Saturday, 28 February 2015


I sent a message off to my folks at 4.30am.  ‘Uisdean, Iain and I are off to Meggy to try Extasy.  Will be off the hill late’.  What does that mean to the non climber?!  I was half expecting a reply of disgust and disownment from my Mother.  Instead, I got the reply at a reasonable hour, ‘Enjoy!’….Ok, I will!

So Extasy, what’s it all about?  I don’t know really.  It’s had 3 ascents.  It’s a grade VIII you can’t fall off.  It’s on Creag Meagaidh.  After a tip off from Blair regarding the ice forming on the Pinnacle face, Iain was rather excited.  The only thing that stood between us and the route was the depth of snow we would be wading through to get there.  Time marches on, we trundle up and down ‘The Ben’ track, the snow melts, consolidates, ask Blair, I don’t know.  It all happened a bit quick.  The bottom line was, Uisdean, Iain and I would do something on Friday.  Conveniently for me Iain, Blair and Uisdean went in and did the Fly Direct on Thursday.  Inspecting the condition of Extasy, they stashed the kit.  (Note:  All day on Thursday I was suffering majorly from FOMO.  I’m still scarred a bit…)

The Pinnacle Face 

Trying to keep up with Uisdean on the walk in was a bloody nightmare.  When I say, the kit was stashed, I still had to carry my rope and sandwiches.  All he had to carry was his sandwiches.  And for Iain, he was somewhere behind.  I’ve noticed this with Tony Stone as well.  Every stride they take seems to be with 100% power.  They are not taking any more strides than me, just more powerful ones.  Oh well.  Maybe I need to supplement my oatcakes and Mackerel with a big bag of chips to give me a bit of energy?  Talking of raw power, we happened to meet Dave Evans and his friend at the rescue box.  They were off to try the Fly Direct.  Another thing that wound me up was gearing up.  So, we gathered the rack and other rope and set off up Raeburns Gully.  I had disappeared for a shit so obviously Iain and Uisdean were up ahead. I met them at the stance they had cut out the previous day.  Now, Uisdean obviously got the best part and so did Iain.  I was left with this tiny sloping foot ledge.  Before Iain opened his mouth, I knew that was Blairs contribution.  Then as I arrived, Iain said, ‘You can have Blairs part…’  Useless!  How he has his winter ML certificate, I don’t know.

The belay.  Iain tapped in a peg.  It must have gone in about 1/3 maybe 1/2? Tied it off.  That was it.  Having only done a few classic routes here, I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for with regards to the mixed climbs.  Suddenly the fear hit.  Beinn Bhan I can cope with.  It’s in the North West on home turf.  Creag Meagaidh however is a big scary mountain with a lot of compact rock.  So does this peg indicate the kit on the route?  Uisdean set off linking pitches one and two.  I slipped away to get photo’s of the pantomime that was going on next door.  The Evans was clearly not a happy bunny with the thin ice and shit gear on The Fly.  I don’t blame him.  It looked pretty thin.  He made the wise choice to live his life rather than end it so backed off.  I think the boys the previous day were lucky to have Iain providing a top rope.

Dave Evans having a look at The Fly Direct

Sociable day to start.

Arriving at Uisdean’s belay, he was grinning from ear to ear.  He had done his lead for the day so felt happy to be strapped in for the rest of the journey.  Iain despatched pitch 2 easily.  Some thin bold moves to gain the icy ramp and off he went.  Now, what lay above was a steep mixed corner.  My lead.  Gauging by how much gear there was in the previous 2 pitches, I was definitely feeling a bit intimidated.  To be fair, the pitch had kit in it.  How good it was in amongst the cracked blocks and stuff, I don’t know.  This pitch involved turf, ice and rock which required strength, balance, stamina and a good head to mix it all together.  Somehow I manage to come up with the goods.  It was mixed climbing at its best.  I would even go as far as saying I actually enjoyed climbing it.  Very engaging and maybe one of the best pitches I’ve climbed this winter.

A happy Lad!

Iain on the ramp pitch

Me starting up the mixed corner pitch

Back to Uisdean’s lead.  This pitch was meant to be easy up to a thread belay.  Instead he faffed about hunting.  As much as it runs through your mind as a belayer, ‘what the f*ck are you doing?’ we have all been in that position as a leader on easy ground but not able to establish a belay.  He did a fine job in keeping us safe and building something good.  It’s just part of the game we play.

Uisdean questioning his ability to deal with grade II ground

Iain climbed the next pitch which was pleasantly easier than he thought.  Uisdean and I climbed together to the top dragging Iain up behind us.  The walk out.  Uisdean set the pace, I gasped with air trying to keep up but not show any sign of struggling.  Iain’s head torch faded behind.

My phone chirped.  Tess Mob: ‘Do you fancy going to Goat Crag tomorrow?  I couldn’t reply quick enough ‘Yes’. 

