Wednesday, 17 May 2017

It ain't over till the Fat Lady Sings

This month's summery weather was preceded by one of the coldest blasts of air of this entire Winter. Spotting this on the forecast at the end of April, my inner winter climber was immediately excited, so I text Sean the forecast and before we knew it we were standing shivering outside the CIC hut wondering what the hell we were doing

Sean Henderson starting up the Gargoyle Flake in atypical late April conditions.

Gargoyle Wall had been high on our ambitions for this Winter but due to the fickle conditions had yet eluded us and we'd resigned ourselves to not climbing it this year. However here we found ourselves on the awkward approach from the CIC in a howling gale, clagged in, snow dumping down, tripping over screes, with a solitary snow bunting trailing us all the way upwards from the hut. We continued up round the crag base in awe of its steepness and in search of the obvious Gargoyle Flake. It was only whilst gearing up that we both admitted that we were keen on turning back at the hut; can't admit defeat before the other though can you!

Sean isn't flicking the yellow rope I promise; an idea of the day's conditions.

Sean made easy progress up and along the flake before stopping dead in his tracks. With dubious protection for the initial committing move, besides the flake as a natural runner, once he stepped down off the flake and made for the steep cracked groove above, there was no turning back. A thin hook low on the right, some commitment onto some good but small mono edges and big reach up and left saw him committed into the cracked groove. This in turn seemed to coincide with the worst of the weather and I was worried at points that Sean would be blown off the wall by the worst of the gusts; meanwhile I hunkered shivering at the belay wondering why we weren't sport climbing. Nonetheless, Sean kept a steady head and made progress between the squalls before sizing up the chockstone above. This provided the best climbing of the pitch, with a superb dropped knee out left allowing you to span up and over before easier climbing led to the belay above. A solid lead in testing conditions (and a solid belay also in testing conditions I might add).

Sean committed into the cracked groove on P1, in-between the heavy squalls, No.3 Gully Buttress in stonking nick - fortune favours the midweek slackers.

I ran a very short connecting pitch up and right along the gangway which pops you out at the platform beneath the shattered corner, giving view to the Gargoyle Wall Cracks looming ominously above. I belayed here and Sean kindly allowed me to continue leading from there. With the Cracks now in sight my excitement was bubbling, so I quickly ran on up the shattered corner before being stopped hard and fast by the gales and upward blizzard. I hung around with my eyes tightly shut waiting on it abating only to hear Sean shout up that it might be a good idea to come back down. I unfortunately couldn't argue with this and down climbed to the belay. Here we hunkered for around 15-20 minutes laughing that the most full on day of the Winter was nearly in May! I think Sean at this point was pretty cold and contemplating the sensibility of an ab off, however I was too psyched to not give the Cracks a bash now I'd seen them - I knew I just needed a 15 minute lull and that would be my opportunity. 

Sean doing battle with the infamous Gargoyle Wall Cracks in some pretty full on conditions.

That opportunity arrived and I was soon fully engaged with the infamous Gargoyle Wall Cracks at last. I knew that I had to make rapid progress up them before the next squall arrived, as climbing the Cracks without goggles would have been impossible. I shot on up immersed by the steepness yet buoyed by the positive crampon edges and secure hooks. I was loving every move and felt super comfortable so didn't waste much time fumbling in gear with the squalls in mind. Each move up the Cracks just flows and every hook and crampon edge was as good as the last. Before I knew it I was pulling over onto the belay platform above, hooting as I lunged over! It was great to get that fleeting feeling of mastery which all climber's chase for what must have been a fleeting 15 minutes, something it seems you sacrifice so much energy, time and commitment chasing. 

For a brief ten seconds blue skies shone down on us; Sean dispatching the final pitch in good style.
Sean followed on up just as the next squall arrived and admitted that he was quite glad that I'd led on through as he didn't reckon he'd have been able to lead it quite so quickly. It was nice to hear this as Sean is definitely the rope gun between the pair of us. Eager to get ourselves off the crag, Sean made quick work of the final chimney crack in more testing conditions, before finishing easily on up the ramp to the plateau.

