Monday, 2 November 2015


Hanging in my harness, I felt sick.  My body was in shut down.  Sore head, sore throat, basically a little sniffle aka man flu, I should have been in my bed.  Instead I gave Strawberries an onsight/flash attempt. What a disaster.

Strawberries was already topic of conversation before Robin and I even reached the A9 (it only takes 5 minutes from the house).  When I lived in North Wales during 2012, I never quite got round to getting on the route.  Probably because climbing at Tremadog is hard.  I remember having a ‘V Day’ with Dave Rudkin and I was shocked at how hard the E4’s were.  Void warmed us up. Vulcan, I slipped off but did it ground up next go.  Vector was a welcome rest. Valor was no a push over. Vulture, how I never fell off in the fading light I will never know.  Dave kindly lead Venom and seconding that I only just managed.  After ‘V Day’, I only ever went back to Tremadog for work.

Dave Evans and Emma Tywford did Strawberries last year and that set my North Wales FOMO alarm bells off.  Convinced I would take time off work and go down, I never did and Scotland came up with the goods.  Then earlier this year, I noticed Tom Livingstone and Ed Booth ticked Strawberries and there was another resurgence in my FOMO.  I don’t know what the attraction is.  I guess its just one of these old school, hard iconic routes with lots of history for being notoriously hard to onsight that attracted me.  Binning our alpine plans for various reasons, Robin Thomas and I decided to go on a UK rock trip and cash in on the Indian summer.

Strawberries route description from the old guide.

Annoyingly, I woke up the day before our departure with a sore throat, head and body.  Anyway, I figured I would recover whilst we travelled south.  Warming up on the ‘Atomic Finger Flake/Void connection’ I was reminded of the Tremadog climbing Style.  Conveniently a climber from The Lakes was there top roping Strawberries.  I watched him for a bit.  He red pointed later with the lots of runners in place.  That played havoc with my mind.  Fuck, it must be hard.  I shied away not feeling on top form.  His comment to me was, ‘it’s hard, you just need to keep moving quickly on it’.  Robin encouraged me into having a shot.  So I did.  We rapped in and yes I kept my eyes shut. 

Leaving the belay, I could just feel the weight of the route on my shoulders.  Feeling nervous, flustered and clearing my nose; this not ideal preparation.  I fell off right at the start like a complete punter.  Just not feeling focused.  In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened.  It just blew all the nerves out of me.  Back to the belay, I pulled my ropes.  Back on,  this time I managed to get up to the top of the crack.  Looking down I had 10 runners in place.  Once I found a poor resting position, Robin commented on how pretty my quickdraw display looked.  Clawing desperately to stay on, I attempted to make the moves left.  I fell off.  I was wasted with nothing left to give.  A ground up siege was not part of my plan as a weak visiting climber on holiday.  If I lived local, things might be different.  Pulling back on, I sussed out the next few moves.  I saw a bomber walnut 1 slot but was unable to place it so I fell back onto my last piece of gear.  Sitting there, I prepared a quickdraw with a walnut 1.  Back up, eyeballing the slot I managed to get the quickdraw off my harness, place the wire then get both hands grasping the quickdraw.  There was no way I was clipping off that left arm.  It was totally fucked.  Clearly, I was at the crux of the route.  Working it out, I got to the top.  Rapping it to get the gear out, I didn’t know what to make of it.  Will I bother?

We had an active rest day bouldering in the Pass, doing ‘Pretty Girls Make Graves’ and walking about with a big rucksack.  Robin had been keen for Pretty Girls.  Despite telling me he was too weak and unfit, he walked up it.  Back to Tremadog the following day, Robin lowered me into Strawberries.  I had to work out the crack and decide what gear to place and not place.  It felt desperate despite managing to climb it the other day.  The sun came out, so we went off and Robin decided to battle with the ‘Groove of Horror’.  Not a route to try in the baking heat.  Back to Strawberries in the shade, I top roped it twice cleanly.  Fuck!  I might as well give it a shot.  Sitting on top of the crag whilst Robin rapped in to construct a belay, I had my head in my hands.  Sore throat, sore skin, a little cough.  I went into negative psyche.  But I had to give it a shot.

Robin bouldering at the Cromlech Boulders

Robin cruising up Pretty Girls Make Graves

Leaving the belay, I was instantly pumped and a shaking mess.  I seriously did not want to be there.  I got some gear sorted then reversed to the belay.  Then off I went, the whole way up I was shaking, messing hand sequences, I could hear the advice from the Lakes bloke ‘….. you just need to keep moving quickly on it’.  So I did.  What a mistake.  An absolute mistake!  I kept moving, never shaking out.  This is not how I climb.  I managed to climb up the crack, move left do the crux and chuck with my left hand for the edge and off I went.  Airborne, I greeted Robin who was suddenly next to me.  Ripping a flapper out of my finger and darkness just round the corner, enough was enough.  Rain all day on Wednesday meant an enforced rest day.  We had a cup of tea in the Caban which shafted my bank account.  But that’s another blog post in itself.

