Sunday, 24 September 2017


Before I say a word... Lets not forget this is a typical Scottish Summers day out.
I don’t know what’s happened, but with one blink, summer has disappeared.  After our visit to ‘Realm of the Senses’ back at the end of May, there was an intense focus on The Shelterstone conditions.  With Realm fresh in the muscle memory, Iain and I were both keen to get back and sort out ‘Athene’.  I’m still waiting, but have come to accept that may need to wait for another year.

As usual, there was the usual psyche and faith that the Scottish hills would be dry for weeks on end accompanied with a steady summer breeze to keep the midgies at bay.  Instead we had a stationary low pressure sat to the North West of Britain which chucked out a lovely mix of sunshine and showers.  Not ideal, but if you played your cards right, there was plenty of options.  And as we know, one good day up here counts for 5 good days in North Wales so it all balances out ;-).

The revival of some local trad routes which have been gathering dust on my ticklist got cleaned and climbed.  Wolfman which has lost its pegs gave a rather testing E5.  I think given its current state, E6 would be fair.  Cyclops E4 6b, gives a great safe athletic outing.  Richie Betts established ‘Transvison Clamp E6 6b’.  A scary onsight he commented.  I replaced the thread and gave it a token look.  Not to bad I thought…  So I returned with Gaz Marshall to give it a Flash/not quite onsight attempt.  Up and down, scared shitless, fiddly C3’s, balancey and bouldering.  “Flipping hec take there Gaz!”  I came down for a rest, had a word with myself, pulled the ropes and went up for a ground up attempt.  Same again, “Take there”  This time, sat on what I thought was a good wire, I checked the holds out.  As I sagged again, the wire blew out.  “Get me down now!”  I had had enough.  A route at a grade I should be onsighting, I went hope feeling rather spanked.  I need to have a look at this one.  Returning, I played the head point game.  Checked it out, practised the moves, sorted the gear and dispatched.  I would have never onsighted it the sequence so for me, the style was acceptable. 

Pete on 'Cyclops E4 6b'

Me on Wolfman E6 6b (Photo: Peter Herd)

An onsight attempt of 'Transvison Clamp E6 6b' (Photo: gaz Marshall)

Both Caithness and The Aberdeen sea cliffs provided a dry sanctuary from the prevailing westerlies.  My friends in Aberdeen have raved about Earnsheugh over the last few years to me.  For some reason, I have always doubted the quality and have just been put off for the fickle conditions they experience over the.  However, Anna and I had a great day climbing the 3 classic E5’s on the crag.  I left Necromancer for the end.  Unknowingly this has a reputation for spanking folk.  It was a rude surprise for tired arms at the end of the day to be faced with the strenuous technical sequence.  But, I managed to dig deep and pull it out the bag. 

Pete loving the sub optimal conditions at Rosehearty

Gaz on 'Banana Republic E1 5b'

Me on 'Escher's Steps E6 6b' (Photo: Gaz Marshall)

Anna starting up the first pitch of 'Prehistoric Monster E5 6a)

Me on 'Thugosaurus E5 6a' (Photo: Peter Herd)

Like last year, Binnein Shuas was the reliable venue to visit, this year was no different.  As always, Iain Small has been out adding several new lines to the crag.  He added Siege Engine E7 6c at the end of last season.  This takes an impressive left to right rising traverse under a big roof.  I gave it a flash attempt with the aid of Iain’s gear knowledge.  In typical Murdoch style I must have been on the route for over and hour before I reached the crux bulge.  Needless to say, the body was fatigued and a simple foot slip from a weakening core spat me off.  Believing I still had the fitness to dispatch that day, I gave it 3 more ground up attempts.  Each go, I inched higher, but by 8.30pm, the arms had finally gone.  Meanwhile that day, Iain added the superb athletic ‘Braes of Balquither E7/8 6c’.  This line starts up the existing ‘Wild Mountain Thyme E5 6b’, then climbing directly up the prominent pink streak. 

I found myself working more and farther away due to the School Summer Holidays.  But Siege Engine was burning at the back of my mind.  Of course the days I worked, the weather was nice.  Then my day off arrived and rain was pushing in from the west.  But my psyche was too much.  So a long day trip from the north saw me down and nabbing a clean ascent before the heavens opened.  Later that week, Cubby, Dave Macleod and I teamed up for a repeat of Iains ‘Braes of Balquither’.  With its runout nature combined with a crucial blind gear placement, we both opted for a cheeky head point of the route.  Dave has also been busy at Binnien Shuas so its cool to see some proper hard routes been climbed.  On his blog, there is a great range of photo's which shows the crag well.

Iain opening his new route, 'Braes of Balquither E7/8 6c'

Me on my first attempt on 'Siege Engine E7 6c' (Photo: Iain Small)

Simon Nadin, one of the 3 ‘The Masters’ of rock climbing, has been silently developing the Caithness Sea Cliffs for many years now.  I suspect the odd glimpse of this has appeared on my Flickr with the odd crag appearing, often called ‘Crag X’.  The only person to react was Andy Nesbit.  But this summer, Caithness saw a wee bit more exposure.  Located in the North East (obviously) it stayed fairly dry this year.  I have this rule that I only visit Caithness once a year (because I thought it was shit).  However, this summer that rule was broken and I must have been up half a dozen times.  One crag in particular at Sgaps became a popular venue…. to the point, it almost looked like a crag in North Wales with many of the lines chalked up.  A totally novelty for these far flung remote places!  On one visit, Simon checked a new line out which we both had seen before.  I felt honoured when Simon Jummered back out and gifted me this quality new line.  On my first attempt, the combination of a crucial wet hold, boxed arms and a highly technical sequence saw me off.  Sitting on the rope, I worked an alternative sequence and topped out.  Later that day I climbed it clean placing the kit on lead.  A route heavily reliant on the smallest micro cams with some stiff moves at half height combined with a much safer but hard sequence at the top, Pete, Simon and I decided to sit on the fence like every other new route in Caithness and give ‘Gods Gift’ the split grade of E6/7 6b.  I would like to link in Ian TaylorsPeter Herds and Simon Nadins Flickr.  The three of them have really captured some brilliant moments up there.  So please take time and have a look and hopefully become inspired to visit.  However, all good things must come to an end.  Simon took myself and Pete to his other ‘new crag’.  Here there was just this amazing new big meaty line.  A failed attempt from Simon in the midday heat saw the 3 of use retreat to the ‘Whaligoe steps Café’.  I know Simon has gone back and established the line.  But the direct finish needs climbed.  Similar to Siege Engine, all our focus went towards watching the weather and conditions for Caithness.  But things deteriorated and its now becoming a distant memory.  Good job Simon. Next summer…

