(‘The Girls!’…on the ferry)
After nerve rackingly handing my notice in at work that Friday (in preparation for Canada) I headed over to Ardrossan straight after work from Ayr. Elated to have a metaphorical weight off my shoulders but pretty laden down with a huge pack full off ropes and rack and camping gear to carry on my bike. See, the thing about Arran, which always made the idea of it ever more inticing to me, was that the use of a car is pretty superfluous, especially if you plan to climb in the Rosa valley, at £90 a pop to get your vehicle onto the ferry it would be pretty damn stupid in my opinion. The Glen Rosa campsite is only a couple of miles from the ferry terminal by road and the further you can get up the track past the start of the campsite the better the camping and the shorter the walk in to the Glen Rosa climbing. Taking a bike makes this an altogether more viable option, not to mention more fun! Having heard various different accounts of what was possible on what kind of bike and given the varied limitations of our teams cycling equipment I eventually decided to take over my canondale tourer. I heard that the path to just beyond the boundary of the campsite was a friendly Forrestry track, so friendly that a friend had done it on a Brompton! So I had a fair idea that the canondale would make it to at least there. Since Sam and Fi only had old steel comuting bikes I figured it was kinda pointless taking the mountain bike, we would be restricted to how far in they could get on those bikes and I would also be hindering my luggage allowance without the use of a panier rack. The way we did it worked fine, the path was certainly ‘road tyre’ friendly for a good couple of Km and although it got a bit more technical reaching the bridge and beyond, it was nothing our game team couldn’t handle. It actually felt more heroic on crap city bikes battened up to the nines with unstable panier luggage and was great fun! It has to be said that Ross and Jules did let team shoddy cycles down a little bit with their fancy mountain bikes, although it certainly seemed to make life much easier on some of the more technical terrain. The only problem was that with no panier rack you were either reliant on the resilience of friends to take a load of the kit on their paniers or burdened by trying to carry two packs awkwardly on your fit for purpose mountain bike, rendering it, well, less fit for purpose.
In summation Of the biking/camping situation, then in future I would either do as we did; take the tourers and panier up, restricting the camping to nearer the bridge. OR, get super organised (probably preferably between two of you) with gear and food before hand, making sure you have no surplus stuff so that you can fit everything into one large rucksack enabling you to reap the agility benefits of taking a mountain bike. Even in the latter scenario I reckon you’d have to be a fairly skilled mountain biker to make a faster ascent of the terrain beyond the bridge than someone on foot to make it worth while. We therefore camped in a lush spot, beyond the bridge, just across the river. Crossing this with kit was pretty exciting!! And upon realising the length of day we were going to endure on the South Ridge Direct quickly hit the sack.
Waking at 6am after a dodgey nights sleep to realise that Sam had forgotten an essential bit of coffee making equipment was a serious blow to the psyche until Ross and Jules remedied the situation with their surprisingly passable instant stuff. Having pulled it back from the edge of ‘game over’ realms psyche was increasing to an all time high just as the midgies hit base camp and chased us up and out onto the trudge to the bottom of the route. Although I reckon the walk in was still a good 1.30/1.45 hours from where we camped this passed pretty quickly as most of it was on reasonably flat ground, winding up the side of the glen with stunning views of the ridge and pinnacle awaiting us. Thanks to another team of 3 who managed to beat us to the early rise we managed to find the start of the route pretty easily, having dumped our packs under a boulder just off the path so only the seconds had to climb with extra weight, we scrambled up to the other party. Things were slow to get started as the team of three took a little while to get ahead and Ross and Jules were given pol-position out of our crew since, especially as a two, they would be faster than us. Unfortunately Sam went a little off route when getting our team off the ground by leading the first pitch and took a while to get to the belay. It didnt matter in the slightest as the gap that was now between us and Ross and Jules just meant there definitely wasn’t any danger of getting stuck behind them higher up the route and besides, we were unlikely to be caught out by darkness since night barely fell during these long days! After giving Fi and I enough time to put the world to rights on the ground belay Sam brought me up on second, allowing me to rack up and be ready to set off as Fi reached the belay.
(I must be sick of Fi’s chat, waiting for Sam to finish the first pitch)
Next up was my leading of S-crack which was totally amazing. The rock is highly textured allowing plenty of smears for your feet accompanied by alternate jams for your hands and as much pro as your rack could give (namely size 1 and 2 cams). Finding the S-crack reasonably straight forward, I tried to be fairly sparing with the gear I put in. I was hoping I could lead the S and Y pitches together but knew that filling the S-crack with kit would leave my rack sparse for the tougher thuggier ‘Y’ pitch and also increase the drag. My tactic worked well and happily a piece of fixed gear protected the crux of the Y so the cams I’d saved were beneficial back ups. The climbing was very thuggy, a short jamming move into a rounded mantle which I don’t reckon I’d have got many style points for but I managed to squirm my way over with only a couple of moments where I thought I was gonna peel off backwards. Bringing Fi and Sam up on a reverso worked pretty efficiently and I was well impressed at their speedy seconds, with packs on and all.
