The Road.

The rain… The bloody rain … it poured. And poured.

The bloody permanent dark. The dark. Cloistering. Depressing. Invasive. 

I ran the lane from Roy Bridge heading to Glen Roy. Undulating. Ancient trees. Narrow.

The brown peaty river – flowing white and bubbly – churned its twisting way around mossy boulders. Running, sweating, steaming – the layby – The deserted layby – empty bottles – Glen Vodka and JP Chenet Blanc, soggy tissues.  Deserted.

I was running along Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road. I felt separated in this post-apocalyptic highlands. 

I had walked into four different crags in the week and walked out again. The bag remained unpacked. The most memorable and inspiring part of the week’s failures had been the 5am battle to reach the Cairngorm Plateau. Driving snow and gales. Whiteout. What the fuck had Robbo and me been thinking? In the beam of the headtorch I picked out a white carrier bag blowing in my direction. It was only when it tumbled nearer I realised it was a Ptarmigan, being beaten by the wind.  Her wings so used to being strong, carrying her body ,flapped like polythene. She clawed to snow and found purchase and hunkered down a metre away. I shone the torch. Her dark eyes blazed survival.    

I sat in my van on Morrisons car park watching people leave the train station and meet loved ones – a wet, close, loving embrace in the pouring rain. Closeness.  

I felt alone.

Heading for the underpass toward Fort William town centre – rippled and stirred by the wind, I avoided the large puddles. My mood was grey and dark. It had been too long since the last climb and hanging in wet Scotland made me dour – I had too much time to think.  

Streams of water poured down the tiles on the front face of the underpass. The inside was lit, almost dazzling compared to the nether world outside, music echoed and begrudgingly filtered outside and into the gloom.  

Buskers stress me, if I don’t add to their guitar case, hat, cup or whatever receptacle they use to catch change, generally I feel embarrassed and guilty but maybe that’s me and my prejudice – maybe busking is like writing and climbing, you need to be heard or read or actively involved no matter the pay, the piece of prose, the song, the grade…  but somehow I doubt it, I’m sure many buskers busk out of necessity?

This busker was in his fifties, a medium sized guy – wax jacket, bit of a belly, flat cap made of tweed, grey complexion and a life worn and weary face. He played an acoustic guitar and his singing and playing was really good. Emotion stirred deep into the pit of my stomach. I wondered why he needed to busk, what had gone wrong? His eyes were bright and sharp, eyes that also stirred something in me – something that punched me in that hollow self-pitying gut. I placed a few coins in his guitar case and looked him in those eyes. Swinging the guitar from side to side – strumming, singing – he gave me a nod and a knowing smile.     

Walking from the underpass, back into the rain, my mood felt lighter. I made a pact with myself to stop wallowing in self-pity and raw emotion and to cheer up – there was always a glimmer of hope and the small un-noticed things of life, like the Ptarmigan, bring some relief.

Walking back from internetting at Whetherspoons, along Fort William high street, a young boy sat in the doorway outside a shop licking a sherbet lollipop. He looked like the lad from the front cover of a Roddy Doyle book called Paddy Clarke ha ha ha – blond, skinny, very cheeky, his whole life ahead of him. ‘Lucky bugger’ I thought.

The first day of the BMC Winter International meet, the forecast was atrocious. What to do? My mood was once again sliding, but I thought of the busker, music, life, love, the cheeky young boy and the Ptarmigan and I knew life was a curve ball –  lows and highs, rights and wrongs, shit happens, sometimes times are good, sometimes it rains – this is what makes life, life, and this is what makes the good times good.

Extasy. VIII/8 Craig Meggy

Canadian, Jon Walsh and I, walked in, checked it out and the following day climbed the third ascent of Extasy on the Pinnacle Face of Craig Meagaidh. Its difficult to imaging that I will have a more compelling, engaging day of the winter than this one. We climbed the route totally on ice but the ice was less than perfect and the ground at times was steep. The gear to protect the climb was minimal and the descent ‘interesting’… All in all, a pretty full-on day.

