Whilst I've neglected it in the last few months, my garden has given a huge amount this year - from a much needed breathing space for the head to courgettes, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, lettuce and apples for the taste buds. The amazing variety of wildlife for such a small garden (particularly since it's terrorised by our cats) has been particularly uplifting. So here's a year in snaps.
April (sorry 2 shots - great month for the garden as well as climbing!)
Been a mixed year, some months have gone by with just a single route, others have been amazing but all in all 2013 has been good. Norway had the wow factor but the best thing was feeling like a proper climber again.
January - Central Grooves (VII,8) Lech Ddu
February - Awesome trip to Lyngen Alps in Northern Norway
March - Nice new route (VI) on Lech Ddu
April - North Wales just keeps on giving. The Appendix at night before Chequered Wall the following morning (left of folk on Central Icefall here)
April - Sorry two pics it was such a good month. Opening Gambit (MXS)
May - Traditional Pembroke bank holiday Playstation (E3)
June - Nightflight (HVS) Whitestone Cliff
July - Capital Punishment (E3), Ogwen
July - Yes two again, just a great summer. Abseiling in for new route at the Iron Age Fort Area Range West
August - Rapture of the Deep (E4), Gogarth
September - Outstanding trip new routing on the islands off Skye
October - Mantrap (E3) Gogarth
November - Which Doctor (E5) cheating headpoint as can't climb grit
December - Falling off at White Goods in preparation for a superb start to 2014
A good friend of mine Sandy Ogilvie phoned me six weeks or so ago and casually mentioned he fancied taking his boat out for a last hurrah before putting it into winter storage and how did I fancy St Kilda! I almost asphyxiated with excitement before immediately saying yes without even thinking about logistics. Time wise my editing job has a small amount of flexibility but wife's doesn't, nor do family duties so that left a four day window. Of course four days can easily stretch to almost five if you forego sleep and travel through the night. So the evenings of the last month or so have involved lots of research, team gathering, permission-getting and weather dances. Eventually all were in place for last weekend except the weather, with rain and high winds forecast. The logical thing was to cancel, but despite losing one team member the ever trusty Jon Winter joined me as we left Sheffield at 8pm last Wednesday evening determined to have some sort of adventure.
And adventure we did have. No St Kilda but we still got out on Sandy's very splendid boat.
Visiting four islands just off Trotternish in the North of Skye - Staffin Island, Flodigarry, Trodday and Fladda (Fladda Chuain). Here is a seal on Staffin Island which is the only one with no real cliffs.
As far as we know none of these islands have been climbed on. Eventually we opted to try a route on Fladda as it was the furthest one out and therefore the most difficult to reach. Fladda is actually a series of interconnected islands with some strong currents swirling about. Sandy took us into a novel through cave inside one island from where we could scramble round to the main island we wanted to climb on.
This was known as Macdonald's Table and had what initially looked like a very attractive 25m face. There were some strong tempting lines, but being cautious we opted for the easiest looking route, which was just as well as the rock unfortunately was catastrophically unsound. Luckily the gear was on whole very good but I must have trundled over 50 different blocks. Jon felt it was the worst rock he'd ever climbed on.
We called the line 'Crumbs from the Table' (route description at end of this post). I think the best approach on Fladda would be to take some ab stakes and spend half an hour trundling for a more enjoyable climbing experience. Still we were definitely getting our adventure fix and importantly the weather was proving better than the forecasts.
The next day we got to visit a cliff that sounded awesome in the guidebook - Rubha Hunish. Home to a four star E2, a four star E3 and the most northerly E8 on Skye. The cliff proved as good as the hype, although once again the rock on the lower half was far from perfect.
The yellow line is the 3 pitch new route Jon and I added. 'Hasbeenfeast' had a particularly superb middle pitch which I'd only semi-seriously considered as from the ground it looked like it could easily be exposed 6b but turned out to 5b.
Here's Jon hanging out halfway through this great central pitch 300ft above the sea. This cliff has a lot going for it including at it's summit one of the best bothies I've ever seen.
Day three and the rain was just about still keeping at bay so we went and checked out the Kilt Rock area. One of the better known spots on Skye with two routes in Extreme Rock, although still plenty to do. In the pic below there is only one route left of the pinnacle for about 200m.
We repeated a Dougie Dinwoodie HVS called Toll Dubh which we, obviously reading too much into the guide description, thought might be an esoteric classic. Esoteric it certainly was! But the rock meant it felt closer to XS 5b/c. Still we got to spot a sea eagle as well as a wealth of amazing unclimbed 40-50m cracks. Our last day finally brought the forecast rain and so we retreated to a dry tooling crag (lines from M3-M9+) that Martin Moran had developed recently back on the mainland at Loch Carron. This was great fun and is well worth knowing about (its in the SMC Scottish sports climb guide) if your are taking a punt with conditions in the Northwest this winter. I even surprised myself by getting up an M8 after a quick bit of figuring out the moves.
We eventually got back to Sheffield at 2.30am on Monday morning, after one of the more fun and varied trips I've ever had. Thanks go to Sandy, who runs boat trips during the main season http://www.staffinbaycruisingandfishing.com/ highly recommended.
New route Descriptions
Fladda Chuain - MacDonald's table South Face
Crumbs from the Table E3 5b (25m)
Climbs the obvious cracked grooves on the leftside of the face. Varied and intersting moves with plenty of protection but unfortunately marred by dangerously loose rock. A thorough clean on an ab rope could potentially give a pretty good route.
First ascent: Ian Parnell & Jonathan Winter 19th Sept 2013
Rubha Hunish - Meall Tuath
Hasbeenfeast E2 5b (80m) **
Takes the obvious weakness starting between Opening Gambit and Willey's Last Stramash before climbing a dramatically exposed diagonal line rightwards across the headwall. The rock on the first pitch is loose in places but much better on the last two pitches.
1. (5a 40m) Start from the top of a rock and grass scramble 20m left of the cave of Willey's Last Stramash. Climb the obvious line of grooves and cracks trending slightly leftwards over a series of ledges until steep and awkward moves gain a stance level with a band of double overhangs to the right.
2. (5b 25m) Climb up slightly left into a niche topped by a roof crack. pull out rightwards from the right side of this niche to gain a horizontal break and then flake cracks which lead diagonally rightwards across the headwall to a bridging rest beneath a roof. Rock up back left to a large comfy ledge.
3. (5a 15m) The overhanging offwidth corner proves an awkward finish.
First ascent: Ian Parnell & Jonathan Winter 20th Sept 2013
My day off each week is usually my climbing day, but last week I was feeling pretty bushed so I went garden visiting and bird watching. I guess this means I've officially lost it and am now slipping inexorably into my dottage. The bird watching did enable us to check out Bempton Head which has one route by a certain Mr Cave and Mr Fowler, and by the looks of the cliff it may never receive another. The garden was Scampston Hall, which is the work of one of the most influential garden designers around - Piet Oudolf. His style of drifts of grass and long lasting perennials has been influenced a lot by wild meadows and praries, so it was interesting to see all the fields of wild flowers on the way to and at Bempton Head.