Friday 28 December 2012

Rehab on the Ben

After a nasty fall at the start of November, my ribs had pretty much healed and I was desperate to get back out. The second half of December seemed to offer ideal conditions for those able to get out mid-week, but was thoroughly disappointing for us "weekend warriors". Cabin fever was beginning to set in.

All that was resolved yesterday with a great day out on the Ben with Jim. We discussed a few options - Jim was keen for something a little more adventurous but given my weakened state, I didn't fancy a complete epic, so we settled on Sidewinder on South Trident buttress. Although this was only climbed in winter for the first time in 2005, it has become a popular route and is generally considered to be low in its grade (although the grade is VII,8). This sounded hard enough to be challenging yet easy enough to retreat from if I was really struggling. I'd also been impressed by it when looking across from Strident Edge a couple of years ago, and wanted to do it ever since.

Since the route isn't in the SMC Ben Nevis guide, we were relying on word-of-mouth and others' blogs for info. I had the impression that there was an easy introductory pitch, a harder middle pitch and a crux on the top pitch. In my weakened state, I suggested Jim take the crux (I could claim it was generosity, but it was mainly cowardice!). He led off up the first pitch, taking no time to reach the foot of a steep corner 30-odd metres above.

Arriving at this belay, I realised that I might have made a mistake - this looked a lot harder than I'd been hoping for! The crack in the corner would have accommodated perfect hand-jams in summer but required careful and strenuous laybacking & torquing in winter. I made several forays up and down the initial section, placing high runners and finding excuses to procrastinate. I knew that I had to commit to reach the security of a chockstone above, but my head hadn't recovered from the fall, and convincing myself to go upwards rather than downclimb to the security of the belay was a real struggle. Jim showed admirable patience, and eventually I managed to commit, reaching from a strenuous bunched position up to a solid hook around the chockstone above. Surely that was the crux done? Apparently not - a couple of metres higher, the exit from the corner onto the powder-covered slab above proved every bit as hard and a lot sketchier. The gear was good but it was doing little to reassure me. Again, I eventually convinced myself to commit. "Watch me!". A thin hook slipped then caught again. My other axe struggled for purchase in the soft snow. Finally, I grovelled onto the slab and crawled up to the belay.

Jim seconding the tricky exit from the corner

The pitch above was long and sustained, taking another corner then the continuation groove above. Jim put in an excellent lead to bring us to the ridge above. A tiring swim along this through deep powder brought us to the plateau.

Jim setting off up the top pitch
This morning, I have the familiar ache of shoulders, back and calves that always follows a good winter day. I also have the relief of knowing that I can still climb this stuff. It'll take a little while for my head to settle down fully, but my doubts that I can still enter the exciting and adventurous world of winter climbing, or that I want to, have gone.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Hung Drawn and Quartered!

Suddenly it was looking rather promising for the weekend ahead. The hallowed hills of north west Scotland were teasing, tantalising and, now, flaunting as first-hand accounts filtered through.  I haven't yet secured a partner. It's the SMC dinner and other "regulars" are already committed or out of action.

I'd met Ross a week earlier at Newtyle and, having exchanged numbers, it was with relief that his tentative response became certain. I had now secured a partner. Typically another offer came through shortly after which I had to decline. Sorry Roger, I'm sure you would have done the same!

Plan A was quickly shelved on learning of rain at 600m near Applecross. And, then, a text from Pete Macpherson suggested "Hung Drawn and Quartered". Rather than striking the fear of god into me I was inspired. Before now I had not had the opportunity to climb on Skye (summer or winter) and I vividly recalled Pete's photographs and tales from the second ascent of this fiercely overhanging crack-line, with Ian Parnell, in 2010. "The best Grade 8!" Pete enthused.  He would be prospecting a new route on Am Basteir with Martin Moran and we could join the party. Incidentally (or should that be coincidentally) it was Martin who grabbed the first ascent of this plum line in 2008, so we would be in perfect company.

Basteir Tooth (Photo - Pete Macpherson)
The walk in was a joy, if a bit icy underfoot, as the crisp dawn revealed the most stunning alpenglow over the Cuillin Ridge. The true extent of this spectacle was largely lost on me at the time as Ross and I geared-up close to King's Chimney, but Pete Macpherson's excellent photographs captured the moment. We couldn't have chosen a better day for my first route on Skye!

