Thursday, 8 May 2014

2014 Catch Up

So as expected I am not very good a writing a regular blog, I have been incredibly busy nearing the end of my final year of uni. Here's a catch up of some of the things I've been up to in the last 3 months! As always, few words, many pictures.
I will hopefully have another blog soon, sharing some of my summer plans and ambitions. I've got 4 months before I start work in October and they're looking to be very busy already! Exciting!


The Dubh Loch fantasy continues, Feb 7th.

Ice climbing in the sun! About to set off on the second ascent of The Sting VII 6 ** (pic Sam Williams)

Too much snow and wind in the mountains, but the sun was shining so we got back on the rock for a day. Uisdean leading the classic Birthday Treat E1 5b*** Clashrodney. I did a good E3 to the left called Blind Faith. We then went up the coast to Cove where I lead the classic Insect Groove HVS and Uisdean did an E1, A good day out. Feb 16th.
Bouldering at Back Bowden, Little Pixies 7A, second go. Feb 23rd (pic Dayni McConnell).
A long desired weekend in Torridon. Uisdean and myself had been speaking about Beinn Eighe and Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears for a long time. We had initially planned to acquaint ourselves with the cliff first and do another route but another team had beaten us too it, so we were left with no choice but to get on with it. What a route! What a big day out!
First sight of triple buttress on Beinn Eighe, a unanimous "wow" was the reaction. A very big imposing cliff.
First pitch of Blood, Sweat and Frozen Tears VIII 8 ***, March 1st (pic Uisdean Hawthorn).

The whole crag watching on as Sam sends Primo (First Chains) F7b+ at Am Fasgadh, a more relaxing day clipping bolts after our big day out on Beinn Eighe. March 2nd.

A weekend in Northumberland.
Soloing the brilliant Main Wall HVS 5b*** at Bowden Doors just before we escaped the wind and went to the shelter of Back Bowden, March 15th (pic Dayni McConnell).
Soloing The Sorcerer E1 5c*** great climbing after the boulder problem start (pic Dayni McConnell).

Back Bowden, Merlin E5 6a***, superb, steep and pumpy route (pic Tom Stork).

It suddenly feels very steep when you step off the 'ledge', Merlin E5 6a*** (pic Ferdie Earle).
A very snowy and sunny weekend in Glencoe staying in the very well situated Lagangarbh hut.
Sun rise in Glencoe, March 22nd.

Three Sisters, Glencoe.

Breaking trail all the way into Stob Coire nan Lochan with Stu, Marcus and James.
Leading the final pitch of Scabbard Chimney V 6 *** after linking the first two and a half pitches together, great route, obvious winter line (pic Marcus McLernon).
Myself carefully descending a very snow laden SCNL after our route (pic Marcus McLernon).


Lagangarbh and the Buchaille, March 23rd.

Sun, Snow and a Selfie.

View from a very cold Tunnell Wall.
Trying Uncertain Emotions F7b at Tunnell Wall - all the moves done easily, just too cold to RP (pic Marcus McLernon).

Buchaille Panorama.
Escaping the coursework blues for a midweek fix of superb granite and big suns. A brilliant day.
Sam high up on the arete of Ramadan E1 5b ** at The Round Tower. Brilliant weather, great rock and good company made for a great day, March 26th.

Sam leading Stoneface E4 6a ***, great rock. I lead Facegod E5 6a*** that takes a direct start up the crack to the left, crosses this route, steps above the lip of the roof and then heads boldly up the thin headwall.

A long weekend on the Isle of Arran for Dayni's belated 21st celebrations, a good weekend where we made the most of the non-climbing compatible weather.
Big day out in the hills on Arran, heading towards The Witches Step, April 7th.

Heading up into the middle of The Witches Step, very atmospheric!

A cool panorama from the mini ridge at the top of the two gullies.

Looking back across The Witches Step, spooky!

Heading from Caisteal Abhail to Cir Mhor.

Glen Sannox full of cloud

Like a bowl full of cloud soup.

Looking towards Goatfell and North Goatfell, the way ahead.

Dayni says "This way."