Well chuffed on top!
In typical Scottish fashion the clouds lifted and winds died to mark our arrival on the plateau, providing us with atmospheric views down Ardgour and out towards Glenfinnan. It felt pretty special to have the entire North Face of Ben Nevis and the plateau to ourselves that day. More so because of the amount of effort put in and doubt overcome in what were pretty full on conditions. It will also be our last Winter trip for a couple years as Mr Porky is off to the Alps on a sabbatical come the end of May.

Brilliant light over The Mamores and Glencoe hills on the descent.

We returned to Sean's van elated to get such a great route done when the Winter was meant to be all but over. We slept easy that night with stinging faces and eyes like slits. 

The next day we felt pretty tired mentally and physically, so settled on a big mountaineering day up Tower Ridge instead of forging another route up Number Three Gully Buttress. This proved to be a good shout as the warm front had arrived earlier than forecast and things weren't properly frozen until around 1200m. Tower Ridge was another route we had both really wanted to get done this Winter in primo conditions. In the end we settled for it under powder but were glad to find some helpful neve across the Eastern Traverse and final slopes out of Tower Gap. It's been a while since I've been along it in Summer so couldn't quite remember all the intricacies of navigating the towers but it went without stress moving together the bulk of the way, despite Sean realising that he'd lost a crampon at one point.... 

Sean on the Eastern Traverse, Tower Ridge; thankful for some half decent neve.

Our day on Gargoyle Wall I think is perfectly summed up in Simon Richardson's new book, 'Chasing the Ephemeral':

"The trick with mountaineering is never give up until you absolutely have to."

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Costa del Sneck

The last week of January could have quite easily passed as April/May in Scotland, brilliant blue skies, that tempting warmth from the sun and dry rock all round. Winter this year in Scotland has been a pretty strange one, although as I write it is once again rearing its head. So with a real lack of Winter in the hills and with time off, myself and Sean headed North to Inverness to check out the sport climbing around the area. 

Moy crag.

We stopped first at Moy which provides some superb, well equipped, longer routes on conglomerate with a sunny Southerly aspect - what more could you ask for in January?! We warmed up on Holly Tree Groove, a pleasant 6a along to the left end of the crag, before moving back right to Herring Wall. Here we climbed Fighting off the Vultures 6a+ as well as Pebbledash 6b. It was clear my head was out of the 'falling' game and my arms severely lacking any power endurance, I will blame TCA!

Me 'Fighting off the Vultures'. Credit Sean Henderson.

Moy crag outlook.

We dossed that night along at Golspie down the single track to Littleferry in Sean's van. Some good food, a fire and beer to round off the day.

Me on 'Ground Clearance'. Credit Sean Henderson.
Next day we checked out Creag Bheag, but it was pretty seepy unfortunately, despite the dry weather. So we headed for Silver Rock instead which sits prominently up on the hill side above Golspie. The climbs here are conglomerate again but generally shorter, steeper and quite punchy! We warmed up on the longer Ag Rippa which provided a lichenous 6b+, both of us taking two goes after clearing the vital foothold at the crux overlap. We then went straight onto Ground Clearance which is a super steep but excellently juggy 6c. Unfortunately for me my arms and day light were giving out so it's one I will have to come back for but Sean sent it in good style.

We parked up that night near Loch Achilty as I had to get the train home the following day for work. We found another great spot with endless amounts of dry silver birch wood for a fire - happy days.

We actually managed to start climbing the next day before 10am, committment. We concentrated on the Big Flat Wall at Moy which looks to be best at the crag. I'd failed right at the top of Little Teaser the other day so that was on my cross hairs. Its a superb 6b+ which packs a punch right at the top! Some steady 6a climbing sees you three clips from the top before some cruxy moves take their toll, leaving you with an all out sprint for the chains! 

Sean on Little Teaser - he made it in a oner, just!

For me lacking any power endurance at all this was a proper pump fest at the top with the route being 20m in length. I got spat off three times at the top, forearms solid and began doubting if I'd get it that day. One more shot after a long rest saw me shaking out my right hand up at the chains going for the final jug and clip - made it! Some stamina at Ratho is clearly required for the approaching Spring!

