Monday, 19 October 2015

Muile - bouldering at Loch Buie

I’ve visited Loch Buie Boulders on Mull. It's a great bouldering spot.

The grades were generally soft (I on-sighted my first 7bwhich feels a bit disappointing once you realise that you are not as strong as it first appeared.

Hook and go, 7b SS, but it felt more like 7a.

Flesh, 7a, but it felt more like 6b unless I eliminated some holds 
Apart from that disappointing feeling, the rest is 5 stars.

Loch Buie has this much sought after feeling of safe remoteness - beautiful see sights, wildlife (eagles and otters!), old castle, beautiful beach with fine clean sand...

The walk-in is less than half an hour, on flat ground, and is accessible with a push chair : bring your wee bairn and don't worry about adders. Or cars.

Problems come at all levels, in all shapes and heights and many, with a perfect landing. And if you flash the 30 or so established problems, there's plenty more to explore (I found some stuff, but I'll stick it in another post).

The rock is a coarse gabro, but much nicer than that of Coire Lagan on Skye - I spent three afternoons bouldering here and did not get a single skin cut even though I had little hard skin prior going.

The mushroom boulder seem to suck all your attention, thanks to the various possibilities of its overhangs.

Nipple Attack, eliminate version. 3 star problem but 7a at most.

Apart from the problems that I managed to identify in the guidebooks, I also climbed a couple of other problems.

They probably have been done before so I name them here only for the purpose of identifying them.

(And also to stick with the existing semantic field of vocabulary that characterizes the Mushroom boulder)

G-String, 7a+

G-String is a solid 7a+. It goes up the blank looking vertical part of the boulder, using holds in the crack and a high hidden crimp to finish on good slopers. Can be done statically (heel hook, harder) or by stepping on (easier). I haven't done the sitter though.

Au Naturel, 6b

Au naturel climbs the far left corner from sit-start on a big flat ledge within the corner.

You can't beat Torridon for quality bouldering in Scotland.

And you certainly can't beat Dumbarton for hardcore bouldering.

But when it comes to fun bouldering in Scotland, Loch Buie is my number one.

Oh, and in case you wonder... not a midge in sight!!!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Mini Font glossary

Everyone speaks English these days, right? So will the French understand the following climbing terms?


An “arête” is a “ridge” in French. And in English too, the word is written with that little funny accent that they call a circumflex – according to Oxford dictionary anyway.


Although more terms get into French thanks to the supremacy of American English, this term supposedly coined by Texan climber Jack Mileski in 1981 is unlikely to replace its French equivalent, méthode. Interestingly, method is probably a rare example of jargon that was first used by boulderers. In the context of climbing, it was first used by the Bleausards.


This is the Latin word for “cross”, which for Christians, is synonymous of “crucifixion”. The French share with the Italians the belief that their language is more Latin than the Pope’s. So while French climbers will certainly know and use this term, they will firmly believe it is a French word. And wrongly so: the word is not in their dictionary and was probably borrowed to English. Incidentally, to tick a problem is faire une croix in French (to make a cross mark) and a tick list is a carnet de croix (cross mark book).


Supposedly first used by John Gill in 1969, this very useful word started to infiltrate the French climbing jargon only recently. It would be a great addition to French climbing lingo as it has no equivalent.


Short English words tend to be perceived as cool in French, especially if they look like something familiar, which is the case of this shortening of mouvement dynamique. Having said that, the French did not wait for John Gill to practice dynos – and they could have waited a long time since he’s never travelled to Font. Before the Internet was invented, dynos were called jetés (throws).


Thanks to the popularity of web platforms promoting the competitive way of life, everyone is aware of the importance of first ascents. Yet it is unlikely that the English term will replace the French term. Indeed, FA are called openings (ouvertures) in French, because after all, FAs are about sharing.


The name of this climbing move was supposedly coined in 1982 by British climber John Arran. But the French don’t know who John Arran was (er… is?). They do know Tony Yaniro however, who popularised this move – so in French, this is called Le Yaniro.


French speaking climbers and boulderers climb à vue (on sight), après travail (red point) or, like in English, flash. All three expressions are used as adverbs, not as verbs, duh.


This popular nickname in not used by the French. As far as the Bleausards are concerned, Fontainebleau has always been called Bleau – pronounced a bit like “blow”. Why would you change the name of your pond? Plus, everyone knows that a font is a type of printing characters, right?


