Friday, 10 July 2015

Snippets – Unfinished Stories and Anecdotes of Days Enjoyed.


The well stepped trail across the crusty snow was welcomed; the light from the moon and stars was tranquil, lighting the way I hardly needed my headtorch. The long drive after work from Aberdeen to Fort William was almost worth it already, and I wasn’t even at the hut yet, I hadn’t even swung an axe, but the freedom, the release from the city, the escape from the work routine. The walk gave time to think and ponder as I followed the steps of others fuelled by the fresh cool air, glancing up occasionally at the stars and the moon lighting up the north face of Ben Nevis. I could see tantalising white streaks down the steep cliff faces, I was scanning the cliff, searching for the route I had in mind. I knew that Uisdean and Doug had climbed Gemini on Carn Deag Buttress earlier that day and were still up at the hut, tomorrows forecast looked good. Gemini takes a series of steep walls and grooves joined by some easier angled ramps all smeared with ice and shouting out to be climbed. One of the many classics on this section of the cliff it is full of character and exposure with great views across to Carn Mor Dearg to the north and Lochaber to the west.

The morning of the 22nd of January, the hut is still quiet so I slept well and I’m up beat, in the coming weeks the hut fully booked until April –it will become quite a hubbub of activity. The sizeable bowl of porage with banana fuelled the day.

It was good to climb Gemini early season and before the UKC masses caught wind of the conditions, it seemed to become a bit of a trade route in the weeks that followed. The forecast for Friday was warm and windy so I raced back to Aberdeen and worked the Friday to save a precious days holiday for another day, my only regret was not taking the Wednesday off as well.



***

Mainreachan Buttress is a cliff that keeps its cards close to its chest. It doesn’t reveal itself until you turn the final corner then in front of you appears a steep crag of blocky rock and turfy ledges, prime mixed climbing territory. The buttress holds some classic mixed routes following the obvious lines up the faces of the cliff.

Mainline Connection VI 6 was in our sights, this steep line of corners and grooves was the whitest line on the cliff that day, it was warm; I was down to just a base layer for a lot of the approach. The climbing was fun, steep, and positive with the odd loose block to work around; these would definitely be frozen in-place in colder conditions. Thankfully the turf was solid, as it had been consistently cold for a few weeks now and the morning’s temperature rise hadn’t had any effect on the turfy ledges- essential to climbing the route. I climbed well, feeling confident on the steep positive mixed ground after climbing Shang-High VI 7 on Beinn Eighe a couple of weeks earlier.



***

Simon climbed down from the belay and across to reach the smooth sea washed and deadly-greasy ledges which formed the first pitch, the traverse to the hanging belay at the base of the showpiece red wall. However today the wall was pink, conditions were good if a little chilly now the wall had lost the sun. Managing to avoid slipping and taking an unwelcome dip in the cold North Sea Simon reached the belay and commenced forming a web of gear to hang from. I followed the ropes down, across and round, slipping and sliding the whole way, not quite the warm up pitch I had in mind. Simon summed up the route nicely at this point as “a route of two contrasting pitches”, the showpiece main pitch which gives the route its name and grade still to come.

The superb pink wall of an unknown-to-me mixed rock, where all the features are upside down, provides undercuts with slopey feet on the bold initial traverse before the relief of a crack is reached, a line to follow, not that the climbing eases. Sustained technical moves up the vertical wall provide a sublime problem solving expedition. Thankfully the crack yields plentiful gear, almost too much – I had to stop myself placing wires as I was going to run out of extenders before reaching the granite roofs that cap the wall. Reaching the good undercuts at back of these roofs, I looked down with a Cheshire cat smile, the trail of chalk marking my path up the face, the sea rolling against the base of the wall 35 meters below, it looked as amazing as it felt. Pulling through the roofs and into the finishing chimney was a sting in the tail which was a bit more of a thrutch than I was expecting, and quite a contrast to the rest of the pitch. I was truly elated topping out Cracks in Reality E5 6a, a truly outstanding climb, committing, and in a tremendous position, it definitely ranks up there with the best in the country. I am incredibly happy to climb it as it was just so much fun and completely absorbing climbing which just kept coming.

I got totally hooked on The Red Hole at South Cove for a few months before the birds started nesting, it is an amazing and committing arena to climb and it’s only 5 minutes from Aberdeen! The Red Hole hosts a great number of three and four star classics, all guaranteeing exposure and adventure – it’s easy to see how I was hooked.