Sunset at Moy. Credit Sean Henderson.

Sean was really on it, managing to tick a tough looking Cloak and Dagger 6c+ before scooting up The Dark Side 6c to round off the day.

Munro Bagging

For the first weekend of the month myself and Sara stayed up near Aberfeldy at wee place called Camserney. The cozy cottage sported a log burner and was ideally placed for accessing the Ben Lawers hills along Loch Tay. There was a rather pessimistic forecast on the Saturday but it proved to be very wrong. We headed on up to Meall nan Tarmachan after a lazy start and big breakfast!

Ben Lawers resplendent in the January?! sunshine. Credit Sara Cockburn.

Sara managed to catch a fog bow! Credit Sara Cockburn.

From Meall nan Tarmachan looking to Meall Garbh. Credit Sara Cockburn.

The atmospheric ridge off Meall Garbh. Credit Sara Cockburn.
The next day the pessimistic forecast unfortunately proved more accurate and we were greeted with low clouds and drizzle up at the Ben Lawers car park. Not deterred, we Gore-Tex'd up and began the plod up onto the first top of the day Beinn Ghlas before heading round onto Ben Lawers for lunch. Afterwards we made a quick descent via Coire Odhar. 

Ben Lawers is up there somewhere - I promise! Credit Sara Cockburn.
The following weekend of the 14th January Winter had made a full return and in good style. With a bluebird day forecast and fair amount of new wind blown powder snow, we both decided an ascent of Schiehallion would be a good way to spend Saturday. 

From Schiehallion looking out West over Rannoch Moor with the Buachaille visible. Credit Sara Cockburn.
Credit Sara Cockburn.

Descending in a bittingly cold breeze! Credit Sara Cockburn.

Light beginning to fade after another good day. Credit Sara Cockburn.

Sastrugi art. Credit Sara Cockburn.
Myself and Sara were then treated on Friday 20th January to one of the most spectacular days I've had in the Scottish hills. We headed for the Bridge of Orchy hills, Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh. I will let Sara's photos speak for themselves.... 

A morning view.

Credit Sara Cockburn.

Looking to Stob Ghabar with the Ben in the distance. Credit Sara Cockburn.

Ben More, Ben Lomond, Arrochar hills and Ben Lui. Credit Sara Cockburn.

Fading light from Beinn an Dothaidh. Credit Sara Cockburn.

Sunset with Ben Cruachan. Credit Sara Cockburn.

Sara glad to have picked a good day off work!

The end of a special day in the Scottish hills. Credit Sara Cockburn.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Hoarmaster, Coire an Lochain

60 mph winds in the morning and 90 mph winds in the evening - just enough time to squeeze a route in in the Northern Corries! 

Myself and Sean headed back on up the A9 on Thursday 12th to try and squeeze another route out of what's appearing to be a particularly fickle Winter. The colder periods have all lasted merely a handful of days and have been proceeded by turbo thaws which have generally stripped everything off the cliffs. This has left the Scottish hills in a particularly lean state for this time of year. One silver lining however has been that the distinct lack of snow has left most turf and rock exposed to the cooling winds when Winter has made its fleeting appearances. Due to this the likes of Coire an Lochain has come back into condition quickly after an icy blast of air. 

A pretty lean Lochain, but in good 'favourable' conditions for harder mixed climbing. The Hoarmaster takes the obvious square cut chimney lower down on the right, before finishing up the narrow chimney directly above.
We left the ski centre car park that morning initially with the idea of heading into Sneachda. We were expecting a fair amount of fresh snow from the previous night which fell on north-westerly winds to whiten things up yet leave the crag aprons safe enough to approach. It appeared however that the 90 mph winds that night had simply vaporized everything off of the Sneachda cliffs leaving them in a depressingly black state. We had managed to catch a brief glimpse through the clouds of the Lochain cliffs which looked whiter, so we changed plans and plodded back in there.

