Ups and Downs

Last week was the BMC International Winter Meet 2014, and what a week it was. A bunch of climbers from all over the world came to Scotland to sample some of what the Scottish Winter season has to offer, and as usual, it did not disappoint!

I had a really fun week of climbing and meeting new people. I’m going to give a rough outline of what I got up to and with whom and when, and then just let the pictures do the talking.

Lots of guests and hosts heading into SCaL

Lots of guests and hosts heading into SCaL

Day 1, I was first paired up with Mirko Breckner from Germany. Mirko was a totally awesome guy who also turned out to be a very capable and strong climber. After chatting about what he wanted to get out of the trip, we headed for Stob Coire an Lochain and did the direct variation start to “Central Buttress” called “Starting Block Start”, which gives a 3 start and very enjoyable VII/8. The perfect way to start a good weeks climbing.

Mirko Seconding pitch one of "Starting Block Start"

Mirko Seconding pitch one of “Starting Block Start”

Mirko Leading pitch 3 on "SBS"

Mirko Leading pitch 3 on “SBS”

The man at work, James Dunn filiming on "SBS

The man at work, James Dunn filiming on “SBS

Day 2, On our second day together, Mirko and I headed up the Ben to try and make the most of the better weather on the West. After crossing some suspect snow and scouting around for what to get on due to the limited access options due to a high avalanche risk, we opted for Central Trident Buttress area and jumped on a steep and intriguing line. Throughout the day, we didn’t know anything about our chosen route, we didn’t even know if it had been climbed before. It took a steep overhanging chimney on pitch one, and then onto a steep and technical thin wall/ice climb on pitch two. It turns out that we had followed and made the second ascent of “Heidbanger” (with the “Cranium” start) originally given VIII/8, but before I knew what the route was and due to the current conditions, I would have given the route IX/8 on the day. It was a bit of a spicy number!

Mirko seconding the first pitch on Heidbanger

Mirko seconding the first pitch on Heidbanger

Mirko on the last short pitch of "Heidbanger"

Mirko on the last short pitch of “Heidbanger”

Day 3, We wanted a shorter day, and opted for Sneachda, but unfortunately the weather didn’t play ball and we decided to bail out after we had reached a very stormy and horrible coire. We ambled back and chilled for the rest of the afternoon, looking forward to the good weather forecast the following day.

Jon rapping into West Central Gully Photo. Nick Bullock

Jon rapping into West Central Gully
Photo. Nick Bullock

Day 4, On Thursday we changed partners and I was paired up with Jon Walsh from Canada. Jon is a super strong climber, and was eager to sample some of Scotland finer vintages, in the form of new routing on Beinn Eighe, possibly one of the country’s best winter climbing venues! We also teamed up with Nick Bullock, whose new partner wanted a chilled rest day at the lodge. We all discussed our options and decided to go for a line that Nick and I both new of in the West Central Gully area. Our route took a steep roofed start to the first terrace and then after a cheeky traverse right to gain the steeper ground, it forged its way up the headwall for two pitches to find the summit.

Jon approaching the route

Jon approaching the route

We gave the route VIII/8 **** for its steep start and sustained second pitch and the 4 stars for its outstanding position and climbing quality. We called it “Making the Cut”

Gearing up below the roof of "Making the Cut"  Photo. Jon Walsh

Gearing up below the roof of “Making the Cut”
Photo. Jon Walsh

 

Me leading the first pitch of "MtC" Photo. Nick Bullock

Me leading the first pitch of “MtC”
Photo. Jon Walsh

Day 5, Unfortunately for me, I had tweaked my knee two days prior whilst on the Ben, and after the big day on Thursday, I was in quite a lot of pain. Not wanting to injure it for any prolonged period of time, I opted to head home on the Friday morning and try and see a physio about my knee. A lot of the meet members had gone to Newtyle (dry tooling venue) for the day because of the bad weather, so I stopped off there on my way home for a bit of a climb and to say cheerio to Mirko and the other guests. It was a fun day in the cave, and it was cool to see a mixture of abilities and styles throughout.

Me leading and soaking up the atmosphere on "MtC" Photo. Nick Bullock

Me leading and soaking up the atmosphere on “MtC”
Photo. Jon Walsh

Nick seconding the first pitch of "MtC" Photo. Jon Walsh

Nick seconding the first pitch of “MtC”
Photo. Jon Walsh

All in all the week of the meet was a big success, and I think it is totally awesome how the BMC seam to put so much time, money and effort into bringing all the countries, climbers and potential friends together to show what are amazing little country has to offer, keep it up guys! I would highly recommend it to anyone, whether they want to be a host or a guest from another country, get involved next time!

Jon moving right to gain steeper ground

Jon moving right to gain steeper ground

Jon starting up the headwall on "MtC"

Jon starting up the headwall on “MtC”

Jon nearing the top of the off-width pitch

Jon nearing the top of the off-width pitch

So after 4 days rest I stupidly decided to try and get out in the hills again yesterday. Guy Roberston and I headed out in search of some good mixed conditions. Unfortunately all we found was an abundance of snow and wind, so we decided to bail out once again, it seems to be a bit of a theme of the season for a lot of climbers this year! Something else that was annoying was that my knee clearly wasn’t any better, in fact, the deep snow walking seemed to make it worse. So after another trip to the physio yesterday, I have been put on two weeks recovery layoff, which means no venturing into the mountains! Not a happy bunny!

So it will be pull-ups and finger-boarding for me for a wee while, so keep an eye on this blog in around two-three weeks time, because I’ll be like a caged tiger wanting to escape and go mixed climbing as soon as I can (if tigers like mixed climbing, I’m not sure).

Me reaching the belay after the first headwall pitch. On "Making the Cut"

Me reaching the belay after the first headwall pitch. On “Making the Cut”

Nick reaching the belay on "MtC"

Nick reaching the belay on “MtC”

James Dunn gathering up his equipment after a days filming us on "MtC"

James Dunn gathering up his equipment on the ridge after a days filming us on “MtC”

The sunset on the walk out

The sunset on the walk out

Defence of the Realm and The Tempest

Since my last post about The Demon, I have had some very unsuccessful days out in the Scottish mountains, but also some amazing ones too!

