Monday, 18 April 2011

Lust for Life

Inspiration can come from strange places and wears a variety of guises.
On Saturday, it turned up at Auchinstarry Quarry half cut and wearing a tracksuit to give me a much needed kick up the arse.
I’d just lost my Scottish rock virginity, but as is often the case, my performance had been nothing to write home about.
Auchinstarry has to be one of the least impressive places I’ve climbed, and after my first route I moped around wondering what to do next.
I was with a nice new bunch of people so could easily have drifted into an armchair role, chatting and maybe seconding a line or two, but just then over came this ‘yoof’ with a can of lager and the usual tedious banter about how he could climb up that and did I scale buildings like Spiderman.
Not feeling up to an Alain Robert impersonation (central Scotland doesn’t really do sexy high-rise anyway), I indulged the lad with a layman’s explanation of the ethics of climbing, and was surprised by his enthusiasm.
He pleaded for a go on a toprope on a robust HVS, and something in the way he was clearly prepared to put his street cred on the line in front of his mates persuaded me that he was up to it. I helped him squeeze into my harness and tied him in, and he set off up a layback groove.
I say layback, but seeing as he was wearing an old pair of trainers that elegant technique wasn’t really an option for him, so instead he propelled himself upwards by sheer bloody-minded determination, wriggling up and sliding down until he could finally clamber onto the half height pinnacle: where he found the energy I shall never know.
The stout fellow then made an airy traverse before being confounded by a hand crack just feet from victory, conquered his fears to rest on the rope, and finally made the top. His mates heckled him mercilessly for taking more than ten minutes.
After watching that, I felt I should go and do some climbing, so spent a pleasant afternoon battling with the logistics of a waterline traverse, hanging belay and a groove coated with a winter’s worth of grime and mud befitting the seepage line it obviously was.
Some might have been disappointed, but I had a good time and made some new friends - it’s always worth making the effort.
That’s something I’m having to remind myself of now that quality rock is no longer on my doorstep.
I’ve had a massive lifestyle change and need to learn to approach climbing in a new way, setting aside a finite amount of quality time to hit my targets. With a new country to explore, that shouldn’t be too hard.
But faced with vast acres of curvaceous beauty, it can be hard for a young man to know where to start. I’m told in these matters it’s best to be open minded and willing to experiment, so I’ve been poring over Gary Latter’s excellent guidebook to the highlands and islands, and set myself the target of doing a route from each of the ten main areas covered in volume one by the end of the year.
I’ve actually been sad and made a list, but I’m not sure if I should make it public.
I’ll tell you what, I will, on one condition: anyone who also fancies a bit of the action can get in touch and we’ll make a date and go and do a route.

They are:

Arran: Vanishing Point E4 6a
Arrochar: Osiris E4 6a
Mull: Ring of Bright Water XS 5b/c S0
Glen Coe: The New Testament E4 6a
Ardgour: White Hope E5 6a
Ardnamurchan: Heart of Darkness E4 6a
Glen Nevis: On the Beach E5 6a
Ben Nevis: The Bat E2 5b
Central Highlands: Marlene F7b+
Cairngorms: Voyage of the Beagle E4 6a

They may be preposterous, I may get spanked, but I hope that by going off and finding them I will get to know Scotland and a few of its people, and maybe rediscover the fun and adventure of my early climbing days.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Notes from Nowhere

If you’re wondering where the hell I’ve got to, the answer is that I’ve slipped out of existence for a few months to lie up in a state of stasis.
A climber is measured by his achievements on the rock, and mine have been few and far between recently. Therefore, I have disappeared, even though I have carried on with other aspects of my life (if you can call it that).
In physics, this is called the climbing anthropic principle.
Anyway, it turns out that this netherworld of non-climbing can be quite interesting. As I assume most readers are not familiar with it, I shall include a few notes for your amusement.
Before moving to Edinburgh I thought it might eat me alive, as one hears of happening to country boys who move to the big smoke. But actually, life is quite easy because there’s lots of shops and bars and everything’s in walking distance.
There’s lots of people around, too, but the daily walk to work lacks the easy conviviality of a mooch to the crag, where people might reasonably be expected to pass the time day by sandbagging each other into preposterously dangerous undertakings in a spirit of happy bonhomie.
People in this shadow world eat something called haggis. It’s like a spiced sausage with barley mixed in, and it’s pretty good. Obviously I long for a more rustic approach to cooking, but my paella pan has already got me into trouble and barbecuing in the park attracts gangs of smelly, unintelligible men who have climber’s haircuts but even worse fashion sense.
There is also, in Edinburgh, a place called a climbing wall, that allows you to keep fit while in a state of stasis (ascents made indoors do not count in the climbing anthropic principle.) Anyway, the people who go to the wall are mostly climbers, so you can keep up a semblance of a social life while being unable to get to a crag.
The walls of the bouldering facility I’ve been frequenting are extremely steep, and I’ve been making the most of every visit because you have to pay to go there, so I now have the body of a gibbon. When I was younger I used to think this would make me climb hard outdoors, but now I know that it will just mean my trousers are too long.
Still, going to the wall has kept me sane, by giving me access to a little bit of the world I know in this otherwise strange place.
As you can see, I quickly run out of things to talk about when I haven’t been climbing, but fortunately I have now moved to the edge of a park, in the middle of the city, which has a big crag running along one side.
On an evening, you can wander up to a nice spot next to a sign saying climbing is forbidden and boulder out a small traverse. I did it the other day, with my dog who I’ve recently been re-united with. At the end of the session I sat in a sort of stunned condition of bliss, almost overcome at the joy of linking the half-dozen moves on polished rock. I’d almost forgotten the feel of rock under the fingers and breeze in your hair, the thrill of trusting a smear or slapping for a hold without knowing what it will be like.
Which is weird, because I’d had a brilliant day at Bowden Doors a couple of weeks before.
Still, most people think bouldering doesn’t count towards the climbing anthropic principle either (some schismatics say only t’grit counts) so I’m still in stasis - for now.