Summers end…

 Its December. Ready for skis and ice axes. But until last week my climbing still felt a bit summery. Mostly rock climbing and summer alpine work and play…

In April I had a trip to the Gorges du Tarn. I was out in Europe anyway doing my guides Ski mountaineering course, so I after that I went down to the Tarn with Tom Livinstone, and Uisdean and we set to work trying to gain some endurance. We were there for about ten days and came away with a number of great routes ticked and I managed to climb an 8a. Les Ailes du Desire. I was really pleased with this as a first 8a. Its a huge 50m pitch mostly on overhanging jugs, but with a slightly harder bit in the middle with plenty of time to stress about falling off.

pyromania 7c+ another 50m monster pitch

pyromania 7c+ another 50m monster pitch

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les ailes du desire 8a. (wings of desire)

 

I was able to be at home for a few weeks after that, and it was cool to be at the Fairhead meet. Amongst a few other things I put up a new route on the Dark side. Still Learning E6 6b takes a line through the huge overhangs between Learning to fly and Night rider . I Spent a day or two cleaning it, and it was awesome to be able to make the first ascent with Matt Pyecroft from cold house productions filming it. Paul Swail had Matt over making a Short film for Rab Equipment. I think the routes E6 6b, as the second pitch has a bold 6a section off the belay, then a difficult crux pulling blindly through a roof in a stunning position. It climbs in 3 pitches, with the last one being the last pitch of Learning to Fly. 6a, 6b, 5c.

Still learning E6 6b, 1. climb an obviously cleaned groove into a corner that is blocked by a big roof. Escape rightwards to the base of another groove and make an awkard belay. Green cam and number 9 nut. 2. Climb boldly off the belay into a groove, peanut for gear, then move left and climb a steady bold crimpy section on the left. After arranging gear (small cams in a horizontal crack) quest out further left across the slab towards the edge of the next big roof. Move from left to right through the roof to gain a stance under a second roof and arrange good gear. Pull through the roof to gain good holds, and continue up the groove above. At the top of this groove, exit on the left and climb to the belay on Learning to fly. Watch for a few loose blocks. 3. Same as Learning to Fly.

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Still Learning FA. E6 6b. Photo credit Matt Pycroft- Coldhouse collective.

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Still Learning. E6 6b FA. Photo credit Matt Pycroft- Coldhouse collective.

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Rockafella E7 6c

It was awesome to see so many visitors at the head, and cool to see the big E6 I did last year un jour peut etre getting a second ascent by Nick and John and getting a good report. 

My Irish trad sesh was short and before long I had to go to the alps for my first summer of Aspirant Guiding. Its been great to progress to this stage in the scheme and being able to work in the bigger mountains was a great privilidge and a rewarding experience. The summer training course was 9 days long and set us up well for guiding clients in variable terrain and on the pointyest of mountains. Throughout the summer I enjoyed working as an Aspirant on a variety of peaks, super mellow, spiky and classic, and esoteric adventures. Some guided routes in the alps have a lot of prestige and fame, and people can be very focused to tick things off. Some clients, are more into finding a bit of solitude. Its nice to do a bit of everything, but the crowds on certain routes can be a bit overwhelming and frustrating. 

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As mellow as it gets, snow plodding through the big slots on the Allaininhorn

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Guiding Jen up the North Ridge of the Piz Badile

 

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Escaping the crowds on Monte Rosa. Thankfully its a big mountain.

 

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alpine starts

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A pointy one, The north ridge of the Piz Badile

early morning crowded choss on the matterhorn

A pointier one, early morning choss.  guiding on the Matterhorn

 

The Alps were very hot and dry through the summer and a lot of routes were in very dangerous condition. Sticking to Alpine rock that wasn’t meant to be held together by ice was the best bet. We had some good days off doing some great rock routes, trying to pick safe objectives. Will and I went to the Fiz on a day off in the middle of the heatwave and had a great time. The fiz sits high above Servoz and I have always wondered what the routes were like. Its a bit of an adventure getting to it, but once on route the rock and the climbing is excellent. We climbed Betelgeuse 7a+ which is 7 pitches of fairly bomber limestone. Im not sure what the best approach is, but what we did was a bit minging.

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Betelgeuse 7a+ on le fiz

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fizzy exposure

 

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The sketchy approach to the Fiz. Photo Will Sim

 

etat de choc, petit clocher. Photo Will sim

Etat de choc, petit clocher. 7A. Photo Will sim

 

Petit Clocher, Etat de choc. Photo, Will Sim. Everyone else was sleeping

Petit Clocher, Etat de choc. Photo, Will Sim. Everyone else was sleeping

gullivers travels

Gullivers Travels, Grand Capucin

blanaba republic

Blanaba Republic. Aiguille de republic

 Later in the summer Rhys and I went to Bregalia. We were keen to do the classic North face route, the Cassin, on the Piz Badile. As predicted the route was mobbed, despite our really early start, walking in from the car park at midnight. We arrived at the base about 4.30am and joined the line. Seeing how slow the lead teams were moving was frustrating, so we barged through, and managed to get in 2nd place. We summitted around 10.30, and smashed back down to Italy for Pizza. Our next route was the Peoples direct. Also on the North face of the Badile. Unlike the Cassin, this has probably seen much fewer ascents. Neither of us had heard anything about it, but it looked like a great line and was guaranteed to be a bit quiter and probably an adventure. The approach is a bit funky and is from the opposite side of the mountain. After gaining the Col de Cengalo, down climbing a gutter of shit gains the start of the route, which progresses higher and harder to the very Apex of the ENE Face. There was a bit of everything, loose rock, massive quivering flakes, wet rock, high mountain vegetation, manky old pegs, and occasionally some really cool pitches, the penultimate fabled to be a 7a+ crack. 

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damp jams on the 7a+ penultimate pitch of the peoples direct. ED2

 We also climbed on a grand bit of rock way up Val de Mello called the Picco Luigi Amadeo. We started up a route called Pocco Loco, then Finished up the “classic” Taldo Nusdeo. 

Rhys leads out of the roof squeeze on taldo nusdeo

Rhys leads out of the roof squeeze on taldo nusdeo

At the end of August I had a week in Ceuse with Liam Postlethwaite. Liam was climbing exceptionally well and was able to talk beta to me up a few classics. 

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colonettes 7c+ Photo Liam Postlethwaite

In October I went out to America with Will for 6 weeks. We went straight out to Yosemite for a good schooling in crack climbing. It was the first time either of us had been in the valley. We did a lot of cragging, and worked our way through a lot of good day routes, mostly trying to free climb, but if necessary learning a bit of aid. Off widths were as brutal as we expected, but I think we were definitely climbing them better by the end. Its not a pleasant style of climbing, but it was something we felt we had to practice, so we could make an attempt at freerider. The start of the trip was outrageously warm and climbing in the sun was gruesome. We were able to climb Direct North Buttress, Rostrum, Astroman, Moratorium in the shade. We had a lot of days at Arch Rock, which must be the most under rated crag in Yosemite as there was never anyone else there. New Dimenions and Leanie meanie are must dos.  Mid trip we got up the nose in a day, which seemed the logical way to climb the route. We spent a few goes climbing an amazing pitch called Crimson cringe which is a 50m arching crack, from from finger locks to fists, but as it arched you couldn’t jam feet in the crack so the left foot was always on the smooth wall. Although only 5.12a, a humble grade it took me a few red point goes. 

crimson cringe 5.12a

crimson cringe 5.12a

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moratorium

 

working out how to use the top step, aid climbing on washingon column

working out how to use the top step, south face washingon column

 

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Nose in a day…

the great roof

the great roof

harding slot

harding slot

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the slot

west face of el cap

west face of el cap

 

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west face

 

As november approached the storms got more frequent and when we felt ready we had a go on Freerider. We didn’t have a lot of success. We climbed Free blast and hauled to heart ledges before the storm. Then after the storm started up from heart ledges, and got up to the alcove. the route was still wet and above the alcove the cracks were still choked with ice. We spent a morning twiddling our thumbs on the alcove waiting for the route to melt and dry. Getting twatted by falling  ice all morning was fairly frustrating and demotivating. Our weather window didn’t really allow for this hold up. The second morning was the same, but we climbed the next pitches up to the 5.13a crux, the huber pitch. We had a few goes on top rope and I gave it a quick send on the lead. Its really short, only 3 bolts long, and it felt good to be pulling on crystals and figuring out the delicate sequence. After that we went all the way back down. We didn’t think we had long enough to free everything else before the next storm, and without a porta ledge, we were slightly compromised. 4 hours after sending the huber pitch we were on the ground again going to get pizza. We learnt a lot, and I definitely have a better idea of how to go about it next time.

hauling...

hauling…? the upside down method.

chilling out on el cap spire

chilling out on el cap spire. Photo Will Sim.

