Tuesday, 12 December 2017

My Top Routes of 2017

It’s been a turbulent year to say the least. New job, new home, more friends, different life. So much has changed. Through all this thankfully some things have stayed constant, namely a love of early mornings and chronic fear of lazy Saturdays! Moving back to Scotland was definitely at the top of my priorities for 2017, however I was surprised by just how quickly it all happened. Before I knew it the job contact was signed, the tenancy was secured and my boxes were packed and all by mid February. Everyone up here is so awesome and so friendly, I know the friends I've made will be friends for life!

Somehow amongst all this chaos over 100 climbs have been ticked, comprising of innumerable pitches, countless walk-ins, abseils and other faff. 

As I’ve not done one of these since 2015, I thought I’d also include some other particularly memorable favorites from 2016 as well as just the ones from 2017. So in no particular order, here are ten my most memorable climbs from 2016/2017.

Moss Ghyll Grooves (MVS 4c) Scafell Crag

Perhaps one of the most famous 'MVS's in the country. This outstanding route climbs an immaculate series of grooves and corners up one of the Lake Districts biggest mountain crags. Its a north face, so takes a while to dry and even longer to be warm enough to fully enjoy, but when its 'in' its totally worth the wait. Made all the better for having the approach start and finish next to the Wasdale Head Inn, which is perhaps one of the best mountain pubs in the world! 

We climbed it in four pitches, with the second '4c' pitch being the pick of the bunch. More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/a-reoccurring-theme.html

Rob finishing the first pitch of Moss Ghyll Grooves (MVS 4c)

Botterill’s Slab (VS 4c) Scafell Crag

Yep, that's right, another one on Scafell Crag! Bit of a theme running here isn't there? A steep start, a bold slab and tones of history, what more could you want? Its also worth noting this climb was somehow first done in 1903 by a dude in breaches with an ice axe.

More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/nowt-but-us-up-here.html

Matt enduring a steep start on the first pitch of Botterill's Slab (VS 4c)

Matt moving delicately up the outstanding second pitch of Botterill's Slab (VS 4c)

Scafell Crag in the glorious spring evening sunshine

The Wasdale Crack (HS) Napes Needle

Another route that needs no introduction. Being basically one of the first landmark climbs in the British Isles its a must do for any big mountain crag climber and beside, who wouldn't say no to a big pinnacle! lol.

Pointing out the line of the Wasdale Crack, Napes Needle
The route itself is pretty polished as its popularity is probably unrivaled, however don't let that deter you, as its one of the most interesting and airy summits around!

The Dubhs Ridge (Mod) Skye

Being nearly 1000m in length, the Dubhs Ridge rightfully claims to be one of the longest rock climbs in the UK. It comprises of vast swathes of beautiful scoured gabbro slabs rising straight out of the Courisk basin, running up to the summit of Sgurr Dubh Beag and beyond to the main Cuilin Ridge. I could go on and on about this route but the things you need to know are;
  1. The easiest way to get there is by the seal watching boat from Elgol
  2. The rock is amazing, with some of the best friction slab climbing anywhere I've ever been
  3. The abseil from the top of Sgurr Dubh Beag is pretty exposed and definitely gets the blood pumping
  4. Getting up is the easy bit
  5. Getting back down in time for the last boat is definitely the hard bit! 

Looking at the route from the Courisk basin below. The route follows a committing line right up the middle of the slabs for nearly 1000m
The 'must do' crack high up the Dubhs Ridge

Emma making the steep abseil of the top of Sgurr Dubh Beag

The Edge (VS 4c) Loudoun Hill

Maybe the most little-known super classic VS in the whole UK? This lonely route is essentially a massive pinnacle attached (well mostly anyway) to the side of a mediocre central belt crag, but provides one of the most exposed VS climbs about. The gear is all slings and the holds are all pinches. Most think it deserves E1 4c, but I think it depends how much you trust a sling on a flat hold..

More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/loudoun-calling.html

Gregor right on it on the The Edge (VS 4c) at Loudoun Hill

Engineer’s Slabs (VS 4c) Gable Crag

A route for the mountain crag connoisseur. Engineer's Slab sits on one of the highest (and coldest) north faces in the entire Lake District. The high angle of the face means its less 'slab' more 'really damn steep!' with the line following a series of steep cracks before finishing up through the capping overhangs in humongous V shaped cleft. Often wet and more often green, this was one that I had to wait quite a while for until the stars aligned and opportunity presented itself.

