Jordan

One of Jordan's best known wonders - Petra. Photo - Calum Muskett

One of Jordan’s best known wonders – Petra. Photo – Calum Muskett

My first visit to Jordan was through a work trip for a project set up between the UIAA (International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation) and the Jordanian Tourism Board to run trekking and climbing leader courses to help create new, skilled job opportunities for the local Bedouin. This was to be the third series of courses of its type run in the country and the aim of them is to work on the successes that the UIAA’s mountain training scheme in Nepal has had. Accredited qualification streams set up to create safe working practices and build up the knowledge base and skills in country for the qualifications to become self-sufficient and no longer reliant on employing foreign instructors or guides. In the UK and much of Europe we have well developed and established qualification pathways that allow for skilled job opportunities in the outdoors as well as recognised ‘best practise’ which is not only of benefit to instructors, coaches and guides, but also to clients who will benefit from safer, more informative and more enjoyable days out. These are the skills we tried to impart with our friends in Jordan in the hope that some will come to enjoy working in the outdoors as much as we do.

Teaching ropework to the Bedouin. Photo - Calum Muskett

Teaching ropework to the Bedouin. Photo – Calum Muskett

I was very fortunate to travel around Jordan with Khaled from the tourist board as well as the Bedouin we were working with and between the work we managed to visit the alien landscape of the Dead Sea and Wadi Mujib, the high mountain oasis of the Dana Biosphere, old crusader country surrounding Shobak castle, little Petra and its spectacular bigger brother of Petra, before finally arriving in the desert of Wadi Rum in the far south of the country. What struck me almost immediately whilst travelling was how kind and welcoming the people of Jordan are, we were constantly being invited to share the Bedouin staple of sweet tea’s and being told stories by proud locals of the often-fascinating histories of their home areas.

Jordan is a wonderfully diverse country with respect to its landscape, culture and history. It was refreshing to come to a country where attitudes towards refugees, forced to leave troubled homelands, were far more sympathetic and respectful than our comparatively trivial “illegal immigrant” problem our mainstream media keep complaining about. Jordan’s economy has taken a huge hit since the fall-out of 2011’s Arab Spring. The tourism industry, which has historically contributed 20% of GDP, has crashed by over 50% amid fears of terrorism in the Middle East. This unfortunate Western stereotype couldn’t be more misplaced in what I have come to think of as an extremely safe and welcoming country – the biggest danger you are likely to encounter is that of the regular unmarked traffic bumps!

Guiding the spectacular 'Merlins Wand', the climax of the climbing leader course. Photo - Calum Muskett

Guiding the spectacular ‘Merlins Wand’, the climax of the climbing leader course. Photo – Calum Muskett

On the final day of the course we were running I guided the pair I was working with up the Wadi Rum classic ‘Merlin’s Wand’, one of the finest multi-pitch crack climbs in the world and a fitting climax to the week’s activities and learning. Whilst enjoying this spectacular route in Barrah Canyon my eye was drawn to a wall several hundred metres away to a stunning ramp and arête feature that looked barely climbable but one of the finest ‘lines’ I have ever seen. I had a wander over to its base, took a photograph and added the route to a long list of possible future projects – a sort of bucket list I have that never seems to diminish in size.

Steve Long enjoying the wonderful Wadi Rum classic 'La Guerre Sainte'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Steve Long enjoying the wonderful Wadi Rum classic ‘La Guerre Sainte’. Photo – Calum Muskett


The picture that inspired the return trip. Photo - Calum Muskett

The picture that inspired the return trip. Photo – Calum Muskett

On my return to the UK and thinking it would be difficult to convince anyone on a trip to go new routing in Jordan I was very surprised to find that Dan Mcmanus, after having a look at the project on my phone, was more enthusiastic to head out than myself and a plan was hatched to return in the slightly cooler weather of late November to avoid the summer heat of the desert.

In between Jordanian trips I had a busy schedule of work, a British mountain guide assessment and getting married, none of which necessarily contribute to a high level of climbing fitness! Despite this, in the couple of weeks leading up to the trip I hit some form on the local sandstone outcrop of Nesscliffe and had a successful day out which culminated in flashing ‘My Piano’, a technical, bold and superb E8. Finally beginning to feel fit I of course managed to crash whilst downhill mountain biking a couple of days before heading out to Jordan, spraining my AC joint in my shoulder, this was approximately a year after a similar injury was incurred white water kayaking – I should really stick to climbing…

On the way to flashing 'My Piano' at Nesscliffe. Photo - Tim Neill

On the way to flashing ‘My Piano’ at Nesscliffe. Photo – Tim Neill


Downhill biking - so fun but the landings are unfortunately very hard...

Downhill biking – so fun but the landings are unfortunately very hard…

Arriving back in the desert eight months later we headed to Barrah Canyon immediately to try and discover just how possible our project would be. The obvious difficulty of the project as well as the complete lack of traditional protection meant that ground up new routing was realistically out of the window, especially considering that placing expansion bolts in this soft rock would be next to worthless and the only sustainable bolting solution was placing resin bolts.

A question of ethics

The climbing in Wadi Rum has historically been traditional climbing, where adventure is at the heart of the journey and this style and ethic has been nurtured and developed by pioneering climbers such as Tony Howard, author of the areas climbing guidebook. Many fine trad climbs exist in the area and there are still more to be developed, mostly outside of the honeypot areas. Whilst there are many fine climbs that can be traditionally protected, the majority of unclimbed rock faces in the area are featureless slabs, walls and overhangs where there is little, or no, traditional protection to be found. Some may argue that these faces are best left unclimbed if they cannot be protected by removable gear but I find that I will have to interject when people say they should be left for the future; I don’t believe there will ever be climbers capable, or perhaps more precisely willing, to solo fragile sandstone slabs and walls of a standard of 8a or above.

Not climbing these walls due to a ‘no bolts’ policy massively restricts the potential of future development in Wadi Rum and I believe a happy equilibrium can be continued, like it has these past 15 years, where sport routes and trad routes can exist in equal measure. From what we found the locals gave little thought to the petty climbing ethics that as a wider community we share. In few other areas that I have visited has climbing felt like such a selfish and strange pursuit, where reflection and introspection left me with more questions than answers about what it is that I do. At the same time, that isn’t an excuse for a carte blanche to do whatever you want, ethics, albeit in such a unique activity as climbing, make us human and add immense value and meaning to the climbing community, one of a plethora of reasons that climbing is more of a lifelong activity than many other sporting pursuits.

Camp in Barrah Canyon. Photo - Calum Muskett

Camp in Barrah Canyon. Photo – Calum Muskett


Scoping out new route potential. Photo - Calum Muskett

Scoping out new route potential. Photo – Calum Muskett


Dan jumaring back up after discovering no holds! Photo - Calum Muskett

Dan jumaring back up after discovering no holds! Photo – Calum Muskett

After scoping out the line from below we made a beeline for the top of the cliff via another route and spent our time abseiling down and working out just how possible it would be climb back up. The majority of the climbing looked feasible, albeit at a high technical standard, but we were somewhat dismayed to find that there were three very short sections of very thin climbing and although it may have been possible to climb by somebody, it certainly wasn’t for us. Our plan B was a bit of an afterthought, a quick inspection of the impressive but blank looking wall to the right to see if we could find any features up close. We were pleasantly surprised to find a ‘just’ possible line up the wall featuring extremely thin slab and wall climbing on excellent quality sandstone and immediately knew that we’d found our project.

After a few days of touring the country with my wife Gabby and Dan’s girlfriend Kim we were back in the desert and re-energised for an attempt at the route. The first pitch is the shortest and easiest by far, but still a pleasant 7a+ warm up for the main events to come. I set off on the second pitch feeling reasonably confident but slightly nervous since it was the first time I’d been on the sharp end on anything harder than 6a for a couple of weeks. We anticipated this to be the crux pitch with around 50m of thin slab and wall climbing of around 8a in difficulty. I shook my way through the crux and, thinking I had the pitch in the bag, managed to fall off at the end of the longest run believing that my hopes were dashed for the day. After lowering back down Dan managed a smooth lead and I seconded the pitch cleanly to set us up for the next pitch.

