Monday, 26 January 2015


Standing at the top of The Godfather corner on Beinn Bhan, I couldn't help but feel this massive weight lift off my shoulders.  I even had a slight grin beneath all my layers.  But I made sure Andy wasn’t aware of this.  By the time he reached my belay, I had reverted back to my typical dark grumbling self.  Lucky for him, Iain only took 5 minutes to lead the easy pitch to the plateau!

Me Grumbling

On Friday, the plan went from a short sheltered icy route on Fuar Tholl, to an easy walk in to Meall Gorm, then to terrifying Giants Wall on Beinn Bhan.   I suppose climbing in a 3 made the idea of trying a hard route on a big bad ass scary cliff slightly less intimidating.  Andy and I have been desperate to climb The Godfather for several winters now.  Each season has come and gone, and neither of us had climbed it.  As seasons roll on, my winter climbing ability has naturally improved, but my apprehension for this route was beginning to burst at the seams.  Annoyingly, Iain had already climbed The Godfather a few years ago.  So that narrowed the choice down to God Delusion or Godzilla. God Delusion was quickly ruled out.  If we wanted to do that, we had to have left there and  then and start walking.  My sandwiches weren’t ready and so we couldn’t.  Godzilla it was then.  None of us knew much about it apart from the fact it was a direct start to the Godfather.  With the grade IX,8, I had my concerns.  The numbers are the wrong way round.  We thought that was just because pitch 2 involved some bold climbing which I seemed to remember Bullock waffling on about in some UKC interview.  Well, that’s no problem, Iain can do that.  After all, he was the 3rd wheel to the group so he might as well make himself useful.  Andy and I didn’t want to die!  A bit of back ground about Godzilla.  It was first climbed by Nick Bullock, Guy Roberston and Pete Benson back in 2011.  For more information check out The Bullhorn's blog.  Since then, it has remained unrepeated. 

We almost died on the drive over, but Andy did a good job in keeping the car on the road.  During the walk in, I could almost feel the wind and groupal push me into a U turn.  Iain conveniently brought the Fuar Tholl map instead of the Beinn Bhan map.  Anyway, we found ourselves in the corrie at first light.  The Giant’s wall loomed above.  F*ck that I thought.  We had taken 3 stubby screws.  Gully of the Gods looks good…I never said a word.  

Giant Wall (Andy Inglis)

Gearing up in the middle of the slope below the wall by a big block, this should be easy to find in the dark.  How could we miss it?  Hold that thought till later….  With Iain jumping up and down with excitement about doing the second pitch, Andy nominated himself for leading first which was cool.  This pitch was long with a fierce wide corner crack at half height.  Good lead from Andy.  It came to Iain and I to follow the pitch.  So off I went.  Just above this cruxy section I thumped my left tool into solid turf.  Boom.  Right tool in somewhere at the back of the ledge. Placing that tool, it just felt a poor rippy placement.  I’m seconding, the turf has been bomb proof so far, I’m too lazy to re swing.  I learnt my lesson.  I matched my right tool, and out it ripped.  My lanyard came tight on my left tool, ripping it, snapping the cord.  Whatever, I had one tool dangling, the other in the snow at the base of the crag.  PUNTER error you idiot.  Anyway, Iain through me up my tool and I finished up. 

Andy on pitch 1 (Iain Small)

Iain linked pitches 2 and 3 together which was cool.  He seemed to find lots of small wires, a pecker and various other bits and bobs.  I can’t comment, I wasn’t leading it.  One would still have to commit to some hard climbing above it.

Iain on pitch 2
Iain working his way up pitch 3

Climb the corner.  Which corner?  Aware that we joined the Godfather somewhere around here, there none of us were sure exactly from our sketched topo.  I looked up and just saw this smooth corner covered in a snow with no obvious crack or features.  Just to its right, there was another corner which offered a crack along with smooth left wall.  At least there is kit in that to aim for.  So off I went.  Typically I got myself committed to the top.  Infact, I climbed it, had my tools in the turf above, but no kit between me and the body breaking ledge below.  I’ll just do a quick pull up and rock on to the ledge.  Easy.  Up I went, and realised this was a bit stupid.  Some sense washed over me reminding me that a few hours ago a tool ripped.  Back hanging straight armed, left foot braced on nothing, right foot dangling, I managed to get a few good wires at knee height.  That gave me the confidence to continue on.  Despite being short, it still provided some fierce, strenuous and pumpy moves to keep you working hard.  

