Stigmata winter.

Nearing the end of the stinking hot summer, 2018, Mick Lovatt (The Perfect Man) and I were in the Craig Dorys zone. Mick had climbed the second ascent of my route, The Zither Player, without too much messing, and I climbed the second ascent of Mick’s route, Destiny, almost with crazy abandon (when a foothold crumbled on the crux, I regretted my crazy abandon, but I hung on, and continued with less crazy and definitely, no abandon). Craig Dorys, and especially the intimidating, overhanging and loose, Stigmata Buttress, was becoming, (almost) a playground. A very dangerous playground – a playground with glass scattered beneath the swings and nails sticking proud from the shiny bed of the slide, maybe a pit of vipers surrounding the see-saw. Mick climbed his second new route of the summer, The Mudshark, early in September. I thought the line was a little naff as it shared the start of Rust Never Sleeps, a particularly fine E6 first climbed by Chris Parkin and Steve Long, November 1992, but after running a lap, (with the safety of a top-rope) I had to eat my words, because the style of climbing was similar to other lines on this delicate overhanging flower – forceful and committing, and brutally honest – you were either going to the top or not, and the thought of not, was not worth thinking about, (although that was exactly what we both ended up doing, and it was usually through the long, long little hours of night).

Almost crazy abandon at Dorys in March. Credit, Graham Desroy

“If you’re ready to lead it before me, no problem, get it done.” That’s what Mick said before he climbed The Mudshark. And with that, I recruited the Hippy to hold my rope, so I could run a lap or two, hopefully putting me in good stead to get it done on the next visit. Topping-out, after the second lap, I was confronted not only with a white jeaned Hippy, but with a bronzed, (some may call it orange) TPM. He had jogged to the cliff from his house, a mile or so away, and he now stood, out of breath and sweating, wearing only shorts, socks, running shoes and a gold chain hanging around his neck.

“What you doing?” He gasped in deepest Lancastrian.

“I’m working the route, you said whoever was ready to climb it first, could!”

“I didn’t say run laps on it!”

From this exchange, I surmised that TPM was, after all, rather keen to get the first ascent, and because of this I (begrudgingly) allowed my ambitions to settle with second place.

The following day, Mick and I returned to Stigmata where I held his ropes, and no-doubt feeling the baited Bullock breath slithering somewhat competitively down his golden neck, he climbed the first ascent of the line. After deliberation, the route was called The Mudshark. Actually, thinking about it, there was no deliberation, Mick had obviously decided on the name before the route was climbed, a pretty ballsy and risky strategy for an E8 on Stigmata!

It was difficult to think the glorious weather would come to an end, but with a week or so before I flew to China, end it did, and this scuppered my chance to climb the second ascent. Six months later, (Where the hell does time go?) another weird weather phenomenon brought about an unexpected opportunity. It was February and 20 degrees, (who says global warming is a made up thing) Scottish winter was not happening, and for only the second time in 25 years, I had not been North, (although I’m sure I missed a year or three when I was in the Alps, but I’m old, so I’ll ignore that) which left time to train, and with this opportunity, and given the crazy, almost summer temps, TPM and I began where we had left off in 2018, and headed to Dorys.

Crossing the field, walking towards the cliff top, the difference was striking. Great black-backed gulls circled. The hedgerows and trees were bare, mud squelched and the grass was lush and green. At the end of the blazing summer in 2018, the fields were brown, dried to a shining crisp, charms of goldfinches raided the thistles. It was difficult to appreciate that it was February, not June, the temperature was certainly more June. TPM, looking slightly less golden because, after all, it was winter, threw a rope down a route to the left of The Mudshark, and I threw a rope down The Mudshark.

It’s not rocket science, but it still came as a shock to find that after not going to Scotland and after a load of training, I felt reasonably fit, and I was climbing The Mudshark (on a top-rope) clean – this was a scary prospect, because this is Stigmata Buttress, where only after loads of confidence miles, the thought of leading a route so serious, becomes viable, (for me anyway). TPM also felt his route was within reach, but he also shared the quiver of doubt that Dorys gives. We decided to come again the next day, because the weather was looking as good, but after this, and for the foreseeable future, there was wind and rain, and to top this, Mick was abandoning me for Spain (inconsiderate, although good for a gold top-up!).

The following day both of us wanted, or at least, longed to climb our chosen routes, but February all felt a tad too much for tying on beneath an E8 on Stigmata, and the glow of fatigue from the day before didn’t give confidence.

“You know what, I’m definitely fit enough, but I’m not mentally strong enough.”

Mick agreed, which wasn’t astounding, it was bloody February! So, we both worked our routes and said it will happen when it happens.

TPM flew to Spain, but six days later, on Tuesday, there was a small weather window.

Tuesday arrived and I was keen. It was blowing a bit of a gust, and rain was forecast for late in the day, and it was only 9 degrees, but it was a window, a small cold, windy window, but most definitely a window and it was no longer February. Bring on the Hippy! The Hippy had agreed to climb as long as he wasn’t washing his hair or even worse, playing golf.


And so, with the old team united, we headed to Dorys on the 5th of March to attempt something that should not be attempted in March. The wind was gusting and the sea crashing. I was a little concerned that the wind was too much. A rock pipit ran across the top of the cliff hunkering down between gusts, but as I crawled to the edge and peered over, I could see that the rock was light in colour and dry. The Hippy had a massive jacket, so he was happy, and my only concern was keeping him awake. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t the only concern, it was just one in a long line, but I have always had the opinion, that when opportunity arises, you have to give it a go…

TPM on the 1st ascent of The Mudshark, E8 6b. September 2018.

Myself on The Mudshark, March 5th 2019. Credit, Graham Desroy

Into the breeze on the 2nd ascent of The Mudshark. Credit, Graham Desroy.

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INTERVIEW: Nick Bullock – Comfort by Marc Langley on UKC.

The interview linked below has just been published on The thing that interested me was Marc Langley’s introduction, where he said at one time his opinion of me was “a man whom I had once assumed to be dogmatic”.  After looking up the definition of dogmatic I laughed … here are some synonyms;  arrogant, overbearing, dictatorial, uncompromising, unyielding, unbending, inflexible, rigid, entrenched, unquestionable, unchallengeable. At one time in my life I think I was a few of these things, now I like to think I’m none, and if you don’t believe me, you’re wrong!

Anyway, I do find it interesting how many people formulate an impression of a person by information gleaned from various sources. Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this, most of us do it, don’t we? I suppose the difficult part is to recognize you have a preconceived opinion, and to change this opinion, if they are not what you thought they were when meeting in person.

The interview can be read here… Interview: Nick Bullock – Comfort

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Spray… Ice.

Alert and puffed against the cold, the fox tip-toed the icy road. Nothing special about this, but the road was in the middle of Ouray, and Ouray, once a mining town, was in Colorado, USA.

Still, nothing special I suppose, foxes have mooched around towns all over the world for many years. It was February and Ouray was tight with cold. The cold was blue, the night was blue, the ice was blue. But in the yellow bursting from the street light, the fox was red.

Dawn arrived. And after a while the sun threatened from behind the frozen mountain.

I carefully navigated around the ice glued to the tarmac of the motel courtyard, and in the trees, Steller’s Jays hopped from branch to branch, their black crest sticking into the clear sky.

I was in Colorado to present a talk at the Ouray Ice Festival. The festival runs from Friday to Sunday, and I was presenting on Saturday evening. This was my first time in Colorado and it was something of a treat to eventually be in, and see, Ouray, but it was even more special to be in the dry cold of a Coloradan winter.

Presenting the talk on the Saturday evening was really fun, although it would have been nice to have been able to finish as intended, and tell the Slovak story, show some pics from around the world to music, and thank everyone. Sorry for that, I did try! So, anyway, thanks for coming and listening 🙂 Pic credit, Rich Bailey.