The final two pitches are about 45m and 55m in length with some hefty run outs between the bolts as we began to grow short of them. Although I’d had a quick play on the moves on both pitches I wasn’t very well prepared for leading them but thought I’d get cracking anyway. The third pitch is an immaculate wall climb with amazing ‘biscuit’ like flakes sticking out of the wall. Nearing the end of the pitch my forearms were really beginning to burn and I had to grunt my way up to the belay to what I thought was the end of all the hard climbing – how wrong was I to be.

Climbing the crux pitch of 'Yalla Shabab'. Photo - Gabby Muskett

Climbing the crux pitch of ‘Yalla Shabab’. Photo – Gabby Muskett


The spectacular and improbable third 7c+ pitch. Photo - Gabby Muskett

The spectacular and improbable third 7c+ pitch. Photo – Gabby Muskett

The final pitch has some of the longest run out sections on it but also seemed like it would be relatively easy on abseil so I told Dan that he should be able to scamper up it in no time. Unfortunately, my prediction couldn’t have been more wrong and the tricky climbing mixed in with the long run outs left Dan cursing me for sandbagging him. I ended up taking over the lead and was surprised to find this pitch a real sting in the tail at a bold 7b+, an excellent finale but not quite the finishing romp we’d anticipated!

We’ve ended up calling the route ‘Yalla Shabab’, an Arabic phrase that was used repeatedly on the training courses I ran which translates roughly as ‘Let’s go!’ We hope others get the opportunity to enjoy the route just as much as we did in the future and would highly recommend the climbing of Wadi Rum to anybody who likes a bit of adventure, or indeed mixing up climbing and culture.

Yalla Shabab topo

Yalla Shabab topo

A Mixed Few Months

It’s been quite a while since I last posted a blog (in fact, it’s been half a year!) and the reason for that is mostly down to not prioritising writing time rather than being completely inactive. My last post was about climbing in Norway last August which is when I first picked up a shoulder injury, likely a Slap tear, which has been plaguing me over the last few months. It’s had quite a big effect on my climbing and has led to spending some rest and recuperation time away from climbing. At its worst it’s painful and awkward putting a jumper on and at its best it doesn’t really affect my climbing and only feels sore. Because of this I thought I’d start doing a less shoulder intensive activity for a while – white water kayaking!

Unfortunately, as you may have suspected, I soon discovered that river kayaking wasn’t that great for my shoulder either. About one month into my paddling renaissance I capsized in some boisterous rapids and nearly tore my shoulder off rolling back up – this almost certainly put my shoulder recovery back by a couple of months! Despite that and considering that Wales had the wettest Autumn and Winter that I can remember, taking up river kayaking was a great excuse to get outdoors where I’d otherwise almost certainly be drinking tea and eating cake in front of the fire at home.

Wales has some classic white water kayaking and part of my reason for getting out again was to paddle two stretches of river that had evaded me when I was into paddling years ago. These were the Aberglaslyn Gorge below Beddgelert and the Afon Ogwen, which runs through my home town of Bethesda; two classic stretches of Welsh river paddling.

It’s pretty interesting coming at kayaking with plenty of climbing experience. Climbing is perceived as a risky activity and trying to put the same risk management/fear control in place paddling white water just hasn’t worked very well for me. It seems that kayaking, like downhill biking or steep skiing, is about commitment and knowing your limitations; little skill is required to land yourself in a whole heap of trouble and if you’re not up to the job then your fate is in the lap of the Gods! Climbing does of course have similarities but you do need some level of competency to get started, you have a lot more time to try and get yourself out of trouble and you have a rope to save your skin if all else fails. On top of that I guess my regular exposure to height and plenty of lead falls have expanded my comfort zone in climbing, whilst with kayaking I have an extreme fear of being stuck upside down in my boat! I find kayaking truly gripping!

Well outside of my comfort zone, mid-way down Ogwen Bank Falls above Bethesda. Photo - Gabby Lees

Well outside of my comfort zone, mid-way down Ogwen Bank Falls above Bethesda. Photo – Gabby Lees

My first bit of river paddling after a six-year hiatus was the Abberglaslyn Gorge, a sustained class 4 rapid descending swiftly from the quaint tourist village of Beddgelert. This was to be my hardest river to date and I was fortunate (?) to be with two particularly good paddlers who could keep me safe(ish). By some miracle I got to the end of the gorge in one piece having rolled only once at the very end (which was a fluke as I’d not rolled in six years!). Buzzing with adrenalin the guys got me psyched for a second run where I promptly capsized at the top of the rapids, failed to roll, and took a hideous swim down the river losing one of my favourite crocs along with most of my dignity!

Quite severely put off, but also strangely encouraged, I got a bit more paddling behind me and finally plucked up the courage to paddle the Ogwen, which was both terrifying and incredible. Although it’s not a river that I’ll be paddling all too regularly, due to me being rubbish at kayaking and a scaredy cat, it truly is one of the wildest outdoor experiences that North Wales has to offer and an amazing gem to have on the doorstep. Shortly after this I crocked my shoulder again, so kayaking play has been put on hold.

In the meantime, I have also begun the British Mountain Guide scheme with a great bunch of guys (where are the girls? It’s a bit of a sausage fest!) and along with the rest of the team, have passed the summer climbing, Scottish winter climbing and ski induction, which now makes me a trainee guide. I also passed my Mountain Instructor Certificate (MIC) at Glenmore Lodge which will open up some fantastic opportunities for work next winter in Scotland.

Making the first ascent of 'Ginger Ninja' E7 6c on Craig y Clipiau. Photo - Adam Booth

Making the first ascent of ‘Ginger Ninja’ E7 6c on Craig y Clipiau. Photo – Adam Booth

Amongst this, I’ve been out rock climbing, the highlight being a cracking new route, if I say so myself, on Craig y Clipiau in the Moelwyns, which I dubbed the ‘Ginger Ninja’ E7 6c, the neighbouring route being the ‘Crimson Cruiser’. Work and a bad shoulder has got in the way of climbing since the New Year and my first winter route of the season was the Welsh test-piece ‘Cracking Up’ IX 9 on Clogwyn Du – a route that I have wanted to climb for a long time. I foolishly thought that I wouldn’t get that pumped hanging off jug handles and my four days of climbing wall sessions leading up to trying ‘Cracking Up’ hadn’t been the best preparation. After a big tussle with the initial steep crack I was eyeing up the resting niche and victory only to be stumped by no hook placements in the rounded crack above me. I hung on as long as my puny arms could manage before finally slumping on the gear above my head; unfortunately, I’d missed out on a bomber choc-stone in the back of the crack below where I’d been reaching with my axes, I’m sure I’m not the only one to have made that mistake though.

Embracing the steep mixed climbing of 'Cracking up' IX 9 on Clogwyn Du. Photo - Steve Long

Embracing the steep mixed climbing of ‘Cracking up’ IX 9 on Clogwyn Du. Photo – Steve Long

Corsica

Punta d'u Corbu in Corsica, home to some of the best granite climbing in the world. Photo - Calum Muskett

Punta d’u Corbu in Corsica, home to some of the best granite climbing in the world. Photo – Calum Muskett

Back in November I booked a climbing trip to Corsica with Shropshire’s fifth strongest climber Ed Booth. Ed’s been going from strength to strength in recent years, probably due to his state funded climbing career as a fireman. I was hoping that his recent marriage might have slowed him down, but there was no such luck on this front. We were heading to Corsica to pursue my ambition of failing on all of the hardest multi-pitch routes in Europe, I can now proudly add ‘Delicatessen’ to that list!

We arrived in Corsica on the 9th of March with a week-long trip planned to sample Corsican climbing. I’d walked the incredible GR20 trail with my parents when I was thirteen and remembered the amazing granite rock architecture and my memories didn’t disappoint us. Our first route was ‘Jeef’ a 7b multi-pitch of some renown. The climbing was incredible with perfect quality granite and funky featured rock. Unfortunately climbing ‘Jeef’ was also the coldest rock climbing experience I’ve ever had – I thought rock climbing in the Mediterranean would be a little warmer in March!

