Sunday, December 27, 2009


Here's a pic from Rich Cross of me on the crux pitch of Travesty. Rich has written up a wee report on his blog here

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Clogwyn Du 23rd Dec

Just got back from a fine trip to Clogwyn Du in North Wales with Rich, Jon and Eric. Heres a few pics:Welsh alpenglow
After an hour or two trying something new we ran away for the "slabby!!!!" one of Nick Bullock's two routes - Travesty (VIII,8). Meanwhile Andy Turner had just completed the second ascent of the steep Bullock route - Cracking Up, a 1 in 3 overhanging IX,9. I eventually on my third attempt made it across the crux of Travesty, words to describe that pitch include committing, scary, pumpy, marginal, outrageous.
This is Rich polishing off the rest of Travesty to lead us to the top in daylight, just. The crux was still ahead, only just managing to get home across a snow locked Peak District.
Jon and Erik also had a fine day with Jon making a smooth lead of El Mancho (VI,7).

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Ben and Southern Highlands Report 19-20 Dec 09

Got back at 2am this morning after a superb weekend in Scotland. Despite an intimidating forecast of blizzards and very high winds Malcolm Bass and I managed to get a couple of fine routes done. First was Sidewinder (VII,8) on the Ben which we luckily had got up early for after only 1 1/2 hours sleep. So the first two pitches (we climbed the summer start - highly recommended and more in keeping with the rest of the route) were climbed in calm weather. During the final corner the snow and winds got up and the spindrift started which was expected but still a little trying. It didn't take the gloss off an excellent well protected climb though.

On Sunday we were joined by Simon Yearsley, Malcolm's long time climbing partner, who has recently started a camper van hire business This was a novel bonus as we got a full nights sleep in warmth and comfort, tea and bacon for breakfast and the dubious pleasure of a bottle of Slovenian Death Juice. We opted to avoid the forecasted 60 mile an hour winds and lightning! with a visit to Beinn Dorain in the Southern Highlands. We climbed Messiah (VII,7), a great line and a truly mixed climb, lots of ice, frozen turf and snowed up rock. Highlights included the committing crux traverse on the first pitch, half our belay ripping out and one of my front points collapsing at the start of the third pitch.
Creag an Socach with the line of Messiah marked
Simon (with rather fine gaitors) linking turf blobs up the first pitch.
Myself on the final pitch
Simon and Malcolm appreciating the luxury of a post match brew in the van. The Slovenian Death Juice in the foreground isn't standard issue on all rental vehicles.
The weekend should have finished about 11pm Sunday night back home but snows, and lack of grit just north of Glasgow saw us lose 3 hours in traffic meltdown.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Migrant Direct

A couple of pics from last weeks ascent of Migrant Direct with Rich Cross.
Rich posts about his and Al Powell's adventures on their company site here

Saturday, December 12, 2009

From one extreme to the other

Feeling great after my few days up North I logged on to catch up with news on the web and my heart sunk. Guy Lacelle, the Canadian ice climbing guru, had died in an avalanche at the Bozeman ice climbing Festival.

I bumped into Guy over the years on the festival circuit and had the privilege to share a rope with him for a couple of days ice climbing in the Canmore region. His skills as an ice climber were truly the stuff of legend. Aged 54 he'd racked up an incredible list of first ascents and repeats of seemingly every top ice route. Extraordinarily many of those climbs were done alone, unroped solo. Name a world class ice route and it's quite likely that he had soloed it Hydenfossen, La Pomme D'Or and The French Maid all tough grade 6s for example.

Guy would often work through the summer as tree-planter so that he could climb for 60-80 days each winter. I climbed with him at the beginning of one of his mammoth seasons and it was notable what a calm and cautious approach he took, wanting to build up a base of moderate routes well within his ability, to fine tune his "feel" for the ice. Guy reminded me of both a master craftsman with his deep love and understanding of the medium, and of a high-dan martial artist in his humble respect and dedicated preparation. By mid season this dedication would yield phenomenal results such as his solo enchainement of Terminator, Sea of Vapours and The Replicant in 5 hours.

But Guy will be remembered by those who knew him not just for his climbing but his exceptional qualities as a human being. Softly spoken he would draw you in with his warmth of spirit. During our short time climbing I appreciated his generosity and support as I was feeling my way (i.e. climbing badly) on moderate routes, down playing his own efforts to raise my confidence. Guy made many friends where ever he went on his extensive travels around the world in search of the perfect line. He will be deeply missed by the whole ice climbing community.

Friday, December 11, 2009

N Corries trip report 9-10th December

First trip up of the season and it didn't disappoint. Rich Cross and I arrived just before 5am after driving through the night. After a couple of hours kip we walked in to Coire an Lochain and were pleased to see how white everything looked.The view from the loch into Lochain on day two (Thursday 10th) with everything still as white.

With pretty much everything wintery enough it was more a question of which were too buried. We opted for Nocando Crack but after leading the first pitches it became obvious that the route would be a nightmare for gear as it was covered in several inches of ice. Instead we carried on up the overhanging corner of Migrant direct which proved to be superb.The line of Migrant direct (note Rich's cleaning efforts in the corner)

The following day we headed back up a little worried about the MWIS forecast which had the freezing level at 1250m. The reality was closer to the Met Office's projected 700m and if anything the cliffs were even whiter. We headed up Ventricle which turned out to be super sustained, luckily once again Rich was firing on all cylinders and did the bulk of the hard bits. I got the last pitch in the dark which had many "moments" including an off route lob when a block pulled and a particularly terrifying last move.
Rich feeling the steepness on Ventricle.
We got back to Sheffield at 4am, happy satisfied and very tired.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter Warning

Abusing axes on Sundance, Beinn Eighe (Photo Guy Robertson

A friend of mine had a dramatic reminder that winter climbing gear has its limitations this last week. On the lead his axe suddenly fractured into two pieces halfway down the shaft. The force and momentum causing the handle end of the shaft to stab him in the face. Obviously in many ways he was unlucky, but perhaps he had a bit of good fortune that the jagged shaft didn't hit him in the eye or neck. As it was the outcome was fairly brutal, breaking his jaw with some pretty major flesh wounds.

Now my friends axe was pretty old (I think at least 10 seasons) but such catastrophic failure is still fairly shocking. But perhaps it's not as unusual or as unlikely as we might think. Last season I ripped the handle off two axes in separate incidents. I think it's worth remembering that most axes are designed in Salt Lake City, USA or Milan, Italy with delicate tapping up perfect ice in mind. If the designers really knew what we did to their creations in Scotland I think they'd be horrified. So am I suggesting we stop torquing? or tape two axes together? Well obviously not but perhaps we ought to pay a little more attention to the state of our equipment. While spotting stress fractures can be very difficult, taking a conservative approach to retiring equipment early is almost certainly a prudent idea. After all my friend will end up with a slightly metallic wonky jaw but it could have been a lot worse.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Final 2009 Show - Abergavenny

Peregrine Falcon on El Capitan, Yosemite
I'm working away on some new stuff for my final show of 2009. As well as talking about my climb with Major Phil Packer and his spinal injury up El Capitan, I'll have a detailed look at the dramas and motivations behind my new route last season on Beinn Eighe. That took 3 attempts and there were quite a few "incidents" along the way. I'm also putting together some new film clips and photo sequences. Looking forward to it and now I'm finally seeing off my illness of the last few weeks hoping to "give it all I've got".

More details here