Tag Archives: Scottish Climbing

Summer Sun

For the last couple of years I’ve tried to hold onto a couple of weeks in May and June where I dont work to allow me time to tick off a couple of Scotlands classic rock routes.  The weather window to do these mountain routes can be quite small and usually  I come away from those weeks a little frustrated at either the amount of rain, the amount of midgies or the lack of keen partners.  This year feels a little different.  When you’re self employed its often hard to not take work when its offered but over the last couple of months I’ve managed to hang onto my time off and amazingly this has largely coincided with periods of amazing weather and friends who are also free and keen to climb.  In the last few months almost everything else has fallen by the way side as I’ve got tireder and tireder ticking through three star routes quite a few of which I never thought I would get to climb.  Its been amazing to see the mountain crags so busy with teams operating at all grades in glorious sunshine.


The majestic Cir Mhor on the Isle of Arran.  Despite having lived on Arran for a few months I had never climbed the South Ridge Direct.  Camping in Glen Rosa for a couple of nights was the start of an amazing spell of good weather.931A7226

Photo from Cecile.  I wasnt sure if after the 14 pitch South ridge I would still be keen for this Robin Smith testpiece – a protectionless 15m solo of the “Rosetta Stone” at the top of Cir Mhor. 931A7354

Somewhat of a rest day.  On a baking hot day Cecile and I cycled in to climb “Ardverikie Wall”  I was on belay duty all day and climbed with my hood up to try and escape the sun.  The last time I climbed this was one of the most midgy experiences of my life!931A7472

A wee bit of work.  I have been running some Skye sea kayak expeditions this summer for Sea Kayak Plockton.  All of these expeditions have been quite different but all with brilliant clients to some wild and adventurous places.  Above – camped on Harlosh Island in loch Bracadale – we had to cut the last day of this exped short as a force 8 was forecast.931A7506

Point of Stoer lighthouse.  We were meant to be sea kayaking this day but it was way to windy (right after the Loch Bracadale work trip)931A7534

Jago, Sarah and Ceclie proving how windy it is on a wander out to see if the “Old Man of Stoer” is still standing.

P1020317Photo from Andy Nisbet (me on the second pitch of the the Robin Smith Classic “The Big Top”).  At the end of 12 day streak of climbing Andy convinced me to head out for a photo shoot for the new guidebook with Graham I had been shifting concrete slabs the evening before and was feeling pretty tired but it was all worth it for some more classics in the sun with Andy shouting “stop there for a minute theres a cloud”


Adam contemplating his runout on the classic “Edgehog”.  Somehow in the driest summer I remember Adam, Seb and I were up the glen on a freezing cold morning as the drizzle showers came through.  It hasn’t all be endless sunshine!


Endless sunshine!  The two accompanying teachers on a recent bit of work for the High School of Glasgow taking a morning dip in loch Morar.

Fox in camp on Loch Nevis.  I think we might have been camped on this old boys den as he hung around very close to us for quite a while.931A8771

Work – supervising a Gold DofE group as they paddle to the narrows of Loch Nevis.  931A8788

Final day of a four day trip.  Dave (the other supervisor) gliding up the inside channel from Back of Keppoch into Arisaig bay. These four days were the hottest I have ever spent on the water in the UK.


Al Docherty on the crux pitch of “Minus One Direct” in May.  There was so much snow in Observatory Gully that the bottom two pitches (45m) were missing.


Adam on the top pitch of “Crocodile”  on one of our many productive days this summer.  On this day we had to desperately seek shade as it was too hot to climb in the sun.


Stormy paddling into Glen Dhu (appropriate name) with Cecile, Jago and Sarah.


Pabay post box.  On the last of the Skye sea kayak expeditions we stopped for the night on Pabay on the east side of Skye.  Definitely one of the weirdest places I’ve stayed with a lonely wee post box, a fancy renovated farm house (deserted) and a perfectly straight road across the island that appeared to go nowhere!


Paddling under the Skye bridge on the last day of the exped.


Cecile seconding one of the many exciting pitches of “Torro” on Ben Nevis.