In December Will Sim and I took advantage of a lull in the stormy weather for a quick hit in Sneachda. We managed to make the second ascent of a very cool and tricky crack line called “Babes in the Wood”. This was a cool route that offered some shelter from the high winds but didn’t substitute anything when it came to the quality of the climbing.

Will looking over at the all of "Babes in the Wood"

Will looking over at the wall of “Babes in the Wood”

After that route it was the busy festive period and also the return of the awful weather and conditions. I had a good run of training days to keep up the psyche and jumped at the chance to get out again as soon as the weather allowed.

My next few outings into the mountains weren’t overly successful. Will and I had a run of attempting some amazing looking lines, but not actually getting anything ticked. Whether it be conditions, Illness or just lack of psyche for certain situations, we just couldn’t manage to get anything sent.

But last weekend all that changed! After a failed trip to the Dubh Loch the previous weekend, I had kept my eye on the weather and opted to make the two hour drive and walk into the coire last Thursday with my girlfriend to take a look at how the conditions were doing/holding out. It was obvious that things were doing well! There was lots of ice hanging around and with a cold forecast for the following day, I was super psyched to get back in there at the weekend and hopefully get on an obvious looking line that I had spied.

My hotel for the evening.

My hotel for the evening.

Broad Terrace Wall on the Dubh Loch

Broad Terrace Wall on the Dubh Loch

I sent my photos and findings over to Guy Robertson who I was planning on climbing with and together we decided that it looked too good to turn down.

So on Friday night I made the drive over again towards Ballater, where I met up with Guy, Nick and Will, and after a quick chat and deciding on getting an early start, I put up my Quasar tent and caught a few hours sleep.

4am came around pretty quickly, and it wasn’t long before Guy and I were cycling along the 4×4 track on our way to the all mighty Creag an Dubh Loch. We reached the base of the crag well before daybreak, but this was fine, as once we had geared up and soloed to the bottom of our route, we just sat on the big neve covered ledge and watched the sun slowly rise above the bright headlight dots of all the other teams racing in to try and mark their territory on an icy line on this impressive mountain face.

Waiting for the sun to rise to light up our route.

Waiting for the sun to rise to light up our route.

Once there was enough light to see where we wanted to go on our first pitch before we could reached the steep and immaculate looking ice weep above, Guy set off up the lightly iced and immensely fun lower section forging his way up with every pull. Just after Guy had set off, there was a sudden arrival of two other teams to our quiet little ledge. One team was Nick and Will, who were just keen to get on something/anything that looked good (which they did), and the other team was Ian Small, Simon Richardson and Doug Hawthorn, who also had their sights set on our line up to the obvious icy abyss above. But you gotta get up at stupid o’clock if you want to win these sensational prizes in the Scottish mountains in winter.

Despite this, Ian and Simon went on to make the FA of a brilliant looking line to the left of “The Sting” (a Doug Hawthorn ice route).

Guy pulling through the steep ground on pitch one of "Defence of the Realm"

Guy pulling through the steep ground on pitch one of “Defence of the Realm”

After Guy had succumbed the tricky moves on the steep section of the first pitch, he reached the belay and I got stuck into seconding the fun and 4 star climbing to reach his position. Next it was my turn to take the helm. I set off round the corner and soon found myself situated below a steep and overhanging roof section caped by an icy curtain. After a few steep moves that had a very continental feel to them, I was into the midway bowl and made my way up the distinctive wave feature of ice that loomed above my head. Once I was over this, it was plain sailing all the way to the belay and then a short easy pitch by Guy lead to the top.

Me setting of on the second pitch of "Defence of the Realm"  Photo. Hawthorn collection.

Me setting of on the second pitch of “Defence of the Realm”
Photo. Hawthorn collection.

Me overcoming the steep bulge on "DotR" Photo. Guy Robertson

Me overcoming the steep bulge on “DotR”
Photo. Guy Robertson

Me reaching the pod below the icy wave, Photo. Guy Robertson

Me reaching the pod below the icy wave,
Photo. Guy Robertson

After walking back to our bags with a huge smile on our faces we bumped into all the other climbers in the area that had had a successful day. It was cool to see so many happy faces and psyched climbers. There is an awesome write up on Scottishwinter.com about all the new routes on the face done last weekend which offers a good read.

Our route went at about VII/7 and was worthy of a 4 star rating! We called it “ Defence of the Realm” and it was a real joy to be part of another new route at this amazing crag.

Guy on the easy last pitch

Guy on the easy last pitch

Guy celebrating an awesome day at the top of "Defence of the Realm"

Guy celebrating an awesome day at the top of “Defence of the Realm”

After a quick trip back home, I jumped back in the car on Sunday night to drive West to meet up with Guy, Nick and Will again, but this time in Glen Coe. The usual easy drive over was prolonged and made much more stressful by the amount of snow falling and lying on the roads. But eventually I made it to the Kings House Hotel and after a chat and a drink we headed to bed ready for hopefully yet another stonking days climbing.

Will and I reached the base of Stob Coire an Lochain with an open mind on what we were going to get on, and once we had geared up and scoped the crag, we decided to go and have a sniff at an amazing looking new line. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be and after some quick decision making, we opted for “The Tempest”.

Will leading "The Tempest"

Will leading “The Tempest”

“The Tempest” is a bit of a test piece in the area, and has got a reputation for the style in which the first ascent was made, using redpoint tactics and preplaced protection. Even though these styles are frowned upon now, I personal think it was still an awesome effort by Neil Grasham to have the balls and psyched to get on such a cool looking line back in the day when it was first done.

Will lead off first as I had been the one trying the new line earlier. After some time finding gear and deciding on which way to go, Will probed upwards and eventually found his way to the icy upper section. I was quite happy on my comfy belay in the nice weather watching Will do his thing. But it all changed as he moved on upwards and it was apparent that he was going to get no more weight baring protection. His last worthwhile runner was just at about half height, and the last few moves onto the crudier neve/snow slope above were hard to watch as it was fairly obvious that he would have been lucky to walk away from the fall if his axes were to rip on the last moves.  But technique prevailed and he made it onto the easy ground above.

He popped his head over the top and asked me what I wanted to do, whether I wanted to second the route, leave it for another day, or have him abb down and I would just lead it. The light was starting to slowly fade and we both knew that trying the new route earlier and Will’s ascent had both taken a fair bit of time. But I got him to rap down anyway and I just put my headtorch on in case darkness made its way in, as I wanted to lead the route.

