Monday, September 8, 2014


 The last few months have been a good mix of work and play. I really do love North Wales, there surely can't be a better place to live as a trad climber.

You really can't beat an after-work session in the pass. The mega classic King-Wad. Photo: Lee Roberts.

The good old Cromlech. I think i know every hold on these two walls now. Here Sion is on Left Wall, and i'm linking up Precious, Right Wall and Lord of The Flies to result in an action packed pitch of awesomeness.
Rust Never Sleeps, a nerve wracking E6 on the Lleyn Peninsular. Photo: Nick Bullock
Box of Blood E7, on Craig Doris . More of a flash than an on sight as i'd belayed Nick on it, but still pretty terrifying.
Another paradisaical trip to Pabbay and Mingulay came and went. It wasn't all frisby and fishing, we did some climbing too, and i managed a couple of E6's i hadn't got round to last time. But really, this photo says it all.

If i was to talk about all the amazing routes this summer i wouldn't do them justice, and also, i would have found another method of avoiding packing all of the above in to two 23 kg loads. Off to the Canadian Rockies on Tuesday, lets hope it gets cold over there soon!

Thursday, February 20, 2014


I've just returned from a great week guiding ice routes in Aurlandsdalen Norway. I was working on a course ran by Martin Moran based from the idyllic sleepy village of Aurland. Aurlandsdalen is the lesser known brother of Hemesdal and Laerdal, two more established ice climbing areas in Western Norway. Martin has been guiding in this area for almost 10 years, and has had the place more or less to himself for that time. Before heading out i'd attempted to wrap my head around the lie of the land and route options by reading Martin's pdf guide he's written to the area (and to my knowledge the only documented info), but in the end i gave up as the vastness of the place became apparent.

Our pad.

It's really intimidating going to a new area completely on sight in a guiding role. Not having a library of routes and options in one's head, or knowing the recent snow pack or ice history makes everything feel very "big" when you have two inexperienced yet eager clients in tow. Fortunately, as is often the case, there was nothing to worry about and the general trend for the week was to drive up a valley staring up at huge streaks of ice in wonder, settle on an appropriate one for the day, beat a track up to the base and climb it. Only once in the whole week did i know what route i was climbing, in fact for all we knew we were the first! - a great adventurous way of doing things. I'm sure that this combined with the fact that we didn't see any other climbers all week is why Martin loves to come back every year.

Raymond, Dawn and myself climbed the left hand pillars and continuation above on day two.

Kenny, John and Dan on the left hand line.

I was lucky enough to be partnered with Dawn and Raymond, who were super strong and keen, allowing us to barely climb anything easier than WI5 all week.

Dawn seconding what we later found out to be "The Stonner" WI5.

Back in Scotland now, and after two days of light winds, we once again have 70mph south westerlies, and MWIS is back to using words such as "buffeting effect" "torturous" and "gael force" to describe the next week. Yipee.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Good Week

Last week I was hosting on the BMC winter international meet. The international meet is a week of none-stop climbing, when you take a foreign guest out to show them just how good Scotland can be. It was a really fun week with a real buzz and excited atmosphere, with everyone's ideas and motivation bouncing off each other resulting in a frenzy of action.

Day 1

With apocalyptic-like weather forecast for the first day of the week, there were very few decent options for easing in to it. My Canadian partner Michelle Kadatz was extremely jet-lagged after only arriving late the evening before, so a late start was in order. Unfortunately, Michelle had ate something dodgy in the airport so had been up all night with food poisoning. We managed to get to the bottom of our intended route in the norries, despite the 80mph winds, but in the end we had to retire back to the lodge, so that Michelle could be nearer a toilet and a bed!

Day 2

10 of us piled in to a mini bus at 5a.m. and headed for Glencoe. We climbed Nick and Guy's line "Slenderhead" VIII 8. This was the second ascent, and Michelle's first route in Scotland, she was obviously feeling a lot better as she followed the three pitches with style perfected on the flat edges and shallow hooks of Canadian limestone.

Half way up the very bold first pitch.

Day 3

A less than perfect, but temptingly ok forecast lured us to Beinn Eighe on Wednesday. After a very late start in ferocious winds we battled over the summit ridge and made the two committing abseils down "Blood Sweat and Frozen Tears". From watching the conditions over the last couple of months i had a sneaking suspicion that the legendary and very rarely repeated Mick Fowler route "West Central Gully" may be in good condition. This mysterious route sports a 5 metre roof section on its amazingly steep crux pitch. Fowler famously attached his rucsac straps to his axe leashes so he could rest when making the first ascent. And other such comments such as "the grade is a guess, the second ascencionists refused to comment" certainly ad to to the mystique.

