Like Getting Up for School.

Rocket Man: M7+, WI5+, 350m. The line of daggers running up the centre of the cliff to the right of the serac.

Once again I sit looking out of the Canadian Alpine Clubhouse window. A red squirrel, slim and elastic, bounces youthfully along the wooden decking. A freight train trundles the tracks that run parallel to the road leading into Canmore. Row after row of old hoppers are dragged behind the two tractors. Some are painted, but most are rusty.

Limbs ache.

An eighteen hour day has taken its toll. My body feels as rusty as a hopper and as drained of cargo when it is emptied at the port. But my mind is loud like the freight train horn.

Dave Thomson, Kefira Allen, Eric Dumerac and Raphael Slawinski’s Rocketman on Patterson, first climbed in March/April 1999, is up there with some of the most sustained climbs of the type I have been fortunate enough to climb. Sitting here in the warmth of the hut, looking out across the pine, the roads, the hills, the snow – my mind flits from Sea of Vapours, Man Yoga, No Use Crying, Riptide, Nemesis, Polar Circus, Whiteman Falls and Terminator. Each of these climbs has a place in my memory.

Sleeping in the car, the night before the climb, I listen to the wind. I sense the emptiness of The Icefields Parkway. The long icy road is running away from where I lie. The road is always running away.


A three-thirty start.

We crossed the river by hopping on icebergs. Stepping over fallen trees. Breaking the perfect cover that insulates the meadow. And the steep snow moraine which is a bastard - one hour and forty-five minutes of walking. I remember the five and a half hour thrash from 2008 when Parnell and I climbed Riptide, but this time the walk is soon over. Following the Youths steps in the snow helps.

Climbing begins at eight, like getting up for school.

Nine pitches – fat ice, thin ice, cruddy ice, unconsolidated snow, hard dry tooling, dripping daggers of clear frozen water, rotten rock. Images of Jon Walsh ripping a bolt when he pulled a hold are strong in my minds eye … and that descent –  that descent had too many sideways abseils over hanging cliffs. Shining the beam of my headtorch while spinning on a thread my body aches with tension. I’m unable to see the end of the rope.

Back at the bags at the base of the climb for nine pm.

And arriving at the quiet Canmore hut with lights left on at one-thirty.

Bed at one-forty-five is to the sound of heavy freight trundling along the tracks.

And I fall asleep wondering where and when those rusty hoppers will reach the end of the line.


For a description of Rocket Man click here

A good account of the first ascent from Raphael Slawinski and a return visit with Jon Walsh is here

And to get Greg’s account of Rocket Man click here


Thanks to Ian Welsted for the picture of Rocket Man that fired us up.

Rocket Man. “The ice is as fat as it gets.” Raphael Slawinski.


Greg Boswell getting us going at the start of the 350m route. Its like getting up to go to school.



Nick Bullock climbing the second pitch. ‘M3, a good warm up!’


Greg Boswell following the second pitch. I climbed too far but given the quality of the ice, I’m glad I did.


Boswell strapping it on to the M7 mixed pitch 3.

The icicle was good for a rest, well until you had to pull onto it, but the knee bar behind it made it even better! ‘A route with a knee bar is a righteous route.’ George Smith.

Nick Bullock setting out on pitch four. The Ice was a tad rotten to start but breezy after.

Nick Bullock climbing thin ice which by-passes some of the mixed. It was ok as long as gear is not your thing.

No gear! Greg Boswell following pitch five.

Nick Bullock climbing pitch six. Superb un-hooked ice in a less trod situation.

Here we go again. Lets play to the teams strengths, I do run-out ice while the strong youth does, strong! pitch 7.

Pitch 8. It was now dark but with only two pitches left we couldn’t just stop. Nick Bullock about to head left.

The moon looks on as Greg Boswell climbs the final, ninth pitch of Rocket Man.

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Man Yoga. The Headwall.

In today’s instant online access it’s easy to lose some of the adventure, the unknown, the mystery. The forums abound with accusations of spray and hype and grade inflation for recognition. It’s true, climbs are hyped sometimes, but I’m pretty sure people generally see through the chaff and appreciate the crafted stoneground at the end of the bake.

If it wasn’t for inspirational writing and pictures and films how would we know about some of the climbs and the inspirational people out there?

Thanks to Jon Walsh and Jon Simms for putting up a world class climb in one of my favourite places in the world, The Stanley Headwall and thanks to Joshua Lavigne for filming an ascent of the two Jon’s. It was this film and the pictures that inspired me to climb what is a truly great and memorable route.

An account with all the gubbins needed to climb Man Yoga is here from Jon Walsh’s website.

A link to  Joshua Lavigne’s  film of Man Yoga is here.

For more pictures and Greg’s take on the day click here


I would normally lapel all pictures but there are too many and fighting with WordPress is not as much fun as climbing, so here they are, some with, some without captions.

Nick Bullock, the first ‘proper’ pitch after the intro solo pitch


Greg Boswell setting out on The Slab pitch.



Nick Bullock seconding The Slab pitch.


At the end of the exceptionally technical second slab pitch.

Greg lost the scissor, paper, stone which meant I climbed pitch 1 and 4 while he climbed pitches 2, 3 and 5. This is Greg setting off to climb the easiest and shortest pitch of the climb, pitch 3.

Setting out on pitch 4.


Nick Bullock climbing pitch 4.

Going through the roof on pitch 4.

Greg Boswell seconding pitch 4.

Greg cautiously climbing the groove above the roof on pitch 4. Tricky!

Greg Boswell climbing pitch 5. There should have been more ice! We met Jon Walsh at the base of the route, he was climbing something else with his partner Michelle. He said he thought the top pitch could be thin and spicy without the normal ice. He wasn’t wrong.


Nick Bullock seconding the final 5th pitch.