 

As soon as I started climbing and was committed on the face, the weather totally changed, and the wind picked up and started dumping floods of spindrift down on my head. I pushed on and soon found myself at the point where I too would have to leave the last worthwhile protection, but the length of the bold climbing looked much further from here and I had a quick word with myself before I continued upwards. I placed an atrocious pecker in the upper ice, but knew that it was a pointless exercise, but it’s good for the head to focus on this simple task to take my mind away from the ever growing distance between me and my last runner. I finally reached the top moves and found myself composed and comfortable despite my serious position, this all changed when I took my left axe out to make one last swing into the ice before reaching the top neve, and my right axe (that I thought was bomber) ripped down 2-3 inches in the cruddy ice behind the outer layer. Thankfully my next left placement was good and I swiftly pulled up on the easy ledge above. Ahhhhhh…… the addictive adrenaline and euphoria rush of overcoming a hard and technical situation soon set in and I rapped down and stripped the wall with yet another beaming smile on my face.

Me reaching the ice on "The Tempest"

Me reaching the ice on “The Tempest”

We had both had a good day, and it was cool to hear that Guy and Nick had also had an awesome time, making the FA of a new winter only route on another part of the Coire. We all trotted back to the car on cloud nine and after the usual ritual of sorting gear, we all went our separate ways and headed home.

Me about to get into the bold ground on "The Tempest". Photo. Will Sim

Me about to get into the bold ground on “The Tempest”.
Photo. Will Sim

Now that the weather seems to be settling a little, and I (hopefully) seem to be out of my rut of getting nothing done, I’ll hopefully be posting much more stuff on here from awesome ascents in the coming weeks, so keep and eye!

The Demon

Since my return from Canada, it was been pretty warm in the Scottish mountains. Unfortunately I’ve either been working (too much for my liking) or the conditions have been too poor to get much mixed climbing done.

I have been managing to keep up my psyche and my new found Canadian fitness with multiple sessions in my small training gym at home. This kept me fit and ready to pounce as soon as the conditions reappeared in the mountains, which they did this past weekend.

On Saturday morning, Dougie and I headed North in search of some tasty mixed action. We were a little sceptical, as the forecast was not the best and it was due to get super warm throughout the day. But we headed up anyway with some conditions beta from Will Sim who had been out the previous day.

We had a few plans in mind, but were holding off until we could see what was in condition in the coire before we got set on anything in particular. As the buttresses came into view it soon became apparent that everything was up for grabs. All the rock was plastered white and there was a proper wintery vibe of, frozen belayers waiting patiently for their partners to gain height on their chosen routes, and the sound of gear and axes jingling around the coire as people sorted out racks and ropes.

We decided on plan A, which swiftly got put to one side and we headed for plan B, and plan B was good!

Me leading pitch one of The Demon (Photo Credit. Douglass Russell)

Me leading pitch one of The Demon
(Photo Credit. Douglass Russell)

We headed over to the steep and imposing Happy Tyrolean’s wall, which despite its high volume of hard routes and attention, still had one very obvious winter line to do. This was a route I had had my eye on for the last couple of season since I had done “Happy Tyrolean’s” with Mike Tweedley about two years ago. I remember standing on the belay after making the first onsight ascent of the crux pitch of “HT” and looking left to see an awesome hanging corner above a super techy looking steep slab. At the time, I thought that it would be totally outstanding to climb up the steep slab below to gain the corner but didn’t know if it was a route or if it had already been done.

Dougie and I on The Demon  (Photo Credit - Stewart Whiting)

Dougie and I on The Demon
(Photo Credit – Stewart Whiting)

I later found out that the route was the summer line of “The Demon” and that it had in fact never been done in winter. So I decided to keep this in my Lochain arsenal for a later date.

So on Saturday this is what Dougie and I did. I lead off up the first pitch, which was OK to start, and then it became apparent that I was going to have to switch on my head a little and get in the, making tricky moves away from marginal gear zone! The climbing was really enjoyable and like most routes on that wall, was super technical for both axes and feet. After some interesting high rock over moves and some powerful pulls, I had gained the steep slab and could see the hanging corner above.

I moved up and gained the corner and continued until I was level with the stance that I had been on two years prior when I did “HT”. Having done “Siberian Tiger” (to the left) and “Happy Tyrolean’s” (to the right) I knew that I needed to get onto that belay once again, as there was nowhere really to belay above. So after a bit off upping and downing, I decided to traverse hard right across the blank looking wall to reach the comfort and safety of the ledge.

I eventually committed to a super thin pick placement and reached out to hook a very rounded ledge, I then matched the ledge and was expecting my axes to rip any second! I shuffled my feet right and couldn’t believe I was still on the wall, I was now less than a meter from the ledge, but it might as well have been a mile away, the climbing was so teetery and thin that I had to keep my full concentration on my picks and move to another horrendously crappy placements. One more move and I was able to swing into the invitingly springy turf clump that made its home on this even more inviting ledge. Ahhh… much better!

Dougie Seconding pitch one

Dougie Seconding pitch one

I made a belay and proceeded to bring Dougie up the pitch. It was cool to see him enjoying the climbing as much as I did and after a bit of a Tarzan impression on the traverse, he joined me and the comfort of the belay.

Having messed about with plan A for a bit and having had a pretty leisurely start to the day, It was now starting to get dusky and after Dougie had strapped on his headtorch, he set off up the top pitch.

Dougie reaching the corner on pitch one.

Dougie reaching the corner on pitch one.

The forecast was right, and the wind had started to pick up by this point, but despite this, the wind was super warm (also forecast) and I didn’t get too chilly as the darkness rolled in. Dougie got stuck into the climbing, and after not too long he had reached the easier ground and swiftly brought me up to the top.

Once back out bags it was obviously getting super warm. The snow was slushy and descending the slopes back to the base of the coire was a total nightmare due to the snow balling up our crampons after every step. There had been a massive thaw of the lying snow throughout the day and we decided to just head home, rather than stay up and go out again on Sunday.

Dougie leading the last pitch.

Dougie leading the last pitch.

We were both chuffed with the days climbing, and after some Christmas shopping (not so fun!) and an awesome training session on my wall on Sunday, it felt like a pretty productive weekend. Unfortunately having looked at some photos of the coire online today, it looks like it has been totally stripped due to the warm wind. So it’s going to be more training and working for the next week or so. Oh well…. it’s got to get good again at some point, right?

