Wednesday, 30 December 2009

My big willy dot and you

I have registrations on various climbing websites. Registrations usually give you more options, and they allow you to use the forum. Another recurrent interactive feature is the climbing log. Users can set up a profile and then log onto their climbing log, where they can record their latest ascents. Of course it depends on the website. For instance, Bleau Info will only allow you to record ascents you made in the French forest, because the log tool is based on the website's database.

In some cases the system is more flexible, allowing you to create new entries for new ascents. On UK Climbing for example, you can become a crag moderator and enter all the info about your climbs if it is missing. Obviously this poses some ethical problems and the limit between showing-off and providing actual information is often blurred but if things are done properly, it is in my opinion a very good way to share info amongst climbers.
Where it pleases me less is when the webmaster puts you under pressure to participate in the emulation by sharing your ascent details with other users, notably encouraging an escalation of grades by creating so-called 'score-cards' which allocate points to climbing grades. This process is sometimes referred to as 'measuring willies'. I will not go any further in my description, we all have the same reference in mind. Let's call it My big willy dot and You.
Some will say that on My big willy dot and You, score-cards are optional and you can check out of the competition list and only use the log as a record of your ascents. Although this is true, your log is still not hidden and people can actually find your details especially when your log includes first ascents in a small country. I tried to keep a low profile by not filling in my name. I also stopped using the log options like FA as this tends to send local news updates every time you use it, but I was nonetheless discovered and I had to shamefully explain to my mates that I was using My big willy dot and You only because it was the only website allowing me to record all my ascents.
That was until I got fed up with My big willy dot and You 's webmaster, who kept insisting that I should fill in my name and asked me to use the score-card. I explained I was not really the showing-off type. I don't take off my top at the wall because I'm afraid to catch a cold and my size 0 features would hardly make me look like a beast anyway. But the webmaster of My big willy dot and You insisted on me using my real name because if everyone was like me, he argued, it would ruin the whole purpose of his website.

I think his comment was fair. How can you compare willies if no one is willing to put what they have on the measuring scale? Since my willy was not big enough to go on that scale, I cancelled my registration with My big willy dot and You. A few weeks later 8b+ became the synonym of warming up, which means achievement really starts at 9a now. I guess the webmaster of My big willy dot and You will eventually have to update its domain name.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Ailefroide's new Guidebook

Following an old post of Dave, I've been playing with wordle and here's the best picture I have come up with.:

Talking about the Short Span, Dave the Flan has updated his PDF guide of the bouldering in Ireland - that's no big news given that it's been up and running on his website since 04 September. The main 5th edition's addition features the Black Valley, a great spot in Co. Kerry that Damo Sullivan & Co had started to develop back in 2007.

Moving onto John Watson's comment on the last post, I did write a little review of the new Ailefroide's topo, which I had sent to the Short Span, but I think it collided with Dave's guide publication, so I'll stick it here instead.

Is it worth buying the guidebook?
(I bet you ask yourself that question every time you try a new destination)

Ailefroide’s new guidebook (Ailefroide, Topo des blocs, Team les Collets, 2009) was published last June, right on time for the coming summer event, the Ailefroide bouldering meet following the “Tout à Bloc” competition. I was going to spend a week there in August so I spent the money on what I thought was the result of some hard work from the locals.

Apparently this 2nd edition is an improvement compared with the 1st guide. According to Zebloc, 100 new problems have been added to the original 200 in the first edition, with 5 news areas and 2 children circuits added. The quality of the paper is better and the cover stiffer. The whole document is in black and white apart from the usual colourful sponsoring ads.

The info is plain but well organised. For each area you get a numbered list of climbs with their names, grades, and a quality indication based on a 3 star scale. Each boulder has been photographed and has been attributed a letter. The problems have then been indicated on the photos by a white line and the number corresponding to the list. And if you’re not sure where you are, a basic map of the boulders and their corresponding letters is also given for each area.

A small “Edito” introduces the guide. It is written by a certain Gilles Estrambouli but you cannot be sure if it is the right spelling because the name is handwritten and does not appear anywhere else. However the guy clearly wants to become famous because he claims Ailefroide “contributed to making him a legend.” I might be wrong but when you have to tell people that you are famous, somehow I think you’re not there yet.

