Sunday, 24 September 2017


Before I say a word... Lets not forget this is a typical Scottish Summers day out.
I don’t know what’s happened, but with one blink, summer has disappeared.  After our visit to ‘Realm of the Senses’ back at the end of May, there was an intense focus on The Shelterstone conditions.  With Realm fresh in the muscle memory, Iain and I were both keen to get back and sort out ‘Athene’.  I’m still waiting, but have come to accept that may need to wait for another year.

As usual, there was the usual psyche and faith that the Scottish hills would be dry for weeks on end accompanied with a steady summer breeze to keep the midgies at bay.  Instead we had a stationary low pressure sat to the North West of Britain which chucked out a lovely mix of sunshine and showers.  Not ideal, but if you played your cards right, there was plenty of options.  And as we know, one good day up here counts for 5 good days in North Wales so it all balances out ;-).

The revival of some local trad routes which have been gathering dust on my ticklist got cleaned and climbed.  Wolfman which has lost its pegs gave a rather testing E5.  I think given its current state, E6 would be fair.  Cyclops E4 6b, gives a great safe athletic outing.  Richie Betts established ‘Transvison Clamp E6 6b’.  A scary onsight he commented.  I replaced the thread and gave it a token look.  Not to bad I thought…  So I returned with Gaz Marshall to give it a Flash/not quite onsight attempt.  Up and down, scared shitless, fiddly C3’s, balancey and bouldering.  “Flipping hec take there Gaz!”  I came down for a rest, had a word with myself, pulled the ropes and went up for a ground up attempt.  Same again, “Take there”  This time, sat on what I thought was a good wire, I checked the holds out.  As I sagged again, the wire blew out.  “Get me down now!”  I had had enough.  A route at a grade I should be onsighting, I went hope feeling rather spanked.  I need to have a look at this one.  Returning, I played the head point game.  Checked it out, practised the moves, sorted the gear and dispatched.  I would have never onsighted it the sequence so for me, the style was acceptable. 

Pete on 'Cyclops E4 6b'

Me on Wolfman E6 6b (Photo: Peter Herd)

An onsight attempt of 'Transvison Clamp E6 6b' (Photo: gaz Marshall)

Both Caithness and The Aberdeen sea cliffs provided a dry sanctuary from the prevailing westerlies.  My friends in Aberdeen have raved about Earnsheugh over the last few years to me.  For some reason, I have always doubted the quality and have just been put off for the fickle conditions they experience over the.  However, Anna and I had a great day climbing the 3 classic E5’s on the crag.  I left Necromancer for the end.  Unknowingly this has a reputation for spanking folk.  It was a rude surprise for tired arms at the end of the day to be faced with the strenuous technical sequence.  But, I managed to dig deep and pull it out the bag. 

Pete loving the sub optimal conditions at Rosehearty

Gaz on 'Banana Republic E1 5b'

Me on 'Escher's Steps E6 6b' (Photo: Gaz Marshall)

Anna starting up the first pitch of 'Prehistoric Monster E5 6a)

Me on 'Thugosaurus E5 6a' (Photo: Peter Herd)

Like last year, Binnein Shuas was the reliable venue to visit, this year was no different.  As always, Iain Small has been out adding several new lines to the crag.  He added Siege Engine E7 6c at the end of last season.  This takes an impressive left to right rising traverse under a big roof.  I gave it a flash attempt with the aid of Iain’s gear knowledge.  In typical Murdoch style I must have been on the route for over and hour before I reached the crux bulge.  Needless to say, the body was fatigued and a simple foot slip from a weakening core spat me off.  Believing I still had the fitness to dispatch that day, I gave it 3 more ground up attempts.  Each go, I inched higher, but by 8.30pm, the arms had finally gone.  Meanwhile that day, Iain added the superb athletic ‘Braes of Balquither E7/8 6c’.  This line starts up the existing ‘Wild Mountain Thyme E5 6b’, then climbing directly up the prominent pink streak. 

I found myself working more and farther away due to the School Summer Holidays.  But Siege Engine was burning at the back of my mind.  Of course the days I worked, the weather was nice.  Then my day off arrived and rain was pushing in from the west.  But my psyche was too much.  So a long day trip from the north saw me down and nabbing a clean ascent before the heavens opened.  Later that week, Cubby, Dave Macleod and I teamed up for a repeat of Iains ‘Braes of Balquither’.  With its runout nature combined with a crucial blind gear placement, we both opted for a cheeky head point of the route.  Dave has also been busy at Binnien Shuas so its cool to see some proper hard routes been climbed.  On his blog, there is a great range of photo's which shows the crag well.