But was I fit enough, strong enough, brave enough?

Rather than give a blow by blow account of the route itself I will simply say that it was st-e-e-p, hard, intimidating and utterly brilliant. My arms surrendered in the final few feet of the third pitch, resulting in an impromptu belay and Ross leading through to complete the pitch in style. With the hardest climbing now behind us, I led the way to the top.

The line is kind of obvious! (Photo Pete Macpherson)
Many will sit in their comfy chairs in front of their PC and say that my ascent was flawed (Ross's most certainly wasn't) and, yes, I cannot claim a clean ascent. Failure? No, I won't accept that. At least I had the balls to try. I gave it absolutely everything and in the process I had an amazing day. True failure would have been not trying at all.

Did I say it was steep? (Photo - Pete Macpherson)
Nearing the end of Pitch 1 (Photo - Pete Macpherson)

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Monday 5 November 2012

Bad start to the season

I had a bit of a fall yesterday off the top pitch of War and Peace. I don't want to go into details - it's too easy for people to jump to conclusions or apportion blame if they weren't there. But I do want to thank the guys on the route next to us for their kindness and their Ibuprofen, and thank Simon for helping me walk out.

I'm now nursing a couple of broken ribs which will keep me out of action for a little while, but fortunately nothing more serious.

Sunday 4 November 2012


When Neil calmly declared "this is unjustifiably dangerous" before lowering off an icy crux pitch on  Nocando Crack I understood completely. After several metres of protection-less, delicate and irreversible thin ice placements above an ankle (if not leg)-breaking ledge, Neil finally contrived a secure pick placement. With no immediate prospect of gear, his decision looked easy and pre-meditated. The rope was carefully clipped into a carabiner on the shaft of the axe and Neil was lowered to the safety of the belay. At least in the accessible Northern Coires gear retrieval is not a significant problem and on finishing up The Migrant, Harry and I were able to abseil back down and return the crag-swag to its grateful owner.

Risk and the associated adrenaline high has always been fundamental to my climbing experiences but as I age, life priorities are changing. Accentuated by my newly married status I am not craving the fear factor and I am more conscious of "unjustifiable danger" than ever before.

The fire is not burning as fiercely as it did through the last three seasons but, two weeks and two moderately difficult but excellent routes into the current early winter, I am reassured that it is still smouldering. I am not ready to fade into retirement just yet as I slip into contentment.

Today is a beautifully peaceful Sunday. I am more than happy to be at home with Shona (my life and wife) scavenging for fire wood, reading the papers, drinking tea, writing this blog and preparing for our roast dinner. Changing life priorities are delivering happiness and contentment in abundance. But make no mistake, there is still room in my life for winter climbing sufferance. Albeit more dilute.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

After work warrior!

This year my climbing has been mainly midweek, fitting it in as best as I could around my busy schedule of work and regular visits to and from Amsterdam to see my lass.

Midweek trad sessions are tough. There's no two ways about it, limited time, drained brain and too much psyche often don't result in flying performances. That being said, I've had a pretty decent year with a few E3 onsights at the mighty Auchinstarry (Gold Bug), Limekilns (Through the Motions) and Loudoun (Lunge). I felt like I was going well after my trip to the Dolomites with Neil and had been keen to try Ivy League at Limekilns for a while.

Someotherbloke on The Ivy League
I've been eyeing this one up for a while as it looked technical, moderately protected and challenging! Tonight after a perfunctory warm up of re-leading The Dead Ringer and seconding James up Elgins Crack I got started. The first few moves went ok, got some thin gear in and committed to making moves towards the wider crack/pod with its lure of holds and gear. Unfortunately I misread the sequence and took a small fall. First fall onto an RP4 for a while...

Had a quick go after too little rest which resulted in a quick rest/retreat. Not really a proper go. I had a proper rest after this and got started up the fun lower sequence, this time getting it right and making it to the crack. Kicking myself slightly for fluffing it the first time I kept ploughing onwards until the top crux. After contriving a semi-rest I committed to the tricky sequence, a bit off balance I made a lunge for the break which took quite some effort to hold!  

Pulling over the top I had that nagging feeling that I was more than capable of onsighting this route, but had just failed. Just.

