Category Archives: Rock Climbing

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!

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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[/caption

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

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

Misadventures in a C1

Boldly going where no Citroën C1has gone before. Photo - Calum Muskett

Boldly going where no Citroën C1has gone before. Photo – Calum Muskett

One thousand miles of driving in a Citroen C1 is enough to leave anybody’s ears ringing. With an engine that sounds like it has several bee hives powering it and absolutely no air conditioning, the car is made more for fuel efficiency than comfort. Despite its compact size, and various other inconveniences, this car was to be our base for the forthcoming five weeks whilst we travelled to some of the best alpine climbing areas Europe has to offer.

For the first part of the road trip I’d be travelling with Welsh ex-pat Wiz Fineron. Wiz and I went to the same school together when we were both in our early teens before Wiz moved out to New Zealand aged thirteen. In the intervening six years Wiz has gone from strength to strength climbing 8c+ routes and 8B boulder problems with seemingly little effort. He’s currently travelling the world, living, in his own words, the ‘dirtbag’ climbing lifestyle, and whilst he was in Europe it seemed like a good opportunity to hook up for a road trip.

Having travelled and climbed in many of the more popular alpine areas over the previous five summers I felt that this year it would be nice to expand my repertoire and visit some new places. The Ratikön held our primary objective for the trip and after a short stop in France we headed across Switzerland and up into the mountains. It was night time when we made our final approach to the Ratikön and neither of our guidebooks made the slightest mention of the road that would lead us to our base camp. For most people, 7km of driving on a dirt track may sound like fun, a welcome respite after hours on the motorway, but in my Citroen C1 – the Corgi of the car world, I began to shudder at every bump or rock that I saw. After 6.5km of driving and only grounding out on several occasions I thought the lion’s share of the driving was behind us; unfortunately that was when we reached the crux.

A short and uneven steepening of the road marked the beginning of our plight and several attempts at upward progress saw the C1 rapidly retreating to the flat area at the farm building. We knocked on the door of the farm and discovered it would cost us 10CHF if we parked here each night. That was the extra spur of motivation we needed. Wiz got out along with a few heavy bags and the throttle went down. The C1 raced its way up the steep gravel track sliding left and right with wheel spin before finally overcoming the steep section and thereafter the parking area. It felt like a miracle that we’d made it up here with an intact car and we knew we wouldn’t be descending for a while!

The Ratikön from the summit of Kirchlispitzen. Photo - Calum Muskett

The Ratikön from the summit of Kirchlispitzen. Photo – Calum Muskett

We had one route on our agenda for the Ratikön, the classic multi-pitch test piece ‘Silbergeier’ which is renowned for its bold and difficult wall climbing. I’d read about Silbergeier in a magazine soon after starting climbing and had of course seen the classic poster of Pietro del Prà standing, one-footed, on a small edge in the middle of an otherwise blank rock face. It seemed like the perfect goal for this trip not only for me but it would also play to Wiz’s strengths as a first big multi pitch route.

The classic poster of Pietro del Pra on an early repeat of Silbergeier

The classic poster of Pietro del Pra on an early repeat of Silbergeier

After a heavy rainfall during the night we awoke to blistering heat and our first views of the Ratikön massif. We had the range to ourselves and after a slow start and a heavy breakfast packed our bags and headed up into the mountains. The climbing in the Ratikön lies on the Swiss side of a knife edge ridge which marks the border between Austria and Switzerland. The final approach up the scree is steep and frustrating until you find a good route and this is followed by a further 200m of scrambling up low angled limestone and grass slopes, all of which provide a good cardio vascular warm up for the first 8b pitch.

Your first attempt at Silbergeier is certainly the most memorable. When none of the holds are chalked up and the bolts look particularly distant it takes some will power to commit to hard climbing – well that, or a younger, stronger and fitter climber to send up first! After Wiz led the first 8b pitch we were all set for one of the ‘easiest’ pitches of the route, a 7c+ which I graciously offered to take the lead of. Unfortunately my plan backfired. Not only was this pitch desperate for the grade, but the bolts were spaced for maximum excitement and on the final moves of the pitch, miles to the side of the last bolt and having climbed myself into a knot, I made a leap for the belay seat hanging just above me!