     

     

Making the Cut VIII/8 FA, Jon Walsh, Greg Boswell, Nick Bullock. West Central Gully. Beinn Eighe.

The perfect day. Stunning settled weather, a magnificent situation and a line both Greg and I had spotted a few years back. I lost Scissor, paper, stone all day and climbed the third pitch which was still good but not as spectacular as the second pitch or as sustained as the first pitch. We called it Making the Cut after talking to Simon Richardson about the amount of entries he has on his blog Scottish Winter climbs.

 

For further info on The BMC International Meet the report is Here

Thanks to DMM for covering the cost of the week and thanks to Nick Colton and Becky McGovern of the BMC for the great work, friendship and help throughout the week.

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Another Dark Start.

 

Another dark start.

Greg, Will, Guy and I, just a few hours before had sat close together in front of The Kingshouse fire. The history inside these walls would have once been magic. Older now, the trick is to remember younger thoughts.

Another dark start.

I always find the stone stepped walk into Stob Coire Nan Lochan steep and miserable. It’s dark so I can’t look at the savage scenery. There are no animals or birds awake. Or if there are, they are hidden by the night.

The stream flows over ice-glazed rock and chunters its cold complaints at having to leave the hills and join ‘that’ other water.

The path is steep.

Following Guy Robertson in the opposite direction to the stream, I chunter about the rain. We sit on our bags and blather while taking a minute for a drink. This makes me laugh, when oh when did I become so laid back to stop and sit on bags and blather on a walk in?

Greg Boswell and Will Sim catch us. Greg complains that our sit and blather is an excuse now we have hit the snow. He’s wrong though.

****

Beneath the cliff the boulder field is no longer a boulder field. A field of white welds to the earth and butts against the fortress of rock we have come to climb.

Light now, one line in particular stands out. Greg and Will have also seen it, though to be honest you wouldn’t need the eyes of youth to pick this line.

“Are you looking at the Beyond Good and Evil line?” Will said to me without looking away from the cliff.

“Yes.”

“RACE YOU.” And with that Greg runs toward the cliff in thigh deep snow while laughing.

We all laugh. Even Robbo who takes this game very serious.

****

Entering SC Gully, chocked to the brim with fresh snow, my mind, at times like these always wonders what it would be like being buried.

“Well, best you get on with it.”  

****

The corner is text book. Nearly ninety degrees with cuts and folds a tailor would be proud. A ripple of ice runs directly down, or is it up, the fold. The ice crawls onto each of the walls, either side of the corner … but stood beneath this feature I can see that the rock has no footholds, apart from the thin cold mould of ice.

The friendly ice soon turns nasty once it realises my intention. And behind its rotten heart, the fold is full of muck which a hook is pounded to give the only protection.

Bridged-out, I survey my options.

No footholds until the same height as my axes. Rotten ice. Poor protection.

Repeatedly I pull up, lock off and excavate. Lumps of crud crack and crumble. My mind quietens and a second hook, poorer than the first is tapped into turf.

It would be good at this point to say how I romped, but it would be a lie, because I crawled like a lover begging to be let back in. Half a body length higher, once again I began to excavate. A cam into frozen moss did not give me faith but the footholds now were oh so close.

Willing the lumps of icy crud I hooked to stay in place, I brought feet beneath body, pulled, locked and fished for something…

****

Stood belaying, while looking down to Robbo climbing the corner, smiling and laughing, enjoying the very good climbing, I didn’t feel jealous of his top-rope. There had definitely been a point where it would have been very easy to back off. Maybe getting older does not affect my commitment, but tempers it and turns it into a more solid, safer thing?

****

The two new pitches above the corner did not diminish in quality at all, in fact, it possibly improved. The top pitch, a magnificent steep wall veined with cracks, in a fine and exposed position, is certainly the highlight of the climb with possibly the most difficult climbing, but the first pitch is certainly the crux which in similar condition will stop most parties unless their will is strong.

