Thursday, 30 December 2010

Out on a Limb

I thought that Cautley Spout would be the last route of 2010 since Cath and I were heading up to Scotland for a week's mountain biking over Christmas and there wasn't much likelihood of getting in to the remoter crags in the area that we were going to (Dumfries and Galloway). However a look through  John Biggar's site showed some ice close to the road and just as importantly it was close to one of the 7Stanes - Kirroughtree, so we could get the route done and do some mountain biking as well!

The one big doubt was that the route was low lying and close to the sea so it may not have formed but the extended cold spell should have done it's magic. In fact we went for a short bike ride on Christmas day and it was freezing!!! One of my xmas pressies was a new pair of crampons so I wanted to try them out.

Cath did need a bit of persuading - I think that other than the route on Barden Moor last season she hadn't done any winter climbing for ten years, however with the route just a minute from the road there wasn't much commitment in finding out if it was in and with the biking nearby then it wouldn't be a wasted day. The drive over was "interesting" as even though it was a main road, it hadn't been gritted or ploughed. Perhaps more of a surprise was that Clatteringshaws reservoir was frozen over - this large expanse of water is only at 180m A.S.L. A couple of miles downstream and we were at our route - The Grey Mare's Tail. An interesting name given that there is a more famous fall of the same name near Moffat, cue a bit of mischief of which more later.

First looks at the fall and it looked wet, very wet. Cath declared that it wasn't in condition but I wanted to check so scrambled over the icy rocks at the base to the main fall and whacked in an axe - perfect plastic ice! The top of the steep section looked a bit thin unless you were prepared to climb close to the running water but other than that it looked OK.

Back to the car and back with the kit and it's time to head off. Easy climbing up and left to a step where I put in an ice-screw then up and left again to the edge of the running water. Things were steeper now and it took  some gentle footwork to make upward progress on the thinner ice. Soon the angle eased and I sauntered back  to get a belay round a large boulder - then promptly fell through the ice and got a wet foot! Overall about II 3 which is what it was given originally. After a bit of relayed communication with a watching tourist (and his dog) Cath set off. Other than ensuring the rope was snug she didn't have too much trouble on it.

Scrambling out of the gill we were approached by a single bloke who wanted to know what the condition was like. After a quick chat he reckoned he'd solo it but would like us to stick around just to make sure he was OK. We had a look at the upper fall which would be much more impressive if it froze fully, however even after three weeks of very cold temperatures it just looked too brittle and not well enough formed.

Soloing the Grey Mare's Tail

On the steep bit at the top of the main fall.

Back at the car, the soloist reckoned that ours was only the second ascent and his the third of the route since it had only been done earlier this year.

As for the mischief: well a text to Mike and Steve stating - "Grey mare's tail - tick" did the trick. Might tell them the real story tomorrow :-)

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Worth the Wait!

Have finally finished work prior to Christmas and a perusal of the usual suspect web forums showed that Cautley Spout was close to being fully formed. It looked like conditions would only get better through the week provided that the hordes didn't hack things to bits.

I'd wanted to do the Spout ever since I lived in the Lakes but it only comes in to complete condition very infrequently, though it was done last year in the big freeze, fifteen years seems to be about the periodicity. A week (well several actually!!) of sub-zero temperatures and if it wasn't in now then it would never be.

I'd arranged with Steve to head over today (Thursday) but had mentioned to Mike that we intended to do it so he'd taken another day off work as it was on his hit list as well. Another fifteen years and we'd be drawing our pensions!

By the time we got to the car park at the only pub in England that doesn't serve alcohol there were already half a dozen cars parked there. Looked like it was going to be busy so no use racing in to the route - we could take our time.

The first pitch is a 30m fall that is the last to form. Now however it was complete, wide enough for a team to take either side and avoid the thin crust over the main flow. A team of four was starting on the left so we'd go to the right. Steve and Mike had both said "Bob can lead the first pitch then we'll do some of the upper ones". Suited me. At least I didn't have to argue my case!

A team on the left and myself on the right on the first pitch.
 An easy apron lead to a steepening of slightly brittle ice so in with an ice-screw then sidestep the steep bit and up. It continued like this: steep ice avoided by side steps and moving up to a rest to the final couple of metres where it was easiest to climb the crust over the main flow and so to the belay. Mike and Steve followed together (thus managing to overtake the team of four).


A climber leading at about the same point as I am in the first shot.
Steve and Mike lead the next easy pitch together then we put the ropes away and headed up the gill. After a left turn, the upper falls are revealed. As ever ice when viewed front-on appears much steeper than it really is and so it proved, with the general angle being 45 degrees or so.

Steve on the upper falls.

The main flow was visible here so you had to choose between left or right and stick to it. Soon we were at the top having caught up some of the earlier teams.  Gear away and we headed back to the car, the whole route having taken about an hour and a half. The quarter of a century wait had been worth it.

More photos on my website

Friday, 17 December 2010

That End of Year Feeling

Surprisingly last weekend was one of the few this year that I didn't get anything done. All a bit quiet really. Everyone else was either injured or on christmas party time. We've actually done quite well since most years the weather craps out and you are forced on to climbing walls. This year I've only been to the wall once, then the weather went from summer to winter almost within a week. One point to note is that I think this is the first time that I've ever done a winter route in November.

On Saturday Cath and I went out for a road bike ride. The problem was I fell off 5 metres from the house! My chain was jumping all over the place so as I set off up the hill I had to stop but with having my road shoes on which have absolutely no grip whatsoever I was on the deck. It took most of the ride to actually get the gears sorted, I think that the cold weather has affected the cabling. Saturday night was spent in Skipton as it was Andy's birthday do. A few pints in the Narrowboat then on to the Aagrah for a curry buffet before deciding on which pub to finish the night in. Avoiding the disco inferno we went for the quiet pub, only for a proper pub brawl complete with broken glasses and stools to break out! I think it's the first one I've ever witnessed.

Sunday was a waste since I obviously can't drink heavily these days and took most of the day to recover! Monday we went christmas shopping in Harrogate for some "bling for a BMX" whatever that is!! Needless to say we didn't find any, a bit of internet shopping is in order.

Completely off-kilter is the observation that the damage I did to my thumbnail at the beginning of September (see Blue is the Colour) has finally grown out to the end of the nail. It's been a black spot slowly crawling across the surface of the nail, a bit like own version of Jupiter's Red Spot :-)

Hopefully the forecast is correct and things are going to get cooler again then routes will come back in to condition.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

More White Stuff!

While the country moans about having a proper winter for a change, those of us who enjoy the winter conditions were scouring the forums for clues as to what was in and worth heading out for.

Saturday was a funny day, it was meant to be dull but was actually pretty miserable with the freezing level around 200m and a front passing over meant that any precipitation was damp rather than snow and whether you got rain or snow was almost a matter of chance. Steve didn't fancy heading to the Lakes for two days in a row - we had a team ready for Sunday and wasn't fancying nipping down to Cliviger, so out for a walk to get some fitness. Unfortunately there wasn't much to view as the clag was down and it was constantly raining or sleeting. Not a nice day.

For Sunday we had a choice of venue, neither of which I'd been to before so I left the eventual selection to the others. With winter climbing being so popular these days it was time for an early start - which meant getting up at 5am! By six we were away and having to take it slowly as there was thick fog all the way out to the M6. Initially it had been decided to go to Brown Cove Crags but as we headed over, it was felt that it would be better to head in to Haweswater to try something above Blea Water. The only possible fly in the ointment would be the road alongside the reservoir as there had been significant snowfall overnight.

As it turned out the snow had been flattened and Steve had winter tyres on his car. There were only three cars at the car park so once we had sorted out the gear it was time to head off to the crag. An hour later and we get to the foot of the main gill - imaginatively named Blea Water Gill. Despite being early there were two teams ahead of us, one of which - a team of three was just setting off. Time to chill - not literally though. It was decided that I would climb with Pete and Steve would climb with Ross, Steve and I to do the leading.

The initial chimney of Blea Water Gill


By the time it was our turn, the first team had belayed halfway up the pitch proper so forcing the following teams to belay there as well. The climbing was easy but a little thin in places where you could see the water still running underneath the ice. Above there was easy snow leading to a series of short steep steps before the final main icefalls.

