Saturday 29 January 2011


Launching up the steep headwall.
Photo: Phil Dowthwaite
As reported yesterday by Ruth, I made the 2nd Ascent of The Hurting with Phil Dowthwaite.
Sitting here writing this now I'm still feeling the hurt of the 4 hour ascent.
The Hurting originally climbed by Dave Macleod and given XI,11 way back in 2005 was quickly labelled the hardest trad mixed climb in the world, taking the line of a summer E4 6a. It was said to have poor protection and have ground fall potential from the first 30-40ft, as well as hard steep technical climbing on the head wall.
That's more than enough beta to keep the queues away!
The routes been on my radar for the last couple of years and finally last winter I summoned the courage to walk upto the bottom of it. These dreams were quickly crushed when upwards progression ground to a halt in the first 20ft. Stopped by heavy snow and ice conditions, as well as a less than adequate rack (never trust your mates to pack a rack), I decided to retreat and climbed back to the ground keen to keep the onsight for another time. What it did do was give me some knowledge of the type of climbing involved.
This winter in the east the winter again kicked of with all its might, masses of snow everywhere and once again made hard mixed routes questionable. It was only whilst I've been working up here for the last week for Mountain Equipment and Cotswolds that I've managed to keep a eye on things. So on our first day off myself and Donald King decided to head to the corries.
Standing at the bottom of the route knowing what lies ahead its hard to describe what's going through your head. As it turned out the bottom part of the route was perfect, giving nice neve and ice on all the sloping ledges which you  needed for your axes. Fully aware of the consequences of a fall from any point in the first 30ft I managed to shuffle across the various small ledges making slow scary progress finally ending up on a comfortable ledge. This gives you time to take in your surroundings and comtemplate your fate.
Above here is some wild briding to finally give you some good gear. This was the point the wheels were quickly about to fall off. Looking ahead you can see what looks like a good ledge under the roof which makes a good target to aim for, unfortunately I was a bit to eager to get there and using a poor torque in a crack quickly found myself hanging on the end of the rope. Luckily I'd followed Tim Neills advice of falling off only when it's sensible!
Lowering to the ground you're then stuck with the decision of whether to get on back that day. 20 mins later we were walking out, decision made. Thanks to Donald for abseiling for my gear - not easy with the wind blowing him across the crag.
Feeling really jaded after a few more days work (I'm not used to it) Phil agreed to belay me in return for me holding his ropes the following day. So with a combined age of 85 we headed back to the gorms.
Not feeling the love on the drive over we swung by the Mountain Cafe in Aviemore for a coffee and some breakfast. This gave us the much needed boost for the walk in eventually arriving at the base of the route at 12 O'clock. A definitely continental feel the day so far.
Somewhere in the murk!
Photo: Phil Dowthwaite
Launching off up known ground was not as easy as first expected. Having kicked off all the useful ice the other day I now had to rely on the picks on the rounded granite. It took about an 1 1/2 hours to get back to my high point  and that's where the fear suddenly set in. Not so much about taking the fall again, but wondering whether would I have the balls to climb to this point again if I did fall. Taking a deep breathe I slowly stepped out onto the steep featureless wall. Getting the same torque as that let me down earlier in the week I managed to seat it better before quickly finding another good hook and a small wire. Now totally committed the above ledge beckoned. Hoping it would be flat with good neve I tentatively reached for it only to find a thin layer of ice and a 30 degree sloping ledge. Trying to keep calm I managed to insert myself under the roof. Finding good hooks gave a short respite and chance to gather my thoughts for the steep headwall above. Reaching out on straight arms to get a look my heart sank. The first 15ft all seemed to overhang. I was just praying for good hooks. After what seems like an age,  it was time to confront the thing head on. Finding some good placements over the roof I quickly turned on the boosters and fully went for it. The cracks were fully choked with ice which gave good placements and pushed me on, keen to get through the steepness with all guns blazing. Reaching the next resting place I looked down at the last runner, way down under the roof and the arms suddenly got very heavy. Above it became a frantic digging and chipping mission to find placements. After 15mins I managed to excavate enough ice to try and get a cam in only to for it rip out. The next 5mins were then spent blowing on the rock trying to melt the ice for the cam to seat.
Things all of a sudden felt pretty serious. Thick cloud had now come in and I felt properly alone.
I ended up standing on the same hooks for ages trying to work out where to go. Everytime I thought I was moving for a good foot ledge I hit it with my axes only for the ice to fall away and leave a small rounded edge. All I wanted to do now was fall off, end the agony and go home. But having invested too much effort already things must go on. The top of the head wall was starting to back off now but the way ahead was completely barred by a sea of ice. Not knowing which way to go I decided to follow a vein of ice diagonally left. This eventually brought easy ground and a slump over onto the fiacail ridge.
Shouting down to Phil for a time check I discovered we now had a lttle over half an hour before it went dark. Phil was keen to 2nd so after a quick sprint up the ridge to get warm and hand me a belay jacket he tied in and had the time of his life doing some amazing climbing.
Not bad for a couple of old giffers.
Cheers Phil for hanging out for the belay, for bringing a headtorch which I forgot and for the photos - I owe you several!

