Fermez la Porte

fermez la porte

Switchback after switchback. I drive from the doss situated amongst the old pine, high above the valley base and the river. I stop at one bend and count the vultures. A corkscrew of about thirty birds rising and circling, rising and circling… I continue to drive. Down, down, around and down … around and down … down and around until Les Vignes, the village with its bridge and the river and the campsite. I stop outside the stone tourist information building and the little grocery shop to connect to the outside world via the internet and collect email and news and weather, before walking around the back and washing my face in the cold water from the tap. Finally, I walk down the stone ramp, something akin to the switchbacks in the road, that lead to the toilette.

I’ve taken to holding on, or as sometimes known in the north as, ‘baking it down,’ even after my ritual strong coffee and having, as The Kirby calls it, “A posh shit.” There is something in the way he delivers this “A posh shit” it’s his Stone Roses, Northern, that makes me crawl a little, but what he means by ‘a posh shit’ is basically, sitting down on the porcelain pot, opposed to ‘dropping the kids off in the woods’, and not rummaging with its undergrowth and ants and creepy crawlies, to then have to squat and balance, while all the time looking around to make sure no one stumbles into you while you are in this most defenceless of positions.

Standing in the gloom of the toilette, I pull my pink roll from my pocket and unwind a meter of the thin pink paper before ripping a section. Folding the section in half, I bend it in the middle so it forms a wide V shape. I then place the V, of Leclerc value, carefully along the toilet rim. The reason I perform this ritual is because there is no seat. I can only imagine the reason for no seat is cleanliness, but it is annoying attempting to balance toilet paper in the shape of a V along a white porcelain rim, especially when the strong coffee has got to grips.

There, that’s it, balanced. I drop my trousers and turn around and as I do, the Leclerc pink value catches the breeze and the paper plops into the water.

“Shit.” Or not shit, and the whole procedure starts again.

After a few more tries, I forgo the balancing of toilet paper and sit direct on the white which is what I should have done in the first place.

toilete pic

The Kirby has been getting a little depressed by the rain that we have experienced here in the Gorges du Tarn. In a way to combat the cold and damp he has taken to dossing at the service station on the A75 near the medieval town of Sévérac-le-Château. The services must be one of the best in the country, it has everything the van dwelling climber with seasonal depression lusts, including a large and clean toilet facility.

A morning or two ago, he unfolded from his luxurious black VW California and creakily made his way up hill towards the facilities. The road inclines gently and has oak trees on the left and a grass mound to the right. The Kirby whistled something northern and indi, it may have been Oasis, he did this while puffing on his E-cigarette, quite a skill I thought while watching his outline, which reminded me of a swaggering Manc Lowry matchstick man against the dark grey sky.

Through the sliding doors, without an extra ounce attached, the northern creaking frame wanders into that bright world of coffee machines and gifts – gifts at inflated prices that no one ever really wants to purchase – past the wagon drivers with little man bags and big bellies and shorts and flip-flops and past the cafeteria with its faux filet, poisson, charcuterie, famage blanc, jambon and baguettes. The Kirby thinly wanders on – on past the coffee machines, that deliver better cheaper coffee than a lot of the café’s in Britain and eventually he stumbles through the highly polished door of the toilette and eventually into a cubical.

Now, these toilettes are posh, but there is still no seat. The Kirby, humming the Arctic Monkeys, all thin and brown and reasonably agitated with the weather, forgets there is no seat and drops his Simond climbing jeans and his Calvin Cline’s, where they ruffle his thin ankles. He shuffles and only when he is about to drop into position, he remembers the no seat situation. Unlike me, he doesn’t do the folding toilet roll, he just buffs and sits, but in these posh loo’s, the toilet paper is housed in a big round metal container, that is locked and the end of the roll is hidden somewhere deep inside. So, with his trousers and boxers around his ankles, he hums Arabella and shuffles and bends to eventually peer – peer up inside the metal container, where he begins to fish and poke and prod while looking for the godforsaken end of the roll.

What he has also forgotten this morning was to lock the cubical door and as he bends, peering and prodding up into that metal box, with a thin white northern arse cocked into the air, the door to his cubical is pulled open by the cleaning lady – all cardigan and apron and yellow plastic marigolds held aloft, the poor woman is presented by a bony northern arse. She begins to shout and gesticulate, “Fermez la porte, fermez la porte.” Shouting at him that he should lock the door, but never once taking her eyes from that northern derrière, which has now turned full frontal as he swings to face the noise and the crowd that has gathered.

Maybe there is something to dropping the kids off in the woods after all?

 

 

 

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Fable for Another time.

The line of Féerie pour une autre fois Extension, a seventy-five metre 8a in the gorges du Tarn.

The line of Féerie pour une autre fois Extension, a seventy-five metre 8a in the gorges du Tarn.

the rest day service station doss with luxuries such as a shower, hot water, a table, internet, a decent mobile signal, people other than Kirby (joke Rich) a toilet and a bird that sings a beautiful song in the middle of the night.

The rest day service station doss with luxuries such as a shower, hot water, a table, internet, a decent mobile signal, people other than Kirby (joke Rich) a toilet and a bird that sings a beautiful song in the middle of the night.

I drove my little red van deep into the night. Fields. Roads. Painted white lines. Over to the east, a large orange glow lit the night sky. Paris.

I was on my own and heading to the Gorges du Tarn in the south of France to meet Rich Kirby. Usually, I am driving to Chamonix and because of this, I had never driven to the south via the roads to the west of Paris. Already, I had almost run out of fuel, crashed at a round-a-bout, crossed several lanes while turning right, or is it left – but when I pulled up, in the yellow glow of the aire at two thirty in the morning, with the refrigerator units on the waggons buzzing and that shadowy eerie menace that surrounds these places or is it that I have a vivid imagination, I felt almost content. It was a feeling of being on the road. Making do. Surviving. Moving.

Rich had bought a one hundred metre rope especially for Féerie pour une autre fois Extension, a seventy-five metre 8a, the route we intended to climb, but after only a couple of sessions, Rich had split two fingers in the small sharp pockets, and at day four, with the top getting wet in the rain, I found myself wondering about moving to something less time consuming. Every go took two hours and along with the usual paraphernalia, sandwiches, protein shake, duvet jacket, belay glasses, belay gloves, electronic cigarette, hand cream, a book, Rich had also began to bring his I-Pod and speakers. The music didn’t bother me at all, but the lack of being heard while about to plummet from a height of seventy metres did!

It wasn’t only the time though, it was a combination of the length of the climb and the sustained nature, the wet, the doubt, but these things, these things that made the whole climb doubtful, were actually the things that drew me to it and made me want to continue. Choice. Decision. Turnings.

The old pine tree behind where I parked my van each evening, high on the plateau above the valley base and the climbing, was curved, it made me think of the neck of a dragon. The bark on the trunk, the neck, was peeling in large orange scales. A Coal Tit with a black buzz haircut flitted amongst the needles. Fire consumed.

I loved the effort and the doubt but I also wanted an outcome, a result. Result. Fucking result? Why was I not content with just the effort? Being here is result enough. Doing what I do, attempting to do what I attempt to do is enough. Result. Proof. Worth. List. Log. Collect.

As the dark took over once again, I sit in the back of my van reading Cormac McCarthy’s, Cities of the plains, for possibly the third or fourth time, maybe more, certainly not less.

An open and tough and true and honest and at times brutal existence is what McCarthy’s vaquero’s live, and each time I read the Border Trilogy, each time I hope for a different outcome, each time I find myself wishing John Grady, The All American Cowboy, could make himself choose a different path, make another decision, take another road, and each time I read my heart bleeds and my heart bleeds because I know he can’t, it is who he is and what he is and what he has to be, and every time I read, every page, every paragraph, every sentence, I become more involved, more embroiled and more caught up, more emotional, but stop, no, no, stop is not an option, I have to read-on knowing there is only sadness.

There was a national meeting of Citroen 2CV owners taking place in Sévérac-le-Château, a small town near the Gorges du Tarn and every day, for the first four days, the narrow country lanes and the centre of Les Vignes, the town just before the climbing with its bridge and the brown trout bending in the eddies, was clogged with Bacofoil cars, powered with an engine only large enough for a motorbike. Battered and grey, pink, yellow, brown, purple with bulging black wings, rag-top-red, army grey, flat back, panel van, there were thousands of them and every one of them was old and tiered and individual.

A vulture, with massive wings and pointed fingers flew between the orange pocketed rock. The dark grey tissue proved the back drop and small birds angrily bombed the big bird causing it to veer and alter its course.

Nothing is ever quite like imagined. Maybe the secret is being able to adapt?

Tomorrow I think I will see how Les nouvelles plantations du Christ Extension feels.

The night time rain hits the roof of my little red van. Large drips fall from the oak that its parked beneath. The lamps that light the walkways to and from the services where we are dossing tonight, give twenty-four-hour light and in the twenty-four-hour light, the nightingale sings his heart.

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Totally Pointless? V-Day at Tremadog.

Kris and Tim in the Vector Cave.

Kris and Tim in the Vector Cave getting very close to completing the list of six, or is it seven?

It’s a strange feeling, when in a modern world of share and share alike you become comfortable with being yourself and being inside yourself and feeling like you don’t need to share that self which given I’m writing about myself is a little confusing. It’s quite a revelation to at last feel almost free of constriction, but are any of us free? No, not really.

Talk of late has been much about ego and happiness and drive and ambition. What fuels what? It’s quite a topic when thrown into the mix of a climbing life.

A few days ago Tim Neill, Kris McCoey and I decided to take on the challenge of a Tremadog extreme V Day, which in itself is a total load of waffle, because, in fact, we didn’t take on a true V Day. This was pointed out bluntly by Mick Lovatt before setting out from the Hippies house in Waunfawr that morning. “What about Valerian.” The Perfect Man said in perfect, not a hair out of place, dulcet Yorkshire.

“What about Valerian?” I replied.

“Well, it’s not an extreme V Day without Valerian is it?” He brushed at his perfect thin, denim covered, thigh, and steeled me with his perfect eyes.

I could hardly remember the name of the six routes we were hoping to climb never mind some obscure E1 on Pant Ifan and brushed it aside, but later, as Tim, Kris and I stood on the grass verge next to the road beneath Vector Buttress, I mentioned the conversation from earlier to Tim, although of course, by then, I had forgotten the name of the climb. Tim looked somewhat aghast.

“Valerian.”