Mark Chambers on the brilliant main pitch of “Alice Springs” on Creag and Dubh Loch.  The last two days of my summer climbing season (in Scotland!)  were brilliant with Mark and I trying to fit as much as possible into a couple of days before had to be back at work.


Third route of the day – the never dry “Sword of Damocles” was bone dry.


Here we go again”  Staring up at “King Rat” at 7am ready for another day of fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting home in style.  Even the crag access is fun on these things you call “Mountain Bikes” (I think they should be called trail bikes as you dont see people actually on mountains on them!).

The summer has been amazing but now I have a couple more days of work before some international trips for work and play.  For once the Scottish summer has been a good warm up for Morocco and the Dolomites!


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36 hours after getting back from Tanzania I was off on my own adventure with eight friends to the Barra Isles.  In this time I managed to unpack, do three loads of washing, go to the climbing wall (twice), clean the house and repack my camping gear plus an excess of ropes hoping that I hadnt forgotten anything.  Its never ideal to start a climbing trip having not climbed for the month previously so I hoped that my two indoor sessions made up for the month in Tanzania where I mainly drank lots of coffee and ate too much.  The isles of Pabbay and Mingulay  are one of the UK’s trad climbing paradises and somewhere I have wanted to visit for a very long time.  While they were inhabited for a long time by a surprisingly large amount of people neither island has had permanent inhabitants since 1911.  What is left is some beautiful Lewisian Gneiss cliffs on the west coasts constantly battered by the atlantic swells while the east coasts have sheltered bays of perfect sand.  A climbing trip to these islands involves a bit of organisation (cheers Malcy!) as getting a group of climbers to agree to dates and then actually turn up in Oban for a five hour ferry journey followed by another hour on a fishing boat is no easy feat.  Added to this the mixed weather the islands receive for much of the year make this a tough choice when a trip to spain costs almost the same.931A4785

Skipper Francis and the “Boy James” taking us straight to Pabbay in the evening sun.

Some of the locals coming to stay hello931A4811

Getting dropped off with our mountain of kit.931A4819

Camp on the first evening.  As soon as the tents were up it was off to the other side of the island to squeeze a quick route in before dark.931A4882

Second day – Rich and Brian on the Poop Deck one of the brilliant single pitch crags tucked into the West coast.931A4899

The Main event.  You can just see Duncan in green on the pillar to the left of the great arch on the classic 4 pitch route “The Priest”931A4908

Tim fiddling in some gear on the initial moves of “As sound as Mr JA” at Hoofers Geo931A4978

While “only” a single pitch crag, “Hoofers Geo” certainly packs a punch.  Brian on the ultra classic route “Sugar Cane Country”

Theres always a risk with a late summer trip to the Hebrides!  Tims lightweight alpine tent not standing up the challege of some force 7 gusts while Als cheap car camping tent sits proud.  We were offered an early pickup by Francis but ended up staying (long story) to weather the storm.931A5029

Drying out after the storm.  The psych wasnt too high the morning after as none of us had had much sleep and a few of the tents had taken a bit of a hammering.IMG_9005

Tim on yet another  steep classic.  I think this might be “Endolpin Rush”.  Im still not sure why we did a wet E3 as a warm up to a bunch of E2’s but it definitely made sense at the time.IMG_8976

Looking down the initial slab of “The Priest” to Tim far below.  Tim and I were keen to get as many of the three and four star classics done as possible.  This involved some pretty exciting days with quite a few pitches of quite damp rock!931A5035

Another storm cloud rolling in from the South West.  The island on the left is Mingulay931A5060

Pippa cutting loose on Hyper Ballad on the last day.  Climbing can be quite a lonely sport at times but the sociable scene with multiple teams was a real highlight of the trip for me.931A5114

Getting picked up a day late.  Due to the storm we ended up being picked up a day late which was a bit stressful as we had no phone reception.  931A5117

Speeding back to Barra on the Saturday.  I was really struck on this trip by how many places in Scotland I still have to explore.  I’ll definitely be back in the Barra isles for another climbing trip soon but hopefully Mingulay next year!931A5119

Only a day late for our pub dinner but boy it tasted good.  931A5121

Castlebay Church lit up at night with an eerie moon.



