Friday, 30 March 2007 - new shop stuff

I've just added three new products to my shop on Hot Aches have made some 'E11' T-shirts from organic cotton. The artwork above is on the back of the Tees (click for a bigger view) and has a smattering of quotes from the film (note to self: watch what you say when a video camera is pointing at you!). The falling image comes from the screen grab below of the last big whipper before I hit that final hold. The Tees are £20 and come in 4 sizes with classic and female versions. Click here if you want to go to the shop and get one.

Next up is the rather eagerly awaited (for those who knew it was coming) film about climbing in Glen Nevis. Polldubh comes from Lochaber based Heather Hat Productions and I reckon its a lovely piece of film. But then I would say that because the glen is one of my favourite places on the earth and somewhere I'd kill to live near (more on that later). I'm in the film doing my own route Misadventure (E8) and some bouldering up to V10. There's plenty more trad, bouldering and insight into what makes the Glen's climbers tick. More details about the film on the shop page. It's £13.99 and available now.

Finally I've got some stock of James Sutton's nicely produced fold out topo for bouldering on Skye including Coires Lagan and Ghrunnda. There are 150 described photos, 40 diagrams and GPS accurate maps to find what are among the most loveliest lumps of stone to be found in Scotland. The topos are £3.95. We've all heard a lot about bouldering in the Cuillin, but few have actually been and worn their skin off there. Now there's no excuses left, no really.... ...alright there are a couple of midges kickin aboot, but just speak to the nice Avon lady and get some Skin So Soft.

Finally, given all the recent activity at Dumbarton Rock with two new V12s in a week, I thought I better update my graded list and added a couple of links to some photos of the new probs.

Sanction, Font 8b (Photo: Claire MacLeod)

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Sosho - one project down!

Warm spring sunshine at Dumbarton Rock last night (all photos Claire MacLeod)

Friday night was perfect. I was in reticent mood at home, working away to meet my deadlines and making plans and resolutions for the future. I made time in the afternoon for a quick visit to the Dumbarton boulders for more work on the roof link running into Hokku, my problem from a couple of weeks back. Conditions were perfect at the rock but no one was around. I warmed up on the easier sections of the roof and immediately realised that my week in Spain and absent half stone of body mass had made a serious difference to my climbing standard. I had one nervous attempt and slipped from lack of concentration on the last of the crux moves. I had the sixth sense feeling it would ‘go’ next try, so I sat in the warm evening sun and relaxed for the first time in a long time. In hindsight maybe it was only about third sense or so – it was obvious I would do it next go! 20 minutes later I chalked up again and set off across the roof. Sure enough, a minute later I was hanging upside down, breathing hard on the shake out below the exit problem, Mugsy. I had prepared myself for many failed attempts here from failing strength after 18 metres of hard roof climbing. But with every breath the pump disappeared and my strength returned. I was sure I would finish the problem, and I did. A good feeling.

One more project to go on the boulders, and then pastures new await once again…

Dissapearing into the roof, a few moves into the new problem, Sosho Font 8a+

The mid way shake out

The last tricky move

Moving into the exit problem

A gentle top out after so much climbing!
Sosho, Font 8a+
Sit start at the lowest point of the suspended roof of the home rule boulder. Climb the lip problem rightwards and then follow line of good but spaced holds into the cave, on the side of a hanging prow (its difficult to avoid brushing the adjacent boulder for a move at one point). From a bat hang rest at the spiky jug, follow a line of small holds back right across the roof to gain the Mugsy cave start.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Ben Nevis with Alicia

Starting up FWA Steam Train VI,7, Ben Nevis

Alicia fights with the blizzard on Pitch 1 of Steam Train
Steam Train, summer HVS 5a, winter VI,7

Alicia on Pitch 3. There was a perfect torquing crack in the corner. Mixed climbing heaven.