The lower part of the crux pitch.


Steep and 3D.
The route was wild, with 3 metre long icicles hanging from the roof, not thick enough for body weight, Michelle sheltered under a roof at her belay while i sculpted them in to a climbable state. At the belay after the crux pitch i was buzzing, what a route, seriously special.

Day 4

For the second part of the week i was to climb with my Swedish Friend Olov Isaksson. I've known Olov for several years, but we'd somehow never managed to climb together.
      We headed back to Beinn Eighe and its "Far East Wall". This steep, super compact wall is an amazing place, and within seconds of arriving at the base we spotted an awesome looking unclimbed roof crack and corner system that we simply had to have a go at. Surprisingly, the line went with little drama in three pitches, with the crux at about VII or VIII 9 which Olov made a great lead of.

Steep start to pitch 2.

The Crux.
Myself inside the last pitch.

The top bulge.

Sadly our good friend Magnus Kastengren, who had introduced me to Olov 4 years ago, died in the mountains back in November. We talked a lot about Magnus that day on Beinn Eighe and decided to name the route "Crazy Eyes", which will make sense for those of you who were lucky enough to have met Magnus.

We finished by soloing West Buttress. It was one of those really great days.

Day 5

Rest day. The weather was worse than grim, and we discovered the sauna in Glenmore Lodge.

Day 6

The forecast for Saturday wasn't great, but we hoped that MWIS was being pessimistic and headed over to Beinn Bhan with Andy and Peter. On arriving at about 6.30 a.m. it was chucking down rain and just didn't seem hopeful for getting something big done. We all went to sleep in the car and woke up an hour or so later to considerably improved skies. Game on!

Beinn Bhan is a seriously cool place, and the Giant's wall is probably one of the most impressive cliffs in Scotland. It was late to be starting up such a route, but after a slight route-finding error on the first pitch, Olov and myself found ourselves committed to "The Godfather", a route i'd wanted to climb since i was about 10. 
The Giants Wall comes in to view.

Seconding the 5th pitch. 
Olov charging in less than ideal weather.

The top corner.
It went like a dream, and six hours after starting we'd topped out and were halfway back to the car before we needed our head torches.

It was a really good week, many thanks to the BMC for having me along, and Michelle and Olov for being great partners.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Cure and The Tempest

The first 10 days of 2014 saw me feeling completely wiped out by a chest infection. I should have known better....after feeling the oncoming illness a few days before christmas i didn't help matters by going a bit nocturnal over the festive period and spending too much time in pubs back home, but hey, some things you just have to do.

After a course of Antibiotics and eating a full clove of garlic every day for a week (my mate Ben told me it would work, and he went to university), i was starting to feel back to normal in time for a lull in the horrendous winds.
      The week before, myself and Greg had tried something hard and new on the Dubh Loch. Although we didn't get very far, the amount of ice about had inspired us to come back asap.



Asap turned out to be a week later, when on Saturday, Guy Robertson, Greg, Nick Bullock and myself returned on the day that was to be a new-routing extravaganza.

      At the bottom of Broad Terrace Wall that morning there was a great atmosphere, with most of the protagonists of Dubh Loch climbing over the last 30 years present, craning their necks and marveling at the sheets of thin ice traipsing down the crag.

Having a look.

With Guy and Greg already involved in the first pitch of the best new line to go on this part of the face (what would become "Defence of the Realm"), Nick and myself started trying to spie an aesthetic line up the blank looking wall to their right. I absolutely love this part of climbing a new route, its an opportunity to be creative. Ideally we wanted it to be hard enough that we would have to fight a little, not so hard that we'd run in to a dead end, and follow an aesthetic, strong line packed with quality climbing.

I started up a steep corner line with some tricky pulls to a good rest. From here, a curtain of ice was three metres to my right. It was going to be a super thin bit of climbing off a very small boss of slopey granite with no feet holds to reach a crack and then the ice. After getting some bomber gear at my head height, i committed to the move, matching on a hook that could pop at any second. Luckily it stuck just long enough for me to teeter on to the good ice.
    After getting a bomber belay another 20 metres higher, and with the technical crux of the route out of the way, i brought Nick up the pitch, and handed the lead over to him. Nick then took us to the top in two brilliant pitches of ice, thin places, steep and fat in others. It really is a pleasure to watch Nick on this kind of ground, i think you'd be hard stretched to find someone more at home on thin ice.

Just after the crux sequence.

Nick doing his thing. 

Pleased with ourselves for finding such a cool line through the roofs.