Ed Booth enjoying the funky rock of 'Jeef' 7b on a very cold day. Photo - Calum Muskett

Ed Booth enjoying the funky rock of ‘Jeef’ 7b on a very cold day. Photo – Calum Muskett

The main event of the trip was our attempt of ‘Delicatessen’, a multi-pitch 8b first climbed by Arnaud Petit and rumoured to be one of the very best routes of its grade in the world. Our first impressions were very positive. Amazing technical climbing on perfect rock, well bolted and in an amazing setting. The crux first pitch of 8b could be split into two sections: a strenuous lower wall which is about 8a in difficulty, followed by a 7c slab which is all too easy to fall off after the climbing below. We quickly started to piece the route together and were fairly confident of success.

It snowed the following couple of days which rather put a dampener on our climbing aspirations and it was freezing cold when we finally got back on the route. I managed to wrench my shoulder, inflaming my old injury on the powerful lay back moves at the bottom of the pitch and took some time figuring out a way to chimney past the hard section, whilst Ed went full charge and managed to red-point the pitch.

The snow arriving in Bavella... Photo - Calum Muskett

The snow arriving in Bavella… Photo – Calum Muskett

After another rest day, spent mostly looking at the thin skin on our fingertips and willing it to grow back, we had our final day on the island before catching the ferry back to the mainland. We knew that we didn’t have enough time to finish off ‘Delicatessen’ in full, but it was a good opportunity for me to try and red-point the crux pitch and I was fortunate enough to pull the lead out of the bag first thing in the morning. It was a shame to leave the route uncompleted, as I suspect climbing the rest of ‘Delicatessen’ wouldn’t have felt too difficult over the course of a day, but it was also great to have salvaged something from a trip that we nearly called off after viewing the weather forecast. The Corsican multi-pitch we sampled was brilliant and I’d thoroughly recommend it to any climber operating from 6a upwards. It has the best granite I have ever climbed on and its location, in the spectacular Bavella region of Corsica, is second to none. I’m sure I’ll be back in the not too distant future, but most likely at a warmer time of year!

Ed Booth seconding the final tricky slab of the crux pitch of 'Delicatessen' 8b. Photo - Calum Muskett

Ed Booth seconding the final tricky slab of the crux pitch of ‘Delicatessen’ 8b. Photo – Calum Muskett

Blåmman

Sunrise or sunset in Kvaløya? Photo - Calum Muskett

Sunrise or sunset in Kvaløya? Photo – Calum Muskett

Blåmman is the highest mountain on Kvaløya, a rugged isle north of the small Norwegian city of Tromso inside the Arctic Circle. During the summer months Kvaløya seems beyond the reach of time in its normal sense; the amber midnight sky uncertain as to whether the sun is setting or rising. Camped up in the mountains with no battery left on my mobile and no way to ascertain the time meant that life had a simplicity to it outside of the ordinary. You woke up when you were no longer tired, ate when you were hungry and climbed whenever the weather would allow it.

I was in Norway with Jacob Cook and Dave Macleod who had already been in the mountains for a week by the time I arrived. When I turned up at the camp spot after an easy hitchhike from the airport and a load carry up the hillside, I came across their tents in the clearing mist with Jacob stumbling out of his tent for the first time that day despite it being the afternoon. Dave and Jacob had been aid climbing the wall and setting up fixed ropes in order to work the crux pitches over the previous week. The weather sounded like it had been terrible though and their body clocks were inverted after climbing through late nights and early mornings to make the best use of their time.

Our scenic camp spot beneath the north wall of Blåmman. Photo - Calum Muskett

Our scenic camp spot beneath the north wall of Blåmman. Photo – Calum Muskett

We were here to attempt the first free ascent of ‘Disco 2000’, a 400m A2+ climbing the steepest section of the north face of Blåmman. This was Dave’s second visit to the area after making the first free ascent of the neighbouring climb ‘Bongo Bar’ at 8a four years previously and Dave had the impression that this route would make an amazing free climb.

The climbing on the north face of Blåmman and the surrounding area are beginning to become better known to climbers outside of Scandinavia now, and I’m sure in future, the area will become a world class destination for climbers in search of either adventurous winter mountaineering in the Lyngen Alps and Senja or for the fantastic multi pitch granite rock climbing on the weathered granite of Kvaløya. The north face of Blåmman itself is one of the finest granite walls of its size that I’ve climbed on in Europe and without many of the logistical hurdles that the alpine granite throws at you in the central Alps. It’s about a one and a half hour walk from the road and the free climbing starts at around 7b+ in difficulty with lots of potential for new routes and first free ascents of aid lines in the future.

‘Disco 2000’ starts up what was the hardest existing big wall in northern Europe ‘Arctandria’, which was first free climbed in 2005 by Didier Berthod and Giovanni Quircci. After the first couple of pitches of ‘Arctandria’, including its second crux corner pitch, our line made a roof traverse to the left to arrive at the crux pitch which Dave managed to free dubbing it “the changing roof’s pitch” at 8a+. The following pitch tackles an incredible and often wet roof crack – fortunately you can chimney and bridge up most of it, but the final few moves on wet finger locks are tough before a long reach to a gloriously positioned jug on the lip brings you within reach of the belay.

Jacob Cook tackling the crux pitch of 'Arctandria'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Jacob Cook tackling the crux pitch of ‘Arctandria’. Photo – Calum Muskett


Dave free'ing the crux pitch of 'Disco 2000', an amazingly varied pitch. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dave free’ing the crux pitch of ‘Disco 2000’, an amazingly varied pitch. Photo – Calum Muskett


Dave casually chalking up on the lip of the roof of the 'Kalk & Gummi' pitch. Video still - Jacob Cook

Dave casually chalking up on the lip of the roof of the ‘Kalk & Gummi’ pitch. Video still – Jacob Cook

From here we had hopes that the climbing would be significantly easier but the wall had different ideas. After the next pitch spat me off on multiple occasions Jacob took over and after several attempts managed to figure out a sequence through the undercut crack to reach the next belay. Jacob had a sheepish grin on his face for the next pitch which he knew had a big dyno on it. I got into position above to take some video footage and on his third attempt, after taking considerable air time on his first couple, he stuck the hold and continued up to the belay. Unfortunately Dave found an easier way around this dyno and Jacob looked like he was pretty keen to take his peg hammer to the small crimps Dave had found!

Putting in some effort on the not so easy upper pitches of 'Disco 2000'. Photo - Dave Macleod

Putting in some effort on the not so easy upper pitches of ‘Disco 2000’. Photo – Dave Macleod


It was around midnight by the time we got to the top of pitch 7 and the climbing did look significantly easier above. Unfortunately we could see the weather moving in and free climbing the rest of the route seemed to be hanging in the balance. I decided to head down at this point to increase Dave and Jacob’s chances of beating the rain as they’d freed a lot more of the route than I had. Several hours after my descent the heavy beat of rain began drumming against the tent fabric and with no sign of Dave or Jacob I feared they’d been caught out just beneath the top. When they re-appeared at 4 or 5 in the morning they were soaked through but looked happy – they’d manage to free the rest of the pitches and ‘Disco 2000’ went free! The pitch grades are as follows: 7b, 8a+, 6c+, 8a+, 7c, 7c, 7b+, 7a, 6b, 6b+, 6c, 5+ Unfortunately, the weather and the amount of time we had out here weren’t conducive to a one day free ascent, so that challenge remains for future ascentionists. If you like your granite climbing and are in search of a different climbing destination for next summer then I would strongly recommend Kvaløya and its endless daylight. Flights to Tromso are reasonably priced and the locals are very helpful and friendly, all of which provide the perfect ingredients for a great holiday destination.

View from the wall at midnight. Photo - Calum Muskett

View from the wall at midnight. Photo – Calum Muskett

Summer Climbing

After work climbing at Reiff, one of the finest crags in the North-West of Scotland. Photo - Andy Moles

After work climbing at Reiff, one of the finest crags in the North-West of Scotland. Photo – Andy Moles

It’s difficult to draw much of a coherent blog post out of the last couple of months as they’ve been full of travel, work and climbing. My poor Citroen C1 has been running me to opposite ends of the country on regular intervals but still seems to be going strong despite the length of time it has spent on the M6. I’ve been working in Inverness for quite a few weeks this year and in the evenings have been getting out and experiencing some of the local climbing for the first time. ‘Local’ is a term I’d use quite loosely as you do need to drive about 30 minutes to get to the nearest crag and over an hour for many of the better venues but there is some great climbing to be found with the likes of the Camel, Moy and Duntelchaig being a relatively short drive after work. It’s not exactly North Wales convenience climbing, but good if you’re still motivated to get out after work.

