15 minute blog of chaos

Blogging gets boring. I thought it might not. I liked writing about climbing and about people and stuff that happens in between. But then even i found that boring. Maybe everyone else found it boring to begin with because when i read other peoples blogs i get bored and just look at the pictures. Damn. You can try to make it funny, or serious or thought provoking. I did that sometimes but it's quite hard to think of jokes. The best jokes i have made have been accidental puns. I don't even know who reads my blog so i'm not sure theres much point in publishing it online, but then sometimes someone says 'hey i read your blog' and i say 'orite, ta'.

Maybe I've become boring because I started climbing. My sister said to me the other day 'you used to be quite cool!' (!!!!). Then we were laughing about it because we both know i've never been that cool, i just make accidental puns and am really a bit awkward.  Climbing as a conversational topic is pretty dull though so i don't think its me that has become boring. I think its just that people get a bit stuck in little thought loops from doing the same things and talking about the same things. These loops leave a little stain in your brain like when you spill beer on the carpet and don't clean it properly and are not necessarily a bad thing but certainly have an impact on the way you make decisions and think about things and people. But then you can't just exist and experience stuff in constant immediacy so thats tough. I don't really like lad culture but there was a sticker i saw when i was a Facebook liker of  'the lad bible' that said 'don't be a dick'. I think thats probably good worldly advice and people should be nice to each other and talk about things they think are important to anyone because its good to have other peoples thoughts in your brain too. And obviously lad bible lads can be alrite too.

I like walking up hills even in the rain. I don't really think it matters what the weather is like because when you really look at them they all just lumps of heathery rocks with arbitrary heights that only mean anything if you are following munros tables and want to bag them all like pokemon. I remember saying to marcus a couple years ago that it would be interesting if you could figure out what it really was in particular you liked about going climbing, or hillwalking or just lying in heather and eating brie. I have always been quite happy to do the lying in the heather and eating but then i do other stuff too. Is it the heather then, the weather, the remoteness, or the awesome feeling you get in your face when the car radiator is on and you have been in a blizzard for most of the day. It's nice being in the hills on your own but not that nice so its probably just the friends. Why can't you just lie down in the middle of your flat for a whole day and be happy? Callum and i were lying on my floor the other night now that i come to think of it and we were happy enough but then we had to go and socialise.  Now that i think of it i think my last blog post covers these points with better grammar and less waffle and more fancy words and maybe i should just refer to that. Or i should read the russian novel i have that everyone sais is good but i thought the start was boring so gave it up.

summer trad

A wee video of some of the Scottish rock climbing i got up to this summer. 


On friday evening i found my dog tentatively prodding a spiky, spherical lump. She retreated to viewing distance and I too stayed to watch as the hedgehog uncurled slowly and wobbled away along the periphery of the beech hedge. It was tucked stoutly, rustling its nose in the leaves, snuffling and hedge-hogging just as you'd expect, small feet paddling in the bark. Acutely timed, the little guy makes the same journey each morning and night along the hedge and across the road. Perfectly reactive it surveys, snuffles and walks. It doesn't seem to mind the dog taking an interest either. It just curls up and waits. 

I used to curl up when people tickled me. I called it the Defensive Ball and nobody could release my skinny limbs, such was the compaction achieved. I also climbed trees, lamp posts and my house. I built bases and lit fires. That fervent excitement, reactivity to stimuli, pyromania is maintained  by necessity and is concentrated, reduced, distilled perhaps and through more 'serious' mediums expressed. There is nothing childish or immature about climbing trees, simply it is unadulterated expression, desire. It is normal, natural even.

With the shedding of the exam diet and my third university year i donned my summer skin and headed west. A broth of excitment and apprehension stirred. Since September i have been working on a bad rotator cuff injury which in it's acute stages prevented me from lifting my arm. Feeling rather disenfranchised as an active 'multi-activity-person', I stopped climbing for 3 months and started running more regularly. The winter blew through and i gradually regained motion and relaxed. I tiptoed back into some trad climbing in the spring and have since regained what i felt i had lost. More foccused and determined i have carefully pushed myself a little further. I can do more stuff than i could before. I have more choice. One might even suggest i have 'progressed'.  

But the word is somewhat ambiguous. Progress in climbing might be determined via the fulfillment of many different elements. Grade, danger, expectation, timespan, intention, peer performance. Remove one and add another. Any one evokes it's own suite of feelings, pictures, opinions, history and future. Tunnel Vision is perhaps a familiar concept to climbers and indeed without such focus, measures of progress which we shyly hide away may remain unfulfilled. The chasm of ineptitude may widen and God forbid we may 'plateau'. Is progress simply the increase in physical performance achieved by a maintainance or increase in effort? Does thinking about it take us any closer to realising what we gain, what we want from climbing lumps of rock? Does this bear any relevance to life out with a small ledge, 50metres from the ground? 

