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.