More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/moss-slime-lichen-and-looseness.html

Looking up the 'slab' from the base. The 'slab' is probably at a fair angle at the base but by half height its almost vertical, and by the top, is practically overhanging! 

Looking down the last pitch of Engineer's Slab (VS 4c) with Matt making some very exposed moves out to the arete above the void!

Walk on the Wild Side (HVS 5a) Auchinstarry Quarry

Usually no matter how good a single pitch route is, I don't find it satisfying enough to make it totally memorable. Walk on the Wild Side in Auchinstarry quarry however is the exception. Super thin and super bold slab climbing on perfectly formed positive edges.

The route sits hidden away in the back of Auchinstarry Quarry, which is probably the best crag in Kilsyth(!). Although it has a bit of an industrial wasteland feel, the crag is quick drying and only 10 minutes from the M80. Its also home to some other super cool routes like Trundle (VS 4c), Promontory Direct (HVS 5a), Red Lead (VS 5a) and Orange Flash (HVS 5a).

More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/walk-on-wild-side.html

Nicholas on a route called Red lead (VS 5a) which is another brilliant route in Auchinstarry Quarry just round the corner from Walk on the Wild Side
Fran seconding the upper slab of Walk on the Wild Side (HVS 5a) with another team to the right on Trundle (VS 4c)

East Face Route (E1 5b) Old Man of Hoy

Ever since seeing a picture of this monolith in a talk by Leo Holding, I knew climbing this route was going to be one of my life's ambitions. We battled rain, wind, vomiting birds and awkward ferry times but got to the top and I've never felt so elated, the route lived up to the hype and in my mind is the definition of what adventurous climbing is about.

That whole area seems to have a massive wealth of climbing that's completely untapped. I can't wait to go back.

More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.com/2017/08/hoy-lifetime-tick.html

The Old Man of Hoy, the UK's largest 'sea stack'. This photo and the one after next were taken by Tim Simons, who happened to recognize our colour trousers on the ferry back to the mainland and we exchanged e-mail addresses! 

The first pitch of East Face Route (E1 5b), Old Man of Hoy
Moving through steep ground on the 'chimney pitch' of the East face Route (E1 5b). Photo Tim Simmons.

Waiting for the ferry off Hoy.. Job done.

Skeleton Ridge (HVS 4c) The Needles, Isle of Wight

Some of you may have never heard of it, but almost all of you will have seen it! So you know that amazing lighthouse shown on program intros on BBC1 which is surrounded by those massive white chalk rubble piles, yeah Skeleton Ridge is the bit behind it that runs to the old military lookout, and yes people have actually climbed on it!

Its got choss, its got giant abseils, its got sea birds and its got more exposure than you can shake a stick at. A perfect day out surely?

We got the ferry from the mainland and cycled across the island to the campsite closest to the route. After finishing the route the next day we headed to the pub and drank 12 pints between us, by which time we'd both forgotten the horror of the day and now I only look back with warm fondness.

Although the route is probably closer to VS than HVS its pretty high consequences... If you abseil in and you've got the tide wrong, you can either climb back up the abseil rope and probably die or wait for a rescue which will never come and also probably die. Since the gear is essentially in white mud, if you fall everything will rip (including the belay) and you'll probably die. If pull too hard on any of the holds, it will probably break, you will fall off and you'll probably die. If you decide its all too much half way up and abseil off, the gear will rip and you'll probably die. Alternatively you could pendulum abseil, but then again the tide will have come in and with all that heavy gear on you won't make the mile swim to the beach, so you'll probably die. Getting the hint? If none of this puts you off, go and do it, its the best day you'll ever have by the seaside.

More photos here http://wainwrightclimbing.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/skeleton-ridge.html

Racing the tide to the base of the route. The sea

The white crumbing knife edge. Photo credit Rob Steer
Moving through a difficult section a' chavel! Photo credit Rob Steer

Hairy Mary (HVS 4b) Suidhe Biorach, Skye

Finally, the last route on the list and by no means the least is Hairy Mary on Skye's west coast. At a glance, I'm sure your first thought is why go sea cliff climbing next to maybe the best mountain range in the world? Well the answer is that Skye also has some of the best sea cliff climbing in the world too! Conjured through water, fire and ice over millions of years, Skye is the juxtaposition for any scientist who would elsewhere disregard the idea of divine creation. From the elegantly carved monolithic mountain pinnacles to the majestic thundering zawns and towering sea stacks, it does beg the question that if the big man does exist, was he into trad climbing?

