15 May 2013
Finally, we have the first stock of the new Scottish Sport Climbs guidebook by the SMC. It’s in the shop here. It has certainly been a long time coming. I first submitted a draft of the sections I wrote in November 2004! A lot of bolts have appeared across the lowlands, highlands and islands since then, so the book is a lot fatter than it would’ve been if it had been released at that time. So the wait has an upside.
Flicking through the guide as I took it out of the box, I was struck by the great selection of sport crags all over the country now. There are 1300 routes in the guide, on 100 crags. Who out of the slightly older generation of Scottish climbers would’ve thought we would have 1300 sport climbs in Scotland. That’s great! As you’d expect from an SMC guidebook it’s a nicely produced book with careful descriptions, good maps and plenty of nice pictures to inspire. So many of Scotland’s new routing activists have been very energetic over the past decade and the options now available for routes to enjoy has basically exploded. Now, there are sport crags for us to visit no matter what corner of Scotland you find yourself in or fancy travelling to. Also, the diversity of locations mean that I can’t see many days of the year where there won’t be some dry rock on which to clip bolts somewhere in the land.
Kudos to all who made the effort to open new sport routes, as well as all the authors and producers of the guide. It is so badly needed. Talking to the new generation of young sport climbers coming into climbing through Scotland’s climbing walls, it frequently nagged at me that so many are unaware of the lovely crags that are out there. Some of them in stunning, wild and far flung locations like Gruinard in the north west. Some of them just up the road from our major towns and cities.
The guidebook brought back some nice memories for me of places like Dunglas just outside Glasgow, where I did my first 6b (Negotiations With Isaac)and 6c+ (The Beef Monster). I remember being very excited when Andy Gallagher asked me to give him a belay on the first ascent of Persistence of Vision (7a+) after watching him bolt it. A year after my first 6c+, my first 7c+ (Dum Dum Boys) was a liberating experience and straight away I wanted to get to the ‘happening crags’ of the day.
I found myself at Steall for the first time shortly afterwards, abseiling down Cubby’s project (Ring of Steall 8c+) and being totally inspired by how poor the holds were. The whole ambience of hard physical climbing in beautiful highland surroundings was where it was at for me. So in the following years, we made after school/uni/work hits to Glen Ogle, Dunkeld and Loch Lomondside sport crags, with weekend trips to Tunnel Wall, Weem and the Angus Quarries.
Once I got involved in exploring new routes, under the influence of Dave Redpath and Michael Tweedley, I immensely enjoyed tearing about bendy roads in Argyll developing crags like Tighnabruaich and eventually the Anvil.
One thing that I like about Scottish sport climbing particularly is that the easier graded routes in the 6s and 7s are often so much better to climb than those on the continent. In Spain or suchlike, the majority of the time, the hard routes on big overhanging sweeps of limestone are the most inspiring lines, while the easier lines can sometimes be either a bit scrappy or, dare I say it, a little boring. As with our trad, the variety of rock types we have in Scotland often make for much nicer routes in the lower and mid grades too. However, if you are into hard stuff, the two hardest routes in the book (Hunger, 9a and Fight The Feeling, 9a) give as good climbing as you’ll get anywhere. Both were climbed in good conditions in the summer and you wont find any queues or some barky dog wondering about eating your lunch at the base of the crag. The only negative on offer from Scottish sport climbing is, of course, the midge. Just remember that the wind direction is as important as the rain when you look at the forecast. Choose a crag exposed to a breeze on the day, and you’re sorted.
Enjoy the guide, enjoy the climbing. It’s here.