Well this is embarrassing

So it seems I haven’t made a post since 2013. Oh dear. What have I been doing all this time? Well, I had kids for starters. They are wonderful, but man do they ever take the all the time out of the day and then ask for more. It’s not their fault of course, it’s mine. I’ve had to prioritize and the upkeep of a blog somehow just didn’t fit on the daily priority list. Well, hopefully that can change soon. Here I am making a post! But not for no good reason. I’m doing a little retraining and hope to be publishing a new website soon. The kids are a bit older now, and I find myself with — dare I say it — a bit of time on my hands. So if you’re reading this and you’re curious as to why my personal site has languished for 5 years, it’s not because I’m lazy or uninterested. It’s because I’ve been busy being a good husband and a good father to my two children.

Three Months Later

Wow. It’s been ages since we’ve done anything with the blog. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get much done other than the basics. Here it is, more than ten months since Russell was born and I’m only getting down to documenting his third to sixth months. It’s amazing really. Going back, looking through all of our photos and videos of him and seeing how much he’s changed, how far he’s come in such a short period of time. At the time, it seems like he’s not learning fast enough, but wow, the stuff that’s happened in ten months! Amazing! I don’t have a lot of time to write about it, so I’m just going to put up a bunch of photos that we took between November 2012 and February 2013.

The Biscuit Cometh

Russell Jack Newman arrived at 12:59 on the 21st of August, 2012 about two and a half weeks early. He was born naturally and weighed in at 2930 grams (6lbs 8ounces). The moment of his birth was certainly the most emotional and memorable of my life so far. I was thankful to have been there when they pulled him screaming into this world. The last five days have been a wild ride. It’s been very hard at times but mostly its just amazing. Good times ahead.

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Fontainebleau

Back in April… we took a week-long climbing trip to Fontainebleau, France. For those that don’t know, Fontainebleau is a small city south of Paris, popular as a weekend getaway and known for the large forest and the historical château de Fontainebleau. For climbers, Fontainebleau or “Font” is a world-class destination for bouldering. There are dozens of areas scattered throughout the forest, each with a high concentration of hard sandstone boulders of all sizes. The whole area was once at the bottom of a lake, and the resulting rocks left behind are smooth and rippled, and often surrounded by flat sandy ground. The exceptional quality of climbing for all abilities combined with the beauty of the forest and easy access makes Font a world-class destination. A week was nowhere near enough.

We met up with our friends Dan and Linda and their little girl Viva and we all stayed in a lovely little gite just outside the picturesque town of Barbizon. Traveling there was easy and the weather there was pretty much perfect the whole trip with sunny days and slightly cool temps — it even rained on our rest day so we didn’t feel like we were missing out on a great day of climbing.

We arrived in Paris on Saturday afternoon and were kindly picked up by Dan in a rental. Forty minutes later we were pulling into the drive of our “gite rural” just north west of the forest town of Fontainebleau and only five minutes away from one of the most popular bouldering areas on the planet. We were greeted by Linda and Viva who was just a sleepy baby when we saw her last and who is now a happy little two-year-old. The gite was a cozy two bedroom cottage located on the grounds of a very large chateau surrounded by forest. The area around Font is all forest and it is immense. There were two other gites on the grounds as well. At some point they were outbuildings of some kind for the chateau, one a barn, another a guest house…. hard to say really. I wish I took pictures. For some reason I took no pictures on this trip, and I’m fairly annoyed by that.

We took care of the grocery shopping right away so we could devote the rest of the week to climbing, and we had a nice evening meal while catching up. Dan and Linda’s friend Magnus stayed with us for the first two days as well. His family had just gone home after being in Font for a month and somehow Magnus had managed to squeeze out just a couple more days. Sunday and Monday we climbed all day, each day at different areas.

Here’s the breakdown:

Sunday: Franchard Cuisiniere
Monday: Bas Cuvier
Tuesday: Rest day – Paris
Wednesday: 95.2
Thursday: Rest day – Font
Friday: La Roche aux Sabots
Saturday: travel home

Days would start with breakfast and cleanup. We’d hit the crags usually by 10:30 and climb until 6:30 ish. Packed lunches would be consumed in some sunny spot next to the climbing. Evenings were spent cooking, eating and playing with Viva.

On the Tuesday sore muscles and thin skin demanded a rest day, so we all piled in the van and went to Paris. Our aim was to visit the Science Museum which looked pretty cool. The weather was cold and rainy, and the traffic going into Paris was very congested. The lines inside the museum were epic and we all decided it wasn’t going to be a pleasant day fighting the crowds so we went for a walk outside up and down the canal instead. After our walk we just got back in our car and headed back to the tranquility of the forest.

I managed to hurt my knee pretty badly on Wednesday which forced another rest day on Thursday. We spent the day in Fontainbleau city. Meme and I visited the palace there while Dan, Linda and Viva went to find an internet cafe and run some virtual errands.

Friday we hooked up with some of Dan and Linda’s friends and we all spent the day climbing, some of us more than others. I was still a bit sore so wasn’t able to climb quite so much, or walk so much for that matter. But it was still a great trip. Pictures below.

Round Tower

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.

 

SVG 2012 and Dubh Loch Climbing

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.

JLS and Clach na Beinn

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.

Laying the Floor

The weekend was spent on more home improvements. We finished getting all the coving up, which as always, proved to be way trickier than expected. I purchased the polystyrene kind because a) it’s cheaper, and b) it’s not heavy, so one person can install it. I also bought pre-made corners so I wouldn’t have to buy a mitre box and cut my own corners. Unfortunately, the corners were a lesser grade of styrofoam and didn’t take paint or sand down as nicely as the polystyrene planks. They also didn’t seem to want to stick properly. Oh well, we got them up together on Saturday and after much patchwork and trimming, it’s looking pretty good. Hopefully one more coat of paint will seal the deal.

Sunday we cleaned out the room, ripped up the carpet and put in our new vinyl tile flooring. Experts from around the country were consulted via YouTube (how did we ever live without this?) and we quickly had the whole thing in place and rough-cut to fit. As instructed we did half the floor at a time. This also proved to be much more challenging, and I was worried we were going to run out of glue, but the whole 5 gallon container went down and the flooring went down on top of it.

Trimming off the excess to fit snugly against the baseboard could have gone better I’d say, but in the end we installed shoe moulding around the base to hide our poor trimming job. There’s a bit of a snarl of pipes and wires on the wall under the radiator that needs a tidy solution we have yet to implement but aside from that and a final coat of paint to the mouldings, we’re done in the study!

 

 

 

Painting the Study

We’ve decided on Ivory and Georgia for the study, which is basically off white and blue for the back wall — the “feature wall.”

First coat of paint down and it’s starting to look pretty good. Well, mostly good. There are a lot of imperfections on one of the walls that no amount of paint will hide. Now we know why the previous owners went with textured wallpaper. Hopefully it’s not indicative of what to expect from the rest of the walls in the flat. Second coat hopefully going on today. Another trip to the B&Q for a behind the radiator roller brush. Oh yes, such things exist.

Taping and Plastering Corners

So having never done this before I did what any man of my generation would do – look it up on YouTube. They make it look so easy. The first coat went on ok. The tape was fiddly but manageable but it was the second coat that proved tricky. I ended up doing one side first and letting it dry before doing the other side. In the end I think I did a pretty good job considering. I almost think it would have simpler to just rewall the whole thing.

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These walls have some stories I think.

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One of my corners. Not bad eh?