Winter is …kinda here!

Its been a crazy 12 months since I left Canada, and I know what your all thinking whilst you read this, Yawwwwwwn, not another bloody bear related post! So I’m not going to bore you with one, but here’s a wee insight into what I’ve been up to recently.

Me making my way up Hoargasm on the first ascent

Me making my way up Hoargasm on the first ascent

Rehab was slow to start with but I was soon back on two feet and in the mountains. I managed to salvage one more days climbing in Scotland at the end of the winter with Uisdean Hawthorn in Glen Coe but my leg and my head weren’t fully up to the task and we had to bail off a pretty spicy looking new line and settle for plan B. This was still a funky new line that we called “Hoargasm” VII/8 but I knew then that it wasn’t just physical rehab that I had to focus on. That was pretty much it for my winter season, apart from an awesome couple of days on The Ben with Coldhouse Collective, filming some stuff for the Rab Commitment Series later in April.

I did one more trip off-shore a month or so later for work, which actually let me get some time at Boulder Brighton on the days that we were in-port, so thankfully it wasn’t all work work work.

Boulder Brighton, whilst in port.

Boulder Brighton, whilst in port.

Off-shore regulations is PPE crazy

Off-shore regulations is PPE crazy

The New Kit

The New Kit

Not a bad summers work. The UTROV in all her glory

Not a bad summers work. The UTROV in all her glory

After that I moved onto some workshop based work at UTROV Services, helping with the build of two new ROV off-shore systems, which was a busy but awesome way to spend most of my summer. This helped me gain loads more experience in the workshop and enjoy working with an awesome forward thinking company whilst saving up for the winter season.

Testing testing 1.2.3....

Testing testing 1.2.3….

At the end of August after the final testing of the new systems was (pretty much) complete, Mhairi and I headed away in the van to get some well needed shred time in the Alps. We managed just over two weeks of fun in the sun on our steeds before my so called super strong carbon handlebars sheared on a fast corner at Pila in Italy, resulting in a broken elbow and an interesting journey home. Thankfully Mhairi handled it like a pro and I was home in a couple of days and on the road to recovery, again!

Looks like it's time to go running!

Looks like it’s time to go running!

It’s been 10 weeks since I broke my elbow and thankfully I was able to start training, all be it very easy and contrived, after only just 4 weeks. So I am now ready, fit and psyched for another winter season which judging buy the crazy storm that is going on outside my window, is pretty much here.

Talking at Kendal

Talking at Kendal

Along with the winter season certain things come round every year, Kendal Mountain Film Festival is an annual thing, and I had a good time at the weekend speaking a two sessions during the festival. The UKC forums are also kicking off right now about the usual also annual conditions discussions, and even though there is a load of snow in the hills, not a lot of mixed terrain is in good condition quite yet (it will probably be prime after this storm outside) so it is this reason that I’m still working and training as much as I can in prep for the primo conditions that are just around the corner.

Keep and eye on this blog for more winter adventures soon, and come down to Dundee Mountain Film Festival this Friday if you want to hear about my exploits first hand.

Survival Mode

22/02/16, No permission is given for any of this content to be used or copied for any other source without the writer’s (Greg Boswell) consent!

This blog post was written two weeks after the event. It is now nearly 3 months since the encounter happened and I’ve decided to stick it online. Enjoy!

It was nice to have a relaxed start to a climbing day. We knew it wasn’t go to be a long or particularly hard day, so we had a leisurely breakfast then Nick and I jumped in our hire Jeep and headed for the Ice-feilds Parkway. Our objective was to sus-out an approach to the amazing looking line of Dirty Love that was first climbed by Jon Walsh and Raphael Slawinski back in 2008. Neither of us had climbed on Mt Wilson before but we new the rough layout of the area we needed to gain for Dirt Love, and we also new it wasn’t the easiest route to approach.

We parked up about 9am and the car was still reading -20C outside. The beaming sun that was pulsing down on the Jeep lured us outside and we swiftly put on our snow shoes and stomped off up the drainage gully for 1.5 hours to reach the bottom of our intended route to cross the first rock band. Unfortunately, the Icefall wasn’t properly formed so we ended up having to do some very time consuming and scrappy loose mixed climbing to gain the first upper terrace. This snowy terrace barred access to the second rock band that we would need to cross before we could walk the 2.5 hours up to the base of the Dirty Love corner.