Apart from this you do not get much text and this is maybe why I felt a bit cheated. It looks like the authors have wanted to keep it easy and simple. The photograph approach is indeed very handy for identifying the problems. On the other hand photographs do not give you indications of how to climb the problem. Of course we do not want the tricks to be given away, but when no description is given, you always come across that one problem where the question remains: “Is this in? Naaah, can’t be, that’d be too easy... wouldn’t it?” So you climb the line again without the hold to make sure you have done the problem properly. It can be fun and it can be a good way to get strong. I think it can also be a good way to frustrate visitors, and this is how I felt a few times.

So the question remains, is it worth 13 euro?

Here is a comparison including various guidebook details I gathered on the net:

Guidebook Problems Pages Hardback Price year
Ailefroide,Topo des Blocs300+ 66 No € 13 2009
Boulder Albarracin200+ 7 PDF free 2007
7+82000+ 288 Yes € 28 2002
The Short Span1400+ 114 PDF free 2009
Northumberland1800+ 433 Yes £19.95 2008
Peak District bouldering2000+ 384 Yes £19.95 2005
Bouldering in Scotland? 188 Yes £19.99 2008
Targabloc 2005350+ 35 PDF free 2005

However to really find out the answer to our question, we would need some sort of rule of thumb to compare prices. For example, spuds are priced per Kg, childminders per hour, and translators per word. So I think guidebooks should be price per problems. This way we can see that The Peak and Northumberland are roughly £0.01/problem, while Font is about €0.014/problem. We can also note that the sneaky John Watson does not want to give away the price of his hard work. The real bargain is coming from people like Dave Flanagan who give you the best competitive rate on the market at approximately €0.00/problem: the guy must be Chinese. But Ailefroide’s guidebook, at €0.043/problem is far from the crowd and should not therefore be contemplated...

But if you are not one of these brainless traders who made a fortune by putting the world’s economy on its knees, you might be able to acknowledge somebody’s good efforts (after all someone had to clean these boulders, right?) and in that case I strongly recommend you to buy the guide on the following webpage:

Wednesday, 26 August 2009


Ailefroide seems to receive an increasing attention. Although it is home of thousands of climbing routes and provides excellent resources both for summer and winter mountaineering, it might become a bouldering destination, i.e. bouldering being the sole purpose of the trip.

It has been 4 or 5 years since I was last in the Alps and although I used to visit the Oisans¹ valley on a regular basis, I had forgotten the amount of rock that mountains tend to feature. Like a dog looking around through the windscreen of the car, I was making a mental list of all the potential stuff that I would have to visit during this long family holiday week. At least that is what was in my mind when we drove to Briançon three weeks ago. But then I remembered why I was never a huge fan of those boulders: the rock is rarely nice to your skin and the conditions in the summer are not really suitable for pushing yourself.

I did manage to get a few sessions though, mostly on my own, but once or twice with my siblings. We did not visit any other area than Philémon, partly because it has enough problems and stays cool in the shade of the pine trees. But even this way, bouldering in the middle of the day was out of question given the height of the temperature, well above 25˚C.

Grades there are very inconsistent. In the lower part of the scale, like in many new bouldering venues, the climbing seems to start at 5. Either the guys who developed the area were too strong to make the difference between a 3 and a 4, or they’re just too elitist. Either way, it can be very frustrating for the true 5+ climber. At least it was motivating for my sister Annabelle who started to climb this year.

In the 7 range, it does not get any better. My brother and I both flashed Probar, a wannabe 7a prow, featuring very nice but very easy moves for that grade. I thought it was going to be a piece of cake... that is until I got sucked into Metamorphine, a wonderful line that attracted most of my attention for the rest of the holiday.

This excellent problem included a tricky sit-start below a mini-roof. When you managed to get to the crimps above the lip, you had to perform a hard rock over on a nearly vertical face to reach a fingernail sharp rail. I must have done this a hundred times. From that rail you could manage to establish yourself on the lip and technically move up the wall using small and sharp crystals. I must have done this twenty times. If you managed to get high enough you could throw yourself at the top, where two good and soft slopers were waiting for you. I got this on my first try, but never quite manage to link it with the rest of the climb. So altogether I must have done it about zero times. Approximately.

I had nearly lost all motivation the last day, so I decided to leave the bloody problem altogether and do a bit of mileage instead. I managed to on-sight 2 other 7as and also send a 7b on my third attempt, which I think, proves that there always has to be a sandbag.