Iain opening his new route, 'Braes of Balquither E7/8 6c'

Me on my first attempt on 'Siege Engine E7 6c' (Photo: Iain Small)

Simon Nadin, one of the 3 ‘The Masters’ of rock climbing, has been silently developing the Caithness Sea Cliffs for many years now.  I suspect the odd glimpse of this has appeared on my Flickr with the odd crag appearing, often called ‘Crag X’.  The only person to react was Andy Nesbit.  But this summer, Caithness saw a wee bit more exposure.  Located in the North East (obviously) it stayed fairly dry this year.  I have this rule that I only visit Caithness once a year (because I thought it was shit).  However, this summer that rule was broken and I must have been up half a dozen times.  One crag in particular at Sgaps became a popular venue…. to the point, it almost looked like a crag in North Wales with many of the lines chalked up.  A totally novelty for these far flung remote places!  On one visit, Simon checked a new line out which we both had seen before.  I felt honoured when Simon Jummered back out and gifted me this quality new line.  On my first attempt, the combination of a crucial wet hold, boxed arms and a highly technical sequence saw me off.  Sitting on the rope, I worked an alternative sequence and topped out.  Later that day I climbed it clean placing the kit on lead.  A route heavily reliant on the smallest micro cams with some stiff moves at half height combined with a much safer but hard sequence at the top, Pete, Simon and I decided to sit on the fence like every other new route in Caithness and give ‘Gods Gift’ the split grade of E6/7 6b.  I would like to link in Ian TaylorsPeter Herds and Simon Nadins Flickr.  The three of them have really captured some brilliant moments up there.  So please take time and have a look and hopefully become inspired to visit.  However, all good things must come to an end.  Simon took myself and Pete to his other ‘new crag’.  Here there was just this amazing new big meaty line.  A failed attempt from Simon in the midday heat saw the 3 of use retreat to the ‘Whaligoe steps Café’.  I know Simon has gone back and established the line.  But the direct finish needs climbed.  Similar to Siege Engine, all our focus went towards watching the weather and conditions for Caithness.  But things deteriorated and its now becoming a distant memory.  Good job Simon. Next summer…

The Master showing Pete his old friends

A good wall

Me on the first ascent of 'Gods Gift E6/7 6b' (Photo: Simon Nadin)

Simon attempting his new line in ridiculously hot conditions (Photo: Peter Herd)

As I have mentioned earlier in this post, Iain Small is constantly operating in the dark opening more new lines up around the country.  I am going to be bold and say he has probably added more new E7's to Scotland this year compared with Wales?  But I'm sure Caff would argue with that?!  Creag A’Bhancair which I have recently learned is a relatively quick drying venue become the latest crag for hard new routes.  This time, Iain’s project was to link the start of ‘Up with the Sun E7 6b’, cut through ‘The Risk Business E5’ cover some new ground and join ‘Gone with the wind E7’.  This was an impressive cleaning effort from him over several days.  Unfortunately the day I joined him, he was wasted from preparing the route and was unsuccessful.  However, he went back another day and climbed it clean.  I’m not sure of the grade, but you do the maths.  I opened my Trad climbing account on the crag with an onsight of ‘Romantic Reality E7 6b’ which I was pretty happy about.  This has been on my list on the wall for several years now.  Cubby was out so I felt quite privileged to have the first ascensionist watching and taking photo’s.  But that was just the introduction.  In 2014, Iain had opened up ‘The End of Innocence E7 6c’ and the ‘Constant Gardner E6/7 6b’.  Niall who had repeated The Constant Gardner said that first pitch should come with a health warning.  I opted out and started up ‘Carnivore Direct E4 6a’ to access the superbly sustained top pitch.  All in all, this created  an nice E6 route.  Meanwhile, Iain was hard at it again.  This time he re climbed ‘Symbioisis E8 6b’ and linked that into the top of ‘Up with the sun’.  I guess I have referred to these routes as link ups, but by no means are they less worthwhile.  I think what Iain has done is just applied a modern approach to straighten things out and created logical lines.  It has been pretty cool having Cubby around to give us an insight into the first ascents of the original lines.  Of course he had the vision of these new lines Iain is doing, but just never got back to sorting them out.  One must remember, those original lines are still meaty leads even by present standards.

Me on the top pitch on 'The Constant Gardener E6 6b' (Photo: Iain Small)

I actually owe Iain a full day of belaying.  I was psyched for ‘The End of Innocence’ Niall had raved to me about it rating it as one of the best E7’s he had ever done.  There was the slight issue that is has a bold start above a sky hook.  The fall would be nasty with small gear far below, I think a ride down the cliff would result in a collision with the Carnivore ledge.  Naill having repeated this with Iain shortly after he had done it had the advantaged of a chalked up line.  I must admit, I was keen to try but just felt rather hesitant.  Iain however kindly offered to faff about, and do multiple raps in from the top to chalk the crucial parts.  I know this is cheating a bit, but when one is about to embark on a route at their onsight trad limit, I’ll take the advantage of chalked holds ;-).  To gain this pitch, you need to climb ‘Celtic Dawn E5 6a’.  Flipping hec, is all I can say about that.  E5 climbing but you need an E6 head on.  Not your casual standard E5.  When I was racking up, Iain did point out that I wouldn’t need much gear…  Obviously I still took it as I wanted to add more weight to give me the full on trad shitting myself experience. 

