Sunday, 23 October 2016

Patience...It's not over yet!

Shaking out above the crux of ‘Ride the Wild Surf‘ E4 6a, I took a moment to absorb my surroundings. Autumn had certainly arrived in North Wales. The wonderful burnt colour of the hillside reflecting the light from the low setting sun was magical.  A few moments later, I had the pleasure of topping out from another cool slate route.  With it being so dry (Ride… tends to seap), it was an opportunity for the visiting Murdoch not to miss.  Another ‘North Wales Rock’ green guidebook route ticked.

After returning from Squamish, I was welcomed back by the midges and rain.  Mhairi and I got a soaking in Beinn Eighe when we attempted Sumo E3 6a.  Continuing was out of the question.  I thought the midges were bad when I got back to the Corie Dubh Mor car park, then I saw Ian and Tony’s photo from the Shelterstone!  A week later, the rain washed Iain and I off the Central slabs.  They will need to wait till next year.

A welcome home from the little shits.

Yes, I look twit.  But very practical. (Photo: Ian Taylor)

Iain Small as per usual has been operating under the radar this summer, opening up some hard new routes.  This year, Binnean Shaus seemed the most appropriate venue; southerly aspect, exposed and quick drying.  I was keen to repeat his new route, ‘Icinglas’ E7 6c.  This takes the cool ramp system, to the left of Ardenfreaky E3 5c.  With gear knowledge, I went for the flash.  All I will say is make sure you have two DMM size 1 wall nuts.  One heavily used and worn, the other, fairly used.  It was the difference between fitting and not fitting in these subtle slots! 

Round 1. I was spat off on the initial crux bulge.  Down, ropes pulled and I was back on.  What felt like 5 minutes, but more likely an hour plus later, I found myself boxed attempting to shake out below the final crux at the top of the crag; a slab.  Below me was steep burly climbing.  Now I was faced with throwing for a sloper then holding tiny crozzly crimps and balancing my way up to the vertical heather.  A heart breaker finish.

I fell off. 

Similar to my experience on ‘Dusk till Dawn’ E7 6b in the Lakes last year, the end of the day was reached.  It was getting dull with a cold wind and passing showers.  Most people would be home by now.  Iain had read my mind and had the ropes uncoiled at the base of the route.  I ran up the route in a fraction of the time compared with earlier.  But this time, the slab was soaking wet.  I chucked at the sloper, but was airborne again. 

Round 2.  The forecast was wrong.  It rained, rained, then stopped raining, then rained…… F*ck sake.

Round 3.  The forecast was correct.  But this time the warm sun was shining bright and Cubby was out taking photo’s.  Thankfully a fresh breeze kept things fresh, and Cubby kept himself discrete. 

Me on 'Icinglas' E7 6c (Photo Iain Small)

A repeat from Iain of his own new route (the big wall right of Delayed Attack) was very impressive.  This repeat was just so he could add a top pitch (on significantly easier ground!).  Strong ethics which I admire.  The flakes are thin and very friable on pitch 1.  Combined with hard climbing and not much solid gear, it was slightly stressful belaying.  But by 2/3rd height, he was on safe ground.  I could breathe again.  

Iain on his new line.

Since then, Scotland was proving tricky for myself in getting anymore trad done.  So I found myself bouldering, clipping bolts and running in the hills more.  I was beginning to lose faith about the autumnal high pressure.  A day guiding An Teallach in the driving rain, gale force winds and snow on Bidean confirmed that winter was on its way.  3 days later I ran An Teallach for myself and it was the polar opposite.  Calm, blue sky and warm! 

An Teallach

Looking west along Foinaven.

Mhairi adding 'The reverse traverse' at Ruthven.  A tricky F7a+

Andy Inglis and I planned a Uk rock trip for the second week of October.  Risky business, but it coincided a spell of settled weather.  Pembroke attracted us both.  The sound of steep chalked up trad routes with good kit along with a Tony Stone tick list was an ideal venue for a holiday.  Pembroke came up with the goods.  The Trevallen E5’s gave some good mileage, Huntsman’s Leap gave a unique Pembroke experience and Stennis Ford put me to the test. ‘From A Distance’ E7 6c was my highlight.  I fell on the onsight low down.  A bit frustrating.  It went ground up second go.  The pressure of fading light definitely helped speed me up!  I’m sure if I had the chance, I would have spent twice as long on it. An engaging lead to say the least.

Stennis Ford all chalked up.  Cheating really, but i'm on holiday.
Huntsman's Leap.

Andy rallied us up to North Wales for the final 2 days of our trip.  With ambitious objectives out on the coast, we reached Tremadog.  His patience with Welsh roads was wearing rather thin.  My stomach was in bits and I felt ill.  I was quite happy to sit back whilst Andy dragged me up the perfect ‘Cream’ E4 6a.  Hanging at the final belay, the memories of my time living and working here filled my mind.  I was beginning to question myself for living in the Highlands.  The Great Orme emptied the energy reserves in our arms on our final day.  Ward 10 E6 6b caught my eye several years ago.  Finally the opportunity to get on it arose.  Noticing it was low in the grade list, I assumed it was going to be piss.  It’s not in my opinion.  I never fell off.  How?  I do not know.  Thanks to Andy for a great trip.

