Thursday, 26 February 2015

Dumbarton, Scottish mecca of modern climbing, to undergo a town planning “charette”


A consultation will get under way in Dumbarton and will focus on the future of the rock and its surrounding waterfront.

BBC news reports that "Dumbarton Rock has a long history. It formed part of a volcano that was active 350 million years ago and in more recent times - the 1500s - Mary Queen of Scots stayed in the castle built on it"…

… and fails to mention that Dumby is also the home of Rhapsody, E11 7a, the world's hardest traditional rock climb (it has received only 4 clean ascents so far), and of over 20 bouldering problems in the 8 grade, including the world famous Sanction, 8b, Pressure, 8b or Gut Buster, 8b+, to name just a few.

Given there is only seven boulders at Dumbarton Rock, speaking of "concentration of hard climbing" would be a euphemism.

Yet, there wasn’t a single piece of climbing info in the BBC news article – I suspect they have not yet discovered that one can climb these rocks with their "bare hands".

Apparently local people, businesses, landowners and historians are being asked how best to promote Dumbarton Rock as a tourist destination.

While we can assume that Glasgow climbers qualify as "local people", what about the rest of the climbing community?

Unesco, help please! We’re talking world climbing heritage here!

Admittedly, tourism rarely is a threat for climbing, but what happens if they decide to make a nice landscaped promenade round the boulders?

There will be safety issues: some climbs might simply get forbidden (or worse, damaged!) to protect the passer-by.

I’m not sure if the architects, Anderson Bell Christie, know anything about climbing, but let’s hope that the design team and the town council are aware of Dumbarton’s value for us.

P.S. (27/02/15): here's today's and tomorrow's programmes (to register, visit West Dumbarton Charrette website


Friday 27 February, Dumbarton Burgh Hall - Open to the Public from 9.30pm - 3.00pm

  • Project team working on proposals and drawing up: 9.30am – 12.30pm* *NB There are no active public sessions during this time but the public and 
stakeholders can drop-in to view what is going on. 
  • Public and Stakeholder Drop-in Session: 1.30pm – 3.00pm 
The public and stakeholders can discuss and feed back on proposals to the project team and in one-to-one sessions if requested.



Saturday 28 February, Dumbarton Burgh Hall
 - Open to the Public from 10.30pm - 1.00pm 

  • Public Exhibition with Feedback / Questionnaire Sheets: 10.30am – 1.00pm 
The exhibition will display annotated plans, drawings and illustrations of proposals developed from the charrette event for comment. 
March 2015

Final Presentation and Feedback event, further details in due course.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

More bare hand activity...

With the freeing of Dawn Wall, the return of journalistic masturbation was inevitable:

“Of course, with just their bare hands to guide them, bloodied fingers and bruised, broken finger nails become the painful norm.”
(The Independant) 
“Three thousand feet of some of the hardest climbing in the world. And just their bare hands and sticky-soled shoes to get them up the granite-faced monster known as the Dawn Wall.”
(CNN) 
“Could every inch of the blank, vertical face of the Dawn Wall be climbed with nothing more than bare hands and rubber-soled shoes?”
(New York Times) 
Kevin Jorgeson attaches clamps to the sheer granite face of El Capitan with his bare hands during the epic climb.
(Daily Mail)

The list goes on... 

I leave you to it, I'm off to find something to keep my bare hands busy.


Come to think of it, wearing gloves might not be such a bad idea.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The Boulder: a philosophy for bouldering...

I was less than half way through Francis Sanzaro’s The Boulder - a philosophy for bouldering when it struck me. This is the best book I’ve read about bouldering so far (I haven’t read many mind you).

At last, here’s someone who sees bouldering as something more than just a sporting challenge, someone who looks at this art from various points of view, with all their complexity and contradictions.

Of course, the title can be misleading. This book is neither about bouldering tricks, nor about training – not from a purely practical point of view anyway, unless you consider that reflecting on what bouldering means to you should be one of your training goals.

Indeed, Sanzaro’s 'philosophy' for bouldering is not American (it does not propose a 'guiding principle' for your business activities...). His philosophy does what it says on the tin. His book intends to study the fundamental nature of bouldering. This will inevitably sound tedious to those who hate the buzz the brain produces when it works.