Hanging out with Tess and Mhairi in the sunshine, I was too hot in my down jacket.  I was reduced to climbing in a t-shirt!  Somehow I managed to wing my way up the classics; Hydrotherapy, Mactalla, Prow Left Hand, Prow Direct, Leaning Wall and a final lap of the Prow Left Hand.  Clearly I was cheating.  There was a mint easterly breeze creating velcro as friction.

Too warm :-)
Me starting up the Prow.  Bliss

Beinn a'Chaidheimh, Beinn Dearg Mor and Beinn Dearg Beag


Sunday, 22 February 2015

Icy Gems

Despite having climbed two fairly significant routes (for me), the knowledge that Blair and Guy having climbed the ‘Sheild Direct’ on The Ben sounded one or two FOMO alarms.  Not many, but enough to be heard in the distance as I walked out from Beinn Bhan.  (Jesus! I seriously have problems!). 

The freezing level reaching the summits, Will and Andy having a wet day on Beinn Eighe and Blair and Iain experiencing a thaw on Skye.  This was not the most inspiring news to hear just before my day off.  Bugger! 

Ben Nevis

A windless walk under the light from the full moon, I was not expecting this!  The fear kicked in.  Everyone knows about The Shield.  FFS!  I just want to do it.  With it being one of the most iconic winter routes around, I have to climb it!  Lots of tracks, but eerily quiet, Iain and I skirt the base of Carn Dearg.  It gave me a bit of warmth as I cast my mind back a few months previously, revelling in our summer successes here.  Although peering up at pitch 4 of ‘The Wicked’ my scars itched.  

Myself attempting pitch 4 of 'The Wicked'.  Iain did it.

I walked on.  Being rudely greeted by John Orr, broke my summer thoughts.  The Shield was looking a bit thinner than Blair’s ascent Iain commented.  Needless to say, he was nominated to deal with the thin drippy ice. 

John on 'Gemini'

Iain on the crucial first pitch of the 'Shield Direct' 

Me on the next pitch (Photo; Iain Small)

Iain following pitch 2

John Orr on Gemini'
Me on the traverse/ramps. (Photo; Iain Small)

Basking in the sun on ledge route, it was the first I had felt any warmth from it this year.  It was one of those ‘Ben’ days we all dream about.  Calm, blue sky, fun, stress free climbing. 

Roll on summer...

Over the next week I had the pleasure of climbing a few other icy gems.  Bawildabeast with Andy; The Curtain and Mega Route X with Donnie and Beads.  

Andy on pitch 1 of 'Bawildabeast'

Me on pitch 2 (Photo; Andy Inglis)

Andy on the top pitch.  

Climbing with the ‘Old School’ was superb.  Mega Route X was a total joy.  We were lucky enough to get it before it was hammered by the masses.  Without fail, I was put in my place by Donnie…  Of course he had done this back in the day with kit I would have struggled to carry from the car.  The previous evening he handed me a bunch of stainless steel screw gates.  Maybe half a dozen… They weighed more than my entire rack of fancy Grivel quick draws.  The most impressive part of the day for me was stopping off in the pub at Fort Augustus.  I nursed 2 cups of tea…they nailed 5 pints of cider each.  That would have killed me…  

Beads and Donnie on 'The Curtain'
Donnie following pitch 2 


Beads, relieved to see the abseil point...

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The God Delusion

Despite having the Wednesday off work, Iain was niggling at me that Tuesday was the day we needed.  Over a 24hr period I kept looking at Wetterzentrale.  He was right.  Monday and Tuesday cold, Thursday and Friday warm with Wednesday holding that uncertainty.  After some painful indecision from me which the people around me were suffering as well, I eventually sent the drafted text message to a work colleague to see if he could cover my shift.  A rapid response; Yes!  Boom, we were on.

After a bit of chat with Martin Moran about Giants wall, he made a comment saying it isn't a place you want to be visiting too often in a season.  Similar to North Stack Wall at Gogarth I guess.  You go there, do a route and run away for a few months allowing your mind to repair from the torture it’s had.  Fuck, I was going to go back in the space on 10 days!  Was that enough time?!

Prior to the ‘big Tuesday’, I had 2 confidence knocking days.  This wasn't helping my mental preparation for The Giants Wall.  A day on An Teallach with Moran.  The walk in was grim.  The weather had ‘survival’ written all over it, not ‘let’s try climbing a new hard line at the very top on An Teallach on some bold compact sandstone’.   Anyway, an annoying lull in the weather saw us swimming up Hayforks which just lured us into tying on.  Not wanting to digress too much, I was sent up to try some new direct line up the middle of the wall.  Not overly excited by the gear, the constant groupal pouring down one me, Martin becoming buried in new snow, I sacked it off and down climbed. 

Suffocating. (Photo: Martin Moran)


Saturday.  Bag packed, sandwiches made it was almost time for bed.  I sat on the floor with my head in my hands still suffering from the day on An Teallach.  I was just not feeling the psyche for any winter climbing.  I sheepishly sent a message off to Andy.  It was agreed I would not come out and winge whilst he went to solo some Torridon ice.  I feel bad bailing but I needed a day away from faffing with ropes, lanyards, gloves etc.  Sorry Andy.