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For the last 2 weeks we went down to the desert. I had a few days in Zion with Heather Florence, and then we finished the trip in Redrocks. Zion was Beautiful and Il certainly be going back there, but with caution not to climb things that aren’t regularly climbed. We had a crap time on a route called silverback which was rated very good, and looked amazing but it was disgustingly sandy. In fact its maybe the most horrible thing I have climbed in my life. Heather was definitely sending out negative vibes from the start but I was convinced it couldn’t be this bad all the way to the top. One more pitch just to see,- surely the next one cant be as sandy, until pitch 6 where it was still as sandy as ever, in a super sandy 5.12 off width irreversibly above some doubtful gear in a very sandy crack. I blew a gasket, and swore at the climb and its absolute mingingness so all the tourists and zionists could here me. I managed to find some crappy gear and aid my way up to a sandy bolt and lower off. Monkey finger 5.12a, Shunes Buttress 5.11c, and Smashmouth 5.12 were all outstanding. 

shuffling in shunes buttress

shuffling in shunes buttress

 

sivlerback. the sandyest 12a in america. sandy back

An amazing flake on Sivlerback. the sandyest route in Zion. sandy back

 

lev 29, a fun clip up

way up on lev 29, a fun clip up 5.11c

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cloud tower

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cloud tower

 

the huge corner system of rainbow wall. classic 5.12 redrock

the huge corner system of rainbow wall. classic 5.12 redrock

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lots of this bridging business

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second cruxy corner bit

 

 In Redrock we did some cragging and some of the classic multipiches. Levitation 29 5.11c, Cloud Tower 5.12a, and the uber classic 5.12 Rainbow wall. The last few days were spent figuring out the moves on a mega 5.13b called monster skank. We had a bit of time on the last day before driving back up to San Fran for our flight. Just enough time, and with all the last go psyche in the world I was feeling confident, until I realised I’d left my bag in the carpark the night before while collecting firewood. It contained my rock shoes, harness and most importantly passport. The last day was an epic stressfest back and forth to lost and found and police stations and finally a mission back up to see the British consulate and find a way to get me home. I don’t know what I was more pissed off about, the passport or not getting that final go on monster skank. 

monster skank, still a proj

monster skank, frustratingly still a proj, as is not losing passports.

 

A good time was had by all. I look forward to going back to america. 

that was winter…

My main objective this winter was to pass the BMG winter test. Anything else climbing wise would be a bonus. The winter test is regarded as a tough assessment and with that dwelling on my mind my priority was to put as much time into preparing as possible. This generally involved familiarising myself with the Northern Corries of the Cairngorms on typical and ideal guiding terrain, and working out what that was.

Paddy and Brendan, More commonly seen on surf boards Enjoying the delights of winter climbing after Deep Cut Chimney

Paddy and Brendan, More commonly seen on surf boards Enjoying the delights of winter climbing after Deep Cut Chimney

I was out almost every day whatever the weather stomping around, assessing snow packs, approaches, navigating and climbing routes with equals, novices and jedis. I spent quite a few days shadowing and observing other guides and trying to learn as much as possible from their wealth of knowledge. I was encouraged by how willing they were to help and to see us through the test as best prepared as possible.

Rory Stuck in the auricle Grade VI. Not as stuck as I was on pitch 2 of ventriliquist.

Rory Stuck in the main pitch of Auricle Grade VI. Not as stuck as I was on pitch 2 of Ventriloquist.

Emma on Pateys Route

Emma loving Pateys Route Grade IV

The winter training course was excellent and it set us up very well for the preparing for the test. We also had exceptional conditions and were able to climb superb routes on Ben Nevis and Glen Coe.

Team Ulster on Tower ridge

Team Ulster on Tower ridge

 

 Al, Big Tim and I on hadrians wall. Taken by Stu with Tom and Tam on point 5

Who are those Guys! Al, Big Tim and I on Hadrians wall. Taken by Stu with Tom and Tam on point 5

 The North West 

Throughout the winter I did a good bit of guiding work. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I found it very rewarding. I had the opportunities to guide some clients on reasonably big mountain routes and I know that they enjoyed and appreciated the experiences. The whole essence of being a guide is to pass on the real experience of the mountains and give people valuable and exhilarating memories of climbing. A lot of the work I did was for Martin Moran in the North west. The North west is wild and remote. The mountains are very dramatic and feel a little bit more serious. The walk ins tend to be a bit longer and as always in Scotland the weather can be dire. However when perseverance is accepted, and when the clouds clear and the views that have been obscured are at last exposed the rewards are vast. I got fairly familiar with the Torridon area. The route George on Liathach is a Classic Grade III, and is a dependable option even when looking out of the window in the morning it looks more apocalyptic outside, rather than ideal. The first week I worked up there at new year the weather was absolutely horrific. Dry suits would have been appropriate. The clients were still super keen and we found things to do and skills to teach. The last day it had cooled sufficiently to find some ice on George. It was relatively sheltered on route but we topped out into near hurricane force winds and my guiding skills were put to the test short roping down the ridge back to the corrie. Serious terrain. Real decisions. It was awesome.

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the cave belay on George

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Freestyling on some good IV ice right of George on a good day later in the winter.

 

Another particularly memorable day was on Beinn Eighe with Jeremy and Chris Lloyd on West buttress. It was a miserable morning and the entire walk in (which is about as long as it gets) was through heavy gore tex soaking rain. As we turned the corner into the corrie the rain turned to snow. About half way up the route the clouds parted and we were rewarded with marvellous views over Liathach. It was starting to look worthwhile at that point, however looking up at the rest of the route is slightly daunting.  The buttress looks steep and difficult and I could see the guys thinking “Really!?”. I was thoroughly enjoying myself at this point and pushed out some positive vibes. The route weaves its way through the steepest terrain up little ramps and chimneys and the guys began to enjoy solving the puzzle of mixed climbing, throwing in torques and reaching for the good hooks. Topping out the evening light was exceptional over the surrounding peaks. Smiles all round. It was a long day but very enjoyable and Jeremy told me it was one of his best days out in the mountains anywhere, ever. Thanks Jeremy.

Nearing the top of West Buttress

Nearing the top of West Buttress

I really enjoyed the challenge of the work and different groups. Whether 1:1, on steep technical terrain or 1:4 on easier ridges I learnt how to make the rope work effective.

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1:4  on The Black Carls ridge.

I climbed the Forcan Ridge on the Saddle in Glen Shiel and at the summit we dug into a snow hole. This was great practice for my snowholing skills and was a great experience for the lads. The next day we took in a few more peaks and enjoyed the winter wonderland that surrounded us.

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Forcan Ridge II

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Winter wonderland on Day 2 of the Shiel hills. Photo Paddy Devlin

I really enjoyed the variety of the work in the Northwest. There are so many options. It was hard work, especially since I was working on routes I was not familiar with, and the weather and conditions can be challenging. I learnt a whole heap and felt much more confident going into the test with a lot more experience under my belt.

The Ben

The Ice on Ben Nevis has been Exceptional this year and I have had some exceptional days out in a whole range of scenarios. On the training course, on the Winter test, Personal route ticking, and guiding Folk.

loving life on Hadrians Wall Direct. On the winter Training. Photo Tim Neil.

loving life on Hadrians Wall Direct. Mega Classic Grade V. On the winter Training. Photo Tim Neil.

Casey Patagonia designer from Ventura California enjoying Hadrians wall Direct

Guiding Casey Shaw, Patagonia designer from Ventura California on Hadrians wall Direct V on another day. 

