Wednesday, December 28, 2011


With tales of metre deep powder day after day from friends in Cham, i should be very jealous sitting here in the unseasonably warm UK. The promise of more great routes in Scotland in January however is keeping me quite sane. Although i have been getting some flashbacks of swooping between trees, mind-numbing face-shots, and the excitement of first lift up the midi, running out of the lift like a pack of grey-hounds after a rabbit.

      I remember last winter, some friends went off to the Dolomites in search of the legendary limestone couloirs (very different to granite couloirs) found there. It wasn't until i saw this movie of their trip that i understood what they'd gone looking for. Check it out, it will make you jealous.

Dolomiti from Felix Hentz on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Just back from another great trip with Greg. This time we headed to Lochnagar, intent on a particular route. Unfortunately that didn't all go to plan, but the climbing we did and the consolation route were easily equal to anything i was expecting of the day.

Neither of us had been to Lochnagar before, so it was another fully "onsight" day. An icy drive, dodging deer rabbits and ptarmigan up Glen Muick saw us bedded down in Greg's car at the road head.
       We timed the walk in pretty well, as it was just getting light when we dropped down from the col in to the corrie. "Crazy Sorrow", which goes through a large overlap on the Tough-Brown face was quickly identified and we started to brake a trail in its direction.
A spacious car, the key to a good Scottish winter.

I must say i wasn't particularly impressed with the line. Mullin obviously wanted to find a roof that he could monkey over on axes - there's nothing wrong with that! -  but there seemed to be far better lines on the face. With this in mind, i thought it would be cool to climb a more direct start to the route, adding some climbing and line. A slither of ice visible halfway up the initial slab gave me something to aim for, and resulted in a brilliant, delicate pitch of bold 7.

On the first pitch, reaching the ice after some thin moves.

Greg pulled up to the roof on pitch two and started to work out the moves. There was clearly going to be a lot of luck involved in the sequence, the kind of thing that you can get right or get wrong, and if you get it wrong you'd be very lucky to stay on. After some climbing up and down, he committed and took a small fall on to the bomber peg, which is at waist height.
     After a couple more looks, combined with myself leaning out to see above on the slab, we concurred that there was zero ice on the slab above, which is clearly visible in photos we'd seen of Pete and Guy's ascent, which was the first true ascent. With this evidently being a crucial condition needed for this pitch (and by the sounds of it the next one also), we decided to rap off and go find something else to climb.

Eyeing up pitch 2.

     After a short flick through the guide, we searched for a fun sounding route nearby. "Scarface Wall" fitted the bill and we set off up Raeburn's to find it.
      The route was great, but not straightforward, with huge amounts of snow. After a quick "Rock Paper Scissors" i took pitch one, tenuous climbing on bad gear. Greg took the next pitch, which had a pull on to a ledge that led to a thin move in to the next groove.

Pitch 1 of  Scarface Wall VIII 8, lots of annoying snow stuck to this pitch!

Pitch 2, a steep pull on to the snowy ledge on the left, which is then traversed.
     I then took pitch three, which was an awkward diagonal crack, with a scary loose block at the top (extra scary when you hook both sides of it and it starts to lever off!). 
      At this point, with all the independent pitches done, and where our route joined another, we decided to rap in to Raeburns and down climb that, so we could get back to our bags swiftly.

Another great day! i thought Lochnagar as a crag was awesome, with a pretty mellow approach. I remember reading about Eagle Ridge in cold climbs when i was younger, and ever since then Lochnagar stuck in my mind as a seminal Scottish cliff. I'm pleased i've now been there.
           Its getting soggy and warm over the next few days, so i've headed south to Cumbria, where i'll be for Christmas, working when i can, and training (and eating and drinking) when i can't! Mega psyched for more Scottish action in January!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stone Temple Pilots

After last week's routes myself and Greg had a real yearning to do something big. Maybe its the alpinist in me, but i really like the idea of routes which have a bigger feeling than just cragging. Scottish mixed climbing has to be one of the most time consuming and energy-absorbing types of climbing i know of metre for metre, so i was motivated to try something long with hard pitches.
         Discussing what to go for, we went through the decision process something like this; lets go do something in the North West - lets do The God Delusion - lets do something on Shelterstone so we know the crag ready for "Temple Pilots" in the future- fuck it, lets just do "Stone Temple Pilots"
          Good weather and an 86% moonphase was on our side, but we were very aware that neither of us had been to the crag before and there was going to be a lot of hard climbing.
          We left the car at 3.30am and broke a not-too-deep trail up and over from Sneachda in to the Loch Avon basin and across to the crag, stashing one bag and some kit half way. Greg set off up the first pitch at about 6.30 in pitch black and fairly heavy snow. By the time i'd seconded it it was light, and i led through in to the corner above which was great fun technical climbing.

