Friday 9 November 2018

Laying some demons to rest

Sat in the passenger seat of Tony’s car, I asked him the geeky question of what was his favourite route of the trip. He then bounced the same question back… I took a moment to think. I’m not sure there was a specific route, but more the fact I was able to trad climb again and trust my ability to climb and place gear.

Iain mixed climbing with a found bulldog.

I’ve been very poor with writing a blog this year. For the first time, ‘life’ has caught up with me. I bought a house. The keys were collected on the 4th July and my climbing turned upside down. Oh what a disaster, poor me, life is so unfair and so on. It was a kick in the balls. The best and driest summer in my climbing life and I opted to dig holes, lay insulation, install a wood burner and shit like that rather than cash in.  Short term pain, long term gain.

Ben Nevis in the late evening light

In reflection, the summer hasn’t been that crap. After almost killing myself and Iain on The Ben back in June, climbing was a bit of a stop start. I was physically fine and capable, but I guess I’m only admitting it now, 4 months later that I was pretty mentally affected by the experience.  Ripping an entire pitch of gear out is probably one of the worst experiences a climber can go through.  Lucky for me, I was high in the hills with just space below me.

4 days free at the end of June, I had planned to climb with Iain. He sent me a messages saying that even climbing on Comb Buttress was too hot! So with mixed emotion, I opted for doing ‘The Bat E2’. It was a nice re introduction to trad climbing. Hats off to Robin Smith.

Iain on pitch 2 or 3 of 'The Bat'

Iain, told me about his and Dave Macleods new E7 ‘Mr Fahrenheit’ on the Comb. It was an easy sale. Having walked past that buttress many times, its always covered in snow and ice so it was a novelty to spend 2 days up there in shorts and t shirt. The starting slab was issued with a health warning and so I opted to check it out as no one wants to hurt themselves. To gain access to the top, you do the traverse of ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’. That was rather exposed warm up. I can only imagine at the moment how exciting that would be with tools and crampons.

'Don't Die of Ignorance' traverse.

Me shunting the slab on the lower half of 'Mr Fahrenheit' 

Iain on the first ascent of 'Don't stop me now E6 6b'

Despite the amazing summer, there was the odd thunderstorms forecast.  Unfortunately these were falling on the days I had arranged with Iain for a visit to the Central Slabs.  But sitting here thinking about it, I’m not sure how well I would have fared up on those long run outs with a bruised mind. 

Snow tunnel 

As many folk know, Caff is on a rampage to finish ticking the iconic Extreme Rock book.  So, I had the pleasure of a day out with him and Cubby on Church Door Buttress in Glencoe.  This crag has the reputation for being slow to dry.  So, we cashed in and ticked Kingpin E3, Lost Ark E4 and Temple of Doom E3.  Lost Ark felt rather testing in places, not helped by Cubby shouting up comments about his ascent of it which was before I was born!  Legend. 

Church Door Buttress

Caff following Pitch 1 of 'Lost Ark'

 Andy Inglis and I had a week booked for a UK rock trip.  North Wales provided the obvious choice with a mixed forecast. The highlights from the week were, Andy testing the bolt stub and thread on ‘The Cad E6’, me pulling a hold off (after shaking out for 5 min on it!) on ‘Shittlegurber E5’, feeling ridiculously week and shit climbing at LPT and just been in North Wales.  Oh, and realising that buying a house in the Highlands may not have been the correct move.  But I always think that when I visit.  I looked at ‘The Clown’, but I mentally couldn’t bring myself to get on it.  Not enough trad climbing in the bank this year for that nonsense.  Next spring.  Thanks to Peter Herd and Dave Evans for providing a floor at the start and end of the trip.

South Stack

A trip to the Dolimites had been planned for the first 2 weeks of September with Tony Stone.  On my arrival in Sheffield, the long range forecast looked rather mixed and unsettled.  For once the southern half of the UK looked good.  I had never been to the South West before so we took the opportunity to faff around there for our holiday. 

