Thursday, September 25, 2014

Canada Part 1

Lush green valleys, braided rivers, coniferous forest stretching for eternity, blunt yet jagged limestone peaks, huge trucks, bears - I'm pleased to say that the Canadian Rockies are pretty much exactly how i'd always imagined them. They're also massive. Massive in every way, faces that look 400 metres are actually 1000, an approach that looks like a pleasant hour's stroll on the map ends up being a grueling 7 hours of bush/moraine whacking, its seriously wild, seriously cool.

I'm here with Nick Bullock, with the idea of climbing some of the bigger alpine faces. After speaking to local experts such as Jon Walsh about conditions that are required for the north faces we decided that September/October would be the best time, the idea being that temperatures would have cooled off enough that the rockfall isn't too bad, yet not cold and snowy enough that the big stuff goes out of the window in place for the ice and mixed "cragging" that most people come here in the winter for. Although this is Nick's eighth trip to the Rockies, its his first at this time of the year with alpine stuff in mind, so the trip was a bit of an unknown for both of us.

When we first arrived in Canmore there had been an unseasonably large dump of snow, which made things look very wintry!

After a couple of days some good weather showed up and we climbed the north face of Mount Diadem. It was great to get stuck in to the Rockies and sample the choss. It went something like this; leave the car at 4a.m. thrash, wade and grovel up a very vegetated valley for a few hours, scratch up endless moraine to the glacier beneath the face, cross the glacier, climb the face, traverse the summit, down-climb the s.face, and then walk out of a different valley we'd forgot to research for 5 hours back to the car.

Nick at our road bivi, the valley behind leads up to the glacier beneath Diadem.

Nick fording a very cold Sunwapta river at 4 a.m.
About 4 hours later the sun rose and we could see the N face, very cool.

Nick crossing the glacier beneath the face.

The first roped pitch.

The crux was a really fun steep offwidth with some old ice in the back and not much for gear, here i am starting it and about to wish we'd brought a more extensive rack!

Myself on a fun pitch of thin snice higher up, the screw in the photo being the only worthwhile gear for the next 40ish metres.
Nick charging up some choss.

Choss on the final tower

Myself with the North face of Alberta in the background, the dream tick for this trip.

Descending in to the Canadian vastness.

It was great to have done such an awesome route in the first week, and it wetted our appetites for more.

Nick clipping bolts.

Down-time in Canmore at this time of year isn't so bad due to the amount of really great sport climbing there is. In Echo Canyon alone, which is right behind where we're staying there are some really inspiring crags, which disprove the theory that the Rockies only contain choss. Yesterday i did a brilliant 12c in Echo which would be three stars in Siurana or any other mecca of sport climbing. Its almost worth considering the Rockies as a sport climbing destination, although i can't believe i just said that...

Incredible amount of rock in Echo canyon, on the wall behind Nick there are 50 metre 8a's!
After resting post Diadem, we drove back up the road towards Jasper and set about a bigger objective. Unfortunately we messed up a bit on tactics, and whilst bivvying in the car the night before leaving i had a traumatic night of vomiting, which i think was due to a dodgy chinese take-out from the supermarket the day before. Nevertheless we made the long walk in to the col beneath the NE ridge of Alberta, but after not eating for a couple of days and finding small hills a struggle to walk up, combined with our intended line being in somewhat different condition to what we'd anticipated, it was an easy decision to stash the gear and come back at the next possible opportunity.

The north face of Twins Tower seen from wooley shoulder. The Columbia icefield stretches off its back and is a "Hydrological Apex", water flows from it to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic.

The Lloyd Mackay hut, with the East face of Alberta behind. 

I've been seriously inspired by the Rockies so far, they're wild, infinitely more "real deal" than anything that the European Alps can offer, and feel more on par with some of the bigger places i've been for size, gnarl and as i say, "realness".

Monday, September 8, 2014


 The last few months have been a good mix of work and play. I really do love North Wales, there surely can't be a better place to live as a trad climber.

