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

Ups and Downs

Last week was the BMC International Winter Meet 2014, and what a week it was. A bunch of climbers from all over the world came to Scotland to sample some of what the Scottish Winter season has to offer, and as usual, it did not disappoint!

I had a really fun week of climbing and meeting new people. I’m going to give a rough outline of what I got up to and with whom and when, and then just let the pictures do the talking.

Lots of guests and hosts heading into SCaL

Lots of guests and hosts heading into SCaL

Day 1, I was first paired up with Mirko Breckner from Germany. Mirko was a totally awesome guy who also turned out to be a very capable and strong climber. After chatting about what he wanted to get out of the trip, we headed for Stob Coire an Lochain and did the direct variation start to “Central Buttress” called “Starting Block Start”, which gives a 3 start and very enjoyable VII/8. The perfect way to start a good weeks climbing.

Mirko Seconding pitch one of "Starting Block Start"

Mirko Seconding pitch one of “Starting Block Start”

Mirko Leading pitch 3 on "SBS"

Mirko Leading pitch 3 on “SBS”

The man at work, James Dunn filiming on "SBS

The man at work, James Dunn filiming on “SBS

Day 2, On our second day together, Mirko and I headed up the Ben to try and make the most of the better weather on the West. After crossing some suspect snow and scouting around for what to get on due to the limited access options due to a high avalanche risk, we opted for Central Trident Buttress area and jumped on a steep and intriguing line. Throughout the day, we didn’t know anything about our chosen route, we didn’t even know if it had been climbed before. It took a steep overhanging chimney on pitch one, and then onto a steep and technical thin wall/ice climb on pitch two. It turns out that we had followed and made the second ascent of “Heidbanger” (with the “Cranium” start) originally given VIII/8, but before I knew what the route was and due to the current conditions, I would have given the route IX/8 on the day. It was a bit of a spicy number!

Mirko seconding the first pitch on Heidbanger

Mirko seconding the first pitch on Heidbanger

Mirko on the last short pitch of "Heidbanger"

Mirko on the last short pitch of “Heidbanger”

Day 3, We wanted a shorter day, and opted for Sneachda, but unfortunately the weather didn’t play ball and we decided to bail out after we had reached a very stormy and horrible coire. We ambled back and chilled for the rest of the afternoon, looking forward to the good weather forecast the following day.

Jon rapping into West Central Gully Photo. Nick Bullock

Jon rapping into West Central Gully
Photo. Nick Bullock

Day 4, On Thursday we changed partners and I was paired up with Jon Walsh from Canada. Jon is a super strong climber, and was eager to sample some of Scotland finer vintages, in the form of new routing on Beinn Eighe, possibly one of the country’s best winter climbing venues! We also teamed up with Nick Bullock, whose new partner wanted a chilled rest day at the lodge. We all discussed our options and decided to go for a line that Nick and I both new of in the West Central Gully area. Our route took a steep roofed start to the first terrace and then after a cheeky traverse right to gain the steeper ground, it forged its way up the headwall for two pitches to find the summit.

Jon approaching the route

Jon approaching the route

We gave the route VIII/8 **** for its steep start and sustained second pitch and the 4 stars for its outstanding position and climbing quality. We called it “Making the Cut”

Gearing up below the roof of "Making the Cut"  Photo. Jon Walsh

Gearing up below the roof of “Making the Cut”
Photo. Jon Walsh

 

Me leading the first pitch of "MtC" Photo. Nick Bullock

Me leading the first pitch of “MtC”
Photo. Jon Walsh

Day 5, Unfortunately for me, I had tweaked my knee two days prior whilst on the Ben, and after the big day on Thursday, I was in quite a lot of pain. Not wanting to injure it for any prolonged period of time, I opted to head home on the Friday morning and try and see a physio about my knee. A lot of the meet members had gone to Newtyle (dry tooling venue) for the day because of the bad weather, so I stopped off there on my way home for a bit of a climb and to say cheerio to Mirko and the other guests. It was a fun day in the cave, and it was cool to see a mixture of abilities and styles throughout.

Me leading and soaking up the atmosphere on "MtC" Photo. Nick Bullock

Me leading and soaking up the atmosphere on “MtC”
Photo. Jon Walsh

Nick seconding the first pitch of "MtC" Photo. Jon Walsh

Nick seconding the first pitch of “MtC”
Photo. Jon Walsh

All in all the week of the meet was a big success, and I think it is totally awesome how the BMC seam to put so much time, money and effort into bringing all the countries, climbers and potential friends together to show what are amazing little country has to offer, keep it up guys! I would highly recommend it to anyone, whether they want to be a host or a guest from another country, get involved next time!

