26 May 2010

Two more routes...

I've just had two days of trad climbing and in that time I only got two routes in, but man, were they routes? Yesterday's route was Overhanging Bastion on the Castle Rock of Triermain, in St. John's in the Vale, and today we were up on Scafell Crag checking out Moss Ghyll Grooves.

Castle Rock of Triermain's North Buttress.

Overhanging Bastion was a pleasant experience and it was a route I have wanted to do for some time. In fact I have wanted to climb on the crag for some time because it is probably one of the better multipitch crags, which is easily accessible from the road, and close to Carlisle. However, Scafell Crag was a complete juxtaposition; it could never be described as easily accessible from the road and it is, in no way, close to Carlisle. It is an excellent crag though; it must be up there with the best in the Lake District, or even the UK for that matter. It was just a shame that we didn't really catch it at the right time.

Scafell Crag: a sign of things to come.

Scafell Pike trying to make an appearance.

On the second pitch (4c) of Moss Ghyll Grooves (MVS).

To be honest the set of pictures doesn't really do the day justice. Yes, the crag was covered in a blanket of cloud for the majority of the climb, but it didn't rain and it wasn't really cold. However, I do say "for the majority of the climb" because by the time we reached the top it had changed for the worse. The cloud had started to deposit wet, cold hail and the wind had picked up. I suppose it could have resulted in one big hypothermic disaster, but we managed to keep it together and get off the crag as quickly as possible.

Making a quick exit after finishing the route in the hail, rain and wind.

However, this was only achieved by fixing two ropes down the length of the crag, abseiling off and jogging back down to the car at Wasdale Head. I know you are probably thinking: "why leave the ropes behind?" but they have a purpose, which does not best serve us, but it does serve a handful of student's on the BA (Hons) Adventure and Media degree course at the university who will be filming on the crag tomorrow.

More pictures of the past three day's trad action can be found here.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

24 May 2010

With thanks to FG Balcombe and JA Shepherd

I said yesterday that I would be climbing on Great Gable today and that is exactly what I did. It may have to go down as one of the best day's of climbing I've had in a long time. This wasn't just because the climbing was fantastic, but like yesterday, it shows the Lake District at it's best.

Walking along Moses Trod on the way to the crag.

The surroundings which we trotted through for just over an hour, in order to reach the crag, have to be some of the best on display in the national park; from the summit of Honister Pass we traversed both Brandreth and Green Gable before reaching the bottom of Great Gable. For nearly the entirety of this journey we used the path known as Moses Trod, and like yesterday, this modern day pedestrian way has it's groundings in the fantastic, and at times inspiring, Lakeland history. The path takes its name from the mystical character, Moses Rigg, who used the path, in the 1780's, to smuggle graphite from the mines on Grey Knotts, above Seathwaite in the Borrowdale Valley, which were protected by armed guards, so that it could be sold in the back rooms of Keswick's taverns. This path allows for excellent views of the high crags of Cumbria, as well as Ennerdale and at times Buttermere and Crummock Water beyond and it is possible to see why it was so convenient for the smugglers' of Cumbria. It would have been extremely secret in the 1700's; now it is heavily eroded and unfortunately scars the landscape.

From the scree field: looking down the Ennerdale Valley.

We did leave the smugglers' path once Gable Crag, which was the venue for today's climb, towered above us. We made slow progress up the scree field, but we eventually made it to the Climber's Traverse where we could sort out our gear and get on the climb, which was first climbed in 1934 by Mr FG Balcombe and Mr JA Shepherd on what I am guessing was a similar day to the one we had.

Gable Crag.

The route was Engineer's Slabs (VS), a two pitch, three star, Hard Rock tick and I lead the first pitch to the small sentry box, where I belayed my companion, before following them up the cracks, chimney and hideous groove to the top.

From the top of the crag: looking down the Ennerdale Valley.

It was an amazing climb, not because of its difficulty, but because of its difficulty. If that makes sense? In modern standards it is not really that difficult and it can be easily protected with modern day protection, but back in 1934 it would have been a totally different story. The protection used back then must have made the final groove extremely bold for the leader and this in itself puts a lot of things into perspective in my life, but also inspires me at the same time.

