Keeping momentum, the Galloway Sea cliffs and the start of trad 2013

Because logistics and weather worked in our favour, Fraz and I made a couple of trips down to the Dumfries and Galloway area recently. The first in late February to Dumfries area (Meikle Ross and Corwar) where we seemed to snatch favourable conditions out of a cold but sunny winters weekend and the second to Stranraer area, rather hectically sandwiched between moving house and heading away to Kalymnos over the Easter weekend. The second saw us head to a campsite just outside of Stranraer on the Saturday night. Due to continued cold temps without the promise of sunshine to help we wussed out on the wild camping in favour of a hot shower. The Rhinns campsite was pretty reasonable with a good shower block and very friendly owners. The plan was to climb at Laggantulloch on the Sunday and Portobello sea cliffs on the Monday but unfortunately chilly winds left us with few options for sheltered zawns at Laggantulloch. Lunch bay and main cliff were what we had hoped for but hoodlum bay seemed to provide most shelter from the biting wind. Unfortunately not enough to get Fraz past the first couple of moves on his chosen e1 warm up. His hands and muscles were just too cold. I took one for the team by jumping on ‘The oyster thief’ an HVS I’d hoped to warm up on anyway. It was a fine route but gave me a good battle as I fiddled wires in with severely numb fingers and lay-backed a crack system, of which I had too little feeling in my hands to establish how positive it was, I hoped reasonably so!

(Me attempting to get warmed up on ‘The oyster theif’ HVS, Hoodlum bay Laggauntulloch)

After that we sacked off Laggantulloch, headed back to the car and enjoyed warming up on the drive to Portobello. After getting the car stuck in a minute amount of snow on the track to the crag and rescuing it with a shovel borrowed from a local we only managed another route between us after that days faffing.

(The car stuck in the most riduculously small amount of snow)

Still reasonably pleased just to have got some climbing done we hunkered back in the tent for some rest whilst planning to head back to Portobello the next day for more of the same- sheltered crags! We woke up feeling pretty awful and cold and not too inspired from the previous days attempts and headed into Portpatrick to find a nice warm cafe. It took a few coffees to gain enough psyche to head back to the crag with even a smidgen of hope that we wouldn’t end up freezing our asses off and faffing around again like the day before.

This time we headed to Cracked block cove where we were able to do some routes that didn’t start in the sea. Fraz put in a great effort on St. Elmo’s fire, E2 start which was a very enjoyable second whilst I faffed around (again) down climbing Thunderbolt (HVS) since I only had one number 3 Camalot sized piece of protection with me making the top half of the climb virtually un-protectable. The starting moves were very cool though and it was an inspirational line that I would like to come back and do with better protection!

(The cool line of Thunderbolt, next time!)

Feeling a bit put out by my failing efforts on lead I decided to get on ‘A close shave’ a crumbly looking (but suprisingly not) E1 on the fluted wall to the right side of the cracked block. It was a bit of an endurance battle, shaking out where possibly to have enough left to place gear on a the slightly overhanging terrain. A battle I won though and was pleased to get my first E1 for the season under my belt. So although quantity wasn’t the outcome of the trip it was cool to get some more trad in and get a bit familiar with rock again before heading away to Greece, to climb on rock nothing like that of the Greywhacke in Galloway and in a style that required techniques very dissimilar to trad!

Returning from Greece I just wanted to rest! I wasn’t particularly tired, but I kinda felt like I should do something other than climbing or outdoor activities. I’d planned to chill out that weekend and just catch up on washing etc, maybe meet a few mates for pints. But when I contacted all my pals they were all up for doing something active! Anna suggested a bike ride from hers in Edinburgh on Sunday and when Fraz insisted the weather would be warm and dry and good for cragging on Saturday – and above that he could drop me and my bike at Anna’s after in Edinburgh –  I realised that doing washing could definitely wait and that I was actually surprisingly psyched to keep up the momentum and get out climbing. Fraz and I headed out to Cambusbarron after a much needed 8am lie-in on Saturday and we had a great day! After pretty much finishing up all the E1s I’d not lead/cleaned before I decided to have a battle with Gobi roof, I’d seconded Fraz on the route a couple years ago and remember thinking I could nail the crux on lead if I remembered the beta, plus it was very well protected, with at least two bomber cams to be had in the break. So I stepped up on the sharp end, I remembered the beta, but managed to forget that even with the beta the crux was pretty damn balancy and hard. I fell off. If I was going for the on-sight I might have been a bit miffed, but since I’d already seconded it I didn’t mind so much. I lowered off, and went again from the ground. This time slapping for the good hold I was surprised to find myself still on the route! The rest of the route was straightforward enough, just had to keep my head together! Pretty pleased to do my first E2 lead, inspiration was quickly filling my head of which route at that grade I should try and on-sight now!