***

One mingin' day I abbed in to have a look, 'nutting-in' as I went to keep myself close enough to the rock round the roofs at the top of the crag. I cleaned the corner crack, an old rotten peg, a wee loose block and some bits of dirt. I had a look at some holds but the rock was red, the red light, the signal that the cliff is unclimable. My thoughts then; it looks like there's enough holds, sparse for the feet but possibly just enough. Can I do it? How hard is it? I knew there must be some 6b climbing in there, which would feel hard coming straight out of the hardest moves of the Procrastination corner. The crack offered good small gear, but getting in a position to place it could be strenuous. Might it be E6? That feels scary, I'd probably fall off E6.

One week of dreaming about the climbing, imagining the moves and waiting for the right conditions and I was back…

I desperately wanted to re-climb the first pitch of Procrastination, incredible climbing in a committing position, it may be a 'short' pitch (probably just 15m) but it fairly packs it in- it's hard –proper 6b. Sadly the crack, the first crux, was literally dripping! I now appreciate the good conditions we had last time, how things can change in a week and a half! Alas it was not to be- what followed was a heck of a lot of trad-faff. Abseiling in, to swing across and set up a hanging belay above the sea and at the base of the Procrastination corner, sorting out the ropes, getting Darren clipped into the belay and myself off and finally it was time to climb!

Procrastination climbs the big arching corner where the pink wall meets the granite overlaps, an obvious line. But is it? Procrastination -the old aid route- has a hard to interpret description but as far as I can decipher it follows the corner the whole way. Procrastination – the modern classic free route- follows the corner until three-quarters of the way up then breaks right onto a granite slab for a breather before pulling spectacularly through the right hand side of a roof. But what about that top quarter of the corner line? The true old aid line, the steepest section of the corner unclimbed – or at least not climbed free. It called out to me.

I moved away from Darren on the hanging belay, moving up the steepening corner, the climbing was superb and the crack in the corner offered up plentiful protection. I climbed past the exit right onto the slab that Procrastination follows and kept pulling up the ever steepening corner. I managed to climb this new pitch first go, giving it E5 6b, and naming it Procyon – forming a link between the ‘Pros’ and the ‘Space’ naming convention on the wall. The moves were as good as I expected, the footholds were as small as I thought, it was technical but well protected and just damn good fun!

I was really keen to re-climb the first pitch of Procrastination as it would give a perfect link into the big corner pitch of Procyon to give two tremendous, top-end, E5 6b pitches taking you from the base of the crag all the way to the top – next time, when I come back to try Lost in Space E6 6b.

The Red Hole just keeps giving, and I’ve got more to give back too.

On a bit of a high I decided to ride the wave of psyche and managed to comfortably flash the tricky Teetering on the Brink of Madness E5 6b, a route with a name like that and a reputation to match had to be good, and it was! A great end to another great day on the Aberdeen sea cliffs.



***

Climb the niched crack-line to a ledge.’ It was obvious, definitely the most obvious line up the steep front face of Lochan Dubh Crag. I don’t know if it does – but I had created, in my head, quite a reputation for the route. Major Domo E6 6b – sustained, not bold, endurance is key, I was feeling fit, and more importantly psyched. My head was in the right place, willing to ‘give it a go’, confident to give it a good go. Move-by-move it is exquisite, the positions forced by the rock, the edges, pods, slopers and the crack, the raison d’etre, but it also provided ample protection. I enjoyed every moment, every movement, it was perfect, and conditions were great. It all went smoothly, I read the crux sequence and executed it first go, strenuous but I committed to it - no climbing up and down here. A foot slip with one hand on the finishing ledge brought a rush of adrenaline and a shout of “NO…” I held on, replaced my foot and pulled over, another shout, this time of euphoria, elation, I was psyched. My first E6 onsight, a goal that I had set myself for the year, it was the first day of May, what would the rest of the year bring?



***

'You’ll be living in that van one day.'