I don't really know and don't really care. I've been climbing in Scotland a lot recently. I've been thinking about climbing a lot recently and i've enjoyed climbing a lot recently. All i can conclude from my own experience is that since it all begun I've been enjoying it and everything else that comes with it. I have made great friends, explored wild places, tested myself in ways far removed from university textbooks and dare i say escaped the hum-drum-monotony-of-a-consumerist-society (only joking, i'm not really a hippy). A concluding statement perhaps? Climbing for me is a punctuated equilibrium of contentment, dictated primarily by lattitude, temperature and cloud cover as well as the aquisition of crag swag, beer and roll ups. No 'Waterfall' moment, no lightbulb, no serene vision. Except the hedgehog. That was cool.
Garbh Choire and the crag of dreams. 3 hours from the road and covered in lichen.
Rory climbing a new route, The Scraggle Ladder  (Ben Avon) - E2 5c
Sinclair on the third pitch of Prophecy of Drowning (Pabbay) - E2 5c
Me on Sugar Cane Country (Pabbay) - E4 6a (Harry Holmes)
Sinclair getting drenched on Donald's boat
Sinclair following me up Sula (Mingulay) - E2 5b
Me on The Torridonionion (Seanna Mheallain)- E3 5c (Sinclair Cooper)
Sinclair following me up Angel Face (Beinn Eighe) - E2 5c
Sinclair and I above Far East Wall (Beinn Eighe)
Me on the second ascent of This Timeless Moment  (Shetland) - E2 5b (Andrew Appleby)
A 'new' route i climbed mostly onsight. I fell retreating to the the middle hands off rest but continued on free from it thereafter. Will return for a 'proper' ascent and more next year. The crag is  Fogla Taing (Shetland) and the route is E4 6a/b
Me on the FA of Spyro (Fogla Taing) - E2 5c (Liam Malone)
A puffin at Sunburgh Head (Shetland)
Graham and I soloing Lean Meat (Aberdeen) - E3 5c (Thomas Shaw)
Graham on the crux pitch of Moonshine (Beinn Eighe) - E4 6a
Me following Graham up The Pale Diedre (Beinn Eighe) - E2 5c (Graham Tyldesly)
Graham and the Coulin hills from Beinn Eighe

Red and blue

The coast sweeps north from Aberdeen to Peterhead in a series of inlets, caves and peninsula's. Steep sheets form superb aretes and walls, offering some of the best climbing in the north east. 

A warm spring morning is a scene of exacting pleasure.  Thronging colonies of guillemots and gulls defend lofty battlements. Squabbling, hopping, dropping  and diving they pluck slippery silver sprats from the dark waves, gulping them down in a horny, raucous racket. Kelp fingers tickle the seal who bobs and rolls in the swelling blue. Barnacle spattered slabs crackle and fizz. The walls, basking in the hot sun are freshly printed, shining pages. In strewn hand their black wrinkles and seams divide and vanish. Their sweating quartz veins glint sparkling white. The rock warms and the cold water slaps.

 Relics of an industrial past sleep amongst the rock. Great iron spikes, hooks, stairways.  Brown, rotting and gnarled. Exposed to the hard sea and bleaching rays they quietly exfoliate in iron elysium.  


A good day on the Loch Tollaidh crags and some running in the Fisherfield forest to get fit for the Highlander.

Tom on the ultimate E2 5b, 'Buena Vista' at Loch Tollaidh (Pic - A. Appleby)

Me happy to be on the jugs on 'Lifeline' E3 5c, Loch Tollaidh. Quality route but take a few #1 wires (Pic - T. Shaw)

The annual Cooper Memorial Race around Loch Muick. A stunning day, good craic and funds raised for the mountain rescue teams. I managed to squeeze in at first place after Steve but only beat my previous best by a few seconds!! I blame the heat.  

The day after, mid way up 'Blind Faith' (e35c) my calf totally cramped and my leg turned to jelly as i tried to stand on it and i almost fell off. Then my runner popped out as i nudged it. Fortunately for me alli didnt tell me as my forearms were burning and felt like lead. Fortunately I grunted my way to the top without taking a big lob.

The Highlander Mountain Marathon the following weekend was really rough, with endless countouring over chicken heads (rob calls them babies heads and there are other names..) and around 4200m vert. Alot of Type II fun! They have certainly been learning curves for me. We are both still psyched though..! (Pic - not sure)

The Secret Location Lairig Annual Dinner went to Kinlochbervie this year. Sheigra and Sandwood Bay were the choice venues (nobody went up Foinaven because it chucked it down on sunday and we slept until 11..). It was ace and we all got very merry on the saturday, culminating in the essential minibus party and some lairy antics.

