Saturday 10 December 2011

Storm Damage

Thursday the 8th of December was one of the wildest days I have every experienced. It was the first day of the avalanche forecasting season, and I decided to go up to the CIC hut.  I relisead that it would be pretty windy, but have been out on plenty of wild days before so was not too concerned. In fact things weren't too bad until I got maybe 500 metres away from the hut at which point wind speeds seemed to jump up a notch or two. The wind was generally blowing up the path, and so was at my back. Sometime a sudden gust would just flatten me, other times it would increase gradually pushing me into a run, before sending me sprawling forwards.  When on the ground I would huddle or lie there with my hands on the back of my head to protect it from the hail, ice and small pebbles which were picked up and hurled along, until the wind had dropped enough to allow me to stagger on.  Luckily the cloud level was high, and there was not too much precipitation so I could easily see where I was going. The temperature had gone up and there was a fair bit of damp sticky snow about. I took a route, trying to stay on the snow as much as possible, figuring that made for the least chance of injury when hurled over.

 This van didn't do too well either. This happened about 2 hours before a friend had planned to buy it. Photo by Hannah Barnes friend.

I finally crawled up the final snow slope to the hut and got inside. Things didn't seem quite to bad in there, and I met Greg Boswell and friends playing cards. After warming up I nipped out quickly and took the measurements that I required, and then back to the hut to prepare for the way down. The wind was just as bad, and in my face this time but I had goggles, and full face covering. It was pretty hard work, and again I was flattened a number of times, but made it down. Afterwards I had a full body ache that I only tend to get from a long Scottish winter grade VIII experience.

Sometime that afternoon an epic gust ripped the roof of the CIC hut, and sent it off towards Coire Leis somewhere.
The CIC hut lost part of it's roof. SMC members trying to make it waterproof again a few days later.

Monday 28 November 2011


I have just got back from a three week sports climbing trip to the North-East of Spain. I travelled and climbed with Dave Rudkin and Calum Muskett, both from North Wales. However, lots of other teams and individuals from from various places such as Scotland, England and Switzerland joined us at times, so there was always more people than just the three of us. We spent a fair bit of time around the village of  Margalef, bit did manage a week or so up around the area of Terradettes. We went to a lot of different crags, and rather than working routes, tried to to flash or get get things second or third go. I don't think any of us had more than 3 goes at any one route.

I am not really very good at sports climbing, the odd F7c flash at best. However, I do enjoy it as even when climbing as a three you can get a lot of mileage. In general the approaches to the crags are short, there are no epic belaying sessions, no acclimatisation etc. You can just turn up and start climbing. It is perhaps not that adventurous as compared to other forms of climbing, but for me the amount of mileage to actual climbing that can be achieved for me makes up for that. Also November is usually a good time to get out of Britain .

I also find the social aspects of longer sports climbing trips quite good. Remove access to the Internet and television, and give people long evening and rest days to fill. A lot of talking, reading and playing cards went on. It felt like a very monk like existence at times. It felt like a rare opportunity when I  had an excess of time, rather than as through the previous ten months when I was working full time, and trying to fit in climbing, training, social events and other activities.

Anyway here are some pictures from the trip.

 Cards saw us through many an long evening. Photo Dave Rudkin.

Sitting below a wet crag hoping for it to dry off. John (it skinniest person I know) chomping down, Callum dreaming about hard routes, and me reading some Russian Literature. Photo Dave Rudkin.

Dave not too impressed with the rain.

Guy doing his best James Bond impression on the Tyrolean approach to one of the crags.

A climbing shot. Calum pulling down some tufas at on a superb F7c at Terradettes. 

Last day. Tired, weary, baked in the sun, time for some relaxing.

Thursday 27 October 2011


My first attempt of Cockblock. I lobbed off higher up, but pulled my ropes and got it second go.
Jimmy Big Guns on Skip of Fools (8a+) , The Diamond.

Through one thing and another I don't feel like I have been getting that much climbing done recently. This has been due to a combination of the nights drawing in, so reducing after work climbing possibilities, wet autumnal weather, and taking time to prepare for my MIA assessment (which I passed last week). However, on the odd day off ,when it has been been hosing down, I have managed to get a few decent things done. Trad wise these include Cockblock, a short and hard E5 in the pass, but not without taking the lob from the last hard move due to being stupid, and  Sultans of Swing, a superb girdle of Vector Buttress. On the sports climbing front I managed Battle of the Little Big Orme, an 8a down at lpt and have had a few days down at The Diamond on the Little Orme. This is a really impressive sports crag, but unfortunately is tidal, has bird restrictions, can be quite conditions dependent, and has some interesting access issues. Despite all this it has been proving popular this year. More information can be found here

Tuesday 13 September 2011

A long cold winter?

