Day three of bouldering brought even better weather – just a few scattered showers here and there. Of course, this gave us our first mild experience with the notorious midgies as well. Trade-offs, always. But the fantastic bouldering at Stac Pollaidh kept our psych up while the breeze kept the midginess relatively low. We finished off the day with a Scottish tradition (fish ‘n’ chips!), and headed into a day of rest with hopes of dry enough rock to climb on a rope in the days to come; the routes tend to seep more than boulders do, so we need some days without downpours to help us out now (or not, in which case, more bouldering!).
Having a pretty solid idea of what to expect from climbing in Spain (Steep! Tufas! Limestone!), the first part of our trip we left pretty much unplanned, besides arriving at the airport in Inverness and staying with our friends in Ullapool. We had zero idea of what we’d be climbing – and in the first week, it turned out to be not much! We got slammed by one of the worst summer weather systems they’d seen in quite some time – it was nearly perpetually cold and rainy.
However, good friends and determination make for a good time, regardless – we fit in a few sessions of bouldering in between rain showers (one in absolute pouring rain), plus an indoor training session, a visit to some ruins (pictures in my last entry on Scotland), a homemade sushi dinner (along with many other fantastic homemade meals), and lots of catching up and laughter.
I didn’t expect to boulder on this trip, but having an open mind and no expectations and a sense of adventure served me well, as I discovered that I thoroughly enjoyed the bouldering, so much so that I wanted to boulder more after the first day. The sandstone is just fantastic quality, solid and featured, very sculpted, and quite pretty. I love pretty rock.
The second day we climbed, in the pouring rain (after several days off because of rain), we found one dry straight-up problem and a traverse to warm up on at Ardmair (thanks to our local guide, of course!). I actually found it pretty fun to get into that mind space that’s just never the same (for me, anyhow) as sport climbing. At some point in bouldering, I always know that I’ve crossed the line and that I’m really on my own; falling is not really an option and if something bad happens, it’s not my spotter’s fault. It’s exhilarating, and (so long as you don’t fall and break your noggin or bust your ankles), it builds confidence and trust in your ability to execute when push comes to shove. Good stuff!
Whenever we mentioned that we were headed out on a two-month climbing trip to Europe at the end of this summer, spending the first three weeks in Scotland and the rest of the trip in Spain, we inevitably received the same response from every climber: “What’s in Scotland?”
Honestly, in terms of climbing, I had no idea. But frankly, I didn’t much care – because I already knew that no matter what we climbed, we’d have a good time. Plus, the idea of having an unplanned and relatively unknown climbing adventure for the opening part of our journey (instead of settling straight into my comfort zone of limestone sport climbing) appealed to me, regardless. Taking off for an overseas trip with no clue of what to expect from the first three weeks of climbing seemed fun, particularly since we knew we’d have great guides to show us around once we arrived.
One of the most amazing aspects of climbing that is so easy to forget when you’re immersed in it is that climbing introduces you to people you’d never likely meet otherwise. When I first started climbing, back in the now-ancient dark ages of the early 1990s, I noticed this on a small scale. For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to really interact with people from very different walks of life than the narrow scope my upbringing had exposed me to. I loved this about climbing – beyond just the climbing itself (the challenging diversity of movement and total-body problem-solving aspects hooked me immediately). And of course, the longer I’ve been climbing and the more places I’ve climbed, the more people I’ve met.
In 2010, I was climbing in one of Canada’s finest climbing destinations – Skaha – for six weeks. The weather was sh@#, though of course, the last thing Kevin’s dad said to us before we left for the trip was, “It never rains in Penticton.” Ha! Not so much during our visit; it was one of the rainiest, most dismal adventures ever (in terms of good climbing weather), though it was rendered much more tolerable due both to the quality of the climbing and to the kind hospitality of several local folks, who offered us the awesome opportunity to housesit, thereby escaping the misery of perpetually damp camping.
Determined as always (“we’re climbing, dammit!”), we weathered the weather by trying our best to get out despite the rain, seeking dry rock at every opportunity. And nearly every day out there, we’d see this one other couple in the parking lot in their van, either on our way out to climb or as we returned, and we’d give them a little wave from across the parking area before heading on our way.
One day, I arrived at a climb that I’d left some draws on the day before to discover the couple there, and the guy trying the same route. Cool! We chatted and found out that they were on a yearlong road trip, that he was from Scotland and she was from Canada, and that they, too, were dealing with all kinds of lovely immigration fun just like we were. And that the one part of their trip they didn’t have quite sorted out yet was where to go in the summer…so I (of course) suggested Ten Sleep Canyon, and left them with my email address (thinking I’d probably never see them again; little did I know!).
To make a long story short, they did in fact come to Ten Sleep, and we spent the entire summer laughing and climbing together – and then they came to the Red in the fall with us that year, too. In 2012, we traveled to Spain for two months with them, where I endured my worst injury ever – but having them there made it more tolerable, thanks to the daily laughter and lightheartedness they managed to keep alive.
And so, this year, we headed to Scotland first on our overseas journey, to catch up with our friends, to see some of Scotland, and to climb, well, whatever it is our friends climb in Scotland.
More on the climbing in Scotland next time…