Scotland Trip Report 2016
Since participating in the BMC winter meet two years ago, I’ve been dreaming of returning to the Scotland. Although it has some of the most persistently appalling weather imaginable, it’s stunningly beautiful, and is home to one of the most interesting styles of winter climbing I know of. A strict code of ethics prevents any bolting in the mountains. The rock is typically granitic and well featured, and the wild north atlantic weather plasters the cliffs in ice, rime, snow and verglas, thus creating conditions where you’ll often be dealing with 4 or 5 different mediums at time. Mix that with some frozen turf and neve, it’s about as mixed as it gets. Although all the climbing I did seemed quite sustained and technically in the M6 to M8 range, placing the protection was often the crux as most of it needed to be pounded in. Camming devices were almost completely useless!
During the last week of January and first week of February 2016, a small group of Canadians including myself, Michelle Kadatz, Paul McSorley, Marc Andre Leclerc, Ian Welsted, and Paul Bride, settled into a little rental cottage in the village of Glen Coe, a little village situated in Scottish highlands. Over 12 days, the milder than average weather we experienced only permitted about 6 days of climbing, which I suppose isn’t too bad for a trip of this nature. A couple of days were spent taking the gear for a walk, also known as hill walking, only to find the cliffs “black” and out of condition due to rainy weather with higher than mountain top feeling levels. It needs to be frozen / look white in order to preserve the turf, but fortunately, as soon as the temps drop, many routes are instantly good to go.
Down time involved a good mixture of cruising around the country side sampling the local flavours, checking out castles, lochs, pubs, towns, and couple of trips to the worlds biggest indoor climbing gym in Ratho to keep the form. All said and done it was a great trip, the locals were really helpful and I look forward to honing my mixed climbing skills in highlands many more times.
Much of climbing we did was on Ben Nevis, and I also visited Stob Coire Nan Lochan at Glen Coe, and Coire An Lochan in the Cairngorms. My favourite route of trip, and also the hardest one I climbed was definitely Knuckelduster on Ben Nevis. It was so plastered in rime and verglas that route finding was really difficult as there are many small precarious holds and very in obvious gear through the crux, although I've never climbed anything with such a truly mixed feel to it. It was definitely a battle to put it together and was of very high intensity at much of the time. A really cool line that I’m stoked to have on-sighted, especially considering difficult conditions.
Scottish grades don't make a lot of sense to me, but I've never really felt that grades mean very much in this style of climbing.
The following photos are some highlights and maore interesting photos of what we got up to:
Michelle climbing the Gargoyle cracks during a link-up of Hobgoblin (VII,7) into Babylon (VII,8) - Number 3 gully buttress of Ben Nevis - a fun warm up day
Michelle and Marc enjoying some blustery conditions on the rim after Michelle and I finished Hobgoblein / Baylon, and Marc had just finished his 8th route of the day!
The coveted Stob Coire Nan Lochan. A nice venue to have in our backyard, stacked with classic routes up to 200 meters high
Me starting up the first pitch of what I called Impulsive Inclination (VIII,8). It starts at the base of the Unicorn (summer start to this route?), and heads up and left. After 20 meters, it joins Inclination for its second pitch which I linked all the way to a big terrace after 40 meters of climbing. It may or may not be a couple of new variations to the routes around it, but either way it was top quality climbing and a lot of fun! photo: Michelle Kadatz
Looking right from the end of the of the first pitch, Ian Welsted seen here, and Paul McSorley were trying to find the way on Scanzor (IX,9) - Stob Coire Nan Lochan
Looking up p2 of Impulsive Inclination. It climbs an unprotectable series of edges up and left for about 7 meters towards the obvious hand crack, up that for a bit, and then moved right into a groove. After about 20 meters, it joined Tilt which was followed to the top.
Here is Paul Bride's view of me, leading the second pitch.
Upon reaching the summit, we met up with Marc Andre who had just soloed 5 routes! Here's a link to a raw video clip of what he had to say about his day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0nr9pa5To4
The next route we did and the highlight of the trip for me was Knuckleduster, a burly VIII,9 on Ben Nevis. Here's Michelle following the first, and a link to Greg Boswell's take on the route http://www.scottishwinter.com/?p=2264 with a cool photo of him entering the crux, although for me is was completely plastered white with rime and looked a bit different.
Rocio Siemens snapped this shot of me (center of photo) making the final traverse left to the belay stance at the end of the crux second pitch. It was the third traversing bit of this wild pitch that involved a nice mix of corner, face and arete climbing, and is a cool overview of one of Scotland's finest crags.
Michelle making precarious moves around the arete to the belay back in main corner of the summer route, at the end of pitch 2 on Knuckleduster. It's about the same spot I'm in in the previous photo. This was definitely the hardest pitch of the trip as it plastered white with rime, and coated in verglas, which made for very tricky route finding and gear placements. It also felt a little on the bold side as I was never quite sure whether or not I could trust my gear, although judging by how hard it was to clean for Michelle, it must've of been adequate!
Michelle happy to be off the traverse and at the anchor. A week later and she still seems traumatized by this pitch!
Me climbing pitch 3 of Knuckleduster with burning forearms. I think this is the direct finish or the summer route. A nice crack in the right wall of the corner provides sustained climbing up a slightly overhanging for about 15 meters, followed by a short ledge traverse and another 15+ meters of slightly easier terrain to the top. As usual, the crux was hammering nuts into the iced up crack. Photo: Michelle Kadatz
Marc Andre Leclerc trying to find the Coire an Lochan in the Cairgorms, in sustained 60 mph winds (at least that what was forecasted and i don't doubt they were at least that!) and zero visibility.
Marc Andre Leclerc on sighting the first pitch of Happy Tyroleans (X, 10) in howling winds and constant snow. Fortunately the overhanging nature of the pitch kept too much snow piling up on the ledges.
Marc Andre Leclerc following the second pitch of Happy Tyrolean. Vertical climbing soon kicked back a bit, and storm snow was piling up fast! Also a great pitch, and about two grades easier than the first one.
Scotland is famous for its pubs and this was our local watering hole. From L to R: Marc Andre Leclerc, Ian Welsted, Will Woodhead, Paul McSorley, Paul Bride, Jon Walsh. Photo: Michelle Kadatz