Robin on 'Groove of Horror'


Thursday, I felt better.  Fresh skin, good sleep and my little sniffle on its way out.  What could go wrong?  Everything was wet.  Lowering into Strawberries, the whole crux was soaking.  My heart sank.  Chalking and brushing the holds, I just made a mess.  However, feeling fresh I climbed the crux each time despite wet holds.  Then I top roped it from the start and it felt fine.  Psychologically I just couldn't get on it with a soaking crux.  Robin suggest stuffing my t shirt somewhere to absorb the moisture.  So I did. Thankfully my cold meant my pockets were filled with tissues for blowing my nose.  So they got stuffed into all the little cracks.  A bit more chalking and a bit more brushing, things suddenly began to improve.  Then the sun appeared.  For once I worshipped the sun.  However, this was not helping Robin and his attempt at Vulture.

Sub- optimal conditions on Vulture

Being lowered in, the crux had dried.  A flicker of psyche was ignited in me.  This time I had the pressure of an audience, Tim Neill and his clients.  Oh well.  At the belay I went through the routine of going up, placed some kit and reversed.  I suddenly felt too warm and sweaty.  I had a thin base layer on as a replacement for my t shirt.  I had to take it off.  I hate climbing with my top off.  It just feels wrong.  I only have water pistols to show off.  No guns, but needs must.  So off I went, this time a steady approach.  Doing what I'm good at, moving steady, placing good gear rather than chucking it in, chalking up and shaking out.  At the top of the crack, I paused, slowed things down.  Listening to myself rather than advice was key.  The crux felt piss.  I topped out and looked round.  I could see Tim and his group sat there shielding their eyes.  I was blinding them as the sun was reflecting off my white Scottish tan.  I think there was a comment made somewhere that I was a week early for Halloween.  We decided to finish the day off with ‘Venom’.  I followed Robin who casually walked up it... I still found it desperate.

Me gaining the good edge after the crux (Photo: Tim Neill)

...on the easy ground.  (Photo: Tim Neill)

I’m pretty happy with what happened.  I gave Strawberries a good onsight/flash attempt, took the whipper and then dispatched it.  So it came pretty quickly.  I got my money’s worth.  Onsighting it would have been crap as you wouldn’t get the full value of the route.  The lob was better than topping out.  What a ride!  Thanks to big Tim for the photo's.  Whilst writing this post, I came across this UKC article by Jack Geldard and an interview with Steve McClure by Duncan Campbell.  Worth a read if you're bored.  But if you can't be arsed reading, Here is a video of Steve McClure discussing the route after his onsight of the route.

This is my account of Strawberries.  That was only one route out of many others which Robin and I did on our trip.  What a laugh we had.  I like to see I'm not the only one that grumbles about the price of going to cafe's and what a waste of money it is.  I can’t thank him enough for his patience in belaying me as trad climbing can be a bit off a faff sometimes.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Force

Most days last winter, Andy Inglis and I would chat on Facebook. We mainly talked about winter conditions, What’s ‘in’, where’s the freezing level and all that shit.  Sometimes Andy asked me what I’d been up to that day.  My usual reply was, ‘F8b training’.  That meant I was usually out bouldering or down at the wall pissing about with no idea what I was doing.  Training for what though? I had no focus, just keeping on top of rock fitness whilst the winter sucked my little strength away.  One day I might need to pull hard on rock. 

Myself getting weak on Beinn Eighe. (Photo: John Orr)

Myself  not getting weak at Ruthven.

Andrew Wilby established a sport route called ‘The Force’ at Zed Buttress a few years ago.   He occasionally mentioned that I should go and have look at it.  I paid the crag a visit when only 3 lines existed back in April 2013.  Since then, I have always just been distracted by other things; Keeping fit at other sport crags, fiddling shitty wires into cracks or swing tools into frozen turf.  This spring I went back to repeat some of the routes.  On Saturday 28th March 2015, I was introduced to ‘The Force’ by Andrew.  I managed to do the moves in isolation, but they all felt totally ridiculous.  Most were at my absolute limit.  The crux involved throwing for a tiny 3 finger sharp edge.  Oh and you were pulling like fuck with your left hand on a razor crimp and your feet were on nothing. I left the crag with mixed feelings and 2 bleeding finger tips. Hmm.

Andrew Wilby working 'The Force' back in 2013.

A few months passed, summer was due to arrive, but instead the wet and windy autumn arrived.  Enough moaning about the crap summer.  However, these crap conditions were actually pretty good for sport climbing and bouldering.  So I returned to Zed buttress in August.  This time, I teamed up with the Cunningham squad and Rhys Langlands.  Calum and I messed about on ‘The Force’.  Things felt marginally better than my previous visit, but not by much.  Another kick in the balls was seeing how comfortable Calum looked on the route.  It was evident he would do this next visit. However it was still at my limit.  I ran away to Ruthven that evening and tried Blair’s traverse.  Stupidly I pulled on at the ‘Square Jug’, and went from there to the finish.  My best link ever, but why did I not pull on from the start which is just a few moves to the left?  Useless.

