Saturday, 31 December 2016

Trad Highlights 2016

Summer 2016 was typically Scottish; we had an excellent Spring with sunshine and temperatures in the high twenties for what seemed like weeks at a time. The Summer monsoon arrived in earnest come June and it really didn't dry up till Autumn when we were blessed with an Indian Summer. 

Gary Latter contemplating the small roof to finish his new line at Creag Dubh.
I managed to have a really productive Spring as you have to in Scotland, kicking off the season in early March with a trip up to Creag Dubh with Gary Latter and Scott G. We both followed Gary up a new E3 6a on the Great Wall, both struggling with the bouldery start!

Sunset at Goat Crag.
A great couple of days in mid March were had with Scott G where we took in the fantastic Goat Crag at Gruinard before heading on up to Reiff for a day at Seal Song Area. It was a beautiful couple of days and some of the best of the year for me. Still early enough in the year for those magic pastel sunsets. The highlight of the trip being The Executioner E2 5c at Reiff. This route is pretty pumpy but you're on jugs with textbook protection the whole way - you just need to keep going!

Tim Hamlet on The Executioner E2 5c at Seal Song Area, Reiff.
Another trip was had to Creag Dubh where myself and Sean took in the HVS crag classics of King Bee Direct and Inbred. Meanwhile we watched on as Russ Birkett warmed up with a bold ascent of The Fuhrer with Scott G.

Russ Birkett on a rather serious looking The Fuhrer E4 5c, Creag Dubh.
Our Spring trip to the Verdon was looming so Matt Thompson suggested a trip South to sample some Yorkshire limestone at Moughton Nab on what felt like a warm Summer's day. This provided some enjoyable, short but punchy sport routes and it was nice to sample some limestone for a change.

Staying with the bolt clippping vein after returning from the Verdon, myself and Ally Fulton headed on up to Weem in the midst of the balmy Scottish Spring. The highlight of the day was an ascent of Confessions of Faith for me, while Ally dispatched the steep classic 7a+ High Pitched Scream second go.

Finlay Cranston taking in the exposure on The Edge VS 4c at Loudon Hill.
A local classic which I've been meaning to do followed later on in May, when myself and Finlay Cranston headed on round to my hometown crag Loudoun Hill. It's a great wee venue with mostly shorter routes but they generally pack in some fairly bouldery climbing. The Edge is the uber classic local VS and must be the best at the grade within the Central Belt. It tackles a soaring wafer thin arete up its crest, with minimal protection and outstanding exposure at the grade. A must do.

A beautiful day at the Financial Sector, Neist.
I then managed to get a fantastic three day trip in up North again with James and his dog Scotty, at the tail end of May just before the good weather broke. We headed to Glen Nevis first which was fantastic and the first time we'd both climbed there. First we took in a couple of the classics The Old Wall VS 4b and Storm HVS 5a, both deserving three star classics. The climbing was super fun with spaced good gear and inspiring friction. We then moved to the otherside of the Glen to Whale Rock, famous for Dave Mac's E9 horror show Hold Fast. James dispatched a delicate Earthstrip E2 5c, which had what felt like a pretty difficult move at 5c low down requiring much trust in the feet, just in time before the rain came on.

James Jackson on Wish You Were Here E2 5c, Financial Sector, Neist.
We continued on up North bound for the Sligachan on Skye, I always particularly enjoy the drive to Skye heading along Loch Cluanie and on into Glen Shiel. We pitched up at the Slig before heading down to the Financial Sector at Neist the next day. We had a truly great day here with the sun beating down all day. I warmed up on Bridging Interest HVS 5a, before climbing Security Risk and Venture Capital both E1 5b although maybe soft at the grade. Security Risk was particularly fun with some ace moves out onto chicken heads high up. I followed James up some great proper E2s. Wall Street E2 5c which had a sting in the tail right at the top but in a fantastic position. Wish You Were Here, somehow given just E2 5b, surely at least 5c though, required serious graft up an unrelenting crack line, but what a line, four star candidate. 