>The Demon, FWA 7/12/13– Greg Boswell and Douglass Russell. IX/9***

Nemesis

Not exactly the view you get from Newtyle

Not exactly the view you get from Newtyle

So since Nick and I had an amazing day on “Victoria’s Secret Deviation” there has been some pretty crazy weather blowing through Canada. There’s been loads of snow coming down and getting blown about in the strong winds, and the temps have been falling below -25’C. So trying to find safe stuff to do were we wouldn’t get avalanched and sheltered enough, so we didn’t feel the brunt of the -32’C wind-chill, has been pretty tricky.

Jen on the super techy M6+

Jen on the super techy M6+

But on Wednesday and Thursday last week, Nick, Jen Olson, Ian Welsted and I managed to get out and do some really fun tooling/training, and on Thursday Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt (our friends from “Rocket Man”) also showed up to sample the Canadian tech fest. There is a place in the area that has some really funky routes. All but one of the routes are on natural placements, which provides some steep, techy and super enjoyable climbing.

The highlight for me was doing Mr Slawinski’s route that starts up an interesting M7, and then blasts through a steep roof on big moves to gain a steep and pumpy hanging dihedral. The route must be about 35m long and takes in some pretty thin and sustained climbing in the upper half. Sending this, made me the second person to climb the route, after Raph obviously, so it was pretty cool to get it done, even though I’m starting to feel pretty tired now that we’re approaching the end of the trip. Not so much of a highlight, but still pretty funny, was when I got lowered from the route after the send and found that the rope was about 15m too short. But we eventually sorted it and all was ok!

Nick on the lower M7

Nick on the lower M7

Me approaching the roof on Raph's route. Photo. Nick bullock

Me approaching the roof on Raph’s route. Photo. Nick bullock

Me starting the harder upper half through the steepness. Photo. Nick Bullock

Me starting the harder upper half through the steepness. Photo. Nick Bullock

Raph gave the route M10 (maybe in his famous sandbag style perhaps), but in all the places I’ve climbed in Europe, it would comfortably get the grade of M11. It was similar to the two hard pitches on Illuminati in the Italian Dolomites, as they are also entirely on natural placements.  But all in all it was an awesome route (regardless of the grade), and along with many of the other routes, it was a good way to spend two days sheltering from the wind and still getting some good climbing done.

So after another awesome evening at the Croston household on Thursday, where Jo and Colin were outstanding hosts yet again, we had a chilled day on Friday and organised some plans for one final Canadian adventure on Saturday.

More steepness on the route. Photo. Nick Bullock

More steepness on the route. Photo. Nick Bullock

Me reaching the upper wall. Photo. Nick Bullock

Me reaching the upper wall. Photo. Nick Bullock

Uh Oh...... no more rope. Ian to the rescue. Photo. Nick Bullock

Uh Oh…… no more rope. Ian to the rescue. Photo. Nick Bullock

With not knowing what the conditions would be like in the higher venues/mountains, after all the snow and especially after the wind depositing said snow in some sketchy places. We decided to head back into the Headwall with no real plans, except to climb something fun. We took a full trad rack and fairly comprehensive Ice rack and agreed to get on whatever looked inspiring/ in condition.

The Headwall in all its glory.

The Headwall in all its glory.

Our first two possible plans were out of the question, due to a fairly noticeable loss of ice since we had been in to do “Man Yoga” earlier in the trip. So we kept on trudging on below the Headwall in search of some inspiration.

Eventually that inspiration came into view from behind a jutting mass of rock. At first it was just a small piece of ice peeping at us from above the rock, but once we plodded further through the deep snow, the main event in all its glory came into sight! “Boom! Come and climb me” It seemed to shout, so that is exactly what we did.

The route is called “Nemesis” and is a well know classic WI6 in Canada. It is described in the guide book as:

Nemesis in all its glory!

Nemesis in all its glory!

“Today Nemesis remains a challenge to even the best of climbers and is one of the few early climbs that has not been downgraded or lost its reputation. The route forms every year but with varying quality and with several possible lines. It is usually climbed in four pitches, but has been done in three.”

Nick leading up the first pitch of Nemesis.

Nick leading up the first pitch of Nemesis.

Me reaching the belay on the first pitch of Nemesis. Photo. Nick Bullock

Me reaching the belay on the first pitch of Nemesis. Photo. Nick Bullock

It was perfect; a nice ice route to finish off what has been an outstanding and memorable trip to Canada. We did the route in three awesome pitches, all of which were of 4 star quality, and even managed to get back to the car without the use of our head-torches, which was a first for the trip.

Me heading away from the belay on the second pitch. Photo. Nick Bullock

Me heading away from the belay on the second pitch.
Photo. Nick Bullock

Me moving up the second pitch. Photo. Nick Bullock

Me moving up the second pitch. Photo. Nick Bullock

To sum it up, having a fairly cruisey last day on Nemesis was the icing on the cake to an amazing three weeks climbing with Nick. Like I said in my earlier posts, this was my first tip to Canada and the memories and friends I have gained while out here will stay with me for a very very long time! I’m already making plans to come back and climb in these special mountains again, and I’ve not even left yet, that’s how good it is.

Nick on the last steep section of the climb.

Nick on the last steep section of the climb.

Thanks for reading my blogs about this trip and hopefully some of you may have been inspired to get out and have some cool adventures in the mountains yourself. Keep an eye out on here though, as I’m heading back to Scotland tomorrow, and I am currently on a psyche overload to get loads of cool mixed stuff done in the mountains back home. So let’s just hope it’s a good season!

Canada…OUT!

Shhhhh…It’s a Secret!

Ever since reading Ian Parnell’s blog a couple of years ago, when he wrote about Raphael Slawinski’s ascent of his new route “Victoria’s Secret Deviation”, I have had a seed planted in the back of my mind. The route really inspired me to come out and climb in Canada. At that time I didn’t know anything about the climbing out here or on Stanley Headwall, but I knew I had to climb this route one day!

Ian’s blog post with the inspiring photo… http://ianparnellphotography.blogspot.ca/2010/07/dreams-ahead.html

Nick leading up pitch one

Nick leading up pitch one

Me seconding pitch one. Some good Scottish style fun!