The crux of ‘The End of Innocence’ is a traverse right across an overlap. The holds get smaller, the foot holds disappear and everything just gets exponentially harder.  I fell off on my first two attempts, then managed to unlock the powerful sequence.  A bit of rest following the cool flake feature before the route kicked in again.  Hard move out right to gain an undercut and decent foot hold proved tricky, but I managed to keep it together.  Now, I could see the finishing holds above.  But between me and them lay another hard fingery sequence.  This is where Niall blew it.  I felt this weigh me down even more.  Every time I left the overlap, my elbows touched the sky.  FFS! On each reversal back to the rest, I was becoming more fatigued.  Obviously this was late in the day, I just wanted it to end, but was actually loving it at the same time.  Then eventually I had a word with myself to just commit and treat it like a sport route.  With that mentality, I found myself lunging for the finishing jugs, body arching back.  I hung poised, gathering myself before I moved higher.  Collapsing at the belay and clipping in, that big wave of trad satisfaction began to wash over me…

Enough of that none sense, the Torridon bouldering season has started.

Gaz ignoring the rapidly deteriorating conditions

Mhairi making a slap for the lip on 'Central Roof'

...But of course, I was tempted back yesterday for another repeat of Iains new direct on 'End of Innocence' which gives something in the region of E7/8 6c.  Flashing the new section of climbing, I thought it was in the bag.  But some damp holds, tired arms, I failed on familiar ground at the top.  But I am still content with doing it ground up, second go.  The whole experience certainly felt like the next level of trad climbing for me...  

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Realm of the Senses

Gazing through the sheets of torrential rain, I gazed up at the impressive rock mass of The Shelterstone crag.  I was a young keen teenager out bagging the Munro Beinn Mheadhoin on a horrible wet Saturday in July. A bit like today.  I can still vividly remember that day.  No visibility, pissing rain and soaked to the skin.  I loved it.  At this point in my life, I had barely started rock climbing. For some reason I owned a copy of 'Highland Outcrops' and ‘The Cairngorms Volume 1’.  In my mind, I knew it all, in reality, I knew nothing.  That picture of Murray Hamilton questing across the second pitch Missing Link was (and still is), one of the most inspiring things I had ever seen.  At the grade of E4, that was way beyond me.  In fact, untouchable.  At the time, I was still lobbing off VS. ‘V Diff’s’ and ‘Severe’ were more my standard.  However, another route known as Realm of the Senses E7 6c was imprinted in my mind.  I don’t know why, it just was.  The thought of a route at E7 standard was even further beyond my mental capacity. 

The Shelterstone. Unfortunately not the best view of the slabs

Time moved on and my hill walking days out declined.  These days were replaced by rock climbing.  As I became a bit more familiar with rock climbing and grading, that fantasy of the Missing Link and Realm of the Senses just seemed even more distant…  This rock climbing malarkey was hard.  I aspired to E1 and realised if I reached that point in my life, I would be content.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with my rock climbing apprenticeship story.  The Central Slabs in the Cairngorms is one of the best crags we have in Scotland.  I think so.  Many would disagree, probably because they have no actual knowledge or experience on them.  I have had the privilege of working my way through the routes in ascending grade order, each with their own story.  The Pin E2 with Robin Thomas, a fine second route after a quick ascent of The Steeple E2. The Harp E3 with Danny Laing.  It was due to rain from late morning, so one Saturday night we walked in, bivied at the base and started the route just after first light.  It was magic.  The wind was howling whilst the  whole crag basked morning sunshine.  A sight rarely seen by the day visitor due to its easterly aspect  We were in the Mountain Café in Aviemore by 11am.  The Missing Link E4 5c with Robin Thomas. This went with no problem.  The danger was I developed a hunger for more.  Then there was Thor E5 6b with Guy Robertosn.  I can still feel the relief of grabbing the belay flake.  My mouth has never been so dry!  Cleaning on lead was new to me.  How I never fell off, I will never know.  That day, Guy awarded me my Cairngorm Granite Technicians Badge.  I woke the next day broken. 

Guy Robertson following pitch 2 on Thor

Cupids Bow E5 6a with Gaz Marshall was a less intense day out.  I then thought, enough was enough.  The routes became a different ball game after that.  Harder with much more serious run outs.  But Run of the Arrow E6 6b burned in my mind.  Julien Lines said to me it was fine.  So Andy Ingils came in for ‘one more outing on the slabs’.  This was hard and the gear was terrible.  The guide mentions a 'large wedge shaped runner'.  For the inexperienced eye, I could not see this. With the blinkers on, I did the crux traverse.  It was a relief to not be testing the gear.  Caff writes a good story.  I’m glad this route slowed the UK s finest trad climber down ;-). 

