Thursday, 10 April 2014

Chose something else....

Choose Scottish Winter, Choose the West Coast, Choose unpredictable weather, Choose darkness, spindrift and crap conditions. Choose snowploughing about in a whitout, Choose gambling on weather and conditions. Choose too much snow, or too little..... Choose dragging yourself out of your bed at death o'clock to spent to early to shiver for hours on some god-forsaken stance. Choose sitting in the snow stuffing malt loaf down your throat wondering which youth is going to repeat and downgrade your routes. Choose raving and shaking your ski poles at the sky as the rain hammers down and the ski runs are reduced to sorry strips of wet snow.  Choose Scottish winter....... but for all that I love it, this year I decided to chose something else for a week. I chose five days touring around the Albula Alps in East Switzerland, and you know what it was not too bad.

The Kesh Hutte with Piz Kesh, the highest mountain in the area, beyond.

Guy and John nearing the summit of Piz Kesh. 

Part of the descent from Piz Kesh involved this cheeky little slope. It was quite exciting as it is steeper than it looks, and all the soft snow had been scraped off by the time I came to descend. 

Some very nice skiing further down the towards the next hut. 

Nearing the top of Piz Pischa with Piz Kesh behind.

Lovely tracks and Guy. 

Running out of snow for the final few hundred metres.

Friday, 21 March 2014


Good conditions on Ben Nevis. This was one of my most enjoyable days at work this winter. I think a am becoming better at not letting what I could have done (climb) detract from what I did (walk).

FOMO;  Fear Of Missing Out
An affliction that some climbers suffer from, the fear that they may miss out.

It has been an unusual winter. Loads of wind, snow and cloud. Clear days on the hill have felt like a very precious commodity.  A few weeks ago it cleared up for about two days. I had been keeping an eye on conditions, and knew that there would be some superb ice on Ben Nevis.  A couple of days previously Iain Small had given me a text to see if I fancied climbing with him. Unfortunately I had to say no as I had already arranged to work and, due to others being away, there was no opportunity to swap my days.
My winter job is as a forecaster for the Scottish Avalanche Information Service. On the second of the good days I headed up the Ben to have a look at some cornice triggered avalanches (see picture above). It was a beautiful day, and from the hut with a pair of binoculars I could see Iain up on Minus One Buttress Direct. It looked superb.
I don't seem to get many days winter climbing as I use to as I tend to be quite busy in the winter months. Inevitably I sometimes miss good conditions. In the past I might have had raging FOMO when this occurred, but now I am a bit more relaxed. I love getting paid to potter about the hills and look at snow.  Although it would have been nice to have done Minus One Direct, I didn't, and I am not going to let that ruin another wise lovely day wandering about the Ben.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Year of the Horse

 Iain Small on the pulls off an impressive lead crux first pitch of Year of the Horse while I shiver. 

After about two hours I am starting to loose the feeling in my toes.It is a cold day, it feels like one of the coldest days of the winter, and I have been standing around belaying for a long time now. I feel like I am beginning to lose the love for climbing. I have been working for 21 days straight, and it's my first day off. On my previous day off I had tried to go climbing, and that had turned out to be a disaster of wallowing around in deep snow. I should be on a nice grade VI, moving quickly and getting back into the way of climbing, or perhaps I should be skiing, there is loads of snow about at the moment, surely conditions are better for that than climbing.

However, I am not. I am standing belaying Iain on something that to me looks utterly desperate. He has asked me if I would mind if he tried the route. I had been dubious, but he had driven much further to be here today, and seemed quite confident, so I said I would give him a belay.
Myself seconding the first pitch, the hotaches are over, but I still don't feel very well. 

He keeps on inching upwards through ever steep terrain, and I keep on belaying and shivering. How is he not ridiculously pumped up there? Eventually he pulls through the roof, and is up the wall above onto a ledge. I pull on the small rucsac and start to second feeling pretty chilly. The climbing is hard and technical, and I am getting pumped, one section seems to be devoid of any foot holds. I torque in a crack, and pull as hard as I can. I reach for some turf, and am just about there when something pops and I find myself spinning in space. I get it second go, and inch on up to the roof. I pull over to find two cams rammed deeply into a crack which I will need both hands to remove. I will need to hang on the rope, but as my body relaxed the hot aches come on. I hang there in agony, my eyes closed trying not to pass out with my wails echoing round the coire. I feel sick. Eventually they fade, and I managed to get the cams out. I second the wall above feeling weak and drained.
Leading the 2nd pitch, I am actually beginning to enjoy myself now. 

The next pitch does not look as bad, but still looks tricky. I waver, after that previous pitch I feel weak and crap. However, I feel obliged to give it a go. I start creeping upwards, it is not as bad as I thought, a steep wall goes more easily than expected, my confidence rises, and I actually start to enjoy myself. All to soon my pitch is over.

Iain on the final pitch. I am back to being pretty chilly and it is about to get dark but at least the end is in sight.