Jon moving right to gain steeper ground

Jon moving right to gain steeper ground

Jon starting up the headwall on "MtC"

Jon starting up the headwall on “MtC”

Jon nearing the top of the off-width pitch

Jon nearing the top of the off-width pitch

So after 4 days rest I stupidly decided to try and get out in the hills again yesterday. Guy Roberston and I headed out in search of some good mixed conditions. Unfortunately all we found was an abundance of snow and wind, so we decided to bail out once again, it seems to be a bit of a theme of the season for a lot of climbers this year! Something else that was annoying was that my knee clearly wasn’t any better, in fact, the deep snow walking seemed to make it worse. So after another trip to the physio yesterday, I have been put on two weeks recovery layoff, which means no venturing into the mountains! Not a happy bunny!

So it will be pull-ups and finger-boarding for me for a wee while, so keep an eye on this blog in around two-three weeks time, because I’ll be like a caged tiger wanting to escape and go mixed climbing as soon as I can (if tigers like mixed climbing, I’m not sure).

Me reaching the belay after the first headwall pitch. On "Making the Cut"

Me reaching the belay after the first headwall pitch. On “Making the Cut”

Nick reaching the belay on "MtC"

Nick reaching the belay on “MtC”

James Dunn gathering up his equipment after a days filming us on "MtC"

James Dunn gathering up his equipment on the ridge after a days filming us on “MtC”

The sunset on the walk out

The sunset on the walk out

Defence of the Realm and The Tempest

Since my last post about The Demon, I have had some very unsuccessful days out in the Scottish mountains, but also some amazing ones too!

In December Will Sim and I took advantage of a lull in the stormy weather for a quick hit in Sneachda. We managed to make the second ascent of a very cool and tricky crack line called “Babes in the Wood”. This was a cool route that offered some shelter from the high winds but didn’t substitute anything when it came to the quality of the climbing.

Will looking over at the all of "Babes in the Wood"

Will looking over at the wall of “Babes in the Wood”

After that route it was the busy festive period and also the return of the awful weather and conditions. I had a good run of training days to keep up the psyche and jumped at the chance to get out again as soon as the weather allowed.

My next few outings into the mountains weren’t overly successful. Will and I had a run of attempting some amazing looking lines, but not actually getting anything ticked. Whether it be conditions, Illness or just lack of psyche for certain situations, we just couldn’t manage to get anything sent.

But last weekend all that changed! After a failed trip to the Dubh Loch the previous weekend, I had kept my eye on the weather and opted to make the two hour drive and walk into the coire last Thursday with my girlfriend to take a look at how the conditions were doing/holding out. It was obvious that things were doing well! There was lots of ice hanging around and with a cold forecast for the following day, I was super psyched to get back in there at the weekend and hopefully get on an obvious looking line that I had spied.

My hotel for the evening.

My hotel for the evening.

Broad Terrace Wall on the Dubh Loch

Broad Terrace Wall on the Dubh Loch

I sent my photos and findings over to Guy Robertson who I was planning on climbing with and together we decided that it looked too good to turn down.

So on Friday night I made the drive over again towards Ballater, where I met up with Guy, Nick and Will, and after a quick chat and deciding on getting an early start, I put up my Quasar tent and caught a few hours sleep.

4am came around pretty quickly, and it wasn’t long before Guy and I were cycling along the 4×4 track on our way to the all mighty Creag an Dubh Loch. We reached the base of the crag well before daybreak, but this was fine, as once we had geared up and soloed to the bottom of our route, we just sat on the big neve covered ledge and watched the sun slowly rise above the bright headlight dots of all the other teams racing in to try and mark their territory on an icy line on this impressive mountain face.

Waiting for the sun to rise to light up our route.

Waiting for the sun to rise to light up our route.

Once there was enough light to see where we wanted to go on our first pitch before we could reached the steep and immaculate looking ice weep above, Guy set off up the lightly iced and immensely fun lower section forging his way up with every pull. Just after Guy had set off, there was a sudden arrival of two other teams to our quiet little ledge. One team was Nick and Will, who were just keen to get on something/anything that looked good (which they did), and the other team was Ian Small, Simon Richardson and Doug Hawthorn, who also had their sights set on our line up to the obvious icy abyss above. But you gotta get up at stupid o’clock if you want to win these sensational prizes in the Scottish mountains in winter.

Despite this, Ian and Simon went on to make the FA of a brilliant looking line to the left of “The Sting” (a Doug Hawthorn ice route).