As the long first bold and scary mixed pitches had taken so long to climb safely, it was approaching dusk by the time we found the proper place to climb the second rock band. The only thing that was spooking me was the fact that we had followed some rather large animal tracks up to the base of the rock band, but then they had petered off in the opposite direction, but they looked frozen, hard packed and very old, so probably nothing to worry about. I knew I was probably nervous for no reason, and by the time we had climbed the next 40meters of steep rock to the second terrace, we would probably be well away and out of reach of whatever had made the tracks below. It is Canada after all, there are animals everywhere, big and small.

It was dark by the time we were both on the upper terrace. We were both pretty relaxed now though, as we new the climbing sections were over and all we had to do was plod up the steep snowy gully for the next couple of hours to put a good trail in for a quicker approach next time we came up to do the route. We left the ropes and harnesses at the top of the wall, ready for our decent later that night.

After walking for about 15mins through the woods with our crampons and axes still to hand, we opted to leave these beside our newly trodden trail in the waist deep power snow. We stripped off most of our excess gear and just continued with our snow shoes, walking poles and some food and water essentials in our packs. We pounded through the woods and found some very easy walking conditions once we were out of the trees and into the main gully itself. After walking the majority of the way up the gully, we decided that continuing would be pointless, as the snow was hard packed and easy to move quickly on, so it would be fine when we returned later in the week with heavier packs and ready to climb.

A swift retreat down the gully found us about to gain the softer snow again. I stopped to fill up my water bottle from a melting ice-fall and as I screwed the lid back on, I saw Nick trotting off into the distance. I hurried after him and just as I had caught up and said “slow down you old git”, something made me turn around…

What I then saw will stay with me for the rest of my life. My stomach immediately felt like it was full of lead and I felt my heart-rate shoot up into the stars. There, bounding full pace through the deep powder snow about 5 meters from me was a Grizzly bear! I’d never been so scared in all my life! I shouted to Nick, “IT’S A BEAR” and immediately tried to put some distance between me and this charging shadow from the dark. What I didn’t think about in my haste, was that we had put the trail in on the way up with snow shoes on, and now had taken them off, so when I stepped off our trail to flee, I immediately went up to my waist in powder snow.

I felt sick. I frantically scrabbled through the snow on my back trying to keep moving, but what was coming was inevitable! I screamed for Nick as I saw the bear was closing in on me. I knew what was coming but I was too unbelievably scared to realise it. It made one last leap through the air and before it could land straight on me, I lifted my right leg and booted it in the face. It then just grabbed my boot in its mouth and spat it aside like an unwelcome pip from an apple. In an instant it had my lower leg in its mouth and was riving and pulling. I felt it lift me up so that just my shoulders were touching the fluffy white snow. I can’t describe how scared I was. A million things were going through my head, but it’s amazing no matter what’s going on in your head, the strongest thought is that you really don’t want to die yet.

The bear let my body back down onto the snow, still with my leg firmly in its mouth, it stood on my left leg all the while tugging and pulling. By this time I was slapping at its face and muzzle with my left hand and screaming to Nick that it had me and for help. All my might was pleading for it to stop. I kept slapping and punching with my left hand and my thumb accidentally went into its mouth whilst it held my leg, I must have jabbed it in the roof of its mouth with my thumb, as it grunted and let go. Still screaming for help, I can only imagine how terrifying it must have sounded for Nick, I watched the bear turn and stand over me, its face now no more than 10cm from mine. But I could see that the full force of my head-torch was beaming it straight in the eyes. It’s hard to describe but it almost looked confused, as if it couldn’t see where the screaming was coming from. After what was probably only a second, even though it felt like an hour, the bear walked straight over my head and hurried off into the trees.

I got up immediately and ran up hill to Nick. I couldn’t believe my leg was working! As I saw him I could see there was nothing but utter terror in his face. “it got me, it got my fucking leg. What do we do, what do we do”, I remember being so frantically scared that all I wanted to do was run in the opposite direction. But there was no way down that way, our ropes that we needed to descend the rock bands were through the woods.

“We just keep going” Nick replied “we have to keep going”. So I followed him into the dense forest, looking over my shoulder the whole time.

What was to come was probably scarier for me than the actual incident itself. The attack was unbelievable terrifying, but it only lasted a couple of minutes, the next 5 hours of getting back to the car felt like utter torture.

We swiftly paced through the woods with me now taking the lead as I was worried my wounded leg might leave me trailing too far behind, and I was so scared we would be split up. Every time I squeezed through the dense pine tree branches, I was almost sick with fear that I would see those green lit up eyes again on the other side. We pushed on and it was almost euphoria that I felt when I saw we had reached our crampons and ice axes, at least we would now be able to semi-defend ourselves, or so we naively thought!

As we had been the ones to make the first new tracks though the deep snow in the woods earlier that day, we just continued to follow the deep well trodden trail onwards.