Since returning from China in the autumn, I must admit to being more focused on rock climbing than winter climbing. It’s possibly a getting old thing; the extra fitness needed to complete a day of Scottish winter climbing, the extra packing, sorting, carrying a heavy rucksack, the cold, the wet, the discomfort, but maybe its just a lazy thing? But I really want to climb rock in 2019, and by that, I mean all types of rock. I want to sport climb in Spain, to trad climb in the Outer Hebrides, new route on the Llyn Peninsular in Wales, trad climb in Pembroke, clip bolts once again, but this time in the south of France, and then, Canada, or even back to Colorado.

Back to Colorado?

Myself with eyes closed so not to get too excited! Ross and Sam also excited, but maybe not as much! Pic credit, Rich Bailey.

As the four of us travelled from Denver to Ouray, Sam, Rich, Ross and myself, I spotted a sign for the Black Canyon. “Look, the Black Canyon is that way!”  The Black Canyon, or as its known by the locals, The Black, has a reputation – a reputation for loose and exciting, it has a reputation for times we now appear to have almost lost – of under the radar and humble. I had always wanted to visit and climb in the Black and had, almost, twice, but twice the plans had not materialized.

Sam checked on his phone, “Its only fifteen minutes’ drive away, shall we go have a look?” The consensus was that we should go have a look, and fifteen minutes later we were running from the car, slithering on the snow, to reach the South Rim of The Black. Columns, broad pillars, a flowing river far beneath the sheer cliffs. What a place. I vowed to return in warmer weather.

Rubbish picture taken on my phone but you get the idea.

I enjoyed visiting Ouray, climbing ice and meeting loads of friendly people, some for the first time, and some friends I had not seen for a while, but on occasion, I found myself suffering a feeling of, if only. I had hoped to travel to the east coast after Ouray and meet my friend Bayard Russell and travel to Quebec to climb an icefall we went to climb when we had visited the area a few years previously. It didn’t make my feeling of missing out any better when, innocently, Bayard sent me several pictures of the exact area, that, low and behold, was in fantastic condition this year. Someone had even climbed a new, crazy looking line that I would have loved to have attempted with Bayard.

How can a person be climbing lines like these and want to be somewhere else! The climbing was great in Ouray and made even more so by partnering up with Zac who is a friend of a friend, and now my friend. The time we spent climbing together over three days was great fun and interesting. Zac is an ex-marine, who now works as a soil scientist for the government, he had not been paid or worked for quite some time because of Trump’s wall dispute. Pic credit, Rich Bailey.

Another fun climb in Ouray with Zac. Pic credit, Rich Bailey.

It’s a bit crazy, or is it, I’m a bit crazy? I have a good life, but at times I want to be in several places at the same time. Even as we flew to the States, the weather in Scotland had turned good for winter climbing, and I regretted leaving the UK. I now very rarely look at social media sites apart from Twitter, because in general they make me want to be in too many places all at the same time. Rightly or wrongly, I start to question what is behind the constant flow of pictures from people I respect? I find myself asking why do they want to inflict pain on their friends, because that is what it is when it isn’t just the odd picture, the occasional splurge of excitement – it’s a barrage, an avalanche, a spray of, ‘I’m getting mine, what are you doing? I find myself wondering if this flow is a sign of their insecurity, or is it they just really do like making their friends jealous knowingly causing frustration and at times worse? We all have ups and downs, it’s human, even these folks that post their every climb, but these ‘not so good experiences’ never appear to be shared?

It’s a strange world we now live, because here I am writing a blog and posting pictures, but, I do think a blog is a different medium to social media, at least I take the time to tell a story and hopefully make people think, and people choose to hit a button and visit, but, maybe I’m fooling myself, maybe it’s no different from spraying on Facebook or Instagram?

Sorry, once again my dislike of social media has hijacked my story, but you can blame it on my friend I met in the climbing wall over the weekend. It was the first time in several months I had seen him and for some reason I mentioned Facebook. My friend is in some ways similar to me, he has a good life, he climbs loads, is in full time employment, and on the surface, confident and happy, but when I mentioned Facebook, he said since being injured several months previously, he has drawn away from all social media, because it was annoying, and affecting him because he could not climb, he said seeing the pictures repeatedly posted by friends made him unhappy.

I do think there is good to be had with social media, but in the hands of some people, people who appear to need to justify themselves for whatever reason, and at times to the detriment of their friend’s health, I prefer to be cautious with what I post and find myself drawing away from these websites more with time and reflection.

After returning to Wales my feelings of missing out were soon to be quashed. Yesterday I walked around Bangor centre, and in a short distance passed six men who were begging and appeared to be living through terribly difficult times. One of them in particular was in some distress. I emptied my wallet of change, it wasn’t a lot, and took a grip on my thoughts and feelings of missing out.

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Returning from Minya Konka.

Base Camp was at a height of 4100m. The climb on the south face started at 5700m above the icefall. On first acquaintance, it took three days to almost find a way through. The second time up, it took 3 days to get beneath the face. On the final time, we reduced the approach to two days. To the best of our knowledge, no-one has been through this icefall and beneath Gogga’s south face. (And I’m not surprised!)

Since returning from an expedition in China three weeks ago, I have been giving a few lectures, and because of this (and because I want to train to regain my personal high, low level of fitness) my writing has been on hold. Below is the start of what I hope will be a published article… Three weeks to write several lines, not bad going that. I’ve also added a few pics from China but not many because they will also be a part of an article if I ever get back to being a writer.


October 31st 2018. Halloween.

I’m sat in a house above the village of Deiniolen, North Wales. Large windows look out to the hills dusted in snow. The wind blows and the skeletal branches of an ash tree jerk. A low layer of cumulus moves across the sky. ‘Superstition: belief that is not based on human reason or scientific knowledge, but is connected with old ideas about magic, etc.’ Oxford English Dictionary.

I’m 52 years old, the same age as the British climber Paul Nunn was when he was killed by serac fall in Pakistan. The flip of a coin. Nunn’s death was nothing to do with lack of skill, lack of experience, or, for those who have spent a great deal of time in the mountains know, could it be called poor judgement. It is naïve to think that only a fool, or because of a mistake, people die in the mountains. People with understanding know there are occasions when risks are taken, and on that rare occasion, the coin is flipped. There are so many unimagined factors and pressures that can lead to that one in a million.


I have just returned from an expedition to a 7556m mountain called Minya Konka, or Mount Gongga, Sichuan Province, China. On the run-up to the trip there were more times that I didn’t want to go than the times I did, but the mountains have meant so much, how do I know when to decide enough is enough? It’s actually more complex than this, of course it is, because the mountains have enhanced my life almost to the point of being irreplaceable. The physical and emotional strains have formed me and given unsurpassed highs. But the mountains have also exacted a high toll, so much so, that in the last few years, I have begun to wonder when my time will come…

Minya Konka, or Mount Gongga 7556m, Sichuan, China.

Paul and myself are very different people but we get on together well!

Mr Pan our LO and Mr Chong our cook. Also very different people. Both enhanced our time in China very much.

The icefall that Paul and I passed through six times.

Paul about 30 minutes away from where we camped beneath Gongga’s South Face.

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Never Again.

I’m listening to Radio 6’s Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour. The two-hour show is dedicated to a single album, Talk Talk’s spirit of Eden. I’m not that knowledgeable about music apart from I know there is some music I like, and some I don’t. I know some music evokes a time, a place, people, and some music makes me happy, and some sad. The music of the band, Talk Talk, evokes something in me more than almost anything out there. I think it’s the imagination and creativity that make Talk Talk’s music evocative. And in a personal ranking of what is important, I would place imagination and creativity top five. Alongside these, I would also include inner strength, which of course means many things depending on the individual. I would imagine Mark Hollis, the lead singer and primary songwriter from Talk Talk is a brave and strong individual, and his imagination and creativity are obvious as he chose an alternative musical direction, and followed his vision with determination and passion.

