A bit windy in them hills!

Ok so winter has arrived, and what a start it was been.
Last Friday morning I headed off to Simon Yearsley’s house bright and early to meet up with him and head off towards Fort William for the STS on the Ben meet (sponsored by Big Tree campervans) that was being held at the CIC hut on Ben Nevis.
The meet was for the STS competition winners and special guests, and I was asked to be one of the hosts for the weekend.  Despite the awful weather forecast we managed to get some good routes done with good weather and everyone seemed to have a fun time.
On the Friday afternoon I teamed up with James Higgins for a route on the Douglas Boulder, we did “Gutlass” which is a fun little IV/5. We climbed this route in conjunction with Malcolm Bass and Harry Holmes who were also on the meet.
Me on the crux of
“The Big Cheese”
On the Saturday I paired up with Fiona Murray and photographer James Dunn for the day. We headed off towards South Trident Buttress to see what was looking good. We opted for the route “The Minge” which is a line that follows a series of steep cracks that cut through the lower section of the buttress. We made the second winter ascent of this VII/8 which was put up by Pete Macpherson and Ed Edwards back in 2009.
After a good day on the Saturday, we woke up to amazing clear skies on the Sunday and the whole North Face of the Ben as our playground for the day. Again, we headed up towards South Trident area with a couple of routes in mind, but whilst trudging up the hill I spotted a funky looking ice dagger hanging from a roof on Moonlight Gully Buttress. I quickly picked out a continuation line above the dagger and asked Harry and James Higgins if the where keen for trying a new line. They both said they were up for it, so it was off to the bottom of Moonlight full of anticipation.
After a bit of battling through the roof to gain the ice, I eventually (second try) managed to get situated in the groove and found a fairly restful position which I milked before heading boldly up the thin ices to the belay platform. Unfortunately on my first attempt to get sorted in the groove both my axes ripped out of the thin ice and I found myself hanging from the rope above the starting slab. But I lowered down and got it sent on my second go.
Even though it was not a super long route and despite the tricky last pitch, it was not very sustained. But the crux was hard and bold, so I opted for the grade of VIII/8**, this might vary depending on the conditions of the ice in the groove.
All in all it was a really good weekend with the STS group and it was good to see how well all the folk who are psyched for the tooling series got on in mountains.
Walking in to Creag an Socach
On the Sunday night after the weekend on the Ben, I chatted to a mate Will Sim who lives down south in St. Bees. I told him the conditions in the mountains were good and without hesitation he arrived eager and ready at my front door on the Monday afternoon.
We planned on heading back up the Ben to the CIC Hut for a couple of days, but decided to take a detour en-route to have a look at the well known IX/9 “Defenders of the Faith” on Beinn Dorain which was put up by Dave MacLeod and Fiona Murray in 2006. The route was originally climbed onsight, and was yet to see a second ascent. So off we went.
Gearing up beneath “Defenders of the Faith”
James Dunn, Will and I met up with Adam Russell in the very snowy Bridge of Orchy train station car park and from what we could see of the crag from there, it was looking very white! Filled with new hopes of finding our intended route in condition, and with the amazing blue skies and sunrise above us, we quickly pounded through the deep fresh snow up the base of the coire which gave us a full view of the line.
After picking out where the route went from the ground Will and I geared up and soloed up to the base of the crux pitch. I set off leading up the pitch and swiftly realised that it was steeper than It looked from below. But I pushed on and after some inventive gear placements and some even more inventive axe placements, I eventually arrived beneath the crux roof at the semi rest position.
Me leading the crux pitch of “Defenders”
I looked around and tried a couple of different moves to try and breach the roof to gain the headwall, but nothing seemed to show itself. So after a bit of dithering around I decided that the gung-ho approach would be best and blasted over in full throttle. Once on the headwall I felt a little exposed and the thought that my gear was now well below me beneath the roof was fresh in my mind. I found some super thin hooks and a sketchy kneebar which was good enough for me to find some gear, after getting some protection the good hooks showed themselves and I was then comfortable and in balance on the face.

Tuned Up!