Me seconding pitch one. Some good Scottish style fun!

My interest in the route got re-sparked last year when on the back page of Climb Magazine, there was a picture of Raph taking a rather large whipper on the first ascent attempt. This sort of thing really gets me psyched, seeing someone giving it there all and taking the consequences as and when they arrive, whether it be topping out on the route, or taking the whipper, either way it’s all go!

Me leading up the techy second pitch.

Me leading up the techy second pitch.

So today I finally got my chance to get on the route, and what a route it was! It had a full on Scottish feel to it (minus the rimed up rock), there was some super techy face climbing with cheeky cracks and torques that provided upwards progress bit by bit. Also, the route was totally protected by trad gear (my favourite)!

Nick lead up the first pitch with ease, then I headed on up the main event first, after winning the Rock, Paper, Scissors at the bottom of the route. After some time cleaning out the frozen and snowy cracks, I finally made it to the last few heart in mouth moves and eventually topped out with a huge smile on my face. I was super psyched to on-sight this route, as it meant a fair bit to me (and I think it was the third ascent). It was literally the photo of this route that made me want to come out to Canada three years ago, and now I’m finally here!

Me higher on the 2nd pitch. Loving every second of it!

Me higher on the 2nd pitch. Loving every second of it!

After this, I rapped the route and stripped it of all my hard won gear placements in preparation for Nicks’ attempt. We didn’t want him having any cheeky advantages!

Nick went on to flash the route in good style and made my good day even better! It’s always nice when both you and your climbing partner get the send on a route after you both have been standing, freezing you asses off, while the other put the time in on the climb!

Nick sending the flash on the main event!

Nick sending the flash on the main event!

All in all it was an awesome day, and has topped this Canada trip off nicely, and there is still a week left before we go home!

 

Rocket Man

Our hostel for the night

Our hostel for the night

On Wednesday, Nick and I headed off in the direction of the Icefields Parkway. We were planning an afternoon scouting mission to check access to our intended route and to figure out the best place to cross the river while it was still light. After checking the river and setting up the car for sleep mode, we tucking into some food and settled down for a surprisingly good night’s sleep.

Nick checking the depth of the river... hoping it wont go over our bin liners that we brought to wade it!

Nick checking the depth of the river… hoping it wont go over our bin liners that we brought to wade it!

We got up at 3:30 am and after eating some more grub, we headed into the forest and over the suspicious looking ice bridge over the river. After that it was up the drainage shoot and into the wide snow and moraine bowl that lead to the base of the route.

The higher we got, the deeper the snow, and after trudging through waist deep powder for almost an hour, we were finally getting close to the route. I looked back to see how Nick was getting on and much to my surprise; I saw to head torches below us gaining height pretty quickly in my freshly broken trail. This was annoying! I then went into worried climber about to lose his route mode (adopted more frequently in France). I sped up the trail breaking and all the time I was wading through the porridge like snow, the head lights kept gaining on us.

Rocket Man from below

Rocket Man from below

Once at the bottom of the route, we started to gear up swiftly, and there was buzz of anxiousness in the air. But eventually the couple walked over the last small hill and up to our gearing up spot. Nick did the welcoming thing and said “what are you planning to climb!”, which really meant don’t even think about getting on the route we are stood below! But the couple were super nice and said that they had seen us walking up and decided not to climb the route, but they wanted to see it from below and come and have a chat with us anyway. Ahhhhh and relex! We all had a good chat and after they had shared their tea so that they didn’t need to carry it back down, they headed off back to the car and we headed up the route.

Our route was called “Rocket Man” and it is another of Rapheal Slawinski route, which meant it was going to feel hard and interesting! It is a 350m, VI M7+ WI5+ that is described in the “Mixed Climbs in the Canadian Rockies” book as:

(“A spectacular route, in a high energy environment!” Rocket Man is the series of smears and drips weeping down the steep cliff to the right of Snowbird Glacier on Mount Patterson. Nine pitches of climbing make this the longest waterfall-style mixed route in the Rockies. Many hazards lurk below and above this route: active glaciers that spew debris threatening the approach.}

The big slide we saw ripping down to our right! Uh Ohhh...

The big slide we saw ripping down to our right! Uh Ohhh…

The route was stocked full of interesting climbing both hard and technical. “High energy environment” was damn right! The route was pretty much, 9 super sustained pitches of hard ice and mixed climbing which kept on coming, all the way to the last move. It was also definitely stocked full of hazards, as we were on pitch two, I was belaying Nick and I heard a massive boom. I looked to my right to see a huge avalanche ripping down the valley that we had just walked up….yikes, close one!

Nick and I split the pitches working to our strengths. I took the steep mixed pitches and Nick took the techy thin and steep ice pitches. The climbing was world class, despite the slightly scrappy rock on some of the mixed pitches. But this just added to the adventure factor.

Me on pitch 7, hoping to not rip any bolts!

Me on pitch 7, hoping to not rip any bolts!

It was interesting to climb the steep and techy 7th pitch on fractures and loose edges for your picks, knowing that the last person to fall off the pitch took the second bolt (ripped it out) with them and nearly decked out. Always good for the head to keep fighting and spur you on to not fall off when you think you might get hurt! So the third bolt is now pretty high up the pitch, (especially when I didn’t find the first bolt) mmmmm…. spicy!

Altogether the route was super enjoyable, and despite climbing the last two pitches in the dark and doing some suspect diagonal rappels due to hidden rapp bolts under the ice, Nick and I had a brilliant time on yet another outstanding Canadian route.

Looks good ay?

Looks good ay?

With just over another week to go, let’s hope we get a couple more in before we fly home.

Pitch.1 – A straight forward WI3 pitch with some steepish ice and a bit of snow plodding! (My lead)

pitch.2 – A technical and thin ice smear/mixed corner with less than adequate ice, apart from the top pillar. (Nicks’ lead)

Good ice at the top of our pitch two.

Good ice at the top of our pitch two.

Pitch.3 – A steep M7 pitch leading to a hanging WI5 drip. Fun and pumpy! (My lead)

Me starting up the M7 pitch

Me starting up the M7 pitch

Me reaching the drip

Me reaching the drip

Pitch.4- A small techy WI4 pitch (Nicks’ lead)

Nick starting up pitch 4, a tricky start leads to fun climbing.

