A Breath of Fresh Air:

Posted on March 26, 2013 by Dan Varian

 Sometimes i worry i’m becoming a bit of a hermit climber, not traveling much and working a lot, yes i do work a lot nowadays! But its more that i’ve been a busy bee in the last 2 years sorting many things out. So when Katie and I got a nice little gift of a few days in Torridon from my folks for crimbo we planned a bit of a mini trip around it. I never get bored of the feeling of time grinding to a holt when your on holiday, days passing by at half their normal speed. This trip was only 6 days but it felt like a month. Much of this can be blamed on Scotland itself being so pretty and so varied it feels like you’ve travelled the world between places only a few hours apart, especially when its fully raining at A and sunny with a light breeze at B. Of course non of this is new to anyone north of the Clyde. Not that there are many people north of the Clyde. On the map of UK people it barely exists!

Which is good because being Cumbrian i’m not inordinately fond of lots of people. Wildlife yes, Sheep all the better. Massive sprawling conurbations, not so much. It also leaves space for lots of nice things which are really hard to be angry at like mountains, lochs, lochy mountains, fjords, hills, inlets, munros. a hugely diverse landscape of anything you can imagine, so long as its watery or pointy. It was also before Scotland turns into Nature’s little hell park in May. Upon trying to book a nice b&B before the trip i got a lovely email back from the lady saying, are you sure you meant march not April? its just that the weather in March is so unreliable we don’t accept bookings! A good omen indeed. Ah well we could always sit in Torridon YHA drink brews on tap and catch up with a good book. As it turned out our B&B lady was well informed, we had everything under the sun thrown at us on the holiday except for the really bad wet stuff that scotland is so good at.

The ponies know the score, west facing aspect is a winner!

Our first day in Torridon we were greeted by 40mph winds and the locals Richie, Gaz, Ann Nigel and the beast of Bronwen. but not much else. Well at least it wasnt raining! we had a decent enough day out if a little short due to the wind battering us about incessantly. Richie complained about being fit but weak whilst kindly warming up all over Gaz's project. Bronwen stole my socks after demolishing the 2 decoy balls. I finally figured out the start of a project i’ve tried the last 2 times i’ve been to Torridon (albeit climbing in a balaclava and down jacket this time), only to snap a pebble off the top in a moment of wind induced stupidity, oh well back to square one. Stupid gets what Stupid does. After we'd all had enough we retreated back to the excellent Torridon cafe and I atoned for my sins with a massive bacon and egg bap. I forgot to mention that our Hostel had been engulfed by a mostly silver topped tai chi weekend; Katie must have trodden on the instructors Chi (qi for scrabble fans) as when she smiled and said hello she was simply greeted with contempt. Lovely. Although when they left on monday they did leave us with enough food for the rest of the holiday thanks to their friendly chef.

Liathach on Sunday.

Annat on sunday.

Sunday Greeted us not only with 40mph gusts but the quickest snow flurries i’ve ever seen. It was like the flurries were a tube train wizzing by Torridon station, I was simply a bystander getting in the way. The morning was just about ok as the sun was out a bit but when Katie finished and i put my boots on it was like someone flicked a switch. We hid in a cave for a bit, got out, hid in another cave again 5 mins later, made it to the cool project prow in Annat. Hid there whilst another one blasted through. Snow stops bust a bit of warm up dance out like i’ve just heard Axel F for the first time. try a few moves then get blasted by snow. Blow my top and produce a tirade about how crap life is. go back to the car to warm up. Snow stops, Ben Moon did black lung when the snow stopped, maybe i can do this because life is that cliche’d. We jog back to the prow. I Do it. Leave for the pub, massive blizzard hits us just as we get to the pub. To be honest i was more relieved than happy after this. It must have looked bizzare to the house whose rear window's face the prow. Its sometimes conditions like this that really test your mettle though, i wanted to just give up and head to the pub but there would forever have been a gnawing at my conscious that technically it wasn’t raining and that i could’ve climbed and got it done, making sure that gnawing didn’t happen was more important than actually having fun it seems. The most important thing this did was free up our itinerary for Reiff or Applecross the next day where i had more exciting things to play on.

Monday dawned perfectly azure with a dusting on the Beinns. I made concrete my overwhelming urge to drive nearly 2 hours to try a problem i’d seen in October. Katie was happy to see a beautiful new place but not so happy to see a very cold shady cliff on such a gorgeous day, somehow she still managed to be nice to me which must be some sort of inherent but very endearing flaw in her personality. Whilst the day before had physically and mentally drained me, from a climbing perspective i’d done very little. So all the ATP reserves were there but i don’t think there was much behind it to back it up. Sometimes in life you get these weird days and it kind of feels like you’ve come through alot to make them happen, i imagine its like big wallers pushing up to a final crux pitch then going to bed knowing that tomorrow you need to be firing. Except bouldering is much easier than that and all you have to do is walk out the car and up to the problem you want to try, the hard part is having the right skin, conditions, arms, core and most importantly mind to actually get up something which has tried its best to be blank. This isn't a huge problem if the problem is nearby but for places you know you’ll be spending very few hours of your life in it somewhat adds to the atmosphere. Here’s some inner rhetoric from my warm up.