'Maybe, maybe one day, at least for a little while…'



***

'Like a delicate dance' were the words I shared as I drifted rightwards across the granite slab, pressing toes precisely on the granite edges, trusting the friction. The contrast in moves from the burly sequence departing the belay and moving up to the first gear was refreshing, these moves were much more easily enjoyed, time could be taken to feel the texture of the cairngorm granite, time could be taken to unlock the sequence and move efficiently. The sanctuary of a good hold on the arête and an old peg allowed for the world of granite overlaps that had just come into view above me to be absorbed and assessed. A maze of grooves, slabs and overlaps typifies the strata of the Central Gully Wall of the mighty Creagan Dubh Loch. I moved right along the final moves of the crux pitch of The Naked Ape E5 6b to a very ‘Dubh Loch’ style move onto the belay ledge where the traverse meets the counter diagonal of a large groove which points the direction for the start of the 3rd pitch.



***

Like every morning we approached with open minds, open to the options ahead, we would climb anything that’s dry they’re all good. This morning however there was an extra spring in our steps, the crag was in view, glowing in the morning sun dominating the vista above the calm Dubh Loch, not looking so Dubh this morning. We filled our water bottles, and took an extra drink from the stream flowing from the loch this morning, we were going to need it. It was probably 25 degrees and humid, the trousers were rolled up with zip vents open, my t-shirt was saturated. I was making good use of my ‘Verdon hat’ a very uncool baseball cap with a neck shade, a very practical hat for a Scottish person mid-summer in the South of France, or in this case Costa Del Dubh Loch. I didn’t anticipate it being much use after our Europe trip last summer, I was happily being proven wrong.

We arrived at the base of Central Gully, the choice was obvious; the mega-classic Voyage of the Beagle E5 6a had to be climbed. This tremendous voyage links obvious left trending grooves and slabs to join the common top pitch of The Naked Ape. An unforgettable journey through some incredible rock architecture of the grandest scale available in Britain.



***

I am reading to become more articulate, writing to become more eloquent, and striving to be more epigrammatic. Writing succinctly, providing just enough detail to draw the reader in, but not bore them, allowing them to be absorbed in the scenario, and capturing their imagination so they carry on reading -a good story teller is blessed with these traits. These are the skills I wish to learn, to develop, and to share with others.

The pile of books I have yet to read is motivating, I am eager to hear of stories, of epics, of adventures, I am keen to learn and to be absorbed in the tales. I am almost finished reading the book I’ve been on since February, (about time too!) which means the difficult choice of what to read next is soon to be tackled… I’ll let you know what I choose.

***

'A long way to walk for not much climbing.' We had just been rained off Cir Mhor, a tremendous pyramidal peak of fine granite situated proudly at the end of Glen Rosa. I had climbed one pitch, one very good pitch, but still only one pitch before the clouds came in, the wind picked up and the rock was slippery wet. I abseiled off. We hid under a boulder and ate our sandwiches, a long way to walk for a rainy picnic. I remembered a picture I had seen of a boulder problem below the crag, we stopped off on the descent, the climb proved tricky. A slopey lip traverse with smeary feet and a committing move to a thankfully good jug for the highball topout. A great problem in a stunning location. Dayni waited patiently entertaining herself by capturing the moment on camera, and making friends with a happy caterpillar.

We knew the weather was due to close-in this afternoon so had made an early start, enjoying the walk along the glen that morning in the sun with just shorts and t-shirt on, and of course making use of my Verdon Hat. Now it was a very different place with the rain showers gaining in frequency and duration, the goretex jackets and waterproof skin were well tested on the return to the carpark some 7km away. Worth every step of the long walk to be in the mountains and enjoy those moments in good company. 



***

The 06:00am alarm sounds; I’m back to the routine. I’m up, dressed and out the door. I set off pedalling, I’ve left the bike in a gear too high, I struggle to get the wheels turning up the street with cold legs. The angle eases, and I get the legs spinning, they soon warm up, or go numb. 20 minutes of cars, busses, traffic lights and cycle paths and I arrive at work. It’s not time to work yet though; the gym is calling. Sometimes I get up to half an hour of theraband, squats, sit ups and press ups before 10 minutes of whole body stretching, all now commonly and fashionably called antagonistic exercises. I’ve been doing these regularly for over 6 months now, it’s the routine. Have I seen a difference? – Definitely. There’s a certain efficiency in routine. Efficiency makes me happy, especially when ‘there aren’t enough hours in the day.’

