One Of Your Five-A-Day

Back in December 2013 I walked into Coire an Lochain with Dougie (the yellow ranger) Russell to try a particularly interesting looking route. It was a route that I had spied with Guy two seasons previously when we were walking in to do something else in the coire. From that day it had been niggling away in my mind as something I had to have a go at!

So I geared up below the face and eventually built up the courage to start up the route. Unfortunately this courage didn’t last long and after about 8m of climbing, I decided to down climb and save the onsight attempt for another day. It just looked too god damn hard! I told myself that it was early in the season and once I’d got a couple of routes under my belt, I would feel better. We then went on to do the FWA of The Demon that day, which seemed to feel like a worthwhile salvation of the good conditions.

So earlier this season 2014/15, I ventured back into the coire with Guy to have another sniff at the route we had loosely been calling “Banana Wall”, due to its immense steepness. I geared up again and told myself to stop being a big wimp and have a proper go at the line. I knew Ines Papert had had a look at this route back in 2011, but had also decided to move off right and go for the more amenable, yet still very hard and steep looking line that is now known as Bavarinthia IX/9 after they made the first ascent that day. Banana Wall has a way of persuading people not to try it!

The steep wall (in profile) to the right of the climber on Fallout Corner is Banana Wall

The steep wall (in profile) to the right of the climber is Banana Wall

But I started up again and after arranging some very interesting and by no means bomber gear, I probed upwards trying to make some sort of progress. But no matter how many times I told myself to just man up and get on with it, I was just too scared of the route. It looked so much harder than anything I had tried before, and the worst part was, I couldn’t see any gear at all if I was to continue into the steepness. The route is crazy steep, and placing gear was going to be hard at the best of times, let alone fiddling in inventive protection. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I down-climbed again, and it became: Banana Wall two, Greg zero!

It was still very early in the day and the weather was perfect, so Guy and I chatted about our options and whether or not we could justify a ground-fall from high on the route if we were unable to find any gear and if the climbing was too hard to reverse. So I opted to open a new chapter in my winter climbing career, and abb the route.

I never thought I would do this on a winter line, as the Scottish ethics are very much in favour of the “Ground Up” approach. But I laid out some very stern rules in my head and decided that if I wanted the sport to keep progressing, then maybe this is not such a bad idea. I really wanted to climb this route but didn’t want to go into unchartered territory that was so overhanging and end up getting hurt.

So when I abbed in, all I wanted to do was get down to the lower part of the route so that I could see if there was enough gear to push on from my high-point, and make it into a relatively safe-ish fall zone away from the ground. I did not want to search for any axe placements under the thick blanket of white and I certainly did not want to try any of the moves on the route. I wanted to keep as much of the unknown and the Scottish magic alive as possible! Whilst abbing the pitch, it swiftly became apparent that it might have been a fools errand. The second you have left the belay (rapp point) you are in space and free hanging and despite placing a few pieces of marginal gear to keep me in a bit, it was obvious that I was going to get nowhere near my climbing high-point to see if there would be an protection to aim for.

As I slowly moved down the ropes, hanging about 8 meters from the wall, I tried to see distinctive features that might hold the key to upwards movement on my next attempt. But nothing popped out at me, I had spied one or two things higher on the wall to potentially aim for, but whether or not I would be able to stay on the thin looking climbing long enough to place the gear was a different story! I decided to then rapp all the way to the ground and clip the abb ropes into the belay to hopefully pull Guy closer to the wall as he came down and help him get a better look. Again he spotted the obvious features higher up but nothing you couldn’t really see from the ground, and I couldn’t get him anywhere near the wall on the lower section to get any proper feedback or info. So down he came as well!

Approaching the crag on send day

Approaching the crag on send day

So we learnt two things that day, It’s unbelievably steep, and it looks amazing! Not much we didn’t really know before we rapped it, but that’s the game of adventure!

 

We trotted back down to the car in fairly high spirits imagining what it would be like to climb such a crazy looking route. All I could think about was how I would feel if I finished the pitch and reached the belay.

Since that day in Lochain, I have upped my training a fair bit, which in turn has helped Guy and I to have a fairly successful run of harder routes in the past couple of months. In doing these routes, I think it has put my head in the right place for trying something at or beyond my limit, so it felt right to return to Banana Wall for a proper go at the prize.

So on Wednesday I returned with my good friend Masa Sakano with the intention of seeing how far I could get into the steepness. I very much did not intend to get up the route that day but I knew if I wanted to try and do it this season, I would have to man up and put some effort in!

Checking he scary snow on approach to the route

Checking he scary snow on approach to the route

The approach was fairly straightforward until we gained the coire, in which we found that all the surrounding snow had been recently scoured and dumped right below our intended buttress. It looked pretty scary, and after we had picked our way up the lower rock bands, we met the last open slope before the safety of the crag. I checked the snow and didn’t like what I found! It was pretty dodgy to say the least, but we made our way through the minefield and eventually got to the base of the route (legged-it upwards).

Trying to calm my nerves before I got stuck in.

Trying to calm my nerves before I got stuck in.

Now the nerves returned! As Masa was sorting out the ropes, I warmed up my arms and shoulders and tried to focus my head into the, “you’re about to get scarily pumped” zone. Once everything was ready I just went for it. I moved up to my previous high point and craned my head back to look up the wall above me. I slowly moved upwards and eventually unlocked a technical sequence to take me to below the first steep bulge/roof. This section took me ages to work out, and after a good while trying to see how to progress upwards, I shouted, “I’m going for it, WATCH ME” and fired through a strenuous sequence taking me into a blanker looking section of the wall. I pushed on and fought for gear, and pushed on some more, getting more and more pumped with every move and every upward motion I made, the route got steeper and steeper. My first go ended much higher than I thought it would, when my axes ripped and I took a huge whipper back down the wall and found myself hanging in space and very very pumped!

Me starting up the wall on my first attempt. Still very nervous

Me starting up the wall on my first attempt. Still very nervous

I got Masa to lower me down, and after a bit of food and a lot of fluid to try and revive my cramping arms from their painful spasms. I decided to give it one more good go before calling it a day.

I moved up the wall again, feeling much more sluggish and tired than before. I eventually found myself high on the steep headwall above the crazy overhanging lower section, and far above my last runner. I committed to a heart in mouth sequence of thin hooks and shallow torques and tried to see a way to gain the belay ledge, but even this was not an easy task. After a big rock-over where my foot nearly skittered off the placement that definitely would have ejected me from the crag, I mantled up onto the sloping ledge and WHOOPED with joy! I had done it. One of the hardest looking lines I had seen in winter and I’d got up it on my second proper go!

This is where I ended up after taking a rather large fall. Check the steepness!

This is where I ended up after taking a rather large fall. Check the steepness!

I built a belay and Masa tied on the bag full of jackets and food. I was spent! As I hauled up the kit, my arms wouldn’t stop going into fits of muscle lock and pain. But I didn’t care; it was all part of the joy of getting the route.

Unfortunately, Masa came off seconding the route and ended up hanging in space away from the wall, and by this time the storm winds that were forecast were in full flow. He was getting buffeted around as he jugged up the rope to reach the headwall and then he eventually joined me on my small sloping ledge of joy and happiness.

Going for Glory ad feeling pumped!

Going for Glory ad feeling pumped!

We swapped the gear and I swiftly led the second pitch which was much more fun for my cramping arms. It was dark by the time we rapped back down to our bags, but we were both psyched and sufficiently knackered after an awesome days climbing.