The end of another glorious Headwall day.

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The Maul on Wedge.

Wedge Peak with the obvious line of the Maul!

Steve Swenson leaned conspiratorially closer, his black hair, bright eyes and slim frame belied his years.  ”Don’t believe a word Raphael says, he’s the biggest sandbagger in Canada.”

Sat in a large brown leather chair a few days later, looking out of the Canadian Alpine Clubhut window – Canmore and the weighed down pine and the snow strata ledges of the Three Sisters glittered in the afternoon sun. Three Coyotes, thick winter fur – red and black and puffed, slinked past the window. They missed nothing. They saw everything. ‘Crafty buggers,’ I thought, and then as an afterthought I wondered if Slawinski was Buddhist? He would certainly return as a Coyote.

The Maul was recommended by Ian Welstead, Ian climbs with Raphael and no-doubt some of the craftiness is rubbing off, although to take the sandbagging biscuit, Raphael did say, “Oh yes, The Maul, it’s so good I’ve done it twice.”

Greg Boswell and I climbed the Maul yesterday, fifteen hours car to car, after one day of preparation on the walk-in through the thick pine and deep snow. One chopped rope, a flounder from the summit in the dark with deep and slightly risky slopes and a whole load of wild climbing later we have decided Coyotes are fluffy and friendly to look at but possibly not to be trusted. ;-)

Thanks Ian for the suggestion and Raphael for another great adventure.

For a full description of the route, Will Gadd’s site has it here


Wedge Peak. Follow your nose through the trees and hope to come out of the other side at some point.

And the line goes…


Nick Bullock on pitch one.

Greg Boswell thrutching on pitch 1.

Greg Boswell starting pitch 2.

Nick Bullock crawling from the top of pitch 2. Greg Boswell.



Nick Bullock snow bashing toward the crux pitch, which actually was difficult but well protected, unlike the horror choss final ‘easy’ pitch.


I cant see the point of climbing with a wad if he don’t get the rope up on occasion ;-) Greg Boswell climbing the ‘M7′ crux pitch.

Greg Boswell just about to get above the most difficult move of the climb, or was it??


Nick Bullock starting on pitch 5, The Chimney Pitch… Really!!!

Nick Bullock just about to pull the roof at the top of The Chimney Pitch. Greg Boswell.

Greg Boswell taking on the choss in the dark. This pitch was possibly the crux, if not the technical crux it certainly was the psychological crux and led to a brand new rope been cut in two!

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Best Before.

A rod of steel covered in rubber, the footrest of Steve Keates’s Kawasaki Z650, stuck-out at a right angle. The footrest had no rubber on the underside; it was chewed like a lump of carrion. The rod of metal was also grated by the gravel of the road – prepared by the road – served up by the immortality of youth; this was dish of the day for most of my mates when growing up. Each of them was a Guy Martin in the making, the motorbike-racer from Lincolnshire but generally my mates didn’t have the same skill and they certainly didn’t have monster mutton chops.

Steve, or Keatesy as my mates and I called him, offered me a lift back from the Rose and Crown – the run-down pub near the brook at the bottom of the hill in the old mining village of Dilhorne in North Staffordshire. I don’t remember how I ended up there but that was the story of my youth, it was where we all hung out and all roads – adventure, party, rat catching, all night rabbit coursing with lamps and lurchers, pigeon shooting, ferreting, my sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth birthday – generally led too, and at some point, from, the Rose and Crown.

Thirty years later, on the radio, I hear classic rock and country and western music that immediately transports me to the sparse, red quarry tiled floor of the smoke filled ‘games’ room. It was called a games room because it had a dart board, table top skittles, a fruit machine and wooden juke box playing 45′s. ‘All Right Now’ by Free and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown’ blasted. Hawkwind, Black Sabbath, Neil Young, bands that songs are in-printed in my mind.

It was dark, it must have been near midnight – this was years before it was legal for pubs to stay open all hours and the lock ins at the Rose were well known – I’m sure both Keatesy and I would have had several pints of Marston’s Pedigree, the pubs most prolific pint pulled. Not many folk drunk larger in Dilhorne. I jumped on the back of the Kawasaki, pulling my full face helmet over dark curls, shutting-out the subtle sounds of the night. The brook water trickle. The shift of the Friesians sleeping in the field. The chime of the church clock striking half hour and on the hour. The helmet didn’t have a visor; I hoped the bugs on the night shift were small.

Keatesy, a year older than me, pulled on his helmet, hiding his almost permanent cheeky grin. Long blond hair poured from the back of the helmet stopping just short of the curve in his lower back. He straddled the bulbous fuel tank which was no mean feat given his reasonably short leg length but what Steve lacked in height he made up for in lust for life. He wrapped his bricklayer’s fingers – skin nearly as chewed as the metal of the footrest – around the throttle and pressed the electric starter with his thumb.

The whine of electric turning a powerful motorbike engine is nearly as strong a switch that transports me back in time, the same as listening to Led Zeppelin. It’s the same as the musty tang of corroding weight-training equipment in an old gymnasium. Writing about gymnasiums now, I’m breathing in that old building, damp decaying fust and I can see shafts of sun spotlighting chalk particles dancing in still and thick odorous air. I see myself, an eighteen year old – fresh innocent faced and lithe body – rubbing dust from the glass, and looking through cobweb windows. The windows are portals to the future. Expectation, ambition and dreams are through those windows. I see the future and want it, but now I’m here, I long for a time when young life was similar to the drops of rain in a spring shower.

The electric from the small motorbike battery turned the 650cc engine and after a revolution the engine coughed. A twist of the throttle gave an immediate high pitched roar that burst into the open space of the car park and the surrounding fields. Working as designed – like the perfectly operating joints of an eighteen year old – pistons – smooth and polished and oiled, pulsated deep in the heart of the engine. The Kawasaki trembled and the tremble passed through the frame and into both of our young limbs. The future was out on the road. Keatesy turned around and presented a thumb pointing up toward the cloud covered sky. Hidden behind the visor, I imagined his bright blue eyes and his big grin.