Whether it was through utter fear, adrenaline or just the will to live, but we had totally forgotten how long it had taken us earlier to get to our crampon and axe stash from where we had left our ropes at the abseil point. We kept pushing on and there were a few times I said to Nick that I didn’t think it was our trail. But we both also new that it had to be as there were no other human tracks up there earlier that day. So we kept going.

Then after what felt like only minutes from leaving our axe and crampon stash we came into a clearing out of the woods and the snow firmed up underfoot. The tracks then went from deep snow sink holes that looked like human footprints, to perfect huge paw prints in the hard crusty slope that lead into the darkness.

“were following a fucking bear”! I shouted to Nick. “look at the tracks”.

This is when the fear I didn’t think could get any worse took a diving plunge and I almost fainted. I panicked and looked downhill. I thought I could see the ridge line that we had climbed before leaving our ropes, so without a second thought, I turned and sprinted down. This was a stupid idea, as the snow was just a layer on top of steep slabs of rock, and I started to slide uncontrollably over the rocks to the edge of the looming cliff below. Thankfully I stopped just shy of the edge and managed to traverse left to the ridge. As I was now out on a pinnacle, I could see the cliff went off into the distance on both sides. We weren’t in the right place at all! I had no idea where we were.

“Shhhhh” I hushed at Nick, “listen” I can hear it walking above the cliff. I was petrified, I was certain I could hear it moving towards us and the trickles of snow as it knocked off sluffs over the edge as it moved in on us. I felt dizzy, probably from loosing a lot of blood from my leg, but mostly from fear. Nick moved into my position and reassured me it was just the waterfall spitting off the cliff below me that I could hear. I realised he was right, but I was still too scared and probably in total shock from my wound to think properly.

We decided that the only way we were going to find our ropes was to retrace our tracks back to the crampon and axe stash and the find our original trail from there. That meant going directly back towards where the attack had happened and this was another point where I felt like being sick.

Again, not thinking I just moved off traversing back the way we had come teetering above the cliff that hung below. This is when all the snow underfoot gave-way and I was left scrabbling to stop myself from plummeting over the edge into the darkness. I knew the shock was messing with my head and decision making, and I think Nick realised this too, as he politely took charge of the situation. He suggested we put our crampons on and scrabble back up the rock slabs to reach where we left the main trail and take it from there.

This is what we did, for over an hour we reversed our steps. Whilst doing so, it was apparent that I had been loosing a lot of blood, as every other footprint we retraced was died deep red. We couldn’t believe we had gone so far off track; it had only felt like minutes when we had been pacing along looking for the ropes on the way out.

I was feeling weaker with every step, I even suggested climbing a big tree and waiting until daylight, but Nick pointed out that this wasn’t the best idea and we pushed on. Eventually we found our original tracks, and alarmingly there were fresh bear tracks all around this position, but we then saw our ropes pilled beside the big tree we were going to abseil off and we just went straight to them.

All the time since the attack, we had been shouting, screaming and howling at the top of our lungs to make as much noise as possible, to ward off any other potential prowling eyes that lurked in the woods. As we reached the ropes, Nick stopped his current throat shredding howl to help me sort the gear. As he stopped there was a split second were there was no sound to be heard in the whole valley that stretched for miles to either side of us, then out of the dark we heard the gut wrenching howl of a local wolf pack in the valley below.

Any other time I would have been on cloud nine. I love wolves, and bears for that matter, and my dream is to see a wolf in the wild, but not that night. I couldn’t think of anything worse than to hear those noises come from below where we were about to venture to return to our car. I tried to put it out of my head as I rappelled down the ropes to the snowy slope below. After Nick had come down whooping and yelling, we continued to the top of the next rock band and I set the ropes for our second abseil.

We hadn’t come up this way but we were abseiling down the unfrozen icefall that we had wanted to climb earlier that day. With it being more than one rope length to get down the steep face, I went first but couldn’t find the bolts in the rock to re-rig our ropes so I ended up taking a hanging belay on the face while Nick came down. On his way down he found the bolts a little higher up and pulled up the ropes, leaving me hanging there in the middle of the huge face, attached only to two small camming devices in a tiny crack. I’ve never felt so safe in all my life, nothing could reach me there. I trusted my climbing gear and I almost hoped Nick would drop the ropes by accident so that we didn’t have to continue on downwards towards the ground where animals may be lurking.

I eventually saw Nick coming down again and after not too long I was out of my dream bubble and we were both at the bottom of the face and ready to continue to the car.

My leg was now really hurting, and as the adrenaline started to wear off, my frightened rushed stride slowed to a determined hobble. We eventually reached the road and then the jeep, and as Nick put his bag and gear in the car, I dropped my rucksack in the boot, got in back seat and locked the door!