There was plenty of variation possible on this section with the teams ahead each taking a different line, there was also another team who had snuck in from the side to avoid the queues below. The first step was steep for a move or two then eased to a large ledge. The next step was a choice between a large pillar with water flowing down its centre or a thinner pillar to the right. I wasn't sure of the larger option so put an ice screw in as high as I could reach and started up the smaller pillar. It was steep but the curved axes I had bought last season made things surprisingly easy - Steve with his traditional axes said he was beginning to get pumped on this bit. If it had been any longer I would have given this grade IV. As it was, getting on to the easy ground above was the hardest bit as the ice thinned out (it often does with ice routes) and needed hooking behind frozen boulders. Above, there were two obvious lines: the right hand one had the two teams we had been following on it while the left hand had only the new interlopers, the left it was. 

The right hand line of the upper fall.
The ice to the left was a bit sugary on the surface and took more care than it first seemed, in fact Pete fell off seconding when all points of contact slipped through! Above a further easy pitch of a few short steps amongst snow lead to a bowl. From there it was easy to the top so we simu-climbed in to the sun.

Pete on the easy upper section.


By the time Steve and Ross arrived it was mid afternoon so no time to get another route in. Pack the gear away and head down to Nan Bield Pass then down to the car. Some deep drifts with few footprints to ease the way so the going was a bit harder than you'd like at the end of a day.

By the time we were back at the motorway it was dark and the temperature was again dropping. In fact we stopped at Tebay services in the mist and it was the coldest it had been all day.

Due to having masses of days holiday left I'd got the Monday off and the weather was perfect! One idea was to do some ski-mountaineering - I'd got the gear but never had chance to use it. However the one piece of kit missing was a pair of ski boots (just looked and they are £350 - £500!!!) and skiing in mountaineering boots is really just for very good skiers and that doesn't apply to me! Backing this up was an incident skiing down the Vallee Blanche above Chamonix when descending from a route when I hit a pressure ridge in the glacier, did a somersault and landed on my left thumb. To say it hurt is an understatement! It hurt even more when I did it again about ten minutes later. I didn't get it looked at until I got home (after soloing the Swiss Route on Les Courtes) when it was declared to be broken.

So time for a walk. I'd never been up Great Whernside before, summer or winter, so that would be a good thing to do and if I'd got time continue on to Buckden Pike. The first thing was getting out of Kettlewell - always tricky dealing with buildings and streets. Once away from the village centre, the lanes were hard packed snow which was a bit dicey to walk on. The initial slopes were obviously popular with sledgers as there were masses of tracks in the fields. As I got higher the tracks became fewer and more importantly concentrated in to one path, too often I've come across every walker determined to create their own steps in the snow which just makes it hard work for everyone.

Higher up there were some serious drifts  but by the summit rock the wind had removed most of the depth. As is typical, the sun had gone in by now and it was quite cold. There were a couple of ski tracks heading off towards Park Rash so I followed these until they split at a wall. Decision time. Left. A 100m later and the ground drops away in a steep slope of deep snow, the wind direction indicated that it wasn't a lee slope so probably safe, plunge stepping down this was a bit unnerving at first but nothing moved. The ground at the base was covered in deep and unconsolidated snow which made the next few hundred metres very hard.

Eventually I got to the road of Park Rash. Time was pressing now so down the road rather than continue on to Buckden Pike. I got back to the car after about two and a quarter hours, not exactly fast travelling for little more than three miles. Still I'm feeling a bit hill fitter and getting used to moving in plastic boots again.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Early Snows

With the TV news getting all excited and blethering on about the "extreme weather", it was time for a change of style this week.

From various blog reports (The Front Point) and posts on UKC it looked like things on the East side of the Helvellyn range were coming in to condition. Steve was keen to head over so we arranged for a 6am start from Skipton. Come Friday evening and Steve was still at work and would likely only get home by 9pm so we decided to be lazy and head over at midday and avoid the crowds that way. It's a problem these days, you either have to be very early or be prepared to climb in the dark to avoid queuing on many winter routes. Since we both have Hope headtorches, climbing at night is not an issue, in fact, Steve has done most of his winter climbing at night!

As it happens we had a dump of snow overnight so we had to spend an hour or so cleaning and gritting the lane so that we could get the car out.

After a stop in Kendal so that Steve could use his Pete Bland voucher (he came 5th in the Tour of Pendle) to get some new fell running shoes, Kirkstone Pass was passable but looked like it would ice up quite easily.  Parking is permitted at Glenridding mine through the winter months so it was worth a chance getting up there as it would save 2Km walk-in, and out! As we approached a cattle grid a skier (heading down from the tow at Raise) was walking across it and wouldn't get out of the way so I lost all momentum and ground to a halt about 50m further on. After reversing back down and turning round in someone's drive we parked just above the pub, just 400m from the main road.

Our destination was the Red Tarn area of Helvellyn, I'd never climbed here before - in the days when I lived in the Lakes there were just a handful of grade I gullies - these days there is a bit more to go at. From memory I think I've only ever been down to Red Tarn just once when walking in my teens so definitely a new area. Since it was 2:30pm when we left the car it wasn't surprising that we were the only ones heading uphill.

What you always forget about winter climbing is just how much hard work it is - from the enervating cold to the clumsiness of the equipment needed to counteract it. By the time we were at the outflow of the tarn we had a healthy sweat. A quick change of clothing - not pleasant in a stiff breeze and spindrift but better than climbing and belaying in damp thermals. Then it was off up the approach slopes hoping that we'd correctly identified our climb - V-Corner - before the light faded.

Walking in to Red Tarn at dusk


Off to our right there was a lot of shouting and swearing going on which eventually faded by the time we started actually climbing.  As was the light. I'd got first lead so I headed off mainly following steps in the snow to the first ice. The lower parts were nice and thick but above it was mainly a thin covering over rocks which neccesitated keeping to mixed ground leading up grooves to a bay at the top of the ice. From here a steeper corner seemed to be the key to further progress but my last piece of gear was 20 metres below! There was a reasonably substantial icicle but I had no slings with which to thread it - a couple of quickdraws clipped together just went round, it would have to do. A move higher and a perfect peg crack appeared. A few taps later and I'm much happier and step down to retrieve the quickdraws. Once out of the corner I was soon at a stance and took a belay. I'd run out nearly 60m of rope, so much for the guidebook's 20m!

By the time Steve arrived it was nearly dark so on with the torches. As he was leading the next pitch I was sure that I could hear a helicopter flying around and a couple of minutes later so it proved as a set of lights and a lot of noise appeared over Swirral Edge. After circling the combe a couple of times it flew off. The party who had previously been doing a lot of shouting were still in the same place so it looked like something was amiss.

With repeated fly pasts and hovering above the party communication opportunities with Steve were limited but before too long he was at the belay just as he ran out of rope, at least this time it was closer to the stated 30m! I had got cold on the belay so it was good to get moving. The helicopter was still to-ing and fro-ing so it was just a case of getting on with the climbing. The last pitch was described as just a snow slope but early season you never can tell, but the guide didn't lie. Well apart from the pitch length! The rope ran out when I was about ten metres from the mini cornice.

It was now that the helicopter came back and took the casualty off to hospital so I had to wait a bit before Steve dismantled the belay and we simu-climbed until I got on to the plateau. No belay so I just walked back towards the cross walled shelter as Steve climbed. Eventually we get out of the wind and pack our gear away. Then it's stumble down Swirral Edge in crampons and up on to Catsyecam.

I kept my crampons on for most of the walk out as the path had hidden patches of water ice and taking a flyer on a path wouldn't have looked cool. It did make walking awkward though. Just before we got to the car a Land Rover pulled up and a couple of MRT lads had a chat. It seemed that the accident was a woman who had slipped and fallen around 100ft hopefully her injuries aren't too severe. By the time we were back at the car it was 7:45pm. We headed home via Penrith hoping that the road would be clear rather than risk Kirkstone Pass, the car thermometer showed -8C at one point.

Sunday and my legs were knackered from the twisting and knocking on the path due to wearing crampons, my muscles hadn't had such awkward movements for a long while. Thus the planned bike ride didn't happen. Given that the cold weather is meant to last for at least another week it may be that next weekend's Sportive may not take place. Certainly Cath said that she had been frozen on her bike ride on Saturday.

With the cold snap set to continue until at least the weekend things should be good for next weekend as well.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Something New, Something Blue

It's rare these days for me to visit a new crag especially one closish to home and not some scruffy over-hyped recent discovery but I'd never been to the Bridestones nr Hebden Bridge. Mike was quite shocked about this, it's one of his favourite venues. Perhaps the answer is that I've never really been in to bouldering. The main reason for this has been that in the day before bouldering mats the regular jumping off played havoc with my knees, more recently my knees have been bad enough that even with mats that I haven't been keen to participate.