Tony starting the trip out with 'II Duce'

Sunset at Sharpnose

Lundy was suggested so we spent 5 days there.  On our arrival, Tony sent me up ‘Supernova E5 6b’ as a warm up.  He said it was a bit tricky to get started.  Dam right it was.  However, I eventually got established and made steady progress.  The sun came out, walls were a bit green, my feet were exploding and my mouth was dry…. Just get the excuses out.  The guide mentions a peg…. A stub remains.  I stupidly thought the crux was low down and all I had to do was just steady my way to the top.  The crack slants right, it widens and nothing remains for the feet.  I’ll spare you the details, I sagged onto some gear. I topped out in a mess.  Dry mouthed, lathered in sweat along with bleeding toes from swelling.  Not an enjoyable experience. 

Tony re climbing 'Controlled Burning' after part of it falling down.

I was impressed with the South West.  A corner of Britain which I’ve been aware of but never made the effort to get to.  I thought that Bosigran was top quality.  Although it was a bit too hot for a pair of Scots at times so there was obviously some grumbling.  Visiting the crags around Lands End, I couldn’t help but think about all these people who walk, cycle, crawl, hop their way up North to John O Groats.  It’s a long way and I’m not inspired to do it.

Back home, I was back to house faff under the watchful eye of my pal Donnie.  My DIY skills have gone from absolutely shit to just shit so that’s something to be proud of.   Adding insulation, flooring the attic, digging out a slope in the garden, looking at curtains, I’m learning a few things.  But my motivation is beginning to slow down which is great and I can regain my climbing psyche again. 


Its autumn now.  Last week there was some snow and everyone was jumping up and down with excitement.  Even I was.  Lots of pictures of folk ledge shuffling and spraying all over the internet.  I can’t wait to see it in a few months time.  Meanwhile, the friction in Torridon last Friday was Velcro and I managed to open the bouldering season with ‘Wee Baws 7B’.  Not exactly the best training for a looming sport climbing trip to El Chorro but hey ho.

Gaz on 'Potential 7'

Sunday 10 June 2018

A big whipper on Ben Nevis

Drinking a mug of tea in the CIC hut on Ben Nevis at the end of the day was a pleasure.  Normally after a day on the Ben, Iain by habit needs to go in the hut, relax and enjoy a pot of tea.  Easy for him I think.  Normally I am chomping to get back due to my slight impatience.  Mainly due to the fact I’ll have some arrangement or work at the other side of the country the next day.  But this day was different.  I took time to enjoy the company and reflect on our day…. 

Ben Nevis
Over the years, I have managed to work my way through the climbs in the guidebook for Carn Dearg Buttress on Ben Nevis.  A bit annoying really as I love that badass cliff.  Iain of course has opened up a few more but the details have only ever been discreetly published.  A few years ago I repeated a route of his and Tony Stones up the right wall of Sassenach.  A nice steady E6 wall climb.  Highly recommended for anyone operating at that grade.  Recently we have had a great spell of weather.  For the first time ‘Life’ has caught up with me and so I haven’t managed to capitalise on it.  I had a day booked with Iain and so we opted for Carn Dearg.  He was happy to hold my ropes.  His suggestion was the left arĂȘte of Banana Groove.  It’s an E6  called ‘Calgucus’ he and Rick Campbell established in 2009.  I was easily sold.

Leaving the belay at the base of Banana Groove, I clipped the top wire of the belay, placed a cam, unclipped the wire, placed another 2 wires higher… then reversed, faffed.  Then clipped the belay wire.  Thin moves left, you gain the arĂȘte.  It’s sharp but satisfying.  Airy moves up I gained more wire placements.  They seemed solid (Size 5 DMM offset and a big BD micro).  More tricky moves and the right wall overhangs.  I gained a strenuous undercut and manged to place 2 small C3’s and 1 micro. 

The sequence above was unobvious.  Strenuous and technical was my initial thoughts.  I probed up and down many times trying to unlock something.  Iain had no knowledge so I was on my own.  I felt a bit of fear so placed another DMM small peanut. Now, I am a pretty calculated climber I like to think… sometimes over cautious.  No one wants to die or hurt themselves.  So basing it on that, I committed to a sequence.  Yes, I was pumped and my sequence was not working out so I went for the lob.  The gear at my waist, nothing new I thought.  Fuck me, I went for the ride of my life.
That cluster ripped clean out, spinning upside down, the next cluster ripped, I’m still having flashing images of the ledges of Sassenach off to my left.  I braced my body having time to think.  The next minutes I was on the biggest swing of my life under the big roofs of Sassenach with a pile of gear upside down.  ‘Oh bugger I thought’.  Correcting my orientation my ribs ached along with 2 rope burns across the inside of my right forearm.  Keeping the swing, I got into the wall and pulled my way onto the left rib.  Glancing up, Iain was pinned upside down glaring down with the rope pinning him down. I thought I had had the rough ride.  No! 