Quite a few of my mates from that time didn’t live to see a future. After crashing while giving his younger brother a ride, Stod was left disabled and wracked with guilt and his brother was killed. Harry’s girlfriend was killed. Dave ‘Did’ Turner went down the road often but somehow always survived. Keatesy, who I considered one of the most skilful and reasonably cautious, had an accident, leaving his girlfriend who was riding pillion with a paralysed arm. Growing up amongst big bikes and young mates did have a high toll. Higher than my later climbing life I think?

Recently I sat on the Canal boat, my parents’ home and my Dad said, “I’ve lived too long.”

It’s easy to listen to something like my Dad’s statement and not fully take it in or really think about it.

“I’ve lived too long.”

But what is too long for this adventure of life? And do many of us treat it as a given, something that is expected, something to be frittered? Is there such a thing as “I’ve lived too long”?

I see friends, once very active, on-top-of-their-game, who now struggle, their bodies break down. Everything in their life has to be tapered and controlled to exist with what they have left.

Lately, I have been waking at 4am, and in the dark I’ve stressed about not having a fixed abode or a career and not having enough money to last till I die. As ever, that clock ticks as my body and mind grows old. Have I outlived my sell by date?

When there is nobody else apart from myself it is easy to be frivolous with the days and months and years, but growing close to someone young, makes me want to snatch back time. I see dreams and ambition and wonderment. I want to become young again. I want to spend more time together doing those things that are enhanced by doing them with someone special. I want that feeling of immortality and life ahead. I don’t want the feeling of life passed its best. But time is like some cruel joke, as with age it appears to speed up.

And on occasion, recently, with the rain hitting the van, I have found myself thinking, have I outlived my sell-by date…

Have I outlived my sell-by date?

…but then, while walking the long grass of the cliff top, I see the wind catch the curling leaves of an ash tree and the trickle of water weaving a course along the dusty surface of yellow limestone. I watch shafts of sun penetrating the cumulous, lighting the dark sea and embracing an Oyster Catcher silently skimming the waves. I sit and chat with close friends. I share intimate thoughts with someone I love and this reminds me that life, at whatever level, has to be worth living in whatever stage of decrepitude… doesn’t it?

Should we live scared or should we try to enjoy and take solace when we can?

…Growing older has made me more tolerant. Every day I try to learn and grow in understanding about other people and their lives. Often I fail.

The people I admire the most in life are considerate and kind and generous. The people, in general, I least care for or understand are politicians, owners of large supermarket chains, power companies and large corporations that make billions of pounds in profit each year. These people appear to not care for their customers while knowing the consequences of their action puts a large percentage of the population in a position of hardship.

I don’t have a lot of tolerance for the people that appear removed from the people whose lives are affected by their decisions and I find the inequality of life, at times, is difficult to understand. I also find my indifference and inaction to change this situation pitiful. I live with guilt, but not enough at the moment to do anything other than write about it.

Decisions, decisions …

‘Shall I feed myself today or keep myself warm?’ ‘Shall I accept that food hand-out? Can I afford to cook it?’ These are questions people less fortunate than me, people living in Britain, have to ask themselves on a daily basis.

Questions, questions…

…questions run through my mind continually. Why are the major supermarkets in Britain, according to green campaigners, generating an estimated 300,000 tonnes of food waste every year?  Why do their prices increase more than the earnings of the majority of workers? Why do they throw food away instead of lowering their prices? Why do the directors of the four big supermarket stores in Britain receive a massive income and they pay some of their staff below the minimum wage?

“Official figures today revealed the cost of the weekly shop was continuing to go up, tightening the squeeze on cash-strapped households.

The Office for National Statistics said food price inflation rose from 3.9 to 4.4 per cent in July – in a stark contrast to the wider Consumer Prices Index, which fell.

Fruit prices were up 10 per cent, with apples 36 per cent more expensive than a year ago and pears 30 per cent dearer.

Other supermarket staples have also leapt in price as poor harvests and rising global demand pushes up the cost of feed. Pork sausages are 11 per cent up on July 2012, while best beef mince is 8.4 per cent more expensive. Breads and cereals are up 4.6 per cent and new loose potatoes 13 per cent higher than a year ago.

Average earnings are just 1.7 per cent up on last year.”

[Quote from Steve Hawkes, Consumer Affairs Editor Telegraph Newspaper October 25th 2013.  ]

The poor in Britain die younger from eating cheaper, less nutritious food because they cannot afford the healthier, more nutritious alternatives. The division between the wealthy and the poor in Britain appears to grow.


Outside the open-all-hours shop in Keswick town centre, people walk the cobbles. The windows of the pubs and restaurants reflect an orange street lamp glow and through the glow, people laugh and eat and drink. The evening has a late-summer holiday feel, even though it’s October. The smell of fresh fried fish and chips fills the evening air. Katy Forrester and I had climbed all day at Reecastle, a bulging Rhyolite barrel in Borrowdale and between the climbs we sat in the sun on an island of rock surrounded by a sea of glittering marsh grass.

We have walked into Keswick town centre to buy groceries and a bottle of wine, it has, after all, been a great day of climbing. And while I wait to be served, I notice an old lady on her own – frail and bowed – wearing a large coat covering several layers.

Leaving the shop, reversing our footsteps Katy says, “Did you see the old woman?” I answer that I had. “Did you see what she was buying?” I say, “No.” “She was buying, what I imagine, was her evening meal, a pack of two sandwiches reduced in price.”

