Thursday, 11 October 2018

Out with the Old

The pervasive dampness and the progressively earlier darkening of the evening sky is a sure sign that Autumn is upon us. In reality with the three named storms we've already had since September reducing the trees to nothing more than wooden skeletons, it feels like we've skipped Autumn and gone straight to winter. Thankfully there have been a few good days to get out and enjoy a few final routes before the trad rack takes its annual hibernation in the bottom of the wardrobe.

Ever since moving to southern Scotland it never ceases to amaze me both the level of diversity and the volume of shy climbing venues right on my doorstep. Perhaps its on the fringes of what is considered southern as its just north of Perth, but an example of the splendor of some of these crags is exemplified perfectly by the unrivaled beauty and tranquility of the crags around Dunkeld. Set within an ancient wooded forest on the steep flanks of valleys carved by water and ice and on a south facing slope too, Craig a Barns is a great place for late season exploits with the best bit being that the walk-in is less than 10 minutes! The crag plays host to a plethora of mid-grade single and multi pitch classics including Kestral Crack (S), The Groove (VS) and The End (VS). The nature of the metamorphosed sandstone is very compact with the majority of the more accessible routes following cracks and weaknesses however even these can sometimes be quite a bold affair which definitely felt the case of The End which has gear where you need it but perhaps not always where you want it!

Just round the corner, Cave Crag also provides some serious sporting endevour of a more challenging variety, offering some of the best sport climbing in Scotland. Its also got a few notable trad routes, one of which even features on the front cover of the new SMC Highland Outcrops South Guidebook! The rock here is similar to Craig a Barns except its slightly less compact and perhaps a bit more disjointed which is why quite large sections of the crag have been bolted. None the less, the crag had a great outlook and i can't wait to get back there next year and maybe try some of the harder lines.

Another recently discovered gem is the Reid Craigs area of Glen Clova. Like Dunkeld, Glen Clova is situated in the extreme south of the Cairngorms massive and is also a product of its icey past with perfectly flat valley bottoms guarded by steep sided valleys rising straight up onto wild and heathery moors. The criss-crossing of dry stone walls and endless miles windy rural roads make it almost reminiscent of the dales of the Lake District, with the picture completed by the presence of a series of fantastic micro granite crags situated just up the hill sides. Perhaps even more so than Craig a Barns, the Reid Crags are a paradise for the mid-grade climber with a whole series of quality lines ranging from VS to E2, with the pick of the bunch being Proud Corner (VS), Wandered (HVS), Red Wall (E1) and Zig Zag Double Direct (E2).

2018 has been a great year for trad and finishing the season with trips to these venues has been a really great way of topping it all off.

Fingers crossed this winter was as good as the last. I've put some pictures from the last few weeks below.

Just after the crux on the second pitch of The End (VS 5a) at Craig a Barns (photo Credit Iain).

Nicholas seconding The Groove (VS 5a) at Craig a Barns on a perfect autumn day

The brilliant and wide jamming crack of Coffin Corner (HVS 5a) at Cave Crag near Dunkeld (photo credit Iain)

Ben seconding the first pitch of Red Wall (E1 5b) at Reid Crags, Glen Clova (photo credit Gregor)

Gregor on the second pitch traverse of High Level Traverse and Direct Finish (HS 4b) at Reid Crags

Ben finishing the final few tough moves on Wandered (HVS 5a) at Reid Crags

Another shot of Red Wall with Ben leading the second pitch (photo credit Gregor)

Ben leading Proud Corner (VS 4c). Definitely not very corner like but totally brilliant none the less.. 
Embracing the changing seasons over to sea to Skye 


Wednesday, 22 August 2018

God's Own Granite

Although I've been to Lundy a few times now, it wasn't until our trip in 2014 that I began to appreciate how much of a paradise the island really is. Its staggering just how much adventure can be packed into a place that's only half a mile wide and 3 or 4 miles long! The overwhelming feeling of remoteness and isolation is also way beyond its true geographical location, perhaps compounded by the fact that signal is rubbish, there's no WiFi and no roads either. These factors combined with careful and sustainable management by the Landmark Trust for nearly 40 years means the islands rich cultural heritage really shines through, ensuring any any trip there feels a world apart.

The islands landscape is a character of two halves with the rugged and Atlantic storm battered west coast contrasting dramatically with the more sheltered lush and green eastern side. For climbers, it is this wild west coast of pristine golden granite extending for mile after mile, that will keep you coming back. 