" The last one on a recent trip to Scotland made me think about the history of the climb and was more testing than I would have expected, no offence to Murdo. Setting off on the main pitch on Run of the Arrow I had my trainers on my harness and was expecting a quick run up a classic e6, not quite as cocky as it sounds as I’ve done a few 100 of this grade and normally get up them first go although I’ve found an easy way of finding fear is to set off on them when very tired or hungover.
 Dinwoodie had onsighted to the high flake on it on a 1st ascent effort and then managed to scrape in a wire somehow and make an epic retreat. Later on Pete Whillance abseiled the climb and then did it. 
  My guidebook said many wires in the cracks on the face, I got 2 ok RPs next to each other which and the sequence above felt E6 leading to easier climbing and the end of the good feet. I did ponder for a few minutes there. I knew Pete Whillance would have had a fag where I was and carry on regardless of facing a fall which I thought you’d be very luck to survive. I was pretty impressed Dinwoodie had got to this point without knowing anything about the level of climbing or gear he faced which must have been one of the pushiest efforts of the time.
I eventually climbed higher to get in an RP and reversed back to make the grim move to get gear in the lower bit of the flake where I didn’t actually get anything useful in. I extended the top RP miles to stop it coming out with rope drag and eventually committed to the 6b moves up left. I spoke with Tony Stone later who said I’d missed some key sideways stopper but either way I didn’t clock it and as a lead without the bashed in wires it felt more dangerous than many E7s I’d done, quite like the routes found on north stack. Dan Vajzovic got off lightly as he was close to getting guided up it the week before but his boots looked a bit too crap." (James McHaffie, September 2016)

Enough was enough.  Realm still burned at the back of my mind…. But 6c on those slabs is nails.  Aphrodite E7 6b began to play havoc with my mind.  Iain Small and I summoned the courage to do this.  A 3 day affair saw us bagging this bad boy in 2014.  I actually wrote an article about this.  It can be found in the SMC journal Vol 2016.  But, if folk were interested, I will publish it here. 

Gaz Following pitch 2 on Cupids Bow

Iain Snapping a peg on Aphrodite

You must be bored by now?

October 2016, I found myself starting up Realm of the Senses E7 6c.  The forecast was for rain to arrive in the afternoon.  Instead it arrived later morning.  That was the end of the mountain trad for summer 2016.

Me starting up Realm of the Senses 2016 (Photo: Iain Small)
Tuesday 23rd May 2017, I receive this from Gaz Marshall “ Just for info, I asked a mate in Aviemore about the Shelterstone Connie.  He said: ‘Hola! Hardly any snow left I think.  I looked over to the Shelterstone today and saw no snow at the top of the crag.  Can’t vouch for seepage situation but with these warm temps forecast, should be lovely’.”  That was enough to send me into a world of pain. I messed up my working pattern and was missing the bone dry conditions.  However, with some careful negotiation, I scored the Friday off.  Iain was obviously committed to the cause 100%.  There was no route name or venue mentioned.  We both knew where we were heading. 

Pitch 1 warms the feet up nicely.  Iain quested off up the main pitch.  It starts easy then ramps itself up with difficulty.  A hands off rest is gained.  Iain unlocked the starting groove and reached the point where the overlap turns horizontal.  He raved about the fact he could actually hang on some crimps and rest his calves!  He eventually committed left, but was quickly ejected.  

Iain following pitch 1 of Realm

Iain working his way up the groove.

Iain at the 'good rest'....still strenuous!

I was up next.  Starting up the groove, I felt rather tense and uneasy.  Not a good start.  So a lot of upping and downing.  Eventually I committed and gained the no hands rest.  The first desperate move of the route (for me anyway) was leaving this rest. Pasting my left foot on slippery granite and lay backing up the blunt overlap using a pinch grip.  I reached the resting crimps and let my calves depump.  Looking left looked desperate.  There was nothing.  Slab and overlap.  The guide even says "Move left on non-existent holds..."  I delicately moved out the rest made a few moves, then was ejected too.  