What will this winter be like? A much discussed question during the autumn months. Also one which is very difficult to answer. We seem to have passed this years Northern Hemisphere snow and ice cover minimum. As shown in the first figure, this seems to have happened around the end of August.

If we have a look at yesterdays snow cover we can see that already the winter snows have started to appear in Alaska and North East Siberia. If we compare with the snow cover on the same date in 2010 and 2009, we can see that this year we are already a fair bit ahead. There seems to be some evidence to suggest that early snow cover is more likely to lead to Northern Blocking, and thus a cold winter for Britain. Winter is obviously a long way off, and a lot can change between now and then, but things seem to have got off to good start.

Posted Image
12th September 2011

Posted Image
12th September 2010

Posted Image
12th September 2009

Sunday 4 September 2011

A few little slate adventures.

Accessing the new slate routes in Twll Mawr through the tunnels.

I have been spending a bit of time in the slate quarries recently, enjoying the atmosphere of the place, and getting back into the unique style of climbing found here. I have done a couple of routes that I have wanted to do for a while such as Waves of Inspiration (a good long and slightly runout E5) and True Clip (F7b+, but somewhat more technical than your average route of that grade).

Nick Bullock wishing he was just a wee bit more flexible for the crux of Supermassive Black Hole (F7a)

Back in July a couple of new multipitch sports routes were added to Twll Mawr (more information and topo). I recently did these and found them fun and unusual routes in an area of the quarries I had not climbed in before. I did have an exciting moment on the harder of the routes (Black Hole Sun F7a+) when I pulled off a hold, and sent a foot long dagger of slate crashing down two pitches to the base of the crag.

Nick still trying to work crux of Supermassive Black Hole.

Sunday 21 August 2011


Good times on the catwalk at Malham

On Saturday I had a wee day trip up to Malham in Yorkshire with James McHaffie, or Caff as he is known. There was a good scene at the crag, with various people from all over the country at the crag, including quite a few down from Scotland.  When we arrived the crag was seeping a bit, but with some sunshine and a good breeze it seemed to be drying out quite quickly. Despite a few wet looking holds, I decided to have a go at one of the classic 7c+,s of the crag, Mescalito. Between holding Caff’s ropes on his project I bolt to bolted it a few times to get to know the moves.

Caff using a t-shirt to dry out holds on his route of choice.

Conditions started of quite good, a bit hot perhaps. However, through the day the clouds rolled in, and it started raining. This in itself was not a major problem, as the capping roofs mean that most of the routes stay dry in the rain. However, the associated rise in humidity meant that conditions became poor, and instead of drying off the crag was starting to seep more.

As the rain started and humidity rose the seeps started to grow.

My first redpoint attempt ended at a soaking pocket at about half way up. I left the rope clipped in at my high point, and before my next attempt, I hauled up to attempt to dry the hold. I stuffed a spare t-shirt into it to absorb the worst of the moisture.  On the redpoint the t-shirt was pulled out, and although the hold was still quite damp, I was more ready for this, and kept on throwing upwards for holds.  I somehow made it though the crux bulge, and wobbled my way up the final wall to another soaking hold just before the chain. Quite a few routes at Malham finish by grabbing the chain. I am not sure if Mescalito is one of them, but with no nice finishing holds, and being very pumped with soaking wet fingers, I decided that grabbed the chain was allowed and gave myself the tick.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Pembroke parts II and III

 Pembroke part II was mainly like this......

After my successful trip to Pembroke with young Calum (see previous blog post), I was keen to get back down there. The next opportunity I had was a few weekends ago. Unfortunately the weather was less than optimal, and over the weekend I only got two routes done. However, I did get to the Range West Briefing. Much of the climbing in  Pembroke is in a military firing range, and in one area in particular (Range West), access is heavily restricted. Access is only allowed at certain times, and before you are allowed in you have to go to a military breifing, where they basically say don't touch any metal things as they might blow up and kill you.

 My ticket to the forbidden land of Range West

Anyway my next trip down was a bit better. This time I had 4 days and although the weather was quite showery and despite the fact it seemed to start raining while I was committed on hard routes, I got a fair amount done. On the best weather day, after a few delay I got my pass for Range West, and went in there did an amazing E5 called Tasmanian devil.

My helmet can just be seen bobbing around in the sea just below the far wall. 

Unfortunatley it was quite a windy day, and after doing the route while having some lunch, my helmet blew off the ledge into a deep zawn. The swell was quite big, and jumping into the sea was not really an option. However with a bit of cunning I did manage to rescue it and stay dry.

 About to start up a route in Huntsman's leap. A rather committing place to be should it start raining, and guess what, it rained both times we went down there.

Andy Scott, pumped but above the crux on another fantastic Pembroke E5 while Jon is Ace (apparently). This was another route which it started raining when I was on.

