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

Sunday, 18 December 2016


Arching my back, straining my neck, I could see Pete in the upper part of the continuation chimney of ‘The Hoarmaster (VI,6)’. As he waves back to say he is all right, I’m shouting ‘Hurry the fuck up’ deep from inside my belay jacket.  But unfortunately he never heard me.  Standing on the belay ledge, I stared at the pinnacle which is home to ‘The Gathering’ and ‘Pick in Mix’.  They were absolutely buried in rime.  Despite having climbed them both, I was struggling to work out exactly where they went.  They were certainly ‘in condition’ but I suspect significantly more challenging in their current state.  A few weeks later I saw the winter UKC forums kicked off with the usual ‘whats acceptable’.  It made for entertaining/dull travel reading to Chulilla.

Pete following pitch 1 of The Hoarmaster

Prior to our Chuililla holiday, I thought I better get some last minute endurance training in for these 40m routes.  So I ventured over to the Torridon Boulders and focused on 5 move boulder problems.  I can confirm that I still have mental block on Malcs Arete.  Slapping the top of the boulder 99% of the time now, I can’t commit.  I’m too busy preparing myself for the landing before I pull on.  Yet, I managed to make short work of the Potential 7 (Font 7B) the next day.
Me on Potential 7

Mhairi Stretched

Crag guardian giving Malcs arête beta. 

Winter made an appearance early on in November.  Peter Herd and Myself arranged a mellow day.  The howling wind certainly blew the winter cobwebs off my tools.  Plan A was abandoned so a stroll into Lochain was next.  Having never climbed the  ‘The Hoarmaster’ but seeing it so many times, it seemed an appealing choice given the weather.  Pete lead the second pitch but the cheeky bugger belayed just below the top of the crag leaving me to top out into the ming.  I love unconsolidated snow sat on slopey granite slabs.  I actually thought I was going to get blown off backwards.  No joke.  So I waited patiently (well as best I could) for a slight lull.  The walk out was easy.  We were literally been blown back to the car.  Winter, you got to love it!
Windy (Photo: Peter Herd)

Whilst Scotland was blessed in with high pressure, Mhairi and I left on an Easyjet flight to a pissing wet Spain.  I won’t lie, sat in the airport comparing the Scottish forecast with the 10 day forecast for Chulilla did make us both feel a bit sick.  But you never know…  Arriving in Chulilla, there were mini rivers flowing down the roads.  Unloading the hire car, we both got soaked.  I suspect you are all sat there waiting for a grumbling blog about how shit it was and how I suffered major FOMO.  Well, there is none to report.  Chuililla is an amazing place.  With the walls being so tall, the crag bases remained dry.  Fair enough some Tufas seaped and there were times that conditions were not amazing with humidity.  But in actual fact we did the same amount of climbing whether the sun was shining or not. 

Sometimes it looks like this...

..but mainly this.

I must not forget to pass my thanks to Peter Herd and Amy for restalking me with tea.  I find Spanish tea bag collections shit.  I thought I took enough normal ones, but part of the way through, I recounted and feared the worst.  So Peter who was flying out during the middle part of our trip kindly took some.  Legend.  Thanks!


Highlights include, Mhairi onsighting 'Las caquitas de Nazarten 7b'.  It was a pleasure to hold her rope.  For me, nothing new, just the treading water of regular 7c+ onsights with the occasional 8a first redpoint. The golden rule was, if Rob Greenwood had onsighted it, I had to onsight it.  If Rob had red pointed it, I still had to onsight it.  Moon Safari 7c+ when I was knackered before I started was memorable.  I turned 30 years old as well.  My knees are sore, my hips are sore my back is sore, and as for my elbows, they are fucked.  Old age eh!  And of course, socialising with The Evans, Martin, Katy, Alex, Emma, Rory, Pete and Liam was good fun.

Mhairi warming up on 'Top of the Rock'

A nice day

Thank you to this lady for her patience.  Chulilla routes are not short.


Back home now, winter has gone.  Good.  We have all heard it before, Murdoch’s winter strategy, I’m going to boulder more and become stronger’.  But we all know, when the snow arrives, I’ll be wetting my pants.
It was good fun.

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 (Photo: Ian Taylor)

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 ;-)