The best of the bunch is Creag Dubh near Newtonmore. This crag is unhelpfully referred to as Creag Death by many of the locals which seems to scare most climbers away despite the quality of climbing there. Creag Dubh has to be one of Scotland’s best roadside crags; it has fantastic climbing and doesn’t seem to be too bold despite its reputation. You have got to be keen to climb at Creag Dubh when you finish work at 5 in Inverness but it always feels worthwhile in retrospect.

Ross Creber attempting the desperate 'Meejies' at Creag Dubh just before he realised the "bomber" gear doesn't exist! Photo - Calum Muskett

Ross Creber attempting the desperate ‘Meejies’ at Creag Dubh just before he realised the “bomber” gear doesn’t exist! Photo – Calum Muskett

Sam was looking fairly sceptical on our first visit as I promised him the rain would stop by the time we got to Newtonmore and he must have been cursing my optimism as we walked up to the crag in the drizzle but miraculously the Sprawl Wall was just about steep enough to stay dry in the rain. I started up Cubby’s tricky E7 wall climb ‘Yes Yes’ in a light drizzle, convinced it would soon stop raining, and by the time I’d clipped the bendy peg having done the crux it started to absolutely chuck it down – enough for my chalk bag to start filling with water! With a final long 5c move to the ledge I was unsure whether I would be able to top out into what was now a mini waterfall and rather than risk falling onto the tatty peg I decided to run away and descend in more control. I returned a couple of days later with Ross to finish it off in much better conditions and we followed this up with an ascent of ‘The Meejies’ which is by far the hardest E5 I’ve climbed in Scotland and nearly as tough as ‘Yes Yes’!

One of the highpoints of working up there was also taking my army group up the Old Man of Stoer. It can be surprisingly unusual to get a highly motivated group of squaddies on foundation courses, sometimes it feels like you’re going through the motions a bit with teaching but when you do get a good group for ten days you can achieve some really memorable things. None of the five guys had done much more than an abseil before coming on the course and to finish off with all five getting up the Old Man of Stoer was a fantastic achievement – especially considering it was a fairly cold day.

Old Man of Stoer. Photo - Calum Muskett

Old Man of Stoer. Photo – Calum Muskett


Half way up the Old Man of Stoer as the exposure begins to creep in. Photo - Calum Muskett

Half way up the Old Man of Stoer as the exposure begins to creep in. Photo – Calum Muskett

More recently I also enjoyed a nice short holiday in Scotland with Gabby around Skye and Glencoe. It was Gabby’s first time in both areas and despite low expectations with the weather we had a really good time scrambling around the Cuillin and climbing on the Etive Slabs. I managed to make what was probably the second ascent of Dave Macleod’s ‘The Gathering’ on the spectacular Cioch in Coire Laggan. This spectacular route is an out and out classic, perhaps more E7 than E8 but with delicate, technical and exposed climbing. The Gabbro is unbelievably rough though and with the high humidity that day I was lucky to have enough skin left on my fingers to repeat the route before we continued up Sgurr Alasdair and along the ridge itself.

Gabby enjoying Cioch West. Photo - Calum Muskett

Gabby enjoying Cioch West. Photo – Calum Muskett


The amazing 'Gathering' on the Cioch. Photo - Gabby Lees

The amazing ‘Gathering’ on the Cioch. Photo – Gabby Lees

I also caught up with Dave Macleod and we spent one afternoon repeating the decidedly bold ‘Death Pirate’ E6/7 6b at Neist Point in cold and windy weather. An amazing arête which was only disappointing due to me dropping a rock shoe 100m into the Atlantic from the top.

'Death Pirate' on Neist Point. Photo - Calum Muskett

‘Death Pirate’ on Neist Point. Photo – Calum Muskett

In June I headed to the Alps with Emma Twyford on a Rab photoshoot. Emma took to the granite climbing surprisingly well and after her first day was already looking strong on the technical routes around the Cosmiques Arete. Our aim had been to attempt the ‘Voie Petit’ but this turned out to be logistically challenging proposition with a camera crew and not too much time, so after climbing up to the crux pitch we changed plans and the ‘Voie Petit’ will have to wait for another year.

Morning view from the tent beneath the Grand Capucin. Photo - Calum Muskett

Morning view from the tent beneath the Grand Capucin. Photo – Calum Muskett


'Cosmiques Arete' 8a+ on the Arete des Cosmiques. Photo - Calum Muskett

‘Cosmiques Arete’ 8a+ on the Arete des Cosmiques. Photo – Calum Muskett


Climbers on the 'Bonatti-Tabou' on the Chandelle du Tacul. Photo - Calum Muskett

Climbers on the ‘Bonatti-Tabou’ on the Chandelle du Tacul. Photo – Calum Muskett


Emma Twyford enjoying the 'Bonatti-Tabou' on the Chandelle du Tacul. Photo - Calum Muskett

Emma Twyford enjoying the ‘Bonatti-Tabou’ on the Chandelle du Tacul. Photo – Calum Muskett

Back home I’ve been enjoying some time off and trying to make the most of any opportunities to get out climbing. I’ve been climbing some of the more esoteric routes that North Wales has to offer and also climbed a couple of new routes. The first of which was a three pitch new route on the slate which I first attempted with Mark Dicken and Steve Long. The first couple of pitches are adventurous but ‘so so’ in quality with climbing up to about E4. The final pitch looked deceptively easy through a roof with good holds.

As is often the way with on-sight new routing I had a hard time on this easy looking pitch! I committed to a gently leaning groove that turned out to be off-balance, tricky and very run-out, to get to a good rest before the roof. Above I could reach some good holds and see a good wire placement but placing the gear was extremely difficult and after a while I decided to leave the route for a cooler day. Returning the following evening with Gabby, I abseiled down the pitch to see what size of wire would fit the slot and climbed it next go at E7 6b. It’s called ‘Burning Bush’ and around 7a+/b in a wild position at the top of Twll Mawr.

'Burning Bush' first ascent in Twll Mawr. Photo - Steve Long

‘Burning Bush’ first ascent in Twll Mawr. Photo – Steve Long

Finally I also got round to climbing a new route/link up on Clogwyn y Tarw that I’d noticed ages ago. This links the start of an E2 called ‘Trouble with Lichen’ into the top arête of ‘Rare Lichen’ to produce a nice soft touch E8 link without the bold crux of Rare Lichen. The gear is pretty good and the new section of climbing is relatively easy but does have a nice ramp leading to the brilliant upper arête. I think it should be a relatively popular route for the grade as it’s fast drying, safe(ish) and has a short approach – time will tell! It’s called ‘Day of the Triffids’ in keeping with the John Wyndham book ‘Trouble with Lichen’ that it starts up.

James Taylor making the second ascent of 'Day of the Triffids' E8 on Clogwyn y Tarw. Photo - Calum Muskett

James Taylor making the second ascent of ‘Day of the Triffids’ E8 on Clogwyn y Tarw. Photo – Calum Muskett

Planning for the Future

Ally Swinton heading along the ridge from the summit of Castor in the Pennine Alps. Photo - Calum Muskett

Ally Swinton heading along the ridge from the summit of Castor in the Pennine Alps. Photo – Calum Muskett

It’s been a long time since I last posted on my blog, mainly because I’ve had very little of interest to write about. The last few months in particular have been taken up with work and getting my life in order. It’s been frustrating at times with much less free time than I’ve become accustomed to but I can now see that I’m nearing the end of this road and my time is beginning to become my own again. That said, I’ve had some great work following Christmas; multiple weeks based in Scotland running winter mountaineering courses on the East and West coast with evenings spent ski touring by head torch. I’ve been giving quite a few lectures for a mixture of audiences and alongside my good friend Steve Long we ran this year’s BMC Alpine Lecture series across England and Wales – these were skills based lectures but with an emphasis on them being inspirational as well as informative.