I nicked this picture from Up, but as its possibly from the Italian version of Deep Play, I thought I could get away with it, as I’m paying Paul compliments and advertising the book 😉 I also couldn’t resist using it as I now know all three of the people in the picture, Simon Yates, Paul and Noel Craine, and I’m honoured to say they are all friends. By the way Noel, you’re looking better than the other two in this shot!

A person within the world of climbing I have always considered creative, a person with imagination who is certainly brave and strong is Paul Pritchard. Paul’s climbing, his writing and the way he lived his life (and still does), were a massive influence on me in the early days of my climbing. Paul certainly chose his own path. I don’t want to get too deep into writing a character portrait of Paul, but if you don’t know about him, just hit Google (other search engines are available) or buy his books, Deep Play and The Totem Pole. Paul has numerous admirable qualities as a person, and his imagination is up there alongside Mark Hollis. His first ascents were crazy journeys into the character, of not only the cliff, but also the person; Rubble, The Enchanted Broccoli Garden, The Super Calabrese, The Unridable Donkey (and many more), great routes with great names and bags of character.

Minya Konka. Credit, Kogo, Wikipedia.

I’m about to go on a trip to China with Paul Ramsden. After Tibet in 2016 I said never again, but there is very little in my life that stirs my imagination more that entering a deserted valley that hardly anyone has visited, and the thought of finding a line on a massive unclimbed face, that nothing is known about, and no one has ever attempted, is such a creative and life enhancing experience for me, it’s almost impossible to say never again.

Paul is a tad paranoid about giving away too much, before trying something new, because in the past he had a bad experience when another team, having had difficulties gaining permission for their main objective, decided to look at what Paul and Mick Fowler were doing that year, go before them, and climb the line they were hoping to attempt. Paul and I have been planning this latest trip for well over a year now, and it would be disappointing to find someone else in-situ, so I’ve been instructed to keep a lid on it, but having received several grants, it’s no secret as to the peak we are about to travel too, a mountain called Minya Konka, or Mount Gongga in China.

Minya Konka is pretty big, 7556m big in fact, and situated in the Daxue Shan mountain range which is part of the Hengduan mountainous region. Minya Konka is the third highest peak in the world outside the Himalaya/Karakoram, after Tirich Mir and Kongur Tagh and it will be the highest mountain both Paul and I have attempted, beating Annapurna III (a mountain I failed dismally on a while ago), by a single metre.

I’m pretty sure we will fail to climb Minya Konka as the weather in the region is notoriously poor and the face we intend to climb looks very long and difficult, and it’s a very high mountain, but that’s possibly not a bad thing because maybe then it will be easy to say never again and mean it!

A big shout to the Grants who supported us, which are;

The Mount Everest Foundation.

The Nick Estcourt Award.

The Alpine Club Grant.

The British Mountaineering Council.

And to Mountain Equipment who went above and beyond once again, designing custom sleeping bags, rucksacks and duvet trousers.

Needless to say, for those of you who wait in anticipation of my next written masterpiece (Haha), its going to be a while, we fly out of the UK on Friday 21st and neither Paul nor I are big fans of sat phones and weather forecasts and blogging etc while at BC, so we don’t have any form of contact until we are back in town, which will hopefully be around the 1st of November. So no blog posts until then. I can almost hear a big sigh of relief!

Paul Ramsden. Not a person I would choose to upset but a great person to share a rope!


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Substance D: The truth or a blurred outline? (An opinion piece that may be real, it could be made up)


Philip K Dick and friend.


“The whole world began to take on an artificial made quality…” Philip K Dick.

In 1994 I watched a TV documentary about the sci-fi writer, Philip K Dick. Twenty-four years later, I still remember a fact from the documentary that I may have imagined – Dick used to eat dog food? Did I imagine it, or was it the truth? Maybe it was a parallel time, or a glitch in the system? It’s so weird how the mind can make things up, or hear what isn’t there, and then once this has happened, it locks it in and makes it real. Teleport forward twenty-four years since the first airing of Arena, Philip K Dick: A Day in the Afterlife (and thirty-six years since Dick’s death), and we now live in a time where some of Dick’s literary inventions are taken for granted. I can now use a search engine, find the programme, and watch it again on my laptop, and yes, there it is, he actually (if the person in the documentary is telling the truth) bought horse meat that was sold for dog food and ate it.

The first time I watched the programme, it blew my mind, I don’t think I watched the whole thing because I found it pretty disturbing. Dick was bonkers. I had read some of his books and they were bonkers also, so it all began to make sense. I watched the whole documentary on this second airing and enjoyed it. Scarily though, on this second viewing, the thing that really struck home was not how mad Dick’s stories were, but how, in certain aspects, true they have become. Dick was writing about a dystopian earth fifty years ago and many of his imagined scenarios are now happening.

Watching the Arena programme it is full of comments relevant to today. “A rural paradise bulldozed into urban submission.” “From a trash world ever more dependable of disposables.” “Your video camera might be keeping an eye on you before filing its own report.” “He saw the consequences of a media-soaked world, [ ] it was just a media event.”

Dick was not mad,   he was obviously one of the sanest out there (OK, I’m willing to concede this one). We now live in a form of his predicted world, but if anything, it’s even more scary and controlling than Dick predicted. Could you imagine if PKD was alive today, he would be in his element. The control and power and influence the internet has over us, its like something taken from one of his novels. “If God manifested himself to us, he would do so in form of a product advertised on TV,” Dick wrote. Forty years later, substitute TV for the internet and it’s spot on, God would appear on an Instagram picture with loads of hashtags, #Followme #Imadeyou #Number1 #BigG #Redbull, but it’s really scary because Dick didn’t think big enough, he thought of an individual, what he didn’t forecast was everyone today appears to be a God, everyone is a product in their own advert, everyone is the headline act on their own station.

We are reaching a point that reality is whatever a person or organisation want it to be, whether it actually happened or not, and then, it’s reported to an audience of followers, that in turn, spread the word to their followers, and before you know it, this warped parallel is the truth and the actual truth is a parallel, something only to be believed by zealots and odd individuals. And for those brave enough to stand up against this new truth, they are often bullied and labelled as heretics. Philip K Dick must be in his coffin in riverside Cemetery, laughing dementedly, while popping more LSD and wondering how his wildly creative, drug damaged mind could see so clearly into the future.

“I consider the universe to be a clever fake, with streets and houses, and shops and cars and people standing in the centre of a stage surrounded by props, by furniture to sit on, kitchens to cook in, cars to drive, food to fix, and then behind the props, the flat painted scenery, painted houses set farther back, painted people, painted streets, everything not real, only a series of tapes being played for us.”

Years ago, even before the Arena programme in 94, I worked in a high security prison, and while at work one evening, a prisoner took a teacher hostage and demanded to be set free. The escape bid didn’t get anywhere, the prisoner didn’t get beyond the inside corridors, where all prisoners were allowed to walk. This ‘escape bid’ was reported in a newspaper, I can’t remember the full facts of the report, but it said that the prisoner was close to escape. If this prisoner had been close to escape, so had the whole prison population. At the time, I couldn’t believe how much spin there had been to the story to turn it into something it wasn’t. I stopped reading newspapers then because it became apparent, if this newspaper, a broadsheet, published wild inaccuracies, they all must.

I now read newspapers again, but at times I remind myself that I’m possibly being lied to or manipulated. I know I sound like Philip K Dick who suffered with paranoia, but what was, and still is happening in the newspapers, is now happening on a massive scale on the internet, and the internet is more invasive than any newspaper.