Greg setting off on pitch 1 in quite heavy snow at 6.30am.

Myself seconding the same pitch.

The linking groove of pitch 2.

     Some easyish ground and a boulder problem led to the crux wall which Greg slowly but confidently dealt with. I must say that Greg is a total animal at the moment.

The higher you go on this route the steeper it gets.

Myself on the crux pitch. Very steep and sustained but with mostly sinker hooks.

A techy and insecure feeling slab.
The next few pitches we have no photos of, which is a real shame because it was some of the meatiest climbing. Greg lead a steep crack and techy traverse which led to a turfy groove for 30 metres. After realising that he was belayed in the wrong place, i didn't follow all the way to the belay, and instead lead up right back on route.
              Now dark, and with tired cramping muscles, the next pitch looked pretty full on. I started up it feeling weak but felt better once committed, a brilliant sustained pitch (photo from Pete and Guy here- which completely wasted me.

Greg eyeing up the very hard 4 metres above, on the last pitch.

Chuffed but feeling a little fried on top.
      What a route, just totally awesome, and very intense. I'm pretty inexperienced with regards to top level Scottish mixed, we both thought that the X grade was pretty big sounding. Having now done the route both myself and Greg can certainly see why the route gets the grade. That many pitches of VIII and harder certainly equate to something much harder than the pitches themselves.
      Awesome job Pete and Guy putting up such a great route. Some brilliant route-finding.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Good Interview

I just stumbled upon this , its an interview with a friend from Chamonix called Korra. Korra is a very modest, very impressive climber. His humble, soft voice i find inspiring whenever we chat.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mixte Ecossaise

For the last few weeks i've mostly been working on the farm, my usual job when in the UK, milking cows, shoveling shit and enjoying my Mum's cooking. I find that November is a good time to be working in the UK, as there's not much going on alps-wise and there's always Scotland to provide a fix.  I've decided that this year i'm going to try and be Cumbrian/Scottish based until at least the end of January, when i'm hosting at the international meet. This way i can get properly stuck in, rather than climbing a route or two then dissapearing to climb big stuff. Scotland is awesome, i have always loved the place, the weird and wonderful style of climbing, and its great to get involved with something that has a real energy and exciting vibe about it at the moment, and which is undoubtedly going through a period of accelerated progression.
       I have lots of plans and ideas for the next couple months, and myself and Greg Boswell, along with James Dunn got off to a good start this week. I drove up to Greg's with an open mind, and within a few minutes we had a great plan revolving around the Ben, even if the forecast was pretty dire!

         On the way we climbed "Defenders Of The Faith" IX 9 on Beinn Dorain. It was a great route, even though it was just one main pitch on a pretty much roadside crag. Greg was super steady, in fact i'd say he cruised it.
Greg resting on Defenders.

 I expect this one will become a proper classic, similar in popularity to the neighbouring "Messiah", a super fun VII (but which i think is more realistically a steady VI).

After the obligatory chip shop stop in the Fort we walked up to the CIC on the Ben that night. After a failed mission to drive my car up to the top car park, we broke a trail through a white-out and arrived a bit late at the hut.

The next day we headed up to the Echo wall area in very high winds and deep snow. After an abbortive atempt of something new and cool looking we settled for the "Great Chimney" which was no pushover in heavy spindrift.
The Great Chimney

Thursday we dubbed "escape from the CIC", as this is what we tried to do. The hurricane hit hard, and when we looked out the window and saw debris blowing up towards the Orion Face, we investigated the outside of the hut, only to see the whole of one side of the roof missing.
         As the hut got wetter and wetter we decided to make a run for it. We only made it 50 metres, getting picked up and thrown back several metres by the wind before we could even cross the river!
         We resided in the hut for the rest of the day, hoping that we'd manage to get something done once the hurricane had blown over!