Unknown climber I managed to snap while on abseil climbing the superb Grey Panther, Kilt Rock.
Next day of the three day trip we headed round to Kilt Rock up on the Trotternish Peninsula. A proper photogenic crag when viewed from the South and a crag not short of lines! I started up The Electric Bagpipe round in the descent gully which is a superb VS, probably HVS, with brilliant moves up the layback crack which you wished just went on and on. James then led up A Haggis Called Wanda E2 5b, which was a good line but a wee bit loose and dirty, just needed more traffic, it was another tough jamming route. James then while warm put in a physical and mental stamina effort up Internationale E2 5b, surely 5c, as we had in our possesion two and a half sets of cams - including a monster BD Camalot 5 (required). This is undoubtedly the best line I've ever climbed in Scotland and James dispatched it in good style, despite running out of cams near the top he kept a cool head. It is a perfect splitter hand crack which verges into offwidth territory in the middle, requiring a full repertoire of crack climbing technique, I was very happy to second it clean, being terrible at cracks! I capped off the trip with an ascent of Grey Panther, possibly the best single pitch E1 5b in Scotland. It takes a direct line up the typical chimney-esque columns of Kilt Rock, switching between the two perfect cracks in either side of the groove. The jamming is painless, secure and thoroughly enjoyable, with continuous 5b moves with no stand out crux. It feels like it just goes on and on but it's steady throughout. Without doubt the best single pitch climb I've had the joy to lead.

Scotty the dog chilling at Neist.
The monsoons of Summer then duly arrived come the start of June. I did however have a good start to the month and was chuffed to make a rather determined redpoint ascent of Unforgiven 7b at Dumby. It was our fourth session and I thankfully managed it on the third lead attempt. Sean had sent it earlier that afternoon so the nerves started getting the better of me. I managed to piece together what must have been one of my worst ever attempts, lead or on top-rope, and somehow sent it. It was sheer refusal to fall off over good style for sure.

Fresh back from the Alps I was fully psyched to get into the mountains however the Scottish Summer continued to have other ideas. Myself and Peter headed through to a moist Limekilns towards the end of August. Here I managed to dig my way up Elgin's crack, finding the upper crux much harder than the boulder move at the start. I was pumped out my mind but somehow delicately made the move right up into the easier ground after reading the upper crux wrong.

Evening light at Dumby.
I managed to get round to doing some other Dumby classics later on in August and September with Peter and Jeremy. This time it was trad however with the classics of Windjammer and Longbow. Unfortunately Longbow suffers from a seeping grass ledge above so it had to wait until the tail end of September. Both are quality lines, probably the best at their respective grades of HVS 5a and E1 5b within the Central Belt. Both sustained and long for Central Belt trad and very much a Dumby feel to them both, superb. 

A damp two day foray North with James found us back at Creag Dubh making a thoroughly enjoyable ascent of the bold Strapadicktaemi E1 5a, before heading up to Huntly's Cave for some real fun steep trad there the following day. I led the classic Double Overhang HVS 5a before making an ascent of the under-rated Diagonal Direct E1 5c. 

Myself at my hometown crag Loudon Hill, (photo credit Finlay Cranston).
More local trad followed with the start of the Indian Summer in October. I managed to make my first E3 lead at Cambusbarron on Slot Shot E3 5c. I had unfortunately seconded at the start of the Summer so missed out on the onsight but was chuffed none the less to feel pretty steady on it - despite it probably being a standard softly graded Cambusbarron route!

Trying to pack in as much into the Indian Summer as possible, we were back at Weem. I was really happy to onsight The Last Temptation E2 5c which takes an overhanging crack to start, then up into a superb steep corner crack before finishing over a small capping roof. The protection is very good once into the corner crack and the route is sustained. I had to give it big licks so was really happy with the onsight which turned out to be one of the highlights of the year for me. 

A trip up to Glen Clova was squeezed in with James mid October where we climbed some of the classics up there. I led Proud Corner which certainbly felt pokey at VS before putting onsighting the Witch's Tooth, a definite sandbag at E1 5b. James linked up Zig Zag Double Direct E2 5c to give what turned out to be a pretty serious and big lead due to a soaking wet finish above gear.

The Souter sea stack at Fastcastle.
To round off the Summer myself, Sean, James and Scotty the dog headed East to the Souter, on a bright breezy but chilly day at the start of November. The three of us made a grand ascent of the stack and I was lucky enough to win the rock, paper, scissors in order to get the lead. It felt quite pokey at HVS but it was good that the sea stack didn't give up easily. Sean also led Plain Sailing which looked too good to second so we quickly pulled the ropes and I led through on the pre-placed gear for speed (it was cold!); a route you climb throughout with a smile on your face. James made a good effort on Fast Bleeder which takes a soaring crack line with a breather at half height, unfortunately he fluffed the crux first go but it was hardly primo conditions. Myself and Sean made feeble attempts at seconding it with freezing cold hands - must learn to crack climb in 2017!

Sean Henderson approaching the crux on the enjoyable Plain Sailing E1 5b, The Souter (Fastcastle).

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