The recent reporting on the Livingstone, Cesen and Stražar ascent of Latok 1 is the latest event that caused me to despair. It’s my problem, I know it’s my problem, and it’s something I try to control, but incorrect and inaccurate, hyped reporting, with quotes taken completely out of context, drives me almost as crazy as PKD. Events that actually take place become something they aren’t, and I find it exceptionally difficult to ignore. At best its lazy journalism and at worst, we are being lied to and manipulated.

The Latok 1 climb was a fine new route and it was only the second time Latok 1 had been climbed. The route was without doubt worth reporting and celebrating, but I can’t get around the fact that the reporting, almost without exception, took on some kind of fanatical, religious zeal and most of the reporting was incorrect. Some reports said it was the first time Latok 1 had been climbed and almost all reports told us that Latok 1’s North Ridge had been climbed in its entirety. Two days after these first reports, when it became apparent that the North Ridge had not been climbed in its entirety, there was only a limited number of apologies and corrections, and for some it turned into a damage limitation campaign by throwing even more inaccuracy and smoke over the truth.

OK, they didn’t climb ALL of the ridge, but hey, they did climb from the north, and some of the route DID include a bit of the ridge, and who would want to climb all of it anyway, that’s crazy!

And so, instead of just holding up hands and admitting to jumping on the cut and paste bandwagon, the hype continued. Pictures from the Jim Donini, Michael Kennedy, George and Jeff Lowe attempt, (almost ascent because they climbed the ridge, but not to the summit) from 1978 were used in reports. A lot of the pictures were sections of the ridge that the Livingstone, Cesen and Stražar line did not climb. But that didn’t stop the comparisons and superlatives. Many, in fact all of the quotes I read were from people talking about the 78 attempt, and then these quotes were printed in bold and applied to the new climb, but the new climb was not the whole of the North Ridge, not by a long shot.

I must admit to becoming a little hot under the collar when I read about all of the failures, at least 30 I was told, and by superstars, and this was applied to the new route and the climbers. Livingstone, Cesen and Stražar are very talented climbers, but it was being suggested they must be better than all of the climbers who had gone before, and this route they climbed was better than anything climbed by British climbers in the previous thirty years because it had been tried 30 times. (There have been quite a few significant ascents made by British people over the last thirty years, and several by one team alone, Fowler and Ramsden, whose climbs have generally been as difficult, maybe more so, and certainly more committing than this climb.)  In none of the reports I’ve read was it mentioned that these 30 failures had been attempting the whole of the ridge, not a new route that avoids the initial rock buttress, (I know avoiding this initial buttress has become the recognised way onto the ridge, but it is not the line taken by Donini, Kennedy, George and Jeff Lowe), and more importantly, the new line avoids a large section at the top, including the most difficult and technical sections.

I have read two accounts, one says they traversed from the ridge at 6500m and another at 6300m, no matter which is correct, there was a whole Alpine route of climbing still to be done on the ridge, including the crux. To put it into some kind of rock climbing perspective, the new route on Latok 1 would be like missing out the slightly polished and awkward start of Cenotaph Corner on Dinas Cromlech by traversing in at a quarter height, climbing the not too bad middle section, then traversing off before the pumpy and hard crux section. This is not Cenotaph Corner I hear you shout and you’d be right. You could call it a route based on Cenotaph Corner, but to call it the Cenotaph Corner route and then compare it to Cenotaph Corner would be inaccurate and wrong .

“No matter what things may come, they will be exploited, merchandised, and routinized by the force of human weakness.” Adam Gopnik, Blows Against the Empire, The return of Philip K Dick. The New Yorker

I suppose, in some respect, it’s like the prison news report, I possibly have a deeper understanding of certain aspects of a climb and because of this I can see through the hyperbole and grandiose, and because of this I get annoyed, maybe I need some of Dick’s medication to take me away from all of this warping of the actual facts.

The new route was a fine ascent, and I congratulate Livingstone, Cesen and Stražar, they showed imagination and skill, and took a line with a lot more chance of success than the exceptionally technical North Ridge. It’s a shame that the climb was reported prematurely and incorrectly, although some of the blame must be levelled at whoever sent out the information from BC. Would a few days delay in reporting have made a big difference (well, I suppose it may have, as the correct story could have been reported), a story like this coming out a week after getting down is not a big issue, it really isn’t, it’s just climbing, it’s not the cure for cancer. Privileged people climbing a mountain is only important to a very tiny proportion of the population of the planet and I think the climbers should have done more to dispel the hype that now surrounds their ascent. To shout down the hype and incorrect reports would give them credibility, but maybe they have and I haven’t seen it. It wasn’t in the interview with Tom that was published on a few sites, which would have been a great opportunity to raise the subject of the incorrect reporting, but being his first success in the Himalayas maybe Tom didn’t feel confident to raise the subject? I have also seen [are] several newspaper reports that are so incorrect and hyped as to be cringe-worthy. These made-up stories – and deals done with mainstream media – make a mockery of the actual ascent, and a mockery of the climbers … and thus make a mockery of climbing culture at large. Take a look at some of the absurd comments after the article if you need evidence.

What would have given the reporting of the Latok 1 climb more integrity – and dignity –would have been a set of questions that gave a true insight into how the actual new route compares with North Ridge in entirety. The actual story is: how come this excellent route succeeded while the North Ridge has seen so many failures? Such an article would’ve been genuinely interesting, dramatic and useful! Such a set of comparison questions would have shed more light onto the true nature of the actual, genuine new climb.

However, instead of insight we get dishonesty:

“The climb of a generation” “Climbers hit new heights by being first to conquer legendary peak.” Incorrect.

“British mountaineer, 27, completes ‘the ascent of a generation’ by scaling the ‘impossible ridge’ on the north face of Pakistan’s Latok 1 – just days after a Russian climber died on the same path.” Incorrect and insensitive.

“The ridge was such a big prize. It was a ten-year goal. I’ve always thought, imagine if you could climb that, and to actually do it was such a special experience,” Incorrect.

Some of the questions that may have given a greater understanding of how the new route compares with the ridge, and what it means to climb in an area where many other climbers have been are below:

What was the technical difficulty of the climbing on the line you climbed, where was the crux, and how do you think the difficulty of your climb compares to the difficulty on the initial and upper sections of the North Ridge?

In the section of the North Ridge you climbed, was there a track left from the Russian ascent, and if so, did it assist with route finding and confidence?

Were there bivi spots made by the Russian team and if so did you use them and did this help?

Did it make any difference to your approach and mind-set knowing you were being watched by people at BC, and should anything go wrong there was a possibility of a helicopter rescue?

I did read an interview where Tom said they used some in-situ gear to abseil from – my question would be: how much in-situ gear was there, did it speed up the process of getting down or finding new anchors?

How much research did you do, how much information about the ridge is out there and did it help with the route finding and decision making?

Some of Dick’s writing has a recurring element: time loops back on itself, we are returned to the start, and the plot is replayed. It seems that reporting and social media today has slipped into a similar dystopian loop: we keep reading, over and over, the same incorrect or simply false report until eventually the incorrect plot blots out truth, and it is then in the shock of that truthless vacuum that we make — believe. And if its discovered that what was made to be believed is not actually true — then too late, the damage is done, we find the mind already locked to the fake.

There are still sites with the incorrect headlines on their home pages. Why do these sites not change or take down an incorrect report? I can only comment about climbing reports on the internet, but in general, the internet is in a deeply worrying state of narrative chaos. I know a big part of this chaos relating to climbing is the fault of climbers, and I don’t just mean in this case, I mean in all cases, and I include myself. Climbers are terrible at recounting and giving a balanced account, this is the nature of the activity, it is very much an activity for the individual and the experience at the time, so attempting to relay this can be problematic. Climbers are terrible at remembering actual facts and they also forget simple, but important facts. (I was completely cut out of a published account on the internet last winter from a new route I climbed with Matt Helliker and Pete Whittaker because Pete didn’t tell the journalist I was there!). There are other less savoury forces at work when climbers give accounts to journalists, the opportunities and money available to climbers can now make an honest and balanced account difficult.