Climbing stellar Ice with Chloe and Steve on Boomers requiem. V. Photo, Georgina Maxwell

Guiding stellar Ice with Chloe and Steve on Boomers requiem. V. Photo, Georgina Maxwell

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With Tim and Paul after The Shield Direct VII. Tim was particularly ecstatic.

Graham loving The Shroud. VI

Graham loving The Shroud. VI

Mega route X

 Me on Mega route X. Super classic V

 

 

A random V Ice pillar between Gemini and Waterfall Gully. Photo Tim Neil

A random grade V Ice pillar between Gemini and Waterfall Gully on the test. Photo Tim Neil

The Test

The Test was the first week of March and was every bit as tough as it was meant to be. Long days out and every fine detail of our guiding and climbing examined and critiqued. We all passed and needless to say were elated at the result and look forward to the next stage and working as Aspirant guides in the Alps.

 

Big thanks to everyone who helped me out this winter whether coming climbing with me, letting me climb with you, letting me observe, offering work, giving advice. Thanks Scarpa UK.

 

 

 

 

Ending 2014

Tolerance. E8 6c

Back in November I climbed Tolerance E8 6c up on Binians North tor. First climbed by the English Climber John Dunne, it is very like a hard grit head point, with bold hard moves above a crippling fall zone. A bouldery sequence leads into a scoopy thing, and then you can press out to a jug. The jug is then mantled and stood upon. Then its all over. Its a great sequence of moves, and the mantle is terrifying. It was a perfect day, crisp and cold, with a slight breeze. It seems a very distant memory now, and I haven’t really had so many good days out since.

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Joy Division. E6 6a. HP

I did another little route beside Duais arete, on the clean wall to the left of December. Its a pitch up a swell series of holds that lead out left from the belay of december. I placed a peg, and then its basically very bold crimping up the wall. Towards the top you reach a Horizontal break which takes some good cams. Then some nice climbing to the top. I gave it a quick top rope and a good clean before I lead it. I reckon its about E6 6a, and serious.

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Super Extra

I found my bouldering psyche just before christmas, and managed to do a few problems at the head, and a wee windy weekend in wicklow. I put a few sessions into Super extra, which is a beautiful problem and was very chuffed to get it done before going to Scotland for a few months.

Thats where Im at now, doing some guiding work, and as much winter climbing as possible in prep for my BMG winter test in a few months time. Hopefully it gets cold and stays cold.

 

 

 

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Some E7s

I’ve been working in Belfast since I got back from Wales and climbing most weekends and at every opportunity.

I had 2 really good days at lower cove, climbing a winters tale E3, and Infidels Direct E5. Then I tried to flash Primate with all the Beta from Swail and Caff who also just did it. I took a few lobs off  the crux and then worked out how to do it and then lowered back down and climbed it from the ground. It climbs the 5th ape, past the crux and then makes a trick traverse way out right past a fiddly cam, and then up to a 6c move with a good cam at waist height.

Primate. E7 6c. Photo Paul Swail

The following weekend I climbed A bad Skin Day E7 6c, Easy lover E7 6c, and on the Monday, Peace Donkey E7 6c/7a. All head points and totally head games.

second ascent of Peace Donkey

 

 

Bad Skin Day E7 6c

Last weekend I climbed a new route at the Murlough bay end of Fairhead. It only took a few hours cleaning, and then a few goes working the moves. The crux section of moves is probably about 6b, and bold, and the upper section is like edge lane on top of that. Falling off the top would be a ground fall, but I just had to believe it wasn’t going to happen.

 

Duais Arete. E7 6b. 45m. (headpoint)

The upper arete between December and Duais. Start up the corner of Duais for 10m. Climb a thin crack leading leftwards towards the arete. Arrange satisfactory protection and start up the clean arete. A steep sequence of moves leads to a rest. After a bit of contemplation climb the upper section with a few reachy moves to a very run out top out. 

Duais Arete. E7 6b. First Ascent Photo Craig hiller

 

the final stretch

summer into autumn with new Scarpa Shoes

 

 

July.

adventure time… team

In July we went to the Black Cliff in Kerry for a weekend. It was mega, and it was genuinely one of the highlights of my summer. Probably because I’ve wanted to go for such a long time, and the climbing was every bit as good as I expected. Huge overhangs of Black slate. I dont know of anyone who’s been there since the first ascents 20 years ago. Sublime Ireland. Adventure, Atlantic, E grades, Exploring and good Craic with the adventure team Colm Shannon, David Lyons Ewing, Rene Temple.

firstly we looked at lots of rocks…

It was a 7 hour drive from Belfast, and we only went for 2 and a half days. It was raining nearly everywhere else, and kerry looked driest. Sometimes you just have to go for it.

David tall and strong on Lost in Juarez. E4

We climbed a few class routes from E1-E4, and would recommend all of them. The Climbing is steep and exciting, and quite varied, from techy wall climbs to burly overhangs. I think there are better E1s at the black cliff than in the Burren, covering much more exciting terrain for the grade.

Colm and I on The Abyss. E1 5b

 

There are 60 climbs from e1-e6 and I cant really understand why people don’t go there. You can be climbing through the most epicly steep terrain, then you can pull through a lip and find yourself able to lie down and rest on the most horizontal of ledges. Good times. Keen to go back some time. Its such an amazing cliff.

me on Kerry Gold. E4 5c Photo Dave Lyon Ewing

We also checked out a monster cliff, down the coast a bit.

Colm and Rene on Virgin Atlantic. E2

It looked really impressive, and only had 3 routes on it, put up 20 years ago. Also, no visits since. Unfortunately what looked like awesome rock, was actually like crumbly sharp scary time rope chops choss. Dave and I started up an amazing looking wall (from a distance), and then made a runaway traverse to gain the arete of the E2 Virgin Atlantic.

Questing around new ground at gleneragh

August- Sept

Some time in August I went to North Wales to spend a number of weeks preparing for my summer guides test. I was based in Llanberis and was basically trying to climb as much as possible, and familiarising myself with all the classic crags and routes. It was great to have gazillions of classics to climb. Climbing a mostly with Swail we managed a healthy amount of  E5’s and a few E6’s.

blackleg, a fragile E5 at hairy gogarth

The Cad. E6

The cad is an uber classic E6, that Ive only wanted to climb since John Orr climbed it. True story.

lots of days on redwall

I grew to like redwall, and am now quite a fan. Fantasia was spectacular.

Gogarth Main cliff Selfie

I didn’t get to climb quite as much on main cliff as I wanted, but the days I did it was super fun. This day with Paul and Guy Buckingham, we did some swimming, just jumping off the ledge at the base of the cliff into the sea. This helped me get over my grumpy state of mind. The day before I’d taken a wonder lob off the last few meters of Lord of the flies. It was close to an onsight, with no chalk to follow. Right at the top I got a bit excited, being so very nearly there, and slipped off some dirty crimps instead of finding the good positive holds. Just a slightly misread sequence and before I could rearrange my fingers I was going down.  I went miles, and enjoyed the flight. Pulling back on it went easily.

lord of the flies E6 6a

 

Electric Blue E4 6a, or DWS Photo Caff

 

I did Electric Blue a few times because its mega and I wanted to do it for flipping ages.

energy crisis. E5

 

Dreams and Screams E6 6b

And had a tussle with Dreams and Screams, which is an amazing line, and really hard at the top. I had a few slumps on the rope then just about managed to haul myself over the top.

I also made friends with some Welsh people. They talk a funny language, but they are very nice. I went to Owey with them for a week, Ioan Doyle, Helen and Al hughes, to film Ioan climbing some of my routes on Owey. It was for the welsh language channel S4C. It was a fun week, of “work” for me, and amazing to see Immaculata repeated. Nice one Ioan.

new friends

Al, Ioan, and holy jaysus wall

 

I was delighted to pass my Guides test which was the last week of September which was 6 days long, and quite the challenge, but it went well and means I can move on to the next stage in Scotland in the winter time.

Just before my test started I got the fantastic news that Scarpa are going to sponsor me. I have been using scarpa shoes and boots for the last few years on rock climbs and mountain routes and have always been really impressed. They have an amazing range, and are built really well.

 

logo-coloured

 

What a wall!