Thankfully we were duly rewarded once we arrived. No.2 and No.3 buttresses were in pretty favorable (easy) condition for harder mixed climbing with light rime ice and mostly dry cracks. We had been considering a shot on The Hoarmaster this Winter, although were concerned with its reputation of developing significant accumulations of rime ice, particularly on the top pitch. After inspecting the line that morning however, it was clear that if we did not climb it that day then we had bottled it!

The initial moves into the chimney are probably the crux of the pitch (picture credit Sean Henderson).
Soon I was gearing up on the starting ledge which was shielding us nicely from the westerly winds. From here you step up and mantle onto the bigger ledge above, popping out immediately beneath the superb square cut chimney which defines the first pitch. I placed a solid nut low down on the right at the entrance to the chimney before stepping up on some decent ledges. I managed to get a good hook at the start of the crack on the right-hand side and began reaching up and left, eventually settling on what felt like a pretty solid slight torque at the base of the left-hand crack line. From here I slotted in a cam at chest height then just relaxed slightly....I was off!

Gaining the big hooks at the back of the chimney; you can't fall out of these! (picture credit Sean Henderson).

Before I knew it I was on the rope with my feet back on the turfy ledge below. Seriously surprised to have popped off but even more seriously pissed at carelessly blowing the onsight, I calmed my thoughts for a couple minutes before getting back on. This time I remained focused and kept myself tight while moving off the left-hand torque, no problems second time round. This allowed me to gain a hero hook higher up on the right which I confidently yanked up on. Once in the chimney proper the climbing was truly superb, another hero hook followed and it was simply a case of locking off and reaching for the next one again and again. You cannot beat steep secure well protected climbing like that!

Some classic back and footing action up the chimney (picture credit Sean Henderson).
Before turning right out of the chimney you are afforded a proper back and foot rest, although the climbing didn't feel pumpy due to the secure nature of it. Some moves up the wall on the right lead you to a slightly awkward mantle up onto a boulder ledge which is best tackled with an elegant dive and belly flop! This brings you to the insitu belay (second insitu station, not the first). Sean followed on up in good style, managing to avoid the hot aches too! 

Sean pulling out of the chimney after following on up the first pitch.
Sean chased on up the second pitch mindful of the forecasted gales that evening. The second pitch was whiter still and the cracks a bit icy. It follows the continuation of the chimney with interspersed bulges to contend with, before finishing up a tight wee slot right at the top (we'd recommend to avoid the slab on the left). There's no show stoppers in the pitch as long as you can dig out the protection required before each bulge. 

Myself within the final wee squeeze before topping out (picture credit Sean Henderson).
Back on the plateau we were both really chuffed with the line, myself still annoyed to have blown the onsight due to carelessness though. It is a really great wee route with super fun moves - I enjoyed it more than Savage Slit. The first pitch is very safe as long as the cracks are clear and dry; if in that state it's a good one to jump on for your first VI. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Chasing the Winter in Coire an Lochain

Winter made a bit of a return on the back of some strong North-Westerly winds just after New Year, thawing again on the 3rd before refreezing overnight and into the 4th. So myself and Sean desperate to get back out again made the early morning drive from Glasgow bound for Cairngorm Ski Centre with the intention of heading into Lochain on the 4th of January.

We were keen to head for Deep Throat but weren't so sure North-Easterly aspects would be white enough after the thaw the day prior. We figured North-Westerly aspects would still be good thanks to the strong overnight winds and cold temperatures. Upon arriving into Lochain we noted that there were already around five or six teams underneath Savage Slit waiting about before eventually dispersing. We therefore figured things probably weren't so wintery round the corner of No.4 Buttress and what was white would now be queued out. There was nobody in the area of No.2 Buttress which was the whitest cliff in the Coire so we headed on up there before settling on the line of Central Crack Route which appeared the most defined line on the broken buttress.

Only one picture today; wasn't a photogenic day! Sean just below the plateau in a howling gale and severe windchill.
Once up high we could now see round to Savage Slit which looked probably just cosmetically white enough although we were surprised to see that routes left of Bulgy were all still most definitely wintery. Surprisingly too all teams had walked past these routes heading elsewhere. Nonetheless Sean started on up Central Crack Route, the central line on the buttress which goes at IV 5 **. The rock was all seriously well verglassed making the initial move off the deck quite awkward and insecure. With a bit of grunting followed by a bout of hot aches Sean peddled on up to the short chimney above. A bit of a grovel with the rucksack ensued before he ran up the easy ground above. 