“Yes, that’s the badger.”

“We don’t need to do that.”

“Really, so in this OCD exercise of ticking a list, we are not actually ticking the list.”

“It’s not on the list.”

“But it starts with V and its E1.”

“Shush Nick.”

Tim was looking uncomfortable. Tim is more OCD than me, although he frequently argues against this, but when it comes to lists and ticking, he is. But in my new found state of attempting to be humble and less ego driven and a better more understanding person, I consoled myself that I was out for a fun day of climbing, so no matter, we would still have a good day, even if the six, or is it seven routes were not completed.

Kris, the youngster in this party, and like Tim, from Northern Ireland, looked on with a total lack of concern, he was out for a day of climbing with two old codgers and saw it as a service to the community.

V Climb, number 1. Big Tim on Void's first pitch.

V Climb, number 1. Big Tim on Void’s first pitch.

The sun was shining as we began. The rock sparkled with fine grains of dolerite. Void was the first climb. Tim had decided this one was his, which I didn’t mind, as I find the climbing into and out of the pod desperate and Kris didn’t mind because he was used to climbing at Fair Head so it would all feel easy. Unfortunately, as we stepped from the loamy ground, the first ‘easy’ section was feeling quite difficult and I mused, if this was the first pitch of around ten, or was it twelve, I didn’t have a hope in hell, which as I’ve already said, didn’t matter in the slightest, no, no it didn’t. Not. At. All!

V climb (still) number 1, pitch 2. The pod and crux wall of Void.

V climb (still) number 1, pitch 2. The pod and crux wall of Void.

Sometime later, I pulled the last moves of Void with swelling finger joints and sat beside my big friend on top of the crag.

“Is it too early for the pub?”

“Shush Nick.”

Kris topped out all smiles and fresh and young and in a deep Northern Irish asked what next.

“Vulcan.” I spat before either of the others could say a word.

V Climb, number 2. Myself climbing Vulcan from the evening before. Pic credit, Tim Neill.

V Climb, number 2. Myself climbing Vulcan from the evening before. Pic credit, Tim Neill.

I had climbed Vulcan for the first time only yesterday, having been spat from it a few years ago and to say I was confident, would have been a lie. Vulcan scared me and it scared me more than ever because I had led it clean just a few hours before and I didn’t want to mess that up. Crazy? Ego? Hubris? Yes. I was obviously failing on my new found head state of nirvana, but I just wanted to hold the memory of success for a little longer, and I knew I could fall off this climb almost every time I attempted it.

I attacked the first hard fingerlocking section of Vulcan and immediately fell off. My mind and mouth were on the cusp of blurting “It’s too warm, it’s much more difficult in this sun, I fell off because of the heat,” but, but, I held it in and said nothing apart from “let me down, I’m going to give it another go.” Maybe my new found state of becoming humble was in there somewhere, maybe, maybe it just needed prizing out? Maybe…

The second attempt went much better and if I was twenty five years younger and writing on social media this would be the part of the spray I wrote something along the lines, ‘I cruised to the top, the climb was a warm up, it’s easy for the grade, but I’m not twenty five years old and I am attempting to be less ego, so I’ll be honest and say this climb, a climb that was once given the grade of E3, was, and is, bloody hard, or at least bloody hard for me, but, on this occasion … on this occasion, I made it to the top without falling.

As the three of us abseiled it began hailing, which made me think of the story the Perfect Man had told me earlier in the morning about the time he was climbing with Paul Pritchard on Heading the Shot. Heading the Shot is a difficult slab climb in the slate quarries. Half way up and a reasonable distance above the last bolt, the Perfect Man teetered, when the sky opened and delivered its icy present in the form of a thousand ball bearings which built on the Perfect Man’s perfect and strong fingers in icy pyramids. Not wanting to fall and unable to move his fingers, as the hail piled high would then wet the tiny slate edges and make them impossible to grip, he shouted to Paul to tie him off and run around to the top and drop a rope. Eventually Pritch made it to the top and dropped the rope in the wrong place and without a loop. He pulled it up, tied a loop and dropped it once more. The rope was still to the side, but the Perfect Man could wait no longer and jumped. He caught the rope and swung but the tied-off leading rope held him, and pulled him down, and he swung across the slab and down and couldn’t move. Paul, still peaking over the top of the slab looked down howling with laughter.

After a bit of blathering with friends, the three of us headed back to Bwlch y Moch and Vulture. Tim told me I had to let Kris to lead this one as it was his turn and he had not climbed it before. I would like to say I was happy with this… no, I was happy with this, but secretly, or not so secretly, I really wanted to lead Vulture, because I had led it a few days before, and I had it wired, and then I would have climbed my quota and I could relax. What was happening to the ‘I’m just out for a pleasant day of climbing and I’m not bothered how many of the six, or is it seven we do’, I’m not sure!

V climb number 3, Vulture. Kris McCoey leading. Pic credit, Tim Neill.

V climb number 3, Vulture. Kris McCoey leading. Pic credit, Tim Neill.

The weather was as twisted as our ethics. So far it had been warm and sunny, cold and cloudy. Raining. Sleeting. Snowing. Warm and sunny…

Kris did a great job and on-sighted Vulture and as Tim and I topped out, my mind started to become a little obsessed. ‘We can do this, we can climb these six, or is it seven climbs.’ Oh no, it’s begun, but in a moment of lucid, I had another thought, ‘Fuckit, if we do five out of the six, or is it six out of the seven, I’ll just say I’ve done enough, numbers and lists don’t mean anything, and to prove my point, I’ll go and sit in the van and wait, happy not to have done the final climb to make the set.’

V climb number 4. Venom. Big Tim Albatrossing the technicalities.

V climb number 4. Venom. Big Tim Albatrossing the technicalities.

We walked the path a few metres and up the hill until stood beneath a perfect v-groove. It looked desperate. Neither Kris nor I had climbed Venom, but I had heard of it, and on the occasion I remembered something about a climb, it was generally for a bad reason, and in this case, the reason I surmised was arse-kicking. So, quietly I contemplated and hoped my new found lack of ego came good, but I had serious doubts.

Tim led Venom clean. He led in great style, until he belayed beneath the final pitch of a climb called Pretzl Logic.

V climb number 4 (still). Venom, Concentration.

V climb number 4 (still). Venom concentration.

Both Kris and I had been impressed watching Tim, a giant, who appeared to span his way left with a reach longer than the wings of an Albatross and in doing so, this stupid list ticking was starting to weigh heavy around my neck. Looking up, looking into this groove, I could feel the definite yearning of wanting to complete the six, or is it seven climbs and not only did I want to complete them, I wanted to climb the six, or is it seven, clean, and looking into the yawn of dolerite, I suspected I was about to fall and my mood darkened along with the sky. Ego was once again taking control. ‘Get out Nick, get out now, walk away…’ But I couldn’t, I didn’t want to, I was hooked, and I was being reeled-in on some pitiful, pointless excursion. I had become a collector, a collector of six, or is it seven, but we still had two, or was it three to stick the pin.

Kris being young and talented showed me the way to climb the groove without an Albatross span and now, the three of us stood on a large belay ledge looking at bright green abseil tat wrapped around a tree.

“Are we abseiling then?”

“No, we have to climb this pitch as its now included in the new guide as the finish to Venom.”

I pointed out to Tim the error of his logic, as we were not intending to climb the seventh V which was Valerian, so it made no sense if we climbed this pitch or not, it didn’t matter, none of it mattered, and as I voiced this Tim set off, jamming and smearing and pulling out squishy trumpet plants while ignoring my analysis of what OCD really was and to what level Tim ranked.

“Shush Nick.”

Returning from Venom. Pic credit, Kris McCoey.

Returning from Venom in the hail storm. Pic credit, Kris McCoey.

The sky decided to dump hail and rain on the three of us as we abseiled back to the ground, and as we sat sheltering in the dark cave beneath the climb, it was obvious, so bloody obvious, this was it, this was the end of our V Day with two, or is it three routes left to climb.

We ran to the van and sheltered beneath the rear door. Climbing parties were abseiling and running and shouting. The sky was black. The rock was wet.

“The first pitch of Vector will remain dry no matter what happens, we could climb that and if it’s still pouring we can abseil from there?”

“OK.”

V climb number 5. Vector. Kris does a fine job of smearing in the wet.

V climb number 5. Vector. Kris does a fine job of smearing in the wet.

I belayed Kris who did a fine job of climbing wet rock and by the time Tim and I joined him in the little belay cave, the sky had once again cleared, along with everyone else on the crag, but out on the horizon, the night and the dark and the cold were fast approaching.

Kris took us to the top of Vector and serendipity now played its part. Yesterday, along with Vulcan, we had also climbed Valour, something of an obscure, but very good E2 with quite a difficult and bold top pitch. This was the last of the climbs in the six, or was it the second-to-last in the seven? While Tim and I had hung on the Vector belay, we had decided we didn’t need to do the first pitch of Valour. It would be wet. It was a builder’s yard. It wasn’t the crux, and as I geared up in the gloom on top of the crag, Tim and Kris ran to the top of Valour and constructed an abseil and a belay point.

We set-off down the rope, down into the dark, down in our quest to complete all of the Tremadog V’s. Well, almost all, because with the night fast approaching, we had at last declared that Valerian didn’t count along with the first pitch of Valour, but we had climbed all of the others!

V climb number 6. Valour. Myself setting out in the gloom. Pic Credit, Kris McCoey.

V climb number 6. Valour. Myself setting out in the gloom. Pic Credit, Kris McCoey.

I hit the belay tree running and set off in the last of the light trying not to think of all the smears in the shiny black rock I had confidently stood yesterday. I was fine, I was fine, I was fine, fine … fine until I reached the final 4c v-groove which required smearing and I couldn’t see a single ripple, not a pocket or an edge. What had I done, what had I done, I had allowed myself to be caught on this quest for some arbitrary list, that wasn’t even the full list because really it’s seven not six, and here I was, here I was slithering around a v-groove in the dark and about to fall, and all of my new found peace, I know, will fall in with me and I’ll discover I’ve been a pretender.

But at last I committed, and by the lights of the Porthmadog rugby ground, I eventually slithered from the top of the groove and sat.

Kris and Tim joined me, both were laughing. We had finished the Tremadog V’s, well, all but the one that doesn’t appear to count because no-one wanted to do it. It was half past nine, a fine time to finish something completely pointless, well pointless I suppose apart from the memory and the comradery and the friendship and the laugh and all of the great climbing, yes, totally pointless…

V day. The End. 9,30pm.

