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Friday, 12 March 2010

Is it Really Worth It?

Photographer Lucasz Warzecha appears at the top of The Hurting after a fruitless day...

 I have spent long enough involved in the British climbing scene to know not to get involved in the ethics debate. Having witnessed first hand many of the hardest routes put up in the UK, a few the hardest of their specific kind in the world, it is really amazing to then see a link to a forum and see them berated, usually by some lonely individual logging into a forum in the middle of the night. Now I’m on dangerous ground here, and will probably encounter the personal bile of many a poor tortured lonely moon-tanned forum lover, capable of a basic climb, but no world-beater. I’ll indulge in this subject, once and once only, as my main point of having a blog was so my kids could see what I was up to, and to let my clients know what jobs I'm working on and where I am. As a poor climber, I really shouldn’t have too much of an opinion, but having been involved in many of the hard routes, both winter and summer, I actually do. I tend to respect the effort made by the individual, having seen their incredible amount of dedication, physical and mental, and view the line established, in the context that it was done. As a photographer, some routes don’t float my boat, so to speak, but some just grab at the heartstrings, and blow you away. If it is obvious how hard the line is by looking at it, great, but some are subtler, they look innocuous, but could literally kill you. Others defy the obvious, and appear harder. This is something I have learned while out on these lines. Anyway this is how I form my opinion, but, the classic quote, comes in here: "Opinions are like arseholes – everybody has got one." Particularly so when it comes to Scottish winter climbing.
Climbers on the ridgeline, Coire an t Sneachda

Lucasz jugs up the fixed rope above The Hurting

Yesterday, I went out will Andy Turner, so he could have a look at Dave MacLeod’s line, The Hurting, one of his hardest, in the Cairngorms. Now Andy has had a fantastic season, particularly with his first ascent of the Tempest, something I feel he deserves more credit for. The talk on the wonderful forums that I should ignore, but what the hell, it was late, I couldn’t sleep, felt lonely, thought I’d only peek at the comments. The obsession seemed to be with Dave’s onsight, but I think 90% of the people, both positive and negative, missed the point; if Andy hadn’t done the line, Dave wouldn’t have been able to onsight it. Someone had to remove Neil Gresham’s gear from the line, so it could be done in ‘pure’ style, taking away the onsight from Andy. Dave will be the first to point this out. So credit due, the route really belongs to Andy, someone whose name seems to have disappeared in the comments on the route. As for rime versus ice, dry tooling, bolts, I’m not even going there, but remember if someone has the focus to push something forward they should be admired, not berated.

Anyway, back to what I’ve been up too children! We went up to the gorms to look at the Hurting, Andy got on it, but it was incredibly plastered with ice, to the point the protection, which is few and far between on the line on a good day, didn’t even exist. I don’t know if I should even mention it, but Andy got about 20 feet up, before down climbing to keep the onsight alive. There, enough technical climbing crap, we had a good day out in the Cairngorms, battled 70mph winds, you can watch Andy and myself doing so here: drank coffee and are still waiting for some of the snow to melt before we have another push.

And so finally to the point of blogging today; yesterday reminded me of the realities of trying to photograph Scottish Winter Climbing, a 300 mile round trip, crawling up the hill to the ski car-park at 10 mph behind people with second names for first ones, a few thousand feet of ascent, battling with the elements in sub-zero temperatures, all while carrying a hideous amount of kit not to be used, all to be criticised by arm-chair experts when something incredible does happen. Perhaps pointless, but somehow I’ll be out again next week.

The day before, I visited my great friend Stephanie Wolfe Murray at Glen House, in the Scottish borders. Being with old friends and in the Scottish Borders when the sun makes an appearance does make life better. We walked the dogs on the estate in stunning light, and it made me feel so happy and optimistic for this year. Strange what the sun does for you when you live in a place that tends to starve you of it’s healing hand…

Stephanie, Gus, and Holly
Stephanie and Holly
Glen House
Angel looking, well, angelic...
Gus and Holly

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Tempest: Act 4, Scene1, Glencoe.

Dave MacLeod scratches his way up Neil Gresham's M9 in Glen Coe, The Tempest.
All photographs copyright Steven Gordon

On Thursday, Dave MacLeod and myself made the slog up to Stob Coire Nan Lochan, to take a look at Gresham's route The Tempest. Gresham first climbed the route with all the gear pre-placed, hence its continental style grade. Our friend Andy Turner had managed to climb the line ground up, the week before grading the route IX, 9. Andy had looked at the line a couple of times before his brilliant ascent, so we went to have a look. Dave got on the line and managed to get two-thirds of the way up before coming down shattered after spending two and a half hours on tiny hooks, digging out the protection and managing not to fall off, just... He down-climbed, so he could clain the onsight, but it was a hard push. The face was really plastered with snow, so most of the effort went into clearing the line, rather than pushing skywards. I was staring up from the belay on one occasion, well more craning up due to the steepness of the line, when his whole body appeared silhouetted against the blue sky heading for the ground. Some how, he held on to one rather dodgy axe placement, and hauled himself back onto the line. I was sure he was off, and had jumped off the belay to brace for his weight being transformed onto a somewhat iffy peg placement, when the expected weight never arrived on the rope...don't know how he did it, but he did. Nice one Dave!
Dave MacLeod on the upper third of The Tempest

The Tempest, Stob Coire Nan Lochan, Glen Coe

Dave returned the next day to finish the route, after nearly running out of protection on his first attempt. After a call to Andy, he discovered he used nearly double the amount of runners, so properly equiped, Dave returned to bag the fourth ascent of the line, and the first onsight.
I'll be back out in the hills next week, but till then it is the usual mixture of work, work and more work. I was in the garage earlier fueling the car, and looking around you realised that everybody had that look of an easy weekend, and I must confess to feeling jealous. Even writing this blog is rushed, as I need to get back to studying, before putting a shift in tonight and tomorrow. When I'm rich, it will be all worth while but till then, back to the gindstone, as ever.

Cold, Cold and more Cold...

Dougie Vipond, Fred MacAulay, and Neil Baxter kayaking on Loch Lochy with the north face of Ben Nevis behind.

As ever, it has been a busy few weeks, hence the enforced radio silence on my blog. I spent a couple of days away working for the BBC on the comic relief project were Dougie Vipond and Fred MacAulay had to kayak the Caledonian Canal. They rather admirably managed this, considering what the Scottish weather threw at them. They had to walk many of the canal stages due to the ice, while coping with temperatures down to -15C. The views in this amazing winter were, as ever in the Highlands, spectacular. I was there for the two 'cold' days, and managed to escape down the A82 in a blizzard that night before the snow gates on the road were closed. The last day was a nightmare for them, kayaking head on into an evil North Easterly, with massive swell on Loch Ness, as well as blizzard conditions. Here is a link to the BBC website for a gallery of pictures:
They had to camp out, so here is a picture you won't see on the BBC website. Have a look at the picture of Fred before his first night under canvas on the above link, and here is one of said Fred the morning after...