Removing the Radiator

Today was another exciting adventure for the DIY noobs. I seem to be successfully removing a radiator from the wall. Not without a lot of spurting water and confusion, but at this point the water has slowed to a trickle.

Despite living in the age of information, where there are instructions for everything, it seems that the trick is to sort the rubbish information from the good. I first consulted our DIY bible and dutifully followed the steps therin, but after a while and seemingly, a lot of water, I decided to Google the instructions. Actually, I had Meme Google the instructions whilst I held the pasta pot under the spurting water coming from the bleed valve, where we thought there should only be air escaping.

The instructions were different of course. So I switched tack and followed those. The amount of spurting water was astonishing. Eventually it all came together and the water is now drained. Now to get it off the wall.

And it’s off. Success!

The fun didn’t stop there. The DIY Bible assured me that I could have the heating system work even with this radiator removed. Imagine my surprise to see what coming out of the valve that was supposed to be shut off and no heat coming out anywhere in the rest of the house. Good thing our friend Danimal dropped by. He offered some of that innate British knowledge. He quickly identified that the system had lost pressure and had to be primed. I put the radiator back on the wall, because I was sure that the stop valve wasn’t stopping anything, and we researched how to prime the boiler. We learned, we primed, we got the heat back online. Theoretically, I should be able to do that again, only prime the system if it loses pressure and enjoy heat in the house minus one or two radiators. I’m still concerned about the spurting valve though so I’m quite hesitant to prove that theory.

DIY Noobs

Went to the B&Q the other day and bought a shed load of tools and stuff. First on the DIY list is redecorating the study/3rd bedroom. There’s textured wallpaper throughout the house, and while the kind that’s currently in the study isn’t horrible, it’s got to go.

So we’ve spent the last couple hours with a steam stripper and a scraper and we’ve got a pathetically small area of stripped wallpaper to show for it. We’ve just taken a break to refill the reservoir and I thought I’d resurrect the blog for the interval.

My aim is short posts. Maybe some pics.



Fall in Scotland

Just thought I’d toss up a quick post about my new bike. I love it! I’m impressed with how well it performs under tough conditions. The derailleur components really prove their worth when I’m grinding up a hill, need to gear down and they shift without complaint and the brakes keep me alive on the down hill. Thanks again Johannes!

Dan and I have been out a few times this fall. The trails have been great fun, and it seems the choices are endless — at least at my skill level. I tend to avoid the big jumpy bits, ride my brakes on the downhill and push on the uphill. Dan is an absolute beast on a mountain bike. That man is in the air more than he is on the ground sometimes.

On our last ride our friend Toby joined us for a 20km loop trail in the Pass of Ballater area. Every hill, glen and stone in Scotland has a name, but I can never remember the specifics. We climbed up, up, up as we always do on the starts of these rides. This one seemed not as bad as the first 2 trips. The track took us down into a neighboring glen where a fantastic cluster of hunting lodges were located and up, up, the other side. The weather was perfect despite a gloomy forecast. I think it was raining back in Aberdeen.

There were a few short downhill sections, the bottom of one was guarded by quite a deep burn (stream). Dan plowed straight through. I had to turn around and get a run at it, but I did get all the way across, shoes completely submerged  in the chilly stream on the crossing. Toby did not fare as well, but didn’t end up any wetter than Dan and I.

Another long climb up and another fun downhill around yet another high hill and then back across the burn, all of us managing easily, and then the long ride back the way we came.

Climbing Trips: Isle of Skye

Back in August we took a weekend trip to the Isle of Skye to do some climbing and hillwalking with some friends. Our good friends Johannes and Jane organized food, drink and accommodations so all we had to do was show up and all would be looked after. They did a super job too. Our bunkhouse was just up the road from Talisker and quite central to any and all mountain-related activities we wished to pursue.

The first day Amelia and I went for our big mountain goal of the season — something on Sron na Ciche capped by Integrity. A big day out, with 11 pitches spanning 3 separate routes from bottom to top. We got quite an early start and did the enjoyable route Cioch West (V Diff*) which placed us at the bottom of Cioch Nose (V Diff ***).  Amelia and I swapped leads all the way up. It was a superb day on the mountain with great weather, rock and magnificent positions. Topping out on Cioch Nose was definitely one of the highlights. It was a bit surreal watching the mountain rescue helicopter fly maneuvers in the valley below our position. From this position climbers have the option of escaping off the mountain or continuing up a final 2 pitch wall.