It was 00:45 by the time we were on our way back towards Banff, and as I sat in the car, I put my bloody foot in a carrier bag to minimise on the possibility of the rental car cleaning bill. I think it’s funny that that is actually what was going through my head when I got in the car. Tight climbers eh?

I eventually asked Nick to pull over, regardless of whether I needed to keep my foot up to minimise on the bleeding, I was freezing and wanted to be in the front with the heated seats.

We reached the hospital around 2:45/3 and I hobbled inside whilst Nick parked the car. I was now feeling completely drained and I’m presuming all the adrenaline had worn off as I nearly passed out as I exited the Jeep and moved towards the bright green emergency sign. I rang the buzzer and the security guard answered the door, he asked if I needed to see a doctor and after a quick glance at the pool of blood on the floor from my leg, he ushered me in and a nurse came out straight away.

She asked what had happened and I almost laughed when I told her I had been attacked by a bear. She didn’t look so amused though and immediately took me through to a bed. I sat down and as I relaxed onto the blue, cold, wipe-clean bed, I could have burst into tears. At that point I knew I was finally safe, even with the wound in my leg, it was now the doctor’s problem.

The rest was a mass of x-rays, wound irrigation, stitches, countless injections and after what felt like an age, eventually some good old fashioned hospital food. This tasted like it had come from a Michelin stared chef though, as I hadn’t eaten since well before the attack and I was starving.

I got out of hospital around 12 the following day, after having had a visit from a couple of Parks Canada wardens who asked me a bunch of questions and took away some of my stuff for DNA testing to try and get some more info on the bear. Once they had gone, I paid my hospital bill (thank god I took out BMC insurance) and made my way back to a friend’s house in Canmore. After another couple of days of a leg up painkiller fuelled blurriness, including a trip back to the hospital for a check up and some rabies injections, some of which went straight into the wounds in my leg, I eventually got to fly home to Scotland.

Whilst I write this, It’s been just over two weeks since the bear incident on Mt Wilson and I’m just off off my crutches and able to hobble again. My stitches came out two days ago and I have my first physio appointment tomorrow, so hopefully it wont be long before I’m back to full fitness and out in the Scottish hills making the most of the winter season (hopefully). But for now, it’s time for more pull ups.

 

22/02/16, No permission is given for any of this content to be used or copied for any other source without the writer’s (Greg Boswell) consent!

Thankfully No Horror Shows On The Headwall

Over the past four days, Nick and I have been into the Stanley Headwall three times. On Tuesday we drove to the Headwall car park early and ready for action. There had been more snow come down overnight than we had hoped, and the wind was blowing hard again. We looked at each other in the dark car park and as the jeep was getting buffeted by the wind, we both knew what the other was thinking, No Deal!

A moody looking Stanley Headwall

A moody looking Stanley Headwall

Nick trail bashing through the woods.

Nick trail bashing through the woods.

An atmospheric Headwall with spindrift pouring down most of the routes.

An atmospheric Headwall with spindrift pouring down most of the routes.

We put our seats back and decided to get a couple more hours sleep before leaving the kit in the car and heading up through the fresh snow to put in a trail for the following day.

As we reached the mouth of the Headwall, it was obvious that we had made the right decision. There was spindrift pouring down our intended route, and the wind would have been horrible to climb in, let along stand on a belay ledge willing your hands to come back to life.

Snow shoeing up the slopes. Credit Nick Bullock

Snow shoeing up the slopes. Credit Nick Bullock

A cold morning for climbing

A cold morning for climbing

We romped up the the top of the approach in our snow shoes then took them off and walked back to the car, putting in a good track on the way down for the next morning.

The next day was very different. The in-car temperature gauge read -28’c on the drive up and when we had reached the top of our trail, it was a chilling -17’c still, but there was no wind. The spindrift had stopped and it was replaced by glowing beams of red as the sun rose behind the surrounding mountains.

Me trying to stay warm whilst traversing to the route. The belay jacket is already on! Credit. Nick Bullock

Me trying to stay warm whilst traversing to the route. The belay jacket is already on! Credit. Nick Bullock

Gearing up was hard, but as there was no wind and by the time we had traversed to the base of the route, I felt warm enough to get stuck into some steep and pumpy mixed action.

Pitch one of "Dawn of the Dead" taken two days after we climbed it when we returned to the Headwall.

Pitch one of “Dawn of the Dead” taken two days after we climbed it when we returned to the Headwall.