Gabby and I also survived a winter in the smallest cottage in Nant Peris without suffering from frostbite or hypothermia and we’re now buying our first house together in the comparatively Mediterranean town of Bethesda – this house even has insulation and running hot water so a bit of a step up in quality for us! More recently I’ve also been completing the final pre-requisites for my application to the British Mountain Guide scheme. Before last month I’d been accumulating my pre-requisites purely through going climbing and skiing on my own terms, but with only a few boxes left to fill in the application form I’ve taken a more targeted approach so that I can submit the form for this year’s deadline. This has meant a lot of ski touring and a very productive last month in the Alps.

Jamie ploughing through deep powder whilst navigating on a compass. Photo - Calum Muskett

Jamie ploughing through deep powder whilst navigating on a compass. Photo – Calum Muskett

Jamie and I arrived in the Alps to a sub-optimal weather forecast and after some deliberation decided to head ski touring south of Switzerland’s Rhone Valley on the Tour de Soleil. Unfortunately its name didn’t live up to the weather we skied into. On the second day of the tour our visibility was down to zero and we were skiing on compass bearings. On the third day not only was there no visibility but there was also a very high avalanche hazard on all aspects after nearly a metre of fresh snow. The avalanche hazard was so high that we couldn’t even ski down into the Rhone valley and instead had to descend via the opposite side of the mountain range leaving us with a very long commute back to the car via a bus journey and two trains!

Two small skiers in the amazing landscape of the Gran Paradiso National Park. Photo - Calum Muskett

Two small skiers in the amazing landscape of the Gran Paradiso National Park. Photo – Calum Muskett


The summit of Gran Paradiso

The summit of Gran Paradiso

After a fairly unsuccessful first tour we scanned the forecasts in search of the best weather in the Alps and the only area not being buried under inches of snow was the Gran Paradiso National Park in Italy. We spent six days skiing across the range from East to West starting from Valnontey and finishing in Valgrisenche. The highlights included a fantastic day heading up to the summit of Gran Paradiso itself as well as an incredible powder day as we descended to Valgrisenche. This was also one of the low points as when Jamie and I reached the final col ahead of all the other teams we were greeted by several teams of heli skiers who had just beaten us to the first tracks – we were well jel! I couldn’t recommend this ski tour enough and it was great to visit an area that otherwise I’d have been unlikely to explore.

Heading up Mont Blanc via the Gouter route. Photo - Calum Muskett

Heading up Mont Blanc via the Gouter route. Photo – Calum Muskett


Gabby skinning up Mont Blanc with Aiguille du Midi in the background. Photo - Calum Muskett

Gabby skinning up Mont Blanc with Aiguille du Midi in the background. Photo – Calum Muskett

Gabby took a week off work to join me out in the Alps and we did loads of ski touring together. Skiing with Gabby always reminds me of just how poor my technique is as she hurtles down past me on a pair of toy skimo racing skis. Fortunately I was well acclimatized though which brought our relative standards a little closer together. We had an aborted attempt to ski Mont Blanc where we got a few hundred metres above the Vallot hut before turning round due to strong cold winds. We then headed to the Pennine Alps with Ally Swinton. It was my second visit to the area but the first time I’ve had an explore of the hills and it’s a truly phenomenal mountain range. Our first day included the popular and possibly/definitely easiest 4000m peak in Europe the Breithorn with only a short climb up from the ski lift. From there we traversed round beyond Castor and Pollux via a very high level route. Unfortunately after a few days the weather started to move in and I began to suffer from a cold which had a pretty stark effect on me at this altitude!

Gabby skiing down the Breithorn. Photo - Calum Muskett

Gabby skiing down the Breithorn. Photo – Calum Muskett


Skiing in the Pennine Alps. Photo - Calum Muskett

Skiing in the Pennine Alps. Photo – Calum Muskett

After all that ski touring I’d finally managed to complete my hut to hut touring days for my guides application and had a few final days left to go climbing. I’d had one rather unfortunate attempt at climbing earlier that trip. Jamie and I skied the Vallee Blanche to the foot of the famous Supercouloir on Mont Blanc du Tacul. As we were climbing the foot of the first pitch we heard a scream and looked upwards to see an airborne climber spiralling off the first pitch, inverting and taking a very nasty fall. When he finally came to a stop he was upside down, unconscious and had blood leaking out of his helmet onto the ice beneath him. I headed up to help his partner out and we got a small ledge kicked out in the snow slope for the casualty who slowly regained consciousness. There wasn’t a huge amount we could do after that except wait for the chopper to come and pull him off the mountain. I hope he has a speedy recovery!

My next stop was for an ascent of the north face of the Eiger with Jerry Gore. Jerry is quite possibly the most (over!)enthusiastic climber you’ll ever meet. He’s in his mid fifties, is an ex-Royal Marine and a type 1-diabetic. The great thing about Jerry is that he doesn’t let diabetes get the better of him and lives a very full and dynamic life that would be the envy of many fit men (or women) in their twenties or thirties. He’s also extremely passionate about raising money for ‘Insulin for Life’, a charity that supports diabetes sufferers in third world countries who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the medicine they need to live. Jerry wanted to climb the Eiger for this charity as fast as he possibly could to help raise money for this charity – you can donate directly via this link.

Our first one day attempt ended in disaster. As we reached the first technical pitch of the face, the ‘Difficult Crack’ we got stuck in a queue of four teams. We spent two hours waiting for two particularly incompetent parties to climb this pitch and knowing we wouldn’t be able to overtake them for a couple more hours decided to head down for another go the following day. I’m not often critical of other climber’s decisions but it seems to be a more and more common phenomena to see alpinists trying to climb routes that are far outside their experience and ‘stretch’ zone. Famous and popular routes such as this seem to draw any alpinist with a Facebook account to them and I think people forget just how serious these things are. Without being melodramatic, inexperienced climbers can die on these routes and the rescue helicopter isn’t a taxi service. It goes without saying that a couple of hours after we’d descended from the face we noticed that both these teams were helicoptered off the face!

Climbers on the second ice field. Photo - Calum Muskett

Climbers on the second ice field. Photo – Calum Muskett

The following day the ascent went a lot more smoothly almost uninterrupted by other climbers due to an earlier start. The climb is a masterpiece in route finding with some tricky climbing in places. If it wasn’t for all its fixed protection I think it would receive a great deal fewer ascents, something to bear in mind when you consider it was first climbed in 1938. As I got back down to the station I received a text from Ally Swinton asking if I wanted to head up to the Dru the following day, instinctively I replied in the affirmative not really considering how impractical it was as most of my gear was in Samoens and we wouldn’t get down to Grindelwald until the following morning.

Ally and I just made the last lift up at Grandes Montets and headed down to the base of the Dru for a chilly night’s sleep. The Dru Couloir Direct has claimed classic status in the Alps recently as a modern test-piece mixed climb. It’s a route that I’ve always wanted to do and it didn’t disappoint one little bit. The climbing revolves around five steep icy gully pitches which are all relatively well protected. The climbing is on thin ice or narrow granite cracks and although never difficult all requires some care to climb. The final pitch climbs a technical slim gully before over a roof onto a shield of ice in a brilliant position. It’s up there with the best mixed climbs I’ve ever done and probably about Scottish grade VII rather than its mooted grade of VIII. I felt pretty knackered by the time I’d returned to the lift station and it was nice to see that the Swinton Duracell Bunny was also looking a bit tired! I headed home the following day and am now looking forward to getting back in shape for rock climbing after a month off.

