Friday, 26 December 2014

My Top 10 routes of 2014

The yearly round-up of trad-tastic, vertically inclined enterprise has made a return with my most memorable excursions of 2014. This year has seen another inhibition upon attaining sanity mostly caused by an impromptu emigration above the boarder to the Highlands of 'bonny' Scotland! The routes aren't the hardest routes I've done nor sometimes do they have the most stars, instead they are a list of routes which provided me with my most memorable days.

So without further a due, here follows my top 10 routes of 2014!

10; Obsession VS 4c, Cader Idris (Cyfrwy Buttress)

An aptly named and unsung mountain classic high on the northern flanks of the misty peak of Cader Idris. The route climbs up the huge slabs that dominate the Cyfrwy Buttress in 3 outstanding pitches overlooking the whole of Snowdonia. The route is neither simple nor stable, yet the atmosphere and positions are amongst the finest you'll find in mid Wales. A must-do for any choss loving mountaineering masochist!

Looking up at the mysterious face of Cyfrwy high on the side of Cader Idris
The route is probably best done after a reasonable dry spell as the crag faces north and is quite vegetated. A further thing to note is that the route doesn't finish at the top of the crag due to a massively unstable section with bars progress to the top (it can be negotiated at around Diff but it is unjustifiably loose!). Instead there is an in-situ anchor which can be used in conjunction with other lower belays to get off the face in 2 or 3 abseils. On our trip we found an abandoned severed rope so take car when pulling the ropes in high winds!

The end of the 2nd pitch of Obsession. Taken from

9; The Magic Crack HVS 5a, Coire an t'Schechda

A fingery technical test piece forging a relatively direct line up Aladdin's Buttress with the main attraction of the route being the 3rd pitch crack which must be one of the finest in Cairngorms. With ambition running probably higher than it should have been on a drizzly mist clagged spring day this route presented an ideal opportunity for a great early season tick. After the brief walk up to the crag from the Ski Centre we found that most of the 1st pitch was actually still buried under last winters snow. However with some quick front pointing up the firm neve with the aid of a nut key or two we established belay in the gap between the snow and the rock face and set off.

The sublime 3rd pitch of Magic Crack on a blustery spring day
4 pitches later we reached the top abseil point and starting lowering back down the route. Diaster struck when we found ourself stuck at the end of the first abseil as in the final moments of retrieving the rope a rather strong gust wipped the end of the rope irretrievably around some flakes. Me and Cealan opted to nominate Scott for this rescue mission, who understandably wasn't overly pleased at the prospect of re-ascending ropes in the by-now driving rain with froozen fingers. Some time later we managed to free them and before long we were sat in the Ski Centre with a coffee and our dignity still intact!

8; Eagle Front VS 4c, Birkness Combe

The mighty Eagle Crag sits high in Buttermere's Birkness Combe and is a crag steeped in history and tradition. Eagle Front climbs the buttress in 7 contrasting pitches and sees you through some seriously impressive terrain. Hard to believe the first ascentionist climbed the route in socks in the 60s!

The mighty Eagle Crag located high in Birkness Combe. Eagle Front drives a fabulous line up the largest
part of the face with fantastic exposure the whole way.

Almost there! Sat up in Birkness Combe with Eagle Crag on the left and
Grey Crag on the right 

7; Moonraker HVS 5a, Berry Head

The Old Redout at Berry Head is amongst the finest sea cliff venues you'll find anywhere in the southwest. It’s limestone precipices cascading into the turquoise ocean bar access too all but the most intrepid explorer. Moonraker climbs a devious line up through its overhanging fortifications in 3 absorbing pitches and is well worth the effort required in the approach. 

Making the thrilling traverse out above the sea on the first pitch of Moonraker
Save this one for a good day as its pretty intimidating! More photos and a full write-up can be found here.

6; The Devils Chimney HVS 5b, Lundy

The fact its the highest sea stack in England coupled with its location on a remote island in the Bristol Channel undoubtedly places this in the top 10! This route has more character than Borris Johnson on Red Bull and is one of the most adventurous sea cliff climbs you'll find south of the boarder! The rock is dirty and loose and the approach is quite frankly harrowing yet it is still leaves you wanting more!

The steep second pitch of The Devils Chimney on Lundy
To be honest anything on Lundy is worthy of this list. It really is one of the best trad climbing destination in the UK and I cannot recommend it highly enough! Diamond Solitaire and The Devils Slide are also fantastic! More photos from the trip here.