Our friends Dan and Marianne were also in the area with another friend to do some scrambling, but the lure of Integrity was too great and we met them at the base of the route. The first pitch of Integrity (HS 4b ***) is one of the best climbs I’ve ever done. It is an amazing bit of climbing. Not hard, and extremely fun. The second pitch is merely ok, which is a shame, but the thrill of being so high above the valley saves it a bit.

We topped out around 5pm and you know that getting to the top is only halfway. The way down was a bit epic in that we missed the proper descent gulley so ended up in a scree gulley of doom. To say this was a bit harrowing is an understatement, but suffice to say we made it without any real harm done. We made it back to the car, just as it was getting fully dark — probably around 10pm — and then back to the bunkhouse by 10:30 to some very relieved friends. It was high summer on Skye, we used every last ounce of day we could get I guess they got a bit worried when we didn’t show up for dinner. Luckily they saved us some! We have some seriously great friends.

The next day, the weather deteriorated a bit so we all decided to go on a hillwalk up in the Cullins. Johannes engineered it so we would just happen to be walking past the tooth-like formation of Am Basteir/Bastier Tooth home to the famous Naismith’s Route (V Diff**). It took us a few hours of walking uphill past streams, boulders and sheep, up into the clouds and the rain. We only got a bit lost, but we were all having a good time. I honestly didn’t mind at all, the previous day was just so great.

It was bitterly cold up on the hill and Am Bastier was barely visible in the swirling mists. We did bring ropes and harness and helmet, but not climbing shoes. We figured the climbing would be quite easy and manageable due to the easy grade, even in the rain! Ha, were we wrong.

Danimal went up first to check it out. He climbed up about 15 m before reaching an impasse of loose vertical rock. His one piece of protection at 7m had long since fallen out. The wind and rain continued to howl.

We yelled up to him. “Dan, how does it look up there?”

“Not good,” he calls back.

“What’s your plan?”

“Run away!”

So down he comes. Fair play and good sense to you buddy. Johannes decides he wants to go “have a look anyway.” Dan and a couple of our group decide to carry on and do so more hillwalking while Johannes and I have a closer look at the tooth. Amelia and Jane decide to stay and make sure we don’t get into trouble. Johannes gets to Dan’s high point and builds a belay to bring me up, and before I clue into what’s happening, I’m at the belay and he’s handing me the rack. Swell. Now I get to lead up the loose vertical section and our anchor is not exactly confidence inspiring. I try to ignore the fear and launch on up the wall. In rock shoes and fine weather it would have been easy, but in the rain with big bendy boots the climbing was quite gripping. I managed to not fall off and die which was good, so I brought Johannes up and we scrambled easily to the top from there.

Here is where I should mention the conversation that happened before we set off. Amelia asked Johannes how long his rope was, and if it was in fact long enough to abseil off the top of the tooth, which is 30m, requiring a 60m rope. To which Johannes replies, “48m, we’ll be fine.” Somehow I missed this, or just failed to process the implications, but now here I was at the top of the tooth an hour or two later with frost forming on my trousers. Johannes is dangling in the mists some 24m below me having an epic because his 48m rope will not in fact get us to the bottom.

The solution of course was to build a hanging belay to which I abseiled down to. We then pulled the rope and willed our freezing hands to not drop the rope. That would be disastrous. We rigged another abseil which then took us to the ground. Lesson learned eh buddy? Hehehe.

Ah, I didn’t think it was so bad. He had a rope and some gear. It was a shame he had to leave his gear behind on the wall but hey, it’s all part of the mountain experience sometimes. Not too bad all things considered.

We hoofed it down the mountain and headed straight for the pub. We met up with our other friends there and recounted the story, much to Johannes’ shagrin. It is a good story, and a fine ending to a crackin’ weekend. Thanks guys!

Climbing Trips: The Peak District

Back in April we headed down to the Peak District in England for four days of climbing with our friend Laurie who was over from San Francisco for a wedding. We enjoyed summer-like weather the entire time. It was magic. We stayed in an excellent self-catering cottage in Longnor which was ten minutes from the Roaches. We climbed at Stanage Popular on day 1. Day 2 and 3 were spent at the Roaches. While our ticklist was good, it was only good. I had more ambitious routes on my wish list, but alas, I found the climbing quite challenging and wasn’t able to get the kind of momentum I needed for pushing the grade. I’m sure that suited my partners well enough as the semi-hard climbing I did do, proved to be, hard.