Me looking left.  (Photo: Iain Small)

Hmm, this was not going to be an easy day!  Iain was up next and took the lob.  (We are falling onto a good cluster of gear off to the right).  But this time he took the time to try again and again.  Eventually he made it across the overlap.  It was good to see Iain try!  Then there was the Missing Link section followed by the most tenuous, heart breaker of a move left to the Thor Belay.  Fixing a belay he rapped the pitch, cleaning the kit out and scrubbing holds.  It was me next.  By this point, I was cold.  Starting up the pitch I was tense again.  That first tricky move spat me off.  I lost it!  I'm sure Gaz and Mhairi on The Steeple heard my tantrum.  Back at the belay I was feeling frustrated and annoyed.  Anyway, maybe that was good.  A bit warmer now, I went again.  Somehow, I managed to get over that move and reach the crimps.  I had no expectation any more.  Glaring left, I could see dabs of chalk… marking nothing.  But in fact marking something.  I guess it depends on ones perception of what is a hold and not a hold.  Anyway, I went for it.  Loving my big hands, I managed to just pinch my way across the overlap left.  Matching feet on nothing, eyeballing a good side pull, I launched.  Fuck!  I caught it, I was still on.

Me on the traverse (Photo: Martin Mackenna)

Oh bugger,  I just got through the crux (Photo: Iain Small) 

That woke me up.  Taking a moment, I worked the sequence out. I had to match it, and press off it, smear on nothing and reach to the good flake out left.  Closing my eyes  (well not literally) and taking a deep breath I made the move.  Blooming heck!  I felt totally committed.  Arranging the gear, I took some time to chill out.  The crux was done.  I just had to keep my head together for the Missing Link crux.  So up I went, treating the 5c moves with as much respect for 6c moves.  Then I arrived at the move out to the Thor Belay.  This looked hard.  Annoyingly hard. Just give me some overhanging crimps to pull on!  Please!  But no, just a committing move left. It basically involves a span left, releasing your right hand smearing just your left foot to reach an out of reach (crap) hold.  Then spanning above me with my right, I pinched a little arête, pasting my right foot up, some more moves, I can’t recall then a reach into the juggy flake of Thor.  Mouth dry, I clipped the belay and sagged back.  Flipping heck, I still can’t believe it.  What a pitch! 

Iain was up next.  For him, it was a bit more stressful.  Traversing the overlap spat him off several times.  I could feel the stress and frustration.  These routes rely on just subtle irregularities in the rock.  You can’t pull harder.  To work the move is impossible without a top rope.  Last attempt, He got it, got to the side pull.  There was still that move to the flake.  Even I was holding my breath and closing my eyes for him.  He did it.  And off he went, cruising like he does.  Walking out that night was unreal.  That pitch of Realm of the Senses was done! 

Iain on the Missing Link part.

Dinner at 12.30am, followed by a crap sleep; I was broken the next day.  My whole body was cramping, especially my calves.  Normally after a route on the slabs, I have no more interest.  However, Athene is burning in me.  However, that would involve the Realm pitch again.  Folk keep asking me about Icon of Lust.  That’s a different ball game.  So I’m afraid the line will be drawn soon.  Well I’ll draw it in pencil ;-)

Monday, 22 May 2017

A bit of Trad followed by some old fashioned mountaineering Part 2

Guy Steven had me booked in for a weekends climbing months in advance.  With Guy training to become a Guide, he has learnt the ability to look into the future and predict the mint weather. 

Well this 2 day weekend grew arms and legs and became a 5 day trip.  Anna Wells got in touch and expressed interest about doing the Skye ridge in a day.  I reacted to this and was keen, but not at the start of a climbing weekend.  So we bartend and settled for a wrecky of the technical sections from Sgurr nan Eag to the Inn Pinn.  I have spent a fair amount of time on the Cullin for myself and guiding people.  But, it was cool to look at it from a different perspective and actually solo the standard rope sections.  Despite having a few grades in hand TD gap was playing havoc with my mind. I guess I have only ever glared at that steep greasy wall whilst rapping in.  The day Anna and I approached the gap it was bone dry.  So no need to faff, I just turned in and off I went.  Ok, its not ground breaking news as Peter Herd says, ‘an E7 climber down climbs a severe’.  But it’s not just a bog standard severe, its TD gap.  I felt a bit guilty as I soloed down with the rope in my bag so poor Anna had to keep the standard and follow.   Then of course there is the solo out.  This time, I ran the rope out as Anna was keen to have a proper look at this grovel.  I was due home on the Sunday night.  But, just pottering about on the ridge that Thursday, I realised that this spell of weather was the time to strike and do a quickish day traverse.  With no plans for the Monday, I mentioned to Anna I was going to stay on Skye.  She has a proper job and had to work.  So that gave her a bit of FOMO. 

