Saturday, September 27, 2014

Driest September 2014


September has brought crisp dry weather unprecedented in Scotland in recent years, with opportunities for walking, climbing and cycling in fine dry conditions. It has felt almost continental in the sense of blithely venturing out any day, or at least being able to rely on the weather setting fair to coincide with your time off.

Mark Garthwaite took advantage and subdued the mighty Dalriada on the Cobbler with a sports-style pre-placed gear ascent (perhaps an opportunist methodology best for our weather), on the notoriously unreadable scooped schist of the Cobbler. Fraser Harle was on hand to take some stunning and inspiring shots of this modern classic rock route, check his photos here >>>

Dan Varian amongst others has been exploring the tidal reaches of the Solway to add a new, as yet unreleased, venue on this pleasant and sunny coast. Sea-washed rocks and eliminating foothold limpets seem to be the character of these coves, topos to follow shortly.



Tom Charles-Edwards is back climbing and he prefers big lines and stones over the 600m contour, discovering king lines for anyone who can show the legs to get there, if you are brave enough to camp out high in the boulderfields amongst the rutting stags that sound like Minotaurs hunting for you when you're in a tent! John Watson continued his plus-800m exploration of granite Arran tors and fought losing shoes and chalk-bags to the winds now presaging the changes of October.



Alex Gorham and friends developed some big stones in Crianlarich, again around the 600m contour and despite the long walk-in, these stones are some of the best in Britain but are unlikely to get much traffic due to the remoteness, a story many stones in Scotland are happy to tell...



The Ayrshire Coast has also unearthed some steep cave bouldering, with fine weather, low tides and a west wind needed to maximise conditions.





Friday, August 29, 2014

3D Dumby blocs - a new beginning

What is the future of climbing topos and guides? It's a question which has been evolving rapidly in the last decade as we get more and more used to accessing data online, or viewing topos on our phones or tablets. Guidebooks, like vinyl records, are collectable objects and still useful and resilient formats for getting the beta you need.The Youtube/Vimeo revolution has changed bouldering beta for good and a realtime topo might include a video, a description, and, perhaps now a 3D model of the boulder.


In collaboration with the Glasgow-based ACCORD project, we've been exploring the conceptual and practical challenges (and the usefulness) of exploring our sporting heritage in a 3D-modelling project. This has involved collaborative approaches to record the climbing and geology at Dumbarton Rock. The history of climbing at Dumbarton is now rich enough, and has built up enough generational layers of development, that a statement of intent has to be made in terms of voicing our heritage here. Historic Scotland has been proactive in listening to the climbing community, but it really took this summer's project with the Glasgow School of Art/RCAHMS and local climbers to recognise Dumbarton Rock as a valuable community heritage to place alongside the castle heritage and the community/industrial heritage on the banks of the River Leven by the Rock. The SMC and the MCOS have always dutifully recorded the history and routes at Dumbarton, and represented its climbers nationally, but this project is motivated by bringing climbing into the community as an integral part of its local history.

To see the work and projects we have initiated, you can download a sample bloc (the Sea Boulder) here, you just need Adobe Reader to play around with it. Let me know if the download link and the 3D works for you, we want to make these models freely available under Creative Commons >>>

(Note - the 3D model won't appear in your browser preview, so click the Dropbox download button and open in the latest version of Acrobat)

Sea Boulder 3D model in Acrobat PDF





Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bealach Feith Nan Laogh


 


First of all, having a couple of 'refreshing pints' in the Strontian Inn was a bad idea . . . the hottest day of the year at the fag-end of July, the tarmac bubbling, it seemed wise at the time. The Bealach Feith Nan Laogh could wait a bit. I checked the specs of the climb, which seemed less electrically-shocking at a pub picnic table in the sun: 2.6 km with an average gradient of 11.8% . . .  steep, but no killer, I reasoned. Something at the back of my head crawled and writhed, trying to fathom what higher gradient would average it to 11.8! I clipped into the bike and set off, my mind a fuzzy blank of summer bliss.



Turning north off the main road at Strontian towards innocuous-looking hills, the wooded first few kilometres are flat and surfaced with new rolling tarmac, I was in a pleasant dream of cycling paradise, spinning without a chain, listening to birdsong, still on the big ring. A small sign turned me left up a short wooded hill towards 'Pollochro 8m'. Not far really . . .  I knew the climb began shortly but the small ramps weren't difficult and I was still outstripping the chasing horse-flies until a sign above a lost hub-cap said 'RAMP' in big capitals on a red background. The road didn't seem that steep, I was still spinning off the beers, marveling at the rock-garden scenery. Things focused down to the width of my front tyre as I got out of the saddle at Belgrove House and dropped to the wee ring to turn some sharp corners through the old pines. No biggie.




