Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Force

Most days last winter, Andy Inglis and I would chat on Facebook. We mainly talked about winter conditions, What’s ‘in’, where’s the freezing level and all that shit.  Sometimes Andy asked me what I’d been up to that day.  My usual reply was, ‘F8b training’.  That meant I was usually out bouldering or down at the wall pissing about with no idea what I was doing.  Training for what though? I had no focus, just keeping on top of rock fitness whilst the winter sucked my little strength away.  One day I might need to pull hard on rock. 

Myself getting weak on Beinn Eighe. (Photo: John Orr)

Myself  not getting weak at Ruthven.

Andrew Wilby established a sport route called ‘The Force’ at Zed Buttress a few years ago.   He occasionally mentioned that I should go and have look at it.  I paid the crag a visit when only 3 lines existed back in April 2013.  Since then, I have always just been distracted by other things; Keeping fit at other sport crags, fiddling shitty wires into cracks or swing tools into frozen turf.  This spring I went back to repeat some of the routes.  On Saturday 28th March 2015, I was introduced to ‘The Force’ by Andrew.  I managed to do the moves in isolation, but they all felt totally ridiculous.  Most were at my absolute limit.  The crux involved throwing for a tiny 3 finger sharp edge.  Oh and you were pulling like fuck with your left hand on a razor crimp and your feet were on nothing. I left the crag with mixed feelings and 2 bleeding finger tips. Hmm.

Andrew Wilby working 'The Force' back in 2013.

A few months passed, summer was due to arrive, but instead the wet and windy autumn arrived.  Enough moaning about the crap summer.  However, these crap conditions were actually pretty good for sport climbing and bouldering.  So I returned to Zed buttress in August.  This time, I teamed up with the Cunningham squad and Rhys Langlands.  Calum and I messed about on ‘The Force’.  Things felt marginally better than my previous visit, but not by much.  Another kick in the balls was seeing how comfortable Calum looked on the route.  It was evident he would do this next visit. However it was still at my limit.  I ran away to Ruthven that evening and tried Blair’s traverse.  Stupidly I pulled on at the ‘Square Jug’, and went from there to the finish.  My best link ever, but why did I not pull on from the start which is just a few moves to the left?  Useless.

Reading through my diary, it is evident that ‘The Force’ actually came together pretty quickly.  I was making good links on it and it never felt too far away.  However, I was noticing a few issues holding me back.  A: Flexibility, B:  Being too tall for the bunched moves & C: Generally just weak.  Not wanting to go into too much details on the moves as that would be painful reading, there is a very high step for your left foot once you stick the crux.  Now, I noticed Andrew and Calum pissed that move.  Why, well they are shorter with less leg getting in the way plus they are three times as strong but I tried to ignore that.  So I started moaning to everyone that I was too tall for the route.  I’ve always noticed that Mhairi has incredible flexibility.  Having been a gymnast for 10 years, she in my eyes is a wad.  So, she seemed like the ideal flexibility coach for me.  After the initial shock of seeing how much of a punter I am, she managed to compose her laughter and give me a few stretches to help me improve my hip and leg flexibility.  It worked. 


My trend of improvement was generally positive.  My only really negative red points were when conditions were crap, ie 9th September with Pete Clarkson when the sun was shining, there was no wind and it was 24 degrees Celsius in Inverness.  Yet, I still blamed myself for being crap and weak.

Folk who read my blog will be aware that I had a trip to the Lakes at the start of September.  If you actually remember what I wrote, I made a significant link the day before I left which weighed on my mind the whole week whilst I fiddled wires in cracks.  I came back and was actually better on the route.  (NB, time away from projects is key…I’ll never learn though)   

The day after Gaz and Sarah’s wedding, Mhairi and I went up to Zed again.  A Nice sunny day with a stiff breeze, but I had to be patient for the shade when I knew conditions would be mint.  I chuckled to myself when the crowds all left at dinner time.    I couldn’t understand why they leave when the friction became perfect.  However, they had they last laugh.  Mhairi went for a red point on ‘Power of Resin’.  Just as she was getting ready, the wind just stopped. Like, it just stopped.  The midges just exploded and a perfect day turned into hell.  I shouted at Mhairi to just get to the top by any means, the alarm bells were sounding.  We were in the red.  I still had my quickdraws in ‘The Force’.  So I went for a cheeky red point.  I might as well…  So with a careless attitude, I set off.  Up to the undercuts, feeling a tad tired, I started shaking out.  Then I moved on, stuck the crux then made the next move or two.  The feeling of frustration for not ploughing on got to me.  So I demanded to come down, rest, then go again.  I arrived on the ground.  The midges became the least of my worries.  I had Mhairi to deal with.  I had shouted at her to hurry up on her red point.  Now I am going to make her wait another half an hour whilst I rest and most likely fall off with red point nerves.  Well, we kissed and made up and yes, I fell off below my high point.