Slenderhead. VIII/8 100m Robertson, Bullock. 13/1/14

1 The Corner on the right wall of SC Gully. 30m

2 The ice line and wide crack above the corner until a line of flakes takes you right to the arête. Follow the arête direst and belay beneath a slim tower to the left of the final corner pitch of East Face Direct Route.

3 Climb directly above the belay up the front face of the tower, difficult to start, to overhanging cracks. A difficult move left leads to a wide crack on the left side of the tower which is climbed. From behind the tower finish direct.            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cure for a Sick Mind. (New routes on Creag an Dubh Loch)

 

The Robbenator taking his chill pill! A new route on the left on the Creag an Dubh Loch.

Driving to Chamonix before Christmas, mile upon mile of autoroute… I smelt the desperation in Guy Robertson’s text messages… ‘I need. I want. I have to have.’

I sent a text back, ‘Chill Robbo.’

He continued to send texts, each becoming more desperate sounding and including bigger and bigger, more difficult to understand adjectives.

I replied… ‘Are you pissed?

Truth be told I’ve always worried about Robbo’s sanity, that’s possibly why we get on so well, but he was worrying me more than usual.

****
I returned from Chamonix keen to drive straight to Scotland to meet my slightly emotional, disturbed friend but two weeks had passed since the original texts and he was still devoid of that first success of a Scottish winter season. I now had more chance of sense from a daffodil.

“We meet Monday, we meet Tuesday, we meet Wednesday… I’m not meeting you now, I’m going out with Greg, with Pete, with anyone on Saturday, Sunday, in the day, the night, the never world… ”

I drove to Wales and the texts continued…

“Bloody incompetent weather forecasters.”

I surmised that the weekend had not gone to plan and now imagined my slightly off the wall friend turning into a camouflaged vest, combat trouser, Bandana wearing, AK 47 toting, Robbenator, who screamed lines from Rambo while lying in wait on the top floor of the multi-story car park outside the BBC weather centre.

The text messages continued…

“Get ready. Meet on the Spittal of Glenmuick car park on Friday.”

The messages told me what gear to bring including a map and compass. I knew then he had lost the plot completely!

The next text spelt all change once again…

“I’m not climbing with you, I’m climbing with Greg, you can climb with Will.”

The Greg in question was Greg Boswell and Will was Will Sim … No problem at all as I had climbed with Will and given the state of Robbo I did not have the correct drugs in my medicine cabinet required to bring him down to the same planet as the rest of us.

Will texted me then asking if I was free to climb at some point? I sent a text back saying I thought we already were?

It was finally decided that Greg, Will and I would arrive at the car park with a rack of gear each, push bikes, ropes and sustenance to climb in the Dubh Loch and as many chill pills as possible and fit with whatever plan the Robbentaor came up with.

At 9pm on Friday evening a small group huddled around my van and a plan was eventually made…

As I lay in the back of my van waiting for sleep to come, I said a prayer for good weather, favourable conditions and success for the following day as I feared for all our sanity and safety should Robbo fail once again!

 

Guy Robertson on his and Greg Boswell’s new route.

 

Iain Small climbing the first pitch of his and Simon Richardson’s new route on the right!

Will Sim setting off on our new route up the middle and into no-mans land!

Will Sim on the first pitch having just climbed the crux and wondering which way now?

Nick Bullock setting off on pitch two and regretting only having one stubby screw and a borrowed screw from Iain Small.

 

Into a world of thin…

Looking up to me on the belay beneath pitch three.

Will Sim at the top of pitch two.

Three dimensional on the start of pitch three which leads into thin and steep ice dribbles.

Boom… And relax!

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Terry Gifford Review of Echoes.

On the eve of travelling to Scotland, where hopefully, in this winter of discontent I will climb something other than the walls of the CC hut in Roy Bridge, I thought I would post this review of Echoes.

I first read the review before flying to Canada and my initial impression and feeling which was one of enlightenment is intact.

Virtually all reviews of Echoes have been favourable but this one, more than most is  important given the credentials of the reviewer Terry Gifford.

 

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The Forming of Ice.

