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!...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Change of Modes

I've always loved Autumn. Its a time when your motivation starts to change, and you look forward to the upcoming winter and new goals.
       This November i went to the world mecca of sport climbing - Catalunya, for two weeks with a large group of friends. We mainly climbed at Terradets, with a few days spent elsewhere and enjoyed sun with cold crisp temperatures for all but two of the fourteen days.

Martin Doyle at Abella De La Conca.

The quality of the sport climbing in Catalunya is simply incredible. Pitch after pitch of the best moves you'll ever do, stacked on top of each other means you find yourself wondering why you've ever bothered with nuts, cams and long walk-ins!

Hot Austrian girl attracting some attention on Bruixes wall..

In the first week i wasn't feeling too good, recovering from some kind of virus which made me sleepy and dizzy all day, i was really worried that it was going to stop me from trying hard. However come the second week i was over it, and managed to onsite 7c and get an 8a in a hand full of goes!

Myself on Bon Viatge 8a.

Shortly after returning from Spain, and after a small work stint on the farm, i drove north to Aviemore. I'm going to be living in Aviemore until the end of February, which is when my Scottish winter guide's test is. I've made it my mission to be in the best possible state i can be before the test starts, which means knowing all the major crags in Scotland like the back of my hand, and being able to nav off the Cairngorm plateau in the worst possible weather imaginable with an assessor breathing down my neck!

On arriving in Aviemore at the end of last week, i managed to snatch two consecutive days of climbing in Coire an Lochain with my mate Neil. First we did "The Vicar", and then "Ventricle", both fantastic routes I've wanted to do for a while.

Starting up the Vicar, i realised i hadn't hung on axes in almost 10 months!

Fun steep climbing.

Myself on the first pitch of Ventricle.

As i sit here now, its +7 degs. and gusting 80mph at 700 metres. I need to find somewhere to hang my Beastmaker soon or i'm gonna go mad!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Talk in Hathersage

On Saturday the 30th of November (end of next week), the Outside store in Hathersage is having a day geared towards getting everyone psyched for the winter. In the evening, Neil Gresham and myself will be doing talks about wintery climbing all over the world. If you're nearby, make sure you come along, should be a great night!

More info here here

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Summer That Was

When i was 15, i camped out at the bottom of the Llanberis pass with a couple of mates for several weeks in  our summer holiday. Although it rained a lot, and we didn't scratch the surface of our naively ambitious wishlists it was a great time from which i have fond memories. Since that summer i hadn't really been back to Wales, so with my upcoming UKsummer test for the Guide's scheme in September i thought it would be a great chance to spend a while in Llanberis, making up for lost time and trying to make a dent in that wishlist!

Summer of 2006, it rained a lot, so we messed about a lot. Ioan Doyle and myself having fun.

I couldn't have picked a better summer to stay put in the UK. There was a month or so in July/August when i think every crag in the UK must have been snuff dry. In this period i concentrated on the routes in the pass and on Cloggy, when later on i was spending a lot of time on the coast, either clipping bolts on the Orme or getting pumped stupid at Gogarth.

Lord of the Flies - THE classic.


My route tally at the end of September stood at 25 E5's and 6 E6's, which makes the summer of 2013 my best ever for trad climbing by quite some way. I also managed to climb an 8A at LPT, which was one of my summer goals.
     The stand out routes which i can still feel a buzz from even months later would have to be "Profundum Lacu" on Pabbay - beautiful wall, beautiful place and great company, "Lord of the Flies" on the Cromlech, just perfect climbing, bone dry and without a single chalked hold, "Ludwig" on Gogarth's Yellow walls - a great soft adventure, and "Tonight at Noon" on Craig y Doris - pumped out of my mind!

The Cad
The Orme

However, it hasn't all been play. As i said, the main reason for spending so much time in Wales was to prepare for the guides test i had down there. My preparation was largely in the form of getting to know the area like the back of my hand, so i had lots of options of places to take my "clients" during the test week. I also spent a fair amount of time shadowing people working in an MIA type role. Although multi-pitch climbing in the UK and teaching rock climbing like an "instructor" certainly isn't what most people think guiding is about, its important to be able to have that string to your bow, which in part, was what the September test was all about.