Sunday 17 July 2011


 The Trevellan area of Pembroke.

I have been climbing a fair bit recently, and started to get up a few routes. Last week I had a good little trip down to Pembroke with youth Calum Muskett, who at 17 was pretty keen, pretty handy (having already led E9) and had never been to Pembroke before.

Unfortunately many of the Pembroke crags are either bird banded until the 1st of August,  or/beside a military firing range. Access to the range is allowed during the weekends, and sometimes midweek. Unfortunately we were there midweek, and there was a lot of military activity. The campsite is also beside the range, and the noise of low flying helicopters, bursts of sub machine gun fire and explosions was constantly with us for the first few days. Until the last day access to the even the usually accessible Trevellan area was severely restricted.

 The traverse of this bay provided a great 30 metre long deep water solo of about f7a standard. I can seen just be seen about a third of the way along.

 However, we did find plenty to do, some good routes and a bit of deep water soloing.

 Starting the crux sequence.

Despite the access restrictions it was a successful trip, I wasn't burnt off too much by the youth, and he seemed suitably impressed by Pembroke; when I dropped him off back at his home shocked his mother by announcing that Pembroke is even better than Gogarth! Praise indeed.

The youth cruising through the crux.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Blessed are the weak

I have been down in Wales for almost 3 months now, and have been pretty busy during that time. Between work, climbing and another wee project which I will discuss more in the autumn, I have been pretty busy, hence the lack of blog posts.
Generally climbing has been going well. I have been mixing it up between trad, sport and bouldering, with some good routes (for me) in all those areas. One of the great things about North Wales is the number of keen climber and good climbing venues close by. 

 Myself of some steep and powerful terrain in the cave, this is the sort of ground I struggle on.

Getting out in the evening and on my days of I have started to notice something; compared to other people who climb about the same level as me, I am weak, well weak. This is most obvious on really steep terrain there are some moves that others do with ease, and I just can’t do. For example I have been trying Jerry’s roof  (a classic V9 boulder problem in the Llanberis pass) for a while, and just can’t do one particular move on it. Usually what happens is that I turn up, and fail repeatedly while my friends lap it with ease. I feel sort of like King Sisyphus from Greek mythology who was made to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill, but before he could reach the top of the hill, the rock would always roll back down, forcing him to begin again and thus condemning him to an eternity of frustration.

However, get them on the 8a’s at lpt, trad routes or on a long sustained but not super steep boulder problem, and then suddenly I can keep up with them. For example of Over the Moon direct (a classic 8a) others seem to cruise through the lower hard moves, but then fall off higher up where as I am struggling right from the start but seem to be able to somehow keep on slapping and struggling to the top.

 Dave Evans working on Left Wall High (V9) while Guy and Steve show very little interest.  Starting at the very back of the cave this gently overhanging, long sustained and technical traverse was my first (and so far only) boulder problem of this grade.

Long sustained endurance routes have always suited me more than short hard powerful ones. I think I have reasonable technique and am good at being tenacious. Anyway will keep throwing myself at Jerry’s, and who knows maybe one day I might get it and unlike Sisyphus free myself for an eternity of failure. Even if not I am not too bothered as I am enjoying trying it,  am getting up plenty of other good things, and if it gets really bad I can always tell myself it is a rubbish boulder problem anyway.

Monday 30 May 2011


Sheltering from the strong winds and rain at the top of the crag.

Keith looking unimpressed with the windy conditions.

I am just back from a trip to Fairhead in Northern Ireland. Fairhead is an amazing crag, about 60m high made of top quality Dolorite. Unfortunatley the weather was pretty epic with high winds and frequent rain. Despite the conditions we got climbing everyday.  We were a team of 10, and between us we climbed about 150 picthes ranging from HVS to E7 during the week that we were there.

Finally getting some climbing done. Myself on the superb Face Value E4.

A trip report (written by someone who obvioulsy has more time than me) can be found under the latest news section at and more photos can be seen at


Wednesday 11 May 2011

The Promised Land?

 The view from the Barrel boulder across the Llanberis Pass to Dinas Cromlech.

Lower Pen Trwyn, home to some fine sports routes of various grades.

For the past month or so I have been living and working in North Wales. I seem to have been pretty busy, working, and bouldering or doing routes in the evenings and on my days off, hence the lack of blog updates. Despite spending all spare time climbing, I only seem to have got up one decent route which was Citadel, a big E5 at the main cliff on Gogarth. Even this was slightly tainted by the fact that due to a small navigational error we climbed the top second pitch of Graduation Cermony instead, thus accidently missing the Citadel crack, supposedly one of the finest pitches at Gogarth.  Sports climbing and boudering wise I have come close to a couple of reasonable routes/problems, but not quite suceeded yet.
However, there is plenty of time left this summer, so hopefully I will have a bit more to report/discuss next time I blog.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

The end of winter, but not quite how I had envisaged it.

