On climbing pregnant

I didn’t climb much during the first trimester. I was tired a lot, and the few times I did get out I felt at risk of throwing up on my belayer, which wouldn’t have been a very nice experience for either of us. By week 14 I couldn’t even do a pull-up anymore – I don’t think it was the weight, because I hadn’t put on much by then – it just felt like my core muscles had shut down. So I thought my climbing days were over for a while. But when the nausea and sleepiness of the first trimester started to dissipate, I found I really wanted to get back to climbing.  Some inspiring articles and blogs from other women who climbed through their pregnancies prompted me to start looking at full-body harnesses on line (they fit around your legs and shoulders, and have a tie in point at chest level, above the bump). At first it seemed a bit frivolous to spend £80 on a harness when I wasn’t sure for how long and how much I’d be able to climb. And the harness, a Petzl 8003, is pretty much the only option, and it’s not designed with pregnant rock climbers in mind — no padding, the gear loops are tiny and in the way, and the smaller of the two sizes is still far too large for me, so there’s lots of extra webbing hanging off it. But I definitely don’t regret buying it. The only time it’s been really uncomfortable was on a longer mountain route with hanging belays and long abseils. With lots of gear to carry and no padding, it was pinchy and awkward — not on the bump, but pretty much everywhere else. For the indoor wall and single pitches outside it does the job well enough, though.

I was a bit nervous the first time I wore the full-body harness at the climbing wall. I’d never seen anyone climbing pregnant there before and I wasn’t sure how people would react. I knew that what I was doing felt perfectly safe and healthy, but being pregnant can make you self-conscious – perhaps justifiably so, since a lot of people who previously wouldn’t have given you a second glance, upon noticing your belly, suddenly have an opinion. It’s usually a positive one though, at least in my experience, and such was the case at the climbing wall — everyone was really encouraging and I felt comfortable right away, so I needn’t have worried. I still feel conspicuous though, especially when I’m lowering off an overhanging route, which is awkward with a big belly and the high tie-in point — you feel a bit like a carcass dangling on a meat hook. But the climbing itself, that feels great. Aside from yoga and swimming (neither of which I’m crazy about),  I can’t think of any activities that are as low-impact, safe, and good for your back and pelvis muscles as straightforward toproping at an indoor climbing wall.

Thanks to Brad, I have managed to get climbing outside at least a dozen times this season as well, despite it being, so far anyway, the rainiest summer on record here. I’ve been picky about locations and conditions – I’ve avoided loose rock, sketchy approaches, awkward rappels, and any risk of getting caught out by high tides. Moreover, as soon as I got the full-body harness I stopped leading — it was too awkward to carry much gear anyway, and while falling would probably be fine, I just wouldn’t know for sure until it happened, and I didn’t want to take the risk. Because I’m just out to have fun following other people up whatever they want to climb, I haven’t been as willing to put up with uncomfortable conditions, like cold/wind/wet. Despite having a lot of criteria, I’ve had some really nice days out, both on the sea cliffs and in the hills. We haven’t been in the hills as much as I’d like, or out to the west coast at all, but all in all, it’s been a far better summer of climbing than I expected. I’m not much of a boulderer anyway, but I also did some easy circuits in Font at around 18 weeks, staying well within my comfort zone and carefully checking the top-outs and descents off each boulder before I went up.

I keep waiting for climbing to start to feel awkward. Now that I’m at 8 months, I waddle to the crag or the wall, and I can barely breathe while I’m lacing up my shoes. My core muscles are gone and I weigh almost 16kg more than I did 8 months ago. So my attitude every time I tie in and start up a route has been to just focus purely on enjoying the exercise, and if it feels hard for the grade or I can’t do it, that’s perfectly fine — just climb something else. But, actually, the climbing really hasn’t reached the point where it feels difficult or awkward. My finger strength, balance, and flexibility are better than ever, and even though I’m not climbing at the same level as I was before, it’s usually because there is some particular thing, like an obstacle near my belly, or an unavoidable high step, that makes me decide to lower off without trying it. I do have to turn my body to one side or the other more, think through the moves before I start them, and be a little more clever with my feet, and some of these techniques probably help, but I think there is also some physiological compensation going on – for example, the body releases the hormone relaxin during pregnancy which makes the hips and pelvis way more flexible than normal. And there’s a huge increase in blood volume (30-50%) and circulating cortisol during pregnancy, which means more energy getting to the muscles. Whatever the reason, the extra weight and loss of core strength hasn’t had as devastating an impact as you’d think. In fact, it feels so natural and easy to be climbing that I almost forget about being huge – it’s only when I top out a route and I’m standing on horizontal ground that I’m back to feeling heavy and off-balance.