Annual Dinner minibus fun crew

A duck house with a conservatory?!

Close enough.. Sandwood bay.

Young Rhino Dragon

The boys on 'Marram', Sandwood Bay. Average climbing in a stunning place. Callum looks like something's just flown up his butt.

Rhino Dragon VS Bland (both unaware of the bonxies' brooding malevolence)

Am Buichaille stands proud of wave washed platforms on the south end of the bay. An ascent involves a 4 hr tidal window, obligatory swim., chossy rock and shit gear. It was first climbed by Lairig legend 'Dr Stack' Tom Patey, Ian Clough and John Cleare who used a ladder rather than swimming and were almost cut off by the incoming tide! FA of the Atlantic Wall by Richardson and Clothier involved a bivvy on the summit after mis-timing the tides! 

As the picture suggests, we all leapt in simultaneously, frolicking in the balmy water for a few minutes before casually gaining the other side. Either that or we squeeled like little piglets. (Pic - L. Batts)

Lairig sea stack destroyers. 

Fortunately we managed to avoid benightment. It was a bit drizzly and stressful at times but mostly an amusing adventure.  Among the kelp fronds and the sandstone 'soup plates' we all probably discovered something meaningful about ourselves. However what stands out most is Callums penchant for dislodging rocks.

The North. Not always sunny!

Highland Outcrops

There are certain ideas that stay in your brain for a while. I didnt start trad climbing until i went to university, but at the age of 18 i was well aware of a wealth of climbing possibilities close to home. Some only a 20 minute cycle. Visiting these places became a mild obsession. Duntelchaig, Tynrich, Brin. Ticking away in my brain. I rarely got a chance to go because we were always driving through Inverness to go to the coast. At home there are rarely people to climb with. Partly because i didnt learnt to climb here but predominantly because the scene is a quiet and small despite the location.

Back home i started climbing on Tom Riach,  a warty grey lump of conglomerate that most 'boulderers' might consider just that. But for me it became something more. I could cycle there without a pad and strengthen my arms. It took a a long time but i eventually managed to traverse the NW face. I was delighted.  Last week i went back for a couple sessions, along with Murdo, Nick and Gaz. Tom Riach seems to have had it's renaissance now that the trees have been chopped. The new Parisella's Cave.

This april the weather on the west coast has been typically damp. Sinclair needed little convincing. My idea of a Highland Outcrops whistle stop tour came to fruition and Sinclair and I had a jolly time.

Creag Dubh doesnt need much of an introduction. I've never been particularly inspired by the place. I'd like to do The Hill one day but everything was ridden with puddly pockets. We climbed the classic HVS's. After i abbed i pulled the rope right into a big hanging tree so Sinclair ended up inside it and we both thought it was funny. We met Mick Tighe and his wife and he showed us some primitive gear from back when he were a lad. He was taking photos of it for the Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection. I asked him if he was going to climb with it but he said no.

Ashie Fort, with it's own charming topo and spattering of stars from the local SMC, looked to be interesting venture. South facing, short routes, tree belays. Conglomerate trad... It was an enjoyable day, but i won't be returning because there are only a handful of worthwhile routes. Even for the in situ gear.

Finally Duntelchaig. The classic of the old school Invernesian. Yesterday the rain abated by mid day and the sun arced round to warm up the rock strewn hillside above the loch. Theres lots of good climbing at most grades.   Slings, E1, was one of the best at the grade i had climbed and for a pitch of 20m it is well worth an evening hit. Sinclair lead the eponymous, Misty Crack and Razor Flake.

I had to try Dracula, providing it was dry. With the sun bearing down upon the 3D obelisk of Dracula buttress, we had a doze in the 25 degree heat and started up the corners. Overhanging jam cracks are, as Sinclair pointed out, probably not the forte of a wiry slab lover and so it was with the weight of this test and the aura of  it's 'classic' status that i set off  with my belt of cams to do battle with the beast.

I rammed in a high cam. 'Keep climbing' said Sinclair, - the goding encouragment  worked and my hands jammed in a few more times. Unexpected and ferocious disco leg happened. I think i must have looked funny.   I didnt stick around and gunned it toward the top. Heaving myself over the finishing jugs, I was totally out of breath and had to lie on the slab to clear my head and throbbing forearms.

Crystal Clear

 Leaning pines like giants matchsticks. 
Rolling plains of shining tundra. 
A fleeting glimpse of rosy pink beyond the hill.
 Light, white and blue.  
Warm rock, cold hands. 
Cheese and oatcakes. 

(Alex Reid)

(Alex Reid)

Sunrise on Derry Cairngorm

Crystal Ridge, IV 4***. III in my 90's guide. A great route in an alpine setting, deep in the heart of the Cairngorms.

Ben Macdui

Meerkat dog

Carn a Mhaim

(Alex Reid)