Me on pitch one of DOTD. What a pitch! Credit. Nick Bullock

Me on pitch one of DOTD. What a pitch! Credit. Nick Bullock

Me moving through the roofs on DOTD. Credit. Nick Bullock

Me moving through the roofs on DOTD. Credit. Nick Bullock

We did the route “Dawn of the Dead”, which has an amazing 40m steep and technical first pitch that takes in some face climbing, roof pulling and super lean and thin ice teetering higher up. After that there is a whole load of steep and technical ice climbing to be done and as the ice hadn’t seen any action this season yet, it was very engaging to clear and climb.

Nick seconding the top of pitch one of DOTD

Nick seconding the top of pitch one of DOTD

Nick leaving the belay on the steep and tech WI6 pitch.

Nick leaving the belay on the steep and tech WI6 pitch.

Nick higher on the WI6 pitch

Nick higher on the WI6 pitch

The route was really fun and I was super psyched to get on such an interesting and varied climb. It goes at M8+/ WI6, 140m, and I’m told by locals, that It has spat off a fair few climbers over the years, so I was psyched to get the onsight on this striking line, despite having to have a few stern words with myself when I was teetering about in the very thin and brittle ice high on the first pitch.

Me moving up the last steep ice section as night closes in. Credit. Nick Bullock

Me moving up the last steep ice section as night closes in. Credit. Nick Bullock

Nick reaching the ledge by headlamp and moon light.

Nick reaching the ledge by headlamp and moon light.

 

After sending the route we stashed our gear and headed back to the Alpine Club Hut, ready for some food and sleep. Mmmmmm luxury!

The following day we chilled out, and yesterday we headed back to the headwall for another amazing adventure. This time on the neighbouring route “Nightmare on Wolf Street”. This is two big steep ice pillars, started and intersected by mixed rock walls.

The two routes. Dawn of the Dead (Right/yellow) and Nightmare on Wolf Street (Left/red).

The two routes. Dawn of the Dead (Right/yellow) and Nightmare on Wolf Street (Left/red).

Nick making progress on the first pitch of NOWS.

Nick making progress on the first pitch of NOWS.

This ice on pitch two of NOWS

This ice on pitch two of NOWS

Me reaching the belay on pitch one of NOWS. Credit. Nick Bullock

Me reaching the belay on pitch one of NOWS. Credit. Nick Bullock

Nick took the techy first and second pitch along with the short but steep fourth pitch, and I took the steep and burly third through the roof and the long and sustained fifth pitch up the last ice pillar.

Nick moving up the pillar on NOWS

Nick moving up the pillar on NOWS

The tech start to pitch 3. Credit. Nick Bullock

The tech start to pitch 3. Credit. Nick Bullock

The steep bit on pitch three. Credit. Nick Bullock

The steep bit on pitch three. Credit. Nick Bullock

Praying that my axes won't rip out of the wafer thin ice. Credit. Nick Bullock

Praying that my axes won’t rip out of the wafer thin ice. Credit. Nick Bullock

This was another outrageously good route and it’s amazing how many world class lines the Headwall has to offer. I can’t wait to go back sometime in the future for some more mixed madness!

Moving up the WI6+ section on pitch 3. Credit. Nick Bullock

Moving up the WI6+ section on pitch 3. Credit. Nick Bullock

Nick seconding pitch three on NOWS

Nick seconding pitch three on NOWS

After traversing the top ledge to reach our already equipped abb stations on Dawn of the Dead from Wednesday, we rapped down then plodded back to the Jeep with beaming smiles on our faces.

Nick on the WI6+ pillar on the third pitch of NOWS

Nick on the WI6+ pillar on the third pitch of NOWS

You couldn’t ask for two better routes in the mountains, and we’ve still go 8 days left in Canada, so lets see what else we can find.

Nick starting a very wet pitch four

Nick starting a very wet pitch four

 

Me seconding up a very wet pitch four. Credit. Nick Bullock

Me seconding up a very wet pitch four. Credit. Nick Bullock

 

On the belay after getting glazed with freezing water on pitch four. Credit. Nick Bullock

On the belay after getting glazed with freezing water on pitch four. Credit. Nick Bullock

 

Me starting the very long and sustained top pitch of NOWS. You definitely get your ice grade for this pitch in virgin conditions! Credit. Nick Bullock

Me starting the very long and sustained top pitch of NOWS. You definitely get your ice grade for this pitch in virgin conditions! Credit. Nick Bullock

The Real Big Drop

Ok so I’ve been in Canada for a week now, and its been, well… SNOWY. The day after I arrived it dumped with something like half a meter of snow overnight. This made for interesting mountain conditions. We attempted to put a trail into the base of a route we wanted to try later in the week, but got stopped by the avalanche gate, as they were bombing the slopes around where we wanted to go to protect the road and vehicles below. So it was time for plan B, off to “The Cave”. I met up with Raf Andronowski at the new training wall that he, and a bunch of other locals have pulled together and built as an awesome little training facility for bouldering and the odd tolling session.  It was a fun afternoon tooling/route setting with Raf and Sarah Hueniken, and it was awesome to get moving about on the tools again after nearly 6 weeks due to being away with work on the ship.