I did not meet any locals who could have confirmed this. There was a good few Italians, who after all were not that far from home. There was also some Spaniards, a few Britons and some other English speaking visitors but it was not the season for frogs, probably because the main event was just over and my compatriots had returned to the real climbing activity. They did a nice video of the Ailefroide bouldering though and when I saw it, I was quite frustrated to have missed it by a few days. At least I enjoyed a bit of team family bonding building –delete whichever does not apply – through a bit of bouldering, walking, swimming... And before I get any sarcastic comments about my bolt-clipping skills, here is a picture showing that, yes indeed, I also did a bit of that climbing stuff that some people dare to call the real stuff.

¹ I have checked and can confirm that Oisín never visited that valley and it is nowhere close the Tír na nÓg.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Moulzie outcrops

Bouldering in Moulzie/Glen Doll (South Esk river), Angus

Further to the last post about Glen Doll, I have been searching the maps to find out where I had been climbing and it turns out that it was not Glen Doll but the valley of the river South Esk. Some grassy fords surround a farm estate called “Moulzie”, located right in the middle of the glen. After a second reading of the Stone country guide, I realised that John Watson is actually mentioning some granite stones near the Moulzie farm. I saw some boulders indeed but most of them were quite small and the mini-crag was far more interesting. On the other hand I did not walk as far as “Juan Jorge” crag which is located around the corner of “The Strone” and I suspect this is where the other large boulders he mentions are located.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Glen Doll

Bouldering in Glen Doll (South Esk river), Angus

After a highly interesting CPD about style in translations in Perth on Saturday I enjoyed the great outdoor on a sunny Sunday, something that had not happened in weeks.

My original plan was to go bouldering in Glen Clova, but granite is not exactly the most enjoyable type of rock when the sun is baking. Instead I decided to go and explore Glen Doll. Although I did follow the guidebook directions, I did not have a proper OS map and I am not sure if I found the right place. I did find a nice little outcrop in the shades though - little from a route point of view because some of the problems I did were easily over 5m/15ft height.

I first had a couple of unmotivated lazy tries at an awesome roof prow. Looking easy enough, with very solid holds, it has a good grass landing platform. My excuse for not committing is that I had no spotters and only one mat. Moreover, I promised my wife not do highballs on my own again.

My attention then turned to the slightly overhanging wall to left, which seemed to have two nice break lines, probably as high as the roof but easier looking – so I thought anyway. After a bit of warm-up and the inspection of the top out via an easy descent to the right, I tried the main break line in the middle of the wall. I don’t think it was harder than Font 6a but with the height it felt much harder. I used a mixture of some shaky footwork and excitement self-control technique, if such a thing exists.

I guess that was my promise broken, and since it was broken there was no point stopping there, so up I went on the second line. This one might have been easier, had I not decided to swap feet at the wrong moment. The next second I hit the ground hard and felt some pain at my wrist: nothing was broken but a seriously bleeding cut chilled my excitement for more highball.

It was time to move on a less dangerous game. I climbed two other problems further left, as shown on the picture. It is worth mentioning there is a possible sit-start to the second line but it must go at a very high grade given the size of the crimps....

Finally I must confirm, as I was pointed out by my kind hosts that very same day, that there were no midges although it was June, it was very warm and there was no wind. So here’s a tip for the summer: stay East!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Tim's visit

Nothing much happened since Tim Chapman was over. Did I mention Tim was over? No?

We had a couple of nice days in the Trossachs, in Loch Kathrine first (where I did not even give a go at the Barrel boulder) and in Ben Ledi the next day: it is quite a long walk with an unappealing finish but really worth it when you consider the size of the boulders. They are enormously mahussive! Not little stones with a couple of moves including sit-start but proper boulders which some would consider as highballs. The rock however is a sharp schist covered with little curvy waves and shapes.

Although this can be enjoyable for the photographer, it makes it hard to read for the climber: we got our bum well kicked, struggling up 6bs, throwing ourselves at fake jugs and missing hidden crimps...

Two days later I nearly flashed Mugsy traverse in Dumby which was good for my wounded ego.

Since then nothing.

Well that’s not true. Last week young Felix managed to get me on a rope at the Ratho wall, and dare I say it, I got scared on an overhang, maybe 25m high, with quickdraws every metre and full of big red resin blobs everywhere (apparently they call them holds...).
The reality is I am actually very busy at the moment as I am seriously considering starting a business as a freelance translator (Any publisher out there, hint! Hint!) and our little boy is seeking more and more attention, so this does not leave much time for climbing. Although on the long term this should mean much more time flexibility, it looks like I will have to get extremely organised if I do not want my climbing routine to suffer.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Getting out

Having a baby is a great new life, but obviously it does have a serious effect on your climbing. You are more tired which means you need more rest and less training. The good side however is that you need to get out and the baby too, so instead of going to the park like most people do, I’ve decided I’d go to for long walks and check out a few places.