Andy on 'Cream' E4 6a

Traversing Liathach today with Mhairi reminded me why I live in the Highlands.  But I still have some North Wales FOMO to get out of my system.  Maybe another year living there would do me some good…

Beinn Alligan

I see Loch Maree Crag is open for the season.  Good prep for Chulilla next month ;-)

I better not forget my wellies for Loch Maree

Friday, 2 September 2016

Lay backing my Way into trouble

The Chief 

Lay Backing
“Climbing up by pushing the feet away from the body and pulling the hands towards the body”
(The BMC)

The resistance of the tag line was the last thing I wanted.  Resistance as a percentage was 100%.  It was slammed on like an emergency stop in a car.  Eye balling my last camalot, then Danny, then the camalot, then Danny… of course there were a few loud naughty words spouting out my mouth.  Pulling hard with my arms, pushing hard with my feet, I was in extremis.  Danny freed the tag line from the twig it had wrapped itself around.  Silence followed by a calm apology then a chuckle. 

As I hate to admit it, this pantomime took place on the famous Split Pillar pitch on the Grand Wall.  The pitch comes in at a very modest 5.10b.  However, I made it feel like 5.12b.  I made the rooky error of just full on lay backing the entire 50m pitch.  I even had the bright Idea of ditching a second no. 3 camalot because the crack ‘didn’t look that wide’.  What a punter.  Anyway, I got up it fine.  

Grand Wall, Danny following the second slab pitch.

Danny following the Split Pillar

Somehow ‘The Sword’ pitch above rated 5.11a felt easy.  I guess the sword is much more conventional and suited to the British climber.  I was informed on our return to the campsite you can bridge and jam most of your way up the Split Pillar.  Rest anywhere… clearly I missed the technique.

Lobbing through the air sideways was not on my plan.  Especially onto my little cluster of micro wires.  Lobbing a second time through the air sideways onto my micro wires was still not on my agenda.  I had fallen into the trap of trying to lay back the tiny crux groove.  I was grappling the little slopey arête, smearing my feet on shiny smooth granite.  It felt impossible. I found myself in gut wrenching contortions in the hope I could slap into the out of reach finger lock.

Danny enjoying the silver jugs at the top of 'The Sword' pitch.

Danny on the fine top pitch of Grand Wall

I decided to climb back up a short section and belay on the ledge off to my right.  The guide book suggests splitting the pitch in two but I ignored that bit.  Bringing Danny up, some minor rope faff/swap, I was back on the sharp end.  Back in the same position, I was off again.  At least the fall was nicer.  Back to the belay ledge to re think.  I must be missing something?  Then back up, I was just about to have another shot at lay backing the impossible groove, I noticed a tiny quartz seam off to my left.  I managed to bridge my left foot out. Stepping my right foot up, I was basically hands off.  Statically reaching the finger lock followed by some positive climbing, the belay was reached.  Another major technical error on miss.  This second pantomime was on the 5.11c pitch of Freeway.

Danny starting up the stunning upper dihedral pitch on Freeway

Danny following the roof pitch on Freeway

So, I am not long back from a 3 week trip to Squamish with my good pal Danny Laing.  Neither of us were really that sure what to expect.  We are both use to face climbing, so dropped our ‘supposed grade’ expectations.  We both had similar aims which was just to go climbing and do lots of it.  I think it’s the only way to learn the style.  We were blessed with fantastic weather for the full 3 weeks.  There was just one day it was just a bit rainy and we only managed a few single pitches in the morning.  Clearly a 3 week trip doesn’t even scratch the surface in what Squamish has to offer.  We did manage to spread our visits out to as many crags.  Towards the end of the trip, the rising temperatures were the limiting factors.  Early starts was the only way for us two pastey white Scot’s to deal with the heat.  The afternoon was generally spent hiding and chilling in the shade with some form of minor grumbling from me.  We spent 2 weeks hanging out with Danny’s pal, John Yahr.  John is from Baltimore, the east coast of America.  What I found worrying was the fact, he never found it that hot! 

Me on 'The White Feather' pitch. (Photo: Danny Laing)

However, I seemed to be function much better yesterday whilst faffing about in the Central Slabs in the Cairngorms.  It was cold, overcast and windy.  The friction was perfect.  But, these mint conditions ended fairly quickly when the forecasted rain arrived early.  Rapping off rotting anchors in the rain, walking about on wet grass and mud in my rock shoes, I find this somewhat satisfying.  Dry rock, clean ledges and bolt belays; that is all too easy.  Money in the bank was how I viewed yesterday….  Today’s effort, well that was just a waste of time.

Squamish, is a superb place.  I would highly recommend it.  I suspect it is fairly tame in comparison to Yosemite.  However, it was busy, but very mellow.  There is a clear shift in focus from the main routes, to bouldering.  Never once did we share a route with people which was cool.  Both My own Flickr and Danny's Flickr tell a much better story than I can write.  Of course the highlight of the trip was meeting a black bear on our final day in the forest.  I never knew I was that quick at walking backwards!  Anyway, what makes these trips so good is superb company.  Thanks to both Danny and John for the shit banter ;-)

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!