On the Arete (Photo:Iain Small)

Poor Iain was groaning in pain.  He never said too much apart from telling me he smacked his head (he was wearing a helmet), was feeling sick and sweating.  He informed me he tied the rope off and to just give him a minute.  I was clamped to the rib and placed 2 wires to secure myself to give myself a minute to just take in what had happened.  I had a growing concern for Iain.  How long do I wait till I climb back up?  He seemed adamant to give him a moment… Eventually he partially recovered and I climbed back up with him belaying me fine.

A nervous laughter was exchanged.  It was agreed pretty quickly that a pot of tea in the CIC hut was needed.  I knew something was wrong.  It was 1.30pm, there was still light and Iain wanted to go home! 

By the time we had left the hut, Iain was fine, chatting away and felt back to normal.  It was good to see the human side of him.  He felt content at the fact he has happy to leave, go home and enjoy the weather rather than feel the need to be out.  I felt sick to be honest.  I was the one who took the 30 meter whipper, but I came away relatively un marked.  Iain however took the impact.  Hats off to him.  He doesn’t remember much.  Obviously he was checked out in A&E and was deemed fine.  A stitch was required to his chin.  His poor knuckles have no skin left and he has a lump on his head.

Rope Burn

Clearly a lot of analysis has been happening in my head.  Cubby has taken great interest and has turned into Sherlock Holmes carrying out an enquiry.   Jules too has given it his interest.  I do feel a bit daft but it’s been reassuring speaking with those two as we all know from the history books, they have taken their fair share of rides down the cliff.  A few days have passed and I’m pretty keen to get back out (its good to see I am frustrated about the humidity, thunderstorms and midges rather than the fear of climbing).  I guess that’s the joy of harder climbing;  I sign up for it .  Having done lots of hard trad over the years, it’s good to have a gentle reminder that things can be pretty dangerous.  We walked away and I have my own thoughts on how to deal with stressful trad in the future.  We all get lazy about placing that initial bomber runner.  But from this experience, I’m sure you can see its importance.  Iain had actually placed a wire at his waist which stopped the upward pull too much.  Without, that would it have been much worse?  Do we all place wires at belays to take upward pulls?  Unusually we were using a single rope that day.  That was out of the norm for me.  Why do I have rope burn on the inside of my right arm?  A lot of things to think about.  So take what you want from that.

Thursday 12 April 2018

Winter. The Middle Part of the Season

The last time John Orr and I climbed together was a Sunday back in Feburary 2014.  We made the first winter ascent of route called ‘Root of All Evil’ IX,8 on Beinn Eighe.  I don’t know what happened but the last 4 years have slipped away and all we have managed was a quick social evening whenever I was in North Wales.  Anyway, John has been busy with the guides scheme which means his personal climbing has taken a back seat for parts of the year.  At the start of the winter, he sent me some dates of when he would be in Scotland and was keen to hook up.  He obviously pointed out that he has only been skiing and had done no climbing of any form recently. 

Ben Nevis
The season rolled on by and many crags came into good condition.  John and my date was fast approaching and there was that little reminder each time that he has only been skiing.  Centurian VIII,8 seemed to keep popping its head up in our discussions.  Naturally John had his reservations.  A long hard and sustained winter route.  However, the forecast was perfect and its rarely in such good winter condition John agreed it was a good opportunity.  I must admit, I did have new route psyche on Beinn Eighe burning at the back of my mind.  I disguised this by suggesting a nice short easy day, but John never bought that one as he had been there before.  The deal was, he would have a go at the first pitch then I would lead the next 3 hard pitch’s then take it from there.  And that’s exactly what happened.  Pitch 2 was the most time consuming as its long and sustained.  Higher up the route, I feared the route 2 traverse would be a nightmare due to the volume of snow on the slabs.  But as I started the traverse, it became almost a walk due to the snow being fairly useful with a slight but of consolidation.  The trench formed in the snow down Ledge Route at 9 pm was a welcome sight. 