Guy pulling through the steep ground on pitch one of "Defence of the Realm"

Guy pulling through the steep ground on pitch one of “Defence of the Realm”

After Guy had succumbed the tricky moves on the steep section of the first pitch, he reached the belay and I got stuck into seconding the fun and 4 star climbing to reach his position. Next it was my turn to take the helm. I set off round the corner and soon found myself situated below a steep and overhanging roof section caped by an icy curtain. After a few steep moves that had a very continental feel to them, I was into the midway bowl and made my way up the distinctive wave feature of ice that loomed above my head. Once I was over this, it was plain sailing all the way to the belay and then a short easy pitch by Guy lead to the top.

Me setting of on the second pitch of "Defence of the Realm"  Photo. Hawthorn collection.

Me setting of on the second pitch of “Defence of the Realm”
Photo. Hawthorn collection.

Me overcoming the steep bulge on "DotR" Photo. Guy Robertson

Me overcoming the steep bulge on “DotR”
Photo. Guy Robertson

Me reaching the pod below the icy wave, Photo. Guy Robertson

Me reaching the pod below the icy wave,
Photo. Guy Robertson

After walking back to our bags with a huge smile on our faces we bumped into all the other climbers in the area that had had a successful day. It was cool to see so many happy faces and psyched climbers. There is an awesome write up on Scottishwinter.com about all the new routes on the face done last weekend which offers a good read.

Our route went at about VII/7 and was worthy of a 4 star rating! We called it “ Defence of the Realm” and it was a real joy to be part of another new route at this amazing crag.

Guy on the easy last pitch

Guy on the easy last pitch

Guy celebrating an awesome day at the top of "Defence of the Realm"

Guy celebrating an awesome day at the top of “Defence of the Realm”

After a quick trip back home, I jumped back in the car on Sunday night to drive West to meet up with Guy, Nick and Will again, but this time in Glen Coe. The usual easy drive over was prolonged and made much more stressful by the amount of snow falling and lying on the roads. But eventually I made it to the Kings House Hotel and after a chat and a drink we headed to bed ready for hopefully yet another stonking days climbing.

Will and I reached the base of Stob Coire an Lochain with an open mind on what we were going to get on, and once we had geared up and scoped the crag, we decided to go and have a sniff at an amazing looking new line. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be and after some quick decision making, we opted for “The Tempest”.

Will leading "The Tempest"

Will leading “The Tempest”

“The Tempest” is a bit of a test piece in the area, and has got a reputation for the style in which the first ascent was made, using redpoint tactics and preplaced protection. Even though these styles are frowned upon now, I personal think it was still an awesome effort by Neil Grasham to have the balls and psyched to get on such a cool looking line back in the day when it was first done.

Will lead off first as I had been the one trying the new line earlier. After some time finding gear and deciding on which way to go, Will probed upwards and eventually found his way to the icy upper section. I was quite happy on my comfy belay in the nice weather watching Will do his thing. But it all changed as he moved on upwards and it was apparent that he was going to get no more weight baring protection. His last worthwhile runner was just at about half height, and the last few moves onto the crudier neve/snow slope above were hard to watch as it was fairly obvious that he would have been lucky to walk away from the fall if his axes were to rip on the last moves.  But technique prevailed and he made it onto the easy ground above.

He popped his head over the top and asked me what I wanted to do, whether I wanted to second the route, leave it for another day, or have him abb down and I would just lead it. The light was starting to slowly fade and we both knew that trying the new route earlier and Will’s ascent had both taken a fair bit of time. But I got him to rap down anyway and I just put my headtorch on in case darkness made its way in, as I wanted to lead the route.

 

As soon as I started climbing and was committed on the face, the weather totally changed, and the wind picked up and started dumping floods of spindrift down on my head. I pushed on and soon found myself at the point where I too would have to leave the last worthwhile protection, but the length of the bold climbing looked much further from here and I had a quick word with myself before I continued upwards. I placed an atrocious pecker in the upper ice, but knew that it was a pointless exercise, but it’s good for the head to focus on this simple task to take my mind away from the ever growing distance between me and my last runner. I finally reached the top moves and found myself composed and comfortable despite my serious position, this all changed when I took my left axe out to make one last swing into the ice before reaching the top neve, and my right axe (that I thought was bomber) ripped down 2-3 inches in the cruddy ice behind the outer layer. Thankfully my next left placement was good and I swiftly pulled up on the easy ledge above. Ahhhhhh…… the addictive adrenaline and euphoria rush of overcoming a hard and technical situation soon set in and I rapped down and stripped the wall with yet another beaming smile on my face.

Me reaching the ice on "The Tempest"

Me reaching the ice on “The Tempest”

We had both had a good day, and it was cool to hear that Guy and Nick had also had an awesome time, making the FA of a new winter only route on another part of the Coire. We all trotted back to the car on cloud nine and after the usual ritual of sorting gear, we all went our separate ways and headed home.

