Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Something a little different

I was hoping to be up in Scotland climbing steep hoar frosted cracks but the cold but dry weather means there's very little in condition up there I'd like to climb. To keep from going stir crazy Jon and I headed down to the Welsh borders to check out an area a friend of mine, Ramon had told us about. White Goods has been developed as a specific dry tooling crag one of the few around. One of the difficulties is finding steep rock that no-one would want to rock climb on. White Goods manages this thanks to muddy shale bands between the roofs and a popular fly tipping site. Aesthetic it is not. Infact all that seemed to be missing from the ambience was a stereo blasting out Industrial Noise by Skinny Puppy or perhaps the less gentle tunes by Pantera.

Never the less we had a fun trip, climbing the easier angled Kitchen Garden routes (D5-D7) and then I surprised myself by hollering my way up Jaz a steep D9 (although I suspect pretty soft at the grade). Dry tooling in some people's minds is about as low as climbing can go, but Ive found it to be fun and the perfect option to get the guns reloaded for when conditions kick in again up North.

There's more info on White Goods here http://www.ukclimbing.com/logbook/crag.php?id=3826 and here http://www.drytooling.co.uk/articles/files.display-4.html. I think its a very worthwhile venue and certainly more enjoyable climbing than Birnam, the other major UK dry tooling venue, which is almost entirely drilled.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The future of Scottish winter climbing?

Many of you will know about this already. But for those who don't check out the following photos
They're of a couple of friends Pete Benson and Guy Robertson climbing a new route The God Delusion grade IX on Beinn Bhan in Applecross. They had the perfect adventurous journey to get up this thing. Guy had been in several times before, including once with myself to catch conditions on what he'd dubbed "The Eiger Project" (the face looks a little like the North Face of The Eiger). A few days before success the pair had made an attempt, reaching about half height where Guy took a lob when a massive block in which both his axes and pro were in broke free. On the return visit Pete and Guy left the car at 1am, in warm wet drizzle. Infact it was so poor they considered turning around. Luckily they persevered as within touching distance of the climb's start the rain turned to snow. They started climbed at 5am repeating in the dark their previous pitches. It was lucky they started so early as the climbing was so involved the final pitches were climbed by headtorch. Again fortune was on their side as it was a clear night and their was a big bright moon. The night shots in particular show what a magical voyage this was. Add into the equation that its a winter only route and you have something super special.

The title of this post is obviously hyperbole as there are many different versions of the way forward in Scottish winter climbing. But I hope any youngsters getting into winter climbing will realise that even though routes like this don't have the very biggest of grades, their length committment and style of approach make them world class efforts.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Post Duel

Looks like we got our timing spot on with our climb on Monday, as a fairly heavy thaw has set in. However continuing stormy weather should keep the snow pack topped up and provide a great base for the rest of the season. While the arms have recovered now from our trip, I'm not sure my back has, infact its beginning to feel like I might have cracked a rib close to my back during the Beinn Eighe avalanche. Hopefully plenty of Christmas cake should cement things back in place. The other thing that bust recently was my axe.3/4s of the way up the wall pitch on the Duel I suddenly realised my axe was feeling a bit wobbly. Infact the whole handle had sheared off.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Another "interesting" Scottish trip

After our last visit Jon and I were after a more normal outing up North. As well as getting avalanched with me Jon had managed to crash his car skidding on black ice on a previous trip so we were in a loan car from the insurance company while they patched his together again. Alex joined us to make 3 which was cosy to say the least in a Nissan Micra but once on the motorway we made good time, at least on the down hill bits. Crossing Ranoch Moor I slowed for the herds of deer crowding the side of the road, and settled behind another car. Within sight of Glen Coe I had just requested "the track" by The Fall - "Its a curse". When the carcass of a deer loomed 30ft ahead of us slap bang in the middle of road. I couldn't believe it as the car infront hadn't swerved or moved at all. I guess it must have been a high wheel base four wheel drive as the little Micra ploughed into the already dead animal. Initially there seemed little damage but within a few minutes it became obvious we no longer had a working radiator and the Micra was dead too. Luckily we managed to hitch a lift to Kinlochleven and crumble into bed at 2am. Jon volunteered to sort out the car aloowing me to hook up with Andy Turner for a day out.The dawn from Stob Coire Nan Lochan after a very pleasant approach on good neve.
A plastered Central Buttress with the long groove of Unicorn in the center a route that both Andy and I had both done previously.
We opted for the Duel IX,9 a route that took Cubby and Rab Anderson 7 seperate visits to heroically establish. Me on the wall pitch as the weather deteriorates, note the plume of spindrift above my head. Loads of verglass led to even thinner climbing than normal, with the crux for me high on this pitch just beneath the roofs. Unable to get at the rock hooks I had to chip 5mm edges into the ice to pull up with awful footholds 10ft above a cluster of dodgy gear. All in all I must have spent close to 3 hours on this pitch.
Andy making much quicker work of the 3rd pitch off width. We took 11 cams in all including two size 6s but due to the vergalss didn't place a single one. Superb route though, one I've been wanting to do for quite a while. Great to climb with Andy though, who gave me much needed confidence as I was fighting the demons of my last trip. Luckily the arm and back held out OK, although it was a very tattered Parnell who hobbled down to the road at the end of the day.

