of rough stone blocks featuring 2 finger pockets of varying depths and small crimps. The climbing itself is pumpy and enjoyable, if a wee bit repetitive due to the nature of the holds.

The climbing has similarities to the infamous Finnieston railway walls in Glasgow, but Blantyre has these key differences-
-it's a pleasant rural setting.
-you're  going up instead of traversing.
-there's no busy dual carriageway ten feet behind yer arse.
-you're breathing air, not exhaust fumes.
-getting arrested is unlikely.

I was happy to flash Alouette Arete (F6a- 10m), but Arrol's Arete (F6b- 18m) had me spanked fairly near the top. I'm keen to go back and try to redpoint the routes, ideally when there's a decent breeze! Unfortunately, on our visit there were clouds of Daddy Longlegs sized mosquitoes sucking the life out of us- despite using DEET repellent. Burnsie texted me to say he'd woken up like the Elephant Man with the bites he'd sustained. I thought I'd left the mossies back in Bermuda. If it's not the weather it's the insects trying to do you in here!

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