Cold at the belay thanks to the -6 deg C temperature I elected to keep my thick belay gloves on for seconding. This proved to be a mistake as they slid off the verglassed flake which I yanked on to get me off the deck. I unfortunately slumped onto the rope with my feet just about back on terra firma! After warming myself up properly before having another go things went fine next time round, using metal instead of gloved hands on the verglassed rock! 

We switched gear at the belay then I romped on up the stepped easy ground above which traverses up and left, before finishing up broken ground left of the square-cut wall at the top. I paused for a look at The Crack, of which there is a brilliant picture in the SMC Cairngorms guidebook, and was impressed with the look of the line. Definitely one to come back for in less verglassed conditions!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

A Few Days in the Coe

Buoyed by the excellent forecast and continuing wintery conditions at the tail end of November, myself and Sean jumped in his van and headed North to Glen Coe. It was a beautiful drive up the road with lovely moonlit views down Loch Lomond and a stunning sunrise over Rannoch Moor. Our plan was to head on up high to Stob Coire nan Lochan with a few candidate routes in mind. The steep plod on up to the corrie felt steady enough, but maybe we were just slow! Upon arriving in the corrie it quickly became apparent that our hand was going to be forced with regard to route choice. The bulk over the corrie had snowy ledges but the rock itself was black, with exception of a small area on the Summit Buttress. It seemed that the wide gully which Scabbard Chimney finishes up had been funneling spin-drift down the cliffs below and these were all subsequently reasonably plastered. So Scabbard Chimney it was!

Walking in up the steep approach to Stob Coire nan Lochan, (photo credit Sean Henderson).
Sean won the game of rock, paper, scissors so geared up for the first pitch. This was not before greeting about some slight hot aches though! Firemen are obviously pretty soft these days it would seem. We elected to run it in two big pitches and this worked well. Sean got a brilliant slabby-corner first pitch with continuous interest and some fairly solid tech 6 moves. 

The slabs on the first pitch were thinly iced which made it great fun to climb. The first cruxy section required steady arms while pulling on some thin hooks on the wall out left, meanwhile teetering the monos on up the thin ice. Sean dispatched this in good style and continued to move on up towards the chimney proper. This led to some more traditional thrutchy moves which then popped you out at the peg belay beneath the traditional crux of the route. There really wasn't much let up in this pitch and I would highly recommend running the first two pitches. 

The perfect line of Scabbard Chimney, (photo credit Sean Henderson).
I arrived on up at the peg belay which can be backed up easy enough in early season conditions and swapped gear with Sean. I eyed up the crux which was straight off the belay and looked pretty exciting. Initially you move on up right over the hanging slab to reach the corner crack. The corner crack is littered with old pegs if you are of that persuasion, but it provides some train stopper nuts. Some sinker hooks fill you with confidence to move on up, while there are small positive edges for your crampons out on the slab. These moves were climbed with a beaming smile and were thoroughly enjoyable - good steep, well protected, positive climbing.

Sean on the excellent long first pitch of Scabbard Chimney.
A slight overlap in the slab is then reached where the corner crack opens out to a fist crack. The straight-forward hooks in the back of the crack thus dried up so some improvisation was required. I buried the shaft of my axe inside the crack and laid away off it. This felt solid at first until I started fiddling in a cam at which point the tool jumped on out slightly causing a sharp intake of breath and hasty readjustment! A further tool was then stuffed into the crack which seemed to jam the initial one in place. I finished sorting out the cam and made the final move off the slab up onto the easier ground above.

From here you can clip the abseil tat and just romp on up the easier mixed ground bearing slightly to the right, this was unfortunately an unconsolidated swim on the day. You then pop out at the insitu belay around the small pinnacles which sit at the foot of the final wide gully which finishes up left through the buttress. From here you can easily move down to the abseil tat on the other side of the gully.