Benarty Hill

Benarty Hill is the obvious pointy hill with a crag at the top to the right of the M90 when coming from the Forth road bridge. I believe there is a nice walk to the top of the hill from Vane Farm Nature Centre, but that was not what I was interested in. From the road I could clearly distinguish a little boulder field at the bottom of the hill. The place is called Brackley and it is farming land but the boulders clearly lied beyond the boundary walls. (Not sure it is not included in the Vane Farm land though...)

So I walked up to them from the car park of the Nature Centre, just to discover that most of the stones are less than 2m high (which is probably why they are not documented anywhere...) The rock seems to be fairly solid though it was well weathered and would need some serious brushing.

I then walked up straight up to the crag to enjoy the nice sunset view over Loch Leven. The crag is not really high and has some awesome arêtes that would provide top class bouldering if they were not at the top of a 100m straight slope with virtually not proper landing platform... Here I must mention I have not any Scottish trad-climbing topo and maybe they are some routes up there, but if they are none then a couple of first ascents could be worth it as the location is purely stunning! And it’s only 30mn a drive from Edinburgh with another 30mn approach walk, depending on your fitness that is...

Loch Katrine
The whole family (that would be just the three of us, but I quite like the sound of it...) went to Loch Katrine for a Sunny Sunday afternoon. The ferns had not grown yet and it was a very warm day. The place is beautiful enough to enjoy as picnic location but hey, why would you go there without a pad and a pair of climbing shoes?

After a good warm up on the Sentinel boulders, I had a few of hopeless goes at Lock, stuck and The Victorian. I gave up probably too fast (John, if you’re reading this: are the upper crimps in?) and tried a full traverse of the Barrel boulder from the left, but could not finish it. I then got stuck into Big up, but after what seemed like a 100 tries I finally packed up and enjoyed the rest of the day trying to show the beauty of the Trossachs to my wee bairn as they call them over here. Pretty much a good day I thought!

Having climbed all the sandy lines in Kirkcaldy and given the fact that there are not too many eliminates there, I thought I could go and look further north along the coast. This is how I came across that little roof about which I posted a video last week.

We went for an afternoon picnic in Earlsferry and the tide was out, uncovering that nice “canyon” alley with the mine-entrance-look-like roof at the end. It is located here, approximately a 100 m from the road, so it's good for a quick evening summer session if you happen to be around. The rock is columnar basalt and is really solid. I got three lines out of it as shown on the video:

1. Left side SS. Stand up using a slot crimps, wee undercuts and the big hole, move out and top out.
2. Right Side, SS off the huge undercut jug, feet on the big ledge, move to the small middle crimpy rail and slap to the lip of the roof. Top out.

3. SS on the back undercut jug, lock the right foot and reach back to good crimp. Use a pull-toe and move to the small middle crimpy rail. Slap to the lip of the roof and top out.
Unfortunately this is the only thing there is in Earlsferry. However, we could see the appealing cliffs of Macduff cave in the background and even though I suspect the rock is probably very loose there, I will give it a go as I heard the chain walk was a nice Sunday afternoon promenade.
Agassiz Rock
We also went a few times to Agassiz Rock though it is getting quite boring: I tend to boulder only on the left part of the wall now since that overhang seems to be much looser than it looks.

Since I started to go there in January, many holds have disappeared, the main ones being the top jug referenced D/E-4/5 on (That wasn’t me!) and the bottom Sit-Start jug referenced H13 (Ok, that was me...). One time I met a few lads who were pulling hard on the groove crack: I said that the whole thing was going to come off. That was a joke, but if it does happen, at least they’ve been warned....

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Sun, snow, sun, snow, sun, snow, sun, snow...

I bought John Watson’s guide last year, and since I first opened it, I have been dying to visit Torridon. Unfortunately every time I planned to go, something went wrong. This time it was supposed to be the weather.

That was without taking into account the dedication of the stubborn boulderer that we can sometimes be. A week ago, Felix and I had planned to leave on Friday and be back on Saturday night, even though the forecast was not great: -3 degrees feeling like -18 in the wind above 700m, bands of snow coming from the north-west, freezing above 300 meters... Don’t check the Scotland mountain weather forecast, it really puts you off.

