Monthly Archives: April 2014

Scottish Wanderings

Distant walker on Bla Bheinn, Skye. Photo- Calum Muskett

Distant walker on Bla Bheinn, Skye. Photo- Calum Muskett

One of the great things about working as a freelance outdoor instructor is having the opportunity to travel and work right across the country. It’s true that this isn’t always a benefit of being self-employed, but more often than not, you get to know and work in some really nice areas in the UK that otherwise you might not visit.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been based on and around Skye in North-West Scotland working for a new Joint Services Adventure Training Centre. I was running a mountaineering course and couldn’t have been more fortunate with the venue and the weather. Having both the Cuillin’s and Glen Shiel within a short drive of the centre opened up so many great opportunities for hill walking and the mountains thereabouts are amongst the most spectacular in the country.

Impressive rock architecture on the Old Man of Storr. Photo- Calum Muskett

Impressive rock architecture on the Old Man of Storr. Photo- Calum Muskett


Remnants of a big winter on the Five Sisters of Kintail. Photo- Calum Muskett

Remnants of a big winter on the Five Sisters of Kintail. Photo- Calum Muskett

One of the best days out was going along the Cuillin Ridge from Sgurr na Eag to Sgurr Dearg with some fit Ghurka’s. We had fantastic weather and the more technical sections of the Cuillin such as the TD Gap were really enjoyed by the team as well as the more straightforward but exposed sections of ridgeline. I’ll have to return at some point in the future to complete the full Cuillin traverse but the section we completed was a very nice day excursion of the most technical section.

Camping in Glen Lichd. Photo- Calum Muskett

Camping in Glen Lichd. Photo- Calum Muskett


Looking back along the Cuillin Ridge. Photo- Calum Muskett

Looking back along the Cuillin Ridge. Photo- Calum Muskett

After finishing on Skye I met up with Dave Macleod for a couple of days of climbing. Dave had just finished work on his new bouldering and training wall in his garage which is now the best of its kind in the highlands so he was pretty keen to get out on real rock. Initial plans had been to climb on Skye but we were pushed further West to the Isle of Harris to avoid some wet weather. The last time I’d been on Harris was over ten years ago on a holiday I mainly remember for its rain! This time we only had a couple of days before the drizzle returned but still enough time to check out Creag Mo, a very impressive and underdeveloped mountain crag.

The damp approach to Creag Mo. Photo- Calum Muskett

The damp approach to Creag Mo. Photo- Calum Muskett

Although the approach to the crag isn’t through a swamp it certainly isn’t across dry land and leaving my walking boots behind on Skye was an error that Dave found particularly funny. The first couple of routes I tried to make ground up first ascents of were totally desperate and we soon got our top ropes down the best looking lines up a vertical wall of Gneiss, approximately hard E9 and E7. Both routes were to escape us that trip due to conditions but we did succeed in climbing some utterly fantastic new routes between E3 and 5, doubling the existing number of routes yet these are still only a drop in the ocean on this fantastic cliff. I’d love to return to Harris in the near future to get climbing again but at a 12 hour journey it’s just a little too far to make a shot trip to.

Dave checking out the projects on Creag Mo. Photo- Calum Muskett

Dave checking out the projects on Creag Mo. Photo- Calum Muskett

Gorge du Tarn

Springtime in Gorge du Tarn. Photo - Calum Muskett

Springtime in Gorge du Tarn. Photo – Calum Muskett

Gorge du Tarn, in the South of France is one of the most idyllic sport climbing areas in Europe. The gorge has a very relaxed atmosphere and it’s always possible to find shade in amongst the pine trees to escape the mid-day heat. The quantity of big, pocketed limestone walls and towers in the Gorge du Tarn and neighbouring Gorge du Jonte is impressive to say the least and the available rock isn’t grid bolted and polished like many other popular sport climbing areas. Friends had recommended this area to me several times before but I’d always previously opted for trips to northern Spain due to the convenience of flights and car hire. In retrospect I wish I’d done a little bit more research because flights to Rodez airport are cheap and it’s a relatively short journey from there to reach the Gorge du Tarn.

The holiday was a bit of a last minute one following an invitation to join the Neill family (Tim, Lou and Esme) but with seven free days I couldn’t resist a bit of guaranteed sunshine! On our first day we visited the awesome Tennessee sector and started to get used to the long stamina routes, quickly learning that climbing in the mid-day sun was a bad idea. This was a fantastic discovery as it allowed for us to have very lazy mornings worthy of a proper holiday!

Tim accompanied by the vultures in Gorge du Jonte. Photo - Calum Muskett

Tim accompanied by the vultures in Gorge du Jonte. Photo – Calum Muskett

The following day we visited the Gorge du Jonte, which is the neighbouring valley, for a multi pitch route I’d spotted in the guidebook. The route’s called ‘Histoire Deux Fous’ and looked like a fantastic proposition taking in the awe inspiring right arête of a big cliff with a crux pitch of 8a. Following a couple of interesting warm up pitches we were left with the main event. I’d heard that the bolts were a little spaced on this pitch but hadn’t thought much of it at the time. When I was up there with plenty of exposure to boot, my legs turned to jelly and climbing on these run out sections felt utterly gripping. I had to hang off a couple of bolts just to muster up the necessary will power for upward progress and finally got to the belay – a little bit hot and bothered! Although the climbing was pretty straightforward I wasn’t that psyched for red-pointing which is a shame as in retrospect I’d have loved to have finished the job off. It’s a great route though and well worth the attention of anyone visiting the area and in search of something a little more adventurous. There are great views of Vultures up on those cliffs too.