But, the bottom line for suppliers of climbing news on the internet, has to be down to the journalists who write the reports. It’s their job to ask the correct questions and wheedle-out the true facts. They have to work hard and not feel the pressure of time and most of all they have to have integrity and not be swayed by other factors such as money. They have to ask questions that may be difficult. I think we are fast approaching a point where much of what is written in the name of news has to be read with a critical eye, because much of it is incorrect, and I think we have now reached a point where climbing news reporting on the internet has turned into a Philip K Dick novel and it is almost impossible to recognise the electric animals from the real thing.


Just before the Livingstone, Cesen and Stražar ascent of Latok 1, two Russian climbers, Sergey Glazunov and Alexander Gukov were attempting to climb the North Ridge in its entirety. It is not sure if Latok 1’s summit was reached, but it is believed that the ‘western summit’ at the top of the North Ridge was. On the descent Glazunov fell to his death leaving Gukov stranded. After 6 days Gukov was rescued by the 5th Pakistani Army Aviation High Altitude Squadron. In my opinion much of the reporting, especially in the UK newspapers, but also the internet reporting was extremely insensitive and lacked empathy. Gukov’s traumatic experience, and the terrible pain and suffering that Glazunov’s family and friends must be suffering should have been given consideration. There is absolutely no excuse or reason to increase this pain.

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Pushing for Rail. To peg or not to peg – that is the question.

The top three pegs were taken from Rust Never Sleeps and the bottom peg is from the start of The Gross Clinic. Picture credit, Ray Wood.

It was an odd one, the country was bathed in sun and as the temperature hit 30 degrees, the most obvious, and sensible option for a climber was to head to the hills. The hills were brown – brown and dried to a crisp. The white stone walls, that ran over, and across the hills, stood out even more than usual. Underfoot, the grass and bog were parched. There wasn’t a wet hold in Snowdonia. Get on those seldom dry climbs, it was now or never.

I’ve never been good at doing the obvious, or the most sensible, (maybe that’s why I became a climber) and as the temperature increased, and the crags up high became as dry as a quality bottle of French wine (not really my tipple of choice, cheap and chunky is much more preferable), the most obvious place not to climb is Craig Dorys on the Llŷn Peninsular, and in particular, Stigmata Buttress, because the crag faces south, and it hardly ever rains even in the wettest of summers. But, in this desiccated landscape Stigmata Buttress had become the very place to go climbing.

Stigmata looks amazing, but it’s like playing in a sand pit to reveal a dog turd, there is danger in the untouched. I love wallowing in the dirt at the base of the crag and squeaking the rubber of my climbing shoes, before standing, and once again, sinking into muck. I love getting home and emptying dirt from trouser turn ups and standing in the shower to watch the flow of gravel swirl towards the plughole. Climbing on Stigmata is the antithesis of what many enjoy, but for me, and some of my friends, this place and its idiosyncrasies add to the climbing experience and the climbing experience adds to our existence.

A long time ago, in my climbing, it was ticking the classics, the test pieces, but for a few years now, it has been more about becoming involved, having a relationship. I suppose being a bit shit at climbing makes it like this, if I was as good at climbing as James McHaffie, I would get on a climb once, then, more often than not, never go back. (If evidence is needed, just look at one of Caff’s latest climbs, Masters Wall, a climb he had to visit a few times, over several years, and in doing so, became involved – he vividly remembers his times on this bad boy, doesn’t he?)

Being a bit shit gives a whole host of recollections, it gives time to become familiar, not just with a place, but with individual rocks, single holds, toe placements, crumbly, insecure flakes – I become close and begin to look upon these small features with love, and also, in the case of Stigmata, with suspicion. Even crappy gear placements become something to be thought about in the long hours between dark and light. And when the time comes to place these crappy bits of gear on lead, it feels similar to reading a favourite passage from a loved book.

Climbing life goes through stages. One year it big hills, then bolts, then on-sight trad in new areas, Canadian ice, Scottish mixed, Alpine mixed and rock. Headpointing routes that are too difficult or bold for me to tackle in any other style, has always given me joy, its just another form of climbing, but add loose rock and practised uncertainty becomes tantamount to psychological chess.

Loose rock at its most insecure can be termed, death choss, and death choss, I suppose, can be sub-divided into on-sight death choss – following lines of weakness and gear, generally off vertical to vertical, to very dangerous death choss – lines of a type and grade I am not good enough, or bold enough to on-sight, or even climb, with just an abseil inspection. These lines tend to be overhanging and hard, and follow no particular line, but sometimes islands of solid and small micro-features give direction. And the ultimate in getting close and becoming involved is new route, dangerous death choss.

The Hippy was away in the Dolomites doing something called via ferrata, I think its clipping cables and teetering along metal steps somewhere on a rock face? He is very old now, so this is OK, each to their own, at least appears to be enjoying himself. The void has been filled by a younger, more skilled and talented model in the form of Mick Lovatt. Admittedly the music hasn’t been as good, I’m pretty sure we haven’t listened once to Jonny Cash, but the clothing has been like the rock, snappy, and the hair is not only more abundant, but nurtured!

Mick and myself have had fun, and because Mick lives only half a mile up the road from Dorys, he’s rubbing his great big hands together at the saving in fuel. The sleep deprivation does appear to be bringing about the odd crease though – more skin care products needed!

Pushing for Rail. E8 6b. The green dot is the approximate position of the peg.

A few weeks ago now, Tuesday was my day to climb, and we climbed a new route I had been working. This route falls into death choss, sub-category 2 – no actual line, steep, bold and physical. In the lower half it climbs the steepest and most insecure section of Stigmata via the longest portion of the worst type of rock. There are no particular features and it only has one lump of the safe red stuff. The line is between The Gross Clinic and Melody, and in the lower section has poor, minimal gear. I fought long and hard, but eventually decided to place a peg about half way up the bottom section of wall. The peg is tied-off, and in my opinion, quite good. It’s the best bit of gear up to this point and for a little way after, which is the crux of the lower wall. I think it would have been easy for me to have placed at least another one, or two pegs lower down, as the gear (what gear there is), is not trustworthy, but because I worked the route, I was able to keep the pegs to a minimum.

Another reason a single peg is good, is to mark the line, which is difficult to spot. And finally, a reason for not placing a peg (once I knew it was possible), was to give the climb a grade of E9. E9 is a pretty chunky grade, which I would have liked to have given to inflate my ego, but in the end, I decided this was the wrong reason not to place a peg. If in the future someone wants to remove the peg and climb the route without it, go for it and give yourself an E9 tick, or if you want to replace like for like and get the E8 tick, do that also, I’m not that worried as I’ve now had my experience and I’ve never been of the opinion that the first ascensionist has some kind of ownership over the rock.

Myself, above the lower wall crux (and peg) with a few more steep moves to complete before the sanctuary of the ledge. Picture credit, Ray Wood.

After the lower wall the climb has a ledge. I love climbs that have ledges, especially ledges big enough to take off my shoes, sit and contemplate. Being a bit shit also loves a ledge, a ledge helps climbing hard when you’re a bit shit. Ledges are great – while away the time, revel in the situation, (or is it tremor with what is to come and grow really scared that if fluffed, it all needs doing again!). On the day of my ascent, I’m not sure Mick liked the ledge as much though, because his wait while belaying me was long!