Reading through my diary, it is evident that ‘The Force’ actually came together pretty quickly.  I was making good links on it and it never felt too far away.  However, I was noticing a few issues holding me back.  A: Flexibility, B:  Being too tall for the bunched moves & C: Generally just weak.  Not wanting to go into too much details on the moves as that would be painful reading, there is a very high step for your left foot once you stick the crux.  Now, I noticed Andrew and Calum pissed that move.  Why, well they are shorter with less leg getting in the way plus they are three times as strong but I tried to ignore that.  So I started moaning to everyone that I was too tall for the route.  I’ve always noticed that Mhairi has incredible flexibility.  Having been a gymnast for 10 years, she in my eyes is a wad.  So, she seemed like the ideal flexibility coach for me.  After the initial shock of seeing how much of a punter I am, she managed to compose her laughter and give me a few stretches to help me improve my hip and leg flexibility.  It worked. 


My trend of improvement was generally positive.  My only really negative red points were when conditions were crap, ie 9th September with Pete Clarkson when the sun was shining, there was no wind and it was 24 degrees Celsius in Inverness.  Yet, I still blamed myself for being crap and weak.

Folk who read my blog will be aware that I had a trip to the Lakes at the start of September.  If you actually remember what I wrote, I made a significant link the day before I left which weighed on my mind the whole week whilst I fiddled wires in cracks.  I came back and was actually better on the route.  (NB, time away from projects is key…I’ll never learn though)   

The day after Gaz and Sarah’s wedding, Mhairi and I went up to Zed again.  A Nice sunny day with a stiff breeze, but I had to be patient for the shade when I knew conditions would be mint.  I chuckled to myself when the crowds all left at dinner time.    I couldn’t understand why they leave when the friction became perfect.  However, they had they last laugh.  Mhairi went for a red point on ‘Power of Resin’.  Just as she was getting ready, the wind just stopped. Like, it just stopped.  The midges just exploded and a perfect day turned into hell.  I shouted at Mhairi to just get to the top by any means, the alarm bells were sounding.  We were in the red.  I still had my quickdraws in ‘The Force’.  So I went for a cheeky red point.  I might as well…  So with a careless attitude, I set off.  Up to the undercuts, feeling a tad tired, I started shaking out.  Then I moved on, stuck the crux then made the next move or two.  The feeling of frustration for not ploughing on got to me.  So I demanded to come down, rest, then go again.  I arrived on the ground.  The midges became the least of my worries.  I had Mhairi to deal with.  I had shouted at her to hurry up on her red point.  Now I am going to make her wait another half an hour whilst I rest and most likely fall off with red point nerves.  Well, we kissed and made up and yes, I fell off below my high point.

Poor resting conditions.  Warm, humid and midges. (Photo: Mhairi Stewart)

Pete and I arranged a day out.  I had been moaning a lot that ‘The Force’ was destroying me.  Skin, fingers but more mentally.  I was resting all the time and my focus had shifted from trad climbing to this bloody route.  So I decided to see how it would go, then re-evaluate the situation.  To cut a long story short I basically climbed the route, fumbling the first jug after the hard climbing.  Maybe it was our school boy chat and shit jokes that took my mind off it between attempts.  So I left that day feeling like it was ‘back on’.

My next outing was with Dave Macleod.  In a nut shell, I never did it.  My excuses this time were it was too warm and my left arm was still ballocksed from my previous session there with Pete.  I was made to feel better by Dave taking a few red points to climb it.  But to be fair, he had been on his board all week and his ankle is still tender from an operation.  I was interested to see his tactic of climbing up to the third clip, clip it and reverse to the ground.  I can see the logic in this by saving energy.  However, I wasn't really convinced.  I sort of feel as though if one is climbing they should be clipping the clips on the way.  Admittedly I did take a 'step' off the ground and clip the second quick draw and step back.  In my head that is a bit different as for me it is a ‘step’ off the ground where as by the time you get to the 3rd, you're climbing the route. It’s climbing at the end of the day and I only lost one night’s sleep thinking about it. 

Then high pressure pushed in.  Full on sun and little wind.  Summer had eventually arrived.  For fuck sake! I did chance it and go up really early before work one day but that was a mistake.  I did cash in on the good weather and climbed with Iain in Glen Coe and Glen Nevis over 3 days.  I did struggle to relax as I only had one route in mind.  Splitting a tip on ‘The Handren Effect’ was not a laughing matter.

Iain practising the moves on his bold E8.  

With an alpine trip looming (which is now aborted) my days were numbered. I had only one day left to try it.  Looking at a synoptic chart, the unsettled weather was due to return.  Thank God.  Friday was the day and I had it off!  I met up with Dave again.  There was a small issue of young Rhys breaking the hold you clip the third quickdraw.  This played havoc with my mind.  The third clip issue was talked about.  I managed to solve the problem by boning harder on what was left of the hold.  4 red points later I was resting on the jug after the hard climbing.  I even made some technical errors but pulled through.  Composing myself, I still had the tricky finish to deal with, but that went fine.

