From time to time, work takes me away for brief trips to give presentations or have meetings. Normally I don’t get much chance to see the place I’m in (or it’s not a place where there is much to see anyway) but recently I found myself with a free morning in Geneva. I’d never been there before, and really enjoyed a rambling walk through the old city and along the lake. I even managed to take a few photos.
The tail-end of a recent two week warm spell brought friend Fiend – fellow climber and Starcraft2 comrade – to the North East from Glasgow. Perhaps the recent alignment of the planets had something to do with such a rare occurrence of good weather before the nesting season fowled up much of the good coastal climbing here. In any case, we were instantly agreed that we would check out the Round Tower.
The Round Tower holds some of the finest extremes on the coast but does unfortunately get quite “birdy,” rendering the easier climbs unclimbable from April-September. Even after the birds leave their nests, their nests remain. The Round Tower is also home to the coveted local E2 test-piece Tyrant Crack which adorns the North East Outcrops guidebook cover.
This route has been on my wish list for a couple years now, but conditions have conveniently kept me away from the attempt. Now we were going and I didn’t feel ready. I decided that I probably wouldn’t try that day, but rather to enjoy the routes I could do and follow Matthew up some routes that were beyond my leading ability. Even as we drove out the rain started spitting down so it seemed like I was going to be granted a reprieve after all. The rain didn’t last and the climb was nicely sheltered from the cold wind so we geared up and started with the easier routes. I started with High Voltage (HVS 5a*) which begins by surmounting some poop-encrusted ledges that leads to a fun finishing flake on good holds.
Matthew warmed up on Ramadan (E1 5b **) the sensational arete on the right side of the tower shown in the photo above. He abseiled and cleaned his gear so I could lead it on mine. A tricky run out start over some dubious protection gains the arete and a spectacular exposed position on huge holds and perfect gear. It was hard not to linger for awhile. This is now one of my favorite climbs on the coast and really set the tone for me that day. I felt solid pulling the moves above less-than-perfect gear and the climbing above was sheer joy. Suddenly, Tyrant Crack looked not only doable, but fun!
Matthew racked up and led it and then cleaned it. Not a problem for him as he’s quite strong. My turn next. I climbed up and placed some gear and climbed down for a short rest. It’s quite strenuous placing gear in the start of this one. The difficulties are right off the start and go for a few meters, but the protection is excellent and there are many opportunities, you just have to be strong enough to hang on and place it. I was a bit sketchy getting onto the wall proper, but after that it seemed to flow pretty well and I made it to the sanctuary of “the spike” without much trouble. Above the spike, gear is sparse but what there is, is good — and the climbing gets easier. Halfway up, I couldn’t help grinning that I had it in the bag.
It started to get colder after that, but Matthew was keen for Silver Surfer (E3 5c**) a nice looking wall climb to a ledge and crack and corner finish. I was once again impressed with his ability to commit and climb confidently and safely over thin unprotected looking rock. He found good gear and made it look like HVS. I seconded on numb fingers, nearly fell off, couldn’t remove two pieces of gear and had the hot aches by the time I got to the halfway ledge. Good thing I didn’t attempt it on the lead.
We hummed and hawed over the possibility of a very green but cool looking E3 on the corner but decided that it was taking the full brunt of the strengthening north wind so I finished up on the “not well protected” Life of Brian (E1 5a**) which is a big traverse across the back of the crag. With two distinct cruxes and not much gear this climb gently rises up and right to the top of the crag with the final crux a committing series of thin moves on lichen-covered rock well away from the last bits of questionable gear. I climbed out and back several times before committing. There was always the option of escaping up an easy corner, but I was glad that I finished it properly as it was quite the exhilarating finish and overall very satisfying climbing and a fine conclusion to a great day out.
The past few months Amelia has been quite busy organizing her first conference. The Scottish Vision Group chose her and a colleague to co-organize the 2012 meeting. Amelia was in charge of selecting the venue among other things and this year’s meeting was held at the historic Douneside House in Tarland.
The house is beautiful. 14 bedrooms, huge conservatory, dining hall, lounges, studies and full bar all interconnected by a warren like maze of hallways adorned with period furniture and art, Douneside House was a delight to stay at. The grounds of the house are extensive as well. There’s a small burn trickling past on the east side around which beautiful trees, flowers and shrubbery are lovingly maintained. A small path leads visitors through passing small benches to sit and over tiny bridges. Many wild birds call this place home. It’s quite magical.
The crown jewel of the grounds is possibly the “Infinity Lawn” which seems to stretch on forever into the distant hills of Lochnagar. As conference organizer, Amelia scored us the #2 bedroom so we had quite the amazing view in the morning. If I’d known it would be this good, I might have stayed both nights!
The weather in the mountains was too good to pass up however, even for a night in Douneside House. My friend Ben and I spent Friday night climbing and camping at the nearby Dubh Loch. Friday we walked in at a fast 2 hrs and climbed the superb three pitch route A Likely Story (HVS 5a ***) on the Eagle Slabs. I led pitch one and three while Ben led the delicate traverse of pitch two. Really good climbing on perfect mountain granite.
Saturday we climbed the 5 pitch classic Mousetrap (VS 4c ***) up the right side of the Dubh Loch. Long pitches of sustained difficulty took us the full height of the crag (200+ meters). We made it to the top in good time despite a later start only to discover our descent gully was still covered in snow. A moment’s consideration of that terrifying descent compelled us off the north side of the mountain at an easy run as we were now hard pressed to get back in time for me to make it to Douneside House for dinner at 6pm.
The outdoor climbing season opened for me on Saturday March 17. Danimal and I headed to Longhaven quarries for the classic sea cliff climb Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (E1 5c**). I had led this route last year with another friend, Johannes and this year Dan was keen for it, so offered to hold his ropes. It’s an excellent climb in a dramatic situation and one that requires a fair degree of adventuring just to get to. Below is a photo of another climber on the route. The climb starts a few meters above the sea under the big arch.
The next day, Amelia and I headed up to the high crag of Clach na Beinn. We had been there before a few years ago. It’s a great crag perched high on a hilltop. The walk in is long but lovely and we felt like stretching our legs. Walking in the hills is fine, but it’s always better if there’s climbing to be had at the end of it.
We packed a nice lunch and ticked off a couple of climbs, one new and one we’d done before but kind of got wrong. The last time we did Bogendreip Buttress was when Amelia’s sister Kate visited. I led it the hard way and she followed the proper way. I was keen to do it the proper way, but it still felt hard.