Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Close of Play

The Track to Binnien Shuas on a blustery autumn Saturday

Alarm goes off. Wake up. Outside its dark.

Turn off Computer. Drive home. Outside its dark.

It's certainly that time of year again. Increasing blackness and storm bound weekends. The confines of winter seem to creep up on you from out of nowhere but its surely still to early to be having day dreams of fresh powder and ice-clad peaks?

This summer has certainly been one of my best. Not necessarily pushing my grade but just the scale of routes attempted both in the mountains and by the sea. A couple of weeks ago me and Dave biked into Binnien Shuas on a windy Saturday and did the classic route Ardverikie Wall. The huge slab is supposedly the best route Tom Patey ever walked past. Good thing it was a slab as the temperature was cold enough to make Ranulph Fiennes think twice about being outside. I spent most of the day with my hands in my pockets trying to thaw out frozen fingers. I can see how that route gets 3 stars (in summer at least!).

One of the steeper pitches of Ardverikie Wall (HS 4b) on a brisk autumn day

Its awkward at this time of year. A good forecast includes the phrase 'unsettled' as then you at least know there is a chance it may be dry. It's true that rain hampers play, but they say there is no such thing is bad weather, just bad clothes. Unfortunately weather isn't the only autumnal issue. More recently an after-work climbing session at Creag Dubh was brought to an abrupt end but the sudden and inconvenient disappearance of the sun. Abseiling off down into the darkness and the gloom is defiantly an experience best reserved for winter climbing (as at least you're likely to have a head torch on you).

Abseiling of the Creag Dubh classic King Bee (VS 5a) in the by now well established darkness

Please don't misconstrue these negative ramblings as a hatred of the winter season. On reflection winter has innumerable benefits such as winter climbing (bit of a given really), fewer people (as many opt to pull on plastic), better friction (unless the rock is wet which is more likely than not in the UK) and of course an absence of the wee beasties. In fact this time of year is probably the most rewarding time to get out. Set deep within the Easter Ross the forgotten valley of Gleann Meinich echoes with the chorus of rutting stags. We were high on the side of Sgurr A'Mhuilinn climbing Salamander, a long and isolated route climbing a large schist outcrop. We didn't see any one on the crag, nor when we were cycling the 3 miles up through forest and to be honest we barely saw a car on the 30 mile drive up Strathconnon. T-shirts and chalk were substituted for thermals and gloves but the blissful isolation and solitude outweighed the suffering!  

Salamander (HVS 5b) climbs the central slab in 6 excellent pitches

Jim with frozen fingers on the crux pitch of Salamander (HVS 5b)

Damp rock and cold weather may well mark the close of play for this year but the sooner it ends, the sooner it starts! So here's to the end of the craggin' seasons. You've been a beaut but now its time for winter!

The promise of winter. We can only hope its one to remember!

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