Looking back from the saddle to The Castles (Left) and The Witches Step (Right), if only the cloud was like that when we had to figure out The Witches Step!
I have been dreaming about the Island of Erraid on the western tip of the Ross of Mull for a long time now. I had seen some photos of some friends climbing there, and read great stories of the climbing there in Jules' book. I jumped at the opportunity to organise a trip there when the weather played ball. Great company and weather to match made for a brilliant weekend. I recommend everyone go an explore this incredible corner of Scotland, but not all at once now!
Set up camp on Erraid, April 18-19.

Glorious view from the tent.

Couldn't resist the classic solo of One Dead Puffin VS 4c***, What an incredible place.

I could get lost in this place for a long time, Scotland, April!

High up on Covenant E4 6a***, incredible crack climbing to go with the incredible weather and location.

Fionnphort Boulder circuit, a brilliant afternoon to rest our arms and skin on some fine easier problems, April 20th.

Waiting for the Corran Ferry in 17C heat at 16:30!

View north up Loch Linnhe towards Fort William.

After a very busy couple of weeks finishing off final uni submissions with some very long days and nights I was keen to get out on the rock. Dayni and myself went to Pass of Ballater for the day, and what a great day it was. It's always sunny at Pass of Ballater!

Soloing a brilliant little VS Strawberry Ripple, if only it was longer!
Onsight attempt on Demon Drink E5 6b**, I came very very close, just hung around too long trying to figure out where to go! Brilliant route and happy to get it done.
End of the day solo on Smith's Arete E5 6a***, brilliant technical climbing up to the break at 8m then some easy climbing to the top. I had lead this back in October so could remember some of the moves, just not the crucial move to the break, which provided a bit of a heart flutter, I tried not to let it show to keep Dayni's heart rate lower than my own. Happy to be able to solo this level of climbing, a good test of mental strength as well as physical strength. (pic James Claphamski)
Moving into the no-fall-zone on Smith's Arete, a great end to another superb day at Pass of Ballater, three E5's and my first E5 onsight with Stoned Immaculate! Happy days. (pic James Claphamski)

The longing for more climbing only burns stronger with each day becoming sunnier. Making the most of the start of the year, my ticklist has for once been able to keep pace with my wishlist.

Take The Throne, Defence of the Realm, Egret, The Stork, The Sting, The Knock, Little Pixies, Blood Sweat and Frozen Tears, The Sorcerer, The Magic Flute, Merlin, Monty Python's Direct, Facegod, Covenant, Demon Drink, Stoned Immaculate, Smith's Arete. Climbing, Climbing, Climbing!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Dubh Loch Dreaming

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." T.S. Elliot

Usually my January would be choked full of exams and revision, but with my final year's timetable being a bit different to previous years it's been nice to have more flexibility this January. I have been very keen to get out in the mountains for a wee while now, there's no better place to be; these past few weeks have been good for fulfilling that desire.

A Giant Learning Curve

To me The Giant is the epitome of Scottish Winter climbing, an exquisite slender smear of ice that only forms under an exact sequence of freeze-thaw, a fluctuation of freezing level around 800m that would usually be considered detrimental to conditions were just perfect for the elusive route to form, but only for those that were deft enough. 
Scottish Winter climbing is a game of conditions, predicting conditions and making smart choices can really pay off; a good dose of being in the right place at the right time helps as well. In this case though, knowledge of the crag was essential and that was the driving factor; Doug and Uisdean had got it just right.
As far as I am aware The Giant only formed for a week before the freezing level rose to 900/1000m and the whole of Central Gully Wall was stripped bare. Through this week it was possibly only climbable on two days, the Hawthorns made the first ascent on the first of these days on 29th December, and myself and Robin were there on the second day, on the 5th January; exactly a week after the first ascent.
The route was there for the taking, but we slipped, we fumbled and we retreated, beaten by The Giant. I have learnt a lot about winter climbing and about myself from it, possibly a more valuable experience than succeeding, it was the first time I've not got to the top on a winter route, it's just a shame it had to be the most iconic new route this season!
Robin at the Belay at the end of first introductory pitch with the steep thin pitches looming above.
Here are some photos of me on the first pitch, a superb steep thin ice pitch;
First main pitch of The Giant (Photo by Robin Clothier).
Crux steepness on first main pitch (Photo by Robin Clothier).
Take The Throne

"Damocles sat down in the king's throne surrounded by every luxury, but Dionysius arranged that a huge sword should hang above the throne, held at the pommel only by a single hair of a horse's tail. Damocles finally begged the tyrant that he be allowed to depart because he no longer wanted to be so fortunate, realizing that with great fortune and power come also great peril and anxiety." (Wiki) 

Take The Throne has been well reported already so I wont say too much. Here's some of the links; Scottish Winter, Scottish Winter, Mountain Motion, UKC, Planet Mountain, Gripped.

