I don’t know but is this winter just dragging on or what? It’s doing my head in! Almost 2 weeks ago I went out thinking, ‘this was my last day’ and enjoyed it for that reason. But instead I have been out and climbed 7 routes since then. I think part of the problem is beneath my superficial moaning and groaning, deep within me I love the Scottish Winter Mountains and struggle to let go of them.
Over the last month I have had a superb mix; soloing easy gullies, pulling hard on mixed moves, pulling hard on crimps, getting pumped on jugs and racing up fat ice with blue sky over head. I'm sure folk will have seen my Flickr. I could write a story/rant for every day out. But I’m not going to, maybe just a summary.
The Northern Corries are great. Since I live in Inverness, I can get up at a reasonable time, go there, mess around and be home for late afternoon. One day I went with Roger Webb. Given the recent crap weather, we figured the safest option was to abseil into Fiacall Buttress and do a few routes. Our dream of doing 2 routes was spoilt after I topped out from Watchout (VI,8) to discover our abseil station and my gloves stashed next to it had been taken. Not sure what’s going on there. We felt it was out of order. Our packs were close by as well but left untouched. It makes me wonder are some people just clueless or just cheeky knowing exactly what they are doing.
|Roger following Watchout.|
Andy Inglis and Tim Miller very kindly allowed me to join them last minute for a day in Lochan. Given the recent direction the weather had come from, Andy’s options were black. However, up in the Hoarmaster/pinnacle area things were white. So Candy Shop (VII,9), a route put up by Greg Boswell and Guy Robertson a few seasons back gave a shock to the arms. I highly recommend this route to anyone looking to push their grade. Safe and hard as the grade suggests. Straight off the belay the placements are good, but not much for your feet. You do need to hang on to get the bomber kit in though. Belaying at the top was quite entertaining. I sat there in the howling wind and snow freezing my ass off. Then I began to see one tool, then another. Then one bare hand holding a tool, then another bare hand holding the other tool. WTF? Sprang to mind. As Tim approached me I asked what had happened. I obviously made the assumption he dropped his gloves but he hadn’t. He was too warm. Fair enough I thought as the icy wind from the west blasted me with spindrift. Maybe I’m just soft and young Tim is nails. Neither Andy nor I fancied barehanded climbing that day! Much to my disgust, I got home feeling weary from our short intense winter blast. Not for one moment did I consider Candy Shop to be black. I spent a lot of energy clearing Ice from cracks, pulling on ledges of neve fighting spindrift and generally faffing about like one does in winter. When I got home, sat down, poured myself some another mug of tea, I uploaded my photos to the laptop. Black! What?! I don’t care, I posted it on flickr and obviously opened myself up for comment. Andy got in touch commenting I did a fantastic job in posting the worst photo from the day. Good, I love to cause a bit of controversy.
|Tim and I following pitch 1 of Candy Shop. Looks Wintery. (Andy Inglis)|
|Me on pitch 2 of Candy Shop|
At 4.04am my phone chirped. A message from Guy Robertson: “Murdoch hope u get this. I’ve been up since half two pukin and shitting. Sorry but I’m in no state to go out”. I lay in bed and for a moment a wave of joy came over me. That was it. No more winter action for me this season. You absolute bute. Cheers Guy! I knew Richie Betts was off bouldering that day in Torridon. I could join him. Malcs arête could spank me. Yes! But after a short while the deep winter psyche forged through my lazy thoughts and said ‘get out in the mountains you lazy shit’. After a text round and waking everyone up at 5am, Andy was straight back and kindly said to meet him and Neil at 8.30am. Again, the objectives were looking black. However the right sight of No.4 buttress kept a wintery look and feel. We settled for Torquing Heads (VII,7) then a quick blast up Ewen Buttress Direct (IV,5). Walking out, sun in my face, this is cheating.
|Andy on pitch 1 of Torquing Heads.|
I first experienced the climbing on Indicator Wall (Ben Nevis) back in 2007. Back then I worked my way through the classics such as Indicator Wall, Albatross, Psychedelic Wall and Satanic Versus. I never managed back to do Riders on the Storm. I guess the picture of Dave Macleod in the guidebook inspired me. Moving through the overlaps on thin ice just looked so cool. The opportunity to climb on this wall arose when the recent high pressure pushed in to dominate our weather. Anyway, I had arranged to climb with Iain for a few days. Inspecting the ice, it was a bit varied at the base of the wall so much to my delight, we settled for Riders on the Storm (VI,5). With some healthy runouts and a mix of ice quality I found myself at the first overlap. Digging for a wire placement, testing it, digging, and testing. I gave up. I was conned by frozen mud. I settled for a screw in a ledge of ice. Once over the first overlap, I secured a good wire. The rest of the pitch was steady. Just don’t fall. Topping out in to the sun with no wind, it feels like a completely different sport. Back down Tower Gully, Psychedelic Wall (VI,5) just looked so appealing. We had both done it previously but who cares.
|Indicator Wall. The best wall on Ben Nevis?|
|Me starting up Riders on the Storm. (Iain Small)|
|Iain cruising to the top on Riders on the Storm.|
|Admiring his coils...|
|Me starting up pitch 2 of Psychedelic Wall. (Iain Small)|
|Iain on the top pitch of Psychedelic Wall.|
High Pressure, Blue Sky, No wind, Good Ice and it’s the weekend. The last place I want to be is Ben Nevis. I can’t handle crowds. So Iain and I settled for a day at Goat Crag. The highlands at this time of year is the best place to be I think. Mountains one day followed by cragging or bouldering the next. Magic.
|Mhairi bouldering at Ruthven.|
Despite telling Caff there was a stove, pots n pans, mugs etc up at the CIC hut, he still packed everything as though we were off camping. His rucksack was bigger than him. Unfortunately I have no photo but never mind. Anyway, you are probably more curious to find out why a F9a sport climber was carrying an expedition sized rucksack (for one night) up to the CIC hut in winter. Should he not be at Siurana red pointing La Rambla?
Anyway Caff and I had been tasked to model some new RAB kit for next season, whilst Nadir Kahn took photo’s and Guy Steven kept everyone safe. What a laugh is all I can say. We climbed Hadrians Wall Direct (V,5), walked up and down a slope several times, and ate a superb curry made by Nadir. The next day we climbed Boomers Requiem (V,5) followed by more walking up and down a slope. Caff is now inspired to cut his Spanish sport climbing trip short next year to come back for Ben Nevis ice.
|Guy Steven (safety man) making sure we can tie cloves hitches.|
|We are meant to be Ice Climbing!|
A few days later I noticed a facebook post from Emma Twyford of Caff displaying some outrageous colours from RAB. I too even mustard to confidence to go bright.
|Hero (Emma Twyford)|
|Not a hero. Check those legs ;-) (Sheila Van Lieshout)|
Wednesday saw Uisdean, Guy and me back on the Ben. We did a cool link up of The Cascade (IV,5), Pink Panther (VI,6), down Tower Gully and up Kellets (VI,6). The pictures tell it all. After the last 3 days rock climbing, that is my focus now. I’m off to Kalymnos soon. But I notice is getting colder this week. Maybe, just maybe there is one more route in me…
|Me on Pink Panther. (Guy Steven)|
|Even I enjoyed the sun. (Guy Steven)|
|I will miss it when it goes.|