Awareness of Danger.

Wen Zawn with Caff on an on-sight attempt of Hardback Thesaurus.

I was reading a forum topic on UKC a few days ago started by Chris Craggs, the title of the topic is, Awareness of Danger, here is a link

In his opening post, Chris explains,

“We were climbing at Horseshoe today and Colin pointed out the team to our left. The leader had gone up about six clips, taken a few falls then lowered off, stripping all the remaining quickdraws on the way down. The other guy top-roped up to the high bolt, pressed on then promptly fell off.

I put my best schoolyard voice on shouted the he should lower down and clip at least one more bolt below him ‘just in case’. He apologised, thanked me and did just that. One of our team chatted to them later, it was their first day climbing out doors.

I was a bit shocked at their apparent lack of understanding that they might be in danger, bolts don’t generally fail, and ropes don’t usually become unclipped – but it can happen.”


Reading the post, reminded me (loosely) of a situation a few years ago when Jack Geldard, James McHaffie, Adam Wainwright and I decided to go climbing in Wen Zawn at Gogarth.

The day was overcast. The kind of monochrome sky that gives one thing, and it isn’t a good thing. The four of us abseiled into the zawn, the sea was well out, the boulders all proud and slippery. The rain started almost as soon as we began boulder hopping and looking around. The sea must have been on spring tides, it was swirling around the boulders, but shallower than I’d seen before. The swishing noise of the sea reverberated around the enclosed, and dark space. The steep, glistening walls loomed.

Adam and I were hoping to climb a route first climbed in 1991 by Paul Pritchard and Leigh McGinley called Rubble, it was an E7 6a, the best line in the zawn, and possibly, the softest. Jack and Caff were going to try a Johnny Dawes and Bob Drury E7 6b, called, Hardback Thesaurus. The first ascent of Hardback Thesaurus had taken several, ground up attempts by johnny, over several days, and set the standard for the route. Without hunting through Google, (other search engines available) there is a film somewhere of Johnny attempting, and repeatedly falling from the climb, that was given the grade E8, and obviously dangerous. Caff was, of course, going on-sight, armed with a big rack of gear, that he would not need, and several skyhooks, which he would!

The rain was now heavy, and the four of us took shelter in the back of the zawn. Mr Softy and The Mad Brown, both routes, alongside George Smith, Adam had been on the first ascent. The walls, blocks of orange and yellow and grey, spiralling above, were running water. The light was foreboding, the rock was dark and getting darker. Oh well, I thought, nothing doing today. At some point the rain stopped and Caff edged his way across the boulders to stand beneath Hardback.

“Shall we give it a go, Jack?” Caff suggested.

Jack looked a tad perplexed, but he wasn’t the one about to launch onto this wet, unprotected wall, so said,

“Erm, yeah, OK, James.”

[I’ve always known Caff as Caff, but Jack had always called Caff by his proper name, James. To this day, I’ve never really wondered why this is, and I’ve never asked Caff which he prefers?]

Adam and I boulder-hopped across to the start of the pretty mad looking, overhanging concrete dyke, which is rubble. I ran my hand over the rock, it was soaking.

“I’m not trying this today, Adam.”

I turned to look into the depths of the Zawn where Caff, (belayed by a very concerned Jack) had pulled onto the wall. I was pretty sure the attempt would end quickly, once Caff had decided it was not in condition, but carefully, and cautiously, Caff made progress. I should have known Caff would keep going, as on other occasions where I had belayed, his tenacity, in the face of adverse conditions, was remarkable. In some ways, it was possibly this tenacity, to give things a go, when a whole host of things were against it happening, is what got Caff up many of the hard routes.

There was the odd bit of gear, but as he crept higher, it really was, the odd bit, and it really didn’t look to be that good. Sporadically, Caff would ask Jack to keep an eye, although to be honest, I’m sure there wasn’t enough distance for Jack to run, (one side of the zawn to the other) to save a ground fall.

Caff made some quite tricky, wet and unprotected moves to the right and placed a skyhook. If the hook ripped, he would certainly hit the ground, as the last gear was a long way beneath. Shaking out, repeatedly chalking-up, (remember, the rock is wet!) he aimed for a small overhang where he said he could see a possible nut placement. He reached the nut placement, which he then shouted down saying it wasn’t so good, and eased another skyhook onto a small edge. After some time, he began, what looked to be a hard sequence of moves, undercutting a small overhang. Shouting, Caff said he could definitely see a good hold and some gear a little way above, but in a flash, one of the flakes he was undercutting ripped, and he was flying. I’d never before, or since, screamed while watching someone fall. I was sure I was witnessing the death of my friend, but he stopped, the hooks, one on each rope, had held.

“Let me down Jack.”

He reached the floor and untied. I must admit I felt a tad wobbly, Jack looked nauseous, but Caff looked OK.

“What are we going to do now?”  Jack asked, looking up at a wet wall, with a few bits of gear, and the two ropes hanging from the two, distant skyhooks.

Caff looked up, then turned to Jack saying, “You should give it a go on top rope Jack, those hooks are bomber.”


I must admit that Chris’s story, and his shock at the climber stripping out all the draws beneath the one he was lowering, and then the next person top-roping from this one draw and bolt, reminded me a bit of the Wen Zawn episode. I wonder if Chris would have put on his best school yard voice that day and had a word with Caff?

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A story I would prefer to forget…


Recently, I received two messages that came in a day apart, both were from friends who are climbing in Chulilla, Spain. The messages were about the same subject, and in each message, my friends said a story was doing the rounds, and it was a story that I played a part. When they told me what story it was, I replied, that I was a part of the story, as much as I didn’t want to be, and the story would possibly make a good bit of writing, so here goes…

Chulilla is a small town set high on the side of a wide and twisting gorge cut by the Rio Turia; a meandering body of water flowing in the base of the gorge. Once the river passes the town, it cuts back on itself one hundred and eighty degrees, forming something similar to a Venezuela Tepui, a large island of rock on the land between the U bend in the river. Reeds, in the base of the gorge swish in the breeze, and small birds’ flit between the delicate stalks. I’ve spent many days climbing, and often being ejected from the steep and high, yellow and orange limestone walls. Late in the evening, as the sun sets, jogging along the sandy track that follows the river, it’s easy to lose yourself, and imagine you’re in some South American jungle.


My first trip to Chulilla was about seven years ago with Zylo. We hadn’t been together long, but I do remember her repeatedly trying, and lobbing from the crux of a very good and long 7a+ called Serengeti. In itself, this was impressive, but, while stripping the route, clipped to the second bolt; taking the rope out of the quickdraw she was clipped to, (so I could take the rope tight) she somehow caught the tip of her index finger in the draw and leant back. Her fingertip exploded. The blood that flew from her finger was possibly more impressive that her tenacity higher up the climb, and after lowering her down, the exploded tip was pouring blood. The following day, she taped and glued her finger and gave Serengeti a few more goes, which I must admit, I found impressive and scary in equal measure!

Several months later, over Christmas, and still together, (of course we were still together, she was hard as nails, although a tad mad!) Zylo and I spent a month in Chulilla. For a few days, it poured with rain and I went running. On one of my runs, I left the village, jogging past the sewerage works, (an excellent van doss as long as you don’t mind the odd waft of human shit) then up and over a col, and onto the other side of the gorge, leading to the dam, and the parking for the climbing. The rain hammered, streams flowed where streams don’t usually flow, the sky was dark and cloudy, and the temperature was more north Wales than Valencia region. I jogged from the dam, along the sandy footpath, heading towards the suspended footbridge over the gorge at its narrowest. The path runs along the opposite river bank to the section of crag that has the largest, and in my mind, best climbing at Chulilla, sector Oasis. Of course, there was no one climbing because that would be really crazy given the weather and conditions, but as I stomped through the sodden sand, opposite a section of the crag called Pared Blanca, there was one, obviously deranged person, power screaming his way up one of the 8a’s. I stopped to watch the surreal spectacle; a person climbing a hard climb, in the cold, with a waterfall pouring over the top of the climb. Great dark swathes of water flowed each side of him. Impressive. But definitely mad!

A Christmas Day beer at Pared Blanca.

Several days later, Zylo and I were at a crag called Naranjito where she climbed a 7a+ that had no name (and possibly no other ascents, although she insisted it was good!) and she didn’t explode any of her fingers, so all was fine. We then went to Pared Blanca for me to try a route called Kataplof that I had put the clips in a few days earlier on Christmas Day. Kataplof is a Pedro Pons climb. Pedro and his partner Nuria own the Hostel El Altico in the village, and both have been involved in the development in Chulilla. On that first trip, Zylo and I were camping at the hostel, and after trying a 7c that I can’t remember the name, or even where it was, we returned to the hostel, where I wined to Pedro that the route I had been trying, had no holds. Pedro replied, ‘Of course it has holds Nick, its only 7c’. I took myself away and wept into my Voll Damm!

Kataplof had no stars, no chalk, no polish and no entries in UKC logbooks, (possibly the no polish, and no chalk, was related to the no logbook entries … ooooh, political!). The fact that it was an unknown, appealed to me. It also looked brilliant and long, so why not, (I must admit, the honey pot thing, that is brought about by stuff being posted on the internet has always bothered me a bit, you may not have notice 😉).

The crag had dried out and there was one other party there, who, it turned out, was someone I knew.

“Hey Josh, how are you?”

Josh Wharton was originally from the East Coast of the States, and described by Kelly Cordes, (also from the States) as a weapon. Josh climbed around the world, in the mountains, on rock, ice and mixed, and on some very difficult and bold climbs, he was very good.

“Yeah, good thanks Nick.”

I recalled my run in the rain from a week ago,

“Were you climbing here in the rain last week?” I asked.

“Yeah, it was raining a bit.”

Now it made sense,

“No shit!”

I had a go at Kataplof, and fell off. Josh on-sighted a long and pumpy 7c+ to my right, (thinking about it, he may have climbed another 8a) then asked if he could have a go at my route. He on-sighted that also. I wasn’t going to have another go as I was still pumped, but inspired by Josh, got on, and surprised myself by doing it, there’s possibly a lesson to be taken from this, although I’m not sure what it is…

Josh on Kataplof (I think!)

Chulilla is great, and all of the stories above are from Chulilla, but none are the story doing the rounds at the moment in Chulilla. The story doing the rounds goes back a good few years, from a time I was best man at my friend’s wedding somewhere near the Cotswolds.

My friend is a climber, a great friend who has a bad habit of climbing the same hill, driving big four-wheel drive vehicles and wearing wrist watches that are too big, expensive, and heavy. We had loads of the same friends, and most of them were at the wedding. Personally, I think the only reason he asked me to be best man was because he knew I would not go to town on the speech, and take it from me, there was a lot of potential to go to town! But as outspoken as I can be on occasion, I would never include some of the content I had knowledge of, certainly not in a best man’s speech, else it may have been a very short marriage, and my friend knew this. Yes, for once, I was a safe bet, who would have thought!

