Sunday, 12 June 2016


I think most of us would agree, our weather over the last few weeks has been pretty good.  My trad climbing this year has had a bit of a slow start.  After returning from a great trip to St Leger in the south of France, I just assumed I would get straight back into trad climbing.  However, I received a text message from Ian Taylor.  It said, ‘I have two words for you.  Loch Maree’.  There is a new crag that received super crag status.  Loch Maree crag.  But I am not talking about the trad crag (which only gets ‘pretty good crag’ status), but the trad crags steep, long and bloody impressive side wall.  To cut a long story short, this has recently been developed by Ian as a sport climbing venue.  Ian has put in a great effort with a few epic stories.  I concluded that visitors like me have it easy.  Climbing the routes is the easy bit.  For those keen, you will need to wait till the autumn till he brings a topo out.  The crag is closed now due to the midges.  I guess you could visit the crag out of season, but you do so at your own risk. 

Loch Maree Super Crag is the extensive right wall.  (Photo: Ian Taylor)

Crag guardian 

Whilst the weather was becoming warmer at the start of May, everyone was out fiddling with their wires.  Meanwhile, Ian, Calum, Mhairi and myself were greasing off and getting attacked by birch flies at Loch Maree.  I saw sense that week and made my annual visit to Caithness to climb on the sea cliffs there.  Simon Nadin introduced me to a new gem of his, I might need to make another trip up.

Simons Crag.  Somewhere between Tain and Wick.

The forecast showed the return of Northelies accompanied by showers.  I sensed frustration amongst the trad climbers.  Deep down I was relieved.  Ian very kindly offered me to try a bolted line of his.  Knowing that time was ticking, the midge was waiting, summer was approaching, the door was closing, I had to get back to Loch Maree.  Hafgufa 8a/+ dispatched on the 15th May.

Me on Hafgufa (Photo: Ian Taylor)

Now I can focus on my summer trad.  But stupidly I opened an account with a Richie Betts classic,‘The Scientist’ f7B at Brin with Gaz.  What the hell are you doing Murdoch?!! But I can't leave it.  Gaz went back a dispatched.  The fresh Easterlies created a paradise in the west.  However, it was cool, overcast and breezy in the east.   Again, deep down I was secretly relieved.  I nipped up after work one day and dispatched.  Knowing Iain Small was cragging in Glen Nevis gave me FOMO, but I couldn’t keep the account open.  Walking away content, Sussirus f7C caught my eye.  It would have been rude not to give it a shot.  Hoping I would find the campus move desperate at the end, this would mean no account could be opened.  With no expectations, I did the last few moves of this inspiring problem.  For Fuck Sake!  I lost myself for the rest of the day under the roof.  The line got drawn and I saw sense.  I will return in the autumn…

Me demonstrating wrong beta (Photo: Mhairi Stewart)

But you will be glad to know, I still am a trad climber.  A big black line had been drawn through my work diary for the last few days of May and the first week of June.  Iain Small had been penned in.  By now, the ground in the west is crisp.  North By North West E7 6b escaped my 2014 list.  So it was first up.  Having never seen a second ascent, I shat my pants as I left the belay.  Another Storky E7.  After a flash pump, a few lobs I reached the top.  Iain onsighted it on my gear then I went and made a clean ascent with my gear in place.  What a wall!  I was glad to hear from Rick Campbell after.  He mentioned Storky did that ground up without abseil inspection.  Very impressive.

Iain E7 ledge shuffling on North By North West.

Me on North By North West (Photo: Iain Small)

Guy Robertson announced his new crag last year, ‘The Skull’ on Quinag.  I had the pleasure of holding the ropes of Iain Small who made a very impressive onsight of ‘Land of Lost and Found’E7.  I benefited from his chalk and gear knowledge and flashed it after.

Someone must have been dry tooling here ;-)

It's all about equalising the system.