There was one route that I must go back for. The Sloth (HVS 5a ***) is 15 meters of easy climbing capped by an intimidating 3 meter roof. A friend of mine summed it up nicely by saying it looks like E3 but climbs like VS. The day we were there, the crag was heaving with people. A bit of a shock for us spoiled climbers in the north east of Scotland. It was reminiscent of a sunny summer day in Squamish, queueing for routes in the Little Smoke Bluffs. I, along with a hundred other spectators, watched a woman lead it effortlessly, although I refrained from yelling unnecessary advice and encouragement. She was pretty happy to have done it and rightly so. Her partner was unable to second it. Another suitor stepped in and failed as well. Others yelled for their spot in line. It became clear that the mighty Sloth was going to be a circus of top-roping for the rest of the afternoon. We’d already had ropes dragged over us, had people cross our lines and refuse to make room on large belay ledges we left the crag in disgust in search of quieter areas. Ah England. It’s not the band I hate, it’s the fans.

A nice evening in our cottage with a bottle of wine and a nice meal followed by an ass-whoopin’ at bananagrams smoothed out my foul mood and we went back on day two, but we avoided the popular areas and I dialed down my expectations. We had a fantastic day! The highlight was going up Via Dolorosa (VS 4c***) with 3 people. We split it into 3 pitches and all were excellent. Despite being right on the main thoroughfare we felt buffered from the hordes by the time we got to pitch two. It felt like proper adventure climbing. By the end of the day we managed a respectable number of routes and were proud to talk Laurie into leading on gear for the first time. She ended the day with her third gear lead on a run out slab to a tricky-to-protect upper wall. Bravo Laurie!

Torridon Crags

After we got back to the car from climbing the Cioch Nose, we headed north for Torridon via Applecross which seemed to be in full swing as host for some Highland Games. We drove into town looking for supplies and we ended up driving a few miles past to the weirdest shop I’ve seen here yet. In retrospect, I suppose it’s not that unusual to have a big cattle grid right outside the front of the shop, but at the time it seemed odd. We bought some cold drinks and drove through some amazing coastal roads while in the distance huge domes of rock loomed.

Torridon is a small town beautifully situated on Loch Torridon. There’s a small high street with a few shops and a hotel with a very nice gastro pub. We found the free campsite on the next street up the hill and after pitching our tent walked back down the hill to see about supplies and supper. It was sunny and very pleasant indeed. We bought supplies just as the shop was about to close and then looked at the menu for the gastro pub next door. On top of an extensive fresh fish menu, they had vegetarian pizza, excellent beer and a rooftop patio. We enjoyed a nice evening on the patio until it got just a bit too chilly and then it was back to the tent for some sleep.

The next day we drove five minutes from town to park in a passing place under the high crag of Seana Mheallan.  The view to either side of the road is wild and mountainous. There is a nice river next to the road that we must cross, then it’s a steep stomp up the mountainside to an upper rock tier. We were warned that the approach was grim and it didn’t disappoint. After crossing the river we picked up faint trails leading up the steep slope. Thankfully the ground was quite dry at the time. That being said, there were many muddy spots, especially the higher up the hill we got. Most of it required pulling on heather and picking ones way carefully. Finding the right tier was a bit tricky, but find it we did and it looked amazing.

Most routes involved crack climbing to some extent and averaged about 15 meters long. Around 30 routes with most in the HVS-E3 range and on perfectly formed and mostly reliable sandstone with a bit of grit for friction. Shame we didn’t have all day, or all week for that matter since there’s a neighboring crag not ten minutes away on the same tier.

Since we didn’t have all day, we started with the best rated. Fish and Chips (E1 5c ***) bridges up a wide corner to a tricky bulge and continuation crack. I found it quite hard for the grade, but worth it’s stars! The next route Unmasked (HS 4b ***) was a delicate crack in slab, quite a nice change to the previous thuggery. Our final route was Incognito (E2 5b **) in our guide but easier than the first climb. It climbs a compelling steep crack line. This was my favorite of the three.

Back down the slope to the car and home in 3 hours flat! Torridon is nice and close. Can’t wait to go back!

Recipe Wednesday: Sourdough

Sourdough is complicated but with a little practice you will make amazing bread. The instructions below are the stripped down basics. Some steps may need to be adjusted a bit. I learned from a cookbook and my eventual success with making sourdough came through trial and error and a little experimentation and along the way I ate a lot of good bread.