You really can't beat an after-work session in the pass. The mega classic King-Wad. Photo: Lee Roberts.

The good old Cromlech. I think i know every hold on these two walls now. Here Sion is on Left Wall, and i'm linking up Precious, Right Wall and Lord of The Flies to result in an action packed pitch of awesomeness.
Rust Never Sleeps, a nerve wracking E6 on the Lleyn Peninsular. Photo: Nick Bullock
Box of Blood E7, on Craig Doris . More of a flash than an on sight as i'd belayed Nick on it, but still pretty terrifying.
Another paradisaical trip to Pabbay and Mingulay came and went. It wasn't all frisby and fishing, we did some climbing too, and i managed a couple of E6's i hadn't got round to last time. But really, this photo says it all.

If i was to talk about all the amazing routes this summer i wouldn't do them justice, and also, i would have found another method of avoiding packing all of the above in to two 23 kg loads. Off to the Canadian Rockies on Tuesday, lets hope it gets cold over there soon!

Thursday, February 20, 2014


I've just returned from a great week guiding ice routes in Aurlandsdalen Norway. I was working on a course ran by Martin Moran based from the idyllic sleepy village of Aurland. Aurlandsdalen is the lesser known brother of Hemesdal and Laerdal, two more established ice climbing areas in Western Norway. Martin has been guiding in this area for almost 10 years, and has had the place more or less to himself for that time. Before heading out i'd attempted to wrap my head around the lie of the land and route options by reading Martin's pdf guide he's written to the area (and to my knowledge the only documented info), but in the end i gave up as the vastness of the place became apparent.

Our pad.

It's really intimidating going to a new area completely on sight in a guiding role. Not having a library of routes and options in one's head, or knowing the recent snow pack or ice history makes everything feel very "big" when you have two inexperienced yet eager clients in tow. Fortunately, as is often the case, there was nothing to worry about and the general trend for the week was to drive up a valley staring up at huge streaks of ice in wonder, settle on an appropriate one for the day, beat a track up to the base and climb it. Only once in the whole week did i know what route i was climbing, in fact for all we knew we were the first! - a great adventurous way of doing things. I'm sure that this combined with the fact that we didn't see any other climbers all week is why Martin loves to come back every year.

Raymond, Dawn and myself climbed the left hand pillars and continuation above on day two.

Kenny, John and Dan on the left hand line.

I was lucky enough to be partnered with Dawn and Raymond, who were super strong and keen, allowing us to barely climb anything easier than WI5 all week.

Dawn seconding what we later found out to be "The Stonner" WI5.

Back in Scotland now, and after two days of light winds, we once again have 70mph south westerlies, and MWIS is back to using words such as "buffeting effect" "torturous" and "gael force" to describe the next week. Yipee.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Good Week

Last week I was hosting on the BMC winter international meet. The international meet is a week of none-stop climbing, when you take a foreign guest out to show them just how good Scotland can be. It was a really fun week with a real buzz and excited atmosphere, with everyone's ideas and motivation bouncing off each other resulting in a frenzy of action.

Day 1

With apocalyptic-like weather forecast for the first day of the week, there were very few decent options for easing in to it. My Canadian partner Michelle Kadatz was extremely jet-lagged after only arriving late the evening before, so a late start was in order. Unfortunately, Michelle had ate something dodgy in the airport so had been up all night with food poisoning. We managed to get to the bottom of our intended route in the norries, despite the 80mph winds, but in the end we had to retire back to the lodge, so that Michelle could be nearer a toilet and a bed!

Day 2

10 of us piled in to a mini bus at 5a.m. and headed for Glencoe. We climbed Nick and Guy's line "Slenderhead" VIII 8. This was the second ascent, and Michelle's first route in Scotland, she was obviously feeling a lot better as she followed the three pitches with style perfected on the flat edges and shallow hooks of Canadian limestone.