The northern light on Lundy Island. With Cardiff and Bristol both less than 50 miles away, its hard to find somewhere so isolated so close to 'civilization' 
Our trip this time round was as part of a stag-do christian union convention hosted by the right and honorable Morgan contingent, with the communion comprising of swimmers, climbers and alcoholics alike. Although climbing was clearly not the main objective of a trip like this, me and Ed were asked to bring some rock stuff to run a group session on one of the more accessible cliffs. Lundy being Lundy however there aren't many (if any) cliffs that have a simple approach, easy climbing and are non-tidal so it was after much guidebook thumbing that we eventually settled on Picnic Bay Cliff at the northern end of Jenny's Cove. The group session actually turned out quite well, giving nearly 20 people an abseil and a climb, some of whom had never done an outside climbing before let alone an abseil (pretty good place to break your rock climbing virginity if you ask me!). Plans for more climbing with people in the group were drawn up, however most people were to preoccupied with suffering the consequences of regularly saving the queen to fulfill any such ambitions. This was especially the case for the communion leader himself, who after drinking his own body weight in Aldi champagne and Korev spent much of the trip avoiding sunlight where possible.  

All terrain christian communion leader. Good thing drink driving isn't a thing on Lundy... (E.T. collection)
Optimizing on a few early morning opportunities myself and Ed did manage to get some personal climbing in too. We had a bit of a warm up on the mainland in the days prior to the trip on the Culm coast. Renowned for its poor rock and looseness, we figured getting some mileage in there would be a great way of getting our heads back into the 'adventurous trad' mindset needed for Lundy. Having climbed there a little in the past we both had an idea of what venues would work given the weather and tides and in the end settled on Lower Sharpnose. For those that haven't been, Sharpnose is a truly unique crag comprising of a series of narrow 'fins' which jut vertically out from the cliff. The first route we did was the 'middle fin' and was called Lunakhod. At HVS 5a and reputedly one of the best routes on the coast it was an obvious choice, climbing a long and sustained corner crack for 40 m to the top of the narrow fin. The gear was great and the moves equally so, easy to see how its a classic! The next route climbed was on the prow of the upper fin and was a touch more on the esoteric side of things. Hatchet (HVS 4c) climbed a big wide crack before moving up into a squeeze chimney right at the top, what could be more enticing I hear you ask! Compared to the other routes at Sharpnose this route is relatively little traveled and doesn't appear as a fully listed climb in any of the regional select guide books. In the end it was a quality climb with very little loose rock, although not the same class  as Lunakhod, it was (arguably) just as entertaining. 

Ed following up the amazing corner crack of Lunakhod (HVS 5a)

The lesser-known line of Hatchet (HVS 4c) with the author in the squeeze chimney at the top. (E.T. collection)

The squeeze chimney of Hatchet. He loves it really...

One of the 'fins' at Lower Sharpnose
Our first session on Lundy was down at Battery Cliff, with a hope of ticking a stunning line we'd spotted on our previous trip when we climbed Diamond Solitaire (VS 4c). Double Diamond (HVS 5b) takes a direct line through the overhangs and pulls rightwards onto the DS slab before climbing directly to the top, independently of the corner. Unfortunately having pulled through the crux to find the slab and cracks greasy and wet, it was all to easy to make the traverse into the DS cracks which was the end of that endevour. We still finished up DS, which in itself is a classic and super enjoyable none the less.   
Checking out the line of Double Diamond (HVS 5b) below Battery Cliff. (E.T. collection)

Ed on the exposed traverse pitch of Diamond Solitaire (VS 4c)
The next few routes we did were thankfully more successful, the first being Shark (E1 5a) situated precariously on the soaring arete that overlooks the Devil's Slide. The rock is loose in places and a bit grassy, but that doesn't detract from the absorbing position you find yourself in, teetering up the narrow arete with the drop below biting at your heels. An esoteric classic that definitely deserves more stars and traffic. 

Our final day saw more of an extended outing, ticking The Indy 500! (E1 5b) and the mini sea stack of Integrity (HS 4b). The former, situated over in Landing Craft Bay was a superb finger crack and face climb which ascends a steep wall to the right of the sadly demised Formula One (HVS 5a). The moves were far from simple, but the gear just kept coming! Integrity was also a brilliant route and a great lead by Ed, packing in a huge variety of climbing considering its a single pitch sea stack. Once at the top we also did the honorable thing and cut-off the mountain of rotting tat around the abseil spike, replacing it with some new cordelette and a krab. 

The communion leader himself working his way up the Devil's Slide (HS 4b) with Nick (E.T. collection)

Teetering up the crux pitch of Shark (E1 5a). (E.T. collection)

An exposure explosion on Shark (E1 5a), note the celebratory Hooters vest! 

Ed moving through the crux with exposure biting at the heels

Ed following up The Indy 500! (E1 5b)

Needle Rock on Lundy. A mini sea stack that packs in a pile of adventure considering its size. Integrity (HS 4b) climbs the soaring left arete. 