Wiz seconding the terrifying second pitch. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz seconding the terrifying second pitch. Photo – Calum Muskett


Typical Ratikön conditions on our trip. Photo - Wiz Fineron

Typical Ratikön conditions on our trip. Photo – Wiz Fineron

After another tough pitch, followed by a short, run out 7a+ you finally reach the first comfortable belay where you have room to sit down and stretch out in a weather proof cave. We would be spending a lot of time here over the next week and a half as we waited for the weather to improve. Above us lay the final two pitches: the crux 8b+ which tic tacs its way up on small crimps and underclings followed by a tricky 7c+ which boils down to two powerful moves an inconvenient distance away from the last bolt. The route finishes on the jaggedy summit ridge of the Kirchlispitzen and it’s a great feeling ending at the top of something unlike many modern multi pitch routes. From the summit a series of abseils lead you back down to your bags and thereafter the path.

What can be more stereotypically Swiss than the gonging of Cow bells? It’s a sound I have grown accustomed to over previous visits to Switzerland and I even find there effect quite calming. We’d been camping in the Ratikön for about four days when the herd moved in. The smell of pastures new must indeed be strong to be able to draw an excess of 50 cattle alongside our tents at two in the morning. It was like being camped in the central reservation of a motorway!

With diminished sleep we returned to the route several times over the following week to try pitches and get used to the climbing style. Strong Finnish boulderer Nalle Hukkataival was also trying Silbergeier and was making the climbing look relatively easy after a few attempts. He was also staying in the hut which meant he was up and out considerably earlier than a teenager and myself.

One morning we reached the base of the route to find Nalle trying the crux pitch we’d planned to climb that day. Rather than wasting the day we climbed Hannibals Alptraum, an old school classic which was the pre-cursor to Silbergeier. Despite feeling considerably easier than Silbergeier it had some very chunky climbing thrown in on smooth walls that are desperate to on-sight. The bolts are placed at sporting intervals and the moves to reach them are generally very sketchy! On the final pitch we once again endured a hail and a hasty retreat was made back down having not quite repeated this amazing route.

Attempting the tricky third 8a+ pitch. Photo - Wiz Fineron

Attempting the tricky third 8a+ pitch. Photo – Wiz Fineron

As we tried Silbergeier more I began to realise it would not happen for me on this trip. Although fit enough that I could have red-pointed the individual pitches I was lacking the fitness to free the entire route in a day. It was a real disappointment but I was heartened to know that with a bit of extra fitness I know that Silbergeier is a possibility for the future. For Wiz it was a different story though and we headed back up for him to give the red point a shot.

Conditions were cold and crisp when we arrived at the foot of the climb and Wiz shot up the first 8b pitch without a warm up. Following with cold hands I could barely believe that he could feel his fingers on the small crimps. On the third pitch clouds began to roll upwards and embroil us in thick clag and Wiz had to climb the final few moves in a rain shower. We hid in the cave whilst it bucketed down for over an hour – Wiz sitting Monk like in the haul bag to keep warm, myself shivering but reading a book that I’d thrown in anticipating the change in weather. After a couple of hours the rock was once again dry enough to climb and we continued upwards. The 8b+ pitch was barely dry and Wiz cruised upwards until hit by another fleeting rain shower on the bold final traverse. Unfazed, Wiz gripped harder reaching the next belay and shortly after climbed a very wet final pitch in impressive style. I’ve never seen such a smooth ascent of so difficult a climb in such poor weather!