V day. The End. 9,30pm.

 

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The Question. #alpinistcommunity project. (My Edit)

keep it real

Recently I had a series of photographs, with each photograph accompanied by a paragraph of writing, featured on the Alpinist Magazine social media sites, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The ‘takeover’ is for someone like myself, climber/writer/photographer/bigmouth, to supply a picture a day, for seven-days, along with text.

I chose to run a theme throughout the seven pictures and text which hopefully will become apparent.

I have had a long and very successful and friendly association with everyone at Alpinist and I really value their support. The people at Alpinist uphold a crafted, creative and honest stance in the world of mountaineering/climbing journalism, long may they prosper. Of course they have guidelines and word counts and some form of restrictions, especially when trying to provide meaningful work through the form of social media and of course my writing was edited before being published, so I decided to wait and then publish my version of the #alpinistcommunity project here.

 

The question?

Does every mountain face, every ridgeline, icefall, boulder, summit need to be ascended, touched, climbed and stood-upon? For me, the answer is no—there should always be places that thwart and defy and in doing so, challenge and inspire. The question I then ask myself is, do these much dreamed about places, objects, features, do they need to be beaten to submission and afterwards, after one of these almost mythical formations has been ‘conquered’, is the climbing world richer for the blow by blow account that is almost always, without exception, publicised with little time for reflection?

Style and honesty in climbing and in life has become paramount for me, but occasionally, in the past, I have used a style, a technique or a piece of engineering in an attempt to bring the climb down to my level. On occasion I have lacked humility and shouted about my endeavours. On occasion, I feel I have done enough to claim an ascent, my ego has struggled to accept that actually the experience in itself was enough and the summit, the true and honest finish to the climb, was still an untouched dream.

In today’s climate of instant and self publicising through social media, I feel the truth can often be distorted, it can be glamorised, enhanced, twisted. At times it appears information is pumped to an audience, and the audience are duped for an agenda. On occasion I find myself battling with ‘the modern’ but in the end, this is my problem and I have found the most healthy for me is to be true and honest with myself and honest in my writing and reporting and try to ignore much of what I perceive as hubris and commercialism and the need to make more money.

In approximately twenty-three years of climbing there are only a handful of experiences that have deeply affected me in their integrity and the style of climbing, so much so, they have formed the person I am and the person I strive to be and it is these climbs, these memories, I value and place in high regard, it is these experiences that have true value. It is these experiences that get to the very heart of why I do what I do and have made me a better person. It is these experiences that have highlighted to me how valuable true friendship is.

This collection is not the whole or even exclusively the ‘handful’ this collection is a combination of images and stories that hopefully inspire the reader to ask and question my motivation and the motivation of those who share a similar history on similar mountains and climbs, and possibly your own motivation.

I will only continue to improve as a person and continually move forward with the constant questioning of why and for what reason and for what end?

1.

Shark’s Fin.

In September 1997, Jules Cartwright, Jamie fisher, Owain Jones and I travelled to India to attempt Meru Central. This was my first expedition. We attempted to climb the Sharks Fin twice in an Alpine Style with open bivies and four climbing ropes. We did not carry bolts or porta-ledges. On the second attempt we carried my Quasar tent to the spur at approximately 5500m, before once again, setting-off. Cartwright, Fisher and I reached a high point of approximately 6100m just beneath the series of iced corners to the left of the base of the actual fin. At this point, Cartwright had resorted to jumaring the climbing rope as both of his crampons had broken, but he did not want to go down. An anchor failed that was holding the rope while he was moving sideways, causing him to pendulum and injure his leg. It was at this point we decided to retreat.

Owain Jones and myself on our first attempt to climb Meru Shark's Fin, India. On the second attempt, Jules Cartwright, Jamie Fisher and I reached the base of the corner system at the top of the snow patch directly beneath the final headwall. Pic Credit, Jules Cartwright.

Owain Jones and myself on our first attempt to climb Meru Shark’s Fin, India. On the second attempt, Jules Cartwright, Jamie Fisher and I reached the base of the corner system at the top left of the snow-patch, directly beneath the final headwall. Pic Credit, Jules Cartwright.

2.

Slovak Direct (aka Czech Direct; Alaska Grade 6: 5.9, 100 degrees, 9,000′, Adam-Korl-Krizo, 1984).

Adamant that I was staying in North Wales trad climbing on rock for the summer, I twice refused Andy Houseman’s plea for a partner to go to Alaska. Andy is a Yorkshire man and drives a hard bargain. On the first phone call he told me his sponsors would fund the logistics and food. I turned him down. On the second phone call he told me his sponsors would fund the logistics and the food and the flight. I turned him down; I really wanted to rock climb in Wales. On the third phone call I made the mistake of asking what it was he wanted to climb in Alaska, he replied, “The Slovak Direct on Denali,” immediately I replied I was in and there followed yet another summer of lost rock climbing ambitions.

Myself climbing the third pitch of 'The Corner' on the Slovak Direct. Pic credit, Andy Houseman.

Myself climbing the third pitch of ‘The Corner’ on the Slovak Direct, Denali, Alaska. Pic credit, Andy Houseman.

3.

Chang Himal, North Face, Nepal. (ED+: M6, 1800m, 6802m)

Climbing in the mountains is not only about the climb and the situation, as important is the person I climb alongside. Andy Houseman, a quiet and understated Yorkshireman, is without question one of my closest friends, but beneath that pale Yorkshire exterior is something of a stubborn pugilist. A year after we had everything robbed while attempting a new route on Peak 41 in the Hinku Valley, Nepal, Andy came back with, “Let’s go and try Chang Himal.” It had been featured in Alpinist Magazine, in an article written by Lindsay Griffin, as one of the worlds most desirable unclimbed objectives. He took our total failure in 2008 and rolled the dice on an even bigger gamble in 2009. The gamble came good.

Andy Houseman at about 9pm chopping the bivi ledge at the end of climbing day two. We climbed another day, Bivied, then summited on day four before returning to the high bivi. Sometime in the night on day five we reached the base of the face and bivied for a final time. Pic credit, Nick Bullock

Andy Houseman at about 9pm involved in chopping the bivi ledge at the end of climbing on day two, this was as big as it got. We climbed for another full day, before a third bivi at approximately 6500m. We summited on day four before returning to the high bivi and a fourth night on the hill. This climb and summit was one of those moments, there was no false summit, no higher spot to stand, no rising ridge – we stood on the very top, very happy we could climb no higher, very happy for once to be able to say, “Yes, we reached the top.” Sometime in the night on day five we reached the base of the face and bivied before returning to camp the next morning. Pic credit, Nick Bullock

4.

North Face of Mt Alberta. Canada. House-Anderson  (WI5+ M8 R/X, 1000m, 3619m)

After seven trips to Canada where I have been fortunate to climb many of the big multi-pitch ice and mixed lines, I decided it was time to taste some true Canadian. In 2014, Will Sim and I climbed the second ascent of the House-Anderson on Mt Alberta’s North Face. Will had lost his belay plate and we couldn’t find the ‘correct’ rappel to place us beneath the face, so we constructed our own anchors and committed. We carried food and gas for one night only and bars for two days and took no sleeping bags or mats, but we did have big jackets. I carried a bivi bag and Will carried synthetic trousers. Three days later, in the afternoon, we stumbled back into the tin shed of the Alberta Hut. The following day we retraced our steps back to the trusted and underpowered Nissan Micra parked on the Icefields Parkway, where the food bag in the boot was first port of call.

Will Sim seconding one of the 'easier' higher pitches. The weather came in as we reached the summit crest making the descent in the dark and bad weather something of a bugger. Will did a great job of finding the way but at about 11pm, unable to find the correct gully on the massive and complex east face we resorted to a night in the snow under separate boulders. Pic credit, Nick Bullock.

Will Sim seconding one of the ‘easier’ higher pitches of the House/Anderson, Mt Alberta. The weather deteriorated as we reached the summit crest, making the descent in the dark and the bad weather something of an effort. Will did a great job of finding the way, but at about 11pm, unable to find the correct gully on the massive and complex east face, we resorted to a second night out, but instead of a comfortable cave we had a blizzard beneath separate boulders. Pic credit, Nick Bullock.

5.

Jirishanca, Southeast Face,Huayhuash, Peru. Fear and Loathing (ED3: 900m that joins the East Buttress route, 6094m).

I shared five expeditions with Al Powell, four to Peru and one to Nepal, and I can honestly say we never had a cross word, well, almost never. My stopping and hanging from a dubious spike on our first climb together, a new route on Quitaraju’s south Face in Peru was the closest. I have more respect for Powell and what he stands for than possibly anyone. His passion and honesty are exemplary, though in 2003 he may have held some facts back from Sima, his partner, when we returned to Jirishanca’s Southeast Face and succeeded in climbing the line we later called Fear and Loathing. Powell, a highly regarded endurance runner designed and manufactured much of the gear for the attempt, he was adamant that a lightweight approach was the only way because a year before we were both almost killed when hit by a large slough sending us four-hundred feet while entering the gully near the base of the face.

We set out to climb the face on our alpine style, three-day attempt with packs weighing five kilos’ each, only to be stopped approximately one-hundred-and-fifty metres short of the summit by bad weather. The nagging concern that we were already very extended and spending a night, just beneath the summit in hope of better weather, would be a risk too far, we returned to our high bivi, before escaping the face the day after by constructing abseil anchors from ice v-threads.

Myself leading towards the right side of the crux icefall on Jirishanca's Southeast Face. Powel weighed our rucksacks before we set off, they were 5kg each. This included all bivi gear and food. Pic Credit, Al Powel.

Myself leading towards the right side of the crux icefall on Jirishanca’s Southeast Face. Powell weighed our rucksacks before we set off, they were 5kg each. This included all bivi gear and food, although the food was a few fun sized chocolate bars, a single cup-a-soup and a small pack of noodles for each day. The rack was a few cams, a few nuts, a few ice-screws. We took no bolts or aid gear, we fixed no ropes. Pic Credit, Al Powell.

6.