Me on pitch 1 of Land of Loast and Found.  (Photo: Iain Small)

More E7 ledge shuffling

Iain on pitch 2 of Land of Lost and Found

The Stork trail was picked up again when we made a visit to Binnean Shaus.  Greatness and Perfection E7 6c.  Iain had cleaned the route earlier in the year.  Cleaned is maybe an understatement.  He unearthed the route might be more appropriate.  The top crack was choked with earth and vegetation.  Iain climbed it earlier in the year and described it to me as being ‘fucking wild’.  I had to get on it.  I had the gear beta and went for it.  The fierce 6c crux spat me off at the top.  A complete pain, but I need to remember 6c is hard for the week like me.  A quick look at the move, I lowered off, pulled the ropes and climbed it next go.  I would agree with Iain, it is ‘Fucking Wild’!  Whilst all this faffing is going on, Iain is silently under the Radar opening up new cool lines.  Someone said to me recently that the UK was climbed out.  I'm sure Iain would have a little chuckle

Greatness and Perfection (Photo: Iain Small)

Lowering off after a failed first go (Photo: Iain Small)

Over the crux (Photo: Iain Small)

Ben Nevis was paid a visit where we climbed ‘Boadicea’ E4 6a and a line of Iain and Tony’s. The wall right for Sassenach.  Immaculate climbing on immaculate rock.  I highly recommended route for anyone operating at that grade of E6. 

Carn Dearg Buttress

Gaz Lead me up 'Jack The Ripper' E1 5b on Stac Polly.  A superb route on a superb cliff.  Ian Taylor dragged himself away from Loch Maree and established another pitch of climbing to the left of Walking on Air.  He gave me the details and we repeated it.  We confirmed its about E5 6a.  So, for those who have ticked the wall, but avoiding Fear of Flying, this is another enjoyable pitch to do.

Gaz on Jack the Ripper

Stac Pollaidh

In amongst all that numerous other routes were done.  A fight with greasy Culach E5 gave an uncalled for workout on a cool down route.  How I never fell off it but more the fact that Mhairi never slapped me for taking ages, I do not know.  Whimpering, whinging, grumbling.  It was all occurring.  Delayed Attack E3 6a reminded me that my 3 week holiday to Squamish will be shit in August.

It’s raining today in Inverness.  Its dry and breezy in the far north West.  I have FOMO but need a rest. 

Tomorrow, play will be resumed.

And if you forget your wellies...

Photo: Ian Taylor

Friday, 15 April 2016

An Abrupt End

Turning the corner, our intended objective was black.  Blacker than black.  We settled for just having a quick easy day instead.  I think I muttered something about being on top for lunchtime.  Questing off up the first pitch of Eastern Promise (VI,7), I found it laced with verglas.  Inching higher and higher, further from kit, I found it quite committing.  ‘This should be easy I thought’.  Bringing Uisdean up, I was glad to hear a shout of relief when he sunk a tool into some bomber neve at the top of the corner.
Pitch 2 was no push over either.  Again, another pitch that ‘should have been easy’ kept its guard and made us work.  The top pitch, it was fine...once you accepted there was not many runners to have.  It was climbed all pretty much on ice.  Lunch was late.

Uisdean on Pitch 2 of 'Eastern Promise'

Myself grovelling up pitch 2. (Photo: Uisdean Hawthorn)

Myself starting up pitch 3 (Photo: Uisdean Hawthorn)

Eastern Promise (VI,7), a highly recommended route I think, but maybe just a tad harder than the guide suggests.

In a way, Immortal Memory (IX,9) which we did a few days prior felt easier.  At grade IX, you know what to expect.  I was kindly invited to join Ian Parnell and Uisdean for their day out.  We had a sociable walk in with Steve Perry and Dave Macleod.  5 of us breaking trail.  It felt like cheating.  Turning the corner, the cliff was plastered in rime.  Any line on that cliff would have been without question ‘in good nick’.  The boys settled for Immortal Memory.  I was the third wheel so was happy to just do what was asked.  Ian took us up pitch 1.  Keeping the theme of this crag this initial pitch consisted of bold turfy mantels with little protection.

Far East Wall and Eastern Ramaparts.

Ian starting up Pitch 1 of 'Immortal Memory'

The rack was handed to me for pitch 2.  Something about 'good gear but not much feet' was Ian’s comment.  He was quite correct was my conclusion on arriving at the next belay.  Relentless and pumpy I might add.  Uisdean took us to the top.  Again, another strenuous beast.  On following his pitch, I suspect it felt quite engaging on the lead.  A first class, turfy mixed, solid grade VIII pitch.

