Another Year Bites the Dust
Updated: Mar 17, 2019
Winter kicked off early and I had a great December climbing in North Wales and Ireland followed by a fantastic season of work and climbing in Scotland. One of the standout routes of the season was this ephemeral ice fall in Glenariff,County Antrim. Located a mile from the Irish Sea, it last formed in the 1980’s! The exceptional climbing was capped off by topping out in the setting sun. Days like that in winter are few and far between but it makes them all the more special!
Returning from Scotland spelt the start of the trad climbing season and the first forays into the Slate Quarries and over a week in March Dave and I climbed two of the best E6’s on slate. The Wonderful World of Walt Disney entails an adventurous journey up through Twll Mawr involving the ‘jump’ pitch, the description for which reads; ‘Serious weirdness’. Perfectly sums up the route! The Rainbow of Recalcitrance is undoubtedly ‘the’ line of the slate quarries and provides some of the most amazing, tenuous climbing I have ever experienced. It is very much a team send route, equally as hard and terrifying for the second as the leader!
At the end of May a large team headed over to Fairhead for a week of sub optimal and outrageously windy weather despite which we managed to accrue an impressive list of routes from HVS to E7. Fairhead for me is undoubtedly the most stunning crag in the UKand a place I look forward to returning to time and time again. The climbing is adventurous, invigorating and at times intimidating and on a cliff three miles long, you can often be the only people there…magical!
One of my aims for the year had been to onsight E7 and the line I had my eye on was The Clown on North Stack at Gogarth. It is a wall that inspires me and when I’m climbing at my limit, especially on a wall like this where the risks are greater, the line has to inspire me. It was a scorching day and not ideal, in fact a few things were not ideal, but I got on it anyway. I got a good spanking! I was incredibly frustrated as I knew I was capable of climbing it yet, like with all failures, you learn from them and I will go back next year having learnt a lesson…psyched!
8a was a grade that seemed very distant when I first started climbing. So when I decided this was the year to give it a go I really had no idea what was going to be involved or how long it was going to take. There was a real buzz about LPT in the spring with a few of us trying various projects including Over the Moon Direct which I felt suited me. In the process of climbing it I had to learn how to sport climb. As a friend said to me, ‘You can’t climb it like you are trying to onsight an E5 at Gogarth!’ In the end the route came fairly quickly, the successful redpoint being the smoothest I think I’ve ever climbed. Everything clicked into place and the top arrived seemingly all too soon with seemingly enough energy to do it all over again (I didn't)!
After a two year gap I returned to the Alps with John, initially heading to the Dolomites where, amongst other routes, we climbed the Brandler Hasse, on Cima Grande. It involves some outrageously positioned steep climbing on great rock. Moving across to Chamonix saw us climb Anouk on the Petites Jorasses and then get ourselves involved on the NE Spur Direct on Les Droites. Fantastic rock climbing, great ice climbing, a hard, out of condition crux and a glacier descent in the dark provided an unforgettable experience.
Over July and August I led a World Challenge expedition to Morocco with Friern Barnett School from London. The kids were a great laugh and Morocco turned out to be a more beautiful country than I had originally imagined. The high point was having the kids summit Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. A great effort considering the furthest most of the kids had walked was to the street corner!
With being in the Alps and then Morocco I was unbelievably psyched to get out rock climbing. However the first week back I stupidly injured my finger bouldering. Fortunately a lot of work came in at that time and here in North Wales we have some exciting, adventurous jug pulling in the form of Gogarth and particularly Red Walls and all 5 minutes from the car! However there is only so much soft and loose climbing I can take before I earn for something a bit more solid!
The past year has been my first full year of freelancing and I have had some interesting and varied work over the year. This Autumn I was working alongside the BBC on a new series called ‘Wild Brittania'. Part of that entailed them filming Johnny Dawes on Conan the Librarian in Wen Zawn. I knew it was going to be an interesting few days when Johnny got lost trying to find Wen Zawn! What followed were four surreal days of hanging out with Johnny and a film crew who were also responsible for filming the amazing Frozen Planet.
John and I returned to the Alps for some Autumnal mixed climbing at the start of October. After acclimatising on the Swiss Route on Les Courtes and sitting out some bad weather in Finale we headed up to have a look at the Grandes Jorasses, one of most impressive North Faces in the Alps. A long, tiring walk up to our bivvy spot below the Croz Spur meant we got some sleep under a clear, moonlit sky. Starting up the Slovenian Start the next morning was slow at first but the hard ice gave way to amazing neve and the route flowed beneath our feet. The penultimate pitch proved to be the crux with some insecure, steep mixed climbing. A bivvy on the summit and a long, trail breaking walk down the following day capped off an unbelievable trip.