Me following pitch 1 of Centurian (Photo: Johm Orr)

John following pitch 2 of Centurian (Photo: John Orr)

Me on the thin traverse on pitch 3 of Centurian (Photo: John Orr)

John following pitch 4? I think of Centurian

The Steeple IX,9, that would be another long winter affair I often thought.  Iain Small has often voiced his reservations about climbing it in winter.  He is a proper winter climber preferring the winter only ground.  In saying that, he has an impressive CV of winter ascents of hard rock routes!  Living now in the modern era, I couldn’t help but notice several reports of the Shelterstone crag been in good condition.  I tentatively suggested The Steeple to Iain and to my surprise he agreed out right.  The route had already had 3 ascents, with various means of gaining the upper pitches which include the stunning corner pitch.  Martin Moran and Pete Macpherson climbed a much more pure line of the route back in 2012.  Taking in the entry summer 5a pitch’s but swapping the slabby summer 5c pitch for the needle 5b pitch, this seemed a good option for Iain and myself. 

The Shelterstone

Iain got the ball rolling on the awkward groove first pitch.  Pitch 2, the continuation of the groove has a superbly fractured left wall.  Littered with perfect pick placements, this pitch in its own right would have a que of climbers back to Aviemore if it was located in the Northern Corries.  The summer 5b pitch of The Needle, gave Iain a good workout.  Following him, I forgot how strenuous it was and the seconding fear started to rise exponentially.  Busting my gut pulling into the finishing groove of the pitch knocked my confidence, but I never voiced my concern.  ‘Aye, that was quite tricky, nice one Iain’. 

Me following pitch 1 of The Steeple (Photo: Iain Small)

Iain on the Needle pitch

Leading the ramp and layback groove sharpened my focus again.  Pick eating cracks are always welcome, but sometimes are hungry resulting in a stuck tool.  Some jiggery pokery, I managed to free the tool with a raging hot temper.  Arriving at the belay below the corner, I thought ‘Oh, that looks tricky’.  At least the belay platform was nice below which offered me some comfort.  

Me on the ramp pitch (Photo: Iain Small)
It was still light, which was a bonus, but glancing at my watch, and knowing the rate I would be climbing at, I knew the head torch better be strapped on.  Questing up, the initial part is beautifully strenuous and positive.  Forgetting what this pitch was like as a summer route, I hoped the pitch continued in a similar positive fashion.  Then I was ground to a halt.  Baggy cracks, little feet and strenuous positions, my body was cramping up.  Laybaying on tools, feet pasted on nothing, hand jams, matching tools a thank god chalkstone was reached.  Here I could just chill out and hang on.  That has its advantages and disadvantages.  The rest of the pitch was still hard and awkward to climb.  With it being winter, of course everything was covered in snow and clearing was a pain in the ass.  But climbing snowed up rock is the stupid game we play so I’m not complaining.  Of course it was dark, and topping out of the corner with little gear left on my harness, everything was buried, there was several times I wished it all to be over.  Finally I got myself strapped in onto the airy and lonely perch below the final wall which guarded the easier exit ground above.  

Me on the Steeple Corner pitch (Photo:Iain Small)
I recalled Pete Macpherson saying that this pitch just sucked the energy out of you.  I can confirm it does.  Thankfully for Iain, the cracks were taking cams so it was safe.  Purple camalot size.  Great, but not great for picks.  So, some seriously strenuous pulls from him and an snowy mantel the ropes began to feed out quicker.  A pleasant sight for any tired belayer.  A faint‘Safe’ was heard, this was music to my ears.  Following this pitch with cramping hands, biceps and abdominal s was a joy in the rain.   The warm weather was pushing in and our lovely crisp winters day was over.  Standing at the base of the Sheltersone at 10pm on a Sunday night in February pissing is not my favourite thing at that time of night.  Add in the fact we had the painful walk out of Corie Domhain through a deep thawing snowpack with bags twice as heavy.  That again, is not my favourite thing.  However, the deep satisfaction of The Steeple coursing through my body and an unforced grin, the walkout was easy.  Some cold broccoli, a tin of mackerel and some oat cakes was a welcome dinner back at the car park.