“you have to climb on the holy Jaesus wall”!  said Valli in her interesting German/Dublin accent. We bumped into her on the pier as we packed our bags and ropes into the wee boat. Valli had been out on Owey for a few days kayaking and climbing some new routes of her own. She told us how impressed she would be if we climbed a route on the holy Jaesus Wall. It was cool to hear someone say “the Holy Jaesus wall”, like everyone should know what she was talking about. Most people wouldn’t, but I did, and I was going to check it out.

The previous week while I was working and splacking, Swail, chris and ronnie and pat had taken advantage of the sublime weather and gone out to Owey. I was amazed to see the routes they were doing. They were amazed we hadn’t done them last year. Facebook was doing its job and showing me all the cooler things my friends were doing. For the first time in a while I felt like I was missing out. I had the FOMO. I watched the weather and when it stayed dry took two days off to go and play. Scottish Rory was keen to come over, so I convinced him that Owey was the place to go and we could go and do some new routes.

checking out the possibilities

When we got to the Island we went straight to the big massive wall. I had looked at it last year, indeed its legend had been the initial reason to go there, but I got so distracted by the other incredible lines the cliffs offered I never even had a decent look or abseiled down it. The wall forms the side of this enormous square cut Gully/fault line thing.

Photo Craig Hiller

The sheer wall is covered in runnels and cracks but the continuous steepness and nature of the rock looks intimidating and also like it might be scrittly and poor quality. But I’d never know until I looked. After abseiling a line perpendicular to the main wall I decided to bite the bullet and check out the sheer bit. As I went down on the abseil rope, I discovered the wall was mostly very solid, and that there was loads of gear, and loads of holds. The Granite is incredibly featured, and the runnels and cracks ran almost the whole length of the wall. The further I went down the further out I hung and at regular intervals I had to place runners to keep me in. Close to the bottom there was a big ledge on the arete, and below that another 10 m of greasy black featureless rock. Below that the sea. I decided a logical place to start routes from abseiling in would be the ledge on the arete. It looked relatively comfy and I reckoned a first pitch could traverse out from it and belay on a vague ramp. Then a whopper of a pitch would climb the wall by any particular runnel to the top.

Rory seconds out of the first route on the Holy Jaesus wall

This is what I decided I would do and as I jugged out to get my gear and Rory, I chalked and inspected a line of holds that matched up all the way to the top. I was soo excited. I knew it could go, as it wasnt going to be massively technical or bold, but more just outrageously pumpy. Back Down we went and Rory set off into the steep of the first pitch. It was early in the day and quite greasy so I had chalked up some holds which on an abseil rope looked OK. On lead Rory found it to have a bit of a sequence, which he didnt quite get, and ended up flailing back down into the abyss. The fall pulled me right accross the belay. I was glad to have put an extra nut in as a sideways runner. He managed on his second go, and soon enough I was joining him on one of the most epic of hanging belays. It was a tough pitch about E5 6b, and more of a warm up than I (0r he) hoped for. I hung on the belay for a while looking up at what lay ahead. I knew that once I started climbing it was just a race against the pump clock. I had a massive rack of gear, and a line of holds to follow. All I had to do was keep going, and not give up. The second I started off was the worst, as as soon as I started climbing it was pumpy and all I could think was I have 40 m of this. Once I got going though I knew when some jugs were coming up so I was able to keep smashing on until I got to them and I could have one armed shake outs. I did some fairly long run out sections, not because there was no gear, but because placing it was too time consuming. At the top I was spectacularly pumped and I had to try soo hard to recover some energy for the last pinchy moves. I dug to the deepest reserves of my energy and kept going because I really didnt want to have to do it all again, because I didnt know if I could. Topping out was sensational. I had just pulled off one of the best bits of climbing I had ever done. I brought Rory up. He was equally delighted. We had opened a hard new route on one of the best walls in Ireland.

We didn’t really know how to top that, so we chilled in the sun, and climbed a little corner nearby to finish the day. That night we drank a lot of beer with some of the locals who hang out on the island in the summer. The next day, the weather deteriorated and after climbing a 60m pitch of HVS on a massive wall where everything looked about the same grade, we went back to the mainland. It had an unfortunately loose top out. We called it “The Headless Quadman” after Dan cruising around drunk on his quad in the middle of the night.  Rory went Back to Scotland. I went back to Belfast to clean more windows.

DSC05865

Rory on FA of American Spirit. E2 5c

A few days later it was the weekend and Swail wanted to go back. This time there was 5 of us, and I was dead keen to get some photos this time. I abbed another line on the same wall and checked the possibility of starting from the sea. It might go with quite a bit of practice but it would be very very hard. A separate E8 in its own right. I decided to start from the ledge again. This time I would climb a black streak feature. I could have gone literally anywhere, but the streak seamed like a nice feature to follow. checked the line of holds, removed the dubious ones and brought down Swail. Again I let him do the first pitch which was another independant line, and he belayed on the vague ramp under the black streak. Soon I was well high up on the streak pumped out of my mind fighting to get a piece of gear I was really happy with. High on the wall the angle eased slightly( still vertical)and I thought I was in. However here the feet got really poor and the positive holds turned a lot less positive. After a long while fighting the pumpy got the better of me and I couldn’t hold on any longer. I peeled off. Even with a cam placed at my waist I flew quite a long way before I stopped. I would fall again before I topped out, the second time a lot further with a hold snapping off in my hand. Eventually I topped out, feeling the dread because I would have to try and do it all again the next day. To increase the odds, I abbed down again and played on some of the moves of the last section. I worked out a sequence that I might be able to remember. This time with David belaying I managed to free the pitch.

Trying hard at the top of the black streak in a layback section not long before I fell off. Photo David Lyons Ewing

I didnt know what to grade the first route. It was very hard, but more stamina sport route hard than normal trad hard. I thought it was more like a pumpy 7b than a trad route. I think to onsight without inspection it it could well be E7. The same for the second route. Swail reckoned it was 7c climbing. On trad gear with the crux at the top I was happy to give this E7 6b. I don’t know to be sure. I didn’t exactly head point the frig out of them, more just testing the holds and chalking  a few things up. They are 2 of the best routes in Ireland and it is incredible to climb on that wall. Thanks Pat Nolan for the photographs.

Take two. the free ascent on day 2. Photo- Pat Nolan

 

steep, thanks for the belay Dave. Photo- Pat Nolan

 

perspective on the wall of walls. the technical crux comes here. Photo- Pat Nolan

Craig Hillers Photographs

Pitch one

 

Tradding around

Since April I have been fairly busy bumbling around the UK. I’ve been working on quite a few climbing and mountaineering courses, in the UK and Northern Ireland, and also a fair bit of rope access work. In April I had a BMG Guides training course in the Lake district, and another at the start of June in North Wales. Wherever I’ve been I have managed to get some good climbing in as well.

The course in the Lake district was really cool, learning and refreshing Guiding skills and techniques from Adrian Nelhams and Stu Macaleese. Being in the lake district was great and we climbed a lot of famous and classic routes. Onsighting “trilogy” one of the testpiece classic E5’s was a big highlight. Even climbing the humble Troutdale pinnacle in the rain was a great day out, and showed what excellent guiding terrain the Lakes has to offer.

Me on the pumpy second crux of Trilogy E5

After that course I stuck around England for a bit and climbed a few days in the Peak district and then worked on an ML training for Peak Mountain Training. In the peak I thoroughly enjoyed climbing my first few routes of peak Limestone. For a few days in a row I climbed at Stoney Middleton with Katie. I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the climbing. despite the somewhat drab scenery and setting, the situation and handyness of it is amazing.  I climbed the classic Scoop wallMedussa, and then a nice selection of outstanding E4s and 5’s, Our father, Circe, Bitter fingers, Wee Doris,  Traffic Jam. Bitterfingers is amazing and I definitely thought I was off at one or two points but managed to just about keep my fingers in.