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March madness

The start of this month saw the completion of one of my long standing goals.  I am not really a goal setter by nature –  my main aspirations being to eat good food, drink good drink, spend time in beautiful places and not work too much but I had always had the Mountaineering Instructors Certificate in the back of my mind.  Getting to this point has taken a while though for me came pretty suddenly.  I decided at the end of last summer that I was just going to give all my time and focus to passing this qualification.  Its hard to sum up to people not involved in the outdoor industry the time and energy that goes into all of the outdoor qualifications and in the last couple of weeks I have found myself trying to sum this up.  The actual assessment for the MIC is just 4 days long but is in fact an assessment of the culmination of for me over 10 years working in the industry.  I actually really enjoyed the assessment and as I had been told by many friends it did just feel like going to work every day (which is always stressful on high avalanche days).  Looking back to the start of the year its been fairly intense preparing for the assessment but also a lot of fun –

  • 50 routes up to grade 6 (work and play)
  • approx 60 days “on the hill” (I think I only took about 7/8 rest days from the start of Jan till my assessment)
  • 120 snickers eaten (based on 2 snickers a day minimum)
  • Walked up the track to Ben Nevis over 20 times
  • approximately 150 glucosamine tablets swallowed
  • Lost 6kg while eating around 3500-4000 calories a day

Huge amounts of thanks have to go to any of my friends and colleagues who offered advice, to Hannah for putting up with kit drying everywhere around the house and my constantly knackered state and to some friends who suffered through my practising various things (short roping Alfie Tipler for a day was hilarious for me but I think his worst day in the hills ever!  “it reminds me of being a child”)

Since the assessment the winter has continued to be amazing though I have started to look for dry rock!

IMG_1885Rather appropriately my first day of work as a full MIC was in fairly disgusting conditions where I climbed Hadrians Wall direct with one client.  We were both pretty tired at the end of the day having had to pull frozen ropes through our belay devices so many times.  We took a day off and the next day turned out to be a stunner.  Above the view on the way down to Coire Leis
IMG_1899 I was out with Stephan one of the Geologists who is looking at glacial periods in Scotland.  Seen here after climbing one of routes on his “bucket list”, Point 5 gully.  On the left of the photo is one of the areas (Coire Leis) that is believe to have had a glacier in it as recently as the 1700’sIMG_1902 I was next out with Rob who was getting ready to add to his already impressive mountaineering CV.  Seen here about to start the Eastern Traverse on Tower Ridge.  IMG_1908 Spring is here!  After climbing Tower Ridge I nipped home to change ice axes for rock shoes and Hannah and I headed up Glen Nevis for some spring rock climbing.  Above – Hannah in the sun at the base of “Storm”IMG_1910 Hannah tiptoeing onto the first belay of StormIMG_1930 Next I headed up Observatory gully with Joe to tick off a couple of routes that I had wanted to do for years.  Above – Joe on the second pitch of “Smiths Route”IMG_1935 Two teams on Smiths route as we headed down for one more.  Pretty cool to watch Alan Kimber leading up this – I hope I’m still leading grade 5 in my 60’sIMG_1945 Graham, Donald and I left the upper car park at 645am and headed up to climb Orion face direct,  We were beaten to the base by 3 teams(!) and settled on “Minus 2 gully” instead.  This is now one of my favourite routes and not a bad plan C!  Above – Donald leading up to the big ice pitch.IMG_1955 One of the awesome pegs on Minus 2.  I wonder if this once belonged to Jimmy Marshall?IMG_1963 Graham making short work of the last pitchIMG_1964 Donald on the last pitch no longer worried about making it to parents evening on time!IMG_1968 Lastly I headed up the Ben (again!) with Mark to see what we could do on a busy Saturday.  Turns out quite a lot!  Climbing with Mark is always tough as he always seems to have such nice new kit!  We climbed the start of Glovers Chimney into the Gutter followed by the Cascade into Experts Choice.  Loads of great ice and no-one else about!  Above – Mark and his shiny gear starting up the crux of “The Gutter”IMG_1971 Mark “I’m no good at ice climbing” Chambers charging up the crux pitch with good styleIMG_1979At the 11th belay of the day!
IMG_3881 I spent a couple of days working with Scott and Jamie at UHI.  After deciding not to go outside one day we were met with an amazing day the next.  Above – stunning views at the CIC hutIMG_3894 2 Students probing for a snow hole siteIMG_3899 Scott and Jamie hard at work in tough conditionsIMG_3900 Amazing snow hole site under the Brenva face of Ben Nevis.  Shame we didnt stay there!P1020561

And lastly – I was somewhat horrified to see the above photo appear in my inbox.  A photo of me on the (in) famous crux pitch of point 5 gully.  The gear was less than amazing and this must have been taken by my client inbetween me being pounded by spindrift avalanches!