When test week arrived i was really excited to get stuck in and show what i could do. I think i respond well in an assessment environment, and although it wasn't all plain sailing, i actually thoroughly enjoyed the whole week. That said, its a really weird feeling having someone watching, criticising and discussing everything you do. I repeatedly found myself questioning why and how i was doing things, things which i can normally do with my eyes closed, but i guess that's the whole point.
        I was really happy to be told that i'd passed and didn't have to re-sit any days. Although sad to leave North Wales, i had accomplished the mission of the summer, and can look to the winter. This winter i'll be spending a lot of time in Scotland, partly because the climbing is seriously good, and partly because that's where the next test is, bring it on!!


Monday, July 15, 2013

Classic Rock in a Day

It was last October when Libby Peter first suggested to me the idea of doing all the N. Wales routes from the famous coffee table book "Classic Rock" in a day without motorised transport. It seemed like a good idea, as it would be a great way for me to get to know N. Wales a bit better and at the same time bring the Alps to Wales.

We did a small recce day a few days beforehand to sus out some of the link's between crags and also do the big route on Lliwed (12 pitches!). Then a couple of days later we got stuck in, with a 2a.m start we left my van in Ogwen and started to run in the direction of Craig Yr Ysfa. Light started to filter through the early morning haze just as we topped out on Great Gully.
Libby enjoying the night time ambiance of Great Gulley.

Myself on the Crux.
After a knee crunching descent, we ran a very tedious few km's up the Ogwen road to Milestone Buttress, which then led to Grooved Arete, Pinnacle Rib and Gashed Crag on Tryfan.

Running towards Tryfan at about 5 a.m.

Libby cruising on Grooved Arete.

After topping out on Tryfan a high traverse saw us beneath Glyder Fach where we climbed Direct Route. Another knee cruncher saw us to the bottom of the Idwal Slabs where we climbed Hope, Lazarus and The Arete. After going over the summit of Glyder Fawr we descended in to the pass to tick two routes on the Cromlech, two on Carreg Wastad, and one on the Grochan.

Libby high above Cwm Idwal.

Myself on Spiral Stairs on the Cromlech.

We stopped for 30 minutes or so to eat a sandwich we'd stashed at the Cromlech boulders, then continued the mission. The Cracks on Dinas Mot went fast, but when we got to Main Wall on Cyrn Las we both started to climb much more carefully as our concentration was fading, not helped by a Chinook helicopter which buzzed round us in circles for most of the route.

By now the sun was frying us and the ascent up to the col beneath Crib Goch was very unpleasant.

Libby eyeing up the last big one from the col.  Avalanche/Red Wall/Longlands on Lliwedd. 
After descending then reascending all the way to the base of Lliwedd, Avalanche/Longlands/Red Wall went pretty smoothly and we were a mere 800 meter descent away from the bikes we'd stashed at Nant Gwyant which would take us to Tremadog.

Myself on the last few metres of Lliwedd.

About an hour's cycle later we were at Tremadog. A scorching ascent of Creagh Dhu Wall was a greasy, sweaty, midgey affair and it was with relief that we lay on the tarmac next to Libby's van barefoot and content.
It was a big day! made worse by the heat, but we both agreed that it felt much easier than either of us were expecting, due to a mixture of eating well, drinking well and being psyched! 

So....the routes were:

 1. Great Gully VD 267m – Craig yr Ysfa

2. Gashed Crag VD 170m – East Face of Tryfan
3. Pinnacle Rib Route VD/S 175m – East Face of Tryfan
4. Grooved ArĂȘte HVD 233m – East Face of Tryfan
5. Direct Route VD 85m – Milestone Buttress
6. Direct Route HS 4c 91m – Glyder Fach
7. Hope VD 136m – Idwal Slabs
8. Lazarus S 4a 43m – Idwal Slabs
9. The Arete VD 24m – Idwal Slabs
10. Grey Slab VS 4b 85m – Glyder Fawr
11. Nea VS 4b 75m – Clogwyn y Grochan
12. Crackstone Rib S 4a 54m – Carreg Wastad
13. Wrinkle VD 71m – Carreg Wastad
14. Flying Buttress VD 87m – Dinas Cromlech
15. Spiral Stairs VD 84m – Dinas Cromlech
16. The Cracks HS 5a 90m – Dinas Mot
17. Main Wall HS 4b 140m – Cyrn Las
18. Avalanche/Red Wall/Longlands S 4b 286m – Lliwedd
19. Creagh Dhu Wall HS 4b 63m – Craig y Castell