We continued to walk through Keswick. A warm wind carries the chip-shop smell out of town toward Derwent Water. In my mind’s eye I see dark waters lapping the shore and where those waters have penetrated the bank, ancient tree roots, gnarled, moss covered fingers, creep along the shingle clutching water worn pebbles. The roots eek an existence in a tough environment. And the bottle of wine I carry is burning my conscious.

The dark road hemmed by hawthorn sped past in the yellow cone. The night air stabbed. Tears tracked to ears. Keatesey wound back the throttle on the small left, and then right hand bend. The Kawasaki took the rising right-hander at about 90mph fully cranked over. Sparks sprayed the road. The footrest would be a few millimetres thinner after this ride. Coming out of the right-hander we hit a slight rise and took off. My unfastened helmet also took off, completely flying from my head. Without thinking, I let go of the grab rail with my left hand, caught the helmet mid-flight and pulled it back on. Trimpos lane soon led to Brookhouse Road and the house I was born. Keatesey pulled over and stopped outside the concrete drive. With shaking legs I dismounted the bike and said good night. Keatesey popped the throttle, engaged the clutch and was gone.


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Into the Fire. A multi media presentation.

The talk will include a whole host of quirky stories from new routing in Scotland over the last few years. Thin ice tapping and falling and success in New England, USA. An attempt at a new route on the unclimbed North Face of the Himalayan giant Chamlang with the subsequent successful ascent of the unclimbed Hunku. There will be loads of short film clips and music, maybe some mayhem and certainly some bad language!

As you can see there is a bar!

I think most of the technical info for the talk is on the poster above but call the café for any extra info.

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The term ‘climbing’ covers a plethora of different disciplines – ice climbing, bouldering, traditional rock climbing, mountaineering, dry tooling, sport climbing, Scottish winter climbing, etc. It doesn’t matter which of these sub-cultures you are into, they are all as important as each other to the individual. Also most important in the genre are the most inspiring lines, climbs, moves, ice formations, boulders and mountains – the ones that really grab our attention. It is these truly memorable outings, the ones we have dreamed, that makes us as what we are, what we strive towards being. Cliffs, bouldering areas, mountain ranges, ice climbing destinations, they all have climbs that stand out from the rest and the pioneers of these inspirational climbs are generally like the climbs themselves, stand out, individual – people that inspire.

“I know it’s too late for the Nomad Wall but if no-one says anything things will just keep happening and before you know it what makes British climbing special and different has gone.”

Craig Arthur stands above the tranquil Eglwyseg Valley near Llangollen. To quote the Rockfax Guidebook, “The quality and length of the routes at Craig Arthur make it of national importance”.

And to quote the 1993 Clwyd Rock;

“The Nemesis Wall is covered in a mixture of delicate features. Here such classics as Manic Mechanic, Smoking Gun and Tres Hombres find their way.”

[The Nemesis Wall] “It gives the highest concentration of top class hard climbs in the vicinity. Superb technical wall climbing in the lower half is perfectly contrasted with leaning grooves and exposed overhangs on the walls above.”

Craig Arthur it is one of those crags that has a mix of traditional and sport climbs, I have climbed there often. What maybe makes the crag slightly confusing to some is it has climbs with a mixture of traditional and fixed protection.

I have climbed the bolted lines, the traditional climbs and the climbs that have a combination of bolts and traditionally protected gear placements and I can honestly say it is the traditional climbs that stick in the mind most. Stuart Cathcart’s Survival of the Fastest has one bolt near the top and Pat Lillejohn’s, Friday the Thirteenth had no bolts at all and I vividly remember climbing them both. Manic Mechanic like the two climbs above is a three star climb and it is a climb I aspired to attempt at some point in my life.

In general at Craig Arthur and especially on the Nemesis Wall the bolted lines that are not traditional lines which have been bolted, do not follow lines. They do not use weaknesses in the rock. They do not follow formations that are interesting and make you want to climb. The bolted lines at Craig Arthur do not inspire or have the aura as many of the traditional climbs. What the bolted lines on the Nemesis Wall do have is forced, unnatural and clumsy moves in an attempt, (which fail), to avoid the long established climbs. Craig Arthur is not a place a climber would visit to climb an inspirational bolted line because there are not any. I would say the bolted lines at Craig Arthur are at best, good and at worst, very poor which should never have been bolted.

This is no attack on sport climbing, I have just returned from a ten week sport climbing tour of Europe but I’m sorry to say most of the sport climbing at Craig Arthur is sub-standard, especially the fully bolted lines on the Nemesis Wall, which have ruined the long established three star traditional climbs.

Below are descriptions of two of the five three star climbs on the Nemesis Wall, the other three climbs being Smoking Gun E6 6c, Shooting Blanks E6 6c and Tres Hombres E6 6b. There are also another two climbs, Steppin Razor a two star E5 6b and Marie Antoinette a one star E5 6B. These two descriptions are taken from Gary Gibson’s website

10. Friday the Thirteenth E5 6a, 5c *** Start below the obvious long grey streak at the left-hand side of the wall, just right of a small tree. 1. 25m Gain a short groove and step left. Now trend rightwards to a detached flake, PR on the right. Now continue direct to the break. 2. 18m Follow the obvious groove on the left, PRs, moving right over the capping roof to a final wall.

12. Manic Mechanic E6 6b *** Superb and impressive in one big pitch. Start 3m right of the tree. Climb direct up the black streak, BR, to reach a ramp. From the top of this trend rightwards, PR, into a depression, BR. Pull through the bulge, PR to gain the break and continue up to the second break. Move left up the wall, TR, to reach the roof and pull leftwards through it, PR, to good holds and the top.

If you check out the Nemesis Wall topo you will see that there are now four new bolted climbs between, and including, Revival of the Latest and Marie Antoinette. In my opinion these climbs have been squeezed in and the only purpose of these new bolted climbs is to satisfy Gary’s obsession with climbing new routes. Walking along the whole crag there are many new bolted lines which I’m sure affect other long established, starred traditional climbs but at the moment I only have experience of the climbs on the Nemesis Wall.