In the evening, everyone hung out and drank too much. The venue was a posh hotel and pub, it had dark nooks and crannies and open fires. A group of about fifteen of us stood in an alcove. Everyone standing in the circle were close friends. Most of the group I knew from my winters in Chamonix. I had slept on their sofas, skied and climbed with them all, we all knew each other well. One of the group was, and still is, a great mate. In some aspects, we were quite different, he hardly drank alcohol, he was all over social media with pictures mainly of himself, and he always appeared to be following some weird form of diet. He was also much fitter, and a better climber and skier than me. We had Alpine climbed, skied, rock climbed, trained, run, expedition climbed, Scottish winter climbed, almost all of it, together, and regularly, (It isn’t Andy Houseman for those of you trying to guess, although you possibly knew that because I said I’d trained and run with this person and they didn’t drink 😉).

Grande Jorasses North Face. The ski descent from Breche Puiseux is on the right.

Of the many days together, I still remember one snowy and sunny day in Chamonix, that me and my un-named mate, who for the purpose of this story, I’ll call Iggy, had some spare time. So, on a whim, we jumped on a mid-morning Midi ski lift, arrived at the top station, bustled through the ice tunnel, clicked into skis, and skied the top section of the Valley Blanche, heading to the Italian side of the Giant Icefall. From the top of the icefall, we skinned up the Periades glacier; zig-zag, after monotonous, zig-zag, for about 600m, before reaching a cliff band, where we attached crampons to ski boots, skis to rucksacks, and kicked-up another 300m, of the South Couloir of the Breche Puiseux, to finally reach Breche Puiseux, a rocky gap in the sticky out bits on the right hand side (looking up from the Leschaux Glacier) of the ridge running across the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses (I know this isn’t the best description, but hopefully, you get the idea). I must admit, I was hanging by the time we reached the breche, we had hardly stopped since leaving the Midi, and it had been in full sun. The altitude gain was just over 1000 hot metres. Iggy, being very fit, had pushed the pace because he was concerned we would miss the final Montenvers train back to the valley. I’m also pretty sure I’d not taken any food or water!

We didn’t stop in the breche, in-fact, when I got there, Iggy was already abseiling down the north side, we now had 3000m of descent. After two abseils, we attached skis, and in the shade of the brooding Grande Jorasses North face, skied the Glacier of the Mont Mallet without stopping, until we reached the levelling of the Leschaux Glacier, nearly opposite the Leschaux refuge. I only learnt to ski at the age of 37, and my skiing was a source of great fun for all of my friends, and I must admit, my thighs were screaming on the descent, so much so, I’m pretty sure I yelled to my mate, ‘leave me, I’ll walk the train tracks back to the valley, I don’t care!’ But once on the level, we continued to the lower section of the Vallee Blanche, and the Mer de Glace, where, after something like four-hours since leaving the Midi station, we joined the queue for the small cabins, that took us to the train station. As I stood in the queue and walked, my arms began to lock, my legs cramped and I thought I was about to vomit.

“Here you go mate.”

My friend had a square of dark chocolate and water with orange isotonic flavouring; he always looked after me.

Anyway, back to the wedding, where we all stood in the alcove. Iggy, hardly ever drinks, but on this occasion, he had a few red wines, and it was almost as funny as my skiing stance. He wobbled like I had in that queue for the train, before then sitting down on a chair. I don’t think he was in a relationship at the time, although to be honest, Iggy and relationships were often, how to put it, fluid, or at least that’s how he saw them! There was a woman in the circle who had history with him, and as he sat down, he looked up at her, lifted his tea-shirt to reveal the ribbed muscles of his stomach, and said, “Go on love, treat yourself.” Needless to say, this garnered a reaction from the crowd of friends.

I can’t remember what time I went to bed, but it was late, and I was a tad worse for wear. As the best man, I had been sharing a room with my friend who had just become a married man, but inconsiderately, he had moved rooms to share with his wife, meaning I was now sharing with Iggy. I collapsed in bed, and the thought ran through my mind, ‘he better not’. I fell into a bit of a stupor holding this thought, but as drunk as I was, and as drunk as he was, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t.

I woke in the dark, and heard something I had not heard all the way up to the Breche Puiseux, it was Iggy a little out of breath, he was actually breathing quite heavy!

Oh no, I couldn’t believe it, she had obviously taken up Iggy’s offer and decided to ‘treat herself’, so I rolled over, pulled the blanket and pillow over my head, then pushed fingers into ears and began to hum the theme tune to Postman Pat.

I’m not sure at what point the proceedings stopped, but I sensed there were still two people nearby, and just for a second I thought of sitting up, turning on the lamp, and asking if either of them had a cigarette, but in the end, because Iggy was my mate, and he had given me a drink and a square of chocolate in that queue, I decided not to, but, even a drink of water that had some isotonic ingredients, and a square of posh, dark, 80 percent chocolate only buys you so much loyalty. 😉

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Into the (Winter) Future?

Guy Robertson on the first ascent of Mind Bomb. We gave this new, final pitch, of the Fowler and Wilkinson climb Ice Bomb on Beinn Dearg, an old skool grade VI, to keep in line with many of Mick’s climbs.

My folks retired and lived for quite a few years on a canal boat; travelling around the inland waterways of England. When they became too old to navigate the rivers and canals, they moored-up, permanent, at a birth near Northampton. Mum died, the week between Christmas and New Year 2015. Later that year, with my friends Mark and Nikki, and my nephew Jake, we moved dad and the boat, Jasper, south to be near my sister.

A few years passed, dad quite enjoyed living in the marina near the centre of Hemel Hempstead, but rarely spoke of mum, or what they had, which was over fifty years together. He very rarely dwells on the past, he compartmentalises like no one else I know, or I’m sure, will ever know.

Dad’s health was not the best, and one day he fell and lay unconscious until a neighbour found him. He was taken to hospital, where he slipped and broke his hip. Lesley, my sister told me to expect the worse, he possibly wouldn’t survive the operation to fix his hip. Throughout my later life, these, dad will more than likely not survive scenarios, have been frequent, and, not only did he survive, he recovered. Unbeknown to dad, while he was in hospital, Lesley and I cleared the boat and sold it. Dad was not firm enough to continue living that style of life. Lesley gave Paddy, dad’s dog, to a friend, and also his parrot. It took two days to empty the boat, and sort dad’s stuff. Dad had moved nothing since mum had died, it was really sad going through mum’s stuff, sorting through things I’d brought them back from my expeditions.

Lesley found a place for dad in a care home near her, and dad moved in, not once asking about the boat, Paddy, or Barney the parrot. This was his lot, he accepted it and moved on.

Covid came and took many people living in care homes, but not dad; against the odds, the old bastard just kept going and smoking his roll ups!

I hadn’t seen dad in a few years because of Covid, and to be honest, he is a hard act to love, and never appears to want any love, or give any out. The relationship between dad and myself is complex. I do love him, but find it hard to travel hundreds of miles with the cost of trains or fuel, to see him, especially when he doesn’t appear that bothered to see me.

Lesley sent me a message in the autumn saying dad had had a fall, and was in hospital, and this time, he almost certainly was not coming out alive. She told me I should drive to Dunstable to see him before he died. I knew I had to see him, but I must admit, I was fretting about the cost and the time. I had been spending money, and working all year building sheds to live, and I desperately wanted to finish the work, so I could once again become a climber. To be really frank, the amount of times dad had been about to die over the last twenty years was almost as much as Boris Johnson had lied to the nation. The old bastard was indestructible, I was starting to think he would outlive me, and was almost sure he would make a recovery, but I hadn’t seen him for about three years, so one afternoon, set off on the ten-hour, return journey.

The ward dad was on had a covid outbreak, and on the door, there was a sign saying no visitors were allowed, but a friendly nurse said because I had travelled a long way, I could come in as long as I wore a mask, gown and gloves. She pointed to the bed dad was in, and left me to it. The gown was stretched over my clothes, and tying the knot behind my back was desperate. Bloody hell, I thought, I’ve tied a million knots, surely, I can tie this one behind my back!  The gloves were too small, I could hardly get my fat climbers’ fingers into the fingers! Eventually, plastic wrapped, I walked down the ward and almost walked past the bed with dad. I hardly recognised the frail old man beneath the covers. He recognised me though,

“Bloody hell, it’s our youth.”

“Hey dad, how you doing?”

Dad was never big and imposing, he was always slim, but he had the tenacity of a terrier, and a forceful, opinionated presence. I was desperately trying to hold back tears; he looked so frail and vulnerable; it maybe also gave me a glimpse of my own mortality?

I sat an hour and a half, and in that time, he actually shone. He was cheeky to the nurses, several times asking for a cup a tea that hadn’t arrived. At one point he started loudly saying, “tea up.” It was pretty obvious he was going to once again escape the clutches of the grim reaper, and maybe even this hospital. Interestingly, he said he was ok, he quite liked it in the hospital. I must admit, I thought it was awful, there were sick and dying people all around, I felt myself becoming depressed. I marvelled at dad, here he was, an eighty-seven-year-old, that had gone from having a marriage and a house, to a marriage and a boat, to a boat and a dog and a parrot, to a room in a care home, to a hospital bed, and he lay there saying he was ok, not a single complaint. He made me feel guilty.

I drove back to north Wales the same day with a head full of emotion. Hell, in some ways he was miraculous, but in others, I just don’t know? What a thing to be able to shut out all that has gone before and just go with what you have been dealt?


My last expedition to the Greater Ranges was in 2018. After this, there was Covid, where I wrecked my body from running and weighted hangboarding. After the lockdowns, my knees, hip, lower back, neck and shoulders, were all on the cusp, and I made the conscious decision to stop expeditions, winter climbing and running, they all took too much of a toll on my joints, and because I was still rock climbing as well as ever, and enjoying it as much as I always had, I decided to throw myself into this, and see how I could progress without the other things eating into my time and energy. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not easy. I have not stopped because I want to, I’ve stopped out of necessity, and because I’m lucky, I still have rock climbing, something I love. I prefer to continue enjoying climbing as well as I can on the rock, than becoming bitter and twisted, while attempting to do things my body no longer wants me to do. There have also been the sheds, (look back through previous posts) and I very much enjoy living where I now live.

In some way, I have taken my dad’s example, and attempted to compartmentalise. That was then, this is now, move forward, don’t live in the past. But it is difficult, especially as many people talk to me about what is happening, and ask me when I’m going to Scotland, or on the next big trip. I want to scream, ‘leave me alone, I don’t want to know’, but of course, this isn’t acceptable, so I generally say something like, I’ve given up, I’m too old, body hurts too much, and move the conversation along.