The ferment is basically a container of good quality flour and water left in a warm place for about 36 hours. You can add additional ingredients such as yogurt or honey or fruit. The sugars will feed the yeasts that occur and add to the flavor. The ferment should increase in size and smell like something is fermenting, if it doesn’t it’s not working. I keep about a litre of it in the fridge at all times and it requires feeding about once a week. If it is left out it will require feeding more often. I keep a steady supply by removing 200g for the loaf and then adding back about a half cup of spelt flour and a half cup of water and then returning it to the fridge. Some ferments are quite loose, some more solid. I like to try to keep mine fairly solid. If you have a loose ferment and add too much water the dough will not easily form into a ball.

Ingredients (makes one loaf)

  • 45g spelt flour
  • 350g white flour
  • 200g ferment
  • 325g water
  • 10g sea salt

To Make

  • Combine the flours and the ferment in a big mixing bowl
  • Add the water and mix together
  • Work the dough for 20 minutes. I use a kitchen aid mixer now but I learned to do it by hand using a stretching and folding technique rather than kneading. Add the salt at the 10 minute mark.
  • Lightly flour your work surface and turn out the dough
  • Shape the dough into a ball and then put back into a lightly floured mixing bowl, cover with a baking cloth or towel and let it rest for one hour
  • Lightly flour your work surface and turn out the dough
  • Fold the dough over on itself by pulling and stretching in from each corner
  • Shape the dough into a ball and return it to the lightly floured mixing bowl for several hours. I can begin the process first thing in the morning and put it in the oven by early evening.
  • Preheat the oven to 250°C/500°F with the baking stone for two hours
  • When ready to bake, flour the top of the dough and use a dough scraper to get in and down the sides of the dough in the bowl in order to shape the dough into a ball. Sprinkle the baking stone with corn meal and turn out the dough onto the stone with the bottom of the dough ball onto the stone so the loaf has a nice smooth and floured top.
  • Using a sharp knife cut deep slashes into the surface of the dough
  • Bake for 30 – 35 minutes
  • When finished, cool on a rack before eating


  • The ferment can vary in solidity by adjusting the water to flour ratio and by flavor by using different flours and the addition of fruit, honey or yogurt.
  • Working the dough into a smooth and elastic ball can be achieved using a bread mixer or different hand kneading techniques. If your dough is too loose, you can add more flour but too much and your bread will be very heavy.
  • How fast your dough will rise depends on everything but try to keep it warm and be patient. Try leaving it overnight.
  • How fast it cooks depends on the oven. An internal temperature of 200°C is a good benchmark for a cooked loaf.
  • The designs cut into the dough look cool, but they also help to release the gas in the dough while cooking. A finished loaf with a big air pocket under the surface means the slashes weren’t deep enough.

Cioch Nose

Last weekend the weather was good on the west coast, and despite a moderate midge forecast of 3, we packed up the car and headed to Applecross on Friday night. Our plan was to stay at the Wee Bunkhouse Friday night in Shiel Bridge, then press on to the Applecross area and climb the famous Cioch Nose (VDiff ***). We would then drive to Shieldaig in Torridon and do “some cragging.”

The drive up to Shiel Bridge took us about 4 hours. I think it took us 3.5 hours to get out of Aberdeen alone. For such a small city, rush hour traffic is horrible, especially on Friday. Upon arriving at the Kintail Lodge Hotel, we immediately saw the Wee Bunkhouse. It was right in the middle of the car park! The website says it sleeps 6. It is very wee. Whatever, for £15 a night and the pub right there it was perfect. We grabbed the guidebook and headed into the pub which, at 10 p.m. was already in full swing. I’m always amazed at rural Scotland’s ability to party on the weekend. The town population is probably 10, they’re all here and they brought some friends. It’s great. We had us a pint or two, fleshed out the plan and went to find our bunks.

It was dark in the bunkhouse, and the other 3 occupants had already gone to bed. We tried to be as quiet as we could. I had a fine nights’ sleep, despite everyone getting up once to go to the toilet. Amelia didn’t sleep as well I think. She complained the other occupants were quite flatulent. Ah well. Early start for us!

Skipping the £11 breakfast we drove on towards our goal for the day. The Cioch Nose is approached from the historic Bealach na Ba which is a high mountain pass. We packed up in the morning chill eating what little food we brought with us. The day was looking very fine and we were rewarded with an amazing view of the Isle of Skye.

There was a young family hiking in just ahead of us. The man asked if we were going to do the Nose today. We said yes. I think he was a little jealous. We navigated to the base of the route easily enough. It took about an hour and involved a steep descent into a glen and a pleasant walk to the end in the now very warm sunshine!