Mick Fowler’s Helmet Boiler, Mousetrap Zawn, Gogarth, Anglesey. E5 5c

Tim Neill is a 6’7” mountain guide originally from Northern Ireland and a great friend. The list of Welsh rock climbs we have climbed together since first meeting in 1998 is long. Tim is one of the few friends who can say he saved my life after one particularly harrowing episode on a climb called The Bells, the bells! A million climbs behind us, and still we hadn’t learnt, or maybe Tim had, I was leading the crux pitch of another Gogarth route, this time a Mick Fowler climb called Helmet Boiler with the moderate grade of E5. The crux pitch weaved through unprotected overhanging mud, cheese, talc and quartz with small islands of sanity from which I could stand and question the wonders of what I was doing. Snapping quartz at the most run out point nearly ended the attempt and me, but a Bruce Lee snatch for a hold saved the day.

Myself starting pitch two of Helmet Boiler and I remember climbing it as if it was yesterday. Pic credit, Tim Neill.

Myself starting pitch two of Helmet Boiler and I remember the climbing that day as if it was a few hours ago. Pic credit, Tim Neill.

7.

Godzilla. Beinn Bhàn’s, Coire Nan Fhamair and the Giants Wall. Scotland. IX/8

In March 2011, almost at the end of another Scottish winter, Guy Robertson and Pete Benson individually called me on the phone. “We are going in search of a new route on the Applecross cliffs, you can join us if you want.” I hadn’t had my fill that winter and drove the eleven-hour journey from Llanberis in North Wales to the north west of the Scottish Highlands by myself before settling down in the back of my green Citroen Berlingo to wait. At 10pm a car pulled up and the almost-mythical team of Scottish winter new route success came-a-knocking, bringing with them zeal and reconstituted meat in the form of such highland delights as sausage and pie, of which I partook in none.

After four hours we set off in the dark aiming for Beinn Bhàn’s, Coire Nan Fhamair and the Giants Wall.

Several hours later, the three of us topped out with a monster of a new line and monster smiles. The moon lit the glistening sheet of the green sea and the stars flickered almost the end of my winter that year. Scottish winter climbing and the style we impose on ourselves to keep it real can be very rewarding, especially when shared with trusted friends. We named the new route Godzilla and gave it a grade of IX/8.

Guy Robertson seconding what turned out to be the crux pitch of Godzilla. To call this pitch the crux may suggest the other five pitches were easy, this would be doing a disservice, as they were all quite chunky. Godzilla is up there with the best new routes and days climbing I have ever had in winter in Scotland.

Guy Robertson seconding what turned out to be the crux pitch of Godzilla. To call this pitch the crux may suggest the other five pitches were easy, this would be doing the climb a disservice, as they were all quite chunky. Godzilla is up there with the best new routes and days climbing I have ever had in winter in Scotland, what gets better, walk-in, look-up, begin to climb, finish at the top, in the dark and with two great friends. Pic credit, Nick Bullock.

8.

Guerdon Grooves. Slime Wall. Buachaille Etive Mòr. (The one that got away. Bonus words and picture that didn’t appear on the Alpinist takeover.)

“Nick, I’ve been training hard and climbing easy routes and I’m getting nervous and jittery and I’m borderline ANGRY! We will go to Buachaille Etive Mòr.” This was how the phone call with my friend Guy Robertson finished after planning for the following day of Scottish winter climbing. Guy, a Scot and guru of all things wintery, was joining Bayard Russel, an East Coast American and me as we attended the final day of a BMC Winter International Meet.

Saturday morning, walking in the dark past Lagangarbh, the SMC hut and over iced puddles cracked like stars, we look up and a vision from a dream appears, there is a white wave running down Slime Wall. Guy turned to me, “It’s on, it’s on, my God, ITS ON!” As Guy had not actually said what the plan was, I could only guess that whatever it was, was on.

I had always dreamed of climbing the mythical, Guerdon Grooves, first climbed by Dave Cuthbertson and Arthur Paul in 1986 and not having had a second ascent. Climbers whispered when they spoke of it. At the start of each winter internet forums always had a long thread guessing the grade and asking would it ever be climbed in winter again. Guerdon was a fable, a dream, it was a rabbit from a hat, it was a step into the almost unknown and because of this, because of this unknown, this step, it was worth more than gold, but it couldn’t be taken at any cost, that would have been heresy.

Guy, Bayard and I started to climb at 10am armed only with a large rack of gear and a route description and with each move, with each pick placement, every front point, the anticipation and history and myth increased. The crux of this climb was coping with the folklore that threatened to weigh us down.

At six pm, all three of us stood on the top, the route was climbed. Robbo’s anger was quelled, Bayard, knowing nothing about the history of the climb thought it had been “An awesome outing dude”, but I could tell it was a little lost on him, and for me – well, I was almost over-whelmed with deep joy but I was also a little bit sad.

Myself leading pitch two of Guerdon Grooves. Pic Credit, Bayard Russell.

Myself leading pitch two of Guerdon Grooves. Pic Credit, Bayard Russell.

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Tides. wuthering and erosion. Chapter 24. How Soon is Now.

I’ve just finished the third draft/edit of what will hopefully become my second book, provisionally called, Tides. wuthering and erosion.

Below is chapter 24. how Soon is Now. This was first published in the on-line magazine Mountain Pro Magazine

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How Soon is Now.

The edge had returned to the Welsh hills in February. There was no snow, only frost thistling the yellowy slabs of Rhyolite. Each morning the grass was white and the black slate wore frozen cling-film. I stayed on my own in Tim and Lou Neill’s house next to the chapel in the centre of Nant Peris. The sun filled the sky and melted the frost and cast shadowy crosses on the white walls inside the house. When, after breaking my ankle on Omega, and my first winter season in Chamonix was cut short, I returned to Britain feeling sullen having been torn from the mountains. On that occasion I stayed with my friend Janet, in her house in Quorn, Leicestershire. I counted the hours and days and weeks before I could remove the plaster and return to Europe. I sat inside Janet’s terrace house in stasis, inert, stuck – the waves washed over me and I almost drown. Time, that most valuable commodity, was spilling. And now, my winter had been cut even shorter, but returning to Llanberis felt like coming home, the town had taken place of my home in Burton Overy, it was somewhere I was starting to become very attached. Friends that were still in town and not in Scotland or the Alps welcomed me and I didn’t begrudge being back or even the injury I now had.

Every day I ran with the frozen bog beneath my feet. Sometimes my foot would break the crust leaving a dark footprint with a white outline. The hills directly accessed from the house were my favourite, Elider Fawr, Foel Goch, Y-Garn – sheep shorn mounds, all frozen and crisp. I ran across the worn track at the top of the Devils Kitchen. Open space. A buzzard cried in the blue crackling sky. The Glyder plateau, spikes of rock, like hewn standing stones. On the lee of these monoliths was soft moss, but the rock was as rough as a terrier’s coat on the windward side.

One day I ran and scrambled Tryfans North Ridge. Where it was possible, I jogged, and where it was not, I scrambled. Passing people, they looked aghast when they saw my arm in plaster. I waved and said hello and continued. I climbed direct, the cold friction felt clingy and safe. I remembered climbing the same ground, the same rock and the same features in April, seventeen years before when I trained to be a PE Instructor. I jogged a wide ledge where I could still picture Mark Bentley, my roomy and friend from Bolton, crawling on all fours with the wind snickering at him like a magpie and afterwards brushing away the sleet leaving dark damp patches on his knees. The air around me now was frigid and empty; it caught images and dreams and carried them away over the heather.

Crossing Bwlch Tryfan, I looked once again to my past. I saw a group of trainee PE Instructors trying to remember how a compass worked. My toes crunched on the surface of rock covered with moss and grains. I smiled thinking that some things hadn’t changed. On and on and on – panting, chest heaving, deep heaving breaths, the streak of dried sweat. Scrambling Bristly Ridge, swinging legs and pulling. Empty air with blank open space. My broken wrist ached, but not enough to stop me. Then, once again, I was out of the dark and onto the glaring Glyder tops. The rocks and the hills looked like an over-sharpened photograph and in the shimmering distance, the sea was a dark green sheet. Jet aircraft screamed across the blue leaving white scars for the buzzard to thread. But eventually the scars faded and the buzzard disappeared into the distance.

I ran from the summit of Glyder Fach, dodging and balancing, my feet catching edges, stubbing toes, ‘nnnrrrrgh‘… The pain, like a broken heart, was only temporary, although the pain from a broken heart would remain for longer and hurt more.

I stood on the edge of Cwm Cneifion. Skidding feet turned sideways. Rocks bounced and whirred and hummocks of grass broke revealing the red beneath. I stopped and stared at Clogwyn Du, the little black crag at the top of the Glyders. Raven coughed. I could see ghosts of winters past.

Running the edge of Llyn Idwal, around the well-worn path, the water sucks and filters through rocks rubbed round. I watch Sam Sperry, my ex-girlfriend from Leicestershire with Blue, the brindle Staffordshire Bullterrier pulling on the end of his fully stretched lead. I see Sam’s long blond hair blowing wild in the breeze and her torn jeans with flickering frays and I watch her ‘take me or leave me’ twenty eight year old attitude catch in the breeze and carry across the ancient water.

I jog onto the Ogwen Cottage car park and see a group, including myself, hucked tightly together on tarmac, cooking in the cold, having navigating the Carnedd’s all the way from Drumm to Pen Y Ole Wen on our summer Mountain Leaders Award. I run the roadside by Llyn Ogwen, the water unruffled. Gulls skim the waters clear surface looking down at a version of themselves. Cars speed past. The people inside with heavy right feet and heavy heads, rushing to somewhere from somewhere, going nowhere or anywhere. I can smell fumes and warm worn oily engines. A silver wheel trim lies in the gutter – a plastic starfish washed up and winking.

Whatever happened to Alison Parker?

Alison Parker and I went out for a while when we were both twenty. She had a small upturned nose, short to medium length blond hair, white teeth, taught suntanned skin and a wicked smile, which she wore most of the time. She laughed and she made me laugh and I think for the very short time we were together I loved her very nearly as much as I have loved anyone. She introduced me to Neil Young and Crosby Stills and Nash and Leonard Cohen and The Smiths.

The night before this run I had watched Morrissey on the I-player, he looked similar to how Tom Briggs looked, the time we first met and climbed together in Australia. And later in the evening, I watched a YouTube clip of The Smiths on Top of the Pops from 1984. What Difference Does it Make, the song I ribbed Alison Parker about when we first met and stood next to the cooker in the kitchen. I refused to admit I liked it.

The night before, watching The Smiths from so long ago, plunged me into renaissance – swinging my plastered arm and wishing I had a bunch of flowers.