***

The red and yellow hot air balloon flickered in and out of focus, floating just above the horizon at the end of the long straight tarmacked road through the red desert. Flickering, blurring then coming back into focus again, as if the heat of the sun was causing the air to haze. The balloon moved, quickly with a jolt, now in line with my left eye and continued with its routine of blurring, and flickering around before coming back into focus. I’d seem this image before, many times over the years, it was two years since last time the appointment letter stated, although I remember it from my childhood. Always the same red and yellow hot air balloon, always at the end of the desert road with the double yellow lines. The image always moving and blurring, then coming into focus.

It was like a subliminal message, an image my subconscious would remember forever, I’ve seen this image periodically for most of my life. One day I would wake up staring down the long straight desert road. I’d feel the heat of the sun high in the sky radiating from the black tarmac. I’d rub my eyes and sit up wondering where I could be, glancing around, looking down the road and see the red and yellow hot air balloon blurred by the heat from the sun, flicking back and forth, out-and-in to focus.

One day I’ll spend some time on the desert road, the road to the unknown, the road of discovery, and of course adventure. But for now the red and yellow hot air balloon flicks out of focus, then disappears forever, or at least until next time I'm staring down the keratometer.

***


Thanks to all those who have contributed or taken photos, Simon, Darren, Uisdean, Paul and Dayni.
And of course thanks to all those I have had the pleasure of enjoying these adventures with, until the next one, cheers!



Sunday, 11 January 2015

Maybe it was peace at last, who knew?

… time to feel alive. Braced by the left axe behind the pillar of blue ice, with my left foot high on the back wall, crampon smearing on a smooth ramp of rock, I reached high with my right hand and swung my axe into the softer ice on the front of the pillar. Not trusting in the first time placement I swung again, this time it had to be good - I had to move, I couldn’t hang around. The climbing was feeling steep already, I was committed before I let myself realise it. My left shoulder was fatigued from the 6 attempts to place the left axe in the brittle ice in the rear of the pillar. I wiggled and twisted the axe to remove it from the ice. Pulling round, my right foot now committed to the ice as well, my left foot came away from the rock smear and hooked around the back of the pillar to pull me in, to hold me on. What? What is this? I’m heel hooking, but I’m ice climbing, and I’m heel hooking, and it’s working! The plastic quick-release lever on the back of my crampon was hooked round a rib of ice. What a cool position. Bumping my right foot up the edge of the pillar, breathe, keep focussed, keep moving. The drips of water, my saving grace, they made the recently formed ice soft enough to climb, but also my adversary; my gloves and arms were getting soaked. I pull up, still hooking my left foot and swing my right axe higher, not wanting to risk the first placement I swing again, this time the reassuring feel and noise of a good placement ease my heart rate slightly. Extricating my hooked crampon and stabbing it into the front of the pillar instantly made the climbing feel a lot steeper. A couple more strenuous, balancy pulls up the steep ice and the angle eased. Thankfully finding some reasonable névé above allowed me to pause for a moment at the top of the steepness and compose myself. A glorious sprint up the final iced slabs and round the small cornice lead to the windless plateau, the horizontal world was welcomed with a euphoric feeling and a long needed celebratory sandwich. I sat on a flat rock atop Hell’s Lum Crag looking across at the Loch Avon basin, taking in my surroundings feeling content to have soloed such a cool wee route.


I was late to arrive at the Cairngorm carpark that morning, my first objective was get up onto the Cairngorm plateau, via a route in Coire an t’Sneachda. I would then head across to Hell’s Lum Crag and see how I was feeling and what I fancied the look of. I was optimistic that I would be able to set a good pace into the corrie thanks to my purchase earlier that morning.  There were other teams still making their way into the winter wonderland. I glided past a couple, we exchanged hello’s, the women commented on my pace, I smiled, wished them a good day and cruised on. Now almost in the corrie it felt like I was flying along, the purchase of my new walking poles had shown their worth already. I was now wondering why it had taken me so long to get a pair!?

Sneachda was a hubbub of activity with parties all over the crags. This wasn’t what I was psyched for, I was keen to make a swift escape to the solitude of the plateau. So I opted for a direct and easy route that I would be able to climb quickly. The Runnel went without issue, although I felt slightly guilty overtaking a team that were hidden out of sight from below, but they seemed to be enjoying the route and weather. Emerging onto the plateau, into the sun, sans wind, I was psyched. I packed away my crampons, axes, extended the new poles and started trotting across to the Loch Avon Basin. A friendly Ptarmigan gargled and cheered me on, I smiled, wished him a good day and cruised on.