There was just enough of a breeze to keep any midges away which was a bonus. Towards the end of the valley, we needed to start looking for a way to get up to the “halfway” ledge from which the climb begins. The route itself is 125m done in five pitches. VDiff is not a hard technical grade as far as the climbing is concerned, but it is a big wall in a remote setting so a good foundation of mountaineering skills is essential. This route is near the top of a list Amelia has. The list was designed to progress her steadily up to the grade of Severe (Diff, Very Diff, Severe…). The main goal being that we could swing leads on long “easy” routes like this in the mountains. We did skip ahead quite far on the list and once we were standing at the base of the route, Amelia decided against taking the first lead. No problem. I was quite happy to get the ball rolling.

I found the first pitch to be quite tricky actually. It starts with off-width jamming up a huge flake! Not what you expect from a non-technical climb. The climbing is excellent. After the flake a few easy moves lead to a steep groove. Again, I was quite surprised by the difficulty of the moves. I think another guidebook gives it a grade of Severe 4a, which I would agree with. Amelia followed the pitch no problem, but decided she was happy to not lead it.

Pitch two was equally challenging. Amelia racked up for the lead and headed up a steep groove only to encounter loose rock and dodgy gear. After some fiddling about, she came down disappointed and relinquished the lead. I went up and sure enough, the climbing was awkward, the protection not abundant and there was the occasional bit of loose rock. Adventure climbing in the mountains – what’s not to love? The third pitch was exposed climbing on a steep wall with amazing holds. The exposure was good, but the climbing quite a bit easier than the first half. I linked the third and fourth pitches together because I could and then Amelia tied in for the final pitch which she led with ease.

As it turns out, the climbing is nowhere near over! The Cioch Nose is over, and one can scramble back down a gully to climb something else on the wall, or one can keep going to the top. To the top we went. There is still another 500m of cliff that goes at mostly Moderate but there are a few bits of VDiff climbing that we roped up for as well. Amelia was quite good at finding the route up the imposing wall above. We soloed 100 m of exposed terrain to a wide ledge. From here we roped up again to surmount a short steep wall. I led up 15m, brought Amelia up, then she led through another 15m and brought me up, and we covered the rest of the way like that quite quickly placing minimal gear. The climbing was quite easy, but fast and really fun. It would be great to be able to do that on harder and harder climbs.

The mountain just kept on going. We would surmount a big step only find another big step in front of us. We only got lost once which was a little tense. We lost the “path” and were high up on a grassy slope with loose blocks all around us, and the wind died off and the midges came out. We kept on going and I was sure we would have to down climb, but we topped out, found a path and headed off towards the car. Fantastic day out!

Recipe Wednesday: Frittata and Brocolli

I just made this up the other night. It’s all we had in the fridge, but sometimes that makes the best meals. Both of these dishes are great for mixing and matching as well. We often eat frittata with noodles, and broccoli can pretty much accompany anything.



Fritatta Ingredients:
1 tblspn vegetable oil
1/2 onion (peeled and diced)
1 chipotle pepper (chopped)
1/2 red pepper (diced)
1/4 cup marinated artichoke hearts (chopped)
1/4 cup grimbister cheese (crumbled)
4 eggs (beaten)

Broccoli Ingredients:
1 tblspn butter
1 tblspn olive oil
1 head brocolli (small florets and chopped stem)
3 garlic cloves (minced)
several cashew nuts (chopped small)
bit of blue cheese (crumbled)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. In a small skillet, fry the onion in the vegetable oil until just caramelized. Add the chipotle and fry for one minute or two then add the red pepper and artichoke hearts. Fry for five minutes or so, then remove into a small bowl. In the same skillet add the beaten eggs. Crumble the cheese into the egg and then add the bowl of onion/chipotle mixture. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for ten minutes or until brown on top and solid.

While the fritatta is baking, heat the oil and butter in a pan and then add the broccoli. Fry for one minute then add the garlic and cashews. Fry on medium heat for a few minutes more. Don’t let the garlic burn, unless you like it like that. Add the crumbled blue cheese and then serve immediately.

Serves 2

Weird Sister

Just had a fantastic morning out with my friend Johannes. We did a 3 pitch E3 5c which would be about 5.11 a. I got the first 5a pitch which felt a lot more like 5b above poor gear but I’m not going to quibble. Johannes kindly led out the crux second pitch placing all the gear and testing the peg by falling onto it four times before handing the lead over to me. I was able to climb through smoothly and before I knew it I was up above the peg and climbing the last airy 5 meter runout. Yikes! Thankfully I didn’t fluff the final 5b moves but made it safely to the belay. Johannes took over and led out the final 5c crack without difficulty. Top day!!