Where the hell did it all go?

It had been twenty-three years since Alison Parker had bullied and cajoled until at last I admitted to enjoying the music of The Smiths and then we moved close and kissed for the first time while leaning against the cooker.

Morrissey gently shuffled around the stage with his shirt buttons tested to the limit by a paunch.  Then, with a bit of a shuffle and the occasional arm swing, he attempted to be dangerous. But he wasn’t, he was just old.

His voice and presence were still electrifying even after all of this time, but how time stops for no-one. Not you, not me.  Not Morrissey nor Alison Parker nor Tom Briggs nor Mark Bentley nor Sam Sperry. It stops for none of us.

The music of the Smiths takes me back – back to an attitude of, what difference does it make and panic at the disco – but while I always panicked at the disco I never did think, what difference does it make, or at least, not until now, not until I could run no farther and wring every bit out of this short life.

The Smiths remind me so much of Alison Parker with her vitality and energy and intelligence, she was carefree and dangerous and so much fun.

I wonder where Alison Parker is now and if she has children and if so how many. Does she still have that spark or has life beaten her to grey?

I ran the last few metres until I stood at the side of my green Berlingo, parked at the side of the road near Little Tryfan.

Watching Morrissey the night before made me think that for just the short time you are there –  there in your prime, a handsome devil with hollow cheeks and bendy limbs and strong muscle – just for a short time, you may not care about the world, or at least the world outside your world, and you think there is a light that never goes out.

But there is a light and one day it will go out…

 

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The Wrecking Light.

Guy Robertson and Andy Ingles approaching the col before dropping beneath the Southeast Face of Coire Ghranda, Beinn Dearg

Guy Robertson and Andy Inglis approaching the col before dropping beneath the Southeast Face of Coire Ghranda, Beinn Dearg

Sat by myself, I drive north from Llanberis.

Several hours later, just over the Kessock Bridge, the bridge that crosses the Beauly Firth in Inverness, I turn into the tourist information centre and set about to wait. Sitting, eating a sandwich, listening to Radio 4 – the sun, between the clouds, sets and over the water, a fire of shadows stirs.

Turning off the radio, the gentle sway of sea and the call of birds can be heard between the cars passing on the road behind.

Guy Robertson, the Highland Powerball, who like me, has become somewhat tempered with the passing years, arrives and we travel together, in my red van, towards Ullapool.

Eighteen years since my last visit to the town set on the side of Loch Broom, Ullapool was as I remembered – thick walled houses made from sandstone, short and stock and sturdy, making me, for some reason, think of wild ponies.

Not moving an inch, fishing boats sit in silence, moored to the quay that has nets and chains, yellow plastic crates, stacked lobster pots, weathered wooden boxes. Large pink floats the shape of space hoppers but without a smiley face, hang from the side of the fishing boats. Waiting. The boats wait. The sea waits. Eighteen years. Time waits for no one.

We drive past the bar that years before, on a New Years eve, Jon Bracey and I meet people that became friends, drifted, reacquainted, drifted… The bar tonight was closed and dark, no shadows, no ceilidh, no sloshing pints, no burn of single malt – just a brief echo, a glimmer.

Tesco carpark, shining chrome bars and blue neon feels out of place, but on meeting Andy Inglis, who is sat waiting inside the dark of his car, he appears to fit well with the landscape surrounding Ullapool.

Driving into the night, following Andy, a deer jumps from the heather and runs into the glittering road. Caught in the lights, she looks almost surprised. I brake and swerve, looking more than almost surprised. Fortunately, the road is wide enough for the both of us and she scutters off into the heathery bog. In the black ink above, the northern lights shimmer in ethereal waves.

Looking towards Suilven on the walk in to Cùl Mòr.

Looking towards Suilven on the walk in to Cùl Mòr.

Suilven.

Suilven.

Early the next day, clouds pour over Suilven and its long ridge. The sea behind, a dark sheet, full of life, is flat. The land is a quiver with white and green and brown. Lochs – those pools of deep and quiet, appear imprisoned within the earth, yearning to join the sea, but like a child who has lost a parent, they will never join again.

A shaft of sun splits cloud. Shadows of the three of us, stretch and lead the way to Cùl Mòr where an ephemeral single silver streak, a wrecking light, waits.

Later, stood on the summit of Cùl Mòr, the green sea, in front stretches to infinity ans Suilven is to my right and above, a pair of eagles wheel on massive wings.

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From the summit of Cùl Mòr. Credit, Guy Robertson.

Day two. Walking in to Beinn Dearg.

Day two. Walking in to Beinn Dearg.

The second day of climbing had more walking than the first. Coire Ghranda on Beinn Dearg held on to its secrets as if embarrassed, but at long last, after four hours, we gaze at the cliff.

Ice Bomb, yet another Fowler gem is todays present, all wrapped in ice and mystique but the real prize is completing the climb in its entirety.

And as the sun beats and the clock ticks we begin…

starting the first pitch of The Wrecking Light. Credit, Guy Robertson.

Starting the first pitch of The Wrecking Light. Credit, Guy Robertson.

Myself on pitch one of the new route, The Wrecking Light. A direct, four pitch ice climb on Cùl Mòr. VIII/7. Guy Robertson, Andy Ingles, Nick Bullock. 6.3.16.

Myself on pitch one of the new route, The Wrecking Light. A direct, four pitch ice climb on Cùl Mòr. VIII/7. Guy Robertson, Andy Inglis, Nick Bullock. 6.3.16. Pic credit, Andy Inglis.

Myself on the first pitch of The Wrecking Light. Credit, Andy Ingles.

Myself on the first pitch of The Wrecking Light. Credit, Andy Inglis.

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Andy seconding the first pitch. Credit, Nick Bullock.

Guy seconding the first pitch. Credit, Nick Bullock.

Guy seconding the first pitch. Credit, Nick Bullock.

Andy setting off on the second pitch of The Wrecking Light. Credit, Nick Bullock.

Andy setting off on the second pitch of The Wrecking Light. Credit, Nick Bullock.

Guy Robertson on the third pitch of The Wrecking Light. Credit, Nick Bullock.

Guy Robertson on the third pitch of The Wrecking Light. Credit, Nick Bullock.

Andy Ingles on the fourth pitch of The Wrecking Light. Credit, Nick Bullock.

Andy Inglis on the fourth pitch of The Wrecking Light. Credit, Nick Bullock.

Andy Inles on the first pitch of Ice Bomb. Ice Bomb was first climbed in 1988 by Mick Fowler and ........ Beneath the overhanging top corner/chimney, Fowler tensioned left and climbed a line on the face/arete to the left leaving the second ascent but the first true ascent of the line to be climbed. On the 7.3.16 this is what Guy Robertson, Andy Ingles and I climbed. the grade is bench mark old school fowler 6.

Andy Inglis on the first pitch of Ice Bomb. Ice Bomb was first climbed in 1988 by Mick Fowler and Dave Wilkinson. Beneath the overhanging top chimney, Fowler tensioned left and climbed a line on the face/arete to the left leaving the second ascent but the first true ascent of the line to be climbed. On the 7.3.16 Guy Robertson, Andy Inglis and I climbed the whole line, including the overhanging top chimney. The grade is bench mark old school Fowler VI and we called it the Mind Bomb Finish.

Myself on pitch two of Ice Bomb. Credit, Guy Robertson.

Myself on pitch two of Ice Bomb. Credit, Guy Robertson.

Guy Robertson setting off on pitch four, the previously unclimbed finish. Credit, Nick Bullock.

Guy Robertson setting off on pitch four, the previously unclimbed finish. Credit, Nick Bullock.

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The Big Red Rooster in the Far North. (Steep Ice in Northern Quebec.)

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Sainte-Marguerite Headwall near Sept-Îles, with Bayard russell climbing the first pitch of Speedy Gonzalez.

I was sat engulfed inside the comforting arms of a large chair. A fireplace made from red brick, smoke tainted and heat scorched, held burning logs the size of small canoes. The glowing logs shimmered in the subdued light of the living room. Friendly, boisterous and jovial – people sat all around while watching Super Bowl 50. The last of my four lectures was over, which was the largest, the Mount Washington Icefest, and in the morning, Bayard Russel, Michael Wejchert and I, would drive the seven hundred miles from North Conway, New Hampshire to Sept-Îles, Northern Quebec.

At the time, I didn’t appreciate how far north we were heading, but if I had taken the time to look at a map, I would have seen that Sept-Îles is level and quite close to Newfoundland. It was nine p.m. Bayard and I still had to finish packing for our whistle-stop of Quebec ice, but at least we had shopped for food and done some form of preparation, although the preparation consisted of looking at a few pictures and deciding that’s where we wanted to climb. This ‘preparation’ was completed by looking at a few pictures of the hostel we hoped to stay. It may have been helpful to have taken the name and address of the hostel or even contact them, but we were only a drive away, who needs preparation, it was just ice cragging in the next country over, right? “Do you speak French?” “No.” “Ah, we’ll be fine.” We would just drive fourteen hours and climb. It’s not like we were travelling to another planet in a frozen solar system where we could not communicate…

After collecting Michael, we left behind a dark North Conway at six a.m. The sky was overcast. I had visited Canada nine times, including Quebec City and Montréal, although I had not climbed in the east. The east of Canada evoked austere, wilderness, bone numbing cold and a space so big and empty, my mind swam with anticipation. For some reason I have always been drawn to these austere and vast open spaces, and the people that live locked inside these cold and desolate wildernesses fascinated me more. How and why do people live in such a harsh environment and would they continue living in such challenging conditions if they had another choice. Do they enjoy this weather induced hardship, does it become ‘normal’ to live with bone numbing cold and did this challenging weather make the people rely on each other more, which in turn, in my experience, makes the Quebecois people very friendly and extremely helpful?

Bethlehem post office, the Maia Papaya Cafe and the GMC, Bethlehem, New Hampshire.

Bethlehem post office, the Maia Papaya Cafe and the GMC. Bethlehem, New Hampshire.

The three of us travelled north, up over Crawford Notch and past the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods where the IMF was established in 1944. Bayard’s truck, a large silver GMC Sierra – a big truck, which for some reason appeared to fit with my friend’s big character, guzzled petrol like my friend guzzled cheap beer. We stopped at a small café as the day came to being in a town called Bethlehem. I watched a man with a beard raise the stars and stripes above the Bethlehem post office. Old Glory whipped in the wind. Winter at last came after four hours on the open road. I sat in the passenger seat of the silver truck and sensed the massive expanse of water somewhere to my right.