Heading over to the crag things didn't look promising, all the roads were damp to wet but by the time we pulled through Blackshaw Head things were a bit drier. Mike was waiting by the path to the boulders, actually more of a small edge than a set of boulders. A short walk and we are at the first of the rocks with a couple of walkers enquiring about our bouldering mats. There is already a small group at play, the climbable faces are out of the wind but there is little sunshine.

A few easy problems as warm up then on to more serious stuff. The rock is strange, the surface is covered in a patina of small grit particles that no matter how much (soft) brushing you do, it always feels like you are standing on ball bearings. Most handholds are sloping, very sloping, and the technique to use them along with the associated footwork takes some getting used to.

Not long after we had arrived, a familiar face appeared - Dave Birkett and his wife Mary. "Got any good jokes?" he asked, "my climbing!" - at least I got that answer in before Mike or Steve! It's always impressive to watch really good climbers in action, they just make everything look so easy and smooth, a bit depressing sometimes though.

Time to move on and we headed to the part of the crag nearest the pub, to an area called Big Brother, Little Sister (or maybe the other way round). Trying one problem here, my fingers slipped in a pocket and I felt a searing pain shoot up my forearm - a pulled tendon. I tried one or two more problems as we worked our way back along the rocks but tried to avoid using my left hand. By now it was nearing sunset and getting quite dark so time to call it a day.

The following day my finger (and arm) were still painful so no climbing. Instead I decided to head off for a bike ride as it's only two weeks to the Christmas Cracker sportive and I need the practice. Heading in to Skipton I was cycling in to a thin strong northerly breeze which made the going a bit harder than I would have liked. In fact heading from Skipton to Rylestone seemed to take forever, whether it was the breeze in my face or the rough road surface or my lack of bike fitness I don't know but I was glad to turn and head through Hetton and on to Airton and Otterburn. Fortunately most of my route didn't involve sustained braking so I could keep my injured finger out of the way. I got home just outside the two hour mark for thirty miles. While not particularly impressive, at least I didn't feel too tired but I don't think I'll be breaking four hours for just under double the distance. I'll need to do another slightly longer ride next weekend, maybe forty five miles, as well then I should be set. 

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Back to the Wall

After a week of not riding in to work at all, I'd put on a bit of weight - about 3lbs - which is a bit disconcerting really as I should be losing more. As an excuse the weather has been pretty bad so biking in would have been only for the really keen.

Unfortunately this meant that the crags were pretty well out of condition - Saturday dawned dull and damp and there was little chance of anything drying out, though it did get sunny for a while. Sunday looked like it would be a bit better but it would be doubtful if anything would be dry so it was off to the wall. First time for me this year, I'm not really in to walls, much preferring to climb outside if possible. As it happens this year hasn't been too bad weather wise and getting well in to November before being forced indoors is good going.

The wall of choice was Awesome Walls at Stockport which has some pretty big sections - up to 22m in places. One of the routines on climbing walls is falling practice - see Dave Macleod's book as to why - but jumping off at the top of the routes is a bit of a big step so there was quite a bit of test falling at lower levels, slowly working up to letting go at the highest lower-offs. To a traditionally raised climber it takes some getting used to - "the leader shall not fall" and all that - but it does work.

One big difference between natural crags and climbing walls, well the crags that I frequent, is that the climbing on indoor walls is much more sustained. On natural crags there is nearly always somewhere to sneak a rest, a little corner or slight easing in the angle. You just don't get that on indoor walls, it's all action from the word go. Still it should improve fitness. After four hours we were all a bit jaded so time to head home.

Back on the bike in to work yesterday - very cold though as there was a thick fog which lasted all day, it was just as cold on the way home, a great temperature inversion though in the evening light. This morning would have been another biking day but the lane had patchy ice which needed gritting (first of the winter) so I decided not to risk it. Hopefully we'll get some proper crisp days rather than the damp wet ones of the last week.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Shock and Awe

Well the shock came on Sunday last - I went for a run! Only a short one, about 3 1/2 miles or so and the ground was very boggy but I didn't actually feel too bad afterwards though by Monday and Tuesday I was somewhat stiff.

The week in general was mixed weather wise and fortunately for me I got the car on the wet days :-) One of those days was Thursday which was particularly wet with nearly 50mm of rain! I needed the car to pick up the computer, it had taken no updates apparently but that doesn't make sense as it had been working OK without any updates. Still it seems to be working OK now. Given the heavy rain, Cath asked for a lift home, not surprising really.

Saturday was spent tidying up and planting stuff in the garden. It felt a bit of a waste of a day but the jobs needed doing.

Sunday was looking like another possible wasted day due to most of the team doing other things in the morning which wouldn't have left much time in the afternoon to get things done with the clocks going back the previous weekend. Gaz wasn't so limited so we decided to head up to Crookrise since there was an easterly wind.

As it happened Steve turned up shortly after we had done a couple of routes with Mike and Simon turning up about an hour later. If the sun was shining then things were nice and warm but with no residual heat in the atmosphere, as soon as the sun went behind a cloud then things were pretty chilly.

Steve on Family Matters at Crookrise

With a few routes under our belts and the sun now permanently behind a blanket of cloud it was time to go.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Ooerr Missus!

The weather has gone totally bananas! Last week we had sub-zero temperatures, Monday morning getting in to work on the bike was an exercise in keeping the speed down and the cadence up. By Wednesday it was back to shorts!

Carrying a few niggles for some reason at the moment - a sprained thumb on left hand and a sore index finger, feels like a tweeked tendon, on the right. Still things like that don't stop activities.

After a bit of horse trading Mike and I ended up at Almsliffe on Saturday. Now Almscliffe isnt' my favourite crag, in fact it's probably my least favourite Yorkshire grit crag. No real reason for this, perhaps it's the "it's the greatest crag in the universe" plaudits that I'm reacting to, or maybe it's the fact that the decent jams in the cracks are so far back that you can't see your feet, whatever, I do try to avoid it if possible.

The wind of Friday night had died down so we started on the south face, the usual winter pool hadn't formed so it was quite pleasant. The starter for VS was Black Wall which I hadn't done before. The moves were all quite easy but the trusting of gear and the effort in getting it in, the wall leans quite a bit, meant it felt hard in the cool temperatures. Mike then wanted to do Blackpool Boulevard which is a counter diagonal to Bird Lime Traverse. Given E1, the moves are all straightforward, if a little pumpy due to poor footholds, but the final few feet are ungradeable being a stomach squirm along a break!

Then it was round to the NW face, a quick run up Central Route where I wish I'd brought a double set of big cams before Mike had a go at Z-Climb Eliminate. He spent a bit of effort getting the crucial wire in before lowering to the deck and pulling the ropes. Next go he cruised it into the wide crack above and climbed steadily to the top. Following I found the moves on Central Route harder than the supposed crux even though I'd led them just 15 minutes before!

By now it was getting windier and cold so we decided to finish on Great Western, supposedly the only four star route in Yorkshire, in reality it's the most overrated climb around, it isn't even the best HVS at Almscliffe! Fortunately the group of loud swearing youths had moved on so things were a bit quieter. By the time Mike had finished leading I was frozen. There probably isn't a move above 4b on the route if you get things right, getting the gear out was harder as a few of the cams had walked. Mike had taken the right hand finish and it has to be said that it's in a spectacular position for the grade, similar in exposure to the moves to the pedestal stance on Mur y Niwl.

No-one to climb with on Sunday so a bit of general housekeeping, plus it will give my fingers time to rest.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Pushing harder

Well the weekend forecast was wrong as usual, well around us anyway. Saturday was given as being slightly cloudy but mainly sunny - cue near constant light rain. Bizarrely just a couple of miles away it was hardly raining at all. Consequently not a lot got done round the garden, we did nip in to Skipton to stock up on whiskey though!

Sunday was quite different though, bright and wall to wall sunshine, it was pretty cold though. Mike turned up mid-morning, giving the rock time to warm up, and we headed to the Dales. Mike had a list of routes at Giggleswick North that he hadn't done and reckoned were new. Venue sorted then. We were the first at the crag and the sun had just hit the face.

It turned out that the "new" routes weren't quite as new as Mike had thought and I'd done them with Simon earlier in the year. Still, good for a warm up so Mike set off up a F6a+ and had a few flying lessons! Definitely a stiff route for the grade.

My turn next and there was a F6b+ next to Bad Genie that I hadn't done so I set off up that and came to a quick halt by the second bolt - there were no holds! After a couple of slumps and a rest, I got a hint from a newly arrived team, but it didn't make sense until I made the move. Having dogged around on the start the rest of the ascent was more of a working attempt, the top wall was just jug hauling though. Having seen the secret Mike got it first go and put the clips in on Bad Genie to have a go at that. After a rest I got the route easily on redpoint.