This was a popular baby name in the French city of Marseilles in the 1920s. So it was the name that Mr and Mss Rebuffat chose for their son when he was born. He later climbed lots of mountains including the Grandes Jorasses and the Annapurna. Despite this fame, the French call the gaston move a shoulder move (épaule). Shameful really.


According to Sherman, the term “highball” derives from the similarity between a highball climb and a highball cocktail glass. Both should be enjoyed with moderation. The French know what moderation is, but they usually think highballs have something to do with balls. And getting high.


French climbers don’t climb on their mantelshelf, they prefer to “re-establish” themselves, hence the climbing term réta (for rétablissement). Réta Authenac, for instance, is a famous 6b mantel of the Cuvier sector in Font, first climbed by Charles Authenac, in the 1930s, in his hard walking boots. He originally graded it 5+ but it must have taken him more than one session.

Rose move ✗ 

The English term derives from the world known French sports route La Rose et le Vampire, at Buoux. The French may feel honoured by this English choice of words, but they prefer to use the word derviche tourneur, or derviche for short, which in Farsi language refers to someone treading a Sufi Muslim ascetic path in poverty and austerity. That’s because derviches from the Mevlevi Order perfom a famous whirling dance, hence the name given to this move.


John Sherman was born in 1959. The First Fontainebleau guidebook was published in 1945. Do your maths and you’ll understand why Font grades take precedence.  


Réta Authenac, in bas Cuvier, a famous mantle from the 1930s

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Who's the True First?

The making of authenticity requires mysticism.

Roots cannot be authentic without legends, heroes and Gods, figures who newcomers can look up to.

As early as the 1940s, kids were riding boards on each side of the Atlantic.

This is a fact. 

There are photographs and written reports - US army auxiliary Betty Magnuson, for instance, reported in her letters having seen children in 1944 Parisian Montmartre riding boards with roller skate wheels (info sourced on Wikipedia).

That's what kids used to do. They'd screw the wheels of roller skates to a wood board, like this:

Actually, four-wheeled roller skates were patented in 1863, so it is likely that kids started to build skateboards even at the time of the rinkomania.

But such activity is not perceived as ‘proper’ skateboarding by today's skateboarding community because, authenticists argue, these kids were children'. 

They were not skateboarding for the sake of it. They were ‘messing
. They were ‘just’ playing. 

Authenticists claim that skateboarding ‘as we know it
’ or as an end in itself, was born when adult Californian surfers decided to invade the urban realm while sea waves were flat. 

In the authenticist discourse, the people who give the legitimate birth to the practice are often called ‘pioneers’. They’re usually described as the ‘first’ to have done something.

Here are the actual words of an authenticist, John Severson, publisher of The Quarterly Skateboarder, in his first editorial in 1964:

Today's skateboarders are founders in this sport—they're pioneers—they are the first. There is no history in Skateboarding—it's being made now—by you.

The authenticity of skateboarding had been forged i
n a couple of sentences. The coronation of 1964’s skateboarders as ‘founders of the sport’ forged the myth and initiated a cult. 

Even more striking is the denial of any pre-existing skateboarding facts – 
there is no history in Skateboarding - which means that any previous recorded skateboarding activity, such as that of kids having fun in the streets 20 years earlier, is considered as pre-historic and therefore illegitimate. 

By writing up history, the authenticist forges history, n
ever mind the facts.

To conclude, here's an inspiring video archive from the 1930s (maybe?), featured on Gizmo!, a documentary by Howard Smith, released in 1977. Among the daredevils could be John Ciampa, the ‘Human fly’ from Brooklyn, and the German stuntman Arnim Dahl.

Does this qualify as authentic buildering? Or as parkour, perhaps? Gosh, no, wait... They're not doing it as an end in itself, right? 

Well, never mind, let's call it ‘fun’.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Bouldering near Vigo - Parque da Penacova

While civilized celebrations were going on at home at the Edinburgh festival, I was enjoying myself, abroad, at a primitive fiesta.

Stones and rocks were to primitive people what cats and dogs are to us. I was bound to find boulders.

Unga Unga, 6b+/7a

The event was held in a clearing among the woods. The woods were full of big stones, many of them holding prehistoric marks, which gives the locals an excuse to get stoned:

They also use babies. They throw them at each other or use them as cushions. Some females even use them as fashion accessory:

The local granit is as rough as its primitive masters, but I survived anyway. 