Me on pitch 2 of Immortal Memory (Photo: Uisdean Hawthorn)

Uisdean approaching my belay at the end of Pitch 2

Uisdean on Pitch 3 of 'Immortal Memory'

I don’t know what happened after those days out.  My winter seems to have stopped.  I held some psyche for some spring Ice, but those days never materialised.  I became suckered into regaining rock fitness at the local highland sport crags.  Now, I am sat here in the shade in the south of France.  It’s too hot in the sun.  I am whinging about the heat.  Mhairi is out basking in the sun.  We are on a visit to Saint Leger.  The past 8 days have just disappeared.  I was clawing up routes last night ‘that should have been easy’.  My forearms are still pumped as I type just now.  I think I will have a rest day…

Samuel from Switzerland on 'Le Linceul de Penlope (F7b)
Mhairi despatching 'Clement Comme Il Respire (7a+)

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Maintaining all Disciplines...or an attempt!

Unable to decide what is more important, winter climbing or rock climbing, the simplest thing I can is just mix it up.  And no, I don’t mean winter mixed climbing. 

I received a text message from Iain suggesting that we went to Glencoe for a winter day out.  When I say ‘suggesting’, it was more like, ‘don’t argue, that’s where we’re going’.  I read this message and thought ‘fair enough’.  5 minutes of walking, I was blowing out my ass trying to keep up with Iain.  We noted a few familiar vans in the car park which worried my poor friend.  Iain had been up to Church Door Buttress the previous day, putting a track in and checking a potential new plum line out.  So I could feel a sense of urgency as it was clearly an obvious target for any other team ahead.  I was hopeful for a mellow day out as I had been suffering from a minor sniffle so beasting it up to the top of Bidean was not first on my agenda.  Anyway, the snowline was reached and the gap between us grew.  On arrival into the corrie, Greg and Uisdean were met.  After some discussion, we ended flaking our ropes out below the obvious Ice fall.  Anyway, a wee bit of shitty ice would be two easy for those two weapons ;-).

Diamond Buttress and Church Door Buttress

So I was sent up the first pitch which was pretty straightforward. A tricky little pull to get off the ground and another tricky few pulls to get onto the belay ledge. 

The Line of  'Gates of Paradise'

Me on Pitch 1 (Photo: Iain Small)

After some ‘uping’ and ‘downing’, Iain asked me if I could maybe shift my belay off to the side a bit.  ‘For fuck sake’ sprang to mind.  Part of the belay was out of reach so you know the script.  Tied off figure of 8’s, ropes flaked over me, lanyards, big thick belay gloves…  To be fair, he wasn’t too keen on pulling out some pretty hard moves directly above me.  Neither was I too keen, but still, what an inconvenience.  So for the next two hours, I had a shitty hanging stance on a slope foot hold and well not much for the other.  But I won’t dwell on it.

Iain following pitch 1

Iain put in a superb lead.  After leaving the belay he managed to step left onto a little ledge on the arête.  Conveniently Ice had formed down the left side, so he quested off up, muttering something about having never climbed Ice on an arête before.  ‘Rather you than me pal’ was what I thought.  ‘Just remember to keep that rope nice and tight when I follow I shouted up’.  ‘What?’ was his reply….my request was lost in the rising wind.  There isn’t much more to say really.  Iain got up to the roof, got a good cluster of kit, and eventually committed to a strenuous sequence of moves to gain the ice.  And off he went.  Cleary I was in a rage seconding.  The weather was pish, lanyards, all over the place and blunt picks.  But really good climbing.  Hard winter only ground at its best! Oh yes, and before I forget, Iain named it 'Gates of Paradise' VIII,8.  Iain gave Simon Richarson his account which is a lot more proper.  It can be read on Scottish Winter.

Iain committed on pitch 2 

Iain pulling through the roof and gaining the ice.

Guy Steven was gagging to get out climbing but was unable to leave early.  Iain was on route to a wedding, so was looking for a casual day out.  I was in the middle trying to cater for all.  Easy, a 3 pitch mixed route on Beinn Eighe would suite.  So a relaxed start.  It was by far the best walk in ever.  Snowline half way up with fairly consolidated snow, plus the sun was shining.  Bliss.  However, on top was a different story.  Pretty strong easterly made mobility pretty tough. 