Friday 28 January 2011

The Hurting........ second ascent.

Hot off the press - in fact just got the text to say that the second ascent of The Hurting has been climbed today.
As you might have guessed Andy is up north and on a day off. No much detail yet will fill in some more later when I've spoken to him - but I think he's pretty chuffed!

Monday 24 January 2011

More Ice Fest Photo and video........

More photos from the ice festival weekend on the Petzl flickr site. Go check them out. Especially the ones from Cervieres.
Thanks for the link and the pics Lafouche.

Oh and the video from Lukasz is here - enjoy.
Scotland is a bit minging at the moment - always is on your days off!

Ecrin No-Ice Festival

Socialising at the Ice Festival - copyrigt Lukasz Warzecha
Well, the temperatures were not exactly ideal for the Ice Festival - in that it turned warm a few days before the festival started and continued to stay positively tropical throughout. Ice had well and truly melted. Luckily there is loads of dry-tooling around and about. Thank you to Lukasz for the photos - my camera decided it was a bit hot and tiny little flames came out of it!
The first day I went climbing with a couple of Spanish guys, Israel and his mate, we headed to an ice-mixed crag called Cervieres. We did a couple of mixed routes to start with and then I finished off with the classic ice route called L'Tube which was just about hanging in there.

copyright Lukasz Warzecha

Next day the Ice Festival was holding it's annual competition so with no real ice to climb I decided to join in and give it a go. We all headed off to a crag that had been drilled specifically for the competition, it even included a mini via-ferrata to get down to it. 8 qualifying routes were ready for us, ranging in grade from about M6 up to M10. Unfortunately a large contingent from Russia decided that it was alright for them to spend a whole lot longer on routes than anyone else, which meant it was really difficult to have a go at everything in the time allowed. I wasn't too worried as I'd only joined in for a bit of fun but quite a few folks were really unhappy. The finals were held in the evening at the main event venue on man-made structures. It was great to see Stephanie Maureau turn on the style and win the womens event. In the mens Alexey Tomolov, one of the team Russia from earlier in the day came out on top but was a less popular winner!  Also going on was a Big Air comp for the crazy skiers and boarders - those guys are mentalist! And a whole load of Vin Chaud was available to keep the spirits up. The evening then progressed onto the music and dancing. Check out the report and more photos from Lukasz Warzecha on Plant Fear, video coming soon.

Descending to the competition crag - copyright Lukasz Warzecha

At the event venue there were all kinds of stalls from the sponsors such as Petzl and Mountain Equipment who were by coincidence right next to each other which meant it was really easy for me to hang out and get some quality banter from both sides. Brilliant to catch up with them all and a special thank you to Mathieu Maynadier for the invitation and for sorting me out a place to stay with team Petzl. Thanks also to Arnaud, one of the Petzl engineers who happily drilled my new Nomics to make sure they couldn't have the grip rest failure problem.