Leaving the ledge is negotiated by a few easy moves up a corner, until a pull right and onto that beautiful orange face. There is gear in the form of a nut, before the technical crux – a weird pockety, crimpy, mono-move, and, if successfully negotiated, this leads to more sustained climbing, but with good, spaced gear. The biggest worry is muffing it or breaking a hold and having to climb the lower wall again. As good as it is, you really don’t want to climb that lower wall too many times!

The top wall with the technical crux climbed. Picture credit, Ray Wood.

Placing pegs on sea cliffs is a lukewarm topic, and one I do have mixed emotions, but I think they are still a valid part of climbing because they allow passage at a certain grade and use natural weakness in the rock to determine where they are placed. A bolt can be placed anywhere and I don’t agree that bolts should be placed when a peg becomes old and rusty. The main reasons I disagree with bolts for pegs is, a bolt is almost one hundred percent safe, while a peg always has a feeling of insecurity, something akin to a piece of traditional protection, and there is always concern that it may not hold. This, ‘not sure’, fits perfectly with the whole ‘trad’ experience.

Another reason I don’t think bolts should replace pegs is, once bolts start appearing on the rock face, as part of protecting moves, where does it stop? There is certainly evidence (where bolts are accepted), once they go in, they spread and take over traditional climbs, and very rarely come out again. I can see the argument that pegs are only good for the first ascent and maybe several years after, because they rot, and it’s a valid argument, but what is the alternative? The alternative I suppose, is to climb at a very high E grade and risk life and have a harrowing experience. This of course is fine, but the route may never get repeated, which is also fine (all be it elitist), but, possibly the most pertinent question a climber should ask is, should the rock be climbed at all? Not making an ascent of a new route, would also be fine, and something I agree because does every piece of rock need to be climbed, no, I don’t think it does? I’ve thought a lot about this, but much of climbing, and especially new routing, is driven by ego and it will take a strong person to forgo the experience of putting up a new route. I love climbing new routes and becoming involved with micro features and a piece rock, I find it very rewarding and the experience is very much about the time and place for me, the experience is individual, its an intimate thing. It’s also a rewarding experience to add a new line for other climbers to enjoy, but it is certainly about my ego and my experience, and to be frank, putting up a new route benefits a very small percentage of the population and is never going to win you the Nobel Prize.

To almost prove my point about how confusing the argument is about pegs, there was a discussion a few weeks ago on a UKC forum where my friend, Rob Greenwood wrote a few interesting comments, one in particular caught my attention,

“Pegs really are crap… Take Huntsman’s Leap for example, a crag with countless amazing E6s – almost all of which are f**ked because of the fact the in-situ gear has rotted away. They’re basically there for the first ascent, then anyone quick enough to bag a second or third ascent, but within the space of 5-10 years are inevitably in a pretty poor state which can often render the route unclimbable (or unjustifiable).”

Rob, in part, has a valid argument, although I think 5-10 years will see more than a few ascents with the high standard in climbing today and in many cases the pegs last longer, but the amazing E6’s would not be there at all if the pegs had not been placed. And if they were there without pegs, they would be a much higher grade, and of course, a lot more serious. In this form they would not be amazing climbs that many could attempt including Rob or myself (which as already stated is fine – do we all need to climb all of the climbs?) The initial use of pegs is what made these climbs, and gave their grade, and as climbers maybe we should just accept that climbs have a limited shelf-life and this is not something to be looked at as a problem and bad, but something to be revered?

Something else Rob said was interesting,

“With that in mind I don’t necessarily think they need to be chopped (in time they’ll rot anyway), but I do think that anyone thinking of placing one should question long and hard as to whether it is actually necessary. What makes the matter all the more confusing is that there’s inconsistencies abound. Replacing one on Souls for instance would feel wrong, whereas replacing them on Roc Ness Monster would seem ok.”

Rob does make very valid points. In my opinion, replacing pegs on climbs that have been climbed since the peg has gone is possibly wrong, as the bench has been set higher, and this is fine (its elitist, but that’s OK, because as stated above, climbing is an elitist activity). But I don’t see a problem in replacing pegs like for like, or even backing up old and rusty pegs to give you something close to the experience the first ascensionist had. And as for replacing pegs on other less dangerous climbs, well, why not, or put it out there and get a feel for what people think, or just do it, because to finish with Rob’s final comment,

“Basically, it’s a massively grey area riddled with inconsistency. As someone said above, it’s more about emotion than it is to do with logic…”

A statement I completely agree, climbing is grey and inconsistent, and that’s why it’s great. And climbing is most definitely about emotion, and long may this continue, because emotion is what got us into it at the start. If we wanted logic we would take the stairs.

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A sunny Sunday in the Llanberis Pass

View from a bridge. Looking towards the Llanberis Pass from Pont Pen-y-Llyn. Credit, Malcolm Mills Davies.

It was a Sunday several weeks ago now. The sun was blazing, the Llanberis Pass awash with people. The steep rock on either side of the road was dry and all around multi-coloured dots were inching their way up faces, cracks and corners. People sat with their feet in the clear water of the stream that runs the length of the pass, before entering Llyn Padarn and eventually flowing beneath Pont Pen-y-Llyn (the bridge at the head of the lake). Zylo and I walked up the Pass heading towards the Cromlech boulders, because we intended to climb on that bulwark of traditional climbing, Dinas Cromlech. Cars, buses, taxis, motorbikes, the occasional swishing speeding cyclist – a stream, almost as continuous as the one of water, flowed down the road.

With a thudding and chopping displacement of warm air, a rescue helicopter passed low overhead. For a second, the sun disappeared, before once again, there it was, a gigantic burning star with insurmountable amounts of energy and life.

We continued to walk, and coming towards us was a friend, Ric Potter, and alongside him was someone I recognised as Ben Moon. “There’s been an accident on the Cromlech, we’ve decided to go to Gogarth. I’m going to climb The Moon with the Moon!” Ric joked. We all laughed over the noise as the helicopter made another turn and the traffic sped by.  I must admit to being a little star struck; this was the first time I had met Ben. I shouted something along the lines that he shouldn’t struggle too much as he had climbed 9a at fifty, then immediately felt a bit silly, and hoped my red face looked like I had caught the sun.

After a little more chat, we said goodbye, and began walking again, but stopped at the roadside boulders because of the rescue happening on the slopes above.

On the downhill side of the road, two ambulances and two mountain rescue vehicles with blue flashing lights were double-parked. A paramedic stopped and waved-on traffic. People leaned against the stone wall, shading their eyes with one hand, so they could look up. Others sat on the grass by the side of the stream. Some held phones. We also sat by the stream to wait out the rescue, becoming unintended observers. My seat was a hollow made from brown grass and cracked earth. The helicopter circled and closed in on the group of dots huddled amongst the yellowy-white scree. I watched vibrant, new growth bracken flatten with the down-force from the rota-blades. There felt something akin to a crackle of electricity amongst some of the roadside crowd. I wondered if this was a similar feeling to what was felt in the Colosseum before the lions were released?

It’s easy to watch a rescue and be critical, without any information or evidence. I’ve done it when the helicopter passes overhead on a Sunday afternoon in North Wales, “Bloody Three Peakers being rescued from Snowdon again!” It’s easy to forget the person, or people, being rescued are individuals with families and friends. Few, if any of us have made it through life without mistakes or having a close call. The red and white helicopter hovered – loud echoing thuds reverberated. The machine shocked with its bright red plumage, the grey rhyolite behind emphasised its outline. A cable had been lowered with a person dangling from its end and now, strapped to a metal stretcher, the unfortunate person was winched up into the guts of the machine, before it flew down the valley. The blue flashing lights on top of the rescue vehicles went in the same direction as the helicopter, and the pass returned to its usual, Sunday-self, of cars and bicycles and buses and people.