It was a good route with both pitches feeling about the same grade on the day. The first more tenuous and sustained, while the second was just a bit more punchy but short lived. It had ample gear throughout and felt pretty safe on the day. We returned on down to the Clachaig for pints and scran to top off a great day.

A good end to a good day. Back down at the Clachaig, (photo credit Sean Henderson).
We decided due to a lot of the rock being pretty black that we would head back on up to Summit buttress again as we knew the few routes that were there were all still white. We elected for Spectre which sits one route over to the right of Scabbard Chimney and follows another right facing corner-groove line. 

A wintery Stob Coire nan Lochan, Scabbard Chimney the line directly above myself and Spectre just to its right, (photo credit Sean Henderson).

Sean took the first pitch again and again landed the peachy pitch! After an initial wade up into the corner Sean eventually reached and large bulge which you could kneel under and place gear. The bulge proved to be the crux of the pitch and featured some great moves. A good placement above left of the bulge and some really small feet out on the left wall, allowed a big span up and right to get a pretty tenuous hook. You then had to move onto this and bring your right foot over to chip a small placement in the thin ice which you had to trust and stand up on. After this some good turf placements led up into easier ground and to the belay.

Beautiful sunset looking over the Aonach Eagach to the Ben.
I got the second pitch again which looked pretty nice, up a defined right facing corner. The crux was quite early on and featured what felt like some pretty insecure climbing up the defined corner. The back of the corner was covered with useless ice which once cleared provided a shattered but seamless corner. Good gear and good hooks were in short supply but after installing a cluster of gear I committed on up on some decent feet. The insecure climbing continued further, but the insecurity may just have been exaggerated in my head by the lack of bombproof gear. I eventually fumbled my way up the pitch which I didn't overly enjoy and eventually reached the tat at the foot of the same gully as the day before. I think this climb would benefit from a build up of ice although it could become pretty bold.

Sunrise over Rannoch Moor (photo credit Sara).
We knicked the couple of routes just in time before the thaw set in. Nevertheless, myself and Sara returned back up over the weekend while the hills were still looking bonnie in their Winter garb. We drove North from Glasgow early on the Saturday morning with the idea of getting some good sun rise pictures of the Glen that morning. It was cloudy and driech in Glasgow but we persisted and headed on up. 

Buachaille Etive Mor from Glen Etive (photo credit Sara).
Thankfully we were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise over Rannoch Moor which Sara got some great snaps of. Afterwards we headed on up to get the calendar shot of the Buachaille Etive Mor at the entrance to Glen Etive. From there we then headed on down to Loch Etive which was partially frozen and got some great views down to Ben Cruachan. The deer were out in force too providing some tourist photo shoot opportunities. 

Deer posing in Glen Etive (photo credit Sara).
A stop at the Glencoe Cafe was in order to heat back up with a bowl of soup and scone. Once finished this we plodded on up the slopes of Stob Beinn a' Chrulaiste opposite the Buachaille to take in the sunset out West. The colours were magnificent and I was happy Sara got to see the Glen on a bluebird day - hard to get for those unlucky sods working the 9-5pm! 

The end of a good day (photo credit Sara).

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Trad Highlights 2016

Summer 2016 was typically Scottish; we had an excellent Spring with sunshine and temperatures in the high twenties for what seemed like weeks at a time. The Summer monsoon arrived in earnest come June and it really didn't dry up till Autumn when we were blessed with an Indian Summer. 

Gary Latter contemplating the small roof to finish his new line at Creag Dubh.
I managed to have a really productive Spring as you have to in Scotland, kicking off the season in early March with a trip up to Creag Dubh with Gary Latter and Scott G. We both followed Gary up a new E3 6a on the Great Wall, both struggling with the bouldery start!

Sunset at Goat Crag.
A great couple of days in mid March were had with Scott G where we took in the fantastic Goat Crag at Gruinard before heading on up to Reiff for a day at Seal Song Area. It was a beautiful couple of days and some of the best of the year for me. Still early enough in the year for those magic pastel sunsets. The highlight of the trip being The Executioner E2 5c at Reiff. This route is pretty pumpy but you're on jugs with textbook protection the whole way - you just need to keep going!