Inside the Maia Papaya.

Inside the Maia Papaya.

North, higher than Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. North – north, until hitting Quebec City at the five-hour mark. “I could drive slower, it would save fuel and money, but I like passing people.” Bayard said as he pushed the GMC gas pedal and the truck muscled past another car. I had visited Quebec once before and it was just like I remembered, cold and windy, but friendly in a must move quick to get out of the cold kind of way.

We cross the Pierre Laporte Bridge with the Pont de Québec to our right, both bridges span the Saint Lawrence River. The Pont de Québec, a large iron structure made with rivets and girders and angles, took thirty years to build, costing the lives of eighty-eight people and it is still the largest span of a cantilever bridge in the world. Pack ice erupted beneath the bridge and clung to iron and concrete. The ice was anarchic, a jumble, a frozen turmoil. Paves of thick ice thrust toward the cloud filled sky, it almost felt like the lives lost to build the bridge made the water and the ice seethe.

Entering Quebec City via the Pierre Laporte Bridge with the Pont de Québec to our right.

Entering Quebec City via the Pierre Laporte Bridge with the Pont de Québec to our right.

The Pierre Laporte Bridge, the bridge we were crossing, is the longest non-tolled suspension bridge in the world and the longest suspension bridge in Canada. The bridge was named after a provincial cabinet minister who was kidnapped and murdered by the Front de libération du Québec in 1970 as the bridge was coming to completion. How these two bridges capsulated hardship and austerity and death, combining beauty and endeavour. The two bridges, and the misty milky sky, and the cloud and smoke swilling around the sky scrapers, fitted perfect with the surroundings and the mood.

Quebec City.

Quebec City.

We went wrong, got a little lost, although it wasn’t really a surprise and found ourselves in the centre of the city. Michael and Bayard called into the Mountain Co-op in the city centre as we had realised we didn’t have a guidebook and none of us knew where the climbs were. In fact, not only short of a guidebook, we didn’t have a road map or any idea how to get through Quebec City or the number of the road we should be looking for, which eventually would lead us north. After acquiring the guidebook, we bought a road map, and with instruction of the road number we needed from a very helpful lady in the petrol station, we continued in our quest for steep Quebecois ice and a mythical village called Sept-Îles.

Île d'Orléans Bridge, Quebec City.

Île d’Orléans Bridge, Quebec City.

Leaving Quebec City having found the correct road, the 40, which would eventually lead to the 138, the only road north, we passed the Île d’Orléans Bridge. Quebec appeared to have more than its fair share of historic and dramatic bridges. The Orléans Bridge was commissioned as a job creation project in the great depression of 1934 and completed in 1935. Before the bridge was built, Orléans Island could only be reached by ferry or walking when the Saint Lawrence was frozen. In this crazy winter of warmth and no snow and storms I suspect people would have to be very hardy and good swimmers to cross the Saint Lawrence at the moment. Turning and taking one more glance at Quebec City, that was once more lost in dirty swirling cloud, I watched a solitary gull fly upstream while beneath the bird the earthquake of ice groaned.

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The GMC takes to the water.

The GMC takes to the water.

A free ferry service took us across a turbulent inlet at Tadoussac. A woman with piercing grey eyes, that sparked from a face buried in balaclava, wrapped a yellow rope around a rusting girder to secure the ferry. The GMC rumbled across grated metal and we continued north while all of the time skirting the coast with its millions of frozen baubles bobbing and glittering. At times the road veered inland and spruce heavy with snow lapped the road on either side. “Keep an eye open, this is typical swamp donkey terrain,” Bayard warned.

Michael was driving now, his dark eyes stared directly ahead as he pushed the throttle, the GMC penetrated a blizzard that had hitched a ride on an easterly and was shearing the coast and cutting the deeply frozen land. I felt space and emptiness and a vast longing to experience this empty land and all it could throw at me.

Bayard Russell. A big character with a big truck.

Bayard Russell. A big character with a big truck.

“Baie-Comeau, Baie-Comeau, Baie-Comeau.” Bayard, sat in the back drinking cheap beer, he repeated the name of the town three times enjoying the texture of the words and the rounded taste. I affectionately laughed as his deep, American, drawn-out-drawl, said the place name and the obvious pleasure he received from saying it. Michael had spent a lot of time with Bayard and had grown used to his eccentric and endearing qualities. In some ways Michael was the steadying influence on this, no direction whistle-stop, but even Michael had that tide of New Hampshire recklessness running through his young bones and appeared not concerned at all that we had no idea where the hostel was that we were hoping to stay. We had brought along a tent and Michael had brought a stove but he had forgotten fuel for the stove. “Have you two any cooking implements? You know, stuff to spread shit and stir stuff and eat from? I asked. “I have a spoon.” “I have a spoon.” “Bollocks, I don’t have a spoon. I need a spoon.” “Do you have a knife?” Michael looked at me from his upright driving position as if I were a dumb ass, “Nick, we’re Americans, of course we have knives.” I felt seriously under gunned on the cutlery front.

The frozen chill became even deeper as our direction maintained north with some east, and as we continued north with some east with no real plan about how to reach the climbs we hoped to climb, we continued north with some east with no idea where we would be staying, but the most concerning factor haunting me in our continuing north with some east was the lack of cutlery. I need a spoon, how the hell could I eat muesli without a spoon and the thought of using Bayard or Michaels knife to spread my, I can’t believe it’s not butter, onto my bagel, after I had witnessed the both of them sawing into lumps of congealed meat and fat was not a thought I wanted to contemplate.

A dark and winding road, swirling with sparkling snow devils lit by the lights of the truck, took us through small towns with the sea rolling frothy white and spraying a frozen smoke over the sea wall and the boulders. Wooden houses or trailers perched on a concrete platforms had small white lean-to tents attached to the front door and strong white tents masquerading as garages to battle, and hopefully combat, the elements. The truck thermometer measuring the outside air temperature said eight degrees Fahrenheit, when converted into a scale I understood this meant it was cold. We passed through a large town with a supermarket. As my wittering about not having a spoon was becoming too much, Michael and Bayard suggested a visit. I walked the well-lit isles and found a $2 pack of four spoons which I bought by debit card having no Canadian dollars. Possibly a good deal to end my lack of cutlery concern, but now I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I had just paid in bank charges for a spoon, which was a set of four spoons as the supermarket didn’t sell singles, and having now bought four spoons, it was obvious we would find the hostel which would have room and would be stacked full of spoons. I suppose, all in all, the bank charges from using my debit card to buy four spoons would be a small price to pay given how cold it was outside and my lack of excitement about the prospect of camping. To completely seal the deal in finding the hostel, Michael had bought a big canister of white gas for the stove.

At eight p.m. we drove in to the outskirts of Sept-Îles along a duel carriageway. Behind the truck – very close behind the truck – the locals appeared to drive like people from France, pushy and pressurising, an inch from the rear bumper. “Erm, I thought you said this was a one horse town, the end of the road?” We were driving through a modern urban sprawl with flashing neon and hotels and supermarkets, and a St-Hubert chicken restaurant with a big sign showing a rooster with a bowtie and a red quiff and a smile, which I couldn’t understand as no rooster would be smiling just before he was about to be killed and fried. We trundled past another chicken restaurant that in other parts of the world is known by the initials KFC, but we were in the east of Canada, so this one was PFK (Poulete Frit Kentucky). This town was no single pony, this was a large modern town close to becoming a city, we were never going to find the hostel. And then Bayard voiced a thought that was not a thought any of us wanted to contemplate. “Dude, do you reckon there is more than one Sept-Îles?” I looked around and I could see the three of us, our faces were lit by flashing neon, screwed tight with concern, and our heads were all working with the same thought, ‘We have just driven fourteen hours and we have driven to the wrong place… FUCKER.’ Now I must admit, even I wanted to strangle that happy rooster as he looked down and laughed at our stupidity.

This place felt so far from anywhere, the thought that we were in the wrong place was sickening. This was going to turn out to be an expensive drive for a bit of sight-seeing. The only settlements on the paved road network that are farther north than Sept-Îles are Fermont, Radisson and Chisasibi, the last two in the extreme western portion of the province at the north end of the James Bay Road. If this wasn’t our Sept-Îles we were well and truly scuppered. The remaining settlements at higher latitudes in the province are mostly isolated Cree, Innu, or Inuit villages, with access limited to seasonal gravel roads, we sat in the truck wondering how the hell we could have been so stupid not to check where it was we actually wanted to be. Panic was almost setting in as we cruised the strip for the third time, and for the third time that laughing rooster looked down. I had serious reservations about my vegetarianism. “I know, why don’t we stop at somewhere with internet and look up the hostel?” It wasn’t really that intelligent, but at that moment it felt like I had just invented a solution to global warming, which given the temperature outside, if I had solved the problem of the world warming, I would have kept it to myself for a while longer.

We sat beneath the large glowing red of a Tim Hortons sign, all three of us had our phones to hand and typed in Sept-Îles Hostel and hit the button. This would be the critical moment because we knew this hostel was the same hostel that Bayard’s friends had stayed when they had visited Sept-Îles to come and climb the same climbs we wanted to climb, but it was these same friends that had told Bayard Sept-Îles was a one horse town in the arse-end of no-where, so would the hostel be in this town, in this Sept-Îles, would the climbing we had travelled all day to experience be close at hand?

The three of us watched our individual phone screens with trepidation. Four blue dots rolled across my screen… any minute, any minute, please let this be our town…

Postscript:

At the moment I’m sitting on a bus heading toward Logan Airport in the centre of Boston, my time in the east is done. A huge thank you to everyone who has once again made my time here very enjoyable and I cant thank you enough for the generosity and friendship you have once again shown me, cheers and all the best, till next time, Nick. 

The GMC eventually finds the Sept-Îles hostel.

The GMC eventually finds the Sept-Îles hostel.

Finding the dam and Rivière Sainte-Marguerite, Michael, Bayard and I take to the ice. Over the two days we skinned along the river/lake four times. The dam is released occasionally and our tracks from skiing in, to skiing out disappeared beneath pools of brown water giving concern. We chilled a little after speaking to a local on his snow mobile who told us there was a release of fresh water sitting over the top of two feet of ice.