Zylo and I set off up the steep hill heading for the Cromlech. It felt a little odd to be continuing, but accidents happen. We continued to plod the worn steps, cut into the grass clods, both quiet, in contemplation. About half-way up the approach slope we began to meet the rescue team on their way down. A man in the team I didn’t know told us the person who had fallen from a climb was someone local. A little higher a member in the team we knew approached. As he came closer I could see his face, and he looked harrowed. He told me the climber who had been rescued was a mutual friend, someone well-known and well-liked in the local climbing community.

After a sombre chat, Zylo and I said goodbye and continued until we were on the grassy flattening beneath the climb Dives/Better Things. We sat and talked about our friend who neither of us were really that close to, but we both liked him, and enjoyed bumping into him, and chatting and climbing together at the Beacon climbing wall. I particularly enjoyed bouldering with him, he was much better than me and he often gave me beta on problems. After a long conversation, and a lot of introspection, we decided that we would continue with our plan to climb.

Only once before have I been close to grinding to a halt while on lead, after a friend had been involved in a climbing accident. The same happened this time: half way up Left Wall, approaching the crux, I could barely focus. I looked down, the runners placed were more than I normally would have placed in the whole pitch. I was sure they would all just rip-out if I fell. All I could focus on was falling, all I could see was falling. This was now about falling, not climbing. The voice in my head insisted it was impossible to move up this section of blank rock. Impossible, even though I had climbed Left Wall many times, and never once fallen. I looked at the rock, the rough grey rock, sharp edges, pockets, the deep, dark crack, the same rock I had looked at so many times, and I could not see where to place my toes. Impossible. On the verge of slotting a deep and secure nut and shouting “Take!” to Zylo, I forced myself on, made it shakily through the crux, and eventually to the top of the climb.

Afterwards as we sat beneath the Cromlech walls, walls which have so much personal history, I almost said I was giving up climbing. I was so close to saying I’d had enough, that climbing asks too high a price. I felt shell-shocked. In the last few years there have been so many people I know who have had accidents and been seriously hurt or killed, and on top of this there had been other friends suffering with illnesses. I felt enough was enough, this activity was not fun, this life was unfair, it was not what I wanted. Climbing had turned into something that caused terrible pain. A wave of fragility hit me, the walls above closing in and blocking the sun – the world, life, climbing, they wanted to cause damage to my friends. Climbing was not worth it… But, eventually, and without sharing these thoughts, we continued to climb, and I continued to place more runners than ever before.

Pont Pen-y-Llyn. Credit, Malcolm Mills Davies.

The following day I went climbing again, this time with Tim Neill and John Ore. We climbed in the sun, clipping bolts at the Orme, the best option as we felt affected by the accident. At the end of the day, after dropping John home in Brynrefail, Tim and I passed over Pont Pen-y-Llyn. Walking over the bridge were friends Martin and Kath Chester, I like them both very much, and really enjoy meeting either of them. I’m not the best of keeping in touch with friends, but a few months earlier, when I was in Spain, Tim had sent me a message telling me Martin had been diagnosed with cancer. I contacted Martin and we chatted via messenger, where we chewed the cud, had a laugh and I told him he could not die because I liked and respected him too much. He had said he would try his best not to!

And here were Martin and Kath walking hand in hand (or that’s how I remember it). The water on the surface of the llyn rippled, distorting the reflection of the hills. The sun was low, the sky was tinged with red and the moon was a silver outline. Swallows flitted just above the surface of the water. Tim stopped the car and got out to give Martin a big hug. I said hi to them both but stayed in the car with the window open and had a bit of banter with Kath. She laughed and smiled and took the piss out of Martin. She reminded me of the more solid rock I like to climb.

Whenever I bump into Martin I always remember the morning of Tim and Lou’s wedding when Martin, Tim and I ran up to the Cromlech at 8am and climbed Right Wall. On that occasion the sun was just hitting the rock, the surface was crisp and fresh and climbing felt enhancing, a solution, a healer. Martin had not been climbing much, if at all, but he seconded Right Wall with guts and gusto, power screaming on the crux and happy to have made it to the top without falling. And Tim, the third, the bridegroom, pulled the grassy lip soon after. The three of us, smiling and happy, stood looking down, down onto the winding road, a road without people, cars, buses or noise. The pass was quiet and peaceful. Perfect.

Martin spoke with some difficulty having had an operation on his tongue, he was a little thin on top after the treatment, and he was wrapped inside a duvet jacket despite the warm evening, but the treatment was almost over and the prospects of recovery were good. Martin was radiant. It was so good seeing them both out enjoying a walk in such beautiful surroundings, clearly happy and appreciating each other, and appreciating life and everything around them.

I have obviously continued to climb. As useless as I am to all of my friends, I do think about you all on a regular basis, more than you realise, and you all mean a great deal to me. Sometimes I lose perspective, possibly a human trait when things are going well and we have nothing better to moan about or dwell on. In these times, the insignificant concerns and petty problems take over and become blown out of proportion and we need to remind ourselves what we have is not so bad. The accident on the Cromlech happened a few months ago now and I would love to be able to say that my friend has made a full recovery, but he hasn’t. He is still in hospital and badly injured. There are others who are so much more affected by what happened on that day and their continued pain is to be respected and remembered. I still think daily about my friend, sometimes several times a day, and I just want him to get well again because, like Martin, he is one of the good guys.

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Jam Crack Climbing Podcast.

In the style of Niall ‘Grimer’ Grimes podcasts, I thought I would just rush this blog post out without any credence to professionalism or accuracy.

I suppose ever since first meeting Niall (and yes it was at Hen Cloud and we talked after meeting on the crag), I have always, generally, connected and appreciated his off-the-wall attempts at humour, sometimes they are even funny!

I knew it was a risk doing anything for Grimer as he always has the last word, and you never know what that word is, on this occasion I think I came out OK, in fact, the Honnold comments are priceless, nice one Grimer… (Wanker!) 🙂

Anyway, below is what he said and the podcast…

Bad news: if the image led you to click on the link in the hope of hearing a podcast from the amazing climber in the photo. I’m afraid this week’s episode of Jam Crack Climbing Podcast is all about Nick Bullock. Nick is one of the UK’s most committed alpinists and has spent many years pushing his limits in the mountains as well as pushing his writing back home.

Our Nick reads three excerpts from his brand new book, Tides. Get it here.

The good news is that if it was Honnold you wanted, then find him here.

As usual listen via the player below. Better again go via iTunes, or to Stitcher Radio, or on Spotify. If you like the podcast, I’d really appreciate it if you would subscribe via one of these services. That way the shows will download automatically. That way it won’t just be shows from famous people who get heard, but also the less famous who will be equally interesting (or boring).

Cheers all,

Niall x


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Dorys Dancing. Bam Bam & Requiem for a Vampire.

Bam Bam E7 6b in red. Requiem for a Vampire E8 6b in green, Stigmata, Craig Dorys, Llyn Peninsular. Credit, Mick Lovatt.

In the past, I’ve written a lot about climbing on Craig Dorys. I love the place. It’s a relationship with complication though, because the climbing, at almost any level, is terrifying. UKC description of the rock type is ‘crumbly rubbish’, but this is incorrect, it is compressed mudstone that breaks apart with predictably unpredictable regularity. On occasion the mud has a thin patina of quartz, and in this white and black speckled patina, there are holes, and looking into these holes takes you to an Alice in Wonderland world of soft. The strongest and most reliable rock on Stigmata Buttress is the reddish-brown. I’m no geologist, but I can only imagine it is this colour because of some sort of iron deposit, which makes this the colour to aim for, and savour. Unfortunately, these small bristly clots, occasional spikes and sticking-out plates do not occur often enough, and when marooned on these islands, it brings about a Robinson Crusoe kind of madness. Madness.  A word frequently used while in conversation to fellow enthusiasts talking about Stigmata. Funny that!