The Master showing Pete his old friends

A good wall

Me on the first ascent of 'Gods Gift E6/7 6b' (Photo: Simon Nadin)

Simon attempting his new line in ridiculously hot conditions (Photo: Peter Herd)

As I have mentioned earlier in this post, Iain Small is constantly operating in the dark opening more new lines up around the country.  I am going to be bold and say he has probably added more new E7's to Scotland this year compared with Wales?  But I'm sure Caff would argue with that?!  Creag A’Bhancair which I have recently learned is a relatively quick drying venue become the latest crag for hard new routes.  This time, Iain’s project was to link the start of ‘Up with the Sun E7 6b’, cut through ‘The Risk Business E5’ cover some new ground and join ‘Gone with the wind E7’.  This was an impressive cleaning effort from him over several days.  Unfortunately the day I joined him, he was wasted from preparing the route and was unsuccessful.  However, he went back another day and climbed it clean.  I’m not sure of the grade, but you do the maths.  I opened my Trad climbing account on the crag with an onsight of ‘Romantic Reality E7 6b’ which I was pretty happy about.  This has been on my list on the wall for several years now.  Cubby was out so I felt quite privileged to have the first ascensionist watching and taking photo’s.  But that was just the introduction.  In 2014, Iain had opened up ‘The End of Innocence E7 6c’ and the ‘Constant Gardner E6/7 6b’.  Niall who had repeated The Constant Gardner said that first pitch should come with a health warning.  I opted out and started up ‘Carnivore Direct E4 6a’ to access the superbly sustained top pitch.  All in all, this created  an nice E6 route.  Meanwhile, Iain was hard at it again.  This time he re climbed ‘Symbioisis E8 6b’ and linked that into the top of ‘Up with the sun’.  I guess I have referred to these routes as link ups, but by no means are they less worthwhile.  I think what Iain has done is just applied a modern approach to straighten things out and created logical lines.  It has been pretty cool having Cubby around to give us an insight into the first ascents of the original lines.  Of course he had the vision of these new lines Iain is doing, but just never got back to sorting them out.  One must remember, those original lines are still meaty leads even by present standards.

Me on the top pitch on 'The Constant Gardener E6 6b' (Photo: Iain Small)

I actually owe Iain a full day of belaying.  I was psyched for ‘The End of Innocence’ Niall had raved to me about it rating it as one of the best E7’s he had ever done.  There was the slight issue that is has a bold start above a sky hook.  The fall would be nasty with small gear far below, I think a ride down the cliff would result in a collision with the Carnivore ledge.  Naill having repeated this with Iain shortly after he had done it had the advantaged of a chalked up line.  I must admit, I was keen to try but just felt rather hesitant.  Iain however kindly offered to faff about, and do multiple raps in from the top to chalk the crucial parts.  I know this is cheating a bit, but when one is about to embark on a route at their onsight trad limit, I’ll take the advantage of chalked holds ;-).  To gain this pitch, you need to climb ‘Celtic Dawn E5 6a’.  Flipping hec, is all I can say about that.  E5 climbing but you need an E6 head on.  Not your casual standard E5.  When I was racking up, Iain did point out that I wouldn’t need much gear…  Obviously I still took it as I wanted to add more weight to give me the full on trad shitting myself experience. 

The crux of ‘The End of Innocence’ is a traverse right across an overlap. The holds get smaller, the foot holds disappear and everything just gets exponentially harder.  I fell off on my first two attempts, then managed to unlock the powerful sequence.  A bit of rest following the cool flake feature before the route kicked in again.  Hard move out right to gain an undercut and decent foot hold proved tricky, but I managed to keep it together.  Now, I could see the finishing holds above.  But between me and them lay another hard fingery sequence.  This is where Niall blew it.  I felt this weigh me down even more.  Every time I left the overlap, my elbows touched the sky.  FFS! On each reversal back to the rest, I was becoming more fatigued.  Obviously this was late in the day, I just wanted it to end, but was actually loving it at the same time.  Then eventually I had a word with myself to just commit and treat it like a sport route.  With that mentality, I found myself lunging for the finishing jugs, body arching back.  I hung poised, gathering myself before I moved higher.  Collapsing at the belay and clipping in, that big wave of trad satisfaction began to wash over me…

Enough of that none sense, the Torridon bouldering season has started.

Gaz ignoring the rapidly deteriorating conditions

Mhairi making a slap for the lip on 'Central Roof'

...But of course, I was tempted back yesterday for another repeat of Iains new direct on 'End of Innocence' which gives something in the region of E7/8 6c.  Flashing the new section of climbing, I thought it was in the bag.  But some damp holds, tired arms, I failed on familiar ground at the top.  But I am still content with doing it ground up, second go.  The whole experience certainly felt like the next level of trad climbing for me...  

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