I have given you this preamble for a couple of reasons, one is to give you a glimpse into my life now, and some background. The other is to explain how, or why, I’ve decided to stop winter climbing and the mountains. There is actually a lot more to it than what I have written. I’ve lost many friends over the years, this has had an impact, and the way things have changed within climbing; the social media stuff and consumerism, these are also reasons I think the time is right for me to distance myself from something I love. There is also the big elephant in the room, climate change. Climate change is something I feel strongly about, even though I’ve done quite a bit in the past to make the situation worse. But I don’t see this as reason, not to try and do what little I can now.

Even though I try not to get involved with what is going on anymore, at times it’s almost impossible, given these crazy internet times we live, and the way almost everything and everybody has to advertise their wares on social media. I almost always refuse to enter debates and conversations on forums and social medial platforms, it’s pointless, because for one, you have no idea who you are talking to, and what motivates them, and even when its someone who is actually honest and knowledgeable, hardly anyone listens to what is being said. They just plough ahead with their own beliefs. But, on occasion, something happens, or is said, that I feel the need to add my thoughts, (not as they are any more, or less, pertinent that anyone else’s) and so it is at the moment.

Myself on the crux pitch and the second ascent of Guerdon Grooves. We refused to talk about grades when Byard Russel, Guy Robertson and I climbed the second ascent after a 28 year wait of this mythical route… The grade really didn’t matter!

Scottish winter climbing has always been close to my heart. There is something exceptionally unique about how people taking part, hold themselves and adhere to the long, rich and stringent ethics. The reason they do this, or a part of the reason they do this, is to maintain the ethos. For those of a certain mind-set, people in search of new climbs, there is nothing better than setting out in the dark, not-knowing what the day may hold. There is nothing better that arriving at a cliff, and seeing what it has presented you with. There are obviously times when you have an idea, you know of something that might be possible, but until you tie on and give it a go, you just don’t know. Going into the unknown on a big cliff in winter, a cliff that might be a long way from anywhere, is almost unique in these days of information overload, and the health and safety conscious, sanitised life we are led to believe we should live. Scottish winter climbing is a kick in the tatties for the government officials telling us we have to wrap ourselves in cotton wool. Under no circumstances, should we start to chip away at the ethics that make Scottish winter unique.

Scottish winter climbing is not rock climbing, it is a different beast. There are similarities obviously, but there is a world of difference between the two, people should not try to compare one, with the other. Scottish winter climbing has held on to its strong ethics of on-sight, or at least ground up, even though, on rare occasions, the odd person has come along to challenge this. Fortunately, the consensus has held on to the firm belief, for Scottish winter climbing to remain unique, almost on the world stage, (people really do travel from all over the world to climb in Scotland in winter, because of its truly adventurous nature) it has to keep those strong ethics, and when people challenge this by ignoring the ethics of the day, they should be questioned and confronted.

The cliffs in Scotland are actually quite small, and once you begin to use similar tactics as those that can be used on a summer rock climb, you bring down that challenge massively, you turn something that is very adventurous and unknown, into a known, something to be tamed. You also take away the first ascent from others that are happy and excited to take on the challenge in its truest form, the same as the pioneers from all the years before, the same as history and the ethics of the day ask you to do now.

Where Scottish winter is concerned, I have never been of the opinion for it to remain healthy, grades have to be improved. Why do grades have to be improved? The physical difficulty of a route, is a very small part of what the whole thing is about. Scottish winter climbing is not a bolted sport climb, or a bolted dry tool climb, it is not about achieving your physical limit. Climbing harder and harder is not ‘advancing’ the activity. Do we need grades to progress to make this unique thing somehow better? No. The grades of climbs mean something, of course, but if the top grades of winter climbs never go up again, it won’t make any difference to the activity as a whole, or what it means to the activists.

A week or two ago, I read on UKC about a new winter climb on Shelterstone, or to be more precise, the first winter ascent of the established rock climb, Stone Bastion. The summer grade is E4, the winter grade X/10. It took Tim Millar and Jamie Skelton several visits to complete the climb, going from bottom to top in a day. Good tenacity that! I must admit, in all my years of winter climbing in the UK, I only ever returned to a climb I had failed to on-sight, once, obviously I should have tried harder.

Having failed to climb the final, crux pitch twice, the next time Tim and Jamie walked to Shelterstone, they decided to start at the top, and take turns to abseil, and top rope the pitch that had stopped them. Then, armed with the knowledge from working the crux pitch, they returned on another day and made the full winter ascent. Here is the news item on UKC.

Writing about this specific climb, I know I’m making it a bit personal. This is the last thing I want to do as both climbers in this case are obviously really keen, talented and driven. I’m sure they are both fine people, (I’ve never met either of them, and they have not met me, so the jury is out for all of us 😉). I hope in weeks to come, or months, maybe a year, they look at the tactics they chose, and come to the conclusion, it wasn’t the best. What they chose to do damages the ethics of Scottish winter climbing by distilling it, and by doing what they have done, makes it easier for others to use similar methods, on climbs of any grade. I firmly believe if this kind of thing continues, there will be teams all over the Northern Cories top roping everything, and some of the last great winter problems will have had practice before the first ascent. Who knows, maybe they will have had some gear left in place from the practice to aim, and then clip, when the almost guaranteed first winter ascent is made. I’m not saying this was done on this occasion, but if this tactic occurs in the future, I have absolutely no doubt it will. They also took away the first on-sight, or ground-up winter ascent from others, in an activity where less of this type challenge is available. There are others out there that are capable of climbing X/10 on sight and have done. To prove my point, only a few days later, Greg Boswell and Jamie, one of the team who practiced the crux pitch of Stone Bastion before climbing it, made a ground up, first ascent, on the cliffs of Lochnagar. This climb is graded two adjective grades, and three technical grades harder than winter Stone Bastion.

My Scottish winter days are over, I’ve attempted to do a dad thing and compartmentalise, moved forward to hold on to what I’ve got before the surgeon becomes intimate with my body. I don’t want to become one of those bitter people that struggles with not being able to do what I once could. So, does anything I say matter? I suppose you could tell me to get out of here, and fair enough, it’s up to you, I’m just a rambling old man who gives a shit. But for the folk out there still doing it, and for those not yet doing it, you need to decide. Do you want grades, numbers, Instagram posts, fame and money, are these things ‘advancement’, the way forward? Or do you want to hold-on to one of the few things we have left in climbing that has real uncertainty and integrity?





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The Snowball Effect.

Michael Tweedley on the top pitch of Punster’s Crack sometime in 2003 maybe! As you can see, Norrie got it wrong!

Years ago, now, I think it was winter 2003, so nineteen years ago, I travelled to Scotland. It was quite a full-on Scottish winter, snow down to the road even as far south as Loch Lomond. I met Michael Tweedley, and our first climb was Punster’s Crack on the Cobbler. At the time, Michael had been climbing in winter with an up-and-coming climber called Dumby Dave, (although maybe for those in the know, he had already come at this point!) better known, of course, as Dave Macleod. I’m sure Michael said, Dave and his partner, (who remains unknown to me) had climbed Punster’s Crack, making the first, or possibly the second, or maybe even the third winter ascent? In fact, sitting here now, thinking about it, I’m pretty sure Michael didn’t say this at all, I think he might have mentioned Dave had climbed it, and nothing else. NO, now I remember, I’m pretty sure after we climbed it, Michael told Dave, and Dave had told Michael we had climbed the second, third, or fourth winter ascent? Anyway, I knew nothing about the climb, and remember very little about it, I didn’t even know it was a starred summer route, what an ignorant fool!

At that time, for me anyway, the thought of leaving a Scottish winter climb because it was too snowy, was not a thing, we did Bulgy in the Northern Corries later in the trip, where I do, for once remember swimming in a scary, unprotected upward motion. Basically, if it was winter, and Scotland, and it was plastered in snow, it was in condition. These were beautiful innocent times, well, at least they were for me. I watched weather forecasts and when it looked good, drove North. I walked into crags that I thought would be in condition, and climbed anything that looked good and interesting. Obviously, I had ideas of the climbs I wanted to do, but, more often than not, these would go out of the window as something else came along.

When we climbed Punster’s it was almost skiable, and I still remember climbing the top pitch blindly snagging picks, lifting my front points high and catching them on something, before pulling and standing, to find myself teetering, even higher above the last piece of gear that was way below.

I’m sure I would have been quite exhilarated to top out, but like much else, I don’t remember. I do remember us walking off and thinking about what other climbs we could do. Apart from Michael telling Dave about our ascent, that was it, the climb was done, we moved on to whatever next, there was no blogging, no logbook entry, nothing, that’s how it was, you just went climbing, because you wanted to go climbing and you took a punt (intended) on conditions.

Im sure it was on this Scottish trip in 2003 with Michael, and on a particularly rainy day, he sat me down behind a computer screen in Fort William Library, and showed me how to sign up for an email account. I really didn’t have a clue, I didn’t own a laptop, I had only just learnt how to turn a computer on and off, and thought it was a waste of time. I still have the same email address that Michael showed me how to sign up for all those years ago.

Two months later, maybe three, I visited Canada for an icefall climbing trip. This was my second winter trip to Canada, the first was with Bruce French in 2000, this time I was climbing with Dave Hunter. Dave was the manager at rock and Run in Ambleside at the time. I met Dave for the first time a couple of years previously while staying in the Alex MacIntyre Memorial Hut in North Ballachulish, he was a supply teacher then, and didn’t take work in the winter, concentrating purely on Scottish winter climbing. I liked Dave, he was a loud and grumpy Scot, interested, almost only, on winter climbing. For some reason, we clicked!

In Canada, we travelled around Alberta, with the occasional hop into British Columbia, we climbed loads of classic ice and mixed routes, I suppose the most memorable was an 18-hour, car to car of a completely out of condition Sea of Vapours. As mentioned above, I didn’t follow any forums, or go on the internet at this time, but, as I discovered on this trip, Dave did. We stayed regularly at the Canadian Alpine Club Clubhouse in Canmore, and one night, when I became fed up of doing all the cooking, I went to find him to see what he was doing. It turned out, Dave was downstairs using their pay as you go, get on the internet machine, where he read and added posts to a forum on a website called UKC. I must admit it was beyond me why he wanted to do this, I just didn’t get it, and after having a grumble about him not cooking, left him to his weird and wonderful internet world.