Me about to get into the bold ground on "The Tempest". Photo. Will Sim

Me about to get into the bold ground on “The Tempest”.
Photo. Will Sim

Now that the weather seems to be settling a little, and I (hopefully) seem to be out of my rut of getting nothing done, I’ll hopefully be posting much more stuff on here from awesome ascents in the coming weeks, so keep and eye!

The Demon

Since my return from Canada, it was been pretty warm in the Scottish mountains. Unfortunately I’ve either been working (too much for my liking) or the conditions have been too poor to get much mixed climbing done.

I have been managing to keep up my psyche and my new found Canadian fitness with multiple sessions in my small training gym at home. This kept me fit and ready to pounce as soon as the conditions reappeared in the mountains, which they did this past weekend.

On Saturday morning, Dougie and I headed North in search of some tasty mixed action. We were a little sceptical, as the forecast was not the best and it was due to get super warm throughout the day. But we headed up anyway with some conditions beta from Will Sim who had been out the previous day.

We had a few plans in mind, but were holding off until we could see what was in condition in the coire before we got set on anything in particular. As the buttresses came into view it soon became apparent that everything was up for grabs. All the rock was plastered white and there was a proper wintery vibe of, frozen belayers waiting patiently for their partners to gain height on their chosen routes, and the sound of gear and axes jingling around the coire as people sorted out racks and ropes.

We decided on plan A, which swiftly got put to one side and we headed for plan B, and plan B was good!

Me leading pitch one of The Demon (Photo Credit. Douglass Russell)

Me leading pitch one of The Demon
(Photo Credit. Douglass Russell)

We headed over to the steep and imposing Happy Tyrolean’s wall, which despite its high volume of hard routes and attention, still had one very obvious winter line to do. This was a route I had had my eye on for the last couple of season since I had done “Happy Tyrolean’s” with Mike Tweedley about two years ago. I remember standing on the belay after making the first onsight ascent of the crux pitch of “HT” and looking left to see an awesome hanging corner above a super techy looking steep slab. At the time, I thought that it would be totally outstanding to climb up the steep slab below to gain the corner but didn’t know if it was a route or if it had already been done.

Dougie and I on The Demon  (Photo Credit - Stewart Whiting)

Dougie and I on The Demon
(Photo Credit – Stewart Whiting)

I later found out that the route was the summer line of “The Demon” and that it had in fact never been done in winter. So I decided to keep this in my Lochain arsenal for a later date.

So on Saturday this is what Dougie and I did. I lead off up the first pitch, which was OK to start, and then it became apparent that I was going to have to switch on my head a little and get in the, making tricky moves away from marginal gear zone! The climbing was really enjoyable and like most routes on that wall, was super technical for both axes and feet. After some interesting high rock over moves and some powerful pulls, I had gained the steep slab and could see the hanging corner above.

I moved up and gained the corner and continued until I was level with the stance that I had been on two years prior when I did “HT”. Having done “Siberian Tiger” (to the left) and “Happy Tyrolean’s” (to the right) I knew that I needed to get onto that belay once again, as there was nowhere really to belay above. So after a bit off upping and downing, I decided to traverse hard right across the blank looking wall to reach the comfort and safety of the ledge.

I eventually committed to a super thin pick placement and reached out to hook a very rounded ledge, I then matched the ledge and was expecting my axes to rip any second! I shuffled my feet right and couldn’t believe I was still on the wall, I was now less than a meter from the ledge, but it might as well have been a mile away, the climbing was so teetery and thin that I had to keep my full concentration on my picks and move to another horrendously crappy placements. One more move and I was able to swing into the invitingly springy turf clump that made its home on this even more inviting ledge. Ahhh… much better!

Dougie Seconding pitch one

Dougie Seconding pitch one

I made a belay and proceeded to bring Dougie up the pitch. It was cool to see him enjoying the climbing as much as I did and after a bit of a Tarzan impression on the traverse, he joined me and the comfort of the belay.

Having messed about with plan A for a bit and having had a pretty leisurely start to the day, It was now starting to get dusky and after Dougie had strapped on his headtorch, he set off up the top pitch.

Dougie reaching the corner on pitch one.

Dougie reaching the corner on pitch one.

The forecast was right, and the wind had started to pick up by this point, but despite this, the wind was super warm (also forecast) and I didn’t get too chilly as the darkness rolled in. Dougie got stuck into the climbing, and after not too long he had reached the easier ground and swiftly brought me up to the top.