Early Spring, around late March/early April, is often the best time of year in Fort William. Long days, settled weather, good skiing and/or ice climbing in the hills, and dry midge free rock in Glen Nevis. That is what I had hoped for this year, but it didn’t quite work like that.

Aonach Mor on the 7th April 2010; Blue skies, light winds, great snow.

Aonach Mor on the 6th of April 2011; High winds, heavy and persistent rain and +7°C on the tops. Not quite as nice as this time last year.

Until about the 20th of March, winter was very much in charge. Although the snow cover was good, it was pretty windy, not what you could call settled weather. Then it all changed, bit not in a good way. Conditions returned to November style weather, windy with persistent rain. These seemed to last for weeks, well until a few days day, when suddenly summer arrived.
With the rapid demise of snow and ice in the mild conditions I rapidly lost interest in winter activities, and turned my attention to rock climbing. This year I have been putting a bit of effort into getting strong for the summer, and was interested to see how I would be feeling when I got out on the rock. The answer was quite positive. I had a couple of days up at Sky Pilot, trying the classic traverse Beetle Back. It still feels a long way off, but my attempts this year were certainly more positive than those of previous years. I then had a day at the Ruthven Boulder, and was pleased to repeat a problem that I had climbed there last year, and felt that a big traverse that I would like to do there would certainly be possible if I was able to put in the hours to get all the moves slick.

Enjoying the outlook from Sky Pilot bouldering area on a rare dry day.

Another great out look, this time from Goat crag. Gaz Marshal can just be seen in yellow below the classic 7a+ Mactalla.

Finally I had a day at Goat Crag. It was baking hot, and I didn’t really do anything I hadn’t done before, but enjoyed the atmosphere of the place.
However, that is likely to be it for my Scottish rock climbing this year. The reason for this is that I yesterday I moved South to Llanberis in North Wales. I will miss the space there is in Scotland, and the outlook you get form many of the crags. However, living down here will be great for my climbing, and I certainly won't miss the Scottish midges (they like to pretend they have a midgy problem down here, but compared to the West of Scotland they don't really). 

Monday 4 April 2011

Snow Patch Survey

As readers may be aware, I find snow a very interesting material. I have always been impressed by a few patches surviving right through most summers to become incorporated into the following winter's snowpack. It appears that I am not the only one to show an interest in this. In the summer of 2008 a bloke called Iain Cameron got in touch with me. Each year he collates information about snowpatch survival in Scotland through the summer and autumn; a summary of which published in the Royal Meteorological Society journal Weather. He, and Mark Atinkson (another interested person) were going to do a survey of the remaining snowpatches on Ben Nevis and the surrounding hills. It happened that 2008 had been quite a snowy winter, and even through it was late August we found an impressive depth of snow high in Observatory Gully. 

Myself and Iain Cameron examining the Observatory Gully snowpatch on the 23rd of August 2008,  which had an estimated depth of 10 metres. Photo: Mark Atinkson

The Observatory Gully snowpatch on the 23rd of August 2008. This is probably the most permanent snow patch on the West Coast, and there has been snow here continuously since October/November 2006. The top photo is taken in the bergshund at the top of the patch. Photo:Iain Cameron

I have taken an interest, and where possible been involved with these snowpatch surveys since that first trip up Observatory Gully This year we decided that we would head up to investigate this patch in early spring when it would be at it's maximum depth. This time Iain, Mark and myself were joined by Eric Gillies, a aerospace scientist from Glasgow, and his wife Jenny who is a meteorologist. Between us there was a fair bit of knowledge about snow and weather. Last Saturday (2nd April) we made the long plod up Observatory gully.

Team snow geeks; Eric and Jenny in the foreground, Iain and Mark in the background.

The plan was to recorded the depth of the snow against the steep sides of the gully, and to discuss possibilities of more sophisticated ways to measure snow depth that could be used in future years. Unfortunately visibility wasn't great, but we did manage to get some pictures of  the build up. By comparing with pictures taken in the summer (such as those shown above), and measurements of the snow depth then, Iain estimated the depth of the order of 20 metres at it's deepest point.  Hopefully we will be able to estimate this more accurately by returning in August to what snow remains, and measuring the heights of the rock features the snow was banked up.  However, with plenty of snowfall high up and lots of South-Westerly winds to pile the snow into locations like this, it is looking hopeful that the snow will survive another summer in Observatory Gully.

 Heading off down. The snow up toward the narrowing of the Gully above is very probably the deepest snow on the West Coast hills at the moment. This picture was taken a bit downslope from the position the second picture in this post was taken.