So It Begins

Finally arrived in Zurich after an early start from Glasgow and several trains, planes and buses I met up with Robbie in his van to head up to the Swiss Ratikon. We stopped on the way to grab some supplies (Cherry harribo…obviously) for the next few days and headed up the sketchiest road I’ve ever been on up into the valley.

We set up camp by a lovely waterfall, it’s the perfect shower when your roasting from waking up in the tent, it’s been up to 38C here, mad!! There’s a local hut nearby where some other climbers are staying and on our first night we also met some awesome Germans that are here hiking who offered us some German beer and sausages, just to be the perfect stereotype. It’s also a reminder of how cool it is to be travelling and meeting so many new people that are all so friendly.

My first day on the wall

My first day on the wall

We started climbing yesterday on Robbie’s project route ‘silbergeir’. It’s this awesome multi-pitch route that’s goes straight up the headwall of the massive cliff. The wall is all limestone that varies in every direction with jagged blue streaks cascading down through the yellow rock faces. The routes max difficulty is 8b+ which of course, Is down to Robbie to climb but I’m really enjoying climbing the grade 7 pitches and starting to work on the 8a+ pitch. It’s all very technical moves on small holds where one little lack of balance and your off…there’s been a lot of that.

Robbie made some huge links on the hardest pitches yesterday it was awesome to watch him crushing out some crazy hard moves and I don’t doubt that after another session working the route today it could be time to get a well earn rest day before going for the red-point ascent later in the week.

Robbie working the top pitch

Robbie working the top pitch

Just being up there on that wall is amazing though, belaying from your little wooden swing, suspended hundreds of meters above the valleys grass fields with the high snow capped mountains as your backdrop and the cowbells from below as your soundtrack.

I’ll try to keep writing to update our progress but the signal strength out here is marginal at the bet of times!

Psyche!!

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Training pays off

With the days counting down until I go away to the Alps I’ve been trying to rack up as many hours as possible at work leaving with hardly any free days until I go away. Working chaotic hours almost everyday might sound like a restriction to my climbing but I often find at times like these it motivates me to train more. Finishing shifts in the centre before closing time leaves me with no excuse not to have a session afterwards as I’m already there with little else to do and its easy to be motivated when you’ve been watching others climb all day so even squeezing in an hours fingerboard session between shifts doesn’t feel like a chore when your blowing off steam from the previous shift. With the dramatic change in the weather over the last few days I’ve been jumping at any opportunity to take my training from the fingerboard onto real rock (It is Scotland, it could be raining again tomorrow!)

Today we woke early to try and get the most out of a morning session in the sun before starting work at midday so we headed to the local sport crag Dumbuck. Being notorious For its short, yet aggressively steep routes I was interested to see how my recent level of training would pay off here.

Finding the crag was nothing short of a total mission. The guidebooks approach description say something along the lines of ‘though some fields and up to the crag through the trees’. When in reality it it should say, cross the tick infested fields down the hill to where you will have to battle your way through the overgrown jungle, up the steep mud and scree slope where you will randomly stumble upon some ropes that climb up to the crag…..In other words, we got lost because of Euans fantastic guiding skills!!

Neither of us having been to the crag before we spent the day attempting the ‘must do’ route of ‘Awaken’ 7c+. We both struggled to work out the final few moves through the crux on our first few goes and as time (and skin) started to run out there was some frustration when we finally cracked the crux later in the day only to not have enough energy for a serious redpoint after all the previous attempts. After some serious moaning about skin condition and dehydration We pulled the rope and agreed to come back for the tick another day.

Satisfied with a good session I agreed to go up to get the draws back before leaving, I tied in again and before I knew it I was topping out the route. Clean. No falls…talk about a last minute effort! The psyche was high from the tick after all the demoralising efforts earlier and it was great to walk away with such a high grade having only had just one session working at it, I guess it proves this training malarkey does pay off eh!?

A Miserable Day

Me cold and wet on the summit

I headed up to my parents’ house in Drymen with the hope of an early start for a lone trip up The Cobbler to scout out some new routes and take a look at some future projects.