(Getting psyched for ‘Gobi roof’)

My success seemed to influence Fraz to try an e3 at the back of the quarry and tackle it with confidence and ease. A great day all round! An amazing quiche at Anna’s and meringue pudding courtesy of Ian refueled me enough to go for a 50mile bike ride the next day.

The next weekend was Sam’s birthday and another trip was on the cards. With the north looking wet and cold and looking for a cool wild camping spot with great views for some inclusive birthday fun we were to head to Portobello, again! Although I’m always up for mixing it up and getting to places I’ve not been before I had no objections of returning to the Galloway sea cliffs, the weather was looking great for the Saturday, there was plenty still to do climbing wise and with good food, good beer and good company good times were to ensue! The Saturday worked out great, we got there about 11am and dumped the bags at camp (a beautiful spot right on the coast, metres from the climbing) for the others to be able to see us and headed off to find a route to get started on. I did have a moment of doubt about the success of the day when we realised that a lot of the routes were more tidal than we anticipated and I was forced to climb a ‘no starred’ HVS to get us going. The line looked quite good though and the route was certainly pleasant enough to get things started. Luckily the others then turned up which gave us a good excuse to kill some time waiting for the sea to do its thing whilst we helped them unload the cars. Ross and I saw our cue to go see if the E2 he had his eye on was out the sea when the others started to try and put up Karen’s ginormous tent! Luckily it was, we got out of helping and got a route done! The tent was up and the others came to join us just as we were topping out.

We all headed round to a then dry U-boat pen where Sam and I climbed in unison on our respective lines right next to each other. I was on the water margin, which I had had my eye on for ages, and looked really cool, but totally not my style (delicate slab with reasonably sparse pro) and Sam was leading the VS next to it which followed a cool looking crack up similar terrain, I was jealous of her protection options! The move to get on to the water margin was hard and improbable but I headed up to the pocket hoping it was better than it looked. Encouragement from everyone really helped, being at the crag together was really great and made it even more fun. Thankfully the pocket was really good but the feet were still crap, just smears that kept popping, so I was basically resting on the juggy pocket. I knew I needed to get some gear in as the next moves also looked thin but the trick was to do this without blocking the only good hold. A number 6 wall-nut in the back of the pocket did nicely. I climbed quickly passed the next little two-finger pocket and on to the break where I knew I could cram in multiple runners. I did this and hit the home straight to join Sam on a cosy belay at the top. As I brought Ross up I also got to watch Fi and Colin make light work of seconding the VS.

(On the home straight, pleased to have a plethora of gear in the break)

The rest of the day saw us at shark fin bay where Ross bravely lead the overhanging arete of ‘Water Dance’ in a true sport climber style, cruising the moves and placing about 2 pieces of gear. In his defense, there wasn’t all that much more to be had! Sam had a battle with ‘Muscle bound’ and after a good effort eventually conceded and hopped right to finish up the HS. The move over the lip did look a bit committing and a bit blind.
Wanting to make the most of the evening sun knowing Sundays weather might not permit anymore climbing, let alone the chance of a hangover to stop us, I greedily asked Ross to belay me on ‘Silence of the clams’, it took a line right to the top of the crag that encountered an interesting looking roof and a massive nest just below the crux.
Hoping to avoid the nest completely I was a little intimidated to look down and see three massive birds giving me the evils only about a metre and a half away. Luckily the jugs through the roof made the going straightforward enough to move past them quickly and avoid getting covered in spew. It was also lucky for them as there was an awful stench coming off them that was turning my stomach a bit and any longer it might have been me covering them in boke! Moving from the break at the top of the roof proved to be the crux and required a bit more thought and cunning balance than I had anticipated. Once I’d worked it out it was easy enough to commit and get to the next set of good holds leading to the top out. Ross followed with ease even with a huge rucksack on, which I aided our quick get away back to the camp and beer having had a long and fulfilling day.

(The team all climbing together at U-boat pen, Portobello)

We enjoyed a campfire and a BBQ that night and headed back up the road leisurely on the Sunday in the imminent downpour, satisfied we had made the most of the weekends good weather.
My run of momentum so far this year has been really satisfying, its really good to be getting out reasonably regularly and seeing the positive effects. Its also great to be exploring new parts of Scotland. I just hope the weather, life and injuries all play ball so that this can continue and I can hopefully explore north a bit as well as south!

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