Dundee Lecture/Talk

Tomorrow night (Thursday 28th Feb) I will be doing a talk and slideshow on some of my more recent winter climbing antics, but also a couple of stories from past adventures.

It will be in Dundee at the-

D’Arcy Thompson Lecture theatre,
Tower Building,
University of Dundee,
DD1 4HN (http://goo.gl/maps/NbBEC )

Please come along if you want a laugh and are interested in winter climbing and new routing in the Scottish mountains.

More info is available at:


Mortal Combat

On Thursday night I jumped on the train again to Aberdeen, to meet up with Guy. We then headed over to the Lochnagar car park, where we met up with Nick Bullock, who had driven up from Wales earlier that day. We sorted out the gear and after I had set up Guys tent, we hit the hay for a few hours sleep before heading off early on Friday morning.

As we walked in, the snow conditions were the polar opposite to how they were the previous week. Instead of trudging through gloopy porridge like snow, we marched across bullet hard neve and reached the col in no time at all.

The sun was just coming up when we reached the col, and in the morning light we could see that the Tough Brown Face was looking in perfect condition. We also knew that if the snow on the routes was anything like the snow underfoot, it was going to be very useful and hopefully, a very good day.

We headed off to the base of the route, and as we were unsure about what route to go for, Guy lead off up the first pitch to gain the big turfy ledge.

Me pulling through the roof on pitch two (Copyright - Nick Bullock)

We then all agreed that Mort looked like the route for the day. So I headed off up the second pitch (which happens to be the crux pitch) and soon found myself under the steep roof that barred access to the upper wall.

After some up and down movements, trying to figure out a sequence through the roof, I eventually went for it and blasted my way upwards to gain a pretty comfortable position after the steep pulls.

With a bomber right axe placement, and what felt like a super solid left tool placement on a decent sized and very positive rock edge, I kept me right tool where it was and matched my left tool to place some gear on my left . After clipping the gear and re-matching my tool so I could reach out for my right axe again, the edge I was hooking (which turned out to be a forearm sized block) came away, and left me hanging from my springy lanyard on my right tool.

What then came out of my mouth, I’m not going to repeat. But as you might have guessed, I was not best pleased to be robbed of the onsight of this well known hard route. I was feeling super comfortable, after climbing the steepest section, just got some protection in and then I was off, due to unforeseeable circumstances of a loose block (that looked and felt super solid). I was gutted!

Me leading the crux pitch (Photo credit - http://www.sais.gov.uk/)

Still in a little bit of a rage, I got lowered down and jumped straight back on the route without resting. I charged back up to my high point, fuelled with adrenaline, psyche and a touch of frustration and continued upwards.

Guy seconding the crux pitch

I was soon brought to a halt, when I couldn’t figure out how to gain any more height. I could see where I needed to get to to get a rest, but for the life of me couldn’t figure out how to do it. I tried every feasible way I could think of, and just as I was losing hope and psyche, I gave it one last try.

Using the tiniest hook I have ever pulled hard on, and throwing my legs and body into a position I didn’t think I could, I yarded up and made an almighty rock over onto my right foot and away from my gear and any chance of retreat. Shit………

Then the only thing that was going through my head was, “what a stupid F**KING idea that was”! I was now fully committed to the boldness and couldn’t find any gear that would stop me from plummeting into the belay ledge if I was to fall from the upper wall.

Nick showing us what technical really means!

But after some huffing and puffing and some woeful whimpering which Guy and Nick got a little chuckle from, things like “I don’t know if I can do this” and “I’m all Idea-ed out”, I eventually unlocked a crazy sequence that allowed me to cross over the huge prominent fin that defines this route. After this I managed to keep gaining height with some more technical moves. But all the time I was moving up, there was still no gear to be had. I placed a crappy looking turf hook which was my last runner and my only one for quite a way.

The climbing eased a bit, but as there was still very little gear, my mind was still in full concentration mode. The last tricky section before the belay was a turfy bulging wall, but as the turf was quite aerated , it still kept me from relaxing until I had built and clipped the belay. Then it was ahhhhhhh…… another super technical pitch, with some bold and very complex climbing ticked.  It took me about 4.5 hours to lead the crux pitch, and this is mostly due to the puzzling nature of the climbing. Once you work it out, and you pray that the tiny placements don’t rip, then you can usually make some good progress.

Guy and Nick came up the pitch on second, and it was humbling to hear that it wasn’t just the fact that It was bold that was making it feel hard for me, the pitch didn’t give up easily for any of us.

Guy Leading pitch three (Copyright - Nick Bullock)

After a quick gear sort and some food, Guy headed off up the final hard pitch, obviously filled with a little anticipation. But I wasn’t too worried, he’s good at pulling it out of the bag when it’s needed!

He moved up higher and higher and after arranging one or two pieces of his own gear, and clipping a fair few pieces of insitu runners, he went for one last all out charge through the last steepening. This paid off, and it wasn’t long before we could hear the whoops of “SAFE” and “YEAH” that marked the end of another brilliant adventure.

Nick and I raced up the pitch as quick as we could to try and make the most of the daylight, but even so, I still ended up climbing the last section of the route by head torch light.

Once back at the bags, we were all filled with cheer and psyche after getting another cool route ticked, but I was still a little deflated by the rock coming away on my pitch. But it’s as close to an onsight as you could get, having not failed due to personal fatigue and still having the technical crux to do, so it’s all good I suppose and I’ll settle for ground up. Also It was cool to get the second ascent of this line, considering the first ascent was a combination of 15 years of effort, that come down to one outstanding lead, that was futuristic for its time and date.