Anyway, if you're on Skye and the weather is pish, check out this place. Suidhe Biorach (near Elgol) as its sheltered from winds and rain alike and makes a good back up if that mountains are shrouded in shite. While you're there, check out Jammie Jampot which is another amazing VS. To be honest were either of these routes any closer to 'civilization' they'd be mega classics.

So that's it. Another year come to a close. Sometimes things have gotten pretty tough, and there have been so real lows, but thankfully my friends and family have been there to pull me through keeping me focused on the highs.

I guess that's it then. So long to all the worries and heart ache of 2017. All in all, its been a great year. I can't wait to see what the next one has in store.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Dorsal Arete

It’s been quite inclement recently. Lashing rain and howling wind seem to be rattling the windows all too often. Thankfully some cold northerly winds have brought about some long anticipated change.

Stob Coire nan Lochan with its winter coat on
With bigger and more ambitious plans for the weekend quashed by a last minute lack of partner, I headed over to Glen Coe on my own in search of salvation. A dabble on Coire an Lochain’s Dorsal Arete turned out to be just the thing. A bit of a traderoute by winter standards, it must easily be as popular as some of the classic ridges on the Buchaille, but perhaps more reliable due to the crags higher altitude? Either way this II,3 was perfect for an early season solo adventure.

The route has one short sharp section which makes you stop and think. The fabled crux arĂȘte, which rises alarming steeply out the broad buttress has a good deal of exposure as well as atmosphere (not the least helped by the falling snow and high winds..). 

Looking down the steep arete pitch

The mountains are calling and I must go.” (John Muir)

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Loudoun Calling

This weekend saw a return visit to Loudoun Hill in Aryshire. It was cold, crisp and bright. As perfect a winters days as could be hoped for in mid November. The rain over the previous days and weeks meant that some of the main crack lines were seeping quite substantially, but thankfully the crag is south facing, so the sun eventually dried out enough of the rock to keep us satisfied.

The day started with ascents of Pulpit Arete (S), Frustration Wall (HS 4b) and Conclusion Wall (HS 4b). After that we all headed over to The Edge (VS 4c), a stunning multi-pitch *** route that climbs a partially detached pillar in the middle of the large and mossy south east face of the outcrop. The famed 2nd pitch arete is about 20m long and is on very clean compact rock, consequently having virtually no gear other than one or two slings on flat holds. Perhaps one of the best pitches of VS I've done this year and even now, i'm still smiling.

Loudoun Hill in the morning sunshine. Photo taken by Gregor

Gregor leading Pulpit Arete in amazing November sunshine

Iain on the 4a crux crack of Pulpit Arete. Photo taken by Nicholas

Berny seconding Furstration Wall (HS 4b). Photo taken by Iain

Moving out from the belay up towards the arete on The Edge (VS 4c)

The Edge (VS 4c)

Gregor seconding The Edge (VS 4c)

A good days craggin' with good craic. Photo taken by Iain
After the sun started to disappear behind the haze and the damp started to take hold we opted to bail, but via Auchinstarry just to squeeze the last of the light out of the day. Both Tar (S) and Orange Flash (HVS 5a) were nabbed before it got a bit too dark..

Finishing the day off with a quick ascent of  Orange Flash (HVS 5a)
For those that might be interested, I'm now on Instagram too! @wainwrightclimbing

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Beyond the far north

Rubh' a Bhuachaille, Sutherland. Some of the wildest coastline in the UK
58° 37' 37.7959"N
5° 0' 16.4108"W

Sitting on the 58th parallel, the north west tip of the mainland UK is at the same latitude as British Columbia, Alaska and the Bering Sea. Accessible only on foot or by boat, the coastline in this area is wild and foreboding, regularly subject to fierce Atlantic storms with winds that may not have touched land since America or Greenland. 

Hidden amongst these imposing sandstone cliffs however is an oasis of golden beaches and secluded bays, the most famous of which is Sandwood Bay along with its much frequented bothy.