Looking across to the layback crack on the second pitch whilst descending, by abseil, after a successful ascent.

Routes like the one we ascended today puts climbing on a level beyond the simplicity of moving on rock and pulling on holds, which at times is a nice thing, but the history behind these routes and the areas in which you explore, in order to reach the routes, makes climbing so much more and this is nice. In fact it is better than nice; it gives you energy, motivation and inspiration not just for climbing, but for life.

I think I'll head out tomorrow evening for some thought of climbing fun and then on Wednesday I may head to Scafell to check out Central Buttress: the hardest rock climb in the UK... well in 1914 anyway.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

23 May 2010


At the top of Fleetwith Pike, after using the Via Ferrata as a means of ascent, looking down towards Buttermere and Crummock Water below.

I was working for Go Ape yesterday and today I was working for the University, on the Via Ferrata at Honister Slate Mine, as an assistant. It was the first time I had sampled a Via Ferrata and it was certainly a good way to reach the summit of a Lakeland Fell, but more importantly it shows the Lake District at it's best. Not only do you get views of the Lake District's greater fells from the top and experience the UK's only Via Ferrata, but you also experience the historical side of the area as you weave your way through the old Victorian mine workings.

Tomorrow I'm bound for Great Gable for a spot of climbing.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

21 May 2010

This evening's climbing activities...

I can't quite believe it... it is too warm for climbing at the moment. I don't think I'd ever here myself saying that about climbing in the UK, but after the Carrock Fell session on Wednesday and the Bowderstone session yesterday I finally found myself uttering those three words - "it's too warm" - when I kept sliding off sweaty holds.

Prow One (Font 5+).

Today I decided that I'd rest during the day and head out in the evening in the hope that it will have cooled down slightly, making conditions a bit more favourable. The venue of choice was Queens Crag, over in Northumberland, which is becoming one of my favourite bouldering venues, and even with the slightest of breezes I found that conditions were still not favourable; I was having to fight to stay on grease covered holds. This meant that the evening session was only a short one, but it was still enjoyable; I repeated two problems I have sent on a previous occasion, onsighted a Font 5 and 5+ respectively, sent Two Tickets to the Gun Show (7a), which I worked on a previous visit, and is actually my hardest boulder problem to date, before beginning work on Worldline (Font 7b).

Trying to work out Worldline (Font 7b).

I'm at work tomorrow so I'm going to have a proper rest day for a change.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

Yesterday's climbing activities...

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

19 May 2010

Second year... Finished

I submitted my last piece of second year work today. It was a presentation on the expedition I participated in back in March and this submission marked the successful completion of two thirds of my BA (Hons) in Outdoor Leadership. In someways it is nice that I have got so far, but it is also daunting; the final and, more importantly, the hardest year is still to come and from this day forward it will be the closest I have ever been to completing the degree. Then I have to make some real decisions on where my life is going.

A sequence of photo's showing the committing move on The Man They Couldn't Hang (V4).

To take my mind of such trivial matters like my final year, and the future of my life, I went for an afternoon's bouldering session at what is probably my local spot, Carrock Fell, and even though I have visited this boulder filled hillside on several occasions I have still only ticked off 30% of the rough, Gabbro boulder problems. Today I added five more to the list and I began unlocking the moves for another.

Badger Attack (V6).

As for tomorrow: I'm probably going to be at the Bowderstone for an intense session before heading up to Reecastle to begin work on Penil Servitude (E5, 6b). Good times.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

18 May 2010

Two mediocre afternoons

A busy day at the crag: climbers on Aaros (E1, 5b), Ardus (MVS) and Sin (VS, 4c).

For the past two days I have had to head back to the classroom for a revision class on Monday and then, an exam, for which the revision class was for, on the Tuesday. This obviously did not prove too much of a problem, as can be seen from the pictures, when it came to getting out on the rock.

Approaching the final moves on Ardus (MVS, 4b) whilst a climber approaches the end of Aaros (E1, 5b).