Masa asked me what grade I was going to give it as we walked out from the coire, and this got me thinking. It is hard to grade this route, as it was so steep and strenuous, and easily physically harder than anything I’ve lead in winter before in Scotland. But the grading scale is so broad for Scottish mixed climbing that it’s hard to narrow down.

It is definitely much harder than other stuff I have been doing this season and the gear is hard to find and place due to the strenuousness and technicality of the climbing. It is easily a grade harder, or even two, than The Hurting and Don’t Die of Ignorance and if other people think that these are in fact grade XI/11, which they very much might be (I don’t think they are, but that is just my personal opinion) then Banana Wall is easily XII/12. I would possibly give the climbing M11-ish on this route. Whereas it would probably be between M7 to M9 for most other things that have been given higher grades in Scotland. So It just depends on the circumstances, but for now I’m going with the grade of XII/12 and regardless of grade (I’m open to change), it was an awesome adventure and it feels like a huge weight off of my shoulders to get it done!

I can’t thank Masa enough for coming out and joining me on this strenuous and interesting adventure, but I’m glad he was there to share the moment with and hopefully we can share many more in the mountains in the future.

I’d also like to thank Ines Papert for making an awesome and inspiring ascent of the Hurting last week, and in good style too! This got me super psyched to get on Banana Wall as soon as it came back into condition.

Banana Wall – 25/2/15

-Grade-XII/12

-Coire an Lochain

-FA- Greg Boswell and Masa Sakano

The Messiah (a very naughty route)

Sunday around 6pm: I jumped in my girlfriend’s brother’s pickup which he had lent me and headed for Inverness. After changing plans half a dozen times over the weekend for our intended day out on Monday, finally Neil Adams’ photos of the Godfather on Beinn Bhan that popped up on Facebook around lunchtime sealed the deal. It was a no brainer!

I picked Guy up in Inverness and we headed on to Applecross to meet up with Uisdean Hawthorn, who was also psyched to join in on some big new route adventures!

As we put up our 5 star accommodation under the glow of the trucks headlights, the snow was coming down hard and after the usual “what time you wanna get up” discussion, we dived into the tent and I set my alarm for 5am.

Waking up to a blizzard the following morning

Waking up to a blizzard the following morning

The following morning, as I sat in the pickup and tried to perfect the art of getting dressed in the drivers seat whilst spooning cold rice-pudding into my mouth, I could barely see any of my red tent under the white coating of thick powder snow. I really wasn’t looking forward to wading through the waist deep blanket of white that I presumed was waiting for us on our approach. But eventually we set off in the direction of the coire and cheerfully marched into the blizzard.

Much to our surprise, apart from the occasional foot going through into the hidden rivers and bogs below, the walk-in was pretty much painless and the snow levels seamed to allow a gentle passage into the mouth of the coire and eventually to the big gearing up boulder.

As we donned our dry thermals and climbing attire, Guy pulled a fair sized plastic lunchbox from his bag. I quickly made the joke, “no wonder you were lagging behind with that excess weight in your bag. Did your mummy pack it for you?” but he shrugged it off lightly and we moved back onto preparing ourselves for the days’ activities. As we left the boulder and headed for the Giants Wall, Guy pipes up with, “Many an epic has started from this boulder”, and with a nervous gulp in my throat, I continued upwards.

The Giants Wall in all its winter glory

The Giants Wall in all its winter glory

Our plan was to try and make our way to, and hopefully through, the huge roof on the left hand side of the big face. Guy and I had ventured in to try this line back in January 2013 but unfortunately, we had found less than adequate winter conditions and had opted for the route Genesis instead, to try and salvage the day.

Guy had scoped the line and studied the info from an older, recorded summer ascent that made its way up in that area. We had discussed our options and opted to start up the first long pitch of Godzilla and then try and move left to gain the huge groove. We had roughly guessed where the pitches would go and with the roof looking like it would be the crux of the matter, we decided that it was Guy’s turn to take the helm for the hard pitch (pitch 4) and I would take pitches one and three.

I set off up the first pitch with the snow still teaming down on us. Despite this I swiftly made upwards progress and after realising that I had made the rookie error of leaving most of the quick-draws with Uisdean at the bottom, I placed the odd bit of kit and eventually gained the big belay ledge on the right after about 50m. The snow had now stopped, the sky had brightened up a little and I had a good feeling about how the day might turn out.

What a view from the belay

What a view from the belay

I was kind of happy knowing that I didn’t have to lead what looked like the obvious hard pitch on this route. My last two outings into the hills had tested me both physically and mentally and I was looking forward to having a nice tight top rope above me after Guy had hopefully put the route to bed.

Guy heading off in search of greener pastures

Guy heading off in search of greener pastures

After not too long, everyone was back together on the stance at the top of the pitch. Guy and I then exchanged the rack and he headed out left in search of new ground. The traverse pitch didn’t really put up too much of a fight and after no time at all, despite an introduction to a vey loose and large block, Guy was shouting safe from the belay at the bottom of a smooth and interesting looking groove/corner that was capped by a square roof.

Uisdean seconding towards the groove

Uisdean seconding towards the groove

It was my turn again and I naively thought the pitch would be over in no time at all and I would soon be relaxing again, waiting for the main event. I set off up the corner and it quickly became apparent that the lack of footholds and very aeriated turf was going to pose a bit of a problem. I tried to get runners in the icy cracks and ended up continuing up to below the square roof to see if I could find a better resting position. After my axes ripped through the grassy weeds that I was hoping to be good solid turf, I proceeded to try and find a way to gain the steep ground above.

Me looking for the way on the third pitch.

Me looking for the way on the third pitch.

I looked out left to see if I could see any footholds, as my arms were starting to inform me that I needed to get my weight on my feet soon! I longingly probed out left, but this was to no avail. On my return right, between my feet skating off miniscule smears, still with only two very wobbly nuts in the icy crack between the belay ledge and me, I reached out to grab and regain my other tool with my right hand; as I moved over my left tool ripped! Fear suddenly kicked in and I grasped at the only thing I could, which happened to be my lanyard that was clipped to my right tool. The next second or so went by almost in slow motion in my head.

Guy instinctively took in when he saw my left tool rip, not knowing I was still on the wall, but all this was doing was pulling my grip away from the safety of my right tool. “SLACK, I’M STILL ON MY LANYARD” I screamed, as I watched the two crappy nuts dancing away in their icy crevice below me. “Oh good” Guy shouted.

Despite the fact that I was looking at a potential gear ripping fall onto the belay and my right hand was screaming at me with fatigue to try and find a left tool placement, Guy’s comment almost made me laugh! There was absolutely nothing that I would have said about that situation that was “Oh good”, but in hindsight it probably was good that I hadn’t been off and tested the cruddy nut runners.

All of this was still in slow motion mode within a second or two. I then fired my left tool into the crack below my other and released my right hand before it exploded with lactic. I then rushed and smeared my feet up high and shot my left front-point into a hairline placement on the wall. This gave me enough height to get a cam under the roof and try and gain some composure again to figure out where to go.

Me committing to the knee smears and monster rock over

Me committing to the knee smears and monster rock over

 

 

I shouted down that I was going to have to commit out right, but there was absolutely no footholds! I was now pretty damn pumped and all I wanted to do was return to the belay and for it all to stop. I swung over the roof and spied a tiny foot placement that might hold my front-point, high up and right. In my head I didn’t know what to do; if I retreated I would be way too tired to have another go and if I threw my foot up and right and fully committed I would be far from my protection with no guarantee that there would be any waiting for me above.