Once back out bags it was obviously getting super warm. The snow was slushy and descending the slopes back to the base of the coire was a total nightmare due to the snow balling up our crampons after every step. There had been a massive thaw of the lying snow throughout the day and we decided to just head home, rather than stay up and go out again on Sunday.

Dougie leading the last pitch.

Dougie leading the last pitch.

We were both chuffed with the days climbing, and after some Christmas shopping (not so fun!) and an awesome training session on my wall on Sunday, it felt like a pretty productive weekend. Unfortunately having looked at some photos of the coire online today, it looks like it has been totally stripped due to the warm wind. So it’s going to be more training and working for the next week or so. Oh well…. it’s got to get good again at some point, right?

>The Demon, FWA 7/12/13– Greg Boswell and Douglass Russell. IX/9***

Nemesis

Not exactly the view you get from Newtyle

Not exactly the view you get from Newtyle

So since Nick and I had an amazing day on “Victoria’s Secret Deviation” there has been some pretty crazy weather blowing through Canada. There’s been loads of snow coming down and getting blown about in the strong winds, and the temps have been falling below -25’C. So trying to find safe stuff to do were we wouldn’t get avalanched and sheltered enough, so we didn’t feel the brunt of the -32’C wind-chill, has been pretty tricky.

Jen on the super techy M6+

Jen on the super techy M6+

But on Wednesday and Thursday last week, Nick, Jen Olson, Ian Welsted and I managed to get out and do some really fun tooling/training, and on Thursday Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt (our friends from “Rocket Man”) also showed up to sample the Canadian tech fest. There is a place in the area that has some really funky routes. All but one of the routes are on natural placements, which provides some steep, techy and super enjoyable climbing.

The highlight for me was doing Mr Slawinski’s route that starts up an interesting M7, and then blasts through a steep roof on big moves to gain a steep and pumpy hanging dihedral. The route must be about 35m long and takes in some pretty thin and sustained climbing in the upper half. Sending this, made me the second person to climb the route, after Raph obviously, so it was pretty cool to get it done, even though I’m starting to feel pretty tired now that we’re approaching the end of the trip. Not so much of a highlight, but still pretty funny, was when I got lowered from the route after the send and found that the rope was about 15m too short. But we eventually sorted it and all was ok!

Nick on the lower M7

Nick on the lower M7

Me approaching the roof on Raph's route. Photo. Nick bullock

Me approaching the roof on Raph’s route. Photo. Nick bullock

Me starting the harder upper half through the steepness. Photo. Nick Bullock

Me starting the harder upper half through the steepness. Photo. Nick Bullock

Raph gave the route M10 (maybe in his famous sandbag style perhaps), but in all the places I’ve climbed in Europe, it would comfortably get the grade of M11. It was similar to the two hard pitches on Illuminati in the Italian Dolomites, as they are also entirely on natural placements.  But all in all it was an awesome route (regardless of the grade), and along with many of the other routes, it was a good way to spend two days sheltering from the wind and still getting some good climbing done.

So after another awesome evening at the Croston household on Thursday, where Jo and Colin were outstanding hosts yet again, we had a chilled day on Friday and organised some plans for one final Canadian adventure on Saturday.

More steepness on the route. Photo. Nick Bullock

More steepness on the route. Photo. Nick Bullock

Me reaching the upper wall. Photo. Nick Bullock

Me reaching the upper wall. Photo. Nick Bullock

Uh Oh...... no more rope. Ian to the rescue. Photo. Nick Bullock

Uh Oh…… no more rope. Ian to the rescue. Photo. Nick Bullock

With not knowing what the conditions would be like in the higher venues/mountains, after all the snow and especially after the wind depositing said snow in some sketchy places. We decided to head back into the Headwall with no real plans, except to climb something fun. We took a full trad rack and fairly comprehensive Ice rack and agreed to get on whatever looked inspiring/ in condition.

The Headwall in all its glory.

The Headwall in all its glory.

Our first two possible plans were out of the question, due to a fairly noticeable loss of ice since we had been in to do “Man Yoga” earlier in the trip. So we kept on trudging on below the Headwall in search of some inspiration.

Eventually that inspiration came into view from behind a jutting mass of rock. At first it was just a small piece of ice peeping at us from above the rock, but once we plodded further through the deep snow, the main event in all its glory came into sight! “Boom! Come and climb me” It seemed to shout, so that is exactly what we did.

The route is called “Nemesis” and is a well know classic WI6 in Canada. It is described in the guide book as:

Nemesis in all its glory!

Nemesis in all its glory!

“Today Nemesis remains a challenge to even the best of climbers and is one of the few early climbs that has not been downgraded or lost its reputation. The route forms every year but with varying quality and with several possible lines. It is usually climbed in four pitches, but has been done in three.”