Yesterday I headed to a busy Shepherd's Crag and after climbing Ardus and then ticking Finale (HVS, 5a) I decided that getting on something a little harder would be better. Aaros was the route of choice and I found myself one third of the way up the route, high above my gear with a couple of awkward moves to make, but I was in a comfortable position, with most of my weight being taken by my feet, so I was reluctant to move. I eventually made the first of the awkward moves, placed a bit of gear, and then returned to the comfortable spot. I made the first of the awkward moves time and again, but I was reluctant to push on and instead I kept returning to my little safe haven until I got psyched out by the whole situation. I climbed down to the ground, packed up my kit and headed for home slightly angry with myself.

Approaching Goat Crags in the Borrowdale Valley.

Today I was back in the Borrowdale Valley, but instead of heading to the usual favourites it was decided that we would take in Goat Crags - home of Footless Crow (E5, 6c), which appeared in the classic film, Lakeland Rock in 1997 - but our route was the Hard Rock tick, Praying Mantise (E1-, 5b).

Making the initial moves on Praying Mantis (E1-, 5b).

However, even though we were on a totally different route to yesterday's failure I found myself in a similar situation. My companion for the day set out on the first pitch and backed off at the crux, leaving me to attempt the pitch with the gear already in place. There were a couple of awkward moves above a safe haven and I eventually made the first of the awkward moves, before returning to the comfortable spot. I made the first of the awkward moves time and again, but I was reluctant to push on and instead I kept returning to my little safe haven until I got psyched out by the whole situation. I climbed down to the ground, packed up my kit and headed for home slightly angrier, than the previous day, with myself.

A climber making the moves around the arete of Tumbleweed Connection's (E2, 5c) first pitch.

I have definitely come to a plateau in my trad climbing now. I have certainly improved this year, after the winter's hard training, however my performances on the rock are not befitting for the level of fitness gained through the training. It is certainly a head game that I am now playing with when out on the rock and I'm unsure how to solve the problem. I could get lots of climbs in, at the top end of my comfort range, so that I become more accustomed to the art of trad climbing, but the principles of training are then being contravened: you become what you do. Basically meaning that I'll become a solid HVS climber if I get a lot of climbs in at the top end of my comfort range. This is not what I want, I want to be happier on harder routes and I suppose the only way to do this is to get on more of these routes and accept that at times I am going to have to push it and at times I will fail, but I must not beat myself up when this happens. Hopefully, by the end of the summer these failings will be far outweighed by the successes.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

16 May 2010

A Mini Expedition

I've just got back from a week long trip, with the university, to the west coast of Scotland. We were based in Oban and the week was split into three distinct section: two-and-a-half days climbing, two days canoeing and two days sea kayaking. This post focuses solely on the days spent sea kayaking.

Preparing the boats for the two day journey, by sea, to Oban.

The final two days of my trip to Scotland were focused on sea kayaking; a facet of paddle sport I have engaged with previously, but never on this level. This journey would be a 26 mile, multi day trip taking us near some of Scotland's iconic landmarks and past some of the finest scenery the UK has to offer.

Paddling up the west coast of Luing with Lunga in the background.

We set off late in the day from Arknish Bay, near Arduaine on the mainland, and made our way across to Shuna and it's southerly point, before making a quick crossing of the sound to Sgeir nam Figheadair off Luing's coast. This was the most southerly point of the two day trip and from here we turned north to beat our way up the Sound of Luing towards our final destination, Oban.

Taking lunch in Black Mill Bay with Scarba behind.

Obviously reaching Oban would be a long time coming and we had to return to land earlier than expected because of the poor conditions we experienced around Cuan Sound. The late start had meant that we had little in the way of tidal assistance. This ultimately meant that for the majority of the day we were paddling against the tide and when we were hit broadside by a force 4 wind, which had been unchecked since the Torran Rocks off the Isle of Mull's coast, we were forced to pitch camp beneath Barr Mor on Seil instead of at Ardfad Point, at the northern end of the same island.

Our resting place for the night with Barr Mor behind.

The sun setting behind the Isle of Mull after a long day of paddling.