“I’M GOING FOR IT!” I shouted down, knowing that would ready my watching companions for action. I could subconsciously feel Guy shuffling on the ledge in anticipation, but all the time never removing his sight from every minute movement I made as I tried to gain height and move away from this horror of a situation.

Smearing with my left knee, my right foot was level with my only axe placement as a pulled through with my left tool and it caught on something underneath the snow. No time to test it, I pulled down hard and moved my weight onto my right foot. My left tool shot down about an inch and I nearly squealed in shock, still on though, I swung for the obvious blob of turf that I had had my sights on since I had pulled round the roof. BANG! As I swung into it ”No No No…”, it was shit, nothing, totally crap! I raked at it and it was more stringy roots and no purchase was to be had. I gulped again thinking back to what Guy had said when we had left the boulder, about “Many an epic”.

I frantically tried to find some protection and managed to get some very marginal gear behind some even more marginal looking tiny flakes. But at this point a fall was very much out of the question, if I didn’t want to get hurt!

I probed up then returned to my very strenuous and almost painful semi-resting place to try and relive my arms before another probing mission started to gain the obvious ledge above the steep groove I was in.

After fighting off the demons in my head that were telling my to just give up and let go, I spied it, another tiny foothold! I was going to have to fully commit to a loose flake that I had already ripped the bottom off of, but if it held I would be able to get my feet up on the foothold and make a lunge for the ledge.

Me getting closer to safety but still very much scared!

Me getting closer to safety but still very much scared!

After a series of grunts, strenuous layaways and a wild swing for the turf I finally… found more useless frozen spongy crap. My axe ripped through and I couldn’t believe the pitch just wouldn’t let up! I eventually balanced myself and slowly gained enough height to flop over and reach the safety of the ledge! Holly Shmockes!

Guy seconding up to the belay below the huge roof

Guy seconding up to the belay below the huge roof

Once I shouted “SAFE”, Guy asked me to hold on whilst he put his eyes back into their sockets, which again added a bit of humor to the situation and I gathered my thoughts whist I brought them both up. All I wanted was a nice tight top rope on the hard pitches! Then again, where is the adventure in that?

Uisdean seconding up the crux pitch

Uisdean seconding up the crux pitch

Next it was Guys’ lead again and after he had battled with some more of the lovely fully frozen string grass from hell, he found himself situated in an almost lying-down position below the huge roof. He could see a weakness and after arranging some gear he committed to the cause and quested through the ludicrously steep ground and eventually out of sight. It almost went completely quiet for a second, then… BAM, I saw his feet first then he came fully back into sight and the ropes went tight. “Ahhhh this bloody stupid turf, shitty stuff, I had it! I had done the hard bit!”. I was gutted for him, as he had done what looked like the hardest moves of the pitch.

Guy moving up to the big roof pitch.

Guy moving up to the big roof pitch.

But he channeled his turf-fueled anger and eventually fought off his own demons and climbed the pitch to his high point and beyond to reach the sanctuary of the belay ledge.

Guy lying down on the job

Guy lying down on the job

By this point my whole body was cramping up from my previous exertions and I had to dig deep to second up through the very strenuous moves in the roof, but once I got going I really enjoyed the climbing and It was awesome to know that we were one step closer to victory!

As the next pitch looked more amenable, but by no means easy, Uisdean tied into the sharp end and by this point it was getting dark, so by the light of his head-torch, he took us up and onto the huge terrace that sits about two thirds of he way up the cliff.

Guy getting stuck into some steep action!

Guy getting stuck into some steep action!

Once we were on the terrace we knew that the next section wasn’t going to be impossible as we were intending on following a line that Guy and Dave Macleod had done a few years previously. So once on the ledge, I straight away traversed a few meters left, eager to see where the next pitch would take us. As I went around the corner all I found was a huge steep amphitheater with no easy passage to be seen. I went back round to Guy and Uisdean, “are you sure its round there?”. We all walked around and Uisdean kindly pointed out that it was definitely my turn to lead again. Oh the joys!

Uisdean taking us to the terrace

Uisdean taking us to the terrace

I tied into both ropes and moved on up. I could see the way I wanted to go but around the upper right side of the steepness was out of view so I was going to have to go and see what was there for myself. Thankfully after one last committing move up and right, I found myself on less steep terrain and continued upwards through steep chimneys and behind hanging chock-stones for another 35m to belay in a ginormous cave that pretty much runs behind the whole of the upper God Father wall, it was breathtaking!

Uisdean on the last pitch around 9pm

Uisdean on the last pitch around 9pm

Uisdean took the next pitch and lead us to the summit under the glowing beams of the clear skies and bright moon. Despite nearly falling asleep on the last belay, I had an unshakable feeling of joy running through me that fueled me up the last long and extremely fun pitch.

mmmmmm... the prize for the day.

mmmmmm… the prize for the day.

We topped out at 9:30pm and after descending back to the bags, Guy revealed what was lurking in his secret lunch box all along. He had three big wedges of caramel and Oreo cake and it was by far one of the highlights of the day. I even apologized for making fun of him earlier! We swiftly sorted the gear and stomped back to the car through deeper snow than we had encountered on our way in, but it was all downhill, so no one cared!

Once back at the car we chatted to Ian Small and Murdo Jamieson who had just arrived for an early start the following day for their own Beinn Bhan adventure, then Guy and I jumped in the truck and set our sights on Inverness where Guys’ car was waiting.

I ended up camping in the car park once I had dropped Guy off, as I was heading to Kinlochleven the following day for work, and I was way too tired to drive any more.

More roadside camping

More roadside camping

The following morning I awoke to another snow covered tent and some very aching muscles. It also happened to be my birthday, and I had a little laugh to myself whilst thinking that only a climber would wake up in a tent, on their own, in a snowy car park on their birthday. But it was very much worth it for the days climbing we had just had!

The sunrise on the way to Kinlocheven

The sunrise on the way to Kinlocheven

That night and the following day I was working with Cotswold Outdoor Academy over at the Ice factor, and after I had woken myself up a bit and had a much needed shower, it was a super fun couple of days and it was awesome to see so many psyched people eager to learn and have a go at ice climbing. Hopefully I’ll bump into some of them on the hill in the future!

Another breathtaking Scottish view on the way to work.

Another breathtaking Scottish view on the way to work.

I received this email from Guy the following day that also made me giggle a bit.

“It felt / looked to me like you were working harder up there than on either of our previous two outings?  Sorry you got the harder pitch again Greg, it wasn’t intended, honest. Anyway, no matter the grade I’d give the journey four stars for sure.”

Ohhhhh the joys of new routing in winter, you never know what’s going to happen, but it’s usually a whole lot of fun!

The Messiah (First Winter Ascent 2015)

-Grade – X/10 ****

-8 pitches (two of which were tech 10)

-Beinn Bhan

-Guy Robertson, Greg Boswell and Uisdean Hawthorn

 

Cold War

Well I didn’t think I could beat Mondays outing in the Scottish hills, but yesterday definitely came close, perhaps even took the overall medal!

On Wednesday night after two days of resting and eating, to try and make myself feel a little less zombified, I jumped in the car with James and Neil Carnegie and headed for Costa del Loch Muick car park for a few hours shut eye in the tent before a 4:45am start.

I was meeting up with Guy again to make the most of the awesome weather and conditions we’ve been getting this week before it crapped out at the weekend. We took bikes on the off chance that the Land Rover track might be cyclable, and thankfully apart from some icy sections, we were able to ride all the way to the bothy with only one or two deep snow diving experiences.