The thing that is gnawing at me is that I wasn't scared, wasn't afraid of committing to the moves and didn't back down. I just got it wrong. Pure and simple. And annoying. Probably a case of being too rushed by fading light and midges. 

Riglos write up coming soon...

Sunday 2 September 2012

Pabbay 2012

Pabbay and Mingulay, at the southern end of the Outer Hebrides, contain some of the best rock climbing in Britain. After a brilliant trip to Milgulay a couple of years ago, I jumped at the chance to go to Pabbay with Malcolm Airey, Chris Hingley and Kev Hall. It didn't disappoint!

Even getting to Pabbay is an adventure. Train to Oban, Calmac ferry to Barra, a night in Castlebay then Donald's converted fishing boat south from there. Donald dropped us off next to Pabbay's beautiful beach and waved goodbye, to be seen again (hopefully) a week later.

Looking down to our camp next to Pabbay's beautiful beach

That first afternoon, we took advantage of a good weather forecast to get across to the Banded Wall, a 60m wall of perfect, steep gneiss dropping straight into the sea. I did Spring Squill with Chris and Endolphin Rush with Malcolm, two brilliant routes that were the perfect reminder as to what islands climbing is all about. Endolphin Rush in particular sums up the style: probably only F6a+ or F6b and great holds and solid gear, but on a steep, exposed seacliff with basking sharks looking on.

Me pulling through the upper section of Spring Squill (photo: Malcolm Airey)
We had a fair bit of showery weather during the week so didn't get as many big routes done as we would have liked, but the two we did do were definitely the highlights of the trip. The first was Prophecy of Drowning, which takes a spectacular line up the pillar on the left hand side of the Great Arch. Kev and I set off to do this in the late afternoon after dodging showers for the rest of the day and the fading light towards the top definitely added to the excitement! Swinging round the arete into a bottomless groove 40-odd metres above the sea on the first pitch, and looking down at the waves crashing onto the rocks below, will live in my memory for a long time.

Abseiling in to Prophecy of Drowning (photo: CHris Hingley)

Chris setting off up pitch 2 in glorious evening light...

... with the sun worryingly low in the sky!

 The other big adventurous day we managed was on the Grey Wall Recess. The approach to this crag involved one of the most spectacular abseils I've ever done - 90m free-hanging from a block at the top of the crag to a wave-washed platform at the bottom.

A lot of air! Photos looking down and up from about the mid-point of the abseil (photos: Chris Hingley)
We went in a team of 4, with Malcolm & Kev winning the toss to do U-Ei first and Chris and I doing Mixmaster Snipe, the very good E1 just to the right. We'd intended to go back and do the other routes later but never got another period of settled-enough weather to be happy to go for it.

Even the shorter stuff on Pabbay is very, very good. On the showery days, we climbed at the Bay area, Poop Deck, Hoofers Geo and Big Block Sloc. The appropriately-named Immaculate Conception was truly stunning, easily a four star route anywhere else in Scotland!

Malcolm on an impressively smooth lead of Immaculate Conception
Hoofers Geo should be one of the least serious venues on the island as it's normally possible to scramble to the base. When we visited, however, the Atlantic had other ideas! Having left the abseil rope on the other side of the island, we abbed in on a single half then climbed out on the other one. Whether because of this, general fatigue or my head not being in gear, I found Hoofers Route really tricky.
Looking out from the top of Hoofers Geo
Inevitably, just as the forecast got a bit more settled again, it was time to leave. A cracking night in the Castlebay hotel with entertainment from the Vatersay Boys reminded us what it's like to be surrounded by other human beings. Then too early the next morning, it was time to get back on the ferry and  say goodbye to the Hebrides. I'll be back!

Monday 30 July 2012

Hill Running... there's nae fells in Scotland!

After the disappearance of the snow, and the recent rains of summer, the motivation to get out in the mountains has changed a little in the last few months. The desire to run/trott/crawl up and down the hills has caught the imagination of late! Having been out half a dozen times in the last few months, it struck me yesterday the variety of thoughts that go through your head while indulging in a relatively greulling sport....hmmm on second thoughts I'm not sure if 'sport' is the right word. It might be if taken in the same context as 'the only sports are racing driving and mountaineering, all others are games! In no particular order are a few thoughts which popped into my brain yesterday while doing something which I enjoyed doing.... well for a few minutes anyway! You might guess it, but Beinn Bhreac and Beinn a'Chroarainn (Cairngorms) might not be the best hills for fast flowing, high level running! :-)


* Jacket on or jacket off….