Nice lashes

Alicia was over from the states and keen to climb in Scotland. It was snowing hard in Dumbarton, so we figured winter climbing was the best plan. There was a high avalanche risk and Alicia need to catch here flight at nine so we needed a short route low on the mountain. I suggested a summer HVS on NE buttress that to my knowledge hadn't been done in winter. We climbed it in pretty heavy conditions. What an excellent climb though - bold bits, safe bits, thank god cracks and difficult cruxes. Alicia missed her flight to London but we agreed it was worth it for a great day out and not a bad route for your first mixed route! Thank god for the sleeper train which saved the day for Alicia.

Spain - Siurana & Margalef

Ready to climb

Sunset beyond Montsant

Margalef ambience

Huge overhanging cliff, one route, 8c+. A familiar sight in Spain

Looking longingly at an 8c. I did it the next try.

Dave Redpath hanging out on La Puta Rue 8b+, Margalef

Sparkling water, Margalef

Dave warms up at Siurana

Dave getting the psyche on for the redpoint. He did it.
I had an excellent trip to Spain with Dave Redpath for a week. I have made some adjustments in my training which seem to have given my standard a kick - good vibes for the coming year. My goal was to get some good links on a hard route there. I managed better than that, almost doing the route. So that confirms a return trip, possibly this year. On my days off from this I climbed at the excellent Margalef cliffs and had a particularly good day that made all that hard training worthwhile. redpointed an 8c I'd tried the day before, onsighted my first 8a and finished off by dogging up an 8b+ once as it got dark. I felt really good on it an wanted a second go. So Dave pointed the car into the cave and turned the headlights on full. I did it next try. I celebrated with three cups of tea and a bottle of beer.

Alan Mullin

While I was on a climbing trip I got a text to let me know that my friend Alan Mullin was dead at 34. I can’t honestly say that I was shocked that he died before old age; he seemed to always be living his life right on the extremes in nearly every way. He had a troubled life. But I felt it was a terrible tragedy that he couldn’t find the comfort in his life he needed to live the rest of it.

When I was learning to climb, Alan was the best winter climber in Scotland. I got to climb with him a few times during the last couple of seasons before he stopped climbing. He was without a doubt the most intense person I’ve ever spent time with or climbed with. As a climber he was utterly driven and his efforts in the mountains like wandering into the gorms in the middle of the night by himself to solo unclimbed new routes or soloing Centurion on Ben Nevis with some horrendous brushes with death made us shake our heads in disbelief.

Climbing with Alan required a psyche up more than the route itself. The routine was I jumped on the evening bus and met Alan in Lagangarbh or Aviemore and we headed to our chosen mountain to sleep in the boot of his 4x4. Alan was very isolated from climbing most of the time, so he talked and ranted furiously about it through the wee small hours, his car slowly filling with grass fumes which never seemed to calm him down one iota! When he was finally persuaded to get an hour or two of sleep before we began the 4am trudge there would be a minute or two silence before he’d leap up again and say “Fuck it, let’s just fucking walk in NOW mate!” Alan didn’t do sitting still. In 2001 we climbed a grade IX in bad conditions. Alan, frustrated that the climbing day wasn’t perfect climbed a 40 metre grade VII pitch as a blizzard blew in 35 minutes, placing 2 runners. It remains the most impressive piece of climbing I’ve ever seen with ice axes. “Only fuckwits climb slowly mate” he reminded me at the top. In his words, Alan always cut through the crap and politeness and was brutally direct.

He was constantly aware of his own vulnerabilities and never seemed comfortable with himself. This showed in his climbing; maybe this was one area where he could stay on top of situations that could easily get out of hand. His success in climbing brought new opportunities and friends, but his controversial views and uncompromising manner also caused friction with other climbers in a sport more bound by tradition and scrutiny of style than any other climbing discipline. All around he could see that climbers egos got in the way of the good things about climbing – people and experiences. He would often rant about how disgusted he was when other climbers came up to him to ask him questions and ignored his wife Marion standing next to him.