Hells Lum Crag was pleasantly quiet with only one other team on the crag, on the classic Deep Cut Chimney. The whole crag was attractively covered in smears of ice, psyche was high. I moved round to the base of my ambitious objective, the snow slope gradually steepening and changing character into crunchy, difficult névé mess. An ease in angle allowed a pause to consider the pillars of ice looming above. The first pillar held some steep moves, some cruddy snow/ice and some helpful bridging opportunities. The steep moves were a good warm up for the main event. I moved steadily up the steep snow/ névé between the first and second ice pillars, keeping composure and keeping an eye on the way ahead.


I tentatively moved round to the left hand side of the upper pillar of blue ice, the crux, kicking a step in a slight easing in the angle of the slope I gazed up at the pillar, contemplation. I checked below me, all clear, I then knocked off a few brittle icicles, crash, crunch, they tumbled down, down, down, well past the base of the crag. I gulped, and didn’t think about the exposure or the potential of taking the same tumble as the icicle, unthinkable. Time to focus, I moved across to the edge of the pillar, time to breathe, I reached high and placed an axe high on the back of the pillar, time to live…





On Boxing Day 2014 I onsight soloed The Chancer (V, 6) on Hell’s Lum Crag, amongst some of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland, on a day of some of the best weather I’ve ever experienced in winter. It is some of the most physically and mentally hardest ice climbing I’ve ever done.


Finishing the day off with a jaunt over the Cairn Gorm summit with the crystal clear views and no wind was peaceful, and allowed a moment to reflect on such a rare and perfect day. Love for the mountains is off the scale!



Friday, 9 January 2015

A Quick Look Back: 2014

2014

Oh no, not another blog reminiscing about last year… Sorry!

I’ll admit I'm pretty rubbish at writing a regular blog, or more accurately; I'm rubbish at finishing writing and publishing a blog post! I've had inspiration for this reflection from a few blogs/forum threads/articles/funny Christmas letters I've read over the last few weeks and I thought I’d jump on the band wagon.

So the format is almost a complete rip off of a few blogs and forums, keep it simple, I like it. A climb, a highlight, from each month of the year, a picture to go with it, and probably too much rambling words, good luck..

January

Take the Throne VI 6 ***, Creagan Dubh Loch.


Without wanting to be too predictable the highlight from January was climbing the first ascent of Take the Throne with Uisdean, what a great start to the year. The Dubh Loch was in once in a lifetime condition and I ended up in the right place at the right time (often the hardest thing to do winter climbing in Scotland!), managing a whole weekend climbing on a very icey broad terrace wall – a really memorable couple of days.

Post script: I’ve just purchased the 2014 SMC Journal and I’m quite psyched to see a photo of me on the route in there! Quite cool I thought!

February

The Sting VI 6 **, Creagan Dubh Loch.


Cashing in again on an in-nick Dubh Loch, ice climbing in the sun to make the second ascent of The Sting with Sam and Uisdean, a brilliant day out!

In February I also managed to get back on the rock both locally and a quick afternoon at Burbage and day at Back Bowden were the highlights.

March

Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears VIII 8 ***, Beinn Eighe.


Somehow still managing to align days off with good conditions Uisdean and myself had a big day out on Beinn Eighe. BSaFT was not our original plan for the Saturday or as our first route on the mountain; we had planned on a “warm-up” route on the Saturday which would allow us to figure out the ab-point and do BSaFT on the Sunday. That all changed when there were people on all of the other routes we were keen for, so we soloed up West Central Gully to the base of the route and got the full onsight tick! ;)

March was a good month for getting out on rock as well with another trip to Northumberland and an ascent of Merlin E5 6a*** at Back Bowden being one of the highlights.

April

Covenant E4 6a***, Erraid.


The timing of a long weekend and brilliant weather made this an incredible trip, wild camping on Erraid and climbing loads of superb granite was sublime. Covenant was a route that I’d had my eyes on for a wee while so it was great to climb it in the sun and in good style. Erraid is a truly magical place that I have been inspired to visit for some time, Jules describes it perfectly; “and there I saw it, in the distance, beneath the greyness – a slither of bright, mango-hued light shining – the fading sunset of a far away Avalon.” Just perfect, a true Scottish paradise!

