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.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Wrapping the (what?) winter up.

There was no wading about knee deep in a bog this time.  Just rain in the face and sweat. 

I’m sure we are all aware that this winter has been rather challenging in terms of winter conditions.  To be fair, motivated folk have who have bothered their backside have got stuff done.  Dave Kerr springs to mind. Good effort! 

Looking back at the last few weeks, all I can see is the odd winter day grabbed amongst great days on rock, or many days bouldering inside.  However in reflection, this winter has been pretty good if you relax a bit about the 'winter conditions' and turn your attention to other aspects of climbing.

Am Fasgadh, Pete messing about on 'Pillar Up' and Mhairi on 'Curving Crack'

Am Fasgadh

Mhairi on 'Worry Bomb'

Gaz on 'High Five'

Maol Chean Dreag

For several years now I have been keen to climb ‘The Knuckleduster VIII,9’ on Ben Nevis.  I also know Iain Small has been keen as well.  However, between us and other partners, there has been problems with actually getting on it.  Mainly due to other international teams starting up it!  However the 1st March, the stars aligned and no other bugger was there.  We opted to climb the direct version, originally climbed by Greg and Guy.  This provided some great physical pumpy climbing.  I must admit, surmounting the roof, I felt slightly intimidated as I reminded myself of Gregs blog. However, when you are actually there, you get on and deal with the situation which I’m sure many of us have experienced.  However, the conditions we had were friendly snowed up rock.  The Knuckleduster was a very satisfying climb due to both the climbing quality and the strong line it takes. I highly recommend to others operating at that level. 

Iain on pitch 1 of 'Knuckleduster'

Me following pitch 1 (Photo: Iain Small)

Me on pitch 2 (Photo: Iain Small)

Iain following pitch 2.

As always Am Fasgadh has provided some good winter rock action.  With a looming sport climbing trip to Chulilla, I felt the need to tie on, do some laps or follow some new link ups.  Ian Taylor as always has kept his eye in on gaps and created The Omega Link F7b+.  A good edition.  The next logical thing (very very dull reading for everyone bar locals here, I’m sorry) was to establish the Mega Pup F7c+.  This provided a good elbow touch the sky workout and a stressful clip.  I thought sport climbing was safe?

Me on 'The Omega Link' (Photo: Ian Taylor)

Knowing I was just about to fly away to Spain, one last winter day out on Beinn Eighe wasn’t a bad idea.  However, the weather was far from ideal (for me at least).  A walk up in rain was a bit crap.  At least we reached a point it turned to snow which made the painful experience a bit better.  Gearing up in the ming on top, the idea of a committing rap into West Central Gully was abandoned.  We settled for a shorter day on Samurai VII,7.  This was recommended to me by Dave Kerr and French Erik.  A great route providing quality sustained climbing the whole way.  I must admit, there was the odd moment I ‘wasn’t feeling the love’.  Walking out, we reversed the walk in where the snow turned to rain on decent.  But it was a great day out in the end.  I haven’t been soaked to the skin in a while.  

Me on Pitch 1 of 'Samurai' (Photo: Iain Small)

Iain on pitch 3.

Me on pitch 4. (Photo:Iain Small)

I am in Chulilla at the moment with Russell Birkett.  It’s bloody raining outside.    Packing my bag on Friday was depressing with this weeks forecast to be wall to wall rain.  However, upon arrival, it is only to be wet today.  Thank god!  Yesterday was great, a shock to the arms.  Clearly bouldering all winter or 12 move sport routes was not ideal for 40 metre sport routes.

Walls of Chulilla basking in the evening sun light.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Scottish Winter Climbing at its finest

It’s dark, it’s cold and I am floundering around in a bog.  The weight of my winter bag pushing me down as I flail desperately to swim ashore.  Andy looked away and never said anything.  If it was me, I would have been buckling with laughter inside.  But I like to think Andy is too polite for that and was thinking ‘poor Murdoch’.  My right leg, and both arms took the brunt.  Standing on dry land again with a soaking leg and a swamp filled boot, I must admit, I’ve had finer moment on winter walk ins.

Gearing up at the top of Beinn Eighe, Andy made the comment, ‘I’m surprised you carried on, I would have turned back’. My jaw hit the ground.  I could have quite easily turned round and gone back to the home for a more civilised breakfast.  The name ‘West Central Gully’ sends shivers my spine when I am feeling relaxed.  That venue seemed an even more chilling prospect given the circumstances.  We agreed on a nice easy quick day on Eastern Ramparts to salvage the day.  That idea was quickly thrown out the window when parts of the imposing Far East Wall looked pretty wintery.