The contrasts in his nature were instant from moment to moment and extreme. From driving brutal effort on the mountain and wild ranting about the sport of climbing, to gentle calls home to Marion to let her know what time he’d be home, or light-hearted jokes and digs. I spent an excellent night out in Glasgow with Alan and Marion before he headed off to Patagonia. I was so happy that he seemed calmer and happier than I’d ever seen him. That was the last time I saw him and shortly after the troubles in his life took him away from climbing. I hoped that I’d be able to pick up where we left off in a café in Glasgow smiling and laughing sometime when the time was right for Alan. I thought it best to leave it until Alan was ready for that, but I almost picked up the phone and called him just to remind him that I was thinking of him and to get in touch if he felt like it.

My best memory of him was a three day trip in the Cairngorms to climb Happy Tyroleans. We spent the first night drinking in Aviemore until 4am and turned back at 8am from the base of Coire an Lochain in a fierce blizzard, spending the rest of the day dry tooling on a railway bridge. The next day Alan’s car broke down and we had a late start on the climb and eventually a retreat from near the top. When we got back to Cairngorm carpark Alan’s car wouldn’t start again so we rolled it to the edge of the ski road and jumped in as the downhill started to try and jump start it. We had to get the thing started before the bottom of Cairngorm otherwise we were stuck! But a herd of Reindeer decided to cross the ski road at that moment and I remember being doubled up with laughter as Alan ran alongside the car pushing reindeer out of the way and waving his arms, occasionally leaping back into the car to steer. It didn’t start and we had a long cold wait for a pickup. The next day with the help of Cubby and his Panda, we climbed the route in perfect conditions.

I have seen the extremes in Alan in many other climbers who are driven by something inside to push themselves right to their limits. This nature can be a gift and an inspiration to others in certain circumstances, but sometimes a destructive curse as well.

Alan a lot of people will miss your company. I am so sorry Marion and the kids.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Frustrating day on the Ben

Kev Shields and I headed for Ben Nevis today to take advantage of the freeze-thaw build up and hopefully get a new route in. Not to be. At first it looked best to stay low because of the mega dump of fresh snow which appeared to be burying all the high buttresses. But our first option turned out to be starting to drip a little in the warm March morning air. Up we went, following the footsteps of the brave who ventured up observatory gully to test the avalanche hazard for us!

The mist cleared to reveal the lower cliffs thawing pronto, but Indicator and Gardyloo looking pasty white and encased in stupendous amounts of ice. Unfortunately we decided it was too dangerous to walk to the foot of it. So we had to turn on out heel and head all the way home after seeing the sight above - Gardyloo buttress buried in maybe the most ice I've seen on it. Smith's looks like a nice grade IV right now!

I've been avalanched 300 metres down this gully before (from the cornice to where I took this photo) so I wasn't keen for a repeat performance. Today a vast jumble of debris serves as a warning to passers by. Stay out of my way! This debris was over 100m long and comprised of slowly setting lumps of concrete ice. Nice.

I did start up something, just to see the cliff up close, but quickly came back down as the drips rained from above.

Kev all dressed up and nowhere to go. Oh well, there's another month and a half at least...
Tomorrow I am going to Spain for ten days of clipping bolts by day and writing coaching at night.

Monday, 5 March 2007

First part of my 'other' project complete

Hokku, Font 8a

From the spiky jug

Cross the big dark roof rightwards

Finish strenuously with Mugsy

Photos by Hot Aches Productions. Click on them for a bigger view.


Good footwork is everything on hard climbs. In took 4 days to work out this shake out.

Project, Dumbarton boulders. Photo by Michael Tweedley

Friday, 2 March 2007

BMC international winter meet

The Comb on Ben Nevis in FINE condition yesterday

I just got home from a week at the BMC international meet at Glenmore Lodge. It's a Biannual event where climbers from the UK act as hosts and invite others from all over the world (23 countries this time) to come and sample the trials and tribulations of Scottish winter climbing. It was my first time at the meet and It was quite awesome! 80 psyched climbers meeting up, going out climbing every day with lectures by some of them every night is very inspiring to be around.
Who has first dibs on the belay? two toolers about to collide at Birnam Quarry

The Scottish weather gods lived up to their reputation and gave us a bit of everything. The first two days involved swimming in mush in the Northern Corries. Then, storms on the hill sent us to Birnam Quarry for dry (wet?!) tooling where everyone got pumped and struggled with Fast and Furious. The next day the warm weather and more gales dictated a bouldering trip to Cummingston where many problems were dispatched in the sunshine and rain. I was climbing with 2 Japanese 'hotshots' Manome and Yokoyama. They bouldered until everyone else was stood around with arms folded and tapping feet waiting to leave. It was cool that they were so psyched. Every time they came off they just giggled and gestured to eachother or me "now you try!". We tried and tried and possibly did some new things? There were many nodding heads on the minibus back to Glenmore.