Sticking the huge crux move on DTS Spirit
Photo credit: James Dunn

Over the past three days, I have been back climbing in the cave at Newtyle. On Sunday I was on a project scoping mission (see last post) and also trying the new line there “DTS Spirit” D12. I was feeling good on the route on Sunday but didn’t manage to get it sent. I also thought that on Monday I would be too tired from the previous day to get the route, this turned out not to be the case.
Yesterday I headed to Newtyle with James and Mike. I was feeling fairly relaxed but also full of psyche. I wasn’t too fussed if I got “DTS Spirit” or not, I was just planning on going with the flow and not to bothered one way or the other. I warmed up a bit and then belayed Mike and James on their project routes, then after having a crank on some new stuff I decided to chill while the tunes where blurring and grabbed a bite to eat. 
Whilst sat listening to the music, I looked up at the line of “DTS Spirit” and thought I’d give it a shot, even though I felt a little drained from the day before. I turned up the beats and tied into the rope for the send. The music really helped take my mind of the route and when I left the ground, I wasn’t thinking about the route at all, I was just psyched for the tunes. To my surprise, I was feeling strong on the huge moves and before I knew it I was at my previous high point (but with both axes this time) and feeling good. I moved up to below the last hard move and had a quick shake out, and then it was all or nothing on the last massive stein-pull move to reach the final clip. I was amazed that I stuck this move but after a quick psyche shout to rid my mind of any thoughts of failure, I did the last move and clipped the chain. 
Reaching the last Stein-pull
Photo Credit: James Dunn
Getting psyched for the last big move
Photo Credit: James Dunn
Shocked but also stoked that I’d got my route I just chilled for the rest of the day, but not before I had had another play on my new project. Mike and James also worked their routes and hopefully it won’t be long before they get them sent.
Today Mike and I headed back to Newtyle , but after spending the last two days in the cave, I was feeling pretty spent and fairly un-psyched to fight my way up my intended route. But with good friendly support from Mike (him telling me to man up!) I jumped on my route and got stuck into the sustained and super long nature of the line.
 Nothing got sent today, although Mike got super close to his project. But the moves where worked and as soon as I’m rested and If the mountain conditions aren’t good then I’ll be back down to Newtyle soon to get stuck into some more tooling rave cave action!

Hitting the Deck!

Since doing “Too Fast Too Furious” I have been focusing my efforts on Jeff Merciers’ route “DTS Spirit”. With the huge moves and sapping nature of this route I can only muster up a couple of shots on this line before I’m out of power for the day. 
So on Wednesday evening after trying “DTS Spirit” for most of the day, I decided to get on “TheTorch Lite” which is the D11 that Mike had been trying for the last session or two. 
I quickly tried the moves by head torch that night and got the route dialled in my head for the next visit.  I was unbelievably shocked by the route, as I’d heard that is was a super powerful and hard line going at the high grade of D12/+. This, I swiftly found out, was very wrong!
On Friday Mike and I headed back to Newtyle full of psyche and energy. I had just received my new Grivel Force axes the day before, and was buzzing to try them out. I did a bit of climbing to get warmed up then went for “The Torch Lite”. I was pleased to get the route on my first redpoint, and was again shocked at the fact that it went so easily.
Mike then went on to crush the route and get the second tick of the day in mega cruisey style with very little drama.
The first ascentionist finished the route at a random lower- off that they hung from two bolts before the end of the obvious bolted line. So Mike and I opted to carry on the true route to the pod and in-situ lower off which is three bolts further on. This is also where the crux of the route is situated, so it would be rude to miss this section out!  
Even with the new high crux section, no figure fours and added length, Mike and I agreed that “The Torch Lite” was a fairly steady D11 (at the most). I feel that any further ascents should finish at least at the lower off or if they are feeling fit, they could carry on to the chains of “Too Fast Too Furious” for the D11+ tick.
The second thing that shocked me on Friday was my new axes, I didn’t know that anything could feel that good when you where climbing! They seemed to perform really well on the uber steep ground but also on the less steep sections that I played on in and around the cave. I’m really looking forward to getting out in the mountains with them this winter and seeing how they perform. The multiple grips sections and handle options on the tools become very helpful when changing hands and choking up, but the angle seems to work well while switching back and forth. I’m sure I can put these to good use in the next few months.
I headed back to the cave today with James for a light session and a scoping recci. We met up with Neil Adams and James Higgins, who were on a sending mission, and what a mission it was! They both got their project “Fast and Furious” sent with good style and left the cave with big smiles and full of winter psyche! Totally awesome!
Fiona turned up later on for a quick training sesh and give the usual Murray banter!
James and I had a play on new stuff (for us), and hopefully there will be some new lines getting sent in the next couple of days. So watch this space.