Throughout the afternoon a thaw set in which seems to be building further today. So even if we get the car sorted we will probably head home. Jon I think might be looking for psychological help after the run of luck he's had.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Leeds Lecture

I'll be lecturing in Leeds this Wednesday, 8pm at the climbing shop Mountain Intelligence (where to find them here http://www.mountain-intelligence.co.uk/ )
As well as explaining what exactly is "British Style" and showing how Sir Ranulph Fiennes tried to kill me, I'll be giving the full story behind my war wounds picked up in Scotland. Hopefully see some of you there.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mental, Mate!

I was deliberately vague yesterday about what went on on Beinn Eighe. Friends who I've given the full story have joked that theres a Joe Simpson style book in it if I wanted. Well I'll just settle for a quick story in Climb Mag. But here's a pic of the aftermath. Before that happened I'd been on a more interesting journey onto the West Central Wall. I was intrigued to learn that the late Alan Mullin had been trying to climb the same area I found myself in. It brought back quite a few memories of Alan, he exasperated, offended and made me laugh in equal measure but he was never boring. Alan would have absolutely loved the epic we went through on Wednesday. I've a vivid image of Alan's manic eyes burning through the storm announcing at every twist and turn "This is just mental, mate" although perhaps with the odd adult only adjective mixed in for emphasis. I shared a few adventures with Alan, but I struggled to be the friend Alan needed. It was nice to think that I'd shared a little of Alan's wild vision with our attempt on Beinn Eighe, I think he would have approved.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The good, the bad and the downright terrifying

I've just got back from two extraordinary days on Beinn Eighe in Torridon. I won't describe all that went on as I'm writing a short piece for Climb Mag. All that I can say is that Jon Winter and I saw every possible aspect of the Scottish winter game including some sides I'd be quite happy if I never saw again.
The incomparable Tripple Buttress of Beinn Eighe. On our first day in after 4 1/2 hours trail breaking we picked our way up the classic West Buttress IV,4. A 400m traditional mountaineering style route, one of the best of its type I've done. Day 2 and Jon experiencing the good and the bad. The sweat and suffering of 3 1/2 trail breaking to the summit but under the magic of a Torridon dawn.
The West Central Wall, for me the future of Scottish winter climbing. We attempted something new, climbing 60m before blank rock and gathering darkness nessitated running away. I'd love to go back and try again but the horror of what ensued on the descent will have to fade.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ben and Glencoe winter report

I'd been planning a week in the Alps for my big winter holiday but they've had shed loads of snow and the faces were looking more like Patagonia than France. Interestingly the very conditions we crave for winter climbing in this country. With a very promising forecast I swapped Fort William for Chamonix and headed up with Andy Benson. Andy's particularly keen at the moment having had a superb trip a week earlier with Rich Cross (Sioux Wall, FWA Heidbanger and East Face Direct on Stob Coire). On the Saturday we were met with snow down to sea level (the pic shows Andy ankle deep at about 500m alt) and a 4 1/2 hour trail break up to the Ben, much enjoyed by every one who followedAndy approaching Trident buttress with the line of Devastation a summer E1 marked, which we think hadn't had a winter ascent yet.Andy on the steep start to the first pitch. Ther were 2 tough pitches but there was gear available at regular intervals although it involved a bit of digging and fiddling. As a result the route proved easier than expected probably VII,8 Sunday morning dawned a perfect winter day, blue skies and -6c. We headed up to the Raven Gully area on the Buchaille. Eventually opting for Ravens Edge, Rab Anderson's big VII,7.
This proved to be a superb and very sustained route which led us to climb the last pitch, a fairly savage offwidth, in the dark This pic shows Andy on the 3rd pitch, the open book corner with Slime wall and a plastered Guerdon Grooves behind him. As an aside we were able to check out Cubby's legendary route. Which lookeed very hard, insecure and bold especially without ice, although personally it didn't float my boat. The line which I'm sure was logical for the first ascent from afar looks very random and uninspiring, there are other unclimbed lines on that wall that do look superb however.
Ive got a couple more days up here and am thinking of heading up to the North West. For those thinking of coming up, temps have gone up a little, all snow so far has been unconsolidated powder, there is some ice, and exposed turf is frozen up high although most bigger clods were insulated by a blanket of snow and are pretty soggy. There's certainly fun to be had though.