Nick starting up pitch 4, a tricky start leads to fun climbing.

Pitch.5- We did the alternate ice pitch out right on deceptively thin smears. (Nicks’ lead)

Nick leading away on the thinner ice on the alternate 5th pitch

Nick leading away on the thinner ice on the alternate 5th pitch

Me seconding pitch 5

Me seconding pitch 5

Pitch.6 – Another alternative pitch due to good ice on the route. (Nicks’ lead)

 

Nick heading up beside some cool features on pitch 6.

Nick heading up beside some cool features on pitch 6.

Pitch.7- A steep and techy mixed pitch with some outstanding climbing. (My lead)

Photo above

Pitch.8 – A steep and featured WI5 ice pillar, this was totally virgin ice, so it was a little tricky! (Nicks’ lead)

Nick on the second last pitch, just as night set it.

Nick on the second last pitch, just as night set it.

Pitch.9- A steep mixed pitch with poor gear to reach an easy and welcoming WI4 finish and the icing on the cake to a good day. (My lead)

Me on the last hard section of the route. An interesting finish!

Me on the last hard section of the route. An interesting finish!

 

 

Man Yoga

Since our day on the Maul, I have met up with Raphael Slawinksi (local guru) for some dry tooling at a local venue (Saturday), got up stupidly early only to find the snow in K-country was throwing it down all night and morning, which meant for a bit of a wasted day (Sunday) and yesterday I lost my Stanley Headwall virginity, and Ohhhh baby it was good!

After not getting anything done on Sunday due to the snow/our poor route choice, Nick and I decided to head into Stanley Headwall yesterday after getting some conditions beta from the man him self… Jon Walsh (another local guru, and the first ascentionist of our intended route).

The awesome inversion rolling in.

The awesome inversion rolling in.

We ended up climbing the impeccable and super varied 250m M8 “Man Yoga”. This has to be one of the funnest mixed routes I have done. The climbing was super technical, varied, safe and an awesome adventure through chimneys, over roofs, up slabs and finishing on some steep ice. What more could you ask for!

The route of Man Yoga twists its way up the big face to reach this obvious ice.

The route of Man Yoga twists its way up the big face to reach this obvious ice.

As we were just about to leave our bags and set off up the access pitch, we noticed someone heading up out of the trees bellow us. We knew Jon had been on the headwall the previous day and not wanting to rush off and not say hi, we hung around for a bit and had a chat. Secretly wanting any extra beta on the route that might’ve been on offer. Unfortunately all Jon told us that we didn’t already know, was that the top steep ice pitch was missing a large section of ice through a roof. He said it would probably be pretty spicy but potentially doable. That was good enough for me, and with that, we headed off in the direction of some world class climbing.

Nick starting up pitch one of Man Yoga.

Nick starting up pitch one of Man Yoga.

The whole route was totally amazing and the last pitch, usually a steady WI5 pitch, I ended up leading a spicy M7/WI5, which was a cool finish to an awesome and fun day.

I’ll let theour photos and the video of the first ascentionists do all the talking. They’re better than my words will ever be. We will defo be heading back into the Headwall for more action on this trip though, so in the words of Mr Bullock when he’s running it out above gear and I’m usually trying to take pictures, “Keep an eye!”.

Video of Jon Walsh and Jonny Simms ascent by Joshua Lavigne: http://vimeo.com/33005769

Route info and topo: http://alpinestyle.ca/2011/11/16/man_yoga

Pitch One: Nick’s Lead – A steep hanging chimney with amazing sinker hooks.

(photo above)

Pitch Two: My Lead – A super techy slab pitch that covered some interesting ground and features!

Me starting up the techy slab pitch.

Me starting up the techy slab pitch.

Higher on the techy slab 2nd pitch

Higher on the techy slab 2nd pitch

Techy madness on pitch 2

Techy madness on pitch 2

Nick seconding pitch 2. Let the techfest begin!

Nick seconding pitch 2. Let the techfest begin!

Nick approaching the belay on the 2nd pitch

Nick approaching the belay on the 2nd pitch

Pitch Three: My Lead – A fairly easy pitch with a bit of a tricky start (more of a link pitch)

 

My leaving the belay on pitch 3

My leaving the belay on pitch 3

Pitch Four: Nick’s Lead – A meaty pitch with some super varied climbing. Roofs, slabs and techy grooves.

Nick doing some interesting things to leave the belay on pitch 4

Nick doing some interesting things to leave the belay on pitch 4

Nick pulling through the roof on the 4th pitch

Nick pulling through the roof on the 4th pitch

Me busting out some man yoga moves on the 4th pitch

Me busting out some man yoga moves on the 4th pitch

My pulling over the roof on the 4th pitch

My pulling over the roof on the 4th pitch

 

spreading the weight to stop my axes ripping, on the approach to the 4th belay.

spreading the weight to stop my axes ripping, on the approach to the 4th belay.

Pitch Five: My Lead – Usually a straightforward ice pitch (apparently). But we had a thin techy section into a mixed overhang into a steep awesome ice wall.

Me figuring out how to breach the steep band of no ice on the last pitch

Me figuring out how to breach the steep band of no ice on the last pitch

Nick doing the last few moves of an amazing route!

Nick doing the last few moves of an amazing route!

This was a brilliant route, and I urge anyone who comes out here to climb, to get on it and have as much fun as we did yesterday. To get two big awesome route ticked in our first week was excellent. Now for a few more!

The view from Man Yoga in the setting sun

The view from Man Yoga in the setting sun

 

The Maul.

The first two days of my Canada trip were pretty uneventful on the climbing front. On Tuesday we sorted out all the kit, did the obligatory food shop, and generally tried not to fall asleep every two minutes due to the jetlag. We made a rough plan for the upcoming week of what we were going to climb etc, and on Wednesday morning we got up fairly early (which was easy with my body clock still on UK time) and headed off in the direction of our intended warm up ice route.

When we arrived at the parking for the climb there was a team of two just walking in and another car with climbers kitting up. After some umming and ahhing, we decided to give it a miss for a bit and let the other two teams head off and get on the route. Neither Nick nor I like queuing for routes, so we headed a further 20km down the road to what was going to be our afternoons intended task.

Spot the line.

Spot the line.