Finding the dam and Rivière Sainte-Marguerite, Michael, Bayard and I take to the ice. Over the two days we skinned along the river four times, thirty-four km in total. On occasion, the dam is released and our tracks disappeared beneath pools of brown water. We relaxed a little after speaking to a local who stopped to chat from his snow mobile and told us there was a release of fresh water sitting over the top of two feet of ice.

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After two hours of skinning...

After two hours of skinning…

Approching Le Pilier Simon-Proulx WI 5, Speedy gonzalez WI 6+ and the unclimbed new route which I believe is called, Speed Trap, WI ? M?

Approching Le Pilier Simon-Proulx WI 5, Speedy gonzalez WI 6+ and the unclimbed new route which I believe is called, Speed Trap, WI ? M?

Bayard climbing the first pitch of Speedy Gonzalez.

Bayard climbing the first pitch of Speedy Gonzalez.

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Myself half way up pitch two of Speedy Gonzalez. This pitch was possibly the most enjoyable and smile inducing pitch of the two days. A narrow and thin perfect skin of first time placements.

Myself half way up pitch two of Speedy Gonzalez. This pitch was possibly the most enjoyable and smile inducing pitch of the two days. A narrow and thin perfect skin of first time placements.

Michael on the skin out.

Michael on the skin out.

Day two. Bayard and I went back in and climbed the line to the right of Speedy Gonzalez. This line is possibly called Speed Trap but i have been told it still has to have a complete and clean ascent.

Day two. Bayard and I went back in, (Michael was sick with a serious manflu condition) and climbed the line to the right of Speedy Gonzalez. We attempted this line knowing nothing about it, but since climbing the route I have been informed it is called Speed Trap and is possibly still waiting to have a complete and clean ascent. Knowing this now, I’m glad I didn’t lead it clean. Good job on doing this route whoever you are because its a corker.

Myself setting off on pitch two, a brittle and steep pitch leading to a large overhang that is protected by three bolts.

Myself setting off on pitch two, a brittle and steep pitch leading to a large overhang that is protected by three bolts.

After trying quite hard and hanging in for a while just above the overhang, I could not find anything to enable a final pull to establish myself above the overhang. Even if I had managed to get above the overhang, the next few moves would have been very difficult given the lack of ice. Having looked at pictures from another year this pitch looks like it would go on ice and be easier. As it was I used two points of aid and continued to climb the pitch free which was a truly technical and slightly wild run-out experience weaving between rock and ice.

After trying quite hard and hanging in for a while, just above the overhang, I could not find anything to enable a final pull to establish myself above the overhang. Even if I had managed to get above the overhang, the next few moves would have been very difficult given the lack of ice. Having looked at pictures from another year this pitch looks like it would go on ice and be easier. As it was I used two points of aid and continued to climb the pitch free which was a truly technical and slightly wild, run-out experience, weaving between rock and ice. I’m glad I continued as the battle was very memorable.

Bayard nearly at the belay after climbing the overhang section and weaving through the ice dagger.

Bayard nearly at the belay after climbing the overhang section and weaving through the ice dagger.

Bayard leading the third pitch of Speed Trap which led to our ice thread from the day before and a full seventy metre abseil to the ground. The eight and a half km skin out took three hours.

Bayard leading the third pitch of Speed Trap which led to our ice thread from the day before and a full seventy metre abseil to the ground. The eight and a half km skin out took three hours.

 

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Rock and Roll and Rock and Snow.

A few pics on entering Russ and Amy's place will give you a clue.

A few pics on entering Russ and Amy’s place will give you a clue to the Clune.

I’m sat on my own inside a large detached house owned by Amy Pickering and Russ Clune. Looking through the large window, deer walk through marsh grass, silver birch glitter with Goldfinch and as a backdrop, the Gunks shine in the early morning sun. The house is near the small and quirky town of New Paltz in New York State. On the first drive through New Paltz, two days ago, looking out through the side window, I immediately liked what I saw and felt, because what I saw and felt reminded me of similar quirky towns near the sea on the Cornish Coast of Britain.

Small individually owned cafes and bars rubbed gable ends with red brick and shutterboard art shops, a Turkish restaurant, record shops, a sushi joint, tattoo parlours, a hostel with a large plastic sasquatch, and the place we were visiting, where tomorrow I would give a presentation, Rock and Snow, an independently owned climbing shop, the type that are becoming rare in our world of sterile internet consumer convenience. Rock and Snow is a cave stuffed to the slippery walls and full of history and gear and knowledge and intimacy, a place of love and dedication, the kind of place when I first found climbing I would enter and feel like I’d found Nirvana.

Talking about Nirvana, the first time I met Amy and Russ was about two weeks before at the Keene Valley Ice festival where on being introduced to Russ, someone I was told had something to do with Black Diamond, I possibly upset him, because as we shook hands, Russ asked, “What’s your story?” And being a Brit, who would rather listen to someone else tell their story, I answered rather curt and somewhat bolshie “I don’t have a story, what’s your story?”

Later in the evening, sat at the dinner table next to Amy and Barry Blanchard with Russ and Matt McCormick sat opposite, Amy turned to Barry and me and said, “What’s the best punk rock single ever. I felt somewhat enlightened with this turn of conversation and listened as Barry said it had to be something by the Clash. I answered it had to be a Sex Pistols song. Amy thought for a while before saying she may begrudgingly admit to agreeing with my choice, but her decision was swayed by having met John Lydon and not having a good experience. As you may imagine, this took me back a little. Being a Brit and slightly cynical and loving most of what John Lydon stands for, I immediately thought, ‘is this woman bullshitting,’ but as the conversation progressed, it became obvious not only had Amy met John Lydon, she was good friends with a whole host of other well-known and very successful musicians. Russ passed me his phone and it showed a picture of Amy sat with Dave Grohl and it wasn’t the type of “can I have my picture taken with you please,” picture, Dave Grohl was laughing and sat with his arm around Amy looking like a close friend. Holy shit, this woman was the real deal. Barry also looked at the picture and asked “Who is that,” which gave me a little bit of warmth that someone as cool as Barry didn’t recognise someone as cool as Dave Grohl, but maybe this just makes me really uncool the fact that I thought it cool.

It turns out Russ Clune is the real deal and also has a story, but I’ll let you look that one up for yourselves. Needless to say, given my present location my ice trip is on hold for a day before I hitch a ride with Doug Madara to North Conway for the final presentation at the Mount Washington Icefest and tomorrow I’m going rock climbing with Russ at the Gunks.

*

Got to say, thanks to everyone here in New Paltz for showing me friendship and kindness, especially everyone at Rock and Snow, yes, that even includes you Rich with your terrible jokes and of course Russ and Amy for leaving me home alone in their home without a single cat to look after.

post nasel drip line

Kevin Mahoney and I returned to climb the second ascent of Matt McCormick and Peter Doucette’s fine climb, Post Nasel Drip at Smugglers Notch, Vermont.

Setting off on pitch 2, leaving behind The Snotsickle and most of the ice. Pic credit, Kevin Mahoney.

Setting off on pitch 2, leaving behind The Snotsickle and most of the ice. Pic credit, Kevin Mahoney.

 

A lille bit farther along pitch 2. Credit, Kevin Mahoney.

A lille bit farther along pitch 2. Credit, Kevin Mahoney.

 

Kevin leading pitch 3 of Post Nasel Drip. The pull into the corner was tricky and the exposure a little airy.

Kevin leading pitch 3 of Post Nasel Drip. The pull into the corner was tricky and the exposure a little airy.

kev on pnd 2

Nearly at the belay with even more exposure.

Nearly at the belay with even more exposure.

Looking down at me seconding pitch 3. Credit, Kevin Mahoney.

Looking down at me seconding pitch 3. Credit, Kevin Mahoney.

Nearly at the belay on pitch 3. OK, so its the States, no need to say its looking black! Credit, Kevin Mahoney.

Nearly at the belay on pitch 3. OK, so its the States, no need to say its looking black! Credit, Kevin Mahoney.

Leading the last pitch. Credit, Kevin Mahoney.

Leading the last pitch. Credit, Kevin Mahoney.

Kevin Mahoney seconding the final pitch of Post Nasel Drip.

Kevin Mahoney seconding the final pitch of Post Nasel Drip.

The following day after climbing Post Nasel Drip, Matt McCormick and I climbed at Willoughby. I love this place that is situated in the north of Vermont. while climbing, the frozen lake below creaks and stretches and makes mournful whale like noises adding to the atmosphre.

The following day after climbing Post Nasel Drip, Matt McCormick and I climbed at Willoughby. I love this place that is situated in the north of Vermont. While climbing, the frozen lake below creaks and stretches and makes mournful whale like noises adding to the atmosphre.

Climbing in the Devils Kitchen. Not the one in North Wales before you all jump in your cars, this is at The Catskills, New York State. Credit Marty Molitoris.

Climbing in the Devils Kitchen. Not the one in North Wales before you all jump in your cars, this is at The Catskills, New York State. Credit Marty Molitoris.

climbing at The Catskills. 1

More in The Devils Kitchen. Catskills. Credit Marty Molitoris.

climbing at The Catskills. 3

And another… Credit, Marty Molitoris.

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Flight into El Gato.

Myself on Flight into Emerald City before the sun made its presence felt! Pic credit, Matt McCormick

Myself on Flight into Emerald City before the sun made its presence felt! Pic credit, Matt McCormick.

Matt, Doug and I, huddled deep inside our down jackets while walking the snow-devilled pavement of Burlington in the state of Vermont. It was nine-thirty in the evening and I would have expected the city to be quiet, but the pavements and the bars and the restaurants were heaving. Matt McCormick and I wore climbing clothes, sporty little soft shell numbers, having driven south from the Adirondacks before meeting Doug Madara in the climbing wall, where we started to set two dry tooling routes in preparation for a competition in two days’ time. Skeletal trees, growing around a chained off grass square and what looked like a public building, had illuminated electricity bulbs high in the branches – green, red, blue, yellow, orange – the multi colours reflected through the frigid and smeared the red brick and mortar.

The three of us entered El Gato Cantina, a Mexican restaurant and immediately I felt a little uncomfortable. I have lived in Llanberis in North Wales for thirteen years, Llanberis is a small town and quiet for much of the time in comparison to many places in the UK. People move to Beris for the climbing and the climbing vibe, but it is relatively insulated and separated and the ratio of men to women in the climbing population is as wide as a hippopotamus’s arse – wide enough in fact to make entering the real world, a world that has other objectives apart from climbing, running, cycling and surfing, something almost mystifying and downright intimidating, well at least for an old full time climber who is wearing sweat-stinking climbing clothes while faced with a Mexican Restaurant full of young women dressed to the nines and out to party.

