Monday, 28 March 2016

Pissing in the Wind

Easter weekend, bank holidays, Staples and I have both got five days off - brilliant! This can't be anything other than completely awesome. We'll go to a crag like Chair Ladder or Gogarth. Climb some mega classic routes. Become immeasurably better human beings in every single way....

Except we fucking won't will we. Because here comes a massive wet turd from the weather gods themselves.

Fucking Storm Katie. Fuck off, you meteological slag, go piss on somewhere else. I spend hours trawling the met office and eventually decide that Torquay gives us the best chance of dry rock on Thursday. Is there actually any climbing in Torquay? Fortunately yes, a cool looking sea cliff called Daddyhole. Alrighty then. On the drive up we come across a shop telling bottles of Talisker for £24 a pop, and seriously consider sacking the whole climbing bollocks, buying a dozen or so, and getting stone drunk for five days instead. But Cam and Natalie are already heading over to meet us there, so that's buggered that one up. We'll have to go sodding climbing now.

Daddyhole Main Cliff

After spending the night sleeping in the car in a Torquay housing estate, classy chaps that we are, we awake to a grey but dry morning and scramble down to the boulder beach at the base of the crag. It looms above through the murk. Steep and featured, tinted shades of pink and brown. We climb the classic route Gates of Eden, which is easy but exposed jug hauling apart from one absolute arse of a move on the first pitch. I slap and curse at a series of shit holds, feet flailing everywhere, eventually manage to grovel onto a slab and the belay above. Fuck me that was nails.

Pitch one just below the crux wall

Wrestling with the hard bit

Staples mincing across the traverse of pitch two

Staples runs the next two pitches into one, and enjoys the best climbing on the route. Really easy but massively exposed, traversing into a cramped niche on an arĂȘte, then up a corner crack to the top. We immediately head down to do another one, only this time I'll make bloody certain Staples leads the hard bit, the lazy bastard...

Cam and Natalie climbing a VS on the left hand side of the Main Cliff

The ominous corner of Triton

This'll do the job. Triton, an obvious corner feature. VS 5a. Hard for the grade. Perfect, that'll teach him a lesson. I jolly up easy vegetated blocks to a grotty belay below the main event. All the while the wind is rising and the sky darkening. Did I just feel rain? Maybe I'm imagining things. Either way it's not my fucking problem. Staples takes the rack and heads up the corner, and right on cue it starts to piss down with rain. His feet skid off the sheer walls, hands squelching uselessly inside the jamming crack. He puts about thirty-seven runners into a few feet of climbing. I'm laughing my head off and thinking how nice it'll be getting tippy-topped up, when there's a sudden heave on the ropes and I realise Staples has fallen off. Nah, that's impossible, he yells down, either we abseil off or you've got to do it. 

Staples preparing to throw in the towel

Oh fuck you, Staples you bastard, fuck you in the dick. I don't want to lead the bloody thing, it looks really hard. That's why I made you do it. I desperately hunt for anything I'd be happy to abseil off. There's nothing. Sod all. Only one way out of this mess and its up. So off I go, greasing off the soaking everything, getting pumped to buggery. Soon I reach the nest of gear and have no choice but to continue upwards, making progress just slightly faster than I slide back down again. A final hard move, I crank through a layback, grab a block, the fucking thing detaches in my hand, somehow I don't lob off with it. I crawl onto the grassy slope above leaving a trail of blood, tears, and dribble behind me. 

When you climb cracks oop norf your hands get all chewed up, it's called a 'gritstone kiss'. Well this wasn't a kiss. It was more like a 'being done up the arse for hours on end in a gloomy windswept travelodge just outside of Swindon'.....or something like that.

So, anyway, whatever. The forecast is even better Friday so we head up to the Culm Coast for a nice laid back day climbing slabs at Vicarage Cliff. It's a beautiful sunny day as we amble in to the crag along the coast path and hand over hand down the sketchy as fuck approach 'path'. Vicarage Cliff is a narrow fin of culm rising prehistoric from the sea, set against a pebble beach and towering piles of choss behind it.

The Culm Coast

The ominous rubble of Wreckers Slab

Natalie enjoying the pleasant approach to the crag

Vicarage Cliff

We spend an awesome few hours ticking routes on the slab while the tide is out. It's been years since I last climbed on Culm and I spend ages getting massive calf pump trying to fiddle wires in all the weird little cracks you get. The crux of most of the routes is pulling through the big overlap halfway up. Staples even manages to fall off one of them but God knows how. It's literally the easiest move in the world, you just stand up on a massive foothold, the massive nonce.