PS. the blog title is in reference to today, when a hold blew as I was pulling slack to clip and I hit the ground from 7meters. Thankfully I ended up on my feet ( I don’t know how as I was clipping upside down) and I came off injury free but went into adrenaline overload!!!!

Too Fast Too Wet….

Over the past few days it has been pretty busy for the Scottish tooling scene. On Thursday, Jeff Mercier and Jonathon Jolly arrived in Scotland for a weekend of crushing and fun. They were over from France for the final STS comp and were hoping to get some mixed action in the mountains while they were here. Unfortunately as most UK climbers will know, winter hasn’t really arrived in Scotland yet, so there wasn’t much mixed to be had up high. They then opted for plan B.

 On Thursday they headed to Newtyle. Jeff had climbed here 6 years ago and he knew there was room for another line to the left of F&F. So they packed a handful of bolts and a their big drill in their luggage and set about opening a new line at the crag on their first day.
On Friday, Adam and I headed back to Newtyle to get stuck into some redpoint action on “Too Fast Too Furious” and also met up with John and Jeff. It was fun to climb with such inspirational and strong climbers who, like myself, where just there to have fun and a good time even if we didn’t tick our intended routes.  Jeff managed to get his new project ticked on his second try after failing on his flash attempt due to the dripping/soaking conditions of the cave. They called the new line ”DTS Spirit” and I’m looking forward to getting on it to see what it’s like.

By this time the cave was heaving and there where loads of people climbing, watching and chilling out, Including Dennis Van Hoek who was over from the Netherlands for the STS comp. Later on Jeff did “Torchlight” the D12+ which is found between “Training for Something” and “DTS Spirit”. This was inspirational viewing and got me psyched to give this route a go as well. All in all it was a good day and after continuing well into the dark with head torches, we finally left the cave tired and ready for a bit of rest.

The next day Mike and I returned to the cave for another session on the extension which proved to be very beneficial as we found some crucial beta which would be needed to get this route sent and put to bed. Although we did not get the route done on Saturday, I knew that with the new found beta and a rest day, the route would go down on my next visit (hopefully).
On Saturday evening I headed across to Glasgow where the final STS tooling comp was being held. I was in time to catch the end of the qualifiers and the final, then it was on to the after party/drinking. It was good to catch up with everyone after the comp and chat about everyone’s goals for this winter season, but it was also cool to chat with Jeff and John about their plans and objectives for this winter. Hopefully if the conditions get good in time they will be able to come back over for some crushing in the Scottish mountains.
Early Sunday morning we eventually made it to bed in the hotel and after some mix ups with alarms and timings, Jeff and John raced off to the airport after only a couple of hours sleep, just in time to catch their plane back to France.
Dennis and I headed back to mine and then chilled out and recovered for most of Sunday. In preparation for some sendage the next day (Monday).  
Yesterday James, Dennis, Mike and I headed back to Newtyle to find a very dark, dull and wet cave. We all found it pretty hard to get psyched in the dingy darkness but tried our best to get cranking and get warmed up. 
After a quick burn on F&F to get warmed up I jogged around and got psyched for the send. Dennis swiftly got stuck into Jeff’s new route and James and Mike also did some cranking. Feeling really good and despite the dull light, I was mega keen to get my route ticked. I set off up the steep wall and cruised to the end of F&F, it was then onto the hanging ramp traverse and into the bad rest. I didn’t want to hang around here too long as it’s easy to lose energy in the uncomfortable resting pod, so I charged on to reach the lip of the cave and fought to get to good heel hook before the headwall. 
This was my previous highpoint, but now I had the new beta it was not long before I was battling my way up the wet chossy groove to clip the chains. Not before both feet blew off on the last move and I nearly slipped off my soaking tools. 
I was pleased to get this route and now that it’s done, I’m just mega psyched to get on “DTS Spirit”. 
It has been an awesome couple of days. I got to meet new people and make new friends, got psyched to see everyone enjoying the STS final and listening to how the comp series has got them pumped for the up and coming winter season, and obviously managing to tick the 40m cave at Newtyle was OK I suppose……
For more info from Dennis, Jeff and John, check out their blogs below.