Ready to launch on the second day with Cuan Point illuminated in the morning sun.

However, I don't think we could have asked for a better place to stop for the night. The ground was lovely and flat, with little in the way of uncomfortable rocks to cause an inconvenience when sleeping, there was some shelter from the wind and it also provided the perfect vantage point to watch the sun sink behind the Isle of Mull, but it did mean that the second day's paddle would be much longer than planned.

Approaching Easdale on Seil early on the second day.

This did provide some apprehension, but we managed to make an early start on the paddle north and after beating against the tide for the majority of the journey up the west coast of Seil, we were able to capitalise on the incoming tide as we made the long crossing from Rubha Garbh Airde on the northern tip of Seil to Rubha na Feundain on the south-west tip of Kerrera. The incoming tide then carried us up the west coast of Kerrera at a grand speed of 1 knot, but couple this with some half-hearted attempt at forward paddling we were soon rounding Rubha na Lice, which marked the end of our northwards journey, and the start of our westward course back to Oban and the mainland.

Nearly there; taking one final rest in Slatrach Bay on Kerrera before crossing to Oban.

After one final stop on Kerrera we made our way back to Oban, watching the Isle of Mull ferry beat its way up the Sound of Mull and past Carriag Mhicheil on its way to Oban. It had been a nice two days, but I was glad to be back at Oban; I was thoroughly exhausted after such an action packed week.

More pictures of the week can be found here.

And now I'm back in the routine, which I discussed after my previous trip to Scotland. Training of late has become extremely simple and comprises solely of climbing. It may not be as effective as structured sessions in the wall or on the fingerboard, but it is much more enjoyable and the past two days bouldering have prooved this; I was at Queens Crag, in Northumberland, yesterday and today Armathwaite was the venue of choice.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

15 May 2010

Half a Paddle

I've just got back from a week long trip, with the university, to the west coast of Scotland. We were based in Oban and the week was split into three distinct section: two-and-a-half days climbing, two days canoeing and two days sea kayaking. This post focuses solely on the days spent canoeing.

Loch Awe with Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh and it's surrounding mountains in the background.

I have been paddling for just over half a decade and I think I can count the times I've been in a canoe on the ten digits of my hands. For this reason, I decided to get some canoeing instruction when we had to choose which activities to engage with on the Oban residential and to be honest I am glad I did. Not because I was in desperate need of instruction (it was beneficial nevertheless) but because of what we achieved in the two days of paddling with half a paddle.

Kilchurn Castle sitting at the head of the Loch.

Looking down Loch Awe to Innis Chonain from Kilchurn Castle's highest turret.

On the first day we were on Loch Awe and we managed to get to Kilchurn Castle, which is something I've tried on previous visits to the area with little success, and that alone made the two days extremely rewarding. For the remaining part of the day we made our way north-east, against the wind, to one of Loch Awe's many Crannogs, where we looked at the many different strokes needed to do what is basically the same thing; move the boats forwards, backwards and sideways before making our way back to the castle and the awaiting minibus.

Sailing back down the Loch.

To be honest I wasn't that enthused for the return journey down the Loch, we would be paddling with the wind, but my energy reserves were depleted after the two-and-a-half days of climbing. This problem was rectified however by the half hour spent rafting the five canoes together, building an A-frame from a set of poles and rigging a sail; we were soon beating our way, down wind, past the castle and this gave me the chance to recruit some energy from an unknown resource meaning that when we got back to the campsite I was back in the game.

Abseiling down Uamh Nan Claig-Ionn's Poppleton Pot.

This had its advantages as I was able to take up the invite for an evening jaunt into the cave systems around Appin. We managed two systems and one of these was the deepest cave in Scotland, Uamh Nan Claig-Ionn, which is translated as Cave of the Skulls, and required a couple of abseils and then a couple of ladder climbs to get back to the surface. I suppose it wasn't a bad way to spend an evening, but I found it difficult to get out of my sleeping bag the next morning for our canoe trip down the River Awe.

At the top, and below the barrage, on the River Awe.

Holding on for dear life.

On the final rapids of the River Awe.