Following a regular theme of this post, I don’t remember when, but sometime after the above internet incident, and obviously when I was a bit more internet savvy, (I think it was after travelling to Canada for the third time with Ian Parnell I became more internet proficient, must have learnt from Ian!) I looked on UKC forums, and it was then, I discovered the occasional mention of me. Now, you modern young things, you’re not going to believe this, but I was truly mortified, I couldn’t believe people had been mentioning me on this weird world wide web. I was especially horrified to see a well know user of UKC forums, Norrie Muir, had mentioned me in a thread about climbing Scottish routes out of condition. Well, what he actually said was, (if I’m remembering correctly because I can’t find the thread on UKC) he had walked beneath the crag, where two people had been climbing Punster’s Crack, and it was completely out of winter condition with no snow. Later, he said he thought (wrongly) the people he had seen climbing was Michael and myself, I think even even said I should have known better. Norrie obviously had heard Michael and I had climbed Punster’s and put 2+2 together, making 37, where he proceeded to slander us. It of course wasn’t us, because as mentioned above, the climb had so much snow as to get a ski grade.

This was almost my first experience of forums and the internet gossiping surrounding climbing, and I must admit, I was glad, I had nothing to do with it, and still to this day, I find the whole Chinese whispers, false accusations and rumour-mill, difficult to accept.

Fast forward to present day. As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been concentrating on building sheds, and apart from the one trip in the van to France, I’ve stayed local in north Wales. My unscientific plan, in between shed building, was to go rock climbing, and in general, the type of rock climbing that is more guaranteed to get a workout; sport, headpointing, well-travelled trad. I just wanted to get some climbing done so as to not lose too much fitness between building days.

I’m glad to say, the shed ghetto, three sheds in total, is almost done and my plan to remain at a certain climbing level appears to have worked. The good news is, I have a ferry booked for Spain and here I am doing my first bit of writing in a while. The bad news is, here I am doing my first bit of writing for a while!

Although my summer has been busy, I’ve kept up with gossiping and spraying, the occasional ‘interesting’ UKC logbook entry, and climbing stuff on various forums etc, not loads, I find it almost impossible to go onto Facebook newsfeed and Instagram, because I become disenchanted looking at hubris, and the thinly disguised sell, of both person and product (maybe now the person is the product?). The commercialisation of climbing and climbers has become awful, and because they can’t see how much they have been manipulated and modified, they just keep doing it. There are so many untruths, half-truths and dare I say, lies. There is speculation and guess work written up as fact on a daily basis. It almost makes me long for the return of poor old Norrie, (unfortunately he died some time back) because at least we knew Norrie was prone to get things wrong and have the occasional rant, and at least Norrie was talking from a very experienced, all be it, fiery stance. I read stuff now that is written as serious; stuff about how we should climb, what protection we should use on certain climbs, and what protection we shouldn’t use. We are told where we should belay and what bits of gear we need to build a belay. We are even told that if a thing is too dangerous, it should be made safe. Oh my, I remember the days that climbing was about a person making decisions for themselves, and if they got it wrong, and lived, they learnt. Now they are castigated by the health and safety, internet lynch mob. Even people that are usually on it, are writing things incorrectly, that is then taken as gospel, and others add their own wild, and incorrect facts. The whole snowball of incorrect, turns into a massive avalanche of utter tripe. It’s like some kind of Greek mythology, but instead of the rock being repeatedly pushed up hill, it’s a big snowball of made up guesses rolling down to crush us all.

A large proportion of the climbing world now appears to be thriving on incorrect information, and making it worse by adding their own incorrect assumptions. How many times while reading something about a climb, or a climbing topic, do you read, ‘well, I haven’t done the climb, or visited the crag, visited the country, used the piece of gear, etc, etc, but here is my opinion on x, y, or z anyway.’ For pity’s sake, you don’t have to publish an opinion on a subject you know nothing about, you could say nothing, or even better, go and do a climb and get first-hand knowledge of whatever the subject it is you’re commenting on, and then, you’ll be in a position, garnered from experience (thinking about this, having read some of the incorrect facts being written at the moment on UKB and UKC about the bolts being placed on established climbs here in north Wales, it proves having experience of a climb, or an area doesn’t guarantee the facts are correct) to make an informed comment.

Niall McNair on-sighting Barbarossa when there was no peg to protect the crux.
In the ongoing debate about pegbolts on UKB and UKC, this climb is mentioned often. It has also been stated that the climb was seldom done. It was done, possibly not as often as it is now since the bolt has been installed, but to my knowledge, (because I was there) it has had two on-sight ascents and two ground-up attempts without the peg or bolt. There are often many under the radar ascents of climbs that are not mentioned on Social Media or in UKC logbooks.

Taking the on-going pegbolt debate happening now on UKC as an example, it’s also quite concerning how much weight is placed on how loud a person shouts about themselves. People are using the lack of entries, either on social media or UKC logbooks as evidence that climbs are not being climbed. Not all climbers post about their climbs on social media or log them on UKC logbooks, so to use social media or logbooks as some kind of evidence is short-sighted.

An oldish picture of me climbing Lord of the Flies. To use a similar  argument that is being talked  about in the pegbolt debate and Barbarossa, Lord origionally had a peg to protect the run-out, possible ground-fall crux. Shall we put a pegbolt in and make it safe and open it up for more people?

I was listening to Radio 4 a few days ago the programme, Start the Week, featured an interview by the 2021 Nobel peace prize-winner, Maria Ressa. To say it was a revelation is possibly going too far, but when I hear well informed and intelligent people saying the same things that I think or feel, it relieves my concern that I’m going crazy, or becoming some mad conspiracy theory believer. I know there must be many people who feel similar, but here was a Nobel prize winning journalist and author saying the things I’ve thought for some time, hooray!

Ressa says she was the truest of true believers in social media until it attacked us, and so was I, I really did think the original concept gave us, the little people, a voice. But the voice it now gives, and spreads in general appears to be one of misinformation that Facebook, Instagram, (insert whatever SM platform of your choice) ignores. A few phrases she said made complete sense… “Social Media is the tech that has turned into a modification system.” It modifies our behaviour, just think about that, our behaviour changes because of what we see and read, and of course, it changes what we then publish on our own SM platform. Come on, be honest with yourself, how many times do you publish your climb, your trip, your good times on the crag because you want to keep up with the other people that are publishing their climbs, their travels, their ‘fantastic adventures’ or maybe you just want to return to the school yard and show us how good you live in comparison to your friends. She later goes on to say “peer pressure is what you would call high school, but Social Media causes species wide pressure. Social Media is designed to cause anger, fear, and hatred and this is what we are seeing all around the world.” Another thing she says is “meaning has been sucked out, gaslighting has become part of everyday life.” I’ve heard the phrase gaslighting repeatedly, but never really known what the actual meaning was, so here it is, Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic in which a person, to gain power and control, of another individual, plants seeds of uncertainty in another person’s mind.

Anyway, of course, don’t take my word for it, I may be gaslighting, have a listen to the programme here and stay with it to hear Ressa’s take on what needs to be done, which is, “Social Media has to be redesigned, because by design, lies, especially laced with anger and hate, spread faster and further than facts.”

Stu McAleese on an early repeat of a climb I think is called Little Sister at Rhoscolyn, but don’t take my word for it, I might be wrong as I cant find it anywhere on the internet… Maybe it doesnt exist! This route has been repeated a few times to my knowledge, (three at least as I was there) but now sports a pegbolt next to the original stainless peg. This climb is not mentioned on the list of climbs with pegbolts that people are quoting. So, even the list that is being used as some sort of proof of what is being bolted, is inaccurate. UPDATE: I was correct when saying I might be wrong 🙂 The route in the picture is Bigger Girls, but the grade on UKC threw me, as its given E6 6b, and I was confusing the name Bigger Girls, with the route to the left, that IS an E6 6b, and called Dont Cry and not mentioned on UKC. The route in the picture is a tough E5 6a as correctly described in the 2nd edition, Gogarth South, by Ground Up. Good old traditional, well researched guidebook info, who would have thought ;-).




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The Shitty End of the Stick

La Saume.

Large drops of rain hit the earth and I can almost hear the gasp. I sit and watch the rain. It’s the first rain in Cymru for some time. I hope it continues.

It’s been a week since I returned from a climbing trip to the Briançon area of France, where, for three weeks, it hardly rained at all. And in those three weeks I watched the green turn brown, the solid of the mountains turn to dust, the rivers flow to a trickle, the glaciers retreat, the sunflowers wilt, and what is left of the bird population, gasp. Every day was thirty degrees and above, and by taking a ferry and driving, I knew, I had made the situation worse.

I have always lived with guilt, but never enough to stop me doing stuff. I’m not going to go into how I live, or what I do as an individual to try to delay what is happening to the climate and the planet, and life on the planet, I don’t think it’ll help, and it opens myself to people shouting, virtue signalling or hypocrite, or whatever appears to be the go-to attack nowadays, but I have always tried to justify the more damaging aspects of my life (I possibly took two, long-haul flights a year for about 15 years.) by living low impact in other ways.

No matter what we do though, there is consequence, that’s a part of living I suppose, it’s part of being alive on the planet, but also, I suppose, there are levels to how much you consider your individual need and selfish desires are worth putting above other, more pressing issues that affect everyone and every living thing?

It’s a difficult situation we all face, but we can’t stop doing stuff that gives meaning, or inspires, or brings joy to ourselves and to others, else what is the point? But surely there must come a time when we all have to change, and reel it in for the greater good? And there must come a time when we revert to the times when we all lived more local and wanted less?

I haven’t written for a while for various reasons, one being, when I’m not climbing, I’m spending my time building small, low impact sheds to drink wine, procrastinate, grumble, moan, rant, write, read and live out the rest of my days. But the biggest reason for not writing is, with everything that has gone on, and what is still going on; the pandemic, wars, Brexit, people displacement crisis, poverty, the cost of living crisis, the rivers being poisoned by the companies that we pay loads of money to look after them, the energy companies ripping us off, the blatantly corrupt and dishonest Johnson and the Conservative Government (or at the moment, the non-PM and non-government) and on, and on and on, and of course, the climate crisis with all of its knock on… well, to be frank, sitting and writing about what a wonderful life I have, and boasting about what climbs I’ve recently climbed, seems a little trite. Don’t get me wrong, climbing is still very important and something I get a lot of joy from, but as things get progressively worse in the world, and things, including climbing, get even more consumeristic, I just find it difficult to be upbeat and put pen to paper about something that is, in the big picture, insignificant.

As I said above, I know we need a point, and we need inspiration, and stories and meaning, of course we do, but some of it, to me anyway, now appears so far from what most people will ever manage to even dream, let alone afford, it’s crass. I must admit to feeling a tad nauseous when I read of yet another millionaire, or millionaires child, ‘conquering’ the mountains with the damage it’s doing on many levels. It could be just me and my cynicism, but when will climbers start asking questions of other climbers about the impacts of their lifestyles? I can hear you now, ‘well, it’s OK for you, you’ve done it,’ and you’re correct, I have, but I can’t change when I was born, and I can’t change what I didn’t know, or appreciate at the time. Yes, I was possibly ignorant, and yes, I believed some of the lies that were fed to the media about climate change being false, but there is no doubt, we all know about what is going on now?