Having had such a good day on Friday, it is a bit annoying to have spent the last three days in bed with the flu. But as soon as I feel a bit better, I’m looking forward to getting out again and doing some more good routes while the conditions are ace!

Fancy Free

Two weeks ago, Guy, my Dad and I headed up into the Dubh Loch in search of some super hard and steep winter climbing, well me and Guy did, my dad was keen on photo duty. Our intended objective wasn’t looking too wintery, so we opted to have a look at another line in the same area.

The route we tried was a battle of technical climbing, but also home to some very steep ground. We fought our way higher, and after two and a half long hard pitches, which involved some of the hardest moves I have climbed onsight in winter, we couldn’t seem to find a way past the last hard section. Dangerously bold climbing loomed above us and whichever way we tried, we couldn’t slay the beast!

But as darkness rolled in, we succumbed, and rapped back down to our bags. And even though we hadn’t won the battle, we still had had an awesome day full of good and very hard climbing. Which in the end, is all we were aiming for anyway. Getting to the top would just have been the icing on the cake.

That day reminded me why I like climbing so much. Even though we had walked for three hours to get there, and walked three hours back to the car, and didn’t manage to get to the top, you can still have an awesome time just by trying your hardest. But we still did some very enjoyable climbing, in a very cool location on a very sunny day….. What more could you ask for?

But on Thursday night I teamed up with Guy again, and this time Pete Benson joined us in our quest for adventure.

Pete on the first pitch of "Fancy Free"

As I don’t have a car at the moment, Guy and Pete picked me up off the train in Aberdeen and we headed for the Glen Muick car park. Unfortunately we only got halfway down the Glen Muick road, as the 6ft snow drifts had stopped the snow plough from going any further. So we grabbed the tent and sleeping bags and walked the last 5km along the deep snowy road to the visitor centre car park and camped in the trees, ready for an early start the following morning.

The new Girvel Jelly Baby Cartridge, for all your belay sweety needs!


We got up bright and early, and marched through the deep snow drifts up to the col and into the Lochnagar Coire just as the sun was rising. As we approached the mountain rescue box at the foot of the coire, we noticed that the snow pack was very very unstable. We all proceeded to dig pits and check the layers and snow pack etc, and after 5 mins of umming and ahing, we all came to the same conclusion….. it was bloody treacherous and far too dangerous to keep going! So we turned around and headed for a closer and more safely accessed part of the coire.

Guy exiting the crux sequence

We ended up doing a very enjoyable new route in the area of “Mantichore” VII/7. The first pitch started up Mantichore, which Pete lead. It then traversed left to gain another short steep grove, which turned out to be very technical but thankfully fairly safe (crux), which Guy dispatched. And finely up the leftmost of the three obvious big grooves to finish on the easy ground on the crest, which I took the reins for.

Pete seconding the crux pitch

Me Leading the last pitch

It was a good route and helped us salvage the day with some awesome climbing and we didn’t need to go near too dangerous a slope to get to it.

We called it “Fancy Free”, in conjunction with “Footloose” which was another route Guy and Pete had put up in the same area a few winters ago, and gave it VII/9.

As we walked out, the sun was beaming down on us, and we ambled back to the car park to find the road had been cleared. Thankfully Pete managed to grab a lift back to the car, which he brought back to get me and Guy from the car park, saving the 5km walk back. Luxury!

Chillaxing at the col before the walk out.


While sitting on my couch feeling a little down, full of a flue/cold, without a functional car and looking at amazing weather outside, I started to think about all the cool things I’ve done in Scotland over the past couple of winter seasons. And when I started thinking of all these cool things I’ve done, places I’ve visited and people I’ve met, I thought the same thing I usually do during all the different climbing seasons throughout the year, “Scotland truly is one of the coolest places I’ve been to around world.”

While recapping on some thoughts, I started watching some videos of other people that have visited Scotland, (whether it be from within the UK or further afield) and have had the same feelings as me. So I have put some links below of some cool videos featuring some cool people and showing some very cool places.

I hope you enjoy…….

The first is a video called “Rough Feels Good”, and it is about two Austrian friends of mine who came over to Scotland, hired a Big Tree Campervan, and hit the road, exploring all that this awesome country has to offer! And as you can see, they had a pretty cool trip.

(Rough Feels Good) http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sLV1TsEtfqU

The next is about a weekend on one of Scotland best and most impressive mountains, Ben Nevis. When a bunch of keen winter climbers who had been competing in the STS (Scottish Tooling Series) from all over the UK teamed up with some invited hosts for a couple of days of fun and adventurous winter climbing.

(STS on the Ben) http://vimeo.com/34833407

And finally, the last two short films show how Scotland can inspire and attract some of the best climbers in the world to return year after year to sample what this awesome landscape has to offer, in both beauty and adventure! Ines Papert, a top class female climber, shows how it’s done from the view of a newcomer to the Scottish mountains.

(Scottish Wings) http://vimeo.com/13582765

(A film by Hans Hornberger) http://vimeo.com/23485991#



A Big Tree Camper In all its glory! (Photo credit - Hans Hornberger)

All of these films were brought to life after travelling around Scotland with the help of Big Tree Campervans. I think it’s awesome how so many people can share so many cool memories from such a cool country and sport. You’ve just got to keep exploring and looking for the adventure (corny, but true!).