Personally, I like it. I’ve always been interested in how my body related to its environment, how it perceived space (void or conversely, materialised), how my brain analysed these perceptions and made use of it. I’ve always taken a great pleasure in touching, and anticipating the feel of a hold. When I see a piece of rock, my brain starts reading it and I imagine myself climbing it. And indeed, I take pleasure in visualizing the potential moves.

Most boulderers will intuitively understand the feelings and thoughts I’m talking about. But it is so difficult to put them into words, perhaps because we lack the time to do so, but more certainly because we think we do not have that time. You see, this is not serious matter. Society has taught us what is vital and bouldering isn’t part of it.

These are the kind of topics that Sanzaro touches but when I checked online to see if this great book had been reviewed or had had any success, I found very few references.

The first review Google pointed me to was an appalling rant by self-proclaimed “outdoor writer” John Appleby. I do not know if Appleby is a frustrated boulderer, but he seems to be a frustrated writer. I suspect Sanzaro succeeded somewhere he must have failed.

I think, however, that one condition should apply to both reviewing and good criticism: critics should like – or, better still, love – the medium they are reviewing. These are not my words by the way, but those of a famous editorial writer, William Zinsser who I shamefully plagiarize here (see On Writing Well, 1976/2006 for more).

If like Appleby, you “haven’t got a clue what this guy is on about” because “it was really passing over my head”, then move on! Don’t waste your time writing about it, write about something else you liked. Better still, if you think that “to succeed is to bring about a sense of achievement and satisfaction” then focus on what brings you that: get out and climb!

So new year's resolution folks (pretty please!), do with books what you do with boulder problems: Forget about those you didn't like and share those you enjoyed.

I'll start:

The Boulder - a philosophy for bouldering by Francis J. Sanzaro, Glasgow: Stone Country Press, 2013



PS: Interview of the author is available on Robinclose's blog.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Bouldering at Hummell rocks (II)

Hummell wall - Gullane beach (near Edinburgh)

I've climbed another few problems on the mini-cliff wall of Hummell Rocks, at Gullane beach, near Edinburgh (East Lothian).

Don't use any hard/wire brushes pretty please!



1. Prow, 4. Can be topped out but descent is harder than the ascent.

2. Prow eliminate, 6b. Any holds on  the left side of the round prow is out. Sit start at obvious twin side pulls and move up on crimps till the top.

3. Tangology, 7a. Sit start on two big flatties. Make an awkward step leftward to small edges. Settle using a vague thumb catch side sloper, before launching to juggy holds above. Finish more easily but high or jump off.


4. Rise of the caveman, 6a+. Eliminate - no bridging allowed on the right or left.  Sit-start at the mini-cave on good flatties. Rock onto a left foothold to reach a higher flat ledge. Reach high and leftward to a good wide edge. Finish at the line of jugs above.



4. High and dry, 6a. Easier for the tall. From the sandy hole or the small edge, launch up to reach a hidden jug. Move up and rightwards to good holds. Jump off or finish up (not recommended on your own).

Monday, 15 September 2014

Bouldering at Hummell rocks

Hummell wall - Gullane beach (near Edinburgh)


I've climbed a few problems on the mini-cliff wall passed Hummell rocks, at Gullane beach, near Edinburgh (East Lothian). The ones below are the least sandy, but you will still need a gentle brush to clean off the holds (especially after kids' sand battles).

Don't use any hard/wire brushes pretty please!


1. Crimpy arête, 6a. Stand start on a two fingers pocket hole and climb the vague arête on crimps. escape and descent leftward on the slab.

2. Hummeliation, 6b. Step up from the finger tips pockety crack at head height and slap to crimps. Then up and finish as previous.

2 bis. Humiliation, 7a. As previous but start hanging both hands on the finger tips pockety crack.

3. Slab and wall, 5+. Step onto the slab then traverse left onto the wall and finish as previous.


4. Mini-Roof, 6a+. SS under the mini-roof, rock over the lip and finish up as high as you wish. Nice problem with a perfect landing (no mat required!!!).

There's a small alley at the back of the wall, which looks nice. Unfortunately, all the lines are easy and the place gets interesting only once you start eliminating:






Monday, 18 August 2014

Bouldering at Agassiz rock - The Lock Reloaded

Agassiz rock, Blackford Hill, Edinburgh


A major hold of the crag, an undercutting finger pocket under the small roof of the overhang, is completely gone. A flat edge remains, which opens potential for new versions of the classic lines.