As always, the journey has far more interesting stories rather than the destination.  My ascent has absolutely no significance in the world of climbing.  There are some folk out there that would use ‘The Force’ as a decent route to find the crag.  However, for me it is a fairly significant part of my climbing career.  The route is everything I am crap at.  It’s short, hard and bouldery.  Not long with pumpy climbing relying on endurance.  Trying to juggle psyche/FOMO for trad, winter, sport, hill walking and half arsed enthusiasm for bouldering, it means a lot.  A few folk I need acknowledge for holding my rope: Andrew, Pete, Mhairi, Paul, Gaz, Blair and Dave.

Its nice to move freely in the hills rather then hang and rage on a rope...

Anyway, its young Calum Cunningham and Rhys Langland who’s ascents were far more impressive.  They both despatched it quickly at such a young age.  Well, maybe Calum is over the hill at the age of 18 as Rhys is only 14 (A short film can be found by clicking this link).  Zed buttress has definitely been the fashionable place to hang out this year.  This has only been made possible by Andrew Wilby.  He has spent a huge amount of his own time hanging on a rope cleaning and bolting the crag.  Along with the cost of bolts, resin and drill parts…. And that’s just one crag he has developed!

Sociable place. (Photo:Rocpunks)

And its all thanks to this man.  Andrew re working the route so he can complete the new direct finish.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Lakes, Round Two

The word F*ck echoed around Strathnairn on the evening before I departed for the Lake District.  Sticking the crux and making the next move, I fell off.  At least I planted my flag a bit higher on ’The Force’.  I had kept a week clear in my diary so I could escape Scotland and remember what trad climbing was.  However, this just felt a total inconvenience as my psyche was to climb ‘The Force’.  Oh well, a week of ledge shuffling in The Lakes will give my fingers a rest.

Ledge shuffling, rest, The Lakes…. I should have learnt my lesson from last time.  These routes aren’t given away.  Iain sent me up ‘The Gates of Delerium’ at Ravens crag to kick things off.  Linking the two pitchs, I collapsed at the belay feeling rather taxed for an E4.  Nothing like a good slap in the face to wake me up for a week here.

The Gates of Delerium.  (Photo; Iain Small)

Me on Das Kapital (Photo: Iain Small)

Tony on Second Coming  (Photo: Iain Small)

Iain on Peels of Laughter  (Photo: Tony Stone)

Dove Crag was the number one venue in my list with ‘Vlad the Impailer E7’ being the next thing for me to try.  The description for the route is pretty involved.  It basically gives you all the gear beta.  Combining that that with Iain’s extensive gear knowledge of the crag, I thought it would be easy!  I can’t really remember much about it.  I almost dropped it gaining the niche where you place a rock 1, but managed to compose myself.  Got to the crux and made the moves to the niche, then fell off.  I’m blaming seepage out of the little crack below but to be honest, I was pretty pumped ;-).  Down, pulled my ropes and I jumped back on after a rest.  Got past the crux and got into the funky niche.  Not many holds there but somehow I managed not to fall off and get myself up and out to the easier ground above.  Phew!

Me in red on Vlad.  Some dude with green trousers on the HVS.  looks grim.  I much rather be boxed out ma face than climbing the mossy slabs.  (Photo: Iain Small)

Passing showers forecast, Dove was the obvious choice as it would stay dry.  Next up was ‘Dusk till Dawn E7’.  This required a bit more effort than Vlad.  After some ‘uping’ and ‘downing’ on the bold start, I eventually committed to the technical sequence.  Reaching the crucial kit, I managed to quickly arrange it.  With poor feet, all I had to do was pull hard and make a big move to the jugs above.  However, I was too hesitant.  I hung on, searching for footholds, hoping a little foot ledge would pop out.  No, just shitty little irregularities.  So in typical Murdoch style, I waited till my arms were totally gone, the tried to commit.  Surprise surprise, I fell off.  Down, pulled my ropes, I jumped back on and made the move.  Feeling more confident and fresh, I tried to relax and enjoy the climbing above.  The next minute, I was flying through the air with a block in my hands.  Same as before, down, pulled the ropes and back on.  This time I am near the top.  Misreading the terrain above thinking there would be some better holds on this ledge, I found myself pumping out trying to hold the sloping ledge.  Elbows touching the sky, there was nothing left.  The powerful moves left denied me.  Oh well, working out what to do I carried on to the top.  Rapped the route cleaning the gear out, I felt pretty disheartened.  I really should have been flashing this.  So for the next few hours belaying Iain, I was beating myself up inside.  Time marched on, passing showers, the light begins to fade. Iain raps his route and cleans the gear out.  I glance at my watch when he reaches the ground.  I know it’s time to go.  Any normal person would.  It’s cold, windy, the odd passing shower with little more than an hour of day light left.  Deep down, I knew I couldn't leave.  Knowing I would not get the opportunity to be back this year, I sheepishly asked ‘would you mind if I gave Dusk another burn?’  Waiting for a ‘No’, I got nothing but encouragement from Iain.  A rapid de rack from him and rack up from me, I remind myself, ‘it’s just a pumpy F7c at the end of the day’.  I guess this is where chucking a finally lap of Goat Prow at the end of a day pays off.  Before I knew it, I was at the top of the route re threading my ropes at the anchors.  Boom.