(Belaying after leading the ’S’ and ‘Y’ cracks together)
Well. That was the crux done. Although the route tapered off in technical grade quite considerably after this point,in did not in one bit detract from its brilliance, as I thought it may have. Even the more scrambly pitches were stunning! Amass a sea of slabby granite with the sun glistening on it. Way finding was relatively straight forward, taking an extract of Gary Latter’s description was very useful, and I would say for the most part following this kept us on track. We had settled into a good system of me leading and bringing the other two up on a Reverso together to save time on easier ground. And on Sam’s leads, where she didn’t use a Reverso, I would second first to be able to rack up and get ready to go almost as soon as Fi hit the belay. I’m not suggesting we were uber quick or anything, quite the contrary, but I was pleased having been labeled ‘climbing mum’ by Sam and Fi that as far as rope work and way finding went I only caused one little hiccup with tangled ropes and this was sorted quickly. In fact the climb had a relaxed and fun feel to it the whole time with lots of daft chat and even the occasional outburst into song. Not sure Ross and Jules enjoyed our rendition of Cher from the pen-ultimate belay ledge as much as we did!!
(Fi, Sam and I celebrating in song after de-tangling the ropes at the penultimate belay)
(Ross looking like a boss leading the lay-back pitch with his sunglasses on)
The lay-back pitch was another stunning 25 metres of climbing and the chimney pitch that Sam heroically lead gave a good punch for a pitch that had no technical grade. Fi earned herself some serious hero points seconding this wriggling pitch with a back pack on and fantastically avoided having a ‘greet’ even at the most frustrating moments. I would be lying if I tried to pretend that lots of obscenities weren’t directed at the ‘f-ing’ arsehole back pack though!! We topped out at around what must have been 8pm. A good while after Ross and Jules, who we were hoping were on a mission on their swish bikes, sans heavy kit, to town to pick up some well needed beers. After picking up the path down to collect our dumped packs and cooling our crippled feet in the burn on the way down we arrived back at the tent around dusk, totally exhausted, with no Ross or Jules in sight. Upon piling into our tent to hastily avoid the ravenous midgies that seemed to be out in full force, we found Ross and Jules, also hiding out and with a massive pan of dinner on for all of us AND beers chilled from the river! Totally overwhelmed by this very kind act, and grateful since we didn’t really have the brainpower to rub together between the three of us to coordinate making a meal, everybody tucked into some cracking grub prepared by ‘camp mum’ Jules. We just about managed to stay awake long enough to drink a beer together, swapping stories from the day and route beta and then collapsed for the night, glad at the thought of a Sunday morning lie-in. Despite being psyched for more climbing on the Sunday and some more beautiful weather, with a consensus toward getting the penultimate ferry, rather than the last, due to a few folks commitments to work on Monday we collectively decided that it would be much more chilled to have a relaxing breakfast and pack up and spend some time exploring the island on the bikes. We headed over to Lamlash and managed to find a perfect pier to jump our semi-naked, midgie-bitten, jamming-scarred and sunburnt bodies in the soothing but freezing sea. After picnicking, ice creaming and finally pinting in a beer garden we headed back to the ferry with little doubt in anyone’s mind that after such a long day on the Saturday, we had spent Sunday in the best way! Yet another truly awesome weekend.
Other salient points of my recently happy life have been a climbing trip to the lakes on bank holiday wknd: great climbing company and weather not to mention more wild water underwear swimming. Evening cragging at Loudoun hill. Bike riding. Lots of laughs despite the rain camping at fife for mine and Anna’s birthday and general good people coordinating into good times.
(Wild swimming (dipping) on the way back from climbing at Pavey Ark, lakes district)
I’ve met some awesome new friends and really been enjoying seeing more of the old ones. I am about to leave this all behind to move to Canada in what is now 8 weeks time where I’ll have no job, no house and know hardly anyone. Its certainly going to be hard to leave that all behind. Sometimes I wish I could have left a bit earlier, a few months after this Canadian dream started brewing in my head, when times were awful and I needed and escape. But then when I mull over it more, I realise it has already given me an escape. An escape from my thoughts in the here and now, allowing me to look toward the future. An escape from having to take any of lifes stresses in the current life too seriously. And that, ironically, is what has allowed these recent good times. The way I’ve started to look at it is; I’m going to Canada and that’s a greatly exciting thing. Surely it’s still much better to have a great time before I leave than a rubbish one?