The avalanche barrier in place with Eeor in the background. Credit Nick Bullock

The avalanche barrier in place with Eeor in the background. Credit Nick Bullock

That evening we watched avalanches tear down the line of the route we had wanted to put a trail into earlier that day, and after reading that the road would reopen that night, we got ready to go for the route the following day.

Wading through the deep snow on the way to the route. Credit Nick Bullock

Wading through the deep snow on the way to the route. Credit Nick Bullock

Amazing weather as we moved up the route, until the spindrift hit. Credit Nick Bullock

Long story short, we had a go on the route but came away empty handed after the lack of ice in the “Groove” barred access to the upper walls. We were also getting pummelled by wind and spindrift, so we decided to head off and set our sights on something else later in the week. After chatting to some local boys out here, it turns out I was trying to climb the wrong “Groove”, and we were not in the correct place for the routes intended groove. So hopefully we’ll have another go later in the trip.

The spindrift and lack of ice/wrong groove stopped our progress. Credit Nick Bullock

That night I got a message from Jen Olson with a picture of ‘The Real Big Drip”, which is a breath-taking mixed line located in a steep cirque in the Ghost River area. I showed the pic to Nick and it was instantly official, we were going to the Ghost!

TRBD in all its glory. Credit Nick Bullock

We headed off in the afternoon the following day, and as soon as you turn off the main road to start the 16km drive on snowy forestry type roads into the wilderness, it instantly become apparent that Canada doesn’t fuck about! With Nick telling me stories of the last time he came into the Ghost and had watched a grey wolf pad alongside the road, I was getting excited and a little apprehensive about what this mystical area could potentially throw at us.

The sun setting above TRBD as we walk back to the car after checking out the approach.

The sun setting above TRBD as we walk back to the car after checking out the approach.

We continued along the undulating road and as we came round one snowy corner, my eyes fixed straight onto the left hand skyline. “WHAT is that? I think that’s it, yeah that is it!”. The Real Big Drip was obvious and visible, looming out of the windy spindrift high up in the cirque on the other side of the huge open river bed. I got the usual uncontrollable butterflies of excitement in my stomach and after a couple of quick pictures, we continued to the top of The Big Hill.

The Big Hill is a section of the road that is described in the guidebook and all the locals know of this hill. Nick wasn’t too psyched to truck straight on down the hill in our Micky Mouse 4×4 hire jeep (Betty), so we parked at the top and took a walk down the hill and across the dry (very snowy) riverbed for 3km to reach the actual parking area described in the guidebook. Our thoughts swiftly turned to, no fricken way are we driving Betty down here. So after scoping where we would continue our walk-in the following day, we ambled back to the Big Hill and sorted our stuff for an early start the following morning.

A cold morning after a sleep in the jeep.

A cold morning after a sleep in the jeep.

After a reasonably comfy night in the back end of Betty, we awoke frosty and ready for our breakfast of muffins and pastries, mmmmm. This was close to being one of the best parts of the day, they were good muffins!

 

As the wind howled and shook the jeep, I wasn’t too psyched to exit the comfort of my sleeping bag, but eventually we got ready and headed off towards the route.

I don’t usually do the whole in your face gear promotion thing, but my Suunto Abit 3 Peak watch was awesome for the approach. The GPS and compass facilities came in very handy with following the guide book approach distances and we found our way through the dense forest in the pitch dark without any real hitches. When the guidebook says, “After 1km (10mins), turn south off the trail and bushwack to the creek” and its pitch dark, you kinda want a second opinion on your sense of direction, as the left turn as described was pretty god damn un-travelled and branchy! OK gear plug over, (sorry).

Approaching TRBD over the slippy rock bands. Credit Nick Bullock

We reached the route which was, impressive and very drippy! The wind was still in full force and the hanging ice above seamed to shudder with every powerful gust that ripped around the cirque. But we geared up and got ready for battle all the same. I took a look at the first pitch and after a lot of time going up and down/left and right trying to find a way through the very blank section that lead to the obvious roof, I decided to down climb back to the base and Nick decided to have a go. We knew that a large flake and ledge had been ripped off on a previous ascent and it was obvious from the rock scar that it was this new blank section that had got me stumped.