Countless cups of coffee later and I found myself pushing off from the rocky bank of the River Awe and ferrying across the outflow from the barrage on the Pass of Brander. To be honest the river wasn't that spectacular and for this reason it was probably best that we were navigation the compensation flow by canoe; it would have been tedious in a kayak.

More pictures of the week can be found here.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

14 May 2010


I've just got back from a week long trip, with the university, to the west coast of Scotland. We were based in Oban and the week was split into three distinct section: two-and-a-half days climbing, two days canoeing and two days sea kayaking. This post focuses solely on the days spent climbing.

Cheddar Direct (Font 4), Dumbarton Rock.

I headed north on Thursday, leaving Carlisle at mid-day and stopped once, at Dumbarton Rock for a break, but more importantly a bouldering session, before continuing north. I've never climbed on Scottish rock before and I don't think you could have asked for a better venue to break with this tradition than Dumbarton Rock. The place is steeped in history; it was the place where Scottish bouldering was conceived and all the big names of Scottish climbing have cut their teeth on the basalt found here. However, one of the finest climbing DVD's I've seen focuses on the impressive line Dave MacLeod worked, that cuts sharply up the main cliff and this was the main reason for my visit; to look at what is an iconic line of British trad climbing. Needless to say I didn't go near the route, but instead I ticked off the problems on the yellow bouldering circuit featured in the book Bouldering in Scotland, before continuing onto Oban.

The next day I headed further north in the search of more Scottish rock and I ended up an hour up the road at the crags of Polldubh, which is probably the Highlands only roadside crag! We set to the routes on Pinnacle Ridge and having topped out on a VS, named Severe Crack, we found ourselves at the foot of a HVS called Hodad. I think I made a flippant remark: "we'll just pop up this one, seen as we're here" and about twenty minutes later I found myself shouting: "take us. I'm off" and the very next second I found myself in a crumpled pile at the bottom of the crag.

Looking up Hodad (HVS, 5b) after decking out from the penultimate move.

Two pieces of gear had ripped when I fell from the penultimate move, which meant that the ropes didn't really come tight until my feet had connected with the floor. However, I was unhurt and after a quick rest I was back on the route and almost immediately after I was flying through the air having fallen from the last move this time. I came up short of the ground thankfully and after one more half hearted attempt I called it a day and moved on to another route.

This experience was strange though. When we had looked at the fear and anxiety surrounding falling during lectures it was determined that there were four strategies to deal with it: imagery, relaxation, self-talk and embracing it as 'fun'. I didn't really believe this last strategy could ever be adopted, but I found myself enjoying the falling sensation and after the first fall I was perfectly happy to get back on the route. I always thought this would not be the case, instead I thought I would run from the prospect of another fall, but embracing it as 'fun' helped remove the fear and allowed me to focus on the basic act of moving on the rock.

That evening we planned our final day of climbing and it turned into a proper adventure, which started at 6am in the morning and finished at 9pm that evening. The reason for such an early start was because of the need to catch the first ferry to the Isle of Mull so that the crags on the outlying island of Erraid could be taken in.

On the Isle of Mull heading for... you've guessed it... the Isle of Mull.

It was a bit of a mission to get to the crags; not only was there a forty-five minute ferry crossing, but also an hour long drive across the length of Mull and then a forty-five minute walk through the Sound of Erraid and across the island to the far south-western corner. However, it was worth every minute and every penny; it could quite easily go down as my best day's climbing ever.

Approaching Erraid off the Isle of Mull in the hope of taking in the climbs on the Upper Teir of the Main Crags.

The routes were on ten to twelve meter high granite cliffs and if that wasn't enough the setting was one of the best; golden white beaches, crystal-clear water, lapping waves, fisherman setting lobster pots and yachts sailing around the coast. What more could you want? Did I say there wasn't a single cloud in the sky and there was only the lightest of sea breezes.

Is this Scotland? One Dead Puffin (HVS, 5a), which features on the front cover of Scottish Rock: Volume 1.