May

Aquarian Rebels E4 6a***, Glen Nevis Gorge.


May started well with a good day in Pass of Ballater where I was happy to onsight my first E5. After my final uni exams the month culminated with a brilliant few days climbing lots of classics in Glen Nevis. There were three really stand-out routes from the two-and-a-half days; one was On The Beach E5 6a*** on Wave Buttress, the other was Land Ahoy E3 5b*** on Black’s Buttress, Pulldubh, which is an outstanding solo. But beating them too it has to be Aquarian Rebels. The whole experience was great; starting off the big boulder above the roaring stream, the exquisite slab and crack climbing, all made a bit more exciting by a proper aquatic experience of a shower of rain mid route!

June

April Fools 7b***, Cat Wall, Tonsai, Thailand.


Dayni and myself had a great month in Thailand in June, one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on. Great culture, great climbing, amazing food and good company! The whole experience is stand-out but if I have to pick one route it would be April Fools, my first 7b onsight (a long time coming, but probably only through not having done much sport climbing up to this point), a brilliantly steep climb taking great limestone features on one of the best cliffs at Tonsai set up above the rainforest overlooking the whole bay. The thunderstorm and rainbow mid-route are unforgettable!

We also had a brilliant few days bouldering (and diving) on the island of Koh Tao. A brilliant trip!

July

Hole in the Wall E5 6b, 7a+ S2***, The Escarpment.


Back in Scotland and being able to climb full time before my Graduation, July was a good month with lots of great short trips, Reiff, Arran, Moray coast and lots of local things. Having to choose one route is very hard! But in the end Hole in the Wall stands out, a brilliant committing solo on perfect granite, I had top-roped the route in poor conditions but was able to catch some good conditions on the rock (despite the sea state) and climb the route, thanks must be made to Dayni for coming along to cheer me on and take photos.

The end of the month saw the start of the Europe trip with Uisdean, stopping in Wales for a few days of brilliant weather and great climbing some of the Llanberis classics.

August

Ctuluh 6c+++***, Gorges du Verdon


August was again a hard month to choose just one climb! We ended up doing a lot of really good sport climbing in the south of France, with time in The Verdon, Ceuse and Gorges du Tarn, I climbed some of my hardest routes onsight and definitely got stronger on two finger pockets! We also managed a great few days climbing Granite cracks in the alpine sun on the Aiguille d’Envers right at the end of the trip.

That said one route that stands out is Ctuluh which is a two pitch route right at the top of the Pichenibule wall. Climbing on the incredible pocketed technical limestone with hundreds of meters of exposure below is breath-taking. In keeping with all the other routes in Verdon Ctuluh felt hard for the grade so I was happy to hang on and climb it onsight.

September

Freak Out E4 6a***, Aonach Dubh East Face


My first time rock climbing in Glencoe came in the form of a short trip early in the month with some good weather and good company. Spacewalk E5 6b** was good (happy to onsight) but Freak Out was better and deserves its Extreme Rock status! (The photo is me setting off on the first pitch of Crocodile, Freak Out takes the obvious vertical crack line to the left).

Solo-tember was a good month for getting some considerable local rock mileage on the Aberdeen and Moray coast, visiting new crags and searching out some esoteria was good fun. It felt like my head was in a good place for soloing after a summer of rock. I onsight soloed loads of routes and definitely learnt a lot about climbing head games of executing hard moves in dangerous situations. Although I think the amount of sunshine definitely helped the psyche levels.

October

Lunatic Fringe E7 6c***, South Cove

I had been very keen to get on Lunatic Fringe for quite a while, so it was brilliant to get it done. Thanks have to go to Dayni for holding my ropes and apologies for making you end up seconding Akimbo Crack in the dark! Otherwise a good evening climbing one of the best routes on the Aberdeen coast!


I didn't manage to get any photos of me on Lunatic Fringe, so here's another one from October of Shrinking Violet at Red Wall on the North Coast.

November

Drambo Direct E6 6a/b***, Pass of Ballater.