Half way up the very bold first pitch.

Day 3

A less than perfect, but temptingly ok forecast lured us to Beinn Eighe on Wednesday. After a very late start in ferocious winds we battled over the summit ridge and made the two committing abseils down "Blood Sweat and Frozen Tears". From watching the conditions over the last couple of months i had a sneaking suspicion that the legendary and very rarely repeated Mick Fowler route "West Central Gully" may be in good condition. This mysterious route sports a 5 metre roof section on its amazingly steep crux pitch. Fowler famously attached his rucsac straps to his axe leashes so he could rest when making the first ascent. And other such comments such as "the grade is a guess, the second ascencionists refused to comment" certainly ad to to the mystique.

The lower part of the crux pitch.


Steep and 3D.
The route was wild, with 3 metre long icicles hanging from the roof, not thick enough for body weight, Michelle sheltered under a roof at her belay while i sculpted them in to a climbable state. At the belay after the crux pitch i was buzzing, what a route, seriously special.

Day 4

For the second part of the week i was to climb with my Swedish Friend Olov Isaksson. I've known Olov for several years, but we'd somehow never managed to climb together.
      We headed back to Beinn Eighe and its "Far East Wall". This steep, super compact wall is an amazing place, and within seconds of arriving at the base we spotted an awesome looking unclimbed roof crack and corner system that we simply had to have a go at. Surprisingly, the line went with little drama in three pitches, with the crux at about VII or VIII 9 which Olov made a great lead of.

Steep start to pitch 2.

The Crux.
Myself inside the last pitch.

The top bulge.

Sadly our good friend Magnus Kastengren, who had introduced me to Olov 4 years ago, died in the mountains back in November. We talked a lot about Magnus that day on Beinn Eighe and decided to name the route "Crazy Eyes", which will make sense for those of you who were lucky enough to have met Magnus.

We finished by soloing West Buttress. It was one of those really great days.

Day 5

Rest day. The weather was worse than grim, and we discovered the sauna in Glenmore Lodge.

Day 6

The forecast for Saturday wasn't great, but we hoped that MWIS was being pessimistic and headed over to Beinn Bhan with Andy and Peter. On arriving at about 6.30 a.m. it was chucking down rain and just didn't seem hopeful for getting something big done. We all went to sleep in the car and woke up an hour or so later to considerably improved skies. Game on!

Beinn Bhan is a seriously cool place, and the Giant's wall is probably one of the most impressive cliffs in Scotland. It was late to be starting up such a route, but after a slight route-finding error on the first pitch, Olov and myself found ourselves committed to "The Godfather", a route i'd wanted to climb since i was about 10. 
The Giants Wall comes in to view.

Seconding the 5th pitch. 
Olov charging in less than ideal weather.

The top corner.
It went like a dream, and six hours after starting we'd topped out and were halfway back to the car before we needed our head torches.

It was a really good week, many thanks to the BMC for having me along, and Michelle and Olov for being great partners.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Cure and The Tempest

The first 10 days of 2014 saw me feeling completely wiped out by a chest infection. I should have known better....after feeling the oncoming illness a few days before christmas i didn't help matters by going a bit nocturnal over the festive period and spending too much time in pubs back home, but hey, some things you just have to do.

After a course of Antibiotics and eating a full clove of garlic every day for a week (my mate Ben told me it would work, and he went to university), i was starting to feel back to normal in time for a lull in the horrendous winds.
      The week before, myself and Greg had tried something hard and new on the Dubh Loch. Although we didn't get very far, the amount of ice about had inspired us to come back asap.



Asap turned out to be a week later, when on Saturday, Guy Robertson, Greg, Nick Bullock and myself returned on the day that was to be a new-routing extravaganza.

      At the bottom of Broad Terrace Wall that morning there was a great atmosphere, with most of the protagonists of Dubh Loch climbing over the last 30 years present, craning their necks and marveling at the sheets of thin ice traipsing down the crag.