And the stats are - 2259 metres of climbing on the routes. About 2000+ metres of ascent to get to the routes. Approximately 3000 metres of descent, (but likely much more), and 30km of distance for the running part (excluding the cycle to Tremadog). We started at 2.30a.m. and finished about 18 hours later. 
      We soloed every route apart from Creagh Dhu Wall which we moved together on as we needed a rope to abseil off anyhow. We wore rock shoes for about half of the routes, and our fell-running shoes for the other half.

It was great to see that even being the most unfit i've been in years, the "long day memory" is still lurking in my muscles, and i was surprised to wake up feeling really fresh the day after and able to have a sizable day cragging. Long live the Summer!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hebridean Heaven

A large part of my brain seems to be taken up by a bank of potential climbing trips which realistically would take many lifetimes to achieve. I sometimes get really stressed out trying to prioritise, categorise and sub categorise them within the "idea bank", so that i can try and see how they'll fall in to place!

For some time, the top of the list in category "UK", has been the south Barra islands of Pabbay and Mingulay. These two uninhabited chunks of Lewisian Gneiss have to be up there with Lundy, Orkney and Pembroke for the title of ultimate UK sea cliff destination, (not to mention St.Bees...) with the added interest of the "Robinson Crusoe" factor. After a winter of work i was psyched out of my mind to see the trip coming together nicely, and i don't think any of us could believe our luck as we boarded the ferry in Oban in sweltering heat, with a forecast that predicted the same for the next 7 days.

Pabbay and Mingulay are pretty much the most southerly 2 islands in the Outer Hebridean chain.

Land fades away as the ferry takes us to Barra.

Donald and his boat "The Boy James"
 Donald - the man in the know when it comes to getting to Pabbay - had his boat at the ready as soon as the ferry landed on Barra, and before we knew it we were off in to the choppy seas in search of our island.


Are you sure this thing floats Donald?

Leaving The Boy James.

Dougie cruising, with Newfoundland just over the Horizon...

Myself on a brilliant E5 called "The Raven". Photo- Ry Mchenry.

It was extremely damp and felt full on for the first morning! Photo Ry Mchenry.

Home on Pabbay

Dinner is caught.

Mike and Ry in disbelief of how good the pink walls are. Mingulay in the distance.

Stu, (in blue, top right), on "Prophecy of Drowning".

Pabbay was amazing. The highlight for myself was sitting on a ledge above the crux pitch of "Profundum Lacu", at about 10p.m, still hot enough to be in shorts with no t-shirt, having done one of the best rock pitches in the UK, with a basking shark circling below, and knowing we'll be doing the same again tomorow!
      After 4 incredible days on Pabbay, Donald picked us up and took us to Mingulay, where we were to spend another 4 days.

The transfer to Mingulay arrives.

Pedro crushing a fun E4.Photo- Ry Mchenry.

The cliffs of Pabbay from Mingulay.

Our beach on Mingulay. Photo- Ry Mchenry.

 The ruined houses in the above photo are relics of past communities on Mingulay. Mingulay was inhabited as recently as 1912, and has evidence of permanent inhabitants for as long as 2000 years beforehand. When walking around the island it becomes strikingly apparent what a precarious existence it must have been, with dozens of families reliant on a handful of sheep, fishing in extremely dangerous seas and scaling cliffs to steal bird's eggs. This was proved on neighbouring Pabbay when all the men on the island died together in a fishing accident and the women and children were left with no choice but to move to Barra.

Me, Pedro and Sam on "Rory Rum The Story Man", Dun Mingulay. Photo-Ry Mchenry.

Pedro following on "Ray of Light"

Dave and Stu beneath us on an E3.

Loading the boat to head home.

