Tuesday 3 January 2012

Same Old Venues?

 Rather against my better judgement I recently showed a passing interest in an online forum posting entitled "Same old Venues". In this thread I challenged the notion that "all blogs are the same - same people, writing in the same style about the same things, at the same places."

The motivation for this particular blog came from some genuine interest that was being shown in what a small group of low profile climbers had been doing over the last couple of winter seasons. Often away from the madding crowd and at a respectable level of difficulty, we had stories to tell and experiences to share. So, this blog provides the platform for us to reflect on our adventures, achievements and failures. A collection of scribblings that portray a personal perspective on shared experiences.

Now, back to the theme of that forum posting. It infered that too many climbers (the majority?) were too short sighted and lacking in ambition and/or originality to venture further afield than the Cairngorm Northern Coires (Coire an t-Sneachda and Coire an Lochain). I'm absolutely certain this is a wild generalisation but it is the case that these venues are undeniably popular. And for very good reasons.

Jim on the first pitch of Bulgy
(Photo: Andy Inglis)

After a week of weather and festivity induced relative inactivity, the forecast for the eighth day of Christmas was promising enough for me and Andy Inglis to make plans. Of course by "promising" I mean that it was forecast to be sub zero and not raining! With a strengthing south westerly and blizzard conditions I would have ordinarilly chosen to stay at home and drink tea, but nearing the end of my ten day break from work and nil climbing returns I was willing, nae desperate, to do something. Having regard to the forecast, a short day in the east would be in order, and Coire an Lochain fits the bill perfectly. This would be my third route there (having already climbed Savage slit and Ventricle) from my total haul of seven routes this season and I could be accused, justifiably perhaps, of falling into the trap of going to the "same old venue". But I would disagree. 

Andy following pitch 1 of Bulgy

My climbing plans are usually informed by a desire to do certain routes, a desire to climb in certain locations, availability of partners (and accomodating there own ideas), prevailing weather and general conditions. Living in Inverness provides me with the luxury of being roughly equidistant  from the north west, Lochaber, or north Cairngorms. Out of choice I have tended to avoid the east. But this season, unlike the previous two seasons which were dominated by high pressure systems and sustained periods of stellar conditions throughout Scotland, the weather patterns are pushing me to the east and the accessible north Cairngorms.

Now for me this is a problem, as I cannot seem to come to terms with climbing granite. I am a gritstone rock climber through apprenticeship. In summer I can shape my fingers, my body, my footwork to work with (rather than against) the often rounded and holdless rock. On the granite (which is'nt too far removed from gritstone in its characteristics), in winter, I'm clumsy. My footwork is inept and I struggle to seat my axes securely in rattly cracks.  I am not significantly weaker than some top level winter wads I know, but the difference in our winter climbing abilities is staggering. It is down to technique and no where does this show itself more than on Cairngorm granite. Some people are naturally talented and some have acquired their ability through a long apprenticeship. Right now I feel like I am in the early stages of one of Thatcher's YTS schemes!

Is this acceptable? Climbers on an out of condition "Auricle"
 On reaching the Coire in a spindrift hell, Andy and I were disappointed to find that our primary objective, Ventriloquist, was not in condition. In fact the whole of Number 1 Buttress was black as the dry SW wind had left it rime-free. Sadly, as evidenced by the photo opposite, our perception of what is acceptable winter condition was being challenged by two chaps struggling their way up Auricle. We decided to head over to Bulgy (VII 7) on Number 4 Buttress, which was looking very wintry but relatively sheltered. Mistakingly thinking a single pitch would take in the crux I had geared up ready to take the spoils. But in the end the honours were handed to Andy who led through the bulges of the second pitch in excellent style. Proficiently and without pomp or circumstance. I followed, finding the climbing to be a little more secure than its distant appearance suggested. Never desperate, with a proliferation of positive breaks for the feet (unusual for the harder 'Lochain routes) this was a confidence boost that I needed.

I have many winter climbing aspirations in less well trodden Coires of the Scottish Highlands and hopefully I will have the opportunity to realise some of these this season. But, when conditions and circumstances dictate I am also content to make the most of what is on offer in the "same old venues" and continue my Cairngorm granite apprenticeship.



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