 

Irish Climbing

 

Through to the end of May I was in Ireland and had some good days up at Fairhead. Swail and I cleaned and made a second ascent of Stop Making Sense E5 6b. We took a pitch each, I did a bold first pitch, which did feel a bit contrived and Swail did the techy second. Just as I was at the most run out bit of my pitch, 7m above my last runner, cooly trying to work out the last few moves to the ledge, the one and only Ali Moles sticks his head over the top to remind me not to fall off due to the very serious position I am in, and that he remembered Eddy being scared and having a moment there. “yes thanks Ally I’m now out of my zone and totally terrified”. I found my cool again and made a bit of a jump down to the ledge he was narrating from. The top pitch was probably better but had a single stopper move that was desperately hard. In the evening I had a go in London Calling  E5 6b and got totally shut down on the steep and awkward start spending way too long in a desperate knee bar trying to recover. Then I fell out, feeling rather sick. I had the full body pump, and decided it would be better to leave it. I pulled my ropes and came back and climbed it the next day. Its well hard for E5 and I thought it might be closer to E6. It is another Mega classic hard route at the head which is perma clean, but it always scared me. And everyone else I presume. Mine being the 3rd ascent in 19 years says something. I then seconded Swail on death or glory E4.

London Calling E5,6b

 

death or glory, E4 6a

The tops of these routes finish on a big juggy flake, which is an amazing feature to hang around on at the top of such an amazing headwall.

death or glory

Un Jour Peut Etre (One Day Maybe) First Ascent. E6 6B. 110m

After these two days I had a line in mind that I was keen to clean and climb. I had seen it last year and it was on my to do list. To the left of where the wild things are there was a similarly gobsmacking groove and crackline. It was probably longer than where the wild things are and topped out at what could be the highest part of the crag. I had a few sessions (days) on the ab rope trundling and cleaning until I got bored and just decided it would be  as clean as anything else there.

loads of rope and fairhead cleaning kit

Pitch 2 6b

I don’t really know how to do the route justice. Some photographs of the 3rd pitch would be great and maybe I’l be able to go back with a photographer for that. It climbs around 110m directly up following a singular crack and groove feature. There a two distinct cruxy sections. I recruited swail for the first ascent and we climbed it in four sustained pitches. I didnt think I could physically lead every pitch, and besides it was nice to share. Swail took the first which is a 5c groove. I took the next, which I knew was going to be hard, It is 40m and I reckon it could be an e6 6b pitch. The 2nd pitch ends in a hanging belay under a huge intimidating overhang. The 3rd pitch goes through this at around e6 6b again. I took a belay at the top of this, and paul led the final 2om to the top which was still hard and worth 6a. Northern Exposure is described in the guidebook as similar to Born to run, but harder and more sustained. Un Jour Peut etre is similar Northern exposure but harder and more sustained, and longer.

Hanging belay Psyche. The Third Hanging Belay.

pulling through the second crux. The big roof.

McCuney routes. Un Jour on the left and Where the wild things are on right. S means stakes

Fairhead Meet

End of May/ start of June was the annual Fairhead meet. The weather was glorious on Friday and Saturday and there was an amazing crowd at the crag and good vibes everywhere. On Friday I climbed the Mask E5 with Brian Hall. I did the first pitch which I had never done before, and Brian flew up the crux pitch. I then watched Swail on his new route, Full of energy ready to party E5 beside the stoat, and decided I should go down and do the second ascent with Kris Mccoey. With 3 new independent pitches on the Rathlin wall it packs a punch of some spooky E5 climbing on the last pitch.

 

2nd Ascent of full of energy ready to party. E5 6a Photos, Thomas Prebble

The next day I chilled out a bit skipping around the crag talking to people, which is nice because usually there is no one else there. I then abbed down Licence to kill E4 6a and had a look at the In situ gear described in the guide. Unimpressed by the very old pegs( 28 years old) I replaced one. An old insitu hammered in wire was barely recognisable, and I didnt want to lead the route without something where it was. What was left was tiny a rotten head of metal with about 3mm of rusted wire sticking out. I couldnt get the remnants of the head out so I pre-placed the smallest micro cam I had and thought that would do. Its very bold and the crux came with the tiny cam about 4 m below my feet. If I’d fallen I dont think it would have held. I screamed for someone to pass me the ab rope as fear gripped me and I almost vibrated off the slopey hold. I didnt really want to deck out into the boulders from 30m. Thats all I was thinking. When I realized the ab rope was going to take a long time to come, I luckily managed to put my adrenalin firing brain into over drive and found a crimp and pulled an outrageous rock over move to get stood up on it. I managed, but only just. I wouldnt reccomend the route really without maybe properly replacing the hammered in nut. But someone else who loves that kind of thing might enjoy it.

licence to kill. the crux comes on the blank wall above me and moves onto the arete on the left

 

Ballygally head… 

Since working on the ropes in Belfast with long evenings, after work climbing has been primo. Only thing is the limited evening cragging venues around Belfast. Ballygally always delivers, and although the golf club w****s will undoubtedly come and give off at some point asking to you to move on, you can usually get a few routes in. Its such a shame, as its just like a handy mini fairhead coming straight out of the road.  I went up with perma psyche David lyons Ewing and we did 2 routes each. Due to a serious lack of climbing traffic the crag is quite veggie. Climbing the E1 Vindication was a bit like a vertical version of an episode of Garden force. For a second David said he thought he was belaying Alan Titchmarsh as a rain of ferns, grasses, and weeds came down on his head. I climbed the bold arete Dire Straits E3 which is the hardest route at the crag. It is bold and is protected by a very very old peg (35 years) behind a very very  very hollow and bendy block. It was quite green and greasy and the top moves were exciting. As my fingers were greasing off the “not quite as positive as I hoped” holds above the wobbly block I had visions of sliding off and pulling the crag down on top of the occasional passing vehicle, which would probably be a member of the golf club. With time pressing on as we had already been told off for being there and the threat of “the police are on their way” I pulled down hard feet high and layed one on “for God and Ulster” (since it is the season), and caught the juggy jug which, thankfully, was as good as I hoped.   I was glad to have finally climbed it. Being the hardest climb within 30mins from Belfast it has always had a lure on me. I doubt its had many repeats in its life time.

Splacking

Seeing the action from Ricky Bell, Kev and Swaily at Spellack, I was keen to get a slice of the Splack. In one week with good weather I had 3 after work sessions at Spellack. The amazing crag above trassy track is often wet, so with it mostly bone dry I made the most of it. Swail had cleaned and climbed Mad Dogs E5, another seldom repeated route(if any) with a reputation. The story of Grimers whooping great fall was a bit of good old irish climbing folklore, even if he couldnt quite remember all the details. Swail having to get get “rescued” from it a few years ago added to the rep. He finally laid it to rest, and with it chalked and in good clean condition I was raving to get on. However before I got on I wanted to re acquaint myself with Spellack style, so I climbed Mirror Mirror E4 6a.  

mirror mirror E4 6a

Mad dogs E5 6a. Photo Rene Temple

A day later I was back for mad dogs which went pretty well. The high crux is bold, but has good gear in a break. It is an amazing route, one of the best E5s in the mournes and it was awesome to be able to onsight it, apart from chalky holds. 2 days after that I was back again, with David and after he had climbed the Uber classic Warhorse I made the second ascent ground up of Pegasus E5 6b . Another outstanding route of Eddies from the early 90’s that had never been repeated. This is a 3 star E5 and Eddie made the first ascent a month after I was born, 26 years ago. In all that time, no one has climbed it. It had a savagely hard move with a peg at waist height.( I had abbed in to inspect the peg, It was short and rusty and I didnt have one that would fit to replace it, so I put it back in) This crux took a few goes, and made me bleed bearing down on crystal in a vague pocket and then making a desperately difficult high step on a very poor smear. Then follows a bold run out on granitey blankness to another peg. I was very impressed that Eddy managed to onsight the crux of this on the first ascent. It was a friend of his who had put the pegs in 26 something years ago.

bold moves on Pegasus E5. Photo Thomas Prebble

 

 

Basically Im as happy as could be climbing amazing  hard routes in Ireland that rarely or never get climbed. I think its funny that there are so few climbers around this country that these outstanding routes put up by Eddy 20 and 30 years ago have seen so little attention and so few ascents. I’m sure any of my new routes will follow a similar trend, but its all part of the fun. I think its also interesting how despite the passing of time, improvements in gear, shoes and training, (not that there is much gear, or that I do any training) these routes still hold their seriousness and are still at the very top of the hardest trad climbing. Even with all of  the higher E grades these routes are generally still at the limit of what is climbable for me without prior practice. The next generation has definitely pushed grades higher, but climbing these old routes in whatever style I can manage is still a serious proposition and a marvelously rewarding experience.