Poor resting conditions.  Warm, humid and midges. (Photo: Mhairi Stewart)

Pete and I arranged a day out.  I had been moaning a lot that ‘The Force’ was destroying me.  Skin, fingers but more mentally.  I was resting all the time and my focus had shifted from trad climbing to this bloody route.  So I decided to see how it would go, then re-evaluate the situation.  To cut a long story short I basically climbed the route, fumbling the first jug after the hard climbing.  Maybe it was our school boy chat and shit jokes that took my mind off it between attempts.  So I left that day feeling like it was ‘back on’.

My next outing was with Dave Macleod.  In a nut shell, I never did it.  My excuses this time were it was too warm and my left arm was still ballocksed from my previous session there with Pete.  I was made to feel better by Dave taking a few red points to climb it.  But to be fair, he had been on his board all week and his ankle is still tender from an operation.  I was interested to see his tactic of climbing up to the third clip, clip it and reverse to the ground.  I can see the logic in this by saving energy.  However, I wasn't really convinced.  I sort of feel as though if one is climbing they should be clipping the clips on the way.  Admittedly I did take a 'step' off the ground and clip the second quick draw and step back.  In my head that is a bit different as for me it is a ‘step’ off the ground where as by the time you get to the 3rd, you're climbing the route. It’s climbing at the end of the day and I only lost one night’s sleep thinking about it. 

Then high pressure pushed in.  Full on sun and little wind.  Summer had eventually arrived.  For fuck sake! I did chance it and go up really early before work one day but that was a mistake.  I did cash in on the good weather and climbed with Iain in Glen Coe and Glen Nevis over 3 days.  I did struggle to relax as I only had one route in mind.  Splitting a tip on ‘The Handren Effect’ was not a laughing matter.

Iain practising the moves on his bold E8.  

With an alpine trip looming (which is now aborted) my days were numbered. I had only one day left to try it.  Looking at a synoptic chart, the unsettled weather was due to return.  Thank God.  Friday was the day and I had it off!  I met up with Dave again.  There was a small issue of young Rhys breaking the hold you clip the third quickdraw.  This played havoc with my mind.  The third clip issue was talked about.  I managed to solve the problem by boning harder on what was left of the hold.  4 red points later I was resting on the jug after the hard climbing.  I even made some technical errors but pulled through.  Composing myself, I still had the tricky finish to deal with, but that went fine.

As always, the journey has far more interesting stories rather than the destination.  My ascent has absolutely no significance in the world of climbing.  There are some folk out there that would use ‘The Force’ as a decent route to find the crag.  However, for me it is a fairly significant part of my climbing career.  The route is everything I am crap at.  It’s short, hard and bouldery.  Not long with pumpy climbing relying on endurance.  Trying to juggle psyche/FOMO for trad, winter, sport, hill walking and half arsed enthusiasm for bouldering, it means a lot.  A few folk I need acknowledge for holding my rope: Andrew, Pete, Mhairi, Paul, Gaz, Blair and Dave.

Its nice to move freely in the hills rather then hang and rage on a rope...

Anyway, its young Calum Cunningham and Rhys Langland who’s ascents were far more impressive.  They both despatched it quickly at such a young age.  Well, maybe Calum is over the hill at the age of 18 as Rhys is only 14 (A short film can be found by clicking this link).  Zed buttress has definitely been the fashionable place to hang out this year.  This has only been made possible by Andrew Wilby.  He has spent a huge amount of his own time hanging on a rope cleaning and bolting the crag.  Along with the cost of bolts, resin and drill parts…. And that’s just one crag he has developed!

Sociable place. (Photo:Rocpunks)

And its all thanks to this man.  Andrew re working the route so he can complete the new direct finish.