Nick leading up the first pitch of Nemesis.

Nick leading up the first pitch of Nemesis.

Me reaching the belay on the first pitch of Nemesis. Photo. Nick Bullock

Me reaching the belay on the first pitch of Nemesis. Photo. Nick Bullock

It was perfect; a nice ice route to finish off what has been an outstanding and memorable trip to Canada. We did the route in three awesome pitches, all of which were of 4 star quality, and even managed to get back to the car without the use of our head-torches, which was a first for the trip.

Me heading away from the belay on the second pitch. Photo. Nick Bullock

Me heading away from the belay on the second pitch.
Photo. Nick Bullock

Me moving up the second pitch. Photo. Nick Bullock

Me moving up the second pitch. Photo. Nick Bullock

To sum it up, having a fairly cruisey last day on Nemesis was the icing on the cake to an amazing three weeks climbing with Nick. Like I said in my earlier posts, this was my first tip to Canada and the memories and friends I have gained while out here will stay with me for a very very long time! I’m already making plans to come back and climb in these special mountains again, and I’ve not even left yet, that’s how good it is.

Nick on the last steep section of the climb.

Nick on the last steep section of the climb.

Thanks for reading my blogs about this trip and hopefully some of you may have been inspired to get out and have some cool adventures in the mountains yourself. Keep an eye out on here though, as I’m heading back to Scotland tomorrow, and I am currently on a psyche overload to get loads of cool mixed stuff done in the mountains back home. So let’s just hope it’s a good season!

Canada…OUT!

Shhhhh…It’s a Secret!

Ever since reading Ian Parnell’s blog a couple of years ago, when he wrote about Raphael Slawinski’s ascent of his new route “Victoria’s Secret Deviation”, I have had a seed planted in the back of my mind. The route really inspired me to come out and climb in Canada. At that time I didn’t know anything about the climbing out here or on Stanley Headwall, but I knew I had to climb this route one day!

Ian’s blog post with the inspiring photo… http://ianparnellphotography.blogspot.ca/2010/07/dreams-ahead.html

Nick leading up pitch one

Nick leading up pitch one

Me seconding pitch one. Some good Scottish style fun!

Me seconding pitch one. Some good Scottish style fun!

My interest in the route got re-sparked last year when on the back page of Climb Magazine, there was a picture of Raph taking a rather large whipper on the first ascent attempt. This sort of thing really gets me psyched, seeing someone giving it there all and taking the consequences as and when they arrive, whether it be topping out on the route, or taking the whipper, either way it’s all go!

Me leading up the techy second pitch.

Me leading up the techy second pitch.

So today I finally got my chance to get on the route, and what a route it was! It had a full on Scottish feel to it (minus the rimed up rock), there was some super techy face climbing with cheeky cracks and torques that provided upwards progress bit by bit. Also, the route was totally protected by trad gear (my favourite)!

Nick lead up the first pitch with ease, then I headed on up the main event first, after winning the Rock, Paper, Scissors at the bottom of the route. After some time cleaning out the frozen and snowy cracks, I finally made it to the last few heart in mouth moves and eventually topped out with a huge smile on my face. I was super psyched to on-sight this route, as it meant a fair bit to me (and I think it was the third ascent). It was literally the photo of this route that made me want to come out to Canada three years ago, and now I’m finally here!

Me higher on the 2nd pitch. Loving every second of it!

Me higher on the 2nd pitch. Loving every second of it!

After this, I rapped the route and stripped it of all my hard won gear placements in preparation for Nicks’ attempt. We didn’t want him having any cheeky advantages!

Nick went on to flash the route in good style and made my good day even better! It’s always nice when both you and your climbing partner get the send on a route after you both have been standing, freezing you asses off, while the other put the time in on the climb!

Nick sending the flash on the main event!

Nick sending the flash on the main event!

All in all it was an awesome day, and has topped this Canada trip off nicely, and there is still a week left before we go home!

 

Rocket Man

Our hostel for the night

Our hostel for the night

On Wednesday, Nick and I headed off in the direction of the Icefields Parkway. We were planning an afternoon scouting mission to check access to our intended route and to figure out the best place to cross the river while it was still light. After checking the river and setting up the car for sleep mode, we tucking into some food and settled down for a surprisingly good night’s sleep.

Nick checking the depth of the river... hoping it wont go over our bin liners that we brought to wade it!

Nick checking the depth of the river… hoping it wont go over our bin liners that we brought to wade it!

We got up at 3:30 am and after eating some more grub, we headed into the forest and over the suspicious looking ice bridge over the river. After that it was up the drainage shoot and into the wide snow and moraine bowl that lead to the base of the route.