You could also ask, why does it even concern me, and it’s a good question, because I’ll be dead in twenty years, but it feels crazy, almost psychotic to continue as nothing is happening. I really don’t want all animal life on the planet to die and folks to have a horrible time on the lead -up to their own annihilation. And if you’re young and continue taking no notice, well, that’s beyond my comprehension, because all of this shit is going to hit you full in the face sooner, rather than later, unless people change their attitudes.

Anyway, it’s going to be a month or two more before I’m settled into my very well insulated, low emissions shed, so fortunately for you, there may not be any more writing for a while, but don’t worry, I’ll no doubt take to it again at some point, well, unless the planet burns up, or some lunatic pushes the button, or I just can’t be bothered because I feel a large proportion of us deserve what we get, (Sorry to those of you that don’t deserve it, or have been given the shitty end of the stick by us, the ‘developed’ countries!)


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Doris Dreaming…

Craig Doris. The line of War and Peace. The yellow dot on the right is the start, the yellow dot on the left is the end. The red dots are belays. Pic credit, Jethro Kiernan.

After the event… Pic credit, Ray Wood.

Earlier in the year, at a point in time near the summer solstice, so mid-June, Mick Lovatt and I climbed, or more truthfully, shuffled, the second ascent of the Pat Littlejohn and Steve Sustad 16 pitch traverse of Craig Doris, War and Peace on the Llŷn Peninsular, north Cymru. War and Peace had been on my radar for years, but actually finding a partner and committing to actually starting the route had always been an issue until this year. I’ve just written an account of not only climbing War and Peace, but some background and other climbs that lead up to setting off on pitch one of sixteen.

The full article, Doris Dreaming, can be read here on UKC … Doris Dreaming.

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Encounters with Superheroes. A Talk at the Vaynol Pub, Nant Peris 30/10/21.

OK, so Craig the landlord at The Vaynol Pub, Nant Peris pestered, and pestered and pestered until I agreed to give a talk. At the time of asking, he said, it will be mutually beneficial. I’m still waiting for the mutual beneficial bit 😉 But maybe it’s the warm feeling I’ll get from making a few folk laugh (hopefully) and giving something to the local community and taking the piss out of my mates.

Anyway, the talk is called Encounters with Superheroes, it’s basically a new name to tell favourite old stories, although there is one I haven’t done before that may, or may not, include a hippy. Other stories will be of ice, big falls, Steve House, sheep, dogs, bears and Tibet. This will not be a serious talk, and the more folk the more merrier and sweary I’ll make it…

Here is a link to the pub, there will be a way to see what’s what if you hit this HERE

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Tim and Olive attempt to understand each other, but neither have quite got there yet!

A few days ago, I was climbing with Mick Lovatt at Llawder, Rhoscolyn, north Cymru. Ray Wood came along to take a few pics. It’s always fun when Ray comes along, he’s a mate and he makes me laugh, and his company adds an extra element to the day. It’s also great to get good quality pics of an area, a new route, or even an existing line, because, occasionally, I’ll write about the experience, and having good pictures is always better than having crap ones!

I enjoy writing; piecing it together, crafting, editing, and on occasion it leads to remuneration. Most of the time, I never really know what I will write about, I certainly don’t go out thinking, I’ll write about this or that, and even when I begin, I never know where it will end up. Sometimes, the climbs that I think will make the best stories, don’t interest me, it’s often the small, insignificant climbs that will have the best thread. Writing is one of the limited ways I make cash from which to live, although I must admit, calling myself a writer makes me cringe, so I’ll only do it under duress. And on the occasion someone asks, “are you a professional climber?” ha, this always recieves the same response, no, I’m a climbing bum, I’m not good enough to be a professional. I could make a small amount of money from my blog as I receive regular emails asking for guest posts. I could also make money writing gear reviews; I receive maybe one or two enquiries a week, offering me a piece of kit, or payment if I write an article about it. On occasion I reply to these people explaining that I’m sponsored by three companies, and to write about other brands, would not be ethical. I don’t say, I’ve never written a gear review, or gone out of my way to endorse a piece of gear even from the companies that sponsor me, companies, I will add, whose gear is very good, so I’m certainly not doing it for other brands. I don’t cope well with the whole consumeristic element of society, I really do think most people consume too much, and its destroying the enviroment, and explaining this to the people contacting me, would, I’m sure, be lost on them, possibly because we now appear to live in a time where selling and buying, advertising and promoting (including a style of life, or the individual), has become massive, loads of folks are at it. A large section of society appear to love the idea of selling themselves and self-promotion (look at all of the people you see taking selfies, some even have big long sticks to attach onto their phone!), and in our ‘outdoor world’ given the chance to get a free pair of shoes, or a straw to suck water from a puddle, outdoor enthusiasts and climbers appear to jump at the chance to endorse products.

If you’re still with me, you may be starting to see my problem. I’m a climber that writes, and on occasion my writing about a subject appears a bit close to the bone. How can I call-out something, when I’m the one also doing it? It’s a weird one, but I suppose, you will only feel similar, if you take the time to really look at yourself, and think about this kind of stuff, and even then, are you bothered about what you find? Recently, on two separate occasions, I’ve been told some of my diet choices will make no difference to the long-term effects of life on the planet, and unfortunately, I agree, but at what point does a person start caring, (for life on the planet, for the future and for yourself), and at what point do you take a stand, if only a very tiny stand that possibly makes no difference, apart from to the individual?

Anyway, phew, back to Rhoscolyn and the spray about a new route, that is possibly the main thrust of this piece… or is it?

Ray, Mick and I walked across the grassy headland. If you’ve climbed at Rhoscolyn, you will know it’s a beautiful and peaceful bit of coastline. The day was overcast, but there was the promise of sun for later in the day. The wind was a mere tickle, and anyone who regularly climbs quartzite will know, a mere tickle and overcast, is not the bests to transform the rock from dark and greasy into light and crisp. But whatever, we were here, it wasn’t raining, the company was good, and more to the point, it’s a gorgeous place. I was hoping to climb a line that had burrowed into my brain after climbing another route called, Warpath Direct. Warpath Direct was first climbed by Steve Long and Twid Turner in 2013, and I climbed it a month or so ago.

Not wanting to get to bogged down in the finer intricacies, but the story needs background, so here goes… Warpath Direct climbs a line to the right of the original start of Warpath, that great E5 6a, first climbed by Jim Moran and Paul Williams in 1984, and finishes up the original, making a superb E6 6a. On the right side of the Warpath headwall, is a fine, flying arete, that was also climbed by Twid and Steve (Steve belayed, but I’m not sure he seconded?) two years later in 2015, and called, No Country for Young Men E7 6b. No Country for Young Men, was climbed as a fifteen-metre pitch, starting from a belay half way up the Sun. High runners were placed before undercutting left, to reach the arete above its steepest section and the arete was then climbed to the top.

The route description taken from the addendum in the Ground Up, Gogarth South guidebook.

After I had climbed Warpath Direct, I wondered why the arete hadn’t been climbed as a continuation of the Warpath Direct start, that would have made a new, independent, forty-metre route, so one day, after bumping into Steve, I asked him about it, and Steve said this had been their original intention, but they were so hung-over after a heavy bout of drinking, they couldn’t face it, and took the Warpath Headwall option, only to return two years later and climb No Country for Young Men as a fifteen metre pitch, from a belay in the Sun. So, in my wandering mind, the challenge, having recently climbed Warpath Direct, was to do the direct start, and continue, without deviation, onto the arete by climbing the steep section that hadn’t been included in the original ascent. This is not meant as criticism, because Twid obviously climbed the line he saw at the time. I’ve done it myself; you get sucked into how something should be climbed, and the way to do it, and it often takes a fresh set of eyes to see other options. I now saw it as an opportunity to straighten the line, and make it into a brilliant forty metre climb, that would be hard and bold, and if successful, would turn a short, almost obscure route, into a belter. The thing I hadn’t seen at the time, was the completely overlooked lower section of wall between Warpath Direct and the Sun, this only became apparent, when Mick joined me to have a look at a route I climbed in 2010 called The Frumious Bandersnatch. On this day, Mick said, if he were going to climb the arete, he would climb directly up the wall below. So, I abseiled in, and climbed the wall, and found it was steep, but with good gear and great moves. It led directly to the Warpath flake, and onto the arete above, it was perfect to try as one big pitch, and if climbed like this, it really would be worthy of calling a new route and giving a name.

I worked the line over four visits, before feeling confident enough to give it a lead. The new, lower section, was well protected, but the arete wasn’t, there are only four pieces of gear from the knee bar under the Warpath flake, to the top, and to place any of them was almost as difficult as the climbing. Monster lob potential, without doubt! So now, on this, the fifth visit, I was stood beneath one of the steepest bits of rock at Rhoscolyn, expecting a bit of a scary fight, almost certain I’d be taking the ride!

The lower, twenty-five metre section went well, its steep and has its moments. As a pitch on its own, it possible merrits the grade of E4 6b, or E5 6a. But here I was, knee pushed under the large flake and shaking-out like a frantic shaking out thing. I had a knee pad on my right thigh, which cushioned the leg, but I only own one, so I had nothing on my left, apart from trousers and a big fat thigh. If I swapped legs, from right to left, the rock bit into skin, but for some reason, this wasn’t the top of my list of concerns! I’d already placed a cluster of good gear, so apart from shaking-out and swapping legs, there was nothing else to do until kicking-off. At one point, I placed both thighs under the flake, the exposure and craziness of it all was fun. The double kneebar felt good, and for a moment, I contemplated leaning back and hanging upside down, but a voice in my head told me not to be so bloody stupid.

“Right Mick, here goes.”

Having just left the knee bar, contemplating the first of many pops! Pic credit, Ray Wood.

Grabbing the first in series of undercuts with the right hand was ok, I was still in the kneebar, but the kneebar had to be released, and when it was, the steepness kicked-in and the stomach almost buckled. My feet were now somewhere way below, and my body was almost straight. I grabbed another undercut with the left hand, and another with the right, threw a foot to a high smear, and made a bit of lunge for a good finger hold. Hmm, still here. Keep breathing, relax! Running my feet high, I now made a long, strenuous move to the flake around the arete where No Country came in. Crunch time! If placing the cam didn’t go well, it would be the end of the attempt, because maintaining a position to place the cam, was draining. It’s this type of thing you can’t practice on a top rope, because you never quite know how your mind and body will react to the situation. A scum with the right knee took a bit of weight, but it was difficult to remain calm. Taking the cam from the gear loop, it was almost impossible to stand and look into the crack, oh, how easy it had been on a top-rope! The positioning of the cam was crucial, and the first go at placing it, ended with the cam hanging on the edge of the crack, almost falling to the ground. Come on, just go in. I pressed toes even harder to smears and edges, and pulled myself in to have another go at placing it. OK, that’s better. I pulled up the rope, and clipped, and then gave the cam a bit of a pull. What a mistake, the flake I was holding onto vibrated. Ignore it, carry on!