Heading up the second pitch of the Direct version of the Dru Couloir. Photo - Ally Swinton

Heading up the second pitch of the Direct version of the Dru Couloir. Photo – Ally Swinton


Ally Swinton having just climbed the final difficult pitch of the Dru Couloir Direct. Photo - Calum Muskett

Ally Swinton having just climbed the final difficult pitch of the Dru Couloir Direct. Photo – Calum Muskett


Heading up the final section of the Dru Couloir. Photo - calum Muskett

Heading up the final section of the Dru Couloir. Photo – calum Muskett

2014 A Year in Pictures

As the year draws to an end it’s nice to take a look back at what I’ve been up to. 2014 has been a year of travel for me with plenty of work filling the gaps in between. The year started in Patagonia and since then I’ve spent plenty of time in Scotland and Western Europe. So much travel and work has meant that my climbing has taken a bit of a hit in terms of performance, with long periods of doing little to nothing in the way of climbing and training. The plan for next year is to do more rock climbing whilst trying to keep in better shape when I’m working away from home. I’ve got some exciting expeditions in the pipeline for 2015 and will be spending a lot of the next few months in Scotland so have my fingers crossed for nice weather and good conditions! Below is my 2014 in pictures:

Ally Swinton and Ben Winston approaching the East face of the Mermoz beneath Fitzroy. Photo - Calum Muskett

Ally Swinton and Ben Winston approaching the East face of the Mermoz beneath Fitzroy. Photo – Calum Muskett


Dave Macleod battling up the hardest pitch of our failed new new route attempt on the Mermoz. We came within a single pitch of easier ground before turning around. Certainly something to return for. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dave Macleod battling up the hardest pitch of our failed new new route attempt on the Mermoz. We came within a single pitch of easier ground before turning around. Certainly something to return for. Photo – Calum Muskett


My old school friend Wiz Fineron returned to the UK after six years of living in New Zealand. He now climbs 8c+ but had never climbed a hard grit route... Photo - Owen Hughes

My old school friend Wiz Fineron returned to the UK after six years of living in New Zealand. He now climbs 8c+ but had never climbed a hard grit route… Photo – Owen Hughes


Big Tim Neill forging his way up the crux pitch of 'Histoire Deux Fous' in Gorges du Jonte. It was nice to visit somewhere dry and sun kissed after months in Patagonia and Scottish winter. Photo - Calum Muskett

Big Tim Neill forging his way up the crux pitch of ‘Histoire Deux Fous’ in Gorges du Jonte. It was nice to visit somewhere dry and sun kissed after months in Patagonia and Scottish winter. Photo – Calum Muskett


Silbergeier in the Rätikon is a route I have aspired to climb for a long time. Unfortunately this year it wasn't to be for me, but it was great to belay Wiz as he made a smooth ascent of this desperate technical multi-pitch. Photo - Calum Muskett

Silbergeier in the Rätikon is a route I have aspired to climb for a long time. Unfortunately this year it wasn’t to be for me, but it was great to belay Wiz as he made a smooth ascent of this desperate technical multi-pitch. Photo – Calum Muskett


It couldn't be August without a brief visit to the Mont Blanc massif. Here Wiz seconds a pitch on Ma Dalton. Photo - Calum Muskett

It couldn’t be August without a brief visit to the Mont Blanc massif. Here Wiz seconds a pitch on Ma Dalton. Photo – Calum Muskett


This summer I discovered the incredible climbing on Paroi d'Anterne. Fantastic climbing in an incredible setting. Photo - Calum Muskett

This summer I discovered the incredible climbing on Paroi d’Anterne. Fantastic climbing in an incredible setting. Photo – Calum Muskett


Dan Mcmanus sprinting up the first pitch of 'Les Naufrages', deep in the Verdon Gorge. Unfortunately, the Verdon was a poor choice for two ginger climbers in the height of summer! Photo - Calum Muskett

Dan Mcmanus sprinting up the first pitch of ‘Les Naufrages’, deep in the Verdon Gorge. Unfortunately, the Verdon was a poor choice for two ginger climbers in the height of summer! Photo – Calum Muskett


We had some great weather in early September to get out climbing in North Wales. It provided a good opportunity to attempt some of Gogarth's more esoteric climbing. Photo - Calum Muskett

We had some great weather in early September to get out climbing in North Wales. It provided a good opportunity to attempt some of Gogarth’s more esoteric climbing. Photo – Calum Muskett


Gabby had a couple of weeks off work and we headed to Yosemite for a holiday. I'm yet to be convinced that she enjoys big wall climbing though... Photo - Calum Muskett

Gabby had a couple of weeks off work and we headed to Yosemite for a holiday. I’m yet to be convinced that she enjoys big wall climbing though… Photo – Calum Muskett


A short trip to the Alps with Tom Livingstone when all the lifts were closed meant a lot of walking! We climbed the incredible 'Gabarrou/Silvy' on the Aiguille Sans Nom. It was the first time I'd ever climbed with axes and rock boots and provided a very fun experience although freezing for my feet! Photo - Jon Bracey

A short trip to the Alps with Tom Livingstone when all the lifts were closed meant a lot of walking! We climbed the incredible ‘Gabarrou/Silvy’ on the Aiguille Sans Nom. It was the first time I’d ever climbed with axes and rock boots and provided a very fun experience although freezing for my feet! Photo – Jon Bracey


I was invited along to the first Red Bull white cliffs event on the Isle of Wight. It was a great opportunity to climb the huge cliffs here and experience chalk climbing first hand. Photo - Jon Griffith/Red Bull Content Pool

I was invited along to the first Red Bull white cliffs event on the Isle of Wight. It was a great opportunity to climb the huge cliffs here and experience chalk climbing first hand. Photo – Jon Griffith/Red Bull Content Pool


Andy Kirkpatrick and I headed to the Alps in December with flexible plans. We ended up on the Matterhorn but with temperatures dropping below -20°c and wind speeds of 80-90kmph we decided that we'd rather keep our fingers and toes for 2015! Photo - Calum Muskett

Andy Kirkpatrick and I headed to the Alps in December with flexible plans. We ended up on the Matterhorn but with temperatures dropping below -20°c and wind speeds of 80-90kmph we decided that we’d rather keep our fingers and toes for 2015! Photo – Calum Muskett

Red Bull White Cliffs

Alum Bay and the Needles. You can just about pick me out on the cliff. Photo - Jon Griffith

Alum Bay and the Needles. You can just about pick me out on the cliff. Photo – Jon Griffith

I’ve never been very much into competition climbing; something about it never quite matched the pure enjoyment I got from climbing outside and to be any good at competitions nowadays you have to sacrifice a lot of your time to training rather than venturing into the great outdoors. It was with some trepidation then that I accepted the invitation from Red Bull to compete in an unusual sounding event to speed climb some chalk cliffs on the Isle of Wight.

Our first glimpse of the cliffs really showed us just how impressive they were and the rigging teams had put in a huge amount of work to even make this event possible. The cliff we would be climbing was at Alum Bay, just beside the famous Needles of the Isle of Wight. It was over 100m tall with slightly overhanging to vertical climbing the entire length and Scott Muir had placed some Warthogs to help keep the ropes in place on the initial cave section.

Scott Muir preparing the line. Photo - Calum Muskett

Scott Muir preparing the line. Photo – Calum Muskett

My first go felt very embarrassing; I was lowered 40m down to get the initial hooks in place and swiftly encountered a major problem – the chalk was bullet hard! This wasn’t what I expected and every placement took a minimum of ten swings to get in place leaving my arms completely wasted despite numerous rests hanging from the rope. After one day and all ten of us competitors putting in efforts to chisel out hook placements things were looking much more positive and Alexey, the Russian speed machine, had already top roped the entire route in 25 minutes by simply hooking in the now established ice axe placements.

The team that Red Bull had co-ordinated to take part in the comp was a very varied one. There were current and previous world cup competitors of the like of Markus Bendler, Gordon MaCarthur, Dennis Van Hoek, Israel Blanco, Alexey Tomilov and Yves Heuberger as well as the better known outdoor winter climbers like Will Mayo, Jeff Mercier and Greg Boswell. I felt like a bit of a fraud to be amongst these names being almost entirely a rock climber. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy winter climbing, but I’ve never really got stuck into it in the past and the mixed climbing I’ve done in the Alps has mainly been as a result of there being too much snow about!
The competition rules were finalised and this was to be a speed competition – the fastest time wins and if you fall off before reaching the top you effectively DNF. This put us all under a bit of pressure as it was quite likely that at least one placement could break off due to the friable nature of the chalk.

Dennis racing up the central section of the route. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dennis racing up the central section of the route. Photo – Calum Muskett


Greg climbing the huge cliff! Photo - Calum Muskett

Greg climbing the huge cliff! Photo – Calum Muskett

It came as no surprise that Alexey set the time to beat with a staggering 16 minutes spent climbing the 100m+ route. Will Mayo and Israel Blanco proved that age and experience came ahead of youthful power by putting down strong times and when I headed down I just had my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t fall off! Other than a minor technical issue low down, where I spent a while unable to even pull myself off the beach, I set off steadily and just plugged away through the steep section, my forearms beginning to really feel the burn! Fortunately the angle soon eased and as I began to recover I started to gain time up the less strenuous part of the route pelting the bell to stop the clock below the finishing platform in a reasonable time which placed me 5th overall after the aforementioned climbers and Jeff Mercier who was the final climber to go with seemingly never ending supplies of stamina!