Iain on the final top wall pitch

I cant quite remember the weather pattern but I think it thawed for a few days, then a re freeze with high pressure saw the ice begin build and pump out from everywhere.  Nick Bullock and I had arranged to go out.  Going to Ben Nevis on a stellar forecast was neither of our ideas of fun.  We took the risk and wondered about the icy routes on Giants Wall on Beinn Bhan.  Neither of us had climbed the outrageous line of Gully of the Gods VI,6.  Hoping that would hold the ice we chanced it.  I must admit, walking in, I had my reservations.  But, it was such a gorgeous day and we both agreed even taking the bag for a walk and looking at stuff was going to be satisfactory.  Giants Wall looked lean and my heart sank a little.  But peeking into Gully of the Gods, it was sufficiently smeared in ice.  Boom!  This route is by far one of the best winter climbs I have done.  3D fun is the best way to describe it. We were on top by 12.50pm.  With the sun splitting the sky and not a breath of wind, we just hung around lapping it up.  Cheating really, it was too easy.  The idea of doing a second route was quickly put in the bin.  How often do you get to sit about in the warm sun in winter after a route?  It was as opposite to hard mixed climbing as you can get. 

Beinn Bhan

Nick on pitch 1 of Gully of the Gods

Me on the 3D pitch 2 (Photo: Nick Bullock)

We agreed that Der Risenwand VII,6 looked icy enough so stashed the kit.  The following day we walked in with light bags and trainers over the frozen bog.  A novelty for this wall.  My previous visits have always been wallowing around in deep snow, in the dark falling into bogs, sliding on wet vegetation.  The usual grinding approach in the North West.  We roped up for the first 3 pitchs then just soloed along the terrace and up the ramp until a narrowing that neither of us fancied without a rope.  The original line makes an airy step left at the top of the ramp.  Nick reached a belay just before the step.  As I approached he was like ‘Oh, look at that over hanging ice above you Murdoch.  That looks rather good and tasty doesn’t it?’  I looked up, and thought, for fuck sake!  But, it did look rather attractive.  However, it did look like you had to utilise a wedged block which looked rather too exciting for me.  Anyway, away I went.  A steep strenuous mixed traverse right gained the ice, followed by some cruddy ice, it wasn’t a place to fall.  But thankfully I didn’t.  Nick followed then did what he is good at and just ploughed on doing one very long dynamic pitch to the top dragging me up behind.  Another, fine day.  Great company and good chat putting the world to right, it has to be my best weekend of the winter!

The magnificent Giants wall of Corie Nan Fhamhair

Nick on pitch 1 of Der Risenwand

Looking up at the wrong moment. (Photo: Nick Bullock)

Nick on the traverse on pitch 3

Me following pitch 3 (Photo:Nick Bullock)

Nick on the middle terrace.

Me following the ramp (Photo: Nick Bullock)

Me on the new Icicle variation  finish (Photo: Nick Bullock)


Friday 16 February 2018

Winter is here

Well, it is fair to say, that this winter is panning out to be quite good.  In saying that, last winter was not bad.  The weather was brilliant, there was just no snow and so you had to shift your focus and go with the conditions.  Bouldering.  This year, I must admit I have only had one days bouldering and have concluded that my energy is better spent hooking my way up frozen cliffs. 

The Ben on 30th November 2017.. my 31st Birthday.

Guy loving crap weather on 'Pot of Gold'.  A shock to the system after being in the desert.

This season, I have spent a few days in Glencoe.  I guess this is a happy middle ground between myself and Iain Small who I have been out climbing with regularly.  At the same time The Coe is not shit so, that’s handy.  On a nice weekend before Christmas saw us both standing in Stob Corie Nan Lochan.  For me, I had only done 2 routes there, so I had full pick of the corie.  Iain on the other hand only has 2 or 3 desperate routes to do before the crag is ticked.  Opting for ‘Satyr’ IX,9/10?, I nominated Iain for the first pitch.  Neither of us new anything about this route apart from the first pitch was bold and there was some history about Andy Nelson and Donald king going back 2 or 3 times to complete it.  Despite knowing that tiny bit of knowledge, the alarm bells never rang.  They must have been faulty that day… 

Iain on pitch 1 of 'Satyr'