We wanted to scope the walk in / put in a track trough the trees to a big route that we intended doing on Thursday. With the description for the approach being: Bush whack through the forest to reach the bowl (or words to that effect). We thought it might be best to have a track to follow the next day, as we were planning on getting up early and walking in in the dark. Thankfully this was the right thing to do, as after an hour of plodding through the forest, getting whipped in the face by branches and sliding on our arses due to hidden fallen trees, we finally made it to a clearing, only to find we were further left than intended and high on the ridge, not where we wanted to be (and that was in daylight).

The walk in

The walk in

Eventually we found our way to the snow bowl that leads to the base of the route, and on our decent back to the car, we put in a more direct route through the trees, ready for our early morning approach the following day.

After doing this, we decided to give our earlier route plan miss, and just get ready for our bigger plans the next day.

So yesterday morning it was a 3am start and we had left the Lodge by 4, again the early starts were fine as my jetlag was conveniently still hanging around. When we left the car and headed into the trees, I was so glad that we had put the ground work in the day before, as now it was dark, we couldn’t see anything apart from our pre laid tracks. We reached the bowl in good time and proceeded to break trail up to the base of the route.

Me approaching the route

Me approaching the route

Once we had kitted up and wolfed some food and water, we swam up the deep snow channel to the start of the climb. Nick had the first pitch, which would set me up for the 4th (crux) pitch nicely. As this was my first ever route in Canada, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. The climbing looked ok and there was some ice kicking about on the line. But as Nick started up the route, it was apparent that looks can be deceiving. He was making good progress, but there didn’t seem to be much gear, and there was quite a lot of loose rock bouncing over my head.

Nick starting pitch one

Nick starting pitch one

Once he had reached the belay, I set off eager to see how the climbing would compare to routes in Scotland. I soon realised that pretty much everything was loose, and the climbing was no giveaway. All the gear was in suspect rock and it was definitely a no fall zone.

After I reached Nick on the belay, I looked up and got psyched for my pitch. It was a cool looking ice boss that led to a steep overhang. Again it looked ok, so I set off eager to get stuck in. After the ice section, I started to rethink my earlier thoughts of (“that looks easy”). The climbing was similar to a tech 8 Scottish pitch, except all your gear was in rotten/loose rock, and this is the same rock that you had to commit to to make upward progress. It was a bit of a shock to the system, but after having some words with myself, I started to enjoy the style of climbing, which was a balancing act between pulling and spreading your weight as to not detach the axe placements.

Me leaving the ice on pitch two

Me leaving the ice on pitch two

I reached the belay and brought Nick up, who said that the climbing was very fun as he was on a top rope and didn’t have to worry about ripping stuff off, or the lack of worth-wile protection.

Nick moving up to below the crux pitch

Nick moving up to below the crux pitch

Nick then shot up the easy 60m link pitch, which was a deep snow gully that took us to below the crux pitch.

This time I knew what I was getting myself into. The pitch looked hard, with a steep corner and very minimal foot placements on the right wall. The description stated good cams and fun climbing, but all I could see was cam placements in huge hanging detached blocks, which were the same blocks that I was going to have to pull on (yeah, real fun!). But I got stuck in anyway and after some thought as to where I was going to put my feet, I committed to the crux sequence and found myself loving every move, despite the calls to Nick to “WATCH ME”, which when I looked down he was filming the whole thing, I suppose he was technically watching me.

Me getting stuck into some cool moves on the crux pitch.

Me getting stuck into some cool moves on the crux pitch.

Me nearing the end of the difficulties on the crux pitch

Me nearing the end of the difficulties on the crux pitch

Nick on the big chimney pitch

Nick on the big chimney pitch

I reached the belay and reminded myself what Nick had said about Raphael Slawinski routes (one of the first ascentionists), “Anything above M6 is HARD, he very rarely grades above M7, and anything above M6+ could be Scottish tech 8-11”. That seemed about right!  I then proceeded to bring Nick up as the light slowly made its way away, and he made quick work of the next big chimney pitch while it was still light. I followed, again quickly, as I wanted to finish the pitch before it got completely dark. This consisted of a lot of funky back and footing and a steep exit out of the chimney.

 

 

Me deciding what to do on the rope destroyer pitch.

Me deciding what to do on the rope destroyer pitch.

The next pitch was described as: “P6.  Climb over a surprisingly steep bit of choss and head for the summit ridge. 30M”. This is what I did, much to my disappointment. Overhanging terrifyingly loos choss and steep pulls, a perfect way to finish a fun route (In the words of Borat, NOT!). Annoyingly, when I was pulling the steep bit, my foot dislodged a small rock which bounced off the wall and dislodged a torrent of falling stone. This, we found out later had chopped into one of our brand new ropes (in the middle) making it unusable for the rest of the trip. Not impressed!

But all in in it was an awesome route, long, hard climbing, and exactly what I came out to do, minus the trashed rope and the face whipping decent back through the forest to the car.

Again, we’ve got some cool plans for our next route, so keep an eye.

Nicks take on the day: http://nickbullock-climber.co.uk/2013/11/08/the-maul-on-wedge/

The route: (remember M7 in the mountains is absolutely nothing like M7 at your local tooling venue)

The Maul, 300M, WI thin, M7.

FA: Raphael Slawinski and Will Gadd, Nov. 20th, 2005.

P1. Follow the thin rivulet of ice up the groove. 70M. Cool belay in a slot. Good gear but takes time to find it.

P2. Up a steep bulge with technical gear, ice up the groove. 50M. Belay on left. Bit spicy.

P3. Snowslope to the base of the corner. 60M. Put the belay on the left to shelter it.

P4. Pull the fun corner with technical footwork but excellent cams, fixed Spectre, and on up. 60M. Belay on left.

P5. Wrestle the chimney into submission with good pins and blobs of ice. 50M.

P6.  Climb over a surprisingly steep bit of choss and head for the summit ridge. 30M

Descent: Walk south along the ridge, down gully and back to packs. A full day!

 

Ice Fest

Comps… I used to hate them. There is the pressure of people watching your every move, pressure of not performing to your best abilities, pressure of not being fit/strong enough to hold your own against the other competitors, and a whole world of pressure in the isolation room if you make it to the finals.

I usually give all types of climbing competitions a wide birth, but last weekend I decided to get involved in what turned out to be an awesome comp and an awesome day!