Guy, James and Neil making the most of the easy walking conditions

Guy, James and Neil making the most of the easy walking conditions

After that it was time to get our wade on! The path was buried in a frustrating amount of different snow conditions, one moment you’re wading through knee deep powder, then you’d get to some solid névé where you’d get all excited and lured into a false sense of security, 5 minutes later whilst strolling off at high speed… POW, the crust breaks and you’re up to you waist in a fluffy deep cold pit. Not so fun to say the least! It was bliss to eventually reach the loch. The crag had partially come into view through the looming mist and was looking about as wintery as it gets, and the loch was almost fully frozen over. This made for perfect walking conditions on the icy surface around the left hand side, which was a nice change from our booby trapped first half of the walk in.

James and Neil continuing for pastures new

James and Neil continuing for pastures new

James and Neil continued along the loch in search of some ice filled adventures and Guy and I headed up hill to the base of the very loaded and scary looking easy gully.

As we geared up, the cloud never really lifted and only glimpses of our route could be caught between fumbling with harnesses and trying to stuff food in our mouths ready for a day of nerve induced starvation. Guy proceeded to consume a full wedge of pure brie which was quite impressive, and made a change from his bean and cheese pasties that usually came along on these outings. The food of winter climbers is never boring!

After our cultural and inventive snacks, we set off up the arduous and scarily snowy lower ground, soloing to the base of our route.

Guy starting up the new first pitch.

Guy starting up the new first pitch.

Over the past three seasons I have made the long approach into the Dubh Loch seven times with our intended route in mind. Three of those times I have climbed alternative routes, three times I have left without doing anything due to conditions, and one time I just walked in on a rest day to see what the conditions might be like for the following day. I have only ever seen the route in “full winter condition” once out of those seven visits and that one time the temps where too high and everything was melting fast! But finally we were there and so was the route. The winter was there, hanging from the crag in the form of sharp long curtains of ice and crisp straggly tufts of turf all covered in a flood of snow and hoarfrost. It was game on!

We were going to war, “Range War” to be precise. Info from friends told us that it was a turfy wet and dirty E4 in summer. They also said that it would lend itself very well towards being a very good and hard modern day mixed adventure. So obviously we put ourselves forward for the challenge.

Guy pulling through the tricky roof on pitch one

Guy pulling through the tricky roof on pitch one

We had spied an alternative, new, winter-only line to the left for the first pitch which led us to the same stance higher up and looked much more like the obvious winter challenge of steep turfy plumes and technical roof capped corners. Guy took this pitch and after some shouts of how good the moves were through the shielding mist and some funky maneuvers to breach the roof, he finally shouted “SAFE” and brought me up. I stopped on a ledge just before the corner to snap a pic as I hadn’t had a good view of it below and then proceeded to enjoy the moves just as much as Guy had. The pitch was the perfect warm up both mentally and physically for the next pitch and main event.

The roof capped corner from another angle

The roof capped corner from another angle

By this time the cloud and mist had begun to clear away and the whole coire came into view. I could see the sun hitting the route that James and Neil were on, then as I focused on the game at hand, my attention turned to the next pitch.

The cloud cleared and the remainder of the sun lit up Eagle Rocks

The cloud cleared and the remainder of the sun lit up Eagle Rocks

It was a steep, hanging wall leading to a niche capped by a roof. The wall was smeared with hanging icicles and above the niche there was an ice curtain enticingly hanging over a higher a large overlap. I was nervous! Three years I’ve been coming to try this route and now it was time to step up and give it a shot. But it looked hard, and more to the point, the pitch looked long and sustained. Thoughts of still being fatigued from Mondays adventure plagued my head and whether or not I’d be able to hold onto the technical looking wall long enough to get adequate protection. I wasn’t really in the mood to repeat Mondays bold and scary lead any time soon.

Me getting my head in gear

Me getting my head in gear

But I was there now, stood below one of the best looking pitches of climbing I had ever seen, with a psyched partner and some amazing weather, it would have been rude not to at least have given it the respect of trying, even if failure was the consequence.

Gaining the pumpy and trying to get recovered

Gaining the pumpy and trying to get recovered

I surmounted the first pedestal and took a deep breath. “No down-climbing this time” I told myself, to try and preserve energy on this monster of a pitch. I started up with every move nudging my thoughts into the correct headspace, and found myself enjoying every second of the experience. I composed myself and tried not to let the technical torques and moves get one arm more pumped than the other. I continued up and then the pump started to sneak in. I was shaking and looking for the next move, shaking and looking, this process went on until I decided to charge for the niche that looked like it would be home to a nice comfortable rest. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be, the routes steepness was deceptive and although the niche wasn’t as steep as the lower wall, it was still well overhanging. I fought to get some gear in and try and de-pump my now burning forearms, deep egyptians and contortions were tried to relive my arms and finally once I had scoped what looked like the way to sanctuary, I powered on through the steep capping roof of the niche to gain a wild and astonishingly exposed position on the overhanging arête. Hundreds of meters of cliff dropping away below me with nothing but air between me and the coire floor. This is a memory that will last a lifetime!

The evening view from the belay

The evening view from the belay

After that it was out onto and over the ice-capped overlap and into a position below another steep ice smothered bulge. At this point the head games had returned, I really didn’t want to blow it at this point but the next section of climbing was not too hard but very off balance and with only a turf hook half hammered into the capping ice, as there wasn’t enough for screws (which we did remember this time), I had thoughts of fluffing it and taking the ride into the exposure in the back of my head as I committed. Eventually I gained easier ground and the comfort of the ice cave where I belayed and took in the exposure in a more comfortable state.

Guy seconding with the exposure booming below him

Guy seconding with the exposure booming below him

The usual cries of enjoyment and beaming smiles were found as Guy seconded the pitch, and as I was belaying him up, I recounted almost every move in my head and was unbelievably psyched to climb what was definitely one of the best and varied pitches I have ever been on!

By the time Guy had reached the cave belay the weather had rolled in and the spindrift and wind were howling down the crag, he grabbed a handful of gear and raced on upwards over the flowing blue ice and eventually to the top of the crag and I finished off the route with a screaming ice-cream headache and a mouth full of wind-propelled powder snow. Some might say this is the best way to finish a big winter day in Scotland, in my opinion, they’re wrong!

Guy moving away into a world of spindrift and wind

Guy moving away into a world of spindrift and wind

Once at the top we sorted the ropes and congratulated ourselves on doing the route that we had both been pining over for the last three years, and what a route it was!

We trotted back to the base of the coire and down to our bags via a pretty big detour due to the copious amounts of scary snow and loaded slopes, then it was off across the loch and back to the snowy path. We were hoping our tracks from the approach and James and Neil’s tracks out would still be nice and firm and showing for our swift exit, but the wind had drifted tones of new snow across and it was back to the booby-trapped trail breaking all the way back to the bikes.

It was a long and tiring day by the time we got back to the car, but by gumble it was well and truly worth it!

 Range War (winter variation) ***********

Grade- X/10

Coire an Dubh Loch

Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell (on-sight)

The Greatest Show On Earth

Finally, some good weather!

I’ve been out in the mountains a couple of times since my last post, but I’ve had my head set on bigger projects this season that are going to take me a bit longer than usual, so unfortunately I’ve not really had anything worth writing about. Also with the weather being very bad since the New Year, I’ve mostly been putting in multiple hours of training on my board, trying to make gains and stay fit in preparation for when the conditions eventually get better!

Walking in with the sun turning everything pink

Walking in with the sun turning everything pink

But yesterday it all came together and all the waiting and training seemed to have paid off!