I had thought that my winter might be over by now but there’s a storm raging outside and theres plenty of ice on the Ben still.  Who wants to go ice climbing????

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Good sandwich making skills and frozen water

Good sandwich skills are essential to a good winter day out.  I know there’s people out there who just throw a lump of Soreen or some cereal bars in their bag but for me that just doesn’t cut it.  Theres been rather a lot of sandwich making recently as I decided a while ago to take some time to focus on winter mountaineering and climbing.  For the most part this just involves getting out every day to climb with different people, heading out on my own to look at different venues / solo easy routes or the odd days work in the mountains.  Evenings are then spent desperately trying to get kit dry and staring at weather forecasts, blogs and the Avalanche information website.  Eventually something comes up which means you cant go out – such as winds gusting over 100mph or like today, a bed being delivered.  Its been a pretty awesome January with some amazing days of good ice and blue skies but being out every day you definitely see some of the worst of it as well.  So heres my photos from January – a few blues sky days and then the rest.IMG_1414crpGraham trying to find the tunnel on “West Chimney” of Church door buttress.  Helen and I stood on the  belay getting showered with snow and then gravel before Graham declared the tunnel blocked – turns out it has been for 2 years.  Turns out the routes a bit harder now.
IMG_1430Graham looking very happy on “Pinnacle Face” on the West face of Aonach Dubh – its been amazing to see so much snow down at the road in Glen Coe – we went to the West face twice that week with the approach taking twice as long as normal.IMG_1476Darkness and snow – Heading home after another day on the hillIMG_1481A blue sky day and a Saturday!  We opted for North East Buttress on the Ben as it was rather busy. IMG_1490IMG_1523A couple of photos of Graham on the curtain – a quick morning blast on one of the nicest days of Jan.IMG_1524I can see my house from here.  Walking back to the car, its not every day it looks like this!IMG_1533I spent a day being observed/mentored by Mike Pescod from Abacus Mountain Guides and dragged Georgia along as my “client” for the day.  Georgia topping out of the first pitch of  “Shelf Route” on Buachille Etive MorIMG_1535Mike setting off up the crux pitch of Shelf Route.  The route was rather buried in loose snow making for a fairly wallowy day for Georgia, Myself and Mikes client Tommy.  I wonder what it was like for out in front>IMG_1540 Mike and Tommy heading for Crowberry towerIMG_1546Georgia high above the clouds in Glen Etive.  IMG_1554Mike and Tommy heading for home towards Coire an TuillachIMG_0611
Finally headed up to “Crypt Route” with Scott.  Things were looking pretty marginal for winter climbing when we got there with water pouring down the crag but the gamble had paid off with it being very wintery inside the buttress.  Above – Scott getting  to the first belay.  Below – Scott leading off into the depths of the buttress.IMG_0610 IMG_1568Ed leading up the first pitch of “Vanishing Gully”.  Ed, Craig and I headed in with a fairly poor forecast and were met with fairly poor conditions – what a surprise!
IMG_1570 Ed belaying outside while I hide in the cave.  If you have any beliefs that winter climbing is fun this day would have dispelled them (check out the water pouring from the icicles)IMG_1578 Trying to stay warm in the cave before the next pitch.IMG_1581 Beautiful but rather brittle water ice on the second pitch of VanishingIMG_3827 Its not often Scotland looks like this.  IMG_3830 Or this.  I drove over to the Bridge of Orchy hills to meet Bob for some winter skills practice – the drive over was absolutely stunning.IMG_3832 Bob practicing his “Stomper” belay below the cragsIMG_0614And finally – yesterday Scott and I headed up to the west face of Aonach Mor.  Couldnt resist getting a photo of a stuck VW T5 as we crusied past heading up the road to Nevis RangeIMG_3837Scott looking stoic approaching “Western Rib”IMG_3838 Beautiful views of Carn Mor DeargIMG_3851 Getting to the first belayIMG_3857Scott leading up one of the more technical pitches on Western Rib.  I really like the routes on this face of Aonach Mor – They dont look like much but are awesome fun for a long easy day out – and they have cable car access

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Putting the miles in.

