There has been a distinct watershed in current climbing activity, with a new army of young boulderers coming out of the walls and finding their own way, that is, exploring their own abilities in a wild landscape. Trad may not exactly be dead, but everyone wants to do something new, and if you're young and keen (or just old and know no better), Scotland is a Yukon of gold rock and new possibilities. The amount of new venues that get mentioned to me (usually as casual hints as I'm about to print a book!) is encouraging and it's good that Scotland is providing new impetus in mountaineering circles to continue the explorative tradition. It's indicative of the mountain spirit that bouldering should be developed in such landscapes - it's a simple need to do personally meaningful things in big places... climbing Font 7c on a remote stone in the Highlands is no mean feat, considering the midges, the bogs, the humidity and the darn cussedness of the Scottish weather systems! So I'm glad so many boulderers are out walking the glens with big mats catching the wind...
The new bouldering guide, Bouldering in Scotland features this spirit of development: recording the 'big new secrets' of the boulderer... the Craigmaddie gritstone revelation (drive out of Sheffield, gain the M6, go north 300 miles...), the meteorite chaos of Carn Liath on Skye, new 'red grit' classics at Torridon & Reiff in the Woods from a strong northern crew, Cummingston sandstone, Cullen quartzite, Clashfarquhar schist (near Portlethen), Inchbae granite, the bizarre Mushroom on Arran, the endless problems falling out of Brin's rocky forest... so in terms of geology it's been an exhaustive year. In terms of the quality of problems, here are my highlights of the year, (apologies for missing anyone's personal favourites).
Sanction Font 8b Dumbarton
Put My New Shoes On Brin Rock Font 7c
Ben Litster, before heading off to Magic Wood all summer to turn into a clone of Chris Sharma, did just what his problem says and got his sticky new heels on the wicked slopers of this blank lip at Brin. Pointed out to him by the all-seeing eye of Dave Wheeler, this was a fine effort from Ben and the first hard line since Dave Redpath's visits a few years before.
The Mission Torridon Font 7b
...and what a mission it was... Richie Betts enduring cold, rain, swamps and patio-building to finally claim this impossible-looking line on the rippled face of the infamous 'Ship boulder'. A bizarre sequence of 'French' moves, contortions and reachy, tenuous balance manoeuvres, this problem is truly a pencil-chewing maths equation of kinetics and levitation.
The Zealot Glen Ogle Font 7b
Glen Ogle's 'Holllow' boulder is a giant eyecatcher of a thing - such a great looking roof surely should have been climbed? It was duly scrubbed, brushed and flossed, then sent by a rather surprised John Watson, proving of excellent quality (the problem, not the boulderer). Mike Tweedley did a quick repeat and Richie Betts typically found an easier tall man's sequence, but neglected the sit start... no points there boyo.
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Cubby's Traverse Etive Boulders Font 7b
Cubby had been missing in 'inaction' due to hip operations, but quietly got himself back climbing in his unassuming and modest manner, quickly showing that his technical nous and finger-strength was still there. This excellent granite lip traverse on the Etive boulders is 'the' highlight of Glencoe bouldering (it doesn't have many!). I'm still trying to get a name from him for it, really it's too good to just be another 'Cubby's Lip'!!
The Dagger Duntelchaig Font 6c+
Duntelchaig is usually too midged, damp, boggy, wet or simply minging to boulder, but on a good day it is terrific for finding new problems in the jumbles. Richie Betts discovered this elegant problem on a fin of rock supposedly impossible to find, even with GPS. A perfect example of what you can do if you look hard enough.
Diesel Canary Lost Valley Font 7a+
The Lost Valley in Glencoe may be a hike, but it has some big bouldering projects. This may not have been a first ascent but this bloc has always looked so alpine and un-Scottish that it deserved a bit of attention. This line climbs the right-hand crimp line on 'the leaning bloc'.