The Cullin

Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, Sgur Thealach & Sgurr Alistair

Anyway, enough of that mountaineering non sense.  I was here to go climbing.  Guy and I teamed up on the Friday and headed off to Bla Bheinn.  Stairway to Heaven E5 6a was on the cards.  A classic Fowler route featuring in the iconic book Extreme Rock.  As we turned left out of Broadford, we bumped into Donald King who was at a loose end.  Three people carrying kit sounded much more appealing and sociable so Donald jumped in for the ride.  I was loving the chat on the walk in; in summary, if there was any traverses, put all the gear on Donalds rope and none Guys.  That seems fair.  Despite the sun beating down, the Great Prow was I the shade on arrival.  The wind was howling up the gully and it was flipping baltic.  Guy whipped out his multiple layers and so did I.  Meanwhile Donald put his goretex over his sweaty t-shirt and shivered.  Guy was nominated for Pitch 1 & 2.  I was sent off up pitch 3 leaving those 2 monkeys to discuss equalising anchors and clove hitches.  I have heard mixed reports about this pitch.  Some says its fine, others say it’s not fine.  Well I put the cams in and made the traverse right.  Much longer than I was anticipating.  Superb absorbing climbing to say the least.  I’ll let you go and find out.  Anyway, the best bit was yet to come.  Donald was on the left hand rope.  When he arrived at the cams, he eyeballed the traverse, then the rope running diagonally up to me…with no kit in.  ‘Oh’ he said.  Well, between me and him, we managed to arrange a back rope.  Guy too wanted the same treatment.  Just as well there was an insitu old cam in place….  The rest of the day went like clockwork with first class banter. 

Guy on Pitch 1 of 'Stairway to Hevan'

Guy following Pitch 3 of 'Stairway to Heavan'

Guy and I planned to go into have a look at Skye Wall E7 6b on the Saturday.  This interested Donald.  I felt a bit bad as Guy was giving his time to me and now Donald also wanted to donate a day.  Suddenly I felt a bit of pressure to perform.  But I was reassured they were in it for the day out.  With a strong support team, they requested to get the boat in from Elgol rather than the long slog over from Glen Brittle which I planned on doing.  I couldn’t argue. 

The Cullin from Elgol

Aware that Calum Muskett had been there a few days prior, the wall was well chalked.  I’m sure Gaz Marshall would have been disgusted.  I was in two minds whether to give it an onsight attempt or to rap it and try a few moves.  I played safe and rapped it.  It is a serious route in the middle of nowhere.  I know caff onsighted it last October, but as we all know, he is on a different planet.  Blessed with a strong support team who specialise in building belays, Donald and Guy were on the case.  Rapping the wall, was cool. I checked the gear and played on some moves.  All in all, the main pitch boils down to a bold first 3rd where the climbing is thin and technical, quite away above kit. Then after that, the gear starts to improve and the climbing still remains at high quality, but a bit easier.  I eyeballed the first pitch as I was busting for the toilet on the way past.  Arriving on the ground I couldn’t get my harness off quick enough and run.  With a lighter body, I racked up and went for it.  

Not a shit place to hangout

Pitch 1 is a perfect E6 pitch in its own right.  Thin gear, with a few hollow holds which you need to pull but not pull on.  Proper climbing.  Guy followed in good style proving that the Guides scheme training is not hampering his climbing ability.  Pitch 2 went without a hitch.  I guess that’s the difference between onsight and having inspected the route.  I do love the onsight feeling, but it was nice just to relax a bit on the route and take in the surrounding atmosphere.  Guy as always did a sterling job following.  I am incredibly lucky as its pretty tough to find a partner willing to give their day up and allow you to lead the whole route whilst they sort all the back ground faff.  Cheers Guy!  I lead us up a 60 m pitch to easier ground then guy lead the final 8m V diff ground.  Donald met us at the top and was back on the case sorting ropes and kit as I stood there faffing about.  To end the day we did some wonderful esoteric scrambling over An Dorus to get us into Glen Brittle.  A perfect day that I won’t forget.  Thanks to Donald and Guy for their time and knowledge; a memorable day in the mountains which I won’t forget.

Me on pitch 2 of 'Skye Wall' (Photo: Donald King)

Guy and Donald.  A pair of legends.  Thanks guys.

The Cullin at the end of the day from Elgol
 had a message from Anna saying she had managed to swap shifts and was able to join me for a ridge traverse on Monday.  I was a bit toasted on the Sunday morning, so I just went and ran a few of the hills in the Red Cullin as an active rest day.

