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Placing gear on Schist

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 Guy Atkinson 15 Oct 2020

I don’t know if it’s just me, but does anybody else find placing gear on Schist/Mica Schist particularly unnerving? 

You often see people online making jokes about placing cams on Limestone or how Americans/Europeans find it insane that we trad climb on Limestone. But what about Schist?

Admittedly i’ve only only climbed Schist at Polldubh and Polney crags and perhaps it was down to my choice of route, but for the grade, even on good quality rock the gear placements were far more fiddly, tenuous and insecure than most gear I’ve placed on UK limestone.
 

There’s heaps of Schist in Scotland and loads of really famous routes on the stuff but I don’t often see much mention of the gear placements. Or is there just an unwritten rule that you reaaaallly don’t fall off in Scotland if you’re trad climbing? (Aside from the fact that comparative remoteness makes rescue a more serious prospect.)

Curious to know peoples thoughts on this.

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 CMcBain 15 Oct 2020
In reply to Guy Atkinson:

Have always thought schist in Scotland is reasonably well protected, including Polney and Upper Cave. It’s quite compact rock so often doesn’t form obvious soaring cracks which can make it hard to spot gear from the ground. However usually when you’re actually climbing there is decent gear to be found in pockets, pods and short cracks. Cams seem pretty essential to protect some routes and micro cams for stuff in the mid E grades.

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In reply to Guy Atkinson:

Schist can be fiddly for gear. It's the rock I learned to trad climb on, so fairly used to it, but it still takes more mental effort that granite or gneiss

Having a good array of gear (offset wires, RPs, small cams), even for a short climb, seems to help. I would almost hazard to say that placing the gear and protecting the routes is one of the main challenges on schist, then there's reading the rock (no, that jug looking thing is actually a shit sloper).

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 Gav_92 14:02 Thu
In reply to Guy Atkinson:

Iv found the gear at polldubh and Dunkeld to be pretty good, never run out. 

Creag dubh is abit steeper so feels worse at times.

Plenty of good nut placements available along with selection of cams and offsets 

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 Basemetal 14:05 Thu
In reply to Guy Atkinson:

Fun when it rains though... had a few scares on the Cobbler :ox

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 Eric9Points 15:59 Thu
In reply to Guy Atkinson:

I think you just need to get a bit more used to the rock. Yes, it's quite different to limestone but learning to climb different types of rock us all part of the fun!

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 Rod_Vortex 16:55 Thu
In reply to Guy Atkinson:

I can only comment on sub-extremes but I remember thinking the gear at Polldubh was pretty good (seemed to take nuts, especially offsets and side-on placements very well). 

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In reply to Alasdair Fulton:

Agreed, often fiddly gear and holds worse than they appear from below! Also less friction than some other rocks, so when it is bold it can feel less secure also.

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In reply to Guy Atkinson:

I too learned to climb trad on Schist. It’s wonderful stuff and I found it taught me to really look for and develop my ingenuity for placements.  

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In reply to Guy Atkinson:

If you like unnerving rock, head down to  Llyn Brianne (Carmarthenshire). The easier routes are especially exciting with shattered mudstone basically pulling out in handfuls or trying to evacuate the cliff in chunks. Lots of DIY bolts, ancient pegs, and missing belays add to the mystique. 

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 JimR 20:45 Thu
In reply to purplemonkeyelephant:

I recall a few routes at Newtonmore where the gear was well spaced to say the least😀

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In reply to Gav_92:

Yes. I don't remember Poll Dubh and Dunkeld being particularly badly protected. A bit sparse, and rock not very friendly, but certainly not bad.

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 pec 21:24 Thu
In reply to Guy Atkinson:

My experience of schist is on Coastgurad Cliff in Cornwall and mountaineering routes in various parts of the Alps.

I don't recall being concerned about the gear in general, but I've been more bothered by the prospect of the ropes being cut in a fall. There are a lot of sharp edges about.

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 Gav_92 22:15 Thu
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

Not often able to lace a climb with gear but like most rock types there is a collection of routes with an abundance of gear and then some ones that feel particularly bold. Especially if polished or a little wet then it can be terrifying 

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In reply to Gav_92:

Sounds to me like a good summary of trad climbing.

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 alan moore 09:08 Fri
In reply to Guy Atkinson:

It is an odd type of rock. I find Polney and Polldubh very difficult to read. Creag Glass is much nicer with big, simple slabs. Cobbler is much more massive and more like granite to climb on. Cave crag looks like pretend limestone so lots of variety. Amazing quality for bouldering at Ben Ledi and Loch Katrine as well.

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 Mark Bannan 17:27 Fri
In reply to alan moore:

> It is an odd type of rock...

I  couldn't agree more, Alan! It certainly varies immensely in style, quality and enjoyment.

The first climbs I did on schist were Punster's Crack and Whither Wether and these were so superb that it coloured my judgement for a lot of it. Both routes have great climbing on excellent clean rock with tremendous exposure, despite the fact that I nearly shed my load on the top half of the latter - I quickly learned that cams are a must for this rock! 

I think Polldubh, Glenmarksie and some of the Aberdeen coastal cliffs (Deceptive Wall, Floors Craig, Earnsheugh) give great routes (Storm, Proteus, Resurrection, Untroubled Blue, Ugly Bugs, to name but a few superb ones), often following strong lines and with good protection (so long as I took at least 6 cams for each!). Glenmarksie is very unusual, with some fairly conventional schist moves, interspersed with some almost gritstone-like cracks. By contrast, The Cobbler, Arrochar Valley Crags (major yuck!) and much of Dunkeld are either trouser-fillingly run out (Springboard at Polney was a total nightmare when I led it, undergraded at VS in my guidebook - I came dreadfully close to brown trousers on this!) or dirty lichenous crud (Fold Direct's first 2 pitches were like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon!). 

I learned to climb on Glencoe Rhyolite in the late '90s. As a skint student and dole bum, I found this rock often to be very well protected (Bludger's and Peasant's Passage excepted!), even with my paltry rack of 12 wires, 5 hexes and a couple of slings! 

M

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 wbo2 19:01 Fri
In reply to Guy Atkinson: schist covers a real mix of rocks though... some is fantastically solid, but I've seen entire mountains of crumbling, rotten rubbish. 

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 timparkin 19:46 Fri
In reply to Guy Atkinson:

As a beginner, I really like the rock at Polldubh and find it quite 'interesting' to solve little 3d problems. I would have assumed this was normal with my limited experience though. At my grades and on the popular routes, the placements have conformed to standard nut placements however so perhaps it gets hairy in the extreme end. 

Tim

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