The first cam after leaving the knee bar is already placed, but still a few moves to go before the first brass nut. The clock is ticking! Pic credit, Ray Wood.

From here, it was a series of off-kilter slaps for sharp side-pulls on the left of the arete, and wobbly pops for sharp crimps on the right. I’m sure someone with better fitness and strength than me could climb it controlled, but that person isn’t me! It took me two attempts to get going after the flake. I thought I’d gone wrong, but it was the extra effort needed because of the weight of the ropes. Heel-hooking, first on the right, then on the left with loads of tension running through my body, I attempted to control the rising pump and panic. Placing the first of two, small, brass nuts, didnt make me feel like I was invincible, but with that done, another slap, and another pop, meant I could now place the second small cam. This cam, similar to the one below, had to be placed in the correct position for it to have any hope of holding a fall, but at least it was alongside me and visible. Please go in, I silently begged. My left arm was about to explode, but the cam was now placed. The crux sequence followed – a hard move to a sloping pinch on the right, a high left toe onto the arete, then another slap around the arete.

Looking at the sloping pinch before the crux. Pic credit, Ray Wood.

Holy shit, I was still on, but my left arm was almost useless! There was the last small brass nut to place, but I was so pumped, I didnt contemplate stopping, hoping that whatever dregs I had left in the arms, would take me to the top. Slapping, and popping, and slapping again, I somehow held on, and grabbed the first big hold in a while. Even climbing the last few metres, I could have fallen because I was so pumped, and even crawling over the top was an effort.

“Safe Mick.”

Sitting down, I took my first gulp of air for a while, and almost vomited.

Ray took some great shots, and the day after, posted them on DMM’s social media sites, that leads into what I was saying at the beginning, it brings quite a bit of confliction, but I do believe in the old saying that goes something along the lines; let others do your talking, don’t do it for yourself. Praising yourself feels boastful to me, and I must admit, I hate putting climbing pictures of myself on social media. Nowadays, I find it almost impossible to brag about my climbs on social media, it all feels basic and crass. There is another knock-on from everybody posting only good times, and that’s the effect it has on some people’s mental state, so, as in this case, I prefer to tell the whole story and give the story some depth. YOU, yes you, the readers; you have also made a conscious effort to click and read this piece, it’s not just hijacked you in a newsfeed, and by the time you read it, I will have spent four or five days, writing, editing, re-writing, thinking, editing, more thinking (yes, I know, I’m slow, it doesn’t come easy, and there are no-doubt, still loads of mistakes!), and in the end, I will have hopefully written something that might inspire, or maybe you will disagree, but maybe it’s something that has integrity and value and tells the whole story. Hopefully it gets you thinking and questioning  more than a single picture and a couple of lines?

Mick and I went back to Rhoscolyn two days later. Mick is trying something that he keeps letting go of (come on Mick, do your stuff!). James Taylor and Big Dom arrived soon after. I don’t really know Big Dom, but he’s Big and called Dom, and on second meeting, comes across as friendly and a bit of a laugh. I know James reasonably well, James is very strong, and very understated, and lives by the philosophy mentioned above, let others do the talking for you. In June, James climbed a new route at Porth Saint. Porth Saint, or Painted Wall is an overhanging sheet of quartzite just across the headland from where we were now. James’s new route was called Prisoners of the Sun, and given the grade E10 7a, it’s really bold, and really hard, and it took James several visits, over a few years to complete.

Painted Wall has gone from being an exceptionally quiet, and sleepy back water, (almost no-one climbed there for years) to being the go-to place for so many people, and after leading two of the routes (when it was less well known), I’ve decided to give it a miss for a while, because it’s become busy, and has lost that isolated, and somewhat quirky feeling it once had. I’ve joked with Mick, telling him it’s all his fault, because he has sprayed all the routes he’s done across Facebook, which has led to an almost non-stop procession of people coming to climb, who then post their own pictures on social media, and fill in logbooks, that encourages even more people. I say this knowing that when I climbed Staring at the Sun (also one of James’s routes at Painted Wall), Ray came along and took pictures and posted one of them on DMM’s Facebook page, so I’m also to blame, although that was in 2019, and it has taken until now to become very popular, so I’m not sure that made much of an impression, but maybe I’m a hypocrite living in denial?

Anyway, here we were at Rhoscolyn again, Mick, James, Big Dom and myself, and James told me that Jim Pope was travelling from Sheffield to come and give Prisoners of the Sun a go, which got me thinking of another new, hard route that had recently been climbed in the Lakes by Neil Gresham called Lexicon. Lexicon had only been climbed a few days before, and given a grade of E11, and somewhere that morning, I had read about Steve McClure, Dave McCloud, Neil Mawson and Franko Cookson, all climbers I respect for their climbing achievements, and all travelling to the Lake District at the same time to attempt Neil’s new route. This got me thinking, and to be honest, I’ve not been able to draw any conclusions, apart from we are all different, and we all get different things from our activity. But, I cant help thinking, that even if I climbed at such a high standard, I’m not sure I would want to go there when a bunch of other folks were also trying the same route, but I do appreciate this is my preference. This got me wondering then about the motivations involved in this rushing to drive somewhere, to join a queue, and take a turn. Is it any different than going to Spain and standing in line on a brilliant sport route, I’m not sure it is (I suppose it’ll be warmer and sunnier and the beer will be tastier, and the consequences of falling off and remaining uninjured, better!), although, to be honest, I don’t do that often either, because I just cant help feel there are so many climbs, and so many places, and life’s too short to stand in line, but, in this Lexicon situation, there is something I can’t put my finger on, something that makes it feel a tad weird. I dont understand the having to go and immediately get on this route only days after the first ascent, and being alongside a bunch of other folk all doing the same thing, but maybe I’m the weird one in not understanding? I can see how, if you climb at this grade, there are a minimal number of trad routes around to test yourself at this level (although it will be there next year, and the year after). I can also see because it’s just been done, maybe it’s in great condition (although it will be in this condition again at some point in the future), dry and chalked, so it’s better to get on it sooner, rather than later. I can also see that if you climb E11, the other people at the crag will possibly be mates, or at least, known to you, and you can share ideas and moves, banter, etc, and of course, that’s fine, each to their own. But still, to me, there is just something that makes it all feel a bit forced, like the route is being turned into something of a commodity, a thing to be quickly conquered. Tranquillity and nature go hand in hand with the action of climbing, these are some of the reasons I climb, and I wonder if in a situation like this, they are being lost and for what?  But like I say, I’m just airing thoughts here, I have no answers, and a reason for writing, (for me anyway) will be to help myself understand, and hopefully, to make other people think a bit, and maybe I’ll get some answers that’ll make me think even more?


Mick didn’t let go yesterday, 29/9/21, so the crack to the right of the arete now has the name, Pathological Crack.

The line of Pathological. That’s Big Dom in yellow, making the crag look smaller than it is!

Pathological E7 6c. 21 Sept 2021

40m. A steep, physical and uncompromising line that is very well protected in the lower and middle sections and sparsely protected on the upper arête. The route climbs without any deviation, straight up the middle of the wall between The Sun and Warpath Direct, and onto to the stunning, hanging arête on the right of the Warpath headwall. A section of the arête was climbed in 2015 by Twid Turner/ Steve Long and called No Country for Young Men. This climb starts from a belay on the small ledge halfway up The Sun, placing high runners on the right, before stepping back down and undercutting left to ‘grope for a low sidepull around the arête’, before continuation of the arête.

Start from the beach, the same as for the Sun if you are taking the, ‘from the beach’, start. Climb a little way before moving left to a large ledge and arrange protection. Move right, and climb the white wall, until the good holds at the break beneath the overhang. Pull through the overhang (good gear), on quartz flatties, before climbing a faint grove on positive snappies. A collection of flakes and bulbous fins are now reached, where a quasi, lie down rest can be taken. Climb the overhanging groove/corner above, before moving slightly right and boldly yarding through a very steep section that leads to the large break beneath the Warpath flake/kneebar, and the arête. Arrange bomber protection, before easing yourself into the kneebar. The first in a series of undercuts, just to the right of the arête, can be taken from the kneebar, before wild undercutting and a couple of hard moves, reach the obvious flake on the left side of the arête (this is where No Country for Young Men came in). There is gear here, but it’s awkward and strenuous to place. Continue directly up the arête, using crimps on the right, and side-pulls on the left, before reaching the top of the arête as for Warpath. On this upper section, there are a few small bits of OK protection, but hanging-in to place them, makes serious inroads into the arms and head!


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Bring on the apocalypse

I couldn’t think of a suitable image to go alongside the angry opinionated diatribe below, so here is a fluffy one looking towards Elidir Fawr, Glyder Fawr & Carnedd Llewelyn from the top of Craig yr Ogof, Cwm Silyn after climbing a combo of Kirkus’s route & the direct. Possibly the first ascent of the season and un-chalked. It’s HVS and was climbed a long time ago by people who did not need to be told every gear placement and just got on with it.

Since the easing of Covid restrictions, I’ve been climbing frequently, and more than ever, (if that’s possible) and the space, the elements, the wildlife has been really noticeable. On saying this, is it just me, or are there a lot fewer birds than there used to be? When I grew up, the hedgerows were full of bullfinches, greenfinches, linnets, redpoll, mistle and song thrushes, and the muddy fields always had nesting lapwings, their burbling call, was a soundtrack to my youth. Nowadays, there appears to be few birds in comparison to the days of my childhood, it’s such a shame that it appears we, (humans) have buggered it all up, and are continuing to do so. We know what wrecks the world, but we continue anyway! Humans just can’t help themselves, and much of the blame, in my opinion, comes from arrogance, greed and vanity; humans just don’t appear to be able to hold themselves back where money and bragging are concerned, and it makes me ask why as a species, are humans so narcissistic and greedy?

Anyway, I’ve been getting a lot from my local climbing, it’s possibly been more enjoyable than ever, maybe a positive from all the bad. The thought of travelling long distances on a plane to fulfil personal ambition and ego, and causing more damage, while spreading more of who-knows-what, is something I’m struggling to justify at the moment. Maybe in the future, when it’s all completely wrecked, with no chance of clawing it back, I’ll just stick my head in the sand and do what I want with no regard to the outcome of my actions, who knows? So, I’ve stayed in the UK, two trips to Scotland, but mainly local in Cymru. I’ve done a bit of new routing and a few hard, (for me) repeats. I’ve had several days out climbing some stuff that was new to me, and I’ve climbed some well-versed classics, climbs I’ve done many times. I must admit, these often-repeated climbs felt wonderful, it was like meeting neglected friends. Usually, I do these classics a few times every summer, and returning to them almost felt like a return to times before the pandemic. But like the birds in the hedgerow, I’m not sure the unadulterated feeling I once had, will return?