Out of all the comps I’ve done this has got to be the craziest and best and it was so fun to finally get the opportunity to climb on the chalk. Thanks to the Red Bull team for inviting me to the event and to the rigging team and Scott Muir in particular for putting in so much work to make this project become a reality!

The podium. Photo - Calum Muskett

The podium. Photo – Calum Muskett

Gabarrou-Silvy

Tom Livingstone approaching the Gabarrou-Silvy. Photo - Calum Muskett

Tom Livingstone approaching the Gabarrou-Silvy. Photo – Calum Muskett

Whilst checking my facebook feed in Yosemite I couldn’t help but notice that all my friends in Chamonix seemed to be running laps on the Grandes Jorasses in what some described as “the best condition I’ve ever seen it in”. Now I’m not one inclined to jealousy but I was jealous; FOMO (fear of missing out) had kicked in and I wanted to join in on the fun! Fortunately for me Tom Livingstone had been trying to persuade me to go to the Alps and with one week free I decided to commit, flying out to Geneva the day after my return from Yosemite.

“Only Brits climb in the Alps in October.” – Dave Rudkin

Although not entirely true, this comment by my friend Dave is not meant as a compliment to Brits. What it really means is that Brits are the only people stupid enough to climb in the Alps when nearly all the cable cars and trains are closed. I couldn’t have planned to come out to the Alps when more of the cable cars were closed. This means long walks from the valley – very long walks. Although I’m not alien to the idea of long approaches to alpine routes I really didn’t want my climbing trip to turn into a Duke of Edinburgh walking expedition.

The forecasts were looking promising when we arrived in Chamonix. There were about five days of reasonable weather forecast and most importantly there was no precipitation due. The winds were forecast to be a little on the strong side and all the locals were warning us about the dreaded foehn winds – they had such a bad reputation you’d have thought they were strong enough to strip the skin from a person rather than the snow from a rock face!

Although the weather wasn’t optimal, we hadn’t come to Chamonix to sit in Elevation shooting the shit, so made the grim hike up to the foot of the Grandes Jorasses on the first day of good weather we had. We felt like we’d pulled it out of the bag. Conditions were perfect. We were bivied 50m from the base of the ‘Desmaison-Gousseault’ and the winds were having negligible effect on the north face. We zipped ourselves up for a good night’s sleep and awoke at 5am to spindrift avalanches coming down the face – it had been snowing heavily for the last four hours and we could barely see the base of our route.

The Grandes Jorasses looking very wintery after all the fresh snowfall. Photo - Calum Muskett

The Grandes Jorasses looking very wintery after all the fresh snowfall. Photo – Calum Muskett

We were left with no choice but to descend back to Chamonix feeling tired and annoyed. To make things worse we saw that our only other chance of climbing in the mountains would be if we headed for the hills again the following day with tired legs. We came to Chamonix intending to try one of three routes. Two of these were on the Grandes Jorasses and I didn’t fancy walking back to the base of the same mountain – as they say, variety is key.

Tom descending the Mer de Glace. Photo - Calum Muskett

Tom descending the Mer de Glace. Photo – Calum Muskett

Instead we headed up to the foot of the Aiguille Sans Nom next to the Dru; our goal, to climb the ‘Gabarrou-Silvy’, a classic mixed test piece which goes free at M8+ in winter conditions. We were also joined this time round by Jon Bracey a mountain guide based in Les Houches. I’d heard a bit about how fit Jon was after Gabby had talked about his impressive performances in the ski mountaineering races when he participated a few years earlier. It was great to have him on the team and would make for a sociable ascent.

Once again, the approach to the bivi was a painful state of the affairs with already aching muscles from the previous days walking. Once there we were treated to a particularly pleasant sunset and even had some running water to fill our bottles from as well as a sheltered flat area to put our mats down. I managed to persuade the team that there would be no need for an alpine start (I hate early starts) and that 8am would be a pleasant hour to wake up and approach the foot of the route.

The hour came, as usual, unpleasantly earlier than expected as I felt like I was beginning to finally shed the lingering jetlag from my recent trip to America. We walked to the base of the route and Tom got us started up the first three mixed pitches to the foot of the harder climbing which was a good warm up for what was to come.
I was the only member of the team with a pair or rock shoes and having heard of an earlier ascent using mixed tactics of rock shoes and ice axes it seemed only logical that we should also attempt the route in this highly unusual manner. Unfortunately, it was chuffing cold to be wearing rock shoes!

Changing into rock shoes in unreasonably cold weather. Photo - Tom Livingstone

Changing into rock shoes in unreasonably cold weather. Photo – Tom Livingstone


Leading the first sustained corner pitch of the Gabarrou-Silvy. Photo - Jon Bracey

Leading the first sustained corner pitch of the Gabarrou-Silvy. Photo – Jon Bracey

Having cut myself a ledge in the snow at the foot of the first difficult mixed corner I made the transition from warm mountain boots to freezing rock shoes. I then proceeded to batter the hell out of the cruddy ice in the corner crack so that I could get a good torque with my ice axe and set off up the strenuous pitch. Although strange, I adapted to this new style fairly quickly and on reaching the belay pulled my boots off as quickly as possible – I had a very sharp feeling of hot aches for the next five minutes in my toes whilst they began to thaw out in my warm socks!

Thin hooking up the 6th pitch. Photo - Jon Bracey

Thin hooking up the 6th pitch. Photo – Jon Bracey

I still haven’t worked out whether I pulled the long or the short straw by taking my rock boots up to the route. Having the boots meant that it made sense for me to lead every pitch whilst slowly losing sensation in my toes and getting very pumped, but it did mean that I managed a free ascent and Tom and Jon kindly pulled my rucksack up for me. The climbing was very sustained in difficulty and I only took my gloves off for a short 4m pendulum traverse which would only go free to some technical smearing moves whilst pulling on small crimps.

Jon Bracey seconding the first technical groove pitch. Photo - Calum Muskett

Jon Bracey seconding the first technical groove pitch. Photo – Calum Muskett


Jon seconding on some thin hooks half way up the initial rock wall. Photo - Calum Muskett

Jon seconding on some thin hooks half way up the initial rock wall. Photo – Calum Muskett

I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the first day but really happy to have free climbed everything up to the mid height snow slopes. All the mixed climbing had inflamed an infection in the knuckle of my ring finger and I had a great big pussy growth sprouting out from it which was beginning to make it difficult to grip my axe.

Despite the good forecast it proceeded to snow for around twelve hours overnight and into the following morning. Fortunately Jon is made from sterner stuff than us youths and led us up the snow slopes to the base of the icy couloirs in the headwall. Spindrift was pouring down at regular intervals and visibility was down to around 50m. We made the decision to give the headwall a crack despite the conditions and fortunately the weather improved almost immediately. Several hundred metres of very good ice climbing led us to the summit ridge line, just as my calves began to fail me from all the front pointing on ice. The final section to the summit of the Aiguille Verte was particularly painful for me as I’d had too little to eat or drink and I was hitting the wall quickly. Jon and Tom dragged me upwards and a couple of energy gels and some water were enough to revive me enough for the very long descent down the Whymper couloir to the Mer de Glace and thereafter Chamonix.

Jon leading some steep ice up the headwall. Photo - Calum Muskett

Jon leading some steep ice up the headwall. Photo – Calum Muskett

It was my first visit to Chamonix in October and it’s nice to appreciate the area and the mountains at a quieter time of year when the temperatures are a little less scorching. That said – I am a fan of cable cars and there convenience so might check when the seasonal closures are next time!