* Oh oh I'm going to get soaked


* Stupid bog!


* Great, wet feet already and I've only been out half an hour


* Aaaarggghhh can't believe I'm ankle deep in frogspawn!


* Wow, what a view!


* Shit that was close, don't want to do my ankle in here!


* Those clouds are very black, wait for it… wait for it…. And the rains on, great.


* Ah the hutchison hut, what a place!


* They look like their prepared for the weather (couple in full waterproofs, me in lycra leggings and t shirt)!


* My lungs hurt


* My legs hurt


* I wonder if my heart rate has gone through 200bpm yet


* I could just stop for a seat….


* Stupid knee-high grass and heather


* Bollox, I'm on the wrong hill, stupid map!


* Damn, turdoclock.


* Aaawww my eyes, stupid sweat!


* Bet the GB mens road cycling team wouldn't be slacking it right now….


* This was a terrible choice of route!


* Mmmmm I'm glad the suns out!


* This is summer and I'm starting to lose feeling in my hand….. Stupid wind and rain.


* Damn, my trainers are filled with mud…. should never have worn road shoes.


* Damn it, I think my nipples might be bleeding…..


* Wow, there's Loch Avon! I'm glad I came out.


* Wooowwww this slopes too steep for road shoes!


* Oh oh, that better not be cramp coming on….


* I wish that woman would bugger off so that I can take my pants off……ok maybe that was in the carpark!







Wednesday 25 July 2012


I'm just back from an excellent couple of weeks in the Dolomites. I'm a big fan of Dolomites climbing - the combination of big routes, adventure, quality rock, incredible scenery and good food is hard to beat!

The first week was just Ally Fulton and I. The plan was to climb hard this week then have a slightly more chilled out week the following week, but forecasts for afternoon thunderstorms deterred us from doing too many big routes. In the end, the whole week felt surprisingly relaxed despite getting a fair amount done.

The first route was the Steger Route on the Catanaccio. This takes the strikingly obvious big cracks visible from the valley. Definitely a three-star line, although maybe not quite the same rock quality or interesting climbing as we got from some later routes.

Looking up at the Catenaccio. The Steger takes the obvious cracks leading to the highest point on the wall

Ally loving the chimneys!

Nice exposure on the upper section

The next couple of routes we did were shorter so avoid thunderstorm risk - the Messner on the Second Sella Tower and Via Irma on Piz Ciavezes. Both were really good routes, short by Dolomites standards but longer than most Scottish routes! The Messner felt pretty bold in places and route-finding wasn't obvious, so it would probably warrant E2 5b back home, whereas Via Irma was technically harder but the difficulties were short & well-protected, maybe E2 5c (or maybe even stiff E1) overall.

Wondering if I was still on route on the Messner

Ally pulling through the roof on Via Irma

Next, we headed to the Tofana di Rozes, intending to try the Pilastro. Unfortunately though, the weather was still a bit unsettled so we opted for the easier line to the left, starting in glorious sunshine but, in true Scottish style, finishing in the clag.

The second week was more sociable. I did two routes with my wife, Elizabeth. The Hexenstein seems to be one of the most popular Dolomites routes, being relatively easy, non-serious and high-quality. The next day, along with 2 friends, we did the Delaggo on the Cima Casson di Formin, which was less well known and a little more serious but still very good.

Elizabeth enjoying the Hexenstein
After that, Ally and I made time for one more big route - the Vinatzer (with Messner finish) on the South Face of the Marmolada. I'd wanted to do a route on this wall for years and the Vinatzer/Messner is the classic mid-grade outing on the face. We had ideal weather - clear, settled and mild without being outrageously hot (we are Scottish after all), and beautiful views from the approach.

The view from just above the hut on the approach to the Marmolada
 When we got to the base of the crag, there was another team just setting off up the original start. We set off up the alternative start and, but the time the two lines merged after 3 pitches, we had passed the other team and seemed to be going really well.