You know its been good when you're sad to leave! Photo- Ry Mchenry

We were all genuinely sad to be leaving such a cool place, but to make us feel better, after 8 days of wall to wall sunshine, it started raining the second we got on the ferry back to Oban!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Haute Route

In the last week of March i spent a very interesting 5 days shadowing swiss based IFMGA guide Terry Ralphs and 4 clients on the classic Chamonix-Zermatt Haute route. Although i've now finished the initial induction year and am a little further down the long road to becoming a guide, this was the first time in my life i've been with paying clients in the mountains (albeit me observing, and Terry guiding). For me a few myths were dispelled and i got a good glympse in to the world of Ski guiding, which for nearly all IFMGA guides is a bread-winning aspect of the profession, especially in the Spring months.

For most the Haute route needs no introduction,  a 120km long ski, up and down hill from Chamonix in France to Zermatt in Switzerland, covering over 8000 metres of ascent along the way. For many avid ski tourers its the "jewel in the crown" of Alpine tours.

Not a very high quality map i know, but gives some scale.

Despite bad weather on all but one day, and very high avalanche risk on all the days, we made it to Zermatt, and i was mega impressed when Terry made the call to bang out the last - crux - day when nearly everyone else was escaping to Arolla with a nasty forecast, commitment!

Everyone looking fresh at the start line. Simon, Mike, Paul, Camilla, Terry and myself. Photo: Camilla Nilsson.

Reaching a Col on day three at sunrise.
Camilla Paul and myself.

Hut life. Photo: Camilla Nilsson.

So myths dispelled...... Perhaps the part of the week i was most looking forward to was meeting the clients. I really wanted to know what kind of people go on long guided ski tours; what motivates them to go ski touring? what do they want to learn? how good a skiers are they? how fit are they? what do they do for the other 51 weeks of the year? But also i was really looking forward to seeing them out of their comfort zones, a little scared, completely knackered, having to dig deep and question whether they're enjoying it. Basically all the stuff which as commited climbers we accept as being fundamental parts of the "pleasure", but things which relative newcomers to the mountains may find offputting and unexpected.
            I think all my questions had been answered by the time we reached Zermatt after 5 days of poor weather and hard conditions.

Experience? i worked out that all four of them had clipped in to bindings before i was born, but touring and mountain experience was lacking (although i should watch what i say as one of them had been up Everest!).

        How fit? i was very impressed by the fitness of our clients, they were consistently solid at a pace which although slow, was in my opinion impressive when you only do it one week a year. However, any time gained through fitness was rapidly cancelled out by faff, never underestimate the faff factor!

Rope out for a tricky section. Photo: Simon Pickles.

What do they want to learn? This i found fascinating. At one point a client told me that he had got annoyed when a guide in the past had tried to teach him some skills, "Why?" i replied with confused interest, "i don't want to learn how to do it, that's why i pay a guide!" he replied. In the past i always thought that this kind of attitude would annoy me, but i actually think its kinda cool. He doesn't want to give up the time to learn to be self sufficient, nor does he feel the experience would be worth anything more if he was, therefore why bother? simple, and i can respect that.

Camilla de-skinning.

Did they suffer? Yes and no. Not half as much as i thought they may have given the bad weather, but battling a strong head wind in a blizzard on the Glacier du Tour took its toll, and everyone looked very battered by the time we rolled in to the Trient hut.

Nasty weather on all but 1 of the days.

Did they get scared? Interestingly not half as much as i was expecting. I think being completely inexperienced in the mountains means you haven't yet developed your danger sensors. So at times when i would have seriously loud alarm bells ringing in my head, a client could still be plodding away in their bubble of blissful ignorance, a bubble that they have rightfully earned by employing a guide.

Paul, Camilla, Simon, Mike and myself on the summit of the Rosablanche 3336m.

All in all it was a very positive week, which ended with me feeling more psyched than ever for the future. Thanks Terry for having me along and thanks Camilla, Paul, Simon and Mike for being a chilled set of clients who put up with my endless talking about climbing...

Terry relaxing in Zermatt after a hard week.

Its been a weird winter for me, it feels like i haven't really achieved anything in the 8 months since getting back from Pakistan. All i've been doing is jumping through hoops and earning the money to allow me to do so. I just keep telling myself that if this year goes smoothly then that'll be it, i'll be an "aspirant" (meaning i can work in the alps and the end is in sight), and i can be back to being cold, scared and hungry on amazing mountains in crazy places, can't wait!