Yosemite

What it's all about - El Capitan. Photo - Calum Muskett

What it’s all about – El Capitan. Photo – Calum Muskett

On my first visit to Yosemite when I was sixteen years old I remember being in awe of the huge walls of the valley. It’s difficult to comprehend climbing such massive chunks of rock until you actually get started and even then, half the battle is a mental one of not being disheartened at how far you still have left to go. This was my third visit to the valley and having climbed some great routes here in the past I was really happy to have a more relaxed trip with Gabby combining climbing with more tourist related activities such as visiting the giant Sequoia’s at the Mariposa Grove.

Gabby racing up 'Snake Dyke'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Gabby racing up ‘Snake Dyke’. Photo – Calum Muskett


A busy day coming down the main trail of Half Dome. Photo - Calum Muskett

A busy day coming down the main trail of Half Dome. Photo – Calum Muskett

On one of our first days we climbed the fantastic Snake Dyke up Half Dome on a scorching hot day. This has got to be one of the best routes I have ever climbed and one that we both enjoyed immensely. It’s a long walk to and from the route and well worth setting off early to get back in good time for a pizza in Curry Village.

Andy Kirkpatrick was out in the valley as well for a talk he was giving at the Yosemite Facelift event. I suggested to him that we should go and climb El Cap together in a day. He laughed at me first thinking I was joking but soon realised I was being deadly serious and started coming up with excuses. After a few hours of persuading I think he realised it would be easier to climb Lurking Fear with me than think of fresh excuses and off we set!

I think Andy was slightly thrown by my unique approach to aid climbing with only a single etrier and a standard double set of cams and wires. I also don’t think he’s going to be changing his far more efficient system of aid climbing either. We made reasonably swift progress up the route – which looked like it would be an incredible free climb and I swapped leads half way up with Andy who led a three pitch block to give me a breather.

Andy hanging out on El Cap. Photo - Calum Muskett

Andy hanging out on El Cap. Photo – Calum Muskett

Andy is very quick witted and has a great sense of humour but I could tell as we got higher his appreciation of my cheese jokes was beginning to wear thin after fifteen pitches and plenty of sweat. We reached the summit of El Cap in 15 hours and thirty minutes, the fastest time for both of us and Andy, who is slightly out of shape at the moment, commented that El Cap had never been climbed so quickly by such an overweight person! What a legend!

Gabby jumaring up to Heart ledges on an ill-fated El Cap attempt.... Photo - Calum Muskett

Gabby jumaring up to Heart ledges on an ill-fated El Cap attempt…. Photo – Calum Muskett


Great weather to spend time amongst the meadows of the Yosemite valley. Photo - Calum Muskett

Great weather to spend time amongst the meadows of the Yosemite valley. Photo – Calum Muskett


Attempting to carry Gabby  up El Cap whether she likes it or not. Photo - Tom Randall

Attempting to carry Gabby up El Cap whether she likes it or not. Photo – Tom Randall

Gabby and I did plenty of nice cragging, swam in a few of the rather stagnant pools of the river Merced and on our final day in Yosemite climbed the Rostrum. Having climbed this route on my first trip to Yosemite I was happy to find it significantly easier this time round now that I’ve learnt how to jam – unfortunately, it probably wasn’t the best choice of route for Gabby who was still learning how to climb on granite never mind jam. By the time we reached the top I think Gabby was quite happy to not have to climb another granite crack for quite some time…

The sensational 'Rostrum'. Photo - Calum Muskett

The sensational ‘Rostrum’. Photo – Calum Muskett

Returning to the valley has reminded me of just how good the area is. There are so many great places to climb around the world but Yosemite has some of the best and most convenient free climbing that can be found anywhere and that’s the reason I’ll be returning for as long as I possibly can to climb some of the best routes in the world.

August in Wales

A stunning sunrise on Crib Goch as we set off on the 14 Peaks. Photo - Calum Muskett

A stunning sunrise on Crib Goch as we set off on the 14 Peaks. Photo – Calum Muskett

August in North Wales can be a very wet month. After four weeks of poor weather in the Alps it came as a surprise to me to be enjoying sunshine in North Wales. The day after my return I finally climbed the classic Lord of the Flies on Dinas Cromlech. I’d wanted to climb this much coveted route for a very long time and had in fact first walked up to lead it seven years earlier. For some reason I’ve never been at the base of this route when it’s been dry and when bouldering down on the roadside blocks that day I noticed the wet streak had disappeared; I grabbed my rack from the car, walked up to the crag and climbed it with Gabby. The route was just as good as I expected – relatively straightforward climbing with reasonable gear but sustained the whole way and made a little more intimidating due to its reputation.

Steve Long setting off on the first pitch of 'Voice in the Wilderness', a Pat Littelejohn E5 on Craig y Bera. This crag is tucked out of the way but there's some fantastic climbing to be had here. Photo - Calum Muskett

Steve Long setting off on the first pitch of ‘Voice in the Wilderness’, a Pat Littelejohn E5 on Craig y Bera. This crag is tucked out of the way but there’s some fantastic climbing to be had here. Photo – Calum Muskett

Dan Mcmanus came over to North Wales for a week shortly after my return – we’d been planning a Scottish road trip but the forecast for the far North was awful so instead we stayed in Wales and headed to the sea cliffs. Gogarth is a crag that just keeps on giving. I’ve climbed there so much over the last four years that I’ve ticked my way through most of the better known routes. Fortunately for me, George Smith has spent a good twenty years of his life finding unusual, grossly overhanging walls, crack and roofs and they’re normally fantastic adventures! With Dan, I climbed the fantastic Billy Bud on the overhanging wall on the far side of the sea arch from Wen Zawn. The climbing on this is fantastic but better still is the swing you have to make on the abseil rope to reach its base across a channel of water. It took me around twenty swings to reach the foot of the route having narrowly avoided dunkings in the sea. Dan, of course, found my feeble efforts at swinging a source of great amusement and I was absolutely sick when he managed the same swing on his first go!

Dan swinging in to the base of 'Billy Bud'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dan swinging in to the base of ‘Billy Bud’. Photo – Calum Muskett

Dan and I also attempted George’s wild roof crack called Barfly. When you first look at this route it’s difficult to comprehend any free climb going through such overhanging terrain – it appears to be totally unfeasible. Our first go was closer to aid climbing than free climbing but we soon worked out a sequence of knee bars that made the route possible; by this point our biceps were quivering with effort and the best we could do was escape to flat ground above. It’s certainly an incredible route and one to return for with a tough boulder problem at the beginning leading to sustained and technical shuffling along a flake. Those questioning the E6/7 grade should be under no illusions that this route is certainly E7 and not an easy one at that!

Grappling with the underclings on 'Barfly'. Photo - Dan Mcmanus

Grappling with the underclings on ‘Barfly’. Photo – Dan Mcmanus


Dan taking an unusual no hands rest on the incredible 'Barfly'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dan taking an unusual no hands rest on the incredible ‘Barfly’. Photo – Calum Muskett

We also spent a couple of days in Pembroke which is a merciless place to climb when you’re not feeling particularly fit. I came with a long tick-list but after on-sighting the brilliant E7 ‘From a Distance’ as my first route of the weekend my arms were finished with. Dan however went on to on-sight Point Blank the following day resting on nearly every hold of the route and never for a moment appearing to struggle. He made it look very easy and although he had previously climbed ‘From a Distance’ it was still a sterling effort.

Back in North Wales Beacon aficionado Mark Dicken for the first time in four years was enjoying the first few days of his kids being in primary school. To celebrate we headed to Twll Mawr together and made the first ascent of an old Joe Brown project that he’d been eying up for quite some time. Whilst not the best route, climbing chossy slate with occasional gorse bushes sprouting out of holes, it is certainly quite an adventurous outing for the quarries and one that has plenty of character. The following week I straightened out the route with Jeremy Leong to create a slightly more difficult and bolder excursion at E5 6a. For those that have yet to climb in Twll Mawr the atmosphere is very unique and with multi pitch sport routes, adventure slate climbing and some of the best hard routes in the country such as the Quarryman and Blockhead, it really is one of the best crags in the country.

Jeremey seconding the first ascent of the Antiquarian direct. Photo - Calum Muskett

Jeremey seconding the first ascent of the Antiquarian direct. Photo – Calum Muskett


Out for a quick scramble with Gabby on Clogwyn y Tarw. Photo - Calum Muskett

Out for a quick scramble with Gabby on Clogwyn y Tarw. Photo – Calum Muskett