We left at 2 o’clock and arrived around 7ish. Considering we stopped in an Agatha Christy style empty hotel (Murder in the Highlands) for a burger that was as tough as leather (the murder weapon, served by a cross-eyed waiter), I considered this being a reasonable journey. However it was too late to go bouldering so we waited until the next morning.

We woke up under 3 inches of snow, and it did not seem to be getting any better. So after having checked that magnificent but wet Ship boulder, we decided we would visit the other bouldering spots around and come back in the afternoon if the weather had improved.

Kishorn boulders

Kishorn was the only spot we visited that morning. By the time we were at the boulders, the sun was shining and the boulders were extra dry, which gave us our first taste of that awesome torridonian sandstone.

Although the place is well described in the guide, we managed to miss the first boulder (Russell Boulder) and started the session on the Kishorn boulder of which the south face provided good shelter, dry landing and a hard project that is not indicated in the guide: just right of Kishorn Dyno is a little wall with a few fainted but brushed clean holds. I must say it looks more doable that it actually is and I reckon it must be harder than 7b.

The weather rapidly changed again and within seconds the sky was dark grey and it was snowing. But it lasted just a few minutes and only then we realised that these were cracking conditions as the rock stayed cool and dry thanks to the cold wind and bands of snow, while we could enjoy the real warm sun in between.

Before going back to Torridon, we spent a bit more time in Kishorn, Felix more specifically on the South wall of the Swamp boulder and I on eliminating the foot jam and the juggy arête of the Cave (I guess that makes it a completely different problem then....)

The best boulder problem in Scotland?

When we came back to Torridon, the Ship boulder was a bit like in the picture of the guidebook: big, reddish, very dry and Richie Betts was on a mission. Actually it was not the Mission, but Malcolm’s arête the very one line I was psyched for.

Richie and his mate Murdo seemed well equipped for the place. At first sight I knew these were not casual boulderers as both lads had come in their wellies. Moreover they had placed a huge tarpaulin over the pond -yes, we are talking DWS here. This and a wood pallet strategically placed offered a perfect landing area when combined with a couple of pads. Clearly they had to be “locals”.

Still they seemed a bit surprised when they saw us coming and they probably thought we were a bit stupid -though clearly lucky- to have chanced that unsettled weather for a one day trip only. But they had no problem sharing their landing platform and after a few tries I finally got my reward: would it sound slutty to say that it was better than I had imagined?

I don't know if it was because of the extremely good conditions, because of the pond below or because of the broken hold, but one thing is for sure, it was a bit different from what I had expected and I think that the picture in John's guide is actually misleading so I decided to do a bit of editing:

As Carrie Bradshaw usually puts it, I couldn’t help but wonder: what if Malcolm’s Arête was the best boulder problem in Scotland? (Yes, I’ve watched it several times, my wife wouldn’t let go the remote control, what’s your excuse?) As a matter of fact, I asked the lads if this was indeed the best boulder in Scotland but they eluded the question. So I decided to apply my 7 criteria and see how high it would rank:

Rock quality: Top quality sandstone with some pebble inclusions, behaving a bit like grit. 5/5

Approach: Although it is very close to the road, the place is a bog, so bring on the wellies. 4/5

Conditions: Ok, this one is very debatable. This is the highlands, so the weather is unpredictable. But that rock seems to dry fast and the big puddle at the bottom was actually constituting a great landing area once Richie had covered it with a tarpaulin. 3/5

Line Clarity: No discussion possible here. 5/5

Moves: Classic moves including both campusing and footwork, dyno and mantelshelf. The essence of bouldering... 5/5

Location: Well, just pick up any tourist information about the highlands, and you’ll know what I’m talking about... 5/5

Popularity: I may not be familiar enough with the Scottish bouldering scene to be able to judge, but the fact that we actually joined other people trying the line would lead me to think it is indeed a popular boulder. I also understand that the FA was sent by some dude called Malcolm Smith. Enough said. 5/5.

That’s a score of 32 out of 35, certainly a strong contender for the title of Best boulder problem in Scotland!

Most pictures are courtesy of Felix Davey.

"Dude check that boulder over there: it looks ace!"