Andy has a crap belay jacket so I demanded mine back!


This brought us onto The Godfather now.  Andy quested off up this steep pitch.  It involved some pretty strenuous committing mantelshelf moves.  I couldn’t help but think of my mentor, Paul Tattersall doing this back in 2002 with straight shafted tools, leashes, plastic boots.  Respect.

Andy on that pitch (Iain Small)
Me following that pitch. Steep.  (Iain Small)

This brought us to below the Giant’s most prominent feature; The Godfather Corner.  My lead.  I won’t lie, I had some deep fear lurking in me.  Reading Martin Moran’s account, knowing about Pete Bensons fall from the top just filled my mind.  Despite having climbed some harder route in the past few years, this still never really gave me the confidence to say, I’ll be fine.  All I’m going to say is, I treated it with the up most respect it deserves.  I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it and I’ll let you go and climb it to have the same experience of history weighing on you!

Myself starting up the corner. (Iain Small)

...a bit higher (Andy Inglis)

...Almost there (Iain Small)

That’s right, we left our bags in the middle of the slope by the obvious block.  That won't be hard to find will it.  Bloody hell.  What punters.  Up, down, across, up, down across…. 'Is that it over there?' 'No'.  Just what you don’t need at the end of a massive intense route.  Iain found them.  Good lad.  Still a long walk out.  But somehow I had this glow inside me which made the whole thing painless.  My phone chirped as messages from the normal world reached it, I replied to some and ignored others ;-). 

Back in inverness I had the satisfaction of eating a few lettuce leaves, half a tomato, a few sticks of broccoli, some oat cakes and a tin of mackerel.  Nothing like a sport climber’s diet to finish off a 19hour day door to door.

God Delusion anyone?

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Private Eye

Anyone interested in winter climbing would agree that the past week has been the first decent week in a while to get out.  More than decent, all these storms have brought loads of cool crags into primo condition.  The turfy crags of the North West have been receiving some attention such as: Cul Mor, Slioch, The Fiddlers Nose, Beinn Bahn…and I’ve lost track where Andy Nesbit has been.  Last Thursday Iain and I added Fuar Tholl to the list.

An Ruadh - Stac, Maol Chean -Dearg and Beinn Alligin 

Anyway, I started my week off with doing the plumb chimney line of Kami Kazi (VI,7) on Beinn Eighe with Uisdean last  Sunday.  A quick short easy day was what we both needed.  Having climbed a lot of Far East Walls in both seasons, I have always wanted to do Kami Kazi as it is one of the original winter routes on that cliff.  Go and do it if you haven’t.

Uisdean following pitch 1

Myself following pitch 2

Wednesday was another stunning.  After much anguish during Tuesday trying to find a last minute climbing partner for Wednesday, I binned the idea.  In retrospect I’m glad I wasn’t out winter climbing.  Instead I went bouldering with Mhairi at Tom Riach.  That boulder beats any winter crag.  Its not scary, catches the sun and most of all, I can actually feel the holds with my hands. 

You can't beat a bit of conglomerate bouldering!

However on Thursday, I was back playing the winter game.  Iain suggested that we went to Fuar Tholl and climb on its impressive Manreachan buttress.  There is a rock climb there called ‘Private Eye’ which is graded Scottish VS.  So basically, it could be anything.  Iain made the suggestion that we had a look at that.  Private Eye was first climbed in 1974 by Boyson, Braithwaite and Nunn; a strong team I believe.  Some words and phases from the guide book include: ‘awkward moves’, ‘difficult and wet’ and ‘steep loose wall’.  Perfect I thought, I can’t wait!`

Iain during the walk in.