Needles in the face.  (Photo: Iain Small)

It was a relief to get into the shelter of corrie but that had its own issues.  Setting off a few little slides of windslab kept me alert.  Eastern Ramparts looked more acceptable than Far East Wall.  So we settled for ‘Pale Rider VIII,9’.  Its a summer E1 climbed by Martin Moran and Robin Thomas a few years ago.  You can read Martin’s account here.  (Look for Feb 5th 2010).

2 clueless school boys beneath Eastern Ramparts (Iain Small)

Iain on pitch 1

Now, we all know that Iain Small is the best Scottish winter climber in the world.  Its just a fact.  His foot work is immaculate.  But I just had to add this photo of Guys.  It just highlights that even the best grovel on their knees ;-)

Iain's feet, my face.  (Photo: Guy Steven)

With an easterly forecast, that usually means the west is bone dry.  The BBC app on my phone showed full suns for the west coast villages so Am Fasgadh seemed like an obvious choice.  So Mhairi, Andrew and myself quested over enjoying the stunning winter scenery.  Yes, I have done these routes numerous times before, but it’s a great place just to exercise the fingers and arms.  The air temperature was just perfect.  I find it quite satisfying to have a winter day out one day and tick Black Sox 7C+ the next.  I don’t know why, but it just is.  Andrew decided to start trying a new link up of routes.  I was not going to bother but was pushed into trying.  3 red points later I was struggling to get off the ground, elbows touching the skye.  A good day. 

Andrew (Photo: Mhairi Stewart)

Me on Black Sox (Photo: Mhairi Stewart)

Mhairi working the 'Warm Up'

On the drive home, the ache of a winter days out followed by a day of raw power on crimps crept in.  The idea of some mellow bouldering at Torridon the next day seemed a fitting finale to the weekend.  Richie Betts was there acting as the local guide.  For each failed attempt on Malcs for Duncan and myself, Rich would just through another lap, Dick! 

Mhairi on Squelch

Its was not always sunny and perfect.  There was some shit moments.  (Photo: Richie Betts)

Me opening an account with Phoenix Nights. Get Stronger was the learning point of that day.  (Photo: Richie Betts) 

Today, the weather is shit.  I have turned to Ella Woordwards cook book. 

Peanut Butter Flapjacks,  Gold!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

West Central Wall

 Andy arrived at my belay.  How depressing for him.  There he joined two rock jocks standing in the dark, too tight to put their head torch’s on whilst mumbling and grumbling about winter.  “That was steep, fun and positive” was his greeting.  “Good, you can take us to the top” was my response.  And off he went, with a little skip in his step.

The day started with wallowing around in knee deep snow, in the dark, with usual negative questions being asked inside my head.  But experience tells me, the painful slog up the relentless slope normally pays off.  After gearing up in the col, there was a silent agreement that West Central Wall was the venue for the day.  The standard inspection of the wall was made from the top of Central Buttress.  Since Iain had joined Andy and Me, he was nominated to rap into the abyss first and scare the sleeping West Central Wall monsters away.  Someone has left some well extended tat from the top anchor so there were no issues (since there normally is) with retrieving our ropes.  Shoot The Breeze (IX,8) had been on all our tick lists, so that seemed like the most suitable objective.  Having done a fair amount of mixed climbing on Beinn Eighe’s steep quartzite myself, I guess I was intrigued to climb it and compare it with the other routes.

Andy walking with a cool sunrise behind.

Andy volunteered himself to get the ball rolling, so quested off up the initial pitch.  A short while later he was at the belay.  Folk who have read my wintery blogs in the past will be well aware, I hate seconding.  But a new pet hate of mine is seconding behind someone else.  Everytime I looked up, I would get a face full of snow from Iain who was doing a good job kicking it in my direction.  Knowing Iain, this was not intentional.  Or maybe it was? Hmmm.  A few steep pulls later, I arrived at a little ledge below Iain and Andy.  There wasn’t any space for me on Andy’s ledge so I was asked if I could stay on my little footledge with an overhanging right wall which pushed me out into the void.  “Eh, no.  Fuck that.”  So I grovelled my way, up and left to a bigger ledge off to the side.  A much more suitable ledge for an impatient Murdoch.  Here I could walk around, do press ups, star jumps, dead hangs.  I was quite content for the next 2 hours.