Passing time durring the storm, some time around the time of this shot was when the roof came off.

We woke to a still, cold morning and broke a trail through heavy windslab to the base of No.3 gully buttress. We had decided to do "Knuckleduster" a summer HVS which a few years ago Blaire Fyffe and Steve Ashworth climbed the first two pitches of under winter conditions, giving it VIII 9, before trending of rightwards. We thought it would be cool to climb the whole line.

Myself on the great first pitch, heavy glazing made gear hard work.

Greg on the crux, this pitch is only about 15 metres, but packs a punch.

Pitch three, looking for the 4c crack.

Found it.

Greg charging up the short top pitch in the dark.

After the second pitch, we decided to follow the line, rather than veering off rightwards. I went straight up from the iffy belay, placed a high runner then made a fun move around the arete to a steep wall, where a 4c crack split its right side. The pitch was totally awesome and sustained with some spaced out feet.
       Greg swiftly led the short top pitch in the dark, and we rapped "Winter Chimney" before making a tentative descent down a loaded No. 3 gully. I'd say "Knuckleduster" is a top drawer route, with sustained and brilliant climbing, get yourself on it!

Robin Clothier assessing the damage yesterday morning.

So, a fun few days. I'm in Cumbria at the moment, but will be headed back north as soon as i've done a little more work.

Monday, November 28, 2011


             I've just done the last of a few talks/lectures i had planned for this month. I've found it extremely rewarding and fun to talk about what i do to people who's understandings of who i am and what climbing is vary from extensive to zero.
          Its been really fascinating to see how the talk is absorbed by both the climber and the none-climber in an almost equal measure, and although extremely cheesy to say it, it has been very pleasing to have someone come up to you at the end and say they were "inspired".
     Although i'm now in danger of sounding like the kind of person who normally i would be intensely annoyed by, i have to say that.......this brief insight in to spreading my fascination and enthusiasm in climbing has shown me that one of the missing parts in the jigsaw, that for me has to be looking a little more complete to be convinced that climbing is an entirely meaningful and worthwhile thing to be involved with in an all-consuming way, has just began to fall in to place. It is possible for other people to "get" the very specialist area of climbing that is Alpinism, and even if not interested in partaking in it, people find it uplifting to hear about.
         The last talk i did, i was asked to talk for 20 minutes as an after-dinner thing for a Manchester based mountaineering club. One thing that became apparent was that talking for short times is much harder than talking for longer, as when you are talking you have no sense of time, and when talking for twenty minutes, you have to time it so that you feel like you've only been going for about 30 seconds!!
Some things i've been talking about:

St.Bees, my original playground and a very special place.

Precarious living on some of the Alp's hardest lines.

How to climb the Eiger North Face in a day.

The story behind this photo.

Patagonian faces.

And what it feels like to be completely wasted with no back-up plan.
Talking is something i'm hoping to do a lot more of in the future, so please spread the word. Whether it be for a club function, a general gathering of people, a school etc. please get in touch. Email: .

On Saturday i took a day off from the farm i work at when i'm in the UK, and went along to the Alpine Club China symposium in Shap. Much was learnt about this fascinating area and many ideas were wizzing around my mind on the drive home. Talks from Bruce Normand on Edgar and Chris Bonington on Kongur were my favourites. But definitely the most fascinating part for me was sitting with Bruce and his laptop for a couple of hours afterwards, looking at hundreds of unique photos he possesses from his travels in the Chinese mountains. This guy knows a lot.....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cumbrian winter ethics.

There's a lot of exciting energy bounding around the UK at the moment, regarding what could be a very significant Scottish winter season. Its an exciting time, with this particular climbing sub-discipline going though much progression and change.
      Where are we going to be at come April 2012? is it going to be normal to walk in to the Ben in fruitoots? Will you be laughed at when you own up to "only" climbing grade VII? Will there be guerrilla warfare in Cumbria, with anti-toolers guarding Gable with de-icer?
        Its exciting to watch this particular "discipline" evolve. Although great fun, its also important to remember that Scottish mixed style climbing, especially in the harder grades is ultimately an extremely contrived game (not that climbing isn't already....), and just a bit of fun.
       Its interesting to step back from the people endlessly debating the conflicting issues surrounding it (which sure as fate, will never be happily resolved), and take a look through some humour tinted glasses, as this movie does perfectly.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A little beta for the Colton Mac.