I’ve been lucky to feel fit and healthy through the pregnancy – I know better than to take this for granted, and I’m not going to presume it means everything is going to be easier than I thought it would be. We’re both excited about this new turn our lives are about to take, but it wasn’t a decision I took lightly at all — the knowledge of all the things I may have to sacrifice, both at work and in my personal life, weighed really heavily in my mind. Climbing was one of the things I thought I might have to give up, for a while anyway, and I thought that sacrifice would come sooner than the rest. So it’s been a lovely surprise to discover I didn’t have to give it up after all – and being pregnant has even added an interesting new dimension to the climbing experience.

On the sea cliffs near Newtonhill, about 34 weeks pregnant. (Thanks to Matthew for the photo!)

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.

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!

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!

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!

Agag’s groovy

After Brad and I climbed Squareface a few months back, Johannes made me a tick list of 10 classic easy multi-pitch routes in Scotland. Soon after, the weather took a bad turn and I’ve had to (im)patiently wait for it to be good enough to get back out and start ticking. A few weeks ago, finally, we got on number 7: Agag’s groove, on the Rannoch Wall in Glen Coe (and last week we got on number 9: Cioch Direct in Applecross, but more on that at a later date). Agag’s groove is on Buchaille Etive Mor, which is a huge lump of granite that stands sentinel over the Rannoch moor at the head of the awesome Glen Coe valley.

To get to the base of the route, you climb halfway up Curved Ridge and then exit off left into a gully to the base of the wall. So you’re already pretty far up the mountain before you officially start climbing. It’s a popular route and by the time we got to the base, there was a party on the route and another waiting in line. So we settled in to wait. Luckily it was a nice sunny day, so we didn’t mind.

I led the first pitch, which was a good long pitch through pretty easy terrain to a big ledge with a boulder sitting on it – easy belay. I brought Brad up and he climbed through and did pitch 2, which was a fairly straightforward ramp and corner. Brad brought me up and we waited on that ledge for some time, because the people two parties ahead of us seemed to be held up. We never did figure out what was going on up there, but luckily the folks ahead and behind us were friendly and patient, and we passed the time in amiable conversations despite the fact that we were crowded onto tiny ledges, hanging on gear in various cracks and slung blocks. The party behind us was a group of three lovely old guys who last did the route 40 years ago. They had since all moved away, and had reunited to come back and visit some of their old haunts. They were having a blast and their enthusiasm was infectious. But really, who couldn’t have a blast on a route like this?

 

The third pitch was mine, and it’s the “juicy” one – steep and exposed, on big holds. I was having a grand time running it out until I reached the very end of the pitch – several body lengths above my last piece I stood up into a steep corner and grabbed a big hold – it looked solid but started rocking backward slowly. A readjustment of my balance and swift grab to a higher hold saved me from taking a long ride. Good thing that happened at the end of my last pitch, because I would have been leading a lot more timidly after that! Brad came up and led through to the top, and then it was all over too soon. Although not really over — I don’t know if we got off route or what, but the traverse over to the top of curved ridge was extremely sketchy! The climb down the ridge was a bit more straightforward but also required a lot of care. Then we had the long steep downward trudge back to the road, but it was such a nice evening that we didn’t mind.

 

Logie Head

Logie Head is a fin of hard sandstone that sticks northward into the moray firth off the end of a peninsula. It looks dull grey from a distance but up close and in the sunshine it’s got lots of sparkly silver and golden streaks – and sitting where it does, it catches a lot of morning sun. It’s dead vertical, and composed of lovely smooth rock with lots of incut cracks and breaks that take nice gear. The climbing is delicate and well-protected, and the grades seem a little soft. So even though I climbed my first VS on this wall a few weeks ago, and found it quite straightforward, I’m not taking it as a sign to start jumping on any old VS. (The picture below is not the VS route, but a nearby HS.) But it was encouraging! I do have a half-dozen or so HS climbs under my belt now, so perhaps more VS level climbs will be forthcoming soon. . .

We’ve been up there twice this summer, and the first time it was a little windblown and chilly so we moved to another area after doing only one route each. I did the HS pictured above. Brad’s route was a delicate E2 on tiny holds called Holy Ground. I think it might be the first E2 I’ve followed without falling (or complaining!).

The second time we went up with Ben and Sarah and Dan, and climbed some routes not only on the main face but also on the Pinnacle, which is a gorgeous west-facing wall tucked into a narrow hidden bay. It’s a nice arrangement, really, since we could climb on the main face in the sun all morning and then move to the pinnacle to continue climbing in the sun all afternoon, stretching out a long, perfect, sunny day. It’s been pretty rainy lately, so squeezing out all the sun we can, while we can, is a top priority.