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Bouldering guide to Ireland 2009 version 4.0

The Short Span Bouldering guide to Ireland 2009 - version 4.0 is here!
It has been less than a year since the last update and over another 400 lines have been added.
Dave Flanagan says: "This guide is intended to be reasonably definitive but just because something has been climbed doesn't mean it is worth documenting so I haven't detailed every variation, eliminate, lowball sit-start or squeezed-in micro line. "
So it looks like the Irish bouldering has never been so vibrant!
More info on Dave's website.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Short Slam and grand Span miss

They say time is flying when you’re having fun and it has been a good month since I last looked at that blog. What happened since the last post?
  1. The unemployment rate has exploding in both Ireland and Scotland.
  2. Unlike the Scots, the green people had a good occasion to rejoice after their national team won their first grand slam in the 6 nations (yes they did it in 1948 too, but it was merely a triple crown since there was no Italian team and the French team was as good with an oval ball as the Ethiopians are with a curling stone).
  3. The 7th Irish bouldering meet was held in Glendalough. Unlike the previous two years, the lads seem to have enjoyed some gorgeous conditions.
  4. I missed the last two events because my wife was stuck in Hospital, giving birth to our first child, a baby boy that is already more Irish that I will ever be...

However I managed to get some climbing done since the beginning of February.

First of all, my brother came to visit us back in February and we went to check all the bouldering spots that stand within a couple of hours drive from Edinburgh. My original plan was to go to Torridon but the baby could decide to pop out anytime and our moves were reduced to short day trips. And by the way, that meant no drinking either. I guess I’ll become a really healthy boulderer. On the positive side, the weather was nearly perfect all week long and we had a good session nearly every day.
The highlight of them was Glen Clova, a glendaloughesquish valley about 2 hours drive from Edinburgh. We also went to Glen Lednock, Kilcardy and the crappy Wolfcrag, but these were definitely not as good, though Lednock deserves a couple of stars for its location. Being in Glen Clova felt like being back home (err... I mean back in Ireland). Although it is a bit of a drive, the place is really worth it. Like Glendo, I suspect the place was primly a trad-climbing venue as there seem to be some good walls around, but for the boulderer, the good stuff is the grey granite boulder scree full of silly sheep at the end of the long valley. Although it is accessed by car, it is quite remote and there was very little traffic.

Like in Glendo the problems are quite short with a lot of sloppy arêtes and crimpy walls. The landings can be dodgy but with a couple of pads and a spotter, you are usually fine. The main boulders have been developed but there is plenty more for exploration. We actually first spotted an overhanging boulder that was distinctively standing on top of another one. We climbed two problems on it including a powerful rock-over: the "Bulgarian Lift" requires a hard initial pull to get the right foot up onto the lip.
Yes, I know, it looks like he using some horrible knee ripping technique but I can assure you he’s actually standing on his right toe....

However the main attraction of the scree is probably the Peel session Boulder: a nice big fat guy with various features on its sides: bulky corner, overhang, crimpy wall, and the obligatory roof lip traverse, all with excellent grassy landing.

Dumbarton was good too. We couldn't go to the clean up because my brother arrived in Edinburgh airport on that Sunday morning. But I must say the cleaning team have made some really good work! My brother was asking why there were no painted circuits like in Font. Given the state of the place, I must say he had got a point!

By the way Niall, if you’re reading this: I managed to send Pongo sit-start with the fingers-jam as you showed me and it is definitely much easier than without: the other way I just can't stay on!

Since then my bouldering career has rapidly deteriorated. I had a few sessions at the wall with Felix Davey. We even went to the SBL (no they don’t call it like that, but it was quite similar). This was followed by a couple of showery sessions in Dumby until a week ago: when the gorgeous weather came back, I had become a dad. I am now mostly stuck with the crappy Agassiz rock. It would not be so bad if it was solid but I have realised that some big jug was missing since the last time I was there, so from now on I am going to avoid any big hold and go only for the tiny crimps. Here is a picture of a cool eliminate crimpy dyno problem that I was working on, the very same day my wife got out of hospital:

I know how the last sentence may sound so here I think I'd better mention that Agassiz rock is about 5 mn a drive from the maternity ward...

Monday, 9 February 2009

Scotland and the cold winter

Well folks, this seems to be a very cold winter. I was supposed to enjoy the last weekend in Fair City but my flight was canceled due to snowy conditions in Dublin airport and I will have to re-schedule although I do not know when or how.... One thing is for sure though, Scotland is quite cold too! I kind of knew that already but I was hoping that colder = better conditions. I emailed John Watson when I first arrived and he told me that I had missed the best weather system (those same great conditions we got in Wicklow in December) but the conditions were changing and the best thing to do was to stay east for the moment. That I did and was even forced to stay indoor for the first couple of weeks thanks to some rather wet conditions. It was a good opportunity to shape up and I enjoyed a few sessions at Alien Rock 2 where I met young Felix Davey from the Belfast mafia. Yep it never takes too long to come across some Irish connection...