The allure of exploring this coastline has always captivated me so i guess a trip here was inevitable. It took until November to get time to visit, and with the year drawing rapidly to a close, ambitious plans were drawn up. High winds, snow showers and freezing temperatures definitely added to the experience of the place, with sea cliff zawns turned into maelstroms, bombarded by huge and thundering swells. Thankfully a distraction was provided one evening watching the firework display at Kinlochbervie, perhaps the most northerly display on the west coast. Standing in solidarity with the local people, with not another tourist about was a real privilege. The highlight was definitely the community firework display, when the first few rockets were perhaps aimed a bit low and proceeded to explode very close to some parked cars! 

As far as climbing highlights are concerned, whilst exploring the coast south of the famous stack of Am Buchaille, we found a smaller stack in a bay called Port Mor. We climbed the stack up its seaward edge, certain that something so obvious must have been ascended before. However after contacting the SMC it turns out it is quite possibly previously unclimbed. At 17m its small compared to many of the stacks along this coastline, but a sea stack it is none the less and perhaps a first ascent at that!

An amazing adventure. I can't wait to go back, but perhaps when its warmer.

Caelan seconding Crackin' Corner (VS 4c) down at Sheigra. This was about the only climb which wasn't being smashed by huge swells, even at low tide..

Caelan seconding Seaward Edge (S/HS), a possible FA up an un-climbed sea stack situated in Port Mor, 5 miles north of Sheigra

Abseiling from the stack, with the famed Am Buchaille in the background

Watching the swell smash into the cliffs at Second Geo, Sheigra

Caelan just before the steepening crux of Sideline (VS 4c) on the upper wall of Second Geo, Sheigra 
Looking towards a snow capped Foinaven and Arkle from Kinlochbervie

The same mountains a day or so later. Hopefully the snow is here to stay

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Fourth Quarry

I can’t believe it’s taken me 6 months to discover the delights of Cambussbarron Quarry. Situated a 20 minute walk from where I’m living in Stirling, I almost feel a bit ashamed that I’ve been ranting and raving about other places and totally neglected this Central Belt gem! ‘Fourth Quarry’ as it’s known locally, is a large flat quarry with a sunny outlook that boast over 50 routes ranging from Severe to E4. The Quarry was worked until about 20 years ago until it was left redundant before being landscaped by Stirling Council. If you’ve ever been to Fairy Cave Quarry in the West Country, it’s very similar to that, but is stepper and without that awkward access fence guarding the entrance. Because the quarry isn't fenced off, and is easily accessed it consequently contains significantly more graffiti and broken beer bottles that its Bristolian counterpart (shout out to the local NEDs) but that just adds to the character of the place I guess.

Autumnal colours surrounding the quarry
The main areas of climbing are focussed on the broken walls of the Quarry’s northern side, which at its highest is just over 20m. Although some of the rock is very compact, split by cracks ranging from hairline to full body width, a lot of the rock is very loose with giant blocks the size of cars perched precariously on the edge, barely resisting gravity's terminal attraction. Climbing at the crag was first developed in the early 90s, with most of the obvious lines climbed then. These include the Ninety-Five (E1 5b) and Cross in Oz (E1 5b) area, Cha Buttress and the ‘Contracts’ wall. 

Placing some gear just after the crux of Not Easy Contract (E1 5b). Photo Credit - Nicholas Hill

James finishing the top part of the steep jamming crack on Doobie Brothers (E1 5b). 
The climbs I’ve done in there have been really good, definitely on the steeper side, but since they all generally follow vertical cracks they are strenuous, but safe. As with most quarries, a lot of the top outs are a bit loose, with dirt and large blocks guarding a safe exit. From what I can tell most of the really huge blocks have already been trundled as the routes seem to be climbed fairly regularly. For anybody planning a visit, the crag seems to dry pretty quickly, and even in winter picks up the afternoon and early evening sun. 

Starting up the lower technical wall of Pipistrelle (HVS 5a)

The upper head wall section of Pipistrelle (HVS 5a). Thin face climbing lower down opens up into some steep vertical cracks giving some really amazing jamming. Luckily they're all sinkers!

James seconding Pipistrelle (HVS 5a)
After the disappointment of the weekend before on the West Wall of Mitre Ridge, coming to Fourth Quarry has definitely renewed some diminishing psyche. With winter just around the corner I was feeling like my last chance to get out on rock and do what I love doing so much had slipped through my fingers. Thankfully a productive day in Fourth Quarry has worked someway towards subduing those feelings. Perhaps the itch is scratched for now, but for how long?  

Apart from where otherwise stated, all the photos were taken by Emma.