Nemesis on The Stanley Headwall in 2013 form.

 

At the moment I’m fascinated by the movement of time.

And as the trip to Canada comes to an end it’s quite fitting that the last route was Nemesis, an ice-climb I climbed first with Dave Hunter in 2003 and at a time when Greg, who I climbed Nemesis with on this trip, was only twelve years old.

****

With each placement, pick into hard frozen, the ten previous years splintered. Shards – some clear, some smoked, some big, some small – splattered and flew to the snow at the base of the climb.

And what have I done in those ten years? Where will the next ten years lead?

I climbed Nemesis with Dave Hunter in March 2003, and it was later that year I left the Prison Service to become a writer and full time climber.

I have not seen Dave since. I wonder where he is and what he is doing with his life.

Time moves. Seasons change. Waves and tides turn.

The night turns to day, temperatures rise and fall. Water drips, freezes, drips and freezes.

Ice forms.

And with the forming of ice, people will climb it in whatever form it makes that year.

Sometimes it will form easy to climb. Sometimes it will form thin, brittle, chandeliered and stringy. It will be difficult to protect and difficult to climb, it will be difficult to see yourself ‘up there’.

But hopefully, the ice will continue to grow.

 

Nick Bullock on the first pitch of Nemesis 2013. Greg Boswell.

 

Greg Boswell, pitch two of Nemesis.

Nick Bullock, pitch three of Nemesis. Greg Boswell.

Another sun sets on our final visit to The Stanley Headwall 2013.

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Deviation.

 

Raphael Slawinski from my previous trip to Canada. He is approaching the belay after Rob Greenwood, Raphael and myself had climbed the second ascent of Exterminator on The Trophy Wall, Rundle, which was actually a Slawinski route! I had belayed using an ice V-thread Raphael had made three weeks earlier on the first ascent and a stubby screw. He saw the screw belay and said, “Ah, a stubby in the belay, novel”

Walking the zig zagging snow trail into The Stanley Headwall, a trail that has become almost as familiar to me as The Ben Nevis track, we pass through the burnt husks of pine scorched by summer fire.  Greg Boswell and I, each in thoughts of our own. A head torch existence.

The massive silhouetted baulk of The Headwall dominates to our right.

The Headwall for me represents big multi-pitch adventure. This is my favourite type of winter climbing. But today in the lean ice conditions we are after a two pitch variation on a climb I still long to complete, Uniform Queen. The climb is Victoria’s Secret Deviation, first climbed by that man again, Raphael Slawinski. I know this line appeals more to Greg than me because of the published pictures of Raphael on the route and I’m sure because of the reputation the climb has for technical and sustained difficulty. This must inspire a young driven mind?

My interest in climbing Victoria’s Secret is not as piqued as Boswell’s. Even so, I am not out for an easy ride today. I have already said that I would like to lead the main pitch as the style of climbing sounds everything I relish, so who-ever goes first, will then abseil and strip the pitch in preparation for the second round.

I suppose my interest is even more heightened knowing Slawinski and knowing how well he climbs. He gave the pitch a grade of M7++ and basically what that means is, difficult. The fact Slawinski fell three times while attempting to make the first ascent, on the on-sight, is particularly daunting, but anyone who is a part of this totally irrelevant and somewhat pointless practice knows, the person up there the first time has a whole load of voices and barriers against them.

In winter climbing on traditionally protected routes and certainly routes that heavily feature cracks, it is easy to forget that as the climb becomes more travelled it also becomes easier. The gear is easier to spot and place, the pick slots clean out and the mono-point placements become worn and easy to see. Victoria’s Secret Deviation has seen some action but not a lot by any means, so it would be an interesting exercise. And in a way, for the first time on this trip, that was how I was looking at the day, it was exercise. Certainly for me, climbing a two pitch route was not going to compare with the likes of Rocketman, but to be honest, after Rocketman, I was relishing the thought of not climbing the whole day and into the dark and into temperatures of minus 18.