Having a look.

With Guy and Greg already involved in the first pitch of the best new line to go on this part of the face (what would become "Defence of the Realm"), Nick and myself started trying to spie an aesthetic line up the blank looking wall to their right. I absolutely love this part of climbing a new route, its an opportunity to be creative. Ideally we wanted it to be hard enough that we would have to fight a little, not so hard that we'd run in to a dead end, and follow an aesthetic, strong line packed with quality climbing.

I started up a steep corner line with some tricky pulls to a good rest. From here, a curtain of ice was three metres to my right. It was going to be a super thin bit of climbing off a very small boss of slopey granite with no feet holds to reach a crack and then the ice. After getting some bomber gear at my head height, i committed to the move, matching on a hook that could pop at any second. Luckily it stuck just long enough for me to teeter on to the good ice.
    After getting a bomber belay another 20 metres higher, and with the technical crux of the route out of the way, i brought Nick up the pitch, and handed the lead over to him. Nick then took us to the top in two brilliant pitches of ice, thin places, steep and fat in others. It really is a pleasure to watch Nick on this kind of ground, i think you'd be hard stretched to find someone more at home on thin ice.

Just after the crux sequence.

Nick doing his thing. 

Pleased with ourselves for finding such a cool line through the roofs.

After a rest day, the same team - Nick, Guy, Greg and myself met at the King's house pub a the head of Glencoe, with our eyes set on Stob Coire Nan Lochain. Totally still in the morning, it was the first time this winter i could actually call the weather "nice".
   Greg and myself had a quick play on a great looking new line, which will one day provide two very hard, impressive pitches. After retreating, we went to check out the Tempest and i got stuck in. The climbing was hard and fairly well protected for half of the pitch, but felt intimidating, not knowing anything about it. There was a lot of clearing of iced ledges, edges and cracks, and combined with making a few hard moves the wrong way at about half height, which i had to reverse meant that my arms were feeling pretty weiry by the time i got to the niche at two thirds height.
     I kind of realised at this point that i wouldn't get any worthwhile gear from then on, so hammered home a bomber wire and committed to the final section. The very last pull over the snowy bulge at the lip was a bit heart-in-mouth, with a long long fall on the cards. After abseiling off, Greg also led the pitch on my gear.
        It really is a fantastic pitch, and will be a classic in the future i'm sure.

The tempest

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Getting out of the car

As we all know, sometimes the hardest thing about climbing is getting started. The first few moves of a pitch are often the hardest. Racking up can sometimes be a forced procedure. Getting out of the car can seem like a fate worse than death. You could trace it back even further; getting out of bed, packing the night before, being born.... sometimes it just doesn't feel easy.

Murdoch taking one for the team in 70 Mph winds.

The last month of 2013 has brought some of the worst winter weather Scotland has seen in a while. I've worn my ski goggles from leaving the car to the bottom of the crag more times in the last month than ever before. Its fair to say that its all been a bit harder than usual.

Attempting a speed record on The Message...
However, its also pretty cool when you can be tested climbing a route 5 grades beneath your limit due to factors other than the climbing itself. This element is what makes Scottish climbing special and feel so much "bigger" than it actually is.

Myself on Babes in The Wood.
On a slightly calmer day a couple of weeks ago myself and Greg managed the second winter ascent, and first on sight of a fun route in Sneachda called "Babes in the Wood" VIII,8. Its a fantastic tenuous pitch which gets E2 in Summer and climbs very differently to how you'd expect.

Down-climbing from something new and tasty yesterday

 Over the last two days me and Greg have tried four different routes, none of which we got up. In fact, on none of which we got further than 10 metres up the first pitch! But this is why climbing is great, sometimes you float up things with seemingly little effort, sometimes its an effort to just get out of the car - but without the contrast, i think there'd be a real lack of appreciation. Bring on 2014.

Bailing for the second time yesterday!...