Mano happy to be celebrating his birthday with a perfect day new routing on The Ben

At 5.30 the next morning Stu powered through driving sleet all the way across the Laggan road and we arrived at the Ben to find it iced up like a big birthday cake for Mano. We headed into Coire na Ciste and as almost every party was starting up routes of grade VII or harder, I pointed to several unclimbed routes and left it up to Yoko and Mano to decide which looked the most fabulous. They are ice masters so opted for a potential new thin neve route I knew about from a picture in Ken's Ben Nevis book. Above The Good Groove I had seen another couple of parallel thin ramps that get well plastered up there. The Good Groove is VII so I reckoned this one could be a bit harder? The guys wanted a VII but it was obvious from Mano's performance on the first pitch of the Good Groove that this would be a bit easy for them really!

The CIC turbine - nae shortage of breeze up there like!

Mano and Yoko get the battle armour on outside the CIC while the smell of Bacon Rolls eminates from the hut.

Mano batters up the first pitch, eating up the thin Neve like it wasn't there (so to speak)

So when I led through I took a peek at the Good Groove off the the right and the ramps in the headwall above. Hmmm, bugger it lets go up there and see what happens. After a long pitch of snaking between ramps I took a belay at the base of the top ramp which ran out into two ominous looking overhanging corners to my right. They looked blank. Woops, maybe I'm going to make the guys abb off on their last day before going all the way home to Japan??

Yoko watches as Mano gingerly scratches across the ramp. Someone get this man a new helmet.

Mano starting up the crux pitch, about to head into the second overhanging corner, only to come back across that horrible slab to the belay!

Mano worked his way carefully across the ramp which was very thinly plated and a little bit scratcy for all our liking, especially as good runners didn't come quickly above my dubious belay. But Mano was pretty hardcore, and dismissing the first blank corner he got established below the second one. An hour passed and me and Yoko agreed it was getting a little chilly as Mano scratched and grunted in the base of the corner before announcing it was too hard and devoid of hooks and reversing, ushering me to have a try. I was baltic and for abbing off, but they did come from Japan for this so I moaned about cold hands and gibbered into the corner myself to confirm Mano's verdict.
But then I found a scratchy flake hook on the right wall, dropped into a deep egyptian (always the secret) and next thing I had a runner and a thin hook above. I came down for a caramel log and a word with myself and had a proper look. After six more repetitions (only one caramel log though unfortunately) I got a few moves further and used up a lot of forearm juice failing to get anymore gear in. I retreated down again and hid in the base of the corner to think about it. I didn't want to lean out and see the guys, they must have been getting really cold and waiting for some sort of outcome.
The next time I really went for it as I knew the time had come to either commit or admit the abseil was inevitable. I got really pumped and scared the higher I got and felt a little ill when a really bad hook broke and I almost took the fall. A bit of shouting to re-focus and accept I was commited and I flailed into the groove above, so pumped I had to shake out before I could even open the krabs on my harness to place a much needed runner. Soon I was hanging from a sound belay and thinking it had been a long time since I felt ill at the prospect of a likely bad peeler. The guys had a nasty time with the corner and tested my belay a few times each on the way up. But still were beaming and proclaiming a "great great route".

On the plateau Mano asked "this grade VII?" He hadn't realised that I'd quit the good groove and headed onto new ground!
"second ascent?"
"No this was a new route and definitely not VII! more like VIII,8"
"AHHH! Great birthday present - new route on Ben Nevis - great!"
Many thanks to everyone at and behind the meet especially Becky and Nick - it was ace!