Then the vista suddenly opened up and I looked uphill to a shocking sight. The strip of gravelly tarmac took off up a hill that seemed to be a painted grey vertical line on a green background, a Rothko painting on its side. Half way up the hill, a camper van and two chairs sat perched precariously on a rocky ledge of a layby, looking out over Loch Sunart and the punishing evening sun. I endured a mild gut panic, there was an audience, and the beer was making me feel suddenly queazy rather than refreshed. Oh well, down to the second-last gear, out of the saddle. I passed the run-off for the old lead mines, clunking up to the big  ring's last-chance-saloon, grinding at just above fall-off pace, trying not to go into the red. Jeez, this was steep. Just 50m or so to the camper-van, then I'd be okay, it flattened there, I said to myself.

The people in the deck-chairs watched me like an old curious tractor from the 60s, going to an agricultural fair. Not far off. I passed them and gasped a greeting, more like a plea for help. The horse-flies had found me, mocking my pace, so I spun a bit and went into the red, rounding a corner to a sudden and sickening rise in gradient to a hairpin. Jeez, that must be 25% I thought! I ground up it, heart racing to the max, sweat washing my eyes with battery acid. I rounded the corner and another rise of the same punched me in the gut and I unclipped, steeping a foot to the ground just to catch my breath. Hell! I wheezed for a minute, eyes full of tarmac, then turned and rolled down to a layby, reclipping, turned again tightly and ran at the beast this time, grinding out the switchbacks and trying not to spin in the melted tarmac and gravel. If I didn't dig a little deeper, I would end up a tarred and Ruskolined mess on the Bealach Feith nan Laogh.



The road finally straightened a little but continued to rise at a punishing gradient, bellying up through the rocks and whispering grass towards what looked like a mobile mast - perhaps the pass, a sign of the end to this punishment? It ended thus, hung over the handlebars beside an old gas storage tank, it was full, I was empty.

I've never burned off two beers quite as quickly in my life.

... the downhill ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wild Scotland - new map published by SNH


Scottish Natural Heritage has published its 2014 map of Wild Land Areas of Scotland - designated areas of coast, upland and undeveloped land - or 'wilderness' - which should be considered inviolate. Some of the areas are notably under protection via bodies such as National Parks, the John Muir Trust, or the National Trust and other private bodies, but the worrying note is that since the draft map was published in 2013, 0.8% of wild land has been developed (20.3% down to 19.5%). If it continued at that rate we'd have no wild land left by 2039 . . .

The conclusions of the report and mapping were as follows:


  • The concepts of wildness and safeguarding of wild land enjoy strong support from the public and many stakeholders in Scotland. Areas of wild land are widely acknowledged as important assets, providing a number of significant ecosystem services that support a range of social and economic benefits and outcomes. 
  • Despite the inherent subjectivity of the concept, the physical qualities most strongly associated with wildness and identification of wild land can be mapped in a robust and repeatable way through applying a systematic and transparent methodology. 
  • A map of wild land areas important in the national context is required in order to provide greater clarity to all stakeholders and better inform decisions affecting them. 
  • The name ‘Core Areas of Wild Land’ resulted in some confusion and we therefore propose the use of the nomenclature of ‘Wild Land Areas’. We suggest that the application of this name should be restricted in use to those areas shown on the map. 
  • The map of wild land areas should be considered a useful and important strategic tool in decision making. Its application will be enhanced by two further pieces work that are being developed during 2014-15: descriptions of the character and nature of each of the areas, and revision of our interim guidance on assessing the effects of proposals on wild land which allows a case by case assessment of proposals in relation to wildness character.

I like the fourth point that there s no such thing as a 'core' area of wildness, it either is or isn't wild. However, there are some who may consider the issue of remoteness and wildness much more complex. For example, what about wild urban areas and brownfield sites (landlocked 'waste' land, no matter how small); underwater wildness; community (commons) wildness versus private, estate-managed (landlorded) wildness . . . it's a complex issue but it's welcome seeing SNH producing a map which can be used practically to inform major policy decisions on what we should just leave alone if we can.