I bring Iain up. I have cooled down again, and the wind is getting up and the light is beginning to fade. Plumes of spindrift blow around as Iain head upwards, soon disappearing round an arete. Darkness falls. The ropes come tight, I second. My world is reduced to the small area illuminated by my head torch. The wind is howling up the crag, snow and ice blow about, icing up my eyebrows, my eye lashes. I don't climb the pitch well, it is dark and I am tired and cold, but I do enjoy it. I am glad now that I did not go skiing.  I pull over the top, to which Iain simply states "It's less windy over there". I wander over, and start sorting out the ropes. I am also warm now, the wind is not quite so strong here, the night is clear and the stars are out. It is the Chinese new year, a new year is born, the year of the horse and with it a new route up the cliffs of Coire nan Lochan.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

A short drive to the Cairngorms

Guy on the tricky bulgy on the first pitch of Wachacha in the Northern Corries. It was steeper than it looks.

I own a car. I have done for quite a long time in fact. To be honest it is probably the must useful piece of climbing equipment I have. The ability to get me from where I live, to where I start walking in is critical. I could be the best climbing in the world, but without the ability to get to the crag I would not get anything done. In summer, in more popular places like Wales it would probably be possible to get the bus, or hitch. However, that just would not be practical for Scottish winter climbing. However, recently I have been thinking about my car.

Last week, for example, I had a day off and wanted to go climbing. Conditions in the West were not very good, so we decided to head East to the Cairngorms. Myself and my flatmate jumped in my car at about 6.30am and headed over to meet Murdoch in the Cairgorm carpark. It was a really pleasant sociable day day climbing. We were climbing as a three, so there was good banter on the belays, I met my dad on the chatted to him for most of the way into the Coire.  There were some friends from the Lake district who I had not seen for a over a year on the route next to ours. We did a route that I had not done in winter before (although I had seconded it as a rock climb in about 1990).  All in all it was a very enjoyable day.

Myself on the top pitch 

However, what is the energy energy cost of that route. I drove over, which involved taking my car from where it was parked about 100 metres down to sea level, then back up to about 600 metres at the Cairngorm carpark. This was a distance of about 70 miles. I reversed the route at the end of the day. My car weighs about 1200 kg, plus the weight of the people and kit it contained. To do this I probably burnt about 15 litres of unleaded pertol, which roughly equates to about 500 Mega Joules of energy. An averge man consumes about 10 MJ of energy in the form of food per day (2500 Kcal). Therefor for that one return journey I used the same amount of energy in petrol as I do in the food I consume in roughly 50 days, almost 2 months.

15 litres of Fuel costs about £20. How much money do I spent on food in 50 days, I am not sure, but it will be a lot more than that. When you think about it that way actually seems quite cheap in comparison.

Myself, Murdoch and Guy at the top

Should we be allowed to buy energy in the form of petrol at that price. I have a friend who lives in Llanberis and works over near Llanrwst, and so drives over the Llanberis pass every day. She once said to me that petrol was very expensive. However, perhaps one day I should offer to go and help her push her car from Llanberis to Llanrwst, and after that it might seem cheap. To teach people this I think that as part of your driving test you should have to push your car across a carpark.

My old car (not the one I did all the calculations above for) sitting in the carpark one day a couple of winters ago that it snowed quite a lot. 

Now I am not saying that people don't spent significant amounts of money on petrol. I regularly put £60 in the tank and don't think much of it while I really think about spending £60 on other material thinks. What I am trying to say compared to food, the per unit of energy petrol is cheap. However, cars are heavy things, and it takes a lot of energy (and therefore money) to move them long distances. Then airplanes are a whole different league again in terms of energy used.

Although it does seem slightly immoral to me to be regularly use up huge amounts of energy to go climbing, should we be allowed to do this just to climb up a bit of rock or ice. However, the alternative, staying at home is even more immoral.One day I will be dead, so I might as well spend the time between now and then doing what I enjoy, which is climbing up bits of rock and ice, and if it requires lots of energy to do it then so be it.  Therefore I will continue driving all round the country, and taking cheap flights to Spain, to get my climbing hits, and am very thankful that I can buy all that energy to do that at £1.33 or whatever the price of a litre of unleaded petrol is.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Spain (and a little bit of winter)

Will Sim enjoying the classic 8a Bon Vitage on the Bruixes wall at Terradets

For the past few years I have tried to get away on a sports climbing trip to Spain during November. There is usually not much happening climbing wise in Britain at the time of year, while conditions is Spain tend to be quite good. This year, because of the way things worked out, I ended up having two shorter trips rather than one longer one. The first trip was to the Tremp area of Catalunya where I had spent some time last year. I headed out with my Dad, and we met up various friends mainly from North Wales area. I enjoyed climbing with my Dad, especially as he seemed happy to enjoy the sunshine, and give me a belay when required. We spent most of the our time at the Bruixes wall at Terradetes. Already having done having done most of the route routes that I stood a chance of on-sighting, I was in redpoint mode, but got manged to get all the routes that I tried pretty rapidly.

Now for something a little different...... Rich Bently on the 3rd pitch of Archangel.