Ally starting across the easy traverse pitch (P10 or thereabouts)
We were at the big ledge over half-way up the face by 11am, so thought we'd a good chance of making the last cable-car down. Sadly, the route-finding on the Messner finish was a lot more complex. After much uncertainty about the line, we ended up in a dead end (with loads of tat - we clearly weren't the first!) and had to do a long diagonal abseil to get back on route, costing us more valuable time.

Tricky route-finding on the Messner finish
In the guide, there are 3 pitches on the route given UIAA VI+: pitch 4, pitch 7 and pitch 28. Clearly there was a sting in the tail waiting for us! I ended up getting this top crux: probably E2 in its own right (albeit with quite a lot of pegs in situ) with hard-to-read sequences and mind-blowing exposure. In the end, none of the moves were that hard but when tired, it would be very easy to make a mistake here.
Glad to be topping out, even if we had missed the cable car
From there, it was relatively easy to the top. We ended up missing the last bin by about an hour, but the descent of the ski slope in trainers was straight-forward and we managed to hitch back from the Fedaia pass to Malga Ciampela easily enough.

Descending towards the Fedaia pass

All in all, a great trip and a part of the world that I'll be keen to visit again.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Catching Up

It's fair to say I've neglected the blog a bit recently. Life's been hectic but there's been plenty of good stuff happening, particularly with the good run of weather on the west coast in spring & early summer.

Alps Trip
Heike and I had a great week in Chamonix at the start of March. For once, we were lucky with the weather. We made the most if it with ascents of the Petit Viking, Swiss Route on the Courtes, Fil a Plomb and Frendo-Ravenal. Anyone who's ever skied with me will know that I'm not exactly comfortable on skis, so the approaches and descents were probably the crux for me!

Spring Cragging
We had some brilliant clear, dry weather on the west coast this spring which made for cold conditions in the mountains but great cragging weather at low level. Highlights for me included a weekend in Ardnamurchan with James, Heike and Brian, a trip to the north-west with Ally and a visit to Neist with Matt.

I'd been wanting to get to Ardnamurchan for ages and it didn't disappoint - the climbing and the scenery are both incredible. Return of the Jedi and Star Wars were the climbing highlights, but the views across the Small Isles and the magic of the Ring itself made them all the more special.

The NW trip coincided with warmer weather so Ally and I got up onto Stac Pollaidh for ascents of Jack the Ripper, Wingless Warlock and Vlad the Impaler. We also made it to Inbhirpollaidh Rock Gym, a crap name for a great crag! The steep, physical Gneiss was the perfect complement to the rough Sandstone slopers & jamming of the day before.

I'd been to Neist years ago but it poured so I'd never actually climbed anything there. The big, intimidating face of Supercharger had made an impression though, and I was glad to get back there & get on it. It turned out to be more solid than expected and had some great climbing on it.

For the bank holiday weekend at the start of May, Elizabeth and I embarked on a journey through one of Scotland's greatest wildernesses - the Knoydart peninsula. Day 1 was a little bit epic - we started from Glenfinnan, ran in almost to Loch Arkaig, then turned left, went up & over the 3 munros north of Glen Dessary and finished at Sourlies bothy. Day 2 was fortunately a bit shorter, taking us up & over Luanaidh Bheinn and down to Inverie for massive feast in the Old Forge. The ferry to Mallaig and bus to Glenfinnan completed the loop the next day. With great weather, phenomenal scenery and blissful solitude, it was a weekend to remember.

Mountains and Sea-Cliffs on Skye
Whether you're a monarchist or a republican, you'd have to admit that the Royal Family gave done a good job of giving us extra bank holidays in the past couple of years. We celebrated the jubilee (honest) with a 4-day trip to Skye in perfect weather and with barely a midge in sight.

Andy and I started a little over-optimistically, heading for Vulcan Wall area first thing on Saturday morning. After I'd experienced the joys of leading an E2 crux with no feeling in my hands or feet, followed by hot aches at the top belay, we retreated to a slightly warmer crag. A great link-up on Sron na Ciche allowed us to get the blood flowing again, with a dubious topo for Atropos adding to the fun.

The next day, we headed North for some warm rock at Kilt Rock. What a great crag! 4 50m lines of E1 & E2 up impeccable rock had us grinning all the way to the pub!