Myself psyched to see the crag in such good condition (Iain Small)

Inspecting the crag and line in the morning, I noticed that the first pitch had Iain’s name written all over it.  So I thought he better have a look rather than me.  This pitch involved some extreme walking, some nice steep climbing in a groove which topped out onto big sloping ledges with crap snow, ice and no gear.

Grade 8 walking
Having not done huge amounts of mixed climbing on the turfy Torridonian sandstone, I did have ‘the fear’ a wee bit.  Especially since we were new routing on it. So I quested off up what we thought was the second pitch in search of this ‘cave belay’ the guide talks about.  I never found it.  I followed my nose towards this big icy groove feature out left which seemed quite attractive.  

Myself starting up pitch 2
Whilst belaying Iain up, part of me wished I carried on and just ran the rope out.  However, I had used a fair amount of gear and had one quickdraw left.  That would be a bit stupid I thought, or am I just weak?  I don’t know.  Anyway, Iain led on though. Arriving at his belay, we both agreed it was quite ‘involved’.  If I had lead on that would have been a bit stupid!  The night was creeping in, but I managed to top out just before I needed my head torch.  The final pitch was the perfect way to finish after 3 hard pitches.  The hooks, gear and turf just kept on coming! 

Iain using a knee.

A satisfying top pitch

So I mentioned that we planned to look at ‘Private Eye’.  Studying the guidebook and topo’s back at home, we think we were more to the left of the summer line.  It’s very hard to tell as the description we felt was a bit vague.  Whatever we did was a superb.  Overeall th route we felt was VIII, 8 with the first 3 pitchs all providing some tricky climbing.

Godzilla IX,8 on Beinn Bhan.  That was a bit unexpected!  I’m sure some of you are aware Andy, Iain and I did that yesterday by seeing my updated Flickr.  I am in the process of writing something, but right now I have ground to a halt.  My brain wants sleep!  So I’ll post something soon. 

I dont do cold belays (Iain Small)

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Cruising, Scared & Tested

Winter has come and gone, come and gone…and come and gone.  I think.  I’ve lost track.  Whatever it has done, I have managed to keep myself busy doing in the great outdoors whether its been winter climbing, bouldering or running.

A firm arrangement with Uisdean saw us cashing in on some fine mixed climbing on Beinn Eighe.  I’m sure folk have read about what we did on Simon Richardson's blog.  If you haven’t, we climbed the Robin Smith E1, Boggle on Eastern Ramparts.  Martin Moran and Robin Thomas gave Boggle its first winter ascent a few weeks ago.  Having read Martin’s blog, this sounded like it could be an exciting and long day out.

I suggested to Uisdean that we gave ‘Boggle’ a look.  It was great feeling to be slogging up the side of Beinn Eighe on Boxing Day, knowing that all those pigs in blankets consumed the previous day were actually been put to good use.  Anyway, we geared up on top, left a bag at the summit and dropped into the Corie.  Typically, I had my focus on Eastern Ramparts as it was more likely to be in condition.  But descending to the col, looking at the rocks around, the thought of Far East Wall popped into my find.  For 5 minutes I was in turmoil.  What if it is ‘in’?  What would be do?  I’m sure I could find something ;-).  It was black.  Well most of it apart from the upper quarter.  Eastern Ramparts was much better than I expected.  With it having a few more ledges and its aspect, it had caught as much snow as it could during the winter storms prior the Christmas. 

Eastern Ramparts.  We can be seen if you looks closely. (Doug Hawthorn)

On the approach to the crag, I did sense a slight bit of intimidation from Uisdean, but maybe that was mine being reflected from the snow.  Maybe we should do something else I thought.  Anyway, after working out where the route went there was just a sense of confidence and psyche from the pair of us.  Not wanting to bore my readers with a move my move account, I will summarise the experience.  I lead pitch one (this shares the same pitch as Pale Deirdre).  There was a tricky bit near the top.  Those of you who have climbed this pitch in summer might recall a small steep smooth right facing corner.  Uisdean arrived at my belay and suggested that I should maybe lead on.  He was keen just to become confident with the steepness.  Pitch 2.  An awkward flake then a steep corner.  This was pretty sustained and strenuous.  Watching Uisdean follow the corner, all I can say is he is he is one to watch in the future!  No issues what so ever.  Good lad!  On that note he despatched pitch 3 quickly and we were on top at just after 3pm.  Fantastic route and definitely one for folk to consider.  A cruising day I thought!