I got up early and arrived at around 8a.m. Leaving the car in full hard-shells due to the torrential rain below 500m, I took my time walking in as I knew I had all day and wasn’t rushing to the base of a route. Ditching my hardshell into my pack I changed over to soft shell as the rain turned to snow and The temperature dropped. The whole path was flooded with all the melt water from yesterday’s thaw and only the hard compacted snow within the basin remained. Luckily The basin was sheltered from the freezing northerly wind as it pelted the back side of the crags.

me getting to grips with the roof og ‘The Cathedral’

I spent the day roaming around looking at a few unclimbed routes and things that I plan to become future projects later in the season when the winter conditions really kick in. I also managed to abseil inspect a few routes such as Dave Macleod’s ‘The Cathedral’ (X,11).      I know that abseil inspection is not ‘usual ethics’ for winter climbs but the route wasn’t in winter condition and it’s the standard of route that I think it would be foolish to no inspect it before even considering it as a future project for myself. It seems out of my reach at the moment but perhaps with some more training and getting a few hard routes under my belt this season, it might make its way onto the                                                                            ‘give it a try’ list someday…who knows!?

If anything, today was a good ‘reccy’ day, that may have got me soaked but it all helps top up the hill fitness and keeps me true to my promise to myself that I will try and get out on the hill at least once every week this season.

only hard compacted snow remains up high

Only hard compacted snow remains up high

A Warm Up Run

“I’m bored.”

“Me too.”

“Want to head up the Cobbler and camp out?”

“Yeah, why not!”

That was pretty much as simple as it was last night when Euan had realised we both didn’t start work till 6p.m. the next day and couldn’t find anything to entertain himself. It was just after 10p.m. and we’d both just returned from a day in work. We’d seen that the conditions were good but both had work the following evening and so the idea to get out tonight and start climbing early tomorrow to make it back in time for work seemed more appealing than sitting in the flat bored out our minds, regardless of the time.

We packed our bags in minutes and headed up to Arrochar in the car. We arrived at The Cobbler car park only to realise that we both had notes rather than change in our wallets! The Cobblers car park usually goes by strict conduct of a pay and display meter, that comes with a hefty fine of £60 for being tight-fisted enough to not cough up the £1 fee for a 24 hour ticket. Having seen several people end up with fines from thinking they could get away with it in the past I refused to take the risk and so the hunt was on to find enough change in the car to afford a ticket.

“What we at?”

“23p”

“Damn!”

No luck, we’d pillaged the car and it just wasn’t going to stretch it. Several minutes and a few ‘Let’s just stick a fiver to the windscreen with an IOU’ ideas later, we decided we’d have to go to one of nearby hotels to change up our notes! We eventually managed to acquire a pound coin after I hassled the night guard of a local hotel to switch it for our fiver from the donation box labelled ‘Hand-Knitted Scottish Scarves’. I left the other £4 as a tip and dashed out the door…he must have thought I was mad! Finally we drove back to the car park and got our ticket. After all the commotion we finally got our packs on a left the car park just as the police turned up. Apparently it looks suspicious to be searching round a car park at 1a.m.

After taking our names and branding us mad men we were finally allowed to continue on our way (for the third time!). We started up the zigzags and before we knew it, past the dam, the hill running had obviously made a difference to our fitness as we both felt fresh even after keeping up a fast pace. We walked past the snow line for ten minutes or so before deciding to set up the tent, aware of the time after our late start and ‘delayed parking’. It was great to get the boots off. After having only worn them a few times since new, they were still being broken in

High exposure of headtorches in the tent. photo Euan Ryan

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The night passed quickly as the cold took no effect on us wrapped up well in our sleeping bags that have provided comfort in temperatures ten times colder in the past. Unfortunately the moment we crawled out of our bags into the cold there was no relief from a morning brew as we’d left the stove behind to save weight on the walk in. Only half a slice of Christmas cake and a single pain-au-chocolat each was all we had to kick-start us for the day ahead. We kitted up, hid the bags and tent under some boulders and snow and started the scramble up into the basin through the white out.