Tim Hamlet on The Executioner E2 5c at Seal Song Area, Reiff.
Another trip was had to Creag Dubh where myself and Sean took in the HVS crag classics of King Bee Direct and Inbred. Meanwhile we watched on as Russ Birkett warmed up with a bold ascent of The Fuhrer with Scott G.

Russ Birkett on a rather serious looking The Fuhrer E4 5c, Creag Dubh.
Our Spring trip to the Verdon was looming so Matt Thompson suggested a trip South to sample some Yorkshire limestone at Moughton Nab on what felt like a warm Summer's day. This provided some enjoyable, short but punchy sport routes and it was nice to sample some limestone for a change.

Staying with the bolt clippping vein after returning from the Verdon, myself and Ally Fulton headed on up to Weem in the midst of the balmy Scottish Spring. The highlight of the day was an ascent of Confessions of Faith for me, while Ally dispatched the steep classic 7a+ High Pitched Scream second go.

Finlay Cranston taking in the exposure on The Edge VS 4c at Loudon Hill.
A local classic which I've been meaning to do followed later on in May, when myself and Finlay Cranston headed on round to my hometown crag Loudoun Hill. It's a great wee venue with mostly shorter routes but they generally pack in some fairly bouldery climbing. The Edge is the uber classic local VS and must be the best at the grade within the Central Belt. It tackles a soaring wafer thin arete up its crest, with minimal protection and outstanding exposure at the grade. A must do.

A beautiful day at the Financial Sector, Neist.
I then managed to get a fantastic three day trip in up North again with James and his dog Scotty, at the tail end of May just before the good weather broke. We headed to Glen Nevis first which was fantastic and the first time we'd both climbed there. First we took in a couple of the classics The Old Wall VS 4b and Storm HVS 5a, both deserving three star classics. The climbing was super fun with spaced good gear and inspiring friction. We then moved to the otherside of the Glen to Whale Rock, famous for Dave Mac's E9 horror show Hold Fast. James dispatched a delicate Earthstrip E2 5c, which had what felt like a pretty difficult move at 5c low down requiring much trust in the feet, just in time before the rain came on.

James Jackson on Wish You Were Here E2 5c, Financial Sector, Neist.
We continued on up North bound for the Sligachan on Skye, I always particularly enjoy the drive to Skye heading along Loch Cluanie and on into Glen Shiel. We pitched up at the Slig before heading down to the Financial Sector at Neist the next day. We had a truly great day here with the sun beating down all day. I warmed up on Bridging Interest HVS 5a, before climbing Security Risk and Venture Capital both E1 5b although maybe soft at the grade. Security Risk was particularly fun with some ace moves out onto chicken heads high up. I followed James up some great proper E2s. Wall Street E2 5c which had a sting in the tail right at the top but in a fantastic position. Wish You Were Here, somehow given just E2 5b, surely at least 5c though, required serious graft up an unrelenting crack line, but what a line, four star candidate. 

Unknown climber I managed to snap while on abseil climbing the superb Grey Panther, Kilt Rock.
Next day of the three day trip we headed round to Kilt Rock up on the Trotternish Peninsula. A proper photogenic crag when viewed from the South and a crag not short of lines! I started up The Electric Bagpipe round in the descent gully which is a superb VS, probably HVS, with brilliant moves up the layback crack which you wished just went on and on. James then led up A Haggis Called Wanda E2 5b, which was a good line but a wee bit loose and dirty, just needed more traffic, it was another tough jamming route. James then while warm put in a physical and mental stamina effort up Internationale E2 5b, surely 5c, as we had in our possesion two and a half sets of cams - including a monster BD Camalot 5 (required). This is undoubtedly the best line I've ever climbed in Scotland and James dispatched it in good style, despite running out of cams near the top he kept a cool head. It is a perfect splitter hand crack which verges into offwidth territory in the middle, requiring a full repertoire of crack climbing technique, I was very happy to second it clean, being terrible at cracks! I capped off the trip with an ascent of Grey Panther, possibly the best single pitch E1 5b in Scotland. It takes a direct line up the typical chimney-esque columns of Kilt Rock, switching between the two perfect cracks in either side of the groove. The jamming is painless, secure and thoroughly enjoyable, with continuous 5b moves with no stand out crux. It feels like it just goes on and on but it's steady throughout. Without doubt the best single pitch climb I've had the joy to lead.