After a rest day, the same team - Nick, Guy, Greg and myself met at the King's house pub a the head of Glencoe, with our eyes set on Stob Coire Nan Lochain. Totally still in the morning, it was the first time this winter i could actually call the weather "nice".
   Greg and myself had a quick play on a great looking new line, which will one day provide two very hard, impressive pitches. After retreating, we went to check out the Tempest and i got stuck in. The climbing was hard and fairly well protected for half of the pitch, but felt intimidating, not knowing anything about it. There was a lot of clearing of iced ledges, edges and cracks, and combined with making a few hard moves the wrong way at about half height, which i had to reverse meant that my arms were feeling pretty weiry by the time i got to the niche at two thirds height.
     I kind of realised at this point that i wouldn't get any worthwhile gear from then on, so hammered home a bomber wire and committed to the final section. The very last pull over the snowy bulge at the lip was a bit heart-in-mouth, with a long long fall on the cards. After abseiling off, Greg also led the pitch on my gear.
        It really is a fantastic pitch, and will be a classic in the future i'm sure.

The tempest

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Getting out of the car

As we all know, sometimes the hardest thing about climbing is getting started. The first few moves of a pitch are often the hardest. Racking up can sometimes be a forced procedure. Getting out of the car can seem like a fate worse than death. You could trace it back even further; getting out of bed, packing the night before, being born.... sometimes it just doesn't feel easy.

Murdoch taking one for the team in 70 Mph winds.

The last month of 2013 has brought some of the worst winter weather Scotland has seen in a while. I've worn my ski goggles from leaving the car to the bottom of the crag more times in the last month than ever before. Its fair to say that its all been a bit harder than usual.

Attempting a speed record on The Message...
However, its also pretty cool when you can be tested climbing a route 5 grades beneath your limit due to factors other than the climbing itself. This element is what makes Scottish climbing special and feel so much "bigger" than it actually is.

Myself on Babes in The Wood.
On a slightly calmer day a couple of weeks ago myself and Greg managed the second winter ascent, and first on sight of a fun route in Sneachda called "Babes in the Wood" VIII,8. Its a fantastic tenuous pitch which gets E2 in Summer and climbs very differently to how you'd expect.

Down-climbing from something new and tasty yesterday

 Over the last two days me and Greg have tried four different routes, none of which we got up. In fact, on none of which we got further than 10 metres up the first pitch! But this is why climbing is great, sometimes you float up things with seemingly little effort, sometimes its an effort to just get out of the car - but without the contrast, i think there'd be a real lack of appreciation. Bring on 2014.

Bailing for the second time yesterday!...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Change of Modes

I've always loved Autumn. Its a time when your motivation starts to change, and you look forward to the upcoming winter and new goals.
       This November i went to the world mecca of sport climbing - Catalunya, for two weeks with a large group of friends. We mainly climbed at Terradets, with a few days spent elsewhere and enjoyed sun with cold crisp temperatures for all but two of the fourteen days.

Martin Doyle at Abella De La Conca.

The quality of the sport climbing in Catalunya is simply incredible. Pitch after pitch of the best moves you'll ever do, stacked on top of each other means you find yourself wondering why you've ever bothered with nuts, cams and long walk-ins!

Hot Austrian girl attracting some attention on Bruixes wall..

In the first week i wasn't feeling too good, recovering from some kind of virus which made me sleepy and dizzy all day, i was really worried that it was going to stop me from trying hard. However come the second week i was over it, and managed to onsite 7c and get an 8a in a hand full of goes!

Myself on Bon Viatge 8a.

Shortly after returning from Spain, and after a small work stint on the farm, i drove north to Aviemore. I'm going to be living in Aviemore until the end of February, which is when my Scottish winter guide's test is. I've made it my mission to be in the best possible state i can be before the test starts, which means knowing all the major crags in Scotland like the back of my hand, and being able to nav off the Cairngorm plateau in the worst possible weather imaginable with an assessor breathing down my neck!

On arriving in Aviemore at the end of last week, i managed to snatch two consecutive days of climbing in Coire an Lochain with my mate Neil. First we did "The Vicar", and then "Ventricle", both fantastic routes I've wanted to do for a while.

Starting up the Vicar, i realised i hadn't hung on axes in almost 10 months!

Fun steep climbing.

Myself on the first pitch of Ventricle.

As i sit here now, its +7 degs. and gusting 80mph at 700 metres. I need to find somewhere to hang my Beastmaker soon or i'm gonna go mad!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Talk in Hathersage

On Saturday the 30th of November (end of next week), the Outside store in Hathersage is having a day geared towards getting everyone psyched for the winter. In the evening, Neil Gresham and myself will be doing talks about wintery climbing all over the world. If you're nearby, make sure you come along, should be a great night!

More info here here