 

With projects put on hold for the moment, I picked Guy up from Inverness on Sunday evening and we continued north. With all the snow on the ground and the very low freezing levels, our psyche levels were through the roof and we were eager to see what the mystical Scottish hills were going to throw at us the following day.

 

Guy approaching the gear stash point

Guy approaching the gear stash point

I had no real idea of where we were going, Guy had told me where it was but I didn’t know the area very well, but he sealed the deal with the words “It’s a big unclimbed wall with a huge roof at the bottom”, what more could I ask for!

We set off yesterday morning in the dark and as the sun was starting to shed it’s first light on the surrounding hills, we had nearly arrived at our intended gear stashing spot. It was hard to drag ourselves away from taking photos and actually gear up, as the colour of the sky and the view were completely out of this world! We eventually got ready and trotted down the steep turfy slope to the base of the big and very intimidating buttress that we intended to climb.

What a view

What a view

 

We were on Cul Mor, and Guy was pointing us towards a very cool looking wall in Coire Gorm. On our way over to the base of the wall, it was very obvious which line I thought we should focus our attention on. The whole lower third of the face was masked in a wave of hanging icicles and smooth fat columns, then came the roof, which stretched the length of the buttress and my arms started to ache just thinking about trying to get over it!

Our intended line was going to cross the roof not at its smallest point, but at the point where we could reach an immaculate looking hanging turfy corner in the upper wall above. There was an obvious line of hanging icicles and smears, so we decided to try our luck there!

Gearing up at sunrise

Gearing up at sunrise

Amazing light over the hills

Amazing light over the hills

Guy took the first pitch, which was entirely on thick ice and massive frozen turf blobs, which was made more interesting by the fact that we didn’t take any screws with us, to reach a belay below the start of the very steep ground and got nestled in for the long haul. After I had seconded up the first pitch and tried to suppress the nervous butterfly party that was raving on in my stomach, we decided that I might as well have a look, but neither of us were overly convinced that the crazy steep next pitch would even be climbable let alone have any worth while gear on it, however, one can but try. So I did.

Reaching the wall

Reaching the wall

Guy starting up pitch one

Guy starting up pitch one

After climbing up the initial hanging ice column I was starting to feel a little more in the zone for hard climbing, but I was yet to find any gear. I eventually got two upside-down turf hooks in an icy crack and told myself that if they happened to cam themselves if I fell off, then they might stop me, or at least they’d slow me down.

Me seconding the first icy pitch

Me seconding the first icy pitch

The ground above me was made up of what looked like big, overlapping semi-detached blocks that I was definitely going to have to yard on to get myself through the steepness. The only gear placements above me looked to be in the back of these blocks, and there was no way I was committing to this type of climbing with my back up gear being two crappy upside-down hooks! But after some up and down climbing and not finding anything, I decided to get a higher runner that might cam one of the blocks to the wall rather than rip it off, if I was to fall. I then retreated down a bit and gathered myself. Back up again and I managed to sling a very small spike on the same block, I then pulled up to see if I could see a way to go over the roof, but as I leaned back and craned my head to look over, a huge plume of spindrift hit me in the face. I heard Guy uncontrollably giggle from below. It was an outstanding day on a huge cliff and the only damn spindrift anywhere decided to come down right on my face at the exact time I was totally pumped and happened to look over the roof, to be fair it was pretty funny!

Me reaching the belay below the roof

Me reaching the belay below the roof

I frantically retreated back to the semi-rest point and tried to gather my thoughts. I just wanted it to be over, the climbing was tiring me out a lot with every attempt to find gear and through my spindrifty shower, I couldn’t see any way to breach the roof and gain the wall above. Ahhhh the joys of head games!

Me setting off into the steepness

Me setting off into the steepness

I opted for one last look as I new I wasn’t going to have many more down-climbing goes left in my arms. I reached my high point and frantically stuffed in a cam, I gave it a tug and it popped out, so I turned it around and the smaller lugs bit a little better on a small flake, I was too pumped to give it another check so I pulled up on a tiny Ice smear over the roof. By now I was well up above the belay and with very little, and all of which being marginal, gear stopping me from zooming past the belay and onto the huge ledge below. Despite this, once I was fully committed and beyond the point of no return, the big fall and dodgy gear left my thoughts completely, I was well and truly focused on the climbing at hand, that was the only way I’d prevent myself from testing Guy’s first aid skills!

Guy pulling over the roof on the crux pitch

Guy pulling over the roof on the crux pitch

Guy making progress seconding the crux pitch

Guy making progress seconding the crux pitch

I got a little flustered when I couldn’t see a way above the roof and my only axe placement in the thin smear started to slip, but I was committed now, so I had to force myself to calm down, I looked around, took some deep breaths and opted for some very powerful and dynamic moves to get myself out of that situation. Unfortunately all it did was take me further away from my so-called gear and into some of the boldest and most technically difficult moves on marginal placements that I’ve done. All I remember saying to myself was “Breath, just breath”!

I rocked up over the lip of the roof on the tiniest of footholds, praying that it didn’t blow off, and eventually found myself in a semi rest but very off balance position. I struggled to hammer in and clip a turf hook, which surprisingly felt like I’d just clipped a bolt, as long as I didn’t rip the turf off the wall, the hook felt bomber. It’s always funny when you think back, a blob of probably very badly rooted turf to a rock face is your best runner on one of the hardest routes you’ve done, oh the joys of the magical Scottish mountains.

Guy starting what was to be an outrageously fun pitch

Guy starting what was to be an outrageously fun pitch

After composing myself again, I slowly teetered upwards and finally felt the addictive rush of joy you get when you know you’ve basically just gone all or nothing and managed to scrape through by the skin of your teeth!

Me looking up pitch three to Guy whilst seconding

Me looking up pitch three to Guy whilst seconding

Once at the belay, I eventually managed to get a rope to Guy so that he didn’t need to climb the pitch with the added weight of the rucksack, and once I’d pulled it up, he got stuck into seconding what was, despite the seriousness of it, one of the most enjoyable hard pitches I’ve climbed in winter in Scotland!

Me seconding pitch three

Me seconding pitch three

The upper pitches of the route were also worthy of four star status and Guy made a good comment; they felt like a reward for all the effort we’d put in to get passed the crux pitch. They weren’t super hard, but more than hard enough to keep things interesting and outrageously fun.

The sun is off to bed as night skies roll in

The sun is off to bed as night skies roll in

After the harder climbing was over it was a hundred or so meters of easy soloing to the top and eventually the summit before heading back to our bags and on to the van.

The last tricky section before the solo mission to the top

The last tricky section before the solo mission to the top

The obligatory summit shot.

The obligatory summit shot.

It was an awesome day and I had fun climbing in a new area, and to make it even better I managed to onsight one of the hardest pitches I’ve done in Scotland and climb a new four star route with what might be one of the best views I’ve ever seen! (We named the route in relation to the view from the crag)

The weather looks like its staying good this week, so hopefully there’ll be more of this to come!

 

The Greatest Show On Earth ****

Cul Mor

Grade – X/10

FA, Guy Robertson and Greg Boswell (onsight)

 

Put In The Effort And You Will Be Rewarded

Sunrise from the Dubh Loch

Sunrise from the Dubh Loch

On Saturday I lost my winter climbing 2014/15 virginity, and boy was it good! Guy and I headed in to the Glass Allt bothy on Friday night ready for an early start the next morning in the Dubh Loch. There was too much snow to cycle in, so it was walking all the way, and on the Saturday morning the approach to the coire was home to some very deep snow in places. But after a 2.5 hour slog, we reached the bottom of the buttress and geared up for the days antics.