The Cullin

We had a sociable walk in with Peter and Amy.  They planned the ridge over 2 days.  The weather was a bit weird.  Howling wind in glen brittle which lasted all the way up into Coir’ a Ghrunnda.  This put a bit of doubt in my mind for making quick progress.  But popping out onto the ridge, none! Dropping sacks off on the ridge, one must face the psychological torture of having to go out to Gars Beinn to start properly on the southerly top.  With this fine weather there were a few other team out.  We came across a solo runner and a pair of runners.  I could sense a slight unsaid superiority.  They were runners and we were punters.  I never mentioned this to Anna, but I think she could sense my competitiveness.  Anyway, off they went jogging into the distance.  Never mind.  Anyway, we were here to enjoy the day and not race other teams.  So off we went at 9.07am.  Trotting back along the ridge towards Sgurr Nan Eag, I could feel the early tingle of a blister.  Bugger.  I retied my shoes and that was forgotten about.  Anyway, continuing on, Anna was setting a good pace uphill. She had rested legs whereas this was my 5th day on. the hill.  Dropping down and around An Casteil, we momentarily discussed going out to Sgurr Dubh Mor.  The guide suggests it’s not part of the ridge but I couldn’t bring myself to miss it out.  Neither could Anna.  So we kept pure and went out.  To our surprise we me our running friends.  ‘Ah ha, hmm, that’s interesting’ I thought.  Tagging the summit, they were hot on our heels back over Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn.  I could see that they were not quite as hot on moving on actual scrambling ground.  The solo runner was all over the place.  He asked if I had been here before.  My reply ‘a few time’.  He too decided to follow the slip stream.  On the summit the runners took the lead.  I knew TD gap would cause a bit of a block.  So I upped the pace, poor Anna, hanging in.  But it had to be done.  The little climb leading up to TD gap, they paused and that was enough for me to step in front.  Looking into the gap, they halted completely.  I reversed and started to climb down.  I told Anna to take a moment and not rush.  Our pair of running friends gazed down and realised that these to lanky punters were not hanging about.  To be fair we had some friendly banter with the guys.  They were really nice chaps.  But at the top of the gap on the north side, enough was said and we were off as they were tangled with their ropes.  Moving quickly but cautiously we covered ground quickly.  I was delighted to top out of Kings Chimney to find a new sling and new DMM Boa.  That made my day.  Even if I we never finished the ridge, my find was enough to keep me happy.  Gazing back, no runners to be seen.  A quick bite and off we went.  We operated in our own wee worlds.  Clambering up An Stac, I glanced at my watch.  Hmm late morning.  Two thoughts entered my head. 1st Finlay is 2/3rds along the ridge now and 2nd  I bet there will be guided parties all over the Inn Pinn.  Topping out of An Stac, I was correct.  Charging over and clambering up the long side of the Pinnacle we met a team.  They just stood and froze and ushered us past with some encouragement.  Then on top a guided party shocked at the situation.  ‘How are you going to get down without a rope?’  They seemed rather concerned.  But I was down and onto Sgurr Dearg before they could understand the situation.  

Anna climbing down the Inn Pinn

Then Anna followed in good style.  The long slog up Sgurr na Banachdich, Anna could feel her lack of sleep from nightshifts catching up.  The pace slowed a bit.  Finlay is on top of Sgurr Nan Gillean now.  It’s quite funny the whole concept of traversing The Cullin ridge. I love the fact that everyone has a different experience on the same ground.  Its what makes climbing and mountaineering so enjoyable. The folk on the Inn Pinn can’t comprehend a soloist, yet I can’t comprehend Finlay Wild moving twice as quick over this ground.  But we all get satisfaction from being at our own limits.  Bidein Drum Na Ramh played on  my mind.  The central peak has some tricky down climbing.  I couldn’t recall much about it as I have always had a rope.  Anyway, Ghreadaidh, and Mhadaidh passed keeping the mind focused.  

Anna on Sgurr Ghrueadaidh

Arriving at the top of Bidean, I felt a tad apprehensive.  I get psyched out by guidebooks.  I could still visualise the sentence saying it was hard.  We were down and up onto the north peak without hassle.  Then there was the psychological grinding section from here to Bruach na Frithe.  Anna was encouraging me to go off and do my own time.  But I felt we started together and come this far, we should finish it together.  She seemed concerned she was holding me back.  Not at all, I was just loving being up there moving over Britains finest ridge.  An Castiel, I made the same mistake I always do and went right then found myself belly shuffling on the perched blocks on the narrow ledge back round.  Bruach na Frithe ticked, Naismiths was the last climb.  Having never climbed Naismiths, I felt a tad intimidated.  Even though I had a few grades in hand, you still treat it like an E7.  Going up first, I felt the exposure.  Not a place to mess up.  Waiting for Anna half way, I talked her through the moves.  She voiced concern, I felt concerned myself but kept a cool narrative to relax her fear.  She took a breather whilst I bobbed on up to the top.  A tricky mantel and I felt it was in the bag.  Anna followed and felt relieved to be on top. 

Anna climbing up 'Naismiths'

Am Basteir was passed, with a quick social chat with a previous Assistant Instructor from the Plas y Brennin. Dumping our bags at the col, we just had Sgurr nan Gillian left.  We stuck together up the chimney and where the Gendarme used to be, then we moved at our own pace up the final section.  Topping out was cool.  Anna caught up.  We sat and took a moment to admire the surroundings.  6hr 34min.  Certainly not breaking any records by any means but respectable for not really knowing how quickly you could do it.  The main thing was, we both enjoyed it and found it satisfying  The rat was fed.  For Anna, that complements her winter traverse which she did in a day.  I have no FOMO of that… well a wee bit ;-).  Thanks Anna for a superb day out!