Peg talk….

Pegs are weird and I’ve been having a lot of encounters with them recently. I rested on the on the one in Eye of the tiger E4, and it snapped, dropping me a little way. So its not there any more. And I think Il go and get the one I placed on Licence to kill, back. I took it out of the eiger and it has sentimental value. I also replaced the one that was missing on Warhorse, and put in the thread, so its all good to go. Even Swail placed a peg on his route. Cant say the downward facing knife blade filled me with confidence.

Repentance. E6. 6b Hen Mountain

I’ve been home in Newry for 2 weeks busy helping my parents move house. I got out a few evenings to hen Mountain. My local. Its 20 mins drive from my parents house and features perfect granite, and a lot of wind. Yesterday I did a new route. Repentance, E6 6b? It is the really obvious line between last rights and purgatory. I stuck with the catholic/religeousy theme for the hard routes on that wall, Last rights e5, unforgiven e4, purgatory, e5… I practiced the route on a top rope, but on reflection I think its very flashable, a bit of beta could be useful though. It took me 3 sessions to work out what to do. I was making it way harder than it needed to be. I think I thought that because it had never been done it would be savagely hard and went straight into trying it on a shunt. Its not, and it is a great mystery to me why it hadn’t been done before, being one of the most accessible tors in the mournes. I don’t know why I had never tried it before, because it is so close to home.
It is super safe, with a bomber number four nut at your waist when you do the crux. However getting the nut in is very difficult. The climbing is mostly stemming strenuously between the two grooves, with a few thumb sprags and a bit of crystal pulling at the crux. Its a great bit of climbing at one of my favorite crags.

a good month smashing around in the Alps…

I finished my winter driving work at the end of February, and went onto a casual contract, meaning I only worked if I was offered it, and if I wanted to. Working depended on whether the sun was shining, or if I felt particularly broke at the time of the call. Mostly, I’ve just been sticking to the principal, of climb now. Work and everything else later.

A tiny bit of Scottish Winter

(me on magic crack Scottish VII or an amazing HVS. Photo Miles Perkin)

I went back to Scotland for a few days at the start of March for my BMG Winter climbing induction and some training. This went well and we had really good conditions. I climbed with Kevin Kilroy on Friday, and we enjoyed the Genie, Damnation and the Magic crack.

(somebody on Damnation grade VI)

1938 Route, Eiger North Face ED2

Before I left, for Scotland my friends Alasdair Fulton and Graham McGrath took advantage of a three day weather window, and dubious conditions and smashed up the North face of the Eiger. At the same time I had waded my way up to the base of the Grand Charmoz North Face, and made a call that there was too much unconsolidated snow, so waded back down again. I also had work commitments but I was very envious of their ascent, and wished I could have been with them. If there is any route in the world that I have dreamed of climbing since as far as I can remember it is the Eiger Northface. The same for a lot of climbers I guess.

(me on the Hinterstoisier Traverse.Photo John Orr)

When I was back in Scotland I eagerly scanned the forecasts, and was surprised to see what looked like a weather window at the end of the week. I talked John Orr into driving out and we got on and climbed through the weekend of the 7th, 8th and 9th of March. The climbing was hard work, and it certainly matched all my expectations and more. I don’t think it was in great condition and we were smashing a way up a lot of bullet hard ice and bold awkward sections, in particular “The Ice Bulge”. I will write up my own full report, but in short it was a dream come true to climb that mighty wall of 1800 vertical meters of choss.

(John Orr teeters across snowy slopey choss on “the traverse of the Gods”)

 

(time to put the tools away and climb with hands and look like its really fun- Exit Chimneys)

Bouldering: Medonnet and Vernayaz

After the Eiger, the weather continued to stay settled and lovely. I needed a bit of rest, and quite nicely Katie was coming out to see me. We had a nice few days chilling out, doing a bit of skiing and bouldering. Katie’s climbing really strong at the moment, and bouldered 7c+ at raven tor while I was on the Eiger. She was keen for a bit of boulder crushing. (http://katieclimbmaxwell.wordpress.com) I thought it was quite funny how we both completed our limestone projects on the same day. Katie climbed a desperately hard boulder problem in a cave under raven tor, and I climbed a massive pile of choss above Grindlewald. We are both psyched for very different things.

We bouldered at Medonnet and Vernayaz. Katie cruised some 7a’s and 7bs, as I struggled to get my ass of the ground. I did manage a brilliant 7a hanging arete thing and the 7b eventually, but I had to remind myself to pull really hard again.

 

With the weather holding out, and surprisingly still looking awesome, I needed to get back into the mountains again, so I combined forces with Graham, and we set to some smashing around.

Super Coulour. Mt Blanc Du Tacul. ED1

After leaving Katie to the airport I went for a ski down the Vallee Blanche and had a look at most of the big faces, to try and make a plan. The Super couloir on Mt Blanc du Tacul looked like it was in good shape so we decided to do that the next day. Planning on going up and coming back down on the same day, we went up on the first bin of the morning. Unfortunately 3 other teams had also planned on climbing super couloir that day and had all stayed in the cosmiques hut and started very early. By the time we got to the base there were 2 teams on the direct start, and a team on the rock start. The team on the direct start were still moving very slow, and although we really wanted to do the direct, we couldn’t really be bothered hanging around. I had my stickys and reckoned we could zoom up the rock start quite quickly and possibly get ahead of at least 1 of the teams. We were fast and moving well, and over took everyone and finished the crux pitch about 2pm. We upset one Norwegian, but his partner seemed happy enough, and could see we were definitely moving faster, and that there was space for us to climb to the side. Rapping down this route is so easy with bolted abseils every 55m. We skied all the way back to town and straight to elevation to have beer. It was a great route, and fun to climb a few pitches of E1 in the sun, and then superb steep ice, all in a very grand alpine setting. It was also how I had once dreamed of climbing this route, after reading an article about it a few years ago where some one described skiing in, climbing and skiing out down the valley blanche in the same day.

(Graham climbing the rock start. E1 In spantiks)

(overtaking)

(nicer Norwegian On the top Pitch)

(me having a super time, rapping down the super couloir. Super route+ super abseils=super time)

 

North Face of Petit Drus. Allain- Leininger. Still winter. TD

With it being so warm, and having quite enjoyed the bit of rock climbing we had done on Super couloir we decided that the original route on the North Face of the Drus could be a fun route to do in the current conditions. The drus is probably one of the most iconic mountains around, and viewed from Chamonix rises up as a 900m shard of granite. Famous for hard rock routes and enormous rockfalls, it is not an easy summit to achieve but for an aspiring alpinist it is an obvious goal. I first looked at the Drus long before I knew anything about climbing, on a hiking trip when I was 17. I remember being impressed but I don’t think I even comprehended that people climbed up its steep walls. 9 years later I was going to climb its north face in winter. Its cool how we progress.

 

A day and half after super couloir we were sliding down from the Grand Montets on approach skis to the North face of the Petit Drus. I say sliding because I definitely wasn’t skiing. With a heavy bag and heavy deep snow, I had no control over those stupid mini planks which might as well have been sellotaped to a pair of slippers. In such circumstances approach skis felt about as useful as trying to play tennis with a fish instead of a racket. I pointed them down hill, sat on my bum, and kind of turned into a human sled.

Graham brought a single skinned tent which we pitched under a massive boulder on a platform with one of the best views in the valley. I had heard about magical bivouacs here, and it didn’t let down. We sat under our objective route with a couple of terribly rolled rolly up cigarettes and enjoyed a stunning sunset and tucked into re-hydrated soya bolognaise. (real meat costs more. sorry g)

(glamorous camping thanks to force ten for giving Graham a lovely lightweight tent)

We started climbing the next morning at 4 am. Again, we felt fit and were moving well, and climbed fast and efficiently. The bottom section was all really good mixed climbing, with occasional awkward chimneys or steep cracks where we pitched.

