Friday, 16 September 2016


You know when you are posing this hard at The Back of the Lake in the "weekend warrior look" that you likely are not sending any time soon.

Of course, we all want our climbing exploits to end in situations like that pictured above. Sometimes, and sometimes for an entire summer, that is not possible.

Sometimes weeks are spent like this.It's not all roses.

When all is said and done, and a summer has passed and I haven't climbed anything worthwhile, it is time for excuses. So, without further ado, and quoting widely from The Art of Climbing Down Gracefully by Tom Patey, a summary of my summer.

One great excuse is The 'Ice-Man' Ploy.
 "I'm a Snow and Ice Man myself!" is a fairly safe assertion...Show me the Englishman- Yes; show me the Englishman, I say- who can stand upright in his steps, square set to the slope, and hit home hard and true, striking from the shoulder! There must be a few of us Ice-Men left around. Ice-Manship may be a forgotten craft but it's still the Cornerstone of Mountaineering.  Never forget that! Any fool can monkey around on overhangs...

It was unmistakably not summer but the three weeks I spent in Scottish conditions last winter likely set back any summer plans immeasurably. Goggles, gore gloves, and wet pants.

This fear of the weather, and its concomitant usefulness as an excuse is neatly summed up as The 'Fohn Wind' and other Bad Weather Ploys

the next time I went up to a hut I determined to follow the advice of local Alpine Guides. If they don't know , who does? Thirty two Guides slept at the Couvercle Hut that night, and they all got up at 2 a.m. like a major volcanic eruption. One Guide, with an attractive female client in tow, walked out, prodded the snow with an ice-axe, sniffed the air, and without a word retired to bed. It later transpired that this was the celebrated Armand Charlet. Thirty one silent Guides looked at each other, shook their heads, and retired likewise.  We woke at 8 a.m to find brilliant sunshine. ....
The last time I saw Charlet he was headed for the valley with the attractive blonde in close attendance. It was the first day of what proved to be a ten-day record heat wave.

Returning from the immaculate rock of southern Spain I decided it was time to reassert myself on the limestone of the Bow Valley.  Fish out of water? Is this 5.8? Am I going the right way? How do I protect a second on this pitch?

There is The 'Greater Ranges' Ploy

Historians tell us that Frank Smythe only began to function properly above 20000 feet. This adds up to a pretty considerable handicap, when you consider how much of his time he spent at lower altitudes. It is all part f the mystique which surrounds The Men who are expected to Go High. 
For this ploy some previous Himalayan experience is essential... Once the aura has formed, you can hardly go wrong. You can patrol the foot of Stanage with all the invested authority of an Everester. No one expects you to climb. It is enough that you retain a soft spot for your humble origins.
"This is all very different from the South Col!" you can remark crisply, as you watch bikini-clad girls swarming over the rocks like chameleons.

As the aura never seems to die, this excuse can be used even if your last trip to altitude ended somewhat short of the summit.

On a few occasions I employed The 'Chossy Climb' Ploy

'Poxy', 'Chossy', 'Spastic' and 'Rubbish' are all terms characteristically used climbers to denigrate ..routes which they have either failed to climb or failed to find(without searching too minutely)

This is of course very useful in the Canadian Rockies.  In the photo below I am well established at a belay stance on a Yamnuska classic.  Solid.

Then we get to the crux of the matter, the 'Responsible Family Man' Ploy.

The little camp-follower who cooked the meals and darned everybody's socks is suddenly transformed into an all-demanding, insatiable virago whose grim disapproval makes strong men wilt in their kletterschuhe. Climbing weekends become less and less frequent...In many cases this is the natural end of all things, but a few diehards still put in an annual appearance- pale shrunken ghosts, who glance nervously over their shoulders before they speak.

Now, in my case it is not marriage or kids that is making me responsible, but I do have a girlfriend and a dog. I seem to go running more days than I go climbing.

Fatefully I took the decision to be responsible and move into a house.  Of course, when the basement, which is going to be a suite and make it affordable to own, ends up looking like a war zone, days climbing seem like they could be better spent.

When you get friends' daughters who are in grade two to wear masks and wield crowbars, you know it has gone too far.

And then there is the decision to forsake a life of selfish climbing and take up the noble profession of rock guiding, letting me legally share my love of the rock and rope trickery with others.  With this amount of rope-work, it is a push to fit in time in the mountains.

Finally, when I did make it through all the choss wrangling, the rope twisting, and the responsibilities of becoming an upstanding citizen, I was bowled low by the dreaded
'Weak Member on the Rope Ploy'

A Past-President of the Aberdeen University Mountaineering Club used this ploy with such remarkable success that he was never once crag-bound during his entire term in Office. "
No hard climbs for me today, Tom," he would sigh heavily. "I'm afraid I've got a weak member on the rope- can't afford to extend myself."

I had it all lined up, a big trip to the big mountains, to make up for this summer of climbing trade routes. Even announced it to my classmates in the Apprentice Rock Guide Exam class of 2016.  My one partner called in sick with a sore back.

The second decided to go climbing in 30 degree 90 percent humidity, technical slab at that.  Currently assessing whether he'll be up for the 25 km approach, we'll see.

At the least I am having fun working on The Art of Climbing Down Gracefully.

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