Monday gave another adventure, this time teaming up with Lisa to do Kung Cobra on the back of Sgurr Coinneach Mor. This 4-star classic clearly doesn't get much traffic but is worth the walk for the solitude & views alone. A circuit of the Coure Laggan round with Elizabeth on the Tuesday completed an excellent weekend.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Return of the Blog!

In an attempt to pull this blog back from the brink of a forgotten about, low priority, 'when I can be arsed' statement.... I thought I would do something that I've been meaning to do for weeks! An update...

What a strange few months its been.... the winter season peatered out at the end of February, save for the hardy few who impressively managed routes in the remote corners of the cairngorms while the majority were out frolicking on the sun baked rock..... or in my case, hanging out in the last place anyone would want to be (The Tube, Birnam), locked in a horrible single-minded project focus, which ultimate ended in failure. Multiple energy-sapping attempts during 2 RP's to latch the final move of an M11 ended in a perverse satisfaction of being able to walk away from the cave knowing I wouldn't be returning for at least 6 months.....

April was the month I had really been waiting for, and the prospect of 3 months of ski touring in the Alps with Monica! A few days of driving, via a Newcastle to Amsterdam 'mini crusie' (!), an exciting drive through Germany on the Autoban with Monica getting nailed by a speed camera (on the autoban?!?!), and a tired final stretch over the col du montet had us in Argintiere. A few days of great skiing on the Grand Montet and Valle Blanche had us primed for some touring, unfortunately this was to be the last of the good weather forecast, something I've frustrating come to accept in the Alps, especially in the Chamonix valley. 
With the onset of unsettled weather and no obvious high pressure fronts arriving soon, the obvious decision was made to abandon ship. A last minute call was made on where to go and off we drove to Gap for some sunny sport climbing at Sisteron, Orpierre and Dauphin. This was as big a shock as 23degC temps in Scotland in March, with Monica having not climbing in 2.5 years! Having only held and trained with axes for the previous 6 months, cranking on rock with hands was certainly a bit strange at first!

With another front due to bring further unsettled weather into france, we escaped further south, this time to Espana for some more sport climbing (Suiranna) and sightseeing in Barcelona. The climbing was so good it might require a return visit..... nice crimpy climbing, loads of crags and friendly holiday grades equals a winner! Basically onsighting 3 x 6c+'s in a day was pretty strange compared to nothing above 6b+ over the course of 5 days in France! Grades..... who knows!
As for Barcelona, this was the first time Monica and I had been and we were both blown away by the city! Amazing architecture everywhere and such freedom of design, incredible! Doubly impressive when driving back through the drab cities of Geneva and Amsterdam on the way home.... although my mind might still have been on the daylight robbery we encountered on booking a hotel in Geneva. We should have been suspicious on being told of the free mini bar in the room, which might have offset the pain a little but no, even the fridge was full of soft drinks! Grrrrr! So in the end, a chilled out 3 weeks driving round Europe clipping bolts, skiing and sightseeing ended with a bender in Amsterdam and a trip to the beach! And another 'mini cruise' of course.....!

The only downside about being away for a period of time is the wandering of the mind, often to whats happening back home and what your mates are up to. Obviously I was distraught, near unconsoleable (not quite), that winter had returned while we were away, so it was with hope more than anything that I managed to sort out a partner for the first weekend back... some Guy called Robertson? As it turned out he seemed pretty keen and a trip into coire an lochain was arranged.

With the sun shining in the clear blue sky, conditions seemed polar - bare black rock, or absolutely caked! Numerous options were discounted with Swallow Tail Pillar (VII,7/8) the chosen route. First climbed in winter in 2008, it presumeably made an impression on the first ascentionists with the discription in SMC new routes log of the 2nd pitch being both hard and bold! Fortunately I wasn't aware of this when we started....!

Guy cruised the first pitch once he'd excavated the route, leaving me the 2nd pitch which appeared short and slabby. Fortunately excitment levels were raised by the sparse variable gear and blind rounded cracks, making for great climbing and allowing the use of variety of modern techniques as well as good old school use of the knees! Simply a fantastic day to be out in the mountains, and maybe the best day of the winter? What a way to end the season.... or could another route forthcoming....?
 The following weekend (now into May!) again provided a good forecast, with saturday to be a ski day and sunday a climbing day. So saturday dawned to more snowfall and a drive west to the Sugarbowl car park for an adventure up Braeriach. Gully skiing was the aim for the day, but unfortunately conditions didn't quite play ball and the day turned into a tour and a walk (3hrs with skis on the back), with the gullies looking steeeeeper and firmer than expected! It was also great having a frenchman (from Westhill) with us called David, who seemed quite adept at skiing!  