‘Just use steinpuls.  Put your tools in upside down, high feet and go’ was Andy’s comment as I looked at the big off width roof crack on ‘Crazy Eyes’.  Bugger that!  I’m not a new modern dry tooler with all these fancy techniques.  I’m old fashioned and like edge to hook.  So I stuck with my guns and eventually committed to a desperate sequence of matching this match stick edge, then locking deep with my left whilst making a huge span with my right to a flatty on the arête.   Mean while your feet are on next to nothing.  Managing to then get my right mono point onto a little ledge on the arête, I matched the flatty with my left tool leaving my left foot braced against the wall.  At the original grade of VII,9 which Will and Olav suggested, I was expecting a sinker hook, bomber wire or something positive.  There was nothing.  Eyeballing the gear at the back of the roof, shouting to Andy telling him was pumped, searching for more gear, I felt rather committed. Fuck!  I managed to tap in a token rock 3 on my right, but that wasn’t enough to stop me flapping.  I certainly wasn’t reversing those move.  The only way out of this was to carry on.  So a few pulls later on some what felt marginal hooks, I eventually got my left knee jammed in the offwidth.  Feeling a bit more secure, I caught my breath.  I figured once my foot was there, I would relax a bit.  A bit more faffing, scrabbling, I eventually wedged my foot in.  Thanks God!  Managing to reach deep in the offwidth I managed to place another token wallnut 2.  Jeepers!  I’ll spare you the rest…. I eventually got myself wedged into the crack higher and placed a bomber Size 4 dragon.  All that was left to do was a grovely offwidth to the belay.  As much as it was a ballache, it was secure.  I collapsed at the belay.  My previous weekend flu bug was still lurking.  Obviously Andy followed with no issues,  lead on through and made light work of the strenuous exit roofs.  Good man.  I think VIII,9 is more appropriate...

Me feeling flustered (Photo: Andy Inglis)

Andy following pitch 1.

Andy squirming his way up the offwidth.

Andy on pitch 3

Since that day, the winter just disappeared.  Much to a most winter climbers dislike, I was quite happy and turned my attention to the bone dry crags and boulders.  A few days at Brin, a day at Am Fasgadh confirmed the arms were still working and some local bouldering, I have no complaints.

Mhairi on 'Pink Wall'

Me reflecting the sun on  'Worry Bomb' (Photo: Richie Betts)

Pete opening his account on Malcs

Grade discusson
7 years ago I had a go at Malcs arête Font 7B.  I remember it well, a crisp autumn day.  Richie Betts had just established ‘The Mission Font 7B’ a few weeks before.  He was psyched for me to have a go.  But, I was more interested in Malcs as it suited me.  It was steep, good holds and I was slapping the top of the boulder.  Not succeeding, I turned my attention to the thin technical face of ‘The Mission’.  I’m not sure what happened but I managed to somehow do it.  Something way out my league at the time.  So back on Malcs, but no success.  Since then, every bloody year I have tried Malcs Arete.  Slapping the top 95% of the time.  On one occasion I rolled my ankle.  Since that attempt I developed a mental block.  In the intervening time, I kept bouldering and ticking problems of similar grade or harder.  I even managed ‘The Essence Font 7B+’ and that’s high! (well for me!). 

Rich on his King Line, 'The Essence' (Photo: Rich Betts Collection)

I must admit, I got to the point that I just couldn’t be arsed with it anymore.  I could see myself ticking Phoenix Nights before Malcs.  Last Friday was another mint winters day in the Glen.  Pottering around by myself up the hillside enjoying the solitude, I switched to hang out with a highly energetic Lawrence who trying Otters Wall.  This I like, but graded 7C+, it was out my league.  But I got on it.  Somehow, I managed to top out of this problem.  I think the grading is a bit off!  Walking back to the cars, the light was fading.  Walking past Malcs, I couldn’t be arsed.  Walking on I stopped, turned and thought ‘fuck it, I better give it a burn'. There was the usual mumbles and grumbles from the observing crowd… its just another go.  But somehow, I latched the top.  Shit!  After I managed to control my hyperventilating, I manged to top this.   Phew!

Lawrence on 'Otter's Wall'

Tactics in keeping holds in the shade.

,,,For years i've done this! (Photo: Anne Falconer)

An end of an era.

Winter returned, Iain, Andy and I had a day on the Ben.  Not my finest winter day.  My journey there was rubbish and we caused some rock fall which was crap.  It’s knocked my mojo a wee bit.  Anyway, the sun was out today and despite the chilling wind, it was a stunning day which I enjoyed.

I see its getting colder.  I’m split for Sunday.  Torridon Boulders, or Scratching Granite?

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Avoiding a second lashing from The Vicar

As much as everyone is grumbling about this poor winter, I’m actually loving it.  I am facing my weakness of bouldering head on and am now actually making the odd dynamic move.  In saying that, I did in fact wet myself (you may wish to refer to my last blog post ending) on January 2nd 2017.  Whilst Ben Nevis remained black, the Cairngorms were blasted from a Northerly which resulted in the crags being plastered. 

So my good friend Guy Steven and I ventured into Corie an Lochan to see what was happening.  Well, it was certainly wintry and it was certainly cold.  We opted for ‘Hookers Corner VI,6’ which was ‘good fun’.  It took me a day to thaw out.