(like a mini wintery thank god Ledge)

(fun steep Mixed with some good neve in the cracks)

Around the junction with the west face, we put our tools away, and climbed in rock shoes and bare hands. It was beautiful climbing and the cruxes were really fun. We passed a French team, who had already spent a day and one bivvi on the route. They were trying to climb dry  5b cracks with ice tools. We were able to move fast past them on hand jams and smears, sort of smiling to ourselves. Towards the top we were definitely off route a few times, but just kept boshing on.

We topped out around 2 o’clock and chilled on the summit for a short while hanging out with Madonna. Its a fairly special summit, and I can now finally say that I have climbed the big pointy one.

We made our way across to the breche and began the slightly less enjoyable descent down the drus couloir. This is basically 800m of abseiling off abolikovs, and dubious tat connecting a mish mash of lego blocks and pegs. The further you go down the more and more abseil stations you find and its quite obvious that most teams dont bother climbing to the top of the Drus couloir. It was mega dry, and the direct looked like 200m of the most amazing overhanging e4 granite corner.

(loving the abolokov situation)

Eventually we made it down to the glacier and back to our splendid bivouac spot. It was 6pm, and we were just in time for another glorious sunset and the prettiest of skies.  We had another night in the tent and adventure skied out the next morning. Due to the amount of snow on the banks of the glacier finding the Charpoua ladders was quite difficult from above. We got down to town mid afternoon and went straight to elevation and drank athletic quantities of pelforth  blonde until about 3am the next morning.

(me skiing out under the Drus on approach skis. Barely skiing)

(grahams creepy topo)

Indiana Jaune. Maladiere. 270m 6b+

The next route we went in to do was the modicca nouray, but we got shafted by the injustice and corruption of the Aiguille du midi queing situation. By the time we got up there were loads of teams on it and psyche diminished. We decided to ski down and drive to the Arve valley and climb  a route at Maladiere called Indiana Jaune. At 6b+ this route is 10 pitches long and doesn’t disappoint. After skiing in to a crowded ice route in the morning we were stoked to be climbing on a massive deserted sunny limestone crag in the afternoon in our t-shirts.

Pinocchio  Grade VI 7( whatever that means)

With the arrival of some less pleasant weather we went up and climbed Pinocchio on Mt Blanc du tacul. It was a cold and slighty Scottish day out, with the worst hot aches of the season. I thought we were going to get choppered with the amount of screaming going on. It was good fun to scratch around on some steeper mixed, on what was another dull overcast day in the valley.

Sometimes you have to ask yourself, Where would Stevie Haston go?

Sometimes you have to ask yourself, Where would Stevie Haston go?

Image

Mt Dolent Traverse solo. Via Charlet route (TD) And south face Descent. With a flippin heavy bag.

Another spell of good weather came and with no readily available partners I had a little idea for a solo mission. Seen as distinct pyramid, far away from the familiar peaks of the Verte, Chardonnet and the Droites, Mt Dolent (3749m) stands proud at the end of the Argentiere basin.  As a beautiful peak, joining the boarders of France, Switzerland and Italy, I decided wanted to climb it. With an excellent and rarely climbed north face route and a classicly good skiable normal route on the south side it, a traverse sounded like a grand adventure. With no schedule and friends to meet at the lift, I can’t say I found it very easy to get out of bed that morning. Digging deep into my pockets of motivation I eventually got round to catching a grand Montets bin at about 9.30. The skin up the back of the Basin was hard work and I was breaking trail through knee deep snow all the way.Image

(lonely skin up to the back of the Glacier)

I got to the final slope below the berchsgrund about 1 pm. Crossing was a nuisance, and spooky business. I finally managed to cross on the very right hand side, and got my tools into some decent neve. The route follows some cool little chimneys and grooves in the middle of the face which are hard to see until you are in them. Thankfully the neve was really good, and the climbing was fun. The face had a lot of snow on it, and from the approach I concluded that it probably didn’t matter where I climbed. I soon discovered that a lot of the snow was covering fairly dry and blank mixed ground. I got myself a bit too high up on a section of this. I could see the Neve filled groove I needed to be in to my left, but I had climbed up into an area of buried blank slabs. I got a bit scared, as I wasn’t sure if I could down climb what I had come up and I couldn’t find any gear to lower off. I settled myself and, after scraping around, managed to dig out two little thumb sized flakes of rock. I equalized them with some slings and lowered myself hand over hand back down to where I could swing left into the “thonka” neve ice. As I climbed past my equalized thumb rocks I flicked the slings off and carried on happily. The top section was mostly hard black ice, and quite relentless. I followed what I thought might be the bash marks of some other climbers and smashed on and on.

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(looking down. while resting my tired calves on a belay)

 

 

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At the top of the face, you reach a col, where it is common to abseil back down the face. The final section of the north ridge to the summit is quite long, and still quite difficult. It was a relief to reach the summit, and know that soon I would be sliding down soft snow, instead pounding blunt tools into hard ice with a massive bag with skis strapped to it.

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I enjoyed putting first tracks into the descent and sought out the fiorio Bivouac hut. I still probably had time to ski out, but finding a lift from the road head to Courmayeur, and then through the tunnel was looking unlikely, so I decided to spend the night in the hut. It’s a lovely hut, however there was no bonus food so I had a hungry night. The next day I skied out of Val feret, hitched to Palud, then took the Helbronner lift back up and skied down the Vallee blanche. It was a grand adventure. If I was to do much more of this type of thing, I would definitely get some much lighter skis, and a light weight rope. Instead I hauled a pair black diamond verdicts (really usefully 110 underfoot) and a 60 dmm prophet.

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(my novelty topo, shows the berchsgrund adventures, poopy pants moment and summit joy. The route is 700m to the col I think, and in reality dwarfs the buttress on the right.)

Aiguille du Tour Noir. AD 

John Orr came over for a visit, and was keen to do a good day tour on skis and get a peak climbed. Dave Chapman joined us for the banter. We skied to the col du tour noir, and climbed the south ridge on the Aiguille du tour noir. It would seem this is quite an elusive peak, and another rarely climbed route. It was quite good fun, with reasonably involved climbing for the grade.

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Legarde Direct. North Face of Les Droites. TD

I had a full body crash the day after this after over week of daily activities, and needed a lie in. The following day Rory was keen to do something before his season came to an end. I Suggested a rock route up high somewhere. That evening one beer turned to six and the following morning admittedly I wasn’t very “on it”.  I arrived at the midi, and realized I had forgotten my lift pass. Rory thought it was an April fool. Driving back to get it we decided it was maybe a bit to cloudy for rock climbing up high, and thought about then zooming up to the courtes and doing the swiss route. On the approach to this, Rory suggested the Legarde couloir on the North Face of the Droites. I have done the Swiss route but not the Legarde. I can’t say I really wanted to climb the Legarde couloir. Having already climbed the North East Spur Direct, and the Ginat/Jackson on the Droites the Legarde wasn’t really on my radar. But the idea of doing the Swiss route again wasn’t really filling me with psyche either. It was at this stage quite late in the day, and the legarde is a long route. We watched another team disappear over the steep ice into the upper wide couloir and thought that if they were starting this late, then we probably could too. After all we were fit, fast, acclimatized and could probably catch up with them. Little did we know it was Ueli steck and Colin haley. We committed to the idea, and made our way up to the start. It was 12 nooncrossing the berchsgrund. We stood at the top at 4pm. Not bad for Rorys first Grand course. The start has about 200m of excellent steep ice, and the rest is mostly a slog up a wide and easy couloir. Despite that, the rock architecture is stunning, and it takes you right to the summit. We passed Ueli and Colin down climbing back the same way. That was also our plan, but on reaching the summit we, weren’t actually that keen on down climbing. There were a few tricky bits, and the idea of abseiling down the south side seemed easier. The problem was our skis were at the berchsgrund and we were in ski boots. We had a long walk all the way down the telefre, mer de glace, and montenvers back to Chamonix in ski boots. We made it back to town at 10 pm. Still all that was better than climbing a big route with skis on our backs. Right?