I was asked to go along to the Ice Festival comp at the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven a while back, to do some rep work for Scarpa and Grivel. I was pretty psyched to be going along, as Kev Sheilds had organised this charity fund raising comp CAC, and I knew he would put on some good routes and it would attract a load of psyched folk to chat to and see everyone getting ready for the fast approaching winter.

As the weeks past by, Steve Johnston and Dougie had been cranking at my training wall, getting ready and topping up the fitness for the Ice fest. The training sessions were so much fun and with the semi competitive nature of the three of us, it didn’t take much convincing from them that I should enter. Seen as though I was going along anyway.

So last Saturday, Mhairi, Dougie and I headed off to Kinlochleven ready for a day of tricky routes, techy pulls, but most of all, fun times with a bunch of good friends.

Nearly there. the chains are in sight. Photo credit - www.extremetattoo.co.uk

Nearly there. the chains are in sight. Photo credit – www.extremetattoo.co.uk

After setting up the Scarpa and Grivel stand, which attracted a load of interest, especially with the new Scarpa Rebel range being on show, I headed off to the registration desk and got signed up. It was cool to meet up with so many psyched climbers from all over the UK. Mr Turner had made the trek North along with many other keen individuals, Steve was pumped up and ready for some mixed action and there were many other top UK tool wielding climbers arriving every minute. It was going to be a tough day if I wanted to do well.

But after a slight slip up on my very first route of the qualifiers (due to competition butterflies), I managed to flash everything else and found myself obtaining a place along with five others in the Male Seiner category finals.

This is what I hated about competitions, some people love it, I am not one of those people! I was now sat in the bouldering room of the Ice Factor in isolation waiting my turn to go out and try the final route, listening to the three climbers before me obviously topping out on the route due to the sound of the crowds cheering, I was sooo nervous. I have done some pretty scary stuff in my climbing carrier, but for some reason the thought of going out and trying the final route in front of the big crowd terrified me, knowing I had to top out and do it faster than the three previous climbers and the two that were due to climb after me. I would have given anything to have been in the mountains at that point; even if it meant running it out far above some dodgy gear looking for my next axe placement on some sketchy new route, at least then I would have been in my comfort zone!

Me nearing the top of the mens final. Photo Credit - Dom Scott

Me nearing the top of the mens final. Photo Credit – Dom Scott

But eventually my name was called and I made my way to the bottom of the route. Once I left the ground and I got stuck into the climbing, everything changed, I was psyched, focused and wanted to win. I moved through the steady starting moves and quickly gained the steep meaty section of the route. I was then in my comfort zone again, after swinging between good hooks and funky moves, I found myself clipping the chains and what I didn’t know at the time, I had climbed my way into first place to take the win.

It was an awesome comp, and even though I was super nervous, I might have changed my view on competing, it was kinda fun to climb under a new sort of pressure, a safe sort of pressure.

After the comp and the after party, we headed home on Sunday morning, and I packed all my stuff into two big duffle bags ready for my next adventure.

A nice day for a walk in K- Country

A nice day for a walk in K- Country

On Monday morning I flew out to Canada to meet up with Nick Bullock, who had been out at the Banff film and book festival, psyched and ready for some Canadian mixed and Ice routes of all size and style. So if you are interested to see how we get on watch this space and I’ll keep you up-to-date.

Powerdab D13

Last weekend I headed down to the Lake District with a bunch of friends from Scotland. Andy Turner had organised a bit of a get-together at the Works tooling venue. He is trying to get a good few climbers together for a British team to visit the Ice climbing World Cup competitions this winter, and last weekend was a bit of an experiment to see who would be keen to join him on his worldly adventures around the comps.

Entering the crux sequence

Personally I’ve never really been that fussed with competitions before and wasn’t too sure I even wanted to do the Ice World cup comps. But regardless, I knew it was going to be a fun weekend with a good bunch of folk, all climbing and laughing together. So southbound we headed!

Mid Crux moves.... to let go is to powerdab/ go to hospital.

My main objective was to try and get the route ticked that Paddy Cave and I had bolted late last season which I had had a little play on a couple of times on previous visits. It is a 20 meter route that follows a very steep roof line. The moves are big and powerful, and if you mess up the crux sequence, you fall worryingly close to the ground (potentially hit it on rope stretch).

On the Saturday afternoon, after warming up on some of the easier lines that the Works has to offer, James Dunn and I headed off up into Bakestone Quarry so I could try my route. On my first attempt my body didn’t feel warmed up for the big powerful moves, and I fluffed the start of the crux sequence. But after lowering off and taking 5 mins rest, I jumped back on the route (literally) and got it sent with only minimal grunting and groaning!

I was pretty psyched to get it done, as I am just getting back to climbing fitness again after having the summer season off for triathlon. But regardless of fitness, this route was my style, hard and super powerful. The climbing is similar to the route “DTS Spirit” (D12) in the Newtyle cave in Scotland which was put up by the French DTS boys, except it was a fair bit harder and steeper! I called the route “Powerdab” due to the nature of the ground fall potential climbing and graded it D13.

Still the big moves keep coming

Having only ever climbed one other D13 before, and it was my own route “Frankenstein” in Newtyle, it was hard to grade “Powerdab”, especially when they are both so different in character.  But I settled on D13 (knowing it was much harder than “DTS Spirit”) and that makes this route the second D13 in the UK and potentially one of the hardest tooling routes in the country.

Having got the route sent, James and I headed back down to the main area to catch up with all the other folk and get stuck into some more funky and fun climbing!

Once everyone was totally wrecked from tooling all day….. and  after some pub grub and an awesome nights sleep in my Quasar, we awoke bright and early on Sunday morning, ready to get stuck straight back into it again!

I headed back up to “Powerdab” so James could get some footage of the route, and after we had got the scoop, we all headed back down to the main area for the rest of the day.

It was an awesome weekend of climbing, sending, meeting and making friends, good psyche and even better laughs! Basically everything you could wish for in a climbing trip.

Nearing the end of the powerfest!

Andy also did a really good job of getting people’s attention regarding the Ice World Cup comps, and even I might even be starting to think about signing up for a couple this winter. But you’ll have to watch this space for more info on that front.

(All photos credited to Douglass Russell)

Here is a link to a video by James Dunn Visuals of Powerdap……

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GZnsCJMP6w&feature=youtu.be