I have always had the opinion that not every mountain or piece of rock needs to be climbed and that we as climbers should celebrate there will always be mountains with summits that will never be trod, ridges and faces that will always remain great unclimbed challenges, boulders that will always have much tried but yet to be climbed problems and there will always be smaller pieces of unprotected rock we can aspire to climb without putting a line of bolts.

I climbed Friday the Thirteenth several years ago. I climbed it on-sight and as a single pitch. At the time it felt big, wild, intimidating and adventurous. Pat Littlejohn is the first ascentionist and this added to the experience as Pat’s climbs often tend to be intimidating, sparsely protected, full on experiences. Friday the Thirteenth, unlike other routes on the wall did not utilise any bolts – it was a memorable journey! I seconded Paul Swaile on Friday the Thirteenth a few days ago and Paul clipped six bolts without making any deviation from the climb. When I seconded the climb it was obvious an extra three bolts could also be clipped. This radically changed the experience. Here is my revised description of the climb.

10. Friday the Thirteenth 6c * with spaced bolts, but possibly not as spaced as a climb at Céüse.

Start below the obvious long grey streak at the left-hand side of the wall, just to right of a line of bolts and just to the left of a line of bolts. Gain a short groove and step left, clip a bolt, then clip two other bolts, one on the right and one high on the left to give you a baby bouncer. This section used to be a run-out and very ‘thoughtful’ but not anymore folks. Now run with abandon and trend rightwards to a detached flake. Clip a bolt above and pull as hard as you want on the flake as you don’t care what happens now with bolts clipped all around. Skip merrily to a PR on the right. Now continue direct to the break, possible bolt to clip on the right, to reach what was the belay where you can clip a high bolt. Follow the obvious groove on the left, PRs, and bolt high and left, before moving right over the capping roof to a final wall.      

Paul Swaile climbing Friday the Thirteenth last week with the approximate location of bolts red ringed!


Below is the second ‘new’ sport climb description on the Nemesis Wall, which it to the right of Friday the Thirteenth and described as a direct assault through the walls. I would describe it as virtually no new climbing and more the combination of two three star traditional routes. Yes a good 7b bolted climb, but a non-line ruining two historic and inspirational three star traditional climbs of much better quality.

11. Oblivion (7b) **direct assault on walls through Friday starting and finishing as for Manic.

Here again is the description of Manic Mechanic from Gary’s website

12. Manic Mechanic E6 6b *** Superb and impressive in one big pitch. Start 3m right of the tree. Climb direct up the black streak, BR, to reach a ramp. From the top of this trend rightwards, PR, into a depression, BR. Pull through the bulge, PR to gain the break and continue up to the second break. Move left up the wall, TR, to reach the roof and pull leftwards through it, PR, to good holds and the top.

This is not a true description, this climb a complete clip-up. Here is the actual description.

12. Manic Mechanic 7b** Good in one big pitch. Start 3m right of the tree beneath a line of bolts. Climb direct up the black streak, BR, to reach a ramp. Clip a high bolt before trending rightwards on what is a high side runner, PR, into a depression, BR. Pull through the bulge, PR to gain the break and continue up to the second break clipping a bolt on the nose of a prow. (It may actually be possible to clip more bolts on the way) Move left up the wall, TR and bolt runner by the side of the thread making all of the nut placements in this piece of beautiful wall unnecessary, to reach the roof and pull leftwards through it, PR, to good but small holds, then before actually completing the crux move of the climb, clip the lower-off. Don’t go to the top to truly finish the climb and give you that, ‘YES’ feeling.

Manic Mechanic has been totally ruined and pushed aside by the inclusion of Oblivion, a mediocre non inspiring, non-line made possible by the inclusion of bolts.

The next new sport climb to the right is,

13. Relentless (7b+) *** a very fine new addition straight up the centre of the wall utilising a high hanging arete and super overlap finale. Very sustained but with two good rest spots.

Once again this is a good bolted climb but once again the actual new climbing is limited, it minces into and out of Manic Mechanic, Friday the Thirteenth and Smoking Gun. It should not have been bolted to the detriment of the three star tradition climbs around it which it fully affects and which are aspirational climbs.

I personally know several people who have climbed or attempted the traditional climbs on this wall and for those who failed to climb them clean, I know they have saved returning until they thought they were fit and capable to once again take on the challenge. Unfortunately for these climbers, unless they are very strong willed or suffering from tunnel vision, they now have to ignore the many bolts which are dotted all over the wall fully affecting all of the climbs and no-doubt giving others the green light to bolt with abandon.

“Drilled gear – Not seen as an issue in North Wales. Should be looked at on a case by case basis. Johnny Dawes and Chris Parkin proposed that retro-bolting should not occur due to the popularity of routes but rather on a basis of whether climbers ‘aspire’ to climb them.” BMC Area Meet decision September 2013.

“I know it’s too late for the Nomad Wall but if no-one says anything things will just keep happening and before you know it what makes British climbing special and different has gone.”

I wrote the comment above and posted on the forums at UKC at the end of a topic about Gary Gibson bolting Nomad Wall at Llanymynech in 2009. My original post can be read by clicking here.

The UKC forum page shows that there were 223 replies to my post. In these replies there are many opinions, some for the bolting of The Nomad Wall, some against, some on the fence, some not bothered. It’s a great thing that we, climbers living in Britain, have a democracy and in doing so we generally adhere to the opinion of the majority. One of the most annoying things in life I find is lack of consideration for others, so when the voice of the majority is ignored and ignored to the detriment of inspirational, long established, high quality, three star traditional climbs, it upsets me considerably.