To finish off my whirlwind trip to the Ecrin I went to visit some friends up in Puy St Vincent, Stew Rogers and Sam Lowe who put me up for a couple of nights - thank you! I managed to get rock climbing for a day with Bruce Pole at a local conglomerate crag, whose name escapes me! A conglomerate crag which has been covered in winter recently and hasn't been climbed on .......hmmmm,  now conglomerate is tricky enough to climb on when there is loads of chalk to show you the decent holds, with absolutely none it was desparate! I've only climbed on conglomerate a couple of times, once in Maple Canyon, Utah and at Moy Crag just outside Inverness. Both of these venues you use the pebbles to pull on, most of the time. At this crag you use the pockets left behind when the pebbles have come out. This sounds easier but the pebbles are really tiny and hence so are the pockets. After feeling around for the next pocket it seems almost impossible to find the one you've just taken your hand out of, as you can imagine I wasn't exactly putting in a stunning performance, but it was great to get some sunshine - we were climbing in t-shirts! 

I'm now back in UK and just arrived in Scotland for a couple of weeks. Working mostly, firstly for Mountain Equipment and then Plas y Brenin but hoping to squeeze something for myself in on my days off. Watch this space!

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Cathedral Photo - now in Climb

Make sure you pick up a copy of Climb this month. Great photo of The Cathedral taken by Lukasz. Sneak preview on the Mountain Equipment blog.

Off out to the Ecrin for the Ice Festival on Thursday - psyched!
Meeting up with Team Petzl, always good for a bit of  banter - how do they manage it when it's not even their first language? I'd stand no chance of banter in french.
Unfortunately it seems to have gone a bit warm out there so conditions may not be optimal - sure I'll still get completely pumped anyway!

Coming at a good time, just starting to feel back to normal after the Christmas excess, maybe the training with extra belly will have made me stronger?
You can have a look at the conditions and maybe get some inspiration on

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Wetter not better.

As planned Tom and I headed back to Stob Coire nan Lochan today. Warmer and wetter all round. Walking in was distinctly unpleasant and the blast of horizontal rain as we crested into the Coire was enough to send most people back to the car. But we battled bravely onwards and headed for the crag and the base of Ordinary Route (IV, 4). Tom racked up and headed upwards splitting the bottom long pitch into two, he then continued up again,  I got the then 3rd pitch and Tom finished the route off.  Lots of wet snow was falling in showers throughout the day and the very top of the crag was good and frozen.
We topped out into a good strong wind so we beat a hasty retreat and headed back down into the rain.
A good couple of days out, I got to head back to Fort William and a comfy sofa - poor Tom however had to drive back to Devon - in fact I expect he's somewhere around Lancaster about now!

No pictures today - very wet and unhappy camera.

Monday 3 January 2011

Proper Scottish Weather....

Ian Hey, Ruth and I in the CIC Hut last season
Before I start on todays activities let me first wsh you a Happy New Year, I am feeling a wee bit sluggish having spent the whole of the festive season eating, and eating with a bit of drinking thrown in and virtually no exercising - oh dear not exactly the training plan of an athlete! I did have a walk up to the CIC Hut on New Years Eve to see if there was any chance of climbing but conditions were sadly lacking. Warm and wet - not ideal, luckily conditions inside the CIC Hut were perfect for a brew before heading back down.

Today I was working and it has been a day to blow the cobwebs away that's for sure. Yesterday I spent all day wishing for snow, driving the people around me nuts - I think I might have wished a bit too hard! Ruth tells me it has been pouring with rain and a bit of snow all day in Fort William. I've been getting snowed on ALL DAY in Stob Coire nan Lochan. First visit up there this season - always feels like a slog. But the last couple of days of colder temperature and todays snow has definitely winter-ed the place up again.
Tom and I climbed Scabbard Chimney (V, 6) which felt pretty tricky in the conditions with spindrift pouring down it and it was a bit thinner than when I did it last year. Luckily with the wind blowing across the coire we were quite sheltered on the route. Here are a couple of photos of Tom, who was refusing to look up for me - can't say I blame him though he'd probably have drowned! Abseiling off down The Tempest was a battle with yet more spindrift, but at least that was preferable to the rain which we walked down into.

Tomorrow is another day out with Tom, thinking of heading back up to the Lochan, here's hoping for a bit less spindrift!