Me moving over the roof on pitch 1. Credit Nick Bullock

Nick moved up to my high point, but having just been belaying me for a while and getting straight on the wall with no warm up, the Hot Aches took control of his composed demeanour and it was time to “Take”. Once the pain had subsided in his tingling fingers, he moved up the wall checking out the thin moves between the bolts to just above the roof, then lowered down.

Gaining the Ice on pitch 1

Now that I knew roughly were the thin and tiny hooks where, I had another go. I raced up the wall and swiftly found myself above my previous high point and below the roof that needed passed to gain access to ground above that lead to the ice. Getting more pumped by the second, I pulled hard and yarded over the roof and after a flurry of thin and snappy hooks later I was happy to find a good hold. I was on new territory again and got a little flustered trying to find the next hooks, not wanting to blow it this high up the pitch. I then remember that there was a massive piece of ice hanging down behind me. “I’m going to try and bridge out” I yelled down to Nick. He replied with “I probably would have done that ten minutes ago instead of getting pumped out on the rock”.

Nick moving up the wall on pitch one.

Nick moving up the wall on pitch one.

 

I put my right front-point on a tiny edge and reached out with my left foot, gently placing it on the brittle hanging dagger, ahhhhhhhhh, thank god for that. The weight was off my arms and after a quick shake to relive the pump, I moved up the wall and the fragile Ice to reach the safety of the belay. What an an amazing pitch! This pitch was originally graded Canadian M7 but is now thought to be more around the M9 mark due to all the rock fall and holds breaking off.

Nick reaching the belay at the end of the first pitch.

Nick reaching the belay at the end of the first pitch.

Nick seconded up and reached the belay, then moved off up the steep ice above. The route was showering us in torrents of cold water as we swung left onto the fang, and by the time we were both on the next belay, most of our gear was frozen and covered in a bullet hard glazing of smooth ice. But I suppose that’s the joys of winter climbing!

Me moving up to the belay on the 2nd pitch. Credit Nick Bullock

I did another short and steep Ice pitch to gain a belay position at the left side of a large ledge type feature below a steep wall and another huge hanging ice fang. The guidebook describes a bolt belay further right on the ledge, but as the fang above was pissing water down onto that end of the ledge, I opted for a slightly drier position with a semi hanging belay out left.

Moving up to reach the belay below the 2nd mixed pitch. Credit Nick Bullock

Nick came up and sorted the frozen gear onto his harness, then moved on up the thin and technical wall on the next pitch. The wind was at its strongest now and the gusts were threatening to literally force Nick from his teetering position as he tried to forge his way upwards. I was keeping one eye on his progress and the other on the thin icicles that were getting snapped off of the large fang above. As I watched Nick pull through the small roof and make the strenuous moves, the biggest gust of the day ripped into my left side and made me shield my eyes away from the ice needles that rode the icy wind, I heard a yell from Nick and in that split second I was certain the wind hard plucked him from the wall. As I looked up and got ready for my harness to get pulled tight, I realised Nick was still attached to the wall, but the huge fang that loomed above wasn’t! I watched it crash down into the exact place that I had decided not to use for my belay, despite the guidebooks recommendation and then topple off the ledge to the ground below.

Nick moving up the second mixed pitch. Take note at how much ice is hanging up and right of him.

Nick moving up the second mixed pitch. Take note of how much ice is hanging up and right of him.

“Holly Shit, Holly Shit, that was mental! Holly Shit!” I yelled upwards.

Nick reaching the safety of the ice cave behind the pillar. Check out how much less ice there is hanging from the dagger in this shot.

Nick reaching the safety of the ice cave behind the pillar. Check out how much less ice there is hanging from the dagger in this shot.

I have a lot of respect for Nick being able to keep his head together and continue to the belay after all the crazy wind and ice fall was going on around him. But I’m also glad he did as this pitch was the last hurdle on our way to bagging this unbelievable route. I seconded up the pitch by head-torch light and the rest of the ice was climbed by the warm glow of our head-lamp beams.

Me leaving the ice cave getting ready to swing left onto the WI5 pillar. Credit Nick Bullock

After some terrifying abseiling past hanging daggers that were still jingling in the wind we eventually reach the base and back to our bags. We sorted our gear and headed back downhill through the dense forest and back to the open river bed. 3km later we reached Betty at the top of the big hill and we were both super psyched to have climbed such an awesome route and also ready to sit in the warm car for the journey home. We jumped in the car and after 10 minuets of driving back towards the main road, in the middle of nowhere at 10pm at night, it was obvious that we weren’t going anywhere fast! There were huge snow drifts blocking our path and poor wee Betty couldn’t cope with the amount of snow. We spend the next 2.5/3 hours digging through drift after drift until we we could get off the plateau and back into the woods, where the road was clearer of deep snow.