Since My Return

Since I returned from the Alps it’s been non-stop for me.  For the first month It was pretty much just tractor driving and road biking. But this I was pleased about as the huge work load that I was undertaking was filling my pockets with money for the up and coming winter season, and the obsession with cycling would build an awesome base fitness also good for the winter.  Which I intend on having off so I can focus totally on my climbing and making the most of what bonny Scotland has to offer.
A wonder session on the wonder board!
Photo Credited James Dunn
A couple of weeks ago I rebuilt me training wall that was up at my old house, this has been really good for getting the fitness and psych stacked up to the max for the pre winter sessions at Newtyle quarry. 
This year Mike Tweedly and  I are trying to do the extension to “Fast and Furious” which takes the steepest line all the way out of the cave. The route is called “Too Fast Too Furious” and is supposedly only half a grade harder than the original route, which makes it M11. At the moment I’m finding that a little hard to believe, as it feels like it is another harder “Fast and Furious” stacked on top of the original, with the crux being the end section.
 I’m not sure if it is the fact that when it was originally put up, it was done with heel spurs or not but I think the grading might be a little off.  I’m not saying it’s harder than M11 (I wouldn’t know, I’ve never climbed that grade). I’m just saying that it definitely feels like more than half a grade harder than “Fast and Furious” which is given M10+. But then again, who cares, the climbing is awesome and mental whatever the grade!
On Saturday I did a lecture for the STS round at Glenmore lodge. This is the first time I had presented a talk about my climbing career or in general, and it seemed to go down well with the audience. Not only was it my first lecture on Saturday, but I had to do my second one the very same night for the Braes O’Fife mountaineering club. This was also very good fun and it was cool to meet and present to new people, faces and friends.
Then on Sunday it was back to Newtlye with a load of folk from Saturdays STS comp for some more mixed climbing shenanigans and action. This was an awesome day and it was good to get a bunch of people into the cave to climb and have a laugh!

Me on “Too Fast Too Furious”
Photo credited to Neil Silver
I am looking forward to doing more of these lectures and I’m also looking forward to getting back to Newtyle, so watch this space for more info and updates soon.

A bit of a mixed up day.

The vie down the Valee Blanch towards
the Grandes Jorrases

After a poor weather day on Wednesday, yesterday Ally and I decided to make the most of the small good weather window that was forecast up high in the mountains.
Gearing up at the foot of the Triangle du Tacul
poised and ready!
We headed up early in the Midi bin and then walked over to the Triangle du Tacul which is situated on the North Face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. We had heard from some friends that there were some good Alpine mixed routes in condition on this face, and we were both pretty psyched to check out what this venue had to offer.
Whilst on the approach over the Vallee Blanche glacier, we could see a number of perfectly formed snow/ice runnels dotted all over the face, and once at the bottom we decided to head for the route “Le Temps est Assassin”.

Me on the crux flake

What a view!

I started off up the first pitch, and not wanting too much of a relaxed day, decided to take a more direct and steeper start to the right of the original line to reach the snowy basin and the bottom of the first ice runnel. The pitch started up a small icy chimney, then onto steeper cracked wall to reach a huge hanging flake that had some cruddy ice chocked behind it. This flake pitch formed the crux of the day and went at around Scottish VI/6.
After the first techy pitch, it was back onto the main route which followed a fairly direct line up the snow/ice runnels for two pitches. These runnels where awesome fun to climb, as you had to be super delicate with the ice as some sections where very fairly thin and brittle.
One of the awesome ice runnels 

High on the 3rd pitch

 Once Ally and I had finished the main line of “Les Temps est Assassin”, we traversed hard right to join the last hard pitch of “Perroux Gully”. This pitch takes a lightly iced up slab traversing right to gain another hanging snow/ice runnel that leads into the mega classic “Chere Gully”. After reaching the gully, we rapped back down to our bags and trotted off back across the glacier in the backing heat to reach the Midi snow arête and up to the lift station.