The higher we got, the deeper the snow, and after trudging through waist deep powder for almost an hour, we were finally getting close to the route. I looked back to see how Nick was getting on and much to my surprise; I saw to head torches below us gaining height pretty quickly in my freshly broken trail. This was annoying! I then went into worried climber about to lose his route mode (adopted more frequently in France). I sped up the trail breaking and all the time I was wading through the porridge like snow, the head lights kept gaining on us.

Rocket Man from below

Rocket Man from below

Once at the bottom of the route, we started to gear up swiftly, and there was buzz of anxiousness in the air. But eventually the couple walked over the last small hill and up to our gearing up spot. Nick did the welcoming thing and said “what are you planning to climb!”, which really meant don’t even think about getting on the route we are stood below! But the couple were super nice and said that they had seen us walking up and decided not to climb the route, but they wanted to see it from below and come and have a chat with us anyway. Ahhhhh and relex! We all had a good chat and after they had shared their tea so that they didn’t need to carry it back down, they headed off back to the car and we headed up the route.

Our route was called “Rocket Man” and it is another of Rapheal Slawinski route, which meant it was going to feel hard and interesting! It is a 350m, VI M7+ WI5+ that is described in the “Mixed Climbs in the Canadian Rockies” book as:

(“A spectacular route, in a high energy environment!” Rocket Man is the series of smears and drips weeping down the steep cliff to the right of Snowbird Glacier on Mount Patterson. Nine pitches of climbing make this the longest waterfall-style mixed route in the Rockies. Many hazards lurk below and above this route: active glaciers that spew debris threatening the approach.}

The big slide we saw ripping down to our right! Uh Ohhh...

The big slide we saw ripping down to our right! Uh Ohhh…

The route was stocked full of interesting climbing both hard and technical. “High energy environment” was damn right! The route was pretty much, 9 super sustained pitches of hard ice and mixed climbing which kept on coming, all the way to the last move. It was also definitely stocked full of hazards, as we were on pitch two, I was belaying Nick and I heard a massive boom. I looked to my right to see a huge avalanche ripping down the valley that we had just walked up….yikes, close one!

Nick and I split the pitches working to our strengths. I took the steep mixed pitches and Nick took the techy thin and steep ice pitches. The climbing was world class, despite the slightly scrappy rock on some of the mixed pitches. But this just added to the adventure factor.

Me on pitch 7, hoping to not rip any bolts!

Me on pitch 7, hoping to not rip any bolts!

It was interesting to climb the steep and techy 7th pitch on fractures and loose edges for your picks, knowing that the last person to fall off the pitch took the second bolt (ripped it out) with them and nearly decked out. Always good for the head to keep fighting and spur you on to not fall off when you think you might get hurt! So the third bolt is now pretty high up the pitch, (especially when I didn’t find the first bolt) mmmmm…. spicy!

Altogether the route was super enjoyable, and despite climbing the last two pitches in the dark and doing some suspect diagonal rappels due to hidden rapp bolts under the ice, Nick and I had a brilliant time on yet another outstanding Canadian route.

Looks good ay?

Looks good ay?

With just over another week to go, let’s hope we get a couple more in before we fly home.

Pitch.1 – A straight forward WI3 pitch with some steepish ice and a bit of snow plodding! (My lead)

pitch.2 – A technical and thin ice smear/mixed corner with less than adequate ice, apart from the top pillar. (Nicks’ lead)

Good ice at the top of our pitch two.

Good ice at the top of our pitch two.

Pitch.3 – A steep M7 pitch leading to a hanging WI5 drip. Fun and pumpy! (My lead)

Me starting up the M7 pitch

Me starting up the M7 pitch

Me reaching the drip

Me reaching the drip

Pitch.4- A small techy WI4 pitch (Nicks’ lead)

Nick starting up pitch 4, a tricky start leads to fun climbing.

Nick starting up pitch 4, a tricky start leads to fun climbing.

Pitch.5- We did the alternate ice pitch out right on deceptively thin smears. (Nicks’ lead)

Nick leading away on the thinner ice on the alternate 5th pitch

Nick leading away on the thinner ice on the alternate 5th pitch

Me seconding pitch 5

Me seconding pitch 5

Pitch.6 – Another alternative pitch due to good ice on the route. (Nicks’ lead)

 

Nick heading up beside some cool features on pitch 6.

Nick heading up beside some cool features on pitch 6.

Pitch.7- A steep and techy mixed pitch with some outstanding climbing. (My lead)

Photo above

Pitch.8 – A steep and featured WI5 ice pillar, this was totally virgin ice, so it was a little tricky! (Nicks’ lead)

Nick on the second last pitch, just as night set it.

Nick on the second last pitch, just as night set it.