Anyway, Iain set off up pitch one.  Bold start, its handy to know Iain likes (?) that stuff.  Maybe not, but I think he does.  A good hex was reached then steady away with another hard few moves up a compact wall, slopey ledge.  Not my favourite winter ground, but an excellent pitch.  I quickly wallowed my way up the easier middle pitch.  Then there was the top.  We new nothing apart from the summer description.  Up the wide chimney crack (another favourite feature of mine) then a mantelshelf move.  Off I went…. I got up the crack.  Looking left I saw the lovely top pitch of Central Grooves.  Oh how appealing it looked.  However, I was bound for this slabby wall above guarded by this horrendous mantel move.  A thin crack on my left had an insitu DMM Terrier.  I managed to back this up with a good rock 2 and a crappy size 1 peanut.  Up and down, I realised, this was not quite a straight forward as I hoped.  Hmm, Central Grooves out left looked even more appealing.  More faffing, I committed and the inevitable, I fell off.  Giving Iain the option of me bailing left or passing him the lead I prayed he would say just go left.  No.  He wanted to give it a shot.  Bugger.  Of course its dark…  So down I came.  Iain grovelled his way up the crack regretting his decision.  I was glad to see he gave the mantel a token look and said ‘fuck that’ and did the decent thing and bail left into the groove.

A few days later, I did my re search on Satyr and realised that the top pitch was problematic on the first ascent.  Both Andy and Donald were on the phone giving me their stories.  Then when out with Nick Bullock a few weeks ago, he mentioned that that pitch never went smoothly on their ascent.  The moral of the story, Andy and Donald are winter weapons…. Which we already know.  But this re enforced that knowledge.  Be careful if repeating their routes.

Summit Buttress

The following day, The Duel IX,9 was on the cards.  However, I’m sure most of you who follow Facebook and Simon Richardsons blog will be aware that I am useless and I ended up climbing a very long and taxing pitch of En Garde.  Here is my account which I submitted to Simon.  Please visit his blog as he of course has added in some interesting and important history.

Me on 'The Wall Pitch' (Photo: Iain Small)

Iain led the introductory pitch to below 'The Wall' pitch of 'The Duel'.  Then I led 'The Wall' pitch of the duel, crossing the overlap and into the groove.  From there I just followed my nose, totally unaware that 'The Duel' traversed out right.  There was an old peg on the left wall which had seen better day so I backed that up with a cam and just assumed the route continued up the obvious line above!  Tricky, thin committing moves above the peg gained a belay ledge.  I was aware that this was meant to be a long pitch of 40m...Iain shouted up that I had only done 30m or there abouts so I just continued up the corner.  This was pretty steep with only a crappy peg and cam to protect it so it felt rather exciting for me. Above this, you reach a turfy ramp and can belay below the overhanging chimney (again this all fitted in with my thoughts we were on 'The Duel').  Iain followed and led the chimney.  We had taken a big cam especially for this.  However despite the steep chimney being strenuous it was positive placements.

Red line is En Garde, Green is The Duel
Chatting with Cubby the next day then reading the route description for 'The Duel' in then Cicerone guide, the doubts began to creep into my mind in what we had actually climbed.  I mentioned this to Iain and with the help of a photo from James Richardson of us on the route, it became clear we were on the higher ramp of ‘En Garde’.  Grade wise, we both thought it was IX,9.  Above that peg, is still pretty sustained climbing with not an abundance of gear.  But i'm sure one of these modern dry toolers will have it down at VII 8 soon.  

In terms of a description, it basically follows the summer description in the guide.  However the pitch 2, I belayed on a big ledge below the overhanging chimney.  (maybe 45m).”

Iain on the top pitch of En Garde

I am pleased to see it has had a second ascent from Nick Bullock and Tim Neil (Nick has a very funny account of his day on his blog.  They both seemed to enjoy it which was good.  Again, I can’t re enforce the fact, Cubby, what a beast.  Very impressive climbing even by today's standards.

Next came a warm Christmas then a snowy New Year.  This saw Iain and myself walking around the Cairngorms.  Despite having done a few hard routes this year it’s good to know that the hardest I have pulled on tools was the VI’s in Lochan!

Iain on 'The crack'

Liathach, a great day out.