Rappimg off Dusk till Dawn.  Not a slab. (Photo: Iain Small)

A major tick of the week was meeting the local Lakeland wad, Dave Birkett and his wife Mary and new born May.  They were having a casual day out at Reecastle.  I was keen for ‘Penial Servitude E5’.  Having red pointed ‘Hells Wall E6’ earlier in the day, feeling a bit weary from the previous 3 days and Dave and Mary watching, the odds were stacked against me.  Well I got up it onsight/flash (I knew about the rp2) by the skin of my teeth.

Hells Wall.(Photo: Some dude)

I had to leave on the Friday as I had a First Aid refresher at the weekend back home.  A complete pain in the arse but never mind.  Before I left though, I cashed in by doing 'Trilogy E5' and 'RnS Special E5' at Ravens crag in Langdale.  Trilogy certainly warmed me up and focused the mind.  I had heard a few comments about RnS Special.  Folk saying it’s pretty bold and more like E6.  I don’t know, hard to tell really.  I thought it was ok, but at the same time I never wanted to test the ride down the crag.

RnS Special (Photo: Iain Small)

Just in case you wanted to know, the First Aid course was fine.  Saturday was bearable as I needed a rest.  Sunday killed me as the weather was mint.  Moan moan moan grumble grumble grumble.

Thanks to Iain for a great trip.  He also supplied a lot of photo's for this post as my camera battery died at the start of the trip (I had not means of charging it). 

Saturday, 8 August 2015


Some of you may remember this photo which I posted on Flickr back in April.  Stupidly I thought, here we go.  The start of another dry summer in the Scottish mountains.

Glen Nevis in April.  Too hot me me!

However, this photo from Ian Taylor sum’s up well my summer dress for this year.

Not complaining about the crisp red pointing conditions.  (Ian Taylor)

Since returning from the Lakes, I have had only a couple of days out trad climbing which is pretty poor for a tall, lanky, weak Scottish trad climber.  A combination of work, lack of partners but mostly the poor weather has accounted for such a poor tally of days out.  However, the days I have had were superb.  That’s not to say I haven’t been climbing.  I have spent a lot of the time making best use of the fresh conditions by bouldering or clipping bolts.

Passing showers, and a cold biting wind on an attempt at Wolfman.  The Ivy all over the bottom wasn't helping.  Another time... (Gaz Marshall)  

Colin Morrison cruising up 'Jack the Ripper'

Simon Nadin introduced me to a new crag of his up North somewhere.  Don’t ask me where it is as I genuinely have no idea where it is apart from the fact it’s on the Caithness coast line.  I don’t even think Simon knows properly where it is as he missed the little turn off resulting in a rapid handbreak turn in his Berlingo to head south again.  Or maybe that was to distract me from knowing its exact location… 

Despite Simon not being world champion fitness at the moment, it was still pretty impressive watching him onsight a new route which he basically gave a brief eyeball from an ab rope which was in the wrong place.  After watching his steady casual pace, I thought it would be piss easy.  So a lame attempt at tying my rock shoes, I followed.  Elbows touching the skye, shoe laces getting in the way, the whole rack on my harness towards the top and the rock requiring a delicate touch.  All I can say is, never underestimate a ‘Master’! 

Simon following one of his new E3's

Simon on his new route.  E5 6a?

Anyway, my turn for a new route.  I rapped the line and gave it a better look.  It looked easy with good gear.  Just as we went to rap in, we thought we would let the approaching shower pass.  Well, we waited, waited, and waited.  After about 40min we thought it was going to miss so rapped in.  Just as I joined Simon on the platform below, the heavens opened and it pissed down for 30minutes.  So we stood, backs against the wall trying to stay dry.  We looked out to sea, then occasionally turned to each other commenting how shit this was.  Why do we bother?  It passed, I got on with the job.  All went well till the final head wall which I never even bothered to look at earlier.  A steep compact wall covered in that green shitty lichen you get at Gogarth.  Gear way below, ropes waving in the wind and all that, I managed to uncover some sneaky crimps and undercuts.  The top out was nice and wet.  Flopping onto the flat, I was filled with that deep feeling of relief which one only gets from trad climbing.

Me at the top of my new route.  About E5 6a (Simon Nadin)

For one whole day, a ridge of high pressure was forecast.  After a quick swap around of my days at work, Simon and I arranged to meet up at Super Crag.  It was a bit like going winter climbing, you leave the house and its 8 degrees Celsius or something.  You wonder are you just wasting your time.  I drove for almost two hours with the window wipers on full questioning what the hell I was doing.  It wasn’t until we reached the car park that the blue sky appeared.  Gearing up at the top of the crag we still got hit by a heavy passing shower (We learnt our lesson from the previous week, wait).

Anyway, we did some cool routes; Personal Minglay, Moonman, Roda Mhor and TIFS.  TIFS was quite exciting.  An Ian Taylor E6 6b.  The crux is fairly bold, blind and pretty committing above a reasonable cluster of kit.  I wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement to test it really.  At the end of the run out, you can get some small bits of kit in then tackle the bold wall above.  The climbing isn’t as hard.  So I pushed on and reached a crack.  Hanging on with my left arm, I had been camped out on the hold for quite a while trying to fiddle in a wire with my right.  Just as the wire seated, my left hand hold ripped off the wall.  Thankfully I had a nice wiry metallic handhold with my right as I would have taken a pisser down the crag as well as testing some unconvincing kit.  It’s probably fine ;-).  Anyway, I topped out, Simon and I left as the next weather front arrived….  A nice 8.5 hour weather window. 