Wiz red-pointing the third pitch. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz red-pointing the third pitch. Photo – Calum Muskett


Bad weather moving in high on the route. Photo - Calum Muskett

Bad weather moving in high on the route. Photo – Calum Muskett


Wiz keeping warm. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz keeping warm. Photo – Calum Muskett


Wiz atop the Kirchlispitzen. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz atop the Kirchlispitzen. Photo – Calum Muskett

Having spent so long climbing and sleeping in miserably cold and wet weather we wanted a change of scene and felt like Chamonix was the next logical place to visit to end Wiz’s trip on a high. He’d never worn crampons before or walked on a glacier so found the whole experience quite different. It was also a good opportunity for the wily older climber to get his own back and take Wiz on a roof crack when he’d never climbed a jamming crack in his life. Ma Dalton on the South face of the Midi is a classic and rarely repeated route that has a Yosemite style roof crack on one of its pitches. Unfortunately it’s rather difficult and having underestimated its difficulty my poorly made jamming gloves soon slid off my hands and thereafter my hands from the crack. Hyperventilating somewhat I returned to the belay for another go and we continued upwards with slightly less difficulty after the awkward roof crack.

The big roof of Ma Dalton. Photo - Wiz Fineron

The big roof of Ma Dalton. Photo – Wiz Fineron


Wiz seconding another great pitch on Ma Dalton. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz seconding another great pitch on Ma Dalton. Photo – Calum Muskett


Finishing up Cosmiques Arete. Photo - Calum Muskett

Finishing up Cosmiques Arete. Photo – Calum Muskett

Wiz headed bouldering to South Africa the following day to go bouldering, perhaps a wise change of scene considering the continuing terrible forecast. The same day I picked Dan Mcmanus up from the airport – a man who is always up for an adventure and an adventure we soon enough had.

Above Sixt in the Aiguille Rouge is a little known and rarely attempted limestone face called the Paroi d’Anterne on the Fiz. I’d heard rumours of the quality of climbing up here but had yet to meet a climber that had experienced it first hand. On our way to the Ratikön Wiz and I decided we would first hone our skills at multi pitch climbing on the amazing sounding Djinn Fiz, a 15 pitch 7c. Unfortunately we underestimated not only the approach bur also the afternoon thunderstorms and after a few amazing and exceedingly technical pitches we descended before possible electrocution.

I was very impressed by this wall though, which is reminiscent of the South face of the Marmolada in the Dolomites. About a mile in length, it only has six routes ascending its flanks and they are all difficult propositions. Feeling confident after my time sliding off crimps in the Ratikön I sold Dan the idea that we should try the hardest route on the face, ‘Les Yeux dans le Bleu’, a 16 pitch 7c+. This time I didn’t make the same mistakes of underestimating the approach or the weather forecast but unfortunately I made the major blooper of expecting the climbing to be reasonable in difficulty. We hadn’t noticed how sustained the climbing was and despite somehow clinging to the crimps and on-sighting the crux 7c and 7c+ pitches we burnt out big time above as 7b pitch followed 7b. A bold 7a+ pitch was the final straw for me and with elbows above my ears and looking as if I was trying to mantel each hold I finally fell off utterly wasted.

Wiz with the impressive walls of the Fiz in the background. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz with the impressive walls of the Fiz in the background. Photo – Calum Muskett


Wiz on Djinn Fiz. Photo - Calum Muskett

Wiz on Djinn Fiz. Photo – Calum Muskett

Dan was in a similar state of turmoil and despite putting in so much effort we couldn’t face any more climbing on such tired arms – a rapid descent was made. We both agreed that this was one of the best and most difficult walls we had ever tried and the climbing style really doesn’t lend itself to on-sight climbing. To add insult to injury, when we got back to our bags at the foot of the route, we chased off a couple of Marmots and found that they had been eating our bags! There were gaping holes all over them and much of the padding had been thoroughly chewed.

Dam Mcmanus on 'Les Yeux Dans le Bleu'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dam Mcmanus on ‘Les Yeux Dans le Bleu’. Photo – Calum Muskett

We returned to Chamonix that evening to do a little comfort eating with friends at a pizzeria near the centre. After an enjoyable meal I thought I’d treat myself to desert and thought I’d ordered myself a cake – when an espresso turned up I nearly cried. That was the low point of the trip.

Back to the high mountains we headed, this time to what I considered to be the safe bet of the Grand Capucin which I’ve climbed five times before. After wading through the recent snowfall to its base Dan realised he’d left his rock boots at the tent and hence another day was lost.