Mike got to the last move on Bad Genie before taking a fall, then we moved left for another batch of F6cs, the first of which was Resins to be Cheerful which I'd managed with one fall earlier in the year. Mike headed up and couldn't figure the move out but with a little hint or two he got to the lower-off. My turn and effectively my second red-point attempt. Halfway through the crux my fingers slid off the hold, aagh! Straight back on the rock and I get to the top. Mike gets the red-point on his first go, on my next attempt I get the hold past the crux at the wrong point and fall again. It's hard work on the fingers so I leave it for another day.

Next door was another F6c and by this time I'm tired and don't make it. The rock is a bit suspect and I was probably too tense. Further left again is an F6b that Mike leads and I'm happy just to second. By now we are fed up with the traffic noise from the A65 so head over to Robin Proctor's Scar. 

At the left end of the crag was a F6c that neither of us had done so I set off first. Pulling through the crux I was suddenly airborne and rock debris was hurtling towards Mike. He did well to avoid the falling flake and stop my fall. A foothold under the overlap had come away, fortunately there was still something that could be used. My fingers were tired and cold by now so I didn't get any further. Mike got to the same point. We decided to bail.

A couple of easy routes later and we were definitely fading so it was time to head home.

An early post this week as the computer is off to the repair centre to get its network card sorted out, things are all a bit weird, sometimes I get full connectivity, other times it either finds the access point but won't let me connect or won't see the access point at all. Fortunately it's still under warranty.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Autumn Colours

You forget just how hard digging over a patch of ground is! Under orders from Cath, getting the final vegetable patch dug over took quite a bit of work - just need a few frosts now to break things up - I was unable to do it last year because of a little accident on Stanage. Then it was on to cleaning out one of the borders, it seemed as if half the border was weeds and brambles!

Sunday and half the team were looking at going to the Peak again but given the driving to climbing ratio from last week I wasn't keen so Simon and I headed in to the Dales for something a bit more local. Contrary to the forecast, things were getting cloudy plus it was quite windy. The initial intent was to get some trad limestone done but the time spent standing around belaying in the cold wind wouldn't have been pleasant so we ended up at Robin Proctor's Scar. The parking area was nearly full so it looked as if the crag would be busy. And so it proved.

A large number of those at the crag were the Leeds Mafia who have been responsible for most of the (retro) bolting of the Yorkshire crags. A good natured banter session was assured!

A couple of warm up routes proved anything but - it was positively Baltic in the wind blowing across the crag - and by the third route, the admittedly excellent Wheels on Fire, we were only just getting going. One reason for going back to RPS was that I'd a couple of routes that I needed to redpoint so I now looked towards "The Marshall Plan" which is borderline F6b+/F6c on which I'd had to take a couple of rests earlier in the year. First I thought of avoiding it due to the cold but then decided to give it a go.

Setting off I had to wait a few minutes while someone on Yellow Edge got out of the way. Immediately you are on the crux, I only managed to get one finger in the target flake - it would have to do - bolt clipped I carried on and realised that I'd forgotten that it wasn't a one move wonder style of route. Getting to the ledge at two thirds height is quite sustained. At the next bolt I wasn't correctly in balance to make the clip and began debating whether to grab it or not but resisted and got to the ledge with increasingly cold fingers. Five minutes on the ledge trying to get warm then it was time for the finishing moves which aren't as bad as they seem. Belay reached it was time to lower, with a quick play on the crux wall of Forever Young, definitely pleased with my hardest clean lead of the year and on such a cold day.

After a couple more routes, we'd had enough of the cold, we could hardly keep warm so headed to the pub. I don't think the other teams stayed much longer, it was becoming just too unpleasant.

A lot of biking to and from work this week, a bit windy on the way home but not as bad as it has been. Definitely cold in the mornings, I had to wear my winter gloves for the first time this year on Wednesday and still had cold hands when I got to work. Somewhat bizarrely I noticed a large bruise on the back of my left thigh the other night - a bit awkward to spot really - now the only incident that has happened to that leg in recent times is the hamstring strain from the other Sunday on Froggatt. I'd noticed some slight discomfort when sitting down but had assumed that it was the strain itself as it was somewhat lower down the leg than the initial pull. It looks as if I've been set on with a baseball bat!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Fun in the Sun

With both days last weekend being warm and sunny - at least the further west you went - it was looking like the last throws of summer.

Saturday saw Simon and myself head west, stopping en-route in Settle to pick up Lionel. After a bit of umming and ahhing we decided to go to Trowbarrow Quarry as none of us had been there for a while, in my case about five years. Plus it would be a bit different to just clipping bolts.

The further west we went so the weather brightened - looked like a good choice and by the time we arrived at the quarry it was bright sunshine though with a strong easterly wind. This wouldn't matter as most of the climbs face to the west so would be sheltered. Things looked good. So good in fact that after the first route I had to nip back to the car to grab some more chalk.

When I got back Lionel was preparing to lead Assegai, one of the classic Lancashire HVSs. By now it was so warm that we were all in t-shirts and it was distinctly sweat raising when climbing. Once Lionel had got to the top, both Simon and myself took the first half of Sleeping Sickness to avoid the easy corner on the right. I had forgotten how awkward this section is, it's not the crux but I've always felt it to be at least as hard. Further up and left and it was surprising just how polished the route has become.

Next up was Sour Milk Groove, I'd only done this once before, sometime in 1981 shortly after I had started climbing! A quick blast up the Severe to get to the start of the traverse then shuffle out right along the break trying to find footholds - there's plenty of handholds, just get a hand jam anywhere you want. Crux move up in to the groove itself then it's just a matter of reaching between good breaks to the top. Simon and Lionel both suss out the E1 that bisects the route but none of use fancy leading it so it's back to the quarry floor.

After a bit of messing around on Yellow Wall where we get absolutely nothing done, I'm put on the sharp end again for Jean Jeanie, one of the best VS routes in the UK. The last time I had done this was with Cath goodness knows how many years ago. Let's just say that it is even more polished.

Myself on Jean Jeanie - VS. The crux is the wide section about 6 metres above me. (Photo - Simon Harry)
It's all good climbing though and if you were a VS leader then there aren't many pitches of this grade around that can match it for sustainedness and quality. The crux is probably the wide section at about half-height though it is only slightly harder than the rest of the route, this was one time that my bent arm came to the fore as the bend is just right for an arm lock in this section! The main issue for me was that the only large gear we had were cams which aren't the best of gear in polished limestone!

By the time the other two were following me, the shadows were climbing up the wall and temperatures were beginning to drop. Time to go.

Sunday and it was down to the Peak District with Steve and Mike. As ever it took forever to get there, though by the time we got to the car park near Froggatt the sun was coming out from behind the mist. Cath was heading off to do some biking but with only one key for Steve's car we'd have to hope that we all finished around the same time.


Mike on Downes Crack, VS at Froggatt

We started off on an area none of us had been to: the buttresses hidden in the woods below the path. First route was a fine flake crack - Downes Crack, VS. Mike led it then Steve and I just followed. Both Mike and Steve did the top move via a lurch but I thought I'd do it as a rock-over, and promptly strained my hamstring! Ouch!!

The rest of the buttresses looked a little damp having been hidden by the trees so we moved on to the main edge and Strapiombante. After a couple of goes getting to the last move Steve handed the lead to Mike who got to the last move and handed the lead back! Steve got it next go so we had to do it. Most of the route is VS on really good jams, it's just the last move which you can either head left for a mantleshelf or direct for more of a rock-over move.

Mike on Strapiombante, E1 at Froggatt

Steve had gone for the latter so that was what Mike and I also did, except that the rock-over was on to the leg that I'd just injured! The term "beached whale" comes to mind!

Moving along the edge, Mike and Steve had a play on Avalanche at a technical E2, though again it involved left leg shenanigins so I declined to have a go. Then it was on to Sunset Slab at HVS. The gear on this is too low to be of any use for most of the upper part of the route so leading it is just a head game but it's just a walk to second.

Mike now reckoned that he needed just one more route to get his 100th extreme of the year so we headed to the far end of the crag and Big Crack (E1 or E2 depending on who you talk to). Mike had a go but tired before the upper section so Steve went up next. At this point Cath rang - she was back at the car and getting cold so I headed back with the key to sort her out while Steve and Mike finished off. By the time they got back we were in the pub!

The rest of the week has been much better weather wise than the initial forecast. This weekend I'll finally get round to digging up the last of the vegetable patches. I should have done it last year but my accident got in the way.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

A quiet week

After the full weekend two weeks ago, last weekend was a bit different.