Simon following 'Moonman' (Ian Taylor)

However, I have had numerous day clipping bolts and opening and closing accounts with harder (for me) local sport routes.  Most of my sport days have been at Creag Nan Cadhag and Zed buttress at Brin

Creag Nan Cadhag (Ian Taylor)

I guess my highlight would be ticking Andrew Wilby’s ‘Game Over Extension’ F8a+ at Creag Nan Cadhag.  Since then,  I have been back there making an attempt at Nuclear Nightmare.  Each time I try the horrific knee wrenching crux, my knee pleas no.  Its not wanting another arthroscopy.  Well that's my excuse ;-).  So some local pumpy link ups have been added to the crag, all bailing up Nuclear Cop Out.    

Some of my time has been spent playing on ‘The Force’ F8b? at Zed buttress.  For me, this is pretty hard.  It requires you to be strong and powerful, not weak with lots of stamina.  But, the other day I made some significant progress.  I need to rest now for a few days as my joints are screaming, my skin is trashed and my shoes are falling apart. 

Monday, 22 June 2015

Lakeland Spanking

Two days before I left the Highlands to visit the Lake District, I managed to campus 1 – 4 – 7 on the campus board at the Inverness Climbing Wall (very unimpressive in the world of climbing, but for a weak trad climber like me, it’s a personal highlight).  However, did this new raw power help the old school Lakes route?  No, I got spanked!

So, Blair and I packed our bags and went on a week long holiday to the Lake District.  To get us into the holiday vibe, Blair explained the theory of spontaneous road jams occurring on motor ways.  He also mentioned how mathematical modelling is now used in town planning to help make traffic flow more efficient .  We also listened to some shit poems.  However that got replaced pretty quickly by some Paul Oakenfold.

Anyway, arriving mid afternoon we did few routes at Reecastle to unwind.  This was my first proper visit to the Lakes.  We had it all in front of us.  Where do you go?   What do you do?  So many options.  We had high pressure forecast for the whole week which made the choice pretty much endless.  The turmoil in my head in choosing venues was painful.  I guess I relaxed during the middle of the week when I realised I can’t tick the Lakes in a week.  We settled with visiting a new crag each day and do a few classics. 

Blair starting us off with 'Guillotine'

So the first rude surprise was the cost of parking at Langdale.  £6 or something… Thankfully the machine was broken. 

Pavey Ark

 One of the routes we did was 'Fallen Angel' E4.  A route that 1-4-7 training had absolutely no use for.  I suspect this is more pleasant than climbing Unicorn in winter.   

Blair on 'Fallen Angel'

Next up was 'Sixpence' E6.  Well this was pretty cool. I was feeling pretty hesitant starting up the flake of Eclipse. I was shocked by how bold/committing the E4 start was.  But once committed, it was actually fine.  From the belay below, I ignored the wall below the groove and just assumed there would be crimps and gear all over it.  Not quite.  Very technical climbing with fiddly kit.  At least I could keep reversing the traverse to a rest.  The guide mentions a jug at the horizontal break.  So finally I committed up the wall and found myself ‘laying one on’ for the break.  I assumed my fingers would curl into a jug.  No they just hit a flat licheness ledge.  My body arced but I stayed on, and found a sort of jug…  Kit arranged I went up and down the groove trying to unlock the tricky sequence.  What naturally felt correct was wrong.  I fell, I failed.  Back on, changed my hand sequence which felt wrong but it worked.  I have made note for next time….and to pack a brush ;-).  The rest of the groove was not a path, but I got up it fine.

Recovering at the break on 'Sixpence'

Blair following 'Sixpence'

I was also educated about the American Civil War, Cold War and The Great War.  If you ask me a question on any of these wars, I won’t know the answer.  Apart from one fact I learned.  Blair explained why prostitutes are called hookers.  For some reason I still remember that.

Mirage E5 on Goat Crag in Borrowdale.  I still feel my fingers creak from that route.  I unfortunately messed up the crux low down and fell off.  Lowered down, ropes pulled, did it next go.  The rest of pitch one was pretty engaging.  I assumed it would be easy.  No.  Spaced small gear along with thin technical climbing.  I approached the belay.  A tip off from Iain and Tony was to link this into the next ‘6a’ pitch.  So on I went.  What a pitch!  A full 60m of pretty technical climbing with a pumpy finish.  I’m sure linking the two pitches together, one could award themselves a harder grade.  But since it’s the Lakes, we will keep it as E5 .

Dove Crag was high on the list as a ‘must visit’.  I felt slightly intimidated standing beneath this imposing buttress of rock.  We found ourselves warming up on the ‘bold and strenuous’ E4 called 'Explosion'.  I can confirm is was bold and strenuous. 

Nice weather.  Dove Crag in the distance.