Here's one of my owns, The Lock Reloaded, a cool sit-start that includes a couple of dynamic slaps and a high (but easy) top out:

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Bouldering near Edinburgh

Agassiz Rock Top-outs




The following problems can all top out. Descent can be done leftwards, via the small path at the top of the crag. Take care!

1. Rock over, 6a

Sit-start on pockets (heel hook right) to crimps above. Then rock over using a flat pinch, then top out.

2. Hula’s hop, 5+

Sit-start on small but positive pocket edges  to the big jugs above. Sort feet and reach for a crimp right hand and a hidden sharp side pull left end. Hop up onto the big ledge to the left and top out as the Rock over.

3. Step up, 4+

Sit-start as for Hula’s hop. A flat square edge above the line of big jugs leads to a hidden but good hold to the right of the bulge. Using it, step up onto the line of jugs and finish easily rightwards and up.

4. The Lock reloaded, 7a

A reload of the old "Lock" problem (see Stone Country press’ Bouldering in Scotland 2008 guidebook, page 60) after the "wobbly jug finger-lock" fell off. 

Sit-start at the base of the overhang and gain the heavily chalked up polished rail. From this rail, grab the undercut flat edge under the roof, sort feet out and lunge up for the sloper above. Match this sloper and lunge up again to a good jug (dynamic move) at the top of the overhang. Top out leftward on bigger holds (high).

5. Low Traverse, 7b

As per Stone Country guide to Bouldering in Scotland's description (2008, page 60).

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Craiglockhart - Update

Bouldering near Edinburgh, Wester Craiglockhart Hill


1. The Pinch, 6c+ 


From any hold to the right of the 'Shark' arete, deadpoint (or dyno) to a white sloper below the top and finish on the sharp jaws of the 'Shark'. 

2. The Pinch SS, 7b. 


Eliminate. Sit start at a broken brown vertical rib to the right of 'Shark' (harder for the tall). Any good hold on the left side corner/arete is out. Pull on small edges to gain a LH sloper and RH square pinch hold - or any other small edge and finish as for the pinch.

3. Hung Parliament, 6a+


Sit start under the bulge. Pull hard on crimps and sloper to reach the only good jugs of the wall. A technical sequence leads to hidden holds at the high break. Finish traversing left and down on ‘Shark’.

4. Hung Parliament direct 6a


As previous but finish straight up at the break on good holds.

5. The niche, 6b. 


Sit start at good but sharp crimp, slot or undercut into the small niche and reach for the flat diagonal side pull/pinch. From there, traverse left and finish as for ‘Hung Parliament’.

6. The niche direct, P

Eliminate. Sit Start as previous but straight up on crimps to the high break of ‘Hung Parliament direct’. The LH jugs and RH scoopish sloper by the ivy are out.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Outdoor Bouldering near Edinburgh

Agassiz Rock and Salisbury Crags




Dynamic panoramic view of Agassiz Rock


According to Robert Craig, a self-proclaimed “native Scot with the inside knowledge that entails”, “the best-known bouldering area near Edinburgh is Aberdour”.

Craig goes as far as claiming that “Salisbury Crags aren't good quality climbing”.

Given the advice is available on a website called “Allexperts dot com”, one is tempted to take it for granted.

Dear Edinburgh visitor, who's joining the crowds of the "Homecoming Scotland 2014", don’t be fooled. Judging by his assessment of rock quality, that expert is probably a hill walker who thinks that bouldering is another way to reach the top of a mountain.


The best outdoor bouldering in Edinburgh is at Salisbury Crags and Agassiz Rock

Salisbury Crags - The South Quarry

Salisbury Crags are the best venue in Edinburgh in terms of both rock quality and setting.

And by its overhanging nature and its profusion of holds, Agassiz Rock, near Blackford quarry, provides the best naturel training venue for bouldering in Edinburgh.


But if you think that soloing 10 meters high HVS routes above spiky rocks  - or at best above very shallow waters – is the definition of good bouldering, then yes, Aberdour is probably a bouldering venue.

All experts indeed.


Saturday, 10 May 2014

Undeniably Glendo

Glendalough from the sky



The beauty of watching British TV crime series is that you get to see Wicklow, where they are actually shot.