We didn’t really know what we were going to do, as the conditions might have swayed us one way or the other, but eventually we opted for a look at Culloden.

Guy on pitch one of Culloden

Guy on pitch one of Culloden

This route had had a winter ascent a few years ago buy Ian Small, Tony Stone and Gordon Lennox, and they said it packed a punch and was graded IX/9. This sounded like it was just what the doctor ordered to start off the winter season and blow away any cobwebs that might be lurking about!

Me seconding up to the belay on pitch one

Me seconding up to the belay on pitch one

Guy offered me the crux second pitch, which I gratefully accepted, so he took the first and third pitch up the big steep face of the broad terrace wall. He swiftly dispatched the first pitch with little struggle and after I had seconded up, it was good to see that the route was going to pack it in.

The second pitch was a steep wall off the belay then a hanging techy corner. The initial moves were hard and committing, and the upper corner was hard to get situated into, then became very enjoyable to climb. The pitch was pretty sustained and the climbing was worthy of outstanding status! It was really fun, and after I had found a belay, Guy seconded up with a big smile on his face.

Me leading the second pitch.

Me leading the second pitch.

The next pitch was also very sustained and after Guy had made some pretty committing moves away from an marginal nut runner, he proceeded to get his axe well and truly stuck in a crack placement. After some frustrating struggling to remove it, and to no avail, he lowered down a loop of rope and I passed him my axes. Still well above his last runner and on very marginal foot placements, retrieving new axes was a feet in itself! But finally he was moving again, and he eventually made it to the belay with little more fuss.

Guy seconding me up the corner

Guy seconding me up the corner

I was able to retrieve the stuck axe on my way up seconding the pitch (after a bit of a battle and some inventive levering) and after that it was a small easy, yet still fun exit pitch to the top of the crag. All that remained then was the small inconvenience of the long walk back to the car. But all in all it was awesome to get out in the snowy hills again, especially when my last winter season ended a little abruptly due to injury, but everything seams to be good now so watch this space for more winter antics and updates.

Guy reaching the belay below the third pitch

Guy reaching the belay below the third pitch

 

 

Sampling the Goods

On Friday afternoon, Ally, Douige and I piled all our kit into the back of Dougies van and set our course for North Wales.

Ally had been invited to be the after dinner entertainment for the 3nd (almost annual) dry tooling meet at the White Goods. As he was going down to do his slideshow anyway, and Dougie had agreed to go down and give him a lift, I thought I might as well make up the numbers and head down with them. I had never been to the White Goods before, and I was keen to see if it was worth the 6 hour drive.

The Goods getting sessioned

The Goods getting sessioned

I knew that lots of people raved about the place and that some handy chaps had ventured across to sample the goods for themselves, Including Tim Emmett and Will Gadd. So naturally I was uber psyched to get stuck in.

We got there late on Friday night, and after a good sleep in the back of the van, it was all go on Saturday morning. It was cool to see lots of people had made the effort to head across from all over the country to attend the meet, and it wasn’t long before everyone was having a good time and getting pumped on their own little adventures on the steep and techy routes.

I had a really good days climbing and chilling out on the Saturday, and managed to climb a load of quality routes, including the 2nd ascent (flash) of Neomania M10+ and the first flash ascent of Careful Torque M11. All the routes I did were good fun and it was a shame the night rolled in before I could tick a few more.

Me flashing "Careful Torque"

Me flashing “Careful Torque”  Phto Cedit – Ally Swinton

But after the pub grub and the prize giving for the friendly comp that had been going on throughout the day, which I was psyched to win, it was up to Ally to talk us through the last five or so years of his time and antics in Chamonix. It was an awesome talk and it was cool to see a good friend be so enthusiastic explaining all the rad stuff he’s been up to in the mountains and the close calls that he thankfully managed to pull through on. Keep it up man!

Me on "Ready Steady Hook" Photo Credit, Kyle Wood

Me on “Ready Steady Hook”
Photo Credit, Kyle Wood

The next morning Ally and Dougie headed back North via some rock climbing cragging action and I jumped in the car with Masa Sakano who had also driven down from Scotland, and had offered to give me a lift home if I wanted to stay for the rest of the weekend meet.

So it was back to the crag, but this time Ramon Marin and I headed to the Power Pact cave area to look at the route “Stump Man” M11 that Tim Emmett did the first ascent of back in 2012. It was a bit unnerving, as Ramon explained that there had been a lot of rock fall on the adjacent routes in the cave and that we should definitely stay away from them. Gulp! But after Ramon had had a play on “Stump Man” and had assured me that it was safe to climb, I geared up for my go.

Me getting to grips with "Stump Man"

Me getting to grips with “Stump Man”. Photo Credit- Nicole Almond

 

I knew I didn’t have many route attempts worth of energy in me after the previous day of going at everything I laid my eyes/tools on, so I was a bit nervous to see how I got on. But thankfully after a fight across the lip and some inventive and super thin pick placements, I managed to clip the chains on my first go and lowered off with a big smile. I was really psyched to get this route climbed, as it was the photos I saw in 2012 of Tim Emmett climbing this route that made me want to come to the White Goods in the first place.

Nearly there on "Stump Man"

Nearly there on “Stump Man”. Photo Credit- Nicole Almond

After that I finished off the route I had been shut down on the previous day due to the night rolling in, and managed to squeeze one last tick in before Masa and I headed off in search of food and warmth at a friend of Masa’s, David Taylor’s house. (Thanks again Dave)

All in all it was an awesome weekend and a big thanks to all the sponsors and the people that made it happen, and more importantly, a big thanks to Ramon, who went out his way to give me loads of beta for the routes and helped me have such a successful weekend.

On the way back North on Monday, Masa and I stopped off at the Works tooling venue in the Lakes and met up with a big bunch of friends from Scotland and even Mr Mercier who was over from France to sample the British routes. It was another fun and psyche filled day, but I was feeling the effects of the weekend, so I just took it easy and heckled the rest.

A good three days, and now it’s back to work and training before winter actually gets its ass to Scotland.

 

White Goods tick list

Saturday

Jaz – M8, Onsight

White Goods – M8+, Onsight

Ready Steady Hook – M10, Onsight

Careful Torque –M11, Flash

Neomania- M10+, (2nd ascent) Flash

Tumble in the Jungle- M9, Flash

 

Sunday

Stump Man – M11, (without tree rest) Flash

The Finnish Start – M10+, 2nd go

Delicate Wash Me – M9, Flash

Soft rock sending at the RedBull WhiteCliffs

The last month or so has been a pretty busy time for me. After Mhairi and I got back from our Euro road trip this summer, we were both pretty skint, so I jumped straight back into work mode on the farm as soon as I could, and Mhairi made the most of her time before she got super busy and swamped with her uni work.

One super foggy morning on the farm, I was bringing in bails from a nearby field when my phone pinged, with the fog being so thick that it shielded me from view, I stopped the tractor and had a quick looksee at the email I had just received. It was from ((Scot Muir )),a mixed climbing wizard and ex-RedBull athlete. The email stated that RedBull were going to be hosting an event on the Isle of White in October to climb on the huge chalk cliffs that were found on the islands coast, and that I was one of 10 climbers from around the globe that had been fortunate to be given an invite. PSYCHED!