Bucket City E6.  Yes, there are buckets everywhere except the crux.  I was spat off this one.  Again, mid crux I was hesitant on where to go. Up to the flake? Or continue up the crack?  I hung around faffing then fell. I had a look to see then lowered off. Ropes pulled and despatched next go.  Despite the climbing after the crux being pretty steady and positive, I still found it quite intimidating.  You look up and can’t see any holds.  But then these wonderful in cuts just appear.

Relived to have passed the crux.  

Dove was that good, we were back up the next day.  Tony had recommended not to warm up on ‘Fast and Furious’ with ‘The Fissure Finish’ E5.  Whatever I thought.  Blair had done ‘Fast and Furious’ the previous day so it will be easy then just move right I thought.  So up I went.  At the junction I shaked out.  Glancing up at the groove there was no thread in sight.  Then my eyes caught an obvious little slot where a nice thread would be… Ballocks!  No thread.  Oh well, I’ll give it a shot and run it out or something.  So off I went, peg clipped then up to the slot.  ‘Fuck!’  My elbows were touching the skye.  Somehow I managed to hang on the shit holds, get a rock 7 off my harness, thread that, get a quick draw, clip it onto the wire, clip my rope in, hung on, hung on, then sagged onto the rope. Pumped, screaming in a rage about dirty rock and no threads, I got what I deserve.  My ass kicked.  (Note to self:  Next time, rap down, put a thread in place and give it a quick brush).  'Fear and Fascination' E5/6 went fine.  About time I got up something.

Blair on 'Fast and Furious'  A more appropriate grade would be E5/VII 7.  The top chimney was pretty filthy.

Fear and Fascination 

Kilnsey.  My first visit.  I wish I could pack this crag in my suitecase and take it home with me.  I was seriously impressed by it.  I’m not sure the conditions were primo for our visit.  It had just stopped raining on arrival with the air remaining fairly warm and humid for the rest of the day.  However, it was superb.  Again, my agenda was to ‘tick the crag’ (you know what I mean, do all the routes I can do) but that never quite happened.  'Dominatrix' F7c was the highlight whilst we both provided the locals with a pantomime on ‘Pantomime’ F7b+.  We finished out 9hour day there with me starting up ‘one last route’.  Some 7b on the left hand side.  I was fighting to even get to the first bolt, let alone move past it.  Quoting Dave Douglas ‘I was gone’.  Time to go home.

Blair not sure if Ski Touring was ideal prep for this route.

No slabs

There are many more cool routes to mention but I’ll leave it there.  Our trip was a success mainly due to the fact we had a great place to hang out.  Blair’s friends, Alan and Amanda very kindly offered to let us stay at their house for the week.  I was slightly worried prior to our arrival.  They are both mathematicians.  With Blair being a Dr of snow, I felt my Exercise Physiology background wouldn’t make the make the standard at the dinner table.  However, I was made very welcome and had a great laugh every day.  Thank you!

The Lake District is a wonderful venue.  I can’t wait for my next visit.  I’m keen for some long weekends down there, especially if this crap weather continues here in Scotland.  So get in touch if you are keen.  I’m aware we never even scratched the surface of what’s on offer.  However, this trip was a great introduction and now I have a proper ticklist. 

Yesterday I went for a scramble up Stac Pollaidh with Mhairi.  Skipping along the ridge soaking up the view of Assynt did remind why I live up in the Highlands.

Mhairi on Stac Polliadh

Although the midges are hanging about and it seems to keep raining.  But this crap weather has allowed me to work my weakness. QED is coming along nicely ;-)

Another rain shower whilst fighting with Ivy at Duntelchaig.  (Photo: Gaz Marshall)

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Nerve Damage

E6 6a was what Lawrence Hughes lead me to believe in a casual conversation one day.  Then it became ‘maybe its E7 6b’.  There was some strong encouragement for me to give it an onsight attempt.  In the meantime, I thought I would see what the other sandstone technicians in the area thought.   Ian Taylor warned me ‘to be careful with that one’ and Paul Tattersall reminded me that ‘Lawrence is a demon on that stuff’ and ‘would have had it dialled’.    

Time marched on and I was being distracted by other routes.  However, ‘Lawrences Ardmair route’, which is actually called ‘Nerve Damage’, still remained unticked on my scrappy piece of paper.  I still pondered each day whether to try onsight it or rap it to have a look.    Last October, Iain Small paid a visit to Ardmair.  Obviously he showed interest in the route.  All day at work I was suffering from major FOMO.  Then a text from Iain that evening.  In summary, he tried to onsight it, but got shut down.  That was enough for me.  We all know that Iain Small is an onsight weapon and would have dug deeper than anyone else…  He climbed it the following day after rapping it and a play on a top rope.  Comments of ‘slapping for the finishing holds’, ‘its pretty run out’ and ‘you wouldn’t want to fall from the top’ played havoc in my mind.