Me seconding the the first runnel pitch
Me reaching the belay after the 2nd pitch

One Man And His Axes.

The “Frendo Spur” (left hand obvious ridge line)

This morning as Ally was out with his Mum and Aunt for the last day of their trip to Cham, I headed up on to the Plan de L’Aiguille ready and psyched for my chosen objective.
A bit of snow never hurt anyone.
As the weather forecast for today was so good, I decided to go and solo the uber classic “Frendo Spur” on the Aiguille du Midi North Face. This is a line that I have wanted to do for a while and thankfully it didn’t disappoint!
The view below me from mid crux
When I left the station at the Plan de L’Aiguille I started the timer on my watch, as I was interested to see what sort of time it would take me to ascend this 1200m mixed route. I then passed two parties on the approach and another just before the bergschrund, after that I was on my own for pretty much all of the route. Apart from one last party that had bivied at halfway and they let me past just before I started the last third (rock crux). 
Another little crux section
Approaching the snow arete
The line was very enjoyable with a good selection of interesting rock pitches and some cool slabby crack sections. The rock crux was pretty straight forward, and after that you move up and onto the immaculate snow arête that is such a distinctive feature on the Midi North Face. After a short while moving up the arête, I decided to take the left hand ice variation around the rock buttress, which involves a short ice pitch that I found pretty enjoyable. This little ice pitch got me mega psyched for the swiftly approaching winter season!
One man and his axe!
The beautiful upper section!
After the ice pitch it was up a snowy face and then you pull onto the base of the Midi arête. As I pulled over onto the arête, I startled two Italian climbers that where sorting their gear after a couple of days in the Vallee Blanche area and after a quick chat, one of them offered to take a couple of photos for me, then is was off up the Arete and Into the famous midi ice cave.
My shadow while on the Arete
Progress progress

Things Don’t Always Go To Plan.

Cloud inversion in the Chamonix valley 

 Yesterday morning Ally and I headed up to Plan de Aigulle on the first lift, eager and psyched to be back in the mountains after the bad weather spell that Chamonix had been having recently.

Approaching the off-width on the Petits Charmoz
The tricky off-width on the Petits Charmoz
 Our objective was to do the traverse of the Chamonix Aiguilles from Aig de L’M to Aig du Midi. But due to the amount of snow and wet rock that was still around from the recent stormy weather over the past two weeks, things where a lot more time consuming than usual. We decided to stop after doing the Aig de L’M, Petits Charmoz and the Grands Charmoz.
Even though we did not do the full intended traverse, the route we did on the Grands Charmoz (NW Ridge) was fantastic and home to some very interesting and varied climbing, from footless hand traverse pitches for 10m where you had to swing a heel up level with your head and rock over (in big boots and a rucksack), to long pendulum swings to get past the featureless walls and back into the icy (meant to be dry rock) diedres. The route was full of character and the guide book description says it all “A long and serious route in a fine and exposed situation that does not appear to have gained the popularity that it deserves.” 

Moving up the wall to gain the awesome
hand traverse

Sorting the gear after looking round the
corner and spying the hand traverse

Getting ready to charge

We soloed the first two routes of the day, the N-NE ridge of the Aig de L’M and the SE ridge of the Petits Charmoz and the first half of the NW ridge of the Grands Charmoz. The upper section of the NW ridge is where it really starts to get interesting and the second last pitch forms the crux. This pitch (crux) has a interesting guide book description which didn’t make me overly psyched to get stuck in. “Using a rurp or a shoulder to start, climb boldly up and over a smooth bulge until a terrace is reached after 12m
A rurp is a piece of aiding equipment that is hammered into very shallow thin cracks on near featureless walls. Unfortunately we didn’t have a rurp, but thankfully someone had placed a high skinny peg just over the bulge, so the aid access to the start wasn’t too bad. The top of the pitch however was a very bold slab which was completely running with water (terrifying), but I managed to squirm my way up this and onto the terrace with a fair bit of grunting and groaning, Just!
This grade III groove was made pretty
tricky and time consuming due to the snow/ice!
No rurp but still got stuck in!
After the crux pitch, it was an easy 40m to the top of the summit tower and then a bunch of abseils down to the Nantillons glacier under an awesome setting sun. Once on the glacier it was the tedious task of avoiding the mine field of seracs and crevasses in the pitch dark. This is never fun, especially when you’ve just done a

It always sunny in Ceuse.