I’m sure Gary will read this and I would like to say I really don’t mean to make this personal. I don’t know you Gary but I’m sure you are a nice guy and in the past you have made some very significant and worthy additions to British climbing but please, it is now time to stop with this obsessive drive to climb new bolted lines, (many of which are sub-standard and poor) lines which seriously affect very good and historic traditional climbs that many people aspire to climb in as near to their original form as possible.

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Squirming through the apex of El Delphine arch via a poor mans easy 7a version… memorable!

El Delphin is an orange, semi-circular limestone arch in Rodella Gorge. Squirming through the jagged gap at the apex of the arch – head-jam, body-jam, knees pressed against rock – body-jam… squirm-thrutch-wriggle … thighs pumped, back scratched. Inching, inching, inching … and then at last, the rock releases – I’m born into space and air and layback-from-buckets, and eventually I reach the top of the climb. The climb was graded 7a, certainly not a test piece, but for me, this one amongst many, will be more memorable.

Sport climbing with attitude. Aiming for the sky in the apex of the arch. Not everyones idea of fun or even climbing.

Matt seconding and about to enter, THE HORROR!

Weeks into my first pure rock trip in years, I have come to the conclusion I’m not of the correct mental make-up to be a good sport climber. But am I making this comment purely on the grade of climb I succeed – and by succeed I mean get to the top of without falling? In sport climbing I think, success is not based purely, if at all, on the enjoyment received from climbing great moves – it is based on reaching the chains without falling? Sport climbing success for many is not based on being in a beautiful area, enjoying the company, the wildlife; it is based on clipping the chains without falling from a climb at the top of your grade? Sport climbing is trying to push grades and reach a new number isnt it, or is this me projecting my thoughts wrongly?

I’ve always struggled with this. Don’t get me wrong, there is something very satisfying about pushing yourself and reaching a new grade but I think sport climbing focuses and draws people into this thinking too much. All the time people say, “I want to climb 8a, 8b, 8c… etc, very rarely is it I want to climb this route because it is a great line.

I much prefer to move over rock at a standard I can hopefully reach the top, at the top of my ability first or second go. Is there anything wrong with climbing satisfying moves at a lower grade in great surroundings and having fun and getting fit and learning to read and experience the rock without working a climb into submission? 

Made in Mascun. Amother of the more memorable climbs which traverses the whole of the cave.

Unknown American climber making El Delphine look like a path.


I had hoped to climb to a grade of 8a on this trip, but in the last few weeks the usual attempting to on-sight climbs near the top of my on-sighting ability, (7b+ at the moment), is much more enjoyable and has taken over. It is also the fact that I want to climb routes that are visually pleasing and appeal, not just any route with a certain grade attached. I receive so much more from battling into the unknown, attempting to work out moves and sequences – attempting to battle the voices in my mind that desperately want to make my mouth shout take. The whole battle of the mind that keeps me hanging on, shaking-out, hanging-on, placing a quick-draw, shaking-out, hanging-on, altering my grip a fraction to conserve some energy, clipping the rope, shaking-out, shaking-out and then attempting to move higher – this is what I enjoy and receive pleasure. There are so many beautiful, testing lines to climb in my grade range – this to me means much more  than repeatedly returning to the same place and the same piece of rock over and over to reach a new grade.

I don’t decry anyone who wants to work one climb to reach a certain grade, I’m just saying, for me; I have re-affirmed this is not what climbing rock is about. I suppose if I left the winter and the mountains alone for a while, even with my fast twitch mentality, I would naturally progress to the point that climbing to a new number would not involve much time but I know this will not happen as the world of climbing means gaining many more experiences from all aspects of what it has to offer – its rock, places, people and mountains and climbing to a new number while clipping bolts is not really that important to me.

Riglos is always a place I have wanted to visit and Fiesta De Los Biceps is a route full of character that has always appealed. At 7a it isn’t a test piece or anything to shout about but the memories of climbing this route will remain forever, more so than any other route climbed on this trip.


Arriving and sorting out gear at Riglos the evening before climbing fiesta.


Walking in to climb Fiesta at 6am to avoid being cooked!


Katy on pitch 2 after setting off just as daylight arrived.


Small potatoes and technical climbingon pitch 4.


The higher you get the bigger the potatoes, the steeper the ground and the more runout between bolts.


Pitch 5, lets the memorable madness begin!


Steep, high and crazy… big potatoe pulling in a wild situation.


Katy higher on the 6th, 6b+ pitch.


The seventh, crux pitch.


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A Summer of a Difference.


A summer of a difference, (sport climbing in areas of Europe that I have not previously visited, The Ariage and Rodellar up to now and maybe some summer Alpinism) instead of traditional climbing in North Wales, which generally involves getting weak and being terrified whilst shuffling loose rock, I have made some discoveries.

Possibly the most disturbing is how very little clothing the European gent wears around the campsite. I am normally a winter visitor to Europe and being a winter visitor I’m used to several layers of clothing being worn over the whole of the body at all times. It appears this is not the case in summer. Budgie smugglers (Speedo type swimming trunks in a micro size) appear to be de-rigour.

Strutting cockerels, with non-strutting cockerel bodies rove the campsites. Sometimes the cockerel has a pencil thin body – sometimes cellulite flows in turbulent waves over the straining waist band. I find meeting these preening beauties is scarier than shuffling the choss of Craig Dorys. They appear proud and lead their swagger with percy protruding even prouder. (No I don’t automatically look into the groin region of a gentleman approaching me but they honestly do strut with groin thrust forth and caught off-guard it’s impossible to miss!) ((Yes it has psychologically affected me)). But it still does not help answer the question of why breakfast, brushing teeth before going to bed, playing cards, or sitting in the café at your computer has to be performed in the tiniest, teeny weeny swimming trunks ever?