Nick rapping the last section of the route.

Nick rapping the last section of the route.

An exhausted drive back to Canmore and I eventually climbed into my bed at 3am,  totally drained but still very psyched after another full on adventure in the Canadian mountains!

Summer Condensed

There’s been a big gap since I last wrote a blog post, and a lot has happened since then. My winter season died off fairly rapidly after climbing Banana Wall. I felt it best to end on a high, and I was well and truly mentally drained after a few weeks of demanding routes in the Scottish winter wonderland. It was time for the rock and I was also ready to ride my bike!

The sunset over Lac d'Annecy reflecting in my van window

The sunset over Lac d’Annecy reflecting in my van window

I did a lot of mountain biking over the summer, and even though Mhairi and I headed off to France for 5 weeks with the steeds loaded into the van, I was still very psyched to get loads of rock climbing done whilst I was over in the Alps. Unfortunately I ended up taking a pretty tasty fall off my bike early in the trip, which involved a hefty bang and cut to my shoulder. This put climbing on the back burner for a while, as I wasn’t able to lift my arm above 90 degrees. I was however, still able to ride my bike, so all was not lost. The rest of the trip turned into a tour of bike resorts and ended with Mhairi and I taking part in the Megavalanche enduro race situated in Alpe D’huez. If you don’t know what the Megavalanch is, I suggest you type it into youtube and take a look at some of the videos. It’s a pretty alternative event, to say the least.

Kipping for the night after coming over the Col du Glibier.

Kipping for the night after coming over the Col du Glibier.

The startling for the Mega Ladies

The startling for the Mega Ladies

 

This was an awesome event and the atmosphere was second to none. We met loads of cool people and made some amazing friends. It was the perfect way to bring an end to a fun filled summer of exploring in the van.

The UTROV in all its glory

The UTROV in all its glory

The other big thing I did this year was… I got a job! Duh Duh Duhhhhh. This is a pretty scary concept for me, but I did it. Having worked on and off at the farm for the past 5 years was good. It let me save money for the winter season and to go on the odd climbing trip, but it was never really a reliable income. So when the opportunity to work offshore with an ROV company crossed my path, I couldn’t really turn it down. I got a job with Utility ROV services in the spring time as an ROV pilot and technician, and up to now, don’t regret it in the slightest. I’m currently doing a 5 week on shore (off work) then 5 week off shore (working) regime. It seams to be working well and even though I have to train mostly in a crappy gym and do lots of core and pull-ups whilst I’m off shore, It pays off with having 5 weeks of free time to climb and do what I want, and with better access to funds to travel around the globe in search of new and awesome climbing venues.

The UTROV control room

The UTROV control room

Time for more pull ups

Time for more pull ups

Some nice views from the ship

Some nice views from the ship

As well as the new job, there are two other big changes that have popped up in 2015 so far. Firstly is that I am now fully sponsored by Rab clothing and equipment. I’m stoked to have the opportunity to work with Rab, and it is awesome to be associated with a company that was founded in your home country. I’m keen to see what we can offer each other and put their stuff through its paces this winter. The second thing is that Mhairi and I have moved to Peebles in the Scottish Borders. It’s brilliant being in the Tweed valley, the community and landscape is awesome and we’re both loving having the endless trails and hills on our doorstep, and I find it the perfect place to chill and explore when I’m not away climbing or working.

Luna, the latest addition to the family. The craziest kitty I've ever met!

Luna, the latest addition to the family. The craziest kitty I’ve ever met!

Packing for Canada after a flying visit home

Packing for Canada after a flying visit home

I am just back from a 5 week work stint on the ship and after a couple of days at home seeing Mhairi and my wee kitten, I’m now sat on a plane to Calgary, BC, Canada. Psyched!

I’m meeting up with Nick Bullock who is already out there after spending a month in Banff writing and making the most of his scholarship that he received for his ever developing writing career. We are both psyched for some big, cold and icy adventures, so lets hope the weather plays ball for the next three weeks. I’m sure we’ll find something interesting to do! So keep an eye on my blog for regular updates over the next few weeks whilst we’re out and about in the Rockies.

 

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- Pic Credit, Masa Sakano

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 – Pic Credit, Masa Sakano

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. Pic Credit, Masa Sakano

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 Pic Credit Masa Sakano

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! Pic Credit, Masa Sakano

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! Pic Credit, Masa Sakano

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