Pitch.9- A steep mixed pitch with poor gear to reach an easy and welcoming WI4 finish and the icing on the cake to a good day. (My lead)

Me on the last hard section of the route. An interesting finish!

Me on the last hard section of the route. An interesting finish!

 

 

Man Yoga

Since our day on the Maul, I have met up with Raphael Slawinksi (local guru) for some dry tooling at a local venue (Saturday), got up stupidly early only to find the snow in K-country was throwing it down all night and morning, which meant for a bit of a wasted day (Sunday) and yesterday I lost my Stanley Headwall virginity, and Ohhhh baby it was good!

After not getting anything done on Sunday due to the snow/our poor route choice, Nick and I decided to head into Stanley Headwall yesterday after getting some conditions beta from the man him self… Jon Walsh (another local guru, and the first ascentionist of our intended route).

The awesome inversion rolling in.

The awesome inversion rolling in.

We ended up climbing the impeccable and super varied 250m M8 “Man Yoga”. This has to be one of the funnest mixed routes I have done. The climbing was super technical, varied, safe and an awesome adventure through chimneys, over roofs, up slabs and finishing on some steep ice. What more could you ask for!

The route of Man Yoga twists its way up the big face to reach this obvious ice.

The route of Man Yoga twists its way up the big face to reach this obvious ice.

As we were just about to leave our bags and set off up the access pitch, we noticed someone heading up out of the trees bellow us. We knew Jon had been on the headwall the previous day and not wanting to rush off and not say hi, we hung around for a bit and had a chat. Secretly wanting any extra beta on the route that might’ve been on offer. Unfortunately all Jon told us that we didn’t already know, was that the top steep ice pitch was missing a large section of ice through a roof. He said it would probably be pretty spicy but potentially doable. That was good enough for me, and with that, we headed off in the direction of some world class climbing.

Nick starting up pitch one of Man Yoga.

Nick starting up pitch one of Man Yoga.

The whole route was totally amazing and the last pitch, usually a steady WI5 pitch, I ended up leading a spicy M7/WI5, which was a cool finish to an awesome and fun day.

I’ll let theour photos and the video of the first ascentionists do all the talking. They’re better than my words will ever be. We will defo be heading back into the Headwall for more action on this trip though, so in the words of Mr Bullock when he’s running it out above gear and I’m usually trying to take pictures, “Keep an eye!”.

Video of Jon Walsh and Jonny Simms ascent by Joshua Lavigne: http://vimeo.com/33005769

Route info and topo: http://alpinestyle.ca/2011/11/16/man_yoga

Pitch One: Nick’s Lead – A steep hanging chimney with amazing sinker hooks.

(photo above)

Pitch Two: My Lead – A super techy slab pitch that covered some interesting ground and features!

Me starting up the techy slab pitch.

Me starting up the techy slab pitch.

Higher on the techy slab 2nd pitch

Higher on the techy slab 2nd pitch

Techy madness on pitch 2

Techy madness on pitch 2

Nick seconding pitch 2. Let the techfest begin!

Nick seconding pitch 2. Let the techfest begin!

Nick approaching the belay on the 2nd pitch

Nick approaching the belay on the 2nd pitch

Pitch Three: My Lead – A fairly easy pitch with a bit of a tricky start (more of a link pitch)

 

My leaving the belay on pitch 3

My leaving the belay on pitch 3

Pitch Four: Nick’s Lead – A meaty pitch with some super varied climbing. Roofs, slabs and techy grooves.

Nick doing some interesting things to leave the belay on pitch 4

Nick doing some interesting things to leave the belay on pitch 4

Nick pulling through the roof on the 4th pitch

Nick pulling through the roof on the 4th pitch

Me busting out some man yoga moves on the 4th pitch

Me busting out some man yoga moves on the 4th pitch

My pulling over the roof on the 4th pitch

My pulling over the roof on the 4th pitch

 

spreading the weight to stop my axes ripping, on the approach to the 4th belay.

spreading the weight to stop my axes ripping, on the approach to the 4th belay.

Pitch Five: My Lead – Usually a straightforward ice pitch (apparently). But we had a thin techy section into a mixed overhang into a steep awesome ice wall.

Me figuring out how to breach the steep band of no ice on the last pitch

Me figuring out how to breach the steep band of no ice on the last pitch

Nick doing the last few moves of an amazing route!

Nick doing the last few moves of an amazing route!

This was a brilliant route, and I urge anyone who comes out here to climb, to get on it and have as much fun as we did yesterday. To get two big awesome route ticked in our first week was excellent. Now for a few more!

The view from Man Yoga in the setting sun

The view from Man Yoga in the setting sun