Cam leading a HS with about 3 runners in nearly 30m

Me on the classic Box of Delights (although I would've called it Box of Wanky Cracks)

Staples pulling through the tricky crux of Wellington's Stand

A couple of cool VSs at the end of the crag

You only get a couple of hours either side of low tide to climb here unfortunately

All too soon the tide comes back in again and we retreat back up to cliff top and wander back to the cars. After a quick discussion, and much checking of the forecast - which is completely toss - we decide to head over to Woolacombe where Staples' grandparents own a holiday flat. They've very kindly given us the keys for the weekend, and we waste no time in getting completely arseholed on beer and whiskey. Sometime later we stagger into the Red Barn and then onto another place that I can't remember fuck all about for some reason. Eventually we're thrown out and on the walk home Staples hears a crash, turns around to see me lying face down in the road and bleeding everywhere. After picking me up and helping me stagger back to the flat the muppet decides it's a perfect time to go surfing. Blind drunk, all on his tod at two in the morning, in massive waves being smashed into the coastline by Storm Cuntflaps. Every time the water hits him he pukes everywhere. Got to get your jollies somehow I suppose.

The next day the weather is predictably awful. Which is handy, as I'm so hungover I can't even move. Cam and Natalie make the sensible choice and clear off home, while me and Staples linger like a rancid fart in a lift. Eventually, after a fry up, we think it's a great idea to try a route at Baggy Point. The drive there is through narrow, twisting roads, lots of abrupt stops and corners, and I'm fighting a bitter war against a fountain of vomit. Upon arriving at the National Trust car park an attendant puts her hand through the window for the fee, and is luckier than she will ever know not to receive the contents of my stomach instead. We realise climbing on a sea cliff isn't the best idea right now, and skulk back to the flat instead.

So we've still got a couple of days to fill but the weather is not having any of it. After much checking of the forecasts we come to the conclusion that Chudleigh Rocks is our best bet for Sunday. Climbing wise you know you are in a dark place when polished shithole Chudleigh is your best option. In the list of things I really don't want to do, climbing there just squeaks in before hacking off my spuds with a rusty saw.

Staples leading some awful bloody route in a hailstorm

It's grey and ominous. The wind howls around the crag, which is just as polished and uninspiring as I remember. Staples gets halfway up a VDiff when the inneviatble happens, a massive storm erupts and pelts us with rain and hail. He struggles to the top on rock with the friction of soap then brings me up to share the misery. All the cracks have got snails in them. We trudge back down and contemplate doing another route, but more hail comes hurtling down, and we think fuck it lets get pissed instead.

The pinnacle of any climbers career, reaching the top of Chudleigh in shite weather

This is what I think of you Chudleigh

And on that note...

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Grit Shit Innit

Apart from a few smeggy top ropes down Portland, I hadn't climbed anything on rock this year before a weekend jolly up to the Peak. So to no one's surprise I climbed like a sack of old turds. Here's a few photos from the trip...

The towering majesty of Birchen Edge

Cam soloing something easy

Good climbers make hard moves look easy, however shit climbers.....

Grovelling to the top

Cam on the same route, think it was VDiff, still felt hard

Cam thrashing up a jamming crack at Burbage

And another one

Easy soloing walls at Stanage

Classic David 'Snake Hips' Gainor high foot beta in action

Cam failing to jam his massive hand into a crack

Pat making an absolute Dogs Arse of April Crack

Me not doing much better on second

As does Cam

Me at the top of Robin Hoods Buttress, which thankfully isn't the gruesome struggle you expect from the deck

Cam fighting up Agony Crack

Pat having a go at Flying Buttress Direct

After time beyond human reckoning, and more tries than I could count, this was as far as he got, the massive wetty

So to make Pat feel better I get rescued off some sloping horror show called The Flange

3 gormless idiots at the top

Amazing sunset over the peak, good times

Sunday, 6 March 2016


We're going to fucking smash it this trip. Do all the classics. Talisker, Jura, Glenlivet, Old Pultney. The list is massive but we're all mega psyched. Months of hard training behind us. Also, there's a few bits of climbing gear chucked in the boot as well, but sod that for a game of soldiers. Scottish winter climbing is bloody miserable. I don't really like it. Cold, painful, and no one's bothered to put any bolts in the crags. But I guess we'll have to if we get bad whisky conditions one day...

Long drive overnight. Three ill-prepared southern pansies crammed into a Ford Focus with dozens of bags filled with gear, and enough pasta to feed Italy for a week. Staples and I drive, getting no sleep whatsoever. We arrive in Aviemore in the morning exhausted to the point of hallucination. The road up to the ski station is closed - thank fuck for that. Gives us the perfect excuse to sack the days climbing, catch up on sleep, and drink whisky instead.

Typical scene from one of our 'climbing' trips

Off to the pub. Just a couple though. Big day tomorrow. Much, much later we're all blind drunk and buying rounds for the local folk band. Slapping the table along to a load of old songs about what a bunch of cunts the English are. Eventually we stagger off into the freezing night to sleep in the car. Morning comes with a crippling hangover. Ice everywhere. There's a big pile of sick next to Cam's bivy. I've seen roadkill that looks healthier than he does right now. Slogging through drifts of powder and pine forests towards the crag. I can hear the wind howling through the mountains higher up. Every few steps Cam stops to throw up more of his internal organs. 

We lurch our way up the mountain like zombies. Has a team ever been less ready to go winter climbing? I move in crampons with all the grace of a drunk on a bouncy castle.