Another puzzling question from staying on European campsites is why do none of the toilets have loo paper inside the cubicle? The toilet paper is in a dispenser at the end of the corridor. ‘Ah, good idea’ I hear you say, take what you want and use that bit, energy efficient as you don’t sit there using loads of the stuff! Well no, it’s actually terrifying for everyone involved. While in the bog roll queue I meet the eyes of budgie smuggling middle aged men, obviously standing at a respectable distance with eyes fixed at head height and we are collectively gripped stupid that we will sit down without enough paper and because of this everyone pulls ream after ream after, ‘Oh I may need more’, ream, as you just don’t know what may happen do you?

There is also another phenomena to European campsites, that is the one of the feral adolescent, or to be more correct the groups of teenage school children that roam in packs abandoned by their teachers. The collective term for a group of these children is a Bieberism, as they all obviously want to be Justin Bieber. Yesterday before going through the terrifying act of queuing for my toilet paper while avoiding looking down, I spotted a smoking adolescent staring longingly into the mirror while taking much care to adjust the angle of his backward pointing peak on his cap without displacing his carefully greased bouffant.       

Driving from France through the Pyrenees to Spain, the first destination was Terradets. Terradets is a stunning high-walled gorge of perfect limestone set in the most gorgeous Northern Spanish countryside. After hunting for a campsite eventually one was found on the edge of a lake in a lovely setting. At about 10pm the disco began and my God did it begin. Euro pop belted out at a level that rippled the surface water of the lake. At 3am it stopped only to be replaced with all of the wannaby gangsters and their molls returning to their little stone bungalows, the same little stone bungalows that we were camped behind. Souped-up BMW engines roared which was only the prequel to much frivolity. The raised aggressive voices, the women screaming and the squelchy, fist on face, soft thuds, were next on the agenda but the TV exploding was perhaps the highlight which was quite exciting. The breaking glass and the continued shouting until 6am for folk wanting a hard day of cranking did distract, but not as much as the Quentin Tarantino blood splatters across the floor of the toilets.

Traumatised, leaving the Terradets area as soon as possible, the Citroen Nemo pointed to Rodellar, where two camp sites later a base has been found. Up to now no gangs of wannaby gangsters or feral, cigarette smoking, Justin Bieber, backward cap wearing look-a-likes or budgie smuggling middle aged men have been encountered and the climbing may now hopefully continue.           


Some other massive generalisations gleaned from a summer of Euro camping/climbing.

  1. Fat men should not wear lycra.
  2. Catalonians are loud.
  3. Flies are bloody annoying.
  4. Tattoos must be cheap in Catalonia, hairdressers are expensive.
  5. Dirtbag climbers dogs are in better condition than their owners
  6. Children wake up early and are noisy but not as noisy as Catalonians.
  7. Climbing in the full Spanish/French sun is painful.
  8. Matching clothes with your partner is cool and is called partner-look.
  9. Mullets and dreadlocks make you climb harder.
  10. Guitars are mandatory whether you know one chord or more.
  11. Not everyone amongst climbers in Roellar is the shape of a wedge… but most are.
  12. Big guns are in abundance.
  13. In Catalonian, slackline is slackline.
  14. The climbing day will begin at 4pm.
  15. Eastern Euro’s take life serious.
  16. Every French adolescent wants to be in an R&B video.
  17. Smoking is healthy especially for the young.
  18. Smoking in eating places is healthy.
  19. Taking your dog to the bathroom is normal.
  20. The most important words to survive and succeed in climbing in Catalonia are vaya bicho, a la muerte, vamos and AAAAAAAAARGH… PUTAMARDRE!!!!!!!!!
  21. The rain in Spain falls mainly very very heavy.
  22. Whatever van you own, it is not big enough.
  23. Whatever fridge you own, it is not big enough.
  24. Physiotherapists are the best people to make friends with.
  25. Motor mechanics are best performed at midnight.
  26. Motor mechanics are aided with the same words as for climbing: vaya bicho, a la muerte and AAAAAAAAAARGH… PUTAMARDRE!!!!!!!!!
  27. Climbing dirtbags can afford very expensive campervans and all own an i-phone 4.
  28. Rodellar Gorge is mucho beuno

    One is an old punter, the other is not… Mark Cavendish on the bike!


Chris Froome on his way to winning Le Tour.


My dream car.


One of the afternoon thunderstorms at Rodellar.


Grayham Desroy eat your heart out!


La Piton. Rodellar.




Another late one after the storm.


Just another amazing route at Rodellar.


No explanation needed!


Rodellar Toad.

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Camping in the Ariege, France.


“Well some of us have to work!”

My sister said as Katy and I left her £500 000 home in the south of England on the way to climb for ten weeks in Europe.

I don’t begrudge anyone who has a paid-off half a million pound house with money to spare – she has worked and brought up children and done the time to get the things that she wants. I don’t begrudge her life choice at all, but I think it is her choice, or maybe it wasn’t, maybe it was societies choice and she accepted those choices the way many of us do including myself –  but in the end this was her decision and I can’t help but ask, was it what she wanted, is she happy and why does she appear to have a problem with my decisions, my choice?

After just over a week of camping, rock climbing, hanging-out, running, watching the Redstart flit into the crack and feed their noisy chicks, watching the river take its twists and turns – froth flowing over boulders which stirs the vortex of my imagination turning the bubbles into white beards of old men – sitting in the shade surrounded by dripping limestone tufa’s in the huge guppy-mouth cave of Genat and watching the wind stir the full-leaf hardwoods and listening to them whisper a thousand whispers, I’m asking myself the same question, is this what I want, am I happy and if I am happy by this existence, what is it that makes me happy about living like this?