In the lowest section of Stigmata, the most unpredictable, friable and untrustworthy section, like a sick joke, is also the hardest section of the crag to protect. On occasion, a rusty peg can be seen poking its old emaciated body too far out from the rock, almost like septic Stigmata is attempting to expel everything that is not supposed to be there!

It’s difficult to describe what it is about Dorys, and especially Stigmata, that make it a very special place, I suppose this term, ‘special’ can be used in a few ways, and all would be correct. I suppose the same phrase can be used for many of the people that, like myself, love the place. But, and I feel it is an important and big but, the rewards of successfully topping out are almost unrivalled.

Stigmata takes climbing to a different, intense and psychologically bruising place, and the reward to the climber is also different. Having never taken drugs, apart from prescription and alcohol, I imagine climbing on Stigmata is akin to smoking crystal meth and possibly as addictive. Every little hold, every change in the colour of the rock, each creak, each slight movement (that’s of the rock, not you), every pinch and pull, is dissected, inspected, respected. Every hold is viewed with heightened consciousness and paranoia. And when you pull over the top of the crag, the colours of the world around, pour into a brain near the edge of explosion.

If you haven’t been to Dorys and stood beneath Stigmata you might be imagining this buttress is a slab or a vertical wall, because with rock so unreliable it has to be a slab doesn’t it? Well no, far from being a slab, some sections of Stigmata overhang so far as to rival a Catalonian cliff. This may sound like an exaggeration, but it isn’t: it really is as steep as something at Siurana, and the thought of stepping from the pile of shale to venture up, is so daunting it makes your mouth feel like someone has stuck a hair dryer in and flicked the switch to high.

I have once again become addicted. I’ve lit that pipe and the inhaled smoke has hit me with an anticipation of the highs to follow. I am addicted. There will be many who read this and don’t believe it, but the climbing on the more modern, very steep lines, is as good, if not better than anything out there. The movement through the steepest terrain, the crispy fins, the edges, the red crozzles, the roofs, the corners, the overhanging grooves, needs conviction and force, but always care, and above all control. There is no lunging here, and if there is, you’re on a countdown.

I have been to Dorys with Zylo and Mick Lovatt recently, and their reactions have been interesting!

I approached Zylo at the top of the crag after going on a cleaning and chalking-up, and looking mission: “It’s brilliant, it’s a bloody masterpiece. You pull through a roof using a heel-toe and crimping red flakes and then you have to stand on thin fins at the edge of the roof, they could easily break. Once over the roof, you have to pull another hard move before placing two, small and marginal cams into a shallow seam of dirt at your feet. More overhanging moves, but on holds that feel like they may rip-off, follow. Then in the most strenuous position of the climb, you have to place three more marginal pieces of gear while hanging from a spike of rock that has a crack all around it. (Senses heightened? Damn right they are!) And then… phew… you have to pull really hard into a corner, steady yourself,  while holding really poor rock, before getting a good wire in clay. If anything rips in this section it’s going to be massive.”

I was buzzing. Zylo looked at me and admitted later she was thinking, “How the hell did I end up going out with this crazy person!”

Mick Lovatt’s appraisal was possibly more telling.

(To be read in a gruff Lancashire accent) “What have you done to me? I don’t usually dream but the other night I dreamt I was climbing and as I climbed, a hold broke, and as I fell, I woke with a jump. I had to get up because I couldn’t sleep. The climbing here is brilliant and terrifying, it gets under the skin. What have you done?”. Mick continued, “You know Paul Pritchard’s introduction in your first book, the bit where he calls you a fucking nutter? When I first read that I though it a bit harsh, but he’s spot on.”

However, what all three of us agree on is that if the rock was solid at Dorys, it would be the best crag in North Wales. But we also all agree that if it was, you would never have the crag to yourself, as is often the case!

I seconded James McHaffie when he climbed the third ascent of Bam Bam back in 2009, and after pulling over the lip, completely exhausted with eyes on stalks, vowed I would attempt this climb on the sharp end, because it would surely give an unforgettable experience.

It took a few years to get back on it, via a minor episode on a climb near by, but a couple of weeks ago in the company of Mick, I climbed Bam Bam and it lived up to all of my expectation. What a fantastic climb… But quickly, possibly before I had even climbed Bam Bam, my mind wandered to the right… in the next, even steeper and less well protected section of the crag, there was another mind-bending Haston climb, an E8 6b called Requiem for a Vampire. After Haston’s first ascent in October 2009 Simon Panton described it on UKC and the Ground Up website as  “…an astounding line that eclipses all previous routes on the cliff” . Bam Bam was obviously gateway to this, the very real deal, class A in the loose rock addicts cupboard.

Mick had now fallen for my plan and was completely hooked on the thought of climbing Bam Bam, which meant I had a partner for my new obsession. After a few-clean-it-up and chalk-it-up-laps (not as easy as it sounds on rock so steep and loose, and quite a terrifying experience in another kind of way), Mick climbed Bam Bam, and a few days later, on Wednesday 27th, I climbed Requiem for a Vampire. The weatherperson said it was 31 degrees down the coast at Porthmadog on the day, and it did have both Mick and I cowering in the shade and the muck at the base of Stigmata beneath the climb Bobok (my first ever climb on Stigmata). Once my body temperature had decreased, I could face the cauldron and tie-on to begin my upwards Dorys dance. (The climb was now in the shade, but not the belay and I asked Mick if he wanted me to wait, but he said he would be OK. I think he looked on it as an extreme sunbathing session, so definitely an opportunity not to be missed…)

Stevie Haston (the first ascentionist of both Bam Bam and Requiem for a Vampire)  and I have had our difference of opinion in the past, but Bam Bam and Requiem are brilliant climbs that obviously took imagination, foresight and a bold approach. Maybe to create a true masterpiece, which both of these climbs are, you have to dance with the Devil. Cheers Stevie, both routes are a credit to you.

Another view of the lines, or roughly the lines. Bam Bam in red. Requiem in green. Both climbs are exceptionally steep and physical and bold. They do differ though, as once through the initial groove on Bam Bam, the gear is good and reasonably plentiful. On the whole, the gear on Requiem is marginal and run-out. The climbing on the routes contrasts also, Bam Bam is possibly more thrutchy and less on the arms, although passing the several roofs is physical. Requiem is more two dimensional and similar to sport climbing, this for anyone who knows the rock on Stigmata is a truly terrifying prospect!

The belay I used at the base of Bam Bam the day Mick led it. Falling from the initial groove would not be good.

The Perfect Man looks a little bit less than perfect! A fine and controlled ascent followed though, nice one TPM 😉

Mick high on his ascent of Bam Bam, possibly the 5th over-all.

Myself, just above the crux of Requiem for a Vampire. I think this lower section is the crux, both physical and psychological as the gear is pretty shoddy and the climbing is ‘sporty’ and the rock poor. Above there is plenty more climbing almost at a similar standard, but at least you’re a tad higher should a hold rip. credit, Mick Lovatt.

An island of sanity. Good gear and a good rest before the heel,toe roof moves where once again the gear goes a little south! credit, Mick Lovatt.

Myself about to successfully make the second ascent of Requiem for a Vampire? (I have not heard or read about any other ascent.) I did not on-sight it, the thought of going completely on-sight on this climb gives me cold sweats. If anyone fancies it though, (Lunatic!) its clean and chalked, but please make sure I’m not on the crag on the day you try it. And if you do it, in my old and bumbly opinion, give yourself an E9 tick. And if you get on it un-chalked, and without any gear knowledge, a true on-sight, you need therapy! Credit Mick Lovatt.

Looking down the line.

Old men who should know better. credit, Mick Lovatt.

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