Scotty the dog chilling at Neist.
The monsoons of Summer then duly arrived come the start of June. I did however have a good start to the month and was chuffed to make a rather determined redpoint ascent of Unforgiven 7b at Dumby. It was our fourth session and I thankfully managed it on the third lead attempt. Sean had sent it earlier that afternoon so the nerves started getting the better of me. I managed to piece together what must have been one of my worst ever attempts, lead or on top-rope, and somehow sent it. It was sheer refusal to fall off over good style for sure.

Fresh back from the Alps I was fully psyched to get into the mountains however the Scottish Summer continued to have other ideas. Myself and Peter headed through to a moist Limekilns towards the end of August. Here I managed to dig my way up Elgin's crack, finding the upper crux much harder than the boulder move at the start. I was pumped out my mind but somehow delicately made the move right up into the easier ground after reading the upper crux wrong.

Evening light at Dumby.
I managed to get round to doing some other Dumby classics later on in August and September with Peter and Jeremy. This time it was trad however with the classics of Windjammer and Longbow. Unfortunately Longbow suffers from a seeping grass ledge above so it had to wait until the tail end of September. Both are quality lines, probably the best at their respective grades of HVS 5a and E1 5b within the Central Belt. Both sustained and long for Central Belt trad and very much a Dumby feel to them both, superb. 

A damp two day foray North with James found us back at Creag Dubh making a thoroughly enjoyable ascent of the bold Strapadicktaemi E1 5a, before heading up to Huntly's Cave for some real fun steep trad there the following day. I led the classic Double Overhang HVS 5a before making an ascent of the under-rated Diagonal Direct E1 5c. 

Myself at my hometown crag Loudon Hill, (photo credit Finlay Cranston).
More local trad followed with the start of the Indian Summer in October. I managed to make my first E3 lead at Cambusbarron on Slot Shot E3 5c. I had unfortunately seconded at the start of the Summer so missed out on the onsight but was chuffed none the less to feel pretty steady on it - despite it probably being a standard softly graded Cambusbarron route!

Trying to pack in as much into the Indian Summer as possible, we were back at Weem. I was really happy to onsight The Last Temptation E2 5c which takes an overhanging crack to start, then up into a superb steep corner crack before finishing over a small capping roof. The protection is very good once into the corner crack and the route is sustained. I had to give it big licks so was really happy with the onsight which turned out to be one of the highlights of the year for me. 

A trip up to Glen Clova was squeezed in with James mid October where we climbed some of the classics up there. I led Proud Corner which certainbly felt pokey at VS before putting onsighting the Witch's Tooth, a definite sandbag at E1 5b. James linked up Zig Zag Double Direct E2 5c to give what turned out to be a pretty serious and big lead due to a soaking wet finish above gear.

The Souter sea stack at Fastcastle.
To round off the Summer myself, Sean, James and Scotty the dog headed East to the Souter, on a bright breezy but chilly day at the start of November. The three of us made a grand ascent of the stack and I was lucky enough to win the rock, paper, scissors in order to get the lead. It felt quite pokey at HVS but it was good that the sea stack didn't give up easily. Sean also led Plain Sailing which looked too good to second so we quickly pulled the ropes and I led through on the pre-placed gear for speed (it was cold!); a route you climb throughout with a smile on your face. James made a good effort on Fast Bleeder which takes a soaring crack line with a breather at half height, unfortunately he fluffed the crux first go but it was hardly primo conditions. Myself and Sean made feeble attempts at seconding it with freezing cold hands - must learn to crack climb in 2017!

Sean Henderson approaching the crux on the enjoyable Plain Sailing E1 5b, The Souter (Fastcastle).