I was just looking through some photos when i saw a shot i'd forgotten i'd taken. Its from our second bivi on No Siesta.
Enlarge to see the people, 800 m below on the Colton Mac's initial icefield.

Its hard to see in this early morning light, but the quickest  way of climbing the icefield is the neve-motorway to  their left, otherwise a purgatorial black ice traverse is going to greet your not-fully-warmed-up calves rather cruely. A few hours later i heard some shouting, followed by the PGHM plucking these boys off.
     All three of the ascents i watched from NS have all made this mistake. No matter how easy and mundane climbing a big low angle icefield is, its always scary and intimidating being in the centre of the vastness, and much more friendly feeling to scuttle up the boundary.

     So basically, after crossing the schrund make a left straight away and get on the neve-express. Its there even when the icefield's far blacker than in the photo. Of course its only going to cost you a little bit of time, but messing up early in the day is the biggest psyche killer in the world.
       I'm sure the route will get done plenty more before the year's up, even if the Foehn is ripping through as we speak...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Random few days in the Hebrides.

Here's a few pictures from 5 days spent on the Isle of Barra in the outer Hebrides of Scotland, a 60th birthday present for my Dad, who lived on the island in 1974 while commisioning a "Decca" radar transmitter.
        I was last in the Hebrides 14 years ago at the age of 6, so it was interesting to revisit this fascinating and beautiful chain of islands that mark the western most reaches of all the Scottish islands.
       Unfortunately, despite there being some of the most amazing gneiss (or maybe rock full stop) in the country, and some gogarth-sized cliffs that are relatively unexplored, i was without a motivated partner, and as my mum kept reminding me, this was a "none-climbing-focused" family holiday.

Rather than taking the Calmac ferry from Oban, we flew from Glasgow, which definitely makes the islands feel less remote. Barra is apparently the only place in the world where there are scheduled flights on to a tidal beach. This is Flybe's only Twin Otter.

The Hebrides from the air.

Me and my sister bouldering on the "Wave Wall" of the north coast.

This wide wall was made for climbing on.

Amazing sculpted jugs, crimps and breaks everywhere. I must get myself to Pabbay next year!!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

No Siesta

After spending the majority of this summer in the UK, i returned to Chamonix on the 15th of September. I hadn't been alpine climbing for two and a half months, since i'd been in Alaska, which for me is a really long time. I had one route in particular in mind.
       "No Siesta" is perhaps one of the most seminal and hardest, long, mixed routes in the Alps and its difficulty has been confirmed by the likes of repeat ascensionists Marko Lukic and Robert Jasper to name a few. After having a very abbortive attempt on the line this time last year, due to nasty conditions very low on the route, Jon and myself were really motivated to get it done.

        Although conditions on the Jorasses this year aren't exactly perfect, especially on the first third of the face, the plan was to get on it almost as soon as i arrived back in the valley. Unfortunately however, i came down with a nasty chest infection for a week, and had to spend 7 beautiful blue sky days sitting inside popping pills and hearing about what everyone else was doing.
           Eventually, after letting the illness have its time we felt we could get stuck in, and amazingly the weather was still on our side. Once again we found ourselves bivvying half an hours walk from the schrund, gazing up at without-a-doubt the most beautiful and striking face in the Alps. I truly believe that if the Grande Jorasses north face was in Alaska or the Himalaya it would still be a standout feature, it has something unique and special about its broad shape, splitting spurs, dark recesses and crenelated summit ridge.
        The night before we left Jon had received a text from our friend Korra Pesce letting us know that him and his partner Jeff Mercier had at the last minute also decided to go for No Siesta, so stood at the bottom i scoured the route for signs of them, and when it got dark enough i could make out two tiny pricks of light inching their way up the crux pitches. I always think there's something awesome about watching lights on a big face like that, it looks so strung out and involved, two tiny pricks of light amidst a huge vast blackness, it always seems scary to spectate, but when you're one of the pricks of light, it usually feels manageable and under control, a case of seeing the big picture being misleading.
       After a while watching them, we were both slightly horrified by the fact that it was gone 10pm and they were still going, this being their second and crux day on the route. When their progress finally stopped, Jon received a text from Korra saying "slow progress, bring big balls and some extra cams.....". Although humerous, i have to say this was also slightly worrying, coming from Frances two strongest mixed climbers, M14 arms and definitive wads.
       We got off to possibly the worst start, or none-start in the world the next morning. 4a.m. and bags on backs, Jon went to put his crampons on only to see that one of his toe bails was completely missing! after a hopeless search we accepted that it could be anywhere along the Leshaux glacier or Mer De Glace. Shocked and depressed i curled back up in my sleeping bag, and Jon headed off back down to town, where he would get hold of a new bail before walking back up and starting again the next day. Apart from being hard on psyche, it could have been a lot worse were it not for Jon's amazing girlfriend Sandra who met him on the Mer de Glace with a new crampon bail and some nice food.
       Fast forward many hours, and we wake up once again and head up towards the schrund. I like to talk about routes in a more photo-orientated way, otherwise i feel myself getting lost in waffle, not able to prioritise events and feelings in to elequont text. So here we go:

As the bottom third of the route was in pretty poor condition, we made a variation which traversed in from the Croz starting couloir. This meant we coulfd avoid the out of condition slabs that we had issues with last year. Interestingly Korra and Jeff also made a variation to the start to avoid the same area, but further to the left of where we went.

This is where we joined No Siesta again, around 150 metres over the schrund.

Horrible slabby traverse on black ice.

We moved together up all this section in a 150 metre pitch. Killer rope drag and a big bag for the second made things tiring.

Once deposited on to this small snowfield, we got our first gaze at some of the more meaty climbing. The next few pitches go up the cracked rock just left of the compact headwall on the far right. Steep!

Teaching myself to aid climb on one of the route's cruxes. This pitch is given A2, and i climbed it with a mixture of DIY aiding and some exciting free climbing.

The first bivi was just above the A2 pitch. We arrived in good time and chopped out a ledge roughly 1.5 feet wide which we could perch on. This photo is on the morning of the second day. Knowing it was gonna be a big one we woke early, which was pretty grim.
The pitch off the bivi was hard to get in to to begin with, but after 10 metres i felt in the zone again.

The pitch was a full 70 metres, with the rope tugging tight on Jon just as i found somewhere to belay. We took 70 metre ropes on the route as we had heard that many pitches were huge.

Starting another monster 70 metre pitch. These pitches were all absolutely brilliant climbing.

Getting dry and steep. Jon leads a very loose small pitch on to the headwall.

Same pitch.

Seconding with the big bag was pretty torturous, on both the steep and the less steep pitches.
A fun torqueing crack on the "Traverse Luminese".

Steep! Here Jon's standing on some big loose flakes directly above my head.
Good exposure.

Solid rock at last!

A fun feety pitch, with the top of the Walker Spur on the left.
Jon on one of the cruxes.

A mixture of free and aid.
We brought a pair of jumars on the route, which i've never ever packed on an alpine route before. We only used them on two pitchs so i'm undecided on whether they were "weight well spent".

A terrifying loose pitch followed, and soon after that it got dark and we found a place to bivi. Smaller than the night before but thankfully partly chopped out by Korra and Jeff, we melted snow in to the night.

The next morning.
A fun technical pitch for breakfast.

Ice again!

This pitch summed up the route. It looked about 30 metres but turned out to be a full 70 and a little harder than expected.

Beautiful climbing.

But again, much longer than it looks!

The route goes out with a bang. A totally awesome steep goullotte. (well actually theres still quite abit more after this pitch...)

First sun in three days!

The descent in to Italy was of course tiring, frustrating, knee jarring and much more. This was my fourth time descending from the north face and i thought it was the worst so far. We made it to the Boccallatte hut at around midnight, where we celebrated the route under a still starry night, sharing mint tea and a bottle of Cognac with a very friendly Thierry Renault.
    All in all a great hard three days. It was fun experimenting with this "slow and heavy" type of alpinism, which is something that myself and Jon aren't really in to. I get so much pleasure from dashing around with a 10 litre bag, covering thousands of metres as if you're out for a run. This type of climbing was so different, but i really liked it and i reckon i'll do more of it.

I strongly believe that this was the first British ascent of "No Siesta". There has been another claim which would say otherwise, this claim however has an enormous amount of doubt surrounding it. I think that's as far as i'll take the topic.

Of course stay tuned for some great shots here also - .