With my regular climbing partners on family duty on Saturday and Cath's biking partners likewise we ended up going for a bike ride from Hetton up to Bordley and Weets Top. To say it was wet is a bit of an understatement, I was surprised that things had turned so quickly as there hasn't been that much rain. Winterburn reservoir was full, it was less than 50% just two weeks ago according to Cath. this is the reservoir that feeds the Leeds-Liverpool canal and the low level is what caused the canal to be shut during the summer.

I was getting serious chain suck when in the granny ring so even the short steep climbs had to be in the middle ring, quite hard work! Once back home, a good clean of the bike and it was in to the LBS for a full service.

The weather forecast was giving rain moving north overnight as far as Sheffield or thereabouts. 6am on Sunday morning and we are woken by a deluge on the roof of the house. This continued most of the day so no chance of getting out climbing. The beck in the bottom of the valley had risen so much we could hear it from in the house - it's around 400m away! I've only seen it higher a couple of times in the eight years we've been here.

Annoyingly the rest of the week has been generally fine so I've been biking in to work. I tend to take it easy on the way in so that I don't raise a sweat then push it coming home, this is helped by the fact that it is nearly all downhill on the way in to work so is obviously uphill when coming home. On Thursday there wasn't a head wind for once and I got the various traffic lights and queues just right. It's always amusing to be overtaken by an aggressive driver who then has to pull up by the queue just 50 or 100m ahead and you just cruise past. Going in to the village I was overtaken by a Range Rover but solid traffic in the centre meant that I was nearly at the top of the hill a mile on the other side (the hill itself is a mile long) before they overtook me again. In the end I got home in just over 20 minutes, my second ever fastest time - I've been under 20mins just the once.

It seems like the knee has settled down now. Whether that is due to weight loss or simply that the body has readjusted to me not doing any running I'm not sure. Just hope it continues.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Double Barrelled Fun

A weekend of contrasts both climbing and weather wise. I actually managed to get out climbing both days for once, it's only taken all summer!

Saturday saw Simon and myself umming and ahhing before heading to another recently developed crag, this time it was Comb Hill which is in the dry valley above and behind Malham Cove. I'd run past this several times on my training for the Bob Graham and had given it a quick once over but hadn't really thought about it. Times and tastes change and after parking at the top of the Cove road we headed down to the crag, maybe ten minutes walk tops.

The place was Baltic!! The thin north wind was whipping down the valley rather than over the top of the crag. Still while we were here might as well get some routes done. Two F6a+s and a F6b later and we decide that we'd be better off out of the wind so it was down to Giggleswick South.

Two groups of friends were already there so it was quite sociable. In the sun it was warm but there was still a distinct lack of heat once the sun went behind a cloud. Another six routes and we've had enough as it's getting towards evening and cooling down.

The following day I have the car so it's plan A for Gaz and myself, down to the Peak and gritstone at Burbage. I hadn't climbed in the Peak since my accident so the first few routes solo (deja vu!) were a bit tense and I was definitely happier once the ropes went on. By the time we'd done half a dozen routes including some delightful gritstone HVS cracks with all they entail :-) it was getting time to go given it's a two hour drive.

This week has been a bit topsy turvy - the cleats on my road cycling shoes were wearing thin so time for a new pair. One trip to the local bike shop and they were fitted Monday evening. Tuesday morning and the weather is fine so I head off to work on the bike. Or rather tried to. My feet were flying out of the pedals so it's the car again. Asking around at work it seems that Look changed their pedal style, or at least the size of them, around three years ago! Brilliant! One web order later and I've the original style heading my way.

With the lack of exercise on Tuesday I actually went for a run on Wednesday evening, only two miles and very slowly but it was a run. My knees haven't felt too bad over the last couple of days though there is a bit of delayed muscle soreness. Today has been fine weather so I went to work on the bike, at least the cleats fit.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Lazy days.

The weather played up a bit at the weekend so I didn't really get much done. We were intending to do the Bronte Big K on Sunday but we hadn't pre-entered so it would have cost us an extra fiver (making it £30 each) which we wouldn't have minded but when we woke at 7am it was chucking it down so we thought better of it. As it happened, it rained all day and we hardly went out of the house. Saturday wasn't really much better, just lighter rain and a few gaps between showers though it really depended on where you were.

Biked in to work most days this week, Thursday being the exception due to the forecast but as it turned out, it wasn't that bad a day. At least I'm getting some exercise even if it is of short duration.

Following Andy's suggestion of high dosages of Cod liver oil I've been doing a bit of investigation. For once Wikipedia didn't come to the rescue as it appears that the relevant article is currently a thinly disguised advert! Once you've got past the pseudo scientific stuff on the first page or two that Google returns it becomes quite interesting.

An Australian paper looking at the effects of Cod liver oil states that certain oils - namely 1n3 (the omega-3s favoured of advertisers) are beneficial but that it isn't just augmenting your diet that needs to be done, rather you need to alter the proportion of these fats to their close relation 1n6. Guess which society has got it wrong? 1n6, is everywhere in western diets. Margarine, mayonaisse, you name it, it is likely to be based on the 1n6 fats.

The upshot of all this is that taking cod liver oil while not having been proven beyond scientific doubt to be of help, it is not going to be harmful. Though it seems like I should have been taking it for the last thirty years as it's more effective in prevention rather than cure.

Away from all this, my knee has definitely been hurting for the last day. I think it started when baking a cake, actually gingerbread (don't ask!), last night and it locked in a funny way. One one positive side effect of not running is that I'm becoming more flexible in my right hip which has been significantly less mobile than my left for a while. Quite probably because I've been adjusting my gait to avoid stress on my knee.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

All in the Mind?

A bit of a quiet week really. The usual one day out climbing on Sunday saw us visit a new (to us - it's actually about 200 million years old) crag - Castlebergh at Settle. Developed by the Leeds Mafia a couple of years ago, we'd heard varying reports about it not all of which came from reliable sources. Plus there is a lot of The Emperor's new Cloth about new developments and it's usually best to let the hyperbole settle (no pun intended) before trying it for yourself.

So it proved - those routes to the left of the steep part are mediocre at best, crap at worst, definitely not worth the multiple stars that the download from the Leeds Wall website would have you believe. Perhaps more of note was the average age of the teams there - probably close to sixty - we felt quite young! The youngest person there was in their forties.

By the time we'd worked our way in to the steep bit we didn't feel up to the bouldery starts so decided to head over to Giggleswick North as there were some friends there. As it turned out there were lots of cars at the layby so quite a busy day. Our friends were on the first buttress so we nipped up an F6a we hadn't done before and then wandered over to the further buttresses which to be honest offer better climbing.

It turned out that we knew most of the teams on the crag, again most of those present were in their fifties, the only people that weren't were those in the only team we didn't know. A sign of the times I suppose.

Simon fancied Bad Genie at F6c. We'd looked at the start of this before and couldn't figure out just how to make it go at the given grade. Moving a metre or so to the left proved easier. I seem to have trouble with getting going on F6c, I'm fine at F6b+ but as soon as I move up a grade all the smoothness and ability seems to desert me. It has to be a mental problem as the moves themselves aren't difficult but I don't seem to be able to convince myself of this. I couldn't work out the final move over the final bulge on to easy ground so lowered down. Simon managed to get it first go, making a move out right at the top rather than straight up as I'd been trying. I was definitely tired though as even on a top-rope I struggled. Time to call it a day.

I don't know if my knee is definitely worse or I just think it is now that I know the problem. It may be that I sought medical analysis just at the time it was getting worse. Alternatively I may just be subconsciously focusing my attention on it. Whatever I'm wincing at times even when walking and occasionally when setting off cycling. I still haven't settled on a strategy to handle the arthritis other than continue to lose weight.  Joint supplements are often recommended but a recent study casts doubt on their effectiveness. Best save my money then. Maybe it's all in the mind.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

An Anniversary or Two

It's been a year since I had my accident. I hadn't realised until Cath started going on about not falling off before I headed out to climbing on Saturday. Perhaps not a brilliant year, frustrating definitely but one that just needed working through.

As mentioned, we headed out climbing on Saturday. Given the recent fine weather we were going to chance Trow Gill, it takes a while to dry out and it was getting late in the season so there might not be another chance to get up there. Another reason was that Simon had never been. We were going to meet Mike and Gaz there.

The crag was rather dirty, perhaps not surprising given the rains through the middle of summer, also it's a 40min walk which puts many off. A nice F6a+ warm up then on to Alick which I've done before but for some reason I though was F6b. At the top I thought I was struggling but then after his ascent Simon felt it was F6b+. A quick look at the guide confirmed it. Doh! Close by were a couple of routes that I hadn't done before so we ticked them off.