After more dismal weather we decided to give the mountains one last go and approached the south face of Aiguille du Fou. It’s a classic alpine wall that I’d been dreaming of climbing for years. I knew that the approach gully required an early start to ensure all the detritus was frozen in place so Dan and I set off suitably early to facilitate success. After climbing a couple of hundred metres up the gully the sun hit the ridge line above and chunks of ice began showering down upon us. As the chunks got bigger we started to feel like targets at a firing range. Clearly we weren’t early enough and once again retreat was made. We were done with the Alps and its crappy weather and conditions!

When bad weather hits the Alps you are inevitably forced southwards to drier and sunnier climates. The Verdon was our final destination and finally it seemed we had struck lucky. Despite the time of year, conditions were perfect for climbing in the gorge – it was overcast and windy. We also met up with some friends for sociable camp scenes and got thrashed by the locals at table football every evening at the local bar.

Dan and I decided to go for El Topo, an amazing looking 8a big wall in the gorge to the left of the classic chimney line La Demande. After checking out the final few crux pitches we felt well prepared and even quite optimistic about going for a one day free ascent. After a rest day, we awoke to glorious weather and made an early start from the bottom of the gorge. The entire route was in the sun and the forgiving breeze of the previous days had disappeared. To cut a long story short, two gingers, climbing in the sun, in the Verdon, in the middle of summer was a bad idea. After six pitches 6a felt like the living end of difficulty and our feet and hands had were throbbing and swelling with the heat. We abseiled to the ground and made the walk of shame out of the bottom of the gorge, treating ourselves to ice cream to help cheer us up.

Dan climbing the crux pitch of 'El Topo'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dan climbing the crux pitch of ‘El Topo’. Photo – Calum Muskett


Climbing out of the very bottom of the Verdon Gorge. Photo - Calum Muskett

Climbing out of the very bottom of the Verdon Gorge. Photo – Calum Muskett

Sometimes, weather and conditions just get in the way of climbing, as do high ambitions. After five weeks spent in the Alps and Verdon I could count my list of successful climbs on a single hand. We were on such a losing streak that we expected something to go wrong every time we went climbing and that mentality isn’t useful for making upward progress. On the bright side the C1 had made it through the trip and what’s more I’d only had a single flat tyre. Maybe the weather will be better next summer? Maybe I should just take up bouldering?

A Disrupted Month

Clouds sweeping over the Glyderau. Photo - Calum Muskett

Clouds sweeping over the Glyderau. Photo – Calum Muskett

I’ve only got a couple more days to wait until heading out to the Alps. It seems like a long time ago that I last climbed on warm alpine granite or the water worn high mountain limestone in the European Alps. With the Ratikon, the Dolomites and the Mont Blanc Massif on the hit list for the next few weeks I’m bound to have a good holiday and I’ve got my fingers crossed for some perfect weather!

Jeremey Leong experiencing atmospheric conditions on 'A Dream of White Horses'. Photo Calum Muskett

Jeremey Leong experiencing atmospheric conditions on ‘A Dream of White Horses’. Photo Calum Muskett

My preparation over the last month hasn’t gone entirely to schedule. Having completed quite a lot of really enjoyable guiding and instruction work in North Wales I had a few days free to get out climbing. I was feeling climbing fit and went to Gogarth to have a go at the classic test-piece ‘Extinction’ (E8 6b) on-sight/ground-up. I’d been saving this route for quite a while as I knew I had to be fit for it, but having climbed nearly all the surrounding E5’s and 6’s and still feeling the benefits of a sport trip I decided to give it a bash. Ben Pritchard and Rich Heap came along to film my efforts for a forthcoming BMCtv piece and Dave Evans and Steve Long were kind enough to offer a belay and some support. After a brief warm up it quickly became obvious that conditions were fairly poor so I just hung out in the sun for a good few hours in the hope that conditions would improve. They didn’t and I got sun burnt but I decided to go for it anyway and my efforts were woeful on the hot greasy holds! It turns out that you can’t just shuffle between the ledges on this section of wall and that good conditions are really important for such a steep route that has relatively poor footholds.