Working on the Monday, time just dragged.  In fact it stood still then went backwards.  Clock watching for 9pm.  Hurry up!  All hell broke loose when the big hand struck the 12…  I drove my little red Skoda at 50mph to Beinn Bhan.  I hate sleeping in my car.  It’s just shit.  I don’t do it.  I like a bed, get up early and drive.  It gives me time the think and digest the apple I had for breakfast.  But on this occasion, even I saw the sense of winding back my seat and trying to get a few hours kip.
I saw Iain’s head torch flickering about in his car.  My car was getting rocked by the wind.  Sleet was building up against the window.  Ah, I’ll turn my phone on.  Hopefully it will chirp with a message from him saying ‘fuck it’.  No message.  Wallowing around lathered in sweat with a bag that weighed a tonne whilst belching yoghurt, muesli and tea.  Was this worth it?  Thankfully gearing up under the Giant the weather calmed, dawn broke and everything had a positive slant.  I even felt my face cracking with a smile. 

So going back to the beginning, we had two options in mind.  One was to poach a new line or do The God Delusion.  On arrival at the car park the previous night, we met Uisdean, Greg and Guy.  Iain and I were 24hrs too late.  But maybe that was a blessing in disguise.  A quick chat with Uisdean, it sounded like I might need to do a few more pull ups.  Iain agreed so we settled on The God Delusion.  Needless to say, my fear index was in the red.  Having read Moran’s blog the previous day, this was not good preparation.  This sounded intense and pretty serious.  Knowing that the first ascent team were pulling blocks off and lobbing onto lanyards, we were going to be in for a fun ride.  Iain, linked the first two pitches in good time. 

Iain can just be seen in his dark blue jacket.

I shuffled my way about on pitch 3.  

Me on Pitch 3.  (Photo Iain Small)

Iain making the difficult step as described on pitch 3.

Iain grumbled his way up pitch 4.  

Iain on Pitch 4.  Brilliant climbing. 

This is what its all about.  Grovelling and knees.  None of this fancy pictures you see in the media.

I pissed up pitch 5. 

The barrier wall pitch. (Photo: Iain Small)

Now, pitch 6.  The crux. Hmm, Iain kindly handed it over to me.  He had already done 2 big pitches.  Glancing at my watch, I had plenty of daylight left which relaxed me a bit and off I went.  I guess the crux move is pulling over this big roof.  It involves some deep lock offs, nothing for your feet and a nice ledge to land on beneath you.  

Me in the groove above the roof (Photo:Iain Small)
Myself somewhere (Photo: Iain Small)

Winding my may up the pitch I reached the niche.  By this point I had no slings or runners left.  I seriously needed to extend my runners.  So at the expense of my hexes, I used these all linked together.  I should have taken a photo and sold it to these instructors that like to write books on climbing and stuff.  This is the real deal instead of them taking photos of their little set up at the base of their local crag.  I better shut up before I lose my AMI membership.  After some pretty committing moves out of the niche, I was beginning to feel the burn.  Looking between my feet I could see why.  Just space then the snow slope below.  Clawing my way the strenuous technical moves, I was glad of my hex expenditure.  

Steep and exposed (Photo: Iain Small)
Lets not forget the view... (Photo: Iain Small)

Iain joined and despatched the next pitch.  Then the final one.  I remember reading somewhere about Pete Benson on this pitch.  It said something like, ‘what you just don’t need’.  When I looked up at it, I thought it looked easy.  It’s not.  It’s just a pitch that you just don’t need.  Awkward to start with some strenuous moves up the corner above.  The God Delusion certainly knows how to pump the energy out of you.  After the vertical soft snow, I was happy to be lying down on the plateau belaying Iain. 

Me (Photo: Iain Small)

Looks easy!  Top pitch.  (Photo: Iain Small)

I managed to get into work for just after 9am the next day.  Bouldering at the wall the following evening I fell off everything I can do easily.  That is a sign of a good day out.  Just in case you are wondering what I had for dinner when I got in.  I still had a tin of mackerel and oatcakes.  But this time I had some beetroot to supplement my withering lettuce leaves. 

So, The God Delusion.  What a route!  Comparing it with Godzilla, for me Godzilla is the line.  You walk into the corie, you look up and see the Godfather corner.  You look down the wall and you see the obvious grooves and corners leading up to the Godfather.  That’s Godzilla.  However, The God Delusion winds its way up some very impressive ground.  I think that’s what make this route different.  It’s a bit more intricate.  I have so much respect for Guy and Pete for establishing this line.  Repeating it is easy, just follow the route description.

It’s been almost 3 weeks since The God Delusion. People that follow me on Flickr will know I have been out.  Don’t worry, I have something to say.  I’m still high after taking Extasy on Friday so give me time to come down.  (I meant ticking the route Extasy ;-)).