I turned to Doug, who was ten years older than me, but looking more comfortable with the situation and said, “Shit, is this normal, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many women in the same place since reading about the suffragette movement. Doug spoke without turning to look at me, “No.” And then I remembered what had happened earlier in the day and felt more comfortable in my old skin because I imagined the whole buzzing vibe of this female fuelled Mexican restaurant, all of the clinking of glasses, the happy chatter, the laughing and joking and whooping and partying, suddenly stopping and in that same instant, where a knife-blade could be heard hitting the floor, I watch the whole restaurant, every beautiful woman turn to face us and in unison they all lift their heavily bangled arms and point at Matt – good looking Matt, young Matt, and the most confident in this partying vibe of twenty something year olds, and in unison, i imagined the beautiful throng saying in monotone, “It was him, it was him, he is the one that let himself down – he jibbed, he scuttled away, he cried out the word that no climber should ever cry, ‘TAKE,’ he let himself down, he let Naomi his girlfriend down, he let his family down, he failed.” And in that moment all of my insecurities paled, life was once again good.

Earlier in the day, Kevin Mahoney, Matt and I returned to the Adirondacks. Rolling hills with snow and spruce. And between the hills, cliffs of steep compact rock wearing glistening baking foil. Two days previous, when we climbed at Chapel Pond Canyon, Matt watched a line form high on the Upper Washbowl and throughout the day gave running commentary, “Its getting fatter, wider, longer, it’s almost touching down…” The excitement oozing from Matt was easy to pick up and it became infecting.

The line that held Matt’s interest was a streak running down the line of a rock climb called Flight into Emerald City and this was what the three of us were going to have a close look.

Matt climbed a fifty metre mixed pitch that lead the three of us to a belay from a tree beneath a slightly overhanging wall of cracks and ice streaks. The whole of the glistening Adirondacks filled our blinking eyes. The sun shone, but the temperature, which was about minus fifteen, stopped the ice dribbling away and as quick as you can say, ‘Kevin Mahoney is a MOG who is never going to get beaten to having the first attempt’, Kevin was away and above us and swinging around and pulling moves that a man of so much girth should not be doing. Matt and I stood below looking and waiting for the clatter of a MOG being spat from less ice than is generally in a tumbler, but no, it didn’t happen, and after a time the call came to lower him back to the ledge and down alongside Kevin came the first winter ascent in his outsized pocket.

Kevin Mahoney on the first winter ascent of flight into Emerald City. Pic credit, Matt McCormick.

Kevin Mahoney tapping his girth to the first winter ascent of flight into Emerald City. Pic credit, Matt McCormick.

It was then I realised the sun had moved and was now shining fully onto the face, but it was still cold and reasonably early, but how long this would remain was anyone’s guess. I looked up, up onto a beautiful wall glittering cold and dangling pieces of well-placed MOG protection and in an instant I knew it would be best to get on this truly amazing looking climb, sooner, rather than later, and as I lowered Kevin, it made sense to go for the lead on his gear to speed things up. I looked at Matt and asked him if he wanted to go, while simmering beneath my easy going, jovial, was a ticking clock of cunning knowing Matt is one of the nicest and kindest guys out there and my cunning plan worked, “Oh, you know Nick,” Matt said in his deep East Coast drawl, “You should go, you’re the guest.” And in a flash I said, “OK.” Without giving Matt any time for reconsidering.

not over till 2

Myself higher on the second ascent of Flight into Emerald City. Pic credit, Matt McCormick

Myself higher on the second ascent of Flight into Emerald City. Pic credit, Matt McCormick

What a situation, the air, the space, the cold, although the cold was not quite as cold anymore… I grabbed the second winter ascent after a few heart in mouth moments while tapping away at a weakening, puckering thin skin, which appeared to be starting to slowly delaminate.

We pulled the rope for a second time and Matt set off. The overhanging lower section didn’t rely on ice too much and Matt made short work of the powerful crux although the tap pouring water from the sheet above him – the sheet he was soon going to have to teeter and trust, the sheet with stubby ice screw protection up high, the hollow creaking cracking sheet – had opened full and was rinsing Matt in the face. “Oh, this is not good, this is really not good, its falling off, peeling, I don’t know what to do.”

The MOG and I content with our respective ascents didn’t really care, but we gave encouragement, “Get on with it Matt, its fine.”

“OH, this really isn’t good.”

Matt had climbed the iced crack but now he had to cross the sheet to a crack on the left and with each tap and each kick, the ice creaked and lumps pealed, twisting and smashing onto the rock ledge.

Somehow, Matt scuttered across what was ice but what now resembled a flowing stream and plugged the crack full of cams.

“All of the ice is breaking away, the whole lot, I really don’t like this.”

“Go on Matt, its fine…”

“No, I really don’t think it is, all of the ice is bulging and balancing… Take, TAKE.”

“Oh Matt, what have you done, you’ve let yourself down, you’ve let Naomi down…”

But as I lowered him and he landed back on the ledge shaking his head with his weakness, the sheet making up the bottom half of the climb detached and crashed to the ledge obliterating to a million pieces and fortunately missing the three of us.

“Hmm, guess the ice had gotten a little warm!”

The Quartz Crack Face and the Snotsickle which Kevin Mahoney and I climbed hoping to make the second ascent of Post Nasel Drip, a mixed line first put up by Matt McCormick and Peter Ducette that follows the roof to the left at the top of the ice, across the face and up an overhanging crack on the left. Unfortunately Kevin, being a professional, decided getting back to work had to take precidence.

The Quartz Crack Face and the Snotsickle which Kevin Mahoney and I climbed hoping to make the second ascent of Post Nasel Drip, a mixed line first put up by Matt McCormick and Peter Ducette that follows the roof to the left at the top of the ice, across the face and up an overhanging crack on the left. Unfortunately Kevin, being a professional, decided getting back to work on time had to take precidence.

end of blog

Myself leading End of the Begining. Both Kevin and I led this one, which is a pumpy number on gear and bolts leading to a fine thing smear of ice. Pic credit, Kevin Mahoney.

another day and another great Vermont crag. Snake Mountain. Matt and Michael do partner look!

Another day and another great Vermont crag. Snake Mountain. Matt and Michael do partner look!

 

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Myself leading SNRS, Snake Mountain. Pic credit, Matt McCormick.

Matt McCormick on the SNRF.

Matt McCormick on the SNRF.

Myself on an absolute shoulder blaster called Fang Shui. Matt tried it afterwards but got a little rough with the icicle which scudded into the earth making the climb a whole lot more pumpier proposition. After this climb Matt and I decided tomorrow would be a rest day! Pic credit, Matt McCormick.

Myself on an absolute shoulder blaster called Fang Shui. Matt tried it afterwards but got a little rough with the icicle which scudded into the earth making the climb a whole lot more pumpier proposition. After this climb Matt and I decided tomorrow would be a rest day! Pic credit, Matt McCormick.

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Back in the East.

Day one of climbing since my last trip to the East a couple of years ago. This climb is called Cassowary. I was determined for things not to get to crazy to soon. Kevin Mahoney is not the right persn to go out with given this cryterior, and the next climb, Catatonic Immobility started to up the anti, although the climbing on this day was at least safe.

Day one of climbing since my last trip to the East a couple of years ago. This climb is called Cassowary. I was determined for things not to get to crazy to soon. Kevin Mahoney is not the right person to go out with given this criteria, and the next climb, Catatonic Immobility started to up the anti, although the climbing was at least safe.

The day after I arrive in the States, a punch of winter hits the Adirondacks. Dana Seaton and I pull up late afternoon at the Rock and River Lodge – dark wood and warmth set at the end of an unmetalled lane in the middle of the forest. The morning shocks with chill and the snow, so fine, dusts the decking. The petrified hardwoods shiver. The morning is distilled chrome.

Back in the East. Slow flowing rivers with small, heavy with white, ice-islands that on occasion break and take a trip. Shutter board, shingle, Dutch barns filled with steaming black and white cows, post boxes on stalks like waiting schoolchildren at the side of the road. Space and emptiness. A set of red plimsolls, one in front of the other, as if out for a walk by themselves, stand on the snow in the middle of the road. I wonder if their owner had been knocked clean out of them and carried away welded to the grate of some truck. Pipes, tapping the trees for maple sap, bow with frost. The suns milk glows between branches.

Back in the East. Friendly people. People who are friends. Kind people. Piles of hewn logs and a smattering of hewn, well wrapped people. The Stars and Stripes hangs outside the general store flickering in the wind. A black Pitbull chasing a stick bounces through the snow. A jet cuts a ski trail through the sky.

Back in the East. Small crags shine with sheen. Breaking glass. Control the burn and control the brain and control the urge to sprint. Sprinting is not a recommendation. The protection glints a long way below. “You can never have enough pound in kit Nick.” I remember my friend Byard saying just after I almost hit the deck. “We’ll start steady, Matt McCormick said and almost as quick as you can say epic, I was teetering high, attached to thin silver looking at the distance I would go and my head screamed, ‘How the hell did this happen all over again and so soon?’

*

A big thank you to everyone for their kindness and who made me very welcome at the Rock and River and to everyone involved with the organisation and running of the Adirondack International Mountaineering Festival.

The second day of climbing with Matt McCormick, Alexa Siegel and Matt Horner went somewhat adrift and was getting close to what I left behind on my last visit to the East... There is still so long to go on this trip as well!

The second day of climbing with Matt McCormick, Alexa Siegel and Matt Horner went somewhat adrift and was getting close to what I left behind on my last visit to the East… There is still so long to go on this trip as well! This climb was put up by the great, Alex Lowe and Scott Backes and is called Ice Storm.

Ice Storm. M6, WI 5+. Chapel Pond Canyon.

Ice Storm. M6, WI 5+. Chapel Pond Canyon.

Topping out on Ice Storm.

Topping out on Ice Storm.

Things beginning to get a bit silly way too soon on a pretty bold climb called Bubba. WI 5+ !

Things beginning to get a bit silly way too soon on a pretty bold climb called Bubba. WI 5+ first climbed by Ed Palen and Paul Brown.

Thankfully topping out on Bubba...

Thankfully topping out on Bubba…

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