Do i feel good? shit i feel ok, or do i, hmm im a bit monged out, naah i feel strong look (crimps a hold). and i’ve got pads and i haven’t been violated by a massive wave this time round, better try another climb (does scooped arete) ok well if that feels ok then you stand a chance, but is that enough, hmm lets try this other thing coming right out of leaning meanie, hmm that felt hard, i dont know if its been done before though, .. ooh i’m all excited. it was bloody good that, well i guess its been a good day no matter what then, Katie looks cold but keeps smiling at me, cubby must be short if he had to use a bucket to reach those holds, i bet its called romancing the stone because its got a Va JJ made of rock in it, thats pretty funny...

It felt like a heady mix of first night nerves and holiday excitement. The project was as amazing as i’d remembered it to be, chalkless it took me a while to remember the holds as they aren’t easy to see, this is why i like it so much. Yes the arete looks stunning to the left but i need to give everything i’ve got to this first. Nature has pulled a blinder here and i for one intend to appreciate its work by clambering all over it and covering it in chalk. There’s a vid of me doing what became Helicoidal Flow along with the annat prow and reiff arete, sufficed to say it felt just about easy enough from stand and i remembered my beta from last time straight away, the stand is a vague non line to a world class sitter though, which really put the pressure on. I would say that i did the sit thanks to a combination of luck and experience, i was starting to feel the squeeze go and my skin get cold and i’d dropped the catch once already, it felt like my chances were going and that it’d have to wait for another day. After a big rest and a brew i told my brain to shut up and put everything into it, no skin preservation no worries about picking up a tweak just try really hard. I dont know how but i hit the holds all pretty well and i caught the catch spot on. The catch hold is subtle and intricate, like every hold on the problem. You don’t know whether the catch is right or not until your feet come out and the extra momentum comes onto the hold. 

such a cool pinch.

To me this is perfect bouldering. A serene setting and some incredible rock, a line that defines bouldering. It starts from a perfect sit start and heads up to jugs to finish (its only drawback is its lack of topout) The moves are fantastic and the holds only work when used with loads of tension through the feet and are some of the most unique i’ve ever used, not a single hold until the catch hold is easily holdable with feet off. Its called Helicoidal flow due to the rock on this wall mimicking water with its strata and features. Like undertow its also a flow process. It also seems to sum up the dynamics of my legs swirling about nicely.

Sticking the crux

Normally that’d have been one of my best days ever, but to top it off there was a line as proud as misericorde or partage just to the left on older & harder rock, in the sun, with an amazing looking set of features on it including a fang like rooflet that you can pinch. Now by this stage i was feeling pretty knackered but I had half a chance if i spotted the beta fast. I stared it out and pretended that i knew what i was doing, like when comp climbers look at finals problems. I figured it out by going, i’ll try this crazy heel that’ll work. it did! then i though well you’ve got to be able to kneebar this thing, you could! Bizzarre  under guppy to get LH high. No problem. Toehook the roof? Nope your crap at toehooking remember. dynamic heel above shoulder into scoopy pod? kerching! Thanks to the sun coming heating me up by this time i was using less energy just keeping warm and got up it on fumes and by cheating with heels and knees. I topped it out up leaning meanie’s upper squeeze chimney for full points. Sometimes Aretes can be pretty monotonous, eg careless torque, arcangel, ulysees and white wand are pretty much 3star repetitive laybacking, which is great because they’re one big layback up a mega lines but its hardly varied climbing. To get an arete with so much variety move to move is pretty special. I find as i see more and more lines nowadays less and less gets that childish excitement going like i used to feel when out on the rocks. The bouldering cliff at Reiff was a real breath of fresh air in that sense as it seems to solely consist of 100%, billion year old, single malts. I guess thats why it even gets called a bouldering cliff in one of Scotlands great single pitch trad destinations. One bit of useful advice is that it can seep a bit so don’t turn up there on a wet day in a big swell as you might not get the same experience i’ve been selling. We dined out on the tai chi soup we’d been given on the beach at Reiff looking at the sun setting on the summer Isles and hills behind, free food in a setting grander than the savoy!

That was only the first 3 days of 6, i think i’ve written enough now though and i dont want to waffle on too much. I can save it for another time. Katie was the star of the latter part of the trip by doing loads of classics even after a feather filled night in the car at -5. I mostly scoffed our free food and had fun bouldering with Dave Mac. I also experienced the crappest cafe i’ve ever visited in Fort William, mainly because it built itself up to be good. (called sugar and spice or something; cant wait until i hit them with my truthful trip advisor review). And we found an artist we really like so we bought some paintings for our house 

ruining a fort william artwork, i thought it was a game until i read the sign!

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