Another route I’d been thinking about for a while ever since Jules had mentioned it to me in summer. I had abseiled the line before but it was too hot to pull on the granite crimps, but what I had figured out was that it would be too strenuous (for me) to place the crucial RPs on lead so I’d rather solo it. Darren and myself both top-roped then soloed the route, I made the 2nd ascent and Darren made the 3rd. Another good day at the Pass! I even got our ascents on video, which I might finally get round to uploading sometime this year…

As for the grade, I initially thought E6 6a, but it is more sustained than the original and without the good rest and high side runners, so having spoken to a few people it could well be worth 6b, especially to lead it, someone even touted possible E7, but I’m not sure about that.

December

Super G VI 6***, Ben Nevis.


Climbing the first ice routes of the season before Christmas was a promising sign of what was to come, making the most of the spell of good weather and the time off over the festive period I managed to get out in the mountains quite a lot! I had an incredible day on Boxing Day without a breath of wind on the Cairn Gorm plateau I made my way across to Hell’s Lum Crag and soloed The Chancer – an exhilarating steep-ice-totally-committed-just-keep-pulling experience, unforgettable.

Again, it’s hard to pick a highlight of the month, but it has to be the other route featuring a steep ice pillar – Super G, situated high up on the Little Brenva Face on Ben Nevis this route was probably unrepeated until Uisdean and myself climbed it on the 28th of December. Setting off having no idea if it was going to be possible or not undoubtedly added to the whole experience, we could see the curtain of icicles on the second pitch from below – but were they big enough to climb? Thankfully I was able to pull up behind the icicles and find some good rock gear before picking a way through and climbing the largest icicle that just touched down in the centre of the curtain. Some funky moves lead to the front of the pillar and set you up for a few steep pulls on quality ice. The consensus at the top was “I LOVE ICE CLIMBING!”




Well, if you’ve managed to read all that waffle you’ve done well and might be scared to know I might try and write another blog before the end of the month taking a look forward to some of my ambitions for this year. Hopefully an opportunity to get psyched!

I must add, thanks to all those people whose photo's I've stolen; Richard Bentley, Sam Williams, Uisdean Hawthorn, Chris Chan, Ron Kenyon, Dayni McConnell, Murdoch Jamieson, and Donna Ryan.


Thursday, 8 May 2014

2014 Catch Up





So as expected I am not very good a writing a regular blog, I have been incredibly busy nearing the end of my final year of uni. Here's a catch up of some of the things I've been up to in the last 3 months! As always, few words, many pictures.
I will hopefully have another blog soon, sharing some of my summer plans and ambitions. I've got 4 months before I start work in October and they're looking to be very busy already! Exciting!

February


The Dubh Loch fantasy continues, Feb 7th.


Ice climbing in the sun! About to set off on the second ascent of The Sting VII 6 ** (pic Sam Williams)

Too much snow and wind in the mountains, but the sun was shining so we got back on the rock for a day. Uisdean leading the classic Birthday Treat E1 5b*** Clashrodney. I did a good E3 to the left called Blind Faith. We then went up the coast to Cove where I lead the classic Insect Groove HVS and Uisdean did an E1, A good day out. Feb 16th.
Bouldering at Back Bowden, Little Pixies 7A, second go. Feb 23rd (pic Dayni McConnell).
March
A long desired weekend in Torridon. Uisdean and myself had been speaking about Beinn Eighe and Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears for a long time. We had initially planned to acquaint ourselves with the cliff first and do another route but another team had beaten us too it, so we were left with no choice but to get on with it. What a route! What a big day out!
First sight of triple buttress on Beinn Eighe, a unanimous "wow" was the reaction. A very big imposing cliff.
First pitch of Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears VIII 8 ***, March 1st (pic Uisdean Hawthorn).

The whole crag watching on as Sam sends Primo (First Chains) F7b+ at Am Fasgadh, a more relaxing day clipping bolts after our big day out on Beinn Eighe. March 2nd.

A weekend in Northumberland.
Soloing the brilliant Main Wall HVS 5b*** at Bowden Doors just before we escaped the wind and went to the shelter of Back Bowden, March 15th (pic Dayni McConnell).
Soloing The Sorcerer E1 5c*** great climbing after the boulder problem start (pic Dayni McConnell).

Back Bowden, Merlin E5 6a***, superb, steep and pumpy route (pic Tom Stork).

It suddenly feels very steep when you step off the 'ledge', Merlin E5 6a*** (pic Ferdie Earle).
A very snowy and sunny weekend in Glencoe staying in the very well situated Lagangarbh hut.
Sun rise in Glencoe, March 22nd.

