Friday, February 27, 2009

If you blinked you would have missed it!

Winter did arrive on Wednesday at the international meet, but only fleetingly and at the highest elevations on the west. By Thursday despite a frenzy of excited visitors conditions were rapidly dripping away, and by the middle of the afternoon the whole of Scotland was once more in deep thaw.

Luckily I managed to link up with Simon Richardson, a man who can sniff out a single snow flake a hundred miles away. And together with Max and Zoe Hart (USA) we managed to get excellent conditions and a new route Big Wednesday VI,6 high on Goodeve's Buttress on Ben Nevis. You know conditions are getting good when the hot aches or as they say across the pond "Screaming Barfies" kick in. Zoe Hart demonstrating her coping techniques. Max on the 3rd pitch of big Wednesday
Thursday saw us return in the hope of another good day this time in the impressive rock around Archangel, unfortunately the thaw meant we only managed 2 1/2 pitches before we ran away.

Zoe on the first pitch of Archangel as the thaw begins to kick in.Max suffered particularly badly in terms of soggyness as he'd forgotten his Gore Tex trousers.

So that was all we got in terms of winter this International Meet, fairly disappointing particularly for the visitors who'd travelled so far. The rain however didn't seem to dampen spirits too much and as I headed south the mini buses were just loading up to make a distillery tour, a side of Scotland that was bound to deliver.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Its winter but not as we know it

I'd been planning to blog daily from the international winter meet up in Scotland all this week but to be honest I've been too embarrassed to post. There's been one minor problem with the winter meet - no winter.

So far I can tell you about the conditions at Cummingston (a little damp) and Dunkeld (nice and sunny but seepy in the usual places). As for places like the Ben the reports are of water cascading over black rock and from the Northern Corries of black rocks cascading over water. So here's some pics:

Jeff (US) and Max (Canada) trying to make the guidebook photos fit to the awful reality.
Hoar build up at CummingstonJeff looking for the finishing icicle on an E2 at Dunkeld.
Max on High Performance E4 in full white out conditions at Dunkeld.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

More Land of Psyche

So it looks like the Welsh winter is (hopefully) temporarily over. Just before everything got too soggy Ive heard of a couple of further impressive visits to the Black Ladders. First Andy Benson and Rich Cross repeated Flanders, the route of Chris Parkin's that seemed to have developed the biggest reputation. They found it to be excellent with two tricky starting pitches, a reasonable middle section and a tough finale, VII,7 all in all. A day later local legend returned to his old haunt with Steve Long making the first winter ascent of Canon Ball at VI,8 (what that is in modern money we'll have to see). So until it gets cold again here's a few more pics of Scott Report courtesy of Mark Baggy Richards.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Land of Psyche

One of the main reasons I managed to rekindle my motivation and head over to North Wales yesterday was the sheer communal buzz emanating from the locals there recently. There are some seriously keen puppies heading out seemingly daily to make the most of conditions that have been proclaimed as the best since '97. After a 3.30am start I hooked up with Dave Evans and Mark "Baggy" Richards. Mark has been keeping a very good conditions blog which has been a real gem of information for visiting climbers. Together we headed into the Black Ladders hoping to try one of Chris Parkin's legendary routes.Western Gully in fine nick, which received a couple of ascents yesterday.
With the cliff in top nick we were spoilt for choice but eventually plummed for Scott Report. Given VI,7+ by Chris Parkin it seemed to be a contender for the hardest route in the Cwm but also more importantly wasn't reliant on ice, which seemed pretty thin on the steeper bits of The Ladders. The topo above shows the line we climbed in yellow, with the red arrow indicating where the first ascensionist might have gone on the confusingly described second pitch. The blue line is a not really formed The Somme. The route turned out to be excellent, with one very hard pitch involving committing climbing with decent but hard won protection on the hardest bits. Probably VII,7/8. Take a good selection of thin pegs and as much turf pro as you can muster.

Captain Keen himself Mark in a sea of turf at the top of pitch one

Sunday, February 8, 2009


It's been an interesting past few weeks, something of an emotional bungee jump. As I described a couple of posts ago my trips up to Scotland yielded only one successful ascent. That's not to say that the trip wasn't a success; visiting new places, gradually unlocking the secrets of some really special new lines and spending time with friends in the hills. But there were times when I could feel my mental energies dropping into the red zone. One of those moments was battling with the crux of a potential new winter route, when after some pretty nervous thrashing above poor gear I discovered a bolt next to my head. Not something you often come across in the Scottish mountains. Despite being an ancient relic it gave me a little more confidence to try again. I managed a few seconds further thrashing with my axes before the 1cm bubble of ice that formed my crucial footholds crumbled. It was then I found out how ancient the bolt was as it put up zero resistance to my fall. It was time to go home.
Sport climbing protection Scottish 1970s style. 3mm diameter bolts drilled 7mm deep!
Just under a week later I was due to make the most of the amazing conditions North Wales has been having, but had to cancel as my baby daughter was feeling a little under the weather. She's doing fine really, and for me every change in circumstances is another potential opportunity. Holding your little one in your arms as she drops off to peaceful sleep, now that's a special moment.
The other little pleasure this weekend was reading the first draft of a piece Andy Popp has written for Climb Mag. Its for the Stomping Ground series and covers Andy's local patch for the last decade of Cheshire; Helsby, Pex and Frodsham. These are all quiet crags that I've often driven past on the way to the bigger names of North Wales. Andy's piece perfectly summed up how important, essential even these local places can become. I won't say anymore - its a very personal piece - well worth checking out when it comes out in a couple of months. Reading Andy's piece reminded me that adventure needn't be about the grandest far flung places but can be right on your doorstep.
The view from the top of the Notch at Helsby
"All the world, seemingly, lies beneath your feet. Industry and landscape and habitation.... And there to the west is Wales; the promised land. The sense of place is tangible." Andy Popp

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In print and in the shops

After a lengthy gestation period Neil Gresham and my book is finally out. Winter Climbing + is published by Rockfax and offers fresh contemporary info on all aspects of winter climbing from Scottish mixed, to Continental ice through to the latest modern "m-style" drytooling techniques.

Theres more info here including a free downloadable chapter

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Love Hate Love

The title of this thread sums up my relationship with Scottish winter climbing this last week or so. Having summoned up all the psyche and child care I could muster I've had two trips of 6 days in total over the last week during which time Ive made it up one route, I was rained off one crag, blown off by 95 mile an hour winds on another, failed on a future 4 star desperate new route and battled the big blizzard that has swept the country. Heres a few pics from the last two days climbing with Guy Robertson and Andy Benson.The Dubh Loch on Sunday with Aquaduct left and Labyrinth right beginning to shape up. This place looks promising as the week looks set to stay cold. Andy on the "moderate" pitch of the new route attempt i.e. solid grade VII, sandwiched in between Guys dramatic lead of the first pitch and my flailings on the crux as dark descended. Note the roofs in the top part of the picture.
Monday 2nd
The Central Buttress of Lochangar, very icy, very buried and very promising for the rest of the season, this could be the long awaited return of Lochangar as the jewel of Scottish winter venues.
Andy in full conditions i.e. Monday's blizzard on Footloose, a very sustained VII,8