The winter came and kind of went, this route was still unticked.  We are in the month of May now.  We shouldn’t be considering bold routes on sandstone that require winter friction.  However, we have been blessed by a persistent winter.  Plenty of cold air and fresh snow even to low levels.  Now most of you would think all I would do is moan about how shit this is.  Well you are wrong.  I’m turning negatives into positives here.  These conditions are perfect for working my weaknesses.  Bouldering and considering this route up at Ardmair.

An Teallach looking wintery

One day, I went up to Ardmair armed with everything.  Brushes, bouldering pads, shunt, wires, more wires etc.  You name it, I had it.  Having walked past the boulder problems on Arapiles wall for over 10 years now, I have never tried any of them.  So it was cool to finally mess around on various traverses and up problems.  I think the highlight was ‘Billabong (Font 6b)’.  At the finishing jug, I thought it would be easy to solo on to the big ledge.   I got a bit committed and gripped thinking it would be jugs all the way.  No, just sandy, gritty, licheness rounded holds.  Not helped by the fact the sun came out from behind a cloud and my chalk bag was on the ground.  Ironically ‘Lawrence’s’ crack (Font 7a)’ which actually finishes on the ledge went much easier… I digress.

Rapping down the wall, I spied out various slopey holds and pebbles.  There was a distinct lack of kit though.  I was aware that at ‘the nose’ there was a good cluster of kit.  But that was miles away.  So I played about for a while trying various sequences.  By the end of the day I was spent.  How does a vertical piece of sandstone do that to you?!  Not helped by the fact, the whole thing looks easy from the ground.  Anyway, I left the crag that day feeling psyched.  Late night shopping on a Thursday meant I could splash out and purchase a new Lapiss brush from the shop minutes before they closed.  That’s how psyched I was!

Nerve Damage follows the line of the rope.

Zoomed in.  Good kit at the nose.

Worn out

That night I arranged with Lawrence to go back on Sunday evening as it was forecast to be cold north easterlies .  Everyone told me it was going to rain.  I found a forecast suggesting it wasn’t.  It pissed with rain all day.  

Uisdean Hawthorn had just arrived back from a very successful alpine trip.  I persuaded him up to Ardmair.  I think the main selling point was, the 10m crack of ‘Unleash the Beast’ is more impressive than the Dru Coulier Direct.  Well the climbing will be harder at least ;-)

'Unleash the Beast'.  Much more impressive than...

...This.  Uisdean on Dru Coulier Direct (Photo Guy Steven)

Whilst holding Uisdeans ropes on ‘Totem Pole Crack’, I was busy glancing round the corner at the cool VS called ‘Moondance’.  It just seems like yesterday that I was resting on gear and taking multiple lops of it. 

Giving Nerve Damage a chalk and brush, I played on the moves.  They felt desperate.  What had changed?  Everything was off balance and I kept falling off.  My mind was in turmoil.  Was this going to be another long term thing that I’ll never do?  With a few subtle changes of body position, the sequence was unlocked.  It suddenly felt easy.  However it is still very intricate and one wrong move, you were off.  That was playing at the back of my mind all day.   We stood back and looked at the crag.  ‘What a line’ I said, Uisdean looked at me and just laughed.  ‘Get a grip’ he said.  Playing devil’s advocate with each other all day and winding each other up, beneath it all I could sense his focus on this bigger mountains was beginning to outweigh technical rock climbs.  That boy will go far so keep an eye on him.  Anyway, more to the point, was I going to die if I fell from the crux?  Hard to tell, but you would be taking a ride down the whole crag with 2 ledges to hit.  Without rope stretch you would go miles.  We all fall further than you think.  So it was best not to think about it.  Iain had sent me a reassuring message in the morning, ‘just switch off and go for it!’ 

After some patient waiting, the shade arrived.  Suddenly the fear hit, what was stopping me?  Tying on I could feel a sudden rise in anxiety.  Uisdean broke the silence and said, ‘you’re not falling off, you’ve pissed up it already’.  Wise words from the mountaineer so off I went.  I arranged the crucial kit at the nose then reversed the moves to the ledge.  Suddenly I had that urge which some of you know.  I managed to erase it from my mind by chatting about the Tories and SNP. 

Placing the kit

Ranting about politics.  

Off I went, heel hook in… the next minute I was on the finishing jugs just below the top of the crag.  Yay! I thought.  But I hadn’t actually practiced the top out.  It’s just a typical Ardmair sloping mess.  My Ardmair apprenticeship bailed me out. 

So what do I think?  It’s tough to grade.  I haven’t done much of this head pointing before.  If it all goes well, it feels easy.  But all it takes is one wrong hand or foot position and you are taking the E7/8 ride resulting in some form of Nerve damage…

So here is the route description.  Click on the name and it will take you to an updated guide to the crag along with some cool photo's

E7/8 6c*** 25m 2011

Well named - an incredible pitch up the obvious blank seamed headwall between Cruel World and Colour Co-ordinated. Desperate, insecure and intricate climbing above tricky micro-gear would make this a very hard onsight, the upgrade from E7 may be conservative! Climb Cruel World and swing right to the ledge. Tricky moves lead to the nose and gear (strenuous to place), then more hard moves gain a standing position and micro-gear (blind to place). Powerful and technical cruxes above lead left and up to good holds just below the top. Pull over with a lot of relief.