The Ariege valley is slow, and peaceful, quiet and enchanting – a lost world of narrow overgrown single track lanes, hairpins, old men with creased skin and hooked noses and crumbling castles standing haughtily on a wooded mountain spur… an escape – but escape is the wrong phrase, it isn’t an escape, it is real… real for now, real life, real existence, memories in the making, a simple existence for me, but I emphasise, ‘for me’. Being here, weighing down the milk carton, the beer bottles, the yoghurt pots in the river so they keep cool, but don’t get swept away – the river rises and lowers with each turn of the weather in the Pyrenees – this is my existence at the moment and the simplicity chills me like the milk cartons chill in the river. Finding sequence to enable passage through steep limestone means nothing, it solves nothing, it cures nothing… well, nothing apart from quietening the voices that shout inside my head. So I suppose, for me, doing something pointless, is important and who can say it is not, and it is also important for me at whatever level I choose to do it, as it is also important for anyone else to do it at the level they want.

I sit and wonder, I wonder if there really is a choice at times - do people who are unhappy, and I know not everyone is unhappy with different choices to my own – but some people do appear to be unhappy and make scathing comments – do they do it because they feel held back, not able to make the decisions they really want to make, and if so that could be through factors that may not have been of their own making. Not everyone is fortunate or lucky, or brave or healthy enough to make the choice that possibly they would like to make and because of this I should try to understand and appreciate this, I should grow and learn, I should be kinder. I’m sure my writing and view on life feels at times to many people who read it like I’m looking down from my haughty castle spur and sneering. This has never been my intention, my intention has always been to inspire.   

Not everyone in the UK has the option to drive to Europe and climb for ten weeks, I do think it is an option that is within the reach of some, but certainly not all, society would collapse if we all lived this way, but maybe there is a small opportunity for many to take that first brave step and move into the unknown, no-matter what the unknown may be – it can be stepping out of a front door, a walk around the park, or accepting that life is different things for different people and understanding that not everyone can do what they want to do in life.

Information surrounds us. Facebook, email, twitter, blogs, newsfeeds, an endless list and it is easy to become angry and bitter as we see what people are doing with their lives. I think people should try to rejoice in those who live different, but also, for people like me, I should try to look on with a more open mind and try to put myself in the life of people, who, for whatever reason, cannot make the choice I have made and maybe with the inspiration taken from these people I will become a better more understanding person.

A few years ago my sister spoke of selling up, banking her money and using her medical training to work voluntary abroad, to explore and meet and help the less fortunate. Maybe if she had she would have had less but more, but maybe she just could not do that and I should accept her decision? 

Life in the slow-lane.


Life between red-point attemps and rain-storms.


Old dog attempts new tricks without much success!


Katy Forrester in the Genat cave on what is not a slab!


Returning to the ground after another 40m pitch. Yep, screwgate open, I have to make it dangerous somehow!


Katy being scared by thunder between red-points!


Nick Bullock knee-barring and imagining Gogarth without the rain and with bolts!!!

Returning to the ground. The crux move went like this, and that, then up, then across…

Where next???



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Peroni… The New Guinness.

Sitting in the passenger seat of the Hippy’s new prized possession – a VW T-5 with a conversion to make it into something like a living room – Ballycastle high street, County Antrim, resembled the town I grew up – small shops, busy pavements, a square with a stone monument and pubs – loads of pubs!

Being Ireland the pubs had that that very distinct frontal –  generally small windows with painted frames and a single colour for the stone façade – yellow, green, black, and a large name written above the door in scrolling gothic font running the width of the pub, O’Donoghue’s, House of McDonnell, Mulligan’s…

Reaching the end of the high street – the beach, and views across the sea to Rathlin Island and the Mull of Kintyre and Jura, but nearer, turning the fortified bend in the headland was Fair Head, that massive stone monument glinting in the fading sunlight.

I’d been invited across to give a talk on the Saturday evening of the annual Fair Head meet by Paul Swail and Mountaineering Ireland who were covering the travel. (The talk was typically exotic, in a cow shed, starting at 11pm and the crowd, about 100-200 folk and several sheep were up for it!)  Having never visited Fair Head, it was too good an opportunity to miss, so after snapping up the offer here I was.

I really can’t be bothered to write all of the gubbins about climbs, moves, gear, logistics, grades, etc –  that stuff bores me more than reality TV and reality TV really bores me, but if you’ve heard any of the hype regarding the climbing style and the quality of the climbs at Fair Head, believe it!

Thuggy jamming, burl, beefy, power, under-graded, sandbags, tranquillity, friendly, seldom travelled, I can’t really include enough adjectives to describe the place. A few shots may capture the essence though. And Sean the farmer who’s land Fair Head is on, what a star… the night he walked over to the Hippy’s travelling residence with two wafer ice creams melting and running through his massive fingers was one of the most friendly gestures ever and then he capped it by saying I could use the shower in his house!

Nick Bullock climbing Primal Scream. Graham Desroy.


Equinox. A 60m *** E2 that felt a tad harder than the grade suggests. It could have been the damp dark conditions after impatience got the better, or it could be that its hard! Nick Bullock.


Face Value. a brilliant *** E4. Nick Bullock.


Graham Desroy eventually getting his ride up Wall of Prey after missing out thirty five years previously when he opted to take pics! Nick Bullock


The Clean Hand Gang on their visit to Fair Head in 1979 taken from Mountain 72 and Graham Desroys article. From left to right: Graham Desroy, Arni Strapcans, Gordon Jenkins, Martin Barrett and Nick Buckley.


Nick Bullock on the crux of Wall of Prey. Graham Desroy

The Hippy feeling the pace thirty five years after his previous visit. The accomodation is slightly better this time … Oh, the luxury!!! Nick Bullock.

Paul Swail after seconding a 57m E3 *** finger/hand crack called Jolley Roger. It may have gotten a larger grade if in Wales, but maybe I’m not so good and finger locking day five on with not so much for feet! Nick Bullock


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