Felix has moved to Edinburgh back in September, and although the guy is keen to explore the outdoor, he did not get much opportunity as the Edinburgh crowd seems to be more interested in staying indoor. Well, that was not going to stop us from going and checking the “closest” venues. The most interesting places on the east side are Glen Clova and Glen Lednock judging by the info from the bouldering in Scotland guidebook. So we decided to go and check the first one on a nice Sunday afternoon: although the road was pretty sunny, we hit clouds and mist as soon as we approached the Grampian Mountains. We then decided to check Wolfcrag on the way back, only to get more rain. Disguted we finished the day in Ratho, which is meant to be the largest indoor climbing centre in Europe. Not so bad actually.

The following week a couple of dry days made me hope for better conditions. So this time I decided I would check Glen Lednock, and nothing would stop me from putting my hands on that schist. Nice drive, lovely landscape, and a good opportunity to see Scotland in the winter: 20cm of some bloody white cold powdery stuff was laying on top of my rocks.... Two days later I heard some news on the radio about 3 people killed in an avalanche in Glencoe mountain and that chilled a bit my enthusiasm.

The weather being what it was, I had to stay away from the west for a while so I went to check Wolfcrag and Ravenscraig. Wolfcrag is not exactly the best venue available, but at least it is closer, less affected by the weather and it was better than staying in some dusty indoor wall (ah the good old smell of feet and the flashy colours of resin holds....). Ravenscraig is a nice little sandstone roof on the sea shore. The lines there are good but very sandy and there is not many of them. So these two and Agassiz rock in Edinburgh were my outdoor destinations for a couple of weeks but eventually the conditions got better on the western front and the last two weekends I have finally enjoyed the gigantic basalt boulders of Dumbarton.

There I met Niall, a strong lad (well here, it seems everyone is strong) that I had already seen a few times at the Alien wall. The guy was quite psyched after having seen Underdeveloped and he is going to Ireland in April to visit Fair head and the Burren. So if you are about to send some project, you have been warned....

Niall is a nice dude anyway and he gave me a tour of Dumby showing me some of the classic lines, including Slap Happy, Pongo, Gorilla, Mestizo and the tricky but really addictive Toto... Although the place seems to stay in the shadow most of the day in winter, there was no wind and the conditions were really good. It was not as busy as I expected but there was a few people and it looks like there is always a good buzz. One of the lads was trying a cool dyno on the Pongo boulder which seemed to be an undone project. So it looks like Mr Smith and Dave Mc Legend have not sent all the lines yet. Here is Will's video:


The rock is a bit polished in some places, but it is very hard and sound and the small grain makes it quite enjoyable to climb. There is an enormous amount of rubbish around and some of the boulders are awfully tagged. Not that I cannot appreciate this form of expression (normally here the term “urban culture” should also be mentioned) but in some places the paint is actually filling the grain of the rock, making footwork much less enjoyable.... But as the locals put it “after a while you don’t even see it anymore”. Still they must be a bit annoyed as they have organised a clean-up day next week.

By the way, Dave Flanagan says the Irish bouldering meet should happen on the 13/14/15 March. I will have to give it a miss unfortunately given the fact that my baby is due around that time, so I hope you all enjoy yourselves and I wish the best conditions and plenty of new ascents!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Grading traverses I

Converting bouldering grades

From what I can read on the Short Span's message board Glendo has been fairly busy for the new year. A new area has been developed and documented: the Holiday boulders are located about 10 mins beyond the Fin area until the path levels off and a big sandpile can be seen. The area is downstream from the sand pile on the opposite side of the river just off the old miners track. There are 9 problems documented by Dave Ayton, included the very good looking Hugh.

Michael Duffy seems to have been there too. Although some of us expected some news soon enough about the Big Squeeze, he apparently focused on another line: Leftism is the full line of Rhythm and Stealth. Michael says: "It’s a really really good link up (16 moves) with a tricky section at the bottom into the airy and fluffable top section above. Start sitting in the cave with your bum on the little bloc at the obvious big layaway. Pull on and trend leftwards and up the arete to finish. 3 stars, lovely moves and pumpy." I would not be surprised if that came as a warm-up.

I personally feel sorry to have missed these interesting looking sessions but I also have been busy preparing my moving to Scotland and I hadn't got much time for bouldering since November. Surprisingly enough, I felt much stronger during every session that I had since the beginning of December. Maybe this is a sign that I am on that famous "peak" of the training curve. Maybe this is a sign that the conditions have never been that good. Maybe I have been going for Quality rather than Quantity. Anyway this was particularly enjoyable on Stephen's day, as I managed to send two of my own projects.