Ed leading the final steep wall section of Integrity (HS 4b)

(E.T. collection)

The assortment of rotting krabs we removed from the top of Needle Rock
Sat aboard the ferry with Ed and the other boys watching the sun set behind the island through the rise and fall of the ocean, you really get a sense of just how magical Lundy is. Its hard not to be all sentimental about a trip there, I mean you make so many amazing memories in such a short space of time. For the brief moment aboard the island as a Lundy-ludite, you cant help but be totally immersed by the people and the place, living in that little bubble with no rush hour, no news updates, just blissful isolation. Once again its another ferry ride with my head in the clouds but my heart in my stomach, although at least I had something in my stomach as the aforementioned rise and fall of the boat was doing a great job at keeping many other people's empty! 
The sun sets on another amazing adventure (E.T. collection)

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

An Eye on Arran

When people think of the Inner Hebrides it usually evokes images of wild and remote peat clad islands, shrouded thickly in mist and superstition alike. Thrust far off Scotland's rugged north west coast, you’d be forgiven for thinking a visit would require hours of stomach churning driving down endless miles of windy roads (and that's before you've even get on the ferry)! Although this may be the case for some such as Mull, Islay or Jura it’s easy to forget that one of the biggest and most accessible islands actually lies further south than the centre of Glasgow. It’s because of this accessibility in combination with its wild and untamed beauty that ensures the Isle of Arran is the perfect choice for the adventurous weekend warrior.

With a reasonable forecast and a late evening sailing time on the Friday, myself and Caelan set off with bikes, climbing gear and a whole lot of tinned tuna and couscous from Ardrossan on a course to the Isle of Arran’s capital Brodick. The mission was simple, get into the islands mountainous interior and go climbing!

A few hours later, with the ferry crossing done and the bumpy cycle up Glen Rosa towards Garbh Allt bridge also behind us, we scuttled along the remainder of the Glen chasing the moonlit shadow of Goatfell as we went and pitching camp below Fionn Choire. By the time we turned in, the summits were shrouded in dense banks cloud which in hindsight was a telling sign perhaps. No matter though, the forecast for the weekend was good, so we both slept soundly.
The majestic granite spire of Cir Mhor situated at the head of Glen Rosa on the Isle of Arran 
The next morning we woke to the sound of light rain patting the outside of the tent. A quick glance outside through bleary eyes confirmed our worst fears. Everything was soaking. Worse still there was a cloud of midges so big it would make even the hardiest highland inhabitants go weak at the knees and run for cover. Since there was nothing else for it, we decided to stay put to see if the weather passed but by lunchtime it was apparent that the torrential rain had arrived, and it was here to stay. Such conditions wouldn’t usually be conducive to rock climbing in the UK, especially in the mountains, however Arran’s hills are not exactly typical mountain rock architecture. The gigantic magmatic batholith that intruded the Dalradian meta-sediments around 58 million years ago that dominates much of the islands northern mountains exhibits some of the most intriguing granite formations with vast and compact sheets of grey igneous rock. The lack of anywhere for weathering processes to get a proper grip means that towers, slabs and spires are in abundance and where the few fractures have occurred, all this focused destructive energy has formed humongous fissures and cracks that can be seen from miles away. What I’m trying to say is that from a geological perspective Arran is the lesser-known home of off-width and chimney crack climbing. Perfect for rainy days!

Adventure time! Boarding the ferry at Ardrossan bound for Brodick on Arran

Plans changed and waterproofs donned, we headed for Cir Mhor to see what we could get inside. By the time we climbed the lower heather clad approach slopes the cloud had thickened, but at least the rain had stopped. After a bit of uming and ahing we settled on Caliban’s Creep, a three star VDiff with an enticing description particularly for pitch four, where apparently subterranean passage is ‘mandatory’.  Although quite disjointed, the route was quite entertaining, especially on the ‘through route’ bit and provided suitable slimy challenge up the short but sharp chimney sections too.

Classic mountain clag. We woke on Saturday morning to rain on the tent. Ambitions curbed we opted for some chimney climbing on Caliban's Creep (VDiff). This Caelan on the second pitch making a thin traverse around to the first of the chimneys.

The entertaining fourth pitch of Calban's Creep, which required some pretty unique chimney climbing through the mountain! 
Caelan loving the chimneys, made all the better for the wet and the slime
Next up was Labyrinth. Situated over on the upper north east buttress of Cir Mhor, this ‘Classic Rock’ route had a reputation for requiring a stiff upper lip and an ability to deal with vast quantities of filth. Having now done the route, I’d completely agree. Every pitch was covered in grime and required at least half of ones body to be in contact with two sides of fissure at any one time. If quality climbing is your bag and you’ve got an irrepressible fear of veg and mud, then stay well clear. In short this probably isn’t a route to do with the missus. None the less, watching one of your mates squirm and squeeze through a variety of crud filled cavities is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed and on that basis I can’t recommend this route enough. Best save it for when its soaking like we did, at least that way your clothes might stand a chance at surviving the shredding effect of those granite cracks.