North Face of the Grand Charmoz ED1

My final route to seal the deal of a pretty damn good season was the North Face of the Grandes Charmoz. I had wanted to climb this all season, since I read about Jon and Ally climbing it in December. Dave Searle was up for it. We met up and had a chat about tactics, and decided to go for it in a day from the first lift. We got the first lift up to the midi plan and skinned across to the col du bouche. From here we ditched our skis and went up, over, down, and around to the North Face of the Charmoz. We moved together through runnels of ice and neve all the way up the face, apart from an awkard chimney pitch in the middle.

(awkward chimney pitch. Photo Dave Searle)

After the large snow field we climbed four superb 60 m pitches of mixed which deposited us on the summit. The descent down the Nantillions glacier went smoothly and we were back to our skis around 6pm. We skied through the sun baked slush for as long as we could and then walked. I made it back to town without having to get my headtorch out, and we went straight to midnight express and had burgers. It was another superb day in the mountains, taking in a huge north face route in good style with good company. Daves report is (http://davesearle.me/2014/04/07/grande-charmoz-north-face-a-day-to-remember/)Image

(at the end of the large central snowfield with Aiguille du republique on the left)

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(0n the mixed ground towards the top)

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I have really enjoyed my winter season in Chamonix and over the past 4/5 weeks with generally good weather and free time I have been able to climb some really amazing routes. It was nice to be climbing these routes, just for the love of the mountains, not because I was chasing routes for an application form any more.

I have been writing this on the long 17 hour ferry from Cherbourg to Dublin. I had a swim in the sea at Omaha beach and I’m looking forward to summer time. I also visited some good friends in Strasbourg on my way, and spent a day not talking about climbing. That was nice too. I’m looking forward to Irish trad climbing and I’ve been thinking about a few routes and projects. Alpinism is great but it doesn’t do much for your rock climbing. After a full winter of skiing and loads of mountaineering in big boots i feel like I have tree trunk legs. Better start off with some slabs…

tree trunk legs

 

an ice climb, an alpine classic, and some sketchy extreme skiing….

I’ve been out in Chamonix for the last wee while. I haven’t been blogging because I haven’t really been doing anything very interesting. Before I came out here I was doing some rope access work on Gatwick airport which was MAJORLY crap. It pretty much made my decision to get out of the UK for the winter, which seems like it was a good call seeing the storm reports from home. I came back to Chamonix to drive buses for mountain drop offs, but mainly for the 3 days off per week to ski and climb. The weather here hasn’t been amazing, lots of unsettled grey days, and nobody seems to think climbing conditions in the mountains are up to much. So for most of the time its been skiing on days off, or messing around at some dry tooling crags, laughing at how crap, weird and terrifying I find it. I also had my BMG avalanche course and ski induction in La grave back in January. It was nice to ski La Grave and see a whole new area of the Alps. The Avalanche course was interesting and we all learnt how to dig very scientific neat snow profiles and analyse the snow pack, with rulers and stuff.

1. An Ice climb

Last week I went to Cogne to have a go at Repentance Super. This is possibly THE line of Cogne. Its a superbly obvious straight up and very steep frozen waterfall. As a bench mark WI 6 its not a push over but since climbing Nuit Blanche (WI 6) 2 years ago this seemed like the next logical objective. I doubt I climb WI 6 and both were probably more like WI 5 condition, but its still a head game and exposed pumpy stuff up there. I went with GInj (Ginger graham McGrath) and Ally fulton. Ally Swinton told us to leave chamonix at 3.30 am to be first on the route. We all thought he was being a twat with an outrageous suggestion like that. We left at 5 and just made it to the route before the crowds gathered. Thanks for prompting us to leave early Ally. We took a pitch each, with me taking the last up an incredibly exposed pillar. What a position. We had quite an banter-full day which climbing as a 3 usually provides. Despite being first on the route and breaking trail to the base, a french guide and 2 ladies kindly cut in ahead of us from the left sending down a rain of ice chunks and shoulder bashers. I swore lots, and hoped all the farts coming out of my ass were wafting up and making their day unpleasant. In the end, when all 6 of us were squashed on the penultimate belay I took it all back (not the farts) and was quite happy to let them go first and use his hooks.

2. An Alpine Classic

The next day the weather looked good for the second day in a row which was quite something in this season of quite silly weather. So maybe it was good to try something in the mountains. Rory and I went up the Rebuffat- Terray (Carrington- Rouse) route on Aiguille de Pelerins. As can be predicted, first lifts never go when you need them to, and after waiting at the midi from 8.00 we finally got up to the midi plan at 9.30. Not to be put off we slogged through deep snow for 2 hours to reach the base of the route. We skinned in. Walking would have been impossible. The last 10 m from where we ditched our skis to crossing the shrund took about 20mins wading up 50 degree chest deep shite (also known as powder wooooo pow pow in Descent). However once on route we found the most perfect neve and were able to scuttle upwards out of the way of looming seracs that threaten the start. The route thereafter was great fun, with lovely neve, thin ice, and dry rock. We mostly moved together, clipping all the belays. After a final “techy” 60 m pitch on progressively dryer rock, we thought about rapping off while it was still light. We discussed our options. We were still in the fun phase of this climb. The next pitch looked climbable, but definitely not the easy ice covered slabs described in guidebook. It would be time consuming. There were a few more pitches. We discussed our options.  I said I didn’t mind climbing on, but equally Id be just as happy to go down and eat burgers. Rory agreed, and we could hear the burgers calling from the town below. We also both had to be back to collect van keys for work the next day. So down we went, to enjoy a good deep ski out and were back in town in good time without having to get out head torches. It was great to get out and do/mostly do something in the mountains. IMG_0277

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3. Some sketchy extreme skiing.

I enjoy skiing but I don’t think its my raison d’etre. With skiing seeming to be the in thing to be doing (it is winter after all) I have been doing quite a lot of skiing. I’ve had some great runs through the trees “hucking” off various lumps, and some swweet laps down vb, grand envers,  helbronner and paddy chev. I’ve also been dabbling with some of the steeper things. I had a rather unfortunate avalanche ride down under the helbronner cables at the start of the season which definitely shook me up a bit, and Ive been a bit tetchy on stuff since. Don’t get in the way of cool dude pro skiers who do half hour laps, and have no regard for anyone who might be underneath them. Actually don’t even bother being there unless you charge half hour laps. dude!  But thats a whole other rant…

I’ve done the e.n.s.a. a few times, which is a very beautiful couloir under the Brevent. We also skied the Rectilgne couloir next to the pas de chevre, which was narrow and yuck at the top, then lovely.

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The last two days I did some classic ski descents that I’ve wanted to do for a while. The cosmiques couloir and the Glacier Rond. Ginj, Rory and I skied the Cosmiques yesterday. After one abseil at the top you gain a massive 40-50 degree 800m couloir. With good snow it was an incredible descent. Amazing skiing with a serious feel, as a bad fall would probably involve not stopping to the bossons glacier. We traversed out from the bossons onto the paraface? This provided open deep untracked powdery stuff, prompting whoopage! whoooo! We finally got to the mt blanc tunnel entrance after some serious bush whacking.  At the tunnel carpark those really freeking awesome pro skiers came down behind us, and basically told us we were shit, because they do half hour laps man. Those guys are so great. We went back up and had a cruise down the Grand Envers. SONY DSC

SONY DSCToday after a slow start myself and Grahm went up and skied the Glacier Rond. We were going to go for a tour, but seeing the queue for the lift at Flegere we thought we’d just go up and do the rond. It wasn’t as nice a day as yesterday, but we thought the snow would still be OK. It must have been very windy up there last night, for it was a very hard pack glacier rond. The glacier Rond is technically an easier ski than the Cosmiques, but it is a hanging glacier ending in a huge ice cliff. Its a no fall zone, and today a fall would probably have been very bad. We Carefully side slipped/stepped the worst parts with ice axes in. Heading out into the middle we found some softer stuff and managed a few turns. Once on the shoulder where you ski down the gully on the left the snow was much better and it was actually a nice ski. It was definitely type 2 fun. I don’t think I like side slipping steep hard pack above a huge cliff. It felt like quite an adventure.

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I’ve now got one more week of full time driving, and then I’m on a casual contract so I have more time to do some more stuff. Hopefully some settled weather is on the way.