Since the arrival of Covid-19 and the effect it has had on the world, I question and look at things more deeply. Humanity and the earth we share, appears to be a balancing act, a seesaw, and at the moment, from my somewhat limited perspective, we, (humanity) appear to be sat wallowing on the ground, outweighing the other life, which is in the air, and we appear not to care, as long as we can look at our smartphone, take selfies, eat burgers and fly into outer space!

So, I hear you ask, what has all of this got to do with climbing? Well, not a lot I suppose, or maybe it has? I don’t have a UKC Logbook, but a few years ago I began to look at what people had written about certain climbs. I think it started as my interest in European sport routes grew, and I started to attempt sport climbs at the top of my ability. Mainly I climb with Rich Kirby when on sport trips abroad, and I think it was because of Rich, (who has a logbook and reads what people say about climbs) I started to look at certain logbook entries. In those innocent days, I marvelled at how Rich knew certain things about climbs, and it was only when he told me about people’s logbook entries, I began to read some of them. It soon became apparent how Rich knew certain things, and why he aimed towards certain climbs. On those same trips, we would often have heated debates about the whole logbook thing, because at the time, I thought it was all ego fuelled vanity, yet another thing alongside social media to put it all out there, and show the world how good you are. Just another way to get your mates writhing in envy. I’ve softened a little since, because of course, climbers like to keep record of their great conquests, (sorry, I mean climbs) but, if this was the only reason to fill a logbook, I didn’t understand why people didn’t log their climbs privately, which is, of course, possible. I do understand, and can see the fun/addiction of adding climbs to a logbook, it’s like in the old days when egg collecting was a thing, just look at all those lovely colourful eggs lined up with the name of the bird beneath!

The time has come for me to ask, are routes still climbed wholly and purely for personal joy and the individual challenge, or is this reason to climb becoming, like the birds, a rare thing? Climbs themselves are becoming more like eggs, a commodity, something to be listed, ticked and shared, something to boast about. The once hidden nuances of climbs are now revealed in detail. Take a look at some of north Wales’s hard classics in the logbooks, bloody hell, if you choose to read the info given on some entries, or in the beta section, you can rack up the exact gear before getting to the crag, and as long as you’re fit, climb the route being guided all the way by information supplied. What is this about? Why do people feel the need to tell everyone the gear, where the gear is, and how to place it! Have we all become drones – slaves to the internet, unable to step from the ground without a list of how to do? Why do people need to tell others what gear to use on a climb? Hell, climbing has been happening for a long time before the internet, and folk managed. But, like I was saying, I’ve softened, my attitude has changed, and there are aspects of the logbooks I really like; I love reading about the epics, (as long as they got out in the end!) and I love some humble and witty stuff, (Rob Greenwoods comments are some of the best) and I love the honest comments that tell of struggle, pain and pump – things we can all relate and remember. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of this type of thing, and what could be a good source of entertainment, is lost, (to me anyway) beneath all the fluff and ego.

Over this summer, I’ve watched people climb routes that bear no resemblance to their logbook entries, and the comments they write are at the best, misguided delusions or boasts, and at worst, lies. Why do the comments of people, in general, downgrade climbs, but very rarely, upgrade? And after nearly thirty years of climbing, it’s taken my reading the UKC logbooks to realize you can second a climb and then lead it, and say it was almost flash, I’m sorry, but you can’t almost flash something, you either flash it or you don’t, just face up to the truth, be honest with yourself and others, leave the ego behind and tell it like it is.

I’ve also learnt you can second, top rope and lead a climb, and then say how easy you found it! Well done on finding it easy, good for you! It’s taken years for me to realize you gain more bragging rights by telling the world it was un-chalked and no doubt the first ascent of the season, even if it’s a climb that has had hundreds of ascents and has possibly been climbed by folk already that summer, but they probably chose not to enter into the internet boasting fray, and what the difference does it make whether you climbed a route before anyone else that summer anyway?

I’m sorry, it’s my problem, I know it’s just climbing in the 21st Century, and I’ve been left behind, but bloody hell, this is why the world is fucked, it’s all arrogance, narcissism, selfishness and ego, and I’m happy I’ve been left behind, so please, bring on the apocalypse, because I’m suffering and I need putting out of my misery.


Fluffy boastful lists of the amazing climbs I’ve been finding easy this summer, climbs that I almost flashed after top-roping, will resume in the next blog.

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The Earth Died Screaming. (A dangerous labour of love!)

The Earth Died Screaming first ascent. Pic credit, Jethro Kiernan.

At the end of the first lockdown, when travel in Cymru was restricted – up the lanes from where I live, is Gideon Quarry. The imposing and well known Dinorwig Quarry, is to the east of Llanberis on the slopes of Elidir Fawr, Gideon sits on the west side of the valley, and feels secretive in comparison. Gideon is one of a series of holes burrowed into the hillside, collectively they are called the Quarries of Glyn Rhonwy. In the base, of Gideon, it’s vegetated and green, there are mature trees and bushes, and amongst this more wild environment, there are screeching kestrels, and ravens that turn clunking and clonking acrobatics, there are cheeky choughs with comedy crimson legs and bills.

Looking down from the natural bridge that separates The Land that God Forgot and Gideon, the left wall is an anomaly, the quarry is a slate quarry, but a section of the this wall is micro-granite. Given the travel restrictions, my friend Tim suggested I abseil and climb a, supposedly, (Tim just can’t help sandbagging his friends) good E4 called, The Bone People, and for once, Tim had not sandbagged me, it is a good climb. So good, in-fact, over a few days I climbed it several times. The E4 grade is a bit misleading, its almost fully bolted, (spaced!) so a few draws and a couple of small wires will do the job. Being outside and climbing after months of lockdown felt fantastic, but the weird feeling of not wanting to risk injuring myself because of everything going-on, was always in the back of my mind, which was a strange feeling for someone who has hardly taken a minute to consider personal risk in the past.

The weather throughout the whole of the lockdown period, like a really bad joke, had been warm, sunny and dry, but abseiling into the Bone People area, it was chilly and a little foreboding – enhanced by knowing there was no-way out, apart from climbing an E4, (or so I thought at the time) but, like many areas, once the initial plunge is taken, you desensitise and become familiar, and there is often an unknown and relatively easy, option. On this occasion the ‘easy’ option, if you can’t get out by climbing, is a boulder hop into the base of the quarry, where a careful scramble over, under, and through the piles of boulders, bits of metal, and brambles, leads to a scramble on the left side of the huge purple slabs, (as long as it’s not raining!) and to make this even more straight forward, there are some in-situ ropes to pull-on, if someone hadn’t pulled them up (definitely needed if raining).

George Smith. The Man, the legend, my (annoying) hero, on the first ascent of his problem, The Whale Shark, Gideon Quarry. I would include the grade, but that will make me complicit with his lies!

Now, a person that has hardly had a mentioned on this blog and, in my opinion, has gotten away lightly, is Big George Smith. George is a bit of a hero. Admittedly, he’s a fucking annoying hero, but, hero nonetheless! George has climbed many new routes and boulder problems in well-known, and esoteric areas of north Wales; quirky, weird, thrutchy, overhanging, quality, crazy, funky – beautiful climbs, hundreds of the buggers, some are even good, but the one thing they all have in common, the one thing each, and every single one of them share, they are all undergraded. And every time I’ve been shut down on a George climb, (and take it from me, its often) all I can hear is his annoying laugh! I love George, but his bloody natural talent is so annoying, and I love/hate the climbs he gives the grade E5 even more! His legs are so big and long, he bridges everything, and if he can’t bridge, he knee-bars, and when he can’t knee-bar, he starts all of that bloody ridiculous backhand, underling nonsense, I mean, that’s not proper climbing! The Ragged Runnel, E5 6a my arse. The Undercling, E5 6b my arse, Chosstakovich, E5 6a, in someone’s wildest dreams, not mine! I’ve lost count on George routes I’ve failed, what a big lovable sandbagging wanker!

George and that under the radar, understated, Martin Crook were skulking around the quarries, and it turned out, George was working a new boulder problem in the base of Gideon. In typical Smith style, it looked fantastic, he just had an eye, a very annoying eye, but an eye for a great line, and with my new found interest in Gideon, we were bumping into each other frequently. One day George and I sat on the opposite side on the Bone People Wall looking around. I’m not sure if it was George or me, who pointed out a big, and quite obvious, overhanging corner/groove to the left of The Bone People and a climb called Synthetic Life. Because of lockdown restrictions, I had, by that time, checked out the other climbs on the wall, one of which is Synthetic Life, a long sport route first climbed by Pete Harrison and given the grade of 7a+. It’s a fantastic climb, but I think Pete must have been taking lessons from George when he graded this one, as (in my bumbly opinion) it’s harder than 7a+, and in the middle feels more like an E6. George and I sat two metres apart, on a large lump of slate, looking over at the wall while picking out unclimbed lines, but there was one that stood-out more than the others. Knowing that George was into his bouldering at the moment, I said I might throw a rope down this line to see what it was about, and a few days later that’s what I did.

Myself hanging in the middle of the unclimbed line. Pic credit, TPM.

I stood on the small ledge above the groove, arranged rope protectors, and for the first time, abseiled over…. Wow, the top of the groove was a massive keyed in block, and on the climbers right of the block, was an overhanging, hand-sized crack, running for about five metres. Below were some, smaller, keyed-in blocks with cracks and spikes, and beneath, a three-dimensional corner with a perfect fingerlock crack. It looked like there would be a fair bit of cleaning, especially in the lower crack because it looked really filthy, but I was sure it would go with a bit of work.

The next day I went to Gideon, and abseiled-in, but this time, I placed several pieces of gear, including a couple of pegs, so I could remain close to the rock. I brushed and scraped and pulled and brushed and scraped. And when I reached a large ledge near the quarry base, I began to jumar back up to get an idea of the climbing. Overhanging fingerlocking with smeary feet, into a weird 3-D chimney, followed by the long jamming crack, and a steep pull to finish back on the ledge. I abseiled again, digging mud, clearing dirt, chalking the crack, before jumaring and doing more of the same. When I stood in the grass at the top, I checked the time – eight hours on the rope, no wonder my back was hurting.