Standing beneath the route Greg and I scissor, paper, stoned for who was to be first up on the main pitch. Greg won. This was the best result I think as like I said, I was not that bothered. This has generally been a theme of my climbing, summer or winter, because in a way I’m quite laid back and there will always be enough to go around in the long run.

Victoria’s Secret as far as we both knew had only had two ascents, one by Slawainski of course and the second by that winter hard hitter and under the radar,  well as far as Britain is concerned, Jon Walsh. Walsh had fallen at the very top of the main pitch so the route had never had an on-sight ascent.

Greg took to the challenge well and soon was half way up the pitch that reminded me a little bit of Left Wall on Dinas Cromlech in the Llanberis Pass, North Wales. (Don’t worry, I’m not about to try this in winter people)

And after an hour or so, maybe it was more so than an hour, Greg made it to the top for the first on-sight and third over-all ascent.

This is possibly the first time in my life I have been involved in something like this in winter. My head was shouting insistently and saying what it usually does in similar situations but these situations are normally in summer, it was saying, ‘oh don’t be so petty, just second the pitch to save time and effort, you will have climbed it no-matter whether on lead or second’. But for once I refused to bow to the more sensible voice and allowed Greg to strip the pitch.

The first moves from the belay were tricky and insecure. The thread of doubt needled through my brain, but once I pulled onto the wall the fears subsided as the hooks were solid and the gear was good. Footholds, pick placements and planning was obviously going to be the way too getting up this thing clean and soon my mind warmed to the situation. Greg shouted beta, in a way he didn’t need to as it was obvious what to do, but I didn’t mind and there was no way I could call my ascent an on-sight anyway.

I steadily made move after move. Most of the climbing was very secure but there was a point at about half height where the good feet placements ran out and the pick placements were first tooth torques in the shallow crack. This in itself would not have been bad, the wall was just off-vertical, but the wall bulged and for the first time, hard pulling with feet on small edges and placed high was necessary. Several times through this section I pulled my head level with the pick imagining it exploding and hitting me in the face.

Moves had to be constantly planned and the higher I climbed the more scared of falling I became. It wasn’t because I was going to fall a long way, I just didn’t want to mess it up and the thought of Greg down there, wrapped in two jackets and glowing from his clean ascent, made me even more scared. It wasn’t a competition thing, he felt great about his climb and rightly so but possibly, if I fell, it would dampen his celebrations.

Tiny calcifications for feet, single tooth torques, cross over axe moves, balance, balance… time ticked, the climbing left to the top decreased and the more embroiled I became. Snow was falling, sticking to the rock, resting on the tiny edges.

At last, the very last move before a low angled snow gully and it was the typical Headwall scrape, catch, pull and pray with knees pressed to a ledge. This move was so easy to blow. My body trembled. There was so much tension running through it and the tension running through my brain was more. Three times I went to make the move and reversed, I was so afraid to mess it up but at last I committed and by good luck and maybe some skill, I didn’t fall and the groove was under my feet.

Walking out, the dark was engulfing once again and the snow steadily falling settled. Inside the yellow beam of my head torch I was contemplating.

No, Victoria’s Secret was not a nine pitch adventure, but it was an adventure and such a beautiful technical climb, which thanks to the vision of Raphael by not bolting it, it would stay up there in the memory as if it were something bigger and longer.

For more info on Victoria’s Secret Deviation on the Alpinist site click here

And for Ian Parnell’s take on the route and one of the pictures of Slawinski on the route click here

 

Nick Bullock starting pitch one of Uniform Queen.

 

Nick Bullock higher on pitch one of Uniform Queen with the wall looming.

 

Greg seconding the first pitch of Uniform Queen.

Greg on his way to making the first on-sight of Victoria’s Secret Deviation.

Nick Bullock on round two after Boswells successful third ascent of Victoria’s Secret Deviation.

Nick Bullock trying not to shake, or breathe. Getting more nervous with every move up!

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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. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/10240941/Grubs-up-as-fruit-and-veg-push-food-inflation-higher.html  ]

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.

Why?

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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