Mike Bullough on the crux of Alick at Trow Gill


A bit of lunch and we reckoned that we really ought to get on something harder. The central corner of the face is taken by Clink - F7a and equipped with staples rather than mechanical bolts so bailing out would be a bit easier. Simon had a really good effort, only needing to to rest on the top bolt before working out the crux sequence to the belay. I was feeling a bit jaded so tried it on a top rope. There was a really tenuous move at half height but I couldn't even make the move to the top bolt and struggled with the move past it. Mike and Gaz also had a top-rope on it. One more route and we were ready to head home.

I've been biking in to work most days - the only day that I didn't, Tuesday, the trains were late! This extra bit of exercise combined with being quite strict about what I'm eating means that I've lost quite a bit of weight already. Just need to keep going with it though it would be better if I lost weight at a slower rate so that the body can adjust rather than react. Even on the bike I can feel my knee playing
up at times. Will just have to see how things go.

25 years ago! Dai Lampard on "The Ramp" on the Original 1938 Route on the North Face of the Eiger.


Another anniversary that I missed was the twenty fifth anniversary of succeeding on the North Face of the Eiger. We actually completed the route on the last day of August 1985. Given the increased summer temperatures in the alps summer ascents of the Eiger have become increasingly rare and it is more likely to hear of a winter ascent than a summer one. So I have to say I feel lucky to have done it when I did. Definitely one of my life changing moments, as was last year!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Blue is the Colour!

Well the bike ride went OK apart from the weather which was a bit pants! Some big hefty showers combined with a strong, ahem, breeze made for interesting riding.

Our route was out of Embsay, home to most of the participants, over Halton Heights, down to Bolton Bridge then along to Ilkley via the steep hill of Langbar then over Addingham and Silsden moors before heading up to Lothersdale then back through Skipton. Quite hilly then! Halton Heights and Langbar weren't too bad as the wind was behind us but heading down in to Ilkley was quite dicey as the wind was now coming from the side and gusting through gates and gaps in the hedges. Heading out of Ilkley we were heading directly in to the wind so it became hard work, as was the climb up on to Addingham moor. We then cut round on to Silsden moor where the others headed straight back towards Skipton while Steve and I headed home - uphill and in to the wind again - it was a struggle to keep moving even on the flat. A total of 26 miles in all. No idea of the average speed but not huge I would have thought.

Sunday was climbing with Simon again. A late start given the showers during the morning. We took a punt on Blue Scar being dry, and it was! Apart from a couple of small streaks it was bone dry. After a couple of warm-ups we headed underneath the arch, an area I'm not too keen on as the path at the foot crosses the debris of a fairly recent rockfall from said feature - gulp! Our target was Scarface - F6c. I headed up to see how far I'd get as much as anything.

Getting the clips in almost proved to be the hardest thing, the bolts were just too high for comfort from the good holds. Consequently a couple of rests later I was at the lower-off. Simon managed it first go. However in the latest guide to the crag this is now given F6c+ so I don't feel so bad, definitely (another) one for the redpoint. After another (undergraded) route we were done.

Monday was climbing with Mike and Steve. They wanted to go to Blue Scar! Slightly different this time in that we headed to the left hand side for some trad routes rather than the sports fare we've been doing on previous visits. It's a long time since I've climbed on this bit, about twenty years in fact! First up was the only real option for a warm up - Some Blue For You at E1 5a. Steve set off first, Mike and I were going to lead on his gear (the craftiness of age!).

Steve leading Some Blue for You at Blue Scar

Now Steve hadn't been climbing for ages so took a while to get going, in fact he probably took longer for the first ten feet than the rest of the route. The upper wall is protected almost entirely by threads, one of which needs two 8ft slings to make use of! After Mike had done it, it was my turn and it did feel very easy climbing, there wouldn't have been much difference in putting the gear in as most of it could be placed from restful positions.

After threading the belay we decided to top-rope an E3 to the left and since I was already tied in then I may as well go first. Let's just say I didn't climb it in particularly good style, though Mike and Steve did. Mike and Steve then decided that they would top-rope Unreal but that meant climbing a grotty VS to set up the ropes so I ducked out of that. Given that I'd struggled on the previous route I wasn't too keen to do so again, plus I had done it several times in the past.

With a little time left we headed over to the right wing and did a couple of sports routes before the midges started to get bad and Mike had to get back for his wife's birthday.

My knees were a little sore after the bike ride - possibly because of the steep climbs and subsequent effort involved - so I don't think I'll be doing much running for a while as that is only likely to exacerbate the condition or at least have me hobbling for a day or two. Have done a bit of internet research on arthritis it seems that one of the best things to do, and one of the simplest and cheapest, is to lose weight. The best way is to take it easy - a pound or two per week at most - cutting out snacks and the like is also an easy hit. I'll just have to be strict about things. Trying to do too much will just cause the famine response where the body hoards fat because it thinks you are heading for a lean time.

With the good weather I've also been biking in to work and so far there hasn't been too much complaint from my knees. Looks like the good weather will continue in to the weekend so more biking and climbing ahead :-)

Friday, 27 August 2010

Not what we thought it was

Following last week's blast biking in Scotland, this week has been particularly lazy for one reason(excuse) or another.

In fact the only real exercise I've done has been to get out on the road bike one evening for about 50mins, though it was a fairly hilly route but then they are all hilly routes round us. I might have gone for a run but for my knee (more of which in a moment) but since it was a fine evening I thought I'd try the bike, plus I'm heading out for a ride on Saturday with a group of MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) who do a lot of biking.  A road bike feels totally different to a mountain bike, less efficient brakes for a start, so I took it steady especially, somewhat paradoxically, on the downhills - I'm wary of coming off given the state of my left elbow and that I'm still suffering in my right shoulder from the last time I came off a road bike some two years ago! The middle part of the ride was nice and flat though so I got a good blast in, keeping up at around 22 MPH.

The results of the MRI came back. There is no meniscal tear in the knee but there is moderate arthritis. The original diagnosis of a meniscal tear was based on my description of how it became apparent:  a sudden pain when pulling up after a run along with occasional partial collapse of the leg - i.e the leg giving way under me. It makes sense really that it is arthritis since I have it in the other knee.

I'm not sure where this leaves me though - in a way if it had been a meniscal tear then the choices would have been easy - an operation or no op. With arthritis it's going to be along the lines of long-term management. At the moment things aren't too bad but then I've not really been doing much running. Will just have to see how things develop.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Mountain Biking in Scotland

Just returned from a week's mountain biking in Scotland with Cath. Did some excellent rides and some not so good plus a day on the routes in Leanachan Forest.

We'd booked a chalet at Bunroy Park in Roy Bridge on the basis that if the weather was poor then at least we'd have somewhere to dry and sort things out rather than have to struggle camping. We've been to Scotland in August before! Getting there took a bit longer than we had planned - an accident on the M8 in Glasgow meant an hour and half delay in getting through the city. This combined with the holiday traffic meant that we took nearly eight hours to get to Roy Bridge (it only took six going steady going home).

We'd got a mountain biking guide to "Wild Trails" in Scotland. One was just up the road on the Ardverikie estate. The estate house is well known as it is the setting for the BBC series "Monarch of the Glen" but this ride heads over towards Loch Ericht on good tracks then passing round Loch Pattack before a steep climb and descent back over to the Laggan side before heading back along loch shores to the start.

Loch Pattach. The route went over the col just right of centre.

With good sunshine and little breeze it was a really nice ride with great views.

The following day we headed off for another route out of the guide. We had thought of doing this ride last year when coming back from a trip to the Outer Hebrides but the weather had been poor so we didn't bother. On paper the route, Glengarry Circuit, was similar to that around Ardverikie - easy fire roads then a climb to and descent from a high col before more fire roads back to the start. On the ground it couldn't have been more different! Once leaving the fire roads, the climb to the col was several hours of pushing and carrying over peat hags, tufted grass and heather. The supposed brilliant descent was largely washed out and you'd need to be better riders than us to ride it all. A bit of a disappointment after the previous day.

One of the things I'd wanted to do was a two day ride with an overnight stop in a bothy. The guidebook described one such ride which circumnavigated the Mamores and Ben Nevis/Grey Corries ranges. However the first day was mainly on estate tracks and having walked/run on them before I knew they weren't desperately interesting so I came up with a variation: get the train to Corrour station then head down to Loch Treig before following the river up to the bothy then do the described second day. Bikes go free on the train but you need to pre-book them. That done we got packing, trying to get all we'd need in to 25L sacks.