Iain and Myself following pitch 1. (Andy Inglis)
Happy!  (Andy Inglis)

Iain was on for pitch 2.  This sounded quite exciting as it followed the big arête above and was described as being ‘bold’ in places.  Iain despatched this in good style.  After confirming the description several times at the point of which you commit to the arete, he did.  Iain kept it steady and worked his way up the arête for a while until a little footledge took him left into the groove and down climb to the belay.  A pretty airy pitch I thought.  Once you gain the arête, I guess the intimidated leader may feel the urge to take a few steps left into the easier groove of Blood Sweat and Frozen Tears.

Iain on pitch 2.

Iain high up on the wild arete.

Looking up at pitch 3, it looked rather wild and athletic. I was just hoping that there was going to be some decent tool placements and good gear along the way.  After faffing about at the belay and avoiding pissing on the coiled ropes, I set off.  I was instantly in a cluster fuck.  Iain had put 2 runners in the groove to protect his down climb to the belay.  So these acted like a mini top rope for me to get stood up again on the foot ledge.  My beloved lanyards were tangled all over the place, so a few naughty comments were made. Once, I was on it properly and leading, a switch was flicked.  I was in my element.  Steep, physical and wildly exposed climbing kept me focused.  There might have even been a few smiling moments.  The final bulge on the arête slowed me a bit.  The gear just never felt quite right.  Looking at my last solid pieces way below, I wasn’t fancying the airtime.  Arms becoming a bit pumped, foot holds in the wrong place, darkness creeping in,  I had a few words with myself to hurry up and just commit.  Eventually I did, praying that the flakes and wee bits off turf I was using were solid.

I forgot my chalkbag to tick the foot holds ;-) (Andy Inglis)

Me on pitch 3.  (Andy Inglis)

Done.  I sat back into my harness at the belay, glowing after doing such a cool route.  Shoot The Breeze is outrageous and I highly recommend it.  Hats off to Greg and Guy for opening this line up. 

The following Wednesday, Guy Steven and I headed back to West Central Wall.  Reading between the lines, Guy was wanting a training day ;-) so agreed to get on Bruised Violet (VIII,8) with me.  Now, I was quite keen to follow the line that Ian Parnell and Andy Turner took, and not the bold line that Bullock and Big Tim took.  So I spent a bit of time looking at a few topo’s and reading both descriptions to work it out.

Beinn a'Chearcaill

Guy on the second abseil.

Guy despatched the Chop Suey groove in no time at all.  I went on to lead pitch 2 which I found fairly intense in a few places.  You pull over a roof with not much feet, then need to commit up the groove a bit before some gear is found.  A tricky traverse right was actually ok.  It was just that typical feeling of leaving a good rest, knowing you were unable to reverse the moves back.  I guess falling off would have been a bit nasty as you would swing violently into the groove on your left.  Then there was the arête.  I thought it looked easy, but actually there was a lot more to it.  Pretty technical in places and just keeping in balance on some thin hooks and foot holds was tiring.

Guy following pitch 2

It was agreed between Guy and myself that I would lead the middle harder pitch’s.  Despite a pretty exposed semi hanging belay, our changeover was slick.  I think that’s because Guy is a superb MIC and a trainee Guide (a perfect partner!).  Parnell had suggested that pitch’s 3 & 4 should be linked together.  So I did.  Again, pretty wild strenuous climbing with good kit.  Guy led pitch 4 which was actually pretty hard.  You stand on this ledge with bomber gear up and right.  As much as the quartzite is fairly positive, here is wasn’t.  It was very compact and slopey.  You just had to find something shit to pull on, close your eyes and stand up on non-existent nicks in the rock to reach a chockstone.  Very insecure!

I have been a bit sad the last few days.  Recently I have read a few comments about some of the routes on Beinn Eighe being  "very poor climbing quality, no distinct line and very scrappy"  and “Supposed to be a classic according to the book, but I found it of mediocre moxed climbing quality”.  Also the long strenuous approach seemed to be an inconvenience.  I dare say there are moments of scrappy climbing, but that is part of Scottish winter mountaineering.  When an exceptionally strong dry tooling wad gets on a VI,7, then the mixed climbing quality is going to be far too easy.  I guess I am just looking at the strong line of chimneys on a cool crag.  If VI,7 was your limit, of course it would be ‘outrageous’!  And the approach, yes I moan about it.  But those of you that know me, I fucking love the suffering of flogging up it.  It’s what makes the climbing on Beinn Eighe or any other serious mountain more rewarding.