Here's the climbing info:

Reta Cromañón, de pies, 6a

Matapiollos, sentado, 6b

3. Lance, sentado, 6c 

4. Saida proyecto

5. Proyecto eliminante, fenda
6. Unga, de pies, 6b+
7. Unga Unga, sentado, 7a 
8. Variante Unga, de pies, 6b+ 
9. Piel de troll, 6b+

Otro proyecto a cepillar

Our local guide, Bob the boulder:

Can you fix me?

Hai moitas pedras entre A Gándara e As Regadas no campo de festas prehistoricas do Parque da Penacova:

Usted esta aquí

The traditional gogomap locator:

And finally, the flyer of the Festa da Prehistoria:

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Bouldering in Galicia - Corme

 Sector Gulich

El Gulich, SS, 6c+

 Sector Cerebro

Levitación en movimiento, 6c

Boulder en Galicia, Guía Zona Norte, (in Spanish), 
By Alejandro López Sánchez, 2013, 
Published in A Coruña, Galiza (Spain) by Campo IV 
Available at: Terra Deporte Aventura, Pi y Margall Street, no 53, Vigo 36202  (Tfno: 986 439 431) 
and also at

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Bouldering in Galicia, near Vigo - O Galiñeiro

Home de Pouca Fe, 7b

Sesión Vermouth, 5+
Requiere Atención, 6c+
Topo and info on Ovos de Gneis (a bloque no Monte Galiñeiro/bouldering at Monte Galiñeiro).

The Galiñeiro hill
The Galiñeiro's gneiss

Friday, 10 July 2015

Feedback on ascents and grades

The Second version of the Pedra Rubia guidebook has been published in June 2013. The first version was published the previous year (June 2012) but did not include a section about Portocelo.

If you’ve followed my blog, you might remember that I had climbed a few lines in Portocelo back in 2010.

At the time, I had looked for info everywhere, but had not found any either online or on paper. The only thing I knew was that it wasn’t a proper discovery. On a Galician forum, a guy called Luis Vigo had told me Portocelo boulders had been a climbing spot for the last 15 years and had even seen the first Galician bouldering comp in 1998.

So in an effort to share what I knew, I had post up some info online, via my own blog, YouTube, the web platform UKClimbing, Facebook and the likes.

Five years later, I find that some of ‘my’ problems (for more on ownership, see previous blog post) have been recorded in a guide book under different names and displaying different grades.

My first reaction was that of a six year old. I thought it was not fair. But after second thoughts, I realized that the people who had published the guidebook could hardly know about my FAs.

After all, my blog is written in English and only a handful of people reads it (thanks for your patience if you’re one of them), so I probably don’t rank very high in Google relevance charts.

Besides, 'my first ascents' were probably not proper FA anyway.

Nevertheless, it’s very interesting to compare the grades:


César Alvarez, 2013

Difference of grades
El Zambulidor
El Dragón
El Gigante verde
Super Tanker
Super Tanker
El pesa’o
O Electronico
Techo izquierda
Corner Ongui
La fisura del techo de Portocelo
O Fendeteito
Techo derecha
Corner Etorri

Interestingly, some of the 2013 names are in Galician (the local language) rather than Spanish. While I can speak Spanish, my understanding of Galician is limited and I could have hardly found many problem names, so I’m actually quite glad these problems have proper local names.

Although some other lines also show striking similarity, the lines shown in the table above are all the exact same. This observation points towards the existence of 'natural' lines, i.e. problems that are not just the result of one person's imagination, but that seem obvious to people who have not been in contact at all. Do 'true' lines exist? I believe so.

Yet the grade difference is substantial. In all cases but one, the difference varies from 2 to 4 grades, the maximum difference being from 6a to 6c. Either I was sandbagging, or inflation is rampant in the 6 grade sector.

I doubt that I was completely off the mark though. I have climbed a lot of boulder problems in the 6 grade, on granite, in different places and countries including Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, and in various conditions, from bone dry windy days to miserable drizzly days, and from -5°C to +30°C. So while I could be wrong with 5s and 7s grades, I think I’m fairly accurate when it comes to 6s.

Another interesting fact - for social media addicts anyway - is that the only boulder problem that has the same name and the same grade (Super Tanker, 7a+) is also the only problem that I’ve named and graded on YouTube for this area, which would imply that YouTube is more visible that the other social media I used - but we all know that watching vids is easier than reading info, right?

In any case, I thought this really put in perspective the power of the Internet - It’s not sufficient to share info online, people have to be able to find it easily!

Also, we should not underestimate the power of languages. Not everyone speaks English. Or want to. The same goes for Spanish. Some people speak and use Galician for bouldering, which means this minority language is well and alive.