Monday, 26 March 2012

Feeding the Mouse

The pinky hook; that’s got to be the last desperate recourse of a trad scoundrel.
It’s not that I wanted to be half wedged in a pod of Scottish schist with my little finger curled round a slight protruberence in the back of a damp recess as I desperately tried to reach round my back for the cam I needed. I’d just sort of ended up there, and my little finger was the only part of me that wasn’t too boxed to use. Eventually the cam went in and I readjusted my position, finding a more comfortable rest about a foot further up.
It wasn’t quite comfortable enough, though, because I would’ve had to stay there about two days to make any sort of a meaningful recovery. I know this because my ascent of Rat Race at Dunkeld was yesterday and I’m still aching now as I write this.
So on I forged, little by little, placing as much gear as I could handle because of the fear of being pumped and perpetuating the problem in so doing. No cam or nut placement is ever good enough for a man who is being destroyed from the inside by the pump, the pump, oh the dreaded pump that feeds the rat of paranoia gnawing at your mind and telling you that it could fail, could be knocked out or pulled up, probably has already, will certainly rip. And so it was with me.
I emptied my rack into the route when I should have poured my heart in and the punishment was physical and immediate.
Only when I got to a ledge full of soggy owl pellets did I get a real rest. I would have sunk my face in if that’s what it took to get my arms working again, but fortunately it called for a foot. My head pressed against the roof jutting out above was enough to keep me in balance. That was where I had to go.
I didn’t want to. Who would? I’d climbed the grade’s worth with the first pitch and was running the two together for practicality more than anything, yet to bail now, even to follow the more logical exit of a route given a similar grade, would be to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. For victory this was to be, though that might seem a strange accolade after such a battle.
This had been a war of attrition, a degenerate struggle with every tactic used within the rules of what we call the on-sight. It should not have been so. I had known how to climb it long before, when I read the guidebook description and first considered conquering it. I had envisioned myself surging through its lower defences, placing a quick cam in the obvious slot and clipping an old peg beaten deep into the rock on my way to a quick rest at the pod. Still fresh, all I would have needed were a few shakes of each arm and then onwards, the belay, more good shakeouts and I’d be a the niche, much as I was now, only in considerably better shape.
Instead I’d climbed it like a punter, retreating to back up the peg from the key section where confidence was, indeed, needed, and letting the rat do its worst. Still, the cheese of victory tasted all the better for it. That’s the beauty of being a mouse, I suppose.
I swung through the roof and the day was mine. I won’t kid myself I crushed it, but that cheesy taste will keep me going though the long week in the office. When I look out the window and see the sun and it’s only half past three I’ll smile and savour it and know I’m a climber. And the all-over body aches will remind me to man up and run it out next time.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Disillusioned Screw Machine

You haven’t have heard from me in a while because I’ve had a break from climbing. In fact, I’ve mostly been screwing.
I’ve also done a fair bit of sawing, hammering and drilling. Moving into a new flat has launched me into a world of DIY, and it’s been satisfying to find that a lot of what I lack in skill and equipment can be made up for with raw finger strength.
Hacking through kitchen units and cutting a breakfast bar to fit were more like body power exercises – the latter pretty extreme and requiring the top off. But my crimping skills really came in when I had to counter-sink some screws.
Finding I lacked a thick enough drill bit, I shot over to B&Q and thought I’d picked up a bargain 9mm bit until I got home and found it didn’t fit the drill. Sick of not having a work surface for the kitchen or a table to eat off, I just grabbed the bugger and twisted it into the wood by hand, gouging the holes for the screw heads in no time.
I also found that this worked up a good forearm pump, so I went mad training and drilled holes all over the place. I made that last bit up, but you could, if you had a spare piece of chipboard, design a pretty decent training routine.
I quite enjoyed the DIY – it’s not as good as climbing but then it was winter. However, I didn’t get much kudos from the better half. Mrs Anti-social Climber looked down on me as I sat sweating and in pain, blooded fingertips and arm muscles cramping, and just assumed I was doing it for fun. I tried to explain the difference between the exhausted satisfaction of a well-fitted worktop and the exhausted satisfaction of a vanquished overhanging jam crack, but trailed off half way – perhaps I should learn to love the sensation regardless of how it comes about?
Having got the fitness bug, one more thing I did do with the drill was set up a fingerboard, as endorsed by Dave McLeod – just one strip of wood. I had to use a power drill for this one, as I’m far too weak to crank on a masonry bit, although |I’m sure Dave would have done it by hand.
Anyway, like the great man says, the important thing about a fingerboard is that it gets used, so I’m trying to build a few sessions into my week. Combined with getting out on the crags now the flat is fixed up and the weather is getting better, that seems to have given me a flying start to the season. A couple of weeks ago I was cruising last year’s testpieces at North Berwick, then last week I made a decent start to the trad season with Grasp the Nettle at Linmekilns. I wasn’t too surprised to find it given E2 everywhere except the Lowland Outcrops guide but hopefully it was still a portent of greater things to come.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, the woodie beckons.

Monday, 2 January 2012

New year, same ambitions

The year that life got in the way. That’s how I’ll be remembering 2011, in climbing terms at least. (Other terms are available, I’m told, but I’m not sure I like them.)
What I climbed last year could be written on the back of a postage stamp, but since I can’t mail you all, and you wouldn’t be able to read it anyway after I’d liked it and stuck it on an envelope, I reckon I’ll save myself the embarrassment and stick to making a few recommendations based on my best discoveries.
They are: Dove Holes, a great little bouldering spot in Northumberland; climbing Five Finger Exercise and Fern Hill one after the other at Cratcliffe; the Tissington Spires in Dovedale; Fun and Frolics at London Bridge in Torbay; and Fastcastle near Edinburgh.
That’s not as much as I’d hoped to be reporting when I moved to Scotland a year ago, so I’m going to pretend 2011 never happened and pick the list of ten Highland routes I made back in April as my New Year’s resolutions for 2012. They’re as good a list as any for getting to know Scotland and scaring myself shitless in the process so I’m going to paste them back in here and people can hold me to account by mocking and heckling should I fail to get them done.

The battlefield in the fight between the forces of climbing and real life is motivation. Motivation to get out of bed on a Saturday morning early enough to go to a distant crag. Motivation to organise yourself during the week, get a partner and spend some money travelling to the climb. And motivation to get on a big scary lump of rock that looks like it might hurt you.
Now is the depth of winter and I’m working strength, but in mid February the true training will begin. I’m going to get up at dawn every Sunday and hitchhike round Edinburgh’s ring road three times before breakfast. I’m going to burn £20 and go and sit under a boulder in Holyrood Park in the rain two evenings a week – and I’ll persuade someone else to join me. And I’ll be locking myself in a room with a candle and burning my feet over it while/until I can crank 20 pull ups.
By the time Spring arrives, I’m gonna be psyched, man!

Here are those routes from the ten main areas of Gary Latter’s Scottish Climbs vol 1 again:

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