What to have…?

On the 22nd Ally and I decided that we had had enough of sitting in the flat in Chamonix, waiting for the weather to get better. There had been a load of snow fall in the mountains for the past four days. So even if had cleared up, we would have had to have waited for the routes to come back into condition (drier rock, less ice/verglass).
Our humble abode for the week
So on the Thursday (21st) we decided that we would head down south to sunny Ceuse, which is one of the world’s best sport climbing venues and happened to be only a few hours’ drive from Chamonix.
We had a week of on-sighting and projecting some amazing limestone routes until on Thursday when we checked the weather and noticed that it was forecast to clear up in Cham over the weekend (30-31st). So… back in the car we jumped and then headed north again on Friday evening psyched to get up high in the mountains over the weekend.

chilling with Ceuse in the background

Success On The Dru, Take Two!

Me at the base of the West face of
The Dru
On Friday morning Ally and I headed off to the Midi Station psyched and ready for a day’s climbing on the South face of the Midi. Unfortunately when we got close to the station, we noticed that the queue for the lift was massive and they were also running a numbered/ticket system for the individual lifts up. This was also annoying as the queue for the tickets was bigger than the one for the lift.
As it was looking like we wouldn’t be getting anywhere near a lift in the next three hours we opted to give it a miss and headed back to the apartment to make up another plan. Thankfully this plan was much better than the original and all was not lost!
The bivi spot (home sweet home)
We decided that we would head up on the Montenvers train that afternoon and then walk across the Mer De Glace and up to bivi at the base of the Dru that night. Then we would be ready for another amazing route early on Saturday morning, but this time on the west face of this spectacular mountain.
As we were walking up the moraine to the bivi site we noticed there was another team of two already at the top of the Sócle (a 240m wall that needs to be climbed before you can gain access to the route). This was not a big problem, as we where planning on getting an early start the next day and if it was a fast team ahead of us, they would stay out of the way. But if it was a slower team, we knew we would be able to pass them fairly quickly, we weren’t too fussed either way. So we got our climbing kit organised and I sorted out my OutdoorResearch Aurora bivi bag and my Deuter Trek Lite 250 sleeping bag ready for another night of anticipation filled sleep in the mountains.
Ally and I chowing down
How comfy does this look?
After a quick bite to eat and once we had watched the awesome sun set over the Aiguilles Rouge, it was into our little bivi cave and off to bed for a few hours sleep before the 3am rise in readiness for our early start up the Sócle the next morning, and then onto “American Direct”.
When my alarm went off at 3am, the moon was shining bright over the Chamonix Aiguilles and it was nice to wake up to such a breath taking view of the mountains (this never fails to disappoint). We brewed up a coffee and wolfed down some porridge, and then it was on with the climbing gear and off across the snow field to the base of the wall.
Here comes the cold!
We swiftly made our way up the Sócle and within a short time we where belayed at the base of the imposing crack system that slices its way up the West face of the Dru. The two other climbers had obviously heard us coming and they had made their way up the first pitch and were just starting the second when we arrived at the base. I set off up the route and after cruising up the first pitch I was able to take the variation second pitch to get to the belay below the third pitch just as the leader of the other group also arrived. Thankfully they spoke English (British climbers) and they were both really nice guys. They agreed that we were going to be faster than them and let Ally shoot off up the third pitch (this was very good of them!).
The Dru in the setting sun
After climbing in a muddled formation of leader, leader, seconder, seconder for a couple of pitches (this was pretty annoying), Ally and I finely broke free and quickly put a few pitches between the others and ourselves.
Once we were on our own, the climbing seemed to get a lot more enjoyable and the immaculate granite cracks seemed to go on forever, with not one bad move throughout the entire route (well mostly). We ran a fair few of the pitches together, so that we kept moving fast up the face and it was not long before we were approaching the famous jammed block bivi ledge.
The view out of my window
The route itself is home to mostly good sound rock quality apart from the pitch below the Jammed block which is full of very very big very loose blocks that were deposited there when the South-West Bona