6.Creaking in the Sun
In the old days, when I was trying to climb hard all the time, we were always bouldering in Northumberland and trying to climb in Spain or in a Winter Sun destination. The hope was that when the cliffs of Scotland dried off, in the spring, we would come out of the winter in tune with the rock and moving well.
These days I am not chasing the hard grade train anymore. My sporting activity is more in tune with the seasons. Climbing in the spring, mountain biking on wet days, Road biking some days where there is time pressure, mountaineering on long routes in the mid to late summer, Rock Climbing in the Autumn cool, drinking and eating whilst waiting for the ice, ice climbing and snowboarding in the cold winter and ski-touring in the warm winter days. It has its own rhythm dictated by the turning of the earth. We maybe the last couple of generations able to enjoy this cycle. The treat of warmer winters and wetter summers may mean that soon we will have to become kayakers.
But today the sun is working its magic, the leaves are still not on the trees and the earth still smells dormant. Life just below the surface is still wary of getting zapped by a late frost. The venue for today’s climb is Weem forest near Aberfeldy. There is a small group of cliffs here, some steep, some slabby. It’s a great early and late season area. With routes of many standards and reasonable quality, it’s well worth a visit.
But firstly I need to find all of the bits, buried in the Garage. Sport Climbing, where you free climb on the rock using the rock features for you hands and feet and a rope clipped into pre-placed bolts in the rock, is the goal today. Apart from the obvious rope and gear, I need to find some extras that can help the day go smoothly; zinc tape to protect tendons and finger joints, superglue to stick down torn skin flaps, and nail clippers to trim the digits so the blackboard scrape on the rock is avoided.
As the days are short, there is a bit of hurry up on once the decision has been made to go. As the motorway rudely runs out at Perth, it’s time to suffer the pain of the A9, but today its quiet. Even the traditional pre climb café stop is sacrificed, as crag hunger is stronger. A short walk up to the crag feels longer; the memories of last spring conveniently compressed. When we reach the crag it seems very small and some of the lines are seeping with water, the ground water pressure still out of balance for the climber. There are many familiar routines, laying out the gear so it does not roll down the hill; apples especially are prone to trying to escape their snack fate at the cliffs. I really feel at home at the cliff, the smells, the noise of the gear, the feel of the rope, it’s a process and routine which is a subconscious precursor to the challenge ahead.
We are essentially horizontal world dwellers, we live in a world of flatness, 99% of our human existence is spent in shopping centre’s, offices, concrete, carpet and tiles. It’s a cruel fate, a modern life devoid of variation. So stepping from the flat to the vertical is even, after 35 years of climbing is a wonderful step into the unusual. Before I leave the familiar, and the take the step onto the extraordinary, I check my knot, a simple set of twists in a 10mm thick piece of nylon, not much really between fun and disaster, safety and not. I put climbers chalk on my hands to dry the sweat and to aid the grip. I rub them together to get rid of the excess; they sound dry and feel cool. A cloud of white dust slowly drifts away from my hands. I check my knot again, an early season tick, and I step onto the rock. The rubber on the shoes bites into the gneiss crystals, I step into the 3rd dimension.