So, Skye came up with the goods.  Stairway to heaven, Skye Wall and a day traverse of the Skye ridge. Possibly one of my best trips.  I see Caff has added a new E9 Moonrise Kingdom to Coir Uisg Buttress.  Reading the interview, that sounds a different ball game.  It’0s not quite made it onto my list of routes to do. But maybe in future years it may be pencilled on.  But at the moment, I’ll play safe. 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A bit of trad followed by some old fashioned mountaineering Part 1

I must have be swapping hands, swapping sides, shifting body positions, upping and downing for at least half an hour.  The sweat was pouring out, my mouth was dry and I felt rather puzzled.  Holding the ropes was a young Peter Herd.  He was sat back, strapped in and loving the turmoil I was in.  We all know that I like to hang on, but I was getting a bit bored.  Unfortunately I was just not seeing the sequence.  Eventually I committed…. (About bloody time Pete was thinking!), then I was off.  Mouth dry, arms buggerd.  I had nothing left to give...not even a quiet Murdoch rage.  I was ‘gone’ as Dave Douglas would say.  This was my attempt on Surgical Lust E7 6b on Scimitar Ridge in the Llanberis Pass.  Being a Scot who enjoys moaning about everything, the moan of the day was it was too hot and sunny.  So we waited all flipping day for the sun to disappear round the corner.  Even when it did, I was moaning it was still too warm.  So basically after my late start on the route, it was almost dark by the time Pete lowered me off.  Anyway, those of you who know the topography of Scimitar Ridge will know it is a total ballache.  2 Laps of the crag to retrieve gear left me rather toasted. 

Pete on 'Roc Nest - Monster'

Me on 'Surgical Lust' (Photo: Peter Herd)

The Following day was forecast to be overcast, windy and the threat of rain.  Thank god.  However, Pete’s luck was out.  He got himself involved with Roc Nest - Monster E4 6a as the sun popped out.  But, he dispatched in good style.  Thankfully the clouds returned and it started to rain for my attempt.  At least it was crisp and the friction was good.  Just the change in conditions allows the grumpy Scot to focus and feel alive.  Surgical Lust dispatched with no faff. 

North Stack Wall

North Stack Wall.  That’s an interesting cliff.  I sent Pete up Blue Peter E4 5c.  Mainly because the route included his name and he had a blue top on.  I must admit I felt quite responsible sending the lad up this serious route; a bit unsure how he would deal with this nature of climbing.  North Stack Wall is a stressful place.  Friable rock and poor gear, it’s not a place for the faint hearted.  Anyway, a steady methodical approach, it was my turn to feel impatient belaying.  However, Pete topped out glowing.  Not bad Gogarth initiation.

Pete chilling on 'Blue Peter'

The Clown E7 6b has remained unticked on my scribbled list for a few years.  It still remains unticked.  I did give it a look but stuggled to fully commit over the roof.  My feet were even over the roof, I just faced a mental block on each attempt so made the desperate down climb, grappling the soapy undercuts.  The onsight still remains for another day.  The Long run E5 6a, gave an exciting escape route.  I find it quite interesting the whole trad game.  Bouldering all winter and 10 days in Chulilla with Russell Birkett gives you a load of strength and fitness.  Then you strap a rack on and switch to fiddling shitty gear in, it’s a different ball game.  For me anyway.  I must admit, I expected to just to pick up where I left off last October.  However, I was a tad rusty.  But, I’m on it now!

Pete following 'The Long Run'

A week in North Wales sends my head into turmoil.  To move, or not to move.  A week of concentrated trad climbing just reminded me of its ease of access and quality.  But, it’s not Scotland.  No doubt I’ll be back down later in the year to redeem myself on North Stack Wall. 

Pete on 'Comes the Dervish'

Me on the 'Flashdance/Belldance combo' (Photo:Peter Herd)

Retuning home after a week of fine weather, I was shocked to be knee deep in snow on Ben Stack one evening after work.  A shit winter which has decided to prolong itself was becoming a bit frustrating.  Back to the boulders, wall and hill runs for me. Walking from my car to the office door one day was not dissimilar to setting off into the Northern Corries from the Cas car park.  In fact, how would I know, I would get out the car! A week later, I found myself messing around on a bone dry Cullin Ridge in a T-shirt.  Scotland, you got to love it!  Spring high pressure pushed in with an easterly airflow.  The west coast of Scotland becomes the most wanted place to be on the planet.  Skye seemed to be the fashionable place to be, so off I went!

The Cullin
Part 2 is written, but I need to keep my 4 week delay in publishing.