What I will say is that the second pitch was incredible; long and sustained, all on thin ice with some cruxy bulges. I placed 5 ice screws; 3 stubbys and 2 16cm screws, both of the 16cm ones were tied off - I don't know if I trust ice screws anyway, but when they're tied off I certainly don't! After about 30m of climbing, just after a crux bulge I was able to kick a small step in some neve, I had the worst hot aches in my toes I have ever experienced. I stood there for a good 10 minutes wiggling my toes and looking up at the next bulge and thin section before the belay; another 15m of climbing, I had one ice screw, and from where I was standing I couldn't see any screws below me. I knew they were there, I hoped they were still there, but I didn't want to know how far below. Thankfully the moves across to the next bulge were trivial, placing the screw one handed was hard, the moves upwards were more mentally difficult than physically strenuous. An outstanding pitch.
Overall, on reflection, that pitch was more of a mental battle than a physical one, not suggesting that the climbing was easy, but it felt like a "no fall zone" on many long sections of it.

We took a while to decide on a name and grade, but eventually agreed on Take The Throne, VII 6. I'd give it 3 stars, but I'm maybe biased. Three superb ice pitches.

A few people have asked me what it feels like when I'm on the sharp end winter climbing, the best way to describe it might be; exhilarating, you feel so alive, an incredible mix of feelings, you definitely learn a lot about yourself; "come out of your shell, and find out who you really are".

The cherry on top were the superb photos that were taken on the day, it's great to have photos of a route, especially a new route, they give a great sense of scale and perspective.

Take The Throne VII 6, second pitch (Photo by Doug Hawthorn).
Moving up the top half of the second pitch, the icle of The Sword of Damocles to the right (Photo by Doug Hawthorn).
I can be seen centre shot on the last few moves of the second pitch, Richard Bentley can be seen bottom centre on the belay of The Last Oasis (Photo by Doug Hawthorn).
One of the thin sections of the second pitch (Photo by Richard Bentley).
In the zone (Photo by Richard Bentley).
Uisdean romping up the steep final corner, me on belay with the line of Take The Throne's long second pitch directly below. Robin Clothier in blue moving up The Last Oasis, belayed by Richard Bentley in red directly to his left (Photo by Doug Hawthorn).
Myself, Uisdean and Iain catching some sun whilst walking off after our new routes (Photo by Simon Richardson).

Beautiful light on the descent, an icey Dubh Loch and an almost tropical looking Loch Muick loom below us (Photo by Simon Richardson).

Spirits were high at Dubh Loch that day with a great crowd of guys there, a very social day.

The first Ascentionists for the day. Iain Small: "We should switch places so it goes brightest to darkest" (Photo by Simon Richardson).

We were back at Dubh Loch on Sunday, with lots of new routes to choose from and everything in condition we couldn't decide what to do. Iain Small and Ross Cowie were on Defence of the Realm, Richard and Robin gave The Sting a go, but detaching ice thwarted their attempt. We raced up Bower Buttress (V, 5) in two long pitches, topping out at around 11am, as we were walking back round we couldn't resist the superb line of Defence of the Realm. We did this in two long pitches as well; Uisdean taking the first and Doug taking the second, my arms were certainly happy to follow rather than lead. Another outstanding route at Dubh Loch and a great end to the my best weekend winter climbing yet!
We jogged most of the way back down the path to the bikes and with the wind behind us cruised along Loch Muick to the car, making it just over 11 hours car to car.

Sorting out our gear after topping out Bower Buttress, our first route on the Sunday, sunrise in the background (Photo by Doug Hawthorn).
Following Doug up the steep ice of the second pitch of Defence of the Realm (Photo by Uisdean Hawthorn).
It was great to be part of such a significant weekend of winter climbing on Creag and Dubh Loch. Very psyched to continue this Dubh Loch Dream and get out there for some rock climbing this summer!