Team surveying the options on approach.... unfortunately none were to be skied! Next time.

Sunday dawned clear again, with todays target again coire an lochain, this time with Steve who I had managed to presume out! The last time we had climbed together had been 5-6 years ago and had ended with Steve taking a 50-60 footer off White Magic! I can still remember the moment of Steve pealing off and seeing nuts (5) flying from the crack and the body rushing towards me ending with terrified screams and Steve level with me on the belay. On that occasion his only injury was to his arse, and not in the way you might expect.... On this occasion a slightly more moderate route was called for, with Headhunter chosen. The line is a very obvious groove below a striking tower (Pic n Mix, Gathering), which looks about grade III, but is actually VI. As it turned out, the psyche levels were not at their highest and I back off from the crux, convincing myself ice was required on the blank slab, with minimal gear in sight.... whether it does or not require ice, I'll have to seek a second option!
After my fail, we ran up a route called Ewen Buttress, which was great fun and surprisingly icy for May! (Steve below on the first pitch) A gentle stroll across the plateau and the realisation that we'd got the days the wrong way round....... perfect skiing conditions with a nice 2-3" of fresh powder! With 'winter' sports still very much on the go, I still wonder what surprises Scotland and weather will throw at us next....


Tuesday 21 February 2012


Andy, Jim and I have all been making the effort this season to get on harder routes. Since these are near (or beyond) the limits of our abilities, this means we have failed to get up our chosen routes on a few occasions. We all accept this chance - uncertainty of outcome is one of the defining features of an adventure, and as long as the failures are the type you can walk away from, they are experiences to be learned from. That doesn't stop them being frustrating though!

A beautiful morning on the Ben

On Sunday, the three of us headed up to Coire na Ciste to attempt Apache (VIII,8), the line of cracks up the steep wall right of Sioux Wall. Greg Boswell had described this as similar in style to Sioux Wall and only a touch harder, although he has biceps the size of my thighs adn balls to match so maybe his advice shouldn't be taken too literally! Jim and I had thoroughly enjoyed Sioux Wall last year and all 3 of us were psyched to get on Apache.

A popular crag!
It was a beautiful morning on Ben Nevis, which brought out the crowds! There were teams on Sioux Wall, Cornucopia, Babylon and Gargoyle Wall, with several others heading for Green and Comb gullies. The crag wasn't quite as white as we'd hoped but certainly wintery enough to justify an attempt. We had a couple of plumes of spindrift come down Thomson's Route towards us which added to the wintery feel.

The steep, imposing face of Apache

Spindrift engulfs Andy and Jim

Andy won the toss for the crux, so Jim led the short first pitch up Thomson's to where Apache steps left while I was on photographic duty, the intention being that I'd second pitches 1 & 2 in a oner then lead P3.

Jim approaching the belay on Pitch 1
The start of P2 is a very tenuous, teetery step up and traverse left into the groove. Andy explored a few other options before committing to this. Before long, though, he was powering up the crack. Something was wrong though - there was a lot of verglas in the cracks so he was having great difficulty getting gear to seat properly, and even from across the gully I could hear the swearing as he kicked out a crucial runner. He replaced it and downclimbed to a rest in the groove.

Andy replacing the nut he's just kicked out
A few minutes later, he moved up again. Returning to his high-point, he placed another runner in the verglassed crack and moved further up the crack in the hope of more solid gear. This time, the pump got the better of him and he fell. Both his high pieces ripped but his upper axe stayed in place, the springer leash stopping his fall.

Andy returning to his high-point

Thank God for springer leashes!

Andy retreated to the belay and I tied on to see if I could do any better. It was a short-lived attempt though - seeing Andy's gear rip messed with my head and I couldn't even commit to the tenuous traverse at the start of the pitch.

This is not the first failure we've had recently and I'm sure it won't be the last, but on this occasion I think backing off was the right decision. We'll be back...