The Polldubh Club

Author Topic: Still Game  (Read 1818 times)

John Workman

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Still Game
« on: 12 February 2016, 14:27 »

After Scottish Dancinâ?? on a Wednesday evening one or two of us occasionally retire to The â??Alexâ?? Hotel for a â??nightcapâ??? â?? for my own part I have to question - does a glass of Tonic Water count as a â??nightcapâ???

The conversation can range over many topics from such stuff as American Politics [particularly Mr Trump recently] to exotic parts of the world that people have visited but as we are all past our prime, then often health and ailments can feature prominently â?? although we try not to allow this to happen. One other subject that is theoretically banned is discussions featuring a certain man who weâ??ll call â??Jimmy Glenloyâ?? which can also creep onto centre stage discussions and can be repetitive and which I find occasionally banal, dare I say.

On Wednesday we strayed onto the forbidden territory of aches and pains, realising that this should be avoided. We reminded ourselves that Jimmy wasnâ??t to be mentioned and then found that we had nothing to talk about! Not entirely true but itâ??s a lead in to the next bit of the story. Although we avoided the human ailments we ended up discussing the deaths of sheep, cows and horses at John and Sheilaâ??s large smallholding and the details of the large holes required to be excavated in their grounds to accommodate the carcasses â?? John G was telling us about dead cows with their four legs sticking rigidly and vertically into the air and then the subsequent large holes that were required to be dug.

This is all passing through the maze of my mind as Iâ??m puffing my way up the Allt a Mhuilinn track at the back of seven oâ??clock on Thursday morning â?? following in the wake of John MacLeod. John is of a similar age to us dancers â?? past his prime? â?? Iâ??m not so sure - but right enough he does have some health issues including a chronic case of nasal polyps which has troubled him very much this past year or more, plus, he was telling me, heâ??s damaged a muscle in his shoulder which means that only seventy five percent of the muscles in one of his shoulders are working effectively. You might think that such things would detract from Johnâ??s performance on steep rock and ice [some of us might rather selfishly even hope for this to be the case] but I can confirm that this has had no effect on his performance what-so-ever.

 John has always been a notably very strong climber and very adept at all branches of steep and demanding climbing â?? even ice routes when not in condition [the ice when itâ??s like this is known by the technical phrase as â??cruddyâ??] and this has earned John one of titles namely â??The Crudmeisterâ??.

On the walk in John tells me of his recent trip to one of the ice climbing Meccaâ??s of Europe â?? Cogne [pronounced Konyah] in the Aosta Valley on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. There are hundreds of large icefalls there within easy reach of the road network and climbers flock to it in mid-winter from all over Europe. John was accompanied by his friend Jimmy Marshall [not THE Jimmy Marshall I should add]. I think Jimmy may also be past his sell by date as John tells me that he has been much troubled by a long term Achilles tendon injury.

This year there has been very little ice in the European Alps, consequently Cogne was exceptionally busy with teams from all over the rest of Europe. John told tales of routes with multiple parties trying to climb past each other, leaders falling off and almost taking other climbers down with them, people descending the routes by abseil whilst others were trying to climb up them, and the inevitable injuries caused to parties below  by people  above knocking off blocks of ice. Sounds wonderful doesnâ??t it?

Never-the-less. John and Jimmy â?? despite all this- and their injuries - manged to climb for six days out of seven and ticked off several hundreds of meters of steep ice climbing.

John was telling me that on one climb he was chatting to a Swedish climber â?? who commented that John looked fit but possibly a year or two older than himself. So John asked the guy â?? and how old are you, to which he replied forty-six. He then asked John how old he was to which John replied sixty. The guy was flabbergasted and told John that he [John] was climbing like a man of half his age and that there were very few Swedish climbers of sixty operating at such a level â?? cue much gloating -  but knowing John he would be keeping that very much to himself.

So â?? as weâ??re walking our way up the high glen and also having a mind to our ages and infirmities John comments that we are like the now stars of STV - Jack and Victor â?? old but Still Game â?? eh?

We make our way into one of the inner sanctuaries of The Ben â?? Corrie na Ciste - to survey whatâ??s in condition. It turns out that the answer to this is not a lot. Many of the ice routes are not fully formed and so our choice of climbs is somewhat restricted. As we go higher we notice that one of the more recent classic climbs that goes by the wonderful name of Mega Route X looks as though it may be climbable. Itâ??s very steep and very sustained and as we approach it Iâ??m filled with mixed emotions â?? hoping that maybe it wonâ??t be in a climbable condition or maybe it will be but that then John will lead it thus leaving me the â??safeâ?? end of the rope when my turn comes. As we stand below the steep spectacular frozen icefall it becomes apparent that the ice may be climbable but that itâ??s not thick enough to be able to insert the ice screws that allow us to protect ourselves from a long fall. So we dismiss it as too dangerous â?? for us at least. John vows to come back again another day. I just say a silent prayer to whichever God was smiling down on me.

We divert to a nearby ice climb that goes by the esoteric name of Mortonâ??s Neuroma. I later find out [Google] that this is the name of a painful foot condition due to a nerve problem. How very appropriate.

It gets V / 5 grade. Usually I can cope not too bad at this level but Mortonâ??s Neuroma is in less than good condition and I find myself struggling badly â?? following John up the steep first pitch. The ice is a bit â??cruddyâ??, the footholds are not helpful and after only a few metres of verticality my forearm muscles have turned from steely sinew into the consistency of flaccid porridge. Thank â??fâ?? Iâ??m not on Mega Route X, I say to myself between panting for breaths.

The rest of the route goes smoothly enough although the snow is deep and powdery â?? a bit avalanche prone and we get covered by some minor spindrift avalanches.  Soon we top out on the summit plateaux, greeted by a cold wind but with good views all around, including some atmospheric cloudscapes.
We choose to descend by Ledge Route, which is nearby and covered in powder-snow. Iâ??m recalling the very good summerâ??s day that I had sharing Ledge Route with my dancinâ?? friends - John & Sheila.
And the rest as they say is History.

Oh but I forgot to say â?? as weâ??re gearing up at the foot of the climb, wrapped in several layer of fleece, hollow-fill fibre and topped off with Gortex - two youngsters â??[there all youngsters to us] arrive â?? the first one clad in a short sleeved T shirt! I comment on his attire, or rather the lack of it. He explains by saying
â??Iâ??m Scottishâ?
After five minutes or so of standing about in the minus temperatures exchanging pleasantries I say to him
â??Youâ??d better get moving before you catch your death of coldâ?
To which he further replies
â??Ah but the love of my country keeps me warmâ? and then asks me
â??And do you know who said that?â?
Iâ??m half tempted to say Billy Connelly but pick a name at random and reply
He gives me a look and a whoop and a high five
â??Right on youthâ? he says.