Our itinerary actually makes a decent day ride but splitting it into two meant that we wouldn't feel rushed, plus we could take time getting used to riding whilst wearing larger and heavier sacks than we were used to. It also meant that we could get the midday train rather than the early one.

Luibelt in the trees on the left. Ben Nevis and Aonach Beag in the centre distance with Meanach bothy to the right.
I have to say that the guard on the train was very friendly, not really had a bad experience on this line. Getting off at Corrour we remembered that we'd forgotten coffee powder so a visit to the cafe (now run by the SYHA) to try a bit of begging was in order - we also bought some tea and cakes while we were there!

The direct path looked a bit boggy following the recent rain so we took the estate tracks heading east before turning and descending to Loch Treig. The good tracks continue around the head of the loch until the remote Creaguaineach Lodge is reached, apparently the postman used to deliver here! From here we followed the Abhainn Rath past Staoineag bothy ( a lovelier spot is hard to imagine) until the valley opened out and we got to Meanach itself. Much of the second half of the route had been intermittent riding, maybe on the bike for 50 metres then a couple of ditches or rock steps to negotiate then a bit more riding etc. It's not like the purpose built trails which are designed to be ridden.

The bothy is well maintained (by the MBA) and has two rooms one of which has wooden flooring which makes a lightweight trip all the easier - we'd only got cut-down sleeping mats. It's also got a resident mouse called Clive! Another advantage of doing short overnight trips is that invariably you get things about your kit wrong: too much of this; not enough of that; should have brought that piece of kit; never used that; etc. Bothying and bivvying is an ongoing art and with practice you do get close to an ideal set of stuff to take.

The following day began with a big push up to the col above the Lairig Leacach, you could ride short sections where it levelled out. Once at the top there was a brilliant kilometre or so of singletrack before it became a recently bulldozed track - apparently the singletrack used to continue all the way to the bothy at Leacach. Once at Leacach it was all good surfaced landrover track down to the River Spean before a couple of miles of road to finish. Since leaving Corrour we had only seen one fisherman in the distance and the crew of two Tornadoes as they flew by the bothy.

Our final day began with heavy rain. By dinner time we could no longer put it off so headed to Leanachan forest to do some of the trails there. As it happened we timed it just right as the rain stopped about ten minutes after we set off on the first trail. After the grandeur of biking in the highlands pretty well any trail was going to disappoint, and so it proved. The "World Champs" trail was effectively a single climb followed by one long section of descent of varying technicality. Having done that we headed out on the "Ten under the Ben" trail. This is used for the annual race of the same name, suffice to say that for three quarters of the trail I was using the big front ring with high gears. Stuck in the middle of all this cruising was a short downhill section, including about 50m graded black. All a bit unsatisfying really, it is as if they are training routes for the main event here - the downhill course - plenty of riders doing that but in the whole week we only actually met two other riders out riding - near the end of the Ten under the Ben course.

In fact we only met a handful of people each day, usually Munro baggers, everywhere was decidedly quiet despite the amount of traffic we had seen heading north on the Saturday.

The forecast now is for "mixed" weather, let's just hope it doesn't put all the crags out of condition.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Marking Time

It's a truism that the more you do something the easier it becomes. Climbing is no different and getting out just one day each week means that I'm effectively marking time, not really going backwards but, more importantly, not improving either.

Sunday saw Simon and myself back at Blue Scar, it was a fortuitous accident really: we had umm'ed and ahh'ed about where to go and decided to give Blue another go. As it turned out, despite all the rain through the intervening time, it was drier than it had been two weeks ago! A couple of easier routes right over at the right-hand end then it was time to  try something a bit harder. On the previous visit I had just top-roped an F6b on the buttress to the left so I'd better get that done. I made a complete mess of the bottom section by using a weird sequence rather than the obvious holds. Simon also did it as well as the F6b next to it that I'd already done.

Next up I thought I'd try something harder - there were a couple of F6cs to the right of this buttress so I set off up the right-hand one. After making a mess of the first hard move I managed to get to the bolt before the last of the difficult moves but didn't have the oomph to do it. Simon managed it as a red-point having taken rests on his previous attempt when we were last here. A couple of cool-down routes back on the main right-hand section and we were done.

My knees were still sore from the running on Saturday, definitely some instability there. Come Tuesday and I thought I'd try another run however lethargy meant that I just went on the roads (for the first time in many months) for a 3 miler. It was definitely hard work and I don't think I broke any records!

On the water front it seems as if the fixing of the leak has worked as we still have water filling our header tank.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Wait and See

You'd think they'd make them a bit quieter wouldn't you? MRI machines that is. They are like a cross between a washing machine on spin cycle and a pneumatic drill! The other thing is that unlike x-rays which take about a second to grab the shot, you need to stay still for twenty minutes or so. The trick I found was to think about an itch somewhere other than my leg even if I didn't have an itchy nose to begin with then it certainly was by the end of the scan! Now it's a case of waiting around three weeks for the specialist to review it.

Our water (lack of) saga would finally appear to be over! Our neighbour had noticed a damp patch on his living room wall around 18 months ago. It had slowly got worse and on Thursday the plumber finally turned up and they discovered that there was rather a big leak right next to the wall just at the T-joint in the pipe where our supply spurs off. The flow from the leak was rather bigger than that flowing in to the field tank. While things were wet it probably didn't make much difference but once things began to dry out then it was going to drain the tank rather quickly. With one night's light usage it seems to have filled our header tank. Fingers crossed!

A bit frustrating on the climbing front this week. It has all been very showery so Simon and I ended up at Robin Proctor's Scar on the assumption that since it was exposed it would be quick drying. Unfortunately just as we got to the crag it began to rain! The two teams already there decided to pack in and headed off but after twenty minutes of hiding behind a drystone wall from the light rain we had a look at what might be in nick. The crag was a mixture of dry and wet - all leftward facing rock was wet but that rock facing right or forward was mostly dry. Within ten minutes things were dry enough to give it a go.

Two warm-up routes later and things were looking good :-) I decided to have a go at The Shield, F6c, as it had been on my to-do list for a while. I got the third bolt clipped easily enough then launched out on to the shield itself - a lurch to the big jug then a distinct lack of holds to get stood up. I had a couple of goes but I don't have enough oomph in my shoulders at the moment so reversed back to the deck. Loads of blood! In slipping around on the crux I'd taken a couple of flaps off my fingers with red consequences. Also when down climbing I'd pulled a side hold off and cut my thumb. As it happened another big shower was bearing down on us so we called it a day and headed back to the car.

Since it was still early we went for a look at Low Stoney Bank since we'd been recommended it. Looked a bit poor to be honest so we wandered further upstream to check out the High crag. Simon fancied a route but since we didn't have the update with the sports routes in it was just a guess as to the grade. As it turned out it was a F6b and fairly good, even if some of the bolts were clippable from existing trad routes. All in all not a bad day given the weather.

Actually went for a run today, about an hour or so. Nothing too strenuous with not too much up and down. I was pretty slow though, but then I've hardly done any running, just a couple of 3 mile runs, in the last month. Will have to see how my knee copes.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Keep on Truckin'

Another trip to Blue Scar! Well, even though there has been rain through the week it hasn't been enough to significantly affect things so it was always worth trying. There were a few more damp patches compared to last week but they didn't get in the way of the climbing.

A F6a warm-up (had done this last week anyway) then it was on to harder stuff. A very unbalanced F6a+ then a long sustained F6b+ which I failed to read correctly but I hung in there until the last bolt when I had to rest as I couldn't see any more holds. Needless to say as soon as I'd slumped I saw a jug off to the right!

We then headed over to a buttress that was developed (read - retro-bolted and more routes packed in) last year. One steep F6b later and I'm pumped and have to top-rope the last route of the day, another F6b.

Sunday I went for a slow run round the same loop as I'd done last week. No real niggles this time though my knee still hurts. The appointment for the MRI scan has come through - along with a mass of questions about insertions, implants and piercings! So we'll see what comes about once the results come back.

A bit of midweek climbing on Tuesday with a trip to Wilton Three. Gaz had designs on Brastium which I'd led with Mike a few weeks ago while I wanted to lead Canine Crucifiction which I'd followed on the same occasion. The forecast was for showers passing through and clearing in the afternoon, but no rain actually fell. Unfortunately the previous week of showers meant that when we got in to the quarry the wall containing both routes was decidedly wet. Rather than worry about it we did a batch of HVS and VS routes that either we hadn't done before or done a long time ago.