I was very keen to return for ‘Extinction’ in better conditions but unfortunately managed to injure my hand quite badly by pulling a rope too hard the following day! I’m still not entirely sure what I’ve done but the injury has improved from struggling to pull a handbrake up in the car to failing on pocketed rock climbs. A combination of Ibuprofen and using elastic bands to stretch my fingers seems to help ameliorate the problem and I’m hoping it’ll sort itself out in the coming weeks.

The worrying wall climb of 'The Haunted' on Craig yr Ysfa. Almost certainly E6 now that the peg is missing below the crux. Photo - Jamie Holding

The worrying wall climb of ‘The Haunted’ on Craig yr Ysfa. Almost certainly E6 now that the peg is missing below the crux. Photo – Jamie Holding


The brilliant 'Freeborn Man' at Swanage. Photo - Gabby Lees

The brilliant ‘Freeborn Man’ at Swanage. Photo – Gabby Lees

Despite this setback I’ve continued to get out climbing and have had some great days out enjoying some of the more amenable routes that I’ve never got round to doing in the past. I’ve had some great days out in the Llanberis Pass, the Carneddau, Ogmore and Dorset. One of the highlights was climbing the outstanding ‘Long Kesh’ on Cyrn Las, which is perhaps the best E5 in the Pass with a mixture of bold, tricky and exposed climbing. I also finally got round to climbing the classic ‘Freeborn Man’ at Swanage which was just as fun as I’d hoped it would be although the choppy seas and general damp weather didn’t inspire much more DWS’ing. Back in the Llanberis Pass Tim Neill inspired me to have a crack at the unrepeated E7 ‘Do or Dai’. After a couple of long falls off the crux I switched tactics and placed a very cheeky side runner which made the route feel considerably easier. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can claim an ascent of it now!

Gabby Lees enjoying 'Troubled Waters' at Swanage. Photo - Calum Muskett

Gabby Lees enjoying ‘Troubled Waters’ at Swanage. Photo – Calum Muskett


Climbing the unique pillar of 'Dead Presidents' E6 6b, in the Llanberis Pass. Photo - Steve Long

Climbing the unique pillar of ‘Dead Presidents’ E6 6b, in the Llanberis Pass. Photo – Steve Long

I also had a great day out with Pat Littlejohn on the Llŷn Peninsula. Pat knows the Llŷn like the back of his hand and pointed me at a route of his called ‘Overlode’ which awaited a free ascent in the esoteric Gwilwyr quarry above Nefyn. The climbing style was quite unusual on this quarried micro granite and after a bit of a tussle I managed to free the route on my second attempt using an unusual sequence to make headway up the smooth overhanging groove. One of the highlights of the day was discovering that Pat really did make an on-sight first ascent of ‘Alien’ (a rarely on-sighted E6 at Gogarth) in the late 1970’s. It’s worth considering that the crux of this route is made significantly easier by modern cams; Pat’s ascent must surely be one of the most significant pieces of on-sight climbing in Britain at the time.

Making the first free ascent of 'Overlode' E6 6c. Photo - Pat Littlejohn

Making the first free ascent of ‘Overlode’ E6 6c. Photo – Pat Littlejohn

I also had the privilege of carrying the Queen’s Commonwealth Baton when it arrived in North Wales. I carried the baton into the Beacon climbing centre where I was joined by the local climbing academy, the Welsh Minister for Sport and the Mayor of Caernarfon. It was great to see the torch carried by such a diverse range of people over the course of the day and particularly nice to see two non-Commonwealth Games sporting events recognised by the inclusion of the local fell running club taking the baton up Snowdon as well as its visit to the climbing wall.

Carrying the Queen's Commonwealth Baton with Clyde the mascot. Photo - Beacon Climbing LTD

Carrying the Queen’s Commonwealth Baton with Clyde the mascot. Photo – Beacon Climbing LTD

With two days left before my hol I’m going to get some last minute training in, but failing that I’ll be climbing out there with the incredibly strong Wiz Fineron and I’ve just bought 100m of static rope!

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