The French Connection II
I have been trying that line nearly every time I was in Clare since last January. It's a loop traverse around the roof of the Toit du cul de Clare. None of the moves is harder than 6c but this requires a little stamina for the boulderer that I am: true, the full line is approximately 40 moves, enough to constitute a route on its own. It starts with a cool deadpoint that leads to the lip of the roof and then traverses that lip on rather good jugs till it reaches the other side of the roof: there one must drop down to the mantelshelf/ledge below using a couple of crimps. This is awkward, particularly after a few tries, but if one manages to get a foot on the ledge below then it gets easier. The finish is an easy traverse of that ledge to link back to the deadpoint start of Cold Turkey.

I recently got another traverse link in Portrane ( I also wanted to call it the French Connection, but I later found out that Michael O'Dwyer had got the first ascent) that made me ask the same grading question: how can a 40 moves link traverse be graded the same way as a 1 move wonder? Well, I was first told that traverses are longer than boulder problems and are therefore easier. In fact we even had a bouldering grades chart that looked like this:

Bouldering grade comparison table
Old bouldering grades conversion chart

I suppose at that time The Wheel of life (Grampians, Australia, V16, 60 moves, Dai Koyamada FA) was still unclimbed. Basically what this table meant was that traverses should be graded like sport routes because they use more stamina and less explosive power. Problem is, later came the likes of Sharma, Hirayama, Rouhling or more recently a little midget called Adam Ondra, and they can use explosive power as a stamina basis....

So where one use to say "the hardest move of this traverse is 6a, the grade should therefore be 6c" they now say "this traverse is the hardest ever. But it cannot be as hard as the hardest route".

There is actually a good arithmetic system developed on the Australian bouldering website: that can be resumed as following:

V9 + V6 = V9,
V9 + V7 = V10,
V9 + V8 = V10,
V9 + V9 = V11,
V9 + V10 = V11,
V9 + V11 = V12,
V9 + V12 = V12

So anyway, this time I sent the French Connection II on my second attempt. So at 1 o'clock, I had nothing more to climb except a couple of projects that needed a bit of cleaning. And because I was not in the mood for gardening, I decided to drive to Doolin and try to tick off Fireworks, a cool problem opened by Gregor Florek a couple of years ago. Unfortunately every time I am around, so is the sea.

So I retreated to the base camp and instead I tried another couple of lines on my tick list. The first one is an awesome overhang that was created by the cracking of one of the boulders during the last big storm. I already had a look at it back in March when Nigel Callender was trying it, but it felt impossible. Although this time I could do most of the moves, I was nowhere near getting the last slap from the undercut (which is obviously the actual problem).

So instead of trashing myself, I moved on to my own little project: an egg sit-start that stands literally right of Hider. This little gem does not look like much, but it is probably the second hardest line I have climbed after The Nose in the White bog (OK it's still nowhere near an 8a but hey, I'll be an old daddy soon!). From a sit-start on the tiny crimp right hand, one must slap to a "pinch" hold left and move up to an obvious sloper. If you can hold that, the rest gets easier.

Well folks, this post is probably the last one about Ireland before a long time. I have been fairly busy in the last few weeks as I am finally moving to Scotland. Not that I was looking forward to it (although from judging by the work of John Watson or Dave McLeod, Scotland is definitely a great location for bouldering), but I knew this would have to happen eventually and I am just moving sooner than expected.
By the way, 13 years ago I started as a "falaisiste", but the British call it a "sports climber" AKA a "French sissy" or more simply a "wuss". I only really got sucked into bouldering when I moved to Ireland. Therefore I would like to thank those who brought me to appreciate Ireland and its bouldering potential, particularly: Kevin Cooper, Seamus Crowley and Andy Robinson; those who were (nearly) always up for an early session: Michael Nicholson, Declan Tormey and Tim Chapman, and of course the rest of the Irish bouldering crew. And no, bouldering is generally not an "extreme" sport. But neither is that trad climbing thing, "a good deal of creative frigging, resting on protection, sneaky side runner, preplaced gear, and the introduction of prepracticed ascents" as Simon Panton once described it.
Finally I cannot resist to share with you a nice picture that I have recently received. I am not allowed to say where, what or who but I can tell you one thing: there's some serious potential for exploration in Ireland!