October seems to have been a month of driving for me for work, play and generally getting things sorted out for next year.  I have actually done quite a bit of kayaking both on the rivers and sea but haven’t managed to take any photos as well as a great days canoyoneering but didnt actually to take any “wet” photos.Gruinardbaypan

Above – the stunning Gruinard bay from our campsite on a work climbing trip to Gairloch and Gruinard Bay.

Below – me belaying at the top of Raven Crag.  For easy multipitch routes this might be best crag I’ve been to in Scotland.  20 mins from the road, great views and good 3 pitch routes.IMG_1204IMG_1189 Sandy called my at the last minute to say he had a day to kill in Aviemore.  We headed to Creag Dubh to climb some of the classics.  Above – Sandy trying not to look scared on the traverse pitch of “Inbred”IMG_1211 There has even been some dry rock around Fort William in the last couple of weeks – Hannah and I nipped out for some fun on her birthday and soloed some classics including (above) the “Gutter”IMG_1224 Another day of work saw me on North Buttress of the Buachille.  More commonly used as a winter route this is a great summer scramble/easy route.  Especially with views like this!IMG_1228 While I was on North Buttress Calum headed to Agags Groove and Jamie to Curved ridge and the Crowberry Tower – Jamie above sisilhouetted on the top of the Crowberry tower.IMG_2803 Grabbing dry rock means getting to new areas.  At the start of the month Hannah and I headed to the East Coast to climb at Pass of Ballater and Logiehead.  Above – Hannah abseiling into the “star wall” area.  Which crack next?IMG_2809We also had Hannahs family come to visit for a weekend at the start of the month.  Hannah and Alice coming down the North face path of Ben Nevis.
IMG_2820 We even managed a quick trip over to Holland to see my sister and family.  We headed out to the island of Texel for a “Glamping” experience!  Above – the stove and kettle inside the “tent” and below – some fun on the go-karts.IMG_2883 IMG_2906Another shot of Gruinard Bay at the end of a days climbing at Jetty CragGolspie CragAnother hard day at work! – photo Calum Muskett

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Winter is Coming

It has felt like winter is coming for the last week of so (as well as being a great geek reference to the books I am reading just now!) but actually yesterday felt like Summer up in the Stob Coire an Lochain with Adrian and Laura.  The big August storms have started to roll in though with high winds and lots of rain making life more interesting.  I actually prefer the wild weather and can even admit to enjoying the days shortening toward winter though I may well tell a different story in a couple of months.  The last few weeks have involved some catching up with friends and family, the odd adventure and a whole lot of working out what happens at the end of the summer which is fast approaching.

I did some instructing rather than boat driving a few weeks ago and headed to the wonderful “Holy Isle” of the Garvellachs on expedition.  Snapped this classic shot of Columba’s Mothers grave above the monastry (one of the oldest in Scotland)

Still waters and a high tide outside the main house.

Lightning show to the east of us while the kids are out on the survival exersize

My parents and grandmother came to stay for a night and we did some exploring with Hannahs dad and relatives as well.  Here on the Summit of Lung.  (including my 86 year old Grandmother and 6 month year old Finn (the dog)!)

I have been planning this shot for a while but not planning enough!  forgot the tripod but still got this.  Looking North over the slate islands from the summit of the island.

Panoramic from the high point of Belnahua – one of the main slate islands.  

Yesterday Adrian and Laura and I climbed “Tilt” in Stob Coire an Lochain in Glen Coe – great fun if slightly damp – Above , Adrian leading the second pitch

Laura and Adrian about to top out of the last pitch

Topping out in the evening light.  Adrian and Laura with the Anoach Eagach behind.

Anoach Eagach.

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