Friday, 16 February 2018

Winter is here

Well, it is fair to say, that this winter is panning out to be quite good.  In saying that, last winter was not bad.  The weather was brilliant, there was just no snow and so you had to shift your focus and go with the conditions.  Bouldering.  This year, I must admit I have only had one days bouldering and have concluded that my energy is better spent hooking my way up frozen cliffs. 

The Ben on 30th November 2017.. my 31st Birthday.

Guy loving crap weather on 'Pot of Gold'.  A shock to the system after being in the desert.

This season, I have spent a few days in Glencoe.  I guess this is a happy middle ground between myself and Iain Small who I have been out climbing with regularly.  At the same time The Coe is not shit so, that’s handy.  On a nice weekend before Christmas saw us both standing in Stob Corie Nan Lochan.  For me, I had only done 2 routes there, so I had full pick of the corie.  Iain on the other hand only has 2 or 3 desperate routes to do before the crag is ticked.  Opting for ‘Satyr’ IX,9/10?, I nominated Iain for the first pitch.  Neither of us new anything about this route apart from the first pitch was bold and there was some history about Andy Nelson and Donald king going back 2 or 3 times to complete it.  Despite knowing that tiny bit of knowledge, the alarm bells never rang.  They must have been faulty that day… 

Iain on pitch 1 of 'Satyr'

Anyway, Iain set off up pitch one.  Bold start, its handy to know Iain likes (?) that stuff.  Maybe not, but I think he does.  A good hex was reached then steady away with another hard few moves up a compact wall, slopey ledge.  Not my favourite winter ground, but an excellent pitch.  I quickly wallowed my way up the easier middle pitch.  Then there was the top.  We new nothing apart from the summer description.  Up the wide chimney crack (another favourite feature of mine) then a mantelshelf move.  Off I went…. I got up the crack.  Looking left I saw the lovely top pitch of Central Grooves.  Oh how appealing it looked.  However, I was bound for this slabby wall above guarded by this horrendous mantel move.  A thin crack on my left had an insitu DMM Terrier.  I managed to back this up with a good rock 2 and a crappy size 1 peanut.  Up and down, I realised, this was not quite a straight forward as I hoped.  Hmm, Central Grooves out left looked even more appealing.  More faffing, I committed and the inevitable, I fell off.  Giving Iain the option of me bailing left or passing him the lead I prayed he would say just go left.  No.  He wanted to give it a shot.  Bugger.  Of course its dark…  So down I came.  Iain grovelled his way up the crack regretting his decision.  I was glad to see he gave the mantel a token look and said ‘fuck that’ and did the decent thing and bail left into the groove.

A few days later, I did my re search on Satyr and realised that the top pitch was problematic on the first ascent.  Both Andy and Donald were on the phone giving me their stories.  Then when out with Nick Bullock a few weeks ago, he mentioned that that pitch never went smoothly on their ascent.  The moral of the story, Andy and Donald are winter weapons…. Which we already know.  But this re enforced that knowledge.  Be careful if repeating their routes.

Summit Buttress

The following day, The Duel IX,9 was on the cards.  However, I’m sure most of you who follow Facebook and Simon Richardsons blog will be aware that I am useless and I ended up climbing a very long and taxing pitch of En Garde.  Here is my account which I submitted to Simon.  Please visit his blog as he of course has added in some interesting and important history.

Me on 'The Wall Pitch' (Photo: Iain Small)

Iain led the introductory pitch to below 'The Wall' pitch of 'The Duel'.  Then I led 'The Wall' pitch of the duel, crossing the overlap and into the groove.  From there I just followed my nose, totally unaware that 'The Duel' traversed out right.  There was an old peg on the left wall which had seen better day so I backed that up with a cam and just assumed the route continued up the obvious line above!  Tricky, thin committing moves above the peg gained a belay ledge.  I was aware that this was meant to be a long pitch of 40m...Iain shouted up that I had only done 30m or there abouts so I just continued up the corner.  This was pretty steep with only a crappy peg and cam to protect it so it felt rather exciting for me. Above this, you reach a turfy ramp and can belay below the overhanging chimney (again this all fitted in with my thoughts we were on 'The Duel').  Iain followed and led the chimney.  We had taken a big cam especially for this.  However despite the steep chimney being strenuous it was positive placements.

Red line is En Garde, Green is The Duel
Chatting with Cubby the next day then reading the route description for 'The Duel' in then Cicerone guide, the doubts began to creep into my mind in what we had actually climbed.  I mentioned this to Iain and with the help of a photo from James Richardson of us on the route, it became clear we were on the higher ramp of ‘En Garde’.  Grade wise, we both thought it was IX,9.  Above that peg, is still pretty sustained climbing with not an abundance of gear.  But i'm sure one of these modern dry toolers will have it down at VII 8 soon.  

In terms of a description, it basically follows the summer description in the guide.  However the pitch 2, I belayed on a big ledge below the overhanging chimney.  (maybe 45m).”