The upper east buttress of Cir Mhor. Labyrinth (VDiff) climbs the obvious crack system running the height of the crag. By this time the weather had improved a bit, but everything was still pretty damp! 

The minotaur of the Labyrinth? 
The main chimney pitch of Labyrinth. More body contact than a six nations rugby fixture! 
Caelan on the 'inside' pitch of Labyrinth
Thankfully the next day we woke to almost clear skies and a fresh breeze. Without wasting a moment we grabbed the gear and headed straight back up to Cir Mhor. Released from our wet weather enchainment to chimney climbing, our attentions swiftly turned to perhaps the most obvious line on the mountain, the South Ridge Direct. Shaped like an upside down raindrop, broad like a barrel at its base becoming gradually more defined with height, it looks almost like a famous French Aiguille and is every bit as alluring. Being almost 200 m in length from bottom to top and with a grade of VS 5a, it’s a big undertaking and probably dispels its fair share of suitors on a regular basis. This especially so one some of the many named pitches such as the infamous ‘S’, ‘Y’ or ‘Layback’ crack pitches. However with an early start and some good weather (well at least dry weather..) we’d dispatched the climb by late lunchtime, with the named pitches all going without a hitch. The ‘Layback’ pitch was especially notable for its quality and although short, was perhaps one of the most exhilarating pitches I’ve done this year. After these sections the difficulties ease considerably, but none the less upper climb was equally as atmospheric, although this might be been related to the lowering of the cloud bank enveloping us and the view!
The compelling South Ridge Direct (VS 5a) takes a direct line up the lower buttress following the crest all the way to the top of Cir Mhor
All great things start with a chimney (at least they do on Arran..)
The 'Y' cracks crux pitch, fantastically steep and overhanging jamming. A quality pitch! 
Looking down from above the crux. The 'S' crack pitch is just below.

The 'Layback' pitch. The route follows the steep crack before breaking out along a line of flakes above the void. A superb pitch
Caelan on the upper section and yes! Its another chimney pitch! 

Conditions remained fairly 'atmospheric' all the way to top. At least it made the exposure more bearable. 

With the route in the bag and the weather hardly worth an extended stay, we headed back down to our tent before plodding down the last bit of the Glen towards the bikes. As we rounded the corner by the Garbb Allt bridge the clouds parted and the sky started to brighten up a bit. We even saw a couple taking a swim in their undies in the river. Don't get me wrong it was nicer weather, but it wasn't that nice... Perhaps they were from further north than we were?

The Isle of Arran really is an amazing place to visit, with Glen Rosa and Cir Mhor specifically being utterly spectacular (even in the wet). It was only a short trip over, but it was so good to finally get some climbing done after the disappointment of previous attempts on the island. To be honest it was hardly all roses this time round either, especially considering the soaking we had on Saturday morning, which combined with the knuckle skinning we had in those chimneys in the afternoon might be enough to put you off the place for life! None the less, I couldn't help thinking whilst stood in the que of cyclists waiting to board the ferry to Ardrossan, that I knew my intrigue for this place had only intensified as a result of the last few days and that I'd be back again soon.  

It was sad to be leaving such an amazing place, but that fact in itself means I know I'll be back.
Some of the photos on here are Caelan's too, thanks for letting me use them! 

Tuesday, 10 July 2018


Evenings out are pretty barny at the moment. Hot hot hot never ending hot hot hot. Even the most obscure and shaded bits are thoroughly baked making adventures a plenty. Organizing an evening out a week in advance is to easy. No need to check the forecast. It's gonna be grand!

Limekilns, Cambusbarron and North Third have received plenty of after work attention. Having taken some time off from climbing to train (eat, sleep, swim-bike-run, repeat), its been good to get back out.

The rock round here really is so diverse. Limekilns provides some great (and steep) thin crack and face climbing, with the camby quarries and north third proving some great (and steep) jamming. 

Highlights have been Jezebel at North Third, Elgin's Crack at Limekilns and Stonefall Crack at Dumbarton.

I'm really starting to love this place. Long may the drought continue.  
Halfway up Elgin's Crack (E2 5c) at Limekilns

Berny seconding Dead Ringer at Limekilns (E1 5b)

Nicholas soloing at Limekilns
Berny enjoying the superb jamming up at North Third

Jezebel (E1 5b)

Stonefall Crack at Dumbarton (HVS 5a)