Guy near the top of 'Hooker's Corner VI,6'

Me on pitch 2 of 'Hookers Corner' (Well technically Hoarmaster top pitch) (Photo: Guy Steven)

Of course on Tuesday the temperature had to go up to 12 deg Celsius with rain at all levels.  But in keeping with this winters theme, the temperature plummeted again Tuesday night.  Having my doubts that Wednesday would be any good, I sacked it off.  But, I packed my bag just in case I changed my mind.  8 pm on Tuesday night, I thought I might as well go with Guy and at least have a walk with a heavy bag.  The FOMO would have killed me if it was good.  Well, bugger me, into the approach to the corie, it was actually looking quite wintry.  However, the product from all these temperature fluctuations was a nice coating of verglas.  Anyway, it wasn’t as windy so we decided to have a look at ‘The Vicar VII,8’.  Now, this route has haunted me for the last 5 years.  I could write a whole blog post on why, but I’m not, I’ll give a summary.  Please refer to Jim Higgins blog as he wrote a great account at the time.  Since that day, I have climbed numerous winter routes of similar standard or harder.  My memory of it was getting onto the little ledge by the arête was tricky, then standing on the ledge, I was unable to commit to the arête.  It looked mental.  Admittedly the weather that day was pish so that never helped a tired unwell Murdoch.  So I bailed left into 'Nocando Crack' so I never felt that I completed to route properly. 

So Guy nicely dispatched the first pitch.  We used the new direct pitch that Guy Robertson, Greg Boswell and Pete Macpherson used for 'Siberian Tiger'.  I’m sure it’s well known but I would like to re emphasise that it is a superb pitch and well worth doing.  Arriving at the belay, Guy was quite happily strapped in and reminded me that he has done his bit.  Dick.  I did voice concern about how icy it was.  I think I also mentioned that this was a stupid route choice for today.  But I only have myself to blame for that. 

Guy breaking onto the wall on  Pitch 1

Guy on pitch 1

Guy still on pitch 1.

So, I try and leave the belay ledge.  Normally there is would be some ‘up and downing’ going on.  Not today.  Just standing unable to move up.  Eventually I found a placement and a way I went.  Happy, not really.  But as many of you know, you become absorbed into the climbing.  Once I moved onto the ‘wall cracks’ I was a bit more in the flow.  Gear was hard work but satisfying when secured.  I found myself making the tricky moves onto the little ledge.  Not as bad as I recall.  By this point you are a fair bit out from the last good runner.  I gazed left at the Nocando Flake.  It looked so tempting.  But I couldn’t.  So, you clip a shitty peg, tap in a size 1 wire which only went half in and a pecker in a shitty icy crack which looked more pretty than useful.  I looked up at the arête above and thought ‘for fuck sake’.  Clearing off the hoar, I was still thinking the same.  There seemed nothing obvious to pull down on.  It’s all just rounded and sloping.  Eventually I made a move up and my right tool was on something good.  Making another move, the next minute both feet popped (poor technique, I know) and I’m hanging straight armed on just my right tool. Shit! I twist and eyeballed the corie floor between my legs.  The ropes were waving in the wind, my last bits of kit were not the bomber wires I previously had and I couldn't be arsed anymore.  So I managed to untwist match my left tool on the placement that was obviously good, haul myself up, get my right foot on a ledge by my face and began to mantle up.  Searching desperately for something with my left tool, I found nothing.  Just bald slabs glazed in verglas.  It was precarious one legged stand up.  Eventually I could stand comfortably and took a moment.  Above lay a sea of stepped  glazed slabs separated by tricky mantles.  Obviously there is no gear and Guy was out of sight so I was on my own now.  Eventually turfy ground was met which took me to the top.  Phew.  Certainly not ground breaking news, or setting new standards in winter by any means.  But, a great experience on a great route.  Well, I think it is anyway.  So in the end, after 5 years, those demons of mine have been laid to rest.  It wasn’t nearly as hard as I remembered it, but certainly an Icy Vicar was testing in places.  To the modern climber, its fine.  Hats off to Greame Ettle who did the first ascent of this pitch this 'back in the day' with his fancy dual points, straight shafted tools with leashes and a rucksack I believe?!

Me on pitch 2. (Photo: Guy Steven)

Of course, it thawed out again and I was back prepping for rock 2017.  I thought I would finish the week of with a cheeky run up An Caber on Ben Wyvis.  Normally I can run the start then brought to a fast walk.  This time I could barely run to the starting gate from the car park and felt knackered.  Ok, let’s just walk to the big boulder then… I talked myself in going to the top of the hill.  My slowest time ever.  I woke the next day in a world of pain and shivers, followed by a night of sweating buckets of sweat.  The following few days were toned down versions.  The rug has been pulled from beneath my feet and I have been floored for once.  It certainly reminded me the value of good health.  Resurfacing today has been gold.

Roll on spring, I want some French Sport crags

St Leger