Sneachda in rare good weather

So we just about manage something in Coire Sneachda. A hurricane blasts across the Cairngorm plateau. Icicles form in my beard. So much suffering for a couple of pitches of climbing. However the weather forecast is looking good, so we decide to head over to Skye to have a play in the Cuillins. Pat arrives, having done the whole drive up on his tod. We immediately ask him to drive us to the nearest pub. Evening stroll towards Sgurr nan Gillean. It's a beautiful clear night so we decide to bivy beneath the mountain.

Looking up at the peak from near the bivy spot

This seems a great idea for about ten minutes, then we just lie there in the darkness freezing our tits off. It's so cold we get going before dawn, and wander up the initial slopes to a shoulder. From here we improvise a way up the peak, soloing up neve slopes with the occasional steep ice pitch. Soloing on shit ice with the massive drop snapping beneath our heels, what joy.

Sgurr nan Gillean on the left. I have no idea what we climbed

Eventually we top out on a ridge but it's blowing a hoolie, visibility is rubbish, and we have absolutely no idea where we are. So we make a series of abseils from the pinnacle until we can escape down an easy snow slope. It's not really a proper route, but a fun little adventure, and we name it Cucumber West - after the time honoured navigational tradition that if you throw a cucumber at a sheep it will always run to the west. That's a stonewall fucking fact that is.

The slopes we descended, ridge in the background. Still no idea what's going on

Back to the Cairngorms. We spend a day soloing gullies in Coire Sneachda. It takes us about 15 minutes to climb a route that would take hours if you were using ropes. The soloing bug that I picked up on my last Alps trip is worming deeper and deeper into my brain.

Soloing Spiral Gully

Digging snow pits in Sneachda

The next day Pat and I climb the mega classic Fingers Ridge. I've wanted to do this one for years, and it's fucking brilliant. Quick jolly up snow then three awesome mixed pitches, up steep blocky ground, chimneys, corners, there's even the odd bit of gear. I lead up the exposed ridge crest towards the famous finger pinnacles, utterly appalled when I realise you have to do a no hands bridge between the bastard things. I sort of fall onto the left one, sobbing hysterically as my axes skate ineffectively off brittle rime ice. This dumps me at the foot of a completely plastered slab, the crux of the whole route, and it's fucking desperate. I spent long minutes balancing on tiny edges on my front points, hacking away at the ice to find the next placements. A series of one hand one foot rock overs finally spits me out onto the top of the slab, bellyflopping onto a ledge like fat person struggling out of a swimming pool, and from there an easy wander leads to the top.

You can see the fingers poking up on the right skyline

We've got time for one more big one, so it's south towards Glencoe. But on the way we catch sight of the massive north face of Ben Nevis, looming above everything, perfect blue skies, and it's just irresistible. We stop in Fort Bill instead, arsehole of the north west, and get ready. There's a bad vibe about the Ben this year, climbers still missing somewhere on its flanks, and we're all shitting ourselves in the car park. Except Staples, who is sitting this one out with a bad ankle, and will instead spend the time wanking in the car and hopelessly chasing local girls on Tinder. Midnight comes, no sleep, and we begin the 2 hour trudge up to the CIC hut. Here we sort out our gear and jolly up a gully to the Douglas Gap. A fun pitch leads us onto the crest of the ridge, then we take the rope off again and solo off into the night. It's calm and clear and the snow conditions are perfect.

Tower Ridge is the obvious buttress in the Center of the face

Soloing up easy terrain

We briefly rope up for a tricky step on the Little Tower, soloing everything else by torchlight, climbing mixed ground and icy runnels between the rock. Soon enough we reach the Eastern Traverse. This is meant to be one of the cruxes of the route so we decide to pitch it. Unnecessarily, it turns out, as it's nothing more than an exposed shuffle along a boot-wide ledge of snow. Piss easy. We're across in minutes, and then I take over the lead, racing up the Great Tower to gain the crest once more. Now comes the final obstacle - Tower Gap. A notch cut into the ridge, guarding access to the easy finishing slopes. So Cam leads into it, brings me over, then I lead out the other side. Pat follows after and we're done. It's exposed and a bit precarious, but easy enough in the current conditions. A final glory romp up more perfect snow and we're on top. The whole route takes us maybe 5 hours. By doing Tower Ridge mostly at night we avoid the queues it is otherwise notorious for.

The belay at the top of the Great Tower

The sun rises over the summit of Ben Nevis

We plod over to the summit trig point, amazed by the lack of wind. Snow covered mountains lay before us for miles and miles in every direction. One of those rare perfect days that makes Scottish winter climbing so incredible. We decide to traverse the Carn Mor Dearg ArĂȘte to finish the day off in style, watching in smug satisfaction as climbers swarm over the ridge like ants, bottlenecks everywhere. Serves the lazy sods right. We're back at the car eleven and a half hours after leaving.

Arriving on top after my best route in Scotland yet

At the summit trig point

Back down in Fort Bill we catch up with Captain Pissytrousers and head over to Glencoe and the Clachaig Inn. Here we drink more fine whisky and celebrate an awesome Highlands road trip. Good times.

Tugger, the Glorious Leader, Captain Pissytrousers and Offwidth Dangle-Prussik outside the Clachaig, job done