It wasn’t long until I noticed Euan wasn’t 100 percent. We’d only managed the first 100m of the steeper ground before he took a break to stretch his hip that had been giving him complaints on the walk-in the previous night. Having run his record time for a 10km only hours before we had left the flat, he obviously had strained something and the rise in gradient was enough to push it past a discomfort and into a progress stopper. It doesn’t take much for the two of us to know when something isn’t quite right with the other. Having climbed together for the last 10 years, we know when the other’s had enough and doesn’t want to say. Euan being his usual self continued on through the pain, obviously not wanting to hold us back and seeing my excitement for the first outing of the season, he probably didn’t want to ruin my day as well as his.

We chilled out at some nearby rocks and grabbed some water before discussing what the plan was. When we left the night before we thought we had been ingenious, managing to sneak our trip into the small amount of spare time that we had. Expecting to return to Glasgow with a smug look on our faces having managed a climb before our shift. This made it more of a shame that are first winter jaunt ended prematurely but with worse weather coming in and with Euan’s hip playing up, sometimes you need to know when you’re beaten. We called it a day and started back down the hill towards where we had stashed the bags. A slow and relaxed descent pace saw us at the car and on our way back to Glasgow before midday had struck, more time to rest up and grab some food before heading into work.

It might not have been the day we were expecting but I guess we can call it a ‘warm up run’ to the upcoming season.

British Tooling Series – Glasgow Climbing Centre

Today was the third round of the British Tooling Series, held at the Glasgow Climbing Centre. I haven’t competed in any of the other rounds so far due to lack of free time to travel to the venues down south. Fortunately, Glasgow being my local venue and work place, I’d had plenty of notice of the date of the event and had subsequently been training hard on our new home wall specifically for the event. I felt like I was at my strongest I’d been this year since my time off through the summer and so my confidence levels were high. Something I’ve always found to be a big factor in the way you actually perform in an event, be it relaxed or a competitive one.

The competition was made up of 15 routes for the qualifiers. You had four hours to go off and try them in whichever order you wanted and then a final route for the top 4 climbers in each category to battle it out on for the win. As usual the route setters didn’t disappoint with the quality and imagination within the routes, using obstacles from 30ft logs and chains to gnarly slopers set at the imperfect angle!

I decided to start on the large 30ft vertical log climb as I knew it wouldn’t be too technically difficult, only requiring sharp axes and good striking technique and would also provide a good warm up for the other routes. The whole log was suspended several feet from the floor to make in unstable which gave some interesting leg wrapping technique to shuffle your way up. As expected I topped the route without too much difficult (or too many splinters!) and sounded the comically high pitch horn that hung from the top that signalled topping the route. I blasted through some of the easier routes to chill out for a bit and avoid being left with them to do at the end so that I could focus purely on topping the harder routes with as little attempts as I could. I had an attempt at one of the harder, more delicate climbs that was made up of large moves between insecure and marginal placements that ended abruptly as I moved into the top third of the route when a hold broke in half on me. I was a little disappointed that on my first attempt when i was doing so well ended because of something beyond my control but at least I knew I could do the route and went for a break to come back to it later.

Me tackling the vertical chain climb

Having topped all but two routes so far first-time (including some of the hardest routes that I’d seen kicking off some of the other strong climbers, such as the vertically hanging chain requiring good fig-four practice or a lot of lock off strength), I went back to try the route that I’d previously failed on due to the broken hold for another try at my first attempt (falling due to a broken or spinning hold is not counted as a failed attempt). I tied in and placed my axes onto the starting hold and moved off it attempting to start climbing to my previous high point on the route. With the route having seen some traffic since earlier the first few holds had been chiseled down a bit and weren’t as secure as early. My axe instantly ripped from the hold and I was lowered to the ground having only managed 3 moves. What a disappointment, I knew I had already climbed the first two-thirds of the route before and to lose out on the available points for my first attempt meant I’d possibly just lost my upper hand of having topped everything else first go. I Finally managed to top the route on my last available attempt to gain at least some points for the route.