Three Sisters, Glencoe.

Breaking trail all the way into Stob Coire nan Lochan with Stu, Marcus and James.
Leading the final pitch of Scabbard Chimney V 6 *** after linking the first two and a half pitches together, great route, obvious winter line (pic Marcus McLernon).
Myself carefully descending a very snow laden SCNL after our route (pic Marcus McLernon).

SCNL

Lagangarbh and the Buchaille, March 23rd.

Sun, Snow and a Selfie.

View from a very cold Tunnell Wall.
Trying Uncertain Emotions F7b at Tunnell Wall - all the moves done easily, just too cold to RP (pic Marcus McLernon).

Buchaille Panorama.
Escaping the coursework blues for a midweek fix of superb granite and big suns. A brilliant day.
Sam high up on the arete of Ramadan E1 5b ** at The Round Tower. Brilliant weather, great rock and good company made for a great day, March 26th.

Sam leading Stoneface E4 6a ***, great rock. I lead Facegod E5 6a*** that takes a direct start up the crack to the left, crosses this route, steps above the lip of the roof and then heads boldly up the thin headwall.
April

A long weekend on the Isle of Arran for Dayni's belated 21st celebrations, a good weekend where we made the most of the non-climbing compatible weather.
Big day out in the hills on Arran, heading towards The Witches Step, April 7th.

Heading up into the middle of The Witches Step, very atmospheric!

A cool panorama from the mini ridge at the top of the two gullies.

Looking back across The Witches Step, spooky!

Heading from Caisteal Abhail to Cir Mhor.

Glen Sannox full of cloud

Like a bowl full of cloud soup.

Looking towards Goatfell and North Goatfell, the way ahead.

Dayni says "This way."

Looking back from the saddle to The Castles (Left) and The Witches Step (Right), if only the cloud was like that when we had to figure out The Witches Step!
I have been dreaming about the Island of Erraid on the western tip of the Ross of Mull for a long time now. I had seen some photos of some friends climbing there, and read great stories of the climbing there in Jules' book. I jumped at the opportunity to organise a trip there when the weather played ball. Great company and weather to match made for a brilliant weekend. I recommend everyone go an explore this incredible corner of Scotland, but not all at once now!
Set up camp on Erraid, April 18-19.

Glorious view from the tent.

Couldn't resist the classic solo of One Dead Puffin VS 4c***, What an incredible place.

I could get lost in this place for a long time, Scotland, April!

High up on Covenant E4 6a***, incredible crack climbing to go with the incredible weather and location.

Fionnphort Boulder circuit, a brilliant afternoon to rest our arms and skin on some fine easier problems, April 20th.

Waiting for the Corran Ferry in 17C heat at 16:30!

View north up Loch Linnhe towards Fort William.

May
After a very busy couple of weeks finishing off final uni submissions with some very long days and nights I was keen to get out on the rock. Dayni and myself went to Pass of Ballater for the day, and what a great day it was. It's always sunny at Pass of Ballater!









Soloing a brilliant little VS Strawberry Ripple, if only it was longer!
Onsight attempt on Demon Drink E5 6b**, I came very very close, just hung around too long trying to figure out where to go! Brilliant route and happy to get it done.
End of the day solo on Smith's Arete E5 6a***, brilliant technical climbing up to the break at 8m then some easy climbing to the top. I had lead this back in October so could remember some of the moves, just not the crucial move to the break, which provided a bit of a heart flutter, I tried not to let it show to keep Dayni's heart rate lower than my own. Happy to be able to solo this level of climbing, a good test of mental strength as well as physical strength. (pic James Claphamski)
Moving into the no-fall-zone on Smith's Arete, a great end to another superb day at Pass of Ballater, three E5's and my first E5 onsight with Stoned Immaculate! Happy days. (pic James Claphamski)

The longing for more climbing only burns stronger with each day becoming sunnier. Making the most of the start of the year, my ticklist has for once been able to keep pace with my wishlist.

Take The Throne, Defence of the Realm, Egret, The Stork, The Sting, The Knock, Little Pixies, Blood Sweat and Frozen Tears, The Sorcerer, The Magic Flute, Merlin, Monty Python's Direct, Facegod, Covenant, Demon Drink, Stoned Immaculate, Smith's Arete. Climbing, Climbing, Climbing!