Iain on the top pitch of En Garde

I am pleased to see it has had a second ascent from Nick Bullock and Tim Neil (Nick has a very funny account of his day on his blog.  They both seemed to enjoy it which was good.  Again, I can’t re enforce the fact, Cubby, what a beast.  Very impressive climbing even by today's standards.

Next came a warm Christmas then a snowy New Year.  This saw Iain and myself walking around the Cairngorms.  Despite having done a few hard routes this year it’s good to know that the hardest I have pulled on tools was the VI’s in Lochan!

Iain on 'The crack'

Liathach, a great day out.

Bullock arrived in Scotland at the start of January.  Last time we climbed together was on The Ben in 2013 when the ice was good.  Several year’s worth of story exchange passed the brutal walk up in to Stob Corie Nan Lochan.  Neither of us had done Unicorn VIII,8 so this fitted the bill for us.  I had always believed that the first pitch was for your mate.  But knowing that I find seconding in winter the living end and basically can't, ask any of my partners, I felt better suited to at least lead the awkward flare.  Weird psychology I know!  At least that way it would be marginally more pleasurable.  I had built this initial pitch up to be hell on earth, but in actual fact, I thought it was fine.  Then I was a bit greedy and took more than my fair share of pitch 2, leaving Nick the top part of the corner.  I couldn’t resist, the climbing is first class.  However, I paid for my cheeky behaviour when placing my tool literally in the top of the crag on the 4th pitch.  My other tool ripped which saw me lob.  Bugger.  I sent Nick up to finish the job. 

Me on pitch 1 of Unicorn.  (Photo: Nick Bullock)

Nick following pitch 1 of Unicorn

Nick on pitch 2 of Unicorn

Glencoe provided another happy medium for Iain and myself during the very snowy weekend of the 20th January.  He of course has a black book full of new route options so making best use of the copious amounts of fresh snow saw us on the very low E Buttress in Glencoe.  Starting up the corner pitch of the summer E1, Trapeze, we broke off left up some rather interesting and rather shattered winter ground.  He is yet to write an account for Simon, but I’ll leave you with a few photos.  All in all a new VIII,8.

Iain following pitch 3 of our new route.

Iain on a tricky traverse on pitch 4.

Me on the final pitch.  Loose and rattly.  (Photo: Iain Small)

Another new line on the buttress left of Italian climb saw us floundering around in the dark.  Another one of these ‘Short Big days’.  A good lead from Iain on the initial pitch.  Straight off the deck he was pulling hard going over a steep overlap trying to gain a steep icy groove.  Iced cracks, very strenuous position with a body breaking landing, hats off to him for digging the gear placements out.  It was a joy to follow.  Questing off up left, I felt rather intimidated.  New routing in on new ground can be worrying.  Iain pointed me in the direction of these big roofs.  Thankfully these big roofs were well fractured so were very accommodating for an intimidated Murdoch.  Grade wise, VIII,9 or IX,8... Not sure.  Take your pick.

Iain on pitch 1 of the new line.

Me on pitch 2 (Photo: Iain Small)

‘The Crack’ VIII,8 on Ben Nevis.  Now, there’s a route I was sort of aware about, but not really.  I guess it’s not on many peoples radar.  It’s ‘round the corner’ on Ben Nevis.  No crowds there and low on the hill so rarely in acceptable condition.  With all this snow and persistently cold temperatures it was a good choice.  Walking up the base of it, it winks at you, teasing you inside.  When I was in the states last year, I managed to avoid offwidths.  Ha ha, I thought.  Well, it was payback time for that cheeky manoeuvre.  I was inside this thing.  Floundering around, gear way below, there were certainly naughty comments coming from my mouth.  Something about how 'I hate winter climbing' and 'this is a complete waste of time' and 'I should have gone for a walk instead…' the list goes on.  Anyway, again not knowing anything I grovelled up the first part to a welcome rest.  Then quested off up the continuation.  Suddenly you’re on the outside but the crack is too baggy for the tools.  It’s bulging.  What the Fuck?!  An old peg below my feet, I was feeling rather taxed again.  Thankfully I managed to through a hex in and batter it with my tool.  At least that was something, but then it was in the way!  Anyway, it took me some time to psyche myself up and deal with these pumpy strenuous moves to reach some thank god chalk stones.  Flipping hec.  Good job Simon Richardson and Chris Cartright.  Iain dealt with the next off width above.  I think on the first ascent, they went right but we stayed in the crack as we were enjoying it that much.  Easy ground was reach, thank god.

Iain on the awkward initial pitch of 'The Crack'

Me on pitch 2 of 'The Crack' (Photo: Iain Small) was more like this... grovelling.

Iain on pitch 3 of 'The Crack'

Centurion VIII,8, now there’s a route…  John Orr and i do like a lengthy day out, but that deserves its own write up.

Peter Herd on Vapour Trail.... Torridon will need to wait to March :-(

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