After that it was back to Britain for a stint of work. I did however, manage to sneak out one day and climbing Archangel on the Ben with Robin Clothier and Rich Bently. Conditions weren't amazing, but climbing as a three, and with lots of people we knew on the hill that day, it was sociable and nice to get out in the winter environment again. Rich wrote a nice wee bit out it, with some more pictures here

Sophie looking colourful with Sectors El Balconcito,  El Algarrobo,  El Oasis, Les Chorerras and Mastes Wall in the background.

After that it was back out to Spain again. This time myself and my friend Sophie Whyte headed to Chulilla. I was well impressed with this area, and am keen to go back at some point. In terms of combination of quality and variety, I though it was probably the best sports climbing areas that I had ever been to. There were crags with numerous three stars routes on all grades grades from F6b+ to F8b+ within a few minutes walk of each other.

Sophie on the Danos Colaterales, a lovely, long, sustained F7b+. 

Having never been there before, and with so many good routes, I spent my time trying to onsight stuff. I didn't quite get an 8a onsight (but that is not really surprising as I didn't try to onsight any), but I did manage to onsight Planeta Namec F7c+, which use to get 8a. Maybe next time.....


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Is it worth it?

The Banff Crescent fine china collection. I think it is fair to say that we haven't put much effort into the collection. However, is what we have, between us, spent thousands of hours and pounds collecting (climbs) a better use of resources than a fine china collection?

Over the past few years I have put a fair bit of effort into climbing. I don’t think that I am naturally the strongest or most talented climber out there. I also only started to really try and improve when I was in my mid-twenties. However, I have the ability to work hard, keep plugging away at the wall, and slowly but surely year on year I keep improving.

Over the years I have gained a lot from climbing and enjoyed improving at it. Amazing experiences, great friends, a feeling to really being alive. However, all that time and effort has prevented me from doing other things, all those great books I have not read, friendship that have fallen by the wayside, places I have not been etc. In my mid thirties I still live like a student. Until recently none of that bothered me. 

However, another thing, the recent demise of another relationship has left me pondering whether it is worth it all. The girl I thought I was going to be with for the rest of my life went off with someone else because I neglected our relationship in an attempt to gain that extra half grade of ability I did not have last year.

Why did I let that happen? Working hard in something you believe in is generally considered a good thing, but obsession as a bad thing. Where is the line in between the two, did I cross that line. Did I put all that effort in because I truly believed in climbing, or did I just do it to burn of my peers. Instead of trying to keep up with others in terms of material possessions, have I been trying to keep up in terms of routes. Some people get obsessed with collecting crockery, stamps or dolls. Have I done the same, but with routes in an effort to prove who I am with a list of which random bits of rock or snow and ice I have climbed.

Is it worth being able to do hardest routes if you end up going back to a lonely empty house afterwards. Of course some people manage to balance family life with climbing hard, Dave Macleod being the obvious example around here. Maybe he should write an article on how he manages that.

I am going to on a sports climbing trip to Spain on Saturday. I am climbing better than I ever have before, and hopefully will get up some good routes, perhaps flash a few more F7c+’s. However, will all my successes be hollow victories…….

P.S my  three favourite mugs are the flowery one on the right, and the planets and periodic table ones in the middle. 

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Winter has arrived

Over the past few days winter has arrived in the Highlands. Today I met up with Iain Cameron and Stuart Gordon , both keen observers of Scottish snowpatches to have a look at the snow at the snow.

 The Point Five Gully patch is under he somewhere. Iain digging through new to to try and find old snow.

We headed up Observatory Gully and over to the base of Point Five Gully. There was a good amount of snow here in August (I wrote about this in a previous blog post) and I was hopeful that some of it would remain. Initially there was no sign of any old snow. However, after a bit of probing we found the old snow buried beneath the new. Given amount of fresh snow and the forecast it seems very likely lasting snow for this winter has arrived in this location. Last years snow patch will be incorporated into this years snow pack. This was the first time that snow has survived the summer in this location since 2008 (I think). After a bit investigation we found the old snow patch to be about 10 metres wide and maybe a meter deep, so it was a healthy survival at that.

Iain and Stuart trying to establish the dimensions of the Observatory Gully patch under all the fresh snow. This picture is taken from roughly the same location as the one below for some comparison and to show roughly how much snow has fallen over the past couple of day. 

The Observatory Gully patch on the 28th of September. 

It was then over to the Tower Scoop area. This is where the most permanent snow patch on Ben Nevis is to be found, and there has been snow here constantly since the autumn of 2006. Again last years snow was buried, but after a probing we soon found  the patch to be 10 metres wide and perhaps a bit deeper than the Point Five Patch. Despite the fact this it only started snowing a few days ago, we found there to be two and a half metres (probably more in some locations) of fresh snow snow in the narrows of the gully just above.

It felt nice to be out in the winter environment. Summer is nice, long days, rock climbing in the hills etc However, assuming the crag is dry, rock climbs don't tend to change very much. However the winter environment is very different, it has an ephemeral  transient nature of it. I enjoy watching how the snow and ice conditions evolve over the days/weeks/months. Today felt like the end of the story of last years snow, two patches have survived and become part of this years snowpack on  Ben Nevis, and the start of the story for next years snowpack. Geeky stuff I know, but I think it great.