Ian Taylor has quietly bagged everybody's favourite projects anywhere near Ullapool, because he lives there and he can! This excellent arête means 'little stones' (i.e. 'hail') in Gaelic, which gives you an idea of local conditions... but a superb line and one of too many to name at this excellent venue.
TP & QC Reiff In the Woods Font 7a
Okay, another one at 'RITW'... Lawrence Hughes solved this 'Technical, Powerful and Quite Committing' roof under the Howff boulder, throwing in heel, using odd shoes, and topping out the highball arête... impressive and lusted after for a long time.
The Catch Scatwell Font 7b
The Scatwell slabs area in Strathconon now have hardcore bouldering! Young Mike Lee has slowly been gaining muscle to his thin frame, though still insists on a studenty 'legoman' hairstyle, maybe that's the youth these days. Anyway, he bagged this powerful problem at the excellent new boulder at Scatwell. Richie Betts had developed this overhang and wins the prize for the best-named problem of the year... 'Road to Domestos', also at Scatwell.
The Susurrus Brin Rock Font 7c
Stolen from under the nose of Ben Litster, Mike Lee unashamedly campussed out the desperate finish to this soaring roof at Brin, when Ben had been trying a forlorn heel-hooking method for months. Oh well, c'est la vie... they now share a flat together. I'm surprised they don't poison each others' cornflakes.
Sweet Cheeks Clashfarquhar Font 7b+
Tim Rankin has quietly been producing hardcore problems in Aberdeen without the aid of Dumbarton! He found an excellent steep boulder at Clashfarquhar and put up some hard problems up to Font 7c, but probably the best is this classic powerful clampy arête. These puppies are desperate for the grade as well, must be that NE air!
Abracadabra Craigmaddie Font 7a
Buddha's Choice Cummingston Font 6b
Deep Breath Glen Nevis Font 8a
It's apt that the year ended with a deserved 'deep breath'. Dave MacLeod finally climbed this notorious steep wall at Glen Nevis, providing the glen with its first 8th grade problem, and deservedly so after so much mythology of hard problems existing here... Dave's ascent was incontrovertible and impressive, repeating it first time for the cameras, indeed three or four times for the hell of it!
Tom Charles-Edwards cracked Turbinal Nose at Glen Croe, saying it is maybe 7b+ if you're tall... proving a popular project problem and one of the gems of Glen Croe. I still think it's 7c, Tom.
Dumbarton - King Kong (8a) fell to Godzilla, masquerading as Alan Cassidy. The enduring strength of Mal Smith saw a quick repeat of Pressure (8b), but you knew I was going to say that. Is he now our elder statesman of bouldering?
Niall McNair, in his usual onsight style, continued to destroy any boulder problem he came across, repeating almost at will with a Duracell-bunny-style full attack mode, quite remarkable to witness. Some of his repeats: Lock, Stock & Barrel at the Trossachs (7c), The Victorian (7b) and he nearly picnic-onsighted the desperate Out of the Blue at Loch Lomond (a Chris Graham 7c)... jeezo.
In the far Northwest, Mike Lee and Ben Litster repeated the Reiff in the Woods dyno The Main Issue (7b) and Lawrence Hughes did the second ascent of Dave MacLeod's Frantic (7c) at the Torridon Celtic Jumble.
MORE DETAILS: www.stonecountry.co.uk
Stone Play is a collection of writing and photography on the global phenomenon of bouldering, documenting its historical roots and representing the 'problems' and philosophies of respected boulderers, from the legends of John Gill, Pat Ament and Jacky Godoffe to modern rock-gods such as Dave MacLeod, Bernd Zangerl and Klem Loskot.
Over 150 photographs and short essays take a circuit round the globe, from Fontainebleau to New Zealand, highlighting what makes bouldering so addictive and inspiring to the climber. History, landscape, technique and the future of bouldering are all given due consideration by some of the most entertaining writers and climbers on the planet.
MORE DETAILS: www.stonecountry.co.uk
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