Sorting my stuff in prep for the whitecliffs

Sorting my stuff in prep for the whitecliffs

So for the last 6 weeks there has been a lot of working and trying to fit in as much training as I could to get in sufficient shape/fitness to hold my own against the other competitors. As I usually stay well away from anything to do with climbing competitions, it was interesting to see how psyched I was for the upcoming event. I had never climbed on chalk cliffs before, and to do it with a bunch of mates/awesome climbers from around the world, it was definitely something to look forward to.

Looking across to the main platform on an overcast Saturday.

Looking across to the main platform on an overcast Saturday.

This is how we do it! Grivel taking the lead.

This is how we do it! Grivel taking the lead.

So last Thursday I jumped on a plane to London Gatwick where I met up with Ed (a RedBull staff member) and also with ((Isreal Blanco)), another athlete from Spain. It was then onto the ferry at Portsmouth where we bumped into ((Dennis Van Houik and Mairan Van der steen)) who had spent the week climbing in the UK and were also on their way to the Island as Dennis was competing at the event.

It was my first time on the Isle of White, and it was cool to see that the hustle and bustle of London and the mainland was swiftly forgotten once we rolled off the ferry. Once at the hotel we met up with the rest of the competitors and also the big team of guys and girls that were there to make this RedBull event go smoothly, safely and as fun as possible.

The Isle of White has some stunning scenery.

The Isle of White has some stunning scenery.

From then on it was a weekend of laughs, psyche, pumped arms and making awesome friends. We had practice day on the Friday, were we got to have a go on the chalk lines and get a feel for the style of climbing. But as this was the first time this style of event had been put on, it swiftly became apparent that we were all going to have to muck in together to make the competition possible, with the weather not really playing ball, and no one really knowing the best way to work this style of climbing or chalk.

But after a second day of route excavating and practice on saturday, we were all ready for the main event the following day. After a group meeting that night, we all agreed that the competition would consist of one go each on the main and hardest line we had constructed and that there would be no falls allowed. The fastest time up the grossly overhanging 120m route would be the winner. Game on!

The Needles on the day of the comp

The Needles on the day of the comp

The team, chilling while we wait to be called to climb

The team, chilling while we wait to be called to climb

Me on the comp route. Photo credit. Calum Muskett

Me on the comp route.
Photo credit. Calum Muskett

Sunday morning came around and everyone looked a little more nervous and drained from the past two big days of getting everything in order for the final sprint. Our order of start times had been decided earlier in the trip from a novel little drinking game that involved a number on a coin that had been dropped to the bottom of our beer mug, this reminded me of stories my grandad used to tell me about how the soldiers used to get recruited back in the days of world wars. Anyway… I was 8th to get lowered down the wall to the beach and as each competitor went down and then raced to the top, all were doing really well. My nerves were rising fast and I remembered then why I didn’t enjoy mixing competition with the sport that I love so much! But eventually my turn came around and as soon as I was lowered down onto the face, my nerves settled and climbing head took over. My main goal was to not rush and fall off the route, whether it be from pumping out or blowing a hold, but obviously I didn’t want to hang about either and come last. I ended up climbing the route in 27mins, which I was super psyched with as it wasn’t far off the mark of all the other athletes… well, apart from the top three guys who beasted it good and proper!

Me still moving upwards on the huge steep line Photo Credit - Calum Muskett

Me still moving upwards on the huge steep line
Photo Credit – Calum Muskett

The podium boys!

The podium boys!

The calm before the storm on the last night after the comp. Things swiftly go a little messy!

The calm before the storm on the last night after the comp. Things swiftly go a little messy!

But all in all it was an amazing weekend and a really cool event and I’d like to say thanks to everyone who helped out and travelled world wide to make it happen and especially to the RedBull guys who had the vision and the resources to make it work. Bring on next year and some more adventures on the WhiteCliffs!

Following Our Noses, Part One

Since my last post about the islands of the Outer Hebrides, I have been on the move a fair bit throughout Europe.

Some Glen Clova action

Some Glen Clova action

The morning sun hitting Carn Dearg Buttress

The morning sun hitting Carn Dearg Buttress

After my return from the islands, I had a couple of weeks at home in Scotland where I got some work done for my sponsors, and also on the farm to earn some last needed cash before Mhairi (my girlfriend) and I headed off to the continent for two months. Between jobs, I also managed to get in a couple of awesome days trad climbing in the mountains and glens, trying to make the most of the good weather in Scotland while I was around.

Guy on pitch three of Trajans'

Guy on pitch three of Trajans’

Me on pitch four of Trajans'

Me on pitch four of Trajans’

One of the highlights was a day I had on the North Face of Ben Nevis with Guy Robertson, where we did the outstandingly good route {{{{{Trajans Column on Carn Dearg Buttress}}}}}}, which is a four star E6 of impeccable quality! Crazily it was my first rock route on the Ben, and thankfully it did not disappoint. It was cool to get such a good days climbing in before I headed off, to remind me that Scotland’s climbing is nothing to regret going back to, which is sometimes hard when you go away on these long amazing road trips.

So after that it was all stations go! A couple of days later we packed up all available space in my VW Golf, strapped on the bikes and headed for Dover. Judging the time it would take us to get to the ferry port at night with no traffic was all good and well, except I forgot to add in some time to arrive at the ferry before its departure time. So it was a bit of a blast through the night and we arrived just in time to drive straight onto the ferry as the rest of the cars had just finished boarding. Nothing like cutting it fine for a bit of excitement.

First stop... Font

First stop… Font

Rain dodging in Font

Rain dodging in Font

Our first stop was Fontainebleau where we met up with Adam Russell for a day of rain dodging, bouldering and slacklining, whilst he was on a day off from a works training course in the area. After that, Mhairi and I stayed in the area for another couple of days, which included a day at Disneyland Paris!!!! What more could you ask for from a holiday, climbing and Mickey Mouse?!

Not a bad place for tea

Not a bad place for tea

Since Font we have been to some amazing places through France and then down into Italy, to meet up with my sister and James who were on holiday down there, and back up into France again, which is where we are now.

Le Tour De France

Le Tour De France

Chilling at Lac Bolsenna

Chilling at Lago Bolsenna

Guess where this is.

Guess where this is.

It’s been really fun seeing so many new places over the last four weeks, and it’s been cool not having any real destinations in mind. We just stay somewhere for a couple of days then open the atlas and decide where we might go next, and if somewhere looks good on the way, we just stop! For example, I’m currently writing this from a seat outside my tent, with Mhairi slacklining in front of me beside the lake (Lac Serre Ponçon), which is surrounded by mountains that are just catching the last of the evenings sunlight as the windsurfers and kite boarders make the most of todays easing wind. We stumbled across this amazing place to wild camp 5 days ago after bumping into two French guys that were slacklining near by and they said it’s all good to camp by the lake, so we did.

Gorge du Verdon

Gorge du Verdon

The View from our campsite in Barcellonette

The View from our campsite in Barcellonette

Along with climbing and slacklining, Mhairi and I have done a fair bit of mountain biking, or VTT as it’s known as out here. As well as the down-hill biking we’ve done at several ski resorts, we’ve also done some pretty awesome endurnce rides in the mountains and the surrounding areas. The scenery you get to see over the large distances you can cover is outstanding, and it has been a good way to keep up the fitness, along with the long open water swimming sessions we have been able to do in the Alpine lakes throughout our various locations on the trip. ‘Fun’ is a bit of an understatement!

Its slacking off time.

Its slacking off time.