We spent a good five hours at the crag and there wasn't that much need to climb, but we still did, just sitting in such a location is an activity in itself and in someways it was a shame we had to leave at 4pm to catch the last ferry back to the mainland. It would have been nice to have spent another day, week, month or even a year at the crag.

Heading back to Oban after a successful day.

More pictures of the week can be found here.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

05 May 2010

Some more climbing and a busman's holiday

Approaching the crux of the third pitch (5a) on Troutdale Pinnacle Super Direct (HVS).

Since my last post I have been continuing on in a similar vain; I've been ticking the odd route here and the odd route there because the weather hasn't been playing ball, meaning that long sessions on the crag have become a rarity. Yesterday's route was the super direct version of Troutdale Pinnacle on Black Crag in the Borrowdale Valley and today's was an 11m single pitch route on Great Wanney, in Northumberland, called Eastern Traverse (HS, 4b).

Looking across Great Wanney in Northumberland.

I had decided last night that I would head east, instead of south, for a change, on the basis that the weather is usually better on the other side of the Pennines and it seemed to be the case as we tracked along the military road in the direction of Newcastle. Our final destination was Great Wanney, a long outcrop of hard sandstone, which is supposedly one of the more spectacular sandstone crags of Northumberland, and the sole purpose of heading east, to the sandstone outcrops, was to get a large number of routes under my belt; the last couple of outings may have been on quality lines, but lacked volume meaning that the sheer act of climbing could not also be classed as training.

Looking up at the East Buttress of Great Wanney.

The weather seemed to have other ideas though; we got one route in before a fine mist of rain started to moisten the sandstone and make climbing impossible for the rest of the day. We packed our stuff away and made the half-hour walk back through the moorland and trees to the van dejected and angry, but we were not Carlisle bound. I made a quick phone call to the Go Ape course at Matfen Hall, where I did an odd day's work last year, and within twenty minutes we were filling in our forms, and getting our safety brief, before heading off on a high wire forest adventure.

Making moves on Go Ape Matfen's Site 2 Tarzan Swing.

About to head through the barrels on Go Ape Matfen's Site 3.

Obviously I'm back in Carlisle now, but that is not going to be the case for much longer. Tomorrow I'm heading north for seven days of climbing, canoeing and sea kayaking with the university. I think I'll take in the boulders of Dumbarton tomorrow as a way to break up the long drive to Oban where I will be based for the week.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...

03 May 2010

A couple of Short Sessions

I said in my last post, about bouldering at the Bowderstone, that I was working for two days and that I'd be sure to grab a cheeky apres-work climbing session. To be honest, it looked doubtful. Saturday turned into a bit of a washout; it decided to rain for a couple of hours, which killed all motivation for climbing and probably soaked the rock and then Sunday came. The weather was much better, but after a nine-and-three-quarter hour shift, which started at 9:30am, energy and motivation, for that matter, was a bit low for climbing. However, I managed to find some motivation and a little bit of energy and I found myself pulling off the ground, once again, at the Bowderstone. I didn't get much done. I repeated the direct (V5) and super direct (V6) link ups with The Crack (V4) before working the moves on the two V7's I worked on my previous visit, before trundling home to Carlisle.

The Crack Super Direct (V6) taken during Friday's session.

I had a bit of a lazy morning today so that I could recover from the short Bowderstone session, but in the afternoon I was heading south, back into the Borrowdale Valley for some trad action on Quayfoot Buttress, which is little more than a stones throw from the Bowderstone.

Poking through the trees: the top of Quayfoot Buttress, from the Bowderstone car park, with climbers on Mandrake (HVS).

It was nice to be back on the rock, with a rope tied around the waist, making moves on some excellent rhyolite. Like the previous evening's session little was done. I lead the two pitches of Abberation (MVS) and then seconded the three pitches of Quayfoot Buttress. Even though neither of these climbs were technically challenging, it was nice to be moving over the rock with little difficulty, whilst enjoying the sheer simplicity of it all.

On the first pitch of Quayfoot Buttress' Quayfoot Butress (VD).

Another afternoon session will be occurring tomorrow and it looks like Black Crag will be the stage for such a session.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...