Bullock arrived in Scotland at the start of January.  Last time we climbed together was on The Ben in 2013 when the ice was good.  Several year’s worth of story exchange passed the brutal walk up in to Stob Corie Nan Lochan.  Neither of us had done Unicorn VIII,8 so this fitted the bill for us.  I had always believed that the first pitch was for your mate.  But knowing that I find seconding in winter the living end and basically can't, ask any of my partners, I felt better suited to at least lead the awkward flare.  Weird psychology I know!  At least that way it would be marginally more pleasurable.  I had built this initial pitch up to be hell on earth, but in actual fact, I thought it was fine.  Then I was a bit greedy and took more than my fair share of pitch 2, leaving Nick the top part of the corner.  I couldn’t resist, the climbing is first class.  However, I paid for my cheeky behaviour when placing my tool literally in the top of the crag on the 4th pitch.  My other tool ripped which saw me lob.  Bugger.  I sent Nick up to finish the job. 

Me on pitch 1 of Unicorn.  (Photo: Nick Bullock)

Nick following pitch 1 of Unicorn

Nick on pitch 2 of Unicorn

Glencoe provided another happy medium for Iain and myself during the very snowy weekend of the 20th January.  He of course has a black book full of new route options so making best use of the copious amounts of fresh snow saw us on the very low E Buttress in Glencoe.  Starting up the corner pitch of the summer E1, Trapeze, we broke off left up some rather interesting and rather shattered winter ground.  He is yet to write an account for Simon, but I’ll leave you with a few photos.  All in all a new VIII,8.

Iain following pitch 3 of our new route.

Iain on a tricky traverse on pitch 4.

Me on the final pitch.  Loose and rattly.  (Photo: Iain Small)

Another new line on the buttress left of Italian climb saw us floundering around in the dark.  Another one of these ‘Short Big days’.  A good lead from Iain on the initial pitch.  Straight off the deck he was pulling hard going over a steep overlap trying to gain a steep icy groove.  Iced cracks, very strenuous position with a body breaking landing, hats off to him for digging the gear placements out.  It was a joy to follow.  Questing off up left, I felt rather intimidated.  New routing in on new ground can be worrying.  Iain pointed me in the direction of these big roofs.  Thankfully these big roofs were well fractured so were very accommodating for an intimidated Murdoch.  Grade wise, VIII,9 or IX,8... Not sure.  Take your pick.

Iain on pitch 1 of the new line.

Me on pitch 2 (Photo: Iain Small)

‘The Crack’ VIII,8 on Ben Nevis.  Now, there’s a route I was sort of aware about, but not really.  I guess it’s not on many peoples radar.  It’s ‘round the corner’ on Ben Nevis.  No crowds there and low on the hill so rarely in acceptable condition.  With all this snow and persistently cold temperatures it was a good choice.  Walking up the base of it, it winks at you, teasing you inside.  When I was in the states last year, I managed to avoid offwidths.  Ha ha, I thought.  Well, it was payback time for that cheeky manoeuvre.  I was inside this thing.  Floundering around, gear way below, there were certainly naughty comments coming from my mouth.  Something about how 'I hate winter climbing' and 'this is a complete waste of time' and 'I should have gone for a walk instead…' the list goes on.  Anyway, again not knowing anything I grovelled up the first part to a welcome rest.  Then quested off up the continuation.  Suddenly you’re on the outside but the crack is too baggy for the tools.  It’s bulging.  What the Fuck?!  An old peg below my feet, I was feeling rather taxed again.  Thankfully I managed to through a hex in and batter it with my tool.  At least that was something, but then it was in the way!  Anyway, it took me some time to psyche myself up and deal with these pumpy strenuous moves to reach some thank god chalk stones.  Flipping hec.  Good job Simon Richardson and Chris Cartright.  Iain dealt with the next off width above.  I think on the first ascent, they went right but we stayed in the crack as we were enjoying it that much.  Easy ground was reach, thank god.

Iain on the awkward initial pitch of 'The Crack'

Me on pitch 2 of 'The Crack' (Photo: Iain Small) was more like this... grovelling.

Iain on pitch 3 of 'The Crack'

Centurion VIII,8, now there’s a route…  John Orr and i do like a lengthy day out, but that deserves its own write up.

Peter Herd on Vapour Trail.... Torridon will need to wait to March :-(