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to make it into the final, missing out on qualifying by only 5 points (That damn broken hold!!) and finished up 6th. All in, the day was a great success. Everyone enjoyed the event and the finalists truly deserved their places with the brilliant efforts on the gnarly looking final routes. It was great fun and I felt like I’d climbed better than I have in previous years and that the training I’ve been doing is paying off. More than anything I’m now super psyched for the winter to hurry up and arrive and feeling confident that I can crush some hard routes.

Getting to the chain on a tricky route

Getting to the chain on a tricky route

Why on earth do we do this!?

Hello again People!

So firstly, I’d like to say sorry for not keeping my page up to date, I’m entirely useless and extremely forgetful!

As I haven’t written anything recently I thought I’d give you some food for thought. As the winter season has started to properly kick in I thought I would start with this.

Winter climbers, why is it that we all share the common attribute of being forgetful? Now this may sound stupid but I say this because what other excuse can we possible have for continuing to return to dark and frozen lay-by’s, at unearthly hours of the morning, just to kit up for another torturous walk-in, that only a few days before, we swore we would never put our bodies through again!? Now either this is the proof that we are all entirely forgetful, or we are all just bloody mad! either way, this ability for us to just forgive and forget everything we put ourselves through at that very second we reach the summit of that chosen route, has always astonished me and has got me thinking about the weird ways in which our sport affects all of us climbers.

When you start to look into the odd relationship us climbers have with our sport its funny what you see. From winter climbers being able to forget the perils they go through to get to climbs, to the trad climber that pleads with fear for respite. It seems like it’s possible that we actually create some sort of ‘bond’ with our routes. One minute its the climb that you hate as you struggle up the moves. The next minute you are blessing the same route, that very same climb, all just for revealing that placement for that ‘bomber’ piece. We begin to create ‘attitudes’ towards climbs and these change depending on how the route affects us.

Our sport can cause us to be happy, scared, relaxed, tired, nervous and in some cases even obsessed. Climbers travel thousand of miles, put their body through hell and back, push themselves close to a mental breakdown and all whilst putting themselves in life risking situations all for the chance to complete a certain climb. Now when you take a step back and break it down as simply as it can be put, the definition of a ‘climb’ is just a specific path up some specific rock. It seems crazy how something as simple as that can take a hold of us so easily and have such a power over us.

Ultimately this all ties in (see what I did there!) and leads (there too!) to the question that I don’t think any one of us will ever be able to give the specific answer to.

“Why do we climb?”.

Now some people dislike that we have no pinpointed explanation for this, some people I know just don’t care. On the other hand, I personally  love that we can’t explain our obsession, it leaves a sense of the unknown within us. Why do we risk everything for that chance of success? Are we climbing to see what we can achieve? Or is it as basic as we climb because we can? You might be the indoor enthusiast who questions why you’ve been training on the fingerboard for the last 3 weeks just to gain that extra strength you need for that route you just can’t quite do at the centre. The bouldering fanatic who wonders why you stayed and shredded the remaining skin from your tips when you should have left an hour ago with everyone else, just for the chance to get the top out of that long-term project. The Trad climber who questions why you risks it all as the crux approaches, 40 meters up, one RP placed forever ago, and sever ground fall potential, all for the success of your hardest tick to date. Finally The mountaineer. Who questions why you put yourself in one of the most hostile environments on the planet, risk horrific conditions, consistent pain, cold and danger, all to stand upon that faraway summit.

No matter what type of climber you are, or the answer to why you climb, it’s a question that will continue to arise in every climbers head at some point, and one that can drive you mad looking for answers to.  If you’ve managed to work it out, you’re a smarter man (or woman) than me, and if this is the case, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you’re like me and stand clueless then try not to fret about why we do it, just be happy to be part of a sport that pushes us in so many more ways than just physically and forces us to break the boundaries of our limits, even if it is in the name of madness!

*I take no responsibility for any mental breakdown cause from over thinking this question,