Leading the crux pitch of 'Histoire Deux Fous'. Photo - Tim Neill

Leading the crux pitch of ‘Histoire Deux Fous’. Photo – Tim Neill


Tim enjoying (?) the exposure on the crux. Photo - Calum Muskett

Tim enjoying (?) the exposure on the crux. Photo – Calum Muskett

For the rest of the trip we started heading out later and later, trying to allow as much time for our arms to recover as possible. By the seventh day on my arms weren’t much good for anything other than picking up pain au chocolat and a cola! We visited plenty of great crags climbing sport routes as long as 50m in length which was fun and quite unusual. There’s a huge amount of variety in the climbing too, from short and fingery routes to long overhanging pocketed walls. I’ll definitely be returning to this area in the not too distant future. Thanks for a great trip Tim and Lou!

Vulture. Photo - Calum Muskett

Vulture. Photo – Calum Muskett


Big Tim - too pumped to lift his arms up! Photo - Calum Muskett

Big Tim – too pumped to lift his arms up! Photo – Calum Muskett

Back into the Swing

Pumped out of my mind on 'Tonight at Noon' E6 6b! Photo - Rob Greenwood

Pumped out of my mind on ‘Tonight at Noon’ E6 6b! Photo – Rob Greenwood

The last month seems to have zoomed by. Following my time in Patagonia and then Scotland my climbing fitness had deteriorated considerably and when I got back home to Wales I was falling off routes I’d generally warm up on. My last five months have been very broken up with alpine trips and work and as a result the last month has been spent trying to get as much mileage in my arms as possible to get fit for some climbing trips I’ve got planned later in the year.

At the beginning of March an old friend returned to North Wales called Wiz Fineron. We’d been at secondary school together in North Wales six years earlier and he’d moved to New Zealand with his family. Wiz is a couple of years younger than me and I remembered him being an awesome climber back then despite the fact he was so small. After catching up over a Pete’s Eats breakfast we headed to the Great Orme where Wiz on-sighted everything he tried in damp conditions, following on with a bouldering session then a trip to the climbing wall. It was awesome to see how well he was climbing and really motivating.

Wiz Fineron climbing 'Curved Arete' E5 6b at Black Rocks. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz Fineron climbing ‘Curved Arete’ E5 6b at Black Rocks. Photo – Calum Muskett


Wiz making short work of the Quarryman Groove. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz making short work of the Quarryman Groove. Photo – Calum Muskett

We followed this with a couple of trips to the Peak District where I gently re-introduced Wiz to trad climbing by trying ‘Kaluza Klein’ ground up together. ‘Kaluza Klein’ is a short and sweet Johnny Dawes classic found at Robin Hoods Stride. We both took some fairly exciting falls before I stuck what I expected to be the finishing jug only to sketch around a little longer before topping out (see video below!). This was followed by a trip to Black Rocks where we climbed on the Velvet Silence block. We both managed to climb ‘Velvet Silence’ and ‘Jumping on a Beetle’, two of the best highball slabs I’ve ever climbed, and had a quick go at the desperately thin ‘Angels Share’ before deciding to leave it for another time (I woke up the following morning with sore glutes having fallen off so much!). Wiz and I are planning a European road trip in June which should be a great laugh!

Wiz mid-flight off Kaluza Klein. Photo - Owen Hughes

Wiz mid-flight off Kaluza Klein. Photo – Owen Hughes


I’ve also spent a bit of time on Llŷn Peninsula with visiting German climber Benno Wagner. Benno is very unusual for a European climber in that he revels in climbing on the loosest, scariest and most challenging rock in Britain. Combined with this is the fact that Benno is very strong and isn’t afraid of long run outs or massive falls. On our first visit of the year Benno went for the ground up repeat of an E7 of mine called ‘Discord’. After a few falls on the tricky crux section Benno continued through to the bold section above. Looking pumped he began to power scream between holds before reaching the sanctuary of the break.

Benno Wagner climbing 'Melody' E8 6b in atmospheric conditions! Photo - Calum Muskett

Benno Wagner climbing ‘Melody’ E8 6b in atmospheric conditions! Photo – Calum Muskett

Our next visit to Craig Dorys was on a horrendously windy day. We had a go at ‘Melody’, a bold Stevie Haston E8 which climbs up some appalling quality rock. Although the route felt pretty straightforward on a top rope I was happy to take the good excuse that it was raining and a force nine gale was coming into the crag. Obviously in Bavaria, this sort of weather is common place and Benno stepped up to the task and went for it anyway! On our next trip to Dorys, Benno dragged me to the foot of ‘Nightstalker’, an intimidating E8 roof, cruised it, and then took me to the ominously named Shale City to try ‘Ugly’ – the man needs therapy!

I also made a quick trip up to Scotland for some work on the three nicest days of the year. I went for a couple of evening skis and afterwards met up with Dave Macleod for a climb in the beautiful Glen Nevis. I can’t wait to get back up here in some warmer and dryer weather to go rock climbing. Right now though, I’m in France’s Gorge du Tarn enjoying the amazing climbing, warm weather and tasty food.

'Jahu' in Glen Nevis, a classic E6 frightener. Photo - Dave Macleod

‘Jahu’ in Glen Nevis, a classic E6 frightener. Photo – Dave Macleod


'Mammoth Direct' E6 a fantastic Gogarth testpiece. Photo - Tim Neil

‘Mammoth Direct’ E6 a fantastic Gogarth testpiece. Photo – Tim Neil


Big Tim Neil finding the line of least resistance on Main Cliff on the first ascent of 'Main Wall' E1 5b. Photo - Calum Muskett

Big Tim Neil finding the line of least resistance on Main Cliff on the first ascent of ‘Main Wall’ E1 5b. Photo – Calum Muskett