Me leading the upper corner on pitch 2 of Boggle (Doug Hawthorn)

Uisdean following the corner

“Do I want to go and climb on the North Wall of Carn Dearg?” Blair asked.  “Eh no”, was my reply.  It sounds absolutely terrifying were my thoughts.  I personally want to go and join the crowds on the verglassed crags  high in Corie Na Ciste.  The next question was, “do I fancy doing Kellets North Wall?”  Sat in the CIC hut, I read the route description.  “Pitch 3 is hard and serious…” I read out.  Blair’s reply, “just as well I will have a nice tight top rope above my head”.  Fine, and off we went.  This was a new part of the mountain so that was another good reason for me to face my fear.  Only two other teams in the area.  Iain and Tony and a pair of students on Castle Ridge.  It was mellow and peaceful.  Blair did mention Iain’s route, ‘The Cone Gatherers’.  But with its grade being the wrong way round and it being an ‘Iain Small’ route, Kellet’s seemed more of an attractive option!

Pitch 3.  Yes, after gaining the wall from standing on the big flake, I stood for a while scraping about.  Just slabby rock, unconsolidated snow so nothing positive to pull up on.  This wasn’t helped by the fact I would break my body if things ripped.  After shuffling about all over the place I eventually committed to something.  To be honest it wasn’t hard.  Just annoying.  Moving right I glanced up at this groove which the route followed.  Smooth walls and no obvious crack in the back.  This looked fun.  Managing to arrange a pretty decent cluster of kit at the base, it was enough to encourage me up.  I can’t really remember it but it was awkward and strenuous for a while till the easier ground was reached above.  To be fair there was some good kit there.  One just had to work it in.  After pitch 4 we decided to do the right thing and top out rather than rap off.  During the process of moving up the easier ground above, there was some light complaining about the situation.  But reaching the top of Ledge Route, the clouds were breaking up, the moon was shining above the Orian Face, it was actually pretty satisfying.  Was I scared, at points through the day?  Yes!

Pitch 3 of Kellets North Wall (VII,7).  Me gaining the wall

The Moon 

Blair eating some food

A quick short day is what Guy and I needed.  East seemed the better option so we aimed for a day in Corie an Lochan, in the Cairngorms.  Guy had been feeling pretty ill over New Year and was barely recovered.  So we chose ‘The Gathering’ as a suitable route choice.   A short hard modern Lochan test piece.  It was agreed that I might be better doing pitch one as it was meant to be the hard pitch. Blooming hec, was my thoughts as I was huffing and puffing my way up it.  I must admit, I almost lost it at the very end of the pitch but managed to redeem myself.  A well protected, strenuous pitch which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Guy did a superb job following the pitch.  He despatched it in good style.  He had to, he had an audience of Iain and Karen who were on The Hoarmaster.  After a bit of messing about, Guy handed the second pitch over to me.  Great, a nasty wide crack to start with.  It was steady after that.  It would be fair to say, I found the route quite testing.  I was pumped but I think deep down, I have more to give.  I met John Mcune and Jonny Parr when I topped out.  I am now off to Ireland this summer to climb his routes.  They sound amazing!

Me on pitch one of The Gathering VIII,9 (Guy Steven)
Guy following pitch one

Myself on ptich 2 after the wide crack. (Iain Small)

Iain and Karen on 'The Hoarmaster'

I’m just in from work sat here in a power cut with gas stove on brewing up.  I can’t wait to get back on the hill once things settle down.  The winter is young, my psyche is high!  Thanks to Rab, Scarpa and Grivel for some of the sweet kit they have given me.

Crampons, boots and clothing