Sometime later, travel restrictions lifted, so I talked TPM into coming over to bolt the top slab; climbing the slab would be more enjoyable than pulling up a fixed rope. I also asked him to fix a double bolt abseil/belay anchor at the ledge above the main pitch. He bolted the slab quickly, but when he stood on the belay ledge about to drill, he discovered someone, (Pete Harrison I later found out) had already drilled, and placed two bolts leaving them without hangers (thanks Pete 🙂 ). I abseiled down, brushing and cleaning, and then on a top rope,  climbed back out, brushing and chalking the muddy finger crack along the way. At the top of the fingercrack, there were a couple of difficult moves entering the weird chimney section, but above this, the spikes and the long hand-jam crack were fantastic. The rock boomed a little, because, as I originally thought, it was a massive detached, triangular block, but it was so big and had been in place for millions of years, it wasn’t going anywhere. I even jumped up and down on it a few times. Safe as houses, here for another million years!  The continuation of the groove was full of loose blocks, so I climbed the final overhanging wall to the right and pulled onto the ledge.

“Game on.” I said to TPM.

“Aye.” He enthusiastically said back.

We both looked at all of the blocks in the top of the groove,

“What do you think I should do with them.”

“Shift em.”

So I cleared the top of the groove, exposing the lower groove to run-off when it rained, but certainly making it safer. Mick then climbed Synthetic Life and afterwards, we stood at the top and arranged to come back to climb the new route.


“AH, bugger, there’s a problem.” It was a few days later when I shouted up to Mick, who was about to abseil to the small ledge at the top of the groove.

“What’s that then?”

“The top of the climb has disappeared!”

“The bit you cleaned, right at the top?”

“No, the top third of the climb, the whole of the block with the jamming crack, it’s gone, I can see it in the bottom of the quarry.”

“What’s left?”

“Nothing that I’m going to climb today, it’s a smooth muddy groove.”

Slightly distraught that my new, brilliant jamming route had been snatched from me, I belayed Mick on The Bridge Across Forever, a brilliant climb put up by Chris Dale and Trevor Hodgson, both great climbers and big characters, and both, saddly dead, having contracted cancer.

Sometime later that week, I returned by myself to Gideon, armed with several brushes, wishing I had a portable power washer. At the end of the day, I stood coiling ropes in what was becoming the familiar grass, while watching the sun set over the distant sea. I had beaten my previous time hanging on a rope by two hours – ten hours of brushing and digging mud from cracks with a nutkey.

When the pandemic restrictions stopped, Mick and I began to venture further afield, and my Gideon obsession was almost put on the back burner, due in part by the rain, but I spent the occasional day by myself, sliding into the depths, brushing, cleaning and digging with a nutkey. No matter how much mud I dug from that bloody crack, there was always more, and every time I stuffed fingers into perfect locks, they always came out wet and covered in mud. The massive block that now lay in the base of the quarry had exposed an open and slabby groove, it was plastered in a skin of mud. My initial vision for the climb had been for it to be climbed on gear, with maybe one peg in the middle section to take the sting from a run-out, but the big block’s demise had me wondering if this was now feasible, because the walls were compact. Two smaller, keyed-in blocks, in what would be the middle of the pitch, remained. I really wanted these blocks to stay, as the climbing beneath them was pumpy and difficult. The blocks would give something to aim; good holds, good gear and good feet placements around them. But, knowing what had happened to the massive block, I began to treat them with suspicion, somethin akin to a Big George E5. I jumared up after a lap of cleaning, and at the base of the lower block, I could see it was completely separated, and like the massive block, it was held in place, only by time, mud and its own weight. The lower block also held the block above. Gingerly, I passed it, giving it a bit of a thump. It moved a bit, but maybe it’d be ok, it was quite big and it took a pull!

Later that night I spoke to Mick,

“Shift em.”

“But I need them.” I pleaded, knowing he was right, but also knowing it would reveal more, smooth, mud-covered rock, and less chance for gear.

Another day, another slide into Gideon, but this time, not only armed with brushes, I had loaned a crowbar from Mick. I hung by myself; just me, several brushes, a crowbar and two blocks. After the massive block incident, I considered these two as small, but in reality, they were fridge size, admittedly, a UK fridge, not one of those USA things, but still… I hung on a single rope, and the more I considered what I wanted to do, the more concerned I became. I imagined a whole host of scenarios; the blocks toppling, hitting me, ripping off limbs, cutting the rope, with me eventually laying down there in the base of the quarry, alongside the massive block, only to be discovered by George  and Crooky as they ferreted around, inspecting the massive block for problems, wondering how they had misses it in the past, and even more strange, where did that chalk on it come from!

I inserted the bar into a crack and levered, but nothing happened. I tried again, and still nothing happened. Well, I thought, good, they can stay. Then I remembered the crack at the base of the lowest block, so I placed the thin bit of the bar into the crack and pushed, and without any effort, the whole thing moved with a clunk. Slowly, I reduced the pressure on the bar, and eventually breathed. “Fuck.”  OK, they had to go. I jumared, pulled all of the rope and coiled it around my foot, propped myself as far away as possible, and levered. The bottom block clunked, and slid, almost as easy as it is to say, whatthefuckamIdoinghere… The top block somehow remained in place, so after moving up, I stuck the bar into its side and gave it a little pull, and off it went to join the other two. More smooth rock with less holds, more mud, less gear placements. I began brushing feeling a tad dispondent!

As the weather became more unsettled, I had another day, maybe two, brushing and cleaning and digging out mud from the crack. One day, the clouds were building as I slid over the edge, and by midday, the sky turned dark, and then almost black. A flash of lightening, and a crazy booming echoed around the quarry. The trees bent double, and the ravens honked and flew to a ledge. Where the two blocks had been, was now a small ledge, it was about half way up the pitch and covered in mud. I jugged and stood on the ledge. Boom, another explosion. Rocks rattled down the cliffs. The sky opened then, and the rain and hail began, and it was heavy, like something you would expect in the Amazon Rainforest. I stood on my little ledge looking out and a waterfall arced over the top of me laughing, imagining someone walking to the natural bridge, and looking into the quarry, to see me stood on my own, hanging from a rope in a maelstrom and laughing. The storm passed over, so I continued to clean, but instead of brushing, I now grabbed handfuls of sloppy mud.

Winter and another lockdown stopped my cleaning, but in the spring, I returned to Gideon and was surprised by how dry and clean the climb was, my efforts from last year, and the winter rain, had done the job. The fingerlock crack was of course wet and muddy, so I dug more mud from it.

For the first time since starting this stupid thing, I had a wobble about it being a trad route. The climbing was going to be tough in this bottom section, and the thought of fighting the pump, placing gear and climbing on with muddy fingers made me think I should ask Mick to bolt it. Bolting it would at least mean it was the same as the three climbs to its right, and it may also get a few ascents, but before making a final decision, I’d ask Mick to have a toppy and see what he thought. Apart from one bit in the middle, the gear was generally good, and I’d feel a bit disappointed, and truth be told, embarrassed to bolt a line with such good gear. I suppose if it was bolted, others would do it, but to me, this always seems a poor reason to bolt a line that was first climbed as trad, or a line that will go on trad gear, it robs the (fewer) people who may want a more intense and challenging experience, and for what, a bit of convenience? Its so easy and tempting to make something more appealing and popular, but I’m not sure this is always a good enough reason to make it more accessable and lose something different and special, something that a bit of trouble and effort makes more worthwhile and memorable?

A week later, Mick came over on a miserable day, and we both climbed the line on a top-rope. At the end of the day, we decided it should remain a trad climb, there was enough gear and it climbed really well.

I had one more day by myself cleaning and chalking the bottom crack, (the ninth, over a twelve month period) before taking out the wires and pegs. I was going to leave one peg in to make the run-out in the middle less, but I imagined someone abseiling in, attaching a long sling to it, and turning my climb into an easy ride, so I took the peg out! Twelve months had passed since I had started on this thing, twelve months, bloody hell, and what a twelve months we have all had! I couldnt believe it was (hopefully) almost over.

A couple of days later, Mick and I returned and Jethro Kiernan came along to take pics. After a warm-up, I led the main pitch and Mick seconded it before leading the first ascent of the top pitch, which is about 4c sport, he didn’t appear to struggle too much! We were going to call it Bone Machine after a Tom Waites album, but because it was Earth Day, we eventually decided on, The Earth Died Screaming, which is the first track on Bone Machine, and considering everything going on, seemed appropriate.

The fingerlock crack. Pic credit, Jethro Kiernan.

The crux, moving from the top of the crack and into the chimney. Pic Credit, Jethro Kiernan.

This is just after the crux, in the chimney. Credit, TPM.

Starting the run-out… Pic credit, Jethro Kiernan

Myself grabbing the ledge, that once held the two smaller blocks, it’s the same ledge that I stood on while a waterfall arced over the top of the crag. This is the run-out bit, but the gear is amazing. Pic credit, Jethro Kiernan.

Almost there… Pic credit, TPM.

TPM seconding the main pitch. This is the run-out bit, aiming for the little ledge.

The Earth Died Screaming. E6 6b 50m. Nick Bullock, Mick Lovatt. 22/4/21

The climb is two pitches, but the first pitch is, THE pitch; an overhanging groove that remains dry in wet weather, although the fingerlock crack at the start suffers a little from seepage and will be best after a dry period. The main pitch is sustained, technical, varied, and well protected, apart from a bit of a run-out in the middle section, which raises the grade from E5 to E6. Take a good selection of wallnuts, half-nuts, off-sets, microcams and cams (up to a gold Dragon). The second pitch is a clean, 4c (sport) slab that was bolted so people can climb out, much more enjoyable than pulling out on a fixed rope.

The climb is the overhanging groove to the climbers left of Synthetic Life. The approach is from a Silver Birch near the top of the scree that can be used as an anchor to carefully walk down the scree to another birch tree at the top of the slab. Abseil down the slab from the tree to a good ledge (double bolt anchor). Either fix an abseil rope from the anchor or rig it so you can pull your ropes. A forty metre abseil reaches a good ledge beneath the climb. A fixed belay is in place, so, if needed, a short abseil can be made into the base of the quarry where a scramble on the left of the slabs (ropes sometimes in place) to a tree, or a crawl through the tunnel system (right) leading to another tunnel and a scramble from Filmset Quarry, will provide escape.

Pitch 1. 35m

Climb easily from the belay until beneath an overhanging corner with a fine looking fingerlock crack. Climb to the top of the crack (great gear). Exiting the crack, and entering the wide, bottomless chimney is the crux. At the top of the chimney, place bomber gear before entering the slabby groove (bold). At the top of the groove, a large ledge is reached (small, not brilliant cams, and a small wire are just enough to steady the nerve). A thought provoking move left from the ledge leads to steady climbing and good gear. After a few moves up, a step back right into the top of the corner before moving right across the overhanging wall leading to an exit onto the belay ledge.

Pitch 2. 15m

Climb the slab. Belay from the tree at the top of the slab.


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