Last week's post about sorting out our water supply was a little premature. We checked again last night after the feed to our header tank failed again. The cattle trough was half full so it looked like there was no water going there either. A look in the field tank showed why - the tank was empty and the input was a mere dribble. It would take a day to fill a bucket at that rate! It looks like it could be several weeks before any significant water makes it way into the tank. So mixed feelings really - I'd like more fine weather to keep climbing but need rain to get water back into the tank.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Normal Service Resumed

Back to climbing last Saturday - several weeks since I'd been out - destination Blue Scar now that the bird ban was over. Of course the weather wasn't having any of it and despite a bright start to the morning it soon turned to heavy showers, so it was lunchtime by the time we headed up Wharfedale.

Kilnsey was packed as we drove by, though there wasn't much actual climbing going on, just the usual hanging on ropes and resting between attempts. Though this being Kilnsey you need those rests. There were a couple of cars parked by the farm buildings below Blue and despite the morning's heavy rain the crag looked dry and there were people climbing.

We hadn't brought the supplement with all the new lines in so it was a case of asking what grade things were and setting off. There was chalk on the first line, 6a+ we were told though it felt a bit hard for that on one section (later found out it was 6b). Then it was my turn to get the clips in on the neighbouring line, again meant to be 6a+, though this time the chalk stopped around halfway. It took several goes to get past the end of the chalk as the line obviously hadn't had an ascent this year and footholds needed cleaning. It didn't give up either and by the time I got to the lower-off I was rather pumped. Simon managed it OK with the clips in. Looking at the supplement later, the route was given 6b+ which is nearing my limit at the moment, no wonder I struggled!

Next up was a retrobolted E3, now give 6a+ , again with just one hard move but otherwise straightforward. Simon then fancied a 6c at the right end which he flashed. I decided just to top-rope it as I was slightly weary, just as well as I needed a tight rope. Despite struggling a bit, I have to say I like Blue Scar, it's just a pity that the season is so short.

Finally after over three weeks we have our water supply back - the mixed weather of the last week has helped replenish the feed. After several attempts to charge the system from our neighbours' borehole we seem to have our normal low pressure flow back - the tank in the field is only around 2 metres above the header tank in the loft. We had charged the system last weekend prior to heading off for a wedding so to find that we were without water again just a couple of days later was perplexing especially when the field tank wasn't empty. I then figured that it must be the cattle trough in the field. Sure enough, the ball on the stop cock wasn't set low enough so it was always running and promptly emptying the tank! A little bit of judicious bending and we are now OK.

No running for over a week now. I went for a short run round home last Wednesday and it wasn't pleasant. My quads had just about recovered but my knees were somewhat painful. They were still sore, enough to cause a limp when walking, four days later. The pain was very similar to that when I tore the meniscus a couple of years ago. A trip to the doctor, the appointment was quick as there'd been a cancellation, and an MRI scan is going to be arranged to check them out. So we'll just have to see what the results indicate. I may try a gentle run this weekend to see if it is going to happen after every run.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Up and Down

Well Andy's BGR didn't go quite as planned.

Heading over to the Lakes to support leg one over Skiddaw and Blencathra the clouds descended and it was quite heavy rain by the time I arrived in Threlkeld to leave the car at the end of leg. One lift later by another member of the support team. Rather worryingly there was a distinct lack of anyone else, well there were a lot of tourists, in Keswick. Even Andy wasn't to be seen.

As the magic hour approach though more and more appeared, including Andy. Still worrying was the fact that I was the only support runner for leg1! With about ten minutes to go the others turned up, traffic jams on the M6 being the excuse. There will be four pacers on this section.

Andy, Frazer and Dave avoiding the rain before the start.

As if to herald good times the clouds began to lift. With a slight delay for photos we were off. No mistakes through the ginnels and back roads of Keswick and into Fitz Park. Then it was a case of stripping off the layers as the uphill work began. A good pace (read - no talking cause we couldn't!) saw us at Skiddaw summit in the clag around 3 minutes up on schedule. Down to the fence then the long pull over to Great Calva.

 Heading to Great Calva

Much wetter underfoot than the last times I'd been over this ground but no point in worrying, just get on with it. Just 40 minutes and we were on the summit then a blast down through the heather to the River Caldew which was fortunately low. Then the long drag up on to Mungrisedale Common. Light rain was now blowing across but it was so warm that there was little point in putting waterproofs on as you'd get as wet or wetter.

It was nearly dark by the time we got to the top of Blencathra and distinctly chilly in the breeze that the fell had been protecting us from. Headtorches on then it's down Doddick Fell. This is distinctly slippy with occasional wet slate slabs covered in pebbles! Most of us slip at some point on the descent but eventually we hit level ground and trog through the bracken to the fell gate. We've lost five minutes on the descent but are about fifteen minutes up overall.

The next support team are ready in the rain and within a few minutes they, and Andy, are off into the night.

After dropping off a couple of the pacers in Keswick I head home, getting into bed at around 1:30AM! Unfortunately during the night the weather deteriorated and despite keeping up with the schedule on leg 2 it began to slip on leg 3 and by Great End Andy was 90mins down so with no break in the weather due he decided to call it a day. A good effort given the conditions.

Unusually it took several days for my quads to recover. I'm not sure what I've being doing different to cause this. Of greater concern is my right knee as it feels like the cartilage problem I suffered two years ago has returned. It's OK going uphill but downhill is painful even just walking.  Hopefully it won't affect my climbing just yet.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Wet and Wild

A long intense day at the weekend. Headed up to Glencoe around Saturday lunchtime via taxi, train and lift (with Chris Armour) to help out with Bill Williamson's Ramsay Round attempt. Despite the forecast being for reasonable weather until the early hours of Sunday morning we got low cloud then heavy rain around Loch Lomond and then most of the way to Glencoe. Things weren’t looking good.

Nothing had been heard of how Bill was going until the support team arrived back from Fersit: “Fifteen minutes down but feeling strong and going well”. So after generous helpings of cake from Wynne, four of us headed out to the ruins at the eastern end of Loch Eilde Mor. The rain had eased but even so it was still full waterproofs as we walked up the track. Surprisingly the wind was very light to non-existant, not good for midges, well good for midges, not good for their supper – us!

An hour and forty minutes later and the ruins were in sight. More clothes on to try and keep warm then it was just a matter of waiting, he was due to arrive at 0210. Several pacings up and down the track later and a set of lights appears. By the time they get to the ruins it is 0245 so he has lost more time. Bill’s quite bright though – there’s slack in the times for the Mamores section.

 Ian and Bill at the ruins at Loch Eilde Mor

Suitably refreshed and we (Bill, Ian Charters and myself) are off up the rough hillside of Sgurr Eilde Mor.  Bill’s line is a rising traverse to meet the path up the south ridge. When we get there I elect to skip this top and meet them at the stream crossing before Binnean Beag. The wind is picking up and by the time I see their lights on the summit the first signs of dawn allow me to see the clouds scudding past. Together again we make good time up the path to the col between the Binnean peaks. My turn to accompany Bill to the summit. The rain makes the quartzite rock very slippery and we both slide a few times. Before too long we are heading back down and heading for the higher Binnean Mor.

Bill prefers the direct approach which looks unlikely to say the least. It’s actually quite straightforward, slightly harder than something like Hall’s fell on Blencathra but not as exposed – well we can hardly see anything to make a call on the exposure! Halfway up Bill finds a camera – so we stuff it in a sack and carry on (later I turn it on, it works and still takes photos!). The ridge suddenly ends around 50m from the summit. No time for photos though as the storm is building. The traverse to the twin topped Na Gruagaichan is much faster than last year but the wind is building in strength.

As we drop into the gap between the two tops, the wind is so strong and gusty that I have to hold on to Bill to stop him getting blown away, Ian is on all fours. We head on over the west top and suddenly the pace drops. Bill has decided it isn’t fun anymore. Down at the col the support team reckon that he can just make it but it takes quite a bit of persuading to get Bill going. Ian and I now head down with half the support while Chris and Karl set off for the next peak to see if the wind is going to pick up or abate. After just a couple of minutes standing around and we are frozen due to our extremely damp state and the wind. Once back down at Mamore Lodge there is hardly any wind at all.

Back at the house being used as a base it is all we can do to wait for news. Eventually we get a call – he’d abandoned after another two peaks with too much running to do in the time left. Luck plays a large part in these rounds and Bill just didn't seem to have any - after weeks of dry fine weather, the weekend of his attempt turns out to be wet and windy. Very impressed with just how far he got in the conditions. With his current level of fitness and better luck with the weather he’ll get round in time.