Ed Tonkin making the airy traverse on the second pitch of Diamond Solitare (VS 4c)

5; Chasm Route VDiff, Glyder Fach

Loads of overhangs and chimneys which never get any sunlight and are permanently pissing water.. What more could you ask for?! The cliff itself is another often mist clagged mountain crag located within the Ogwen valley. Its a route of tremendous character and of which the best training would probably be a lifetime of brick laying!

Jed Jackson balancing precariously on top of the 'The Vice' shortly after
squirming through it!

Exemplary Welsh weather conditions 'The crag is around here somewhere!!'

4; Blaven and Clach Glas traverse, Difficult, Isle of Skye

Not so much a rock climb but maybe more the best alpine day you can have anywhere in the British Isle. Absorbing and sustained scrambling amidst one of Scotland's most dramatic landscape makes this one thing everybody should do before their knees give out!

Blaven and Clach Glas viewed from across Loch Slapin

Clach Glas is often described as 'The Matterhorn' of Skye.. It's easy to see why!

3; Bludgers Revelation HVS 5a, Slime Wall

An outrageous route that climbs an intricate line up Slime Wall on the side of Buachaille Etive Mor. The crag is right at the top of the mountain so you have to literally climb a Munro before you even get to the route! Steep and thrutchy lower pitches provide a perfect contrast with the delicate upper sections of which have a distinct 'space walking' feel to them. The route also appeared in the BBC's climbing production called 'The Edge'. We were hungover as hell when we did this route.. It was a great cure!!

Rafe stood at the top of Slime Wall with the rest of the world far below!
The mighty Slime Wall with some climbers on the upper pitches for scale

2; Centurion HVS 5a, Carn Dearg

It's probably right at the top of everybody's Scotland 'to-do' list. You don't need me to tell you how good it is. Go and do it! Centurion climbs Ben Nevis's most famous buttress; Carn Dearg in 7 outstanding pitches in a perfect marriage of slabs and overhangs. An enduring classic and I can't wait to go and do it again! More photos here.

The mighty Carn Dearg situated on Ben Nevis. Centurion drives a direct line
up through the central crack system to join Ledge Route at the top. 

Nigel Bond leading the last pitch through the final overhangs of Centurion

1; The Needle E1 5b, Shelterstone Crag

A combination of breathtaking exposure, intricate and sometime burly climbing make this route stand out way above the rest! The Needle climbs a momentous line up Shelterstone Crag set in the Cairngorms' Loch 'Arn basin. Forget 2014, this route is quite possibly one of the best routes I've ever done anywhere. The thing that sets this route apart is the crag itself is a 2 hour walk from the road end and you have to practically ascend a Munro to get to the bottom of the face, oh and then you've got the climbing - a full 260m worth in as many has 10 pitches! You can read a full write up here.

Cealan seconding the 5a Chimney pitch of The Needle with a lot of air beneath his feet! And
yes that is a snow patch 200m below!
We were extremely lucky when we awoke to brilliant and calm weather and at that point realised we have no excuses for bottling it. We had to do it! 10 pitches of climbing and 7 hours later we squirmed out of the final chimney to the top of the crag and bathed in the victorious sunshine! The route really is a mega undertaking and by the time we walked out we had been on the go for over 12 hours so if you're thinking of doing this one defiantly save it for a warm summers day. 

Looking up Shelterstone Crag from it's base with Cealan at the top of the 1st and Gregor and Duncan starting out on
the 2nd pitch.
So it's been a pretty good year this year for vertically inclined excursions. An abundance of Saturday sunshine was obviously a major influence however the greatest praise goes to those who were mad enough to tie on a rope with me!

As a final round-up I'm glad that my comfortable grade of climbing has been transferred into the mountains and sea cliffs as these are the places I enjoy the most. The climbing this year has been the best so far with nearly 100 routes climbed and more than treble that in the number of pitches completed. I can't wait for the rain to disappear and 2015 to get started!    

Others that didn't quite meet the bar it but still equally outstanding!
Sword of Gideon VS 4c, Applecross
Dagger HVS 5a, Creagan Coire nan Etchachan
Immaculate Slab HVS 5a, Lundy
Damnation E1 5b, Coire an t'Schechda
Prophet E2 5c, Cummingston
Troutdale Pinnacle Severe, Borrowdale
Unicorn E1 5a, Stob Coire Nan Lochan
Clean Sweep VS 4c, Hell's Lum

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