Sun setting over Lac Serre Ponçon

Sun setting over Lac Serre Ponçon

The view before the decent on the Pra Loup Enduro

The view before the decent on the Pra Loup Enduro

We are currently in our fifth week of our intended eight and its super exciting to think of what we might get up to in the next three weeks, especially as the last 4/5 have been so packed full of new places and adventure. So keep an eye on my blog and I’ll update it as soon as possible on my return to the UK. But for now I’m off for an evening of slacklining and BBQing.

Some of the terrain we covered on the Pra Loup Enduro

Some of the terrain we covered on the Pra Loup Enduro

 

Lac Serre Ponçon from a bit higher.

Lac Serre Ponçon from a bit higher.

Marooned On A Very Busy Island

In my last post I wrote about my trip out to Spain in which we ended up going to the Costa Blanca area due to the bad wether. Well three weeks after that trip I headed back out to Spain, but this time on my own were I met up with Tom again for some awesome climbing and fun sendage! We stayed further north this time as the wether was much better, and I managed to get some awesome climbing days in at Margalef, Siurana and Santa Linya, along with helping Tom with some renovation work on his house, all of which were good fun!

Most of the team heading out to the Islands

Most of the team heading out to the Islands

After my Spain trip I had a week at home before I headed off to the immaculate climbing mecca that is the islands of Pabbay and Mingulay in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

Donald dropping us off on Mingulay

Donald dropping us off on Mingulay

It was my 5th trip to these island, but as always it was an outstanding week of climbing and when the week finally grew to an end I was very sorry to be leaving such a magical place again!

There was a bunch of psyched people on our trip and throughout the week we all managed to get a lot of grade ‘A’ climbing done and despite the two days of bad weather, we still ended up finishing the trip feeling happily tired and fulfilled with our adventures on the beautiful sea cliffs.

Not a bad place to pitch your tent

The Quasar….Not a bad accommodation for the week (A big thanks to Terra Nova)

Me making the first ascent of "The Secrets Out"

Me making the first ascent of “The Secrets Out”

One of the highlights of the trip for me was getting a new route done on what is one of the best walls that the Islands has to offer. Mike and I did a new E5 on the Undercut wall area on Mingulay. I’d never been into this area before, as it only has a small write up in the guide book and I didn’t think it would have much to offer, Oh how wrong I was! The area is outrageously good with a lot of scope for new routing adventures and now having a bunch of established routes across the wall, it deserves a lot more attention that it seams to be getting. Mike and I called our route “The Secrets out” and gave it E5 6a ****.

Catch of the day

The fish of the day

Dougy on Sugar Cane Country

Dougy on Sugar Cane Country

After our 3 days at the start of the trip on Mingulay, we got picked up and taken over to Pabbay for some more cranking. Unfortunately for the next day and a half we had really bad weather and only managed to get one route done on the evening of our second day on Pabbay, I tried to squeeze in another route, but rain stopped play too soon!

But despite the two fairly unsuccessful days, our last two days on the island were outstanding! We had glorious sunshine on both days and managed to climb late into the evening to salvage the rest of our trip.

All in all it was an amazing week and we managed to get lots done. The only thing that didn’t make the trip as special as my previous trips out to these beautiful islands, was the amount of people. As word of the first class standard of the climbing has spread, more and more people are heading out to try and sample some of its quality and beauty. Unfortunately this has an adverse affect and as the numbers of climbers go up, the feeling of remoteness, tranquility and adventure seem to subside. We found ourselves abbing into areas and then queuing for our intended routes and looking for areas to avoid the crowds. It felt a little surreal to be honest!

Day one of crappy weather

Day one of crappy weather

Not a bad view!

Not a bad view!

A friend of mine had just left the island as we headed out, and he mentioned some 50 people being on Pabbay when they were there. And on our leaving day, after two other teams had arrived over the previous two evenings, there was 28 tents in the small camping grounds of this remote area. Giving the close concentration of the climbing and crags, this must make it one of the most popular and busiest areas to trad climb in Scotland over the summer.

Phone charging time for the return journey ( Thanks Goal Zero)

Phone charging in time for the return journey ( Thanks Goal Zero)

When its good, It's the best!

When its good, It’s the best!

Despite this it was a fun week, but I think I’ll be waiting a while before heading back out, to try and avoid the higher numbers of climbers and wait until I goes out of fashion a bit! All in all it was ace though and I enjoyed it thoroughly!

 

 

 

Pabbays Great Arch

Pabbays Great Arch

Some cool moves before the rain and smear set back in for the night!

Some cool moves before the rain and smeg set back in for the night!

Making the most of the last days good weather

Making the most of the last days good weather

chilling in the sun after the hard climbing

Chilling in the sun after the hard climbing was over.

What an amazing trip with some awesome friends!

What an amazing trip with some awesome friends!

Running from the rain in Spain

Since my last post, I still have been experiencing some frequent ups and downs regarding injury, but on the whole, I’ve been having a lot of fun on the way regardless.

I’m still being plagued by this annoying knee/hamstring niggle, and even after recent MRI scans and specialist appointments, we’re all a bit stumped as to the cause of the pain. But thankfully I can still rock climb! Which is awesome!

So since early March, I’ve mostly been training, working and climbing, and since the days are getting quite long now, it’s been awesome getting out on the rock after work over the recent weeks!

Two weeks ago I got back from an awesome trip to Spain, sport climbing with my girlfriend and a mate. The plan for the trip was to head out and meet up with some friends who live out here, Lynne Malcolm and Tom Bolger, and climb in the Margalef area, but the weather had other plans! It was forecast to be pouring with rain all week in Margalef and the surrounding areas, and since none of us were too psyched for sitting out the torrential showers, we decided to drive south to the Costa Blanca and find the sun.

We packed up and all headed down on day two of the trip, and thanks to some quick thinking from Lynne, we managed to stay at a friends house down there who weren’t in the country at the time. Free accommodation is always a winner!

All in all it was an awesome trip, and we all did some really fun climbing, chilling and sun worshiping. But rather than writing lots of boring words about which routes had harder cruxes, and who ticked the highest grades, instead I’ll just put up a load of pics that made the trip awesome for me, and hopefully you’ll enjoy looking through them.

Im back out to Spin in a week, so hopefully the weather holds out for us this time.

Trying to stay dry in Margalef. Not really what you fly to Spain for.

Trying to stay dry in Margalef. Not really what you fly to Spain for.

Amazing when the rain stops, but the crags are still soaked!

Amazing when the rain stops, but the crags are still soaked!

Heading to Costa Blanca in search of sun.

Heading to Costa Blanca in search of sun.

Our home from home in the Costa Blanca

Our home from home in the Costa Blanca

Steep muggy climbing....hmmmmmm

Steep muggy climbing….hmmmmmm

Mhairi cranking it out at sector Bovedon

Mhairi cranking it out at sector Bovedon

Tom doing what he does best, which is making it look easy.

Tom doing what he does best, which is making it look easy.

BBQ Time!

BBQ Time!

Lynne busting out some shapes at Vallada

Lynne busting out some shapes at Vallada

Tom on the 4star 7a at Vallada

Tom on the 4star 7a at Vallada

Farming Spanish style

Farming Spanish style

Just walking his sheep!

Just walking his sheep!

Me on an outstanding 6c at Vallada

Me on an outstanding 6c at Vallada

Mhairi sending at Vallada

Mhairi sending at Vallada

Hot dog anyone?

Hot dog anyone?

Me on the immaculate Arcadia at Bovedon

Me on the immaculate Arcadia at Bovedon

Resting before the steepness on Arcadia

Resting before the steepness on Arcadia

Charging through the bulge

Charging through the bulge

Dougie flashing his 7a+ at Vallada

Dougie flashing his 7a+ at Vallada